June 6, 2023

Lead Stories

New York Post - June 6, 2023

Former San Antonio Councilmember's girlfriend is also woman at center of AG Paxton probe

Former Texas Councilman Clayton Perry’s girlfriend stood by him through his recent drunken hit-and-run disaster, but it’s not the first political scandal she has weathered, sources tell The Post. Laura Olson — a four-times-divorced mom of two — has been dating Perry “on and off ” since 2019, a friend of the former city representative told The Post. She stuck by him after he was arrested last November for an alleged drunken hit-and-run and was by the former San Antonio councilman’s side as recently as April 24, when they partied on a float for the Texas Cavaliers River Parade 2023, as shown on KSAT-TV. The 50-year-old, San Antonio-based business manager is said to be “always very pleasant to be around and she seemed to be very loyal to Clayton,” according to the pal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. However, multiple other sources tell The Post that blond Olson is familiar in political circles for another reason: She is the woman with whom state Attorney General Ken Paxton had an extramarital affair.

The affair came into sharp focus after it was discussed as a key part of an illegal quid pro quo investigation and corruption accusations against Paxton that led to his historic impeachment on May 27. On the day of the vote, Texas lawmakers revealed that Paxton, 60, had cheated on his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, and even professed to be “in love” with his new squeeze back in 2019, but did not name the woman. Glamorous Olson has been involved in politics for years as a member of the Bexar County Republican Women. In posts on the group’s Facebook page, she can be seen in pictures with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. In another photo, she’s wearing a knee-length black dress and cowboy boots as she poses with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Clayton’s pal said Olson has a calming effect on Perry, explaining: “I liked her for him because when he was dating her, he was really happy and really different and easier to get along with.”

San Antonio Express-News - June 6, 2023

Sheriff: Organizers of DeSantis' migrant flights from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard committed crimes

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar has recommended felony and misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint over two politically charged flights of immigrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard in September orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The sheriff's office has handed District Attorney Joe Gonzales its findings from a criminal investigation into the flights. It's now up to the prosecutor whether to file charges. In a statement, Salazar's office did not name the suspects or say whether they include former San Antonio resident Perla Huerta, who became the public face of the controversy. Newly arrived migrants said Puerta, an Army veteran, recruited them at the city's Migrant Resource Center to fly to Massachusetts. They said they were promised jobs, housing and support for their asylum applications.

Salazar has said he was not investigating DeSantis, a 2024 GOP presidential hopeful, but only those who had direct contact with the immigrants in San Antonio. "The Bexar County Sheriff's Office has officially filed a completed criminal case with the Bexar County District's Attorney's Office regarding the incident from September 2022 in which 49 migrants were flown to Martha's Vineyard," said the statement, issued by sheriff's deputy Johnny Garcia. "The case filed includes both felony and misdemeanor charges of unlawful restraint. At this time, the case is being review by the DA's office." Huerta and others working with her are accused of lying to the South American immigrants to lure them onto the Sept. 14 flights, which departed from Kelly Field. Numerous attempts to contact Huerta for comment on Monday and previously were unsuccessful. Her lawyers, in recent documents seeking to have a lawsuit over the flights dismissed, said the migrants complained about the flights later only because they don’t agree with DeSantis’ politics. The immigrants would have willingly boarded the planes no matter what they were told, Huerta’s lawyers argued, because they were living on the streets after they had exhausted the benefits available at the Migrant Resource Center.

NBC News - June 6, 2023

GOP presidential field gains candidates who are direct rebukes to Trump

This week’s expansion of the Republican presidential primary field will yield two of the most direct internal challenges to date to Donald Trump’s leadership in the White House. It also could further solidify Trump’s chances of winning yet another contested GOP presidential contest. First up will be former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was once a close Trump ally but has since soured on the former president and plans a no-holds-barred campaign against him. On Tuesday, he’ll launch his second bid for the presidency at a New Hampshire town hall. One day later, former Vice President Mike Pence, who ran on two presidential tickets with Trump, will announce his bid, as well. (The same day, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is also set to launch his candidacy.)

The latest round of growth shows, on one hand, consternation with Trump as the front-runner and, on the other, doubts that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — consistently the No. 2 challenger behind Trump — can be the person to defeat him. But as many Republicans see it: The more people who get in the race, the better it is for Trump. Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican and NBC News contributor who is also an adviser for No Labels, a group weighing backing a third-party ticket, said the more the merrier for Trump. “I think there is a lane [for the others], but it now may be so divided that [it’s] single digits or slight double digits to find out who gets that,” he said. “And I think they’re all going to try to find that.” Yet while Pence, Christie and Burgum plot their lanes in the race, another potential candidate took his name out of the running this week, explicitly saying he didn’t want to make it more difficult for Trump to be beaten. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Monday: “The stakes are too high for a crowded field to hand the nomination to a candidate who earns just 35 percent of the vote, and I will help ensure this does not happen.”

ABC 13 - June 6, 2023

New HISD superintendent to seek waiver from TEA due to inactive state certification

This is the first full week for Houston ISD's new superintendent, Mike Miles. Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed him on June 1 as part of the state's takeover of HISD. And while he replaced Millard House II as the district's leader, House had something Miles does not: a valid state certification from the Texas Education Agency. Miles was certified between 2013 and 2018 but has since gone inactive. During a phone call with ABC13 on Monday, Miles said he will not seek to reactivate the certification. Instead, he said, the district will seek a waiver from the TEA if it has not already.

The TEA told ABC13 the following: "If a certification waiver is needed for the Houston ISD superintendent, it will be granted as it is for other school systems. In the case of Superintendent Miles, he has already successfully led a Texas ISD and Texas public charter schools. Certification requirements are meant to establish minimum training needs, and he has already surpassed any competencies addressed by the certification." Miles echoed that assessment of his qualifications in our phone call. He is a former superintendent in Colorado and Dallas. "Though the piece of paper is not unimportant, more important than that is getting outcomes. It's the ability to lead, to have a vision, and to make the tough decisions others won't make," Miles said. The lack of certification is making the rounds with HISD and the Texas education community. ABC13 spoke on Monday with the executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, who says their concern is not Miles' qualifications. They have other issues. "Most notably," Shannon Holmes said, "is that we don't have any locally elected school board members anymore, so I am not sure where local accountability comes into place for voters." Miles is no doubt qualified. He graduated from West Point in 1978 and has additional degrees from The University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University. Before entering education, he worked in the U.S. Department of State. Still, the Houston Federation of Teachers president says this is more about the optics than the actual certification.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 6, 2023

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Human smuggler or good Samaritan? Texas bill can't tell the difference.

Four years ago on a cold winter night, Teresa Todd was driving on a highway in West Texas when she saw three young migrants from Central America limping along the side of the road. Concerned that one of them, a woman named Esmeralda, looked severely dehydrated and exhausted, Todd pulled over and invited the three of them into her car to stay warm. A county and city attorney, she was phoning and texting friends for ideas about how to help the migrant trio get medical care when a sheriff's deputy and Border Patrol agents approached her car. A patrol supervisor told her she could be found guilty of "transporting illegal aliens," as part of a federal crackdown under the Trump administration targeting private citizens who provide help to migrants. Todd was arrested and kept in a holding cell. A week later, a federal agent showed up to her office and confiscated her phone. Though not charged with a crime, she became the focus of a federal investigation.

"To have devoted my life to public service, and then to be Mirandized, detained and investigated as if I’m a human smuggler. The whole thing was really, really, very surreal," Todd told the New York Times after her arrest. When Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that the agenda for the Texas Legislature's special session would include "cracking down on illegal human smuggling," we assume he didn't have good Samaritans such as Todd in mind. After all, human smuggling is a persistent problem, and has evolved into an even more lucrative enterprise since the Biden administration lifted the pandemic-era health policy known as Title 42, which allowed border agents to quickly send migrants back over the border. The Dallas Morning News reported recently that desperate migrants now pay coyotes as much as $7,000 to cross the border, where they are sometimes abandoned and left to navigate dangerous terrain on their own. In the worst cases, migrants smuggled into the U.S. are kidnapped, sexually assaulted or coerced into prostitution. The law should be able to distinguish between criminals running smuggling rings and ordinary people who treat migrants with basic dignity and respect. But Texas lawmakers aren't bothering to make the difference clear in state law, and may soon raise the stakes by requiring 10-year prison sentences.

Dallas Morning News - June 6, 2023

How a tax policy fight erupted between Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick on social media

If social media is where history is written real time, the Twitter feeds of Texas’ top Republicans offer striking insights into how tax policy has exposed fractures at the top of the Texas GOP. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan are in a stand-off over property tax relief. All three agree property taxes should be cut. But Abbott wants Texas to use a budget surplus to buy down school district taxes. Patrick, however, wants some of that money dedicated to a permanent property tax discount for homeowners. Before the deadlock between Senate and the governor erupted in the past week into a public squabble playing out on social media, the political jousting over cutting property taxes simmered between Patrick and Phelan with meme-worthy posts about “California Dade” and more.

The stalemate appeared to be nearing an end a week before the final legislative deadline May 29. Patrick, Phelan and Gov. Greg Abbott had seemed to find a Kumbaya moment at the Capitol on May 22. “Stay tuned …” the speaker of the House said. Then last week, Phelan’s House impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton, several Senate bills died in the House and, as lawmakers in Austin raced to the finish line, the much ballyhooed $17 billion property tax cut suddenly was in jeopardy. With the clock ticking, a spokeswoman for Phelan posted a photo of smiling House members eagerly awaiting the Senate to sign on to their favored proposal — one that included lowering appraisal caps. On Monday, Patrick began what would be a string of critical social media posts blaming Phelan for a standoff. He called rumors that he walked away from negotiations “an absolute lie.” Abbott chimed in for the first time May 29 cryptically signaling his endorsement of a property tax policy proposed by an influential Austin conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Dallas Morning News - June 6, 2023

‘Internal rot’: Infighting among leadership exposes rifts in Texas GOP

The optimism heading into this year’s legislative session in the GOP was quite high. The state’s top Republican leaders had all won reelection by healthy margins. The Legislature had a record breaking surplus. And lawmakers agreed that Texans would see steep discounts to their property taxes. By the end of the session, Attorney General Ken Paxton was impeached. A $17 billion property tax cut package was dead. And the so-called big three — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan — were engaging in a rare public political fight with no end in sight. The infighting has exposed deep cracks in the veneer of the Republican-dominated leadership of Texas politics. Political experts told The Dallas Morning News that the notable flare up is a symptom of one-party rule.

“When one party rules the governing structure for a long time, you begin to see internal rot,” said The University of Texas-Austin’s Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project. Disagreements over how to implement a proposed property tax cut have led to the clash with Patrick on one side and Abbott on the other. Each has competing plans to do so. Abbott favors a broad-based approach that spreads the relief across all property owners. Patrick, meanwhile, has a similar plan, but wants about 30% of the cut dedicated toward relief for just homeowners. Phelan and the House passed Abbott’s plan less than 24 hours after the governor demanded both chambers stay in Austin until property tax relief was addressed. Patrick and the Senate passed a plan similar to what they favored when the regular session came to a close. In the aftermath, both Abbott and Patrick have taken to social media to air their differences. The back-and-forth has been frequent and fierce as Abbott has promoted the fact that his plan is supported by dozens of business groups while Patrick continued to sell his plan Friday as the best tax cut for homeowners.

KVUE - June 6, 2023

The Statesman story: A legendary Austin newspaper faces stormy times

The story of Austin American-Stateman and how it started is as interesting and colorful as the city where it all began. The predecessor of the Statesman was founded as a three-times-a-week publication called the Democratic Statesman in 1871. The paper was originally allied with the Texas Democratic party during Reconstruction following the Civil War. In 1873, it became a daily newspaper. A rival paper, the morning Austin American, began in 1914. Five years later, Waco-based newspapermen Charles E. Marsh and E.S. Fentress bought the American in 1919 and the Evening Statesman in 1924. The morning and evening editions of the papers were published separately during the week, except on Sundays when they were combined into one morning edition. Cox Enterprises bought the Statesman in 1976. In 2008, Cox put the Statesman up for sale. But a year later, the company pulled the paper off the market, saying it had not received any suitable offers.

In 2018, the sale of the Statesman to Gatehouse Media from Cox Media Group was announced. In August 2019, New Media Investment Group, the parent entity of Gatehouse Media, bought the Gannett newspaper chain, now the paper’s official owner. The digital revolution has hurt the traditional newspaper business across the country. According to Axios, in 2010, daily print circulation for the Statesman was 136,980. By 2022, it was down to 26,455. Gannett reports that digital subscriptions have grown across the newspapers that it owns. Newspapers – like magazines and TV – all face challenges these days because of online competition for ad dollars and eyeballs. But newspapers have been hit especially hard, as the Statesman and newspapers across the country struggle to find their place in the media landscape of 2023.

Dallas Morning News - June 6, 2023

Texas may condemn Fairfield Lake State Park land to save it, as park closes once again

One of Texas’ state parks that’s been at the center of a months-long property rights saga — which isn’t showing signs of being over anytime soon — has closed to the public for the second time this year and possibly forever. The local developer that purchased the park land and surrounding land, totaling roughly 5,000 acres, to build a luxury gated community with multimillion-dollar homes has said his company is moving forward with those plans. But state officials aren’t ready to accept defeat. Fairfield Lake State Park, about 90 miles southeast of Dallas, was on land leased to the state for free by privately owned Vistra Energy since 1971. The company listed the property for sale in 2021 with an asking price of $110 million, but Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials have said the state couldn’t afford to purchase it at the time.

Dallas-based Todd Interests was under contract to buy the land for more than a year and officially closed on the contract last week. Shawn Todd of Todd Interests told The Dallas Morning News late last month that state park officials made an offer to purchase the contract from his family’s firm. He said Todd Interests responded almost immediately to the offer, which he said “would have been an incredible win for the state of Texas and at a significant sacrifice to our family,” but hadn’t heard back. He said the firm then decided to move forward with its plans. Meanwhile, TPWD officials have said they “took persistent and extraordinary steps to negotiate” with Todd Interests and recently divulged that the offer it made to the developer was about $25 million. A note at the top of Fairfield Lake’s page on the TPWD website posted Saturday said the park would be closing to the public at 10 p.m. Sunday. The public also won’t be able to access two boat ramps and a fishing pier on Fairfield Lake. “Thank you for supporting the park through the years,” it reads. “We truly enjoyed sharing this small piece of paradise with you.” A linked news release said state officials are continuing to work toward saving the park.

KHOU - June 6, 2023

Houston woman takes home James Beard Award for 'Best Chef in Texas'

It's not that hard for us Houstonians to believe, but for the rest of the world, we want you to know that the "Best Chef in Texas" is in our neck of the woods. Houston chef Benchawan Jabthong Painter or “Chef G" was crowned the "Best Chef in Texas" Monday during the James Beard Awards, which are given to the best of the best restaurants and cooks in the U.S. Chef G runs Street to Kitchen, a small restaurant on Houston's East End with a big reputation for serving authentic Thai food. The restaurant is a tiny spot with just 10 tables. Waiters work the room as if they were performing in a ballet, squeezing through tight spaces, announcing their moves, “Coming through” or “Corner!”

Chef G is from Thailand, where she started cooking as a kid. She said she's been cooking since she was about 6 or 7 years old because her grandmother had a neighborhood restaurant. While in Bangkok, she met and married Houstonian Graham Painter. The couple later moved to Houston where they opened their restaurant during the pandemic, originally as a takeout place. It is unapologetically authentic. No substitutions or changes. “You can ask for it and we love to say 'no' on it," Chef G jokes. She explains if the food is missing even one ingredient, the flavor changes. The spices and herbs are just like back home. “If you come for dinner, we have mild, medium, and hot spicy and 'grandma spicy,'" she said. Yep, that's the spicy that makes your nose sneeze and eyes water. Grandma tough! Street to Kitchen is not fancy. It's on Harrisburg, obscured by a freeway overpass and literally sits next door to a gas station. Chef G said it was perfect for her. “If you go to Thailand you will find a lot of good restaurants in gas stations. I saw this spot. I feel like home," she said.

KERA - June 6, 2023

Company that owns Tarrant County strip club Temptations has troubled history in Texas

Local elected officials are trying to shut down Temptations Cabaret, a strip club in unincorporated Tarrant County. The club they call “a hotbed of crime” is owned by a national company that has had other clashes with local government in Texas, news reports and court records show. Temptations sits off I-30 near the Parker County line. Law enforcement and residents say the club has been a center of crime in the area for years. The state filed a public nuisance lawsuit against Temptations on May 30, and the Sexually Oriented Business Board may revoke its permit in a meeting scheduled for June 21. Temptations belongs to a national company called RCI Hospitality Holdings, the only publicly traded company that owns strip clubs, according to Forbes. Through its subsidiaries, RCI owns and operates clubs and restaurants from Arizona to Maine.

The company also owns Tootsie’s Cabaret in Miami, which claims to be the largest strip club in the world and boasts a mention in a Drake song. But the biggest concentration of RCI businesses is in Texas, with a dozen in the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone, according to RCI’s website. Law enforcement and local governments have had problems with several of RCI’s Texas locations. The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office got called out to Temptations 134 times in 2022. That’s more than the 10 other bars and clubs in unincorporated Tarrant County combined, according to the public nuisance lawsuit. In 2023, there have been at least 82 calls. That includes a May 28 shooting that injured three people and killed another, according to the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. The county is now trying to take away the permit that allows Temptations to operate as a strip club, on the grounds that Temptations is within 1,000 feet of residences. KERA emailed the address listed on Temptations' Facebook page but did not hear back before this story's deadline. Temptations falls within County Commissioner Manny Ramirez’s precinct, and he’s pushing for the closure. "I'm not on a crusade against these types of businesses,” Ramirez said. “This truly is about the crime that was emanating from the specific location and the drain on law enforcement resources that this has become.”

KERA - June 6, 2023

No denying the voting machines in Collin County — commissioners approve contract renewal

Collin County will continue using the same voting machines for another year despite objections from several members of the local Republican party. The commissioners voted to approve the consent agenda for the meeting, including the renewal of the county’s contract with the company that provides its election machines until June 30, 2024. Multiple residents implored the commissioners to vote against the contract renewal during public comments, citing false claims about 2020 election fraud. This isn’t the first time people have shared concerns about the county’s voting machines and election integrity. Mark Berge was one of the citizens who spoke during public comments.

He said Collin County residents have raised concerns about election integrity for a couple of years. He also said the Collin County Republican Party’s chair told him 80% of the party’s precinct chairs share that worry. “The large percentage wants to get rid of them and a lot of them don't trust them,” Berge said. Abraham George, the Collin County Republican Party chair, told KERA before the 2022 election that while there may have been election fraud in other parts of Texas, there was no fraud in Collin County. “We won every race,” George said. That includes county commissioners Susan Fletcher and Darrel Hale, who ran as Republicans in 2020 and won with more than half of the county’s votes. The other county commissioners, Duncan Webb and Cheryl Webb, are also Republican. So is County Judge Chris Hill. None of the commissioners officially commented on renewing the contract or the public comments during the meeting. But Commissioner Cheryl Williams asked the county administrator, Bill Bilyeu, to give an update on the recount of the May 6 election results. Bilyeu said it took almost seven hours to recount the votes from 1,100 ballots by hand for one race.

Smart Cities Dive - June 6, 2023

State-owned roads blamed for traffic fatality uptick in Austin, Texas, in new report

Traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Austin, Texas, remain above pre-pandemic levels, even though the city established its Vision Zero program in 2015, according to a report published by the city on Tuesday. The number of people seriously injured or killed on Austin roadways in 2021 and 2022 were 633 and 654, respectively, above the average of 614 people from 2016 to 2019 But there were large differences between city- and state-owned roadways, suggesting that cities may not achieve their Vision Zero goals without state support. “Fatal crashes occurring on State-owned roadways increased substantially while those occurring on City-owned streets remained relatively flat,” the report says.

Public officials are increasingly concerned about roadway deaths and injuries, leading more than 45 communities to adopt Vision Zero initiatives as of August, according to the Vision Zero Network. Such programs acknowledge that people often make mistakes, emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach to designing roadways and policies to prevent or reduce the severity of crashes. The city of Austin touted some of its Vision Zero accomplishments in the report, noting that projects to improve safety at major intersections led to a 31% reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries at those locations. But the report acknowledged that “with more than 280 square miles within the city limits and a rapidly growing population, systematically redesigning Austin’s entire transportation system will take time.” In 2021 and 2022, there were 71 and 83 fatal crashes in Austin, far outpacing the average of 46 during the four years before the pandemic. At the same time, there were 35 and 28 fatal crashes on city-owned streets in 2021 and 2022, after averaging 30 per year from 2016 to 2019.

Dallas Morning News - June 6, 2023

Medics saved ‘every recoverable victim’ of Allen mass shooting, fire department says

The Allen Fire Department released a report Monday related to how long it took for emergency medical crews to respond to the May 6 shooting at an outlet mall. Within five minutes of the first call about the Allen Premium Outlets shooting, dispatch notes showed emergency crews receiving information about victims at various stores at the mall. Emergency crews also dealt with unsubstantiated reports of a second possible gunman, the notes state. Eight people were killed and seven wounded in what was the second-deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. this year. An Allen police officer fatally wounded the lone gunman, 33-year-old Mauricio Garcia, to stop the attack.

The shooting was first reported about 3:36 p.m. and emergency crews were dispatched nearly a minute afterward, according to the timeline released by the fire department. Emergency crews reached their first patients 12 minutes later, around 3:49 p.m., according to the fire department. In a written statement Monday, Dr. Kevin Hoffman, medical director for the fire department, said “every recoverable victim was saved.” “The quick response by Allen police officers, paramedics, and civilians helped save lives following the mass shooting that took place at the Allen Premium Outlets on May 6,” the statement read.

KUT - June 6, 2023

Austin American-Statesman staff strike over low pay

Members of the Austin American-Statesman’s labor union went on strike Monday because of an ongoing contract dispute with the newspaper's parent company, Gannett. Nicole Villalpando, who covers health care for the Statesman and serves as the union's vice chair, said she and some of her other colleagues have to work other jobs. “We have about a third of the newsroom who cannot afford to live in Austin,” Villalpando said. “They're having to get roommates. They're having to do things like DoorDash and working a second job. ... It's just been really, really tough to do the jobs that we love.” Villalpando has been with the Statesman for 24 years. She said she makes $65,000 per year and that's "basically" the same amount she earned in 2010. She picked up a job as a Weight Watchers coach to help pay her daughter's medical bills.

“She was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis 10 years ago, and within the first five years, we were $120,000 in debt because the health care that [Gannett] was providing didn't cover a lot of out-of-pocket expenses," Villalpando said. The Statesman is one of 18 newsrooms owned by Gannett that went on a one-day strike today. The Statesman's labor union, the Austin NewsGuild, is asking for several additions to its contract, including pay parity, a 401(k) match, better benefits, regular raises and a wage floor of $60,000 per year. Because of low wages, the union said the Statesman has lost 60% of its staff since 2018. The contract negotiations with Gannet have been tricky, union members said. “We've been organized for two years and at the bargaining table faithfully a couple times a month, trying to get a contract, and Gannett keeps offering us worse than what we currently have," Villalpando said. Other newsrooms owned by Gannett across the country are asking the company’s board to take a vote of no confidence against its CEO and president, Mike Reed.

San Antonio Report - June 6, 2023

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez becomes latest to oppose proposed Hill Country wastewater plant

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez has joined the growing number of politicians and residents fighting the construction of a wastewater plant that would dump millions of gallons of treated effluent into Helotes Creek. Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) released a letter he sent Saturday to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Executive Director Erin Chancellor in which he calls for the TCEQ to deny a wastewater permit that would allow Lennar Homes to construct a wastewater plant to serve a 2,900-home development. The Florida-based developer is planning to build the development on 1,160 acres north of San Antonio in an area known as the Guajolote Ranch. The plant would release an average of 1 million gallons a day of treated sewer effluent into Helotes Creek, which is located across the Edwards Aquifer’s contributing and recharge zones. This means water from the creek would drain into the aquifer, which supplies water to over 2 million people in Central Texas, including the residents of San Antonio.

Gutierrez joins other leaders and local groups in opposing the plant, including state Rep. Mark Dorazio, the City of San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District and the cities of Helotes and Grey Forest. Last month, as many as 300 people attended a public meeting held by the TCEQ on May 9 in San Antonio regarding the permit application, and roughly 40 of them submitted formal comments opposing the project. In his letter, Gutierrez stated the project is “a threat to public health, safety, and the welfare of my constituents and all those who depend on the Edwards Aquifer.” “Once these aquifers become contaminated, given the number of people on private wells, impractical and costly water purification treatment would be required before the water would be safe to consume,” he said. “It would render recreational use of the local waterways unusable.” Gutierrez also invited a response from Chancellor. These types of disputes over protecting water resources against encroaching development are becoming more common in the booming Hill Country as residents push to live in the scenic area.

San Antonio Report - June 6, 2023

San Antonio’s area median income increases to $88,600

The area median income for a family of four living in the San Antonio-New Braunfels region increased by about 6% from $83,500 to $88,600 this year, a change that makes more people eligible for housing assistance, but also could increase rents. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released the 2023 area median incomes (AMI) and associated income limits that determine whether a household in a certain region is eligible for housing assistance programs. The metric plays an important role in policymaking and development. HUD uses AMI to set rents for those living in federally subsidized housing, while local officials use AMI to direct funding toward specific housing goals. Developers use it to build housing that qualifies for public funding. HUD determines an area’s AMI using Census data and inflation estimates, calculating the range of incomes in a region. The midpoint, or median, of those incomes is the AMI.

Typically HUD releases AMI in April, but data from the 2020 Census was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the agency stated. Opportunity Home San Antonio, the city's HUD-authorized agency, adopted the new AMI in May, and the new AMI will be effective for most federal housing programs and projects, like those funded through Community Development Block Grants, on June 15. For low-income residents who struggle to afford rent, the higher AMI is a double-edged sword. The higher income limit means more people will qualify for rent and home repair assistance, but landlords who rent to tenants through most federal housing programs could legally raise rents if the tenants' lease agreements using the previous AMI have expired. "It does kind of widen that net" of eligibility, said Brandee Perez, Opportunity Home's chief operating officer. If someone was told last year they didn't qualify for assistance because they "make too much money," those people who were on the cusp might successfully receive housing or other assistance this year. "[The AMI increase is] giving folks hope, that they qualify," Perez said.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 6, 2023

Harris County may launch program that gives low-income families $500 a month

Harris County could become the latest region in the country to launch a guaranteed income pilot program, providing $500 per month for 18 months to 1,500 low-income families. Beginning as soon as fall 2023, the county would use $20.5 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to the program, if approved by Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. More than 45 cities and counties have implemented similar programs providing families with direct cash payments — including Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis — and many of them launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, fueled by ARPA funding.

In Chicago and Minneapolis, families received $500 per month, while Los Angeles and Austin have sent residents in the program $1,000 each month. Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis and County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced the program, which they're calling Uplift Harris, while visiting a new mural in downtown Houston dedicated to essential workers. "Unchecked and ongoing inequality has created an economic divide that families can't overcome on their own," Ellis said. "And Harris County has an obligation to act." In other communities, critics have said these programs are too expensive and reward people for staying out of the workforce. Some economists and nonprofit organizations that study economic programs say that these pilot projects can't be scaled up easily or in a way that wouldn't overburden the economy. Some of these organizations say a better solution is expanding and overhauling existing federal programs, like the child tax credit. The idea of guaranteed income isn't new, Ellis said, pointing out that Martin Luther King Jr. advocated for the policy over 50 years ago.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 6, 2023

Lamar CISD trustee celebrating heterosexuality during Pride month calls backlash 'tragic'

After several days of backlash over a Facebook post celebrating heterosexual relationships during the month of June, Lamar CISD board member Jon Welch called the social media response "emotional offense on steroids." The post from June 1, the first day of what is widely recognized as Pride Month, garnered hundreds of angry comments and an official letter from the board of trustees president Mandi Bronsell, distancing the board from Welch’s sentiments. On his Facebook page, Welch wrote, “I celebrate all the boyfriend-girlfriend relationships and male-female marriages throughout the world this month. You're often lost in the noise of our culture. But Natural Law and undiluted Truth still call to us all. And I celebrate it here.”

He then requested photos of couples, closing with, “Happy June to you!” Bronsell's Friday evening statement referenced “a member of our school board” who “made some recent remarks on social media that have sparked concern.” “I want to be clear that the spirit and intent of the message do not reflect the collective view of the Lamar CISD board of trustees,” Bronsell wrote. “Words matter, and they should be used to encourage us in humility and service to all our families and students." The post, as of Monday, had resulted in more than 1,200 comments, most of which condemned Welch’s sentiments. Welch said in an email the purpose of his post was to “celebrate the love between a man and a woman.” He described the public’s response to his post as “tragic” and said he felt his character was inappropriately attacked. “I always welcome opposing views to my comments in the boardroom and on social media, but they must be offered in good-faith for anything productive to come from it,” Welch said. “I recognize that it's difficult to argue about issues when emotion is involved."

Dallas Morning News - June 6, 2023

Dallas might settle DART dispute by forgoing $21 million in sales tax refund

Dallas officials say they could get $21 million less than promised from Dallas Area Rapid Transit to settle disputes over the city causing construction delays during the transit agency’s commuter rail extension project running through Far North Dallas. Assistant City Manager Robert Perez says Dallas agreed to have its initial $111 million cut to $90 million as part of a mediation process with DART and the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The city agreed to give up $16 million to cover delay costs for the planned Silver Line extension and $5 million to cover project changes requested by the city. Perez told the mayor and city council members in a memo Friday that Dallas could have been on the hook for as much as $43.5 million in delay costs alone.

The decreased payment means Dallas will have to change plans on how to help pay for improved sidewalks, traffic lane markings and other transportation-related projects that the money from DART was earmarked for. The Dallas City Council is scheduled to discuss the revised deal during a meeting Wednesday and tentatively plans to vote the following week on whether to accept proposed terms from DART on conditions to get and keep the money. “Despite concerns with some language within the [interlocal agreement], Dallas is the only service area city that has not yet approved the ILA,” Perez wrote in a memo Friday to the mayor and city council members. In February, some council members expressed concern over an earlier draft version of the interlocal agreement with DART due to proposed terms like the transit agency being able to withhold the sales tax money if DART determined a city delayed the construction of DART projects. City Manager T.C. Broadnax during a Feb. 28 committee meeting advised the council not to sign the agreement, saying it was “unfair” that DART would promise to give money and then later threaten to withhold funding as a penalty for unrelated issues.

National Stories

The 19th - June 6, 2023

Why top abortion rights groups could sit out Arizona’s key 2024 Senate race

Abortion is set to be a major issue in 2024’s most competitive Senate races, including in Arizona, where the legality of the procedure has been mired in confusion since last summer. But abortion rights groups could stay on the sidelines in the state after a party switch by the senator whose seat is up next year. If Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who formally left the Democratic Party in December, chooses to run for a second term, she’s set to be the only pro-abortion-rights Senate candidate in 2024 running without the backing of some of the nation’s largest abortion rights organizations. While Sinema hasn’t announced whether she’ll stand for reelection, the Wall Street Journal reported in April that she and her staff were preparing for another run. She would enter an unprecedented three-way general election race featuring an incumbent without the backing of either major political party. She’d likely run against Rep. Ruben Gallego, who appears to have cleared the Democratic primary field, and a yet-to-be-determined Republican opponent.

Sheriff Mark Lamb has already jumped into the GOP primary, and 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, who has repeatedly denied legitimate election results, is also strongly considering a run. Sinema would bring a consistently pro-abortion-rights stance and record to a race in a critical swing state that rejected anti-abortion candidates like Lake in 2022. But her relationships with influential progressive and reproductive rights groups currently range from rocky to nonexistent over her position on the Senate’s filibuster rules, further complicating the dynamics of such an election. Sinema’s refusal to support changes to the Senate filibuster rules, which require a three-fifths majority to advance and pass most legislation, contributed to the demise of a major Democratic voting rights bill — and cost her the support of abortion-focused groups who see democracy reform as intrinsically connected to reproductive rights. Emily’s List, which backs Democratic women supportive of abortion, will stay out of the race. If Sinema runs, it’s unclear whether groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s political arm would put resources toward electing Gallego or similarly stay on the sidelines. “One of the things that we feel as advocates, and also as voters, is that we were used as political pawns to get her elected to get her into this office,” said Liz Luna, political and policy director at Rural Arizona Action, an advocacy and voter engagement group. “And then she kind of just left us on this island where we haven’t been able to see tangible results from her and communicate with her.”

The Hill - June 6, 2023

Cornel West announces 2024 run for president as People’s Party candidate

Progressive activist Cornel West announced his 2024 campaign for president with the People’s Party on Monday “I have decided to run for truth and justice, which takes the form of running for President of the United States as a candidate for the People’s Party,” West said in a video announcement on Twitter launching the third-party presidential bid. “I enter in the quest for truth, I enter in the quest for justice, and the presidency is just one vehicle to pursue that truth and justice — what I’ve been trying to do all of my life.”

West, a philosophy professor and longtime vocal progressive advocate, said his campaign would focus on health care, living wages, housing, reproductive rights and “deescalating the destruction of the planet, the destruction of American democracy.” In the campaign video, West included a clip in which he referred to President Biden as a “milquetoast neoliberal” and referred to former President Trump as a “neofascist.” He explained his decision to run as a third-party candidate, saying, “neither political party wants to tell the truth about Wall Street, about Ukraine, about the Pentagon, about big tech.” “Do we have what it takes? We shall see. But some of us are going to go down fighting, go down swinging, with style and a smile,” he said. The People’s Party was founded in 2017 by Nick Brana, a former campaign staffer for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), for the purpose of “building a major new progressive populist party in America.”

Associated Press - June 6, 2023

Hundreds of journalists strike to demand leadership change at biggest US newspaper chain

Journalists at two dozen local newspapers across the U.S. walked off the job Monday to demand an end to painful cost-cutting measures and a change of leadership at Gannett, the country’s biggest newspaper chain. The strike involves hundreds of journalists at newspapers in eight states, including the Arizona Republic, the Austin American-Statesman, the Bergen Record, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and the Palm Beach Post, according to the NewsGuild, which represents workers at more than 50 Gannett newsrooms. Gannett has said there would be no disruption to its news coverage during the strike, which will last for two days at two of the newspapers and one day for the rest.

The walkouts coincided with Gannett’s annual shareholder meeting, during which the company’s board was duly elected despite the NewsGuild-CWA union urging shareholders to withhold their votes from CEO and board chairman Mike Reed as an expression of no confidence in his leadership. Reed has overseen the company since its 2019 merger with GateHouse Media, a tumultuous period that has included layoffs and the shuttering of newsrooms. Gannett shares have dropped more than 60% since the deal closed. Susan DeCarava, president of the The NewsGuild of New York, called the shareholder meeting “a slap in the face to the hundreds of Gannett journalists who are on strike today.” “Gannett CEO Mike Reed didn’t have a word to say to the scores of journalists whose livelihoods he’s destroyed, nor to the communities who have lost their primary news source thanks to his mismanagement,” DeCarava said in a statement. In legal filing, the NewsGuild said Gannett’s leadership has gutted newsrooms and cut back on coverage to service a massive debt load. Cost-cutting has also included forced furloughs and suspension of 401-K contributions. “We want people in our local community to know what this company is doing to local news, and we want Gannett shareholders to know what Gannett is doing to local news,” said Chris Damien, a criminal justice reporter and unit guild chair the Desert Sun, which covers Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley in Southern California.

Daily Beast - June 6, 2023

Far right turns on Marjorie Taylor Greene

Even before Marjorie Taylor Greene was sworn into Congress, she was a darling of the far right. A MAGA soldier from a deep-red district, Greene spent her first few years in office as a thorn in the side of House GOP leadership. Her attention-seeking, Biden-bashing, pro-Trump antics endeared her to the conservative base as much as they alienated her with GOP leaders. And she owned the persona unapologetically. But lately, a different Marjorie Taylor Greene has emerged—one who’s found favor with Speaker Kevin McCarthy and scorn from the conservative allies who once adored her. And according to a text message Greene sent to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on Friday, Greene may be even more done with certain MAGA influencers than they are with her. Exactly who is the most upset is open for debate. The far-right instigators who spent years cheering Greene on as a martyr of their cause now say she’s lost the plot. They’re fuming about her support for McCarthy’s debt limit deal, which passed last week on a bipartisan basis, and her coziness with McCarthy in general, which was illustrated in January when she supported him for speaker on all 15 ballots.

More recently, Greene cheering on the decision to allow only a select group of conservative journalists to see unreleased Jan. 6 tapes—instead of releasing them to the public—has also infuriated a small but vocal group on the right. Even Greene’s recent divorce has been a source of misogynist attacks from certain conservatives, with shock-jock Stew Peters going so far as to claim she’s not being a “wholesome Christian mom.” It’s perhaps an unintentional set of repercussions for what seemed like an intentional rebrand by Greene over the past few months: aligning herself with McCarthy through the speakership battle, rejoining congressional committees that she lost last term, opening up to the press, and keeping it (sort of) together. The subtle transformations have left Greene’s newfound foes calling for retribution in the traditional conservative way: a primary challenge. In the past week, former Trump administration official-turned-podcaster Steve Bannon led the charge, calling for Greene to be primaried by a more right-wing candidate who is “REAL MAGA.” A fringe set of far-right allies soon followed. “I 100 percent support a challenge to MTG, and look forward to meeting and helping a serious challenge to her,” Stew Peters told The Daily Beast.

Wall Street Journal - June 6, 2023

Screen Actors Guild authorizes union to call a strike if needed as tension rises in Hollywood

Members of the Screen Actors Guild voted to empower the union to call for a strike if contract negotiations with studios and other power players break down. The vote comes at a tense moment in Hollywood. Thousands of writers have been on strike for more than a month, picketing outside entertainment companies in Los Angeles and New York City. That strike could continue into summer, casting a pall over television and film lineups. Nearly 65,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists cast ballots, with around 98% voting in favor of a strike authorization, the union said Monday evening.

“Together we lock elbows and in unity we build a new contract that honors our contributions in this remarkable industry, reflects the new digital and streaming business model and brings all our concerns for protections and benefits into the now,” said actress and SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher. In addition to actors, the union’s roughly 160,000 members include stunt performers, singers, dancers, radio announcers and puppeteers. SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are scheduled to start talks on June 7, as part of regular negotiations that occur every three years. The current contract ends June 30. The alliance, whose members include Netflix, Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global, said Monday its goal in the talks is to reach a new agreement that benefits to union members as well as the industry. “??An actors’ strike that lingers through summer will likely have more of an effect on content production than a writers’ strike, as much of the writing for slated content has been completed,” said Jacquie Corbelli, chief executive of BrightLine, a provider of TV ad tech. Writers began their strike on May 2, after the Writers Guild of America and the producers’ alliance failed to agree on a new contract. Key issues for the WGA’s 11,500 members include the number of writers used on projects and what they are paid in a streaming era that is largely void of residual payments and job security, particularly as artificial intelligence advances.

Washington Post - June 6, 2023

Okla. Catholic school set to become nation’s first religious charter

An Oklahoma board approved the nation’s first religious charter school on Monday, agreeing to publicly fund a school where Catholic teachings will be incorporated into lessons throughout the day — and testing the constitutional bounds of taxpayer funding for religious education. The new online school, called St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, will be run by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa. It plans to enroll students in grades K-12 in fall 2024. Religion will be woven into every subject from math and science to history and literature. Religion is “baked into everything we do,” said Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, which handles public policy and government affairs. “Our aim is to continue doing what we’re already doing in Catholic schools.”

