Quorum Report News Clips

View By Date
Printable Version of This Page

Newsclips - October 6, 2022

Lead Stories

CNN - October 6, 2022

Former trooper being investigated over response to Uvalde school massacre was hired to protect city’s children

The Texas state trooper arrived at Robb Elementary within two minutes of a gunman entering the school and starting his massacre last May. Crimson Elizondo is seen in her Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) uniform, handgun drawn, outside the school building in Uvalde, and then briefly in the hallway on the body camera footage from another law enforcement officer. She was one of the first of the 91 DPS officers to arrive, one of the 376 total law enforcement personnel who went to the school where the shooter was left for 77 minutes – with dead, dying and traumatized victims – before he was stopped. The response to the attack in which 19 children and two teachers were killed has been denounced as an “abject failure” with enough blame to be spread widely. The school police chief was fired and now seven DPS officers are being investigated for what they did – or did not – do. CNN has uncovered exclusively that Elizondo is one of those officers. A source close to the investigation also confirmed that to CNN.

She no longer works for DPS. During the summer she left and got a new job. Now, she is a police officer for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (CISD), where her role is to protect some of the very same children who survived the Robb Elementary shooting. Elizondo declined to speak with CNN in person, on the phone or by direct message. Uvalde CISD has said it wanted to recruit 10 more officers after the May 24 attack. It did not specifically announce the hiring of Elizondo over the summer, though the names and photos of her and four other police officers, one lieutenant and one security guard are on its website, under the banner “KEEP U.C.I.S.D. SAFE.” Superintendent Hal Harrell told a special town hall meeting in August that at least 33 DPS officers would also be deployed around the district’s eight schools. After initial concern by residents that officers who failed to stop the killing would be tasked with school security, parent Brett Cross told CNN he had been assured the deployed DPS officers would not have been responders to the shooting.

Top of Page

Reuters - October 6, 2022

Democrat-led Texas city steps up migrant busing to New York, outpacing Republican effort

The Democrat-led border city of El Paso, Texas, has sent more migrants on buses to New York City and Chicago than a campaign by Texas' Republican governor, a twist in an ongoing partisan battle over U.S. border security. El Paso, which sits across the border from Juarez, Mexico, has bused roughly 7,000 migrants to New York City since late August and sent more than 1,800 to Chicago, a city-run effort that far exceeds the more ad-hoc transportation of the past. The city's busing effort has received less attention than a separate statewide campaign by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term in Nov. 8 midterm elections. Abbott has bused more than 3,000 migrants to New York City and more than 900 to Chicago as part of a high profile campaign to put a spotlight on the record crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Texas and Arizona combined have also bused over 10,000 migrants to Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis recently flew a group of about 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but those who boarded the planes have said they were misled. The Republican initiatives to move migrants, including those seeking asylum, away from the border have called attention to the issue with the election just weeks away. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed U.S. voters prefer them over Democrats for addressing immigration issues. The Democratic administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and Democratic mayors receiving the migrants have criticized the Republican governors for creating confusion with surprise drop-offs and say the busing campaign strains resources. But El Paso's Democratic leaders say they are coordinating with receiving cities and that migrants take their chartered buses voluntarily. City officials say their buses were needed because up to 2,000 migrants were arriving daily, including impoverished Venezuelans without family in the United States to pay for onward travel. Coordination between sending and receiving cities is crucial, according to Theresa Cardinal Brown, a managing director with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank. "If there's not coordination," she said, "you're basically dropping penniless people who don't speak the language in an unknown city and saying, 'Fend for yourself.'" Still, El Paso's coordination could be better, said New York City mayoral spokesperson Kate Smart. El Paso informs New York when a bus is traveling to the city, but, she adds, officials from both states should discuss beforehand whether the bus actually needs to go New York and how many migrants are onboard.

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 6, 2022

A majority of GOP nominees — 299 in all — deny the 2020 election results

A majority of Republican nominees on the ballot this November for the House, Senate and key statewide offices — 299 in all — have denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election, according to a Washington Post analysis. Candidates who have challenged or refused to accept Joe Biden’s victory are running in every region of the country and in nearly every state. Republican voters in four states nominated election deniers in all federal and statewide races The Post examined. Although some are running in heavily Democratic areas and are expected to lose, most of the election deniers nominated are likely to win: Of the nearly 300 on the ballot, 174 are running for safely Republican seats. Another 51 will appear on the ballot in tightly contested races.

The implications will be lasting: If Republicans take control of the House, as many political forecasters predict, election deniers would hold enormous sway over the choice of the nation’s next speaker, who in turn could preside over the House in a future contested presidential election. The winners of all the races examined by The Post — those for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, Senate and House — will hold some measure of power overseeing American elections. Many of these candidates echo the false claims of former president Donald Trump — claims that have been thoroughly investigated and dismissed by myriad officials and courts. Experts said the insistence on such claims, despite the lack of evidence, reflects a willingness among election-denying candidates to undermine democratic institutions when it benefits their side. The Post’s count — assembled from public statements, social media posts, and actions taken by the candidates to deny the legitimacy of the last presidential vote — shows how the movement arising from Trump’s thwarted plot to overturn the 2020 election is, in many respects, even stronger two years later. Far from repudiating candidates who embrace Trump’s false fraud claims, GOP primary voters have empowered them.

Top of Page

Politico - October 5, 2022

Election officials confront a new problem: Whether they can trust their own poll workers

Election officials are growing concerned about a new danger in November: that groups looking to undermine election results will try to install their supporters as poll workers. The frontline election workers do everything from checking people in at voting locations to helping process mail ballots — in other words, they are the face of American elections for most voters. And now, some prominent incidents involving poll workers have worried election officials that a bigger wave of trouble could be on the horizon. Michigan, in particular, has been a hotspot: a far-right candidate for governor, who lost the GOP primary, encouraged poll workers to unplug election equipment if they believed something was wrong. A Michigan county GOP organization encouraged poll workers to ignore rules barring cell phones in polling places and vote-counting centers.

And just last week, the clerk of Kent County, Mich., announced that a witness allegedly saw a poll worker inserting a USB drive into an electronic poll book — the list of registered voters that shows who has cast ballots — during the August primary, leading to a pair of felony charges. The Kent County Clerk’s office declined to comment beyond a statement issued by Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons last week, stressing that the “incident had no impact on the election,” and that that specific poll book would no longer be used in future elections. “It is kind of troubling to see, in the wake of 2020, this new element of election workers who are there to more police things …than they are to just perform the function of being an election worker and facilitating the democratic process in communities,” said Justin Roebuck, the clerk of Ottawa County, Mich. and the chair of the Michigan Council of Election Officials. Roebuck is also a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Task Force on Elections, which is working on a forthcoming report on the threats posed by bad-faith poll workers. Election officials are quick to note that the vast majority of poll workers working elections across the country are doing it for the right reasons.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 6, 2022

Hundreds of Texas bodies remain unidentified despite new tech that helps solve cases faster

The last time anyone saw Patricia Elaine Thomas-Wardell was back in the summer of 1970. The 18-year-old new mother had hopped on a bus headed to downtown Houston, where she was studying to become a court reporter. Patty didn’t come home that night of July 17. Her family walked their northeast Houston neighborhood. Her mother filed a police report. She called the FBI. The family contacted reporters, spoke to radio stations, hired a private investigator, even contacted true-crime TV shows, urging them to investigate the case. Patty’s sister, Maxine Hines McNeely, went to the local office of the Social Security Administration, asking to see if anyone was using Patty’s Social Security number. No tips or leads panned out. The family didn’t know it then, but Harris County deputies recovered skeletal remains of a young woman six months later, just a few miles from where Patty lived. They weren’t able to identify the corpse, however, and remains went unnamed, listed as “ML71-0299.” The corpse sat in the morgue there for five years before it was buried in a pauper’s grave.

Tens of thousands of families across America suffer similar anguish, part of a silent mass disaster. Some 600,000 people go missing every year, authorities estimate. At least 1,850 unidentified bodies lie in morgues and pauper’s graves across Texas, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NaMus), a voluntary federal database created to track missing persons, unidentified remains and unclaimed bodies. In recent years, genetic testing and other investigative resources have brought light to cases that had gone unsolved for decades: Dean and Tina Clouse, a young couple from Florida, whose corpses were discovered east of Houston; John Almendarez, a beloved Houston father who disappeared in 2002 but wasn’t identified until 2014; and Peggy Anne Dodd, a Fort Bend woman who disappeared in late 1984 but wasn’t identified until earlier this year.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 6, 2022

Beto O’Rourke, Texas Democrats stress gun restrictions, Uvalde as election nears

Democrats have leaned into gun policy as the Nov. 8 midterm election approaches, using families of victims of the Uvalde school shooting to argue GOP leaders won’t make classrooms safe because they’re beholden to the National Rifle Association. In the home stretch of the Texas governor’s race, Beto O’Rourke is trying to tap into outrage over mass shootings, like many Democrats nationwide. He held a news conference with several of the grieving Uvalde parents Friday before debating his opponent in November, Gov. Greg Abbott, and has a new TV ad featuring the mother of a victim. On Wednesday, Democratic legislators and candidates held a news conference with families in Uvalde, two days after Abbott appointed a school security czar.

O’Rourke has been reminding audiences that the evening of May 24, when an 18-year-old gunman entered Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School and killed 19 students and two teachers, Abbott proceeded with a scheduled fundraiser in Huntsville instead of rushing to Uvalde to comfort victims’ families. “He chose to take a private jet and go to a fundraiser that day,” O’Rourke said Friday at his pre-debate news conference in Edinburg. Abbott spent nearly three hours on the ground in Huntsville, raising as much as $50,000, The Dallas Morning News reported, citing publicly available flight and campaign-finance records. O’Rourke has also mentioned Abbott making taped remarks before the NRA’s annual meeting, held in Houston that week, in which he suggested that no law would have stopped the gunman. The governor held a news conference in Uvalde instead of appearing at the meeting. “We have choices before us,” said O’Rourke, who lashed out at Abbott for not making efforts to tighten gun laws, such as raising the minimum age for purchasing assault-style weapons. “He has failed Texas.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 6, 2022

CenterPoint faces rate battle over $200M contract with company founded by man jailed for pollution

Not long after the Legislature authorized Texas utilities in 2021 to acquire mobile generators to hedge against another collapse in the electric grid, CenterPoint Energy leased some 500 megawatts of mobile power at an initial cost of about $200 million. Concerns about the deal surfaced almost as quickly. The day after the Houston utility filed with the Public Utility Commission in April to recover its costs by raising customers rates, two groups – one representing municipalities and one representing industrial energy customers – filed motions opposing the potential rate increases. The PUC sent the case for review by an administrative hearing judge the same day. Within a week, another four groups had filed motions to reject CenterPoint's rate request, and the utility soon found itself preparing for a legal fight with nearly a dozen trade groups and municipalities.

At issue are two lease contracts for which CenterPoint has already paid nearly $200 million to mobile generation power company Life Cycle Power. Under a state law passed following the deadly February freeze of 2021, CenterPoint cannot only recover from its customers the costs of leasing and operating its units, but also a rate of return, or profit, of 6.5 percent on every dollar it spends on leasing, operating and maintaining these mobile generation units. The State Office of Administrative Hearings will hear the case on Oct. 18 and 19, and a hearing officer will provide an opinion to the Public Utility Commission in the weeks after. The PUC will ultimately decide whether CenterPoint can charge its customers for the mobile generation. It will be the first time the PUC will decide whether a Texas utility can charge ratepayers for mobile generation expenses. In written testimony filed with PUC, CenterPoint officials said the 500 megawatts of mobile power generation will better prepare the Houston region’s grid for potential disruptions stemming from hurricanes, freezes or other unforeseen circumstances. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes on a hot summer day.

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 6, 2022

Texas executes John Henry Ramirez, who won religious-rights Supreme Court case

As the lethal injection coursed through John Henry Ramirez’s veins Wednesday night, Pastor Dana Moore laid his hands on the Texas death row inmate’s chest. A prayer rang out as Ramirez was executed in Huntsville in a small room known as the death chamber, with its seafoam-green walls and gurney with restraints. It was the conclusion of a 2004 murder case that garnered national attention after the Supreme Court ruled in March that Ramirez’s pastor could touch him and pray during his execution. Ramirez, who said he experienced a spiritual transformation while on death row, had requested that Moore “feel my heart and feel when I transition,” he told The Washington Post in 2021. On Wednesday, Ramirez’s request was granted. Before he died at 6:41 p.m., Ramirez told the family of Pablo Castro, the father of nine he’d stabbed to death nearly two decades ago, that he appreciated their attempts to communicate with him.

“I tried to reply back, but there is nothing that I could have said or done that would have helped you,” Ramirez said, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Ramirez was convicted of the 2004 killing of Castro, 45, in Corpus Christi, Tex. Ramirez stabbed the convenience store clerk 29 times. He was 20 years old when he left Castro to die in a parking lot, fleeing the scene with $1.25 in change. He evaded arrest by escaping to Mexico, until he was caught in 2008 and sentenced to death. It was while on death row that Ramirez met Moore and other Second Baptist Church members. He became a member of the church, despite being a Messianic Jew, The Post reported. Ramirez was scheduled to be executed on Sept. 8, 2021, and requested that Moore be there to pray and lay his hands on him. However, Texas officials said Moore could be present during the execution but could not touch the inmate. Ramirez’s case for religious rights ultimately made its way to the Supreme Court, and as he waited in a holding room the night of his planned 2021 execution, the justices stopped the procedure. About six months later, the court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of Ramirez and his request to have his pastor’s hands on him as he’s executed.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 6, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Democrat Sheena King in Texas House District 61

State House District 61, covering parts of McKinney and Frisco as well as areas in northern Collin County, is solidly Republican. We strongly supported the Republican nominee, Dallas police Officer Frederick Frazier, in his primary run because he has been the sort of conservative voice that is willing to work across the aisle. But we cannot support Frazier in the general election because in June he was indicted on charges related to accusations that he posed as a McKinney code compliance officer during the primary. Frazier has denied the charges and called them the outgrowth of a politically motivated attack by a primary opponent. Frazier, 50, is owed the chance to clear his name, but we cannot recommend him given the standing indictment that came after an investigation by the Texas Rangers. We instead recommend his opponent, political newcomer and Democrat Sheena King.

We differ with King’s positions on a number of issues, from her opposition to the state playing a role in securing the border to her sense that charter schools should not get any public funds. But King rightly identifies the fight against rising property taxes as the most important work she needs to do for her district. She was not deeply informed on how to go about providing property tax relief, and her responses focused more on what she sees as root issues of economic struggle, including inequities in pay and opportunity. Still, King is plainly passionate about the communities she hopes to serve, and she clearly has the ability to get up to speed on legislative matters. As an accomplished businesswoman, she also has training in the complexities of contracts and insurance, valuable knowledge in the Legislature. In this deeply conservative district, Frazier’s views are more aligned with the electorate. But we cannot support him while he faces charges. King, 52, gets our recommendation.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 5, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Middle-class Texans lap up the low taxes lie, while 1 percenters avoid paying their share

Texas is a low-tax state only if you make a lot of money. If you don’t, then you’re better off in California. The biggest lie Texas politicians have ever told — and both parties have perpetuated it — is the lack of an income tax is an absence of taxation. But Texas doesn’t collect much less in taxes than other states; it only shifts the burden away from the wealthy. Shouldn’t a tax burden reflect a person’s ability to pay? In Texas, it doesn’t, and that makes people angry. Proposed changes to Texas taxes would still not make high-earners pay their share. When all state and local taxes are added, Texas ranks 32 out of the 50 states, the conservative think tank the Tax Foundation calculated. Texans pay taxes on the value of their real property and the price of the things they consume.

School districts and local authorities create the largest burden through property taxes, which make up 46.2 percent of the taxes collected in Texas. Texas lawmakers require people to pay higher taxes almost yearly, not because their income rises but because their real estate value has increased. This year, property appraisals rose 15 to 30 percent in Harris County, 25 percent in Bexar County, 15 percent to 24 percent in the Rio Grande Valley, and a whopping 53 percent in Travis County. Unless a local taxing authority cuts the rate, the bills go up. I know very few Texans who’ve received a 15 percent or more raise this year to pay their higher taxes. Property tax rates are the same no matter your income, which is the definition of a regressive tax. The top 20 percent of earners spend half as much of their income on housing as Texans in the bottom 20 percent, researchers at Texas A&M University reported. Property taxes are, therefore, a lower burden on the wealthy. If you are among the 38 percent of Texans who lease their home, you can count on rent going up when the owner passes the higher tax along. Renters also pay the property tax for owners without getting the benefit of equity. Property taxes, therefore, burden lower-income Texans more than the wealthy.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 5, 2022

Retired Bexar County Court-at-Law Judge Karen Crouch dies

Retired Bexar County Judge Karen Crouch has died of injuries stemming from a 2011 car crash caused by a drunken teenage driver, her family said. She was 62. Crouch died Tuesday at PAM Health Specialty Hospital of San Antonio. “My parents taught me that respect means listening and doing what is right,” Crouch wrote in 2012 in a candidate questionnaire for one of her judicial campaigns. “I took this lesson to heart. As a judge ... I did not just hear cases. I listened to people, applied the law and ensured that justice was done.”

The car wreck that changed her life occurred in October 2011 while she was in Vermont for a conference at the Vermont Law and Graduate School in South Royalton, Vt. An 18-year-old driver crashed head-on into a vehicle Crouch was driving. The judge’s sister-in-law, Zyra Flores, 53, was a passenger in the car and was killed instantly. Flores was an administrative assistant at Randolph AFB. “I saw lights and a blur, and boom!” Crouch recalled during a 2013 interview with the Express-News. “(Flores) was laughing and we were talking. I knew something was wrong when I called her name and there was no response.” Crouch suffered knee injuries, a fractured wrist and “life-threatening internal injuries” that required numerous hospital visits and surgeries, her family said in a statement Wednesday. She “willed herself to walk again to be there for her children,” the family said. The teen driver, Carlos Garcia, was driving 70 mph in a 30 mph zone, and his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, authorities said at the time. He pleaded guilty in 2013 to causing a fatality while driving under the influence. He was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 5, 2022

American Airlines’ $250 million headquarters-hotel complex will open in early 2023

A $250 million employee hotel and conference center that American Airlines started building before the COVID-19 pandemic will finally open in the first quarter of 2023. The “hospitality complex” is the final piece of the $1 billion, 300-acre corporate headquarters campus in Fort Worth that American announced in 2015 and that will feature the airline’s integrated operations center and its administrative offices. “Each year, thousands of team members from across the operation come to campus to learn — spanning from new hire and recurrent training to team members in new roles,” American said in a memo to workers Wednesday. “We’re hoping to simplify team members’ visiting experience by building a modern hospitality complex at the heart of our campus. A place where visiting team members can lodge, eat, socialize and work out.”

The hospitality complex replaces the American Airlines flight attendant hotel that had stood at the same site since the 1960s. The new campus will have many of the same training and educational functions but has been expanded to serve all of the company’s 130,000 employees. The building will be known officially as Skyview 6. The corporate administrative offices are housed in the 355,000-square-foot Skyview 8 building on the south side of the campus. The building will feature 600 rooms where employees of American and its wholly owned regional carriers will stay when training on campus. There will be training facilities for crew members, such as the thousands of pilots and flight attendants American hires and trains every year. The building will also have a 10,000-square-foot ballroom that will double as a conference center and host events such as the company’s annual “State of the Airline” meeting.

Top of Page

Border Report - October 5, 2022

Suspects in migrant shooting death are back in Hudspeth County

Two brothers suspected in the Sept. 27 fatal shooting of a migrant near Sierra Blanca, Texas, are no longer in jail in El Paso. Mark and Michael Sheppard, both 60, were released from El Paso County Jail on Monday and taken to Hudspeth County Jail, where they remain in custody on charges of manslaughter, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed on Tuesday. DPS did not say why the brothers were moved.

Michael Sheppard, a former warden at an immigration detention facility in Sierra Blanca, allegedly fired two shotgun shells on the evening of Sept. 27 into the brush where he thought he spotted a javelina, his brother Mark told the Texas rangers. The shots killed a male migrant and wounded a female migrant who had stopped for water at a reservoir called Fivemile Tank, according to arrest affidavits. They were among a group of people who had also recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border; the migrants who were not shot told investigators someone used foul language in telling them to come out of the brush before the shots rang out. The families of two migrants from Durango, Mexico, on Monday told reporters in Juarez they believe it was their relatives who were shot and are demanding justice. The Mexican consulate has confirmed the female victim is a Mexican citizen but is still awaiting official word from Texas officials as to the identity of the male victim. DPS on Tuesday said the case remains under investigation and cannot share additional details at this time.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 5, 2022

Abbott should acknowledge role of racist rhetoric in shooting of 2 migrants, Texas Dems say

In the wake of the deadly shooting of a migrant in West Texas, U.S. Rep. Al Green responded Tuesday to Gov. Greg Abbott blaming the incident on the Biden administration's border policies, urging the governor to be "forceful" on the issue of gun violence. "Governor, when things are done with intentionality, it's more than a simple tragedy," Green said. "You've gotta be forceful, be as forceful as you would be if an undocumented person had taken a life. Given this circumstance, coupled with what happened at Uvalde, Abbott needs to call a special session of the Legislature immediately to address the issue of gun violence." The Fort Bend congressman's comments come days after twin brothers Mike and Mark Sheppard allegedly shot two migrants, killing one, in Hudspeth County, Texas. The brothers are in El Paso county jail on manslaughter charges.

Abbott's office released a statement this week casting the blame on the Biden administration for reversing many of Trump's immigration policies. "This shooting was a terrible tragedy, and violence of any kind will not be tolerated in Texas," said Renae Eze, an Abbott spokesperson. "The Texas Department of Public Safety immediately deployed troopers to lead the manhunt and assist the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and local law enforcement in bringing these criminals to justice." "This is just another example of President Biden's border patrol policies continue endangering lives," the statement continued. "It's time for President Biden to do his job and stop this humanitarian crisis by securing our Southern border."According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, a group of 13 Mexican immigrants had been drinking water from a reservoir near a West Texas road when the Sheppard brothers approached in a pickup truck on Sept. 27.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 5, 2022

University of Texas Tower to receive $26M facelift, first renovation in 88 years

UT Tower – the most iconic and recognizable landmark looming over the University of Texas System's flagship campus in Austin – is slated for a $26 million renovation, the system's Board of Regents announced Wednesday. The project to restore the 307-foot structure's exterior and update its observation deck and carillon bells represents the first major renovation in the Tower’s 88-year history. “In the 1930s, the UT Tower was a bold statement about the enduring excellence of the University of Texas at Austin,” Board of Regents Chairman Kevin P. Eltife said in a statement. “Our board is deeply proud to support carrying that bold vision forward for generations to come.”

The restoration also will feature fresh landscaping and the beautification of areas surrounding the tower, including the main mall. “The Tower stands on the very spot where our first learning community gathered, and it endures as a beacon for truth-seekers, academic excellence and achievement,” said UT President Jay Hartzell. “I am grateful to Chairman Eltife and the regents for their incredibly generous support. Their investment will enhance and preserve the Tower’s legacy and ensure that it shines even brighter for generations to come.”

Top of Page

Houston Public Media - October 6, 2022

Harris County courts backlog continues amid finger pointing

A backlog of cases in the Harris County criminal courts system continues to be a problem, with some members of the legal community pointing fingers amid an ongoing search for solutions. The courts grinded to a halt in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the system has struggled to get back to full strength while also dealing with additional challenges over the years. Flooding at the county courthouse in 2017 suspended trials and jury selections while displacing judges and attorneys. Although the downtown Houston building has been back in use for more than a year, it still has not been entirely repaired or returned to its capacity. The case backlog was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented in-person trials for months in 2020 because of concerns about spreading the new coronavirus. The problem hit its peak in the late spring and early summer of 2021, when the county's criminal district courts had about 54,000 active cases pending.

That number had been reduced some, to less than 42,000 as of the end of September 2022, according to data compiled by the District Courts of Harris County. The logjam could be considered a contributing factor to the Houston area's rise in crime since the onset of the pandemic, which has largely followed a national trend, according to Houston Police Department executive chief Matt Slinkard. The more cases that are pending and the longer it takes to hold trials, more accused criminals are out in the community on bonds and the more opportunities they have to commit subsequent crimes. "It takes every part of the criminal justice system working to make sure that we're having the greatest impact on violent crime," Slinkard said. "When you have issues with the jail population, issues with potential overcrowding, issues with not being able to hold trials, not being able to have grand juries, not having court, when those things are not operating in full swing, obviously you're going to have some additional factors that affect violent crime." While blame for the case backlog cannot be pointed at a single government entity – such as elected officials, law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys, court administrators and judges – they all share the responsibility of helping to reduce it.

Top of Page

County Stories

Houston Public Media - October 5, 2022

2 people die at Harris County Jail, marking highest number of deaths in the past decade

Two people died in Harris County Jail over the weekend, bringing the total number of deaths this year to at least 21 — the highest amount of in-custody deaths over the past decade. Bryan Johnson, 34, was arrested June 9 and charged with being a felon in possession of a weapon and evading arrest. According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson was brought to Ben Taub Hospital on Saturday after complaining of chest pain and collapsing — he was pronounced dead later that day. Victoria Simon, 42, was arrested Sept. 29 for drug possession in Fort Bend County. Police say she was found unresponsive Sunday morning and was later pronounced dead in the jail’s clinic.

Autopsies are being conducted by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The Houston Police Department is investigating Johnson’s death and the Texas Rangers are investigating Simon’s. Advocates say the growing number of deaths stems from continuous overcrowding at the jail, which has created uninhabitable conditions for people inside the facility. Since early July, the jail’s population has continued to hover around 10,000 people — dangerously close to the facility’s total capacity. As of Tuesday, there were 9,988 people in the jail, according to Harris County jail dashboard. According to Krishnaveni Gundu, the executive director of the Texas Jail Project, the facility’s bloated population is resulting in a lack of access to timely medical care for those waiting to be booked. “They don’t have access to medication, they don’t have access to medical care,” she said. “Overpopulation and delays in the booking (process) are directly causing some of these deaths.” In early September, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards had sent a notice of non-compliance to Harris County and the Sheriff’s Office after 64 people remained in holding cells at the jail for longer than 48 hours — which is prohibited by the state.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 5, 2022

Testimony: Michelle Barrientes Vela’s office got fees and fines from accused with no judge around

The office of then-Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela collected fines and fees from defendants who had outstanding warrants without arresting them or bringing them before a judge, witnesses said Wednesday in a sentencing hearing in her evidence tampering trial. The violation of criminal justice procedures was routine and continued even after Vela was warned by then-District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood that she needed to stop it, said one of the witnesses, Justice of the Peace Roberto Vazquez, whose Bexar County Precinct. 2 court the constable was elected to serve. The jarring allegations also were detailed by Renee Garza, a longtime clerk and court manager in Precinct 2, who testified that Vela’s deputies collected fines and fees while executing 93 warrants but that much of the money had to be refunded, “because they didn’t have a chance to go before a judge.”

A jury convicted Vela in September of two counts of tampering with evidence related to her office’s handling of cash. Vela will be sentenced by state District Judge Velia Meza, and Wednesday’s allegations, which had never been made public, came from prosecution witnesses in the sentencing phase of the trial. Vela faces up to 10 years in prison. With no prior criminal record, she has applied for probation. Vela, a Democrat, served as constable for 33 months before she was forced to resign after publicly announcing a campaign for sheriff while under investigation by Texas Rangers and the FBI stemming from complaints that she shook down a patron at Rodriguez Park in 2019 for security fees on a pavilion he had already paid for. Vazquez testified Wednesday that he met with Vela to “diplomatically” explain the warrant procedure, “what law enforcement can and can’t do,” because executing those documents is the bulk of what the constable’s office does for his court. “The meeting did not go very well,” he said, because when he tried to show her the statute in a copy of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, she took it away from him.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 5, 2022

Buda road project causes strife among Hays, Travis county commissioners

Tensions are boiling over in the Hays County Commissioners Court over a a multimillion-dollar Buda road project that is slated to help create a traffic loop around Austin. The dispute centers on a not-yet-constructed portion of State Highway 45, a four-lane highway that runs on the outskirts of Buda in Hays County and mostly through Travis County, around Austin. A 3.7-mile gap exists in Buda between where SH 45 ends at FM 1626 and then begins again at Interstate 35. If the gap is closed, it essentially would create a traffic loop around Austin. Austin is the only major metropolitan area in Texas that does not have a traffic loop. San Antonio has loops 1604 and 410.

Hays County commissioners voted 4-1 — with Judge Ruben Becerra the lone “no” vote — on Aug. 30 to approve spending $2.5 million on an engineering study to determine whether building the 3.7-mile section of roadway would be feasible. Advocates for the roadway say it will alleviate traffic for drivers in Kyle and Buda needing to get to and from Austin by providing a bypass to I-35. Opponents say it will be built over sensitive environment and could threaten the Edwards Aquifer. “The 45 connection is seen by some as very important to the regional transportation network,” said Colin Strother, a former Buda planning and zoning committee chairman. Strother supports building the roadway, since as many as 80 percent of Buda workers drive to Austin for work, but he acknowledges that “there are a lot of environmental challenges” to its construction. The roadway would cross over Onion Creek and possibly Bear Creek, as well as both the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer and the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

Top of Page

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 6, 2022

Arlington police innovate federal evidence database to trace, reduce gun violence

Arlington police are piloting a new initiative to curb gun violence, connect the dots between seemingly unrelated shootings and disrupt serial shooters. The nine-person unit is the first of its kind in North Texas, Arlington police Chief Al Jones said Wednesday at a news conference. The team innovates a longstanding national evidence database, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, to link crimes and aggressively chase suspected shooters. Arlington’s NIBIN Engagement Team, formed in late July, has led to 25 arrests in Arlington cases and spurred more than 320 leads, according to the department. Jones called the program a “game changer.” “It’s really driven by intelligence,” he said. “We try to take a holistic approach to gun violence and gun issues by providing detectives with valuable information to disrupt violence in the community.”

NIBIN traces and matches evidence between cases that may otherwise not appear to be connected. NIBIN is a decades-old database maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and stores millions of pieces of ballistic evidence, ATF Dallas Acting Special Agent in Charge James VanVliet said. For example, NIBIN linked multiple shootings between June 2020 and January 2021 — including a road rage incident where an off-duty Tarrant County constable was fired upon but uninjured. Zackey Rahimi, 22, was arrested in connection with several instances of gun violence and is currently serving more than six years in federal prison for a firearms-related charge. He also faces charges in Tarrant County, according to court records. A lawyer representing Rahimi in the Tarrant County cases did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Arlington police have used NIBIN for more than a decade, but the new program is solely dedicated to pursuing investigative leads. The program could also help other police Dallas-Fort Worth agencies, and the unit has passed along information to other police departments, Jones and Deputy Chief Kyle Dishko said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 6, 2022

Melissa leaders saw their town’s housing boom coming, just not when they thought

Seeing their city’s population almost double over just five years isn’t something Melissa city officials would have bet on in 2020, but they’ve been waiting for this for more than a decade. Jay Northcut, who was elected the city’s mayor in May, first moved his family from Plano in 2001, knowing even back then that things would change in the coming years. At that point, Melissa — wedged between U.S. Highway 75 and State Highway 121 just northeast of McKinney — had around 2,000 residents and didn’t even have its own high school. “McKinney at that time was starting to take off, so we knew that the development would eventually make it up here,” Northcut said. The high school had its first graduating class in 2007 and won its first state football title in 2011. The city, along with partners including the school district, first opened the Z-Plex Texas Sports Village in 2018, a sports complex that hosts national tournaments.

Northcut says when he moved to Melissa, there were only two new-home neighborhoods, Country Ridge and Berry Farms. Now there are around 20 to choose from. “The beauty of all this to me, when we talk about the massive growth and the sudden growth, is despite all that, I can say that we were never unprepared, that the planning that was done, the tedious planning that was done from years past, made us ready for that,” Northcut said. City manager Jason Little came to Melissa in November 2006 after working at the city of Hurst, drawn in by the opportunity to shape the growth of what was essentially a blank canvas — and seeing it as a good place to raise his family. Back when he started, the city was on a steep upward curve in population growth, but the 2008 recession slowed that growth spurt. “Had that not occurred, I don’t know if we would have been as prepared as we are,” Little said. “I think it’s because of the recession that we could plan all of our infrastructure, our parks, quality-of-life elements. We’ve been waiting for this; we’re ready.” When Little got to Melissa, there were about 2,000 platted lots ready for development, so for about the next decade it was rare for new subdivisions to pop up as builders in existing neighborhoods were working through the lots they already had. But in 2016, the city started seeing new neighborhoods go through the approval process, and it continued from there.

Top of Page

KXAN - October 5, 2022

Austin nonprofit mobilizes to get racist language removed from Texas home deeds

Robie Dodson has been working as a real estate agent in Austin for seven years. Unsurprisingly, as a realtor, she frequently encounters deeds. “I don’t typically read them,” she admitted. “That’s just crazy. These are huge, long documents. But back in 2016, I did have to read one.” That is because this deed had something written in it so abhorrent it stopped her in her tracks, she said. The home’s deed had a clause that stated no part of the property could be bought, sold or leased to anyone who did not have strict Caucasian blood. “I was totally shocked,” Dodson, who is a white woman, said. Her client who was interested in buying the home was equally offended. “My client said they didn’t want a house that had that attributed to it. And so, they pulled away, and we just moved on.”

The racist language Dodson found is called a racially restrictive covenant, and they are not uncommon in Austin. Racially restrictive covenants were used in the first part of the 20th century by white homeowners to prevent people of color from moving into their neighborhoods. In 1948, the Supreme Court decided that these covenants cannot be enforced, however, the language remains on many deeds across the country. In 2021, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 1202, which aimed to make it easier for homeowners to remove the covenants. HB1202 did not pass in the Texas Senate, but another similar bill, Senate Bill 30, did. SB30 streamlines the process for property owners to remove racially restrictive covenants, but Texas House Rep. Erin Zwiener, D- Blanco and Hays, thinks the bill could be adjusted to make it even easier. “It’s a step forward. It removes filing fees, it makes the process smoother, but it does still require every single property owner to have the capacity to know how to file this document with the court,” Zwiener said.

Top of Page

National Stories

Washington Post - October 5, 2022

How Kevin McCarthy’s political machine worked to sway the GOP field

Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) made a name for himself as a firebrand social media phenomenon who delighted in trolling the left, famously boasting to colleagues that he had built his House office by focusing on communications not legislation. But the strategy made him vulnerable to forces within his own party that helped end his time in office. Top allies of Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, worked this spring to deny Cawthorn a second term in office, after the Donald Trump-endorsed lawmaker made controversial comments about cocaine use and sex parties in Washington that led McCarthy to announce he had “lost my trust,” according to multiple Republicans briefed on the effort, which has not been previously reported.

GOP lobbyist Jeff Miller, one of McCarthy’s closest friends and biggest fundraisers, and Brian O. Walsh, a Republican strategist who works for multiple McCarthy-backed groups, were both involved in an independent effort to oppose Cawthorn as part of a broader project to create a more functioning GOP caucus next year, said the Republicans, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Targeting Cawthorn was part of a larger behind-the-scenes effort by top GOP donors and senior strategists to purge the influence of Republican factions that seek disruption and grandstanding, often at the expense of their GOP colleagues. The political machine around McCarthy has spent millions of dollars this year in a sometimes secretive effort to systematically weed out GOP candidates who could either cause McCarthy trouble if he becomes House speaker or jeopardize GOP victories in districts where a more moderate candidate might have a better chance at winning. The allies close to McCarthy have sometimes taken steps to conceal their efforts, as they did in the Cawthorn case, with money passing from top GOP donors through organizations that do not disclose their donors or have limited public records, federal disclosures show.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 5, 2022

LULAC files DOJ complaint urging investigation into migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard

The League of United Latin American Citizens has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, calling for an investigation into the transit of migrants last month from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, specifically the involvement of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took credit for the move. In a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, LULAC’s national president, Domingo García of Dallas, announced the organization was filing the complaint and increasing the reward for information about the whereabouts of Perla Huerta to $10,000. Huerta has been identified as the woman who allegedly arranged the flights to Martha’s Vineyard and misled migrants about the flight’s destination.

“It’s time that we bring not only Perla Huerta to justice, but those that hired her and are complicit in this scheme to use human beings in this manner,” García, a former Texas state representative and Dallas City Council member, said. Huerta served as a counterintelligence agent and combat medic specialist in the U.S. Army until August. García said Huerta had left her residence in Tampa, Fla., and deleted her Facebook profile. Still, LULAC was able to pull a photo from her social media and obtained another from a migrant in San Antonio. The day after migrants were flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had escalated his busing efforts by dropping migrants off outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ Naval Observatory residence in D.C., without notifying local authorities or nonprofits who have been managing migrant arrivals. García came to the vice president’s residence and said he interviewed migrants there, and later in Martha’s Vineyard. Through these conversations, he learned about “Perla.” “A woman who had lied to them, had told them that they were going to have three months paid work, free housing, free food and free social services if they got on a jet and flew with them to an unknown destination,” García said at the news conference. The $10,000 reward goes to anyone with information about her location or that could lead to her possible arrest. García said the allegations against Huerta include misuse of Florida taxpayer funds, human trafficking, violating multiple immigration laws and making false promises leading to possible kidnapping.

Top of Page

Bloomberg - October 5, 2022

BlackRock faces more ESG fallout as Louisiana pulls $794 million

Louisiana is pulling $794 million from BlackRock Inc. funds, saying the asset-management giant’s views on ESG investing are damaging to the state’s energy industry. “Your blatantly anti-fossil fuel policies would destroy Louisiana’s economy,” Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder said in a letter Wednesday to BlackRock Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink. “Simply put, we cannot be party to the crippling of our own economy.” Schroder said the assets would be liquidated by year-end and that his office has already divested $560 million from BlackRock money market, mutual and exchange-traded funds. BlackRock had no immediate comment.

The move is part of a continuing backlash against New York-based BlackRock over its advocacy for sustainable investing. In Texas, some lawmakers are seeking to steer money away from BlackRock and other firms they deem harmful to oil and gas companies. Meanwhile, the company has faced criticism from environmental advocates for not doing more to combat climate change. In a letter last month responding to criticism from Republican state attorneys general, BlackRock executives said they were “disturbed by the emerging trend of political initiatives that sacrifice pension plans’ access to high-quality investments -- and thereby jeopardize pensioners’ financial returns.” BlackRock, with $8.5 trillion of assets under management at midyear, has emphasized that it’s one of the world’s largest investors in the energy industry, with major stakes in companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 6, 2022

Gunman attacks Thai day-care center, killing dozens, including 22 children

A former police officer opened fire Thursday in a day-care center in northeastern Thailand, killing 32 people — 22 of them children — before killing himself and his family, police said. Authorities identified the shooter as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police officer who was dismissed last year after being caught with amphetamines. After the attack, he went on to kill his wife, child and then himself. Fifteen others were wounded, eight critically, in the attack in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu, a largely agricultural region that has one of the highest poverty rates in Thailand. According to officials, Panya barged into the day-care center in Naklang district in Nong Bua Lamphu just before 1 p.m. He killed a total of 23 people, most of them young children, before fleeing in a white pickup truck. During his escape, he shot and killed another nine people.

The youngest victim was 2 years old, officials at the Naklang district police station told The Washington Post. They added that most of the children were asleep when the attack happened because it was nap time. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called the incident “shocking” in a statement, adding that he was sending national police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapha to the crime scene. “I would like to say sorry to all the families who lost their loved ones,” Damrongsak told reporters before traveling to Nong Bua Lamphu. “I’m going to fly to the site and personally command the operation.” Mass shootings are rare in Thailand, though rates of gun ownership — and gun homicides — are higher here than in other parts of Asia. Thailand, with a population of nearly 70 million, has more than 10 million privately owned guns, of which 4 million are illegal, according to a database run by the University of Sydney in Australia. In 2020, in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in Thailand’s history, a soldier who was angered over a personal land dispute killed 29 people and injured 57 others in the city Nakhon Ratchasima. The gunman trapped and killed victims inside a busy shopping mall, holding out for hours before he was eventually shot and killed by law enforcement. Deadly violence is less common in northern Thailand than in southern Thailand, where the military has been engaged in a decades-old conflict with insurgents. Some of the country’s deadliest events have been military crackdowns on protesters.

