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July 23, 2017: All Newsclips | Early Morning Clips

All - July 23, 2017

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 22, 2017

Governor's conservative agenda steamrolling through Senate

A controversial and mostly conservative agenda continued to steamroll through part of the Texas Legislature on Saturday. In an unusual early Saturday morning series of meetings, three committees of the Senate passed out nearly a dozen bills aimed at fulfilling Gov. Greg Abbott's 20-item wish list that the called the Texas Legislature back into session. More restrictions on abortions, a bill blocking city tree ordinances and clamps on the amount cities and counties can raise property taxes were among the slew of bills that cleared their only committee stops Saturday. That follows a busy Friday, where other abortion restrictions and a new version of the bathroom bill also passed out.

Houston Chronicle - July 22, 2017

Texas bill would ease liability for running over protesters

If you're protesting and you see Representative Pat Fallon's car, Texas political insiders are joking that you might want to head the other way. Fallon, R-Frisco, on Thursday filed House Bill 250, which would make the operator of a motor vehicle not liable if they injure a protester in the road while exercising due care. Similar legislation has been proposed in several other states as well. The bill created a mini-storm on social media, with some people criticizing the bill and others saying protesters put their own lives at risk when they unlawfully stand in traffic.

Houston Chronicle - July 21, 2017

Planned Parenthood emerges as target in special session abortion hearing

Tension between lawmakers over the role of Planned Parenthood in Texas was front and center Friday morning as senators sparred over legislation that would ban governments from funding the women's health care provider. Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat and former mayor of Austin, argued Senate Bills 4 and 77 would defund only Planned Parenthood, a well-known abortion provider, and its affiliates that provide cancer and STD screening but not abortions. Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican, physician and sponsor of the bills, said the legislation is not limited to Planned Parenthood, but said he knew of no other providers that would be effected by the bill.

Houston Chronicle - July 21, 2017

HC: Bathroom business -- Special session agenda leaves little room for traditional Texas politicians.

Political observers and parents of teenagers both know that nothing good ever happens after midnight. So you can't help but worry about Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick summoning the state Senate to a 12:01 a.m. meeting Thursday morning. Patrick used those wee hours to get a jump-start on the bizarre, bottom-of-the-barrel issues that Gov. Greg Abbott has placed on the special session agenda. First up: bathrooms. Legislators' ability to tag bills with a 48-hour delay was tossed out the window and, on Friday morning, the state Senate began hearings on the nationally infamous regulations against transgender Texans. Meanwhile, the adults in the room are trying to stop this rush to enshrine discrimination in our laws.

Dallas Morning News - July 22, 2017

Texas leads nation in employment growth, adds 40,200 jobs in June

Texas led the nation in employment growth in June, adding 40,200 jobs to the state's economy, its biggest gain in a single month since January. The state's unemployment rate inched downward to 4.6 percent, slightly higher than the nation's jobless rate, which is at 4.4 percent. Texas was one of 10 states where the unemployment rate fell. Economists say the Lone Star State's jobless rate is at a healthy level, given the huge volume of new residents.

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Allred: How the Texas GOP 'packed and cracked' districts to dilute minorities' voting rights

With a Texas federal court reviewing the state's voting maps, all Texans should take a moment to consider the effects of racial gerrymandering in our state. Make no mistake, current voting maps erode minority voters' right to choose who they want to represent them — and threaten our democracy more broadly. Let's start with the basics of gerrymandering. Our democratic process was designed to enable people who live in a community to choose their representatives. But the Republican Party in Texas — and around the country — has dramatically weakened the electoral power of voters in communities of color by drawing maps that make it most likely that its candidates gain and remain in power. With minority voters concentrated in a few districts or divided among several, Texas Republicans retain artificial majorities in the state House and Texas' delegation to the U.S. House.

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Senate committee approves bathroom bill despite daylong hearing that brought out hundreds of trans Texans

The Senate Committee on State Affairs late Friday approved a so-called "bathroom bill" that would restrict the restrooms available for use to transgender people in the state of Texas. Senate Bill 3 was approved by a vote of 8-1, with Laredo Democrat Judith Zaffirini in opposition. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, voted with the Republican majority on the panel to advance the legislation to the full Senate, which will likely take up the bill next week. The vote came after nearly 11 hours of public testimony on the bill, the vast majority of which was in opposition. Those who spoke called the legislation discriminatory, hateful, un-Christian and bad for Texas business.

Dallas Morning News - July 22, 2017

Senate panel passes proposal to prevent abortion coverage in primary insurance plans

After tense debate, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee on Saturday passed a proposal that would prohibit insurance companies from covering elective abortions in primary health insurance plans. "Texas must take steps to prohibit taxpayer dollars from subsidizing elective abortions that are not medically necessary," said the bill's author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. "Elective abortion coverage is not prohibited, it is simply required to be purchased separately, similar to other supplemental plans offered, like a dental plan," Creighton added.

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Texas senators' debate over private-school vouchers gets heated

Senators clashed with members of the public and one another Friday as a Senate panel debated using state tax dollars to help disabled students attend private schools. The "tax credit scholarships" for special-needs children, though just one part of a larger education bill tinkering with school finance, dominated the Senate Education Committee's discussion. Opponents said repeatedly that the bill would siphon money from hard-pressed public schools. That irked Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican. He noted that of the $345 million that the bill would spend, mostly through delaying some Medicaid payments until the 2020-2021 budget cycle, at least $270 million would go to public schools. "By any mathematics that I understand, that's 78.2 percent of this bill for the public schools," he said.

Dallas Morning News - July 22, 2017

Bill to give Texas teachers bonuses, shore up retirees’ health care gets lukewarm reception

A Senate panel on Saturday advanced a teacher pay and retired teacher health care bill, despite a lukewarm reception from educator groups. "Our Texas teachers deserve a raise," said bill author Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican and former teacher. Several teacher groups, though, took aim at the pay raises in the measure, while praising how it would reduce premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for retirees' health care. In September 2018, the bill would give longevity bonuses of $600 to teachers with at least six years but less than 11 years of experience, and $1,000 for those who've taught longer.

Dallas Morning News - July 22, 2017

Texans' property taxes dominate 'local control' debates in Senate committee hearings

A Senate committee on Saturday approved a bill aimed at decreasing property taxes, which local officials say would hurt their ability to provide essential services while providing only minimal relief to taxpayers. Senate Bill 1, authored by Houston Republican Sen. Paul Bettencourt, would lower the rate at which cities or counties would have to hold an election to authorize property tax increases. The current rate increase that would set off an election — called a "rollback rate" — is 8 percent. The bill would lower it to 4 percent and call for an automatic election to approve the tax increase if the rollback rate was exceeded. Lawmakers who support the bill say it would provide relief for homeowners who are struggling to keep up with increasing property taxes. Gov. Greg Abbott said the issue is his top priority for the special legislative session.

Austin American-Statesman - July 22, 2017

Senate panel votes to override local phoning-while-driving laws

A bill barring local governments from regulating phoning-while-driving sailed through a Senate committee Saturday on a party line vote after an all-day hearing on that and several other bills. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee delayed until Sunday action on Senate Bill 12 on development rules, Senate Bill 13 on building permits and Senate Bill 14 on tree and vegetation regulation. The vote on Senate Bill 15 on the use of phones while behind the wheel was 7-2, with all committee Republicans in favor and Democrats John Whitmire from Houston and Judith Zaffirini from Laredo in opposition.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Authorities scramble for funding as DPS is set to charge for lab fees

Law enforcement agencies across the state are scrambling to come up with additional funding after the Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday announced it would start charging for crime lab services beginning Sept. 1. Several police chiefs and sheriffs throughout the Central Texas area told the American-Statesman on Friday they had no idea they were going to be charged for the services, which include DNA, drug and alcohol analysis. Manor Police Chief Ryan Phipps said an email he received from the DPS on Thursday was the first he’d heard of the change.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Teacher pay, retirement bill advances in Senate despite concerns

The Texas Senate Finance Committee approved a bill Saturday that would give Texas teachers raises and bonuses and pump millions into the Teacher Retirement System, despite a tepid reception from teacher groups. Senate Bill 19 passed 10-3, mostly along party lines. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen was present but didn’t vote. Sen. Royce West, D-Houston, was absent during the vote. “Recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest to the teaching profession should be the … best use of our education dollars,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairwoman of the Finance Committee and author of the bill.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Senate panel advances school finance, ‘private school choice’ bills

The Senate Education Committee on Friday sent to the full chamber two bills that address many of the major education-related issues on the special session agenda, including school finance and “private school choice.” Senate Bill 2, filed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, drew eight hours of public testimony, much of which was in opposition because of a provision in the bill that critics have compared to private school vouchers. “Do not use the backs of these very special children as a pawn for your political schemes,” said Kara DeRocha, a Houston resident whose child is in special education. SB 2 passed 8-2, with Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville the only Democrat voting for it.

Austin American-Statesman - July 22, 2017

Senate hearing Saturday puts local government authority in cross hairs

A bill barring local governments, including Austin, from regulating phone use while driving sailed through a Texas Senate committee Saturday on a party line vote after an all-day hearing on that and several other bills that would strip authority from cities. The Senate Business and Commerce Committee delayed until Sunday action on Senate Bill 12, which would curtail local development rules; SB 13, which would limit review for construction permits; and SB 14, which would void local ordinances regulating tree removal on private property. The vote on SB 15, overriding local rules barring the use of phones while behind the wheel, was 7-2, with all Republicans in favor and Democrats John Whitmire of Houston and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo opposed.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Senate health panel approves three abortion bills

The state Senate Health and Human Services Committee approved five bills Friday, including three that would expand abortion-related regulations. A fourth bill approved by the panel Friday would require that health care facilities like a hospital or hospice ensure that do-not-resuscitate orders are disclosed to patients or their medical decision-makers and the orders don’t go against a competent patient’s wishes. The committee voted 6-3 along party lines to send those four bills to the full Senate for approval as soon as Monday. The panel unanimously approved a measure to extend the work of a state task force investigating maternal mortality in Texas.

Austin American-Statesman - July 22, 2017

Inside the race to be certified most conservative in the Texas House

For a tea party Republican in the Texas House, being certified as having the most conservative voting record of any member is like Olympic gold. It is a feat that demands single-minded ambition, a firm grasp of conservative constitutional and free-market principles, and the cool discipline to apply those precepts with relentless consistency, day after day, vote after vote, come what may. In December 2012, Jonathan Stickland, freshly elected at age 29 from Tarrant County, told the American-Statesman, “I plan on having the most conservative voting record in the entire House of Representatives.” And so he did, in the 2013 edition of the vaunted liberal-conservative index produced by Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Transgender activist speaks at Capitol, bruised from ‘targeted’ mugging

Less than 24 hours after Stephanie Martinez was carjacked and mugged, the transgender activist took to the Capitol to give lawmakers a piece of her mind about the so-called bathroom bills. She sat before a Senate committee dais Friday — in a blue-and-white striped dress covered by a black wrap sweater, her face naked of makeup and framed by glasses, bruises still visible — and delivered her remarks. “This bill is not about safety, this bill is not about bathrooms,” Martinez told the panel of lawmakers, largely supporters of the bill, which would restrict bathroom access for transgender Texans. “This bill is about limiting my ability to navigate public life.”

Texas Tribune - July 23, 2017

Texas Senate committee OKs bill to outlaw city cellphone restrictions

A Texas Senate committee approved a bill Saturday that would outlaw local restrictions on using a cellphone while driving. Senate Bill 15 would pre-empt local ordinances on mobile phone usage, effectively rolling back provisions in more than 40 Texas cities that currently post hands-free ordinances stricter than the statewide texting ban. That measure now heads to the full Senate. It was one of several items the Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up Saturday that target local regulations and ordinances. That committee also passed a bill that would require women to pay a separate premium for insurance coverage of an abortion that is not considered medically necessary.

San Antonio Express News - July 21, 2017

Man pleads guilty to threatening Obama

A Central Texas man has pleaded guilty in San Antonio to threatening former President Barack Obama, judges, federal prosecutors and agents, among others. Gavin Leonard Friedman, 21, who has lived in Kerrville and Austin, mailed letters with a series of threats over several months in 2016. In September 2016, for example, he sent letters to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Antonio expressing some threats while he was incarcerated at the Kerr County Jail.

San Antonio Express News - July 22, 2017

Legislators can’t raise campaign cash during a regular session, but they can during a special

Thirty years ago, following a bribery scandal involving a former speaker of the House, lawmakers banned members of the Texas Legislature from accepting campaign contributions during the regular biennial session. A couple of years later, during a special session, a poultry magnate seeking favorable support for a bill ignited another scandal when he handed out $10,000 checks to legislators on the floor of the Senate. In response, lawmakers made it illegal to accept campaign contributions in the Capitol. But the law remains mute on accepting contributions during special sessions — a loophole the size of the Lone Star State itself — and for some legislators this year, in the short time between the close of regular business and the start of what promises to be a contentious and controversial 30-day gathering, the cash has been rolling in.