The application was approved on a 3-2 vote by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. Almost immediately, the advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State said it would challenge the decision in court. “It’s hard to think of a clearer violation of the religious freedom of Oklahoma taxpayers and public-school families than the state establishing the nation’s first religious public charter school,” said Rachel Laser, the group’s president and CEO. “This is a sea change for American democracy.” Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run and must abide by some of the rules that govern traditional public schools. The new Catholic school, which expects to serve 500 students initially, was created in part to provide Catholic education for students in rural areas that do not have a private Catholic school nearby. But it also was set up intentionally to test the legal limits of taxpayer funding for religious schools. The move is part of a conservative push to expand the boundaries of school choice, giving families more taxpayer-funded options for religious education. Farley called this “a watershed moment in the school-choice movement.” A drive to break down the once-solid wall between public funding and religious education has already made significant gains. Over the past six years, a conservative U.S. Supreme Court has issued three rulings that religious institutions could not be excluded from taxpayer-funded programs that were available to others.

June 5, 2023

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 5, 2023

Bowers, Johnson set to launch campaigns to replace Colin Allred in Congress

Two Texas lawmakers are preparing to launch campaigns to replace Colin Allred in Congress, setting up a primary showdown that could split Democrats in the statehouse and inside the northern and eastern Dallas County-anchored district. Rep. Rhetta Andrews Bowers of Rowlett and Rep. Julie Johnson of Farmers Branch, both Democrats, were elected to the Texas Legislature in 2018. Now they will clash in one of 2024?s marquee contests. “I’m excited about that opportunity and the possibility of serving some of my constituents and gaining some new constituents,” Bowers told The Dallas Morning News. “It’s an honor to be thought of, and even more an honor to have so much early support, even before I announce.”

Johnson is also bullish about the prospect of replacing Allred, who is departing the District 32 congressional seat to challenge Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. “Now that the regular legislative session has ended in Austin, I am discussing the race with the community and expect to make an announcement in the coming days,” Johnson said. Bowers represents House District 113 in northern and eastern Dallas County. She’s expected to formally announce her candidacy in early June. Parts of her House district are inside congressional District 32, which could give her a boost. “I have the experience and what it takes to go into a climate where it’s not going to be easy to work,” she said. “I already have a proven record of working across the aisle and working effectively in a climate that is not always great.” Johnson represents House District 115 in northern and western Dallas County. She said her official announcement would include a large list of early supporters. “Texas Democrats need our best candidates on the ticket in 2024, and I know I can turn the tables in Washington and make the government work for the people,” Johnson said. An open seat in Congress typically attracts numerous candidates, and District 32 is expected to be one of the most competitive local races of the 2024 election season. Earlier this month, Dallas trauma surgeon Brian Williams announced his campaign to replace Allred. He told The News that he raised over $160,000 in the first 24 hours of his campaign. Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua is considering a campaign. Some operatives are trying to recruit Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia to run for the seat.

NBC News - June 5, 2023

With debt limit deal behind him, Biden returns to 'previously scheduled programming'

President Biden plans to use the bipartisan debt limit deal to pivot back to his shadow reelection campaign, pointing to the achievement to burnish his image with voters as a consensus-builder who’s making strides on his promise to unite the country, advisers tell NBC News. Biden signaled as much in his first Oval Office address Friday, which he began by recalling how skeptics, even in his own party, doubted he could work successfully with Republicans. The budget deal was just one of 350 bipartisan laws he has signed, he noted. “I know bipartisanship is hard and unity is hard, but we can never stop trying, because in moments like this one — the ones we just faced, where the American economy and the world economy is at risk of collapsing — there is no other way,” he said.

The early phase of Biden’s 2024 campaign aims to showcase him as a drama-free leader who has defied expectations in working across the aisle. On Friday, Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to North Carolina to discuss worker training programs in his “Investing in America” agenda, the White House says. It’s part of Biden’s “return to his previously scheduled programming,” a senior Biden adviser put it. His plan is to pivot from a month that was consumed by the debt standoff in Washington back to talking directly with Americans about his economic agenda, particularly legislation he has signed to fund infrastructure projects and revive domestic manufacturing, as well as outline how he envisions building on those efforts, aides said. The bipartisan deal Biden signed over the weekend raises the debt limit and reduces federal spending. The weeks ahead will not be a victory lap on the debt limit deal, aides said. After all, some Democrats strongly oppose several provisions in the legislation, which they view as succumbing to a “hostage-taking” strategy Biden had vowed not to take part in.

Dallas Morning News - June 5, 2023

Texas Legislature didn’t pass border bills during session. Will new session be different?

Gov. Greg Abbott sat under the blistering South Texas sun last month, razor wire and natural brush at his back, and emphatically declared that no state has done more at protecting the U.S.-Mexico border than the Lone Star State. At the time, the Legislature was in the final weeks of its biennial legislative session, with a slew of immigration-related proposals making its way through the Capitol. “Somebody in this country has to step up and hold the line and not allow people to cross into our country illegally,” Abbott said then, according to video of the news conference. Fast forward a few weeks: Those bills have failed to reach Abbott’s desk. The governor immediately called lawmakers back to Austin for what is likely to be one of multiple special sessions this year. The Senate and House — already at an impasse over property tax relief — are choosing to address Abbott’s directive to increase the penalty for human smuggling in different ways.

And then there’s the outrage directed at the GOP-dominated Capitol. On one hand, some immigration and civil rights activists worry that the proposals would allow Texas to enforce immigration law — which is the responsibility of the federal government. Meanwhile, conservative activists say the state’s leaders — Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — and GOP lawmakers failed to fulfill campaign promises to curb illegal immigration. Some say Operation Lone Star, the multibillion dollar border security effort using Texas National Guard troops and DPS officers, is a waste of money. The state has continuously increased the funding for border security. Lawmakers have appropriated $5.3 billion to Operation Lone Star, for the next two-year cycle. That’s up from $4.6 billion in the previous cycle. Migrants are charged with trespassing on private property of landowner, mostly in the Eagle Pass-Del Rio region. Spokespeople for Abbott, Patrick and Phelan did not respond to several requests for comment. On Tuesday, the House passed Republican Rep. Ryan Guillen’s proposal that increases the penalty for human smuggling and for operating a stash house. The bill was sent to the Senate on a largely party-line vote before the House adjourned for the special session, signaling they had fulfilled their duty.

Associated Press - June 5, 2023

Saudi Arabia is slashing oil supply. It could mean higher gas prices for US drivers

Saudi Arabia will reduce how much oil it sends to the global economy, taking a unilateral step to prop up the sagging price of crude after two previous cuts to supply by major producing countries in the OPEC+ alliance failed to push oil higher. The Saudi cut of 1 million barrels per day, to start in July, comes as the other OPEC+ producers agreed in a meeting in Vienna to extend earlier production cuts through next year. Calling the reduction a “lollipop,” Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said at a news conference that “we wanted to ice the cake.” He said the cut could be extended and that the group “will do whatever is necessary to bring stability to this market.” The new cut would likely push up oil prices in the short term, but the impact after that would depend on whether Saudi Arabia decides to extend it, said Jorge Leon, senior vice president of oil markets research at Rystad Energy.

The move provides “a price floor because the Saudis can play with the voluntary cut as much as they like,” he said. The slump in oil prices has helped U.S. drivers fill their tanks more cheaply and gave consumers worldwide some relief from inflation. “Gas is not going to become cheaper,” Leon said. ”If anything, it will become marginally more expensive.” That the Saudis felt another cut was necessary underlines the uncertain outlook for demand for fuel in the months ahead. There are concerns about economic weakness in the U.S. and Europe, while China’s rebound from COVID-19 restrictions has been less robust than many had hoped. Saudi Arabia, the dominant producer in the OPEC oil cartel, was one of several members that agreed on a surprise cut of 1.6 million barrels per day in April. The kingdom’s share was 500,000. That followed OPEC+ announcing in October that it would slash 2 million barrels per day, angering U.S. President Joe Biden by threatening higher gasoline prices a month before the midterm elections. All told, OPEC+ has now dropped production on paper by 4.6 million barrels a day. But some countries can’t produce their quotas, so the actual reduction is around 3.5 million barrels per day, or over 3% of global supply.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 5, 2023

‘They’re waiting for people to die’: Texas’ decadelong waitlists for disability services are getting longer and dangerous

Nola Carter woke her parents at 1:30 a.m. in their Friendswood home on a Tuesday last February. Her pale body on the sheets between them convulsed, and her large, blue eyes rolled to the back of her head. At 3:40 a.m., another seizure hit. The 10-year-old was hyperventilating, and she nearly stopped breathing when her parents administered a large dose of sedative to stop the seizing. For 10 years, the Carters have watched their daughter’s health deteriorate. They’ve taken on debts, called in family favors and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in therapies to slow the ravages of their daughter’s disease. As a baby, Nola was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare and terminal illness that affects her brain and muscles. It is stealing Nola’s ability to speak, move and eat, and doctors say it will likely kill her before she turns 13. As the disease grew debilitating and their daughter survived repeated falls, a concussion, pneumonia and, most recently, seizures, the Carters have hoped and waited for the Texas government to provide vital services and therapies, as it is legally required to do.

Time and again, the state has failed them. Nearly a decade ago, the Carters applied to receive the state’s Medicaid-funded disability services, a set of six community-based programs known as “waivers.” The federal waiver programs are designed to keep disabled Texans out of hospitals and nursing homes by providing essential services like personal attendant care, respite and therapy in their own homes and home-like settings. Most of Nola’s applications have never been reviewed. With perhaps only a couple of years to live, the girl’s name remains buried in state-managed waitlists with nearly 160,000 applicants. “They're waiting for people to basically die,” said Nola’s mother, Shiloh Carter, who works as an attorney at Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit that advocates for waiver service access. Texas is legally obligated, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, to provide services for disabled residents like Nola. More than two decades after courts ordered Texas to make those services available, a yearlong investigation by the American-Statesman found the state’s complicated Medicaid waiver system is so catastrophically underfunded and inefficient that only a small fraction of people who need care receive it. Hundreds are dying before they ever get help the state is supposed to provide.

Austin American-Statesman - June 5, 2023

How can patients protect their private medical information from Paxton gender care probe?

In May, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that his office was investigating two children's hospitals for providing gender-affirming care to minors: Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin and Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. The state's investigation delves also into a critical legal question: does patient privacy trump the power of a subpoena or a state inquiry for hospital documents for its gender-affirming care practice? Because a patient's right to privacy is protected by federal and state law, Paxton is using the Texas business organization code, instead of the health code, to make this request, said Jaime Sorley, a Plano attorney who specializes in health law and health privacy. Since news of Paxton's investigation, Texas House members voted to impeach him and set up a trial in the Senate this summer where Paxton could face permanent removal. Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed John Scott, a former secretary of state, as interim attorney general. It's unclear how Scott would proceed or not with the gender-affirming care probe.

Sorley said Paxton launched the probe as if he was investigating a consumer business, in this case two hospitals. In these kind of investigations, the state could fine a business or prohibit them from operating in Texas. “In addition to the stress on these families, this puts health care providers in a very difficult situation," Sorley said. "Fundamental to an effective patient/provider relationship is trust. If patients don't believe that a provider will be able to protect patient privacy, patients may not seek care or may not share information a provider needs to diagnose or treat the patient." This statute does not allow the attorney general's office to access personal medical records, said Shelly Skeen, an attorney in Dallas with Lambda Legal, which specializes in preserving civil rights for the LGBTQ community. "It's unusual" for the Consumer Protection Division to request to examine medical practices, Skeen said. That kind of request is usually saved for anti-trust violations, fraud or not properly doing business, she said. Paxton's office sent both hospitals a "Request to Examine" that asked for documents related to the hospitals' policies and procedures regarding the use of puberty blockers, as well as the age range of the patients receiving what the request calls "Gender Transitioning and Gender Reassignment Procedures and Treatments." The request also sought the number of times those patients have been counseled on these treatments, the consent forms used in these treatments among other policies and procedures documents.

Floodlight - June 5, 2023

Texas has gone big with renewable energy. Why can’t it go all the way?

Texas leads the nation in renewable energy. Solar, wind and other renewables exclusively power businesses, colleges and even one town in the state. So, why can’t the state simply continue that trend and run on 100 percent renewable energy? Like any long-term relationship, it’s complicated, especially for a state that is rooted in fossil fuels. “One side certainly has a longer history and is potentially better connected,” said Felix Mormann, a professor at Texas A&M University’s Engineering Experiment Station, of the state’s long history with natural gas and other fossil fuels. “But the future belongs to the other side.” State lawmakers don’t see it that way, it would appear.

They have instead pushed bills that are poised to turn back some of that effort toward decarbonization by creating new financial incentives for natural gas power plants to be built. They consider the gas plants the answer to having easily accessible emergency electricity at the ready if a storm akin to the one that struck in February 2021 happens again. During that winter storm, named Uri, roughly 4.5 million Texans lost power for several days, hundreds of people died, and the state’s electric grid was pushed to the brink of collapse. Energy experts say the Legislature’s solution is possibly no solution at all: Natural gas plants struggled the most during that storm, according to several analyses. Yet Texas can’t simply go “all renewable” because economic, technological and regulatory barriers remain, including the nation’s largest backlog of renewable projects waiting to be connected to the state’s main grid. What’s more, observers say, the power industry is rooted in a 100-year-old business and infrastructure model and has been reluctant to change. “Building a small number of power plants is something that you can easily conceive in your head instead of getting people to do something different,” said Carey King, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute.

Dallas Morning News - June 5, 2023

UT Austin’s AI ‘brain decoder’ can read minds. But how good is it?

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have created a “semantic brain decoder” to guess someone’s thoughts based on brain activity. During tests, it captured the gist of what someone was thinking, rather than a literal translation. And if participants resisted, it produced gibberish. The decoder, written about in the journal Nature Neuroscience in May, is novel, said Edmund Lalor, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Rochester. But its threat to privacy is minimal. “We’re very, very far away from just very quickly being able to mind-read anybody without their knowing,” said Lalor, who was not involved with UT Austin’s research. Creating the decoder involved listening to podcasts — 16 hours worth. Study co-author Alexander Huth, an assistant neuroscience and computer science professor at UT Austin, and two other participants laid in an MRI brain scanner while listening to the podcasts. Using the MRI data, the researchers taught the decoder which language patterns correspond to different kinds of brain activity.

They then asked participants to listen to podcasts or imagine themselves telling a story. The decoder made short “guesses” of what each participant was thinking and ranked them based on how well they corresponded to the person’s brain activity. After eliminating the bad guesses, the decoder expanded on the good ones using an earlier version of the AI chatbot ChatGPT, which answers questions and responds to prompts by predicting the next word. The decoder repeated the whole process until it returned a full prediction to the scientists, who compared it to the podcast the participant was hearing or a transcript of the story they imagined telling. Did it work? The decoder performed better than a randomly generated translation, and its predictions preserved the general meaning of participants’ thoughts. “These people went into an MRI scanner knowingly for many, many, many hours in order to produce results that are quite imperfect, but work a bit,” Lalor said. “I don’t have my drivers license yet,” for example, was translated to “She has not even started to learn to drive.” And the decoder translated “That night I went upstairs to what had been our bedroom” to “We got back to my dorm room.”

Fort Worth Report - June 5, 2023

Should nurse practitioners be able to practice independently in Texas? Depends who you ask

Elishia Featherston, a nurse practitioner in Euless, opened her own pediatric clinic in 2017. She wanted to make a space that would serve both the body and the mind, so with the help of a second nurse practitioner, she now provides primary and mental health care to roughly 7,000 patients across North Texas. Most are children, and Featherston worries if she’ll be able to continue to offer them care. As a nurse practitioner in Texas, Featherston legally cannot practice independently. The state requires a physician to oversee her patient care through, at minimum, a monthly check-in. But the requirement, Featherston said, feels more like a pricey permission slip than supervision, leaving her beholden to the physician she pays to oversee her. If the physician dies, retires, decides to raise her rates or no longer supervise, Featherston and her patients remain in limbo until she can find a replacement.

Throughout the 88th Legislature, she and other members of the professional organization Texas Nurse Practitioners advocated for bills that would allow independent practice. Twenty-seven states already do so, but by the session’s end on May 29, none of the bills had passed. The issue cuts across partisan lines but is no less divisive. On the other side, the Texas Medical Association advocated against those same bills. Dr. Tilden Childs, a physician in Fort Worth who chairs the association’s council for legislation, said the supervision requirements should remain in place to protect patient care — and, if they’re serving merely as a permission slip, be made more meaningful. In interviews with the Fort Worth Report, providers on both sides of the argument emphasize their respect for each other and their desire for patient access to quality care. The disagreement lies merely in who should oversee it. The nurse practitioner role grew from supply and demand. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, more physicians pursued specialties beyond primary care. Subsequently, the creation of Medicare and Medicaid gave more people access to health care. Increasing need amid a diminishing pool of providers spurred nurses to fill the gap. In 1965, a nurse and a physician collaborated to create the country’s first training program for nurse practitioners. Health care professionals, including nurses, pushed back, worried that nurse practitioners were not qualified to provide care without physician supervision and that the new title would confuse patients. In the ensuing decades, nurse practitioners sought legitimacy by standardizing their licenses and securing payment for their services. Today, nurse practitioners can assess and diagnose patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medicine. In most states, they can do so without the supervision of a physician.

Houston Chronicle - June 5, 2023

Texas Southern president's sudden exit complicates push to improve graduation rates, experts say

London Ragland encountered setback after setback after enrolling at Texas Southern University as a transfer student in 2018: an unexpected change in her federal financial aid, a major health issue, the death of her father. TSU’s support and Ragland’s own persistence carried her through, and while she’s behind schedule, she is set to receive her diploma in 2024. Texas Southern leaders consider students like Ragland models in their efforts to increase retention and graduation rates – undertakings that seemed to be gaining momentum in the last two years but could now face setbacks after the recent resignation of the university’s president. “I believe it is impossible to make significant changes in terms of student outcomes when you change presidents every three years,” said Walter Kimbrough, a former president of two private historically Black colleges and universities. “It takes a president a year, a year and a half to figure out everything that’s going on to begin with, to understand the culture of an institution.”

President Lesia Crumpton-Young announced last week that she was stepping down from her position after less than two years on the job, a surprising decision that came with no explanation other than her intention to advance historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, on the national stage. At the time of her departure, Crumpton-Young was only in the beginning stages of a wider goal to improve Texas Southern’s reputation among state institutions. The public university holds some of the lowest graduation rates in Texas: By 2022, 7 percent of first-time freshmen who arrived in 2018 had graduated in four years, 26 percent who started in 2016 had graduated in six years and 33 percent of community college transfers from 2018 had graduated in four years, TSU data show. Around 55 percent of first-time freshmen in 2021 returned for their sophomore year. (Six-year graduation rates are the accepted standard in higher education. Classes admitted under Crumpton-Young are not reflected in the most recently available statistics, as she took the role in 2021.)

Houston Chronicle - June 5, 2023

How the Uvalde massacre changed Texas school safety and inspired gun reforms

Gloria Cazares sat in a Republican’s office in the Texas Capitol holding up a poster of her slain 9-year-old daughter Jackie. Her No. 1 priority for the Texas Legislature — banning those under 21 from buying powerful AR-15-style assault rifles, as the Uvalde school shooter had done — was about to fail, docked in a committee chaired by Rep. Dustin Burrows. She was in his office for herself, but she was also there for the dozens of Uvalde family members who had rallied for the bill in Austin the day before. She stared silently at Jackie’s picture as other advocates made their case to a Burrows staffer. He listened to their pleas but couldn’t promise that the committee would advance the bill. “I know it’s not the answer y’all want,” he said, instead offering copies of a sweeping school safety bill authored by Burrows. They declined.

“Wait until you’re a parent,” Cazares said, suddenly compelled to speak. She gestured to the photo of Jackie, smiling in a white lace dress. “This is my daughter. This was her First Communion. This was the dress that she was buried in. Just remember that.” She walked out. The interaction on May 9 was emblematic of a year of advocacy and debate over the deadliest school shooting in Texas, which left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead. Though the families didn't get the gun reform they wanted, the shooting at Robb Elementary School inspired the most significant action on federal firearm laws in decades and an unprecedented investment in school safety measures. The state Legislature adjourned this week touting those accomplishments, as Uvalde families returned home to mourn their loved ones and schedule their next advocacy trip. “Were it not for their efforts, we wouldn't have made it that far, and I'm just grateful to them,” said state Rep. Tracy King, a moderate Democrat who represents Uvalde and authored the raise-the-age bill. “They need to never give up, keep on trying.”

Houston Chronicle - June 4, 2023

Chris Tomlinson: Oil tycoons bankroll Paxton defenders

Political activists financed by two billionaire oilmen — famous for backing right wing Republicans — are riding like cavalry to save suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton from a scalping in the Texas Senate. Billionaires Tim Dunn and Ferris Wilks are arguably the most influential donors to right wing candidates and causes in Texas, funneling tens of millions of dollars to political action committees and candidates that espouse their religious-right and anti-public-school agenda. Dunn, CEO of drilling company CrownQuest Operating, and Wilks, who sold his fracking company, are the largest donors to Defend Texas Liberty PAC, one of Paxton’s largest campaign financiers, according to public records. The billionaires gave the PAC more than $10 million of the $11 million it has raised from 2020-2022. The PAC passed $1.25 million of that money, along with a loan for $750,000, to Paxton.

Dunn, Wilks and Defend Texas Liberty together also gave former state Rep. Bryan Slaton $223,000 as three of his four largest donors. The Texas House expelled Slaton last month for plying a 19-year-old staffer with alcohol and having sex with her. Defend Texas Liberty is managed by former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who, alongside Republican Party of Texas Chair Matt Rinaldi, was a founding director of another PAC called Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. That group, which is not required to disclose donors, was founded by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, long considered the enforcer of right wing orthodoxy in Austin. Dunn and Wilks are widely reported to finance Sullivan’s activities. Stickland, Rinaldi and Sullivan are leading a public campaign to stop the Texas Senate from permanently removing Paxton following his impeachment on 20 corruption charges. The same group also wants to remove Dade Phelan as speaker of the House. The day before the debate over impeaching Paxton, Stickland went on Twitter promising a 2024 Republican primary challenger for any official who voted for impeachment. “There will be one helluva price to pay for voting w/ @DadePhelan and Dems,” he tweeted on May 26. “Wait until you see my PAC budget … A vote to impeach @Ken-PaxtonTX is a decision to have a primary. Can’t wait to see who sides with Democrats.” After the House heard the overwhelming evidence against Paxton and removed him from office, Sullivan spread his theory that Texas Republicans were in league with national Democrats.

Houston Chronicle - June 4, 2023

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Dan Patrick, man of the people? Yep, on property taxes at least.

In bold, right at the top of the Texas comptroller's web page devoted to property taxes, there's an intriguing declaration: "Texas has no property tax." Those words might make any Texan who has opened a property tax bill erupt in laughter or question their sanity. Technically, the comptroller is right. The Texas Constitution forbids a statewide property tax. Strictly speaking, it’s counties, cities and local school districts that levy property taxes. Conveniently, the comptroller’s website tells you to go bug your local officials if you’re fretting over the latest property tax bill demanding the blood of your first born child. The truth is that the state exercises indirect control over property taxes that fund public schools, which make up most of the bill. With appraisals soaring across the state, and astronomically so in large swaths of major cities, the obfuscation isn't working anymore. Too many Texans are demanding relief and state leaders are trying to respond.

They just can't agree on how. Even though they're all Republicans, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan are locked in a battle after the Legislature failed to pass a property tax cut during the regular session that ended May 29. They bickered for months over two different ways to deliver $12.3 billion in relief with the House favoring a five percent “appraisal cap” and the Senate seeking a bigger “homestead exemption.” Last week, Abbott called a special session to get a cut passed and introduced a third option: pure “tax compression.” The House quickly passed it, and then adjourned leaving no opportunity to compromise, while the Senate, controlled by Patrick, refused to consider it. Confused by all these terms? That’s by design. It helps politicians disguise how fragile and unfair Texas’ finances are, so we won't get into the weeds explaining. We'll just tell you who's plan is best for everyday Texas taxpayers. On this one, Dan Patrick is right. We said so before during the regular session, and our conclusion has only gotten firmer. It does feel odd siding with Patrick. Phelan's House is usually the more sensible chamber, coming closer to reflecting public opinion. Then again, the lieutenant governor’s populist bent isn’t new. While his political strength comes from the support of conservative activists, which drives his culture war extremism, from school library book bans to abortion restrictions with no exceptions for rape, Abbott and Phelan lean more to the traditional, pro-business side of the Republican party.

Houston Chronicle - June 4, 2023

HISD superintendent Mike Miles announces plans for his charter school chain, Third Future Schools

Mike Miles addressed what will happen to Third Future Schools, the charter school organization that he founded and served as CEO of, now what he has been named Houston ISD superintendent. Third Future Schools announced that Zack Craddock, who worked as chief of schools, will become superintendent to lead the organization in Miles’ absence.

“It’s been an honor building Third Future Schools from one school to now 11 schools and I am proud of the work we have accomplished to change the future of education for our students,” said Miles. “Although I am stepping away to focus on fundamental change in Houston, I will be involved in the organization and support Mr. Craddock to close the achievement gap and uphold the Third Future mission and vision.”Third Future Schools was created in 2016 and serves about 4,500 students across Texas, Louisiana and Colorado in 11 public charter schools. Craddock has served as a senior leader of Third Future Schools since it was established. He has worked closely with Miles over the years on key projects, including adding five schools through a school-turnaround partnership project. “At Third Future Schools, we are dedicated to improving overall academic outcomes for every one of our students,” Craddock said. “This will continue to be our main focus during this transition. Mr. Miles has laid the groundwork and vision for our organization and our team is laser focused on upholding the TFS mission.”

Houston Chronicle - June 4, 2023

Lamar CISD board member’s ‘concerning’ post prompts district to issue pro-LGBTQ+ statement

The Lamar Consolidated ISD school board president responded to incendiary comments made by a trustee on Facebook. Board member Jon Welch promoted heterosexual couples at the start of June, which is widely recognized as “Pride Month,” a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. “I celebrate all the boyfriend-girlfriend relationships and male-female marriages throughout the world this month,” Welch wrote on his Facebook page Thursday morning. “You're often lost in the noise of our culture. But Natural Law and undiluted Truth still call to us all. And I celebrate it here.”

He then requested photos of couples, closing with, “Happy June to you!” The post as of Saturday morning garnered nearly 900 comments, most of which condemned Welch’s sentiments. Lamar CISD board president Mandi Bronsell Friday evening issued a statement on behalf of the district, distancing the board from “a member of our school board” who “made some recent remarks on social media that have sparked concern.” She did not name Welch. “I want to be clear that the spirit and intent of the message do not reflect the collective view of the Lamar CISD board of trustees,” she writes. “Words matter, and they should be used to encourage us in humility and service to all our families and students. Her message also reaffirms the district’s dedication to inclusivity. “In Lamar CISD, we firmly believe that every student, staff member and family within our community deserves to be valued, respected and included,” the statement says. “We are committed to creating a learning environment that celebrates our students, promotes understanding and fosters a sense of belonging for all.”

Rio Grande Guardian - June 4, 2023

Henry Cuellar: Land ports of entry need a more stable funding stream

The bipartisan legislation has secured the support of the Border Trade Alliance and the Texas Trucking Association. U.S. Representatives Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, Veronica Escobar of El Paso and Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico are co-authoring the bill, although the original idea for the trust fund came from Cuellar. Cuellar said the legislation would establish a trust fund that would be used to (1) construct new ports of entry, (2) expand and improve existing ports of entry, (3) procure technology for inspecting and processing traffic passing through ports of entry, and (4) hire U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff. The Department of Homeland Security would also establish the Land Port of Entry Modernization Oversight Board to advise DHS on how to use the trust fund and to review the trust fund’s expenditures.

“While waterway-based ports of entry have long had the benefit of a consistent source of federal resources via the authorization of a similar trust fund, our overburdened land-based ports of entry have struggled,” Cuellar said, in a news release. “The LPOE Modernization Trust Fund Act is needed to properly redistribute much needed resources to LPOE facilities and to ensure the United States’ long-term economic prosperity through international trade.” In his audio interview with the Guardian, Cuellar said he came up with the idea of a land trust fund. “You have a seaport, there is a maintenance trust fund. Since I represent land borders, most of the goods and people come through land ports. So every year we have to add appropriations. I just don’t understand why land ports are treated differently from airports, and seaports.” Cuellar said if he can get the legislation passed, the border region would “have a funding mechanism on a consistent basis, so we don’t have to go and keep begging for money for our land ports.” After all, Cuellar points out, land ports cross the majority of the people and the goods coming in to the US. “Especially the southern border. If you look at the trade between US and Mexico, you’re looking at over $863 billion every year, just between the US and Mexico.”

Austin American-Statesman - June 4, 2023

Steven Kellman: On behalf of sanctimony, Texas strikes a blow on books

(Kellman is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio.) The Victorian era ended in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria. But Victorianism, the priggishness that led galleries to apply fig leaves to cover the private parts of classical sculpture, lingered. Puritanism, which the pugnacious journalist H.L. Mencken called “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” is now resurgent Last March, Hope Carrasquilla, the principal at a school in Tallahassee, was forced to resign over parental complaints: Sixth-grade students were being exposed to images of David, Michelangelo’s celebrated statue that is both majestic and nude. In Arkansas, librarians face criminal charges for making “obscene” books available to minors.

Texas now strikes its own blow on behalf of sanctimony. House Bill 900 will ban all “sexually explicit books” from the state’s school libraries. After passage by both houses of the Texas Legislature, it awaited the likely signature of Governor Greg Abbott. The bill’s author, Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), declared: “After more than 18 months of fighting alongside concerned moms and dads throughout Texas, I am proud to say we have passed legislation to halt the sexualization of Texas children through library materials.” Texas children are sexualized through biological development. They are going to be curious about sexuality despite the wishes of their elders. The greatest literature often deals openly about the human body, and it would handicap Texas students to deny them access to it. The revolution of modern art was fought in favor of candor, and it took a series of monumental court decisions to overcome bans against books by Theodore Dreiser, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, and others. No student of literature can now afford to be ignorant of those works. Not every sexually explicit book possesses literary merit. And not every book merits placement in a library. However, some of the greatest works of the past century, including “Ulysses,” “Sister Carrie,” “Women in Love,” and “Lolita” have run afoul of censors, who have judged them “obscene.” The same vague complaint has been used to expurgate, if not ban, earlier works, including Song of Songs, “Tale of Genji,” and “Gargantua and Pantagruel.” The criterion for censoring books has been nebulous and dependent on the shifting whims of the censors.

Dallas Morning News - June 5, 2023

The future of Texas’ largest teacher preparation program in limbo after court ruling

The future of an embattled teacher preparation company – which enrolls more educator candidates than any other program in Texas – will remain in limbo after a Travis County judge threw a curveball in the state’s plans. Texas Teachers of Tomorrow – also known as A+ Texas Teachers – is under scrutiny after failing to prove to state education officials that they had corrected long-standing operational problems. The Texas Education Agency recommended last year revoking the company’s accreditation, citing its failure to meet the conditions of an improvement plan. If their accreditation is yanked, the company would not be able to produce certified teachers. Before state officials can vote on the company’s future, both sides must present arguments before a judge in the State Office of Administrative Hearings. But now, that next step is stalled.

A Travis County district judge ruled in May in favor of Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, granting the company’s request for a temporary injunction. The decision stops state education officials from moving forward with their case. Texas Education Agency spokesman Jake Kobersky said officials can’t comment on ongoing litigation, but the state plans to appeal the ruling. Teachers of Tomorrow CEO Trent Beekman said the company was pleased with the judge’s decision. “Teachers of Tomorrow has maintained the highest level of regulatory compliance, cooperation, and adherence to the process for contesting the TEA’s review findings,” he said in a statement. Company leaders are arguing the state unlawfully held them to “invented, invalid, and inapplicable standards” during the review process. The company’s “entire business is at stake” should the state bring a case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, according to court documents. The fight over Texas Teachers of Tomorrow comes as the schools face an ongoing educator shortage. The company enrolls more teacher candidates than any other program in the state. It presents people with an alternative pathway to the classroom, targeting those who didn’t necessarily go to college with the intent to become teachers. The for-profit program recruits many people in search of a second career and trains them through primarily online coursework.

Dallas Morning News - June 4, 2023

How Dallas’ most iconic building came to be

In the spring of 1978 two iconic buildings opened in Dallas, and they could hardly have been more different. The first was City Hall, a tilted bunker in tawny concrete designed by I.M. Pei. It was followed, barely a month later, by a building that might well have been its polar opposite: the Hyatt Regency, a slick jumble of forms wrapped in gleaming reflective glass. While it was the former that was explicitly built to represent and chart a new course for the post-assassination city, it is the latter, with its lollipop tower appendage, that has come to truly stand for Dallas, both at home and to the world at large. Reunion Tower gave a previously nondescript skyline an unmistakable identity. The complex was then and remains today an embodiment of the city as it wishes to see itself: glamorous, optimistic, rushing headlong into the future and utterly unconcerned with the past.

“To the driver on the freeway and the passenger in an airplane, the Hyatt epitomizes what Dallas is all about,” Dallas Morning News architecture critic David Dillon wrote in a column marking its 10th anniversary, in 1988. episode of a prime-time soap tracking the ups and downs of the oil-rich Ewing clan debuted nationally on CBS. There it was right at the beginning: a swooping helicopter shot of the Hyatt’s shimmering façade backed by that now indelible score: Da da, da da, da da dadadada. You could hardly dream up a better ad campaign. The official opening came two weeks later, on the morning of April 15. The ceremony was fairly unremarkable — marching band, balloons, dignitaries — until that evening, when a light show and fireworks display distracted drivers, causing, according to The News, 13 separate traffic accidents and prompting alarmed residents to overload the city’s 911 system.

Dallas Morning News - June 4, 2023

Micah Parsons’ next step? Becoming true ‘impact player’ for Cowboys, teammates around him

Early in practice Thursday, Micah Parsons and Sam Williams stood to the side, engaged in their own private lesson. Parsons bent his elbows and raised his hands like a boxer while Williams alternated low-speed punches, forcing Parsons to deflect. High left. Low right. Low left. Low right. Low left. High right. Each time Parsons used a hand to ward off a Williams punch, the Cowboys linebacker quickly reset that hand to the ready position. The technique formed the basis of Parsons’ lesson with the second-year defensive end.

“With his hands, keep them in front of him,” Parsons said later. “Not dropping your hands. I was like, ‘We’re boxing right now. Keeping your hands and feet [in unison] because they’ve got to work together.’ … Just constantly moving, keeping your hands going, keeping their hands off of you. “I’m trying to take everyone up a level because I’m trying to take this D-line up another level. That’s a part of growth.” Parsons spent some of his offseason training in Austin, while most of his teammates did the same at Ford Center at The Star. Since rejoining them, be it the lessons Parsons learned from boxing or when picking the brain of retired offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, he has shared some of the insight gained. In his third year in the NFL, Parsons is focused not only on elevating his own game but those around him. The process naturally started with himself. He added muscle, up to 250 pounds after playing at 245 last season. He worked to become smoother and more efficient with his movements, believing that will not only help him play faster but stay healthier.

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 5, 2023

Houston man sues Bexar sheriff, alleges deputies routinely search vehicles without warrants

A Houston businessman has filed a federal lawsuit alleging two Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies conducted a “warrantless search without probable cause” during a traffic stop last year. The complaint by Alek Schott says Bexar County uses traffic stops as a “tool to conduct searches and seizures without any reason to suspect the driver of a crime.” Schott is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages against Bexar County, Sheriff Javier Salazar and deputies Joel Babb and Martin A. Molina III. A Bexar County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. Attorneys with the Institute of Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Schott, 37, on Thursday in U.S. District Court in San Antonio. The group's website says its mission is to “end widespread abuses of government power.”

Schott is director of operations and business development for his father’s company, Spring-based RMS Controls Inc., which supplies pipeline equipment to companies operating in the Eagle Ford shale formation of South Texas. He regularly drives through Bexar County as part of his job. On the morning of March 16, 2022, Schott was driving back to Houston in his black Ford F-250 when Babb pulled him over for allegedly driving over the white line that defines the right shoulder on Interstate 35. Schott disputes that he crossed the line. Babb asked Schott to step out of the truck to give him a warning instead of a ticket, the suit says. The deputy, after patting down Schott, directed him to sit in the patrol car, but his background check on Schott did not reveal any reason to detain him, the suit says. Schott has no criminal history and his driver’s license was valid. Babb continued to question Schott and explained that he was part of a “Criminal Interdiction Unit” and had parked alongside I-35 to look for human and drug smuggling, the lawsuit states. He eventually asked if he could search the truck.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 5, 2023

'Let strippers strip': Online campaign reveals plan to fight San Antonio's anti-nudity laws

Strippers just want to strip in San Antonio. Now one of them is baring her desires online — with a campaign to change the city's anti-nudity ordinance. An exotic dancer in San Antonio who goes by "Sunny" has created Support SA Dancers, a website to raise awareness about restrictions on adult entertainers. The site features an anonymous survey anyone can take to "answer some questions for public research." Sunny also encourages sharing the site, posting to social media with the hashtag #letstrippersstrip and addressing city officials regarding the issue.

"By taking away our freedom to entertain, it has taken your freedom to enjoy it!" Sunny posted on the site. "Adults are now no longer allowed to enjoy true adult entertainment in the city of San Antonio. Instead they're forced to travel to other cities, such as Austin, where they can enjoy semi-nudity or nudity. Citizens of San Antonio shouldn't have ever had this freedom taken away. Even if you aren't an active club goer, if you were to ever want to enjoy it, you wouldn't be able to." When reached via email, Sunny noted she's been dancing for nearly three years in San Antonio and that one of her managers told her she was capable of organizing and creating a movement to have the city's restrictions changed. "Dancing truly changed my life for the better and I absolutely adore what I do," she said. "I've worked many jobs in the past, whether it be retail or serving, but nothing has made me as happy as dancing has. It allows me to pursue some of my dreams and learn continuously." In 2003, the city of San Antonio passed an ordinance that outlawed nude dancing and lap dancing and banned private VIP rooms. The city amended the so-called "human display ordinance" in 2005 after settling a lawsuit with several topless clubs that claimed the ordinance was unconstitutional. The amended ordinance essentially maintained the original, with provisions that ban nude dancing, lap dancing and small, dimly lit or locked VIP rooms. The city also adopted a "three foot rule" that effectively bans lap dances. Tips to dancers must be placed in a jar or delivered hand-to-hand without touching and each person's hand extended at least 1½ feet away the body.

Texas Public Radio - June 4, 2023

Dogs attacked more than 5,300 mail carriers last year, the Postal Service says

It sounds like an old-fashioned stereotype, the dog chasing after the mailman. But for thousands of postal workers last year, man's best friend turned out to be a major hazard of the job. In 2022, dogs attacked more than 5,300 employees who were delivering the mail, according to the U.S. Postal Service. It was a slight drop from the previous year, when more than 5,400 postal employees were attacked. Officials say even well-behaved pets who don't show signs of aggression may lash out at postal workers, who often must enter a property to drop off the mail, and the results can sometimes be deadly.

"When our mail carriers are bitten, it is usually a 'good dog' that had not previously behaved in a menacing way," USPS Occupational Safety and Health Senior Director Linda DeCarlo said in a statement. The Postal Service released the data as part of its annual National Dog Bite Awareness Week, a public service campaign meant to raise awareness of attacks on mail carriers. California saw the most canine-on-postal worker attacks last year, with 675 incidents, followed by Texas, New York and Pennsylvania. The number of attacks in all four states increased last year over 2021. Houston had the highest number of attacks of any city, with Los Angeles, Dallas and Cleveland trailing behind. Officials are asking pet owners to take a few steps that could help protect postal workers from a potentially dangerous encounter, such as keeping dogs inside, behind a fence or on a leash when the mail carrier arrives. The Postal Service also recommends that people not let children take mail directly from a postal worker, since protective pets may think the child is in danger. "When letter carriers deliver mail in our communities, dogs that are not secured or leashed can become a nemesis and unpredictable and attack," Leeann Theriault, USPS employee safety and health awareness manager, said in a statement.