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 6, 2022

Ian is probably Florida’s deadliest hurricane since 1935. Most victims drowned.

The water was rising quickly, so the women ran to the top floor of the vacation house they had rented for Nishelle Harris-Miles’s 40th birthday and huddled together on a bed. But Hurricane Ian’s storm surge gushed through the floor, lifting the mattress higher and higher until the four were smashed against the ceiling. Then the roof collapsed, lodging a nail into the neck of the woman they affectionately called Nene. “Nene died right there with us,” said Chanel Maston, 48, sobbing as she recounted the ordeal. “She took her last breaths with us.” As stories of death emerged from the destruction in southwest Florida, President Biden, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and local authorities have clashed over Ian’s casualty toll. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno told “Good Morning America” that deaths could range into the hundreds. Biden warned that Ian could be the “deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history.” The governor has downplayed deaths in daily briefings, saying the tropical cyclone’s numbers will not come near the 1928 hurricane that killed a record 2,500.

Yet Ian already is shaping up to be the deadliest storm to pound Florida since 1935. State authorities have documented 72 deaths thus far — slightly under Hurricane Irma’s toll in 2017, according to the National Hurricane Center. County sheriffs have reported dozens more, pushing the total to at least 103. That makes Ian more fatal than Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Ian’s storm surge has claimed the most lives, according to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, which is tallying direct and indirect deaths. Slightly more than half of Ian’s victims drowned, the latest data shows, underscoring what experts call a frequently overlooked reality: Water usually kills more people than wind. Storm surge as high as 18 feet blasted through homes, trapping some people inside while sweeping others into brownish rivers. One woman was found tangled below her house in wires. Many of those who drowned were elderly. “I don’t want to scare people, but they need to understand: The leading cause of death is going to be drowning,” said W. Craig Fugate, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Storm surge doesn’t sound inherently deadly unless you understand it.”

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 5, 2022

‘The worst we’ve seen’: Ranchers threatened by historic heat and drought

As the sun rose on another hot day, rancher Brad Randel rode through his feed lot working at a grim task — culling cattle from his herd because his ranch’s sparse grass can’t sustain them during a crushing drought. As Randel swung his quarter horse Bay Belle in tight circles, he and a ranch hand separated runty Black Angus heifers to be sold at a livestock auction from the more promising stock. The cows bellowed as the temperature began its climb into the high 90s, the remnants of a late-summer heat wave that blasted the American West with furnace-like temperatures. In other years, Randel would have kept the smaller heifers longer to see if he could fatten them up. “But this is no typical year,” he said. For more than a year, southwest Nebraska has been in the throes of a record drought that has transformed acres of rich pasture and cropland into miles of dirt and ruined corn, soybeans and milo.

Wildfires fueled by high temperatures and dry grass swept through more than 140,000 acres this spring, and rivers, ponds and streams have dried up, forcing ranchers to drive miles to bring water to their parched animals. The shift threatens a way of life for farmers and ranchers, including many who have worked this corner of the prairie since their great-grandparents homesteaded properties in the late 19th century. In a summer where a surprise early heat wave killed more than 2,000 cattle in Kansas that had not yet shed their winter coats, and water scarcity has deprived many animals of critical sustenance, operators are scrambling to adjust. Randel and other ranchers are going to great lengths to protect their animals, including closely monitoring temperatures in feed lots and supplying cooling mists, and many are embracing longer-term measures like cutting back on tilling and planting cover crops to prevent soil erosion. The Biden administration has committed more than $22 billion to climate-friendly farming practices in the Inflation Reduction Act and other measures, on top of more than $4 billion in disaster relief. Yet many of these Americans still say they don’t believe in climate change and view federal attempts to address agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions — some 11 percent of the U.S. total — with suspicion.

Top of Page

Newsclips - October 5, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 4, 2022

Texas National Guard soldier dies of ‘self-inflicted gunshot wound’

A Texas National Guard serviceman working on the border as part of Operation Lone Star died of a self-inflicted gunshot, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Tuesday. Abbott asked Texas to pray for the soldier’s family. “Cecilia and I are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic loss of a soldier with the Texas National Guard. Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of the soldier,” he said in a statement. “Texas Rangers are leading the investigation, as the Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety coordinate with local law enforcement.” Abbott also urged “any Texan who is in crisis... to seek help immediately from a family member, loved one, or a mental health service.”

The governor said mental health resources are offered to military members by the Texas Military Department and the state’s human and health services agency. Abbott and lawmakers have poured more than $4 billion in the two-year budget cycle that began Sept. 1, 2021, into Operation Lone Star, a fivefold increase over previous cycles. It’s a response to what he calls a crisis of President Joe Biden’s making, with the federal government largely responsible for border security. The money pays for thousands of soldiers to assist both state police and federal Border Patrol agents, as they apprehend migrants near the Rio Grande River and on private ranches. The unprecedented state effort also has included criminal prosecution of migrants for state misdemeanors, including trespassing and criminal mischief. That has entailed building new detention centers and adding public defenders. Abbott also has ordered that migrants be placed on charter buses and sent to Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago. The state also has funded a portion of permanent border wall in Starr County and cyclone fences or concertina wire for scores of miles along the border, mostly in Maverick and adjacent Kinney County.

Top of Page

Fox News - October 5, 2022

Biden-DeSantis Florida meeting previews possible 2024 contest

President Biden is set to meet with Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday to discuss the state and federal response to Hurricane Ian, a meeting that offers a possible preview of the 2024 White House contest. The meeting will take place in Fort Myers where state and local officials, including DeSantis, are expected to brief Biden on rebuilding efforts underway after the storm. The meeting will require Biden and DeSantis, who have clashed publicly over immigration, the coronavirus and other issues for months, to portray a united front in the face of natural disaster, a result one political observer said could help both politicians. "They both need each other at this moment," said Davis Houck, a professor of political communication at Florida State University. "The president is appearing with a popular Republican governor and critic, which will make him look bipartisan."

"DeSantis, who is up for re-election this year, gets to share a stage with the commander-in-chief and show voters a different image than the one they might only know of him as a partisan fighter," Houck added. DeSantis is widely viewed as a likely challenger to Biden. While both Biden and DeSantis allies deny the visit is political at all, experts say that won't stop the members of their respective political parties from seeing it that way. "Both sides are going to be sizing each other up, especially since DeSantis has been pitched as the successor to former President Donald Trump," said Brian Fonseca, the director of the Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University. "Everyone will be looking at the optics carefully." The visit comes as the White House has mobilized the federal government to provide resources and help to Florida and other states impacted by Hurricane Ian. While officials on the ground have praised the White House's responses, Republicans have criticized the White House for what they say is a series of missteps.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 5, 2022

Federal judge orders Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to testify in an abortion lawsuit

A federal judge has ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to testify in a high-profile abortion case, a week after the Republican reportedly fled his McKinney home to avoid being served with a subpoena. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman wrote that Paxton needs to clarify how his office will enforce the state’s sweeping new abortion ban that carries possible penalties of prison time and six-figure fines. In late August, Texas abortion funds filed a lawsuit seeking protections to resume paying for people’s flights, hotels and other expenses to travel out of state for the procedure. The eight funds paused the work after the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, which triggered a near total abortion ban in Texas and threats of criminal prosecution from Paxton and other elected leaders.

Paxton, who is up for a third term in November, has fought testifying in the case. Last week, a process server attempted to deliver a subpoena at Paxton’s home, but wrote in an affidavit that the attorney general drove off quickly, refusing to accept the document. Paxton later said he avoided the server out of safety concerns. Initially, Pitman quashed the subpoena. But on Tuesday, he reversed course, knocking down the assertion that Paxton had been notified only at “the eleventh hour” and saying that only the attorney general can clarify the office’s conflicting approaches to the law. “In this case, Paxton has inserted himself into this dispute by repeatedly tweeting and giving interviews about the Trigger Ban,” Pitman wrote. “It is challenging to square the idea that Paxton has time to give interviews threatening prosecutions but would be unduly burdened by explaining what he means to the very parties affected by his statements,” he said. Pitman set a deadline of Oct. 11 for both sides to agree on the particulars of how Paxton will testify. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment. His legal team can challenge the decision at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeal.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 4, 2022

Jack Cagle pitches alternative Harris County tax plan, defends court absences

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle on Tuesday called on County Judge Lina Hidalgo to schedule a special meeting on Friday to discuss an alternate tax rate proposal that he said would fund flood control and add “boots on the ground” for law enforcement. Cagle, along with fellow Republican Commissioner Tom Ramsey, has skipped the last two Commissioners Court meetings to prevent the Democratic majority from passing an increase in the property tax rate, saying citizens are struggling with inflation following the pandemic. Cagle said the meeting should be for discussion only -- not a vote – and called on his colleague to engage in a real debate and discussion of the proposal.

The commissioner said his proposal calls for a property tax rate above the “no new revenue” rate that would be implemented if he and Ramsey continue to skip court meetings. He did not say what the exact rate would be, but said it would produce $149 million in additional revenue, compared to $257 million that would be generated by the rate favored by the Democratic majority. He said his proposal would produce $56 million to hire 200 more law enforcement offices, give Harris Health an additional $45 million and would fully fund the flood control district, plus an additional $24 million. It also would leave another $24 million in discretionary funding for Commissioners Court to consider. Hidalgo’s office said it would issue a statement later Tuesday. The county judge announced on Twitter earlier in the day that she was leaving the campaign trail to recuperate following a Monday visit to an emergency room with fever and dehydration.

Top of Page

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 4, 2022

Dallas, other North Texas cities aim to deny Oncor’s request to increase electric rates

The city of Dallas, along with 168 other North Texas cities, is pushing back against Oncor’s request to raise its electric utility rates for residents. In a meeting next week, Dallas City Council members are scheduled to vote on a resolution to oppose request for an 11% increase, which was initially filed in May. The proposed spike would tack on an additional $6 to the average Texans’ electricity bills each month. Oncor operates power lines across Texas and is responsible for distributing power to more than 3.8 million people and businesses. Oncor’s rates are part of the electricity bills from retail electric providers. Despite reporting a revenue increase of $60 million last quarter, Oncor says the increase is necessary to “recover significant system investments” and meet growth needs across the state, according to its website. Since 2017, Oncor has invested more than $10 billion in upgrading infrastructure “in order to provide a safer and smarter electric grid.”

“Our investments support the state’s ongoing and expected growth, and we’re seeing growth in customers, in transmission interconnection requests, renewable generation as well as other interconnections,” spokeswoman Connie Piloto said. “The state is growing — this is going to help us meet the demand.” She added that Oncor must also accommodate a flood of new residents moving to Texas, as well as companies, such as Samsung, relocating its headquarters and moving its business to the utility’s purview. The company last filed a rate review in 2017, which resulted in its current rates at a fixed monthly amount of $3.42 and a 4 cent multiplier for the amount of electricity used per month. Under the proposed rate case, Oncor’s fixed monthly rate will go up by 90 cents at $4.32, and the multiplier will go up to 4.4 cents. According to its website, these rates represent some of “the lowest electric delivery rates” of any investor-owned utility in Texas. “We’re focused on making the necessary investment and doing it in a way that is efficient and cost effective,” Piloto said. “We’re always evaluating changing business and operation needs to prioritize the appropriate programs and projects despite the significant growth in customers and infrastructure.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 4, 2022

Texas Health, UT Southwestern agree on new contract with Blue Cross

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas has reached a multi-year agreement with Texas Health Resources and UT Southwestern Medical Center to keep the providers’ doctors and facilities in network. The contract, which was being negotiated for over a year, ends a stalemate that could have affected about 459,000 patients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That’s the number receiving notices that the contract was ending today, which would have forced many patients to switch doctors or face the prospect of much higher deductibles and copayments for out-of-network care. Texas Health and UTSW were negotiating the contract through their alliance, Southwestern Health Resources, also known as SWHR.

“We value the care that SWHR provides our members,” Jim Springfield, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas, said in a statement. “We stood for our members and were able to reach an agreement in their best interest. The agreement reflects our mutual commitment to our members, customers and SWHR’s patients having access to high quality and affordable care. As a customer-owned health insurance industry leader in Texas for more than 90 years, we’re pleased to continue our long-standing relationship with SWHR.” In a statement, a Southwestern Health spokesman said the deal enables “us to deliver our highest-quality care to the hundreds of thousands of patients who give us the privilege of their trust and confidence.” Terms of the contract, including the increase in reimbursement rates, were not disclosed. In an email to brokers last month, Blue Cross said Texas Health and UTSW were seeking a $900 million increase over the next 32 months. A Blue Cross official also said the insurer had recently updated reimbursement contracts with all major health systems in North Texas – and that Texas Health and UTSW had rejected a similar offer.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 4, 2022

Hidalgo says she went to ER with fever, dehydration; is recuperating at home

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday said she temporarily has left the campaign trail to recuperate from an emergency room visit on Monday. The first-term county judge tweeted that she went to the ER with a rising fever, pain and dehydration. Hidalgo said the symptoms cut her day short Monday, and she will have to see her doctor again in the coming days. The county’s chief executive is running for a second term in November and faces Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer. “Look forward to returning to work & the campaign trail later this week,” Hidalgo said.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 4, 2022

This Texas tax incentive boosts development. But who is really benefiting from it?

Two miles from where Medina collapsed in the punishing heat, there’s no shortage of amenities in the trendy neighborhood of Uptown. Its grand thoroughfare, Post Oak Boulevard, is lined with millions of dollars in pedestrian improvements — 12-foot-wide sidewalks, covered bus stops and 1,000 oak trees. Yet in Uptown, luxury cars often outnumber pedestrians. In neighboring Gulfton, meanwhile, one out of three workers — many of them new immigrants and refugees — depend on transit or other forms of transportation besides a car. Less than half the bus stops in Gulfton have shelters — while most of the stops in Uptown do. These disparities don’t exist entirely by accident. In 1999, City Council gave Uptown a guaranteed fountain of cash that Gulfton, and most of the rest of the city, lacks. This spigot of taxpayer funds comes from an obscure financing tool known as a TIRZ — a tax increment reinvestment zone.

Here’s how it works: In a TIRZ, part of the city property taxes generated each year are set aside to be spent only within the zone, rather than sent to City Hall to be spent anywhere in Houston. Sometimes, county government or the school district chips in, too, cranking up the cash available for projects. The idea is that subsidizing new streets, sidewalks and parks will spur private investment and revitalize stagnant areas. But like other tax incentives in Texas, TIRZs have often strayed from the vision lawmakers described decades ago in launching the program. Over the past year, a Houston Chronicle investigation has revealed how the state’s biggest economic development programs are showering tax dollars on the politically connected while leaving out everyday Texans. In this installment, the Chronicle found that tax increment financing is riddled with the same problems, trapping public funds in stable or even thriving neighborhoods while needier areas compete for scraps in strained city budgets. Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than Houston, the TIRZ capital of Texas.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 4, 2022

UH football coach Dana Holgorsen gets Tilman Fertitta's support

A chorus of boos filled TDECU Stadium in the final seconds of regulation Friday night. For the third time in five games, the University of Houston watched a lead evaporate as Tulane marched nearly the length of the field for a touchdown with 39 seconds left to force overtime. UH coach Dana Holgorsen motioned to the crowd with both arms raised in the air. “I was mad, too,” Holgorsen said Monday, three days after a 27-24 overtime loss to Tulane dropped UH to 2-3 this season. “I threw my hands up like, ‘Yeah, I agree.’ ” There is mounting frustration among the Cougars' fan base and key athletic donors regarding this season’s struggles. Coming off a 12-win season, UH was the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference and perhaps play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Another strong season would serve as a springboard for next year’s jump to the Big 12.

With five years and $22.5 million left on his contract, Holgorsen is in no immediate jeopardy of being fired despite the Cougars’ early-season struggles in Year 4. “Dana Holgorsen is our football coach,” UH board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle on Monday. Barring a total collapse over the final seven games, the belief inside UH circles is that Holgorsen will be given at least one more year as the school transitions to the Big 12. That comes with some caveats, namely that Holgorsen does not lose the locker room, the team shows improvement during the final two months, and Holgorsen considers assuming offensive play-calling duties. Any talk of parting ways would begin with a hefty buyout that calls for Holgorsen to be owed 100 percent of his total base salary and nonsalary compensation through the 2025 season plus 60 percent of the final two seasons. He is scheduled to make $4.3 million in 2023, $4.4 million in 2024 and $4.5 million in 2025, $4.6 million in 2026 and $4.7 million in 2027, which puts him on par with several coaches at Power Five programs. Holgorsen received a multiyear contract extension in March. A clause in his original contract required UH and Holgorsen to begin negotiating a raise “in good faith” if the school were invited to a Power Five conference during his tenure.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 4, 2022

Civil rights group sues Bexar County over closing polling places

A progressive nonprofit group is suing Bexar County over its decision to close more than 40 polling places ahead of the November election. The county has approved 259 polling places for Election Day, about 129 fewer than the Texas Organizing Project alleges is required by the Texas Election Code. By comparison, in 2018 and 2020, the county had 302 polling places open. The suit, filed in state district court in Bexar County, seeks a court order to increase the number of polling places to 388. Bexar County moved to a countywide polling place system in 2019, meaning voters can vote at any polling site no matter where they live, as opposed to voting in their assigned precinct.

The nonprofit, represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project, has sued successfully over the issue before. In 2020, a district court judge ruled in their favor, forcing the county to open 18 additional polling places three weeks before Election Day. “It is unacceptable that the County turned its back on that promise, especially after the legal action that was required in the 2020 election,” said Joaquin Gonzalez, senior supervising attorney for TOP’s voting rights program. “By closing polling locations, Bexar County is not only making it harder for certain communities to cast their ballots, but it is also doing so in clear violation of the law. It’s time to ensure that all voters in Bexar County, no matter their zip code, can vote safely and easily.” Texas law requires that the number of countywide polling places must be no less than “50 percent of the number of precinct polling places that would otherwise be located in the county for that election.” That is where the nonprofit and the county’s interpretations diverge. Bexar County elections administrator Jacque Callanen did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in the past, her office has argued for a different baseline number of polling places.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 4, 2022

Anti-Beto O'Rourke billboard urges Texans to 'remember the Alamo' — but no one knows what that means

Over the weekend, a billboard aimed at Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke went viral on social media and sparked confusion for some. The billboard, one of a series paid for by the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, features a photo of O'Rourke next to text that reads, "REMEMBER THE ALAMO. VOTE NO FOR BETO." But the billboard's intended message didn't come across to everyone.

One user speculated the billboard intends to indicate O'Rourke "doesn't stand for Texas values" in the lead-up to his election against Gov. Greg Abbott. Another user wondered what O'Rourke has to do with the Alamo. Historically, the phrase "Remember the Alamo" was used as a rallying cry for Texans in their war for independence from Mexico. According to the Texas Military Forces Museum, it represented courage and undying self-sacrifice. In recent years, scholars and writers have re-evaluated that notion, saying it overlooks the fact that the Texas-Mexico war was waged in part to preserve slavery. The Chronicle reached out to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC multiple times to try and further understand the billboard's meaning, but received no response. Last month, the Texas Tribune's Patrick Svitek reported that Defend Texas Liberty PAC put up 17 similar billboards across the state, although not all have the same Alamo-related text.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 4, 2022

Hamid Beladi and Amitrajeet A. Batabyal: Use solar geoengineering to fight climate change

(Hamid Beladi is the Janey S. Briscoe Endowed Chair in Business at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Amitrajeet A. Batabya is the Arthur J. Gosnell professor of economics at the Rochester Institute of Technology.) Scientists, economists and policymakers throughout the world now agree that climate change is the most serious environmental problem confronting humankind. Although these long-term changes in temperatures and weather patterns are caused, at least to some extent, by natural forces, there is consensus that at least since the 1800s, human activities have been the primary factor in making climate change a salient problem. The burning of fossil fuels — examples include coal, oil and gas — is the main contributor to the rise in the Earth’s surface temperature. This generates emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These emissions can be thought of as a blanket that wraps planet Earth, traps the sun’s heat and raises the Earth’s surface temperature. To address this problem, economists and policymakers have generally advocated the use of price(tax) and quantity control(carbon credits) instruments.

Efforts have largely been concentrated on creating the right incentives to get people and firms to diminish their use of fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy sources. Occasionally, politicians have advocated the use of bans. California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently stated that by 2035, his state would ban the sales of new gasoline-powered cars and light trucks. The hope here is that such an act will provide a forceful nudge to state residents to drive more electric vehicles that typically have no tailpipe emissions. Although there is nothing wrong with price and quantity control instruments to fight climate change, these tools have not done enough to put a dent in the massive problem. We hear about climate devastation regularly. There have been multiple news reports about record high temperatures in the Western states of the U.S.; devastating floods in multiple cities in Australia and in large parts of Europe, including Germany and the Netherlands; unbearable heat waves in New Delhi; and uncharacteristically high rainfall leading to extensive flooding in Pakistan. It’s time to think of new solutions. This means thinking seriously about solar geoengineering or climate engineering. This kind of engineering encompasses two kinds of technologies: carbon dioxide removal and, most intriguingly, sunlight reflection methods.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 4, 2022

U.S. Chamber of Commerce backs Dallas Rep. Colin Allred’s re-election campaign

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is again supporting Rep. Colin Allred’s re-election effort, despite the Dallas Democrat’s support for some measures the country’s largest business organization opposes. Monique Thierry, U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president, SW-South Central Regional Office, said in a press release on Tuesday that Allred has delivered results for Texas’ 32nd congressional district. “Born and raised in North Dallas, Rep. Allred deeply understands the challenges facing job creators, the workforce, and families in northeast Texas,” Thierry said. “He supports free enterprise and the American business community.” Chamber endorsements of Democrats were once few and far between - and they have remained more an exception than the rule. But the organization has become more open in recent election cycles to straying from its traditional GOP alignment.

That movement comes as former President Donald Trump has given the Republican party a populist makeover and GOP politicians have sparred with major companies over “woke” actions from climate-friendly policies to support for LGBTQ causes. Allred welcomed the endorsement and said he has made supporting businesses and workers a priority. “I’m proud of my efforts to build an economy that works for everyone including by passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the USMCA trade agreement which will create thousands of jobs, and to secure pandemic assistance to keep restaurants and small businesses open and their employees getting paid,” Allred said in the release. Allred accepted the group’s “Advocate for American Business” award Tuesday at a North Dallas Chamber of Commerce event. The U.S. chamber previously overhauled its criteria for evaluating members to grant extra credit for bipartisanship that boosted the scores of some Democrats even if they broke with the chamber on some of its legislative priorities. The chamber has said that was an effort to “more fully reward” members who support pro-business policies while also encouraging them to reach “compromises necessary for effective governing.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 4, 2022

North Dallas surgical center reopens after investigation into compromised IV bags

Baylor Scott & White Surgicare North Dallas reopened last week for normal operations following a federal investigation into a doctor who is accused of tampering with IV bags at the facility. Baylor Scott & White said in a written statement that the Department of Justice concluded the incidents were isolated to one person. Anesthesiologist Raynaldo Rivera Ortiz Jr., 59, faces federal charges of tampering with a consumer product causing death and intentional drug adulteration. Authorities say compromised IV bags led to the death of 55-year old Melanie Kaspar, another anesthesiologist at the facility, and at least 10 other instances of “unexpected cardiac emergencies” in patients. Ortiz was arrested Sept. 14 in Plano and faces up to life in prison if convicted. His attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Texas Medical Board suspended Ortiz’s medical license in mid-September. According to authorities, Kaspar died June 21 after giving herself an IV at her Lakewood home and collapsing. She was initially thought to have died from a heart attack; however, the Dallas County medical examiner’s office later determined her cause of death was the toxic effects of bupivacaine, a local anesthetic. Kaspar used an IV bag from the surgical center, the Texas Medical Board said. The facility shut down Aug. 24, after a compromised IV bag caused an 18-year old undergoing “routine surgery” to be placed on a ventilator. Analysis of the fluid from the bag revealed the presence of bupivacaine, epinephrine and lidocaine. The U.S. attorney’s office said the surgical center identified 10 additional “unexpected cardiac emergencies” that occurred in “otherwise unremarkable surgeries” between May and August. A majority of the incidents occurred during longer surgeries using more than one IV bag, including bags retrieved midsurgery from a stainless-steel bag warmer. Multiple surveillance videos show Ortiz swapping and placing IV bags into a bag warmer just before patients undergoing surgery went into cardiac arrest.

Top of Page

Dallas Observer - October 5, 2022

The Rangers will honor just about everything on the field except gay pride ... and winning

After 50 seasons of baseball in Arlington, the Texas Rangers’ scoreboard is downright embarrassing. Zero prizes. No pride. As the players close out yet another lousy, losing year on the field, the front office will stubbornly retain its reputation as the last homophobic holdout – the only team in Major League Baseball to have never hosted a “Pride Night” welcoming its LGBTQIA+ fans. The Rangers are neither winners of a baseball title, nor champions for social diversity. Instead, they smugly remain one of the most intolerant, least inclusive franchises in all of professional sports. “It hurts, especially when we see teams around the country – even here in Dallas – being more progressive and hosting Pride Nights,” says Lee Daugherty, owner of Alexandre’s bar and restaurant in Oak Lawn. “For a community that feels left out anyway, it digs at us a little more. Lots of my friends and customers strongly support the Rangers. It’d be nice to finally see a little love back.”

Meanwhile, the Rangers wouldn’t even alter their avatar on Spirit Day, set aside in October to take a stand against the bullying of LGBTQIA+ youths. Last year all 30 MLB teams blasted social-media acknowledgement of Spirit Day. The Rangers were the only one to remove LGBTQIA+ from its message. Included in the team’s diluted missive was its ironically machismo official hashtag: #StraightUpTX. “It’s puzzling,” says Rafael McDonnell, Dallas’ Resource Center senior advocacy policy and communications manager, who initiated a continuing dialogue with the team in 2018. “The Rangers are literally throwing money away. They’re failing Marketing 101.” Baseball’s Pride tradition started with the Chicago Cubs in 2001. Twenty years later there were only two abstaining teams — both in Texas — until the Houston Astros hosted their “Baseball is for Everyone” Pride Night in June 2021 against, sure enough, their upstate rival. Behind the scenes, there has been progress … small acts of kindness tiptoeing toward a bridge between club and community.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - October 5, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Forget the rankings. Texas has work to do on mental health.

Texas has a quarter-million kids who are struggling with major depression and not getting treatment. Experts recommend having one school psychologist for every 500 students. Texas averages one school psychologist per 5,000 students. And half of the people in our state live in communities that do not have enough mental health professionals to provide care. Even if they can find a counselor, nearly half of the Texas adults who need mental health care say they don’t get it because of cost. Does it really matter how Texas stacks up against other states in these categories? Aren’t these indicators worrisome enough? If you tuned in Friday to Texas’ one and only gubernatorial debate, you heard Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke assert that our state is “dead last in the nation when it comes to mental health care access.” Gov. Greg Abbott said that was “false information,” and he countered that “Texas is now 27th in mental health care because of funding that I provided.” Perhaps you’re wondering who was right.

O’Rourke accurately cited the 2022 rankings by Mental Health America, which put Texas at the very bottom of the list when it comes to access to care. That ranking looks at the prevalence of people who need care but can’t get it, in part because of cost, insurance coverage or availability of professionals. Abbott’s campaign directed me to an analysis by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which ranked Texas as 27th in behavioral health expenditures per person, after factoring in the state’s most recent investments. (Notably, though, Texas has not expanded Medicaid, meaning about 400,000 people who have mental health or substance abuse disorders don’t have insurance to cover the treatment they need.) The Meadows Institute also notes that Texas fared better in other categories in the Mental Health America rankings: The Lone Star State ranked 33rd in adult care for 2022, for instance. But let’s not lose sight of this: We’re talking about a shortage of health care for people who are hurting. Rankings provide one window into our state’s efforts. Whether we’re 27th, 33rd or dead last, though, we can see Texas has considerable work to do.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 4, 2022

USAA liable for $10 million in punitive damages from Hurricane Katrina case in Mississippi

USAA is on the hook for $10 million in punitive damages after a Mississippi jury ruled against it in a 14-year-old lawsuit filed by a husband and wife who lost their home in Hurricane Katrina. The verdict marks the end of a second trial resulting from the lawsuit, filed in 2008 in Jackson County, along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. The first ended in 2013 with a jury finding USAA must compensate the plaintiffs — Paul Minor and the estate of his wife, Sylvia Minor, who by then had died — for $1.5 million in damages to their USAA-insured home.

The plaintiffs appealed that verdict because they also sought punitive and “extracontractual” damages, covering costs such as attorney fees. They argued that USAA had shown bad faith in failing to pay their claim and taking several years to make payments. The judge in the first trial had approved a request by USAA that the Minors shouldn’t be allowed to ask for those types of damages. In 2017, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that punitive damages shouldn’t have been precluded and sent the case back for a new trial. Along with the $10 million in punitive damages, the jury ruled Sept. 23 that USAA must pay $458,000 in extracontractual damages to Paul Minor and his wife’s estate. The San Antonio-based insurance giant paid the $1.5 million from the original verdict in 2013, said David Baria, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs. Calling the punitive damages “excessive,” USAA spokesman Roger Wildermuth said in a statement the company plans to appeal.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 5, 2022

Dallas County short on poll workers and voting centers for November election

Almost one month from Election Day, Dallas County has only about half of 3,000 poll workers it needs to run the polls. Election officials and political party heads are not overly concerned, saying that many people register at the last minute. But Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said at Tuesday’s regular county commissioners’ meeting that he is worried. “That makes me a little nervous,” he said. The Dallas County Elections Department Administrator Michael Scarpello said the number of confirmed poll workers is continually changing. In a presentation to the Dallas County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Scarpello said the county needs 3,000 poll workers for the Nov. 8 election, but only about 1,565 workers have been confirmed to work the election. Poll workers are selected by political parties and approved by the Commissioners Court. The party that won countywide in the most recent gubernatorial race — Democrats in Dallas County — gets a slight majority of poll workers.

Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Kristy Noble provided a statement that the party has 27 poll judge and 17 alternate poll judge positions left to fill, and these vacancies are being filled rapidly. “We are five weeks out from Election Day and we are in a good position to have every Democratic judge and clerk opening filled for Nov. 8th,” the statement said. “We are confident that we will have the election workers needed to have a free, fair, and accessible election.” Republican National Committee’s Dallas County Chair Jennifer Stoddard Hajdu told The Dallas Morning News that she also feels good about the midterm elections and has over 1,030 poll workers who have already been trained or are scheduled to train. “We are getting very close,” she said. “I think we are ahead of the game. We’re anticipating a great turnout, and this is the most efficient process we’ve had so far since I’ve come into it.” If the political parties fail to recruit enough poll workers, Scarpello told The News there is a reserve pool. Dallas County commissioners have been watching the management of the midterm election closely after approving millions of dollars for restructuring. Scarpello has been tasked with addressing previous election issues including long waiting lines at polls, payroll concerns and disparity complaints between residents in the north and south of the county.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 5, 2022

Josh Cowen: Texas should avoid school vouchers failures found in other states

(Josh Cowen is a professor of education policy at Michigan State University.) Among national experts, Texas has a strong tradition for building data and evidence to inform education policymaking. The Education Research Center at University of Texas at Dallas, for example, is a leader both within the state and across the country in building and maintaining data systems to help guide decision-making with the facts. We’ve learned about teacher retention, pay and working conditions from Texas, for instance, and about the impact of charter schools, English Language instruction, college admissions policies, and the effects of displacing students from Hurricane Katrina on peers in Houston — just to name a few diverse examples. But when it comes to school vouchers or voucher-like programs — the use of taxpayer dollars to support private school tuition, as Gov. Greg Abbott and others are considering— Texas can learn from what’s been done in other states.

There have been four independent evaluations of voucher programs similar to those now discussed in Texas: in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. All have shown some of the largest negative impacts on student learning ever seen among education researchers. Take Louisiana, for example, just over the border. When school voucher programs were created and expanded after Hurricane Katrina, two separate research teams studied how students performed after switching from public to private schools. The results were shocking: student learning loss was almost double what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to test scores more recently, and those voucher results persisted over time. Like many advocates across the country, Abbott has alluded to private school quality, remarking about a private school he found “astonishing” this summer, “it shows the quality of the type of education that they are receiving right now.” That’s mostly just a perception. Despite rhetoric that tax support for private tuition allows parents to find the best academic fit for their kids, the reality is that most private schools are not academically elite institutions, and the ones actually available to parents using a voucher often don’t have room.

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 5, 2022

Keller school board cautioned about prayers during meetings

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is monitoring the Keller school board meetings after board members in July began to invite clergy to pray. Sammi Lawrence, an attorney with the Freedom From religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, said there are concerns that the school board is excluding other faiths such as Islam and Judaism. “We got numerous complaints from community members about it,” Lawrence said. “Members were offended by the prayers, feeling that it was inappropriate for the school board to insert prayers into the meetings. They were alienated.” Lawrence sent a letter to the school district on July 29 that stated the Freedom From Religion Foundation believes that the school board is likely violating the Constitution by allowing a Christian prayer.

“By selecting a Christian religious leader who gave an explicitly Christian prayer, the Board’s current practice likely violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government promotion and favoritism of one religion over another religion, in this case, Christianity, or religion generally over nonreligion,” Lawrence wrote. Lawrence added that the practice appears to violate the board’s policy against affirmatively sponsoring the particular religious practice of prayer. The letter also stated no board member should seek to impose his or her personal religious preferences on those at meetings. The school board’s practice of offering a prayer at the meetings “needlessly” exposes the Keller school district to legal liability and ostracizes residents of different faiths or those who don’t practice a religion, Lawrence said. But Timothy Davis, an attorney with the school board law firm Cantey Hanger, wrote in an Aug. 15 letter to the Freedom From Religion Foundation that the school district is not violating the Constitution by allowing prayers at meetings because it is protected by the legislative prayer exception.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 4, 2022

Fort Worth city manager reprimanded for trip with Basses

Fort Worth city manager David Cooke will be forced to recuse himself from all city business pertaining to Sundance Square after a trip to Aspen with its owners raised questions of conflict of interest. Mayor Mattie Parker and the City Council said in a statement that the trip displayed poor judgment on Cooke’s part, adding that city officials must be held to a higher standard and demonstrate “the highest level of ethics.” While the statement acknowledged Cooke’s personal relationship with Sundance Square owners Ed and Sasha Bass, it argued he should have displayed more discretion given the numerous contractual relationships between the city and the 37-square block business and entertainment district.

City Attorney Leann Guzman will meditate any further developments in the dispute between Sundance Square and the downtown business and advocacy non-profit Downtown Fort Worth Inc. over a management special downtown taxing district, according to the statement. The city’s director of economic development Robert Sturns instructed both sides to come to an agreement in August, but Cooke, or someone he designates, could still be called upon to mediate if the sides can’t come to an agreement. Parker said both she and the council expressed their disappointment in Cooke, adding he would need to work hard to restore public trust. “Public perception matters, and we must go the extra mile to reassure residents and taxpayers removing even the appearance of a gray area,” the statement read. Cooke and his wife traveled to Aspen, Colorado, on the private jet of Ed and Sasha Bass, around Labor Day weekend. The city’s ethics code bars city employees and their partners from accepting “any benefit, including a promise of future employment, of sufficient economic value,” from anyone who has a financial interest impacted by the decisions of that city employee.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 4, 2022

Alamo Heights architecture firm alleges ex-bookkeeper embezzled almost $1.7 million

Chris Lingle has taken to Facebook to document the glamorous lifestyle he and his wife, Sarah Lingle, share. He’s posted photographs of vacations in exotic locales, a new Audi automobile, luxury watches, designer shoes and home improvements. But the San Antonio couple now are facing allegations that they have been paying for it with money stolen from Alamo Heights’ Sage Architecture Inc., where Sarah Lingle worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for almost five years. In a lawsuit filed last month in state District Court in San Antonio, the architecture and landscape architecture firm accuses her of repeatedly using a company debit card to pay for luxury items and ordinary expenses such as mortgage payments and grocery bills.

Sage has discovered almost $1.6 million in thefts from charges on the debit card, which it says was only authorized for purchasing office supplies and equipment. In addition, it says it found nearly $96,000 she allegedly stole by forging checks. Attempts to reach the Lingles for comment were unsuccessful. Phone numbers for them were either not working or not accepting calls. She owns a house in the 27200 block of Spiral Canyon on the far North Side. Randy Dove, a Sage principal, issued a statement through San Antonio attorney William Ford. “We are extremely disappointed to learn that a person we had placed such a high level of trust(in) had been stealing from us over the past five years,” he said. “While this was a shock to everyone in our company, we are moving forward — continuing to serve our clients as we always have. This in no way has affected our day-to-day operations.” Dove added the firm “will continue to cooperate with both state and federal authorities as we go through this process. We plan to leave no stone unturned.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 4, 2022

‘This shouldn’t be my life:’ Day and night protest outside Uvalde school district HQ enters second week

The protesters camped outside the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District headquarters began their second week Tuesday with no agreement to their demands and the same question as when they started: Will it end with arrests or be an endurance contest? At the vigil’s center is Brett Cross, a prominent critic of the police response to the May 24 massacre of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School who lost a nephew in the attack. Cross raised 10-year-old Uziyah Garcia and considered him a son. On Sept. 27, after months berating the district and calling on it to suspend its police officers and investigate their performance during the shooting, he and a few supporters brought some lawn chairs, a couple of cases of bottled water and a cot to the employee entrance used by the superintendent and other school officials.

By the weekend, the camp had acquired two blue pop-up awnings, a tent, tables and coolers full of donated food. Other families who lost children in the shooting have spent hours by his side, but Cross is the one who has gone without any trips home to change clothes or sleep in his own bed. Cross also had no appropriate place to go to the bathroom, though late Sunday he celebrated on Twitter the apparent arrival of a toilet to the campsite. It isn’t visible to passersby. Someone tried to provide a construction-site-quality portable toilet last week but the school district ordered it removed. The group’s interactions with employees arriving and exiting the building were tense at the outset, and news media were soon ordered to keep to the other end of the parking lot. Things settled into a routine, but late last week the district acknowledged the “challenges” posed by the protesters in a letter to staff and families and suggested that it was preparing to remove them.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - October 4, 2022

Elon Musk tells Twitter he’ll abandon fight, go through with $44 billion deal

Elon Musk is abandoning his legal battle to back out of buying Twitter by offering to go through with his original $44 billion bid for the social media platform. The mercurial Tesla CEO made the offer in a letter to Twitter, Musk disclosed in a filing Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The offer comes just two weeks before Twitter’s lawsuit seeking to force Musk to go through with the deal goes to trial in Delaware Chancery Court. The filing says he’ll complete the deal as long as he gets debt financing and provided that the court gets rid of the lawsuit. By going through with the deal, Musk essentially gave Twitter what it was seeking from the court — “specific performance” of the contract with Musk, meaning he would have to go through with the purchase at the original price. The contract Musk signed also has a $1 billion breakup fee.

Eric Talley, a law professor at Columbia University, said he’s not surprised by Musk’s turnaround, especially ahead of a scheduled deposition of Musk by Twitter attorneys starting Thursday that was “not going to be pleasant.” “On the legal merits, his case didn’t look that strong,” Talley said. “It kind of seemed like a pretty simple buyer’s remorse case.” If Musk were to lose the trial, the judge could not only force him to close the deal but also impose interest payments that would have increased its cost, Talley said. What did surprise Talley is that Musk doesn’t appear to be trying to renegotiate the deal. Even a modest price reduction might have given Musk a “moral victory” and the ability to say he got something out of the protracted dispute, Talley said. News of the renewed offer caused trading of Twitter stock to be halted much of Tuesday afternoon on the New York Stock Exchange for “news pending” after it jumped nearly 13% to $47.93. That’s still well below the price of $54.20 in Musk’s original offer. Trading halts are how stock exchanges give investors a forced timeout when trading for a stock gets too chaotic, or when a company is about to offer market-moving news. Neither Twitter nor attorneys for Musk responded to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Top of Page

Associated Press - October 4, 2022

Trump asks Supreme Court to intervene in Mar-a-Lago dispute

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to step into the legal fight over the classified documents seized during an FBI search of his Florida estate, escalating a dispute over the powers of an independent arbiter appointed to inspect the records. The Trump team asked the justices to overturn a lower court ruling and allow the arbiter, called a special master, to review the roughly 100 documents with classification markings that were taken in the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago. A three-judge panel from the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit last month limited the special master's review to the much larger tranche of non-classified documents.