San Antonio Express News - July 21, 2017

More frac sand woes for Uresti co-defendant Bates

The latest venture for ex-FourWinds Logistics CEO Stan Bates, who was indicted with state Sen. Carlos Uresti in a criminal fraud case in May, apparently has run into some troubles. Bates’ San Antonio-based Bates Energy Oil & Gas this week sued a Utah company for refusing to accept delivery on more than 40,000 tons of frac sand, which is used in fracking to extract oil and gas from shale rock. Like Bates Energy, FourWinds traded frac sand. But FourWinds imploded in 2015, with some investors saying they were defrauded. A federal grand jury indicted Bates, Uresti and company consultant Gary Cain on a combined 22 charges in May. Uresti recruited a couple of the investors and served as FourWinds’ outside general counsel for a short time.

San Antonio Express News - July 23, 2017

Cornyn says better to take repeal-and-replace vote on Obamacare

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Friday that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act at the same time is the best path to take on health care. “I think it’s better to do a repeal-and-replace bill,” Cornyn, who has been a part of the Senate’s working group that’s developing the new health plan, told reporters after a tour of a new exhibit at the city’s Centro de Artes museum. “We’ve been trying to solicit input and make it better, and we’ll be voting on that next week.” As of now, Cornyn and other Senate GOP leaders are still trying to find enough votes to repeal the law, and either simultaneously replace it with a new health care plan or hold off to do so at a later date.

County Stories

San Antonio Express News - July 23, 2017

Chasnoff: Reagan was right: Trust, but verify

This week, I agreed to speak at the Woman’s Club of San Antonio as a last-minute replacement for Councilman Roberto Treviño, who had to cancel because he’d been summoned before the king and queen of Spain. Addressing a roomful of prim women in big, bright hats, I explained that I, too, had been summoned before the king and queen of Spain but had turned down the royal invitation to be there with them. Thankfully, very few in the audience believed me. I told them: You should never have faith in anything that I say. You shouldn’t even trust me — unless you think I’ve proved that I am trustworthy. Even then, you should keep an eye on me. My topic was trust in the media.

City Stories

San Antonio Express News - July 22, 2017

Senate panels OKs property tax restrictions, with swipe at S.A.

Embracing pleas for relief from hundreds of taxpayers and dressing down cities including San Antonio, a Senate committee voted Saturday to put new limits on the ability of local governments to raise local property tax revenues unless they get a vote of the people. “It’s all about the taxpayers’ money,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, author of the proposed tax changes and chairman of the newly created Senate Select Committee on Government Reform. “I think it’s very important that taxpayers have a say in their tax bills.” With strong backing from Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Bettencourt is pushing to more tightly restrict the ability of cities, counties and special districts to increase property taxes.

San Antonio Express News - July 22, 2017

San Antonio mayor blasts latest ‘bathroom bill’ proposal

Mayor Ron Nirenberg joined hundreds of people testifying Friday at the Texas Capitol on the latest “bathroom bill,” condemning the latest proposal to limit public restroom access for transgender Texans as discriminatory, bad for the economy and in conflict with San Antonio’s values. Despite such opposition, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 8-1 in favor of legislation that would — if it becomes law — bar cities and school districts from adopting bathroom or locker room policies that allow transgender people to use facilities that they are more comfortable with if it is opposite of what is on their birth certificates.

Austin American-Statesman - July 22, 2017

Federal cuts could worsen Austin’s affordability crisis, groups say

Budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration would have a devastating effect in Austin, a city already facing affordability issues, housing advocates say. At a rally Saturday morning outside City Hall, representatives from a number of community organizations said slashing federal housing funding by 15 percent – or $7 billion – would affect countless people already struggling to make ends meet such as low-income families, veterans, people with disabilities and seniors. Austin alone stands to lose $18.2 million in funding, the groups said, which would affect 1,929 households.

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Dallas investor Ray Washburne would shed local posts to join Trump in D.C.

Dallas investor Ray Washburne says he would step down from a host of high-profile positions locally, including leadership at the M Crowd Restaurant Group, if he is confirmed as president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. On June 8, Washburne sent a four-page letter to Dev Jagadesan, designated agency ethics official with the OPIC, addressing how he would avoid "any actual or apparent conflict of interest in the event that I am confirmed." The OPIC is a government agency that helps American businesses invest in emerging markets. A hearing on Washburne's confirmation was held earlier in July before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Tex Rep. McCaul's bill to reauthorize Homeland Security Department headed to Senate

A House bill that would streamline the Department of Homeland Security in its first reorganization since 9/11 is headed to the Senate after easily passing the house. Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, R-West Lake Hills, sponsored the bill, which would reauthorize the agency created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The bill passed late Thursday would require congressional approval for DHS organizational changes — which is not currently the case — consolidate and streamline several offices, and authorize Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the first time.

Associated Press - July 23, 2017

Trump asserts all agree he has 'complete power' to pardon

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he has "complete power" to issue pardons, an assertion that comes amid investigations into Russian interference in last year's presidential election. It was one of many topics that appeared to occupy the president's mind as the day broke. On a day when most people are ready to forget about the issues that nagged them during the week, Trump revved up. In an early morning flurry of 10 tweets, he commented about pardons, former presidential rival Hillary Clinton, son Don Jr., health care, the USS Gerald Ford, the attorney general and other issues. Trump said in one of his 10 messages: "While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us. FAKE NEWS."

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Associated Press - July 23, 2017

Lawmakers herald agreement on sweeping Russia sanctions bill

Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced Saturday they had reached an agreement on a sweeping Russia sanctions package to punish Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democrat, said lawmakers had settled lingering issues with the bill, which also includes stiff economic penalties against Iran and North Korea. The sanctions targeting Russia, however, have drawn the most attention due to President Donald Trump's persistent push for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin and ongoing investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Politico - July 22, 2017

Inside the 24 hours that broke Sean Spicer

Sean Spicer came to the White House on Thursday completely unaware President Donald Trump was planning to meet with Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Wall Street friend, and offer him the job of communications director. Other top aides, including Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, also had no clue. But in Trump's White House, where rumors of staff shake-ups loom for months, it all happened quickly. By Friday morning, over the strenuous objections of senior aides, Trump had a new communications director. And Spicer had made a spontaneous decision to resign, offended by the whole turn of events. He had been blindsided by Trump before, but he took particular umbrage at this one.

Washington Post - July 22, 2017

Conservative state legislators plot ways to get Washington under control

Jim DeMint brought bad news from Washington. Republicans run every branch of the government, but it was “no longer possible for the federal government to avoid a disaster.” Members of Congress, like he once was, are not able to deliver fully on their promises. “We have accomplished little more than to slow the growth of spending, slow the growth of debt, slow the growth of regulations,” the former senator from South Carolina told a breakfast audience at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s policy conference on Thursday. “It’s very unlikely, after all the promises, that we’re going to repeal Obamacare and eliminate the federal control of health care.” For members of ALEC, a 45-year-old think tank that helps state legislators craft libertarian-leaning policy, this wasn’t news. Six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, little of his agenda has made it through Congress. Medicaid has not been transformed into a block-grant program.

Washington Post - July 23, 2017

Senate rules could complicate prospects for GOP health bill

The Senate parliamentarian signaled Friday that Democrats could block several key elements of the Senate GOP health-care bill, including abortion coverage restrictions, a one-year ban on funding for Planned Parenthood and changes to Medicaid coverage requirements, if the legislation comes up for a vote next week. While not a final ruling, Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s assessment threatens to further anger conservatives such as Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who say the GOP health-care bill does not go far enough in repealing the Affordable Care Act. Democrats released the guidance Friday after weeks of consultations with GOP leaders and MacDonough, who determines whether legislation is in line with complex Senate rules.

Washington Post - July 21, 2017

20 Democratic attorneys general urge Trump to keep DACA, say it has boosted economy

Attorneys general from 19 states and the District of Columbia are urging President Trump to save an Obama-era program that protects nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation, and offering to help him defend it in court. Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the group of Democrats is twice the size of the 10-state coalition of Republican officials that have threatened to sue the Trump administration if it does not start to phase out the program by Sept. 5. Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, in 2012 to allow immigrants who arrive in the United States as minors to legally work and live in the United States.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 23, 2017

FWST: If Granger is listening, town halls aren’t needed

It is not difficult to understand why Congresswoman Kay Granger is reluctant to hold town hall meetings in Fort Worth. “There are so many threats going on,” she told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board earlier this month. She isn’t exaggerating. In Virginia last month, several of Granger’s colleagues were brutally attacked by a gunman during a morning baseball practice. The victims, one of whom is still in the hospital, were all Republicans. The attacker’s motives were nakedly political. Savage as it was, such violent assaults are thankfully rare.

New York Times - July 22, 2017

NYT: The Bogus Voter-Fraud Commission

The truth can’t be repeated often enough: The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which held its first meeting last week, is a sham and a scam. It was born out of a marriage of convenience between conservative anti-voter-fraud crusaders, who refuse to accept actual data, and a president who refuses to accept that he lost the popular vote fair and square. It is run by some of the nation’s most determined vote suppressors, the kind who try to throw out voter registrations for being printed on insufficiently thick paper or who release reports on noncitizen voting that are titled “Alien Invasion” and illustrated with images of U.F.O.s.

Washington Post - July 21, 2017

Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show

Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.

Vox - July 20, 2017

Matthews: The 2 most popular critiques of basic income are both wrong

At first blush, basic income — a proposal where every American gets a regular stipend from the government, just for being alive — sounds like a radical, even absurd, idea. It says that people should be guaranteed enough money to live on whether they spend most of their time working, or in school, or taking care of loved ones, or taking drugs and surfing. It says that the government should tax people who work to pay for a check that goes to some people who don’t do anything conventionally viewed as productive. That raises a lot of obvious questions. Wouldn’t this totally ruin the economy? If everyone got money whether or not they worked, wouldn’t tons of people drop out of the labor market?

Axios - July 22, 2017

Allen: Dems want to rebrand as the economic party

Senate and House Dems, after an intensive process spanning seven months, on Monday will unveil a new economic agenda, Axios has exclusively learned, meant to counter the perception that Democrats are only the anti-Trump party, with no message of their own. Top Dems see the new message as the key to turning things around after their losses in the presidential race and this year's House special elections. An opening theme/frame: "excessive corporate power and its impacts." Pollster Geoff Garin writes in a memo kicking off the project: "[T]he Democratic policies related to curbing excessive corporate power that are being highlighted in the first day of the rollout have real resonance with voters and are strongly supported by a significant majority of Americans."

Dallas Morning News - July 22, 2017

Mark Cuban vs. Trump in 2020? 'If he lasts 4 years ... I'll be there to kick his a**'

If President Donald Trump runs for re-election in 2020, a challenger may already be lined up: Dallas Mavericks owner and tech billionaire Mark Cuban. In his appearance at New York's "OZY Fest," Cuban discussed challenging the president. "If he lasts four years, I'll be there to kick his a**," Cuban said Saturday, before backpedaling a bit. "We'll see. I'm not making any proclamations yet." Trump has shrugged off the notion of a President Cuban in the past, saying on Twitter that his fellow reality TV star wasn't up to the challenge.

All - July 21, 2017

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express News - July 20, 2017

Governor opens door for more school finance action in special session

Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the already ambitious special session agenda Thursday to allow lawmakers to broadly consider school finance reform, a difficult issue that House leaders repeatedly have asked him to showcase. The move earned praise from House Speaker Joe Straus, who will have a big say in the passage of Abbott’s other items, most of which the speaker has compared to a pile of manure. “I think that Texas leaders ought to be spending a lot more time on public school finance that we know is a mess, and the property tax relief that can come along with doing that correctly,” said Straus, R-San Antonio. “We have an issue with retired teachers’ health care that I’m pleased to see we can get on.

Los Angeles Times - July 19, 2017

In the long run, failure to repeal Obamacare may not hurt Republicans

In a logical world, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican compatriots would pay a steep price for proposing a healthcare plan that, in all its iterations, has proved to be so hugely unpopular. But politics is not ruled by logic. Given the lack of public support, the legislation should have been doomed from the start. Nevertheless, McConnell forged ahead until it became clear the bill pleased neither the moderate Republicans in his caucus who found it too mean-spirited — particularly the legislation’s massive cuts to Medicaid — nor hard-line conservatives who believed it preserved too many aspects of Obamacare.

CNBC - July 20, 2017

There are more renters than any time since 1965

More people are renting than at any other point in the past 50 years. In 2016, 36.6 percent of household heads rented their home, close to the 1965 number of 37 percent, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center based on data from the Census Bureau. Each month the Census Bureau surveys a nationally representative sample of households. The total number of U.S. households grew by 7.6 million over the past decade, Pew reported. However, the number of households headed by owners remained relatively flat, while households headed by renters grew by nearly 10 percent during the same time period.