National Stories

New York Times - June 5, 2023

Twitter’s U.S. ad sales plunge 59% as woes continue

Elon Musk recently said Twitter’s advertising business was on the upswing. “Almost all advertisers have come back,” he asserted, adding that the social media company could soon become profitable. But Twitter’s U.S. advertising revenue for the five weeks from April 1 to the first week of May was $88 million, down 59 percent from a year earlier, according to an internal presentation obtained by The New York Times. The company has regularly fallen short of its U.S. weekly sales projections, sometimes by as much as 30 percent, the document said. That performance is unlikely to improve anytime soon, according to the documents and seven current and former Twitter employees. Twitter’s ad sales staff is concerned that advertisers may be spooked by a rise in hate speech and pornography on the social network, as well as more ads featuring online gambling and marijuana products, the people said. The company has forecast that its U.S. ad revenue this month will be down at least 56 percent each week compared with a year ago, according to one internal document.

These issues will soon be inherited by Linda Yaccarino, the NBCUniversal executive whom Mr. Musk named Twitter’s chief executive last month. She is expected to start the job on Monday, four people familiar with the situation said. Ms. Yaccarino declined to comment through a spokesman. Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment. The state of Twitter’s advertising is crucial because ads have long made up 90 percent of the company’s revenue. After Mr. Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in October and took the company private, he vowed to build “the most respected ad platform.” But he quickly alienated advertisers by firing key sales executives, spreading a conspiracy theory on the site and welcoming back barred Twitter users. In response, several large ad agencies and brands, including General Motors and Volkswagen, paused their ad spending on Twitter. Mr. Musk has said Twitter was on track to post $3 billion in revenue in 2023, down from $5.1 billion in 2021, when it was a public company. Twitter’s valuation has since plunged. In March, Mr. Musk said the company was worth $20 billion, down more than 50 percent from the $44 billion he paid for it. Last week, the mutual funds giant Fidelity, which owns shares in Twitter, valued the company at $15 billion. Twitter feels increasingly “unpredictable and chaotic,” said Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, an association for premium publishers. “Advertisers want to run in an environment where they are comfortable and can send a signal about their brand,” he added.

Daily Beast - June 5, 2023

Why Steve Bannon may still go down for a pardoned crime

When President Donald Trump pardoned Steve Bannon in the closing hours of his presidency, it seemed like the right-wing media personality—and once chief strategist for Trump—had successfully evaded any repercussions for his involvement in a scheme that sent some of his partners to prison. Double jeopardy laws, of course, prevent someone from being prosecuted twice for the same crime. But there’s a curious reason why Bannon can’t raise the double jeopardy defense before his upcoming state court trial and make the case disappear: New Yorkers saw this coming. “The law changed in New York, specifically because Trump started handing out pardons. New York State took the position that these people need to be answerable to crimes they committed in New York State,” explained Diane Peress, an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. It all comes down to the way former federal prosecutor Todd Kaminsky, then a Long Island state senator, noticed how Trump was “corruptly using the pardon power” to shield himself by saving his powerful friends.

In 2019, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed that bill into law, closing what the governor called an “egregious loophole.” Local New York prosecutors were now empowered—under certain circumstances—to pursue criminal charges against a U.S. president and his associates who’d received a presidential pardon. Politicians had slipped key exceptions to the double jeopardy rule. For example, Trump couldn’t shield himself with a self-pardon if he were accused of “enterprise corruption,” one of several criminal charges that prosecutors have allegedly been considering over the way he appears to run the Trump Organization like a mob. The new law also ensured that his associates could still be prosecuted if a pardon came too soon, such as in Bannon’s case. Bannon, who has 356 days to prepare for a New York trial, is accused of quietly enriching himself with donor money from a nativist GoFundMe campaign to build Trump’s Mexico border wall. The case is essentially the exact same one as the federal proceedings two years earlier that, before trial, fell apart when Trump swooped in and saved him. But in New York now, it’s only considered double jeopardy when a person has been fully prosecuted twice. That is, when someone was indicted and pleaded guilty—or, at the very least, had a jury sworn in. The federal prosecutors at the Southern District of New York, however, never got Bannon’s case to trial. Trump used his powerful presidential authority to kill the investigation into his former White House chief strategist before federal prosecutors could get to that stage.

NBC News - June 5, 2023

Fighter jets scrambled near D.C. to check off-course private plane that ultimately crashed

Fighter jets were scrambled Sunday afternoon to investigate a private plane that was flying off-course over the Washington, D.C., area until the Cessna crashed in southwest Virginia. The noise the jets created rattled the region on a warm Sunday afternoon. Pilots from the Capital Guardians, a unit of the 113th Wing of the D.C. National Guard, determined that the pilot was incapacitated, a senior government official said. The fighters shadowed the Cessna until it crashed, the official said. The senior government official said the plane may have run out of fuel. No survivors had been found by Sunday evening, and the search was suspended. Officials said four people were on board. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, said F-16 fighter aircraft intercepted the plane and tried to contact the pilot repeatedly using flares until just before the crash, near George Washington National Forest.

"The NORAD aircraft were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds and a sonic boom may have been heard by residents of the region," it said. The sound was reported around 3 p.m. to local law enforcement and on social media throughout the District of Columbia-Northern Virginia-Maryland area, known casually as the DMV. The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the Cessna Citation went down in a sparsely populated area of southwest Virginia about 3 p.m. Virginia State Police said in a Sunday night statement that no survivors were found. President Joe Biden was briefed, a White House official said. A source familiar told NBC News that the Secret Service's Airspace Division monitored the aircraft's movements and that there was no impact on Secret Service protectees. Biden was playing golf with his brother Jimmy at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Sunday afternoon before he returned the White House by motorcade. At one point reporters spotted him driving a golf cart. The plane was registered to a corporation based in Melbourne, Florida, owned by John Rumpel, who said by phone Sunday that his daughter and granddaughter, along with their nanny and the plane's pilot, were on board. At the time, he said he was still awaiting news on their status.

CNN - June 5, 2023

Supreme Court’s conservative majority to decide direction of law on race, elections and religious freedom this month

As the Supreme Court races to issue all outstanding opinions by a self-imposed early July deadline, there is little doubt that the conservative majority is prepared to continue the right-ward trajectory on areas concerning affirmative action, election law and LGBTQ rights. The real question is just how far and how fast the 6-3 majority wants to go. As is the case every term, there have already been some unanimous opinions. And there have been decisions that scrambled usual vote patterns leading to odd bedfellows. But the cases that most capture the public’s attention have yet to be decided and they are likely to lead to fiery opinions and dissents read from the bench. In addition, they will come down as the court finds itself in the center of a spotlight usually reserved for members of the political branches.

“There is little question that this court will ignore its past precedent and undermine protections for the LGBTQ community, racial minorities and voters,” said Jessica Levinson, who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “The question is whether the court takes a knife or an assault rifle to those protections.” The rulings this spring will continue the ultimate realization of former President Donald Trump’s success in adding three appointees to the bench and cementing a conservative majority that could last decades. But the fact that the votes of Justice Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett have contributed to a hard right turn on the court has led critics to accuse the justices of trading the stability of the law in favor of policy preferences. Last year, after Trump’s new nominees voted with the majority to overturn some 50-year-old abortion precedent, liberal Justice Elena Kagan launched a warning before an audience in Montana. “I think people are rightly suspicious if one justice leaves the court or dies and another justice takes his or her place and all of a sudden the law changes,” Kagan said. “It’s like: what’s going on here? That doesn’t seem like law.”

Washington Post - June 5, 2023

Disney welcomes Gay Days in Florida as the feud with DeSantis rages on

Mark Stegall and Robert Motz knew they’d made the right decision to travel to Florida when they spotted a sea of people wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Say Gay” in front of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The partners from Galesburg, Ill., have been coming to the annual Gay Days celebration at Disney for years and ultimately decided they weren’t going to let travel advisories, new state laws targeting the LGBTQ community and a bitter public feud between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the entertainment giant keep them away. “We’re here because it’s Gay Days, it’s that simple,” Stegall said Saturday. “Disney welcomes everybody. Maybe the governor of Florida doesn’t, but Disney does.” The massive Pride Month gathering marked a show of defiance this weekend in a state where librarians have been pulling gay-themed books off the shelves, teachers are no longer allowed to discuss gender identity or sexual orientation and many LGBTQ families feel under attack.

Organizers said reservations at the host hotel came in slower than normal. One event — the Taste of Gay Days — was scratched after restaurateurs voiced concerns. But the show did go on. Rainbow-hued merchandise designed by Disney — including a plush Mickey Mouse waving a Pride flag — flew off the shelves almost as quickly as it could be restocked. Drag queen bingo was held. In the end, all 1,001 rooms at the host hotel were booked, though Gay Days chief executive Joseph Clark said travel warnings from civil rights and equality groups advising against travel to Florida had impacted turnout. “For some it’s the safety aspect, for others, they don’t want to spend money in a state that doesn’t support them,” Clark said. “My message has been, ‘We need your help here in Florida.’” Gay Days at Disney began three decades ago to bring together LGBTQ people and families in an environment where they felt included rather than marginalized. While the entertainment giant doesn’t sponsor the event, it has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Gay Days visitors through the years, making it one of the nation’s largest Pride Month events. Travelers dress in red shirts to identify themselves while at the theme parks. There is also an LGBTQ expo, pool parties and a Miss Gay Days pageant contest at other venues nearby.

NBC News - June 5, 2023

GOP candidates criticize Trump for praising Kim Jong Un

Several Republican presidential candidates took aim at former President Donald Trump for praising North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after the hermit kingdom was elected to the executive board of the World Health Organization last week. “Congratulations to Kim Jung [sic] Un!” Trump wrote Friday on his social media platform, Truth Social. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Trump administration, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized Trump’s post at GOP Sen. Joni Ernst's “Roast and Ride” event Saturday in Iowa. “Kim Jong Un is a thug and a tyrant, and he has tested ballistic missiles against our allies,” Haley told NBC News. “He’s threatened us. There’s nothing to congratulate him about. I mean, he’s been terrible to his people. He’s been terrible to America, and we need to stop being nice to countries that hate America.”

DeSantis said he was “surprised” Trump praised Kim, whom he called a “murderous dictator.” Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to announce a presidential bid this week, criticized Trump for congratulating Kim. “Whether it's my former running mate or anyone else, nobody should be praising the dictator in North Korea or praising the leader in Russia, who has launched an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine,” Pence said Saturday in an interview with Fox News. “This is a time when we ought to make it clear to the world that we stand for freedom and we stand with those who stand for freedom.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also piled on Trump in a tweet Saturday: “Kim Jong-Un, the tyrant dictator in North Korea should not be praised by Donald Trump for a leadership role in the World Health Organization. We sanction leaders who oppress their people. We do not elevate them on the world stage.” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has ruled out running for president but recently hosted a private donor retreat to raise money for GOP candidates, joined the fray as well. “Taking our country back from Joe Biden does not start with congratulating North Korea’s murderous dictator,” he tweeted. Kemp drew Trump’s ire after he refused to push baseless claims of election fraud in Georgia.

June 4, 2023

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 4, 2023

Gov. Greg Abbott says he wants to end property taxes for Texans. Here's what he means by that.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick dug in Friday on their dueling plans to cut property taxes, leaving no end in sight to an impasse that has dragged lawmakers into an overtime legislative session and sparked an unusually public clash between Texas’ conservative heavyweights. Abbott, speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, continued to stand behind his preferred approach, which would focus entirely on driving down school tax rates. He’s called it a “roadmap to end property taxes.” “Texans want to own their own property, not rent it from government. We must provide that by eliminating property taxes in Texas,” Abbott said, referring to the main component of school property taxes that pays for maintenance and operations. It seems a particularly tall order in Texas, a state that does not levy an income tax.

Patrick called the idea “a fantasy" in an interview on conservative radio Thursday night. “The problem with that is, the first time the sales tax (revenue) drops in a down economy, then you don’t have the money to maintain it, so your property taxes would skyrocket,” Patrick said. “And secondly, we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills.” Patrick, whose plan involves a mix of driving down property tax rates and raising the state's homestead exemption for school taxes, told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty on Thursday that he would continue to insist on increasing the amount that homeowners can trim off the taxable value of their principal residence. “I don’t see it happening, Chad,” Patrick said, when asked if the Senate — the chamber Patrick oversees — would accept a tax cut plan that didn’t include an increase in the homestead exemption. The House, led by Speaker Dade Phelan, has adopted Abbott’s approach during the special session, passing a bill earlier this week that drives down school taxes but leaves the homestead exemption unchanged. The House then promptly adjourned for the session, essentially leaving it to the Senate to accept its version or force yet another session in order to deliver on Republicans' promise of billions in tax cuts.

Texas Monthly - June 4, 2023

Paxton’s impeachment is not a referendum on Trump

Shortly before the Texas House convened on Saturday to vote on a list of twenty articles of impeachment for Attorney General Ken Paxton, Donald Trump posted a missive to his followers on Truth Social. “Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed—I will fight you if it does,” the former president and current 2024 GOP front-runner warned. Who did Trump blame for Paxton’s woes? “Radical Left Democrats,” “Criminals,” and, critically in the GOP-led House, “RINOS,” or Republicans In Name Only. Trump has an uncanny ability to bend Republicans to his will. The few exceptions are infamous among the GOP for their resistance—among them former Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, the late senator John McCain, and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Most in the party contort themselves into alignment with Trump, regardless of their past disagreements. This time, though, Trump’s bullying didn’t work. His threat that he would “fight” Texas House members who voted for impeachment didn’t swing many votes—the chamber favored impeachment 121–23, with 70 percent of the House GOP caucus voting in support.

Since then, national political observers have cast this Trump failure as a harbinger that the former president’s grip on the GOP may be slipping. USA Today wrote that “the decision by many Republicans to wave off Trump’s warnings fueled questions about the former president’s political power in one of the nation’s reddest states,” and noted that Trump-backed candidates who succeeded in GOP primaries last year subsequently fell flat in the November general election. Conservatives who’ve grown disillusioned with Trump noticed, too. Dan McLaughlin, a senior writer for the conservative National Review, noted, mockingly, that Trump “display[ed] his influence by persuading 1/7 of the Texas House to vote against impeaching Paxton.” Bill Mitchell, a longtime Trump booster who switched his allegiance to Florida governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year, declared that “Trump has lost his influence in Texas.” On the other side of the aisle, liberal commentators such as Stephanie Kennedy opined, “May the MAGA influence continue to collapse—and die.” Plenty of Trump opponents have looked for signs that the MAGA era of GOP politics might be ending, but the dynamics of Texas GOP politics don’t necessarily augur national trends. The vote against Paxton was less political than personal. GOP members of the House took umbrage at Paxton arrogantly demanding that they spend taxpayer money on an out-of-court settlement of the lawsuit against him by former senior lawyers on his staff, several of them prominent Republicans in their own right, who had credibly accused him of soliciting bribes and other abuses of his office.

Associated Press - June 4, 2023

'The stakes could not have been higher': Biden signs debt ceiling bill

With just two days to spare, President Joe Biden signed legislation on Saturday that lifts the nation’s debt ceiling, averting an unprecedented default on the federal government’s debt. It was a decidedly low-key denouement to a monthslong drama that unnerved financial markets at home and abroad and caused anxious retirees and social service organizations to make contingency plans in case the country was unable to pay all its bills. Instead of holding a public ceremony with lawmakers from both parties — showcasing the bipartisanship that Biden had cited in an Oval Office address on Friday evening — the president signed the legislation in private in a reflection of the tight deadline facing the nation's leaders. The Treasury Department had warned that the country would start running short of cash on Monday, which would have sent shockwaves through the U.S. and global economies.

The White House released a picture of the president signing the legislation at the Resolute Desk. In a brief statement, Biden thanked Democratic and Republican congressional leaders for their partnership, a cordial message that contrasted with the rancor that initially characterized the debt debate. “No matter how tough our politics gets, we need to see each not as adversaries, but as fellow Americans,” Biden said in a video message released after the signing. He said it was important to “stop shouting, lower the temperature, and work together to pursue progress, secure prosperity and keep the promise of America for everybody.” The standoff began when Republicans refused to raise the country’s borrowing limit unless Democrats agreed to cut spending. Eventually, the White House began weeks of intense negotiations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to reach a deal. The final agreement, passed by the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday, suspends the debt limit until 2025 — after the next presidential election — and restricts government spending. It gives lawmakers budget targets for the next two years in hopes of assuring fiscal stability as the political season heats up. Raising the nation’s debt limit, now at $31.4 trillion, will ensure that the government can borrow to pay debts already incurred. After Congress passed the legislation, Biden used the occasion to deliver his first speech from the Oval Office as president on Friday.

Politico - June 4, 2023

First GOP debate: Who’s in, who’s out, and who’s sweating

Spectators are salivating at the opportunity for former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to savage each other at the Republican National Committee’s first sanctioned 2024 debate in August. Others are hoping former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will make himself into a human grenade on stage as he did with Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. But what if these high-profile matchups don’t happen? The RNC unveiled its qualifying criteria for the Aug. 23 debate on Friday. While it’s too early to know exactly which candidates may or may not make the stage, the various party-loyalty requirements and polling and fundraising thresholds raise plenty of questions about a number of prominent candidates. The field is already large and poised to grow next week, if, as expected, Christie, Mike Pence and Doug Burgum each jump in. Those potential entries would bring the number of major candidates who have held federal or statewide office to eight.

And with a handful of other Republicans who’ve never been elected spending seven figures on self-funded TV ads, the number of credible candidates is quickly approaching double digits. The bigger the field, the greater the chance the party has a number of candidates too large to fit on one stage together. The RNC said in its announcement that it could add a second debate the night after, if needed, to accommodate more candidates, though it didn’t specify what kinds of numbers would require splitting the field. But the RNC’s requirements are also stricter than they’ve been in the past, making it equally possible just a few candidates make the stage. Candidates who have long, impressive political resumes but are struggling to gain any traction in the polls may be left out in the cold. Perhaps the biggest question is around Trump’s participation. The RNC requires that all participants pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee, something that could cause Trump, who bailed on televised debates in both 2016 and 2020, to sit it out entirely. The debates stand alone when it comes to penetration: 24 million people watched the first debate in 2015, which also aired on Fox News Channel, a staggering number for cable television. A larger field of candidates could benefit the frontrunner, Trump, who commands a loyal following after eight years dominating GOP politics.

KXAN - June 4, 2023

Lawmakers passed police transparency bill, so why hasn’t it reached the governor?

A bill passed by Texas lawmakers to make police records less secret appears to have gone missing itself. The unusual way it has stalled before being sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for review has many of the main players involved keeping quiet and KXAN digging into a winding legislative timeline that threatens to derail transparency policy years in the making. Nearly a week after a final version of House Bill 30 was approved overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate, listed as enrolled online and signed by Speaker Dade Phelan, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had yet to sign the measure. This step is a legal requirement in the Texas Constitution before going to the governor to sign or veto. As unfinished business from the regular session’s final days spilled into a special session with high-profile divisions among those three Republican leaders on other issues, questions are now swarming about the possible fallout to HB 30.

As one of the only bills directly related to last year’s Uvalde school shooting that lawmakers passed, HB 30 aimed to close what open records advocates have labeled the “dead suspect loophole.” While its author — Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso — made unsuccessful attempts to pass similar measures every session since 2017, the bill saw a surge of bipartisan support following the tragedy that left 19 elementary students and two teachers dead. Because the shooter also died, families, journalists and lawmakers — including Phelan, the bill’s most prominent public supporter — worried the loophole would be used to block the release of records that could shed light on the actions, or inaction, of police. “More than anything, the families of the #Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency. Period,” Phelan tweeted shortly after the shooting. “It would be absolutely unconscionable to use the ‘dead suspect loophole’ to thwart the release of information that is so badly needed and deserved right now. I think it’s time we pass legislation to end the dead suspect loophole for good in 2023.” For decades, Texas law enforcement has used the loophole in an exemption to the Texas Public Information Act, broadly denying requesters details in custodial death cases. The exemption gives police discretion in closed criminal cases to withhold records when a suspect has not gone through the court process — including when that person dies while in custody. KXAN has investigated its widespread use in such cases for years.

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 4, 2023

Ted Cruz slams John Cornyn, other GOP senators for supporting 'lousy deal' to raise debt ceiling

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tore into other Senate Republicans, including fellow Texan U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, for supporting a "lousy deal" to push off the debt limit and avoid a federal default that was expected early next week. Cruz complained on an episode of his podcast recorded just after the Senate voted late Thursday night to send the debt deal to the White House that Republicans could have stopped it if Cornyn and 16 other GOP senators not "joined with Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden in adding $4 trillion more in debt in exchange for what were ultimately very small spending cuts." "Republicans had it entirely within our power to kill this," Cruz said, reading off a list of each GOP senator who voted in favor of the deal.

The deal, which pushes off the debt limit for two years in exchange for essentially freezing federal spending, narrowly passed the Senate on a 63-36 vote. Most bills have to get at least 60 votes to pass the chamber, and with five Democrats opposing the deal, only a handful more Republican no votes would have sunk it. Cornyn said in a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the vote that "it was clear a compromise bill would be the only way to avoid a full blown economic crisis, which is what would happen if we were not to raise the debt ceiling." "With a Democrat-led Senate and Republican-led House and a Democrat in the White House, bipartisanship was — and is — a necessity," Cornyn said. “This bill will reduce federal spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, which is a strong start in the fight to right America's financial ship.” The debt agreement, which passed the House earlier this week on a 314-117 vote, drew pushback from both the right and left, with Texans in the House taking on key roles in opposition from both sides of the aisle. Conservatives who opposed it said it did too little to rein in government spending. Progressives, meanwhile, panned provisions including new work requirements for some federal programs. Fourteen Texas Republicans and four Texas Democrats opposed the bill in the House.

Dallas Morning News - June 4, 2023

Colin Allred blasts Ted Cruz for opposing debt deal that averts US default

The debt ceiling deal that averted a federal default has quickly become fodder for the 2024 Senate contest, with Rep. Colin Allred accusing Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday of voting to “send our economy into recession.” Cruz called the deal a “disaster” that won’t do nearly enough to curb spending, and like other conservatives, he wanted to use the looming debt crisis as leverage. “Every time there’s a fight over the debt ceiling” or federal spending, “Senate Republican leadership does what the Democrats want 100 out of 100 times,” Cruz tweeted Friday morning. Texans in Congress were almost evenly split on the deal struck last weekend by Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden, to boost the government’s debt limit by another $4 trillion. Opposition came from both sides.

Sen. John Cornyn, a top lieutenant to the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, voted for the deal Thursday night after voicing qualms about defense spending being shortchanged. In the House, the vote among Texans was 20 to 18. Fourteen of 25 Republicans opposed it, as did four of 13 Democrats. “Retirement accounts, thousands of jobs and the global economy were all at stake,” Allred, a three-term Dallas Democrat hoping to unseat Cruz next year, said Friday morning. “Ted Cruz again chose divisiveness and his extreme ideology instead of putting Texans first and getting things done.” Allred’s campaign statement added that “though this bill is not perfect, it is a bipartisan compromise that moves our country forward, delivers for our veterans and their families, and protects our economy. We don’t have to be embarrassed by our senator who never stands up for us. We can get a new one.” But Allred glossed over the fact that four of his fellow Texas Democrats voted as Cruz did, including a fellow Dallas lawmaker, freshman Rep. Jasmine Crockett. The others were Reps. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, and Greg Casar of Austin.

KETK - June 4, 2023

‘I was surprised it took so long’: Louie Gohmert weighs in on Ken Paxton impeachment

On Saturday, May 27, the state house voted to move forward with an impeachment trial for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Louie Gohmert spent 18 consecutive years serving U.S. Congressman for District 1. In 2022, he decided to step away from his seat in Washington D.C. to challenge Paxton for Texas Attorney General ultimately losing that race. “He comes across as so persuasive, so innocent, so ‘woe is me,'” said Gohmert. Gohmert said with Paxton already serving his third term the timing of the impeachment process is surprising. “Number one, I was surprised it happened so quickly and number two, I was surprised it took so long to happen quickly,” said Gohmert. He said since 2020, talk of Paxton’s misconduct allegations has been circulating in the state capitol.

“There’s been two years, anyone who wasn’t deaf and blind in Austin knows that he had eight quality people, including a really valiant Texas Ranger saying ‘this guy is corrupt,'” Gohmert said. Gohmert challenged Paxton in the race and said he was confident he was going to win the runoff. “I was gaining ground but then he hit me with false advertising, but it was enough to suppress me,” said Gohmert. East Texas State Rep. Brian Harrison believes Paxton wasn’t given due process. Gohmert said sometimes House members believe they deserve more reasoning than given, but the true trial and legal process will unfold in the State Senate. “On the issue of ‘is he getting due process?’ Well, we may not like it, but in a grand jury type equivalent, what the House of Representatives is, there was nothing illegal or immoral or unethical,” said Gohmert. When the trial begins in the senate Gohmert believes two people should not be able to vote. “Angela Paxton should be recused, she should not have a vote because she clearly has a conflict of interest,” said Gohmert.

KXAN - June 4, 2023

Gov. Abbott signs bill banning transgender health care for minors into law

Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday the controversial Senate Bill 14 that bans gender transition care for Texas minors. The law will go into effect Sept. 1. The law will prohibit minors from receiving puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transition to the gender with which they identify. Texas kids already accessing these types of treatments will have to “wean” off of the medication over a period of time that minimizes risk and in a manner that is “medically appropriate,” per the bill text. Texas now joins 18 other U.S. states that have also banned medication and surgical care for transgender youth. Ten U.S. states have “shield” laws protecting access to transgender health care.

It’s important to note that examples of children under the age of 18 having transition-related surgeries are exceedingly rare across the country, per Politifact. Politifact was not able to find any examples of “young children” having these surgeries. Opponents of SB14 have ardently protested against the bill throughout the 89th legislative session. “A decade of research shows [gender-affirming care] reduces depression, suicidality and other devastating consequences of trans preteens and teens being forced to undergo puberty in the sex they were assigned at birth,” wrote the Texas Democrats in a May press release. “It’s a tragedy that the lives of marginalized Texas children are being sacrificed to the will of fringe, far-right extremists. Texas is better than this,” it continued. Supporters of the bill law said they are concerned with parents allowing children to make life-changing decisions while they are young.

KXAN - June 4, 2023

Texas might use eminent domain to prevent developer taking over state park

The state of Texas may try to use eminent domain to prevent a developer from turning a state park into a private community. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission will hold a special meeting June 10 to consider acquiring the land through condemnation, the process by which governments can use eminent domain. The developer, Dallas-based Todd Interests, plans to turn the property into a gated community with multi-million dollar homes and a golf course. The company will officially take over the land, which includes Fairfield Lake State Park, from the current owner on June 13. Lawmakers previously considered allowing the state to use eminent domain to acquire the property.

A bill filed in the legislature was significantly altered to focus on water rights in the lake rather than using eminent domain. House Bill 4757 was passed by the House, but left pending in a Senate committee after some senators warned it could open the state up to possible litigation. The meeting announcement comes about a week after the Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to authorize the executive director of the Parks and Wildlife Department to “take all necessary steps to purchase approximately 5,000 acres in Freestone County including Fairfield Lake State Park.” The park, about 70 miles east of Waco, has been leased to the state for decades by Vistra Energy, which formerly operated a power plant on Fairfield Lake. After the plant closed in 2018, the company gave TPWD notice that it would terminate its lease. “Vistra encouraged the TPWD to submit a bid on the property, but they did not,” Meranda Cohn, a spokesperson for Vistra, previously told KXAN in a statement. In committee hearings this legislative session, TPWD Chairman Arch “Beaver” Aplin told lawmakers his department only wanted to purchase the state park itself, not the full 5,000-acre property that Vistra wanted to sell as a whole. Vistra then entered into a contract with Todd Interests in April 2022. Shawn Todd, CEO of Todd Interests, said the state had “multiple opportunities” to purchase the land.

Clean Technica - June 4, 2023

Should Elon Musk’s construction projects rise above minimum local regs? Texas neighbors say “yes!”

Elon Musk’s construction projects across Texas have resulted in billions of dollars in investment. SpaceX has a rocket launchpad on the Gulf of Mexico (which was, sadly, the site in April of a human-less Starship explosion just after liftoff). Tesla recently broke ground on its in-house lithium refinery, located in the greater Corpus Christi area. Giga Austin — promised to be an “ecological paradise” — is producing 5,000 Model Ys a week. Some of Musk’s construction projects, however, aren’t as well-received by local Texans. Citizens in Bastrop, a largely rural county 30 minutes east of Austin, are fighting back against Musk’s construction procedures due to what they say is environmental harm to the once rolling farmlands. Elon Musk moved his startup, The Boring Company, to a 70-acre pasture in Bastrop, Texas, in May 2021.

Musk’s construction sites and enormous white warehouses now rise from landscape where cattle grazed on verdant pastures; these buildings are designed to manufacture and test tunnel-boring equipment. Not long after, SpaceX began constructing a massive building across the road. Semis barrel up and down the narrow country roads. Chap and Maura Ambrose and their children live on a nearby 10-acre property. The work was “24/7 … spotlights all night,” Maura notes. Neighborhood concerns erupted when The Boring Company discharged 143,000 gallons of treated wastewater daily into the Colorado River. Alarmed by the speed and scale of the building, Chap began flying his drone over the construction sites to capture images. He posted updates to social media and a website he started, Keep Bastrop Boring, which he advertised on a local billboard. He posted videos of construction activities in which tunnels were excavated under the road to connect the Boring and SpaceX sites. Chap submitted a complaint to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) over that dirt, which he worried could be contaminated with chemicals. He posted footage of a work crew bulldozing trees. He submitted a complaint about SpaceX to the TCEQ after seeing a hose pumping water from the construction site into a roadside ditch. The TCEQ responded by sending out a violation over the discharge of the “sediment-laden water.”

KXAN - June 4, 2023

SNAP applications processing faster, backlog and concerns over benefit cuts continues

Tiesa Hollaway surveys the shelves. The food pantry at Hill Country Community Ministries has fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of breads, milk and canned goods. Hollaway quickly walks through the small space — 900 square feet — smiling at a handful of volunteers who are preparing for a busy day. “We are so grateful,” Hollaway said. “Our shelves are full. I know that there are a lot of food pantries, whether it’s ours or anyone all over Central Texas, that are struggling, a lot of the food pantries are struggling.” Hollaway is familiar with that struggle. Just last month she said she had to write a check for $10,000 to buy food just to keep up with the growing need. “We served over 91,000 people last year,” she explained. “We’re seeing a 49% increase in new families in May — just this month, we’re not even done with May yet — and we’ve already seen 74 brand new families.”

Hollaway explained the need is growing because families are continuing to deal with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP application delays and recent pandemic benefits ended. In March, the federal government cut the amount families received which has meant a reduction of at least $95 a month. “We’re having to figure out where are we going to get food. We’re having to figure out, are we going to have to reduce the amount of food because we don’t have enough food for everybody that’s coming in as well? How do we get that food? Hollaway said. “The last few months we’ve ran out of you know, we ran out of spaghetti sauce, we ran out of mac and cheese, we’ve ran out of dry foods.” A spokesperson with Texas Health and Human Services Commission which oversees SNAP, said as of late May more than 79,356 applications are waiting to be processed. Last year around the same time frame, HHSC told KXAN investigators 258,000 applications were pending processing. The spokesperson added that over the last year, 65% of applications were processed within 30 days which is within the federal time standard. The state said on average SNAP applications exceed the 30-day standard by 17 days.

Austin American-Statesman - June 4, 2023

D. Dowd Muska: It's wrong to force Texans to pay for local-government lobbying

(D. Dowd Muska is vice president of research at the Southwest Public Policy Institute.) In 2023, school choice went mainstream. So far, Iowa, South Carolina, Utah, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma and Nebraska have enacted substantial measures to empower parents and students through educational freedom. Texas ended this year's regular legislative session without embracing school choice. And don't expect much change, no matter how many special sessions the governor calls. Reasonable people can disagree on how best to reform education. But school-choice proponents face an obstacle many activists don't: taxpayer-funded lobbying. The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) is one of many nonprofit organizations that tap public coffers to sway lawmakers. And the group isn't subtle when it comes to school choice. TASB thundered that the regular session's SB 8, which would have created education savings accounts, shifted "public money into a new, costly entitlement program that would mostly benefit wealthy families in urban areas to the detriment of our public schools."

Unfortunately, in Texas, local governments devote considerable expenditures to the persuasion game. They employ three tools to affect the policymaking process. First, in-house personnel and resources – e.g., officials testify during hearings, conduct press conferences, write op-eds, and post on Facebook and Twitter. Second, even the smallest of government entities often find that hiring a professional influencer, or an entire lobbying firm, can yield major legislative "wins." (Securing special appropriations is a particular skill.) Finally, "membership" organizations claim to "speak" for villages, towns, cities, counties, special districts, government educators and administrators, police officers, etc. Whatever form it takes, taxpayer-funded lobbying is wrong, because it makes citizens subsidize "messaging" they may oppose. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2018 decision, when government compels speech, "individuals are coerced into betraying their convictions," and forcing "free and independent individuals to endorse ideas they find objectionable is always demeaning." The Southwest Public Policy Institute recently published a paper on intragovernmental advocacy in the eight states of the American Southwest. We found that from Austin to Santa Fe to Carson City, taxpayer-funded lobbying is commonplace. Battles over school choice, corporate welfare, criminal justice, energy regulations and many other important matters are heavily impacted by public-sector entities.

Fort Worth Report - June 4, 2023

From Paschal High to Texas interim attorney general: John Scott learned to ‘stick with it’

Just a few days into his freshman year at R. L. Paschal High School in the 1970s, 14-year-old John Scott came home and told his father that he “might want to quit football.” “He said, ‘You’re not doing anything 1 million other boys hadn’t done. You should stick with it,’” Scott, the newly appointed Texas interim attorney general, recalled recently. Scott followed his father’s advice and remained on the team to play all four years on the Paschal Panthers, finishing his last season in 1979 as a 200-pound defensive tackle before graduating in 1980. His senior yearbook photo shows a smiling 17-year-old blond wearing a spiffy tuxedo jacket and bow-tie. In a series of text exchanges with Fort Worth Report that constituted the equivalent of a long-distance interview, Scott, who turns 61 on Sunday, looked back across his life in Fort Worth as a loyal Paschal alum, a successful attorney and a proud father and grandfather who has been married to his wife, Tally, for 35 years.

“Born and raised in Fort Worth,” he said. “God willing, I’ll die here.” The “stick-with-it” advice from his father, he says, became a lasting mantra that helped propel the Panthers’ former No. 76 into a highly public life centered in Austin and the one for which he is far better known outside of Fort Worth. In the past week, Scott accepted a major role in the historic impeachment drama playing out in the Texas State Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him to serve as interim replacement for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton. Abbott announced that he was temporarily naming Scott to become the state’s highest law enforcement officer as Paxton faces an impeachment trial in the Senate this summer on 20 articles of alleged wrongdoing and public misconduct. In his text responses, Scott kept the focus on his personal life and declined to comment on the impeachment. But asked whether he would be an activist or a placeholder in serving as interim attorney general, Scott described his role “purely as a caretaker,” adding: “My plans are to get back to private practice as quickly as I can.”

Inside Climate News - June 4, 2023

Spill that dumped 400,000 gallons of oil near Midland blamed on a Dallas company's operator error

Operator errors led to 402,486 gallons of crude oil gushing out of an EnLink Midstream pipeline south of Midland in late March, the company told federal regulators. It was the largest spill in the Permian Basin since 2010 and the fourth-largest spill on land in Texas in that period. According to an incident report EnLink submitted to regulators, operators overpressurized the pipeline, causing it to rupture. They did not shut down the flow for nearly three hours after the pipeline’s leak detection alarm went off. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said last week its investigation into the spill was ongoing and EnLink could face civil penalties or other enforcement actions if violations of pipeline safety regulations are identified.

EnLink Midstream, headquartered in Dallas, operates midstream assets in the Permian Basin, Oklahoma, North Texas and the Gulf Coast and has more than 12,000 miles of pipelines nationwide. The company announced expansion of its Greater Chickadee crude oil pipeline network in Upton and Midland Counties in 2018. The pipelines transport crude oil from Permian Basin drilling sites. The pipeline that ruptured was manufactured in 2021 and installed in 2022. Pipeline regulation in Texas is divided between the Railroad Commission and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Large pipeline spills must be reported to federal agency. EnLink completed its incident report to the agency April 17. It says that at 8:36 p.m. on March 29, a pipeline controller switched the flow of crude oil “on the fly” from the delivery point to the El Dorado Crude Station, 11 miles south of Midland, without lowering the pressure or flow rate. The report states “this method is not in alignment with control room procedure and training.” The high pressure caused the pipeline to fail, “allowing crude oil to flow freely onto the ground.” When the controller resumed flow at 8:52 p.m., the leak detection system identified a potential leak. However, the operator did not investigate the alarm, as company procedure requires. Crude oil continued to flow through the ruptured pipeline until the station was shut down at 11:26 p.m.

San Antonio Express-News - June 4, 2023

Spurs tweet in support of Pride Month, gun reform

Spurs Sports & Entertainment took to social media last week to show its support for LGBTQ+ rights and gun violence prevention. The franchise kicked off its celebration of Pride Month with a tweet to its 3.5 million Twitter followers Thursday that included the rainbow flag and the phrases "Love is love" an "Unity & Inclusion." Members of San Antonio's LGBTQ+ community praised the Spurs for their stance, which came as many conservatives say they are boycotting businesses for being "woke" in their support of Pride Month and LGBTQ+ people.

"It's a beautiful statement to have the San Antonio Spurs tweet 'Love is love,' " said John Barrera, a 59-year-old real estate agent with Portfolio Alamo Heights Keller Williams who competes in the Gay Lesbian Tennis Alliance, an LGBTQ+ organization that sanctions more than 70 events worldwide. The Spurs support of Pride month comes as Republican-dominated statehouses have either passed or sought a wave of new laws restricting LGBTQ+ rights this year. The Texas Legislature recently banned puberty blockers and hormone therapy for trans kids, restricted the college sports teams trans athletes can join and expanded the definition of sexual conduct to include some drag shows. Texas has become "one of the most dangerous and hostile places for transgender youth and transgender people and their families in America,” Andrea Segovia, senior field and policy adviser of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told reporters in February, according to the Texas Tribune.

Houston Chronicle - June 4, 2023

Cindy Siegel: If Harris County could run good elections, the state wouldn't have to step in

(Cindy Siegel is chair of the Harris County Republican Party.) In 2020, I was elected to serve as the Harris County Republican Party chairman. Part of my responsibility is overseeing the Republican primary elections and recruiting Republican election workers for general elections. Additionally, I serve as the only Republican on the Harris County Elections Commission. Over the last two decades, I’ve been a voter, poll worker, election judge and candidate on the ballot, so I believed that I’d seen it all. Since becoming chairman, I quickly learned I hadn’t even come close. The Democrat-controlled Harris County Commissioners Court created the elections administrator’s office with a party-line vote in 2020. The creation of this office took the responsibility of running our elections away from two duly elected Democrats, the Harris County tax assessor-collector and the county clerk, giving it to the elections administrator, an appointed official with no accountability to the voters.

Proponents of the office’s creation will argue that it was formed to take politics out of running our elections and professionalize the system as a whole. But unfortunately, after multiple election blunders, what has occurred is the exact opposite. The first Harris County elections administrator was Isabel Longoria. Before taking on the job as the EA, she had a long history of working for Democratic organizations. She had never run an election — or even a polling location — before assuming this monumental role. So not only was she the exact opposite of nonpartisan, she did not have the professional experience needed to run elections in the third largest county in the nation. Longoria’s lack of experience became quickly apparent. The 2022 primary election she ran was riddled with issues, the most egregious being that 10,000 mail-in ballots were not counted on election night. They were discovered four days after the election. In the face of scrutiny from people from both parties, Longoria resigned.