The judges, including two Trump appointees, sided with the Justice Department, which had argued there was no legal basis for the special master to conduct his own review of the classified records. But Trump's lawyers said in their application to the Supreme Court that it was essential for the special master to have access to the classified records to “determine whether documents bearing classification markings are in fact classified, and regardless of classification, whether those records are personal records or Presidential records.” “Since President Trump had absolute authority over classification decisions during his Presidency, the current status of any disputed document cannot possibly be determined solely by reference to the markings on that document,” the application states. It says that without the special master review, “the unchallenged views of the current Justice Department would supersede the established authority of the Chief Executive.” An independent review, the Trump team says, ensures a “transparent process that provides much-needed oversight.” The FBI says it seized roughly 11,000 documents, including about 100 with classification markings, during its search. The Trump team asked a judge in Florida, Aileen Cannon, to appoint a special master to do an independent review of the records.

Top of Page

Reuters - October 5, 2022

Nobel prize goes to pioneers of Lego-like "click chemistry"

Scientists Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and Barry Sharpless won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for discovering reactions that let molecules snap together to create desired compounds and that offer insight into cell biology. The technologies known as click chemistry and bioorthogonal chemistry are now used globally to explore cells and track biological processes, the award-giving body said in a statement.

Sharpless joins an elite band of scientists who have won two Nobel prizes. The other individuals are John Bardeen who won the Physics prize twice, Marie Curie, who won Physics and Chemistry, Linus Pauling who won Chemistry and Peace and Frederick Sanger who won the Chemistry prize twice. "I'm absolutely stunned, I'm sitting here and I can hardly breathe," Bertozzi said from California after the academy reached her by telephone with the news she had won. She added that as part of her work, she and her team managed to visualize and understand cell surface structures known as glycans, leading to a new idea in cancer immune therapy. Bertozzi works at Stanford University, Sharpless works at the Scripps Research institute, both in California, while Meldal is at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Meldal told Reuters his legs and body started shaking with excitement when the Nobel committee called. "It is not every day to have a Dane get the Nobel Prize," he said, adding he had been recording a teaching video when he received the news and that he was very proud on behalf of his colleagues and team. Meldal described click-chemistry as a way to build complex structures and link them together as if they were pieces of Lego, the Danish plastic construction toy.

Top of Page

NBC News - October 5, 2022

Justice Jackson makes waves in first Supreme Court arguments

As the Supreme Court on Tuesday weighed a conservative attempt to weaken the landmark Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965 to protect minority voters, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court delivered a history lesson on the divisive issue of race in the United States. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in just her second day on the bench, spoke about the enactment of the Constitution's 14th Amendment, stressing how its aim was to redress historic harms to Black people in the aftermath of the Civil War and the end of slavery. It was a symbolic moment in a courtroom in which only three Black justices have ever sat. Exploring the history that lurks in the background of the dispute over Alabama's congressional districts map, Jackson said that "the entire point of the amendment was to secure rights of the freed former slaves." As a result, she wondered, how could the state be barred from considering race when deciding whether more majority Black districts should be drawn?

Her intervention in the midst of an oral argument on Alabama's defense of its map that a lower court said discriminated against Black voters was just one example of Jackson's active role in her early days on the high court. Sometimes, new justices take a back seat in their first few arguments as they settle in, although the last three appointees before Jackson — conservatives Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — all asked questions in their debut oral arguments. “I’m delighted to see that Justice Jackson is showing no reticence about entering the fray,” Sherrilyn Ifill, a prominent civil rights lawyer, told NBC News. “Her tone is upbeat and respectful, but she is tough, no nonsense and demanding. This was as impressive a debut as I’ve seen of a new justice in my more than 30 years of court-watching.” Jackson was quick to weigh in Monday during the first case of the court's new term, which explored the scope of federal authority over wetlands. She was the fourth justice to speak after about 10 minutes of the nearly two-hour argument.

Top of Page

NBC News - October 5, 2022

A cop in a MAGA hat and an Oath Keeper: Inside one of Jan. 6’s strangest moments

It was an oddity amid the chaos. As a rowdy pro-Trump mob tried to force their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6, a Capitol Police lieutenant emerged out of the Columbus Doors on the eastern side of the building, where windows had been shattered by the mob. Following a civilian in a brown Eddie Bauer jacket with a police bullhorn, the lieutenant led a procession of officers in riot gear down the stairs and through the crowd. As the officer made his way through the sea of rioters, he put on a red MAGA hat. Trump supporters on the stairs celebrated, thinking that officers were giving up the building and that perhaps Donald Trump was going to remain president after all. “Make a hole! They’re leaving!” one man yells in one of many videos that captured the moment. “The cops are leaving! We won!” says another. A man slaps the police officers’ helmets in support, as others slap them on the back. A woman in a USA sweatshirt hugs the officers, who do not hug her back as they make their way out of the Capitol and through the crowd. Through their face shields, none of the cops looks thrilled. A man in a black QAnon hoodie and a Trump hat blesses the officers as they go down the stairs.

The man escorting them, with the bullhorn in the Eddie Bauer jacket, was a member of the far-right Oath Keepers organization. Video from earlier in the day shows him flashing what appears to be a police badge at the officer and offering to help. The Wall Street Journal reported on the officer in the MAGA hat — Tarik Khalid “T.K.” Johnson, a former Capitol Police lieutenant — in the days after Jan. 6, but questions remain about what exactly happened on the Capitol steps that day. Some saw it as evidence of a far too cozy relationship between law enforcement and the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, while others on the right, including some lawyers for members of the Oath Keepers now on trial for seditious conspiracy, argue it is evidence that members of the Oath Keepers assisted law enforcement on Jan. 6 and that the charges against them are overblown. But an NBC News review of the incident doesn’t align with those narratives. NBC News, with the help of several online investigators who have helped identify hundreds of rioters, reviewed multiple videos of the moment and spoke with Johnson’s lawyer and with Michael Nichols, the Oath Keeper and retired police officer who assisted the Capitol Police that day.

Top of Page

NPR - October 5, 2022

The man who wrote the Onion's Supreme Court brief takes parody very seriously

The long-running First Amendment case of an Ohio man is suddenly getting a lot of attention, thanks to the satirical news site The Onion. And that's not because it's been spoofed. It's because the publication has gotten involved directly, submitting a brief to the Supreme Court in defense of parody itself. The 23-page amicus brief was filed on Monday in support of Anthony Novak, who is asking the Supreme Court to take up his civil rights lawsuit against the police officers who arrested and prosecuted him for creating a parody Facebook page of their department. "Americans can be put in jail for poking fun at the government? This was a surprise to America's Finest News Source and an uncomfortable learning experience for its editorial team," the brief opens.

It goes on to defend the purpose and power of parody in society before explaining that successful satire comes from being realistic enough that it initially tricks readers into believing one thing, only to make them "laugh at their own gullibility when they realize that they've fallen victim to one of the oldest tricks in the history of rhetoric." None of this would work if it were preceded by a disclaimer, the brief argues, noting that most courts have historically shared this view — except for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which, in this instance, sided with the police officers. The Onion's brief urges the Supreme Court to take up the case and rule in Novak's favor. It also wants "the rights of the people vindicated, and various historical wrongs remedied," by the way. "The Onion cannot stand idly by in the face of a ruling that threatens to disembowel a form of rhetoric that has existed for millennia, that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate, and that, purely incidentally, forms the basis of The Onion's writers' paychecks," it reads.

Top of Page

Newsclips - October 4, 2022

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 3, 2022

Is the Houston-to-Dallas bullet train still happening? Critics are demanding proof of life.

People in the path of a proposed but floundering high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas last week filed a letter that in many ways labels Texas Central Railroad the little engine that will never be. They think it can’t. They think it can’t. They think it can’t. “Granted, Texas Central appears to be doing things,” attorney Patrick McShan said in the letter sent to the company on Sept. 29. “But none of the things Texas Central is now doing suggest in any manner whatsoever that it does, in fact, intend to construct the project.” The planned rail line, once touted as mere months from construction, now is more paperwork than planning. Since its former CEO left in June, the company has said it is securing financing, but shown little other signs of life, beyond a July 8 statement after the Texas Supreme Court affirmed its right to use eminent domain to acquire property.

“Texas Central has made significant strides in the project over the last several years and we are moving forward on a path that we believe will ensure the project’s successful development,” the company said then. “We look forward to being able to say more about this at an appropriate time in the near future.” The company did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. Citing various examples, McShan's letter said it appears Texas Central is operating as a shell of a corporation, paying property taxes it owed in eight of the 11 counties where it owns property, but still owing HOA dues for numerous locations and property taxes in Ellis County. It reportedly, McShan said, has lost investment from Japan once considered necessary for the project, and has sold some of the properties it acquired during six years of planning and design. The company never has applied for any construction permits related to construction of the line, though it has certain federal clearances.

Top of Page

Reuters - October 4, 2022

'Tax people in this room' to help the poor, Shell CEO tells energy conference

European governments should tax the wealthy to help weaker parts of society weather soaring energy costs but not intervene to cap gas prices, Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said on Tuesday. Speaking before the Energy Intelligence Forum in London, Van Beurden said that European energy prices and the huge volatility in the markets threatened broader social instability. "You cannot have a market that behaves in such a way ... that is going to damage a significant part of society." "One way or another there needs to be government intervention" in the face of soaring energy prices, Van Beurden said. "A government intervention that somehow results in protecting the poorest, that probably may then mean that governments need to tax people in this room to pay for it."

"I think we just have to accept as a society - it can be done smartly and not so smartly. There is a discussion to be had about it but i think it's inevitable." Van Beurden's pay package reached $8.2 million in 2021 and could rise further in 2022 after the company reported record profits in the second quarter of the year amid soaring oil and gas prices. The veteran oil executive, who will step down at start of next year, said that European governments should not intervene in market exchanges in a bid to limit gas prices. "Can we make a meaningful intervention in gas markets here in Europe? That is a much more challenging prospect," he said. "The solution should not be government intervention but protection of those who need protection." Van Beurden also said that he "struggled" to see how a price cap on Russian oil, which is being discussed among Western governments, would work.

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 4, 2022

K Street prepares for a House Republican takeover

The midterm elections are five weeks away, but K Street is already preparing for the possibility of a Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) if Republicans retake the House in November. To prepare for divided government, Washington lobbying firms have been hiring aides to McCarthy, who's currently House minority leader, and other top House Republicans. They’ve held briefings and drafted memos for clients on what a Republican House would mean for them. And they’ve been shepherding clients to meet with Republican lawmakers and staffers who are likely to be in positions of power. Republicans are bullish on retaking the House, which requires them to flip only on a handful of seats. They face tougher odds in the Senate — and it may not be clear until December which party controls the chamber if neither Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) nor his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, secure 50 percent of the vote next month, forcing a runoff election.

“If only the House goes, I think stuff can get done. If both [chambers] go, I think it’s going to be a wasted two years, because I don’t think the new House leadership is really going to be able to control a lot of the new Marjorie Taylor Greenes to productively legislate,” said Rich Gold, a Democratic lobbyist who leads Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation group, referring to the Georgia Republican who has at times been a thorn in McCarthy’s side. “And I don’t think the majority’s going to be big enough to ignore those people.” But the likelihood that the House will flip has led companies to reach out to lobbying firms with strong House Republican ties such as Miller Strategies, CGCN Group, the Duberstein Group and the Petrizzo Group, according to people familiar with the matter. Jeff Miller, Miller Strategies’ founder, is a close friend of McCarthy and a top Republican fundraiser. John Stipicevic, McCarthy’s former deputy chief of staff, is a lobbyist at CGCN, while Ben Howard, a former floor director for McCarthy, is a lobbyist at Duberstein. “There are a lot of calls coming in from companies that are looking at our firm’s relationships that we have,” said former Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), a lobbyist at K & Gates who was a close McCarthy ally in the House.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

Supreme Court opens a new and likely contentious term with some Texas cases on the line

After a controversial U.S. Supreme Court term that featured a milestone decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade, justices begin oral arguments in its new term Monday amid historically low public trust. Upcoming cases could yield landmark decisions on First Amendment protections for social media platforms, voting rights and more. One of the most anticipated hearings in the upcoming session is a Big Tech, First Amendment case that hasn’t even made it to the docket yet. On Sept. 21, Florida’s attorney general asked the Supreme Court to decide if states have the right to regulate social media companies and how they moderate content. This case could directly impact state laws in Texas and Florida that prevent social media platforms from blocking certain political speech. The Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in after conflicting rulings in federal appeals courts.

The Texas law passed last year also is being contested in federal court. The 5th Circuit upheld a Texas law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott that bars social media companies from removing posts based on political affiliation or viewpoint. The judges sided with Texas’ finding that social media companies qualify as “common carriers” that are subject to government regulation, like phone companies. The judges also argued the First Amendment does not allow social media companies to regulate or block speech. “The implications of the platforms’ argument are staggering,” Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham wrote in the decision. “On the platforms’ view, email providers, mobile phone companies and banks could cancel the accounts of anyone who sends an email, makes a phone call, or spends money in support of a disfavored political party, candidate or business.” On the other side, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked similar social media regulations passed in Florida, arguing they infringed on the companies’ First Amendment rights. Republican leaders including Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have argued social media companies tend to eliminate conservative voices and ideas, while social media companies argue the Texas and Florida laws would prevent them from stopping the spread of harmful content and misinformation.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 3, 2022

Harris County Republicans hope focus on crime, bail can break winless streak in judicial races

Harris County Republicans, winless in countywide judicial races over the last three elections, are aiming to unseat dozens of Democratic judges in the November midterms as they look to capitalize on the county’s high rates of violent crime. Judicial candidates from both parties traditionally have little control over their fates at the ballot box, with a single party capturing every countywide judicial contest in Harris County in five of the last seven election cycles. That trend has deterred many would-be Republican candidates from even bothering to run in recent years, leaving a number of Democratic judges uncontested as Harris County solidified its leftward lean.

This year, even with Democrat Beto O’Rourke widely expected to carry Harris County atop the ticket, Republicans have put up a nominee in every judicial race on the ballot in Texas’ largest county. That includes 14 district courts that handle felony criminal matters, putting them center stage as the Harris County Republican Party and its nominees push their core argument: Democratic incumbents are setting overly lenient bail conditions and are partly responsible, they contend, for a recent surge in homicides and other violent crime. “Our constitutional rights are very important. Those should be protected,” said Kevin Fulton, a Republican aiming to unseat Democrat Brian E. Warren from the 209th District Court. “But also, part of the responsibility of a judge is realizing the impact of their rulings. Letting people out, the length of sentencing — all of those send a message to a community. If a person can commit a violent crime, and get out with a light sentence or violate multiple bonds, the message it sends to the community is, you can do these things without consequence.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 3, 2022

Political stunts involving migrants continue as Texas GOP goes all in on border for midterm election

As the first busload of migrants transported out of Texas arrived at the Washington, D.C., residence of Vice President Kamala Harris and in Martha’s Vineyard in September, reigniting a debate over the Biden administration’s handling of a record surge in border crossings just weeks before the midterm elections, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy suggested Republicans should count the political stunt as a campaign contribution. Every Republican in the House and Senate can thank Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis "for saving this election," as they try to take back both chambers from the Democrats, Roy, an Austin Republican, said in a tweet. The GOP sees the border crossings as a political slam dunk and a way to counter Democratic momentum that appeared to be building over the summer after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and President Joe Biden’s approval numbers ticked upward.

Texas Republicans are going all in down the final stretch of the midterms as their messaging around border security has eclipsed virtually every other GOP campaign point, including crime and inflation, a new analysis shows. Republicans in congressional races across Texas tweeted about the border 741 times in September, when the migrant busing again stole the national spotlight. That was a 55 percent increase over July, according to an analysis by the communications firm Digital Advance that was compiled for Hearst Newspapers. By comparison, Republicans tweeted about the economy about 188 times in September, about half as much as they did in July, the analysis shows. “You really have seen them just go border,” said Elyse Yates, Digital Advance's president. The tweets obviously do not account for the entirety of what candidates are saying on the campaign trail but offer a good proxy for their messaging, Yates said.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - October 3, 2022

Business groups alarmed at proposed Austin Energy fee hikes

The prospect of a big and sudden increase in a critical expense — such as the cost of electricity — can trigger nightmares for many business owners. That’s the position in which Austin Energy has put local companies, according to industry groups that are expressing alarm at the utility’s recent proposal to sharply raise some fees beginning Nov. 1. Austin Energy has said its proposed increases to so-called "pass-through" charges intended to recoup costs that are beyond its control — such as higher prices for natural gas — would boost monthly electricity bills for average residential customers by about $20, or $240 annually, not including the impact of unrelated proposed increases to the utility's base electricity rates. While the sum is significant, it's a fraction of what the city-owned utility's local commercial and industrial customers are facing.

The impact on small and medium-sized businesses could be thousands of dollars, and in some cases tens of thousands of dollars, annually in extra costs from the pass-through increases, city figures show. Meanwhile, top industrial users — such as semiconductor factories, which draw large amounts of electricity 24 hours a day and use many times the volume of residential customers and most commercial operations — would be on the hook for millions of dollars annually from the higher fees, industry experts say. The Austin City Council was scheduled to vote last Thursday on the fee increases but postponed the action for two weeks after a variety of groups — including the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for Clean, Affordable, Reliable Energy — sought a delay. Had the City Council approved the fees according to the original schedule, it would have done so barely a week after Austin Energy first proposed them Sept. 21 — a time frame that business advocates said provided scant opportunity to assess the need for them or for the utility's customers to plan for them. "It will lead to large users seeing over 40% increases on their electric bill and business owners struggling with millions of unbudgeted costs," said Ed Latson, CEO of the manufacturers association. "It is another example of Austin Energy's disregard of their customers, who were not provided any guidance or forecast."

Top of Page

KXAN - October 3, 2022

Beto O’Rourke pitches Texas guest worker program — how would that work?

Questions about immigration kicked off Friday night’s debate between the top two candidates for Texas governor, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke suggested a novel idea for the state he said would help create a “safe, legal, orderly path for anyone who wants to come here to work, to join family or to seek asylum.” O’Rourke said he would like the state to set up its own guest worker program, something immigration experts said only the federal government has the authority to do now. He shared no specifics about what it would take to launch a new bureaucratic effort to essentially offer temporary visas to foreign workers.

“I’m going to work with local leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, to make sure that we have a Texas-based guest worker program,” O’Rourke said Friday, “to alleviate shortages that we have in our state for labor demands and reduce inflation and address supply chain issues as well.” His campaign website’s immigration policy page states a guest worker program for Texas “provides a legal way for migrants to fill labor shortages in key Texas industries like agriculture, oil and gas, and manufacturing.” In response to what O’Rourke proposed, Gov. Greg Abbott said creating that kind of program would fall outside the scope of Texas governor. “[O’Rourke] talked about this guest worker program,” Abbott said during the debate. “He could have done that had he won the race for the Senate or won the race for president. That’s not a job for governor. The job of governor is have to deal with the chaos caused by the Biden administration and his open border policies that Beto would replicate.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 3, 2022

S.A. native, former Army counterintelligence agent, could be at center of DeSantis immigrant flights

Authorities are looking into whether a San Antonio native is the mysterious “Perla” who helped lure 48 Venezuelan immigrants from San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center onto a pair of chartered jets that flew them to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts on Sept. 14. Sources confirmed that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office considers Perla H. Huerta — 43, a former Army combat medic and counterintelligence agent — a “person of interest” in its criminal investigation into the incident. Sheriff Javier Salazar has said he’s looking into whether the migrants, who were allowed by the Border Patrol to remain in the United States while they seek asylum, were lied to or if the airlift organizers broke any laws. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took credit for the flights, saying he used state funds to have the migrants transported to Martha’s Vineyard so northern “sanctuary communities” can see what border states contend with amid a record surge of immigrants.

According to lawyers representing several of the migrants, they did not know they were going to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast that’s a vacation spot for the wealthy, until they landed there. Late Sunday, the New York Times reported that a Venezuelan migrant who worked with Huerta to sign up other migrants for the flights confirmed her identity. Salazar’s investigators, meanwhile, have been trying to learn more about Huerta, sources told the San Antonio Express-News. “We can’t name any names in this because the fact is we don’t know that a crime has been committed yet,” Salazar said when asked about the identity of “Perla.” “So we can’t name any suspects. We have some people that are tentatively identified as persons of interest.” Asked about Huerta, sheriff’s office spokesman Johnny Garcia said, “We are not publicly identifying anybody.” “I know that name has been out there,” he said. “But we are still trying to obtain all the immigrants’ statements and investigate further until we are able to identify all the individuals involved.” Rachel Self, a Boston lawyer who represents five of the immigrants, told the Express-News that she has been helping Salazar’s office in its investigation.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 3, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Texans' bills will go up due to natural gas chaos in Europe, but could also boost economy

Russia’s alleged sabotage of two pipelines beneath the Baltic Sea adds to the chaos in the global natural gas market, which is hurting every Texan’s pocketbook and could shape the state’s economy for decades. While we may never know for sure, most experts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the detonation of explosives along the Nordstream 1 and 2 pipelines that carry natural gas to Germany. The bombs exploded on the day Poland and Norway celebrated a new pipeline connecting those two nations. The warning could not be clearer. Russia can do to the new pipeline what it did to Nordstream. Putin’s sacrifice is notable since the pipelines represented his greatest diplomatic achievement by making NATO countries energy-dependent on the former Soviet Union.

The explosion and implied threat reveal how all international energy shipments are vulnerable to geopolitics. The release of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, reminds the world why climate activists oppose new natural gas facilities. The explosions released up to 500 million cubic meters of methane, about a third of Denmark’s annual emissions, Kristoffer Böttzauw, the director of the Danish Energy Agency, explained. Politicians and energy executives have long described natural gas as a bridge between our fossil fuel past and the clean energy future. Methane, when combusted, produces 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than coal and 20 percent less than oil, the International Energy Administration reports. Governments love natural gas because horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing made North American natural gas a cheap way to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Electric power generators have shut down coal-fired power plants and replaced them with natural gas, wherever it is available. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan began importing expensive liquefied natural gas to replace emission-free nuclear power plants. The United States went from exporting zero LNG in 2016 to becoming the world’s largest supplier this year.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

Vistra seeks to extend Comanche Peak nuclear plant license for 20 more years

Irving-based Vistra, the largest electricity company in Texas, is seeking to extend operations at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant through 2053, an additional 20 years beyond the plant’s original licenses. The company said Monday that it submitted a license renewal application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees nuclear plants in the U.S. “Comanche Peak is one of the lowest-cost and highest-performing nuclear power plants in the country and is a large, dispatchable source of carbon-free electricity,” said Vistra president and CEO Jim Burke in a statement. “Renewing the licenses of this plant is critical for grid reliability and our environment and is a benefit to the economy, the local community, and our company.”

Vistra said the two-unit nuclear plant near Glen Rose in Somervell County can produce enough electricity to power about 1.2 million Texas homes in normal conditions and 480,000 homes in periods of peak demand. The current licenses for units 1 and 2 extend through 2030 and 2033, respectively. The company wants those renewed through 2050 and 2053. The plant, which began operations in 1990, is about 60 miles southwest of Dallas. Nuclear plants are known for their ability to produce power around the clock. Comanche Peak is one of two operating nuclear plants in the state, which combined supply about 10% of Texas’ electricity needs. The South Texas Project near Bay City is the other nuclear plant. Burke said as the U.S. transitions to cleaner sources of electricity, it can’t “lose sight of reliability” provided by nuclear energy. Nikki Hsu, a utilities analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, said Vistra’s move is consistent with recent industry trends.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

Texas woman who charged U.S. Capitol dressed as Captain America gets jail sentence

A Texas woman who charged the U.S. Capitol dressed in a Captain America costume, then fought law enforcement officers trying to clear the scene, was sentenced to six months of jail. Micki Larson-Olson, 53, of Abilene was convicted by a jury of unlawful entry onto public property, a misdemeanor. Authorities say a costume-clad Larson-Olson, wielding two flags, joined an enormous crowd on the west side of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Officers with the Metropolitan Police Department, called to assist the U.S. Capitol Police, repeatedly asked Larson-Olson to leave the premises. She refused, lowered herself down and clung to the scaffolding with her arms and legs. As six officers worked to physically remove her from the scaffolding, Larson-Olson screamed, swore and called them traitors, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Superior Court of the District of Columbia Judge Michael O’Keefe handed down Larson-Olson’s sentence. This marked the Washington, D.C., court’s first Jan. 6 trial. Larson-Olson is a frequent and hard-to-miss presence at Donald Trump rallies across the country, where she dresses in red, white and blue Captain America-style costumes and drives a red car covered in conspiratorial and Trump-supporting stickers. The believer of the QAnon conspiracy theory was one of hundreds of members of a cult-like group who gathered in Dallas last year to wait for former President John F. Kennedy and his son, John F. Kennedy Jr., — both of whom are long dead — to reveal themselves and usher in the beginning of a new Trump presidency. QAnon followers believe that Trump is fighting a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring and are trying to control our politics and media. More than 870 people have been arrested for their roles in the U.S. Capitol breach, including some 265 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement. The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection said that Trump’s election lies emboldened and mobilized many of his supporters. Committee members said Trump asked them in a tweet to gather in Washington, D.C., that day, writing “Be there, will be wild!” That infamous prompt “electrified and galvanized” his followers, a committee member said.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 3, 2022

Ex-Texas Southern adjunct instructor charged with stealing $600K in fraudulent student loans

A former Texas Southern University employee faces seven federal charges alleging that he fraudulently obtained $600,000 in financial aid by enrolling "students" in Texas colleges and universities and submitting their loan applications for personal gain, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Emmanuel Finnih, a 39-year-old from Richmond, is accused of using the fraudulent or stolen identifiers of 32 alleged students to obtain their financial aid. Brenton Keith Jackson, Sr., who is representing Finnih, said he looks forward to defending his client in court. Finnih is “highly intelligent,” he said, and was working at TSU “trying to help young people find their paths.”

He allegedly enrolled the students at eight institutions: Houston Community College, Lone Star College, Texas Southern University, Blinn College, Tarrant County College District, Wharton County Junior College, Lee College and Austin Community College. Most of them did not attend, and they either failed or were withdrawn from their courses. Since 2017, Finnih used others’ personal identifiers to prepare, submit and sign financial aid applications and master promissory notes in their names, authorities allege in the indictment. He also used mailing addresses, telephone numbers and email accounts he controlled to make sure communications and funds went directly to him, according to the charges filed by the attorney's office's Southern District of Texas. He obtained the financial aid refunds by way of electronic transfer, check and prepaid debit cards – in all, costing the U.S. over $595,000, federal federal attorneys say. Finnih is also accused of stealing the identities of two alleged students. He and other unidentified individuals, who aided him in the process, used other people's documents some of the applications, such as temporary driver permits or ID cards, according to the indictment.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 4, 2022

History lesson: Rangers avoid one historical act, almost commit another in loss to Yankees

Tracy Stallard never regretted giving up Roger Maris’ 61st home run in the fourth inning of a game on Oct. 1, 1961, the line shot disappearing into 19-year old Sal Durante’s bare hand as he stood on seat No. 4, section 33, box 163D in Yankee Stadium’s right field seats. The force knocked him into the 16th row. Over the months to come, Durante would subsequently be flattened by the generosity baseball’s new single season home run king bestowed upon him. Stallard was simply glad Maris didn’t walk. In this well-worn tale is a lesson for our times, not to mention Rangers pitchers in general. On a glorious Monday evening with the top down at Globe Life Field in front of 35,906 — 12,752 more than the Yankees drew for Maris’ historic shot — Aaron Judge didn’t break his tie with Maris in the Rangers’ 3-1 loss. The hitters on either side of Judge, Marwin Gonzalez and Giancarlo Stanton, homered. No fireworks from the big guy, though.

Final line: an infield single in four trips, a potential fifth opportunity ending with Gonzalez’s pop out in the ninth just one hitter in front of him. Baseball fans of a decidedly Puritan strain have waited 61 years to crown a legitimate king. They can wait another two days, if necessary. Meanwhile, the Rangers, having averted one historic act Monday, at least for a day, nearly committed another. The Yankees’ Luis Severino no-hit the hosts through seven innings before yielding in the eighth to Miguel Castro, who gave up back-to-back one-out singles to Josh Jung and Jonah Heim and the Rangers’ only run. Martin Perez, who finished his breakout season 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA, made certain history didn’t happen on his watch. “He’s been having a good year,” Perez said of Judge, “but I’m gonna say he doesn’t, you know, hit a home run against me.” And if he had? “Good. I’d be in history.” No Ranger has given up a homer to Judge this season, but if any were to do so, Perez would have been the worst bet. He went into the game having given up only 11 home runs all season. Perez went right after Judge, who led off the game with chants of “M-V-P” ringing in his ears under a powder-blue Texas sky. On a 1-2 pitch, Judge grounded weakly to Josh Jung at third. His second time up, with two outs and Kyle Higashioka on first, Judge lined into a double play on a 90-mph cutter.

Top of Page

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - October 3, 2022

'We have zero dryland cotton in Lubbock County': Production worse than expected

All along the High Plains and West Texas, cotton farmers are facing the same scenario: Thirsty, scorched crops that are dwindling by the day. Across the region, no community will come out unscathed from the detriment caused by the unwavering drought conditions and extended periods of heatwaves that loomed over the area earlier this year. "We have zero dryland cotton in Lubbock County right now," Brant Baugh, a county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, told Lubbock County Commissioners during the Sept. 26 meeting. "We're looking at a pretty catastrophic loss in dollars from the agriculture community."

In mid-August, local experts cited numbers between 65 to 70% abandonment at the time. Now less than two months later, Baugh estimates the level of loss and abandonment at around 70 to 75%, he told the county commissioners. "(The cotton's) gone. It's going to be catastrophic," Baugh reiterated. The struggle doesn't end at the border of Lubbock County, and the same dreadful year reflects on farmers in neighboring communities. "This year was about as bad as 2011, possibly worse," said Bryan Baker, a farmer in Sudan. "We tried to save our crop in (2011). It was tough, but it was also a learning experience. This year, we were less hesitant to give it up." Baker, who is a fourth-generation farmer, said this was the worst farming year he's seen since he began in 1996, shortly after graduating from Texas Tech. Between his irrigated land and dryland, he planted about 3,000 acres this year but expects to harvest only about one-tenth of that.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

UNT Health Science Center gets $149 million for massive Alzheimer’s study

The federal government has chosen a Fort Worth university to house one of the largest-ever studies of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth will receive nearly $149 million in grant funding over five years from the National Institute on Aging to study the biology of Alzheimer’s across the three largest racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. – African American, Mexican American and non-Hispanic white. It’s the biggest grant received by the University of North Texas System to date. Led by Sid O’Bryant, executive director of the Institute for Translational Research at UNTHSC, the massive study will collect data on 4,500 participants in the Fort Worth area with the goal of better understanding the differences in the neurodegenerative disease among different populations.

“What we have now is, in my opinion, kind of a myopic vision of what Alzheimer’s looks like among non-Hispanic whites, and our data is saying it doesn’t look the same everywhere,” O’Bryant said. “So we’re going to take that existing framework and expand it exponentially. That by itself will truly shake the very foundations of the field.” About 6.5 million Americans 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s in 2022, according to Alzheimer’s Association data. The disease doesn’t affect all racial and ethnic groups equally – older Black Americans are twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias as white Americans, and Hispanic Americans are projected to have the greatest increase in the disease by 2060. UNTHSC will collaborate with 17 institutions across the U.S. as part of the study, including labs at the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. All of the patients participating in the research will be located in Fort Worth, and participants will only interact with UNTHSC staff. The study was designed that way so that participants can feel comfortable and connected with researchers who live and work in their own communities. Fort Worth proved to be the perfect location for the study’s hub, as the city’s racial and ethnic demographics represent what the U.S. will look like in the next few decades, O’Bryant said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

Harry Styles, Willie Nelson endorse Beto O’Rourke in Texas governor race

It seems gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and Harry Styles did some “Late Night Talking” Sunday during the singer’s fifth of six Love On Tour performances in Austin. The British pop musician, a former member of the boyband One Direction and star of newly released movie Don’t Worry Darling, had a “Beto for Texas” sticker on his guitar. The Jumbotron zoomed in on Styles pointing to the sticker before showing O’Rourke standing in the pit, smiling, wearing a ballcap, waving and clapping. Videos of the exchange gained traction on TikTok and O’Rourke also posted clips of him high-fiving fans and posing for photos at the event at Austin’s Moody Center to his Instagram story.

Styles had been outspoken about Texas’ politics during previous nights’ performances, including voicing his support of abortion rights and ending mass shootings. Big screens also featured QR codes with a link encouraging fans to check if they’re registered to vote. Styles’ endorsement of O’Rourke, who is running against Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in the Nov. 8 general election, was the second from a major musician that day. Earlier, country music legend Willie Nelson performed during O’Rourke’s “Vote ‘Em Out” rally in Austin wearing a “Beto for Texas” T-shirt. O’Rourke and Abbott debated Friday night when they traded blows over border security, abortion and gun violence.

Top of Page

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 3, 2022

Harris County leaders remind voters of state ID requirements for casting mail ballots

Harris County officials on Monday urged residents to follow the correct mail voting guidance as the end-of-the-month deadline to apply for mail-in ballots for the 2022 midterm elections nears. This year’s primary elections in March experienced a surge in mail ballot rejections due to voter confusion over new requirements passed under Senate Bill 1. The new law requires residents to provide their Texas drivers license number or Social Security number when applying for a mail ballot and on the envelope containing their completed ballot. The number must match the number associated with their voter registration. The Texas Secretary of State earlier this year said voters could put both numbers on their ballots and applications to avoid having them rejected.

Across the state, more than 12 percent of all mail ballots – nearly 25,000 – were rejected during the primaries. The rate was six times what it was in the 2018 midterm election. In Harris County, the rejection rate reached 40 percent initially before falling to 19 percent. Areas with sizable Black populations were 44 percent more likely to see their ballots rejected than heavily white areas, according to a New York Times analysis based on data by the Harris County election administrator’s office. Ballot rejection numbers were driven down by the time of the primary runoffs after election officials in some counties included additional instructions about identification requirements with voters' mail ballots. “This is unacceptable. It’s un-American,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said at a Monday press conference. “Every voter has the right to vote free from burden, harm, or obstacle. Harris County is committed to ensuring that every eligible voter is able to freely and fairly cast their ballot. We’re doing our part to fight voter suppression and remove obstacles where we can.” Since the primaries, the Elections Administration Office has implemented new measures to ensure a smoother voter experience for the midterms, according to Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum. That includes the addition of customer support specialists to assist mail-in voters and dozens of community events to raise awareness of proper voting procedures, Tatum said.

Top of Page

Woodlands Online - October 4, 2022

Lone Star College, Communities in Schools program manager recognized for aiding Uvalde families

Tanya H. Shelby, LPCA, received the 2022 All in for Students Presidential Award of Excellence for aiding families in Uvalde following the shooting which took the lives of 19 students and two adults. Shelby is a Community in Schools (CIS) Program Manager who works at Lone Star College-Conroe Center, a satellite of the LSC-Montgomery Counseling Services Department and was a member of the CIS-Houston team recognized for their efforts earlier this month “CIS-Houston was contacted by CIS-San Antonio for support as students returned to summer school after the incident,” said Shelby. “I told the team that I wanted to leave a small bit of me in Uvalde.”

The All in for Students Presidential Award of Excellence is given by the CIS National Office and awarded to someone who goes above and beyond to ensure student success. The 2022 award was given to the team of CIS-Houston employees who volunteered to go to Uvalde. “We are so proud of the work that Tanya does,” said Rebecca L. Riley, Ed.D., LSC-Montgomery President. “Her willingness to travel to Uvalde and help families victimized by this senseless act is a testament to her dedication to helping others.” In addition to her outreach in Uvalde, Shelby has collaborated with CIS to provide supportive services to current LSC students, including the LSC-Conroe Center Food Pantry where students can get food, baby and hygiene items to take home. Shelby also worked with LSC-Montgomery to develop and implement the Maverick Book Barn that encourages students to read leisurely. “It was a remarkable experience to be allowed on the campus to support students and families,” said Shelby.

Top of Page

City Stories

KUT - October 3, 2022

Self-driving car company Cruise aims to launch in Austin by end of year

Cruise, a self-driving car company, plans to start offering driverless rides in Austin by the end of the year. Drivers might find themselves pulling up next to a tech-laden car maneuvering by itself more often as the city becomes a center for this kind of vehicle. Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, joins several other companies, including Lyft and Argo AI, that offer this self-driving car service in Austin. Cruise currently has a fleet of 75 autonomous Chevy Bolts in San Francisco driving around from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., offering rides to people on a waitlist. Cruise Vice President Megan Prichard said the service will function in a similar manner in Austin and she anticipates the company will be able to scale up to a similar number of vehicles.

Unlike in California, Cruise does not have to obtain a special permit to operate driverless cars in Texas, which is part of what attracts so many companies to the city. A law regulating self-driving cars, which passed in 2017, holds the owners or the company liable for any damages the cars might cause and requires the cars to have dashboard cameras. The company is currently mapping the streets of Austin and will soon start testing the vehicles. The software will run simulations based on mapped models, and the cars will navigate around the streets with safety drivers monitoring from behind the wheel. Prichard expects the cars to be street-ready for customers after this process, which she said will likely be by the end of the year or early 2023. Despite this testing protocol, Prichard said many people still distrust the technology. She said the best way to overcome this fear is to get people to just take a ride. “I recently took my mother-in-law on a ride, and she's in her 70s, and she's like clinging on to the seatbelt,” Prichard said. “She sees the car just pull out into traffic, make a really confident left turn, and then she's just completely calm. She's taking videos, taking pictures, sending them to all of her friends, which is what we see from most people.” A collaboration between Lyft, Argo AI and Ford Motor Company already operates limited-service driverless cars in Austin. They have a similar system to Cruise in San Francisco where people join a waitlist to hail a ride at a set time. With this new company joining the fleets, the race is on to see who can dominate the market for self-driving cars.

Top of Page

National Stories

NPR - October 3, 2022

Planned Parenthood mobile clinic will take abortion to red-state borders

With a growing number of patients in states that now prohibit abortion traveling for the procedure, Planned Parenthood says will soon open its first mobile abortion clinic in the country, in southern Illinois. "Our goal is to reduce the hundreds of miles that people are having to travel now in order to access care...and meet them where they are," said Yamelsie Rodriguez, President of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said in an interview with NPR. The mobile clinic will begin offering consultations and dispensing abortion pills later this year. It will operate within Illinois, where abortion remains legal, but will be able to travel closer to neighboring states' borders, reducing the distance many patients travel for the procedure.

"It gives us a lot of flexibility about where to be," Rodriguez said. Illinois has become a hub for people from other parts of the Midwest and South who've become unable to get abortions in their home states as a result of this summer's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Anticipating that possibility, Planned Parenthood opened a large clinic in 2019 in Fairview Heights, Illinois, just across the state line from St. Louis. Missouri had some of the nation's strictest abortion laws even before the court released the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, and state officials moved almost immediately to implement abortion bans in response to it. The Fairview Heights clinic is projected to receive about 14,000 patients traveling from across the region each year, an increase that "is materializing much, much faster than we anticipated," Rodriguez said. "We just need more access points." The mobile facility – set up inside of an RV – will include a small waiting area, laboratory, and two exam rooms. It initially will provide medication abortion up to 11 weeks gestation, officials said. It eventually will offer surgical abortions, likely beginning sometime next year.