Dallas Observer - July 19, 2017

Schutze: For Texas Democrats Looking at 2018, Anti-Trumpism Is a Vast Nothingness

I’m a Democrat. I’m anti-Trump. The only things more depressing to me than President Donald Trump are Democrats. If it’s still like this in 2018, I may have to vote for the vegan, even though I have never really been totally sure what that is. Maybe for a change and just to spare us all some brain-freezing boredom, I won’t tell you why I’m anti-Trump. It’s because of blah-blah and blah-blah. You know. All that stuff that leaks out of your TV if you don’t hit mute fast enough, like the so-called analysis that’s worse than a drug ad warning. If what you’re talking about could even faintly ever happen to me, why on earth would I take your drug? If you’re really going to tell me again what you don’t know yet about the meeting, why on earth would I listen to you? MUTE!

Washington Post - July 20, 2017

House Democrats are starting to outraise their Republican counterparts

House Democrats have continued raising money at a historic pace, with the party campaign committee beating its Republican counterpart for the second quarter of 2017, according to fundraising data obtained by The Washington Post. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to report June receipts of $10.7 million Thursday, bringing its quarterly total to $29.1 million and its year-to-date total to just shy of $60 million. Tyler Law, a DCCC spokesman, said a “solid majority” of the 2017 haul are small donations from the grass roots, which reflects “the massive amount of Democratic energy and widespread rejection of the Republican agenda.”

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Uber's going big into trucking business, and nowhere bigger than Texas

One of the biggest technology disruptors when it comes to shuttling people is now trying to transform the way goods are moved around the country. This spring, Uber launched Uber Freight, an app that matches truck drivers with loads of goods to pick up and deliver. Texas played a key role in the San Francisco-based tech giant's inroads. Routes between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio served as its test ground before the app's launch. Texas' large trucking business made it an obvious place to start, said Jeff Ogren, head of driver community and partnerships for Uber Freight. Fourteen percent of U.S. freight comes in and out of Texas, he said.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Republicans making it harder for public to be heard on bathroom bill, Democrats say

Weighing in on the bathroom bill may be a little more difficult for the public this time around. Just after midnight Thursday, the Texas Senate officially set a public hearing for 9 a.m. Friday to hear from people about the newly filed Senate Bill 3. The legislation would require people to use the bathroom or changing room — in public places such as schools — of the sex that is listed on their birth certificates. That would bar people who are transgender from using the bathroom of the sex they better identify with.

New York Times - July 20, 2017

Inspiring Little Fear in Senators, Trump Struggles to Sell Health Bill

President Trump thought he could sell balky Republican senators like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin on the Senate health care bill through pleasantries, cajoling and, ultimately, some Oval Office muscle. But Mr. Johnson could not be charmed. He could not be outbargained. And he could not be scared into supporting the measure for the sake of a president whose inability to bend fellow Republicans toward his political will has become a liability for his young presidency. As the brash Mr. Johnson reminded one associate recently, while Mr. Trump may have stunned the political world in 2016 by winning Wisconsin in the election, Mr. Johnson got 76,000 more votes in the state.

State Stories

Texas Tribune - July 21, 2017

Ramsey: A legislative body in motion can do whatever it wants

The special session of the Texas Legislature is moving at the No-B.S. pace you’d like to see in a regular legislative session. The show started Tuesday, and the first bills could be on the governor’s desk for signature early next week. The Senate acted quickly on legislation to keep five small but important agencies in operation, meeting the condition set for opening consideration of other issues dear to the lieutenant governor and some legislators, including school vouchers, restroom regulations, property taxes and local control. Here’s another way to look at it: The governor has opened the pantry to a legislative swarm. He was the boss of setting the game, but now the game is in the legislative branch and out of his executive branch. In some ways, Greg Abbott is just another spectator now.

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

Abortion rights groups sue Texas over procedure ban

Texas is heading to court over a state law going into effect in September banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday they're suing over a provision in Texas' Senate Bill 8 bill that outlaws dilation and evacuation abortions. In that procedure, a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. SB 8 only allows the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased. Whole Woman's Health, a Texas reproductive health provider, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

Environmental groups sue EPA over lax Texas air pollution permits

A Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, arguing the federal government isn't properly policing air pollution permits the state of Texas issued to some of the largest industrial facilities in the U.S. The Environmental Integrity Project — founded by former EPA officials — alleges that permits the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued to mega-plants across the Houston, Dallas and East Texas regions are illegal because the limits set on their emissions are too high, allowing them to spew too much pollution into the air. The suit, filed in federal court, also claims the permits are so vague and complicated that TCEQ employees aren’t always sure if a plant is in violation, and therefore fail to adequately punish bad actors.

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

Miller, Scheps: The lies behind Texas anti-abortion laws and “bathroom bills”

Fear and lies are powerful political weapons: We’re seeing that in Texas right now as our state’s lawmakers talk about public restrooms and abortion. Safety. Privacy. Protecting women and girls. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Texas politicians use those buzzwords when they talk about passing a so-called “bathroom bill” to discriminate against transgender Texans who simply need to use public restrooms. Those buzzwords are based on lies. Many states and more than 200 cities already protect the right of transgender people to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. None has reported incidents of someone using these protections to harm others.

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

National Episcopal Church urges defeat of Texas "bathroom bill"

As the Texas Senate prepares to consider legislation to restrict bathroom use for transgender Texans in legislative overtime, the national Episcopal Church is renewing its opposition to such proposals. Citing the “emotional and spiritual damage that discrimination does to transgender people,” top leaders of the national church — Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies — in a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus urged the speaker to remain “steadfast” in his opposition to any bathroom bill.

Texas Tribune - July 21, 2017

Hey, Texplainer: Will Texans ever get a remedy for the state's alleged illegal redistricting?

Hey, Texplainer: The courts have scolded the state for intentional discrimination against minority voters — is there a way to remedy this? A three-judge panel in San Antonio this spring delivered a pair of rulings that, at first glance, would seem to shake up some political races across Texas. The first ruling was that the state Legislature intentionally discriminated against minority voters in redrawing the state’s congressional boundaries in 2011. The second was that lawmakers did the same in drawing their state House map and violated either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters statewide and in a host of individual House districts.

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

Nellis Henneke: Texas should stop spending billions to incarcerate so many people for life

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry boasts about the progress Texas made during his years in Austin toward reducing the number of people in prison, expanding drug courts and closing down unneeded adult prisons and juvenile facilities to save taxpayer money. “This change did not make Texas soft on crime. It made us smart on crime,” Perry has said. While the state has taken some smart first steps to reduce its prison population, Texas continues to incarcerate more than 157,000 people and spends over $3.4 billion annually on the state prison system alone. A new report by The Sentencing Project points to a costly part of the problem: one in eight state prison inmates is serving a life sentence, including more than 800 sentenced to life without parole (LWOP), 8,320 sentenced to life with a potential for parole and 8,637 sentenced to terms of at least 50 years — known as a “virtual” life sentence.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Joe Straus: Austin school district giving up $530 million to others

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus hinted at the Texas House’s derailed regular-session push for more state education aid by asserting that absent action, Austin taxpayers can count on ponying up more than half a billion dollars to schools in other places this year. The San Antonio Republican prefaced his Austin-centric claim by rehashing his view that Texas overly relies on property taxes to fund the schools. “Property taxes are going up, and more and more of those dollars are going to school districts in other parts of the state through the Robin Hood system,” Straus said in an email blast distributed two days before the July special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Texas transgender bathroom fight takes center stage

The fight over transgender bathroom policies took center stage Thursday, hours after an unusual midnight meeting of the Texas Senate allowed Gov. Greg Abbott to expand the special legislative session’s agenda to include a host of conservative priorities. The Texas Association of Business, a leading foe of efforts to restrict transgender-friendly bathroom policies, announced a $1 million radio ad campaign against legislation its leaders called discriminatory and an unnecessary distraction from real problems Texans face. Leaders of the national Episcopal Church also released a letter urging House Speaker Joe Straus to continue to resist “efforts to enshrine discrimination against our transgender sisters and brothers into Texas law.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

First Reading: Case closed? Judge Naranjo issues final orders in Alex/Kelly Jones child custody case

I am not quite prepared to credit state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo with the wisdom of Solomon. But she did manage yesterday to orally render a permanent order in the child custody case of Alex Jones, his ex-wife Kelly Jones and their three children – a 14-year-old son and 9- and 12-year-old daughters – that it appears neither side is likely to challenge or appeal. That’s quite an accomplishment, that even in the intensely hostile final hours yesterday of this high-conflict divorce, she seemed unlikely to be able to pull off. The order in important ways falls short of what Kelly Jones and her attorneys thought she won with a favorable jury verdict after their two-week trial in April..

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Mothers in Texas are dying, Legislature gets second chance to help

As doctors frantically tried to revive her 21-year-old daughter Cassaundra Perkins, Cheryl Givens-Perkins couldn’t watch. She turned her back and looked out the hospital window. “I was just thinking, is this really happening? Is this really fixing to happen?” Givens-Perkins said. At 1:05 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2014, Perkins was pronounced dead. She had given birth to twins less than a month before and had a 2-year-old daughter. During her pregnancy, Perkins contracted an infection and her liver started failing, so her twins had to be delivered at 6 months. An autopsy determined that she died in part because of liver failure and because placenta tissue was left inside her body.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Evan Smith incorrectly pegs 2014 as turning point for white Texans

Evan Smith, the Texas Tribune’s CEO, pinpointed 2014 as a milestone year perhaps troubling to many residents. As quoted in The New Yorker magazine, Smith noted that the Republican-led Legislature has allocated a fresh $800 million toward border security. “White people are scared of change,” Smith said next, “believing that what they have is being taken away from them by people they consider unworthy. ... We found there remain some Texas high schools with a majority of white students in 12th grade or among graduates while for all of Texas, state-collected counts show the latest year that white students comprised the majority of public high-school graduates was 2003. White students last accounted for the majority of public high-school seniors in 2001-02. We rate the claim False.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Perkins DePalma: Let’s count the ways Texas loses without tree ordinances

Ever since it became evident that the Texas Legislature’s special session would include a targeted attack on tree protection, TreeFolks has been inundated with calls and emails from across Texas. Clearly, the public — including many legislators — have questions about the impact of proposed bills reversing tree ordinances. In short, the proposals — House Bill 70, and Senate Bills 14 and 86 — prevent cities from setting any requirements regarding tree removal by any property owners, builders or developers. Should the proposed legislation be successful, the financial, physical and emotional health of our cities would be severely compromised.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Senate panel to hear ‘school choice,’ finance bill Friday

The Senate Education Committee on Friday will consider two bills that address many of the major education-related issues on the special session call, including school finance and ‘private school choice.’ Senate Bill 2, filed by Senate education chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, is comprised of several education issues that would reallocate $270 million from Health and Human Services over the next biennium to pay for: $60 million in first-time funding for charter school construction. $60 million to help school districts experiencing rapid student growth pay for construction.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

Long line to testify on transgender bathroom bills

The line to testify on two bills to block transgender-friendly friendly bathroom policies began forming more than an hour before Friday morning’s 9 a.m. Senate committee hearing, extending down Capitol Extension hallways, wrapping around a stairwell and continuing on the next floor. Even with witnesses limited to two minutes to provide their thoughts, the hearing before the Senate State Affairs committee will last hours. Registration to testify closes at noon. During the regular session, a hearing on a similar bill ended shortly before 5 a.m., with the vast majority of witnesses against limiting bathroom, locker room and changing room use to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

DPS to bill law enforcement agencies for crime lab services in Sept.

The Texas Department of Public Safety announced on Thursday that it would begin charging law enforcement agencies for using certain crime laboratory services starting on Sept. 1. According to DPS, the Texas Legislature provided the DPS lab system with $63 million for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, and requires up to $11.5 million be charged and collected to make up the balance of the total authorized budget of $74.5 million. The DPS lab system was allocated $74.7 million in the previous two-year budget.

Austin American-Statesman - July 21, 2017

PolitiFact: Joe Straus: Austin school district giving up $530 million to others -- True

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus hinted at the Texas House’s derailed regular-session push for more state education aid by asserting that absent action, Austin taxpayers can count on ponying up more than half a billion dollars to schools in other places this year. ... Straus said the Austin district “is expected to lose more than $530 million in local property taxes to Robin Hood this year.” As of May 2017, the Austin district estimated that in 2017-18 it would flow nearly $534 million in local property tax revenue through the state’s school finance system, nicknamed Robin Hood, to help equalize school funding across the state. We rate this claim True.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

What do Texans hate more than the residents of any other state?

There’s a lot to hate on out there. According to new dating app Hater, that’s enough to bring two people together in a beautiful, nonhateful way. The app functions on the belief that people form strong bonds over shared hatreds -- the same way they do shared interests. And because the app requires users to identify both their location and most hated things, it’s amassed a lot of data on what people from different states love to hate. Buzzfeed made a map. You’d be better off not wearing a polo shirt in New Mexico. And Georgia is about as into tuna salad as Pennsylvania is into people who use money clips (i.e. not at all).