McAllen Monitor - June 4, 2023

Comfort House, the hospice facility in McAllen, faces harassment over drag show fundraiser

The first nine hours of Maria Laura Salgado’s 12-hour shift were uneventful for the most part. In her 11 years working as a caregiver at Comfort House, she’d fallen into the routine that the workers at the facility all share — providing a loving, comforting environment for individuals in the last moments of their lives. Those working the late shift, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., spend their time making rounds, or “rondas,” with each patient, checking their charts and administering medication, cleaning their areas, and repositioning them every two hours to prevent bedsores. Just after 3 a.m. on Feb. 7, Salgado sat at the central nurse’s station with another caregiver named Sandra Linares, looking over the charts as patients slept in the surrounding rooms before the next ronda at 4 a.m.

While Comfort House works to recover from the fire, they are also feeling heat from some members of the community who have taken offense to a drag show intended to raise funds for the 501(c)3 nonprofit. “One thing I do want to make clear is that we love everybody,” Perez said. “We don’t repay hate with hate, you know. We do our best to continue with the mission of Comfort House at all times, which is to provide a home-like environment so that individuals can die with peace and dignity while surrounded by their loved ones.” He said that since the announcement of the show, Comfort House employees have become the target for harassment and threatening phone calls despite the fact that the fundraiser, titled “Drag Me To Brunch,” is being organized and sponsored by entities not affiliated with Comfort House. The individuals who are hosting the fundraiser, which is slated for 11 a.m. Sunday at the Radisson Hotel in McAllen, are no strangers to offering help to Comfort House in their time of need. Prior to COVID-19, they’d hosted a Bingo event and raised over $10,000 for the sanctuary of the terminally ill. “Some of them approached me after the fire, and they’re like, ‘Let us help you out again.’ So that’s how this started,” Perez explained. “That’s when some of the backlash started coming.” Perez tried explaining their dire need for funding and supplies in order to keep afloat.

Texas Observer - June 4, 2023

The legislature ignores suffering pregnant Texans

Jessica Bernardo and her husband began planning for the birth of their first child last August, as soon as she found out she was pregnant. They’d been trying to start a family for years and were overjoyed at the news that she was expecting. Her husband installed a baby gate at top of their stairs in the early weeks of her first trimester. At night, they lay in bed listening to audiobooks about the stages of pregnancy. When at 14 weeks they learned their child would most likely have Down syndrome, they decided to name her Emma, which means whole. “We began researching how to best support a baby, our baby, with a difference,” Bernardo said. But just one week later, they received devastating news: Emma had a fatal fetal condition known as anasarca and would not survive. Bernardo also learned that because of her pregnancy, she was at high risk of developing mirror syndrome, a rare condition that could lead to a buildup of liquid in her heart and chest, respiratory distress, and renal failure.

“Everything we celebrated, hoped for, and dreamed of came crashing down that day,” Bernardo said. To preserve her own health, Bernardo needed an abortion, but in Texas, her doctor couldn’t give her one. “Because Emma’s heart was still beating, our only choice was to leave the state,” Bernardo recalled at a press conference last week. Bernardo is one of countless Texans who, when faced with the loss of a pregnancy, was denied standard-of-care medical treatment due to the state’s anti-abortion laws. Last week, she along with seven others, joined a lawsuit seeking to change that situation. The lawsuit, Zurawski v. State of Texas, filed in March, asks the state to further clarify under what conditions a doctor can provide an abortion during a medical emergency. Ultimately Bernardo and her husband were able to get her an abortion out of state at a clinic in Seattle, but Bernardo said the experience left her heartbroken and enraged. “I never want another human being to go through what I went through,” she said. “It was worse than cruel.”

City Stories

KERA - June 4, 2023

Dallas clears homeless camp amid I-45 work, prompting backlash

Up until Thursday, Alfonso Jackson lived in a tent near Interstate 45 in South Dallas. It was part of a site known as the Coombs camp that's existed for years. But on Thursday morning, city workers and law enforcement began removing residents and their belongings amid construction on I-45. Jackson said he was notified just last week to vacate the camp — and he was not aware of a plan for residents to find housing. “There’s a lot of people here, so if they pull us out of here, where else are we going to go?" Jackson said. "They should probably help us out or place us somewhere, rather than have to go scattered all over the city.” In an email, city spokesperson Jennifer Brown said the city had been working with the Office of Code Compliance to provide cleaning supplies such as trash bins, bags and brooms as far back as last summer.

While that was a short-term solution, the city anticipated closing the camp to provide housing to residents as part of its rapid rehousing initiative. The Coombs camp was known as one of the city’s oldest encampments. Its residents were mostly elderly and disabled, said Jonathan Guadian, who volunteers for Say It With Your Chest, an organization run by Dallas residents that advocates for the unhoused population and provides food and other necessities. "Many of the times these folks are hanging on by a thread," Guadian said. Brown, the Dallas spokesperson, also said the city received notice from the Texas Department of Transportation that construction on I-45 would begin June 3. TXDoT confirmed there will be construction on three lanes southbound from Friday evening to 5 a.m. Monday morning. The city said it had to change its strategy after asking TXDoT for as much time as possible to sweep the camp. Brown also said city partners including Housing Forward, The Bridge, Our Calling and others are available to assist in providing resources to residents.

Austin American-Statesman - June 4, 2023

Austin City Council gives initial nod to controversial mixed-use development

Pump the brakes. That's what opponents of a large mixed-use development proposed on the site of the Borden Dairy plant, next to the Colorado River and a wildlife preserve, urged the Austin City Council to do last week — to no avail. Voting on the first of what ultimately will be three readings, the council gave initial approval Thursday to the developer's request to rezone the property to allow the planned project to proceed. Seven council members voted yes; two others were not present, nor was Mayor Kirk Watson; and Council Member Jose Velásquez, whose district includes the proposed project, recused himself.

Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group plans to redevelop the 21-acre Borden Dairy tract at the busy intersection of East Cesar Chavez Street and U.S. 183 with 1,400 condominium and apartment units; 411,500 square feet of office space; 106,000 square feet of retail space; and a 220-room hotel. Opponents urged the council to delay the rezoning vote until thorough studies have been done to assess the potential environmental, water quality, traffic, neighborhood impact and other effects. They say the project could set a precedent for other towers along the Colorado River, below Longhorn Dam, in an area that borders the river and a 43-acre wildlife preserve — without any reviews of its potential effects. Endeavor is seeking to construct buildings up to 120 feet tall in an area where existing height currently is capped at 60 feet. Opponents say several other projects have been developed in the area within the 60-foot height limit. Among their concerns, detractors say the project could increase traffic in an already congested area from 500 vehicle trips a day to more than 21,000 a day. They also contend the project is out of scale, scope and character for an area with residential neighborhoods nearby.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 4, 2023

Keller school district superintendent to retire this year

Keller ISD Superintendent Rick Westfall plans to retire at the end of this year, pending approval by the school board, he said in an email to parents Friday. Westfall wrote that he intends to continue to serve as the district’s superintendent through the end of the fiscal year and remain an employee through December to assist with the leadership transition. The announcement will be on the agenda for Monday’s previously scheduled board meeting so that the board can begin the process of searching for a new superintendent, he said.

“It has been an honor to serve with so many dedicated colleagues and friends over the past six years in Keller ISD — collectively nine years, taking my time at Keller High School into consideration — and throughout my 31 years in public education,” Westfall wrote. “Deciding to retire at this time was definitely a difficult decision, but one that I ultimately felt was best after much prayer and consultation with my family. “Keller ISD is a truly exceptional school district, and the credit for its outstanding reputation lies not only with our fantastic students and supportive families, but with our dedicated and caring teachers and staff,” he wrote. According to the board meeting agenda, Westfall’s retirement agreement is being negotiated and will be presented for consideration. The board will meet at 5 p.m. Monday. Westfall’s most recent contract, with a salary of $285,340.10, began on Feb. 28, 2022, and was scheduled to last through Jan. 31, 2027.

Dallas Morning News - June 4, 2023

Dallas ransomware recovery ‘more than 90% complete,’ city says

Dallas’ head of information technology says the city has almost fully restored its system after a ransomware attack four weeks ago. Chief Information Officer Bill Zielinski told The Dallas Morning News that the city estimates being “more than 90% complete” in restoring IT systems and services since the cyberattack. “Following the initial attack on May 3, the city has worked with its cyber response vendors and IT service providers to review, clean, rebuild and restore city computers and servers to normal operations,” he said. Zielinski didn’t give a timeline on when the system would be fully restored. The city in mid-May said the recovery process could take several more weeks or months to complete.

The scope of the attack, the amount of work the city has done, and what’s left is still unclear as of Friday. City officials have cited the criminal investigation as the main reason to not fully explain the incident, and Dallas’ communications director emailed the mayor and City Council members Wednesday urging them to stick to telling inquiring residents and media that an investigation is ongoing and that updates will be shared “as appropriate.” City Manager T.C. Broadnax said Friday that most public-facing city services have been restored as of Friday, such as municipal court. Services still impacted include the city’s public libraries, which reported still having its online catalog and most public computers unavailable for patrons. Broadnax said that as work is being done to get the libraries fully restored, the city plans to upgrade software at the libraries and other improvements. “We greatly appreciate the public’s support and patience as we have continued to investigate and address the cybersecurity incident that occurred on May 3,” Broadnax said. “Our staff has worked tirelessly to restore and rebuild systems and return all systems to full functionality as quickly and securely as possible.”

National Stories

Associated Press - June 4, 2023

Trump-appointed judge rejects Tennessee's anti-drag law as too broad, too vague

Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation law designed to place strict limits on drag shows is unconstitutional, a federal judge says. The law is both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encouraged “discriminatory enforcement,” according to the ruling late Friday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. “There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker said. “Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” he said.

The law would have banned adult cabaret performances from public property or anywhere minors might be present. Performers who broke the law risked being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony for a repeat offense. Parker used the example of a female performer wearing an Elvis Presley costume and mimicking the iconic musician who could be at risk of punishment under the drag law because they would be considered a “male impersonator.” Friends of George’s, a Memphis-based LGBTQ+ theater company, filed a complaint in March, saying the law would negatively impact them because they produce “drag-centric performances, comedy sketches, and plays” with no age restrictions. “This win represents a triumph over hate,” the theater company said in a statement Saturday, adding that the ruling affirmed their First Amendment rights as artists. “Similar to the countless battles the LGBTQ+ community has faced over the last several decades, our collective success relies upon everyone speaking out and taking a stand against bigotry,” the group said. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican who was one of the law’s main sponsors, said he was disappointed with the ruling.

Inside Climate News - June 4, 2023

James Hansen warns of a short-term climate shock bringing 2 degrees of warming by 2050

A team of scientists led by former NASA climate researcher James Hansen, who formally raised the alarm about climate change to U.S. government leaders in his 1988 testimony to Congress, is working on a new study that warns of a possible short-term spike of planetary heating 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050. In an irony of climate change, the scientists said the sudden surge of warming—especially since 2010—is driven mainly by steep reduction of climate-cooling sulfate aerosol particles in the past 10 to 20 years, as new regulations limited emissions from the biggest sources, including the burning of coal and heavy ship fuels. The draft paper has not been peer-reviewed, but Hansen, director of the Climate Science Awareness And Solutions center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, posted it publicly on May 19 on a scientific discussion website, again drawing public attention to the potential for a shock of short-term warming that could devastate global food production and ecosystems.

Hansen’s previous warning about the potential for short-term heating due to emissions reductions was in 2021, when he said the drop in sulfate aerosol pollution could double the rate of global warming during the next 25 years. In his monthly climate bulletin he explained that sulfate aerosols, cause microscopic water droplets in the atmosphere to multiply, which brightens clouds to reflect heat away from the Earth. The reduced amount of sulfates in the atmosphere allows more heat from the sun to warm ocean and land surfaces. In the discussion draft of the new paper, the authors predict the rate of warming will double from the observed 0.18 degrees Celsius per decade from 1970 to 2010, to at least 0.27 degrees Celsius per decade since 2010. “Under the current geopolitical approach to GHG emissions, global warming will likely pierce the 1.5°C ceiling in the 2020s and 2°C before 2050,” the authors wrote. “Impacts on people and nature will accelerate as global warming pumps up hydrologic extremes.” The “enormity of the consequences,” they added, requires trying to reverse global warming and cool the Earth down to the relatively stable range of the past 12,000 years, before carbon dioxide pollution disrupted the climate.

Washington Post - June 4, 2023

Chuck Todd to leave NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’; Welker will become host

Chuck Todd, who has served as moderator of NBC’s Sunday-morning talk show “Meet the Press” since 2014, will pass the baton to colleague Kristen Welker, starting in September. Todd, who will transition to a role as NBC’s chief political analyst, made the announcement on Sunday morning’s edition of the show. “When I took over Meet the Press, it was a Sunday show that had a lot of people questioning whether it still could have a place in the modern media space,” he said. “Well, I think we’ve answered that question and then some.” Todd, 51, said he was motivated by a desire to spend more time with his family and focus on long-form projects like documentary series and documentary dramas. “I’ve let work consume me for nearly 30 years,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t wake up before 5 or 6 a.m., and as I’ve watched too many friends and family let work consume them before it was too late, I promised my family I wouldn’t do that.”

He also praised Welker, as the right person to succeed him in the job. “I’ve had the privilege of working with her from essentially her first day and let me just say she’s the right person in the right moment,” he told viewers. Welker, 46, who joined NBC News in 2010, has long been trumpeted as a rising star at the network — and across the industry. In her role as NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Welker has regularly guest-hosted “Meet the Press” and also co-hosts the streaming show “Meet the Press NOW,” which airs at 4 p.m. on weekdays. “She is the ideal journalist to build on the Meet the Press legacy,” said NBC News president of editorial Rebecca Blumenstein and NBC News senior vice president of politics Carrie Budoff Brown, in a memo sent to staffers on Sunday morning. Welker served as the moderator of the final 2020 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, earning praise for her performance. In addition to being the youngest moderator of the presidential election cycle, she was also the only moderator of color.

NBC News - June 4, 2023

Trapped at work: Immigrant health care workers can face harsh working conditions and $100,000 lawsuits for quitting

Nurses and other health care workers who have been brought to the U.S. from overseas to fill thousands of vacant jobs say in some instances they’ve been subjected to unsafe working conditions, wage theft and threats of tens of thousands of dollars in debt if they quit or are fired. In interviews, more than a dozen immigrant health care workers from across the country described being placed in jobs where there was so little staff that they weren’t able to meet patients’ basic needs and feared for their physical safety. They also described being paid less than their American counterparts despite immigration laws that require they be paid the local prevailing wage, working unpaid overtime and having been misled about benefits, such as free housing, which in one case amounted to a vacant room in the nursing home where the nurse worked.

But when the workers tried to leave their jobs before the expiration of multi-year contracts, they were faced with paying tens of thousands of dollars in penalties from their employers, forced into arbitration or sued, in some cases for more than $100,000, according to a review of employment contracts, lawsuits and other documentation obtained by NBC News. As a result, the workers said they felt trapped between continuing in untenable jobs or risking financial ruin. “These unconscionable contracts effectively trap these workers in debt bondage, making it impossible for them to leave their jobs,” said Martina Vandenberg, president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, in congressional testimony last month about what she sees as a wider problem. “The workers are handcuffed by debt, unable to flee.” Some of the tactics used to keep nurses in their jobs have been alleged to be illegal by the Labor Department, which in March sued one nurse staffing agency, saying its penalties imposed on workers for leaving their jobs early amounted to kickbacks that violated fair wage laws.

New York Times - June 4, 2023

Inside the complicated reality of being America’s oldest president

There was the time last winter when President Biden was awakened at 3 a.m. while on a trip to Asia and told that a missile had struck Poland, touching off a panic that Russia might have expanded the war in Ukraine to a NATO ally. Within hours in the middle of the night, Mr. Biden consulted his top advisers, called the president of Poland and the NATO secretary general, and gathered fellow world leaders to deal with the crisis. And then there was the time a few weeks ago when the president was hosting children for Take Your Child to Work Day and became mixed up as he tried to list his grandchildren. “So, let me see. I got one in New York, two in Philadelphia — or is it three? No, three, because I got one granddaughter who is — I don’t know. You’re confusing me.” He also drew a blank when asked the last country he had visited and the name of a favorite movie. The two Joe Bidens coexist in the same octogenarian president: Sharp and wise at critical moments, the product of decades of seasoning, able to rise to the occasion even in the dead of night to confront a dangerous world.

Yet a little slower, a little softer, a little harder of hearing, a little more tentative in his walk, a little more prone to occasional lapses of memory in ways that feel familiar to anyone who has reached their ninth decade or has a parent who has. The complicated reality of America’s oldest president was encapsulated on Thursday as Congress approved a bipartisan deal he brokered to avoid a national default. Even Speaker Kevin McCarthy testified that Mr. Biden had been “very professional, very smart, very tough” during their talks. Yet just before the voting got underway, Mr. Biden tripped over a sandbag at the Air Force Academy commencement, plunging to the ground. The video went viral, his supporters cringed and his critics pounced. Anyone can trip at any age, but for an 80-year-old president, it inevitably raises unwelcome questions. If it were anyone else, the signs of age might not be notable. But Mr. Biden is the chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation and has just embarked on a campaign asking voters to keep him in the White House until age 86, drawing more attention to an issue that polls show troubles most Americans and is the source of enormous anxiety among party leaders. The portrait that emerges from months of interviews with dozens of current and former officials and others who have spent time with him lies somewhere between the partisan cartoon of an addled and easily manipulated fogy promoted by Republicans and the image spread by his staff of a president in aviator shades commanding the world stage and governing with vigor.

The Hill - June 4, 2023

New evidence in Trump case bolsters two sets of charges

Dual revelations about Jack Smith’s probe into the mishandling of records at Mar-a-Lago suggest the special counsel’s probe into former President Trump is advancing on several fronts, bolstering the case against him. Reporting from CNN this week indicates authorities have a recording of Trump discussing his inability to share the contents of a classified document he retained — undercutting his long-standing claim he declassified the records in his possession. The special counsel is also seeking more information about the movement of boxes at the Mar-a-Lago carried out by two Trump employees, The Washington Post reported, while Trump attorney Evan Corcoran was waived off from searching certain portions of Trump’s Florida home following a subpoena, according to The Guardian.

Collectively, the reporting suggests the special counsel is buttressing Espionage Act charges over the episode and still building an obstruction of justice case over the ensuing saga to secure the return of the records. The week was capped with a report from lawyers and former prosecutors who concluded, based on public reporting, that the DOJ has enough evidence in the case to merit charging Trump directly. “The Department’s own precedent makes clear that charging Trump would be to treat him comparably to others who engaged in similar criminal behavior, often with far fewer aggravating factors than the former president. Based on the publicly available information to date, a powerful case exists for charging Trump,” the group wrote in a model prosecution memo published by Just Security. “We conclude that Trump should — and likely will — be charged.” The tapes, which have not been directly reviewed by any outlet and only described by sources familiar, capture Trump in summer 2021 discussing a classified document reviewing options for launching a possible attack on Iran.

June 2, 2023

Lead Stories

The Hill - June 2, 2023

Senate approves bill to avert national default, sending it to Biden’s desk

The Senate on Thursday night capped four months of contentious debate and voted to send a compromise bill to President Biden’s desk that extends the government’s borrowing authority until January of 2025 and staves off a potential default next week. A large bipartisan majority of the Senate voted 63-36 to approve the bill, which passed the House on Wednesday night. The approval came after the Senate clinched an agreement to conduct a series of amendment votes on Thursday night and move directly to final passage. The normally slow-moving chamber raced through a dozen votes in just over three hours. “By passing this bill we will avoid default tonight. America can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared on the Senate floor.

“From the start, avoiding default has been our north star. The consequences of default would be catastrophic,” he said. “For all the ups and downs and twists and turns it took to get here, it is so good for this country that both parties have come together at last to avoid default.” Senate Republican conservatives such as Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) joined Republican defense hawks such as Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in voting against the bill. A total of 31 Republicans voted against the measure, including Senate Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.). Senate Democrats, meanwhile, weren’t happy about caps on non-defense discretionary spending, tougher work requirements for federal food assistance and approval of a controversial natural gas pipeline — but the overwhelming majority of Democrats voted for the bill to avoid a default. Just four Democrats voted against the measure: Sens. John Fetterman (Pa.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), along with Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

Andrew Murr: Here's why we Republicans must vote to impeach Paxton

We are embarking on something nearly unheard of in the Texas House of Representatives: For just the third time in the storied history of our state under our current Constitution, the House has impeached a state officer. When the House cast an overwhelming vote to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, we fully understood the gravity of our actions. In fact, I cast my vote with profound certainty that Paxton must be held accountable for his flagrant abuses of his office and of the public trust. Earlier this year, Paxton attempted to settle a whistleblower lawsuit with four former senior aides whom he fired after they raised alarms about his actions. These aides, and others who resigned before Paxton could fire them, are highly esteemed and respected conservatives whom Paxton personally recruited to run divisions of his agency. Paxton asked taxpayers, via the Legislature, to pay the $3.3 million settlement to make his problems go away. When he would not provide the Texas House with basic information about why taxpayers should cover this settlement, the House General Investigating Committee, which I chair, opened an investigation to learn what happened. The findings were appalling.

Our committee uncovered bribery, conspiracy, abuse of office, misappropriation of public resources, obstruction of justice and more. Paxton repeatedly and obsessively invented new rules and redirected public resources solely to help a friend and campaign donor, Nate Paul, a real estate developer who was under FBI investigation. Paul had not only contributed $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign, but he was also helping remodel Paxton's Austin home and had quietly given a job to Paxton’s mistress. Paxton: Asked his open records division to authorize the release of criminal investigation records that DPS and the FBI both said needed to be protected. Around the time Paxton had personal access to one of these documents, he directed an aide to deliver an envelope containing documents to Paul. Directed the division of his agency that is supposed to protect nonprofit organizations to instead pressure a nonprofit into a lowball settlement with Paul that would have cost it millions. Personally requested, fast-tracked and dictated a legal opinion to prevent impending foreclosure sales of Paul’s properties — all in one weekend. This process would typically take up to six months and be done without intervention by the attorney general.

CNN - June 2, 2023

What to expect from Friday’s jobs report

Areas of the US economy have started to crack under the weight of persistently high inflation and a string of 10 consecutive rate hikes from the Federal Reserve. But despite all that, the labor market has kept humming right along. And that’s largely expected to be the case, again, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the May jobs report at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. Economists are forecasting a net gain of 190,000 jobs last month, according to Refinitiv. While that would mark a significant retreat from April’s surprisingly strong 253,000 jobs added, it would land slightly above the average monthly gains seen during the strong labor market in the years leading up to the pandemic.

Economists are also expecting the unemployment rate to tick back up to 3.5%. The US jobless rate has hovered at decade-lows for more than a year, with the current 3.4% rate matching a 53-year low hit in January. Private sector employment increased by 278,000 jobs in May, according to ADP’s monthly National Employment Report, frequently seen as a proxy for the government’s official number. That’s significantly higher than estimates of 170,000 jobs added but slightly below the previous month’s revised total of 291,000. Additional labor market data released Thursday showed that initial weekly jobless claims for the week ended May 27 totaled 232,000, almost no change from the previous week’s revised total of 230,000 applications. “In the last few months, the job market has continued to defy gravity, adding a steady clip of jobs and holding unemployment at historically low levels despite a backdrop of rising interest rates, banking turmoil, tech layoffs and debt ceiling negotiations,” Daniel Zhao, lead economist at employment review and search site Glassdoor, wrote in a note this week. “After a healthy April jobs report, May is likely to repeat with an equally strong performance.” Consumer spending and the labor market — two ares of strength in the economy — have, in a way, continued to feed on themselves.

Associated Press - June 2, 2023

Revised DACA program again debated before Texas judge who previously ruled against it

A federal judge did not make an immediate decision Thursday on the fate of a revised version of a federal policy that prevents the deportation of hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. During a court hearing, attorneys representing the nine states that have sued to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program argued the updated policy is essentially the same as the 2012 memo that first created it and asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen to again find the program illegal. In 2021, Hanen declared DACA illegal, ruling that the program had not been subjected to public notice and comment periods required under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Hanen also said the states seeking to stop it had standing to file their lawsuit because they had been harmed by the program.

"Every aspect of this program is ... unlawful," said Ryan Walters, with the Texas Attorney General's Office, which is representing the states that filed the lawsuit. The states have also argued that the White House overstepped its authority by granting immigration benefits that are for Congress to decide. The states have claimed they incur hundreds of millions of dollars in health care, education and other costs when immigrants are allowed to remain in the country illegally. The states that sued are Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas and Mississippi. Lawyers for the U.S. Justice Department, DACA recipients and the state of New Jersey argued during the hearing the states have failed to present any evidence that any of the costs they allege they have incurred because of illegal immigration have been tied to DACA recipients. They also argued Congress has given the Department of Homeland Security the legal authority to set immigration enforcement policies.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

Meet Houston ISD's new board of managers, appointed by the state during takeover

The Texas Education Agency appointed nine people to the Houston ISD board of managers Thursday, as part of its takeover of the state’s largest school system. Nearly 230 applicants completed a two-day Lone Star Governance training in April to qualify for the positions. The new board includes educators, parents, business owners and one former 2021 school board candidate who failed to unseat an incumbent. The board of managers temporarily replaces the elected board to oversee the management of HISD. The goal of the board is to provide oversight of newly appointed Superintendent Mike Miles and to help improve student outcomes. The managers and the superintendent are charged with reaching the exit criteria TEA set in place before transitioning control back to the elected board.

Among the new district leaders is Audrey Momanaee, a trial attorney and partner at Balch & Bingham LLP. She is an HISD parent and native Houstonian. She was raised in a family of public school teachers and has done pro bono legal work as the director of Houston Volunteer Lawyers. Momanaee is also the director of Community Family Centers, a Houston-based nonprofit that offers family services as well as adult and early childhood education. Also tapped for the board is Ric Campo, the chairman of the board and CEO of real estate investment group Camden Property Trust. He has also served on public and private boards of organizations that serve families and children, and aim to reduce homelessness, including the Greater Houston Partnership, United Way and Harris County Houston Sports Authority. Since 2019, Campo has served as chairman of the Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority, a position appointed by Harris County Commissioners Court and the Houston City Council. Angela Lemond Flowers, who has been an educator for over 20 years, will also join the board. She started her career as a teacher at HISD’s Jesse H. Jones High School, where her mother also taught. Lemond Flowers has also served in administrative leadership in Houston-area schools. She was announced in 2021 as the executive director of Writers in the Schools, where leaders touted her “lifelong professional commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.” She no longer holds that post.

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

New HISD head Mike Miles unveils plan requiring staff from 29 schools to reapply for their jobs

Mike Miles wasted little time Thursday before imposing major changes to the Houston Independent School District he now oversees, launching a plan to reconstitute 29 struggling campuses that forces employees to reapply for their jobs but promises higher pay to some. “It is my great privilege to lead HISD in this work and make it one of the best school districts in the country,” Miles said in a tweeted statement. “For the families of students who are not getting what they need from their schools, improving your child’s education experience is job one.” The Texas Education Agency selected Miles, a former Dallas ISD superintendent, and nine new board members to run HISD. The state-led ousting of the former superintendent and board capped years of legal feuding over a state takeover that critics decry as an anti-democratic power grab.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who served with Miles a decade ago in Dallas ISD, announced his pick on the first day of summer for Houston public school students. The nine board of managers named are: Audrey Momanaee, Ric Campo, Angela Lemond Flowers, Michelle Cruz Arnold, Cassandra Auzenne Bandy, Janette Garza Lindner, Rolando Martinez, Paula Mendoza and Adam P. Rivon. The group includes HISD parents, a small business owner and a trial attorney. One newly appointed member, Garza Lindner, narrowly lost a bid for the board in 2021. While the group will have its first meeting on June 8, Miles confirmed Thursday that 29 schools in the Wheatley, Kashmere and North Forest high school feeder patterns will be reconstituted as part of his efforts to establish “wholesale systemic reform” in struggling schools. Staff from top to bottom, including principals, teachers and maintenance staff, will have to reapply for their jobs, which will be open to any qualified applicant. Those hired will earn an average of $85,000 per year and be supported by teacher apprentices and learning coaches, Miles said, in what he’s dubbing the “New Education System.”

San Antonio Express-News - June 2, 2023

18 Texans in Congress opposed debt ceiling deal, including 4 Democrats

Eighteen Texans, mostly Republicans, voted against a bill to push off the nation's debt limit for two years as the deal to avert a default passed the House on Wednesday night over opposition from both the right and the left. Most Texas Republicans — 14 of 25 — voted against the bill, which U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Austin declared a "swamp deal" as he led a conservative revolt against it. Just four of 13 Texas Democrats opposed the deal struck by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden as the agreement, which includes caps on federal spending and a slew of GOP priorities, drew more support from Democrats than Republicans.

The bill passed on a 314-117 vote, with 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats voting to send it on to the Senate ahead of a potential default in the coming days. "Democrats saved the day, provided more votes than the majority" U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston said, describing a scenario in which the country defaulted as "as catastrophic or worse than the banking collapse in 2008." But the deal unified conservatives and progressives in opposition. Republicans who voted no said pushing the debt limit off until 2025 would allow the country to go $4 trillion deeper into the red. They included U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Pat Fallon of Sherman, Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Wesley Hunt of Houston, Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, Morgan Luttrell of Magnolia, Nathaniel Moran of Tyler, Roy of Austin, Keith Self of McKinney, Pete Sessions of Waco, Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Randy Weber of Friendswood.

Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2023

Tom Leppert and Mike Rawlings: To make D.C. more like Dallas, a unity presidential ticket may be the answer in 2024

In most of the country, it is unusual for two former elected officials from opposite political parties to agree on much of anything, at least publicly. Not here in North Texas. We are both former mayors of Dallas. One of us (Mike) is a Democrat and the other (Tom) is a Republican. But we agree on more than we disagree on. Among the things we agree on is that politics nationally is broken, and that 2024 is our best chance to fix it. In addition to being former mayors, we are also businesspeople, and both of us brought that experience with us into city government. When running a business, your job is to solve problems and build the company. Imagine if a CEO was rewarded for making problems worse and sowing dysfunction, anger and despair. We know exactly what would happen: bankruptcy. Sound familiar? If we don’t change course, something similar will happen to America. Today, we are led by two political parties that benefit from dysfunction and gridlock.

They raise money, gobs, by demonizing the other side. The system now encourages running to the extremes, frightening voters, and provoking disdain and distrust. This works wonderfully for the politicians and elites, but not for you and me. It is a slow-motion disaster for America. Consider that our country is hurtling toward a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden that most of the country doesn’t want. A recent poll found that 70% of voters don’t want Biden to run and 60% don’t want Trump to run. Both are running anyway, and both, as it appears now, are set to win their nominations. We don’t have to agree on everything to agree that this scenario is dangerous and would produce more of the same. Chief among the dangers is that effective governing will continue to be impossible. Our most pressing national problems — from immigration to inflation to energy — will continue to go unsolved while each side grows more extreme, more entrenched, and more distrustful of the other.

Fort Worth Report - June 2, 2023

Health professionals wrestle with the pandemic’s effects on children who already experienced trauma

When mask mandates lifted in Tarrant County’s alternative school for students with behavior challenges, family therapist Abby Phifer heard an odd concern from staff: Some students weren’t removing their masks at all, even during lunchtime. Phifer asked around, and a handful of students provided clarity. They were worried about their looks. “They felt like people got so used to seeing what their face looks like with a mask on. They were kind of self-conscious to take the mask off,” she said. The mask “has kind of become a safety blanket for them.” She and her colleagues at Tarrant County’s Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program didn’t press the issue. They had others to address amid the pandemic: Students falling behind academically and socially, students without access to WiFi, students slipping through the cracks.

Now, three weeks after the COVID-19 public health emergency formally ended, Phifer and other professionals around Tarrant County are still grappling with the effect of the pandemic on children and teenagers, especially those who struggled with stress and trauma long before it started. The inquiry into a child’s well being often includes an assessment that measures how many adverse childhood experiences — like domestic abuse or rape — that child has lived through. At the alternative education program, for example, students complete the questionnaire in a life skills course. The results help Phifer triage: The higher the score, the more likely the student will experience poor health outcomes later in life, and the more quickly she’ll meet with them. Two physicians first developed the questionnaire in the mid-1990s. The idea grew from curiosity: One physician couldn’t understand why some people in a weight-loss had program quit, even while successfully losing weight. Perplexed, he interviewed them — and discovered a spate of childhood traumas among those who left. Over time, the physicians discovered that most of the people in the study had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience and that, as the number increased, so did the likelihood that that person would experience poor health outcomes like heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and depression.

San Antonio Express-News - June 2, 2023

Road safety efforts gain traction as Texas legislators tweak laws on passing lanes, speed limits

Roadway safety advocates navigated Texas' legislative session about the same way as a driver running errands in Houston traffic: Some stops and starts, a lot of blocked lanes, taking the openings when they appeared and muttering angrily about some of the other people out on the road. “On the balance, Texas law didn’t change too much, but some good things happened,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, executive director of Farm & City, an Austin-based nonprofit that supports the state’s goal of eliminating roadway deaths. “I think we have succeeded in changing the way safety is talked about.” A handful of bills passed both the House and Senate that, barring a surprise veto by Gov. Greg Abbott, tweak existing rules or policies in a way advocates say will save lives, in some cases by giving police more authority to cite drivers for certain habits. Among those passed:

House Bill 1885 by Rep. Terry Canales, D- Edinburg, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, allows the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, to set variable speed limits so officials can lower limits in an area during construction or inclement weather. Under existing law, speed limits can be lowered in construction sites, but the change adds flexibility by allowing local TxDOT, with commission approval, to lower speeds up to 10 mph below the typical speed limit for a roadway. House Bill 3126 by Rep. Erin Gamez, D-Brownsville, cleans up language related to the left lane being for passing only on Texas roads. Specifically, the bill changes the definition of “passing” in the state transportation code to include the requirement that the driver “return to the original lane of travel.” That, essentially, clears up in many places that the left lane is for passing only, where passing is restricted, and that drivers not only have to safely use the left lane but move back safely. House Bill 3558 by Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Pasadena, clarifies where a driver must stop when approaching a crosswalk. Current Texas codes have a variety of instructions, so Perez’s bill fixes the contradictions by requiring a driver to stop where there is a clearly marked line for stopping. In places where no clear line exists, a driver must stop short of the crosswalk. In the past, police and prosecutors have failed to hold drivers who hit pedestrians walking in crosswalks accountable because they found the law too vague to charge them.

Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2023

Anti-’woke’ group targets Southwest Airlines for pro-LGBTQ and DEI efforts

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has moved to take down a website and local billboard that takes aim at the company’s “woke” business efforts in promoting racial and LGBTQ diversity. The website, called “Southwoke,” photoshops Southwest officials’ faces on people wearing rainbow-colored outfits and different hairdos. There’s a blog on the page that discredits the value of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and lists anti-diversity and anti-LGBTQ stances. The billboard along I-35 southbound in Burleson has a person dressed in drag attire and a ‘Southwoke’ airplane reads: “Either way we’ll drag you on board.”

“These groups and individuals have begun to target businesses, especially those businesses that uphold their values of diversity and inclusion and stand with our community,” said Jared Todd, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign in an email. “They’ve said that this is about making Pride and inclusion ‘toxic.’ The throughline, from a historic year of anti-LGBTQ legislation to backlash against companies, is the same tired playbook of fear-mongering and bullying that we’ve experienced for decades now.” At this time, no one has taken credit for the website or billboard. The domain is registered with Tucows Domains Inc. and the owner’s information has been redacted on the Tucows public website “for privacy.”

Texas Monthly - June 2, 2023

All hail the alligator gar, a giant and primordial river monster

(Adapted from Chasing Giants: In Search of the World’s Largest Freshwater Fish by Zeb Hogan and Stefan Lovgren. Copyright © 2023 by University of Nevada Press. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of the University of Nevada Press.) When Kirk Kirkland was a teenager in East Texas in the 1980s, alligator gar were trash fish. Anglers used the dismissive term to refer to species that ate the fish they were interested in catching. But in the mid-1990s, Kirkland, who was by then working with his dad selling fish, started getting calls from Dutch anglers who wanted to come to Texas in search of alligator gar. To the Dutch, the ferocious-looking gar with their gnarly teeth were an exotic trophy fish. One of the biggest fish in North America, the species can reach more than two hundred pounds and eight feet in length. It was bigger than anything the Dutch could catch at home. Kirkland and his dad sold mostly catfish, but they caught alligator gar too and were happy to provide guiding services for extra income. Over the years, they welcomed a steady trickle of visitors. Then television producers began calling, looking for big fish to build TV shows around. That’s when the guiding business really took off. “Americans didn’t know you could fish for alligator gar on rod and reel,” says Kirkland. “Once they saw that on TV, they wanted to do it too.”

Since then, Kirkland has become the gar guru of East Texas. He holds more than a hundred fishing records from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), and his business, which operates a small fleet of boats and employs several guides, is thriving. The Trinity River has become the go-to destination for alligator gar sportfishing, which is now strictly regulated and mostly done as catch-and-release. As a result, the gar population in the river—which is the longest that is entirely contained by Texas—is healthier and more robust than it’s ever been. It’s a rare good-news story for a freshwater megafish, says Zeb Hogan, a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the host of National Geographic’s Monster Fish. (He was one of the first people to film a TV show about the alligator gar with Kirkland.) Two decades ago, Hogan launched what he called the Megafishes Project, a conservation quest to find, study, and protect the world’s largest freshwater fishes, species that live exclusively in rivers and lakes and can grow to at least six feet long or more than two hundred pounds. As it turns out, there are about thirty such fish in the world, including the alligator gar, and they are among the most endangered animals on the planet.

San Antonio Express-News - June 2, 2023

Texas teachers burn out more, get paid less than national average, survey shows

Texas teachers are burning out at a higher rate than the national average, and they're getting paid less. That's according to a recent survey that showed 66 percent of teachers report feelings of burnout, compared with 57 percent nationally. The survey was conducted by the American Teacher Panel, a nationally representative sample of more than 22,000 teachers across the U.S. The Rand Corporation on Thursday published an analysis of data from the Learn Together Survey. Texas teachers also reported higher rates of frequent job-related stress (80 percent compared to 73 percent nationally). Similar rates of constant job-related stress and difficulty coping with job-related stress to the national average were reported. Responses from 418 teachers from Texas were analyzed, among 3,606 teachers nationally.

"The intent of this snapshot is to provide state leaders with state-representative data from their own teachers," researchers wrote, in order "to inform state and local policy solutions that can improve teachers' working conditions and well-being, thereby also improving teacher retention." Texas teachers also reported lower access than the national rate to pay-related supports, including extra pay for performing additional roles (46 percent to 57 percent) and the opportunity to grow professionally (36 percent to 46 percent). Texas also prohibits collective bargaining and teacher strikes, although some teachers in Texas are members of professional associations. Causes of burnout in Texas include some of the legislation passed in recent years, researchers wrote. "Teachers, administrators and state agencies are prohibited from training staff on specified divisive concepts related to race or gender," researchers wrote, "such as the notion that 'one race or sex is inherently superior to another' or that individuals are 'inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.' Such legislation has been linked to teachers' on-the-job stress in prior research."