Top of Page

Reuters - October 4, 2022

Republican clerk could be charged in Michigan voting-system breach

A Michigan township official who promotes false conspiracy theories of a rigged 2020 election could face criminal charges related to two voting-system security breaches, according to previously unreported records and legal experts. A state police detective recommended that the Michigan attorney general consider unspecified charges amid a months-long probe into one breach related to the Republican clerk’s handling of a vote tabulator, according to a June email from the detective to state and local officials. Reuters obtained the email through a public-records request. The clerk, Stephanie Scott, oversaw voting in rural Adams Township until the state last year revoked her authority over elections. Scott has publicly embraced baseless claims that the 2020 election was rigged against former U.S. President Donald Trump and has posted online about the QAnon conspiracy theory.

In a second breach of the township’s voting system, the clerk gave a file containing confidential voter data to an information-technology expert who is a suspect in other alleged Michigan election-security violations. The expert, Benjamin Cotton, worked with voter-fraud conspiracists seeking unauthorized access to election systems in other states, according to court records reviewed by Reuters. The incident has not been previously reported. Scott denies any wrongdoing. The attorney general and state police declined to comment on the allegations against the clerk. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the top election official in this battleground state, stripped Scott of her authority over elections last year after the clerk refused to perform regular maintenance and accuracy testing on voting equipment. Scott believed, incorrectly, that the process would erase 2020 election data, which she believed might contain fraud evidence. Scott’s actions are part of a national effort by public officials and others seeking evidence of Trump's false stolen-election claims. The allegations against Scott have parallels to the high-profile case of Tina Peters, the clerk in Mesa County, Colorado, who enjoys cult-hero status in the election-conspiracy movement and faces felony charges related to similar voting-system breaches.

Top of Page

Associated Press - October 4, 2022

3 physicists share Nobel Prize for work on quantum science

Three scientists jointly won this year’s Nobel Prize in physics on Tuesday for their work on quantum information science that has significant applications, for example in the field of encryption. Frenchman Alain Aspect, American John F. Clauser and Austrian Anton Zeilinger were cited by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for discovering the way that particles known as photons can be linked, or “entangled,” with each other even when they are separated by large distances. “Quantum information science is a vibrant and rapidly developing field,” said Eva Olsson, a member of the Nobel committee. “It has broad and potential implications in areas such as secure information transfer, quantum computing and sensing technology.” “Its origin can be traced to that of quantum mechanics,” she said. “Its predictions have opened doors to another world, and it has also shaken the very foundations of how we interpret measurements.”

Speaking by phone to a news conference after the announcement, Zeilinger said he was “still kind of shocked” at hearing he had received the award. “But it’s a very positive shock,” said Zeilinger, 77, who is based at the University of Vienna. Clauser, Aspect, and Zeilinger have figured in Nobel speculation for more than a decade. In 2010 they won the Wolf Prize in Israel, seen as a possible precursor to the Nobel. While physicists often tackle problems that appear at first glance to be far removed from everyday concerns — tiny particles and the vast mysteries of space and time — their research provides the foundations for many practical applications of science. The Nobel committee said Clauser, 79, developed quantum theories first put forward in the 1960s into to a practical experiment. Aspect, 75, was able to close a loophole in those theories, while Zeilinger demonstrated a phenomenon called quantum teleportation that effectively allows information to be transmitted over distances. “Using entanglement you can transfer all the information which is carried by an object over to some other place where the object is, so to speak, reconstituted,” said Zeilinger. He added that this only works for tiny particles. “It is not like in the Star Trek films (where one is) transporting something, certainly not the person, over some distance,” he said.

Top of Page

Associated Press - October 4, 2022

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies at corruption trial of Trump adviser

Rex Tillerson, who served a turbulent term as secretary of state under former President Donald Trump, was called as a government witness Monday at the trial of a Trump ally accused of leaking intelligence to the United Arab Emirates. The former chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. testified that he barely knew the defendant, Tom Barrack, once the chairman of Trump’s inaugural committee, or anything about his relationship with the UAE. Instead, he spelled out how he would meet with Trump on a regular basis to discuss foreign policy, emphasizing that the sensitive conversations were supposed to stay confidential. “You really don’t want outside parties to have access to that information and use it to their advantage,” Tillerson, who lives in North Texas, told a New York City jury.

Prosecutors have alleged Barrack provided inside information on how Trump administration officials viewed a UAE-led blockade of neighboring Qatar. Tillerson testified he had advised Trump not to engage with the UAE on the issue, saying, “We needed to let them sort that out on their own.” Tillerson also described one encounter with Barrack where he “called over to my office … and expressed an interest in an ambassadorship,” he said. But Trump didn’t embrace the idea, “so that was the end of it,” he said. On cross-examination, Tillerson acknowledged having disagreements with Trump, but stayed clear of criticizing the former president. He said they sometimes played “good cop-bad cop” in their public statements about adversaries like North Korea. Tillerson is the highest-profile witness so far at the federal trial of Barrack, a billionaire private equity manager and Trump confidant who’s accused of secretly working as a foreign agent for the UAE. Barrack, 75, has pleaded not guilty to that charge, along obstruction of justice and false statements counts.

Top of Page

Atlanta Journal-Constitution - October 4, 2022

Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker slams report he paid for abortion in 2009

U.S. Senate hopeful Herschel Walker, a Republican who has endorsed a “total ban” on abortion, condemned a report Monday that he paid his then-girlfriend in 2009 to have an abortion. The former University of Georgia and Dallas Cowboys football star called the Daily Beast report a “flat-out lie” and labeled the accusations “disgusting, gutter politics” as he threatened to take legal action against the publication. “I’m not taking this anymore,” Walker said in a tweet, adding that he’s “planning to sue the Daily Beast for this defamatory lie. It will be filed tomorrow morning.” The Daily Beast reported that the woman, who asked the outlet not to be identified because of privacy concerns, became pregnant with Walker’s child in 2009. The outlet reported that Walker, who wasn’t married at the time, urged her to get an abortion and reimbursed her for the procedure.

The Daily Beast reported that the woman provided a copy of a signed $700 personal check from Walker, a “get well” card sent to the woman by Walker and a $575 receipt from the abortion clinic. The outlet published a photo of the “get well” card, which it said included Walker’s signature. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has not verified the Daily Beast’s report. The Daily Beast said that it independently corroborated details of the woman’s claims with a close friend she told at the time and who also took care of her in the days after the procedure. In a statement late Monday after Walker threatened a lawsuit, the Daily Beast said late Monday: “We stand by the story 100 percent.” Asked about the claims following a campaign event Monday in Dunwoody, Walker’s Democratic opponent, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, stressed his own support of abortion rights. “I’ll let the pundits decide how they think it will impact the race,” Warnock said of the story. “But I have been consistent in my view that a patient’s room is too narrow and cramped for space for a woman and the government. My view on that has not changed.” Walker opposes abortion including in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake. His campaign said he supports a proposal by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham that would ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - October 4, 2022

Trump files defamation lawsuit against CNN, seeking $475 million

Former President Donald Trump filed a defamation lawsuit Monday against CNN, accusing the network of engaging in a smear campaign against him in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential race. Mr. Trump’s suit, filed in a federal court in southern Florida, alleged CNN has sought to use its influence with viewers to spread false claims about him for the purpose of defeating him politically. He accused CNN of associating him with Adolf Hitler and portraying him as a Russian lackey and a racist. The network, he alleged, has been escalating these efforts recently in the expectation that he may run for president again in 2024. Mr. Trump is seeking more than $475 million in damages. A spokesman for CNN declined to comment on the suit.

The former president’s suit must clear a high legal bar. To win a defamation lawsuit, public figures must prove that a news organization acted with actual malice and either knowingly published a false statement or showed a reckless disregard for the truth. Mr. Trump’s campaign sued the New York Times in February 2020 accusing it of knowingly publishing false and defamatory statements in an opinion piece on the 2016 election and Russia. A New York state court judge dismissed the case. In legal documents, Mr. Trump alleged that CNN has repeatedly attempted to associate him with Hitler and Nazism and argues that comparing him to one of the most heinous figures in modern history shows the network was motivated by malice. The former president also criticized the network’s use of the term the “Big Lie” in reference to his false claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election.

Top of Page

Newsclips - October 3, 2022

Lead Stories

Associated Press - September 30, 2022

Dysfunction in Texas AG’s office as Paxton seeks third term

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s staff this month quietly dropped a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases after losing track of one of the victims, a stumble in open court emblematic of broader dysfunction inside one of America’s most prominent law offices. The Republican has elevated his national profile in recent years, energizing the right by rushing into contentious court battles that have affected people far beyond Texas. He has fought access to abortion, Democratic immigration policy and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. But as Paxton seeks to fend off legal troubles and win a third term as Texas’ top law enforcement official, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent. An Associated Press investigation found Paxton and his deputies have sought to turn cases to political advantage or push a broader political agenda, including staff screenings of a debunked film questioning the 2020 election.

Adding to the unrest was the secretive firing of a Paxton supporter less than two months into his job as an agency advisor after he tried to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting. The AP’s account is based on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to talk publicly. In the small town of Gatesville, the fallout was felt this month with the collapse of cases dubbed “Operation Fallen Angel.” Six of the people indicted last year on allegations that they were involved in a scheme to force teenage girls to “exchange sexual contact for crystal methamphetamine” are now free. One is being held in the central Texas community on other charges. An eighth died in jail. “It’s absolutely broken. It’s just broken. You don’t do it this way,” Republican District Attorney Dusty Boyd said of the attorney general’s office, which took over the cases from his five-lawyer team. “I made the mistake of trusting them that they would come in and do a good job.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Dallas judge blocks impeachment hearing for Texas-based LULAC president García

A Dallas judge blocked a hearing in which the League of United Latin American Citizens board was set to vote on a proposed impeachment for its President Domingo García. On Friday, Dallas County District Judge Maricela Moore issued the temporary restraining order, blocking the impeachment hearing from proceeding. Still, some LULAC board members attended a Saturday meeting to decide the next steps, arguing the organization’s democratic process was at risk. Members said the use of a temporary restraining order in this instance is rare in the history of the organization. Around 20 members attended the meeting in the downtown Hamilton Hotel. “What is happening in D.C. is completely illegal and unconstitutional,” said García, who didn’t attend the meeting and presided over the monthly Chorizo and Menudo event in Dallas, a gathering of community leaders and elected officials.

In July, a different Dallas County district judge issued a temporary restraining order to suspend the election of a new LULAC president, scheduled for the final day of this group’s annual convention in Puerto Rico. The order came the night before the election without prior notice from the council. As a result, 21 council members in Texas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, and Puerto Rico sent the LULAC treasurer a petition to impeach García, alleging that he violated the LULAC constitution. By Saturday, the board had drafted 77 articles of impeachment. The latest restriction order cites that “defendants, in holding the upcoming October 1 Meeting (as defined in the Application), have and continue to engage in a fraudulent and illicit scheme to place LULAC under the irreversible control of a foreign political party in violation of LULAC’s internal governing rules.” Members allege García neglected his duties by suspending the LULAC election and several national and state members without authorization from the executive board. In the legal effort to suspend the national elections in July, García and supporters said the election had been rigged by the establishment of additional councils in Puerto Rico to sway the results.

Top of Page

Politico - October 2, 2022

DeSantis defends early hurricane response as questions mount over evacuations

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Saturday defended the state’s early preparations for Hurricane Ian as questions remain over whether hard-hit areas received enough advance warning to evacuate. DeSantis said local officials in Lee County — where Ian made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane — acted appropriately when they issued evacuation orders on Tuesday, after the storm’s forecasted path had shifted from the eastern Panhandle to Tampa Bay and eventually further south to the Fort Myers area.

Several other counties in southwest Florida and west-central Florida — including Charlotte County, immediately to the north of Lee — had issued mandatory evacuation orders for their barrier islands on Monday, offering crucial extra time for people to depart a low-lying region with few major escape routes. The National Hurricane Center warned Monday that the region from Fort Myers to Tampa Bay faced the highest risk of storm surge, regardless of Ian’s exact path. Even so, DeSantis pointed to the ample public warnings early this week that Ian posed a catastrophic danger to the flood-prone Tampa Bay region, which had not taken a direct hit from a major hurricane in more than a century. “When we went to bed Monday night, people were saying this is a direct hit on Tampa Bay — worst case scenario for the state,” DeSantis said during a news briefing in Fort Myers on Saturday. The Republican governor’s defense is part of what could become a long debate about the region’s warnings and preparations for Ian, one of the most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the United States.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - October 3, 2022

Credit Suisse stock falls to new low on concerns over financial health

Credit Suisse shares fell Monday, building on a recent slide to record lows, and despite recent efforts by the Swiss bank to reassure staff, investors and clients about its financial health. The stock was recently 8.6% lower at 3.64 Swiss francs, the equivalent of $3.69. The cost of insuring Credit Suisse debt against default held steady at the same elevated levels seen Friday, data on credit-default swap pricing from S&P Global Market Intelligence showed. It costs 250 euros a year to insure 10,000 euros of the bank's debt against default, up from just 57 euros at the end of last year.

Top of Page

State Stories

Spectrum News - October 2, 2022

Lawmakers agree: More Texas kids need insurance

New data shows that the Lone Star State had the highest children’s uninsured rate in the country last year. Nearly 12% of Texas kids don’t have coverage. That’s more than double the national average. “There are 400,000 eligible kids that we saw as of 2019, who were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP, but not currently enrolled,” said Alec Mendoza, the senior policy associate for health at Texans Care for Children. Mendoza said applying for Medicaid coverage is too difficult here: “Long wait times on hold, not being able to reset your password online, delays in processing applications.” Without coverage, some kids can’t get basic care like checkups and mental health support. Mendoza is calling on the legislature to invest in better technology for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) so applying for Medicaid is easier. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan created the House Select Committee on Health Care Reform to look into this issue.

In a statement to Spectrum News, he wrote in part, “During the 87th Legislature, our chamber passed a number of bills that did just that, which included streamlining the process to ensure eligible children can enroll and stay enrolled in health insurance. Over the summer, I created the House Select Committee on Health Care Reform to continue studying the issue, and I look forward to hearing the committee’s recommendations on ways to make additional meaningful improvements that better support our families and children in Texas when we reconvene in 2023.” Rep. John H. Bucy III (D-House District 136) is a member of this committee. He said it’s “unacceptable” that the state is lagging. “We’re a tech leading hub when it comes to business,” Rep. Bucy said. “We need our state to start modeling some of that tech-forward thinking as well and modernization to make it easier for Texans to access these benefits that they need.” He added that the most important thing Texas can do is pass Medicaid expansion in this state. Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-House District 41) is also a member of the committee. He said in a statement to Spectrum News that he hopes other lawmakers will support legislation that increases investment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). He also wants to provide additional funding and direction to HHSC.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

After tense Greg Abbott, Beto O’Rourke debate, what’s next in Texas governor’s race

Last week’s debate in the race for Texas governor between Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke offered each the chance to make closing arguments to a large television and digital audience. Though some observers have said O’Rourke had his best debate since becoming a high-profile candidate in 2018, it wasn’t enough to stir what’s been a plodding pace, with Abbott, the Republican incumbent, maintaining a significant lead in most polls. “One of the things that really sticks out is just how much continuity there is from where this race started several months ago,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. He said O’Rourke has argued that Abbott is responsible for all that’s wrong and all that hasn’t been done to move Texans forward. The issues the Democrat is pounding include curbing gun violence, fortifying the state’s power grid, restoring abortion rights for women, protecting voting rights, improving access to health care and retaining good teachers.

In contrast, Henson said, Abbott is running on Texas’ strong points, including the economy, while casting O’Rourke as a liberal who would wreck the energy industry, exacerbate border security problems and partner with President Joe Biden to implement what the governor calls a socialist agenda. Voters had heard it all before the debate. “I don’t think either of them had a particularly bad night, but I didn’t see anything that really changed,” Henson said. The debate marked Abbott and O’Rourke hitting the final turn in the race for governor. Now the finish line is in sight. With just over a month before the Nov. 8 election, the race hinges on who will effectively turn out his party’s faithful voters. “Both of these campaigns are going to have to really beat the bushes in trying to drive up turnout,” Henson said. “You’re going to see O’Rourke playing to his advantage and trying to continue to mobilize Democrats, particularly on abortion and guns, and then try to exploit the deeply negative feelings that Democrats have towards Gov. Abbott. “And Abbott is going to do his own version of that and continue to bank on the negative image [of O’Rourke] that they’ve worked very hard over a long period of time to build.”

Top of Page

Houston Public Media - October 3, 2022

Long COVID is pulling Texans out of work

Ruben Lozano, 61, hasn't gone back to work since January. He worked at a manufacturing plant in San Antonio that produced semiconductor wafers found in electronics. But a host of symptoms that have stuck around after a COVID infection — headaches, shortness of breath, muscle pain and worst of all, insomnia — has made him too sick to return to the 12-hour shifts. "It's terrible right now,” Lozano said. "If I go to bed at 10 p.m., I wake up at two in the morning and I can't go back to sleep. I stay up until 5, 6, 7, 8. I mean, what a waste of my time." Lozano doesn't have the type of job that can employ workplace accommodations like remote work. He said the product needs to be moved physically and he's often on his feet. During the first few months of his Long COVID symptoms, he relied on short-term disability insurance until it ran out. He wanted to return to work, but was just too sick. "Sometimes I would feel good and I’m like, ‘oh, maybe I can go back to work now'" Lozano said. "And then I'd be wiped out. It's very frustrating. I wish I could have gone back to work. I miss it."

This summer, Lozano received a denial letter after applying for long-term disability insurance — a benefit his employer offers that he's been paying into for years. The letter said that he didn't meet the insurer's definition of disability. Lozano said most of the tests doctors ordered for him returned normal results, despite his feeling sick. Katie Bach, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, said this is a common problem that Long COVID survivors with debilitating symptoms are facing. “There is no way to prove that you have Long COVID, there's no blood test for it," Bach said. "And there aren’t very many physicians in the U.S. who are really experts at it.” In a report published last month, Bach laid out the importance of federal, state and local government to address five policy areas — investing in medical research, expanding paid sick leave, expanding workplace accommodations, improving the disability claims process and gathering better data. "(Long COVID) has both a societal cost and a personal cost," Bach said. "The societal cost is lost wages, the health care burden and productivity burden — they have significant brain fog, so their productivity drops. There’s this kind of big societal cost in this scenario." Bach said some workplace accommodations could include remote work, allowing workers to sit, instead of stand, and flexibility on deadlines. A report from the Biden administration published last month also suggested permitting service animals or providing air purifiers at work. But these types of accommodations aren't compatible with jobs of all types, particularly those in the service industry that pay low wages.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Denise Wooten for Texas House District 63

In the race for Texas House District 63, there’s not a candidate who gives us a high level of confidence. We recommend clinical psychologist Denise Wooten over gunmaker Ben Bumgarner. Of the two, only Bumgarner has experience in public service. He served on the Flower Mound City Council from 2019 until this year. But neither candidate is ready to serve at the state level. Echoing many on the far right, Bumgarner, a Republican, espouses a philosophy in which inexperience is a virtue. “The time for bureaucrats and career politicians is over,” his website reads. “It is time to send a fighter to Austin and show the establishment what the true meaning of grassroots is.” By that definition, Wooten is the better candidate since she has even less political experience than her opponent. Wooten, a Democrat, is far from polished, and she knows it. She went as far as to ask us for campaign advice, which we don’t give. She’ll have to learn on the job. We like that Wooten returns to themes of logic and compromise to make government work. She uses the phrase “common sense” a lot.

“I want to achieve bipartisan solutions if possible,” she said, and connected that desire to her profession. “In psychology we’re not adversarial. We’re trying to work together with people to achieve goals.” Like many first-time candidates, she seems naive about the degree to which she can get legislators to see eye-to-eye with reason and good faith, but we’ll take that over the combative “drain the swamp” tone of her opponent. Wooten favors policies that are left of center but she welcomes honest debate and seems drawn to moderate views. She favors gun reform but isn’t militant about it. “I don’t want everyone to get rid of their guns,” she said. She calls herself pro-choice, but she’s open to restrictions on abortion access after 23 weeks of gestation. In one troubling exchange, Wooten shared that the advice she gets from her party is to be less moderate. It’s not only the state Republican Party pulling candidates to extremes. We hope Wooten can resist those cynical influences. In her practice as a therapist, Wooten works with adolescents and people with developmental issues. She advocates strongly for more funding for special education and mental health.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 3, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Kronda Thimesch for Texas House District 65

Businesswoman Kronda Thimesch and social worker Brittney Verdell are vying for the Texas House seat vacated by Democrat Michelle Beckley after the District 65 boundaries were redrawn last year. The district is now poised to elect a Republican, and Thimesch can be an effective conservative voice for this section of Denton County. Our nod goes to her. If Thimesch is elected, voters will be served by a candidate who has dedicated many years of her life to an array of public service roles. Thimesch, 54, served five years as a Lewisville ISD trustee and received the “master trustee” designation, and today she volunteers for the district’s education foundation. She is a member of the Denton County Child Protective Services Board and is also involved in the Flower Mound Rotary Club, Meals on Wheels Denton County, Senior Paws for Pets and other local organizations.

Thimesch’s strong ties to the district and her experiences as a school board member and as a small business owner would be an asset to her constituents. Based on her conversations with residents of her district, Thimesch identified rising property tax bills as voters’ top concern. She proposes looking at appraisal caps and opportunities for the state to cover a bigger portion of school districts’ maintenance costs. Thimesch said she has been talking to city and county officials to discuss tax appraisal issues in Denton County. Thimesch also aligns with a majority of Texans who recognize we have a crisis along the southern border and who are concerned about human and drug trafficking. With more than 2 million border crossings this year, “those are conversations we need to have,” Thimesch told us. She supports local, state and federal cooperation on border enforcement and agrees with Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempts to raise national awareness about the pressures on Texas.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 3, 2022

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Susan Hays for Texas Agriculture Commissioner

The race for Texas agriculture commissioner is smokin’ — maybe not by any popular political science metric as Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in three decades — but certainly by a measure that college students, people with severe back pain, and perhaps Willie Nelson himself can understand. “I have no fear of saying ‘Hell, yeah, I consume cannabis.’ I have no problem saying that publicly,” Democratic candidate Susan Hays told the Chronicle recently. Hays, 53, lives in Alpine, where she and her husband purchased land several years ago to grow hemp and hops. Her background is as an attorney and lobbyist, including her 2019 work helping craft the Texas law allowing any hemp product with less than 0.3 percent THC.

Like the Republican incumbent, Sid Miller, she has made medical marijuana legalization central to her campaign. Hays said she’s taken a close look at other states’ cannabis policies and determined that the successful ones have a well-balanced “three-legged stool” of medicinal access, decriminalization and legalization, all working together to curb the black market and ensure people remain safe. “You have to think of cannabis regulation holistically,” she told the editorial board, speaking of her frustration with Texas’ piecemeal approach and widely-varying regulations. Miller, 67, for his part, penned an op-ed in July calling for the expansion of medical marijuana use, writing that the history of U.S. cannabis prohibition “came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm.” It’s a thoughtful and welcome essay, and we could have used more of the guy who wrote it — assuming it was Miller — in the past eight years. Yet even on this issue, where there’s some agreement, Hays offers a more comprehensive plan for enactment.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 3, 2022

Willie Nelson pays tribute to Uvalde families at Beto O'Rourke rally

Texas music legend Willie Nelson was about to leave the stage in Austin when he saw family members of Jackie Cazares, one of the 4th graders murdered in Uvalde. Nelson, 89, walked over to the edge of the stage at the Moontower Saloon and leaned over to the family members and said he knew they were going through some incredibly sad times. “Remember it’s not something you ever get over but it’s something you will get through,” said Nelson, who himself dealt with the loss of his son and, more recently, his sister.

Nelson was in Austin for a rally to support Democrat Beto O’Rourke in his campaign for governor. More than 4,000 people attended the free event, where Nelson played a half dozen of his classics. Jesse Rizo, Jackie’s uncle, said it meant a lot for Nelson to make the gesture at the end of his performance. He said every day is hard, so when someone like Nelson acknowledges his family's pain, it helps them feel like they are not alone. “You get inspired by the support, the people, the love,” Rizo said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Migrant-death suspect ran a West Texas detention center accused of abuse

One of two Texas brothers who authorities say opened fire on a group of migrants getting water near the U.S.-Mexico border, killing one and injuring another, was warden at a detention facility with a history of abuse allegations. The shooting happened Tuesday in rural Hudspeth County about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from El Paso, according to court documents filed Thursday. One man was killed; a woman was taken to a hospital in El Paso where she was recovering from a gunshot wound in her stomach, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. DPS said the victims were among a group of migrants standing alongside the road drinking water out of a reservoir when a truck with two men inside pulled over. According to court documents, the group had taken cover as the truck first passed to avoid being detected, but the truck then backed up. The driver then exited the vehicle and fired two shots at the group.

Witnesses from the group told federal agents that just before hearing the gunshots, they heard one of the two men in the vehicle yell derogatory terms to them and rev the engine, according to court documents. Authorities located the truck by checking cameras and finding a vehicle matching the description given by the migrants, according to court records. Michael Sheppard and Mark Sheppard, both 60, were charged with manslaughter, according to court documents. Court records did not list attorneys for either man. Contact information for them or for their representatives could not be found and attempts to reach them for comment since their arrest have been unsuccessful. Records show that Michael Sheppard was warden at the West Texas Detention Facility, a privately owned center that has housed migrant detainees. A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Associated Press that no ICE detainees had been held at that detention facility since October 2019, following the opening of a larger detention facility nearby. Scott Sutterfield, a spokesman for facility operator Lasalle Corrections, responded to an AP email asking whether Sheppard had been fired as warden. Sutterfield said the warden had been fired “due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment.” Sutterfield declined further comment, citing the “ongoing criminal investigation.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

‘I’m your God:’ How drugs, Mary Kay makeup and revenge led to a man’s grisly murder

On Sept. 30, 2014, in the master bedroom of a North Side home, Jose Luis Menchaca was on the ground apologizing as two men repeatedly beat him with aluminum baseball bats. “I’m your God. I’m going to decide whether you live or die.” That’s what two witnesses recalled hearing Daniel Moreno Lopez say as Menchaca pleaded with him between blows. Lopez and his cousin Gabriel Moreno were exacting revenge against Menchaca, who had stabbed Lopez two days prior during a botched drug deal. Menchaca had been lured to Lopez’s home in the 400 block of Hillwood Drive by two women: Candie Dominguez, who was Menchaca’s cousin and Lopez’s then-girlfriend; and Moreno’s girlfriend, Sabrina Cavazos.

According to the Express-News, Menchaca went to the house to exchange stolen Mary Kay makeup for drugs. “Within seconds” of walking into the master bedroom, Lopez and Moreno started viciously attacking Menchaca with the bats, Cavazos told a jury during Lopez’s murder trial in 2018 . “He was gasping for air. He begged them for his life, but he was already going,” she said, according to the Express-News. Menchaca’s girlfriend, Sylvia Flores, was also at the house and had been bound by her hands and feet as the violence ensued. She later told a jury that as Menchaca was going in and out of consciousness, he kept calling out to her that he loved her. Lopez and his cousin strangled Menchaca and beat him to death with the aluminum bats. In court, Dennis Austin — whose then-fiancé is a cousin of Lopez and Moreno — testified that it looked like a horror movie , describing the blood-soaked walls, couch and floor as Menchaca lay bound and gagged. Austin, who went to Lopez’s house on Sept. 30 and entered in the midst of the violence, said that Menchaca was still alive when he arrived. Austin later told the court that he didn’t try to intervene or call the police for fear of retaliation.

Top of Page

FOX 7 Austin - October 2, 2022

Austin has seen more than 30 deadly auto-ped crashes so far in 2022

Austin has seen more than 30 deadly auto-pedestrian crashes so far in 2022, a trend local EMT's say is troubling and largely preventable. Two auto-pedestrian crashes happened within 24 hours: one on South Congress Friday night and one on N. Lamar Saturday night. Around 11 p.m. Sept. 30, an adult was struck by a vehicle on South Congress, just south of Ben White Boulevard. Medics performed CPR, but the victim was pronounced dead after 20 minutes. Within 24 hours, another pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene after a crash on N. Lamar Boulevard at Beaver Street in North Austin. At 34, Austin has seen two more deadly pedestrian, bike and scooter crashes so far in 2022 than at this time last year. That number is concerning, considering last year saw the highest overall number of deadly crashes in Austin ever.

"100% of collisions are 100% preventable," said Capt. Christa Stedman with ATCEMS. About two thirds of this year's deadly auto-ped crashes have happened at night and nearly half have been hit and runs like in East Austin two weeks ago. A pedestrian was fatally struck while crossing Airport Boulevard at Oak Springs Drive, and the driver took off. In August, Weston Holtz turned himself in two weeks after fleeing the scene of a crash that killed 70-year-old Sandra Nielsen in the Circle C Ranch neighborhood. "We've certainly had cases where there have been auto pedestrian collisions and the driver has left the scene and 911 doesn't get called until that next bystander just happens upon that person. So we don't know if that's been minutes, hours, days," said Capt. Stedman. Sometimes it’s a case of people walking where they’re not supposed to like on I-35 near Cesar Chavez in August where two vehicles fatally struck a person. "We have seen an increase in auto pedestrian collisions on major thoroughfares," said Capt. Stedman. "They've just essentially tried to play Frogger across a highway 999 times out of a thousand. They are not going to be successful doing that."

Top of Page

WFAA - October 2, 2022

Suspected serial killer Billy Chemirmir going on trial again

After Mary Brooks was found dead on the floor of her Dallas-area condo, grocery bags from a shopping trip still on her countertop, authorities decided the 87-year-old had died of natural causes. Even after her family discovered jewelry was missing — including a coral necklace she loved and diamond rings — it took an attack on another woman weeks later for police to reconsider. The next capital murder trial for Billy Chemirmir, 49, begins Monday in Dallas in the death of Brooks, one of 22 older women he is charged with killing.

The charges against Chemirmir grew in the years following his 2018 arrest, as police across the Dallas area reexamined the deaths of older people that had been considered natural, even though families raised alarm bells about missing jewelry. Four indictments were added this summer. Chemirmir, who maintains his innocence, was convicted in April of capital murder in the smothering death of 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He will receive the same punishment if convicted in Brooks' death. His first trial in Harris' death ended in a mistrial last November when the jury deadlocked. Loren Adair Smith, whose 91-year-old mother is among those Chemirmir is charged with killing, will be among the many relatives of victims attending the trial, which, she said, brings a “huge bag of mixed feelings.” “At the same time of having that dread feeling, we are really glad to go back and bring this chapter to a close,” Smith said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Jared Schroeder: The 5th Circuit got it wrong in Texas social media case

(Jared Schroeder is an associate professor of journalism at SMU in Dallas, where his research focuses on free expression and emerging technology.) The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Texas’ social media law on Sept. 16. All it had to do was ignore nearly a century of precedent. The appeals court, which is one step below the Supreme Court, turned a legal no-brainer into a meandering 113-page grab-bag of ideas. Among other things, the Texas law prohibited large social media platforms (those with more than 50 million active users) from censoring content based on the users viewpoint. Decade after decade, and brick by brick, justices have built strong foundational precedents in cases such as West Virginia vs. Barnette, that the Frst Amendment protects private speakers from being compelled by the government to communicate. According to the Supreme Court’s decisions in cases such as First National Bank vs. Bellotti and Citizens United vs. FEC, corporations generally have the same rights as people. The court went out of its way to establish that private corporations, such as social media firms, cannot be compelled to publish in Miami Herald vs. Tornillo.

The Supreme Court reasoned, “The clear implication has been that any such a compulsion to publish that which ‘reason tells them should not be published’ is unconstitutional.” Texas’ social media law is flagrantly unconstitutional by all these standards. It has been challenged by trade groups that warn it would prevent platforms from removing extremism and hate speech. Yet, to the 5th Circuit, it’s good law. When justices shun precedent in favor of political ideology, they are acting as super-legislators, wielding power to both interpret existing law and enact de facto revisions to it. This is the last thing we need. Political ideology has always played a role in jurists’ thinking. Precedent, however, is crucial. Precedent is when jurists use past conclusions in similar cases to inform future decisions. It creates judicial ground rules. Precedent provides us consistency and clarity regarding what our rights are and grants courts credibility. A functioning democracy requires both of these building blocks. From day to day, we must know what our rights are. At the same time, we have to retain some faith that the judicial branch is playing its part in democracy. We don’t need politicians in robes. We need courts that do their part in the democratic, checks-and-balances design.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

BNSF plans new $1.5 billion rail facility to relieve California port congestion

With a threatened railroad strike in the rearview mirror, Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway is hauling out a $1.5 billion plan for a new rail facility in Southern California that it says will relieve congestion around the critical ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The Barstow International Gateway will be a 4,500-acre rail yard, intermodal facility and warehouses for moving freight from international to domestic containers, according to BNSF. Containers will be transferred directly from ships to trains and moved to Barstow, where they’ll be loaded onto trains moving east on BNSF’s 32,500-mile network spanning 28 states and three Canadian provinces. BNSF hailed the project as a first-of-its-kind undertaken by a top-tier freight railroad. It expects the master-planned project to create 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.

“By allowing for more efficient transfer of cargo directly between ships and rail, the Barstow International Gateway will maximize rail and distribution efficiency regionally and across the U.S. supply chain and reduce truck traffic and freeway congestion in the Los Angeles Basin and the Inland Empire,” said BNSF president and CEO Katie Farmer in a statement. The Los Angeles and Long Beach ports handle the highest container volume in the nation, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. A backlog of container ships waiting to get into the ports last year was a key contributor to supply chain shortages across the U.S. Farmer said the Barstow facility also will improve efficiency at BNSF’s existing intermodal hubs in AllianceTexas and Chicago. Just two weeks ago, BNSF and other major U.S. railroad companies were preparing for a potential strike that threatened to bring the nation’s supply chain to a halt. A tentative deal with a coalition of a dozen railroad unions averted a work stoppage. Three unions have since ratified the deal. Political leaders in California praised BNSF’s decision. The railroad said the project doesn’t rely on public funding.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 2, 2022

Cary Clack: ‘Mad Dash’ Paxtons on the run

In American culture and cinema, legends are created from the stories of two people in cars running from the law. Bonnie and Clyde. Thelma and Louise. O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings. Jake and Elwood Blues. To this pantheon of road rogues, we can add Ken and Angela. As in Paxton. Monday morning, the Texas attorney general and his wife, a state senator, fled their home when Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, attempted to serve a subpoena for a federal court hearing in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for out-of-state abortions. Let’s pause here to note that if there’s one state attorney general in the United States most likely to be served a subpoena on any given day, it’s Ken Paxton.

This is a man who, for seven years, has been indicted for alleged securities fraud and has yet to go on trial. He’s been accused by former staffers of corruption, for which he’s under FBI investigation. He is being sued by the Texas state bar for professional misconduct for filing a ridiculous lawsuit — laughed out of the U.S. Supreme Court — that challenged the 2020 presidential election results in four states. When it comes to being followed by unethical dust clouds, Paxton is the Pigpen of American politics. In an affidavit, Herrera says when he arrived at the Paxtons’ house and told Mrs. Paxton he had legal documents to serve her husband, she told him the attorney general was on the phone. Herrera had waited nearly an hour when a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway and Paxton left his house.

Top of Page

Valley Morning Star - October 3, 2022

Sen. Ted Cruz leads charge in Harlingen rally for U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores

Several hundred supporters of U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores met Sunday to give raucous support for her re-election in November, spurred on by the Republican congresswoman and a fiery speech by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX. The political rally at the Blue Moon Bar and Club had elements of a revival meeting, and the message for several hundred supporters in attendance was the Democrats’ hold on the 34th Congressional District for the past 150 years was no more. Flores, a Mexican immigrant who defeated Democrat Dan Sanchez in a special election earlier this year, is facing U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who after re-districting, opted to run in the 34th District instead of the 15th District where he has served since 2017.

“I am their worst nightmare. All of a sudden, an immigrant, a woman, a mother is dangerous,” Flores, R-Los Indios, said. “They’ve been claiming all these years that they’re for people like me. But the moment that we fight for the values that we were raised with, do they not know that in Mexico you’re raised with some conservative values? I was raised to always put God and family first, and I’m not willing to put that aside for their political party.” An RMG Research poll conducted two months ago showed Gonzalez leading Flores, 47 percent to 43 percent, within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error. “Before me, no one was talking about South Texas, no one was talking about Texas 34 in Washington,” Flores said. “This isn’t about me. This is about our kids’ future, about your grand kids. Are they not worth you fighting for? I can’t do this alone; I need every single one of you to go out there and vote.” The two political office-holders were introduced by Cruz’s father, Rev. Rafael Cruz, a fiery Protestant preacher who emigrated to the United States from Cuba. The elder Cruz condemned what he called the “Marxists in the White House,” and said business as usual, at least when it comes to politics, is over in the Rio Grande Valley.

Top of Page

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

Marina Alderete Gavito: SA Digital Connects is working to close community’s digital divide

(Marina Alderete Gavito is executive director of SA Digital Connects. Her career has focused on tech and innovation for Fortune 500 corporations.) More than 20 percent of our neighbors in San Antonio and Bexar County face barriers to accessing the internet. When SA Digital Connects launched in September 2021, we committed to be a voice for digital inclusion and to bring solutions for fast, reliable and affordable internet to all. We are a public-private-community collaboration working to implement the San Antonio and Bexar County Digital Equity Plan , which outlines our steps to close the digital divide. As I near my first anniversary serving as SA Digital Connects executive director, I think back to my final interview for this role. I had my laptop and iPad set up, and joined the Zoom meeting at 8:55 a.m. for the 9 a.m. interview. The connection was slow, I quickly troubleshot, and nothing worked, so I did my interview on the phone. While this ironic internet glitch was frustrating, it’s the daily reality for many of our neighbors.

What about people who don’t have a choice? What about people who are permanently disconnected, who cannot participate in today’s society and economy? Our goal is that all residents in the city and county will be connected to the internet by 2025-2026. Our approach to solving the digital divide focuses on three areas: access/infrastructure, affordability and adoption/digital skills. This week, National Digital Inclusion Week, is a time to come together to bring awareness and solutions to digital inequities in our community. This year’s theme is “Turning Our Moment into Movement,” and that’s exactly what we’re doing for our community. The digital divide is very real; it’s a social determinant of health (that can have damaging, long-lasting effects. Life without internet access means that people in our community cannot apply for jobs, access benefits, use telehealth, do research for college, access job training, receive timely emergency information, access city and county resources — and the list goes on. Using phones to access services or apply for jobs isn’t equitable or sustainable. Affordable and quality internet is foundational to reducing systemic inequities, and driving the next generation of societal and economic development.

Top of Page

Texas Public Radio - October 3, 2022

One of two long overdue Bexar County jail studies released

The office of Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar released a long overdue study of the jail on Friday. The new report focused on how to better staff the facility that has struggled to keep up at a critical time. The number of people jailed remains high, and deputies complain about the state of both the jail infrastructure and their quality of life. Staff turnover last year was 33%, according to the report from Detain Inc., and the amount of overtime shot up 115% between 2018 and 2021. The report targeted pay increases (15-20%) and the use of forced overtime decreases. The county paid the lowest of the four largest metropolitan jails in 2021.

The use of overtime is keeping the jail running in compliance with minimum safety standards, but has pushed the county into a negative feedback loop. As the use of forced, mandatory overtime goes up, the ability to retain staff goes down, increasing the need to heap more overtime onto people. The report recommended going to a 12-hour shifts to reduce the total number of days people work. “In other words, you have to have more bodies, more deputies to cover the same amount of time on 12 hour shifts, then you do eight hour shifts. However, what that might possibly do is help slow down our turnover,” Salazar said. It may allow for more days off and give people additional confidence in their schedules that they know when they go in, when they leave, and when they are off. That’s something that has lacked the past few years, according to the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Bexar County, the deputies' union. “I’m 100% behind it,” said Ron Tooke, president of the group, He added that he hopes it will reduce the amount of time people are working. “They're already doing 12 hour shifts — let's not kid ourselves about that. So why not give them set 12 hour shifts, and then give them an option of taking their day, or day and a half, or two that they can actually get away from that place?” he asked.