Houston Chronicle - July 21, 2017

Turner tells lawmakers 'bathroom bill' tries to solve non-existent problem

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged lawmakers to reject two "bathroom bills" a state Senate committee is hearing this morning, saying the proposals would harm Texas' economy and residents in an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist. Turner, who served in the Texas House for 26 years before becoming mayor last year, said Texas is "poorly served" by a Legislature that seeks to follow the example of North Carolina, where passage of such a measured ignited a political firestorm that undercut convention business and eventually contributed to the governor's electoral defeat.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Looming budget cuts worry University of Houston faculty

The math is hard to crack - even for career academics. The University of Houston saw an increase in state funding this year, but President Renu Khator asked academic departments to trim their base budgets by 2.5 percent. Non-academic divisions must cut 3.5 percent. For some departments, these figures come as a relief. In April, Khator told departments to prepare for sharper declines, as state lawmakers anticipated steep reductions to higher education funding.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Abortion providers sue Texas for banning second-trimester procedure

Abortion providers and advocates filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday to challenge a new Texas law banning a common second-trimester medical procedure. The lawsuit had been anticipated in a state known for passing some of the nation's toughest abortion restrictions. Abortion providers stressed in its 19-page lawsuit that the procedure is the "safest and most common" method of abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and a ban would create an undue burden for women to terminate a pregnancy. "It's very obvious that the intent of the law is to be an abortion ban and to restrict doctors' decision making," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, which is one of the plaintiffs.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Local ACA planners see pattern in White House actions

The move by the White House to quietly end the contracts of two companies key to assisting people enrolling for insurance under the Affordable Care Act caught Houston health advocates off guard - but not by surprise. Given the temperature in Washington these days and efforts by Congress and President Donald Trump's administration to let the law fail, they said it was just the latest in a string of actions to sabotage the law known as Obamacare. "It's clearly by design," said Elena Marks, president and CEO of Episcopal Health Foundation and proponent of the ACA and its impact on the uninsured and health access for Texans.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Legislature braces for busy special session weekend

State lawmakers are preparing to be swarmed by demonstrators and activists on all sides of some of the most contentious issues facing Texas during public hearings that kick off Friday. Among them is the bathroom bill that already has drawn crowds of hundreds of activists -- pro and con -- to the Capitol for earlier hearings and votes. Also on tap: banning health care coverage for abortions, finding a fix to school funding, and authorizing a study on the state's skyrocketing maternal mortality rates.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Bathroom bills could lead to 'a series of lawsuits,' experts predict

Texas lawmakers are poised to debate bills that, if passed into law, are expected to spur court challenges that could define the "scope and limit" of the rights guaranteed to all transgender Americans. On Friday, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will debate two so-called "bathroom bills" that would undo portions of city nondiscrimination ordinances and force transgender schoolchildren out of bathrooms that match their gender identity. The proposals could affect everything from convention center and stadium restroom policies to high school athletics. The legislation, a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during the special session that kicked off on Tuesday, has been panned as discriminatory by businesses and LGBT rights organizations and unnecessary by law enforcement and school groups.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Tanglen: Are Texas legislators channeling 'The Handmaid's Tale'?

Twice during the past legislative session, female activists donned red cloaks and white bonnets and occupied the halls of the Texas Capitol to oppose anti-abortion legislation. The women's apparel references The Handmaid's Tale, a 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. The novel is set in the Republic of Gilead, a military theocracy that has replaced the government of the United States. In the novel, fertility rates have become dangerously low because of environmental devastation and disease. Fertile women are enslaved as "handmaids" to bear children for politically powerful men and their wives. The Handmaid's Tale has been adapted into a critically acclaimed series on Hulu starring Elisabeth Moss.

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

DMN: Congress should talk to Texas about promise and pitfalls of privatization as it eyes Trump's $1 trillion wish list

Congress has begun, however slowly, to size up President Donald Trump's proposal to make good on his signature promise to lead America on a spending spree aimed at modernizing its infrastructure. New roads, bridges and perhaps even trains are all on the table, and so could modern expansions of our electric grids, water resources and the air traffic control system. Even Veterans Administration hospitals are in line to get a major infusion of cash, and perhaps new uses for under-utilized or abandoned buildings. The price tag, we're told, could top $1 trillion.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

What you need to know about all the Texas Senate hearings happening this weekend

The Senate is moving at breakneck speed during the opening days of the special legislative session to pass all of Gov. Greg Abbott's agenda items. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, in a highly unusual move, called a meeting of the Senate at 12:01 a.m. Thursday to pass legislation that would keep alive several state agencies, the Abbott-ordered precondition for considering other measures. After passing the bills, the Senate referred other bills to committees for debate starting Friday and continuing into the weekend. We've compiled a list of upcoming committee hearings in which the public can testify about proposed laws.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

The private world of T. Boone Pickens: Get an exclusive look at oil magnate's massive Panhandle ranch

By 8 a.m., T. Boone Pickens has finished his cereal on the screened-in porch at the Mesa Vista Ranch. He looks out at the parklike setting that surrounds the 23,000-square-foot main house in this remote corner of the Panhandle. For those who think of Pickens as a Bick Benedict oil giant, the scene is a revelation. “I laugh at myself in a cowboy hat,” he says. At the office and at the ranch, he wears sneakers and a country club sweater. The house is called the lodge and it sits in the middle of acres of manicured fescue grass, shaded by hundreds of trees -- cottonwoods, pear oaks, native hackberries and Pickens’ favorite, sycamores.

San Antonio Express News - July 20, 2017

Incumbents stock up on cash in advance of expected court decision

The guitar-shaped congressional district held by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, known as one of the most gerrymandered districts in America, appears destined to change again after the recent trial in U.S. District Court in San Antonio testing the constitutionality of GOP-drawn boundaries in Texas. No matter what happens, Doggett, D-San Antonio, is buoyed by a campaign fund that has grown to an imposing $3.7 million, the largest of any Texan in the House, according to new campaign disclosure filings with the Federal Election Commission. Likewise, Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, reported nearly $2.2 million cash on hand, insurance against challengers from either major party if the boundaries of his district change.

San Antonio Express News - July 19, 2017

Chasnoff: Abbott: ‘Freedom’ means obey

Gov. Greg Abbott is so well acquainted with freedom, he even knows what it smells like. “Once you cross the Travis County line, it starts smelling different,” he said last month. “And you know what that fragrance is? Freedom. It’s the smell of freedom that does not exist in Austin, Texas.” I’m not sure what Abbott was smelling — horse manure, maybe? — but since he made that observation, it has become clear that the governor’s idea of freedom is more akin to slavery. To Abbott, “freedom” means to obey, whether you’re a local elected official or a fellow Republican.

San Antonio Express News - July 20, 2017

Trump supporter threatened Cruz, sources say

A death threat left on the voicemail of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has led to the arrest of a Universal City man. The official allegedly targeted by James Amos Headley, 59, is not identified in court records, other than by the initials T.C., and prosecutors and the FBI won’t name him. The Express-News confirmed it is Cruz through other sources. “Pretty soon you’re gonna be runnin for your life, just hope your family is not with ya because I'm not gonna insult them, I'm gonna kill them, right after I shoot you right in front of them...” court documents quote Headley as saying in a July 11 voicemail left at the official’s office at the U.S. Capitol.

Texas Observer - July 19, 2017

Texas Bill Would Revoke Medical Licenses of Doctors Who Perform Abortions

A bill filed in the Texas Legislature’s special session would revoke the licenses of doctors who perform abortions in the state, with limited exceptions. The measure, filed by far-right Representative Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, would expand the “prohibited practices” that result in a physician’s license being revoked, a category that already includes several abortion-related measures. Under House Bill 86, almost all abortions would be prohibited, with very narrow exceptions for the health of the woman and fetus: when necessary to save the life of the woman or prevent “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, other than a psychological condition,” or when the procedure is necessary to ensure the viability of another fetus she’s carrying.

Austin Business Journal - July 20, 2017

Central Texas bankruptcies on rise; Filings littered with individual medical debt, oil and gas failures

Bankruptcies are trending upward in Austin and across Texas for the first time since the end of the Great Recession. It’s yet another economic indicator that shows the state’s economy isn’t as robust as it has been during the past couple of years. The Austin Business Journal has been chronicling a slowdown in the region's economic growth since late last year. According to a fresh ABJ analysis of data compiled by the American Bankruptcy Institute, the 12-month rolling average of the number of bankruptcies filed per month at the Austin-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Texas increased year-over-year by 5.1 percent in June to 670 per month. The 12-month rolling average of bankruptcies filed in Austin has been rising since January 2017, when this trend line rose into the positive for the first time since November 2010.

Texas Observer - July 20, 2017

Trump DOJ: Trust Texas to Fix Racist Voter ID Law Without Court Oversight

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) waged legal war against the voter ID rules Texas lawmakers passed in 2011, saying the new restrictions would disproportionately impact minority voters. That finding was later validated by multiple federal court rulings, two of which concluded the state’s GOP majority passed a deliberately racist bill. This week brought another sign of the 180-degree change on voting rights cases under the Trump administration’s DOJ, which on Monday filed a legal brief that argues Texas should be allowed to fix its voter ID rules without federal intervention or oversight. The filing also argues that the courts should simply trust Texas to educate voters on the tweaked voter ID law the Legislature passed earlier this year, despite the state’s faceplant trial run when it tried to implement those rules during last year’s presidential election.

Houston Press - July 20, 2017

The Theme of the Special Session Is Governor Abbott vs. Urban Mayors

As Texas's big blue islands jutting out in the rural and suburban seas of red have only grown more pronounced, their relationship with state GOP leaders has only grown more strained — but perhaps that has not been more obviously on display than in the past few months, weeks and even days. We're three days into the special legislative session, and already 18 mayors, including Houston's Sylvester Turner, have sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott asking to set up a meeting ASAP. On Monday, Abbott unloaded on local government, saying many cities had become too "California-like" — Abbott's preferred insult — and that they were infringing on their citizens' freedoms and needed to be reeled in. He might as well have been talking about President Barack Obama or the Environmental Protection Agency, as suing the federal government for infringing on states' freedoms was among his favorite hobbies as attorney general.

Texas Monthly - July 20, 2017

Ahmed, Iscoe, Ortiz, Soto, Travis: Vox Populi at the Legislature

As the special session of the Texas Legislature opened on Tuesday, lawmakers engaged in the posturing and positioning that will affect future debates on issues such as whether cities can regulate the removal of trees on private property or whether school districts will be allowed to accommodate the bathroom and changing room needs of transgender students without having to force them to use a facility of their birth gender. (Conservatives say teenage girls should not have to share a bathroom with someone who was born as a boy.) But around the building, there were citizens who were moved to come to the Capitol, mostly to show displeasure with these measures and continuing angst over Senate Bill 4, the sanctuary cities bill designed to punish local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities in deporting individuals charged with a crime, including misdemeanors. To get a better feel for the vox populi of these protestors, we dispatched to the Capitol the Texas Monthly summer interns: Amal Ahmed of Plano, Adam Iscoe of Austin, Omar Rodríguez Ortiz of Puerto Rico, Sutton Travis of Carthage, and Isabella Soto of McAllen. They tackled the task with enthusiasm and heart. Here is what they saw.

Washington Post - July 20, 2017

Texas Senate aiming to move divisive bills at breakneck pace

The Texas Senate staged an unusual midnight floor session Thursday as conservatives who dominate the chamber rushed to revive abortion restrictions, school vouchers and a “bathroom bill” targeting transgender people before opponents have time to mobilize against them. Senators passed bills allowing the Texas Medical Board and other state agencies to continue operating during the opening moments of just the third day of its month-long special legislative session. “It’s a hurry because we have 30 days and 20 bills,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a former conservative talk radio host who oversees the Senate, told reporters. He even brought pizzas for his colleagues before work began around 12:15 a.m.

Austin Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Will Federal Judges Be Able to Fix Texas Voting Rights Before 2018 Elections?

While Texas lawmakers dive into a encore legislative session at the capitol this month, a few high-ranking federal judges are quietly weighing whether or not the legislature intentionally passed laws that discriminate against minorities. These decisions are based on two separate, long-brewing cases, both rooted in Texas election laws, both rushing to wrap up before the looming 2018 election cycle, and both guaranteed to significantly shake up national politics. The first legal battle began in 2011, when the Texas Legislature drafted new state and congressional districts to keep up with the quickly-expanding population.

KUOW - July 19, 2017

Could Texas Democrats Thwart The Special Session By Breaking Quorum And Skipping Town?