KHOU - June 2, 2023

North Texas superintendent among 7 busted in underage sex sting operation, constable says

The Itasca ISD superintendent was among seven people arrested in a six-month-long sex sting, according to Constable Alan Rosen. Investigators posted as teens to lure the predators into their trap. "These predators were online surfing and looking for children," Rosen said. According to Rosen, Michael Stevens, 47, was planning to come to Houston and engage in sex acts with a teenage girl. Rosen said Stevens sent naked photos of himself to who he thought was a 15-year-old girl but was really an undercover investigator. He also requested that the teen send him naked photos and videos, Rosen said. Stevens is a former coach, principal and assistant principal in multiple school districts around the state.

"You must make it a priority to know what your children are doing online," Rosen said. "As you can see by this sting operation, there are dangerous predators out there grooming our children and can cause great harm." Stevens used a social media app to communicate with the officer, who he believed to be a teenage girl in Houston. Rosen said some of the photos Stephens sent appeared to have been taken in his office at work. "He was actually videotaping himself at his job, at his place of work. He apparently got very comfortable with what he was doing," Rosen said. Stevens had been communicating with the undercover officer posing as the teen for months, Rosen said.

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

Top Houston attorneys Dick DeGuerin, Rusty Hardin to lead prosecution in Paxton impeachment trial

The Texas House has tapped two high-powered Houston attorneys — Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin — to lead the prosecution of impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton during his upcoming Senate trial. The two defense lawyers, who have been practicing for more than 100 years combined, are known in Texas and nationally for their representation of a wide array of celebrities and politicians. They will join a team of 12 Texas House impeachment managers led by the chamber’s Investigating Committee Chair and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction. “This is not about punishing Mr. Paxton,” said DeGuerin, 82, at a news conference Thursday. “It’s about protecting the public, protecting the citizens of Texas.”

Their selection Thursday bolstered the House’s prosecution team as it prepares for the high-stakes trial, which will be scheduled some time before Aug. 28. A Senate committee will meet June 20 to set trial rules and a date. Senators will decide whether to permanently remove Paxton from office. Paxton, who is suspended from office pending the outcome of the trial, is accused of taking bribes and abusing his office to help a friend and campaign donor, Nate Paul. He’s also accused of firing his former aides out of retaliation, among other alleged crimes. The third-term Republican has denied all wrongdoing and characterized the proceedings as unfair and politically motivated. Hardin said Thursday that the overwhelming vote in the Republican-dominated Texas House showed that “what is right and what is just should rise above party.” The 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton exhibit a “pattern of misconduct and abuse of the office,” he said. “We hope and pray that this will be a process that allows the public to fully examine everything,” Hardin said. “And I promise you — it’s 10 times worse than has been public.” DeGuerin has a wealth of experience in misconduct cases involving Texas politicians: He represented Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay when he was accused of illegally funneling corporate donations to members of the Texas Legislature in 2002. DeLay was convicted but later acquitted by appellate courts.

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

Who benefits from the dueling property tax plans touted by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick?

For months, Texas’ Republican leaders have promised historic property tax relief, thanks to a massive budget surplus that allowed lawmakers to set aside nearly $18 billion over the next two years to lighten the burden on homeowners and businesses. But since the early days of the regular, five-month legislative session that ended Monday, the House and Senate have been at an impasse over how to deliver the relief. The squabbling has continued into a special session, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continuing to insist on raising the school homestead exemption, and Gov. Greg Abbott joining the fray to push exclusively for "rate compression" — the practice of driving down school tax rates, and sending more state dollars to local districts to replace the revenue. Both approaches have their share of supporters and detractors.

Property tax experts say the Senate plan would more directly benefit homeowners, with tax relief distributed more evenly between household income groups. Compression, the approach now adopted by the House, would extend the benefits of tax relief to businesses and generally benefit high-income households. Both sides argue their preferred approach provides more durable, lasting relief than the other. At issue is what to do with the $17.6 billion lawmakers set aside for property tax cuts in Texas’ two-year state budget. Of that total, about $5.3 billion is already earmarked for sustaining relief passed in 2019. What’s up for grabs — and driving the debate between the state’s Republican leaders — is what to do with the remaining $12.3 billion. In short, the plan backed by Abbott and the House would use all $12.3 billion to buy down school property taxes, by “compressing” districts’ tax rates and replacing the revenue with state funds. The plan advanced by Patrick and the Senate would use the same bucket to increase the school homestead exemption — the amount that homeowners can trim off the taxable value of their principal residence for school property taxes — from $40,000 to $100,000. The rest would go to “compression.”

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

NRG sells stake in Texas nuclear power plant for $1.75 billion to Constellation

Houston-based NRG Energy is selling its stake in the state’s largest nuclear power plant to Baltimore-based Constellation Energy for $1.75 billion, the companies said Thursday. The South Texas Project nuclear power plant is about 90 miles southwest of Houston in Bay City, Constellation said, and is capable of generating 2,645 megawatts of electricity — enough to power just over half a million homes on a hot summer day, according to Texas' grid operator. Pending federal and state approval, Constellation plans to take over NRG’s 44 percent stake in the project by the end of the year. The city-owned utilities for San Antonio and Austin own the remaining stakes.

Constellation is already a major player in the Texas electricity market. The company owns and operates three natural gas-fired power plants with the ability to produce 3,250 megawatts of electricity, as well as two wind projects that can generate more than 150 megawatts. Constellation also owns retail electricity brands serving around 200,000 Texas homes and businesses, the company said. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Department of Justice and the Public Utility Commission of Texas still need to approve the deal, which Constellation said should happen by the end of the year. The sale makes good on NRG’s promise to investors it would sell off $500 million in assets this year. The deal exceeded that goal, the company said, and the proceeds will primarily be used for share repurchases. The announcement comes weeks after activist investor Elliott Management — which holds a roughly 13 percent stake representing $1 billion in NRG — sent a letter to the company's board criticizing the company’s financial performance in recent years, and among other things, called on the company to cut $500 million in costs and up shareholder returns.

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

HISD takeover signals Texas Education Agency's increasing sway in schools under GOP-led Legislature

Thursday's state takeover of the Houston Independent School District was a watershed moment in Texas education policy. The state has never attempted a takeover this big — the district is the largest in the state and the eighth largest in the country, serving nearly 200,000 students — and it comes amid a heated political debate on private school vouchers and on the teaching of race and LGBTQ issues. But in many ways, the move is indicative of the Texas Education Agency's increasing involvement in day-to-day school operations, a shift that has been accelerating for 10 years, much of it under the guidance of Gov. Greg Abbott and the GOP-led state Legislature.

The agency has been led since 2016 by Commissioner Mike Morath, an Abbott appointee. The former software developer and Dallas ISD board member has pushed for big, technocratic reforms — an approach that has irked some conservatives and been criticized by Democrats as missing more pressing problems. “Morath is kingdom-building when the need is teachers in schools,” said Rep. Gina Hinojosa, an Austin Democrat who previously served on the Austin ISD school board. “We’ve given him more and more power with nothing to show for it.” Throughout the year, Hinojosa has criticized the growth of the agency, a new policy allowing TEA to push specific classroom lesson plans for teachers and retroactive changes to the scoring for the agency’s school accountability system that will push down ratings for many schools. The agency has held that those changes were required under state law. There are currently 1,116 employees at the agency, up more than 50 percent from a decade ago. That's in line with its size for several years before 2011, when the Legislature cut $5 billion in school funding.

San Antonio Express-News - June 2, 2023

Mike Taylor: The fake ESG threat — Texas coddles oil industry, pretends it’s a principled stand

In late May, the Texas Comptroller’s Office released its monthly “Fiscal Notes: A Review of the Texas Economy” with a focus on “Fighting a Fossil Fuels Boycott.” It threw in a related topic: “The ABCs of ESG Investing.” The “fossil fuels boycott” write-up updates us on the state’s main fiscal moves with respect to a 2021 law regarding fossil fuel investments. That year, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 13, which created a law that’s been described as boycotting the boycotters of the oil and gas industry. Concerned that the growing ESG movement — that’s shorthand for environmental, social and governance — threatened to become an effective financial boycott of Texas’ energy industry, the law sought to punish firms participating in it.

The parts of the new report I agree with the most are its instructive notes on ESG in general: “We’re concerned the ESG framework has become more of a marketing tool than a tool for making investment decisions,” Comptroller Glenn Hegar writes. He’s right. The report goes on to list the risks associated with ESG, including “greenwashing,” in which companies go through the motions to satisfy some social or environmental criteria while doing little substantive good. To my mind, a good example of greenwashing is Altria, also known as Philip Morris (ticker symbol MO). It gets a high-ranking A-minus rating from CDP Worldwide, which says it helps companies disclose their climate impact. I hope this high rating is self-evidently ironic. The tobacco company literally wrecks our lungs for profit, and indirectly wrecks the quality of our personal secondary air, but because of whatever measurements the nonprofit assessment group CDP uses, Philip Morris comes out smelling like roses.

City Stories

San Antonio Report - June 2, 2023

Will this be the year San Antonio finally gets a nonstop flight to D.C.?

Jenn Hussey’s Washington, D.C., condo, where she often travels for a visit with her elderly parents, is only two miles from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. But Hussey’s flight path always takes her to Dulles International Airport instead, a 27-mile trip by car or train from the Virginia suburb to her condo. She often makes the same trip from San Antonio for her job as a methadone clinic accreditor and it’s equally inconvenient. “Easily, it’s 45 minutes to an hour and that is like if the traffic gods have aligned,” she said. For years, federal law has limited how many direct flights go in and out of Reagan National, forcing inbound and outbound San Antonio travelers to choose Dulles or even Baltimore-Washington International Airport. But, in an effort to increase the affordability and efficiency of air travel and strengthen economic growth in the region, a campaign is underway to change the rules as this fall Congress takes up the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill.

It’s an opportunity that comes along only every five years, and though past attempts have failed, officials believe this time could be different for the San Antonio International Airport. The law limiting flights to airports within a 1,250-mile perimeter of Reagan National, which is owned by the federal government, has been in effect for decades. Houston is inside the perimeter while San Antonio is 1,600 miles from the capital. Through the years, a few exceptions have been made, which include Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. But other major U.S. cities like San Antonio have been shut out by what is an “antiquated rule,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for Capital Access Alliance, a nationwide coalition of groups pushing Congress to act. “There aren’t a lot of people who understand that the reason you don’t have a lot of long-distance flight choices out of [Reagan National] is actually a rule that was passed by Congress in the 1960s,” Walsh said. “And it was primarily implemented at the time to protect Dulles airport.” It was a protectionist measure to drive development to the area near the airport, but that area has tripled in size in the last 20 years, he said. “It’s just a much different situation than it is today,” he said. Walsh said the Alliance realizes that Congress likely won’t eliminate the perimeter rule altogether.

Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2023

Ransomware attack: Dallas City Council told to keep quiet four weeks later

Four weeks into Dallas’ ransomware attack, the city’s communications, outreach and marketing director emailed directions to the mayor and City Council on Wednesday to share little to no details about how it’s being handled. Catherine Cuellar told elected leaders and some top administrative officials in an email obtained by The Dallas Morning News to stick to a handful of sentences when asked by residents about the cyberattack: Thank you for your inquiry. Rest assured we are working with third-party experts and law enforcement and our investigation is ongoing. We will share updates as appropriate.

The elected leaders are also asked to refer people, including members of the media, to the city’s communications team. “If pressed for additional details: ‘This is all the information I have to share at this time’,” Cuellar wrote in the email. “‘As the investigation progresses, the city will share additional information with you, as appropriate.’” Cuellar responded with the same talking points she told elected officials to use when she was forwarded questions sent by The News to a council member. “Please rest assured we are working with third-party experts and law enforcement and our investigation is ongoing,” she wrote to The News. “We will share updates as appropriate.”

Houston Chronicle - June 2, 2023

Collaborative for Children Houston receives unexpected $3M gift from billionaire MacKenzie Scott

Philanthropist Mackenzie Scott has done it again. Collaborative for Children announced on Wednesday that Scott has donated $3 million to the Houston-based nonprofit dedicated to early childhood education. “She placed a phone call directly to my CEO saying, 'This is MacKenzie Scott. I’d like to help,'” said Chase Murphy, a Collaborative for Children staffer. “It was an unexpected gift. She asks around to see what organizations are doing and who’s moving the needle.” Scott, whose current net worth is valued at $57 billion following her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, pledged to donate more than $2.7 billion to 286 organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked in 2022, according to a statement. She previously gave $5.8 billion to working charities in 2020. The gift will further the organization’s mission to provide exceptional learning opportunities for children under age 5.

“We’re overjoyed to share that MacKenzie Scott has given a transformative gift of $3 million to Collaborative for Children. This unexpected donation will strengthen a long-term, sustainable investment in our organization’s future, ensuring innovation, excellence and equity in early education continues,” said Melanie Johnson, President and CEO of Collaborative for Children, via statement. “Through this generous donation, we will expand our selection of 25 childcare Centers of Excellence annually and employ technological innovations to reach more centers, children and families. Through its Centers of Excellence, located in vulnerable communities, Collaborative for Children blends public and private funds to coach child care business owners toward solid business acumen, while preparing teachers and parents for a culturally inclusive co-teaching bond. The organization’s contemporary model fosters a community where every child can thrive at the outset of school and ultimately in a 21st-century workforce.” Collaborative for Children was founded in 1987 as a child care resource for Houston-area businesses in response to an uptick of working mothers. Services have since expanded to include early childhood education programming.

Dallas Morning News - June 2, 2023

Arlington nun accused of violating vow of chastity with priest is dismissed

A nun accused of violating her vow of chastity with a priest has been dismissed from a secluded Arlington monastery, the Fort Worth Catholic diocese announced Thursday. In a statement posted on its website, the diocese said it found the Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach guilty of violating her vow, which the church considers adultery. The announcement comes one day after the diocese said the Vatican granted Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson authority over the nuns amid a weeks-long legal and canonical battle. Calling the decision by the bishop “unjust and unconscionable,” a civil attorney for Gerlach said the reverend mother will appeal the ruling. Matthew Bobo, her attorney, has repeatedly denied the allegation that Gerlach broke her vow of chastity, calling it “completely fabricated.” Bobo asked the “lay faithful” to pray for the reverend mother.

“Mother Superior will be appealing this immoral and unjust decision,” Bobo said in the statement. The dispute, as outlined in court documents and public statements, began in April when the bishop launched an investigation into Gerlach’s conduct. In turn, the reverend mother and monastery filed a civil lawsuit against the bishop and diocese, accusing Olson of invading the sisters’ privacy and overstepping his authority. In court documents, the nuns say Olson and other diocese leaders stormed into the monastery on three occasions, interrogated the nuns for hours, seized their computers and a phone and blocked priests from conducting Mass for them. Although the diocese says Gerlach admitted to violating her vow of chastity with a priest outside of Fort Worth, Bobo said his client was questioned under heavy medication, including painkillers, following surgery. Gerlach, who uses a wheelchair and has a feeding tube, cannot remember what she admitted. “She did not have sex with a priest,” Bobo said.

National Stories

The Hill - June 2, 2023

Chinese Americans fight back against bans on buying property

Asian Americans are fighting back against what they see as discriminatory efforts to ban Chinese citizens from buying property in certain states. While supporters of these bills cast their policies as targeting malign influence from the Chinese Communist Party, Asian Americans and their advocates worry the bills are only fueling xenophobia and unfairly blocking access to the American dream. The battle is raging in Florida, where a new law targets Chinese citizens, and in other states, like Texas, where similar bills have been proposed. “These are Chinese Americans who have come here to build a better life,” said Nabila Mansoor, executive director of Texas progressive group Rise AAPI, which has helped to organize against the Texas bill. “And what you’re telling them is that’s not good enough; we welcome you here with open arms, but we’re not going to give you the same rights and privileges that everyone else has.”

The state fights also come amid a broader fight over Chinese ownership of U.S. land, with former President Trump promising to push to ban Chinese purchases of farmland and other critical infrastructure if he retakes the White House, and various proposals on Capitol Hill to impose such restrictions. Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), another leading GOP presidential contender, signed a law making it a felony for people “domiciled” in China to buy property in Florida unless they’re a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. The Texas Senate passed a bill in April that would ban citizens of China and other foreign adversaries from buying property, with certain exceptions, though it died in the House when the Texas legislative session ended Monday. The Alabama House passed a similar bill in May, which was scaled back to focus on hostile governments before passing the Senate. Many other states have passed or considered narrower bills that only focus on agricultural land or banning purchases by entities affiliated with the Chinese government. But the broader bills in states like Texas and Florida have drawn particularly fierce pushback. Four Florida residents who are Chinese citizens, along with a Florida real estate firm that primarily serves clients of Chinese descent, have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to block the new law, which is set to take effect July 1.

Wall Street Journal - June 2, 2023

California spent $17 billion on homelessness. It’s not working.

City firefighters arrived midmorning at a homeless camp on Wood Street to quell a fire spreading across a tinderbox landscape of discarded furniture, debris, abandoned cars and dwellings fashioned from tents, tarps and plywood. Fire crews struggled for more than two hours. There weren’t enough hydrants because no one was ever supposed to live on the stretch of dirt that snaked beneath Interstate 880, the freeway connecting Oakland and San Jose. Yet over six years, the property had become home to more than 300 homeless people—addicts, the mentally ill and those unable to get a grip on Bay Area housing with a warehouse job or a construction gig. The fire last summer spit thick black smoke that temporarily halted commuters. Soon after, the California Department of Transportation, which owned most of the land, announced it would start tearing down the makeshift shelters. The July 11 fire appeared to have done what state and local officials had failed to do—force a decision to clear the camp.

A monthslong legal and bureaucratic battle followed, in a display of the humanitarian, practical and political forces trying, with limited effect, to solve the urban homeless problem. The number of homeless people in California grew about 50% between 2014 and 2022. The state, which accounts for 12% of the U.S. population, has about half of the nation’s unsheltered homeless, an estimated 115,000 people, according to federal and state data last year. It also has among the highest average rent and median home prices in the U.S. State officials said it was the city’s responsibility to house people kicked off the Wood Street property. Oakland officials said they didn’t have enough shelter beds. Residents fortunate enough to get a federal housing voucher struggled to find an apartment they could afford with it. Many of the drug addicts and mentally ill on Wood Street wanted nothing more than to be left alone. About 30 people filed a federal lawsuit against the state transportation department, known as Caltrans, and the city of Oakland for the right to continue living at the Wood Street encampment. They were among those who initially rejected spots at shelters because they couldn’t bring their pets or all their belongings. “You have to give up everything you own just for a place to sleep for a night,” said Jaz Colibri. She was one of those who filed the lawsuit, which after months of back and forth was decided against her and the others.

CNN - June 2, 2023

The Senate just passed the debt ceiling bill. Here’s what happens next

The faucets at the US Department of the Treasury are set to turn back on after nearly five months of frozen pipes. In a vote on Thursday evening, the Senate approved a measure to suspend the nation’s debt limit through January 1, 2025. President Joe Biden is expected to swiftly sign the bill into law to avert the United States’ first-ever default on its debt. Since the debt ceiling was breached in mid-January, the Treasury Department has not been able to borrow more money. To pay its bills on time, Treasury has undergone a series of extraordinary measures to buy it more time in hopes that Congress takes action to suspend or raise the debt limit.

These measures included selling existing investments and suspending reinvestments of the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund. Doing so helped the Treasury free up billions of dollars to delay a potential default. Now, Treasury will try to quickly get back to business as usual. To do that, the Treasury will need to raise cash. Fast. By law, the Treasury Department is obligated to make any funds that were affected by the extraordinary measures whole. It is also required to pay interest on the lapse in funding. One way it hopes to grow its cash balance is by auctioning off $15 billion worth of one-day cash management bills on Friday. These bills mature in a relatively short time frame, ranging from a few days to a year, according to the Treasury Department. They’re used to help manage the Treasury’s short-term financing needs. Unlike Treasury bill auctions that occur on a weekly and monthly basis, cash management bill auctions are irregular, though not uncommon. For instance, last year the Treasury held more than 30 cash management bill auctions. It is, however, quite unusual for the department to auction debt that matures in just one day. Over the past 25 years, the Treasury has held just six one-day cash management bill auctions. In addition to Friday’s auction, a Thursday auction saw $25 billion of three-day cash management bills yielding 6.15%. That exceeds the yields at which almost all other Treasury bills are trading, underscoring the premium investors are demanding to buy the government’s debt.

CNBC - June 2, 2023

These are the 7 most hated brands in America—Elon Musk's Twitter is No. 4

Twitter, Meta and TikTok are three of the world’s biggest social media giants. They’re also three of the brands with the worst reputations in the U.S., according to the recently released 2023 Axios Harris Poll 100 reputation rankings. Millions of monthly active users across the country couldn’t keep the social media companies off the list, which Axios and The Harris Poll compiled by asking more than 16,000 Americans to score the 100 companies they considered “most visible” across nine categories of reputation. Meta and Twitter both scored poorly in the “culture” and “ethics” categories. Each business recently faced public backlash after laying off thousands of workers over email — just one in a series of escalating dramas at Twitter, which Fidelity estimates is now worth one-third of the $44 billion Elon Musk paid for it in October 2022.

TikTok underperformed in “citizenship” and “character,” amid growing concerns from American lawmakers over potential Chinese federal government influence on the platform. They’re not the only brands with low approval ratings right now. Here are the seven brands with the worst reputations in America, according to the poll: The Trump Organization, FTX, Fox Corporation, Twitter, Meta, Spirit Airlines, TikTok. Americans named the Trump Organization as the company with the worst public perception in the country. It’s the only business on the list with a “very poor” overall score, the lowest possible tier. The Trump Organization scored particularly low in the “character,” “trust” and “ethics” categories. The ranking was published just days before former president Donald Trump, who ran the Trump Organization for decades, was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

CNN - June 2, 2023

Arizona announces limits on construction in Phoenix area as groundwater disappears

Arizona officials announced Thursday the state will no longer grant certifications for new developments within the Phoenix area, as groundwater rapidly disappears amid years of water overuse and climate change-driven drought. A new study showed that the groundwater supporting the Phoenix area likely can’t meet additional development demand in the coming century, officials said at a news conference. Gov. Katie Hobbs and the state’s top water officials outlined the results of the study looking at groundwater demand within the Phoenix metro area, which is regulated by a state law that tries to ensure Arizona’s housing developments, businesses and farms are not using more groundwater than is being replaced.

The study found that around 4% of the area’s demand for groundwater, close to 4.9 million acre-feet, cannot be met over the next 100 years under current conditions – a huge shortage that will have significant implications for housing developments in the coming years in the booming Phoenix metro area, which has led the nation in population growth. State officials said the announcement wouldn’t impact developments that have already been approved. However, developers that are seeking to build new construction will have to demonstrate they can provide an “assured water supply” for 100 years using water from a source that is not local groundwater. Under state law, having that assured supply is the key to getting the necessary certificates to build housing developments or large industrial buildings that use water. Many cities in the Phoenix metro area, including Scottsdale and Tempe, already have this assured water supply, but private developers also must demonstrate they can meet it. Thursday’s announcement is an example of the law working as intended, according to an analysis by Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy. Growth in the Phoenix area will likely continue under the new restrictions, the analysis said, but the rate of growth will likely change.

Orlando Sentinel - June 2, 2023

Who is Ron DeSantis? Florida governor reveals few clues about what makes him tick

The parents of the man who would be president live in a tidy, single-story ranch house in a Gulf Coast suburb of Florida. The three-bedroom, two-bath, concrete block house with a brick facade is the childhood home of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who announced his run for the White House on Wednesday night. The home’s landscaping is well-maintained, though with a browning lawn likely due to Florida’s recent drought. A gold Jeep Patriot and a black Toyota Prius are parked in the driveway. The Prius has an “FSU Dad” bumper sticker and a Ron DeSantis campaign sticker. A welcome mat with an FSU logo is a second reminder of the other child, their daughter and DeSantis’ only sibling who died unexpectedly eight years ago. The governor has rarely spoken about her. A slender, elderly man in glasses and a dark T-shirt answers. He apologizes as he fends off a reporter’s attempts to find out more about his son’s evolution into an ambitious politician and conservative firebrand.

“I’m afraid I’m not going to be that much help,” says Ronald DeSantis, 77. He stands at the front door open just a crack, blocking the reporter’s view inside the house. He says he’s been burned by reporters in the past who took his comments out of context. He says he doesn’t talk to his son often, maybe every couple of months or so when he goes to Tallahassee to see him and the family. His wife, and the governor’s mom, Karen DeSantis, 75, sees the governor more frequently, he says. Every three weeks or so. For the grandkids, mainly. When asked if she’d be willing to give an interview, he said she would be even less cooperative. This is how it typically goes whenever one tries to dig deeper into the roots of Ron DeSantis’ political ambitions and beliefs, the people and events that molded him into the person he is today.

June 1, 2023

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2023

House approves bipartisan debt limit deal to avert economy-rattling default

The House overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan deal Wednesday night to suspend the debt ceiling and avert a looming government default, as Texans from both parties lined up behind what even supporters described as a mixed bag. President Joe Biden has sought to sell the deal to fellow Democrats by emphasizing how it preserves major priorities from his first two years in office, including student debt forgiveness and sweeping incentives for green energy development. Republican leaders urged their members to focus on the deal’s overall spending restraints, expanded work requirements for food stamps, trims to IRS funding and provisions easing environmental regulation on major energy projects. “No one can say they got everything they wanted in this bill,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, before voting for the bill. Burgess singled out the energy permitting changes, saying they fall well short but are still “an important first step” in the context of a deal that averts a catastrophic default that could create an environment where international interests don’t buy American debt.

“If the United States were to default on its debt there actually is another country, the People’s Republic of China, who would like to be the reserve currency of the world,” Burgess said. “We will not give them that chance when we pass this bill.” The bill passed 314-117. Republicans provided 149 of the votes in support, along with 165 Democrats. “Democrats save the day!!!” Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth tweeted with a screen shot of the partisan breakdown, after he voted for the bill. A number of progressive Democrats voted against it, including Rep. Jasmine Crockett of Dallas. Democrats who backed it said they were accepting a product that was less than ideal. “Protecting Texans from an economic disaster is priority #1,” Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, wrote on Twitter. “It’s not perfect but it’s a bipartisan compromise that will prevent an unnecessary default.” Allred is challenging GOP Sen. Ted Cruz next year. Cruz has blasted the deal, saying it won’t tackle a national debt that has rocketed from $20 trillion to $32 trillion in the last six years. “What we’re doing is irresponsible. It’s driving the rampant inflation that is hurting Texans every day at the grocery store, at the gas pump and paying bills at the end of each month,” Cruz said. “And this deal, unfortunately, does not do nearly enough to address that problem.”

ABC 13 - June 1, 2023

Former Harris County assistant DA Sean Teare lays out promises in election fight with ex-boss

Eyewitness News reported on the backlog in Harris County criminal courts, as well as the county's overcrowded jail. ABC13 Investigates searched for why some inmates are waiting more than half a year behind bars, nearly six times longer than the national average, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. They are all serious issues facing our community. Now, a well-known former prosecutor says he can fix the problems. Sean Teare announced ONLY ON ABC13 that he's officially running for Harris County District Attorney in 2024. It's no big secret Teare wants his former boss' job. Teare has hinted at it since his controversial departure from the district attorney's office in February, after more than 11 years as a prosecutor. But now, for the first time, Teare outlines his priorities and what he says must change in Harris County.

"We are accepting bad charges. We're accepting partial charges, and they're on low level offenses. What that does is paralyze the prosecutors in the courts so that they can't focus on the cases that matter to the community: the violent crimes," Teare said. "If we fix that, we're going a long way to fixing the backlog." The backlog has decreased by about 21% over the past couple of years, according to the district attorney's office. Ogg has credited that in part to her "triage" team, which is made up of misdemeanor prosecutors who work overtime to tackle thousands of nonviolent cases. Teare said he initially thought the program was a step in the right direction. But now? "You can do triage all you want, but if you keep bringing (cases) in at an unprecedented rate, you're never going to get any better," he said. There are currently about 114,000 backlogged cases, which is up 75% from pre-Harvey in 2017 and pre-COVID times, when the backlog was about 65,000 cases. The backlog is also one of the reasons the county jail is overcrowded, Sheriff Gonzalez has told 13 Investigates. In recent reporting, ABC13 found an inmate is in jail, on average, about 200 days.

CNN - June 1, 2023

Trump captured on tape talking about classified document he kept after leaving the White House

Federal prosecutors have obtained an audio recording of a summer 2021 meeting in which former President Donald Trump acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, multiple sources told CNN, undercutting his argument that he declassified everything. The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records, two of the sources said.

CNN has not listened to the recording, but multiple sources described it. One source said the relevant portion on the Iran document is about two minutes long, and another source said the discussion is a small part of a much longer meeting. Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the Justice Department investigation into Trump, has focused on the meeting as part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of national security secrets. Sources describe the recording as an “important” piece of evidence in a possible case against Trump, who has repeatedly asserted he could retain presidential records and “automatically” declassify documents. Prosecutors have asked witnesses about the recording and the document before a federal grand jury. The episode has generated enough interest for investigators to have questioned Gen. Mark Milley, one of the highest-ranking Trump-era national security officials, about the incident.

The Hill - June 1, 2023

‘Soft food’ to ‘good faith’: How Biden and McCarthy came together on debt deal

In late March, the prospects of President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) coming together for a deal to raise the debt ceiling that both men found palatable looked dim. Biden on March 28 flatly rejected a call from McCarthy for a meeting, instead urging the top House Republican to release a budget proposal before they could have a conversation in person. Two days later, McCarthy quipped that he would bring a “soft food” lunch to the White House if that’s what it required for the two leaders to meet in person, an apparent swipe at Biden’s age. By Memorial Day Weekend, both Biden and McCarthy were publicly complimenting each other and urging their respective parties to pass a deal they had finally signed off on. “I think he negotiated with me in good faith. He kept his word. He said what he would do. He did what he said he’d do,” Biden said of McCarthy after delivering remarks Sunday at the White House.

“Very professional, very smart. Very tough at the same time,” McCarthy told reporters at the Capitol of his talks with Biden. The budget deal and simultaneous agreement to lift the debt ceiling for two years marks a significant legislative achievement for two men who until recently had a very limited working relationship, with a big assist from top negotiators like Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young. And while the sides traded barbs publicly to argue for their position, a mutual respect and sense of professionalism was persistent as a deal came together, according to officials close to the negotiations. Biden and McCarthy have a shared Irish heritage, but otherwise little else to bond over. After November’s midterms, when it was apparent Republicans would retake the House majority, Biden said he hadn’t had much reason to talk to McCarthy previously. They finally met on Feb. 1 to discuss the budget and other matters, which McCarthy called a “very good discussion.” But aside from interacting at a St. Patrick’s Day celebration on Capitol Hill in March, the two leaders went weeks without speaking, worrying some in Washington that the stalemate would send the country careening toward a default.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2023

Texas Gov. Abbott appoints interim attorney general after Ken Paxton impeachment

Gov. Greg Abbott named a Fort Worth attorney to fill in as Texas attorney general while Ken Paxton faces an impeachment trial. Abbott installed John Scott to the prominent post on Wednesday but made no comment about the GOP-led House decision to impeach the state’s top lawyer over alleged corruption. “His decades of experience and expertise in litigation will help guide him while serving as the state’s top law enforcement officer,” the governor said in a written statement. This is not Scott’s first assignment for Abbott. Scott served as the Texas Secretary of State during the 2022 primaries and midterm election as the state implemented a sweeping election bill that came about in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s election loss. Scott’s time as secretary of state was defined by the implementation of the new election laws that created tumult in local election offices as workers fretted over provisions that would have them charged with a crime if they solicited a voter to cast a ballot by mail.

The primaries especially were marred with thousands of mail-in ballots turned away because of confusing new voter ID requirements. Scott himself served a role in Trump’s fight to over the election, briefly representing the former president in a suit to overturn election results in Pennsylvania. He later said he believed that Joe Biden won the election but courted some controversy with his praise of a widely debunked film alleging voter fraud in the 2022 election. Scott was appointed secretary of state in the interim between legislative sessions, allowing him to serve in the post for more than a year without ever being confirmed by the Senate. He resigned at the end of 2022 and defended local election officials in his resignation letter. Scott previously worked under Abbott when the Republican served as attorney general, and also served as chief operating officer of the Health and Human Services Commission and chair of the board for the Department of Information Resources. This year, he was registered as a lobbyist with clients that included a military technology company, a Frisco anti-abortion organization and South Texas College. In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Scott had “dark, anti-democratic values” that he hope he’d leave behind as interim attorney general.

Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2023

Retired Texas teachers win long-awaited raises while others miss out

Retired Texas teachers won higher monthly stipends and a so-called 13th check from the Legislature this session after years of advocacy from the nearly 500,000 who receive pension checks from the state. Their success capped a rocky session where some public employees won raises, while others lost out. The former teachers had not received inflation adjustments in the last 19 years, though they had gotten a few one-time supplements. Over that same period, retired state employees have not received extra checks or cost-of-living raises. Both retiree groups have said while they appreciate any extra cash from the Legislature, they are unable to manage their budgets in an ongoing way without a permanent adjustment.

Retired teachers came into the session singularly focused on asking for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA. At their advocacy day at the Texas Capitol this year, it was practically a mantra: “What do we want? A COLA.” They flocked to the Capitol by the hundreds, and in an event on the south lawn in April a speaker held up a can of Coca-Cola to raucous cheers. Their efforts were supercharged by the recent spikes in inflation, which is especially harmful to people living on fixed incomes. Retired state employees, who have been waiting even longer for a pay bump, were not as lucky this session. The Employee Retirement System, which is made up of former employees of Texas' state agencies, is essentially the kid brother of the larger, more politically influential Teacher Retirement System. Under ERS, about 122,000 people receive pension checks. Their average age is 70, and most receive less than $2,000 monthly. Retired state employees haven't received a COLA since 2001. While they won’t receive raises this year, active state employees will. The Legislature passed an across-the-board 5 percent raise, or extra $250 per month, whichever is larger. Ray Hymel, legislative consultant with the Texas Public Employees Association, said his group was glad to see retired teachers get raises, but he acknowledged it may have overshadowed their own fight. "There was a lot of attention being paid out there to benefits going to TRS retirees" as well as to current state employees receiving raises, he said. While retired teachers got the raises their state counterparts desperately wanted, active state employees did get raises. Active teachers missed out on raises.

Texas Monthly - June 1, 2023

Voter fraud is rare. But 15 illegal votes in Laredo have thrown the city council into turmoil.

As recently as a few years ago, most city council meetings in Laredo were less exciting than Lotería Night at the retirement home two blocks from city hall. At least the Lotería cards had risqué cartoons like the topless Sirena. At City Hall, the agenda items were announced in a bureaucratic monotone full of passive language: “Discussion with possible action to enact a resolution and create a Census 2020 Complete Census Committee . . . and any items incident thereto.” Local border politics remained calm even during the COVID-19 pandemic and after the 2020 election, largely steering clear of the recent culture wars that have caused meetings at many school boards and city councils across the state to descend into chaos. But that relative peace was disturbed in early 2023, as the new Laredo City Council began its term. On February 6, 2023, the council considered a recent ruling from a state district judge who found that fifteen voters, including four police officers, illegally established sham residencies to cast ballots for city council candidate Daisy Campos Rodriguez, resulting in a narrow six-vote victory over her opponent, Ricardo “Richie” Rangel Jr. Days earlier, Judge Susan Reed, the visiting judge assigned to the case, had voided the disputed votes and declared Rangel the true winner.

Campos Rodriguez still sat on the dais with the nine-member council, stoically watching the line of citizens approach the podium to demand that she resign and that disciplinary action be taken against the city employees who voted illegally. A trial attorney and former city council member named George Altgelt addressed Campos Rodriguez directly: “Do the honorable thing. Resign. Walk out with your own two feet,” he said. “Do what Vidal could never do,” he added, referencing Campos’s husband and the former representative of the district, Vidal Rodriguez. He was convicted in 2017 of illegally accessing and disseminating criminal juvenile records of his opponent. Altgelt was one of only two of nine members of the prior city council who voted to remove Vidal Rodriguez, who remained in the seat until his wife took office. The district Campos Rodriguez represents, Laredo’s District 2, is a long strip that meanders alongside roughly ten miles of the Rio Grande. With U.S. 83 slicing through it, the district is Laredo’s gateway to the Rio Grande Valley. Laredoans and visitors often bypass the working-class neighborhoods of District 2 and gravitate toward the city’s vibrant downtown and affluent north side. The district sits in Webb County, which had the sixth-lowest turnout among the state’s 254 counties in the 2022 general election. It was perhaps this paucity of ballots cast that made those four police officers and eleven other citizens so consequential. After Campos Rodriguez narrowly beat her opponent on election night, Rangel’s team requested a recount. After the recount showed an additional five votes in favor of Campos Rodriguez, Rangel’s team started digging. Lawyers reviewed the publicly available voter rolls and found that eighteen voters were registered to the same 1,650-square-foot single-family home, right next to Campos Rodriguez’s house. Another residential building was linked to eight registered voters, including Laredo police sergeant Vicente Rodriguez, Campos Rodriguez’s brother-in-law.

KHOU - June 1, 2023

TEA set to takeover HISD on Thursday despite community concerns

The controversial Texas Education Agency takeover of Houston ISD is set to take place on Thursday. A new superintendent will be appointed and a state-appointed board of managers will be announced, but community members still say they're frustrated with the process. "It's actually unclear if they even have a plan at all," HISD teacher Ruth Cravite said. The takeover comes after repeated failures of some schools and other issues in the district stemming back to 2019. "I'm afraid this takeover is going to make things much worse," Cravite said. The school that triggered the state takeover, Wheatley High School, has since improved from a failing grade and the district has a state rating of a "B."

Former Superintendent Millard House II, who is now out of a job, released a statement to the HISD community, saying in part, "We accomplished many of the goals we set together in the last two years. And while I know our time was cut short, I have no doubt that there will be more successes to come." Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the TEA has not been transparent in the process and that the state agency will own the results of the takeover he calls hostile. "This is wrong. I don't care how you cut it, this is wrong," the mayor said. "You step in, you take it over, it's yours. You own it and the question is by which benchmarks should we measure your success." TEA has not yet revealed who will take over as superintendent, but Turner claimed on Twitter in mid-May that former Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles had been chosen. The TEA refuted the claim at the time, saying no decision had been made. Teachers in the district have also voiced their concerns about the takeover. "We're concerned and worried that they will close schools, cut wraparound services and increase STAAR prep even more than now," Cravite said. The TEA said they won't be involved in the day-to-day operations of the district, instead leaving it up to the appointed board and superintendent.

Austin American-Statesman - June 1, 2023

Mark Strama: A Texas tradition I wish Washington would embrace

(Strama is director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas, and served in the Texas House of Representatives from 2005 to 2013.) It may surprise you that the Texas House of Representatives, an institution you probably know for the occasional?quorum break,?lecherous treatment of interns, or?policy folly, has a far more bipartisan approach to governance than the United States House of Representatives. And it’s a difference that might have avoided Congress’ flirtation with financial catastrophe. ? By custom but not by rule, Congress elects the Speaker of the House from within the caucus of the majority party, with zero support from the minority. Earlier this year we saw the consequence of this, as Kevin McCarthy finally eked out the speakership. On the 15th and final ballot, all of McCarthy’s 216 votes came from Republicans.? To consolidate the Republican caucus behind him, McCarthy was forced to make concessions to his party’s most extreme members, including that any one member of the House can move to “vacate the chair” – a motion which, if passed, would force a new election for a new speaker. ?

That rule looms ominously over the current debt ceiling negotiations. If Democrats vote as a bloc to vacate the chair, a five-Republican revolt is all it would take to bring down McCarthy’s speakership. ? In Texas, rather than consolidating support within their own party’s caucus, the speaker assembles a bipartisan coalition which, once it adds up to 50% plus one, typically incorporates stragglers into a supermajority as everyone rushes to get on the bandwagon. ? The effect of this bipartisan process on policymaking is significant. To be clear: the majority does not forfeit control, and the minority does not fall in line. Indeed, on the most polarizing and ideological issues, the majority is merciless in its exercise of power, and the minority is vigorous in dissent.? But it does engender a process that is by its nature more inclusive than in Congress, with members of the minority party appointed to chair committees, creating a leadership team that provides the Speaker with bipartisan feedback. As a result, the all-important vote on the state’s $300 billion biennial budget nearly always passes with a large, bipartisan majority - with a few no votes coming from both ends of the ideological spectrum. It’s difficult to imagine anything like the current standoff in Congress on an issue where gridlock could lead to dire financial and political consequences. ?