Top of Page

KERA - October 3, 2022

Denton County sees big increase in homelessness that includes many people with disabilities

Denton County has? seen a 74 percent increase in people experiencing homelessness. That's according to?a new report by the United Way of Denton. “We're seeing nearly double the amount of people that we saw two years ago, which is pretty groundbreaking,” said Leia Atkinson, who manages homeless data for the nonprofit. “We also see a lot of people who have never been homeless before. And?a lot more of the individuals who are experiencing homelessness are reporting disabilities.” Atkinson pointed to several possible explanations. “It’s a combination of COVID 19 job loss,” she said. “That then was followed by inflation. And in general, Denton County is expanding.” Denton County’s population was 662,614 in 2010, according to the U.S Census Bureau. That number had increased to 941,647 by July 2021.

Rents also are higher. And landlords may be more reluctant to accept housing vouchers. The United Way's “Point in Time" count tallied the unsheltered and sheltered homeless population on a single night in late January. That number was compared to a similar survey two years ago. Atkinson acknowledges that it is hard to get an exact count. That’s in part because some of the people experiencing homelessness in Denton County live in rural towns. And the county's few overnight shelters are usually near larger cities. “We know that there are people experiencing homelessness in those areas,” Atkinson said. “But if there’s no shelter, it’s really hard to know and it’s hard to reach those people.” Atkinson says that some homeless people gravitate towards the city, where there are more resources. But others have gotten comfortable sleeping in their car or in the woods. Wherever they are, it’s not always apparent who is experiencing homelessness. Atkinson says she was encouraged by the public response to the report. “A lot of times we see people who care about our homeless population and want to be doing advocacy, but just don't really know where to put that energy, “Atkinson said. “ And honestly, what I would love to see is our local soup kitchen, our daily bread full of volunteers”. The United Way of Denton raises money to help support homeless Denton County residents overcome homeless issues and to prevent other residents from becoming homeless.

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Report - October 3, 2022

Only 10 city of Fort Worth employees, elected leaders submitted conflict disclosure forms during past 7 years

Former Fort Worth assistant city manager Susan Alanis wrote on a conflict disclosure form in 2018 that her daughter worked at the winter YMCA camp, earning $330. The form is one of only 10 filed by city employees since 2015, according to records obtained by the Fort Worth Report. The disclosure forms came under public scrutiny after City Manager David Cooke’s vacation with Ed and Sasha Bass, where he took the Bass’ private jet to Aspen, Colorado. Cooke did not report the trip as a gift, city spokesperson Reyne Telles said, because he did not view it as such. Although Cooke saw no need to file a disclosure, his assistant city manager did because her daughter had a part-time job with the YMCA, which did business with the city. Nine other reports indicate other conflicts of interest ranging from spouses working with city vendors to officials holding other jobs.

Jared Williams is the only City Council member who has submitted a disclosure form since 2015. Williams, who represents District 6, said when he was offered the position of vice president of advocacy for the Tarrant Area Food Bank, he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to accept. “The first call I made when I knew it was going to be an opportunity was to our city attorney to say, ‘Hey, is this a conflict?’” he said. “This whole process for me is something that I think is super important, and it sheds light on the importance of the onboarding process for new council members.” Williams said he worked with city staff to come up with a game plan for evaluating the conflict, including writing a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for an opinion on the matter. Eventually, they settled on making a disclosure statement publicly every time council considers something related to the food bank, and Williams excuses himself from conversations or votes about those matters. “Even the (disclosure form) was a learning curve for me, because I thought that letter from HUD served as my record that I have a conflict,” he said. “As soon as I learned that I needed to do that document, I was like, ‘Oh, crap, I need to fill this out because transparency is super important.” That lack of knowledge about disclosure requirements, he said, hammers home the need for strong onboarding procedures as Fort Worth prepares to welcome two new council members in 2023 as a result of redistricting.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 2, 2022

Fifth Ward residents insulted by EPA tips to avoid rail yard contamination: ‘What’s in us is in us’

A man opened his front door in Fifth Ward to find Walter Mallett hanging a packet of advice from the federal government on his fence. Don’t eat chicken eggs from the yard, it said. Don’t let children play in the dirt. Take a shower after gardening. The ground was contaminated. “Morning!” called Mallett, a neighborhood volunteer, to the resident, Lowell Williams. “How are you?” City of Houston officials had announced a week earlier they found the highly toxic chemical called dioxin in all 42 soil samples they took from the area. The highest readings were next to the Union Pacific rail yard, where workers treated wood with a dangerous preservative mixture for decades.

Contamination remained in the neighborhood after the wood treatment practice stopped in 1984, and neighbors were diagnosed with cancer. So it came as something of an insult that federal regulators were just now trying to protect families from exposure by telling them to take their dirty shoes off at the door. “Man,” Williams said to Mallett. “I’ve been in Fifth Ward all my life.” Residents grew up playing around that dangerous preservative, known as creosote. Rail ties were a prime spot for hide-and-seek. Ponds of runoff were perfect for landing in after swinging from a tree, or looking for crawfish. People dipped their pets into the preservative to try to cure them of disease. Joe Ballard recalled all of this from outside his childhood home where his 87-year-old mother still lives and which is near the spot where city officials gathered the worst dioxin reading of them all. Whether the dioxin came from the wood treatment process still has to be determined. He remembered scrubbing the thick, oily, black residue off his creosote-covered tennis shoes so he could wear them to school.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Sharon Grigsby: Historic Black cemetery, lost in sea of Far North Dallas apartments, needs City Hall help

The keepers of the White Rock Cemetery Garden of Memories, a historic graveyard buried within the mountains of apartments that surround it, don’t rest easy. A few of the markers belong to white settlers, but most are those of formerly enslaved pioneers and farmers, including many of Dallas County’s prominent early Black families. The cemetery’s contemporary protectors know their elders’ trauma over almost losing this hallowed ground several decades ago to developers who claimed the cemetery was abandoned — even as community members continued to be interred there. They can recite the decade-long timeline of the 1970s legal battle that temporarily succeeded in locking out family members who wanted only to care for their loved ones’ graves. They still fear that in a city where market forces perennially mow over history, the future is hardly secure for this 170-year-old cemetery, hidden away but only a minute or two from the clamor of Preston Road north of I-635.

That’s why these guardians have secured historic cemetery designation and a state historical marker to keep memories alive of this eternal resting place for more than 420 of Dallas’ sons and daughters. And why those who seek to preserve the sanctity of this site want the city’s Landmark Commission to approve a historic designation for this 3-acre cemetery, among the last remnants of what began as the Upper White Rock freedmen’s town. Only with a landmark designation will the descendants of the names on these grave markers have confidence that the property, unknown to almost all of us, will be protected in perpetuity. The route to access White Rock Cemetery is one of multiple twists, turns and locked gates as the road rises along an escarpment that leads to an unexpected pastoral hilltop dotted with bois d’arc, elm and hickory. As I walked the property with Antonia Suber, head of the cemetery’s board of trustees, and researcher Sheniqua Cummings, it felt like a half-century or more had fallen away. Here imposing pink granite tombstones and obelisks from the first half of the 1900s sit alongside much older markers whose lavish inscriptions have mostly weathered away.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - October 3, 2022

Jurors to begin hearing Jan. 6 Oath Keepers sedition case

Federal prosecutors will lay out their case against the founder of the Oath Keepers extremist group and four associates charged in the most serious case to reach trial yet in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack. Opening statements are expected Monday in Washington’s federal court in the trial of Stewart Rhodes and others charged with seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors say was a weekslong plot to stop the transfer of power from Republican Donald Trump to Democrat Joe Biden. Defense attorneys will also get their first chance to address jurors, who were chosen last week after days of questioning over their feelings about the insurrection, Trump supporters and other matters. The stakes are high for the Justice Department, which last secured a seditious conspiracy conviction at trial nearly 30 years ago.

About 900 people have been charged and hundreds convicted in the Capitol attack. Rioters stormed past police barriers, engaged in hand-to-hand combat with officers, smashed windows and halted the certification of Biden’s electoral victory. But the Oath Keepers are the first to stand trial on seditious conspiracy, a rare Civil War-era charge that carries up to 20 years behind bars. The trial is expected to last several weeks. Prosecutors will tell jurors that the insurrection for the antigovernment group was not a spontaneous outpouring of election-fueled rage but part of a drawn-out plot to stop Biden from entering the White House. On trial with Rhodes, of Granbury, Texas, are Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the Oath Keepers; Kenneth Harrelson, another Florida Oath Keeper; Thomas Caldwell, a retired U.S. Navy intelligence officer from Virginia; and Jessica Watkins, who led an Ohio militia group. They face several other charges as well. Authorities say Rhodes began plotting to overturn Biden’s victory just days after the election. Court records show the Oath Keepers repeatedly warning of the prospect of violence — or “a bloody, bloody civil war,” as Rhodes said in one call — if Biden were to become president. By December, authorities say, Rhodes and the Oath Keepers had set their sights on Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6.

Top of Page

Reuters - October 3, 2022

Explorer of ancient DNA wins Nobel medicine prize

Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for discoveries that underpin our understanding of how modern day humans evolved from extinct ancestors. The prize, arguably among the most prestigious in the scientific world, is awarded by the Nobel Assembly of Sweden's Karolinska Institute and is worth 10 million Swedish crowns ($900,357). It is the first of this year's batch of prizes. The Award committee officially gave Paabo the prize for "discoveries concerning the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution."

"He was overwhelmed, he was speechless. Very happy," said Thomas Perlmann, secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine, who called Paabo with the news. "He asked if he could tell anyone and asked if he could tell his wife and I said that was okay. He was incredibly thrilled about this award." Paabo, son of the Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Sune Bergstrom, has been credited with transforming the study of human origins after developing approaches to allow for the examination of DNA sequences from archaeological and paleontological remains. His key achievements include sequencing an entire Neanderthal genome to reveal the link between extinct people and modern humans. He also uncovered the existence of a previously unknown human species called the Denisovans, from a 40,000-year-old fragment of a finger bone discovered in Siberia. "A scientist who helps us to better understand our own species - and is rightly recognized for it today," German education and research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger tweeted on Monday.

Top of Page

Associated Press - October 3, 2022

Brazil’s Bolsonaro and the right outperform, defying polls

Jair Bolsonaro considerably outperformed expectations in Brazil’s presidential election, proving that the far-right wave he rode to the presidency remains a force and providing the world with yet another example of polls missing the mark. The most-trusted opinion polls had indicated leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was far out front, and potentially even clinching a first-round victory. One prominent pre-election poll gave da Silva a 14 percentage point lead. In the end, Bolsonaro surprised to the upside and came within just 5 points. He will face da Silva in a high-stakes Oct. 30 presidential runoff. On Sunday, da Silva, known universally as Lula, obtained 48.4% of valid votes, which excludes blank and null ballots, while Bolsonaro got 43.2%, according to Brazil’s electoral authority. The first round’s nine other candidates received a fraction of the frontrunners’ support.

“This is a big defeat for the democratic center that saw its voters migrate to Bolsonaro in a polarized scenario,” said Arilton Freres, director of Curitiba-based Instituto Opinião. “Lula starts ahead, but it won’t be easy for him.” The vote was virtually free from the political violence that many had feared. Alexandre de Moraes, the Supreme Court justice who also leads the electoral authority, congratulated Brazil for the “safe, calm, harmonious and peaceful” election that demonstrated its democratic maturity. Yet tensions remain high, as are the stakes. The election will determine whether the country returns a leftist to the helm of the world’s fourth-largest democracy or keeps Bolsonaro in office for another term. The past four years have been marked by his incendiary speech, testing of democratic institutions, widely criticized handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in 15 years. But he has built a devoted base by defending conservative values and presenting himself as protecting the nation from leftist policies that he says infringe on personal liberties and produce economic turmoil. “I understand there is a desire from the population for change, but some changes can be for the worse,” Bolsonaro told reporters after the results were released. Bolsonaro, who has repeatedly claimed without evidence that the nation’s electronic voting machines are vulnerable to fraud, didn’t challenge the result.

Top of Page

Politico - October 2, 2022

‘Real people that we care about are being exploited’

Early on a warm August morning in 2021 — as helicopters and drones hovered overhead — three women huddled under a sheet of plastic in a southern Oregon greenhouse. Outside, state, federal and county law enforcement were raiding the massive unlicensed cannabis farm where the women had worked for two months. Officers shouted into megaphones, marching through the farm, cutting tents open as they went, Isabella, 51, recalled. “The cops were very aggressive,” she said. “They didn’t care if there were people inside,” her sister Leticia, 53, added. Before they were done, the officers would uncover 6,000 pounds of processed marijuana, over 72,000 cannabis plants and more than 200 workers, both documented and undocumented, who were detained for questioning and then released. But they wouldn’t find the three women. Afraid as they were the officers might inadvertently bulldoze the greenhouse with them inside, the women were just as fearful of being discovered without legal work documents. So as the tumult continued around them, they slipped away across a river and found refuge on a nearby farm.

In a July interview with POLITICO, the two women and Isabella’s 30-year-old daughter, Maria described a nearly two-year-long ordeal of itinerant labor on marijuana farms throughout southern Oregon. The conditions were often deplorable. The women slept in tents, washed their dishes with hoses, used overflowing portable toilets and ate mostly rice cooked under tarps. There was often no electricity or potable water. The men working alongside them menaced them with sexually aggressive remarks — and getting paid the wages they hoped to send back to family in Michoacán, Mexico was the exception, not the rule. “We were so afraid,” Leticia said. “I slept with one eye open and one eye closed.” The Q Bar X Ranch was at least the ninth farm the women had worked at — and the second where they said they were held prisoner by men with rifles, forbidden from leaving even to go to the grocery store or seek medical help. As with the other weed farms, they learned about the job from a woman they refer to as a contratista, who raved about the pay and assured them that the farm was licensed and produced federally legal hemp, not marijuana. Once the women showed up to the new farm, she disappeared.

Top of Page

New York Times - October 2, 2022

A G.O.P. test in Michigan: Is Trump a help or a hindrance?

As she runs to lead a narrowly divided swing state, Tudor Dixon is pursuing a hazardous strategy in the Michigan governor’s race: embracing Donald J. Trump, and at times emulating his no-holds-barred political style. She hit the campaign trail recently with the former president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Kellyanne Conway, the onetime Trump White House adviser — and, in Trumpian fashion, made headlines for mocking her Democratic opponent, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, over a 2020 kidnapping plot hatched against her by right-wing militia members. In other appearances, Ms. Dixon called for a ban on transgender girls playing in girl’s and women’s sports. And on a recent afternoon at an athletic club in an affluent suburb northwest of Detroit, where a life-size cutout of Mr. Trump stood by the doors, she promoted his so-called America First business policies. “‘America First’ — Michigan First — will bring Michigan back together,” she said. The governor’s race between Ms. Dixon and Ms. Whitmer carries high stakes for abortion rights, schools and the future of elections. It is historic — the first time two women have ever gone head-to-head for the position in the state.

The contest also serves as a test of whether Ms. Dixon and other Republican candidates can win their general elections by harnessing the grass-roots energy of Trump supporters that propelled them to the top of crowded and chaotic primaries. That approach — which entails a close association with Mr. Trump’s election denialism and other political baggage — worries some Michigan Republicans who believe Ms. Dixon is failing to win over the kinds of suburban and independent voters who are crucial in tight races. But it might be the only option she has. Early voting began on Thursday, and with time running out, Ms. Dixon is short on cash, well behind in polls, still working to shore up support among her Republican base and being pummeled by Democrats on the television airwaves. “Uphill, on icy roads,” said Dennis Darnoi, a longtime Republican strategist in Michigan, describing her path to victory. “It is a challenge, with a month left, for her to make up the kind of ground that she is going to need.” Ms. Dixon, who joined Mr. Trump at a rally on Saturday in Macomb County, has appeared unfazed, arguing that her recent fund-raising numbers have been high and that her message will ultimately resonate with voters more than Ms. Whitmer’s. Onstage on Saturday afternoon, Ms. Dixon pledged to protect women’s sports and attacked Ms. Whitmer’s pandemic and economic policies, suggesting the governor was hiding from voters. Her remarks at times elicited thunderous chants of “Lock her up.” Asked about the challenges ahead for her campaign after she spoke, her team pointed to a new poll from a Republican-aligned firm that put her within six points of Ms. Whitmer.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - October 3, 2022

Laurence Silberman, federal appeals court judge who shaped conservative legal theory, dead at 86

Laurence Silberman, an influential conservative during a long career as an appeals court judge and federal government official, died Sunday at his home in Washington, D.C., 10 days before his 87th birthday. Judge Silberman died of natural causes, his son, Robert Silberman, said. Judge Silberman sat for decades on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often called the second-most powerful U.S. court because it hears many challenges to federal regulations and has sent many of its members onto the Supreme Court. One of the country’s most influential jurists, Judge Silberman shaped Second Amendment jurisprudence and advocated for a philosophy of “judicial restraint,” an approach that emphasizes the limited role of the judiciary in the U.S. constitutional system.

“It has always seemed rather simple to me that in a democracy federal judges appointed for life may not allow themselves, or should not allow themselves, to make policy judgments,” Judge Silberman said in a 2002 interview for an oral-history project. “One of the things that has disappointed me terribly about being a judge is the recognition as to how few judges and justices are really believers in judicial restraint,” the judge added. Judge Silberman had a varied career in government before joining the bench, serving as a high-ranking government lawyer in the Nixon and Ford administrations and as President Gerald Ford’s ambassador to Yugoslavia. Laurence Hirsch Silberman was born Oct. 12, 1935 in York, Pa. Judge Silberman told the interviewer that he had limited memory of his father, who divorced his mother when he was 9. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Dartmouth in 1957 and, after service in the U.S. Army, a law degree at Harvard University in 1961. He worked in the Labor Department in the early 1970s, helping draft the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a workplace-safety law, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or Erisa, which establishes minimum standards for pension plans in private industry.

Top of Page

Newsclips - October 2, 2022

Lead Stories

Reuters - September 28, 2022

Texas judges now get broader immunity than the U.S. president

A federal appeals court issued a remarkable decision last week finding that Texas judges are exempt from federal subpoenas in a lawsuit challenging a local bail system because they’re protected by sovereign immunity, even if they’re no longer defendants in the case. The Sept. 19 ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a novel and dangerous extension of governmental immunities. It further diminishes citizens’ ability to hold officials accountable by blocking the basic fact-finding processes that often produce the best evidence of systemic wrongdoing – like an agency-wide practice that happens to be unconstitutional -- in cases that serve the public interest. The issue of compelling testimony from officials has taken pressing urgency recently, due to former President Donald Trump’s defiant attitude about providing information in the multivarious investigations of his business dealings and attempts to subvert the U.S. elections system.

By and large, the answer that has emerged from the courts is that no individual is categorically exempt from the civic duty to provide evidence in legal proceedings, regardless of office. Since July, state courts in Georgia have refused to quash subpoenas for 11 fake Republican electors, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, and U.S. Representative Jody Hice, in a grand jury investigation of Trump’s efforts to covertly overturn the 2020 election results in that state; a federal judge rejected a second attempt by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham to avoid testifying before that same Georgia grand jury; and another federal judge affirmed a contempt conviction against former presidential adviser Steve Bannon for defying a congressional subpoena related to the 2021 Capitol attack. This month, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, reluctantly complied with a subpoena for documents in a U.S. Justice Department probe into the Capitol attack. Even conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, testified before the congressional committee on Thursday after initially indicating she wouldn't appear. The principle also applied to Trump himself, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 2020 that a sitting president isn’t exempt from a state court subpoena. (The subpoena in Vance v. Trump was directed at Trump’s accountants – a “third-party subpoena” – but the court construed it as a subpoena to the president because it sought documents belonging to Trump.)

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 2, 2022

New ERCOT CEO's first priority is restoring trust. Fixing the grid is more complicated.

Pablo Vegas, the recently named CEO of the state's grid manager, said his focus will be restoring trust and confidence in a power system that failed in the winter of 2021, struggled through record-breaking demand in the summer of 2022, and faces more challenges as electricity consumption grows with the state's population, further stretching generation. "The best thing that we can do to rebuild trust is to continue to operate and execute reliably and to be transparent about it," Vegas said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "We have to let people know what we're doing and why we're doing it. We've taken some steps to help kind of open up the curtain a little bit as to what's happening with the operations of the grid." Vegas assumes the leadership of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Sunday.

ERCOT's board of directors named Vegas as CEO in August, replacing interim CEO Brad Jones, who took the helm of the state's grid manager after the 2021 power outages plunged millions into freezing darkness for days on end. Even with that pay, Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, said he would not take the job. He said Vegas will largely be an administrator working to enact the decisions of others. "This is like being appointed the new coach of the Dallas Cowboys," Hirs said. "He has no control over the players he’s inheriting, he has no control over the situation he’s inheriting, and he really has no ability to change it without the cooperation of his CEO, which would be Gov. (Greg) Abbott or the Legislature." Vegas is no stranger to Texas, though. He was the head of American Electric Power, or AEP Texas, for years before leading that company's Ohio division and eventually becoming president of NiSource, a utility with operations in six states. He said those experiences helped him branch out from technical skills honed in control rooms, using computers to control and direct the outflow of power. They taught him the importance of personal relationships, he said. "You can never accomplish anything you need without buy-in and support," he said. "You can't make everybody happy with every decision. But what you do is you try to keep the end goal at the forefront of your planning process, and you work towards that end goal, and in the end you find ways to compromise and a chart pathways forward."

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 30, 2022

Harris County received challenges to thousands of voter registrations. It rejected them all.

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office received a flood of affidavits this summer challenging the eligibility of thousands of registered voters throughout the county, accusing them of not living at the addresses listed on registration records. None of the affidavits led to county elections officials removing any names from the voter rolls. The affidavits are linked to efforts by a conservative grassroots organization called the Texas Election Network, which earlier this year attempted to get Sunnyside residents to sign forms verifying the identities of registered voters living at their addresses.

Each affidavit alleges that numerous registered voters in Harris County “do not reside at the addresses listed on their voter registration records,” as required by state election law. Upon receiving a sworn statement challenging a voter’s residence, election officials must send a “Notice of Address Confirmation” to the voter in question. The challenges were first reported by The New York Times, which found the affidavits disputed the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters. In all, the Elections Administrator’s Office received 115 affidavits, according to Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the elections office. Of those, Shah said, 66 were rejected because they “did not meet statutory requirements and contained incomplete information.” Another 49 challenges came in after Aug. 10, the 90th day before the election. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the "motor voter act," bars election officials from performing most voter-roll maintenance activities within 90 days of a federal election. The restriction applies to any program intended to “systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list of eligible voters,” including “general mailings and door to door canvasses,” according to the Justice Department.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

Lackluster employment, slowing wage increases signal economic slowdown for Texas, Dallas Fed says

Flat employment growth, a slight increase in the unemployment rate and fewer employers raising wages are signs the Texas economy is slowing, economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said in a new report . A possible upside, said Dallas Fed Vice President Pia Orrenius , is that the slowdown in economic activity may help tamp down the inflation that’s been stretching Texans’ budgets as prices rise. “While official statistics have yet to show a meaningful easing of price pressures in our region, our surveys suggest a rapidly increasing share of Texas companies are refraining from increasing prices,” she said in the report Thursday.

The report by Orrenius, a senior economist at the Dallas Fed, and Research Analyst Ana Pranger said the number of employed Texans held steady at about 13.5 million last month, while the state’s unemployment rate increased to 4.1 percent in August from from 4 percent in July. In the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area, the rate slipped to 3.8 percent from 4 percent in July. About 75 percent of Texas firms either kept prices the same or lowered them from August to September, according to the report. Meanwhile, a smaller percentage of employers gave their employees raises in August than a month earlier. Only 38 percent of manufacturing firms and 29 percent of service companies boosted wages in August, the lowest monthly figures since spring 2021. Despite the slowdown, the report said Texas job growth is still expected to exceed 4 percent this year, which would double the state’s historical average growth rate of 2 percent a year. While the August numbers may signal a coming recession, Orrenius told the Texas Tribune it’s “far too early to say.” “We’re just seeing this begin, so we’re still not sure if it’s going to stick,” she said. “I think the September jobs numbers will tell us a lot.” She added the Federal Reserve’s recent string of interest rate increases aimed at curbing inflation is also contributing to the Texas slowdown.

Top of Page

State Stories

KXAN - October 2, 2022

State of Texas: Abbott or O’Rourke? Debate helps some undecided voters choose

Friday’s Texas Governor’s Debate came at a crucial time for Beto O’Rourke. With just five weeks to go before Election Day, polls show the Democratic challenger with a deficit in the high single digits to incumbent Governor Greg Abbott. Polling released earlier in the week by Emerson College Polling and The Hill showed Abbott with an 8-point lead over O’Rourke. The challenger faces the challenge of winning over a shrinking pool of undecided voters. The debate had few headline-making moments, which may have worked against O’Rourke. “It was actually a pretty non-dramatic debate, which I think is a really good thing for Greg Abbott,” said John Wittman, a consultant who previously worked as Abbott’s director of communications. “Typically, the challenger who is down really needs to have that breakout moment. I didn’t see that tonight from Beto O’Rourke,” Wittman added. Travis County Democratic Party Chair Katie Naranjo agreed there was no breakout moment in the debate, but she saw O’Rourke creating an opportunity by highlighting certain issues.

“I think the reality is accountability has been established, the lack of accountability the Governor has…,” Naranjo said, referencing Abbott’s immigration policies and stance on gun regulations. “If you as a female voter, a mom sitting there listening myself, think holding people accountable that is a breakaway moment, then it gives voters the power to hold the Governor accountable,” Naranjo said. The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade helped make abortion a larger factor in the November election. Texas now has laws in place to ban abortion, with no exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. A survey by Emerson College Polling and The Hill asked Texas voters whether the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade would make them more or less likely to vote. The results showed 54% saying they would be more likely to vote in November. A significant minority, 41%, replied that the ruling made no difference in whether they would vote. During Friday night’s debate, Governor Abbott reiterated that the state should make sure that Plan B emergency contraception is available for victims of sexual assault. “Whether it be at a hospital, at a clinic, or for someone who gets a prescription because of it, not only should [Plan B] be readily available, but the state of Texas is going to pay for it to make sure that it is available for them,” Abbott said, in response to a debate question.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

O'Rourke focuses on 10-year-old Uvalde victim in new Abbott attack ad

Democratic candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke is launching a new gut-wrenching ad Saturday featuring the mother of one of the 4th graders murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. In the 30-second ad that will air statewide, Ana Rodriguez tells the story of her daughter Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, who dreamed of being a marine biologist and always was wearing a pair of green hightops with a heart drawn on the right toe. “Those shoes ended up being one way to identify her body in that classroom,” Ana Rodriguez says as videos and photos of her daughter fill the screen. “I never want another family to go through this.” Rodriguez then turns her attention to Gov. Greg Abbott, saying he’s done nothing to stop the next shooting. “No laws passed,” she says. “Nothing to keep kids safe in school. So I’m voting Beto for Maite.”

Abbott’s office has touted a series of steps he’s taken in Uvalde since the shooting as evidence that he is acting. That has included investing $5 million in a Family Resiliency Center in Uvalde to be a hub of community services and mental health care resources. They have also pointed to more than $1.25 million sent to the Uvalde school district for trauma counseling, crisis intervention and community outreach. But Abbott has made clear he doesn’t think Texas can do some of the things families have been asking for - namely raising the age to purchase weapons like the AR-15 used by the shooter in Uvalde to kill the 19 children and two teachers. The shooter in Uvalde was 18 and waited until his birthday to buy the weapon he used. During the debate on Friday night, Abbott said he doesn’t believe it is constitutional to raise the age to buy some weapons, even though Florida, New York and California have already taken similar steps. Legal experts have disputed his claim, but Abbott said families are being given “false promises.” O'Rourke vowed to push for the higher age during the debate. "All we need is action, and the only person standing in our way is the governor of the state of Texas," O'Rourke said.

Top of Page

Texas Public Radio - October 2, 2022

Former warden arrested for shooting migrants in string of anti-immigrant violence in Texas

Two migrants were shot, one of them fatally, in Hudspeth County in far West Texas on Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. “The preliminary investigation shows that a truck with two men inside pulled over and shot at a group of illegal immigrants standing alongside the road getting water,” said DPS Lt. Elizabeth Carter. Carter said two men were arrested in Sierra Blanca on Thursday in connection with the shooting. The brothers, Mike and Mark Sheppard, were charged with manslaughter and booked in the El Paso County Jail without bond.

Mike Sheppard was a jail warden for the West Texas Detention Center in Sierra Blanca — a privately owned detention facility that used to contract with the federal government to detain migrants. A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that facility hasn't held detainees in federal custody since 2019. Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections confirmed to TPR that Mike Sheppard no longer worked with the company. “The warden at West Texas Detention Center, Sierra Blanca, TX, has been terminated due to an off-duty incident unrelated to his employment,” said Scott Sutterfield, a spokesperson for LaSalle, in a statement. Sheppard's termination was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News. In the affidavit, Texas Ranger Juan Torres said that on September 27, 2022, the unauthorized immigrants were walking through a desert path located near Sierra Blanca, Texas, in Hudspeth County. At approximately 7:00 pm MST, they stopped to drink water at a reservoir.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 2, 2022

Houston's remaining 'Citgo 6' members freed after being lured to Venezuela in 2017

The last of the so-called “Citgo 6” have been freed from prison in Venezuela and are on their way home, bringing resolution to the nearly five-year ordeal. The release of the Houston oil executives came Saturday after a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Venezuela, whose President Nicolás Maduro demanded in exchange clemency for two family members jailed in the U.S. on drug smuggling convictions. Negotiations between the U.S. and Venezuela reignited earlier this year as American officials sought new fuel sources after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine tightened global supplies and sent energy prices soaring. Venezuela released the first of the six executives of Houston-based Citgo Petroleum — Gustavo Cárdenas — in March and the U.S. began to ease crippling sanctions against the oil-producing nation in May.

The Citgo 6 executives were ensnared in Venezuela in 2017, lured there for what they were told was a budget meeting for PDVSA, the state-owned Venezuelan oil company and Citgo parent company. Once in Venezuela, they were arrested by masked men with rifles and accused of conspiring to sell off $4 billion in Citgo bonds for their own personal gain. The remaining men — Tomeu Vadell, Jose Luis Zambrano, Alirio Zambrano, Jorge Toledo and Jose Pereira — were released Saturday. Alexandra Zambrano Forseth said in an interview earlier this year that she was among many who voiced concerns about her father, Alirio Zambrano, suddenly being summoned to Venezuela, but “he just said, ‘What can I do? I have to go.’” Her uncle, José Luis Zambrano, also was requested at the meeting. "The Zambrano family is thrilled that my dad, uncle and the other innocent Americans are free," Forseth said in a statement Saturday. "After almost five years, my dad and uncle are now able to get the much-needed medical care they need in the United States and be reunited with us." The Citgo executives were deprived of due process, the Houston company said in a statement.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - October 2, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Victim also deserved better in Billy Faircloth's 'wrongful conviction' case

Our judicial system plainly failed Billy Faircloth, the man released Thursday from prison because his conviction rested on shoddy police work and faulty DNA analysis. To summarize some of the defects in this case: Jurors in 2012 convicted Faircloth of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, even though they thought an Austin police officer lied on the witness stand about his inept handling of important evidence. Those jurors instead put their faith in a piece of DNA evidence — a pack of cigarettes supposedly containing Faircloth’s DNA — that analysts now call inconclusive. Faircloth, now 56, has served more than a decade of his 60-year sentence. A Travis County prosecutor now calls it “a wrongful conviction.” While the courts and attorneys sort out this mess, though, I want to pause on the fact that our system has also failed the victim, a 61-year-old woman at the time of the attack, who said she was repeatedly bashed in the head one afternoon by a stranger in a downtown Austin parking garage.

She also deserved better from the police and prosecutors who originally handled this case. Any way this shakes out — whether the attacker was Faircloth, and the Austin Police Department botched its handling of the evidence that would prove it; or whether Faircloth is innocent, and authorities wrongly incarcerated him while failing to catch the real assailant — our system failed to ensure justice for the woman who endured that traumatic event. And yet victims are barely acknowledged in a moment like this. Kathy McWilliams’ name didn’t come up in court Thursday. She was just “the victim,” mentioned in passing as someone who is now “deceased.” (An obituary shows she died in 2017, six years after the attack.) “The victim's family has been made aware of what is happening today,” state District Judge Selena Alvarenga noted moments before she released Faircloth on bond while an appellate court considers his fate. No one in the room spoke for McWilliams. Someone should have.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Arun Agarwal: Bring an Indian consulate to Dallas

(Arun Agarwal is CEO of Dallas-based textile company Nextt USA, co-chair of the Indian American CEO Council, vice chair of the Texas Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, and president of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board.) Over the past 10 years, India and America have developed a global strategic partnership that has overcome Cold War-era distrust and estrangement and has been strengthened by intensified cooperation in the security sphere. Yet, with all the forward movement, there is still so much that could be accomplished by closing a few gaping holes in the relationship and further reinforcing the bond. The India-U.S. relationship needs more substance. It may appear to be grand, but pull back the curtain and it turns out that the image is far more impressive than the truth. Rhetoric about shared democratic values and global economic synergies needs to be supported with the appropriate action necessary to turn our shared vision into a reality. The United States has not appointed an ambassador to India, leaving that seat vacant for more than 20 months. That marks the longest stretch ever with no U.S. ambassador to India.

The actions of the U.S. government conflict with the words officials speak, and it is time for our lawmakers to recognize the tremendous opportunities that they are missing by continuing to ignore the global strategic advances that could be made by partnering with the world’s largest democracy and an emerging world superpower. This is too important of a relationship to overlook, especially given the enormous direct investment that flows from the United States to India and rapidly increasing U.S. exports to India. India’s government has tremendous power to shape and implement policies beneficial to the United States in areas such as agriculture, education, energy and health care. Closer to home, Dallas has been the headquarters of the Indian American CEO Council since 2018. The group released a study in August that clearly demonstrates why the relationship is so important on both a local and national level. The study concluded that, among other things, “Indian Americans represent the fastest-growing immigrant group in the United States. Economically, they are among the highest median-income earners of all immigrants.”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 2, 2022

Activist Opal Lee tells story of her life, change in Fort Worth

At 95 years old, Opal Lee is simply trying to figure out how to help the next person. In her lifetime, Lee has witnessed some of the worst of humanity, seeing her home attacked by an angry mob, attending segregated schools and becoming an educator because that was one of the few professions she saw available for Black women. But in the same lifetime, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” stepped up and has spent decades aiding her Fort Worth neighbors who were hungry or homeless. She played a key role in gaining national recognition for a momentous moment in Black history — the celebration of independence for Black Americans on Juneteenth — and is now nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Thirty-three members of Congress, led by U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, signed Lee’s nomination letter. The activist is living on cloud nine, waking up some mornings wondering if being invited to the Oval Office to witness Juneteenth become a national holiday really happened.

Those who work alongside Lee believe that she’s a winner regardless of the results of the Nobel Peace Prize, the winner of which will be announced on Oct. 7, Lee’s 96th birthday. Lee already has affected so many people. Lee still attends City Hall meetings and delivers meals from her south Fort Worth food bank to those who are bedridden. She plans to urge legislators to support a bill that would pay incarcerated men and women in Texas for their labor. If she happens to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which will be formally presented at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on Dec. 10, she plans to use the approximately $1 million in prize money to send several container houses to a woman in Uganda who gave birth to 44 children. Lee believes her mission to serve is not done yet. “You got to help people if you can,” she said. “And I can. I still can.”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 2, 2022

Richard J. Gonzales: Being gay in North Texas: From beatings, shaming and condemnation to unity and pride

(Author Richard J. Gonzales writes and speaks about Fort Worth, national and international Latino history.) Several gay rights advocates shared their historical observations of the challenges the LGBTQ+ community has faced in North Texas, during an interview with me earlier this year. Lifelong Fort Worth resident Tony Coronado, president of Tarrant County Pride, recalled the difficulty of growing up gay. He said a large percentage of gay youth contemplated suicide. To escape ridicule, beatings and family rejections, gay people closeted their sexual preference. It was a life of constant looking over your shoulder, fear of discovery, and swift punishment. If a gay youth came out to his parents, the child risked beatings, banishment or forced counseling to convert to a straight life. During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, considered at the time to be a “gay disease,” Coronado said, the illness exposed gay people.

The infected were ridiculed and in some cases abandoned by family. To offset the isolation, gay people formed chosen families with other gay people and supportive straight people. The COVID pandemic triggered repressed fears and anger from the AIDS outbreak. The government’s mobilization to COVID contrasted to its slow response to the AIDS epidemic. Lisalee Egbert, UTA assistant professor of American Sign Language, shared that when her brother contracted AIDS, he moved out of their family home and went to New York for treatment. She found that although he was Catholic, the people who seemed to hate him the most were other Catholics. Jorene Taylor Swift, pastor of Fort Worth’s Celebration Community Church, which welcomed the LGBTQ+ community, said a congregation member told of his attempt to come out at 15 years old. When he shared with his minister his sexuality, the cleric warned he was destined for hell.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Dallas Morning News recommends Jamee Jolly for Texas House District 70

The newly drawn House District 70 representing parts of Plano and southern Collin County is among the most competitive districts in the state. It’s also a place that deserves a representative who is steeped in the area’s needs with a history of nonpartisan service to Plano residents. We think that candidate is Jamee Jolly, who has worked in any number of important roles to help lift up Plano, with a special focus on ensuring that Plano is a thriving, business-friendly city. We believe that Jolly, a Republican, will bring that same focus to the state Legislature. In her primary, Jolly, 46, faced opponents from the far-right wing of her party, but she didn’t waiver in keeping a reasoned conservative approach that did not indulge the election denial fever that has captured too many Republicans.

Jolly, former executive director of the Plano ISD Education Foundation and former Plano Chamber of Commerce president, also demonstrated a willingness to depart from her party’s leadership on the issue of abortion. She said that she supports an exception in cases of rape and incest, something a majority of Americans have made plain they also support. Her first priority is property tax relief for Plano residents. She also wants to address the hundreds of millions of dollars recapture funds that Plano ISD sends to the state. Her opponent Mihaela Plesa, an experienced aide to Democratic state legislators, is a strong candidate with a working knowledge of the Legislature. She also shares Jolly’s priority of addressing rising property taxes. She demonstrated a complete sense of the difference recapture makes in Plano ISD’s ability to properly fund its schools.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - October 2, 2022

Justin Louis Pitcock: Should a principled Texas conservative vote for Dan Patrick?

(Pitcock is Texas State Chair of the principled conservative organization, Principles First, is an officer in the USMC reserves and a business owner in Texas.) There’s nothing like Friday Night Lights in Texas. Where else can you see communities fill up stadiums to the tens of thousands to cheer on and encourage our youth? Anyone who has played on those fields knows how thundering stadiums of cheering fans can give you the extra motivation to succeed. Colleges from around the country recognize this system as a premier producer of athletes and they descend on our towns to recruit year after year. Our public schools should work the same way. Robust public schools motivate students and provide them with the tools they need to succeed so employers will seek to hire them. Public education available to all is the bedrock of the American dream. The formula is fairly simple: support for public education is investment in the future of our country. It was a common tenet in the business-oriented Republican party not long ago. George H.W. Bush’s insistence on being the “ Education President ” compelled his next three predecessors to make significant strides to bolster public education against often fierce opposition. Republicans used to lead on this issue.