Back in 2003, when the hot-button issue was partisan congressional redistricting by majority Republicans in the House, Democrats did break quorum by not only staying away from the Capitol, but by leaving the state. It didn't work, but their flight to a hotel in Oklahoma earned them national news coverage, and a nickname: the "Killer Ds." Hugh Brady helped direct the Democrats' strategy in 2003, and is now the director of the Legislative Lawyering Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Brady says the Democratic House members left Austin in 2003 to call attention to Republican efforts to draw new congressional maps that favored their party. The maps had been recently redrawn in 2001, following the standard practice of coinciding with the latest Census. "The Democrats were standing up for the people who voted for their congressman," Brady says. "Even though the statewide vote may have been a certain average ... the Democrats thought that the voters ought to be respected."

The Eagle - July 19, 2017

Texas A&M outgoing Provost and Executive Vice President Karan Watson removed from position after internal audit

Texas A&M’s outgoing Provost and Executive Vice President Karan Watson has been removed from her position after an internal audit found significant conflict of interest issues tied to business dealings her spouse had with the university, according to documents obtained by The Eagle. The investigation is likely to trigger sweeping changes throughout A&M System universities and agencies by prohibiting spouses and close family members of senior administrators from doing business with the System.

Washington Post - July 20, 2017

Texas now has zero staff political cartoonists, as Houston Chronicle fires Pulitzer winner

IT’S COME to this: Texas, the second largest state in the union — and the home of so many historically colorful political voices — lacks a single staff editorial cartoonist. Nick Anderson, the veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle, got word last week that his position had been eliminated. Which raises the question: Why part ways with one of your most prominent political voices? “The odds caught up with me,” Anderson wrote last week on Facebook, speaking to the decades-long thinning out of America’s staff-cartooning ranks. “Ironically, thanks to social media, my cartoons are seen more widely than ever.”

KUT - July 19, 2017

Texas Programs To Prevent Teen Pregnancy Scramble After Federal Funding Cut

The Trump administration cut more than $200 million from teen pregnancy prevention programs and research across the country last week. It was a surprise to a lot of people on the receiving end of those grants – including many here in Texas, where teen pregnancy is a big problem. “Texas has the highest number of teen parents than any other state. We are the fifth highest rate of teen pregnancies," said Dr. Gwen Daverth, CEO and president of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "And we, as a state, do very little to prevent it in terms of funding.” Texas also takes the No. 1 spot for repeat teen pregnancies.

Texas Tribune - July 19, 2017

New: Unintended pregnancies in Texas are not at crisis level

Texas has seen some important abortion policy changes in recent years. The Texas Legislature voted to remove Planned Parenthood from the state family planning program in 2011. Additionally, after new abortion clinic regulations were signed into law in 2013, a significant number of abortion facilities in Texas closed. Texas is a good state to study these policy changes. After all, Texas has a large population of women of childbearing age that is both ethnically and economically diverse. Furthermore, the Texas Department of State Health Services does a good job providing detailed health statistics by region. Unfortunately, most of the published research thus far has produced far more heat than light. The mainstream media and liberal advocacy groups, attempting to discredit pro-life efforts elsewhere, have argued that these new pro-life policies have led to a public health crisis in Texas. If one believes the mainstream media, unintended pregnancies, Medicaid births and teen abortions have all increased in Texas since 2011.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Harris County grand juror: How I became a 'rubber-stamp artist'

Between 2012 and 2016, the cases of more than 200 police officers who shot people in the line of duty came before grand juries in Harris County. None were indicted. Mimi Swartz, a Houston-based author and an executive editor at Texas Monthly, writes in Thursday's New York Times about her tenure as a Harris County grand juror in 2013, that began with a jail tour, a demonstration by the county the K-9 unit and a shoot/don't shoot simulation that amounted to "an exercise in indoctrination." She describes the intended result: We duly became rubber-stamp artists. And I might have continued to indict away on autopilot if it hadn't been for two fellow jurors: a young black lawyer and a white former judge. As cases came and went, I couldn't help noticing that their questions seemed to annoy the prosecutors: They were gumming up the works.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Sheriff’s office: ICE did ask it to reconsider releasing deportee

The Travis County sheriff’s office on Thursday confirmed that it had received an email from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in June, asking that it reconsider denying a request to detain a known gang member and four-time deportee who was released hours later. The sheriff’s office initially told the American-Statesman on Wednesday it had no record of such communication after ICE announced that 33-year-old Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero had been arrested on July 14, about a month after he was freed from the Travis County Jail.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Waco Veterans Affairs office denies 92% of Gulf War claims

Department of Veterans Affairs benefits officials in Waco have denied a whopping 92 percent of claims related to Gulf War illness, giving Central Texas veterans one of the highest denial rates in the nation, according to data in a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report. The report found serious and persistent problems with how the VA handles the complicated Gulf War benefits claims, ranging from poorly trained examiners to inconsistent methods of handling claims in different regions of the country. For example, in the continental United States denial rates ranged from 47 percent in Boston to 95 percent in Roanoke, Va., according to an analysis by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense.

Houston Press - July 19, 2017

Paddling to be allowed at Three Rivers ISD

Three Rivers ISD administrators are going shopping for a paddle. As part of a new policy approved by the board Tuesday, the paddle, likely to be wood, will be used to administer corporal punishment when a student misbehaves at school. Corporal punishment is defined as the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Houston gets nearly $2M to prepare for complex terrorist attacks

Homeland security agencies across Texas have won more than $5 million in federal grants to prepare for complex terrorist attacks like the November 2015 strike in Paris where several independent teams target multiple locations. Houston announced Thursday that it won a three-year, $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for system analysis and training. The grant is meant to catalyze more investment in such preparations, DHS said in a statement earlier this month. The city's director of homeland security explained that Houston is one of the six American cities that DHS says is at highest risk for a terrorist attack.

Dallas Morning News - July 21, 2017

Panels being investigated in deadly London tower fire also used at DFW Airport

Aluminum panels being investigated by British authorities in connection with the Grenfell Tower fire that killed at least 80 people last month have also been used in buildings across the United States, including at DFW International Airport’s Terminal D. An Associated Press investigation released Thursday found that the panels, also known as cladding, are believed to have been used in buildings across the United States, including a Baltimore hotel, a Cleveland football stadium and an Alaskan High School. Technically known as Reynobond composite material with a polyethylene core, the material is used as an accent for buildings and also helps improve energy efficiency. But the panels aren’t recommended for use on high-rise buildings because of their combustibility.

National Stories

Politico - July 20, 2017

Judge declines to remove block on Trump sanctuary cities order

A federal judge in California has denied a request by the Trump administration to remove an injunction halting President Donald Trump's executive order on so-called sanctuary cities from being implemented. The move further thwarts the Trump White House's attempt to effectively penalize cities providing safe haven to undocumented immigrants by threatening to strip them of federal funding. On Thursday U.S. District Judge William Orrick III in San Francisco moved to decline a request by the Justice Department to reconsider whether a memo by Attorney General Jeff Sessions narrowed the scope of Trump's executive action and lifted the need for an injunction. The judge said the narrower interpretation released by Sessions did not alter the court's initial April decision to impose the block.

Politico - July 20, 2017

How Democrats Won the Health Care War

The mover on health care loses,” Democratic operative James Carville said in January. “To do something is to lose.” That cold-hearted political proverb has been repeatedly proven true, if the standard is short-term electoral gain. In terms of policy, it’s another story. Now that Obamacare repeal has fizzled, Democrats have officially won the eight-year health care war. The victory was not by default. Trump might look silly blaming Democrats for the failure of repeal and replace when Republicans control all branches of government, but united Democratic resistance was critical to keeping the Affordable Care Act as law. Without a single Democrat in Congress breaking ranks, the ideologically divided Republican caucus found it impossible to stitch together a majority for a functional alternative to the status quo.

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

Kay Bailey Hutchison vows toughness on Russia as NATO ambassador

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison testified on Thursday that she would take a tough stance on Russia if she is confirmed as the new ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "We are beefing up defenses for an aggressive Russia," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she supports lawmakers considering new sanctions on Russian in response to its cyberattacks at home and abroad. "I think that Congress is doing the right thing." Hutchison's comments were striking given that the man who nominated her to the NATO post — President Donald Trump — continues to cultivate an oddly close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Several senators, including Democrats, said Thursday they found Hutchison's positions reassuring, and they were anything but adversarial in their questioning of her.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Professors from UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas join forces to fight fake news

Incensed by what he thought was a pedophilia ring headquartered in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant, a 28-year-old man opened fire inside Comet Ping Pong Pizza last year, sending employees and customers scrambling for cover. The shooting was real, but the sex ring — supposedly overseen by 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — was not. Instead, it was propaganda passed off as authentic through social media feeds and right-wing websites. No one was hurt in the Dec. 4 shooting, and the suspect was sentenced in June to four years in prison. Because of incidents like that one, a group of college instructors in North Texas believes combating fake news is a matter of national security. They're working on a proposal that would use technology to help root out false claims in the news.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Trump administration study boosts Cruz health care idea, but policy experts are skeptical

In a whirlwind week that has seen the GOP's Obamacare overhaul on the brink of collapse, Sen. Ted Cruz has maintained that "failure is not an option." And the Texas Republican is projecting continued confidence in part because of a new study by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department that says his divisive idea to allow insurers to sell bare-bones, low-cost policies would decrease premiums and increase enrollment. "That shows exactly what we've been saying for a long time: The way you lower premiums is through competition, through market forces, through giving consumers the freedom to choose their own health care," Cruz told reporters this week.

The New American - July 19, 2017

Homeland Security Tasks Army Corps of Engineers to Test Types of Border Walls

David Lapan, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told members of the press on July 18 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is now conducting tests in the Southwest to determine the best type of border wall to be built along each section of the U.S.-Mexican border. A report in the New York Times noted that Lapan told reporters that USACE technicians are conducting the tests in Santa Teresa, New Mexico; San Diego, California; and in the Rio Grande Valley. Testing in El Paso, Texas and Calexico, California has been completed. The Times reported that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the parent agency of the Border Patrol, is continuing to evaluate dozens of proposals that have been submitted by vendors for designs for the border wall.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Trump wants to know if he has power to pardon himself, family, aides

Some of President Donald Trump's lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president's authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort. Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump's lawyers have been discussing the president's pardoning powers among themselves. Trump's legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller's investigation.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Revised version of withdrawn health-care bill would still leave 22 million more Americans uninsured, CBO says

In their latest assessment of Senate Republican's attempts to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, congressional budget analysts say a plan that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pulled from consideration this week would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 22 million a decade from now - the same as a previous version. The CBO forecast issued early Thursday afternoon looked at a rejiggered iteration of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which Senate GOP leaders unveiled a week ago in a so-far unsuccessful attempt to win enough support from the chamber's Republican majority.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Harris, Paul introduce bill aimed at replacing cash bail systems

Two U.S. Senators introduced a bill Thursday aimed at reducing the use of money bail to hold people behind bars ahead of their trials, a practice the lawmakers said runs contrary to the U.S. justice system's "promise" to treat people equally before the law. The bipartisan measure, introduced by Senators Kamala Harris, D-California, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, would create a $10 million grant for state or local governments to replace or reform systems that require money bail. The senators said the practice disproportionately impacts the poor and communities of color and lets high-risk criminals walk free ahead of trial if they have means.

The Nation - July 18, 2017

Nichols: ALEC Is Talking About Changing the Way Senators Are Elected and Taking Away Your Vote

The United States Senate is an undemocratic institution. Just do the math: Progressive California Senator Kamala Harris was elected in 2016 with 7,542,753 votes. Yet her vote on issues such as health-care reform counts for no more than that of conservative Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, who was elected in 2014 with 121,554 votes. This is an absurd imbalance. In fact, the only thing that would make it more absurd would be if voters were removed from the equation altogether. Say “hello” to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the corporate-funded project to impose a top-down right-wing agenda on the states. ALEC is considering whether to adopt a new piece of “model legislation” that proposes to do away with an elected Senate.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Hutchison gets warm welcome at Senate confirmation hearing

It was a coming home Thursday for former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who was received by her one-time Senate colleagues as a rock star, or at least the diplomatic version of one, as they considered her nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Hutchison, who was once described by late Austin writer Molly Ivins as having a “nigh-flawless combination of saccharine and steel” was the best known of the five ambassadorial nominees being questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Associated Press - July 20, 2017

AP-NORC Poll: Shift to political left seen on health care

Americans were never too thrilled with “Obamacare” and they definitely disapprove of Republican alternatives in Congress, so what does the public want to do on health care? A new poll suggests the country may be shifting left on this core issue, with 62 percent saying it’s the federal government’s responsibility to make sure that all Americans have health care coverage, while 37 percent say it is not. The survey findings from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicate a change in public attitudes over the past few months, as concerns mounted about GOP legislation estimated to leave tens of millions without coverage. ... As recently as March, the AP-NORC poll had found Americans more ambivalent about the federal government’s role, with a slim 52 percent majority saying health coverage is a federal responsibility, and 47 percent saying it is not.