San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2023

Jennifer Moren Cross: Anti-LGBTQ+ Texas legislation, rhetoric, harms students

(Jennifer Moren Cross, Ph.D., a native Texan, is a social scientist and public education advocate.) American life today — certainly in Texas — is saturated with anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. Many perpetuating such rhetoric may have a callous disregard for how it affects the LGBTQ+ community, including children. It’s a grave mistake to not recognize several key ways this harms children. The 2022 Texas GOP Platform defines homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and says it “(opposes) homosexual marriage.” Aligned with this, the Texas GOP filed scores of anti-LGBTQ+ bills and has spent countless hours attacking LGBTQ+ people debating these bills in the recent legislative session.

For example, going against the positions of every major medical association, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 14, which bans gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Additionally, legislators attempted to pass a provision akin to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law prohibiting classroom lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation. It didn’t cross the finish line in the regular session, but lawmakers attached it to multiple bills, so it won’t be surprising if it resurfaces in special sessions. Those who defend such lessons or library books with LGBTQ+ characters are routinely labeled “groomers” and accused of “ sexualizing children.” A Texas pastor organized “Banning Child Gender Mutilation” and “Stop Sexualizing Texas Children” protests. Even more extreme, another Texas pastor said that homosexuals “should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head.” And recently, far-right commentator Michael Knowles declared during a Conservative Political Action Conference, “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” This drumbeat of dehumanizing rhetoric spans from local school board meetings to some of our highest ranking state elected officials, sending a message that LGBTQ+ members are subhuman and do not belong in our society. In the past year, 47 percent of Texas LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide, and 16 percent tried. Research shows when prominent public policy debates target and stigmatize the LGBTQ+ population, there is a significant increase in homophobic bullying in schools.

KUT - June 1, 2023

Austin's light-rail plans set to advance after narrowly dodging Texas-sized wrecking ball

Austin's light-rail ambitions are barreling ahead after narrowly escaping the clutches of Texas lawmakers determined to rein in the multibillion-dollar transit expansion. But the voter-approved plan, known as Project Connect, must still navigate a tricky track laden with potential legal and political hazards. "For now, we are going to take a deep breath," Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said Tuesday, acknowledging the death of House Bill 3899, which would have toppled the light-rail funding plan. "However, we will be vigilant." Republican state Rep. Ellen Troxclair's HB 3899, in an early version, would have made the Austin Transit Partnership hold an election before it could issue about $1.75 billion in bonds and loans needed to kickstart construction on the $5 billion high-frequency urban rail system. But the bill underwent massive changes in the Texas Senate. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt — a Republican focused on lowering property taxes — cranked up the legislation to align with his interpretation of a nonbinding legal opinion from now-impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton's legal opinion was hurriedly produced at Bettencourt's request. The document is dense and highly wonky. Because it's become the basis of a political and legal battle over Project Connect, it's worth understanding at least four arguments the opinion tries to make: Cities are allowed to ask voters to increase property taxes that are "earmarked" for a specific purpose, which is what Austin did in November 2020 when 58% of voters gave the green light to the Project Connect transit expansion. But maintenance and operations tax revenue — which was the portion of the city's tax rate Austin voters agreed to increase by 20.789% for Project Connect — generally speaking can't be earmarked to pay down debts like bonds. Austin can't obligate itself to transfer property tax revenue from the Project Connect election to ATP for more than one year at a time without retaining the ability to terminate the contract at the end of each annual budget period. ATP can borrow money through bonds and loans. Austin can transfer money to ATP. But Austin can't obligate itself to pay down ATP's debts for more than a year at a time unless the payments are part of the annual budgeting process. After reading the opinion, Bettencourt proposed changes to the bill, including banning any money from the city's Project Connect property tax election from paying down ATP debts.

Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2023

Welcome to the SEC, Texas. AD Chris Del Conte gets taste of new league and fun with an old rival

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said the Longhorns’ directives are simple at their first SEC spring meetings. “If it’s, ‘All in favor,’ we just don’t raise our hands,” Del Conte said with a chuckle of UT and Oklahoma attending the meetings but not offering an official vote. UT and OU, which are exiting the Big 12 and entering the SEC in a little more than a year, are able to offer opinions, however, as observers with a voice, and Del Conte offered his initial impressions of the Longhorns’ first SEC spring meetings. “You’ve got 16 unbelievable schools, great brands,” Del Conte said. “Everybody (in the room) wants the best for the league. The SEC is arguably the best conference in the country. I shouldn’t say arguably — it is (the best), when you start looking at national success and winning championships.

“Everyone pulls their own weight and they have great discussions, and everyone is respected in the room. But I wouldn’t describe the Big 12 as any different …” The biggest discussion of the week is whether the SEC will adopt an eight- or nine-game league schedule starting in 2024. The eight-game setup (eight SEC games, four nonconference games) features seven rotating SEC opponents and the lone annual rival, while the nine-game format (nine SEC games, three nonconference games) features six rotating SEC opponents and three annual rivals. Should the SEC go with the eight-game model, UT and OU would be annual rivals, while A&M and LSU would do likewise. Del Conte said the Longhorns are in favor of the nine-game model and have voiced as much, because it would mean UT playing OU, A&M and old Southwest Conference foe Arkansas every year. “College athletics is about playing traditional rivals,” Del Conte said. “OU is a traditional rival for us, and for a lot of fans it’s A&M. For a lot of the (older) group, it’s Arkansas. … We have a lot of fans who are looking forward to the Arkansas game and a lot of fans who are looking forward to the A&M game. “Those water-cooler conversations are spectacular. I just want to get back in the venues and play ’em.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 1, 2023

Ryan Rusak: Paxton keeps winning elections despite bribery charges. Why?

Loyalty is a good trait, especially in politics. But it should be earned, and it should have some limits. Attorney General Ken Paxton enjoys a fervent base of voters who have stuck with him for a decade, no matter what he’s done to disgrace his office. Even as most House Republicans voted Saturday to impeach him, seeing strong evidence of bribery and other crimes that merit a Senate trial, his fans vow to fight for him until the end. The shorthand for why they do so is that the (now suspended) attorney general is a “true conservative.” But it looks a lot like the cult of personality that surrounds Donald Trump. In other words, they support Paxton because he “fights” and he makes the right people mad. Substantively, they’re wrong. But politically, they’re powerful.

Paxton has ridden the wave of a reality in Texas politics: Republican primaries are the elections that matter most, and they draw a small portion of voters. When they occasionally result in runoffs, even fewer show up. The decision of those who do show up invariably carries the day in the general election: More voters turn out then, but most simply vote for the party with which they align (whether they acknowledge it or not). And Texas is a GOP state, period. When he first ran for AG in 2014, Paxton was a little-known state senator from Collin County. He led the primary, but a majority voted for one of two other candidates. In the runoff, Paxton’s voters showed up. He took 65% against state Rep. Dan Branch, an establishment Republican. Only about 753,000 Texans voted in the runoff, a drop of 41% from the primary. Give Paxton and his team credit — they played under the rules of the day and won. And once a Texas Republican is entrenched in office, good luck dislodging him or her. Casual observers of politics look at Paxton winning statewide three times, each time with more baggage than the last, and ask how it can be. This is how: A small number of dedicated voters wields outsized influence.

Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2023

ERCOT launches alert system to update public on power grid, request voluntary energy conservation

The Texas electricity grid operator is launching a new system meant to alert the public about looming weather events that may impact the power grid and, if needed, call for voluntary energy conservation. State lawmakers directed the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to increase communication with the public after the operator failed to give adequate updates when widespread power outages hit during the deadly 2021 winter freeze. “We want people comfortable with hearing from us under conditions that are not emergency conditions,” ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas said at a press conference Wednesday. “All of the new notices that we are releasing at this point – the weather watch, as well as the voluntary conservation – are at times when the grid is in stable and normal conditions.”

The Texas Advisory and Notification System, TXANS for short, will not replace ERCOT’s Energy Emergency Alerts, Vegas said. Instead, members of the public can sign up for the new alert program to get updates three to five days before a weather event could lead to a surge in power demand and low supply, he said. It also sends alerts asking for voluntary energy conservation, a signal to residents and businesses to reduce electricity use if they want to and it’s safe to do so. The release of the notification system comes at the start of the hot summer months when electricity demand typically surges in the state. Last July, the ERCOT grid, which serves about 90 percent of the state, saw record demand of nearly 79,000 megawatts on one particularly hot Texas day. Vegas said demand this year could come close to 83,000 megawatts. According to ERCOT, 1 megawatt can power about 200 homes during times of peak electricity demand. University of Houston Energy Fellow Ed Hirs said voluntary conservation, often called “demand response,” can help the grid avoid emergency scenarios if enough people participate. “But we have to rely upon Texans, who notoriously would like to see more power than less, especially when they need it most,” Hirs said. “For a state where everybody drives the big SUVs, you're kind of going against consumer behavior here.”

Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2023

Houston and Texas small businesses led the nation in hourly earnings growth

Workers at Houston's small businesses don't necessarily receive small paychecks, and in May, their pay rose more than many others across the country, according to data that also has good news for small-business owners. Houston and Texas small businesses led the nation in hourly earnings growth in May, according to a new report by Paychex and IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch. Across the U.S., however, wage growth slowed in May, a sign of an ever-so-slightly softening labor market. Houston posted the highest hourly earnings growth among major cities, with the average hourly wage rising 5.34 percent in May — to $31.12 — compared with May 2022. That means a small-business employee in Houston working 40 hours a week would make almost $65,000 a year on average. Texas ranked first with average hourly earnings rising 5.46 percent over the past 12 months to $30.71.

Nationwide, small-business hourly earnings growth slowed to 4.33 percent over the past 12 months, compared with an annual growth rate of 4.52 percent in April 2023, bringing the average national earnings to $31.59 an hour. Paychex, the New York-based provider of payroll and benefit services, defines a small business as one with fewer than 50 employees. The company, which provides payroll services to small- and medium-size businesses, uses data from its clients to produce the monthly Small Business Employment Index. Houston also led the nation's 20 largest metro areas in small-business job growth for the seventh month in a row, while overall, the rate of small-business job growth was nearly unchanged from April to May. Minneapolis ranked second to Houston, with hourly wage growth at 5.14 percent in May, followed by Dallas at 5.03 percent. The three were the only major metro areas that had wage growth above 5 percent over the past 12 months. In a seeming paradox, the Houston area's unemployment rate stands above the national average, 4.4 percent compared with 3.4 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists have suggested that this is because the region has continued to add job-seekers as well as jobs since the national economy reopened from the pandemic.

Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2023

As Allen mall reopens, reminders and memories of mass shooting remain

Slowly, cars pulled into the nearly vacant parking lot of Allen Premium Outlets. Employees, some reluctant and others relieved, returned to jobs folding clothes and slinging burgers and frosted cookies. Shoppers roamed the open-air mall as a security guard made his way around the center asking people how they were doing. Two therapy dogs, Pax and Phoebe, bounded from store to store. Almost a month after one of North Texas’ most popular shopping centers transformed into the frantic, all-too-familiar site of yet another deadly mass shooting, the mall reopened Wednesday. Gunfire tore through the mall May 6, as a man wielding assault-style rifles opened fire on a warm Saturday afternoon, killing eight people, wounding seven and traumatizing countless others. A police officer, on an unrelated call nearby, shot and killed the gunman within minutes.

A makeshift memorial with a cluster of crosses and piles of supermarket flowers was removed weeks ago. Gone too were hundreds of stuffed teddy bears and dolls, prayer candles and beaded necklaces. Yet reminders of the nation’s second-deadliest mass shooting this year remained everywhere: on “Allen Strong” decals posted on store doors, a single heart marking Allen on a map of Texas, in the additional police officers wandering the mall by foot and patrol car, in news helicopters circling above, and mostly, singed into memories of the people working and shopping that day. “It’s different now,” said Erik Hernandez, 16, a student at McKinney High School who was shopping Wednesday with his mother, Luz Reyna. “It’s just not the same.” Killed in the shooting were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Their names were Kyu Cho, 37; Cindy Cho, 35; James Cho, 3; Daniela Mendoza, 11; Sofia Mendoza, 8; Christian LaCour, 20; Elio Cumana-Rivas, 32; and Aishwarya Thatikonda, 26. At Zwilling Factory Store, a tribute to Cumana-Rivas rested on a table. He was shot on the sidewalk in front of the store as terrified shoppers, including a father with a baby in a stroller, rushed inside to hide. Store manager Marcus Kergosien said he watched Cumana-Rivas raise his arms, as if asking for mercy, when the gunman shot him a second time. Bullets hit the store’s door frame, and the gunman peered inside the cutlery store before leaving. Kergosien later learned that Cumana-Rivas had been shopping for a birthday gift for his daughter in Venezuela and was working in the U.S. to send money home to his family.

Dallas Morning News - June 1, 2023

Mary Beth Bennett and Michael Hole: We know how to improve kids’ mental health. Let’s act

(Dr. Mary Beth Bennett is a pediatrician in Seattle and an alumna of Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Michael Hole is a pediatrician and policy professor at The University of Texas, where he leads The Impact Factory, a hub for community service and entrepreneurship.) It took six hospital staffers to stop 11-year-old Lucia from bloodying her face on the emergency department floor. She thumped her head against the linoleum tile over and over until she passed out. Her family felt they could no longer keep her, or their other children, safe at home. Doctors had spent years cycling Lucia through various medications to treat her depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but nothing made a real difference. As pediatricians, we often focus on helping patients in crisis get the care they need to recover, but we sometimes feel powerless to address the social and systemic roots of the problem. Fortunately, new research published in the journal Nature Communications outlines a promising path toward preventing mental health crises for kids. Health care leaders and state legislators should seize the moment to enact policies that could prevent children like Lucia from ending up on an emergency room floor. We’ve written elsewhere about the power of national anti-poverty policies to improve poor children’s health and well-being.

And research has shown that kids in lower-income families are roughly twice as likely to suffer poor mental health, typically with fewer treatment options available outside the hospital, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new study from Harvard University and Washington University in St. Louis analyzed information on more than 10,000 children that had been gathered as part of the largest-ever U.S. data-collection project on child brain development. It provides strong evidence that increased state-level social programs greatly influence youth brain development and mental health, with broad implications for addressing the roots of the mental health crises that affect children like Lucia. Specifically, the researchers showed that children who benefit from anti-poverty interventions such as Medicaid expansion and cash assistance via an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit have healthier brains and improved mental health outcomes, compared with children who lack these socioeconomic supports. The findings held true across diverse demographic groups, regardless of population density, unemployment rates, state-funded preschool enrollment and other important variables.

San Antonio Report - June 1, 2023

City of Helotes, Mark Dorazio join fight against wastewater plant

Both the City of Helotes and Bexar County state Rep. Mark Dorazio have joined local residents in opposing the construction of a wastewater plant that would dump millions of gallons of treated effluent into Helotes Creek. Citing a lack of conclusive evidence that discharge from the proposed plant would not degrade the quality of the Edwards Aquifer, both the City of Helotes and Dorazio, who represents Helotes and the surrounding area, are calling on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to deny a permit for the plant. In voicing their concerns last week, they joined hundreds of local residents who are calling on the TCEQ to deny the applicant, Lennar Homes, a building permit to construct a wastewater plant that would serve a 2,900-home development the Florida-based developer is planning to build on 1,160 acres north of San Antonio known as the Guajolote Ranch.

The City of Helotes’ mayor and five council members unanimously passed a resolution May 25 opposing the permit. Dorazio, a Republican elected to the Legislature in November to succeed retiring water champion Lyle Larson, issued a statement published in the Helotes News the following day. “Given the overwhelmingly negative response from my constituents and the numerous concerns brought forward by experts in water quality and health, I must call on the TCEQ to deny this permit at the present time,” Dorazio stated. Helotes’ resolution referred to a public meeting held by the TCEQ on May 9 in San Antonio that was attended by as many as 300 people, roughly 40 of whom submitted formal comments on the project. The resolution pointed out that although Helotes Creek is 14 miles long, TCEQ personnel were only required to examine 2.5 miles of the creek bed to verify if it could contain the discharged wastewater. The resolution also listed flooding concerns, worries about Lennar’s environmental track record, and the city’s need to protect its residents’ public health as reasons the city was opposing the permit. During the City Council meeting, Helotes Councilwoman Jen Sones said while she supports property rights, the plant would affect property owners downstream.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2023

More Harris County 911 calls to see mental health crisis team instead of police

More of Harris County's 911 calls will be diverted to a mental health crisis team instead of law enforcement officers after a year-long pilot program in a handful of neighborhoods handled thousands of non-violent incidents. Since March 2022, the county's Holistic Assistance Response Team, or HART, program has dispatched mental health and social work professionals instead of law enforcement to some types of emergency calls. In the first year, it diverted 2,265 calls from law enforcement responses in neighborhoods including Cypress Station, Sunnyside and South Park. The project is a collaboration between the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Harris County Public Health to free up law enforcement to focus on violent crime, reduce hospitalizations in the county's safety net hospital system and increase enrollment in physical and mental health treatment plans.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted May 16 to broaden the program from mostly daytime hours to a round-the-clock and expand it into Precinct 4 at an additional cost of $2.9 million. In the program's first year, the top three call types HART members responded to involved welfare checks, suspicious persons and mental health calls. The teams work with homeless residents, people suffering from a mental illness and, in some cases, overwhelmed and struggling parents, said Victoria Moreau, a HART program field training officer and crisis intervention specialist. In one case, Moreau said she responded to a 911 caller concerned about an individual at a local gas station. At the scene, Moreau learned the man was homeless and experiencing a mental health crisis. "So, law enforcement and HART had to work together to come up with contacting friends, family, helping them get back in communication with them so we can get him off the street, get his possessions taken care of, so he's not putting himself in danger or putting others in danger," Moreau said. "His family wasn't aware he was on the street. Once they were made aware of that, they wanted to step in and help."

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2023

Trish DeBerry to move from board chair to CEO of Centro de San Antonio

Trish DeBerry will take the reins of Centro de San Antonio as CEO after returning to the organization as the board chair in April. The board vote was unanimous. Board member Ed Cross said they needed to take immediate action after the death of Rene Garcia, former board chair, in April and the announcement that current CEO Matt Brown would step down in July. “Trish has the perfect mix of private and public sector experience. Not to mention, she chose to office downtown for the better part of 20 years and has played key roles within Centro during that time. And, as a lifelong San Antonian, she brings amazing energy, passion and ideas that, no doubt, will reinvigorate downtown,” Cross said.

Brown, who has served since June 2019, plans to join his family in California and return to the private sector. Board member David Adelman credited Brown with embracing downtown San Antonio and leading the organization amid COVID. “While the center city still feels its effects, Matt and the team worked mightily to lessen the impact. Consequently, we are doing better than most downtowns across the country,” Adelman said. Centro acts as an advocate for the downtown community, including business owners and real estate developers. It has a multimillion-dollar contract with the city to manage the downtown public improvement district, or PID, which collects property taxes to provide services such as street sweeping and graffiti removal. DeBerry, a former Bexar County commissioner, left office to run for county judge last year. She’d been largely out of the public eye since losing to Peter Sakai in November. “There is a lot of work ahead as we engage with partners to execute the Downtown Tomorrow Strategy, while addressing pressing issues today like office vacancy and continuing to improve our core business of making downtown clean and safe,” DeBerry said.

San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2023

SAPD wants to add 100 cops to keep up with booming population — and that's just for starters

City officials are moving ahead with a plan to put 100 more police officers on the streets of San Antonio next year. It would be the largest increase in the force since 2009. And those 100 would be just the first phase in a long-term expansion of the San Antonio Police Department. Here’s what you need to know. How many officers are we talking about, total? It’s a five-year plan, and it calls for adding 100 officers next year and then 65 more each year, for a total of 360 by 2028. That would amount to a 32 percent increase in patrol officers from the current budgeted total of 1,128.

How much will it cost? It won’t be cheap. It will cost $8.6 million in the first year and more thereafter, as the patrol force gets bigger. By the fifth year, the expansion will cost $52 million annually. How will it be paid for? The city is pursuing a $6.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to defray some of the costs for three years. The rest would be paid from local tax revenue. What if the city doesn’t get the grant? Then the first-year cost would be nearly $11 million. Why do we need so many more officers? San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Even the pandemic couldn’t slow its expansion. Between July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2022, the city’s population grew by nearly 34,000, or 2.3 percent. That was the biggest percentage increase among the nation’s 10 largest cities. Also, most of the growth has been outside the downtown core. As a result, SAPD is receiving more calls for assistance over a wider geographic area. Plus, crime rates have been on the rise. Overall crime in San Antonio rose more than 10 percent from 2021 to 2022. Over the last three years, violent crime — murder, aggravated assault and robbery — climbed 47 percent.

Houston Chronicle - June 1, 2023

Outgoing HISD schools chief Denise Watts named lone finalist for superintendent job in Georgia

The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System in Georgia announced Wednesday that outgoing Houston ISD Chief of Schools Denise Watts has been named the sole finalist for superintendent of the district. In a statement, the southeast Georgia school district, which serves about 36,000 students, touted Watts' involvement in lifting about 40 HISD schools from failing ratings during her nearly two years in Houston, and noted that she took the HISD job with the knowledge that a district takeover by the Texas Education Agency was possible.

"Dr. Watts has consistently used a data-driven approach to increase student achievement while also focusing on building effective relationships with students, staff, peers, and the community," the district said. "Her passion for ensuring that all students are successful and can lead choice-filled lives, regardless of their circumstances, while also ensuring that teachers and staff have the support they need, aligns with the School Board's vision to ensure that all students are prepared to be successful and productive citizens and mission to ignite and foster lifelong learning at the highest levels for all," the statement continued. Watts did not immediately return a request for comment. Her last day at HISD is June 14, district records show. Watts departure is part of a mass exodus of HISD administrators who have resigned ahead of the state takeover of HISD on Thursday. Deputy Superintendent Rick Cruz is also taking on a superintendent position in a smaller, urban district, accepting a new role as head of Asheville City Schools in North Carolina.

Austin American-Statesman - June 1, 2023

Affidavit: Friend says Raul Meza, accused of killing two, appeared suicidal

Raul Meza told police he was having a sexual relationship with an 80-year-old retired probation officer in Pflugerville that caused him to get mad at the man on the day he killed him, according to an arrest affidavit released Wednesday. Austin police said Tuesday that Meza, 62, is a serial killer responsible for the deaths of at least three people. Police said they are looking for links between him and up to 10 other unsolved homicides. Meza was arrested Monday without incident in North Austin. Officials said he had a backpack with him containing duct tape, zip ties and a .22-caliber gun. He was charged May 25 with capital murder in the death of Jesse Fraga, a retired probation officer who befriended him and allowed Meza to live with him at his Pflugerville home, police said. Meza also stole Fraga's truck, investigators said.

He also was charged this week with murder in the death of Austin resident Gloria Lofton in 2019 after he called police and confessed to it on May 24, police said Tuesday. Officials were able to match DNA at the scene to Meza. Fraga, the most recent person that Meza is accused of killing, had befriended him when Meza was first released from prison in 1993 and having a hard time finding a place to live, according to a lawsuit. Police learned of Fraga's death after his niece asked them to check on him May 20, the affidavit said. It said officers found Fraga's body in a bathroom and blood at the scene. When officers arrived at Fraga's house on Camp Fire Trail, there were two people there who said they knew Meza and Fraga. One of them said she was a friend of Meza's and said Meza was Fraga's caregiver, the affidavit said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 1, 2023

Pope gives Fort Worth bishop authority to investigate nun

The Vatican issued a decree Wednesday giving Bishop Michael Olson governing authority over a Carmelite monastery in Arlington embroiled in a legal battle against the bishop and the Fort Worth Catholic Diocese. Bishop Michael Olson is investigating allegations that the Reverend Mother Superior Teresa Agnes Gerlach violated her chastity vows with a priest from outside of the diocese. Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese sued the diocese and the bishop, arguing that Pope Francis has governing authority over the the nuns and that the bishop overstepped his authority when he kept priests from celebrating daily Mass at the monastery. The Fort Worth Catholic Diocese said in a statement Wednesday that the Holy See had issued a decree appointing Olson as the pontifical commissary of the monastery. “As Pontifical Commissary, Bishop Olson is the Pope’s representative in this matter,” the statement read.

Olson has been conducting an investigation into a report that Gerlach violated her chastity vows with a priest. Matthew Bobo, an attorney representing the nuns, has said accusations against Gerlach are “absolutely false and have no basis.” In a statement Wednesday evening Bobo said the decree “has no authority whatsoever over the law in the State of Texas, nor regarding the civil lawsuit filed by the sisters of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity. “The unjust, illegal and immoral actions taken by Bishop Michael Olson in this matter have been explicitly outlined in the past few weeks, and the decree issued by the Catholic Church from Vatican City changes none of the facts of the case.” Bobo also said it was “unconscionable” that Olson issued another public statement that reiterated the alleged sins of the mother superior. “We will continue to press on representing the sisters according to the law of the State of Texas, for which Bishop Michael Olson is subject to,” he wrote. Bobo questioned some discrepancies in the letter the diocese posted on its website. Additionally, he said the sister’s canon lawyer had not received the decree, which he said is required by canon law. Gerlach uses a wheelchair and relies on constant medical care. She uses a feeding tube and is unable to speak and must rely on her cell phone and iPad for writing. After receiving the report, Olson “demanded” that the reverend mother turn over her laptop, iPad and cell phone, and told Gerlach and Sister Francis Therese that they could not handle the administrative duties of the monastery.

National Stories

Politico - June 1, 2023

Why the left held its fire on no-win debt deal

Elizabeth Warren doesn’t like much at all about the deal to raise the debt ceiling. The only reason she might vote for it is hardly an endorsement: default would be worse. “We have to weigh the consequences of default,” the progressive Massachusetts senator said in an interview, “against the pain that Republicans are trying to impose on hungry Americans, students, our climate and the Republicans’ constant enthusiasm for protecting billionaire tax cheats.” Warren’s ambivalence about a deal to raise the debt ceiling into early 2025, which Democrats never even wanted to negotiate, is coursing through the party’s left flank. Progressives are facing a no-win choice of voting against raising the debt ceiling or voting for some spending constraints and avoiding default. Even as they complain, many say that President Joe Biden got the best deal he could.

And Warren’s not the only one weighing whether the deal is better than the alternative. Even some liberals who are planning to vote against the bill acknowledge it’s better than default. Typically, it’s just Republicans who are hard to woo on lifting the debt ceiling — but this time Democrats are also agonizing over what to do. Still, it’s a more positive sentiment than Biden and Democratic leaders faced two weeks ago, when Warren and dozens of other progressives were calling for the president to invoke the 14th Amendment rather than accede to Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s demands. The speaker got modest budget caps and new benefit restrictions, but Democrats likely would have had to fight those battles in the fall anyway, when Congress negotiates its annual spending bill. “This is the weirdest legislation that anybody has ever been asked to vote on since I got here,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “Nobody seems to support all of it. Everyone has problems with parts of it. But the macro alternative is absolutely indigestible.”

Rolling Stone - June 1, 2023

Inside Trump and DeSantis’ ugly feud over The Babylon Bee

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis’ teams are fighting each other for donors, endorsements, and staff. But behind the scenes, the Republican rivals are competing on a different, unconventional playing field: the scramble to secure online influencers. Trump has for years had an army of extremely online supporters only too happy to engage in meme wars on behalf of the former reality show host. But sources tell Rolling Stone that Team DeSantis has tried to peel off influencers from the MAGA camp, offering access and (in one case) a job to buttress the governor’s online army. One of the bigger prizes in this social media contest between the Trump and DeSantis camps is The Babylon Bee, a satirical news site that positions itself as a conservative answer to The Onion. During his presidency, Trump had approvingly retweeted the site’s stories (at times appearing unaware they were fake) and the Bee reciprocated the affection with shots at the president’s enemies.

But in February, the relationship between Trumpworld and the Bee soured when anti-Muslim activist and far-right Trump backer Laura Loomer noticed a $21,500 payment from the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC to the Bee made during the governor’s race and tweeted that Seth Dillon — owner of The Babylon Bee — had claimed to her that the money was for “joke/speechwriting.” In text messages reviewed by Rolling Stone, Dillon claimed to Loomer that the payments were about helping DeSantis fight Democrats, not Trump. “You could consider us speech writing consultants,” Dillon texted Loomer in one message. “We help him find funny angles on Democrats. We don’t attack Trump for him. That’s silly and false. They have never suggested that we write anything about Trump.” Behind the scenes, the revelation prompted fury from Trump. A source familiar with the situation tells Rolling Stone that Loomer flagged the payments to Trump during a private dinner. Shortly after, Trump took to his Truth Social account to blast both DeSantis and the Babylon Bee. “You don’t spend that much money on The Babylon Bee if you’re running for Governor, in fact, you don’t spend money on The Babylon Bee if you’re running for anything!” he wrote.

Washington Post - June 1, 2023

Pence, Christie to launch 2024 presidential bids next week

Former vice president Mike Pence and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie will enter the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination next week, according to two people with knowledge of their plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decisions have not yet been announced publicly. Pence and Christie plan to announce their campaigns next week, joining an increasingly crowded GOP field looking to challenge former president Donald Trump, who is running for a second term. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) is also planning to launch a presidential bid on June 7.

Pence, whose presidential campaign announcement was first reported by the Messenger, has traveled to key primary states and leaned into issues that other Republicans find politically uncomfortable, calling for changes to Medicare and Social Security and advocating abortion restrictions while highlighting the Trump administration’s role in overturning Roe v. Wade. “We have to resist the politics of personality, the lure of populism unmoored by timeless conservative values,” he told a crowd in New Hampshire recently. Pence most famously broke with Trump when he refused to interfere with the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win on Jan. 6, 2021, leading some in the pro-Trump mob outside the U.S. Capitol that day to chant, “Hang Mike Pence!” Still, Pence has been restrained in criticism of Trump, simply saying the two may never “see eye-to-eye” over what happened on Jan. 6. In November, Pence issued a rare rebuke of Trump over the former president’s dinner with the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and the activist Nick Fuentes — two people known for a range of offensive comments — saying Trump “was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table.” Christie’s planned campaign, first reported by Axios, would be his second for the presidency after he unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 2016. After dropping out of the race, Christie swiftly endorsed Trump, despite the two men trading bitter attacks through the primary, and later was named head of Trump’s transition team.

Washington Post - June 1, 2023

Biden shows growing appetite to cross Putin’s red lines

President Biden’s decision last month to help Ukraine obtain F-16 fighter jets marked another crossing of a Russian red line that Vladimir Putin has said would transform the war and draw Washington and Moscow into direct conflict. Despite the Russian leader’s apocalyptic warnings, the United States has gradually agreed to expand Ukraine’s arsenal with Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS rocket launchers, advanced missile defense systems, drones, helicopters, M1 Abrams tanks and, soon, fourth-generation fighter jets. A key reason for brushing aside Putin’s threats, U.S. officials say, is a dynamic that has held since the opening days of the war: Russia’s president has not followed through on promises to punish the West for providing weapons to Ukraine. His bluffing has given U.S. and European leaders some confidence they can continue doing so without severe consequences — but to what extent remains one of the conflict’s most dangerous uncertainties.

“Russia has devalued its red lines so many times by saying certain things would be unacceptable and then doing nothing when they happen,” said Maxim Samorukov, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The problem is that we don’t know the actual red line. It’s in one person’s head, and it can change from one day to the next.” U.S. officials say managing the risk of escalation remains one of the most difficult aspects of the war for Biden and his foreign policy advisers. When deciding what new weapons systems to provide Ukraine, they focus on four key factors, officials said. “Do they need it? Can they use it? Do we have it? What is the Russian response going to be?” said a senior State Department official. Like others interviewed for this report, this person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. The official said Russia’s reluctance to retaliate has influenced the risk calculus of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a key Biden confidante who has been an influential voice encouraging the administration and U.S. allies to do more to support Ukraine.

Market Watch - June 1, 2023

Jamie Dimon for president? JPMorgan boss hints at public office run ‘one day,’ warns of more rate hikes

That was the response of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s long-running CEO Jamie Dimon, when asked by Bloomberg if he would ever consider running for public office or accept a cabinet position, as the U.S. 2024 presidential race looms. “You know, obviously, it’s crossed my mind because people mention things to you and stuff like that,” Dimon said, reiterating that for now he’s happy where he is, while at the bank’s annual Global China Summit in Shanghai on Wednesday. “I think JPMorgan does a great job of helping Americans and countries around the world, and this is my job.”

The head of Wall Street’s biggest bank recently brushed aside talk of retirement, while at least one peer has announced his own exit — Morgan Stanley’s chief executive James Gorman said he would step down within the next year. He said the bank has for years made clear that a default won’t be good for the financial system or the U.S. economy, which the rest of the world relies on. “I wish one day we’d get rid of the whole debt-ceiling thing,” he said. Dimon said that investors do need to be prepared for perhaps a less smooth ride as the Federal Reserve may not be done with interest rate increases just yet. While the Fed is “right to pause at this point” after 500 basis points worth of hikes, he said it’s “possible they’re going to raise a little bit more.”

Washington Post - June 1, 2023

Project Veritas sues founder James O’Keefe over his messy departure

In February, conservative undercover-video activist James O’Keefe left the nonprofit he founded, Project Veritas, amid a dispute with his board over his spending and treatment of employees. Then he launched his comeback media tour. O’Keefe told Donald Trump adviser turned podcaster Stephen K. Bannon that he had been “removed,” and announced on radio host Mark Levin’s show that he had been “ousted.” In an appearance on comedian Russell Brand’s podcast, O’Keefe said he had been “thrown out.” Sometimes, O’Keefe implied he had been fired at the behest of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant and coronavirus vaccine manufacturer that he had targeted in a sting. All this came as a surprise to the Project Veritas board, according to a lawsuit it filed Wednesday against O’Keefe. Project Veritas insists that its founder remained an employee until barely two weeks ago — even as he set up a rival organization.

Now Project Veritas is alleging that O’Keefe broke a nondisparagement clause and other parts of his employment contract during his messy exit from the organization. The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, includes claims that O’Keefe spent large sums of donors’ money on himself, allegedly including a $150,000 bill on luxury black-car service and $10,000 on a helicopter flight to Maine. “Being known as the founder of an organization does not entitle that person to run amok and put his own interests ahead of that organization,” the complaint reads. O’Keefe did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement to The Washington Post, Project Veritas said it is “facing many challenges that are familiar to young organizations.” “We are making major changes internally due to the nature of our past interpersonal and managerial issues,” the statement reads. “We are more committed than ever to producing great journalism that exposes the stubborn false narratives plaguing our society.” The lawsuit marks a new escalation in the battle between O’Keefe and the nonprofit he turned into a conservative powerhouse.

San Antonio Express-News - June 1, 2023

NASA wants to destigmatize UFOs, now called UAPs, in its push to collect better data

NASA wants to remove the stigma around reporting and researching UFOs. During a public meeting on Wednesday, a 16-member team of independent experts said it had been harassed for helping NASA create a strategy to better categorize and evaluate unidentified flying objects — now called UAPs, for unidentified anomalous phenomena. This is a serious topic deserving rigorous scientific analysis, they said, and harassment hinders progress in the field. Analyzing UAPs could help scientists better understand the world — potentially the universe — and it could improve situational awareness crucial for airspace safety.

"Conversations like this one are the first step to reducing the stigma surrounding UAP reporting," said Dan Evans, the assistant deputy associate administrator for research at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. "Moreover, transparency is essential for fostering trust between NASA, the public and the scientific community. In order to do things right, we must work together, pooling our resources, our knowledge and our expertise." The independent study team was tapped last year and plans to release a report by the end of July. Its focus is on the sky, where most of the sightings have been reported, though the National Defense Authorization Act recently changed the acronym from unidentified aerial phenomena to unidentified anomalous phenomena. This expands the scope to undersea and in space. The team's work follows years of heightened interest around interstellar visitors after the release of a series of U.S. Navy videos in which objects appear to be moving quickly through the air; in one an object appears to rotate and in another an aviator is heard remarking that the object he spots is racing against the wind. NASA's independent study team, which only uses declassified data, said there is no evidence connecting UAPs with extraterrestrial life. Still, they acknowledged the heightened public interest.

May 31, 2023

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2023

Gov. Greg Abbott's power grows as Texas Legislature fumbles tax cuts

The Texas Legislature’s failure to cut property taxes is Gov. Greg Abbott’s political gain. When the Legislature ended its regular session with no property tax cuts Monday, Abbott’s authority immediately grew, giving him extensive powers to force a special session on his terms and dictate exactly what lawmakers could work on. Abbott did that by ordering lawmakers back into a special session to pass a specific kind of property tax relief, greatly limiting the Legislature’s say in the matter as he is allowed to do under the Texas Constitution. “The governor basically has complete power now,” said Billy Monroe, a political science professor at Prairie View A&M University.

And Abbott is using it to refocus the Legislature on a property tax idea that he’s favored since last year. Abbott wanted the Legislature to send more state funding to cover local school property tax revenue so school districts don’t raise rates on businesses and homeowners. It’s a method often called compression within legislative circles and was used extensively in 2019 to slow the upward spiral of property taxes across the state. “I would prefer to take the money and buy that down even further,” Abbott told Hearst Newspapers last year in an exclusive interview about his plan. While the House and the Senate had plans to do some more compression this year, their plans included other ways to cut property taxes, which resulted in the political infighting that ultimately killed the dueling property tax plans from the Texas House and Senate. “We must cut property taxes,” Abbott said just hours after that failure. “During the regular session, we added $17.6 billion to cut property taxes. However, the Legislature could not agree on how to allocate funds to accomplish this goal. Texans want and need a path towards eliminating property taxes. The best way to do that is to direct property tax reduction dollars to cut school property tax rates.”

NPR - May 31, 2023

Far-right members threaten a 'reckoning' over McCarthy's debt limit deal

Anger over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's deal with President Biden to raise the debt ceiling is bubbling over, with some conservative members threatening to oust McCarthy as speaker. "This deal fails — fails completely — and that's why these members and others will be absolutely opposed to the deal and we will do everything in our power to stop it," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said during a press conference with caucus members Tuesday afternoon. Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the Freedom Caucus, was even more blunt: "The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder," he said. "Not one Republican should vote for this deal – not one." Roy argued there was a "breach" in the structure set up by House Republicans after the January vote to elect McCarthy as speaker. He vowed to fight the new compromise bill and, without mentioning the speaker by name, added: "No matter what happens, there is going to be a reckoning."

Under a rule McCarthy agreed to in January as a concession to his conservative critics, any one House member can offer a resolution to remove the House speaker. The deal McCarthy and Biden reached in principal over the weekend would avoid a historic government debt default by raising the nation's debt ceiling for nearly two years. The compromise bill, clocking in at 99 pages long, holds nondefense spending for fiscal year 2024 at roughly current levels and will raise it by 1% in 2025. It also sets spending caps for the federal budget, raises the age of food stamp recipients subject to work requirements and claws back funding for the Internal Revenue Service, among other things. But some conservatives in the House criticized the scale of the cuts, arguing they were not fully in line with an earlier partisan bill to raise the debt ceiling that House Republicans passed in April. One after another, members of the Freedom Caucus at the press conference called on fellow Republicans to oppose the bill. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., called the vote on the deal a "career-defining vote for every Republican." Later, when asked by reporters if a motion to oust McCarthy over the bill is on the table, Bishop was the sole member to raise his hand. McCarthy, for his part, is projecting confidence. Asked by reporters whether he thinks his speakership is secure, McCarthy responded: "Yep."