Today, Texas GOP leaders like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick aim to defund public education and subsidize private schools with public money. Parents using their own money to send their kids to private school is great and is the free market at work, but we all know what happens when the government subsidizes something — the public good worsens, and the private good gets too expensive for the people government was trying to help in the first place. The prime example exists now at the university level. Look no further than the effects of government-funded loans and scholarships to private Ivy League schools. In other words, as government pours in money, elite schools jack up their tuition even more. So why do leaders like Dan Patrick fight so hard for a policy that hurts so many? Unfortunately, the billionaire-funded campaign against public education has its roots in the same place Dan Patrick finds his campaign funds . Fortunately, there are principled Republicans in this state putting their constituents and the good of our communities first. State Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) put his foot down to say “we are duty bound to follow through and continue to fund public education in Texas.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

Would-be parents postpone pregnancies as Texas abortion ban impacts emergency care

After enduring two nonviable pregnancies, Sarah Fischer had learned how to read an ultrasound technician’s face, and she knew she was about to receive yet another devastating diagnosis. Nearly every year for the last four years, Fischer, 40, and her husband have lost a pregnancy.

In 2019, her fetus developed outside her uterus. In 2020, a fetal heartbeat that had once given her hope faded, and she eventually needed a surgical procedure to remove the fetus. And at the start of this year, a simple look from her technician told her all she needed to know. The Hill Country couple desperately want a child, but the vague wording of the emergency exception in the state’s abortion ban that’s causing some doctors to delay care for miscarriages has her so worried that they’ve postponed trying again. A new study found that pregnant patients at two Dallas hospitals faced almost double the risk of serious health complications after the state’s abortion restrictions took effect and caused doctors to hold off on care until their lives were in immediate danger. “I am literally frozen in fear about it,” Fischer said. “For the foreseeable future, we are not in a place where it feels smart — or safe — to try to get pregnant.”

Top of Page

KERA - October 2, 2022

Fairgoers return to the State Fair of Texas for opening day

The State Fair of Texas opened Friday, where excited fairgoers were up early for the fried food, games, rides and attractions. With more than 2 million visitors a year, the fair brings people from all over the world. Julia Enriquez said she’s been going to the fair for 35 years. “I always come on the first day but it's in my family," Enriquez said. "It's just good food, good memories, good fun, and as a Texan, I feel like you just have to come to the fair at least once a year.”

Enriquez said she looks forward to enjoying the food — especially the corny dogs. This year new fair foods include the Fried Soul Food Egg Roll and the Pork Belly Burnt Ends Pizza, among others. Jim Minor, who's 85, said he's been going to the fair nearly every year since he was 6 years old. The only year he missed it was in 1984, when he was working in Hawaii. "My wife and I come here every year on opening day because it's just such a thrill and such a nice thing and it's like history for me," Minor said. The State Fair of Texas runs Sept. 30 through Oct. 23 at Fair Park.

Top of Page

Brownsville Herald - October 2, 2022

Gov. Abbott visits with Harlingen voters following gubernatorial debate in South Texas

Following the debate Friday with gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke in Edinburg, Gov. Greg Abbott headed south to Harlingen for a campaign stop on Saturday. A small crowd of supporters gathered inside Frankie Flav’z Craft Burger House in Harlingen Saturday morning to hear from other Republican candidates from local and state races, at least before the governor’s arrival for the Texans for Greg Abbott and Texas Victory Weekend of Action kickoff breakfast. Abbott addressed the crowd for a few minutes about his policy positions, President Joe Biden and O’Rourke to cheers from the crowd.

“I’m going block walking. You’re going block walking — we are all going block walking to turn Cameron County red,” Abbott said to the crowd. He then directed them outside for a group photo in front of an ambulance decorated with the face of O’Rourke. The governor’s campaign staff, who dubbed the event as a door-knocking, directed the media to the nearby East Karis Court Street, where he was expected to speak to a few residents. But reporters were given the wrong address and instead ended up outside Victoria Rafols’ home — a longtime Republican from the Philippines. Excited to see the governor, Rafols walked down the street to catch Abbott as he traveled in-between homes to speak to him and show her appreciation for what he has been doing in the state. “God bless you. I’ve been praying for you,” she told Abbott. Abbott thanked her for her prayers and support.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

‘Messing with Texas’: Reddit page will ban anyone who doesn’t insult Gov. Greg Abbott

A Reddit forum intends to delete comments or ban anyone who doesn’t insult Gov. Greg Abbott in an effort to protest Texas’ new social media “censorship” law. Earlier this week, a moderator for the subreddit r/politicalhumor said that all comments posted on the forum “must contain the phrase ‘Greg Abbott is a little (expletive) baby.’” The Texas law that prohibits large social media companies from banning users’ posts based on their political viewpoints will go into effect after a federal appeals court last week lifted a block placed on the statute.

Abbott says the law addresses a “dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas.” The Texas law, signed by Abbott last year, has been challenged by tech trade groups that warn that it would prevent platforms from removing extremism and hate speech. The new law could have stakes beyond Texas and could impact how some of the world’s biggest tech companies regulate content by their users, the Associated Press reported. User BlatantConservative, a moderator on the subreddit, posted a lengthy explanation about the new policy on Saturday in a post titled “we are messing with Texas.” “To be clear, the mod team is of sound mind and body, and we are explicitly censoring the viewpoint that Greg Abbott isn’t a little (expletive) baby," the moderator wrote. "Anyone denying the fact about Abbott is a little (expletive) baby will be banned from the subreddit.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

Alamo acquires collection of mission-era artifacts that it will begin exhibiting next year

Renowned Western artist Donald Yena has a hard time picking his favorite item among the more than 400 Spanish mission-era tools, weapons and other artifacts he and his wife have collected over the years. But Yena, 89, said he is especially proud of a circa-1790 Spanish belduque knife, made from wrought iron, with a cutting edge of steel, which was exceptionally hard to find in early Texas. It was still being used on a ranch in Uvalde County when he purchased it. “To this day, I have people that are blacksmiths, and they can’t figure out how they did that — when you have two dissimilar metals side by side, and they become as one the whole length of the blade,” Yena said. His wife, Louise Yena, 87, favored a Spanish powder horn with a gold-inlay crucifix and a Spanish miquelet pistol with ornate decorations that included a double eagle, symbolic of Spain’s Habsburg monarchy.

The Alamo Trust, the nonprofit that oversees the Alamo’s daily operations, recently purchased the Donald and Louise Yena Spanish Colonial Collection. Trust officials said the collection provides perspectives on Indigenous and Tejano cultures and “will illustrate how Texas changed and evolved” from the early 1700s to 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain. Some items will be displayed when the Alamo’s new collections building opens early next year. The price of the collection, acquired through eight years of negotiations led by the Alamo Trust and the Texas General Land Office, was not disclosed. Donald Yena said he and his wife consider it an honor “beyond belief” to have the collection in the care of the mission and battle site, where it will be seen by “visitors from around the world.” “My wife and I consider it hallowed ground,” he said. Donald Yena grew up in Castroville and began collecting artifacts with his wife in the 1950s, using them for accuracy and detail in his artwork. Louise Yena is a San Antonio native, former elementary school teacher and author of “The Handbook of Antique Coffee and Tea Collectibles.” Besides selling their collection, the Yenas have donated Donald Yena’s latest works to the Alamo — six large paintings depicting life in early Spanish Texas and the 1836 battle.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Report - September 30, 2022

Mattie Parker charts priorities for 2023: Equity and education

Mayor Mattie Parker’s No.1 priority going into 2023 is “inviting more people to the table,” she said during her first “State of the City” address to an audience filled with some of Fort Worth’s most influential people. “All students right now don’t have a seat at the table for success,” Parker said following the speech. “We’re going to change that here.” When asked if she was planning to run for mayor again in 2023, Parker said she would be surprised if she chose not to run. The Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce sponsored event explored Parker’s accomplishments as mayor thus far and included an interview with journalist Margaret Hoover. The city’s leadership is starting to recognize the importance of addressing challenges in K-12 schools. Parker spoke to an audience of over 800 people, including other city leaders and business people.

Fort Worth ISD hiring a new superintendent offers a potential inflection point for education in the city, Parker said, but she emphasized that only half the students living in Fort Worth attend Fort Worth ISD schools. Twelve school districts serve Fort Worth residents. “I don’t care where you go to school and what school you choose for your children,” Parker said. “I just want to make sure it’s a high quality education, regardless.” Parker took the opportunity to touch on the high points in her first year as mayor. Highlights included the allocation of over $400 million for the long-awaited Central City Flood Control Project, Techstars investment accelerator, expansion of the Texas A&M law school into downtown and the announcement of a new medical school campus in Fort Worth’s medical district. Parker also announced that Taylor Sheridan is bringing a new series to Fort Worth focused on Bass Reeves, the first Black deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River. Filming will take place in Fort Worth, and add thousands of dollars to the local economy, Parker said.

Top of Page

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - October 2, 2022

Gonzales v. LaHood again: Bexar DA contest is a clash of philosophies but nothing like the 2018 race

Bexar County District Attorney Joe D. Gonzales, a Democrat, took office in 2019 vowing to focus prosecutors on violent crimes and look for ways to keep those accused of nonviolent offenses from sitting in jail and losing jobs and livelihoods because they can’t afford bail. His bid for re-election is being challenged by Republican Marc LaHood, a career defense attorney who says none of these efforts has worked. Gonzales, now 63, positioned himself within a national reform movement, pushed for changes to the bail system and expanded the application of a program called cite-and-release that allows police officers to ticket, rather than arrest, people accused of certain kinds of misdemeanors. It was a reaction, he said, to inequities in the criminal justice system visible in Bexar County and across the country. People “languished in jail” because they were too poor to hire competent counsel or make bond, Gonzales said.

“A lot of the reasons that I brought the reforms to the office is to bring that sense of fairness to the office, and I believe that we’ve done that,” he said. His philosophy and that of his opponent could not be more starkly different. LaHood, 44, is casting himself as an ally of a law enforcement community that doesn’t trust Gonzales, and pledges to rebuild that trust. He defeated an experienced prosecutor for the Republican nomination, using that primary campaign to chime in on national politics, including calling President Joe Biden’s border policy “a disaster.” For the general election, LaHood has somewhat lessened his emphasis on GOP themes — except for the notion that crime and criminals are out of control and that illegal immigration brings more of it. “I’ll be blunt — dismissals and not guilties and weak pleas are good for business,” said LaHood, a defense attorney for 15 years. “And, they’re not good for our families.” LaHood is the younger brother of former Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood, who Gonzales defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary. (Nico LaHood has since declared himself a Republican.)

Top of Page

City Stories

San Antonio Report - October 2, 2022

Until Congress acts on immigration, ‘we’re going to need’ a migrant resource center, Nirenberg says

The City of San Antonio’s best efforts to help the growing number of migrants seeking asylum from places like Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua faced obstacles from the start. First, federal agents working at the border flooded the city with more migrants than it could handle, forcing Mayor Ron Nirenberg to write the Department of Homeland Security seeking help. Next, the city’s decision to open a resource center in July to prevent migrants from crowding the city’s transit hubs faced backlash from residents who say they were blindsided by its unexpected opening in a residential community. The issue reached a breaking point last month, when some migrants were told they could no longer stay at the packed San Pedro Avenue resource center after three days.

Desperate for work and shelter, 43 people were lured onto a flight to Martha’s Vineyard that was orchestrated by Florida governor and likely Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis — part of an attention-grabbing political statement against federal immigration policies. The outcome, while predictable, came as a disappointment to Nirenberg after all the city’s attempts to welcome asylum-seekers and ease their journeys. “Unfortunately, because of the tenor of the political discussion in recent years, it is not surprising … that a politician would seek to make a political point and do so by exploiting migrants,” Nirenberg told the San Antonio Report in a wide-ranging interview at City Hall this week. “It does illustrate the depths of moral depravity on the part of some of these politicians who are doing this.” On Sept. 19 — five days after the flight to Martha’s Vineyard — the city began transitioning management of its migrant resource center to Catholic Charities, according to documents obtained via an open records request by the San Antonio Report. Nirenberg says the handover had always been part of the city’s plan, though it wasn’t mentioned when City Council members voted to request Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to pay for the center back in June.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - October 2, 2022

Dallas City Council gives itself a $1,000-a-month car allowance stipend

Dallas City Council members will soon be getting a $1,000-a-month car allowance after voting to give themselves the stipend as part of the new annual budget adopted this week. The 14 district council members will receive the car allowance in addition to their yearly $60,000 salaries. The stipend was approved via a budget amendment that the majority of the City Council greenlit on Sept. 21. It was the only one of nearly two dozen budget amendments this year that wasn’t publicly explained and discussed before the council voted. Mayor Eric Johnson will not get the stipend, according to city officials. He is already provided with transportation by city police officers as part of his security detail. The car allowance goes into effect Saturday along with the new budget and is expected to continue beyond the upcoming fiscal year. The money comes from $168,000 shifted from a new fund for future pension-related expenses and from Denton Central Appraisal District property tax revenue.

Council member Adam Bazaldua, who proposed the stipend budget amendment, said he consulted the city attorney’s office before making the proposal and was told there were no issues. “I proposed it because I really believe that we have a lot of wear and tear,” Bazaldua told The Dallas Morning News. “I spend more time in my car than in my office, not just going all around my district, but also around the city and regionwide for city obligations.” Council members have the option to be reimbursed for monthly mileage they accrue by traveling on city-related business. The car allowance will replace mileage reimbursement for council members, according to city spokeswoman Page Jones. At least 13 members of the City Council indicated via a straw vote that they were in favor of the amendment when it was proposed Sept. 21. For budget amendments, the mayor and council members hold up a green card to show they are voting for a proposal or flip it over to show a red card if they are in opposition. Straw votes are not officially recorded by the city secretary’s office. It isn’t clear from a video recording of the meeting whether council member Paul Ridley voted for or against the amendment. Ridley didn’t return calls for comment on his vote.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 2, 2022

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Fort Worth city budget raises taxes but adds police, services

No one likes to see their tax bill increase. And make no mistake, the city of Fort Worth is raising taxes on homeowners in its new budget, by about 10%, even while dropping the tax rate slightly. That’s the curse of rapidly rising property values. The budget approved Tuesday, however, reflects the reality of a city that faces challenges to accommodate and sustain its extraordinary growth. The inflation and economic uncertainty that are hammering the public hit governments — and their employees — too. Adding the rates of inflation and population growth are generally a reasonable assessment of spending, and this budget is close to that mark. The 2023 budget also responds to priorities raised by residents: public safety, street cleanliness and neighborhood needs. There’s always room for services to improve, and those who gave the city feedback had their voices heard.

Despite the tax-rate drop of 2 cents per $100 property valuation, the typical homeowner will pay 10% more to the city. That’s on top of rapidly escalating prices for everything; the official measure of inflation is around 8%, the most in 40 years, and shoppers know some items are even worse than that. And even those who get pay raises probably aren’t getting enough of a bump to keep up. We strongly believe that governments should be judicious with spending in good times and downright parsimonious in tough times. But an overly simplistic view of budgets sometimes takes hold. A government budgeting expert once lamented that he could never find the line item labeled “waste, fraud and abuse” so that he could just slash it. The reality is that most governments, like most businesses, have one cost that dwarfs others: labor. In the city, the police and fire departments make up a large share of employees. Few residents want cuts there. Few want longer lines when they must do business with the city, or longer 911 call wait times. No one wants to wait months for a streetlight to be repaired.

Top of Page

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - October 2, 2022

Inflation keeps the U.S. from stepping in to slow dollar’s rapid rise

U.S. policy makers aren’t likely to take action to slow the dollar’s rapid rise despite rising risks of global financial turmoil, analysts say, largely because a strong greenback helps fight domestic inflation. The U.S. dollar has soared in value as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to fight the highest U.S. inflation in decades and investors move money into dollar-denominated assets. The WSJ Dollar Index, which measures the dollar against a basket of other currencies, is up roughly 16% so far this year. The dollar’s strengthening relative to other currencies puts pressure on many other countries around the world, boosting the costs of imports priced in dollars and servicing dollar-denominated debts. This is particularly difficult for many developing economies that struggle with large debts and import much of their fuels, food and other commodities.

Wealthier economies face troubles, too, as their import costs rise. Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, recently intervened in currency markets to support the yen. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the U.S. supports market-determined exchange rates, adding that the strength of the dollar is largely the product of the Fed’s policies and subsequent capital inflows to the U.S. The Fed manages monetary policy while the Treasury Department oversees U.S. exchange-rate policies. Economists and former Treasury officials point to two reasons that the Treasury Department is unlikely to take steps any time soon to reduce the value of the dollar—or to slow its rise. First, with the Fed on course to keep raising interest rates, any U.S. foreign-exchange intervention is likely to have limited impact on the dollar’s value. Second, a strong dollar helps lower inflation, and the Treasury is unlikely to want to take steps that could undercut the Fed’s efforts to tame inflation. “Treasury may well fear that the dollar’s strength will set the stage for complaints from abroad and protectionist pressures in the U.S. down the road, but for the near term their best strategy is to try and keep their mouths shut,” said Mark Sobel, a former top Treasury career official who now is the U.S. chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - October 2, 2022

Supreme Court term opens with new justice and weighty cases

The Supreme Court opens its new term Monday with a new member, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, and a docket that could reshape features of American society ranging from college admissions to political redistricting. Monday’s first case, Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, could offer an early sign of whether the court’s 6-3 conservative majority will continue the refashioning of federal law they pursued last term, with opinions that eliminated the constitutional right to an abortion and expanded religion’s place in public education. The justices will be hearing arguments on whether to curb the federal government’s power to fight water pollution, following last term’s decision limiting the agency’s authority to combat greenhouse-gas emissions. Sackett is a “massive environmental case” that will define the limits of the Clean Water Act, said Elbert Lin, an appellate lawyer at Hunton Andrews Kurth.

On Oct. 31, the court will hear arguments challenging precedents that permit colleges to consider race in university admissions decisions to promote student diversity, a practice the court first approved in 1978. Students for Fair Representation, an organization established by conservative activist Edward Blum, has brought separate cases against undergraduate admissions policies at a prominent private institution, Harvard College, and a state flagship, the University of North Carolina. The organization says current practices discriminate in particular against students of Asian origin. Lower courts upheld the schools’ policies. Later in the term, the court will weigh a web designer’s claim that the First Amendment right to speak as she pleases entitles her to deny service to same-sex couples despite state law prohibiting discrimination. That case presents a long-anticipated clash between two recent trends in the court’s jurisprudence, which has expanded equality for LGBT Americans while also reading broadly First Amendment guarantees of free speech and religious exercise.

Top of Page

Associated Press - October 2, 2022

Archives: Records from Trump WH staffers remain missing

The National Archives and Records Administration informed lawmakers that a number of electronic communications from Trump White House staffers remain missing, nearly two years since the administration was required to turn them over. The nation’s record-keeping agency, in a letter Friday to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said that despite an ongoing effort by staff, electronic communications between certain unidentified White House officials were still not in their custody. “While there is no easy way to establish absolute accountability, we do know that we do not have custody of everything we should,” Debra Steidel Wall, the acting U.S. archivist, wrote in a letter to Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

The letter went on to specify that the National Archives would consult with the Justice Department about how to move forward and recover “the records unlawfully removed.” It has been widely reported that officials in President Donald Trump’s White House used non-official electronic messaging accounts throughout his four years in office. The Presidential Records Act, which says that such records are government property and must be preserved, requires staff to copy or forward those messages into their official electronic messaging accounts. The agency says that while it has been able to obtain these records from some former officials, a number remain outstanding. The Justice Department has already pursued records from one former Trump official, Peter Navarro, who prosecutors accused of using at least one “non-official” email account — a ProtonMail account — to send and receive emails while he worked as the president’s trade adviser. The legal action in August came just weeks after Navarro was indicted on criminal charges after refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The House committee has jurisdiction over the Presidential Records Act, a 1978 law that requires the preservation of White House documents as property of the U.S. government. The request is the latest development in a monthslong back-and-forth between the agency and the committee, which has been investigating Trump’s handling of records. The letter on Friday also comes nearly two months after the FBI recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings and more than 10,000 other government documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Lawyers for Trump had provided a sworn certification that all government records had been returned.

Top of Page

Associated Press - October 2, 2022

GOP attacks Georgia’s Abrams on voting as judge rejects suit

When Democrat Stacey Abrams narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp four years ago, she didn’t go quietly. She ended her campaign with a nonconcession that acknowledged she wouldn’t be governor, while spotlighting her claims that Kemp had used his post as secretary of state to improperly purge likely Democratic voters. Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, a group focused on fair elections, which within weeks filed a wide-ranging federal lawsuit alleging “gross mismanagement” of Georgia’s elections. That lawsuit sputtered out Friday with Fair Fight losing its last remaining arguments, more than a year after the judge had tossed most earlier claims. People are already voting by mail in a Georgia governor’s race that again pits Abrams and Kemp against each other, with fewer than 40 days remaining before voting ends on Nov. 8.

And Republicans are now using the loss to attack what they see as the “big lie” that underlies Abrams’ career. They label her claims that Georgia’s election system has been discriminatory as a fraud she used to enrich herself and aggrandize her political career after her 2018 loss. “This is existential to who Stacey Abrams has become as a public and political figure,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican who defended the case, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “She put herself in the political spotlight nationally, potentially globally, all over the narrative that she lost the governor’s race because of voter suppression. And here you have a federal judge saying, it’s all untrue. It didn’t happen.” Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger are among a faction of Georgia Republicans who say that Democratic President Joe Biden beat Donald Trump fair and square in 2020 for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes and that Kemp also beat Abrams fairly in 2018. They argue that Trump’s claims about voter fraud in 2020 and Abrams’ claims about voter suppression in 2018 both corrode faith in democracy. “Stolen election and voter suppression claims by Stacey Abrams were nothing but poll-tested rhetoric not supported by facts and evidence,” Raffensperger said Friday in a statement. Abrams, though, has said from the dawn of her current campaign that her actions in 2018 are not equivalent to what Trump did.

Top of Page

New York Times - October 2, 2022

Lawmakers confront a rise in threats and intimidation, and fear worse

Members of Congress in both parties are experiencing a surge in threats and confrontations as a rise in violent political speech has increasingly crossed over into the realm of in-person intimidation and physical altercation. In the months since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which brought lawmakers and the vice president within feet of rioters threatening their lives, Republicans and Democrats have faced stalking, armed visits to their homes, vandalism and assaults. It is part of a chilling trend that many fear is only intensifying as lawmakers scatter to campaign and meet with voters around the country ahead of next month’s midterm congressional elections. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a senator or House member were killed,” Ms. Collins, a Republican serving her fifth term, said in an interview. “What started with abusive phone calls is now translating into active threats of violence and real violence.”

In the five years after President Donald J. Trump was elected in 2016 following a campaign featuring a remarkable level of violent language, the number of recorded threats against members of Congress increased more than tenfold, to 9,625 in 2021, according to figures from the Capitol Police, the federal law enforcement department that protects Congress. In the first quarter of 2022, the latest period for which figures were available, the force opened 1,820 cases. If recent history is any guide, the pace is likely to surge in the coming weeks as the election approaches. Despite the torrent of threats, few cases result in arrest. A spokesman for the Capitol Police said officers have made “several dozen” arrests — but fewer than 100 — in response to threats against members of Congress over the last three years, adding that the majority come from people with mental illness who are not believed to pose an immediate danger. “The goal is to de-escalate this behavior,” said Tim Barber, the spokesman. “Most of the time getting mental health treatment may be more successful than jail in order to keep everyone safe. When we don’t believe that is plausible, or the threat is serious and imminent, we make an arrest.”

Top of Page

Washington Post - October 2, 2022

Florida death toll climbs as aftermath of Ian reverberates

Florida residents continue to grapple with floodwaters yet to recede and search efforts underway as the state comes to terms with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the U.S. mainland. The confirmed death toll is expected to rise, as people continue to file reports of missing loved ones, and President Biden warned Ian could be Florida’s deadliest hurricane ever. Biden and first lady Jill Biden are planning to travel to Puerto Rico on Monday and to Florida on Wednesday to tour hurricane damage in two places that have been significantly affected, the White House announced late Saturday night. Florida National Guard troops relied on high-water vehicles to drop off rescued residents at a church in North Port on Saturday.

Connie Cullison, 67, said she was finally picked up Saturday afternoon, after she had initially called for help Friday night. The rising water had cut off access to her home, and Cullison needs a walker to get around after having knee replacement surgery. “My house has minor damage but we just have no power, no water, no food,” Cullison said after she was brought to the church. “But there are people so much worse off than me.” Florida’s Medical Examiners Commission said Saturday night that the storm had resulted in 44 deaths in the state, most of them due to drowning. Many were over 60 years old. Bodies were found inside flooded cars, floating in waters and drowned on the beach. That number is expected to grow as rescuers comb through debris and medical examiners conduct autopsies. Officials said 30 of the victims in Florida were found in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Cape Coral. The county does not have running water, and nearly 70 percent of the county is without power.

Top of Page

CNN - October 2, 2022

Russian forces retreat from strategic Donetsk city a day after Moscow’s annexation of the region

Russian forces retreated from Lyman, a strategic city for its operations in the east, the Russian defense ministry said Saturday, just a day after Moscow’s annexation of the region that’s been declared illegal by the West. “In connection with the creation of a threat of encirclement, allied troops were withdrawn from the settlement of Krasny Liman to more advantageous lines,” the ministry said on Telegram, using the Russian name for the town of Lyman. Russian state media Russia-24 reported that the reason for Russia’s withdrawal was because “the enemy used both Western-made artillery and intelligence from North Atlantic alliance countries.” The retreat marks Ukraine’s most significant gain since its successful counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region last month.

Russia’s announcement comes just hours after Ukrainian forces said they had encircled Russian troops in the city, which is located in the Kramatorsk district of Donetsk. Ukrainian forces said earlier Saturday that they had entered Stavky, a village neighboring Lyman, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, the military spokesperson for the eastern grouping of Ukrainian forces. “The Russian group in the area of Lyman is surrounded. The settlements of Yampil, Novoselivka, Shandryholove, Drobysheve, and Stavky are liberated. Stabilization measures are ongoing there,” Cherevatyi said in a televised press conference on Saturday morning. “[The liberation] of Lyman is important, because it is another step towards the liberation of the Ukrainian Donbas. This is an opportunity to go further to Kreminna and Severodonetsk. Therefore, in turn, it is psychologically very important,” he said. Cherevatyi said the Ukrainian troops actions are setting the tone to “break the course of these hostilities.”

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 30, 2022

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - September 30, 2022

Tevi Troy: Biden, DeSantis and the politics of hurricanes

(Mr. Troy is director of the Presidential Leadership Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center and author of “Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management From the Oval Office.” He served as deputy secretary of health and human services, 2007-09.) As Hurricane Ian sweeps across Florida, some commentators have noted the potential clash of two men who may be running against each other for president in 2024, President Joe Biden and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The next week or so could determine what their working relationship looks like in the face of a disaster, and what implications it may have for 2024. Hurricanes and other disasters have reshaped the political landscape before. In 2012 New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was supposed to be a top Mitt Romney surrogate against President Barack Obama. When Hurricane Sandy hit a week before Election Day, Mr. Christie and his state were overwhelmed and in desperate need of federal resources. That gave Mr. Obama leverage, and Mr. Christie played nice with the president, even giving Mr. Obama a famous “hug”—actually a warm handshake.

The “hug” had political implications in 2012 and beyond. It neutralized Mr. Christie as a surrogate at a key moment in the campaign, while also giving Mr. Obama bipartisan credibility for his successful re-election effort. For Mr. Christie, the hug was good politics in the short run; he easily won re-election in 2013. But it might have hurt his 2016 presidential campaign. One of his primary opponents, Sen. Rand Paul, trolled Mr. Christie on National Hug Day. Mr. Christie won no delegates. His bigger problem was likely the 2013 “Bridgegate” scandal, but his hurricane behavior did not help. In 2005 President George W. Bush, fresh off re-election, ran aground in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The storm caused more than 1,800 deaths and $148 billion in damage and filled screens with images of helplessness and squalor. President Bush made some missteps, including a flyover of the affected area that he acknowledged was a mistake: “I should have landed.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 30, 2022

Texas to require most power plants to prepare for weather from 0 to 96 degrees

Following calls over the summer for Texans to conserve electricity and last year’s infamous winter power outages, the Public Utility Commission on Thursday announced a new rule designed to improve grid reliability. Power plants must weatherize equipment each season to handle wind chills of zero in most areas and temperatures up to 96 degrees. The temperature that power plants must show they can handle depends on the region. The PUC said power plants in the region including Dallas-Fort Worth must be able to operate with average temperatures over 72 hours as high as 95.4 and wind chills as low as -0.5. The highest temperature requirement is 96.1, in the region including Wichita Falls. The lowest wind chill temperature is for the Panhandle region, at -17.6. “Reliability drives every decision we make when it comes to grid operations,” commission chairman Peter Lake said.

“The grid has to be ready for any weather condition, from extreme heat to extreme cold. These rules take that into account by setting the baseline preparation requirements for an operator at some of the most extreme weather conditions this state has experienced and requiring the operator to prepare their generation resources and transmission facilities to be able to operate in those conditions.” Dallas had 47 100-degree days this year, according to the National Weather Service. In July, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas asked Texans to conserve energy after projecting an energy shortage, but the grid operator avoided systemwide outages. Last year, the state was devastated by a winter storm that knocked out power to millions of homes and ultimately resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Texans. Up to 70% of ERCOT’s customers lost power, according to a survey by the University of Houston.

Top of Page

Texas Tribune - September 29, 2022

State agencies push for better worker pay as critical staffing crunch hits Texas government

The stories from the great state workforce crunch have been pouring in for months. The single parent who qualifies for the same state welfare benefits she’s hired to administer. Texas juvenile officers who can find safer jobs at the local Buc-ee’s for better pay. The state agency managers who can easily double their salaries in the private sector. They are all the result, according to advocates and agency officials, of a critically understaffed workforce in many of Texas’ 112 state agencies, a situation made worse by the fact that there’s been no statewide pay raise in nearly a decade. Factor in a worldwide pandemic and officials with Texas agencies say they are being hammered by a historic staffing crisis, particularly when it comes to those in the trenches serving the state’s most vulnerable populations or the workforce responsible for housing people.

From licensing boards to the attorney general, agency leaders are asking state lawmakers for at least $500 million to bump pay for their employees — either in across-the-board, inflation-based increases or targeted raises to even out pay disparities among employees and keep them from leaving. In 2014, state employees received a statewide pay increase of 3% that was spread out over two years, according to the Texas Public Employees Association. State workers received a limited raise in 2016 to offset mandatory retirement fund payments. Before 2014, state employees were given raises nearly every session since the early 1970s, according to the group’s data. To offset the lack of regular annual pay raises, some agencies have shuffled funds from empty positions for pay increases and offered other incentives, including more work-from-home options. Now, the raise requests are pouring in as state GOP leaders discuss how to spend an anticipated $27 billion windfall in revenue during the upcoming legislative session that begins in January. Because the Texas Legislature meets every other year, state lawmakers approve a two-year budget.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 29, 2022

Families of 3 Uvalde shooting survivors sue school district, police, gunmakers, others

The families of three students who survived the May massacre at a Uvalde elementary school filed a federal lawsuit alleging a combination of negligence, intentional choices and a “culture of noncompliance with safety protocols” led to the shooting. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and was filed Wednesday in the Western District of Texas, lists 11 defendants, including the city of Uvalde; the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District; since-fired Uvalde CISD police Chief Pete Arredondo; school principal Mandy Gutierrez; and gun companies Daniel Defense, Firequest International and Oasis Outback. The defendants could not immediately be reached for comment. The lawsuit appears to be the first filed over the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. Nineteen students and two teachers were killed during the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School.

“The shooter was left with free range to shoot, terrorize, and kill children and teachers for over an hour,” the lawsuit says. The plaintiffs are the families of three minor children identified in the lawsuit only by their initials. One of the students, then a fourth-grader, was shot in his right leg and witnessed other students being shot — including his best friend, who was killed. Another of the students, also a fourth-grader at the time, was rushed into the building after the gunman fired near where she was on the playground, the lawsuit says. The third student, a second-grader, was walking to the nurse’s office from the gym and saw the gunman firing toward the school. The lawsuit alleges the school district was not prepared for a shooting and that police were indifferent to their roles as “protectors of students and residents of Uvalde” by not following active-shooter protocol. “The facts … expose a culture of noncompliance with safety protocols, state-mandated school shooter training, disregard for school alerts, and deliberate indifference to the threat of criminal trespassers and school shooters leaving the children and teachers vulnerable to attack,” the lawsuit says.

Top of Page

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 30, 2022

How Texas Gov. Greg Abbott boosted his office’s power, following Rick Perry

Though Gov. Greg Abbott is unlikely to brag about it Friday night during the gubernatorial debate against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, he has greatly enhanced the powers of his office in eight years. His COVID-19 disaster declarations are still in place, despite President Joe Biden saying the pandemic is over. He erased pay for the Legislature and its staff, to get his way on an “election integrity” bill some decry as a thinly veiled attempt to make it harder to vote. From expanding his line-item veto over the budget to pressing the boundaries of when he can call special elections, from seeking to have his office vet all rules agencies propose to transferring money for his border-security push in unprecedented ways, Abbott has been busy amassing power, experts say. With help from docile lawmakers and judges, Abbott has built on the buffing up of the Texas governorship that former Gov. Rick Perry began, they say. Perry, the longest-serving chief executive, and Abbott, the second longest at almost eight years, owe some of their clout to the fact that state government does more and affects more people than it once did, said Texas historian Walter Buenger.

“It’s just more important than it used to be,” said Buenger, a West Texas politician’s son who has taught at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s in more areas as Texas has gotten a larger population and a more diverse economy. There’s more on the line. And we’ve got more agencies. Despite claims for limited government, we’re a lot bigger.” What accounts for Abbott’s increased influence is in dispute. Dave Carney, his top political strategist, said it’s a natural result of the Texas GOP’s winning streak. “The power has always been there,” through appointments to executive-branch agency boards, he said. But no governors until Perry, whom Carney also advised, and Abbott were able to put their stamp on the bureaucracy for such an extended period. “It isn’t that there’s been a grab of power,” he said. “It’s just that they’ve been able to put people in place who had the same worldview that they did. … Personnel is policy. There’s been some modifications in the Legislature about various things. But generally, it’s about tenure and continuity.” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston who has completed a soon-to-be-published book about Perry, said “perpetual reelection” has left lawmakers and other stakeholders fearful of whether to risk crossing the state’s last two governors. Texas is one of only 14 states with no term limits on statewide elected officials. The Reconstruction-era 1869 Constitution removed them.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 30, 2022

Retiring Rep. Lyle Larson’s parting shots at ‘far-right’ GOP politics, Dan Patrick

Last October, Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson announced he would not seek re-election to another term in the Texas House, bringing an end to a career in public service that dates back to 1991. Larson, who joined San Antonio City Council that year and also served as a Bexar County commissioner from 1997 to 2008, has represented the northern part of the county in the state House since 2011. He is now something of an outcast among Texas Republicans, having bucked the party on several key issues in recent years and bluntly criticized state GOP leaders from Gov. Greg Abbott to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Last year, Larson was the only Republican to oppose the state’s contentious voting bill . He also pushed to expand Medicaid ; was one of four Republicans to vote against a bill banning large social media companies from blocking users based on their viewpoint; opposed GOP legislation targeting “critical race theory” ; and filed a bill that sought to carve out an exception for victims of rape and incest in Texas’ abortion ban.

Yet Larson has continued to regularly side with Republicans, voting for the abortion ban and backing a “permitless carry” measure that allows most Texans 21 and over to carry handguns in public places without a license. Other GOP priorities that won Larson’s support last year included legislation to bar large counties from cutting law enforcement spending without voter approval and a constitutional amendment that would have expanded the charges under which judges could deny bail outright. His retirement is not related to his disagreements with the Republican leadership in Austin over the party’s shift to the right, he said. "No, actually, it's much simpler than that. I laid out a bill three sessions ago on term limits. And I was advocating that you can serve no longer than 12 years. And I said it at that time, that regardless of if the bill passes or not, I'm going to step down after 12 years."

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 29, 2022

Uvalde parents take months of protest to school district’s doorway

Brett Cross got two hours’ sleep, tossing and turning on a cot next to the back door of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District’s main building but kept mostly awake by the beeping of its alarm system, trucks rumbling on North Getty Street and crickets. Before the sun was up Wednesday, his wife, Nikki Cross, and a handful of other parents and family members who lost children in the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School rejoined him to continue a protest that began the previous morning. As they have for months, the group demanded that the district suspend all of its police officers and begin its own investigation into their response to the killing of 19 children and two teachers .

The district released a statement late in the afternoon saying it “has engaged with JPPI Investigations to conduct an independent review of the Uvalde CISD Police Department’s actions on May 24, 2022.” It was unclear when the district took that step. Superintendent Hal Harrell had mentioned it as a possibility weeks before the protest, which went into its second day with a large black speaker propped up near the door blasting an audio collage of 11 of the children’s voices created by Jazmin Cazares, who lost her sister Jacklyn in the shooting. On Thursday, after spending a second night at the door, Brett Cross was invited into the office of the school superintendent for a tense and inconclusive meeting and vowed to continue the protest. The district fired its police chief on Aug. 24 after public pressure that began days after the Robb massacre, but had deferred to a state investigation of its officers and those of several other police agencies, whose tactical leaders were roundly condemned for waiting more than an hour to confront and kill the shooter. “I’m probably going to jail today,” Nikki Cross said Wednesday morning as protesters sat in lawn chairs and school district officials walked from their cars into the building without acknowledging them.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 30, 2022

Cornyn: GOP Senate wouldn’t freeze judge vacancies but will use ‘leverage’ on Biden

Senate Republicans froze a Supreme Court vacancy in the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency. On Thursday, Sen. John Cornyn offered an assurance that they won’t block all of President Joe Biden’s judicial picks if they win back the majority in November. But, he said, they would use that clout to weed out nominees they deem too liberal. “I know that there’s a lot of attention to what happened with Merrick Garland,” he said on a call with Texas reporters. “But rather than leave these judicial seats vacant, I think what it will give us is more leverage to negotiate [for] rational law and order judges rather than ideologues, or people who maybe are being rewarded for their political activism.” Garland, now the attorney general, was Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy created in February 2020 when Justice Antonin Scalia abruptly died in West Texas.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was among the first to demand the vacancy remain frozen until after the election, arguing that in an election year, voters should decide which party to empower to fill a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court. Republicans controlled the Senate at the time. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – now the minority leader – made the same argument. The Senate held no confirmation hearing on Garland, let alone a vote. Senate Republicans reversed course when liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18, 2020 – six weeks before Election Day when, as it turned out, voters picked Democrat Joe Biden over incumbent Donald Trump. Amending their rule of thumb about the need to freeze Supreme Court vacancies in an election year, Cornyn, Cruz and others argued that when the same party controls both the Senate and White House, delay is not necessary. The Senate confirmed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, picked by President Donald Trump, eight days before Election Day. The ability of conservatives to keep control of the Scalia seat and flip the Ginsburg seat shifted the court’s ideological center, paving way for a 6-3 majority to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 abortion rights landmark. “I can’t see a world in which we don’t deal with some judicial nominations,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 30, 2022

Dallas ramps up efforts to crack down on alcohol licenses of ‘irresponsible businesses’

The city of Dallas plans to ramp up efforts to crack down on irresponsible businesses’ alcohol licenses to address safety concerns in nightlife districts. The push comes even as police data shows violence is down in Dallas’ main nightlife division. The Central Division, which includes Fair Park, Deep Ellum, downtown, Uptown and Lower Greenville, has seen a 4.3% drop in violence this year for a total of 837 offenses, 38 fewer compared with 2021, according to police. However, murders are up citywide and in the Central Division. Spates of shootings throughout the year have prompted public safety concerns from residents, visitors, musicians and event hosts. Now, the Dallas Police Department plans to create a new police unit focused on Deep Ellum. Earlier in the year, shootings on Greenville Avenue led Dallas to sue two bars, Bar 3606 and OT Tavern. OT Tavern later closed.