Minneapolis Star Tribune - July 20, 2017

Homeland security secretary says ports a terrorism priority

Security at shipping ports around the U.S., including testing containers and vessels for biological and radiological hazards, is a top priority to preventing terrorism, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Thursday. As he rode aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Aspen, near the Port of Los Angeles, Kelly viewed an array of new equipment used to test for radiation and biological threats. "The threat always changes, so we always have to be on top of that," Kelly said as the vessel cruised through the Pacific Ocean off Southern California.

Washington Post - July 21, 2017

Bump: Can Trump pardon anyone? Himself? Can he fire Mueller? Your questions, answered.

On Thursday night, The Washington Post reported that the White House is actively exploring how to undercut the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any ways in which that meddling may have been conducted in concert with people working for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Among the things apparently being investigated by the administration are the boundaries of the president’s pardon power, including whether it extends to him. Additionally, a Republican who’s talked to administration officials told The Post that the White House hopes to begin “laying the groundwork to fire” Robert Mueller, the former FBI director tasked with the investigation. The president’s ability to do those things are questions which we’ve explored ourselves over the past few months, given the large type-size of the writing on the wall.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Ex Houston Congressman Bill Archer testifies for GOP tax reform plan

Former Texas U.S. Rep. Bill Archer, who represented Houston in Congress for 30 years, returned to Capitol Wednesday to champion GOP tax reform efforts led by Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of The Woodlands. Archer, 89, who chaired the committee from 1995 to 2001, praised the Republican tax reform blueprint as "courageous," though he largely steered clear of a proposed border adjustment tax that has divided Republicans and various business groups. Archer acknowledged the barriers confronting the GOP tax reform agenda, which includes cuts in corporate and individual tax rates, while at the same time clearing out decades of accumulated deductions that have complicated the tax code.

The New Yorker - July 19, 2017

Poll: Overwhelming Majority Of Americans Fear A Major New War

Non-stop smaller wars, and officials always playing up the risk of bigger wars to get bigger military budgets have always had Americans worried about a new major war being on the horizon, but the latest NBC/SurveyMonkey poll shows that such fears have been growing dramatically in recent months. This new poll showed an overwhelming majority, 76% of Americans, are now worried that the US will get drawn into a new “major war” in the next four years. This is an increase of 10% over the last time the question was asked, in mid-February. As far as who the US might get into that major war with, the plurality went to North Korea, with 41% of Americans believing that the isolated nation is the “greatest immediate threat” to the US. ISIS was second at 28%, Russia at 18%, with China and Iran rounding out the top 5.

Washington Post - July 20, 2017

Do military veterans really win more elections? Only in ‘purple’ districts.

If the Democratic Party retakes the House of Representatives in 2018, it may owe its success to military veterans’ candidacies. That, at least, is the perspective emerging from news reporting in recent weeks. This month, a story in the New York Times reported on 20 Democratic military veterans hoping to unseat Republicans in next year’s midterm elections, writing that party leaders believe that “candidates with a military pedigree [are] an appealing contrast to entrenched, career politicians.” This week, the San Antonio Express-News suggested much the same thing. Democrats’ hopes appear based on the conventional wisdom that veterans tend to do better than candidates without military experience. But research suggests that any boost veterans may bring the Democrats will depend on where they run. And it is probably only in the most competitive congressional districts that being a veteran could be the difference between winning and losing.

Los Angeles Times - July 20, 2017

Americans are paying more attention to politics, and finding it stressful

Americans are paying more attention to politics since Donald Trump's election, but many find the experience a stressful one, according to new data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Just over half of those surveyed by Pew said they were paying more attention to politics since Trump’s victory; only about one in eight said they were paying less attention, and one-third said their level of attention had not changed. Women were especially likely to say they were paying more attention to politics, with about six in ten saying so, compared with just under half of men. About one in six Americans said they had attended a political event since the election, with most of those saying the events were opposed to Trump or his policies.

Texas Public Radio - July 18, 2017

As Cities Raise Minimum Wages, Many States Are Rolling Them Back

State legislatures and city halls are battling over who gets to set the minimum wage, and increasingly, the states are winning. After dozens of city and county governments voted to raise their local minimum wage ordinances in the last several years, states have been responding by passing laws requiring cities to abide by statewide minimums. So far, 27 states have passed such laws. The latest example of this is in Missouri, where a state law will take effect next month, rolling back St. Louis' $10-an-hour minimum wage ordinance passed earlier this year. That means thousands of minimum-wage earners in the city could go back to earning the state rate of $7.70 an hour.

New York Times - July 20, 2017

Phillips: The Democratic Party’s Billion-Dollar Mistake

The Democratic Party is at risk of repeating the billion-dollar blunder that helped create its devastating losses of 2016. With its obsessive focus on wooing voters who supported Donald Trump, it is neglecting the cornerstone of its coalition and failing to take the steps necessary to win back the House of Representatives and state houses in 2018. In the 2016 election, the Democratic Party committees that support Senate and House candidates and allied progressive organizations spent more than $1.8 billion. The effectiveness of that staggering amount of money, however, was undermined by a strategic error: prioritizing the pursuit of wavering whites over investing in and inspiring African-American voters, who made up 24 percent of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2012.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Huetteman: The 3 Republican women who doomed a Senate repeal of the health law

It was men who started it. It may be women who finished it. The Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a process that began with 13 Republican men drafting a plan behind closed doors, collapsed Tuesday, as three Republicans said they would not support an ultimately futile attempt to simply roll back the current health care law without a replacement. Though all three are women, their objections have little to do with their sex and more to do with the legislation’s cuts to Medicaid. In a twist, that aligns them with President Donald Trump’s campaign promise not to touch Medicaid, which helps low-income people, pregnant women and people with disabilities, among others, as well as those eligible under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of the program in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Oil majors lobby for changes on Russian sanctions bill

The world's largest oil and gas companies are urging Congress to make changes to legislation expanding sanctions against Russia and Iran. A provision within the bill that would prohibit American companies from engaging in energy projects in which Russian firms are also engaged - whether the project is in Russia or not - has oil and gas companies protesting it could affect critical drilling and pipeline projects all over the globe. "The concerns have resonated with some members of Congress and there are efforts underway to change some elements of the bill," Jeffrey Turner, an attorney with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, said at an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington Wednesday.

The Hill - July 20, 2017

Dems see huge field emerging to take on Trump

Democrats are expecting one of their party’s biggest fields in history will battle to take on President Trump in the 2020 election. They say Trump’s low approval ratings, his lack of legislative accomplishments and the lingering controversy surrounding multiple investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 race have a number of Democrats positioning themselves for a White House run. “So long as Trump is hanging around [with approval ratings] in the 40s, potential challengers will be attracted like moths to a flame,” said David Wade, a Democratic strategist who served as a top aide to former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in his 2004 presidential run.

Washington Examiner - July 19, 2017

ICE chief: 80% jump in illegal targets, readies national 'sanctuary' crackdown

Empowered by a president who has "taken the handcuffs off of law enforcement," the nation's chief immigration official revealed Tuesday that deportation targets have surged and that he's planning to deploy more agents and resources to "sanctuary cities" to arrest illegal criminals. Thomas D. Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview that since Trump entered office, illegal border crossings have crashed by almost 70 percent, "an historic low," arrests inside the country have jumped 40 percent and that demands for illegal criminals in local jails has skyrocketed 80 percent.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

McArdle: Both parties are responsible for this health care mess

For months, I've been watching in a sort of wonder as Republicans crafted the most unpopular major bill in living memory. Could they really mean to make a suicide charge at this — not some longstanding Republican goal, like dismantling the welfare state or slashing through the regulatory thicket, but pushing a sly parody of Obamacare even less likable than its awkward source material? When Republicans explained how this would actually be a strong campaign strategy for 2018, I had astonished flashbacks to Democrats saying the same thing in 2010 and wondered when it was that people in Washington started believing their own press releases. Were we really due for the Republican version of the 2010 Democratic lemming run?

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Ted Cruz backs American Airlines and other carriers in dispute with Gulf rivals

Sen. Ted Cruz is looking to give a bit of lift to Fort Worth-based American Airlines and other major carriers in a high-stakes dispute with international rivals. The Texas Republican this week urged the Trump administration to take action on the big airlines' longstanding complaint that three state-owned carriers in the Middle East are using subsidies from their home countries to box out the competition. He blasted the foreign carriers for "blatant disregard" of what are known as open skies agreements.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

DMN: His legacy at stake, Sen. John Cornyn should show leadership on health care

Now is the time for Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to become the leader his state and nation need him to be. He should tap into his own history of bipartisanship and urge his Senate colleagues to work with Democrats to fix America's ailing healthcare law, an approach both he and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have used before with great success. As things stand, the plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that McConnell spent weeks writing in secret does not have sufficient votes to pass. So, a new course is needed. But the GOP appears set to choose a course that courts disaster. McConnell has promised a vote on simply repealing the Affordable Care Act. Some 32 million Americans would lose their insurance by 2026 if this were to become law.

All - July 20, 2017

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Gov. Abbott launches media blitz to ride herd on special session

Gov. Greg Abbott Wednesday launched a blitz of some 60 radio and TV appearances planned through next week to promote his bid for a second term, which he announced Friday, and to ride herd on the special legislative session that got underway Tuesday. Abbott has promised a running public accounting of who’s with him and who’s against him on the 20 items on his special session agenda, and he told Scott DeLucia on WTAW-AM in College Station that the first of what DeLucia called his “naughty and nice” lists should come by week’s end. That will probably focus on gold stars for those legislators who authored or co-sponsored legislation on Abbott’s priorities.

Texas Monthly - July 18, 2017

If Your School Property Taxes Are Too High for the Next Two Years, Thank Abbott and Patrick

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is making a compelling argument that the state needs an income tax. With a PowerPoint presentation at hand, Patrick opened this week by demonstrating to about two hundred people at a pre-special session conference of the Texas Public Policy Foundation that under the state’s current tax structure there is no money available for an expensive fix to the public school finance system and the high local property taxes that pay for the lion’s share of it. The state spent what it had on the current two-year budget, he said. “That’s all there is folks,” Patrick said. “There is no more money.” Patrick, of course, is not advocating for an income tax. He opposes a state income tax. But Patrick was using it as a specter to haunt House Speaker Joe Straus, who wants to tackle the thorny issue of public school finance while figuring out how to pay down local property taxes. “I believe there is a movement within our own party, led by the speaker, who wants to pass a personal income tax and billions and billions of dollars to increase spending,” Patrick said.

Washington Post - July 19, 2017

John McCain, Republican senator from Arizona, diagnosed with brain tumor

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, his office said Wednesday, throwing into doubt when and if he will return to Washington to resume his duties in the Senate. The Mayo Clinic said doctors diagnosed a tumor called a glioblastoma after surgery to remove a blood clot above McCain’s left eye last week. The senator and his family are considering treatment options, including a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, according to the hospital. McCain, 80, has been away from the Senate this week, recovering from the surgery and undergoing tests. His office issued a statement describing him “in good spirits” and noting that his doctors say his underlying health is excellent — but not indicating when he will return to the Senate.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Patrick shifting special legislative session into high gear

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick kicked the special session of the Texas Legislature into overdrive Wednesday, rolling out a breakneck schedule that could have the so-called bathroom bill, new abortion restrictions, and restraints on city and county governments all on the floor for a vote as early as Sunday night. To accomplish that, Patrick, a Houston area Republican, pulled senators back to the Capitol for a little midnight madness early Thursday to pass a bill to reauthorize the Texas Medical Board and keep the regulatory agency in business through 2019. That bill, considered the one must-pass bill of the session, cleared the Senate at 12:32 a.m. by a 31-0 vote. Patrick said if everything goes as planned, he will have all 20 ultra-conservative priorities outlined by Abbott for the special session through the Senate by the end of next week.

Denton Record Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Denton Record Chronicle: Time to fix state Democratic Party

Someone needs to reinvent the Democratic Party of Texas. Maybe that someone is Dallas billionaire and television personality Mark Cuban, who floats periodic trial balloons about running for president as a Democrat in 2020. Maybe Cuban should stay home and rescue the state Democratic Party from obscurity. We hear that Democrats are having trouble fielding a good candidate for governor against Greg Abbott. Perhaps Cuban and his money could give Abbott some stiff competition next year. We were taught in school that two political parties competing against each other is a good thing. Competition between Ford and Chevrolet spawns innovation and creativity. The same is true in sports.

New York Times - July 19, 2017

Citing Recusal, Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Sessions

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.” In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’s decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Kay Bailey Hutchison to appear before Senate committee on NATO appointment

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is scheduled to appear Thursday morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing regarding her selection as President Donald Trump's ambassador to NATO. Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz plan to introduce the 73-year-old Hutchison, who is coming out of political retirement after three terms in the Senate. Political observers will be watching to see how Hutchinson, the most senior female Republican senator by the end of her tenure, will navigate Trump's well-known insistence on absolute loyalty.