NPR - May 31, 2023

Is Texas next up? Lawmakers clear the way for the state to leave voter data group ERIC

Texas is on its way to being the latest — and largest — state to leave a bipartisan data sharing partnership that states across the country use to cross check their voter rolls. Texas lawmakers on Monday gave final approval to Senate Bill 1070, which would seek to end the state's participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. The legislation now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott. Multiple GOP-led states have backed out of ERIC in response to conservative advocacy groups who have at times spread misinformation about the compact. Virginia on May 11 became the eighth state to announce its departure. Senate Bill 1070, which was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, would push Texas into using an alternate system to update voter rolls, like checking to make sure voters aren't registered to vote in multiple states.

Hughes' legislation followed a series of discussions he had with right-wing activists about ERIC, as first detailed by the news site Votebeat. In one online meeting in October, Hughes told the activists there had been no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of ERIC in Texas. He described his concerns at the time as mostly political. "The people who run ERIC are not people who line up with our values and so we need to have another alternative," he said. "Now, there is no evidence that ERIC is doing anything to Texas voter rolls. But we do know that the people running ERIC do not share our worldview." ERIC is run by its bipartisan slate of member states. Hughes has not responded to multiple requests for comment about his bill. Joyce LeBombard, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, says her main concern is that the state will not immediately have another system to use to cross check its voter rolls. "There is no other system to replace ERIC at this point," she said. In a statement in March, Texas election officials announced a "newly-created position" at the secretary of state's office "to develop and manage an interstate voter registration crosscheck program."

Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2023

Texas House adjourns special session, handing fate of historic property tax bill to dueling Senate

The Texas House promptly adjourned Tuesday after passing its version of property tax relief on the first day of a special session, essentially leaving it to the Senate to accept its version or force yet another session in order to deliver on their promise of billions in tax cuts. The two chambers have been at an impasse since the early days of the regular, five-month legislative session that ended Monday. House Speaker Dade Phelan has pushed to slash the state’s home appraisal cap and extend it to businesses and rentals. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, wants to instead raise the amount that homeowners can trim off the taxable value of their homes.

After the two sides failed to settle their differences by Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott — who campaigned for re-election on delivering the largest property tax cut in Texas history — called them back for a special session. And this time he had his own proposal: sending more state dollars to cover school district property taxes, essentially offsetting the burden on local taxpayers. School-levied property taxes are the biggest item on most residential tax bills. Both chambers have proposed buying down at least some local property taxes, otherwise known as tax rate “compression," as part of their broader plans. But Patrick has insisted on sticking with his plan to also raise the so-called homestead exemption. Under the rules for special sessions, the governor controls the agenda. But there is some precedent to suggest that lawmakers are not expressly barred from passing legislation that’s not on the list. “Do you think the governor is going to veto a homestead exemption? No,” Patrick said in a speech Tuesday at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin. “I'm not worried about the governor signing it. The House has got to pass it.”

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2023

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blasts House Speaker Dade Phelan, blames him for tanking property tax reform

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blasted House Speaker Dade Phelan on Tuesday, accusing the Beaumont Republican of letting Democrats run his chamber and tanking negotiations on property tax cuts for personal gain. His comments came the day after the end of the regular legislative session, after lawmakers adjourned without a deal on massive property tax reform and other conservative priorities. Gov. Greg Abbott immediately called a special session, one of several that he said will be “required” to revisit the failed legislation. Patrick and Phelan have been sparring for months over their opposing property tax plans. The lieutenant governor has focused primarily on raising the homestead exemption, allowing homeowners to shave tens of thousands of dollars off the taxable value of their primary residence.

The speaker has instead focused on capping year-over-year increases in taxable values for commercial property and setting a more restrictive cap for homeowners. Patrick said the House plan was based on “bad math” and a nonstarter in the Senate, which Patrick oversees. Patrick said Phelan refused to budge on capping appraisals for businesses during negotiations. Phelan’s most recent offer, he said, was an 8 percent appraisal cap for all properties, but Patrick was only open to that idea if it exclusively applied to homeowners. The cap for homeowners is currently 10 percent. Phelan was firm on including businesses, Patrick said. That would have cost the state $12.4 billion by the 2032-33 budget, compared to $500 million this cycle, Patrick said, citing estimates from the Legislative Budget Board. He called it an “unsustainable” proposal. Patrick said he asked how the state would fund that, and Phelan responded, “School districts would just have to spend less money.” Phelan’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but the speaker defended the House plan in an op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle in March:

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2023

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Texas GOP’s fumbling on tax relief will end up hurting public schools

Well, buckle up again. The Texas House and the Senate could not come to an agreement on property tax relief — in a surplus year, no less — so we’re now in the first of what will likely be multiple special sessions. Our conservative Legislature’s failure to relieve everyday Texans of their tax burden during the regular session defies justification and may well end up hobbling public schools and the families that depend on them. That’s because Gov. Greg Abbott, who has the unique power in Texas government to call a special legislative session and set the agenda, instructed lawmakers to provide property tax relief only by cutting school district tax rates. You’ve already read on these pages how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan have butted heads about their separate tax plans. Unfortunately, Phelan’s foolish insistence on a bad policy that would lower appraisal caps for residential and commercial properties scuttled what should have been an easy, bipartisan win for the Legislature.

While the Senate was focused on raising the mandatory homestead exemption for school taxes, the House’s proposal hinged on bringing down the appraisal cap from 10% to 5%. That would mean property values couldn’t rise by more than 5% a year for tax appraisal purposes. Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-University Park, the author of the House proposal backed by Phelan, reasoned that his constituents come to him with requests that he do something about their appraisals and not the homestead exemption. Still, the House embraced a homestead exemption, seemingly in a move to win over the Senate, without letting go of the appraisal cap. Lowering the appraisal cap may sound good on paper, but it’s awful economic policy, as places like California have demonstrated. That state long ago capped appraisals at 2%, distorting its housing market in ways that made newer homebuyers bear higher tax burdens and that discouraged homeowners from selling. Texans are already feeling the squeeze on housing availability. Going this route would only make things worse. The Senate’s key proposal to raise homestead tax exemptions is a better policy that channels the relief toward the property owners who need it most. But now lawmakers are in murkier water under the governor’s orders to cut only school property tax rates.

San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2023

After law change, Santa Fe families brace to see some evidence from mass shooting

Families of the victims of the Santa Fe High School mass shooting are preparing themselves to finally see evidence from the massacre that for more than five years has been kept away from their eyes. Victims of the May 18, 2018 shooting and their family members met with Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady's office Tuesday to learn what information prosecutors will release after the passage of Senate Bill 435. After the meeting, some of the family members — who advocated for the new law during the recently completed legislative session — said they were bracing themselves to watch soundless security camera footage from inside the school and read autopsy reports describing what happened to their family members' bodies during the shooting.

"I'm so thrilled we got this done," said Gail McCleod, whose son Kyle was killed in the shooting.. "We'll finally get to see something after all these years. We'll have some information and not just be wondering and guessing." Ten people were killed and 13 were injured in the shooting inside an art classroom and adjacent hallway. Police arrested Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspected shooter, inside the school and he was charged with two felonies, including capital murder of multiple people, the same day. Pagourtzis' trial has been indefinitely delayed after he, in 2019, was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial. He was transferred to a state hospital in North Texas, where he is receiving treatment to try to restore his competency, according to officials. The delay has left victims and their families in a limbo. Roady's office has withheld evidence from the families since the day it happened, saying the information must be kept confidential in case of a potential trial.

Austin American-Statesman - May 31, 2023

Texas AG Ken Paxton whistleblowers triggered his impeachment. But will they get paid?

Former aides who lost their jobs for exposing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's alleged misdeeds have yet to receive a penny of a $3.3 million settlement in a whistleblower suit, and the future of that payment remains as uncertain as Paxton's political future. Earlier this year, four whistleblowers reached the conditional settlement with the attorney general's office to resolve a wrongful termination lawsuit. Their legal filing, citing multiple instances in which Paxton allegedly misused his office to assist a campaign donor, was the foundation for an investigation in the Texas House that led to a 121-23 vote in favor of Paxton’s impeachment over the weekend. But the whistleblowers' deal unraveled and was left for dead after state lawmakers refused to fund the settlement in the budget, reasoning that it would take Paxton off the hook without a full explanation from him on what happened.

The 140-day legislative session ended Monday, and a special session, which began immediately, does not include reconsideration of the settlement payment. Paxton, who is suspended from office, awaits a trial in the Senate where he faces permanent removal. Meanwhile, the whistleblower lawsuit returns to litigation after the blown agreement and awaits a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court on a long-shot Paxton maneuver to stop the case. The attorney general’s office contends that the state’s whistleblower law does not protect people who report crimes to law enforcement if an elected official, like Paxton, is accused of participating in the crime. A lower court rejected that argument. If the Supreme Court affirms that finding, the whistleblowers will proceed in collecting evidence and potentially force Paxton to sit for a deposition. A trial has not been scheduled and it's unclear if it would happen in the 19 months before the Legislature is set to reconvene for the 89th regular session. There is a growing sense in legislative and legal circles that lawmakers should fund the settlement or else risk discouraging other government employees from sounding the alarm on misconduct by state officers. There’s a further sense that the longer the case plays out, the more it could cost taxpayers. One of the 20 articles for which Paxton was impeached specifically dealt with retaliation, likely giving the whistleblowers an upper hand with the ongoing trial or any future settlement talks.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 31, 2023

State of Texas files nuisance lawsuit against strip club

The state of Texas has filed a public nuisance lawsuit against west Fort Worth strip club Temptations Cabaret in an attempt to shut it down for good. The Tuesday filing in Tarrant County 348th District Court comes following a shooting over the weekend that left one dead, but crime at the strip club has occurred there for years. Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells is bringing the case on behalf of the state. Since 2018, five people have died in shootings at the strip club, which runs on few rules since it operates without a liquor license. Even more have been injured at Temptations, including two who were stabbed this past May. Neighbors have complained about the strip club for years, and more than 30 people submitted public comments to the Tarrant County commissioners ahead of their May 16 meeting asking for Temptations to be shut down. In a Tuesday court filing, leaders called Temptations a “hotbed of crime.”

San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2023

Beyond a billionaire ex-husband: Who is Spurs investor Kimberly Lewis?

Kimberly Lewis, founder of investment management company KSL Resources, joined the Spurs' investor group as a strategic partner last week. Her addition gives the franchise a stakeholder with strong San Antonio ties, helping to ease fears that the team might one day move to a larger market. Lewis is the ex-wife of oil-and-gas tycoon Rod Lewis. In 2013, she filed for divorce after 35 years of marriage. At the time, Rod Lewis was the second-richest man in San Antonio, with a net worth of $2.6 billion, according to a ranking of the world's billionaires by Forbes magazine. The divorce was finalized in 2019.

Lewis is a big backer of Saint Mary’s Hall, an exclusive prep school on the Northeast Side. Three of her four children graduated from the school: Jessica Lewis Worth (class of 2000), Nicole Lewis Pace (2000), and Amanda Lewis Adkisson (2005). In fall 2021, the Lewis family pledged $1.66 million to pay for improvements to St. Mary's Hall's Lewis Stadium. The gift provided the stadium, home of the Barons, with new track and field surfaces, stadium lighting and a scoreboard. In 2005, she and her then-husband established the Rod and Kim Lewis Foundation. One of its largest charitable donations was a $1 million gift in 2011 to Laredo Community College, home of the Lewis Energy Academic Center. Kimberly Lewis has remained active in philanthropic endeavors, with an emphasis on aiding children. She sits on the board of directors of the DoSeum and the San Antonio Museum of Art, and she's a sponsor of the Charity Ball Association of San Antonio. Previously, she served as a board member for the Charity Ball Association and Respite Care of San Antonio. In 2020, she received the Texas Can Academies-San Antonio Motherhood Lifetime Achievement Award. A native Texan, Kimberly Lewis earned her bachelor's degree in accounting from Laredo's Texas A&M International University. Rod Lewis, a sixth-generation South Texan, graduated from the same school with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

New York Times - May 31, 2023

Disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes reports to Texas prison for 11-year sentence

Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced entrepreneur who was convicted of defrauding investors at her failed blood testing startup Theranos, reported to a federal prison in Texas on Tuesday to begin her 11-year, three-month sentence. Holmes surrendered to FPC Bryan, a minimum-security prison camp for women about 90 minutes from Houston. She pulled up in a Ford Expedition that appeared to be driven by her mother, Noel Holmes. Her father, Christian Holmes, appeared to be inside. After some shuffling around, out of the view of the cameras gathered nearby, Elizabeth Holmes entered the facility wearing jeans, glasses and a sweater, and carrying some papers. As she entered the prison, a bystander watching from the street yelled her name.

FPC Bryan’s 655 inmates are required to work in the cafeteria or in a manufacturing facility, where pay starts at $1.15 an hour, according to the prison’s handbook. Before starting work at the factory, Holmes may take a test to assess her strengths in areas such as business, clerical, numerical, logic, mechanical and “social.” Inmates can also enroll in a “Lean Six Sigma” training program to learn about efficiency. “We try to help our ladies obtain work in the factory which focuses on their strengths so they may develop additional marketable skills,” the prison’s handbook says. Holmes, 39, was found guilty last year of four counts of wire fraud and conspiracy for falsely claiming that Theranos’ blood tests could detect a variety of ailments with just a few drops of blood. She and her former business partner, Ramesh Balwani, must together pay $452 million in restitution to investors who were defrauded. Holmes has appealed her case, though her requests to remain out of prison during the appeal have been denied. Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 after dropping out of Stanford University at age 19. The company raised $950 million in funding, making her a billionaire on paper. Theranos collapsed in 2018. Holmes and Balwani were indicted that year.

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2023

Texas Republicans among hardline conservatives out to kill bipartisan debt limit deal

Hardline conservative Republicans vowed Tuesday to do everything possible to sink the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling, with Austin Rep. Chip Roy promising a “reckoning” for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and at least one other colleague threatening to oust the new speaker. The bill cleared a key initial hurdle when the House Rules Committee voted Tuesday night to advance it, over Roy’s objection, setting up a Wednesday vote by the full House. McCarthy and President Joe Biden announced their deal over the weekend, days before the government is projected to exhaust its borrowing authority, which would trigger an economy-devastating default. The compromise would suspend the debt limit until Jan. 1, 2025 in exchange for some Republican demands, such as spending restraints and expanded work requirements for food stamps.

But the deal jettisons many top conservative priorities contained in a bill passed by the House last month: deeper spending cuts, elimination of billions in funding for new IRS agents and a rollback of green energy incentives intended to tackle climate change. The House bill also included a shorter extension of the debt ceiling, ensuring another showdown ahead of next year’s presidential election. This deal averts that possibility, and critics denounced it as a “blank check” that could add $4 trillion or more to the national debt over the next 18 months. “Not one Republican should vote for this deal,” Roy said. “It is a bad deal. No one sent us here to borrow an additional $4 trillion to get absolutely nothing in return.” Roy spoke at a press conference with other members of the Freedom Caucus, which features some of the most far-right Republicans in the House. McCarthy and Biden are both working to sell the deal to skeptics at the ideological edges of their own parties. Rep. Greg Casar, D-Austin, said on CNN that he and other progressives are leaning “no” on the deal. They want to avoid a default, but expect the deal to pass regardless how they vote. They also want to register opposition to the expanded work requirements.

Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2023

Galveston County judge grants injunction, sets up legal battle over how to teach Texas history

A Galveston County judge Tuesday granted a temporary injunction in a case over the makeup of the Texas State Historical Association, setting up a legal battle in the fall that could determine the future of how the state’s history is taught and remembered. Judge Kerry Neves of the 10th District Court signed off on a temporary injunction, stopping the board from meeting until the court can hear arguments on whether Galveston billionaire and interim executive director of the organization, J.P. Bryan, is correct about an unbalanced board. A trial on the matter is tentatively set for Sept. 11, according to court records. “Today couldn’t have gone any better,” said Eric Lipper, attorney for Bryan. “I could tell the court was comfortable in its ruling.”

Attorneys for the defendants, the association and president Nancy Baker Jones, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Defendants in the case have accused Bryan of orchestrating a coup against the organization, trying to use the courts to stop the board from meeting and whitewashing history, according to one legal filing. In particular, defendants accuse him of trying to "minimizing Anglo support for the spread of human slavery and the important roles that Indigenous people, Hispanics, African Americans, and women played in shaping Texas.” Bryan counters there is an effort "diminish the teaching of Texas history." The case centers on the association’s bylaws and whether the board is set up with a fair number of academic and nonacademic voices. But the outcome of the case will bear heavily on how Texas history is written in the years to come, according to all parties involved. Lipper said plaintiff attorneys presented Neves with details about board members taken directly from their biographies on the association’s website as evidence in support of their position. The Texas State Historical Association is a nonprofit organization that traces its roots back to Austin in the late 1890s, according to the group’s website. Bryan said the group is involved in myriad historical events across the state but remains best known for publishing the Handbook of Texas and the biennial Texas Almanac — both of which play major roles as hosts for historical writing about the state.

Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2023

Millard House II: Goodbye. I'm proud of all we accomplished.

(Millard House II is the superintendent of Houston ISD until June 1.) I heard you loud and clear. When I became superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, I read your emails, listened to your feedback, pleas for help, and your stories of fresh pain, past wounds, and renewed hope. It was those hopes and dreams that my team and I carried as we worked to build a better HISD — not just for now, but for future generations to come. The past 22 months have been a journey like no other. Thanks to the tireless work of our incredible teachers, administrators, and staff the results can be felt across the district. Only ten campuses remain rated D or F as defined by the Texas Education Agency — down from 50 when I took on the role. HISD teachers are now among the best-compensated in the region, up from near the bottom in every category of compensation available. Today, every HISD student has access to a librarian, nurse, or counselor on their campus, the first time that has been true in recent history. And we have taken significant steps towards reducing the persistent structural deficit that face the district for many years.

I have had the honor of witnessing firsthand the incredible work being done in our classrooms, and the passion and dedication of our teachers, administrators, staff. HISD’s most precious asset — its students — have been an inspiration to me daily. I will carry their unique resolve, tenacity, and promise with me for the rest of my life. While I was superintendent, my team and I dedicated every waking minute focused on giving each one of our students a shot at a successful life, as well as return HISD to its status as the asset our community deserves. I am proud to say that, in the short time we had, we made significant progress towards achieving that goal. Together, we rebuilt the trust and reliability our families and community deserve with this school district. We made public education more accessible and expanded academic opportunities across HISD. We recognized the educational inequities present in HISD and worked to ensure that every student had access to quality academic programming in their home neighborhood. We strived to be focused on more than compliance when it came to supporting students with exceptional needs. We implemented a groundbreaking compensation package that got the district one step-closer to adequately compensating our teachers and staff commiserate with the incredible work they do daily. We made serious headway in ensuring that high-quality teaching and learning was occurring in every classroom every day. But most importantly, we have shown that public education can be transformative, and that with the right supports, our students are more than capable of making the academic gains we know they can make.

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2023

Paxton impeachment: Collin County GOP chair says officials didn’t use proper process

That supporters of impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton showed up in force at the Collin County Courthouse Monday was not a surprise to the county’s Republican chair Abraham George. What did surprise George, he said, regarding Paxton’s impeachment this past weekend, was that the process lacked transparency, accountability and common sense. “Paxton is from here … and he represented many parts of Collin County in the House and Senate so people know him and they love him, so it’s their emotions coming out and saying, ‘You know, we expect a better process. We expect better from the Texas House,’” George told The Dallas Morning News. Paxton has deep roots in Collin County, leading his own law firm for 14 years in McKinney. He was first elected to the Texas House in 2002 to represent House District 70. In 2012, he was elected to the Texas Senate to serve District 8. He is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.

“Honestly, I don’t think it has anything to do with his guilt or innocence. It’s the process that has been done. The last two times we had someone impeached in the Texas House, they took months going through the process,” George said. “If he’s being impeached, then please use the process properly.” In Texas, two officials have been successfully impeached — Gov. James Ferguson, who in 1917 was indicted on charges including embezzlement, and Judge O.P. Carillo in 1975, who spent three years in jail after he was impeached. 8 things to know about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was elected as Attorney General in November 2014 and began his third consecutive term this past November. In a statement about the impeachment, George said the House investigation committee conducted business behind closed doors without a single member of the Texas House interviewed or having the opportunity to question witnesses, and all interviews were conducted by hired staff. He said House members should be able to question witnesses and have the witnesses under oath, and members should have more time to go over evidence.

Houston Chronicle - May 31, 2023

Six of AG Ken Paxton's employees take leave of absence to help his impeachment defense

Six employees at the Texas attorney general's office are taking a leave of absence to defend their suspended boss, Ken Paxton, from being ousted permanently in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial. A spokesperson for the office confirmed on Tuesday that the staffers, including Solicitor General Judd Stone, were taking temporary departures. The absences were first reported by the conservative outlet The Daily Wire. Hearst Newspapers has independently confirmed they are helping Paxton. Paxton was suspended on Friday after the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach him over an alleged pattern of abuse of office. The claims mostly centered on political favors the attorney general allegedly carried out for a friend and campaign donor.

The other five employees who have temporarily left are Chris Hilton, Division Chief, General Litigation Division; Joseph N. Mazzara, Assistant Solicitor General; Kateland Jackson, Assistant Solicitor General; Allison Collins, Senior Attorney; and Jordan Eskew, Executive Assistant. Hilton has been Paxton's most public defender since the House proceedings began last week, claiming it is against the law to impeach an elected official for crimes alleged to have been committed before the most recent election. He has also derided House members for not hearing from Paxton directly on the claims, and said their investigation was "filled with falsehoods and misrepresentations." Paxton has denied all wrongdoing. The office did not respond to a question about whether the employees will continue to be paid during their absences. The case now heads to the state Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said members will hold a trial no later than August 28. A newly created Senate committee will meet next month to set rules and a date for the trial.

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2023

Cowboys strengthen Texas high school football connection through Diversity Coaching Summit

Near the end of the day, after watching practice and meeting with key people throughout the Cowboys organization, Mike McCarthy stood before the group. McCarthy relayed the conversation he had when, after picking up a master’s degree in business administration, he told his father he wanted to go into coaching. He spoke about the grind, about the jobs he took that didn’t pay — or didn’t pay much — on the way to becoming a head coach in the NFL. “One of the things he said was, if you’re trying to be a head coach and you actually get the head coaching job, dance with what got you there,’’ Highland Park assistant coach Daren Eason said. “He said, ‘I was a good play caller and I stepped away from it.’

“He was really excited to go back to being a play caller this year. He said it’s been a challenging offseason, but he’s looking forward to the fruits of their labor once they get back on the field.’’ The Cowboys hosted the High School Diversity Coaching Summit on Tuesday at The Star. The club partnered with Nike to welcome 20 assistant coaches from eight different school districts. The coaches took part in discussions about how to prepare a résumé and interview, talent evaluation, hiring, advancing through the ranks and more. There was a session on CPR and a training kit supplied to take back to their schools. After a PowerPoint driven approach last year, the Cowboys listened to input from that initial group and made this year’s session more interactive and set aside additional time for Q&A. “We did what the coaches wanted,’’ McCarthy said. “Answered the questions they’re interested in about career path suggestions, training, time allotment and coaching today’s athlete.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2023

Dallas juvenile board sues commissioners to stop request for records on minors’ care

Dallas County’s internal battle over access to juvenile documents has spilled into court, leaving a judge to decide whether commissioners can obtain records that could shed light on alleged long periods of isolation of children in detention centers. The Dallas County Juvenile Department sued the county commissioners on Tuesday and asked a judge to quash the commissioners’ subpoena for the records. The commissioners court approved an order on May 8 directing that “observation sheets” of status checks on each child held in the county detention between Jan. 1, 2023, and April 4, 2023, be released to commissioners. These sheets detail where each child was during check-ins throughout each day.

The lawsuit, filed in a Dallas County civil court, says Texas law that governs juvenile records shows that the sheets should remain confidential, and says any investigations into the department have to be performed by the Dallas County Juvenile Board, not the commissioners. “Because investigation of the DCJD and its detention facilities is exclusive within the juvenile board’s jurisdiction, it is outside of the commissioners court’s jurisdiction,” the lawsuit says. Commissioner Andrew Sommerman said the court feels confident in its authority to seek the information. The commissioners court funds both the juvenile board and the juvenile department. “Obviously, we are entitled to it,” he said. “This is my job: to make sure that they have proper funding.” County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins said in a text message that if children are being held in isolation due to staffing shortages, then commissioners need to know.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 31, 2023

City lowers amount for revenue bonds; funding for convention center deck park may change

Dallas officials plan to seek less money in revenue bonds than originally planned to pay for engineering and design work for a new downtown convention center and some Fair Park facility upgrades, and the lower projections could require different funding for a deck park slated to be attached to the convention center. Top Dallas financial and convention center officials told City Council members on May 22 that based on advice from the city’s financial adviser, $1.5 billion currently appears to be the most they can raise in two planned revenue bond sales over the next two years for the project. That’s down from initial plans of $1.9 billion. But the numbers are based on Dallas tourism-related revenue estimates from a 2020 market study, and the city plans to hire a company to do an updated analysis that will include actual figures from more recent years and up-to-date projections, said Rosa Fleming, convention and event services director.

The new version, which will take at least five months to complete, could ultimately mean that the city is able to raise more bond revenue than currently anticipated by the second bond sale in 2024, she said. Fleming told council members that the immediate impact of the current lower figures is that a deck park planned to be built over Interstate 30 may have to be split from the funding strategy for the overall project. The latest $2.8 billion estimate for the convention center includes the park. Construction for the new center is planned to start in 2024 and finish by 2028. The deck park is slated to be done in 2030. The news drew concern from council member Cara Mendelsohn, who chairs the committee and has been vocal in her opposition to building a new convention center because some key portions of the plan, like how much the building will actually cost, still haven’t yet been finalized. “I didn’t bring my list of 20 reasons I voted against this project, but one of them is exactly this,” Mendelsohn said. She told The Dallas Morning News after the meeting that she is concerned that there could be a risk the city may not be able to secure all of the money promised to go to Fair Park or develop the convention center at the level expected.

Fort Worth Report - May 31, 2023

‘Forever chemicals’ are in Fort Worth’s drinking water. Here’s how the city plans to address new regulations

With the federal government stepping up regulation of drinking water contamination, the city of Fort Worth will increase monitoring of cancer-causing “forever chemicals” in its water system. In March, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever national drinking water standard for six perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. They are part of a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals that have been used in consumer products around the world since the 1950s, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Most Americans have been exposed to PFAS through drinking water, food packaging, stain-resistant fabrics and fire extinguishing foam, among other consumer products, according to the EPA.

Because PFAS chemicals accumulate in the environment and people’s bodies rather than break down, exposure to high levels of PFAS has been linked to developmental delays in children, increased risk of some cancers, decreased fertility and reduced ability to fight infections, among other effects. Under the EPA’s proposed rules, public water utilities like Fort Worth’s water department will be required to monitor for six chemicals in the PFAS family. Water systems will be required to notify the public and reduce PFAS contamination if levels rise above the government’s proposed regulatory standards. Chris Harder, the city’s water director, said Fort Worth isn’t waiting for the rule to be finalized before taking action on PFAS contamination. The city is bringing new equipment online in the next few months that will improve Fort Worth’s capacity to consistently monitor for PFAS chemicals, he said.

San Antonio Express-News - May 31, 2023

Political strategist predicts trouble for District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo as runoff looms

District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo unseated a three-term incumbent two years ago, but a rocky first term and a strong opponent have him struggling to keep his hard-fought position. Education consultant and political newcomer Sukh Kaur is in the strongest position to win the upcoming June 10 runoff, said strategic adviser Christian Archer. Archer is a former political consultant who has worked on several winning mayoral campaigns. Kaur finished election night in May ahead of Bravo by 8 percentage points. “Having that much of a lead over an incumbent as an unknown person — it’s clear that people responded to her campaign,” Archer said, adding that the results show that people may have been disappointed in third-place finisher Jeremy Roberts’ campaign.

Many thought Roberts, a marketing executive, would take Bravo into a runoff, but Roberts came in third in the seven-person race with 21 percent of the votes. Bravo won 26 percent of the vote to Kaur’s 34 percent. The outcome is “very troubling” for the Bravo campaign, Archer said. Typically, a 5 percentage point lead is thought of as a landslide. But since Bravo is working hard and well connected, especially with neighborhood associations, Archer thinks he still has a chance. Archer is a longtime friend of Bravo. The two have worked on campaigns together. Though Archer no longer works campaigns, he said he provided unpaid advice to both Bravo and Kaur before the election when they approached him. Early voting starts Tuesday and ends June 6. District 7 candidates Marina Alderete Gavito and Dan Rossiter are also in a runoff. Bravo, 47, was an Environmental Defense Fund project manager until March last year, when he decided to focus full time on being a council member. He was confident heading into the May 6 election, saying he could win without a runoff. When that plan didn’t shake out, he ramped up his efforts, hiring well-known political consultants to bolster his green campaign team. Now, Bravo is feeling good about his chances. “Having that experienced, professional staff and having a larger staff, that frees me up for more fundraising, for more block walking, to be the candidate,” Bravo said. “Because I also have to continue to be the councilman, too.”

National Stories

Associated Press - May 31, 2023

Debt limit deal heads to vote in full House while McCarthy scrambles for GOP approval

Under fire from conservatives, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy worked furiously Tuesday to sell fellow Republicans on the debt ceiling and budget deal he negotiated with President Joe Biden and win approval in time to avert a potentially disastrous U.S. default. Meeting behind closed doors over pizza for more that two hours at the Capitol, McCarthy walked Republicans through the details, fielded questions and encouraged them not to lose sight of the bill’s budget savings, even though they are far less than many conservatives wanted. “We’re going to pass the bill,” McCarthy said as he exited the session. The hard-fought measure is now headed to a House vote Wednesday. Quick approval by both the House and Senate would ensure government checks will continue to go out to Social Security recipients, veterans and others, and prevent financial upheaval worldwide by allowing Treasury to keep paying U.S. debts.

Overall the 99-page package restricts spending for the next two years, lifts the debt limit and includes policy changes such as new work requirements for older Americans receiving food aid and approval of an Appalachian energy pipeline that many Democrats oppose. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday voted 7-6, with two Republicans opposed, to advance the measure to the floor, signaling the tough vote still ahead. With few lawmakers expected to be fully satisfied, Biden and McCarthy are counting on pulling majority support from the political center, a rarity in divided Washington, to prevent a federal default. Some 218 votes are needed for passage in the 435-member House. Leaders of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus lambasted the compromise as falling well short of the spending cuts they demand, and they vowed to try to halt passage by Congress. A much larger conservative faction, the Republican Study Committee, declined to take a position. Even rank-and-file centrist conservatives were not sure, leaving McCarthy desperately hunting for votes.

New York Times - May 31, 2023

Tara Reade, who accused Biden of assault, says she has moved to Russia

Tara Reade, the former Senate aide who accused President Biden of sexual assault as he ran for president in 2020, said on Tuesday that she has moved to Russia and is seeking citizenship there, according to Sputnik, a Russian-government-run news site. Ms. Reade told Sputnik in a news conference that while her “dream is to live” in both the United States and Russia, she may only reside in Russia because that is where she feels “surrounded by protection and safety.” In 2019, Ms. Reade, who briefly worked as a staff assistant in Mr. Biden’s Senate office in 1993, accused him of inappropriately touching her. Then in 2020, around the time when he appeared likely to win the Democratic nomination for president, she accused him of sexual assault. Mr. Biden flatly denied her allegations.

In interviews with The New York Times in April 2020, no former Biden staff members could corroborate any details of Ms. Reade’s allegation or recall any similar behavior by Mr. Biden toward her or any women. A friend of Ms. Reade said that she told her the details of the allegation at the time. In May 2020, a high-profile lawyer of the #MeToo era, Douglas H. Wigdor, dropped Ms. Reade as a client as her credibility came under harsh scrutiny, after Antioch University disputed her claim of receiving a bachelor’s degree from its Seattle campus. On Tuesday, Ms. Reade told Sputnik that while her decision to go to Russia “was very difficult,” she believed she would be more safe there. “As far as like going to another safe haven, I mean, there are many Americans here, and I don’t want to out a bunch of Americans, but there are people here that are coming to Russia,” Ms. Reade said. She added that “luckily, the Kremlin is accommodating. So we’re lucky.” Her defection to Russia comes as Moscow and Washington spar over the war in Ukraine, which President Vladimir V. Putin casts as an existential struggle with the West, which backs Kyiv.

Washington Post - May 31, 2023

For mega-rich heirs, the anxieties that drive ‘Succession’ are all too real

“Succession” — the HBO show charting the relentless infighting, deceit and unhappiness across generations of the powerful Roy family — may be over. These challenges, however, remain very real for the ultrarich and their heirs, mental health professionals say. There are obvious upsides to a life born into immense wealth, but the prospect of inheriting unimaginable sums can strain personal relationships, erode self-confidence and trap a person in a near-permanent state of dependence, say therapists and wealth consultants who work with the heirs of the ultrarich. Many of them recognized the characters portrayed in “Succession” from their therapy work. “I always felt like I was at work, watching the show,” said Clay Cockrell, a psychotherapist who specializes in treating wealthy individuals and their families. “Some of these children can have a lack of ambition,” he said — referring to real-life inheritors. “Why go to college? Why start a business? Why work hard? When all your financial needs are met, that leads to a deep-seated low self-esteem, low self-confidence because it’s never really been a struggle.”

Cockrell said he has seen that in the characters of Logan’s children in the series. “There’s a bravado that they project, and underneath there’s a lot of shallowness and fear,” he said. Paul Hokemeyer, a family therapist who also treats ultrarich people, said he recognized how the second generation of an extremely wealthy family can become haunted by their inheritance rather than be empowered by it. “They are constantly wondering if people like them for who they are at their core or for the trappings of wealth that adorn their lives,” he said in an email, commenting on wealth’s remarkable ability to isolate a person from those around them. “They feel guilty for having so much of what the world idolizes and while at the same time feeling so flawed, inadequate and unhappy.” As well as seeding self-doubt and isolation, material wealth and the prospect of its inheritance infect almost every relationship in “Succession” (see: Tom and Shiv). “Wealth is power,” Hokemeyer said, adding that when there is a wealth imbalance in relationships, there is an inherent power imbalance, too — something those who have inherited family money say reflects their own experience.

Wall Street Journal - May 31, 2023

NASA’s UFO research team to brief the public

NASA’s team studying unidentified flying objects is set to meet Wednesday to discuss the types of data the space agency can collect and evaluate to learn more about UFOs and where they come from. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration assembled the team last year to examine “unidentified anomalous phenomena,” a phrase the federal government uses to refer to what are commonly known as UFOs. NASA says UAP are observations of events in the sky that can’t be identified as aircraft or known natural phenomena from a scientific perspective. The researchers plan to make recommendations that NASA can use for UAP data analysis. The public meeting will be livestreamed Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. ET. Separately, the team is expected to publish a report on their findings this summer.

The meeting comes after U.S. defense officials released videos of unidentified flying objects last year during the first congressional hearing on the subject in more than half a century. One clip showed the view from the cockpit of an aircraft and a split second flash of a spherical object flying to the right of the aircraft. Military officials said they have been unable to explain what the object is. NASA said the lack of high-quality observations of UAP make it difficult to draw scientific conclusions to explain the nature of such events. The team of 16 researchers, with backgrounds in astrophysics, oceanography, astronomy and other fields, have focused on identifying data that can potentially be analyzed to learn more about UAP. The nine-month study focused on unclassified data and considered what information can be gathered from civilian government entities and the private sector. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence also released a report in 2021 reviewing dozens of reports of flying objects that occurred between 2004 and 2021. Some of the objects had unusual flight characteristics, but these observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception, the report said.

CNN - May 31, 2023

Christie to announce 2024 bid next Tuesday in New Hampshire

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to announce his candidacy in the 2024 race on Tuesday, according to three sources familiar with his plans. Christie, who also ran in 2016 and has been outspoken against Republican front-runner Donald Trump, will make the announcement at a town hall at Saint Anselm College. Axios was first to report Christie’s announcement date.

USA Today - May 31, 2023

Suspected Chinese spies, disguised as tourists, tried to infiltrate Alaskan military bases

Chinese citizens posing as tourists but suspected of being spies have made several attempts in recent years to gain access to military facilities in this vast state studded with sensitive bases, according to U.S. officials. In one incident, a vehicle with Chinese citizens blew past a security checkpoint at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, several soldiers told USA TODAY. The vehicle was eventually stopped, and a search found a drone inside the vehicle. The occupants claimed they were tourists who had gotten lost. Many of the encounters have been chalked up to innocent mistakes by foreign visitors intent on viewing the Northern Lights and other attractions in Alaska, officials say. Other attempts to enter U.S. military bases, however, seem to be probes to learn about U.S. military capabilities in Alaska, according to multiple soldiers familiar with the incidents but who were not authorized to speak publicly about them.

Details about the incidents remain mostly classified. However, military briefings and publicly available information lay out why the Chinese government would be interested in Alaska where some of the Pentagon's most sophisticated military capabilities and high-end war games reside. The Pentagon's No. 2 official, Kathleen Hicks, demurred when asked to comment on suspected Chinese spying at military facilities in Alaska. She said the military is taking a number of steps to make sure those bases are secure but she gave no specifics. The FBI and Department of Justice take over cases from the military involving suspected spies. FBI Director Christopher Wray regularly sounds alarms about Chinese government-sponsored espionage, blaming Communist leaders there, not its citizens or Chinese Americans. Wray has estimated that the FBI opens a new investigation on Chinese-government sponsored espionage every 12 hours. “There is no doubt that the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s ideas, our economic security and our national security is that posed by the Chinese communist government,” Wray said in a speech in April. A key concern about instrusions on U.S. military bases may have as much to do about what is left behind than photos taken, said David Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who was the service's senior officer for intelligence. Spies could leave behind sensors that could pick up sensitive communications, according to Deptula, who his now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies. The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment.

May 30, 2023

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 30, 2023

Texas Legislature wraps up one session, only to plunge into first overtime period

Lawmakers wrapped up a 140-day session Monday that answered questions asked at the outset — would they work on Texans’ kitchen-table concerns or focus on hot-button issues? Answer: They did both. But it wasn’t enough to satisfy Gov. Greg Abbott, who at 9 p.m. Monday night called the Legislature instantly back into session solely to cut school property tax rates and stiffen penalties for human smuggling and operating a stash house. Abbott acted after spending Memorial Day weekend trying to quell infighting between the two other top Republicans at the Capitol, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan over Phelan’s demand to tighten caps on appraisal creep. By saying cutting rates is all lawmakers can pass a bill on, Abbott denied the House its appraisal cap idea while denying Patrick, the Senate and Democrats in both chambers their preference that a mandatory homestead exemption on school taxes also be increased.

“Several special sessions will be required,” Abbott said in a news release, more than two hours after the two chambers adjourned this year’s regular session after a 24-hour round of jabs and taunts by both Patrick and House leadership in Twitter posts and public utterances. Awash in money, the Legislature gridlocked over school property tax reduction. Multiple lawmakers said they expect — and hope — they are called back to Austin to continue working. Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Allen, said lawmakers have “unfinished business.” “We’ve had a lot of victories, but we still have work to do,” he said, mentioning property tax relief, border security and public education. “We ought to meet the moment and get our work done.” The session was memorable for its mix of bland but substantial legislation, a series of nods to the state GOP’s most staunchly conservative voters and the Republican-controlled House’s aggressive probes that led to impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and expulsion of Hunt County GOP Rep. Bryan Slaton. The House General Investigating Committee, which pursued both probes, has become a force in the Capitol this year. Primarily used last session as a cudgel for pursuing conservative priorities, such as investigating school library book content, this year it has acted more like a police department’s internal affairs division.