In a memo to council members this month, Deputy City Manager Jon Fortune said city departments will meet every other month to discuss crime data, track active permits and “establish specific public safety goals and objectives for businesses that fall within DPD’s strategic priorities.” He said the city will also coordinate regular inspections to ensure compliance with city code, general safety measures and Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission standards. Businesses that fail inspection will be “referred to City Prosecution for escalated enforcement,” which will include litigation and challenges to alcohol permit renewals, Fortune wrote. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, who is up for reelection next year, asked city staff this summer “to be relentless in our pursuit of public safety policies and partnerships that can make a measurable difference in our communities.” The crackdown on alcohol permit renewals was one of many priorities he listed to address public safety concerns. Community groups have also worked with the city to implement new crime-reduction strategies in Dallas’ nightlife districts. Earlier this year, the Deep Ellum Foundation launched a comprehensive community safety plan in partnership with police, other community groups and city officials.

Top of Page

Dallas Observer - September 30, 2022

Beto O'Rourke gets his very own Shepard Fairey portrait

He's lagging in the polls in his bid to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott, but Democrat Beto O'Rouke earned some major street cred — street-art cred, that is — and became the new poster child for hope. In a sense. Ahead of the Nov. 8 gubernatorial election in Texas, O’Rourke earned a place in history among the likes of President Barack Obama by getting his own poster by Shepard Fairey. Fairey, the famed artist behind the Obey Giant project, designed the blue and red poster for Obama’s 2008 campaign depicting the then-candidate with the word “Hope," an image that became a historic bit of iconography in modern American politics. Posters have traditionally had a massive influence on culture, making a household name out of Farrah Fawcett and inspiring an artistic movement in Poland as well as a whole generation of young white women to "Live, love, laugh."

In 2017, Fairey also unveiled a poster of a yelling Donald Trump with the word “Demagogue.” The artist has long ties to Texas, and specifically to Dallas, which was the first city to feature his street art. In May 2021, Fairey gifted Deep Ellum with a design on a water tower called "Cultivate Harmony." His first solo exhibition in Texas, backward forward, opened Sept. 25 and runs until July 23, 2023, at the Dallas Contemporary. Now the artist is also getting involved with Texas politics. Last week, Fairey unveiled the poster on his website with a blog post called “Beto For All,” which he also shared on Instagram. He said he created the artwork after he was put in touch with O’Rourke by a mutual friend. "I don’t believe that Texas voters are a monolith, and I don’t believe that Greg Abbott represents all of his constituents, including the Uvalde community, properly," Fairey wrote. "Beto O’Rourke represents many values that I strongly endorse and I’m happy to lend my support and my art to Beto For Texas."

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 30, 2022

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Abbott, O’Rourke won’t have needed education debate Friday

If you tune into the Texas governor debate Friday night, you’ll hear Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke talk about important issues: immigration and border security, abortion, property taxes and the power grid. What you probably won’t hear is a substantive back-and-forth on the issue that should be akin to a four-alarm fire in our state, and that’s education. Sure, Abbott will mention school choice, and O’Rourke might argue he’ll do more for teachers. They could spar over books in libraries or topics in history class. But detailed answers about how to fix the achievement problem — the huge numbers of Texas students who can’t read, write or do math on the appropriate grade level — won’t get enough attention. The pandemic made a long-standing problem into a full-blown crisis.

We get it, to a degree: It’s not a sexy political topic. Everyone agrees education is vital and it often seems like the system hums along steadily enough. For all our state pride and money pouring into the system — the state spends about $60 billion on public schools, with tens of billions more in local property taxes and federal funds — Texas lags nationwide. The 2019 federal report card shows just how much Texas’ kids are flailing in reading: Just 30% of students performed at or above the Nation’s Report Card proficient level. The number hasn’t budged much in decades. It’s time to reevaluate how we’re teaching kids to read and write. Texas kids are doing slightly better in math. About 44% of kids are at or above the Nation’s Report Card proficient level. That has improved greatly: In 2000, it was only at 25%. But that’s still more than half lagging where they should be. While our own Fort Worth ISD recently made some slight improvements, it’s only after it’s had significant challenges for a long time.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 29, 2022

New UH, TSU survey shows who supports gun reform policies

The majority of Texans across both parties agree on certain gun restrictions – including raising the purchasing age of firearms from 18 to 21, according to a new survey from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University. Researchers found that, overall, Texans support a variety of different proposals related to gun control, even as Republicans in the state Legislature decline to entertain many of the ideas. While the Democrats who were surveyed had much stronger support for gun control measures – they said they agreed with all 10 proposals posited by researchers – the Republicans who were surveyed still supported six.

“Finding the right balance between gun safety and gun rights will continue to be a major issue in our society,” said Michael O. Adams, a Texas Southern professor of political science who conducted the study. “However, I think gun ownership in Texas has become somewhat synonymous with the state (identity). There is a potential for consensus to address some of the issues.” The policies with bipartisan support were: Banning the possession or purchase of a gun by anyone with a restraining order filed against them for domestic violence or stalking; Mandating criminal background checks for all gun buyers, regardless of venue; Allowing judges to take guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or to others; Raising the age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21; Raising the age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21; Requiring a mandatory waiting period between the purchase and possession of an assault rifle.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 29, 2022

700 migrant children at Texas' Fort Bliss went weeks without help from untrained case managers

Hundreds of migrant children and teens went weeks without any updates on when they would be reunited with their families or other sponsors, contributing to emotional distress, anxiety, panic attacks and even self-harm among youth, according to an internal watchdog report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The inspector general's report found that about 700 migrant children held at an emergency shelter at Fort Bliss in the El Paso area went 60 days without hearing from their case managers. In addition, the case managers, who had caseloads of up to 35 children, were not trained on best practices for reuniting children and teens with their sponsors.

“A youth care worker described witnessing a young girl begin to hit and cut herself in front of a group of children after learning that her mother had not yet been contacted by a case manager as part of the sponsor screening process,” said the report, which was compiled from interviews with 66 individuals indirectly or directly involved with case management of migrant children at Fort Bliss. Beyond the troubling findings regarding the safety of children, the report also outlined reports of retaliation against whistleblowers on staff at Fort Bliss who came forward with the initial complaints about the facility and were subsequently removed from their jobs. The report described a culture of fear at the facility that discouraged other employees from reporting problems. The emergency intake site at Fort Bliss was opened in March 2021 to deal with the spike in migrant children and teens arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border without a sponsor.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 30, 2022

Civil rights groups push back as Texas considers limiting nonprofit legal work for candidates

The Texas Ethics Commission postponed a vote Thursday as it considers barring nonprofits from offering pro bono legal work to political candidates and committees by considering the services an in-kind campaign contribution. Under Texas law, corporations, including nonprofits, may not make political contributions to candidates or political committees. The commission in its draft opinion released this May wrote that pro bono legal services must be considered political contributions if they are given with the intent that they be used “in connection with” a campaign. A slightly revised version of the opinion that made the same core argument was released Wednesday. The ethics commission’s move to reconsider Thursday came amid an outcry from a broad range of public-interest nonprofits. They say such a rule would stop civil rights groups, for example, from challenging campaign finance laws or regulations they find unconstitutional.

“This agenda item has drawn national interest, if not intense local interest also,” commission Chair Mary Kennedy said, alluding to a critical editorial published by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that sided with the nonprofits. The nonprofits argued lawsuits challenging election and campaign finance laws affect all current and future candidates and are not meant to influence an election. Restricting these groups from pursuing their mission through litigation, they argued, would be a violation of the First Amendment. David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, a Washington-based nonprofit that opposes limits on political speech and advertising and which requested the opinion, said he was encouraged by Thursday’s discussion in which commissioners seemed receptive to an exemption for groups like his that normally do not charge for their services. “Most candidates can’t afford to hire counsel and spend probably hundreds of thousands of dollars challenging the constitutionality of a law where the opinion may not come out until after the election,” Keating said. “No candidate in their right mind is going to do that … Basically, the opinion would slam the courthouse door shut to candidates and most political committees.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 30, 2022

Whataburger is about to add yet another state to its burger empire, making 15 total

At the start of 2021, Whataburger had restaurants in 10 states. Today, it’s in 14. Soon, it could be 15. The San Antonio-based burger chain has its eye on a vacant bank branch building in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to a construction permit filed with that city by the real estate firm Kimco Realty. If it were to open, the location would be the first Whataburger both in the Charlotte metropolitan area — the 23nd largest in the U.S., with a population of 2.7 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — and in the Tar Heel State as a whole.

“We are converting the former Suntrust Bank into a Whataburger,” the permit states. The proposed site is at 5301 South Boulevard, next to a Ross Dress for Less clothing store in the Glenkirk neighborhood on Charlotte’s south side, according to the permit, which was first reported on by the Charlotte Observer and other news outlets in the Charlotte area. A spokesperson for Whataburger didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The company has had restaurants outside Texas since the early 1960s, when it expanded into Arizona, Florida and Tennessee, according to its website. But the chain’s growth has accelerated since a majority stake was sold to Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners in 2019. Last year, it opened its first restaurant in Missouri; this year, it launched in Tennessee, Colorado and Kansas. This spring, it announced plans for its first restaurants in the Atlanta metro area. All told, it now has more than 900 restaurants. There has been speculation about Whataburger planning to expand into South Carolina, too. In February, the real estate firm Collett Greenville said in an Instagram post that the chain wanted to open a restaurant in the Greenville, South Carolina area, but took down the post shortly thereafter, according to Greenville News.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 30, 2022

Enbridge bought Texas renewables company known for wind and farms

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge has purchased Texas renewables company Tri Global Energy in an expansion of its rewewables presence in the state. Enbridge said it acquired the Dallas-based renewable power developer for $270 million.

Electricity generated from renewable sources will be increasingly in demand over the next decade as more companies reach for net-zero targets, Enbridge said in a statement. The company employs 1,000 people in Houston and already has three wind farms in Texas — near Corpus Christi, Harlingen and a third Northwest of Dallas. It has 23 wind farms in operation or under construction. “TGE will enhance Enbridge’s renewable platform and accelerate our North American growth strategy,” said Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and chief executive. “TGE’s significant development pipeline, coupled with our renewable capabilities, and existing self-power opportunities, make this a truly synergistic investment that further positions us to grow organically at attractive equity returns.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 29, 2022

Federal judge tosses lawsuit against San Antonio Spurs

A federal lawsuit against the San Antonio Spurs turned out to be the hoops equivalent of an air ball. A judge this week dismissed the suit that accused the Spurs of infringing on two patents over an an electronic service that allows fans to buy tickets after a game has started. U.S. District Judge Alan Albright in Waco tossed the suit at the Spurs’ request on grounds that plaintiff Alvao Digital failed to state a claim. Alvao Digital didn’t respond to the motion to dismiss. Nevertheless, Albright has given it an opportunity to file an amended complaint by Oct. 10. If it doesn’t, the case will be closed.

Florida-based Alvao sued the Spurs, the University of Texas at Austin and and ticket resale company StubHub Inc. in December but didn’t specify the financial damages it was seeking. The claims against the university, which, like the Spurs, allegedly used the StubHub ticket service, were dropped in March after the school moved to dismiss them. Less than three months later, StubHub was dismissed from the case, leaving the Spurs the only remaining defendant. In arguing that the claims against it should be dismissed, the team said they were “fatally flawed,” in part because they failed to include any “factual allegations connecting the Spurs to the allegedly infringing StubHub platform.” The lawsuit included a screenshot of a Spurs’ webpage redirecting users to StubHub to buy tickets after a game has started. But the Spurs said the screenshot was taken Nov. 16 — three weeks before the game was to take place on Dec. 9. “It is therefore impossible from these irreconcilable allegations ‘to draw the reasonable inference that the [Spurs] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged’ — that is, that Spurs tickets were sold ‘after a game has started,’” the team said in its motion to dismiss.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 29, 2022

Stacy Wilson: Child suicide in Texas is alarming. We should address this issue locally

(Stacy E. Wilson is the president of the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas.) September, which is National Suicide Awareness Month, is coming to an end, but it has been a time to highlight a national emergency with local ramifications: the growing suicide rate in children. Nationwide, the numbers are staggering, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-14. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24. The CDC has reported that 20% of U.S. high school students — 1 in 5 children — contemplated suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past two and a half years, children’s hospitals in Texas have seen an increased number of children and adolescents with more serious mental health conditions in the emergency departments because these children and their families have nowhere else to go.

The greater demand for care has left children’s hospitals struggling to meet the needs of their patients due to a lack of mental health services and workforce to provide those services. While some increase in mental health conditions is because of the impact of COVID-19, the truth is that children’s hospitals have been seeing more kids with mental health issues for years before the pandemic. Between 2016 and 2020, children ages 3-17 had a 29% increase in anxiety and a 27% increase in depression. In the U.S., from 2007 to 2018, there was a 60% increase in the number of children dying by suicide. Texas must invest in partial hospitalization programs and intensive outpatient programs that help kids stay out of crisis and reduce the overall need for pediatric psychiatric inpatient beds. Children could be discharged from a hospital bed to a more structured program like partial hospitalization, which offers counseling and school five days a week.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 29, 2022

The big ask from Texas Health and UT Southwestern: $900 million from Blue Cross

Texas Health Resources and UT Southwestern Medical Center are seeking an increase of more than $900 million over the next 32 months from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, according to an email the insurer shared with brokers in late September. The increase would be required for Blue Cross members to remain in-network with doctors and facilities that are part of Texas Health and UTSW, the email said. “By any metric, a presumptive billion-dollar increase over 32 months is considerably more than inflationary pressures demand,” said the email. “Agreeing to their proposed price increases would surely cause hardships for every business, municipality, federal employee and individual Texan served by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.”

Blue Cross confirmed that emails were sent to brokers and consultants so they could explain why the state’s largest insurer is at loggerheads with Texas Health and UTSW, the market share leaders in Dallas-Fort Worth. The health systems created an alliance in 2015, known as Southwestern Health Resources, and that venture is negotiating a new contract with Blue Cross. After months of unsuccessful talks, Southwestern Health filed to terminate its contract and leave most Blue Cross networks on Oct. 4 unless a new deal is reached. Southwestern Health sent notices of the potential change to 459,000 patients who have received care from its providers since April 2021. Southwestern Health said it is the largest provider network in North Texas with over 5,500 physicians and clinicians, 29 hospitals and more than 650 access points for care. It’s not uncommon for health systems and insurers to clash over contract terms and threaten to go their separate ways. In most cases, the differences are settled by the deadline — and financial numbers are usually kept private.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 29, 2022

Texas schools receiving $94M to keep students safe

Texas is getting nearly $94 million in grants to provide students with safer and healthier learning environments, federal officials announced Wednesday. Schools can use the money to support community partnerships that seek solutions that address bullying, violence and hate; that boost the mental health and wellness of students and staff; and that address the needs of underserved students. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said improving such efforts is “sorely needed in our schools.” Families “trust that school will be a place where their children’s dreams are valued, where their potential is fulfilled and where every student feels safe and seen,” Cardona said. “We must make good on that promise.”

The U.S. Department of Education awarded a total of nearly $1 billion to 56 states and territories through the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Texas received the second largest award in the Western region following California, which received more than $119 million. The money comes four months after the deadly elementary school shooting in Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed. Texas schools and state leaders have said improving campus safety is a priority. Texas school districts have bolstered security by auditing entrances to buildings, investing in new camera and monitoring equipment and increasing police presence, among other measures. The money will flow through the Texas Education Agency, which is responsible for awarding the funds competitively to high-need districts across the state. The department highlighted work underway at Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico. That district is using federal funds to expand its existing restorative justice program, hire additional school psychologists and expand school counseling programming.

Top of Page

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 30, 2022

Tenure discussion was uninvited guest at Alamo Colleges board meeting

Educators from all five Alamo Colleges turned out to a board meeting to argue for the college district to reinstate tenure track for professors, but left wondering if the option is still even on the table. District officials centered the discussion on multiyear contracts, their preferred alternative to tenure. “As educational professionals we must stand up and not allow those who have never taught to tell us how to run a classroom, or what books we can and cannot teach,” said Carolyn Delacour, a professor emeritus who taught at Palo Alto College for 27 years. “We need to respect the academic notion and what it really means, not what some think it means. It’s a guarantee that we are trusted, valued, and respected. Tenure means you care about us the same way you care about what we do on a daily basis,” she added.

Nine faculty members — some tenured and some on annual contracts — spoke in favor restoring tenure track, which they argued provides a sense of security and carries weight that no other option would provide, especially in a time when politicians are actively trying to restrict what they can teach. But shortly after the heartfelt speeches, administrators on Tuesday presented a proposal for multiyear contracts that can lead to a $5,000 bonus and the option of a longer contract term — but not to tenure. It would start by offering faculty a one-year contract for the first two years, followed by a two-year rolling contract between years three and six, and the possibility of a three-year rolling contract and a $5,000 incentive on year seven. Alamo Colleges has nearly 800 full-time faculty. Roughly half of them earned tenure prior to 2011 — when ACD stopped offering tenure track. The current proposal would affect 442 current full-time faculty who have been hired since 2011. Alamo Colleges officials began discussing the solutions to the lack of tenure-track 18 months ago, offering the board a glimpse of what it might look like back in May .

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 29, 2022

Fort Worth city manager defends drip to Aspen with Basses

Fort Worth city manager David Cooke told city staff in an email he was taking some personal time around the Labor Day holiday. He didn’t say who with. Cooke and his wife traveled to Aspen, Colorado, on the private jet of their friends Ed and Sasha Bass, co-owners of the 37-square-block downtown business and entertainment district Sundance Square. Cooke didn’t consider the trip a gift or any kind of financial benefit, but it’s raised questions about conflict of interest given the city’s involvement in a recent dispute between between Sundance Square and downtown business advocacy nonprofit Downtown Fort Worth Inc. over the management of a special downtown taxing district.

Under the city’s rules, Cooke could have been the dispute’s final arbiter, however, city economic development director Robert Sturns forced both sides to settle the matter independently. Cooke acknowledged any further appeals would come to his office, but said he would recuse himself and appoint another city employee to avoid a conflict of interest. “The way I conduct the business of the city is in the middle of the street in the middle of the day,” Cooke said. Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc. echoed Cooke’s sentiments. Your subscription allows us to provide our readers with quality, relevant journalism that makes a difference. We believe a platform for sharing local news is critical to our community – and we're glad you think so, too. Have questions about your subscription? We're happy to help. Contact us “I haven’t seen David play favorites in downtown one way or the other. He has been following city policy right down the middle of the road,” Taft wrote in a text.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 29, 2022

Dallas City Council OKs $4.75 billion budget with modest tax decrease but higher fees

The Dallas City Council unanimously approved a $4.75 billion budget Wednesday, a near-record spending plan that lowers the property tax rate, raises residential trash and water service fees, and adds more funding for the police and fire departments. It’s the first time since 2019 that all 15 council members voted in favor of the budget, which will take effect Oct. 1. Mayor Eric Johnson credited the broad support to, among other things, the tax rate decrease and plans to put more money into initiatives aimed at public safety, homelessness, and sidewalk and other infrastructure improvements. Several initiatives that Johnson personally asked for were included in the budget. “Mr. Manager, this is the best budget I have seen since I’ve been mayor of the city,” Johnson said to City Manager T.C. Broadnax. “That’s not to say that the budget is perfect. There is no perfect budget.”

The budget is $400 million larger than the one approved last fall, buoyed in part by higher revenue from sales and property taxes. The new budget previously was expected to come in at $4.51 billion, but Janette Weedon, budget and management services director, told The Dallas Morning News an “accounting issue” didn’t factor in the inclusion of an extra roughly $6 million in employee’s retirement fund money and $241 million more for internal service and other funds. The council approved several amendments to the initial budget recommended by Broadnax in August, much of involving the shifting of money that officials had planned to set aside for future pension-related expenses. The amendments included paying for plans to repair and renovate Dallas Fire-Rescue buildings and buy new equipment, hire more community prosecutors, and boost the new Inspector General division from 10 workers to 16.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 29, 2022

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: San Antonio City Councilman Mario Bravo should resign

An independent investigation has begun into District 1 City Councilman Mario Bravo’s verbal outburst against his former romantic partner, District 7 City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval. This investigation may take six weeks and will offer guidance into what additional action, if any, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and City Council may take in response to this nadir at City Hall. But we have seen enough. It would be best for Bravo to step down. We have concerns about the working environment for Sandoval and Bravo’s effectiveness in representing District 1 constituents. Bravo’s outburst has alienated him from other council members, and at least in the interim, he has been stripped of his committees.

We don’t call for this lightly. This Editorial Board last called on a City Council member to resign in 2013 after homophobic comments from then-District 9 City Councilwoman Elisa Chan were made public. We could not see how Chan could effectively represent people who are LGBTQ, and we also cited a higher bar for expectations for elected officials’ words and actions. This situation is unique because of the past romantic relationship between Sandoval and Bravo. Bravo raised the relationship in public in a particularly bitter and hostile manner. Wherever the investigation leads, whatever apologies follow, we don’t see how this dynamic can change. But what transpired was more than a policy disagreement. Right before the Sept. 15 session, Bravo approached Sandoval near the council dais, saying he wanted to talk with her about refusing to support his proposal. City Hall sources said Bravo told Sandoval her action on the CPS Energy surplus illustrated why they had split up and why he didn’t want to have children with her. He accused Sandoval of selling out to the mayor and brought her to tears. Later, during the public council meeting , Bravo berated Sandoval and Nirenberg for criticizing his plan. At one point, City Attorney Andy Segovia reminded Bravo about decorum. “Councilman, the point of decorum I am trying to make is that your comments should be directed at the policy of the staff, not to other council members. That’s a rule that this council has adopted.” “I am not addressing her directly,” Bravo said. “You have been, the whole discussion,” Segovia said.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 29, 2022

Katy ISD board member protested 'sexualization of children' before church drag bingo event

A Katy ISD board member on Wednesday confirmed he and his wife attended a protest ahead of a church drag bingo event. “Speaking as an individual, and nothing to do with Katy ISD, I was there with my wife the Sunday before (the event) with a group of Catholics,” Victor Perez said over the phone. Perez, who was elected to the board in May, clarified he was not in attendance at another protest of the same drag queen bingo event on Saturday at First Christian Church in Katy. That protest drew out more than 100 people who expressed they believed it was inappropriate for adults to let their children see drag queens.

Among the protesters on Saturday were members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front, the neo-facist group Proud Boys and the neo-Nazi group, Aryan Freedom Network. Both protesters and counter protesters displayed firearms. The protest Perez said he attended for about an hour and a half on Sept. 18 in front of the church was “peaceful” and “prayerful,” he said. “We prayed a couple of rosaries,” he said. “It was nothing controversial whatsoever. None of the people who showed up the following week were there.” At the Saturday protest, a group of Catholics from the national advocacy group “The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property” were in attendance and recited a rosary together outside of the event. The school board member said his reasoning for attending the protest was a “personal matter.” “I have a personal belief about the early sexualization of children and that’s the biggest motivator for me in going there and praying,” he said. “That’s my opinion and my personal belief.”

Top of Page

National Stories

Politico - September 30, 2022

Ginni Thomas tells Jan. 6 panel she still believes false election fraud claims, chair says

Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told the Jan. 6 panel during lengthy testimony Thursday that she still believes false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, according to the panel’s chair. “The information was typical of a lot of information we received from other people who were involved in this effort around Jan. 6. A lot of: ‘Well, I believed something was wrong,’” select committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), told reporters Thursday of Thomas’ testimony. “She was one of those people we wanted to talk to and, ultimately, we eventually got there.” Thompson also told reporters Thomas had answered “some questions” Thursday during her interview.

Thomas, also known as Ginni, sat with the panel behind closed doors for over four hours in a congressional office building where they have conducted many of their interviews. She is one of the select committee’s major outstanding witnesses as investigators start to wind down their probe, and they’ve wanted to ask her questions about her connections to John Eastman, a legal architect of Trump’s last-ditch plan to subvert the 2020 election. “She had conversations [with] and was messaging John Eastman. We have questions about that,” said panel member Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.). Thomas had invited Eastman to speak to an activist group in the aftermath of the election, though Eastman has denied ever discussing Supreme Court-related matters with Thomas. CBS and the Washington Post had also published text messages from her to top Trump allies, in which she urged them to investigate debunked claims of election fraud and to fight harder to overturn the election results. The select panel had been trying to talk to her for months, finally reaching an agreement with her last week.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 30, 2022

Biden declares emergency in South Carolina as storm intensifies

President Biden declared an emergency in South Carolina hours ahead of Ian’s expected landfall as a Category 1 hurricane near Charleston around midday Friday. The White House will dispatch federal assistance to supplement local response efforts, and the National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening flooding, storm surge and strong winds” in the Carolinas. Ian sustained maximum winds of about 85 mph going into Friday as it veered north of Florida. State officials there were assessing the extent of damage that Ian left behind, with several areas still reeling from its destructive storm surges. Rubble was strewn across Florida’s western coast, and more than 2 million customers were still without power as of 7:00 a.m. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said there was no confirmed death toll as of Thursday evening but that authorities “absolutely expect to have mortality from this hurricane.” Search efforts continue, with more than 700 confirmed rescues so far.

Top of Page

New York Times - September 30, 2022

Judge overrules special master’s demands to Trump in document review

A federal judge on Thursday eased several demands a special master had imposed on former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers in conducting a review of documents the F.B.I. seized from his residence last month, overruling an arbiter she had appointed herself. In a six-page order, Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Southern District of Florida set aside requirements the special master, Judge Raymond J. Dearie, put in place in recent days that would have tested excuses Mr. Trump has made in connection with the trove of documents taken from his estate, Mar-a-Lago. Judge Cannon also rejected a swift timetable Judge Dearie had set to resolve the review of the documents, slowing the matter down.

While the dueling moves and countermoves by the judges were procedural in nature, they reflected a larger struggle over who should control the rules of the review — and whom those rules would favor. In removing the restrictions the special master had sought to impose, Judge Cannon essentially let Mr. Trump and his legal team out of a box that Judge Dearie had tried to put them in. As the judge who appointed the special master, Judge Cannon has the authority to overrule Judge Dearie. But a federal appeals court in Atlanta has already blocked part of her original order as well, exempting documents with classification markings from the special master’s review and allowing the Justice Department to continue using them in its investigation. The first provision Judge Cannon set aside was a measure that had asked Mr. Trump’s lawyers to certify by Friday the accuracy of the F.B.I.’s inventory of the property it seized from Mar-a-Lago — and to indicate whether there was anything that agents did not take from the compound. That had put Mr. Trump and his lawyers in a bind. If they acknowledged that the bureau had found sensitive documents, the admission could be used as evidence against Mr. Trump.

Top of Page

New York Times - September 30, 2022

Bonds may be having their worst year yet

It is a horrible time for stocks, which have spent the year in a bear market. But guess what? When you look at the historical record, bonds are worse. This year is the most devastating period for bonds since at least 1926, the numbers show. And, in the estimation of one bond maven, 2022 is shaping up to be the worst year for bonds since reliable record-keeping began in the late 18th century. Yet as bad as things are now, history and basic fixed-income math tell us that bond investors will begin to experience relief when interest rates stop rising. You can count on that eventually, though we don’t know when it will happen. Much as truly long-term investors are likely to be better off if they can ignore the turmoil in the stock market and just hang onto well-diversified holdings in low-cost index funds, most bond investors can expect to benefit if they can ride out this upheaval and hold onto their bonds, whether owned individually or in diversified funds.

Since the 1920s, the stock market has usually produced wonderful returns over the long haul, but it has frequently generated short-term losses that have dominated headlines. That’s certainly happening this year. Bonds — especially the investment-grade core of the market, which includes U.S. Treasuries and high-quality corporate bonds — are supposed to be Steady Eddies, so boring that they are comforting. They provide an income stream and, typically, also offer something else: a buffer against losses in the stock market. Not so this year. Bonds are being hammered all over the world. British government bonds, known as gilt, have taken huge losses this week, and the Bank of England intervened. In the United States, bond investors are experiencing large paper losses that are closely connected to red-hot inflation, and to the rising interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve to curb the pace of soaring prices. Because bond prices and interest rates (a.k.a. yields) move in opposite directions — that is simply the way bonds work — the steep rise in rates has automatically led to deep drops in bond prices.

Top of Page

NPR - September 30, 2022

In a reversal, the Education Dept. is excluding many from student loan relief

In a remarkable reversal that will affect the fortunes of many student loan borrowers, the U.S. Department of Education has quietly changed its guidance around who qualifies for President Biden's sweeping student debt relief plan. At the center of the change are borrowers who took out federal student loans many years ago, both Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans. FFEL loans, issued and managed by private banks but guaranteed by the federal government, were once the mainstay of the federal student loan program until the FFEL program ended in 2010. Today, according to federal data, more than 4 million borrowers still have commercially-held FFEL loans. Until Thursday, the department's own website advised these borrowers that they could consolidate these loans into federal Direct Loans and thereby qualify for relief under Biden's debt cancellation program.

On Thursday, though, the department quietly changed that language. The guidance now says, "As of Sept. 29, 2022, borrowers with federal student loans not held by ED cannot obtain one-time debt relief by consolidating those loans into Direct Loans." An administration official tells NPR this change will not affect all 4 million borrowers with commercially-held FFEL loans. The official said many FFEL borrowers also have Direct Loans and so can still qualify to consolidate those FFEL loans, though that detail was not included in the department's updated guidance. Ultimately, this administration official says, roughly 800,000 borrowers would be directly affected. It's unclear why the department reversed its decision on allowing FFEL borrowers with commercially-held loans to consolidate and then qualify for debt relief.

Top of Page

EE News - September 30, 2022

Biden: Ian could be ‘deadliest hurricane’ in Fla. history

Hurricane Ian could be one of the worst ever to hit Florida, President Joe Biden said Thursday as the weakened storm continued to batter the state. Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm Thursday after it made landfall as a fierce Category 4 hurricane and plowed through Florida, smashing communities in its path and leaving millions of homes and businesses without power. State and government officials are still assessing the full scope of the damage, but some of the devastation is already apparent.

“This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” Biden said at the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington on Thursday. “The numbers are still unclear, but we’re hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life.” The deadliest hurricane on record was the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, wherein more than 2,500 people died, according to NOAA. No other storm in modern history has approached such a high death toll. Hurricanes Irma and Andrew are among the deadliest that have hit Florida in recent decades. In 1992, Andrew killed 15 people and dozens indirectly, Reuters reported, citing data from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center. Irma in 2017 caused seven direct and 80 indirect fatalities. Search-and-rescue operations began before dawn Thursday, Biden said, for people who are stranded and in “desperate shape.” Officials have described some fatalities from the storm, but they have stressed that it will be some time before a complete picture of the death toll is available. “Hurricane Ian is gonna be a storm that we talk about for decades,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who spoke with Biden at her agency’s headquarters. Biden also said that he plans to visit Florida when he won’t “get in the way” of the hurricane relief effort. The president stopped to praise FEMA employees before he spoke at the podium. “You’re doing a hell of a job,” Biden told the FEMA staff.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 29, 2022

Lead Stories

Reuters - September 29, 2022

Hurricane Ian batters Florida's Gulf Coast with catastrophic fury

Hurricane Ian plowed into Florida's Gulf Coast with catastrophic force on Wednesday, unleashing howling winds, torrential rains and a treacherous surge of ocean surf that made it one of the most powerful U.S. storms in recent years. Crashing ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 150 miles per hour (241 kph), Ian quickly transformed an idyllic stretch of sandy beaches and coastal towns into a disaster zone inundated by seawater. Early video images of the storm's fury on local TV and social media showed floodwaters sweeping away cars, nearly reaching rooftops in some communities and the ruins of homes as palm trees were bent almost in half. Up to 30 inches (76 cm) of rain is forecast to fall on parts of central Florida as the storm moves inland, threatening to cause extensive flash floods. Nearly 2 million homes and businesses statewide were without power as of an hour before sunset, utilities reported.

"This storm is doing a number on the state of Florida," said Governor Ron DeSantis, who asked U.S. President Joe Biden to approve a major federal disaster declaration providing a wide range of U.S. emergency aid to the entire state. U.S. border authorities said 20 Cuban migrants were missing after their boat sank off the Florida coast as Ian neared the coast on Wednesday. There were no immediate official reports of other storm-related casualties. An unknown number of people were stranded in "high-risk" evacuation zones and in need of help after defying orders to seek higher ground, but rescue crews were unable to immediately reach them, the governor said. The storm's peak wind speeds put it just shy of a Category 5 designation on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the maximum classification. Ian then churned ashore on Florida's mainland, south of the harborside town of Punta Gorda, with slightly diminished winds topping out at 145 mph. DeSantis said Ian had generated life-threatening storm surges - waves of wind-driven seawater rushing in along the coast - of up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) in some places. Forecasters also warned of intense thunderstorms and possible tornadoes. "This is a storm that we will talk about for many years to come, an historic event," said Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service. The sprawling, slow-moving storm pushed farther inland as darkness fell, and within six hours of landfall was downgraded to Category 2, with top sustained winds of 105 mph (170 kmh), the NHC reported. Further weakening was forecast over the next day or so as Ian crosses the Florida peninsula on a northeasterly track, expected to reach the Atlantic Coast on Thursday afternoon.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 28, 2022

Top Texas court reaffirms that AG Ken Paxton can’t unilaterally prosecute election crimes

The state’s highest criminal appellate court on Wednesday reaffirmed its ruling finding Attorney General Ken Paxton lacks unilateral authority to prosecute election crimes. "I share the concerns that citizens have about election law violations. Frankly, I am deeply concerned as well," Judge Scott Walker wrote in a concurring opinion. "The remedy is a constitutional amendment — something the legislature could propose and the citizens could vote to ratify. The remedy is not for the courts to water down the Texas Constitution from the bench. To do so would be a violation of our judicial oath."

Earlier this year, Paxton had launched a pressure campaign to get the Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider its original 8-1 ruling in December, urging his supporters to flood the court with phone calls and emails demanding a new decision. The ruling held that the attorney general can only get involved in criminal cases when invited by a local prosecutor. Paxton's attempt to influence the justices was the subject of at least one State Bar complaint against Paxton. The status of that complaint is unclear, as the process is confidential unless there are public sanctions issued by the bar. In a tweet Wednesday, Paxton agreed with Walker that the onus is now on the Texas Legislature to "right this wrong." "The CCA's shameful decision means local DAs with radical liberal views have the sole power to prosecute election fraud in TX — which they will never do," Paxton said. "The timing is no accident—this is devastating for the integrity of our upcoming elections." Paxton has for years tried to position his office as the lead in hunting for voter fraud in Texas. His staff has routinely overstated the number of election fraud cases they're pursuing in Texas by reporting to the Legislature the number of possible criminal charges rather than the number of defendants or cases.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 28, 2022

Uvalde shooting survivors share tearful memories with Congress: 'I could see the shadow'

Fourth grade teacher Arnulfo Reyes relived the 77 minutes he spent face down and bleeding on the floor of his classroom at Robb Elementary School during the May 24 shooting here, telling a delegation of visiting lawmakers it was “the longest time in my life.” “We heard all the gunshots,” Reyes said between sobs during a meeting with members of the Congressional Children’s Caucus on Monday. “The students were asking me, ‘What is going on, Mr. Reyes?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what is going on, but get under the table like we had practiced before and close your eyes.’” It wasn’t until Reyes saw bullets scraping chunks out of the wall that he realized it was a shooter, and the shooter was among them.

“As I stood in my position where I had always practiced, the (shooter) was there already,” Reyes said. “I could see the shadow. Saw the sparks come out of the gun, hit me, I fell to the ground.” “He came around and he shot the students,” Reyes said before lowering his head and pressing his hands to his face. Nineteen students and two teachers were killed in Reyes’ classroom and an adjoining one. The May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School traumatized the small city and upended trust in Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, but few teachers have spoken to news media of their experiences that day. Sitting next to Reyes with their heads down, crying as they listened to his account, were Javier Cazares, who lost his daughter Jaclyn Cazares in the massacre; Brett Cross, who lost his nephew Uzyiah Garcia; Angel Garza, who lost a stepdaughter, Amerie Jo; Kim Rubio, who lost her daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Rubio, and Christopher Salinas, whose son Samuel Salinas survived. About 50 people sat behind them in a room at Southwest Texas Junior College, trying to stay silent while Reyes composed himself to continue his story. But many also were crying.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 29, 2022

Congress moves toward funding government, averting shutdown

Congress is poised to pass stopgap legislation to avert a government shutdown, a rare bipartisan compromise on the eve of hotly contested midterm elections. The Senate is set to advance a continuing resolution — a bill to sustain government funding at current levels, often called a “CR” — on Thursday that would keep the government running through Dec. 16. The House will probably take up the measure Friday. Once Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) agreed to remove language from the legislation that would have overhauled federal rules for permitting large energy projects, the bill easily overcame a procedural vote in the evenly divided Senate on Tuesday, signaling a probable glide path to final passage. The legislation includes $12.4 billion in military and diplomatic assistance for Ukraine in its now seven-month-long war with Russia but does not include money the Biden administration requested for vaccines, testing and treatment for the coronavirus or monkeypox.

After Manchin’s concession Tuesday, the permitting language was dropped from the bill. All Republicans and some Democrats had opposed the measure, raising the prospect last week that a fight over the issue might have led to a government shutdown. “We’re going to work quickly and work fast to finish the process here in the Senate and send a CR to the House so they can send it to the president’s desk,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “With cooperation from our Republican colleagues, the Senate can finish his work as soon as [Thursday].” The federal government’s fiscal year ends Friday at midnight, and without a new law to fund the government, it would have had to shut down. That would have sidelined everything from federal services, such as anti-poverty food assistance and customer service functions at the Social Security Administration and IRS, to national parks, which would have closed. Some of the 2.1 million federal employees would have their paychecks deferred. The effects would also be damaging for an already fragile economy — and both parties’ chances at winning control of Congress in the November elections. Democrats and Republicans are staring down polling data that shows control of both chambers of Congress is essentially a toss-up. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday that a GOP majority in the upper chamber was a “50-50 shot.”

Top of Page

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 28, 2022

It was a big year for Texas’ wealthy, with 43 scoring spots on Forbes’ richest list

It was a big year for Texas’ wealthy. The 43 who claimed spots on this year’s Forbes ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans now represent more than a tenth of the nation’s richest people, as the group grew by six from last year. One of Texas’ most high-profile transplants not only is the state’s richest man but also is the nation’s and the world’s. Elon Musk, who made Texas his official home when he began investing heavily in the state, sits atop the ranking with a net worth estimated to be $251 billion. In Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones continues to widen his lead over every other billionaire in town, with a fortune that Forbes now places at $16 billion. He got a boost from the rising valuation of the Cowboys, already deemed the most valuable NFL franchise, and benefited from his majority stockholder stake in Frisco-based oil and gas company Comstock Resources. The team’s worth rose 10% from last year’s valuation.

Musk’s fortune jumped more than $100 billion over last year as SpaceX soars in value with new funding and a dissolved deal to take over Twitter is heading to court. The Tesla CEO also bumped Amazon founder Jeff Bezos from Forbes’ No.1 spot, which Bezos held for four consecutive years. Both business magnates have cemented Texas as a key state in their plans to privatize space. Musk’s SpaceX uses a launch site along the Gulf Coast at the Texas-Mexico border, and Bezos sends Blue Origin rockets into the air from a remote West Texas location. Behind Musk in Texas is Walmart heir Alice Walton, whose net worth fell more than $12 billion from last year. That drop ousted her from a seven-year run as the richest woman in America. The Fort Worth resident is now second to Julia Koch and her family. New additions to Texas’ most exclusive cabinet include 84-year-old oil tycoon Autry Stephens of Midland, whose company has the rights to drill on more than 500,000 acres in the U.S., most of which are in Texas; Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia of Austin, who stepped down this summer from his full-time role to parent; Texas-based grocery chain H-E-B board members Charles Butt and Eleanor Butt Crook and fintech executive Hayes Barnard of Austin.