The Hill - July 19, 2017

Conservatives target Congress, not Trump, after healthcare collapse

Conservatives are lashing out at the Republican-controlled Congress over the lack of progress on President Trump’s agenda. One by one, conservative groups lined up to blame Congress — not the president — for the collapse of Senate Republicans’ effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare. “It’s shocking the amount of pushback he’s getting from his own party,” said Carl Higbie, a former spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America PAC. “It’s time to primary some of these longstanding congressional leaders that can’t get the job done.”

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Partisanship threatens efforts to solve mail-in voter fraud in Texas

Just mention voter fraud to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and you'll see a twinkle in his eyes. The shenanigans in West Dallas and Grand Prairie involving the illegal manipulation of the mail-in ballot system has given Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton a way to argue the need for draconian measures to fight voter fraud. Democrats are partially to blame. Many elected leaders looked the other way when it was obvious something was amiss with mail-in ballot programs in Democratic Party strongholds. And they criticized members of their own party who dared to speak out, like former state Rep. Steve Wolens, who more than a decade ago was instrumental in pushing through election law changes to curb mail-in ballot abuse.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

After passing sunset bills in midnight meeting, Senate clear to push forward with rest of special session agenda

The Texas Senate met at midnight Thursday, at the behest of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to approve the must-pass sunset bills — a prerequisite to debating the rest of the items on the agenda for the special legislative session. Shortly after the Senate gave the sunset bills final approval, Gov. Greg Abbott expanded his call to allow lawmakers to tackle the remaining 19 issues, largely conservative ones that Patrick supports. "With the passage of this legislation in the Texas Senate, as promised, I'm immediately adding all the remaining items on my special session agenda," Abbott said in a prepared statement released at 1:10 a.m. "I look forward to continuing to work with both the Senate and House to get legislation on all these items to my desk."

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Giddings: Why is emergency special session ignoring Texas' student debt crisis?

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott called a special legislative session, declaring, "If I'm going to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a special session, I intend to make it count." He proceeded to lay out 19 items for our consideration, including a new "bathroom bill" to regulate local school district policies, a "revenue cap" to regulate local municipalities, and new abortion reporting burdens to regulate local hospitals. The governor can call us back to work for any time or any reason. He is fully empowered to set the agenda for debate. However, special sessions should be called when there is a pressing need facing Texas families. Because we are operating on the taxpayer's dime, we should be focused on the urgent problems of our state.

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

New firm to finance $100 million in Texas residential development

A new Dallas company plans to loan up to $100 million to builders and developers to construct more housing lots. PMB Capital said Wednesday that its subsidiary plans to finance up to 80 percent of the cost of residential land developments in major Texas markets with its PMB Lending firm. Homebuilders have said that a shortage of well-located, affordable building sites is keeping them from providing enough new housing in North Texas. "The major markets in Texas have a dramatic shortage of single family residential lots that need to be addressed," Matt Mildren, Partner at PMB Capital, said in a statement. "PMB Lending will allow us to work with many qualified developers and builders to provide capital to help address the shortage in available finished lots."

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

DMN: Texas leads the way in setting limits on prosecutors' use of jailhouse snitches

The jailhouse snitch is a stock character in the courtroom dramas we all know and love, the last-minute surprise witness whose testimony stuns the jury and locks up the case. In real life, snitches sometimes lie. In real life, they can - and do - cost innocent people their freedom. To Texas' everlasting credit, it is about to become a national model for reducing the chances for "incentivized testimony," a polite term for paid snitching, to tip the scales in our state's courtrooms. A significant measure recently enacted by the Legislature establishes strict record-keeping guidelines for the use of jailhouse snitches in obtaining convictions: Who they are; what they told; what they got for telling.

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Texas senators will debate 'bathroom bill' on Friday morning

The so-called bathroom bill will get its first public hearing of the special session Friday. Texas senators are scheduled to debate legislation at 9 a.m. Depending on whether the House takes up the bathroom bill during the special session, this could be the only time for members of the public to weigh in on the controversial legislation. Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee, said she will allow members of the public to testify for two minutes each on the legislation. The bill has not been filed yet, so details of what it might do are a mystery.

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

DNC Chairman Tom Perez plots strategy with Texas Democrats

Organization and message. These are the principles that Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez hopes will revitalize his party and woo voters in next year's midterm elections. "Organize, organize, organize," Perez told The Dallas Morning News. "We need to articulate what we stand for. We're for a brighter future for people in every ZIP code." Perez is in Dallas on Wednesday as part of his "listening tour" in Texas. On Tuesday he was in Austin for the "resistance" rally progressives had at the Texas Capitol. Participants were also protesting the merits of the special legislative session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, which is highlighted by a push for legislation that would limit the bathroom transgender residents can use. Proponents call it a privacy bill, while critics say it discriminates against transgender people.

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Increasingly anti-business, Republicans have just about dismantled the Texas Miracle

The once mighty Texas Miracle is rapidly becoming the Texas Debacle. After years of leading the nation's job growth, Texas has now sunk near the bottom: 39th, to be exact. The Republican mantra of lower taxes and still-lower regulation has done nothing but disprove itself. Meanwhile, the Republicans that control state government have convened a special session with economic growth nowhere on the agenda — indeed, the opposite is true. The Republican Party has completed an astonishing metamorphosis: It is unabashedly anti-business. Not all that long ago, Texas was indeed a bit of a miracle, and that went on even after the rest of the country picked up a little economic steam. From 2007 to 2015, Texas created over 1.4 million jobs, more than the next six states combined.

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Abbott: Voter fraud is real, and we must stamp it out

Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process in Texas. The right to vote is sacred in this country. Ensuring the integrity of the ballot box is one of the most fundamental functions of government. We must do more to ensure that there is no illegal voting in Texas. Just last week, a Dallas County grand jury issued an indictment in an ongoing voter fraud investigation after 700 suspicious mail-in ballots were sequestered from the May city elections. One man has been arrested and charged with second-degree felony illegal voting.

San Antonio Express News - July 20, 2017

Midnight pizza helps Senate clear first special session hurdle

Gov. Greg Abbott formally added a host of contentious issues to the agenda of the special session after the Texas Senate, in a rare middle-of-the night meeting, approved crucial legislation to keep several state agencies open. Abbott was forced to call the special legislative session that began Tuesday because the must-pass sunset measure on state agencies died in the Senate in the regular session. He promised to add the other measures — including a bathroom bill, property tax reform and school vouchers — to the special-session agenda after the Senate approved the sunset legislation.

San Antonio Express News - July 20, 2017

After governor’s veto, CPS Energy steps in to fund ozone monitors

CPS Energy will take over the funding for six air quality monitors that were shut down last month after a budget veto by Gov. Greg Abbott. A contractor working for CPS will begin collecting ozone and weather data at the six stations in Bexar, Comal and Guadalupe counties, the utility announced in a news release late Wednesday. “Each and every day, we serve our community by providing electric and gas service, so providing a solution to something as important to our community as air quality makes perfect sense,” the city-owned utility’s president and CEO, Paula Gold-Williams, said in a prepared statement.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Austin lawmaker asks Abbott to explain militia group’s presence

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to explain why a private militia group appeared at a Saturday campaign stop in McAllen. Abbott, who’s running for reelection, visited with supporters but also drew protesters — some of whom were stunned when they noticed armed, camouflage-wearing members of the Texas State Militia. The group reportedly stood with local law enforcement and observed protestors. ... An Abbott spokesman told the American-Statesman there was no coordination between the militia and Abbott’s campaign. “Some protesters and members of the Texas State Militia were seen speaking casually, along with staff members from Gov. Abbott’s campaign,” according to the Rio Grande Guardian.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Herman: Texas Democrats’ special session quandary, fight or flight?

I don’t often take requests, but… A local House Democrat, perhaps perturbed by my Wednesday column about his party’s futility in slowing the special-session train engineered by Republicans, asked me if I, for once, could write something nice about the Democrats. Let’s find out. Bless their long-outgunned hearts, Democrats in the Texas Legislature are planning and thinking about what they can do in lieu of having the votes to do much of anything in either chamber. The first rule of Legislature Club is when you don’t have the votes, you turn to the rules.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Hpward: Amendment would make Texas shoulder more school funding

Upon receiving their property tax notices, Texas homeowners seem ready to channel Peter Finch in the 1976 movie “Network” by throwing open their windows and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But at whom should that ire be directed? Some wolves in sheep’s clothing at the Texas Capitol are pointing their fingers at your locally elected officials and pursuing legislation to tightly restrict cities. But don’t be fooled; it’s the wolves themselves who have driven up your property taxes. School district taxes make up more than half of your property tax bill. As your property value grows, your resulting tax bill increases — and we’ve certainly seen a dramatic rise in property values throughout the state.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Bohls: State’s bowl games are wary over potential Bathroom Bill fallout

While I got ya, here are nine things and one crazy prediction: 1. Cotton Bowl president/CEO Rick Baker is watching with great interest the deliberations in the Legislature over the pending Bathroom Bill that could cost the state millions in tourism with canceled events from out-of-state visitors and corporations. But his anxiety doesn’t raise to the level of concern that his bowl game could be stripped of its spot in the College Football Playoff rotation. “I don’t want to stick my head in the sand,” Baker told me during Big 12 media days. “But we haven’t thought that far ahead. We’re watching it.” If California sticks to its guns and prohibits any of its state-school football teams like UCLA, Cal-Berkeley and 2017 Texas opponent San Jose State from traveling and competing in states that have adopted what they consider discriminatory legislation, it could affect the Alamo Bowl, which pits a Pac-12 team against a Big 12 competitor.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Rodriguez: Paxton should consider the harm of ending DACA’s success

Last week marked a special moment in my life: On July 14, I celebrated 20 years in the United States — all as an undocumented immigrant. But for the last four years, I’ve been a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. Because of DACA, I have been protected from deportation and have had access to a work permit that has allowed me to begin my career and contribute to my community and the country I have long called home. Now, DACA is under attack. In 1997, my family moved from Veracruz, Mexico, to Salt Lake City, Utah. It was there where I received all of my education, beginning in first grade. I was able to pay for my undergraduate degree out of pocket through the hard work and support of my parents — and through jobs ranging from babysitting to making and selling tamales. I graduated from the University of Utah in 2013 without a penny of student-loan debt.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Gillespie County couple gives Abbott campaign $1 million

Michael and Mary Porter, a retired couple from the Hill Country hamlet of Doss, contributed $1 million to Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign at the end of June. Reached by phone Wednesday, Michael Porter said he was a humble rancher, that he and his wife are “very, very, very private people,” that they just like and support Abbott, “and there is really not much more to it than that.” He said he would release a short statement about his contribution, which for obvious reasons has drawn some interest, later in the day. The subsequent statement reads as follows: “My wife Mary and I care deeply about the future of Texas. We believe Governor Abbott has put forth a vision to keep Texas exceptional, and we wanted to do our part in supporting that effort.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Herman: The Texas Senate, while you were sleeping

Three things for which I don’t want to be in charge of explaining to the space monkeys when they arrive here from the planet Nipzor: 1. How come sometimes the guy who gets the second most votes gets to be president. 2. How Kansas beat Texas in football last season 3. Why, on the third day of a 30-day special legislative session, the Texas Senate convened at 12:08 a.m. Thursday. But there we were (or at least I was. You were sleeping or doing some other time-appropriate activity) for the just-after-midnight special session during which it took senators about 80 minutes to vote final approval to two sunset bills and set hearings starting Friday on the 19 other topics that Gov. Greg Abbott added at 12:43 a.m.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Travis Co. sheriff, ICE spar over how 4-time deportee was released

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez is disputing the details given by federal immigration officials who touted the arrest of a known Mexican gang member and four-time deportee and their claim that he was released from the Travis County Jail in June despite a request to detain him. Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero, 33, had been booked into the jail June 16 on a misdemeanor assault charge and a city ordinance violation, according to jail authorities. The same day, Mendoza-Caballero walked free on a personal recognizance bond, and remained free until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested him at an Austin home on July 14. ICE on Tuesday had said in a statement that the sheriff’s office had released Mendoza-Caballero, a “documented ‘Sureños 13’ Mexican gang member,” without notifying them, even though a request to keep him in jail, called a detainer, had been filed to keep him in custody.