Washington Post - May 30, 2023

Trump campaign braces for Iowa battle as DeSantis team sees an opening

Matt Windschitl, the majority leader of the Iowa state House, said he wants a presidential candidate “focused on the future” and was concerned by former president Donald Trump’s openness to red flag laws for gun owners. Steve Deace, an Iowa-based conservative talk show host with a large following in the state, said Trump’s recent criticism of a six-week abortion ban hurt his standing with evangelical voters.

And Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who’s staying neutral in the 2024 presidential primary, observed that recent endorsements by Windschitl and other state lawmakers for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reflects a shift they sense among the voters they represent. “I think he still has a really solid Republican base but Iowans have indicated that they are very interested in hearing from other candidates,” Ernst said of Trump. She added of the lawmakers who endorsed DeSantis, “I think they weighed it with their constituencies and just found it’s time to look at fresh blood.” Although Trump has taken a commanding lead in national polls and many Republicans are calling him the inevitable nominee, here in Iowa, which will kick off the GOP nominating process next year, a victory is far from assured, according to interviews with local lawmakers, strategists and voters. Already, a slew of prominent Republican voices is challenging Trump and promoting DeSantis. Such support is highly coveted in a caucus that could be decided by a few thousand highly-engaged party activists — record turnout in 2016 was just under 187,000. Trump and DeSantis will make competing trips to Iowa this week, beginning with DeSantis on Tuesday kicking off his first swing after officially announcing his candidacy last week. Trump will record a Fox News town hall in Clive on Thursday.

Washington Post - May 30, 2023

Biden circle seeks to boost Harris ahead of 2024

In an urgent May 16 meeting on the debt ceiling in the Oval Office, Vice President Harris sat between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), symbolically positioned at the center of the high-stakes talks aimed at staving off a first-ever U.S. default. Two days later, Harris was on a teleconference with thousands of elected officials and opinion leaders, urging them to ramp up pressure for a deal. “President Biden and I met with our four congressional leaders Tuesday here at the White House. We had a productive conversation,” she reported. “We believe that it occurred in good faith, with all the leaders in that meeting agreeing that America will not default.”

The public staging of those moments, Democratic operatives say, is part of a concerted effort to bolster Harris’s image in the weeks since Biden announced his reelection. Republicans are already zeroing in on Harris with a sometimes morbid message that couples questions about the president’s longevity with doubts about the abilities of the woman who would succeed him. Anita Dunn, one of Biden’s closest key political strategists, has recently focused more on the vice president’s schedule and public events, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. Dunn recently directed the White House public engagement and political teams to help schedule events with Harris, having her promote popular causes such as abortion rights and infrastructure spending. In the three-minute video announcing Biden’s reelection, Harris is featured more than a dozen times, depicted as an engaged leader and Biden’s indispensable partner. On Saturday, she became the first woman to serve as commencement speaker in the 221-year history of the U.S. Military Academy, putting her in a politically resonant setting.

Houston Chronicle - May 30, 2023

Why Texas’ book-rating bill threatens the state's 300 independent bookstores

Independent bookstores around Texas warn that a bill designed to rid school libraries of sexual content could have unintended consequences that devastate their businesses. The bill, which received final passage in the Legislature this week and is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature, requires booksellers to rate every book they sell to a school, librarian or teacher for use in their classroom. Books can be without a rating, “sexually relevant” or “sexually explicit,” and those with the explicit rating will be banned from schools entirely. And by April of next year, every bookseller in the state is tasked with submitting to the Texas Education Agency a list of every book they’ve ever sold to a teacher, librarian or school that qualifies for a sexual rating and is in active use. The stores also are required to issue recalls for any sexually explicit books.

Many have expressed concerns that the bill is an effort to restrict books with LGBTQ themes or by Black authors. In addition, throughout the legislative process, independent bookstores repeatedly have warned that the bill misunderstands how book sales to schools work, is unworkable in its current form and could be harmful to small businesses. “The First Amendment person in me says, ‘Why do we have to mark the books at all? ’ The business person in me says, ‘that’s going to be very hard to administer for the middle vendor,’ which we are,” said Valerie Koehler, owner of Blue Willow Book Shop in Houston. Owners and employees of bookstores around the state have said they don’t have the staff or expertise to read and rate every single book they are selling to an educator, and they have no records to retroactively rate every book they’ve ever sold to a school. If the TEA finds that bookstores have been incorrectly rating books, they can be banned from doing business with charter schools or school districts, which might make up between 10 percent and a third of their business.

State Stories

Courthouse News - May 30, 2023

Texas House passes sweeping obscenity bill as bipartisan truce on drag falls apart

The Texas House on Sunday gave final approval to one of its core culture-war priorities this session: A bill first pitched as a way of protecting children from drag performers, which in the final days of the legislative session morphed into much vaguer proposed restrictions on so-called "sexually oriented performances," apparently including those in private homes. Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, an avowed culture warrior, had listed Senate Bill 12 as a priority for him — though it's worth stressing that the final version of SB 12 differs radically not only from what Republicans first proposed, but also from what many Democrats thought they were agreeing to. The bill on Sunday passed the Texas House 87-54 on a largely party line vote and now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Greg Abbott. A handful of Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the final version, including Shawn Thierry, a representative from the Houston area who this month also voted in favor of new GOP-backed restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

It was a fitting end for SB 12, which has been on a strange journey through the Texas Capitol during a legislative session marked by GOP infighting and corrosive culture-war issues. The bill started as an outright attack on drag, only to change into a more general obscenity bill once it reached the House. And yet the final version includes new, controversial and legally dubious provisions, making it in some ways an even more extreme bill than a clear-cut drag ban would have been. For a moment, SB 12 seemed like a rare and almost happy story of compromise in an era characterized by partisan rage. The original bill described any form of cross-dressing by a performer as "sexually oriented," prompting concerns that the bill could be used to target not only drag performances but also, for example, plays by Shakespeare. And yet when by the time SB 12 reached the House floor earlier this month, that language had been taken out, turning SB 12 into a broader and vaguer prohibition on minors attending "sexually oriented performances." Even more remarkably, the drag language had been removed by an unlikely person — Matt Shaheen, the House sponsor of the bill, a Republican from the Dallas area and a member of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus. Shaheen declined to comment for this story on why he chose to remove those provisions.

Inside Higher Ed - May 30, 2023

Tim Dunn-founded King's College loses accreditation

Already facing severe financial pressures, the King’s College was dealt another blow last week when the Middle States Commission on Higher Education withdrew its accreditation. In an announcement posted to the MSCHE website, the accrediting body noted that the small, evangelical college in New York—which had previously been hit with a show cause order—does not meet the standards for accreditation. The college has “failed to demonstrate the capacity to make required improvements” and “failed to demonstrate that it can sustain itself in the short or long term,” the announcement said, adding that TKC “is in imminent danger of closing.” The decision to withdraw accreditation is subject to appeal.

MSCHE’s action comes less than a week before the reconstituted Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet to decide whether to stay open or shut the college down. The King’s College has tried unsuccessfully to fundraise its way out of significant financial issues, though it did secure a $2 million loan earlier this year to meet its immediate needs. Now, with fundraising efforts ongoing, trustees for the embattled college are set to determine its future at a May 31 meeting. The King’s College Board of Trustees issued this statement: “The Board of Trustees is surprised and disappointed by the commission’s hasty decision to take this action without due process, during a period where we are actively pursuing promising strategic alliances and fundraising opportunities to continue the mission of the college. The decision also comes despite the college’s regular communications with MSCHE and previous communications from MSCHE, both verbally and in writing, that the college would have an opportunity to appear before MSCHE in late June at a show cause hearing, in accordance with their established protocols. The Board of Trustees is investigating all possible responses to this adverse action. We want to reinforce that per MSCHE policy the college continues to remain accredited at this time. We will keep you updated as we receive more information.”

Austin American-Statesman - May 30, 2023

Donald Trump fought to save Texas ally Ken Paxton from impeachment. It didn't work.

In the hours before the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature voted to impeach fellow Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton over the weekend, former President Donald Trump repeatedly took to social media with a warning for anyone — and especially members of his own party — who opposed his longtime ally. Trump lamented what he called the “very unfair process” used to oust one of the nation's most active state legal officials and vowed that he would "fight" any lawmakers who supported the impeachment. In the end, a majority of Republicans in the Texas House ignored the admonishments of the former president and party leader and voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton. Of 85 Republicans in the chamber, 60 supported impeachment.

The decision by many Republicans to wave off Trump's warnings fueled questions about his political power in one of the nation's reddest states. The episode comes as the field of candidates entering the race to challenge Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination grows. Former President Donald Trump called the impeachment a “very unfair process.” A spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Paxton has been a nationally prominent conservative legal voice for years as well as an ally to Trump. In addition to filing high-profile suits against President Joe Biden over immigration and other issues, Paxton brought an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the 2020 election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The nation's highest court ultimately denied that request in late 2020. Leading up to Saturday's impeachment, Trump took to his Truth Social platform to slam GOP lawmakers in Texas, encouraging them to let the voters decide Paxton's fate. “Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed,” he wrote. “I will fight you if it does.” The former president and other national conservative figures doubled down after the vote as focus in Texas shifted toward a Senate trial. Trump accused Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, of being “MISSING IN ACTION!” during the impeachment fight.

Associated Press - May 30, 2023

The day has arrived for Elizabeth Holmes to report to a Texas prison

Disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes is scheduled to move to her new home —-a federal prison where she has been sentenced to spend the next 11 years for overseeing a blood-testing hoax that became a parable about greed and hubris in Silicon Valley. The federal judge who sentenced Holmes, 39, in November recommended that she be incarcerated in a women’s prison camp located in Bryan, Texas, located about 100 miles from Houston, where she grew up aspiring to become a technology visionary along the lines of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Holmes has been free on bail since then, most recently living in the San Diego area with the children’s father, William “Billy” Evans. The couple met in 2017 around the same time Holmes was under investigation for the collapse of Theranos, a startup she founded after dropping out of Stanford University when she was just 19. While she was building up Theranos, Holmes grew closer to Ramesh, “Sunny” Balwani, who would become her romantic partner as well as an investor and fellow executive in the Palo Alto, California, company. Together, Holmes and Balwani promised Theranos would revolutionize health care with a technology that could quickly scan for diseases and other problems with a few drops of blood taken with a finger prick. The hype surrounding that purported breakthrough helped Theranos raise nearly $1 billion from enthralled investors, assemble an influential board of directors that include former Presidential cabinet members George Shultz, Henry Kissinger and James Mattis and turned Holmes into a Silicon Valley sensation with a fortune valued at $4.5 billion on paper in 2014.

Dallas Voice - May 30, 2023

Drag not on Abbott’s special session agenda — yet

The 88th Texas Legislature adjourned earlier today (Monday, May 29), but — just as Speaker of the House Dade Phelan warned, telling lawmakers not to pack their bags just yet — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already called the first of what he says will be multiple special sessions to address issues that went unsettled during regular session. In a statement announcing this first special session, Abbott said it would focus first and foremost on cutting property taxes “solely by reducing the school district maximum compressed tax rate in order to provide lasting property-tax relief.” The agenda will also focus on “increasing or enhancing” penalties for “smuggling people or operating a stash house,” The Texas Tribune reports.

While the agenda for the first special session includes only those two items, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had earlier sent Abbott a letter today in which he urged the governor to include a number of “conservative bills” in the special session call. Those included SB 1601 which would ban “Drag Queen Story Hour” as well as SB 16 to ban critical race theory in higher education, SB 1396 to establish prayer time in public schools and SB 1515 which would force schools to post copies of the Ten Commandments. Lobbyist Mike Hendrix, who worked with bars from Dallas and Houston in the Texas Arts and Commerce group to get language specifically targeting drag eliminated from SB 12 before it was sent to Abbott’s desk, predicted earlier in the day that Patrick would again go after the drag community during special sessions this year. But Hendrix also predicted that efforts to ban some or all drag performances in Texas would not be included in a special session agenda until sometime in the fall. Hendrix said he expected that Abbott would “call a 10-day special session to deal with property taxes and then later a 30-day session on school vouchers.” But he suggested that a special session on school vouchers — one of Abbott’s pet issues that is unpopular with the public and was voted down repeatedly in the state House during regular session — won’t happen until sometime in September, and that any drag bans would be included in that session “as a red meat issue to soak up all the attention” and divert attention away from the unpopular school vouchers measure.

KXAN - May 30, 2023

Texas Senate to hold Paxton impeachment trial no later than Aug. 28

The Texas Senate will hold the impeachment trial against Attorney General Ken Paxton no later than Aug. 28, according to a resolution adopted Monday evening by a unanimous vote. This action followed the appointment of 12 House members who will effectively serve as prosecutors during the trial. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also named seven senators Monday evening to serve on a special committee that will outline the rules for the trial to proceed. The chair will be Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, while Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, will serve as the vice chair. The other members include Sens. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Pete Flores of Pleasanton, Joan Huffman of Houston, Phil King of Weatherford and Royce West of Dallas.

San Antonio Report - May 30, 2023

Fort Sam Houston national cemetery, one of the nation’s busiest, undergoes expansion

When volunteers placed U.S. flags at more than 130,000 gravesites this weekend at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, they also saw thousands of neatly placed crypts dug into the 330-acre grounds. The third expansion project in the cemetery’s 102-year history is adding enough gravesites and columbarium niches for about 100,000 more veterans and eligible family members. The ongoing construction adds 43 developed acres to the existing grounds, about a 15% increase, for more than 35,000 new in-ground lawn crypts for caskets or urns. It also adds more than 10,000 columbarium niches holding up to three urns each for cremated remains.

The new graves and above-ground columbaria will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to meet expected burial needs in San Antonio for the next 30 years, according to Graham Wright, the cemetery’s acting director. Because Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and its national cemetery are essentially landlocked, using lawn crypts with two caskets stacked on top of each other expands capacity within the existing acreage. The new crypts will eventually be covered with dirt and grass before the project is finished. Contractors broke ground in April 2022 for the $55 million project, which also includes improving roads, parking areas, utilities and security systems, and renovating the administration building, public information center and other support facilities. Crews are also erecting a new building for the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Memorial Service Detachment, a group of volunteers who perform military funeral honors when requested by families. The entire project is scheduled to be completed in summer 2025. Houston’s SpawGlass, with a division in San Antonio, is performing much of the work not involving the crypts. Managing construction with 18 to 22 interments a day, and sometimes up to 25, can be challenging, according to Wright. The cemetery staff works with the construction crews to adjust operations that could interfere with ceremonies or interments.

San Antonio Report - May 30, 2023

A move is afoot in Texas to ban weight discrimination in the workplace

MiChelle Garibay-Carey is a San Antonio singer-songwriter and recording artist who has performed professionally for over three decades and has legions of devoted fans. A jazz and soul singer with the bluesy voice of an angel, she’s put out one album and is in the midst of creating her second. She’s also no stranger to dieting. “My joke is that I’ve struggled with my weight ever since my teeth came in,” said Garibay-Carey, 53, who never drank or smoked but has found “comfort in food.” She works in an industry where — especially for female performers — looking a certain way is as important as talent. Still, she was shocked when the producers of her first album — two men who happened to be obese — gave her the name of a personal trainer as the record was being made. The subtext: Drop some pounds before the album debuts.

“I became severely depressed,” Garibay-Carey said. “It was so hurtful. I was like, ‘yeah, I have a mirror.’” The singer recently lost a significant amount of weight — “on my own terms, not for them” — but the memory still stings. She said that while performers like Lizzo, who embraces her larger size, are slowly bringing body acceptance to the music world, it’s going to be a long road. “She is still bullied like crazy on social media,” said Garibay-Carey. “One of things you always hear is, ‘they see you before they hear you.’ They won’t listen to you if they’re not attracted to your image.” You don’t have to be a stage performer to experience discrimination or stigma associated with being overweight, including in the workplace. Unlike race, color, religion, sex, national origin and disability, being obese is not considered a protected class under federal civil rights law, which means employers can legally discriminate against job applicants or employees because of their size. A move is afoot to address this reality, in Texas and elsewhere.

Dallas Morning News - May 30, 2023

No comeback for Dallas Stars as season ends in Game 6 thud vs. Golden Knights

If the Stars were going to come back from a 3-0 series deficit, they’d have to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the first period of Game 6. In front of a packed American Airlines Center crowd, both aspirations came to a jarring demise. Dallas never recovered from Vegas’ fast start. In fact, it got worse, as the Stars were shut out for the second time this series, losing 6-0 in what was their final performance of the season. “They played a perfect elimination game,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought they went to another level that we didn’t get to tonight and they deserved to win.” Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, normally stout in elimination games, allowed six goals for the first time all season. He had allowed five goals combined in his three previous elimination game performances. “We put him in some tough spots,” DeBoer said. “We can’t ask him to win that game all by himself.”

There were boos from the fans after the first period. By the end of the second, there were less. The reality by that point had crept in. The stage of grief had switched from anger to depression. Besides, the odds were against the Stars ever since they fell down 3-0. Only four teams had overcome that deficit to win a seven game series. Only nine teams before had even pushed a 3-0 series to a Game 7. The Stars were hoping to be the 10th. And after winning 4-2 in Game 5 in Las Vegas, there was plenty of confidence from Dallas, too. DeBoer believed that the pressure of the series had shifted from the team with their backs against the wall, to the team that had swung and missed on two chances to secure a trip to the finals. “I feel great,” DeBoer said after Game 5. “I feel great. I feel great. There are no other words. Let’s go. Let’s drop the puck.”

Dallas Morning News - May 30, 2023

Texas Legislature focused on culture issues, less on bread and butter, some lawmakers say

Despite a near $33 billion budget surplus, the Texas Legislature failed to reach agreement on what was described as the biggest property tax cut in history. Lawmakers didn’t come together to give pay raises to public school teachers or significantly improve access to health care. Instead, legislators used the 140-day session that ended Monday to pass a broad array of legislation that some lawmakers argue are related to culture wars sweeping the nation — a set of wedge issues rooted in conflicting cultural values. They approved bills aimed at regulating transgender people, including dictating the sports in which they participate. Bills banning gender affirming medical treatment and regulating drag shows passed the Legislature.

Texas became the largest state to ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campuses. Lawmakers stepped up their efforts to override policies developed by local jurisdictions and made voting illegally a felony. Though the session will be defined by Saturday’s dramatic impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, the most impactful legacy could be the prolific passing of legislation that builds on what Republican lawmakers accomplished in 2021. “I see this as a very conservative session,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, a top lieutenant of House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont. “We passed some very conservative legislation that every single Republican can be proud to take home to their districts.” Goldman shrugged off criticism by Democrats and others that the session was too focused on red meat issues craved by hard-right Republican activists. “We passed the super-majority of things we came here to pass,” he said. Democrats are more sullen about the results of the session. Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said the Legislature missed an opportunity to pass laws that would help all Texans, including teachers. He said the GOP-controlled Legislature spent too much time “attacking LGBTQ Texans and preempting local government’s ability to ensure health and public safety [of Texans].”

San Antonio Express-News - May 30, 2023

Sara Ruth Spector: Uvalde DA owes more to the community

(Sara Ruth Spector is a criminal defense attorney in Midland. A former Uvalde assistant district attorney, she worked in the 38th Judicial District from 2009-2013.) A decade ago, I was the assistant district attorney in Uvalde, handling crimes against children. A year ago, I sat in my law office in Midland, absorbing the news that 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde were massacred. Now, after watching and reading the one-year news coverage of the mass shooting, I’m still thinking of the victims’ families who are understandably frustrated about the lack of support and communication from Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell. They should have learned the details long ago from Mitchell, not from the news media.

Since the school shooting a year ago, Mitchell has dodged reporters and failed to communicate with other local elected officials. Proclaiming investigatory privilege, she prohibited the release of records, including incident reports, internal communications, ballistic reports and body-camera footage. She will not say who or what is under criminal investigation in her office relating to Uvalde. As we know, the shooter was finally shot and killed by law enforcement after 77 minutes, but the investigation of the failed response must be transparent. Mitchell is board-certified in criminal law and I can vouch for her capabilities in the courtroom. However, we must ask more of Mitchell. A responsible prosecutor not only focuses on trials but also empowers crime victims and their families with knowledge, healing tools and compassion. A responsible prosecutor calls out law enforcement officers when they make crucial mistakes. A responsible prosecutor institutes policies to mitigate risk to the community. A responsible prosecutor communicates with the press, other elected officials and the community in a professional and transparent manner. The people of Uvalde are trying to persevere through a catastrophic act of inhumanity. The people of Uvalde are trying to persevere through the catastrophic failed law enforcement response. The people of Uvalde are trying to persevere through a bureaucratic nightmare of silence that has resulted in the revictimization of the community. District attorneys should never remain silent when a community looks to them for answers, explanations and solutions. Mitchell owes her constituents so much more. She owes them compassion. She owes them empathy and humanity. I am calling on her to do better. I know she can.

Austin American-Statesman - May 30, 2023

Texas lawmakers approve $3B endowment for higher education research pending voters approval

The Texas Legislature has approved legislation to create the Texas University Fund and allocate $3 billion endowment for higher education research for certain universities, pending voter approval of a constitutional amendment. Over the weekend, House and Senate lawmakers approved the final version of House Bill 1595 to change the name of the National Research University Fund, which currently provides funding to "emerging research universities," to the Texas University Fund and makes other changes to the fund. They also approved Senate Bill 30 — the state's supplemental budget — which would allocate $3 billion from the state's general revenue fund to the new fund with voter approval. The two bills are now headed to Gov. Greg Abbott for approval.

To enact both pieces of legislation, state legislators signed off on House Joint Resolution 3, which proposes a constitutional amendment to voters seeking approval to create the fund and approve the billions in allocated funds. Texans will vote on the constitutional amendment on Nov. 7. "The constitutional amendment relating to the Texas University Fund, which provides funding to certain institution of higher education to achieve national prominence as major research universities and drive the state economy," the amendment language says. Under the Texas Constitution, the UT and Texas A&M systems are the only ones with access to the Permanent University Fund, a multibillion-dollar endowment funded by oil and gas revenue from 2.1 million acres in West Texas. Some state lawmakers and university officials, however, have questioned why the UT and Texas A&M systems are the sole beneficiaries of the fund, arguing that it puts other schools at a disadvantage. The newly passed legislation is part of the Legislature’s effort to support higher education research and expand funding to Texas State University, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston, the University of North Texas and other higher education institutions beyond the state's largest two university systems. Friendswood Republican Rep. Greg Bonnen, who sponsored HJR 3 and HB 1595, said the endowment would allow Texas "to raise the bar for higher education" so the state could become a leader in research and innovation.

Austin American-Statesman - May 30, 2023

Tenure at Texas public universities will remain after lawmakers abandon proposed ban

Tenure for faculty at public colleges and universities will remain in Texas after state lawmakers failed to advance a proposed ban on the practice. Instead, they opted to pass legislation making modifications to statewide tenure policies. The Texas Senate had proposed banning public universities from granting tenure to faculty members starting in 2024, but the ban died during this legislative session after state senators opted to pass a measure instead proposed by the House which codifies tenure into state law and makes other adjustments to tenure policy in the Education Code.

The House's amended version of Senate Bill 18 would require governing boards overseeing public higher education institutions in the state to adopt policies allowing institutions to fire tenured faculty for several reasons, including "professional incompetence" or "conduct involving moral turpitude." Tenure is continuing employment for faculty that can only be terminated for cause, such as incompetency or neglect of duty, or under extraordinary circumstances. It is standard for nearly all public universities in the U.S. to offer some form of tenure. Texas Republicans have argued that reforming tenure will insert more accountability into higher education and make it easier for schools to remove low-performing faculty members, while opponents said that reforms to tenure are unnecessary and that politicizing the practice has driven current and potential faculty members away from the state.

Austin American-Statesman - May 30, 2023

'Horrific.' Biden, Cruz slam anti-LGBTQ law in Uganda that includes death penalty

Sen. Ted Cruz lashed out at a harsh anti-LGBTQ measure signed into law in Uganda on Monday that imposes the death penalty for what it describes as "aggravated homosexuality" and establishes lifetime prison sentences for anyone who engages in gay sex. "This Uganda law is horrific & wrong," the Texas Republican posted on Twitter with an "#LGBTQ" hashtag. "Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for 'aggravated homosexuality' is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse."

President Joe Biden also spoke out against the law Monday, calling for its immediate repeal. Biden in a statement called the law "a tragic violation of universal human rights ? one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country." The measure, which has faced condemnation throughout the world, defines "aggravated homosexuality” as cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV, as well as with minors and other categories of vulnerable people. The version signed by President Yoweri Museveni doesn’t criminalize those who identify as LGBTQ, a key concern for some rights campaigners who condemned an earlier draft of the legislation. At home, Cruz has spoken out against the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. Yet Cruz, a former solicitor general of Texas who argued cases before the Supreme Court, said last year that Texas should repeal a decades-old state law that criminalizes gay sex, according to the Dallas Morning News. “Consenting adults should be able to do what they wish in their private sexual activity, and government has no business in their bedrooms,” a Cruz spokesman told the News.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 30, 2023

Bud Kennedy: Who’s the blame for this failed Texas Legislature? Dan Patrick, not Dairy Queen

Drag queens lost. Dairy Queen won big. That’s the nutshell version of this Texas Legislature. Technically, this session ended Monday. But that was only on paper. The House and Senate are showing up Tuesday like any work day, returning to their desks for another month to finish all the work they couldn’t finish on time because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick kept saying no. No teacher pay raises without giving state money for private schools. No reducing businesses’ property taxes, he said. He had his own idea: Give all the tax savings solely to homeowners. (As in voters.)

No, no, no, Patrick said. The House gave in over and over — particularly on a wild Senate Bill 12. The bill restricts audiences to adults age 18 and over for “sexual gesticulations using accessories or prosthetics” that exaggerate the anatomy. Of course, in Texas you don’t have to be 18 to gesticulate. This was Senate and House conferees’ clumsy attempt to ban anyone under 18 from drag or burlesque shows by expanding the overall definition of a sexy performance. It turned into quite a high-heeled walk down a legal tightrope between stage acts, dance moves, costumes and sexually charged adult shows. Another big winner was a longtime Texas icon making a comeback after years of decline: Dairy Queen. When the House General Investigating Committee recommended impeaching Attorney General Ken Paxton of McKinney, the report quoted 2016 federal testimony showing that a tech company CEO paid Paxton $100,000 in stock shares. The shares were handed over at — of all places — a McKinney Dairy Queen. Paxton said he offered to pay, but the CEO said, “God doesn’t want me to take your money.” Heaven forbid Paxton should upset God. So he kept the gift. That left us all asking: If Paxton can get $100,000 in shares just by going to the Dairy Queen — then why doesn’t he go a few more times and get the $3.3 million to pay off the lawsuit by all the top assistants he fired for turning him in?

Houston Chronicle - May 30, 2023

New tax break program for manufacturing, oil and gas heads to Abbott’s desk after last-minute deal

State lawmakers struck an 11th-hour deal Sunday to restore a program granting companies discounts on school property taxes in an effort to lure them to Texas, delivering a top priority of business groups and Republican leaders in the waning moments of the legislative session. The final draft broadly mirrors the corporate incentive program it replaces, known as Chapter 313, though with key changes aimed at appeasing bipartisan critics who refused to extend Chapter 313 two years ago. The new program subsidizes only half of a project’s maintenance and operations school property taxes, rather than nearly the full amount, and no longer allows companies to share their tax savings with the school districts that approve projects. It also cuts out wind and solar energy projects, a condition demanded by both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I think we struck a balance that makes a lot of sense,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, citing the bill’s higher wage standards than in earlier drafts, and a provision granting more generous 75 percent subsidies in federally designated “opportunity zones,” intended to spur development in low-income and underdeveloped areas. The practice of companies offering additional payments to districts — one of Chapter 313’s more controversial features — was criticized as a perverse incentive for school trustees to never turn down a deal, particularly because taxes all Texans pay were used to ensure districts didn’t lose revenue from granting the tax breaks. Superintendents have said the extra payments provide benefits for students their district otherwise could not afford, while critics say the money flows almost entirely to a handful of districts in petrochemical hubs along the Gulf Coast. That was among the findings of a 2021 Houston Chronicle investigation, which also reported that Chapter 313 subsidies routinely went to projects that would have come to Texas either way — including some that were already announced or underway when a company applied for incentives. The program left it to the comptroller’s office to decide whether the tax breaks were “a determining factor” in a company’s decision to build in Texas, a threshold that weeded out almost no applicants.

City Stories

Fort Worth Report - May 30, 2023

PBR finals are moving to Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, Fort Worth will keep paying incentives through 2024

When Professional Bull Riders announced its decision to move the World Finals Championship from Las Vegas to Fort Worth in 2021, PBR CEO Sean Gleason said the move was “about taking advantage of the cowboy renaissance that is going on in Fort Worth.” Two years later, PBR announced it is moving the last round of the finals to AT&T Stadium in Arlington – home to the other Cowboys. That move comes even though Fort Worth committed to paying incentives to PBR through 2024. As part of that agreement, Fort Worth will now pay the national organization to have its 2024 finals in its neighboring city. PBR will receive at least $3.25 million over three years from Tarrant County and Visit Fort Worth. Visit Fort Worth has paid PBR $1.25 million to date using city and county funds.

The city knew that PBR would eventually move the finals to Arlington, but officials didn’t expect it would happen as early as 2024, Visit Fort Worth CEO Bob Jameson said. “The anticipation was that there would be three years in Fort Worth, depending upon how the event matured,” Jameson said. “Our interest is making sure that they’re holding their events in the right places to help them be successful and create the foundation for a long-term presence in North Texas.” The decision to move the finals to AT&T Stadium in 2024 “came to fruition quickly,” PBR spokesperson Andrew Giangola said in a statement. The city of Arlington and the Arlington Sports Commission did not contribute any incentives to attract the finals to Tarrant County or Arlington, city spokesperson Susan Schrock said. Fort Worth will still be home to several events associated with the finals, including a weekend of qualifying rounds hosted at Dickies Arena and rodeos in the Stockyards during the duration of the tournament. The move will allow PBR to “ratchet up the Western sports, entertainment, and festival aspects of World Finals in Fort Worth and AT&T Stadium,” Giangola said. PBR’s pivot to AT&T Stadium was always a part of Visit Fort Worth’s plan, Jameson said. The larger venue hosted PBR in 2020 after COVID-19 restrictions prevented it from being held in Las Vegas. The stadium also hosted PBR’s most-attended event in 2018.

San Antonio Express-News - May 30, 2023

Only 5 of 33 seniors were set to graduate, so a Texas high school postponed graduation

Five graduating seniors at a Central Texas high school had their graduation postponed because they were the only students that qualified, KWTX-TV reported. At Marlin High School near Waco, 28 of the 33 seniors did not meet the requirements needed for graduation due to grades and attendance, according to the CBS affiliate in Waco. The school found that the majority of the class failed or didn’t complete a required course, or had too many absences, the station reported.

In a statement posted to Facebook, the school said it plans to reschedule the graduation for sometime in June to give students enough time to qualify for graduation. “We hold firm to our belief that every student in Marlin ISD can and will achieve their potential. We maintain expectations, not as an imposition, but as a show of faith in our students’ abilities,” district Superintendent Darryl Henson said in the statement. “As we navigate these challenges, one thing is clear: students in Marlin ISD will be held to the same high standards as any other student in Texas,” Henson said.

National Stories

Religion News Service - May 30, 2023

DeSantis’ spiritual-warrior style a bid for support from like-minded pastors

On Monday (May 22), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis strode onstage in Orlando and stood before a podium, silhouetted against a giant American flag. The crowd, attendees at a gathering of the National Religious Broadcasters, a Christian group, leapt to their feet. Some applauded, while others held up cell phones to record the moment. DeSantis began with a line he uses often — “Welcome to the free state of Florida!” — before launching into a stump speech recounting his proudest accomplishments as governor, such as removing books from public libraries and “waging a war on woke.” In a nod to his audience, he sprinkled his remarks with religious references, lauding churches that refused to close during the pandemic and encouraging listeners to “put on the full armor of God.”

Technically, it wasn’t a presidential campaign announcement — that would happen two days later, when DeSantis joined Elon Musk for a glitch-ridden appearance on Twitter Spaces. But it was telling that DeSantis, who is Catholic, chose to speak to a largely evangelical Christian audience the same week he launched his White House bid. With growing uncertainty surrounding evangelical support for former President Donald Trump, DeSantis is courting one of the Republican Party’s most sought-after constituencies using a message that frames himself as a sort of spiritual warrior — a move that may attract faith leaders who traffic in similar rhetoric. DeSantis beta-tested this approach in November, when the governor’s wife, Casey, tweeted out an advertisement that framed him as a “fighter.” The ad featured images of DeSantis and his family while a narrator — who, observers noted, had the feel of a mid-20th-century Protestant preacher — declared: “On the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a protector.’ So God made a fighter.” Nothing similar has been produced by DeSantis’ fledgling presidential campaign, which, only a few days old, does not appear to have launched a robust faith outreach effort as of yet. His team also has not assembled a list of religious advisers or endorsers, nor is there a sizable outside effort to drum up support among conservative Christians, such as the “Pastors for Trump” group that formed around the same time the former president announced his 2024 bid.

CNN - May 30, 2023

Obama agreed to $2.1 trillion in spending cuts to end 2011 debt ceiling crisis. Here’s what happened next.

The nation is days away from defaulting on its obligations. The Republican House speaker, pushed by conservatives in his party, demands deep spending cuts. The president, a Democrat, works on negotiating a package to avert a fiscal calamity. No, it’s not 2023. It’s 2011, when then-President Barack Obama agreed to a debt ceiling deal that called for more than $900 billion in upfront spending cuts and deficit reduction, as well as the creation of a joint congressional committee that would find at least $1.2 trillion in additional belt tightening. The situation is similar to the one President Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, is facing today. He and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, are pushing their parties to swiftly approve their agreement to address the current debt limit drama before the US could start missing payments on June 5.

Today’s House Republicans may want to look back at the results of their predecessors’ hard-fought deal. Things didn’t proceed as planned, and a chunk of the reductions was ultimately pared back through a subsequent series of bipartisan bills. “Once Congress took a look at the programs and what was required, they realized they couldn’t make cuts that deep,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute who was involved in the 2011 negotiations. The joint committee in 2011 was tasked with finding additional deficit reduction measures to offset a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling. If members failed in their mission, automatic cuts that would slow the growth of expected spending would kick in over the next decade. The committee did not accomplish its goal, which triggered the spending caps, known as sequestration. However, Congress then watered down the deficit reduction provisions by repeatedly increasing the caps on discretionary spending in the following years – though lawmakers also included other measures to offset some of those changes. “We basically unwound this bill little by little,” said John Diamond, director of the Center for Public Finance at Rice University’s Baker Institute. In the end, spending was curtailed by about $1.5 trillion out of the total $2.1 trillion agreed to in the 2011 deal, Riedl said. This included $855 billion in cuts to discretionary spending over the decade. The reductions affected agencies and programs, including defense, education, justice and the Internal Revenue Service, among others. The deal also slapped a 2% cut in payments to Medicare providers as part of reductions to mandatory spending programs.

Dallas Morning News - May 30, 2023

Feds: Popular AR pistol is now dangerous rifle that must be registered

Federal agents found an illegal assault rifle in the closet of Garret Miller’s Richardson home when they arrested him for storming the U.S. Capitol, court records show. He is now charged with illegally possessing an unregistered short-barreled rifle. Miller, sentenced in February to a little over three years in federal prison for crimes related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, faces up to 10 years in prison for the gun charge. Yet hundreds of thousands of people legally owned unregistered firearms remarkably similar to Miller’s in appearance and function – guns classified as pistols. The weapon, known better as an AR-style pistol, is modeled after popular semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47 and has a rear attachment called a “stabilizing brace.” This accessory resembling a rifle stock was originally designed to help those without full use of both arms fire with one hand by strapping the gun to their forearm.

But over the past decade, authorities say, braces evolved, transforming pistols into assault rifles intended to be fired from the shoulder by those without disabilities. Many fire high-velocity rounds that can pierce police body armor. As a result, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in January reclassified such configurations as short-barreled rifles that must be registered to remain legal. Gun control advocates say the gun industry saw stabilizing braces as an opportunity to profit by helping people to convert their pistols into assault rifles with short barrels, making them easy to conceal. They can fit inside a normal-size backpack, for example. An AR-15 and AK-47 do not. Knowledgeable gun owners should have known the newer line of pistol braces were an attempt to “skirt the law,” said Lindsay Nichols, policy director for the Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence. The group is run by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, who was shot in a 2011 Tucson mass shooting that left six dead. The gun industry, she said, knew the majority of their customers were not disabled. “They [gun companies] were exploiting the loophole in order to make more profit off these devices,” Nichols said.

NPR - May 30, 2023

Advocates: Reparations are the answer for sea level threat in West Oakland, Calif.

Toxic waste lurking in the soil under the San Francisco Bay community of West Oakland, and places like it, is the next environmental threat in a neighborhood already burdened by pollution. Residents in these communities of color are calling for climate justice as a form of reparations. The stability of buried contamination from Oakland's industrial past relies on it staying in the soil. But once the rising waters of San Francisco Bay press inland and get underneath these pockets of pollution, a certain amount of that waste will not stay in place. Instead, it will begin to move. More than 130 sites lie in wait. Human-caused climate change is already forcing this groundwater rise in West Oakland and other parts of the Bay Area. Climate scientists warn plumes of waste will migrate underground, exposing communities of color to contamination decades before floods gush over the industrial shoreline.

"These are environmental health issues that need to be addressed now," said UC Berkeley's Rachel Morello-Frosch, a researcher with Toxic Tides, a project that maps contamination in the path of sea level rise. The toxic waste and pollution in West Oakland result from the legacy of racism in housing, economics and other policies over decades. Residents didn't consent to living in these conditions. Now they're demanding to be significant players in any climate resilience plans. Sitting on a park bench in front of her second-story apartment, Margaret Gordon, a 75-year-old Black woman with a legacy of environmental advocacy, said the threat from underground toxics only adds to the neighborhood's severe environmental hardships. West Oakland is one of many communities of color disproportionately affected by climate change globally. As a resident of a historically Black community, she sees climate justice as a form of reparations, a payment in money and services to repair the harm of conscious decisions, such as government leaders allowing toxic industries to operate in the neighborhood, devaluing the lives of Black people. "The reparation movement is the next level of civil rights," said Gordon. "We should not be in a position of just surviving. We should be thriving."

New York Times - May 30, 2023

Debt limit bill heads to key committee in first test of G.O.P. support

Legislation to raise the government debt ceiling and set federal spending limits begins its obstacle-laden route through Congress on Tuesday with consideration by a crucial panel where it will face its first test, as congressional leaders rush to win passage before a default projected in less than a week. The House Rules Committee is typically a rubber stamp for party leaders, but the panel includes some hard-right Republicans whom Speaker Kevin McCarthy added in January to help him win over conservatives during his battle for the speakership. Now that concession could prove problematic, with far right lawmakers in revolt over the debt limit deal between Mr. McCarthy and President Biden.

They have argued that the plan does not cut spending substantially enough and threatened to use their seats on the panel to try to block it from the floor. The committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. to consider the ground rules for bringing the package to a vote as early as Wednesday. The bill was finalized on Sunday after Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy sealed their deal, and aides rushed to draft it into legislation that will have to be considered swiftly to avoid a default as soon as June 5, when Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has estimated the federal government will run out of cash to pay its bills without action by Congress. Two of the Rules Committee’s arch-conservative members, Representative Chip Roy of Texas and Ralph Norman of South Carolina, have registered strong opposition to the measure and could vote against allowing it to move forward, in a sharp break with the speaker. If they are joined by another Republican on the committee, they could sideline the agreement before it even reaches the floor.