Top of Page

Inside Climate News - September 29, 2022

Texas now the nation's biggest emitter of toxic substances into streams, rivers and lakes

Texas is a notably easy place to set up shop for industrial projects with lots of liquid waste and nowhere good to put it. The state's waterways are open for business, an analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data shows, to send large volumes of discarded chemicals and industrial discharge downstream and out to sea. In a new report by Environment America, a Denver-based nonprofit, Texas ranks first among U.S. states for toxic discharges into streams, rivers and lakes, a title held by Indiana since the organization began analyzing nationwide water pollution in 2009, when Texas ranked fourth. The report drew from data that was self-reported by industrial facilities and logged with the EPA. It tallied 16.7 million pounds of toxic substances released into Texas water in 2020, up from 13.2 million in 2007. "Texas has a pretty lax regulatory environment where it's very easy to permit new polluting facilities and very difficult to get fined for violations," said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, the local affiliate of Environment America. "They know they'll likely get away with it."

He said penalties are low enough that companies can often still save money by flouting pollution laws and paying fines instead. Nitrate compounds — a common component of fertilizer runoff and industrial waste — account for up to 90 percent of total toxic releases reported by industry nationwide. The rest is made up of heavy metals such as lead; solvents such as tetrachloroethylene, and manganese compounds, methanol and ammonia. It also includes small amounts of potent substances known as "persistent bioaccumulative toxics," which buildup in people and animals, including mercury and dioxin. Many of these substances are known to make their ways from lakes and rivers to drinking water and breast milk. To discharge industrial waste, companies file permit applications with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which processes dozens of such applications each week. But Texas doesn't provide an easy way for citizens to know exactly what industrial polluters are putting into nearby waterways. Only the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory enables online, location-based searches for toxics released by the largest permitted polluters, based on self-reporting. In contrast, the water pollution permit notices posted by the TCEQ for public review are more likely to cite "industrial wastewater" or "process water" rather than dive into the details of its specific toxic components.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 28, 2022

Town hall: HISD must rebuild trust to ask for first bond in a decade

Federal funding that schools received in response to the pandemic will run out shortly, and Houston ISD officials said they’re still making a plan for when that day comes. Included in their wish list is a bond to improve school buildings, officials said at the first of a series of town hall meetings this fall. HISD received about $1.16 billion from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grant programs that it used to pay for tutors, college advisers, pre-K expansion, instructional materials and other instructional needs. “We need to undergo fiscal transformation in the school district,” said Rick Cruz, deputy superintendent of HISD, “so in two years when that (federal) money runs out, we’re in a position to still properly support your youth.”

The district has taken steps to find other sources of funding, including sending an additional $28.7 million to its neediest schools using federal Title 1 funding for low-income students, Cruz said during a community town hall at Shadydale Elementary School Monday night. The district will host a series of town halls throughout October to hear concerns from community members and discuss progress being made on the district’s five-year strategic plan. The district also scaled back in certain areas. It cut about $60 million last year from the central office by not filling vacant positions and by eliminating certain programs, Cruz said. The district put that money toward teacher raises, as part of its five-year strategic plan to raise teacher salaries by 17 percent by 2024. However, there is another avenue of funding the district needs to pursue -- one that has been derailed by a series of mishaps over the last decade: a bond funded by a property tax rate increase that voters approve. “It’s been a long time since we had a bond,” Cruz said. “It’s typically every three years a school district of our size receives a bond – that is how we get funding to renovate and update buildings.”

Top of Page

Kaiser Health News - September 28, 2022

Few places have more medical debt than Dallas-Fort Worth, but hospitals there are thriving

Almost everything about the opening of the 2019 Prosper High School Eagles’ football season was big. The game in this Dallas-Fort Worth suburb began with fireworks and a four-airplane flyover. A trained eagle soared over the field. And some 12,000 fans filled the team’s new stadium, a $53 million colossus with the largest video screen of any high school venue in Texas. Atop the stadium was also a big name: Children’s Health. Business has been good for the billion-dollar pediatric hospital system, which agreed to pay $2.5 million to put its name on the Prosper stadium. Other Dallas-Fort Worth medical systems have also thrived. Though exempt from taxes as nonprofit institutions, several, including Children’s, notched double-digit margins in recent years, outperforming many of the area’s Fortune 500 companies.

But patients aren’t sharing in the good times. Of the nation’s 20 most populous counties, none has a higher concentration of medical debt than Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth. Second is Dallas County, credit bureau data shows. The mismatched fortunes of hospitals and their patients reach well beyond this corner of Texas. Nationwide, many hospitals have grown wealthy, spending lavishly on advertising, team sponsorships, and even spas, while patients are squeezed by skyrocketing medical prices and rising deductibles. A KHN review of hospital finances in the country’s 306 hospital markets found that several of the most profitable markets also have some of the highest levels of patient debt. Overall, about a third of the 100 million adults in the U.S. with health care debt owe money for a hospitalization, according to a poll conducted by KFF for this project. Close to half of those owe at least $5,000. About a quarter owe $10,000 or more. Many are pursued by collectors when they can’t pay their bills or hospitals sell the debt. “The fact is, if you walk into a hospital today, chances are you are going to walk out with debt, even if you have insurance,” said Allison Sesso, chief executive of RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that buys debt from hospitals and debt collectors so patients won’t have to pay it.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 28, 2022

Mayor Parker calls for business leader support in education crisis

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker called for the support of business leaders to help solve Texas’ education crisis during Tuesday morning’s Education for a Strong Workforce breakfast at Texas Wesleyan University. “We are in a crisis when it comes to education in this state,” Parker said. “We just are, and I’m so disappointed that not enough people are talking about it. When you only have 23% of your students making it to a two-year or four-year credential within six years of high school graduation, you are in crisis.” The event highlighted work-based learning in students as critical to the future economic strength of Fort Worth.

Parker called Fort Worth business leaders to action and said the solution is more industry partnership and higher education pathways in Fort Worth high schools and K-12 schools. Texas funders’ collaborative Philanthropy Advocates spoke to the current state of Fort Worth and broader Texas education. In less than eight years, 62% of all Texas jobs will require a post-secondary credential but today less than 50% of Texans have earned one of any kind, said Philanthropy Advocates Director Becky Calahan. “As mayor, it’s the most important work I’ll do because I can try to fix roads and streetlights and fund police, but if we don’t have a systemic solution to education, we will wake up in 20 and 30 years, and you will not recognize Fort Worth for all the wrong reasons,” Parker said. Lockheed Martin was recognized for its high school internship program and given as one example of successful partnership between industry leaders, employers and students. The Lockheed Martin Aeronautics internship launched in collaboration with K-12 STEM education nonprofit Project Lead the Way during the 2014-15 school year.

Top of Page

WFAA - September 28, 2022

Bodycam video released shows acquitted North Texas ex-cop shooting unarmed Black man, DOJ review requested

Nearly one week after a jury acquitted him, Hunt County released body camera footage showing former Wolfe City officer Shaun Lucas fatally shooting an unarmed 31-year-old man, Jonathan Price. Lucas was charged with murdering Price in October 2020, and his use-of-force response was deemed "not objectively reasonable" by the Texas Rangers after a review of the footage. After the video was released Tuesday night, the attorney representing Price's family, who is also suing Wolfe City and Lucas civilly, said prosecutors and investigators got it right and that the jury got it wrong.

"Unfortunately, the result that we saw from that jury simply doesn't match what we see in the video," attorney Lee Merritt said. Added Merritt: "This video was literally a smoking gun piece of evidence in this case." Merritt said he has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice review the shooting to see if any federal charges should be brought against Lucas. He's also asking that the DOJ review how the case was handled from gavel to gavel, specifically regarding jury selection. Per Merritt, no resident from Wolfe City -- where Price was well-known and a respected football star -- was selected for the jury, He also said that all members of the final jury were white. "I believe race was a factor in the jury's decision," Merritt said. "Hunt County is a lot more diverse than what was reflected in an all-white jury."

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 28, 2022

Glenn Hamer: Texas must pursue a new economic development to replace the one expiring on 2022

(Glenn Hamer is the CEO of the Texas Association of Business.) On Dec. 31, section 313 of the Texas tax code, which grants property tax abatements to companies moving to or expanding in the Lone Star State, will expire. Citing a lack of transparency into the program that left taxpayers and schools frustrated and feeling as though they were on the short end of the stick, the Texas Legislature chose not to renew the economic development program. While the program had run its course, and the Legislature’s concerns were valid, the ending of a program that puts Texas at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for projects is nothing to celebrate. Contentions by those who claim that an incentive program is not instrumental in luring companies to the Lone Star State miss the mark. While incentive programs are not always the deciding factor when it comes to a company deciding to relocate or expand, there is no doubt it is one of the most important pieces of the pie.

Without an incentive program, Texas will not be on a level playing field when it comes to competing for big projects bringing jobs to local communities. Most states have taken a page out of Texas’ playbook and are now winning projects that Texas has traditionally won. For example, Intel is building a $30 billion chip facility in Ohio, Rivian is completing a manufacturing facility in Georgia, and Ford is constructing new facilities in Tennessee and Kentucky. What’s more, recent global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing war in Ukraine and Chinese tensions with Taiwan have left the United States dealing with an unprecedented supply chain crisis that continues to hurt our economy and is leading to shortages in everyday products for Americans. As Gov. Greg Abbott pointed out in a Fox Business interview, “The country made a mistake over the past one or two decades to farm out manufacturing of all these essential supplies, whether it be now semiconductors or health care supplies that we needed during the time of COVID-19. … We need to not depend upon China or other countries for our essential needs.” And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s “Texan’s Back to Work Taskforce” made the point about opportunities for enhanced manufacturing in its report on the pandemic, saying, “the potential increase in domestic manufacturing activity offers significant opportunities for Texas, assuming that the state maintains its current advantages in workforce, business climate, cost factors, and transportation infrastructure.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 28, 2022

Texas to receive $408 million in federal funding for electric vehicle charging stations

Texas will get up to $408 million over the next five years to build electric vehicle charging stations and infrastructure across the state’s roadways, thanks to federal funding announced Tuesday. An allocated $147 million through 2023 is intended to build 55 charging stations on Texas’ highways for the state’s current 150,147 electric vehicles. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program announced Tuesday is funded by President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico get a slice of the $1.5 billion allocated for the next two years to equip 75,000 miles of highway with electric vehicle infrastructure, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The plan over the next five years totals more than $4 billion for the nation.

Texas received the most funding of any state, with California slated to receive $383 million over the next five years. “I think, in reality though, it’s just a drop in the bucket for what’s going to have to be done if we’re going to make a change to electric cars,” said Bruce Bullock, director of Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute. He said the investment is a “step in the right direction” for electric vehicle drivers. According to the Texas Department of Transportation electric vehicle infrastructure plan, the agency will install 55 new stations across the state’s interstates and highways in the first year, with contracting beginning in spring 2023. Initial stations will be built along major roads such as Interstates 20 and 30 in North Texas. In the second year of the plan, the department will build out the network to rural areas with stations mainly in county seats, in addition to adding more stations in major urban areas. The idea is to ensure a charging station every 50 to 70 miles on the same corridor of road, and no further than one mile from interstate exits or highway intersections, to meet the Federal Highway Administration’s requirements. Each station will have at least four charging ports. “The density, distribution, and power of the EV network outlined in this plan is targeted to support 1 million electric vehicles when built out,” the Texas plan states.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - September 28, 2022

The Texans who are moving to Illinois: Armadillos

Judy Carver and her husband had been noticing little holes in the grass and mulched areas of their yard since early spring this year, unsure whether it might be deer or chipmunks digging up the wooded lot on a small lake outside this college town. Then one evening this month as they headed out for a walk, they saw something in the bushes near their front door. It was a critter “about the size of a 10-pound bag of flour,” she said, with pointy ears, a ridged brown shell and a long tail. The 67-year-old immediately knew it was an armadillo. “Believe me. When you see one you know what it is,” she said. To Ms. Carver, the creature seemed as afraid of them as they were curious about it. It froze—its head hidden in the bushes—as her husband shined a light on it. “I think he thought we couldn’t see him, but we could see the whole body,” she said.

The possum-size critters—nearly blind and resembling a cross between an anteater and a giant potato bug—have been creeping north from Texas for decades and in recent years have made a home in the Land of Lincoln, tearing up yards, drawing puzzled looks and littering highways with their carcasses. In Illinois’s southern reaches, they are plentiful. “How many you want?” asked Jeff Holshouser, 57, an avid hunter who works in the heating and air-conditioning business in the small city of Anna, in the state’s southwest corner. Mr. Holshouser said he has seen as many as 10 armadillos in a night using thermal-imaging equipment as he hunts for coyotes on farmers’ fields. He said he’s shot five in his own yard in recent months. “I see them everywhere.” They have also been spotted recently as far north as Will County, five hours north and on the outskirts of Chicago, where winters are typically much harsher, a testament scientists say, to their adaptability and a warming climate.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 28, 2022

Mike Finger: Amid the laughs, Spurs and Gregg Popovich face the truth

The headliner at the Chuckle Hut on Spurs Lane was rolling, and stand-up comedians across the country could have taken a few pointers. Having stored up five months of quality material, Gregg Popovich landed every joke he told during his half-hour media-day set, and it wasn’t until the laughter died down that the crowd began to appreciate the sheer comic genius of the performance. What if every punch line was just Popovich telling the truth? If this is how he intends to endure the season that awaits his Spurs, brutal candor disguised as vaudeville entertainment might not be such a bad approach. After all, while navigating 82 games in which the scores don’t really matter, everyone involved will need a sense of humor.

So maybe the start of training camp was the occasion for Popovich, a famously secretive former Air Force officer trained in military intelligence, to dip his toe into the joys of having nothing to hide. He even got rid of his beard. “I was trying to make it look like I was really trying to take care of it,” Popovich said, pointing to the part of his face where whiskers used to be. “And I did something and half of it was gone, and I had to shave it all off. There was no rhyme or reason.” See, sometimes nothing is funnier than the real story, and that fit into a theme present throughout Popovich’s preseason-opening news conference. It wasn’t just the winking warning he gave those in the room not to go to Las Vegas and bet on the Spurs to win an NBA championship. That line went viral Monday precisely because the world recognized its rare honesty, especially during a week when all of Popovich’s colleagues opened their training camps spewing platitudes about how anything can happen. But he didn’t stop there. When asked about a training-camp roster featuring eight players who weren’t alive in 1999 and padded with newcomers all but certain not to make the team, Popovich passed along an anecdote about not recognizing a newly signed rookie he saw that morning in the film room.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 28, 2022

Texas students are becoming 'majority-minority.' Data shows how teaching staffs lag behind

Though the majority of Texas public school students are Latino, most teachers and principals in the state are white. While 53 percent of the state's 5.4 million students enrolled during the 2021-22 school year were Latino, data from the Texas Education Agency shows, just 29 percent of teachers and 25 percent of principals were Latino. White students accounted for 26 percent of the student population, but white teachers account for 56 percent of teachers and 57 percent of principals.

Research shows teacher and administrator diversity benefits all students, particularly students of color, and many advocates say educators should more closely reflect the cultural and racial demographics of students. "Unfortunately, the diversity of the national public school teacher workforce does not reflect the diversity of the student population — the majority of which are of color," reads a report from the national nonprofit The Education Trust. "For many states, the lack of diversity means that most of its students attend schools and districts that do not have a single teacher of color on staff." According to the nonprofit, nationally, students of color make up 47 percent of the total population and teachers of color account for 28 percent all teachers in the nation during the last school year.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 29, 2022

Katy ISD now requires parent permission for secondary students to check out classroom library books

Katy ISD parents must now formally agree to let their secondary school students check out books from classroom libraries and will be automatically notified when their children check out any school library books under a new policy adopted by the school board Monday night. Trustees also struck down a provision that would have allowed students over 18 with parental consent to be on committees that determine whether challenged books remain in school libraries. Most board members expressed their fears that those students, though legally adults, may be harmed by reading challenged resources. “I am absolutely opposed to students being on the committee,” board member Rebecca Fox said during Monday’s meeting. “While our students are still our students, we still call them children … I don't want to be a part of any decision that puts those students at risk under what the penal code says.”

Two board members -- Ashley Vann and Leah Wilson -- voted against removing the provision to allow students to participate in the review process. Wilson was the only trustee who voted against adopting the new policy entirely. “Our young adults deserve a seat at the table,” said Wilson. The trustee added that since the new policy adopts the language of Texas law regarding harmful material to minors, the policy should also take into consideration the fact that 17-year-olds are at the legal age of consent in the state and no longer have protection as children under the law. “We can’t cherry-pick which parts of the Texas Penal Code we agree with,” she said. The west Harris County district is one of the more restrictive school systems in the state in its response to book challenges, having at least partially removed 43 of the 104 titles it reviewed since 2018, according to responses to public records requests. A Houston Chronicle analysis published last month found the wave of book reviews and removals that swept across Texas in the last year was driven more by politicians than parents, contradicting claims that recent book bans were the result of a nationwide parental rights movement to have more control over learning materials. Many who say the district has predominantly removed books about race or containing LGBTQ+ characters have asked the board during public comment to include students on committees. “When a book is removed, that is a resource being forcibly taken from us -- from me,” said Logan McLean, a Cinco Ranch High School senior, Monday night. “No other group in this room can say the same. To argue that we are too immature…to have a say in these decisions is a denial of America’s basic foundations of representation.”

Top of Page

Religion News Service - September 27, 2022

Her own trauma showed Yolonda Blue Horse how Indigenous Americans can overcome history

The destruction of Native American lives, cultures, languages and traditions is a scar on American history that disrupts simplistic narratives of American democratic ideals and exceptionalism. The numbers alone are shocking: The Native American population, about 10 million when European colonialists reached the United States, plummeted due to disease, murderous policies and forced assimilation to less than 300,000 by 1900. As they increase in number, many Native Americans and those of mixed Native and European and African ancestry are reclaiming their heritage, notably spiritual rites, rituals and traditions. These practices, filled with linguistic, social, gustatory and historical significance, have been pursued in part as a search for self and story. Yolonda Blue Horse’s search began after she experienced a devastating loss and nearly lost the right to raise her children.

Blue Horse and her husband had moved to the Dallas area in 2000 after her then-husband was serving in the United States military and was transferred to Fort Hood. (Blue Horse had also served in the military but had been discharged by this time.) Blue Horse had arranged for a neighbor to watch one of her three children so that she could go to work during the day. A few weeks later, she got a call from a hospital explaining that her daughter had died. Rather than investigating her neighbor, however, law enforcement and Child Protective Services investigated Blue Horse and her husband. CPS removed their other two children from their care for more than a year, raising the specter that, in addition to suffering the loss of one child, they would lose all three. Only after Blue Horse initiated a wrongful death lawsuit against the neighbor did the government agencies begin to take seriously the possibility that Blue Horse and her family were not at fault. It took years, but law enforcement and prosecutors gathered enough evidence to charge and convict the neighbor with murder. By that time, Blue Horse’s marriage began to fall apart. Decades later, her children continue to struggle emotionally. The tragedy remains alive.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 29, 2022

Fort Worth sues Texas AG Ken Paxton over records request

The city of Fort Worth has sued Attorney General Ken Paxton after his office said the city had to comply with a former employee’s request for information in their personnel file.

The city submitted a brief to Paxton’s office arguing that a portion of the former employee’s public records request — the city investigator’s impressions created in anticipation of litigation — constitutes attorney work product and is therefore confidential. The former employee had requested their personnel file and records related to an investigation against the former staffer. Paxton’s office ruled the city could not withhold the information in question. The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 11 in Travis County District Court. The city passed a resolution on Tuesday ratifying the lawsuit. The city’s ratification of the lawsuit comes as news broke Tuesday that Paxton fled his McKinney home to avoid being served with a subpoena, according to an affadavit filed in federal court.

Top of Page

Texas Observer - September 28, 2022

Abbott's attack dog: Can Dave Carney extend his 20-year winning streak?

Ahead of the Texas Democratic Party convention in Dallas this July, a series of billboard ads strung along Interstate 35 depicted the elderly face of President Joe Biden morphing—sign by sign—into gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. Each stage of the highway metamorphosis blared a different phrase. “Open Border,” “$5 for a Gallon of Gas,” “Dangerous Criminals Walk Free,” “CRT over ABCs.” The transition from 79- to 49-year-old completed with the final sign: “#TeamBido.” Before O’Rourke even announced his bid for the state’s top executive position late last year, Republican Governor Greg Abbott had begun attacking Texas’ most well-known Democrat as a stalking horse for his national party’s radical agenda, dead set on destroying the state from the governor’s mansion. Ironically, the man responsible for conjuring these threats from outside political agitators, and on behalf of a governor whose brand is rooted in Texas jingoism, is a consultant based not in some office suite in downtown Austin, but in faraway New Hampshire.

For 20 years, Texas’ Republican governors have taken their campaign cues from Dave Carney, a towering and oft-disheveled Granite Stater who made his name working for President George H.W. Bush, the comparatively patrician grandfather of the Texas Grand Old Party. Despite his outsider status, Carney long ago proved his Lone Star bona fides by crafting winning statewide campaigns better than any native—making his two biggest clients, Rick Perry and Abbott, the state’s two longest-serving governors. Now 63, Carney helped build Perry from an unelected governor into a singular force in Texas politics with a national profile as the premier anti-Obama Republican state leader, setting him up for a heralded presidential bid. Carney has managed to do much the same with Abbott—who lacks the natural political talent of his predecessor—by helping him navigate the turbulent Trump years and positioning the governor to match or even surpass Perry’s imprint. “I think [Carney]’s a pretty extraordinary tactician and strategist,” said Harvey Kronberg, a longtime observer of Texas politics who founded the capitol insider newsletter Quorum Report. “He has been able to parse out vulnerabilities of opponents, take advantage of them, and brand them ruthlessly, whether Republicans or Democrats.”

Top of Page

County Stories

KHOU - September 28, 2022

More than 8,000 school threat reports were reviewed in Greater Houston last year, TEA reports show

Texas schools are required to have Safe and Supportive School Program teams and also train members on how to assess and address threats to determine which ones are legitimate and whether to handle them internally or get law enforcement involved. All school districts in Greater Houston have those teams and last school year, they reviewed more than 8,000 threat reports, a KHOU 11 Investigates analysis of Texas Education Agency data has found. KHOU 11 Investigates looked at the teams tasked with making the determination and deciding whether the reported threat would be handled internally or referred to law enforcement.

All schools in Greater Houston have safety teams and train them to determine what is a threat and what is not. KHOU 11 Investigates?looked at thousands of threats recorded by each district. Some districts had significantly more than others. Clear Creek ISD had the most in the area. They, and other districts with many threats, said that’s a good thing – it shows students are speaking up. An active Safe and Supportive Schools Program Team helped the district beef up its security this school year. “It’s on the front of my mind every day,” Clear Creek High School Principal Ashley Orr said. “This is our main entry into the building. We are walking through a hallway that is immediately off the secure doors.” A bullet-resistant vestibule provides a barrier between the Wildcats and the outside world. Additional school liaison officers from the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office were added this year and they’re visible as they interact with students and patrol campus. But that is just one layer of school security.

Top of Page

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 28, 2022

CPS Energy bills top $234 in August, up 32 percent from a year ago. In past 5 months, up 35 percent.

CPS Energy charged San Antonio households an average $234 for electric and gas service in August, up 32 percent from a year earlier as volatile natural gas prices continue hitting Texas utility customers. Including the August bill, the city-owned utility’s customers have paid nearly $1,000 in the five months beginning in April — a 35 percent increase that’s cost them $261 more this year than last. During the record-setting heat San Antonio experienced in May and June, CPS blamed this summer’s uptick in bills on customers cranking up their air conditioning. But in recent months, elevated prices for natural gas have been the largest factor. And Texans should brace for elevated utility bills for the foreseeable future, the outgoing CEO of the state’s power grid operator said last week.

“Looking forward to the very near term, prices will probably stay in the same range,” said Brad Jones, who has led the Electric Reliability Council of Texas as interim chief since last spring. He blamed the increases largely on expensive natural gas. Natural gas is crucial to the state’s electric system. So far this year, gas-fueled power plants have generated 42 percent of the electricity on the Texas power grid. Wind turbines were second, generating 26 percent of the state’s power this year, according to ERCOT. The benchmark U.S. price for natural gas was $8.81 in August, more than double a year earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration. In August, higher-than-expected gas raised CPS customers’ bill by $31.19 — 55 percent of the total increase. Jones, who spoke during the annual Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, said that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiled energy markets in Europe, U.S. natural gas operators have been shipping more liquefied gas to Europe, where it fetches a higher price. “They’re paying $50 to $60 (in Europe) for what we pay about $8 to $9 for here,” Jones said. “A year ago, we were paying $3. That international dynamic has driven up that cost.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 28, 2022

San Antonio Councilman Mario Bravo’s actions are being investigated. Here’s what could happen.

An independent investigation into Councilman Mario Bravo’s personal outburst against his former romantic partner Councilwoman Ana Sandoval could wrap up in about six weeks, with multiple possible repercussions for Bravo on the table. Mayor Ron Nirenberg removed Bravo from his City Council committee assignments Friday. The suspension is temporary, pending the investigation, which will give Nirenberg and city officials a better idea of what — and if — further punishment for Bravo may be appropriate. The mayor could choose to strip Bravo permanently from his four committees — transportation and mobility; community health, environment and culture; planning and community development; and municipal utilities. Sandoval serves on all but the planning and community development committee.

If Nirenberg does return Bravo to the committees, it’s unlikely he will resume the same assignments as Sandoval. The two elected officials may be kept separate outside of full City Council meetings. A censure vote by City Council is also possible. That would formally denounce Bravo’s actions. Whether or not Nirenberg decides to move forward with a censure could depend on the severity of the findings from the independent investigation and Sandoval’s wishes. A city spokesperson could not immediately answer questions about what outside firm will conduct the investigation. In a texted statement Tuesday, Bravo said he is fully cooperating with the process while continuing to serve District 1 residents. Bravo condemned Sandoval before the Sept. 15 City Council session in which members approved the city’s annual budget . For the month prior, the council had been fractured over how to spend about $50 million in excess revenue the city took from CPS Energy after a record hot summer led to sky-high energy bills.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 28, 2022

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott donates $20 million to Episcopal Health Foundation

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has donated $20 million to Episcopal Health Foundation to help the Houston nonprofit in its mission to improve health and health care in Texas, the foundation announced Tuesday. The donation will be used to bolster the effectiveness of EHF’s ongoing grantmaking, research and community engagement programs, according to a news release. “This generous donation is validation that our work to go beyond the doctor’s office to address the underlying, non-medical factors that impact health is critical in Texas,” EHF founding President and CEO Elena Marks said in a news release. “We’ve worked to find successful solutions to help ensure everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be healthy. This gift is a vote of confidence in the need for this work.”

Since its creation in 2013, EHF has grown from a startup to a $1.4 billion philanthropic organization. The foundation has invested more than $450 million in grants, research projects, and other efforts to improve health in Texas. EHF works to make health care more affordable and accessible. But also focuses on addressing the underlying factors that determine someone’s overall health, including income, diet, family support, housing conditions and environmental factors. “We had a unique opportunity at EHF to do something that’s different and transformative from the beginning. This meaningful donation is more evidence of the importance of being a different kind of philanthropy focused on upstream, transformational change,” Linnet Deily, EHF’s executive board chair, said in the news release. Scott, the billionaire philanthropist who is the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has announced more than $12 billion in grants over the past three years, according to The New York Times. She has supported hundreds of organizations dedicated to a variety of causes such as racial justice, LGBTQ rights, public health and climate change. Marks announced earlier this year that she is retiring from her role as president and CEO of EHF. Her successor Dr. Ann Barnes, the chief health officer and senior vice president for Harris Health System, will take the role Oct. 3.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 29, 2022

Fort Worth ISD school bus problems leave parents frustrated

Following a contentious school board meeting in which parents told board members that their children’s school buses had dropped them off in the wrong neighborhoods, officials in the Fort Worth Independent School District say they’re committed to fixing the problem. At Tuesday night’s meeting, the board approved a new cell phone service contract that will allow the district to use GPS tracking on its buses. But the father of two girls at Daggett Elementary School said he doesn’t see how that will fix the problem. “That just tells us where the buses are at or not at,” said Jeff Williams. “...That doesn’t help if they get dropped off in a different neighborhood.”

The district transportation staff sent out apologies to parents earlier this month after KTVT-TV aired video of a driver forcing elementary students off a bus nearly a half a mile away from their homes. Williams told the Star-Telegram that his daughters, aged 8 and 9, were left crying on the side of the road until another parents spotted them and gave them a ride home. In a statement, district officials said the incident was “unacceptable and does not reflect Fort Worth ISD’s commitment to its students and parents.” Aside from technical enhancements to the school bus fleet, the district will work with transportation staff to improve training and continue to meet with parents to make sure their concerns are handled, according to the statement. District officials declined to answer questions Wednesday about how the incident happened. The district told the TV station last week that there would be an investigation into the incident, and that the driver was a substitute who wouldn’t be driving that route again. During Tuesday’s meeting, several parents told board members that it was an ongoing problem. One parent tried to play audio of children crying, apparently as a driver left some students at the wrong bus stop, but board President Tobi Jackson quickly had the speaker’s microphone cut off, saying the board’s rules don’t allow public speakers to share pre-recorded audio. The move resulted in an outcry from parents.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 28, 2022

Nau's Enfield Drug, fixture in Austin's Clarksville since 1950s, is closing

Nau’s Enfield Drug quietly announced its closure with the sign on Monday, said Laura Labay, who runs the drugstore. Lambert Labay, Laura’s father, purchased the name and everything inside the store in 1971. The building’s owners, listed as the Colonnetta Family Limited Partnership on the Travis Central Appraisal District’s website, decided to sell the building, Laura Labay said. After almost 75 years serving the Clarksville neighborhood, the store will close in March. Labay said she was notified earlier this year that the building would be sold. A few weeks ago, she “got it in writing” that the sale was made. She does not know who bought the building, and the transaction was not listed on the Travis Central Appraisal District’s website on Wednesday.

“It’s horrible,” Labay said of having to close up shop. Nau’s has all the trappings of a time warp: It’s painted a pale yellow, with hardwood counters and shelving, and Coca-Cola memorabilia hanging all over. Beneath piles of paperwork and items no longer in use is an old-school diner. The diner has a royal blue bar and silver steel counters. Two booths, wooden and small, are hidden among more stuff in the back. Yellow-and-silver napkin holders sit on a shelf by themselves. There’s red-and-white checkered paper for food baskets, red and white striped straws, and a glass jar of sprinkles nearby. Phil and Sue Maxwell have been visiting the store since 1973. They would come for a burger and shake when the store’s restaurant was still open. It closed just before the coronavirus pandemic because of some repair issues, Labay said. When the Maxwells entered the store on Wednesday, the pharmacist asked how they were. “Well, we sure are sad,” Sue Maxwell said. Phil Maxwell purchased a milkshake maker for a couple hundred bucks. Three others had already been sold. As Labay packed up the milkshake maker and looked for the cup that went with it, Phil Maxwell waxed about his love of Nau’s. He hugged Labay, gently placing his hand on her back and his head atop her shoulder. The conversation turned back to milkshakes. Maxwell recalled his favorite flavor. “Chocolate, of course," he said. "God, I’m an American.”

Top of Page

National Stories

New York Times - September 29, 2022

Putin will sign agreements on Friday to absorb four Ukrainian territories, the Kremlin says.

President Vladimir V. Putin will sign agreements on Friday for the Russian Federation to take over four Ukrainian territories, the Kremlin said on Thursday, outlining plans to annex the regions after referendums that were widely denounced as a sham. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, also said Mr. Putin would make a speech at the Kremlin. As the Kremlin prepared a show designed to present a sheen of legitimacy to its annexation, the authorities in Moscow put up billboards and a giant video screen in Red Square and announced road closures for Friday. State media described it as preparations for a rally and concert “in support of the outcome of the referendums.”

The annexation move has been greeted with international condemnation, and Ukraine has essentially ignored the Kremlin’s plans. Kyiv’s forces have pressed on with a counteroffensive that has enabled them to retake territory in the northeast of the country this month and make inroads into Donetsk and Luhansk, two of the regions where referendums were held. In a speech late on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine reiterated his denunciation of the votes and said he was working with foreign leaders to coordinate a strong international response. “Our key task now is to coordinate actions with partners in response to sham referendums organized by Russia and all related threats,” Mr. Zelensky said. The billboards proclaimed: “Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson — Russia!” naming the regions in southern and eastern Ukraine where Russian proxy officials staged votes in the last week. All four regions are partially occupied by Russian troops and the referendums, put on hastily in the face of the military setbacks for the Kremlin, purported to return big majorities in favor of joining Russia. Governments around the world say the votes lacked democratic legitimacy, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the coercion of voters, the absence of independent observers and the flight of many civilians from the areas because of fighting. In addition, the government in Kyiv told its citizens not to participate.

Top of Page

Politico - September 29, 2022

Supreme Court to hear 2 cases with major implications for 2024

A pair of cases about to reach the Supreme Court could reshape the 2024 election. One lawsuit out of North Carolina could have broad ramifications, with Republicans asking the Supreme Court to revoke the ability of state courts to review election laws under their states’ constitutions. The reading of the Constitution’s Elections Clause that underpins the case — called the “Independent State Legislature” theory — has gotten buy-in from much of the conservative legal world, and four Supreme Court justices have signaled at least some favorability toward it. The decision in the case could upend American elections. And another case out of Alabama that will be heard on Tuesday involves a challenge to the state’s congressional map — and whether Black voters’ power was illegally diluted.

The result could kick back open congressional redistricting in several states two years after the entire nation went through a redraw. Practically, the results of the cases could open the door to even more gerrymandering by legislators around the country, and they could also give legislatures even more power within their states to determine rules for voting — including how, when and where voters could cast their ballots. “In truth, it’s really not even a gerrymandering case or a voting rights case,” said Allison Riggs, the co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who is one of the attorneys on the case. “It’s about checks and balances and federalism.” In both cases, Republican litigants are looking to reverse lower court orders — a federal court in Alabama and the state Supreme Court in North Carolina — that threw out political maps drawn by GOP-controlled legislatures. “Everyone’s going to be waiting to see where the court goes, and then they’ll have to reevaluate the maps that they enacted — legislative and congressional — to see if they’re in compliance,” said Adam Kincaid, the executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust.

Top of Page

Insider - September 29, 2022

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's husband files for divorce, saying in court docs that marriage was 'irretrievably broken'

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's husband, Perry Greene, filed for divorce Wednesday. According to court documents seen by Insider, Perry Greene and the conservative congresswoman have been married for just over 27 years. In his petition, Perry Greene wrote that he and the congresswoman had been in a "bona-fide state of separation" before he filed the papers in Georgia's Floyd County. He added that their marriage was "irretrievably broken." He also asked that the divorce be filed under seal, saying "the record will contain sensitive personal and financial information, the public disclosure of which would negatively impact the parties' privacy interests."

Marjorie Taylor Greene, according to court filings, acknowledged receipt of the divorce petition Wednesday. When contacted for comment, the congresswoman's representatives told Insider the divorce was a "private and personal matter." "Marriage is a wonderful thing and I'm a firm believer in it," the congresswoman said in a statement. "Our society is formed by a husband and wife creating a family to nurture and protect. Together, Perry and I formed our family and raised three great kids. He gave me the best job title you can ever earn: Mom. I'll always be grateful for how great of a dad he is to our children." Perry Greene told Insider the congresswoman was his "best friend for the last 29 years" and an "amazing mom." "Our family is our most important thing we have done," he said. "As we go on different paths we will continue to focus on our three incredible kids and their future endeavors and our friendship."

Top of Page

Bloomberg - September 29, 2022

Trump picked the Special Master but now he has complaints

Donald Trump got the court-ordered review he wanted of documents seized from his Mar-a-Lago home as well as his preferred pick for a so-called special master to carry it out. But less than a month in, the former president has complaints about how that review is taking shape. Trump’s lawyers lodged objections this week to US District Senior Judge Raymond Dearie’s proposal for how his work as special master will proceed over the next few months, according to a letter they sent the judge that was made public Wednesday. Among other things, Trump objected to Dearie’s request that his legal team verify the government’s inventory of what exactly agents seized during the August search, how Dearie had categorized the privilege issues he’d be looking for, and the judge’s request for briefing on certain questions of law.

His legal team also shared new details about the volume of materials seized by FBI agents from Trump’s post-presidency home in Florida, writing in a separate letter to Dearie that they recently learned from the Justice Department attorneys that the roughly 11,000 documents actually tallies about 200,000 pages. The seized materials include a mix of government records, press clippings, books, and other documents, according to the government’s public inventory logs. In dueling letters to Dearie on Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers and the Justice Department took verbal swipes at each other and assigned blame for a delay in finding a vendor to perform the critical task of turning the hard copy documents into shareable electronic versions. The exchange marked a tense beginning to a review process expected to last at least another two months. The government pushed back at Trump’s objections to Dearie’s plan for managing the document review, suggesting Trump was unwilling to fully engage with the special master process that he had demanded. Trump “bears the burden of proof,” government attorneys wrote. “If he wants the special master to make recommendations as to whether he is entitled to the relief he seeks, plaintiff will need to participate in the process” as outlined by the court. Trump’s lawyers accused Justice Department lawyers of using “conclusory and antagonistic comments” to address their objections.

Top of Page

The Hill - September 29, 2022

McConnell cozies up to Sinema ahead of next Congress

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is cozying up to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) at a time when the Senate’s other most prominent Democratic centrist, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) has suffered a swift fall from grace among his Republican colleagues. McConnell’s lavish praise for Sinema at an event he hosted for her at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville is a sign that he and other Republicans view the Arizona senator as the most effective bipartisan coalition builder on the Democratic side of the aisle, say GOP senators and aides. Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said McConnell is grateful Sinema helped defeat the Democrats’ efforts to weaken the filibuster earlier this year.

“He, being an institutionalist, respects the fact that she stood tall for the institution,” Thune said. Many liberal Democrats were furious when Sinema and Manchin sided with Republicans at the beginning of the year to defeat a Democratic effort to pare back the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow a voting rights package to pass. But Republicans warned it would have set a major precedent for weakening the legislative filibuster and transforming the Senate into a majority-ruled body like the House. Sinema’s stance drew a rebuke from the Arizona Democratic Party’s executive board, which voted to censure her. But Sinema doubled down in her support for the Senate filibuster during her speech at the McConnell Center Monday. She even called for it to be expanded to cover executive branch and judicial nominees, as it used to before Democrats pared it back in 2013. She said the filibuster is the “best way to identify realistic solutions instead of escalating this all-or-nothing political battle that results in no action or in those radical federal policy reversals.” McConnell’s treatment of Sinema raises questions about whether she might be persuaded to switch parties or change her affiliation to independent ahead of her 2024 Senate reelection race, when she could face a primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) or another liberal Democrat.

Top of Page

CNBC - September 29, 2022

Spain says Nord Stream gas leaks likely a deliberate act — and points the finger at Russia

Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said Thursday that the damage caused to the two subsea Nord Stream gas pipelines was likely a deliberate act linked to the Russian government. “It was a deliberate act and in my opinion it can very likely be linked to the push for constant provocation by the Kremlin,” Ribera told reporters, according to Reuters. Russia’s foreign ministry was not immediately available to comment when contacted by CNBC Thursday morning. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that claims Russia was behind the suspected attack were “stupid.” The cause of the gas leaks is not yet known. Swedish police are currently investigating the leaks and the European Union suspects sabotage, particularly as the incident comes amid a bitter energy standoff between Brussels and Moscow.

The Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines connect Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea. Seismologists on Monday reported explosions in the vicinity of the unusual Nord Stream gas leaks, which are situated in international waters but inside Denmark and Sweden’s exclusive economic zone. The explosions sent gas spewing into the Baltic Sea. Denmark’s armed forces said video footage showed the largest gas leak created a surface disturbance of roughly 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) in diameter, while the smallest leak caused a circle of approximately 200 meters. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned of “robust and united” retaliatory measures if evidence of deliberate disruption was uncovered. His comments echoed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who pledged any deliberate disruption of active European energy infrastructure would lead to the “strongest possible response.” Notably, neither directly accused Russia of being responsible for the suspected attack.

Top of Page