Austin American-Statesman - July 20, 2017

Gov. Abbott expands special session after Senate’s midnight action

Voting shortly after midnight, the Texas Senate gave final approval to two “sunset” bills that will allow five state regulatory agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, to continue operating until 2019. After a short wait, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he had expanded the list of topics available to be considered in the 30-day special session that began Tuesday, including transgender bathrooms, changes to the property tax system, abortion regulations and limits on the regulatory powers of cities. Abbott’s proclamation, read aloud in the Senate, included no new items beyond those previously announced by the governor, although he did add a boost for the Teacher Retirement System to the school finance portion.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Abbott says no one will be arrested just for being in Texas illegally

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday in a pair of radio interviews that no one will be arrested under Senate Bill 4 simply for being in the country illegally. He also said that he will do his first public accounting of who’s with him and against him in the special session at the end of the week, that President Barack Obama is to blame for the need for a “bathroom bill,” and that unlike Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, he sees no evidence that House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, wants a state income tax. “I’m not ready to go there,” Abbott said in an interview with Scott DeLucia on WTAW-AM in College Station of Patrick’s repeated assertion that Straus’ support for more spending on public education means he wants a state income tax to pay for it. “I think if we all work together to get things done, we won’t go there.”

Texas Tribune - July 20, 2017

Here’s what Texans said about the Texas Legislature regulating bathrooms

While a showdown over Texas bathrooms has been years in the making, debate over the issue came to a head this spring during the state's regular legislative session — and is poised to reignite during the special session that started this week. During the regular session, several Republican lawmakers pushed measures that would restrict which bathrooms transgender Texans could use — stirring controversy among advocates, the business community and lawmakers. The most prominent proposal, Senate Bill 6 by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would have regulated bathroom use in government buildings and overridden ordinances in cities like Austin and San Antonio that allow people to use public bathrooms based on their gender identity.

Texas Tribune - July 19, 2017

Sarah Davis wants more information about "misconduct" at TABC

The head of a key House oversight committee is calling on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to hand over records detailing potential spending abuses and other “misconduct” that may have occurred. GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee, also wants records documenting the “full background” of the official who led a controversial enforcement action against Spec’s Wine, Spirits & Finer Foods, the state’s largest liquor retailer. In a letter dated Tuesday, the first day of the special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott, Davis asked for a list of all “outside organizations” TABC is involved in, a full accounting of travel reimbursements made by such groups, information on employees who have been certified as peace officers and the cost and scope of lawsuits in which the agency is involved.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Would OJ get paroled in Texas?

As the nation's eyes turn to the Nevada parole board to see if O.J. Simpson will soon walk free, legal experts say he is lucky he was not convicted in Texas. Under Texas law, he would have to serve at least half of half of his 33-year-sentence for armed robbery, kidnapping and other charges. Instead of facing the parole board Thursday, as he is in Nevada, he would have to wait 16 and a half years, which means he would not even be eligible for parole until 2025.

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

Will this idea slow property tax hikes? Texas Senate says yes

The property tax reforms that died in the Texas Legislature nearly two months ago have officially been revived. Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, officially filed a bill that would block cities and counties from raising the effective tax rates above 4 percent in any given year unless voters agree in a referendum - a move Senate leaders are convinced will slow the pace of Texas' skyrocketing property taxes. In the previous bill Bettencourt was trying to get through the Legislature in May, he proposed capping local governments at 5 percent. Currently counties and cities can raise their effective tax rate 8 percent, if it goes higher, taxpayers can petition for an election to rollback the rate -- something that rarely happens in Texas. Bettencourt said a key to his plan is to make is easier for voters to have a say when local governments raise taxes.

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

Highway toll tag system error overcharges customers

A system error has resulted in some Houston toll tag drivers getting charged more than they should. These errors were discussed on social media last week after one Reddit user received a letter from TxTag saying he owed them money. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) confirmed the error Monday afternoon. ... EZTag, TxTag and TollTag (Houston, Austin and Dallas toll authorities) have been working to allow their toll tags to work with Kansas and other states so that Texas toll tag users can drive on other states' toll roads using their same tags. During this time, the transfer of account information between the partnering toll authorities was delayed, thus causing the errors, the TxDOT said.

Rio Grande Guardian - July 16, 2017

Abbott’s campaign stop in McAllen brings protests over SB 4

Texas Governor Greg Abbott met with supporters at Lone Star Bar B-Q on Saturday morning in McAllen, while several groups were protesting his visit over Senate Bill 4. After announcing his re-election campaign the day before in San Antonio, the Abbott campaign held a “Super-Saturday” block walk. Volunteers were expected to knock on over 10,00 doors across Texas, while the Governor made his first campaign stop in McAllen. La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) along with several other organizations in the Valley united outside of the restaurant to protest the controversial SB 4, which takes effect September 1. ... The Texas State Militia and McAllen Police Department we’re outside of the restaurant observing the protest. Some protestors and members of the Texas State Militia were seen speaking casually, along with staff members from Gov. Abbott’s campaign.

Laredo Morning Times - July 18, 2017

City of Laredo to join lawsuit against 'sanctuary cities' bill

A host of Laredo citizens spoke out against Texas' Senate Bill 4 during Monday's City Council meeting, saying the law will hurt the local economy, make some residents apprehensive about calling law enforcement and intrude upon police departments' day-to-day priorities. Laredo City Council agreed with their sentiments, and voted unanimously to join the lawsuit against the bill, which permits local peace officers to ask the people they detain or arrest about their immigration status, and furthermore punishes local officeholders who stop police from asking these questions. Council's discussion on the question lasted two hours, with 13 members of the public testifying, including former Laredo Mayor Betty Flores and El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes, one of the first signers of the lawsuit against the bill.

Associated Press - July 20, 2017

Texas judge returns to bench after citizenship resolved

A South Texas judge who was removed from the bench because she wasn't a U.S. citizen has been reinstated. The Corpus Christi city council voted Tuesday to restore Judge Young Min Burkett. The council placed Burkett on unpaid leave in May when council members learned she was a U.S. permanent resident. Burkett, who grew up in South Korea, had served as a judge for two years before her status came into question.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Platts - July 20, 2017

ERCOT forecast to hit July peakload record Thursday and Friday

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas could see power demand top 68 GW Thursday and Friday, setting new highs for July as heat is forecast to build across ERCOT through Friday. The grid operator projected peakload to reach 68.6 GW Thursday and 68.1 GW Friday, both for the hour ending 5 pm CDT (2200 GMT), topping the current all-time high for July at 67.7 GW set in July 2015 and nearing the forecast peakload of 68.7 GW for July. In the day-ahead market, ERCOT North Hub on-peak physical power was little changed in the low $40s/MWh for Thursday delivery on Intercontinental Exchange, while balance-of-the-week on-peak was slightly lower in the high $30s/MWh.

NBC News - July 19, 2017

Owner of Dallas Gay Leather Bar Enters Texas Governor’s Race

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced his bid for reelection Friday in San Antonio. But he wasn’t alone: Also on Friday, wealthy Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne — who owns the city’s popular gay leather bar, The Eagle — filed as a Democratic candidate for the governor’s race. Payne, who won the title of International Mr. Leather in 2009, plans to lend $2.5 million of his own money to his gubernatorial campaign. The announcement was timed just a few days before the start of a special legislative session on Tuesday that Abbott called partially in attempt to pass a “bathroom bill” that would require transgender people to use restrooms matching the sex listed on their birth certificates. In a statement, Payne said Texans are tired of Abbott wasting time on “trivial legislation.”

The Hill - July 18, 2017

Bathroom bill opens deep rift in Texas GOP

A proposal to ban transgender people from using the bathroom or locker room of their choice has sparked a legislative hostage crisis among Texas Republicans, exposing an ongoing rift between populists who align themselves with President Trump and more traditional, business-oriented conservatives. Lawmakers will convene Tuesday for a special session to free the hostages — a handful of state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, that must be reauthorized by the legislature — and to consider about 20 items on an agenda that reads like a conservative's Christmas list. The agenda, which under Texas law is set by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), includes proposals restricting abortions, targeting public-sector unions and expanding school choice.

Texarkana Gazette - July 19, 2017

Texarkana Gazette: Legislative Privilege: Texas claim in redistricting trial leaves bad impression

When the Texas Legislature changed district voting lines after the 2010 Census, there was immediate controversy. Critics charged the Republican-controlled body intentionally drew boundaries that marginalized black and Latino voters who might favor Democratic Party candidates. The whole matter ended up in court several times. And so far the state has been on the losing end of the fight. Last week three federal judges heard arguments from the state and plaintiffs in yet another trial on the lines. And yet again things don't look good for the state. One of the reasons is that while attorneys from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office say the Legislature acted in good faith and did not attempt to deprive minority voters of representation, they refused to provide any evidence that was true.

New York Times - July 19, 2017

Travel to Texas? Not on California’s Dime, You Don’t

Phillip Jones, whose job it is to court visitors to this city, spent months warning anyone who would listen: Economic pain will follow if Texas lawmakers pass laws seen as hostile to gay and transgender people. But after Texas approved a law that critics said might keep people, on the basis of sexual orientation, from adopting children or serving as foster parents, even Mr. Jones was surprised at part of the fallout: a ban by California on taxpayer-funded travel to Texas. “Never in a million years,” Mr. Jones, the chief executive of VisitDallas, said, weeks after California broadened its travel restrictions to include eight states. “It was not even a factor in any of our discussions that California would ban travel to Texas.”

Time - July 18, 2017

Davis: Why Isn’t Texas Addressing Its Staggering Maternal Mortality Rate?

Today, the Texas legislature will begin a 30-day Special Session called by our Governor Greg Abbott. On the agenda are 20 legislative items, most of which take dead aim at the freedom and liberties of everyday Texans. Three of those proposals seek to levy even further attacks on women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Many people around the country are aware of the battle that was waged in Texas around abortion in 2013 — a battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in a victory for women’s access to abortion and a loss to the ardently anti-abortion legislators of Texas. But what many don’t know is that two years earlier, in 2011, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature voted to cut funding for family planning, well women care, cancer screenings and care for sexually transmitted infections by 66 percent.

Associated Press - July 19, 2017

Judge orders Texas to lower temperature in sweltering prison

A federal judge Wednesday gave state prison officials 15 days to come up with a plan to lower the temperature to 88 degrees (31.11 Celsius) inside a Southeast Texas prison where attorneys for inmates say the sweltering summer heat is endangering their health. U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison's preliminary injunction applies to about 500 "heat-sensitive" inmates at the Pack Unit, about 65 miles (104.6 kilometers) northwest of Houston. Those prisoners, among about 1,450 held in the prison, already have a variety of health conditions or are at least 65 years old. Attorneys for six inmates who filed suit seeking emergency relief argued the intense heat violated their constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

KUT - July 17, 2017

To Defeat Greg Abbott, Texas Democrats Need To Recruit A Political Rock Star

Democratic analyst Harold Cook says finding a high-profile candidate to run against Abbott will be a huge challenge for Texas Democrats. "Greg Abbott, as a campaigner, is absolutely relentless," Cook says. "[P]erhaps most importantly, Greg Abbott is perhaps the best fundraiser I have ever seen in Texas. He's already got $35 million raised." Cook says that to have any hope of defeating Abbott, a Democratic candidate would either need to have a high level of name recognition, or be able to raise a substantial amount of money. There are Democrats who would fulfill these requirements, Cook says, yet most have not expressed an interest in running.

The Hill - July 19, 2017

Dems desperate for candidates to turn Texas blue

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Friday he would run for reelection, pledging four more years of a conservative agenda aimed squarely at limiting abortion rights, expanding gun rights and keeping liberal boogeymen like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and George Soros out of the Lone Star State. Abbott begins his campaign with more than $41 million in the bank — and without a serious Democratic opponent anywhere on the horizon. In fact, most observers say Abbott is more preoccupied with the prospects of a conservative challenge than with any hint of a general election threat. For years, Democrats have pledged to make Texas competitive. They have backed a bevy of good candidates — former Houston Mayor Bill White, state Sen. Wendy Davis, former Rep. Chris Bell, businessman Tony Sanchez — and Republicans have crushed them all.

City Stories

San Antonio Express News - July 19, 2017

Lockheed Martin to exit San Antonio by mid-2018

Lockheed Martin is exiting the San Antonio market, deciding less than two months after it cut its workforce by more than half to close its Port San Antonio maintenance facility. The facility will be shuttered by mid-2018. It currently has a contract servicing KC-10 air refueler engines that will be dispersed to other Lockheed facilities, but “it’s not enough to fill the capacity for what we’d be doing there,” said spokesman Ken Ross. “We have had a declining business in San Antonio and no real growth opportunities that we saw on the horizon,” Ross said.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Texas teens protest against SB 4 at Capitol

Texas teens took part in a quinceañera-themed protest Wednesday morning on the south steps of the Capitol to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities ban. About 50 people were also there to support the 15 young Latinas, who donned the puffy party dresses commonly seen at the coming-of-age celebrations. Some of the participants told their stories of how the law would affect them as daughters of immigrants.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Problems persist with police drunken driving data, Austin auditor says

The Austin Police Department has changed how it tallies drunken driving wrecks, now using the Texas Department of Transportation’s database, according to a new report by the city auditor’s office. That change alone increased the average annual number of drunken driving wrecks in Austin by 52 percent — more than 600 collisions — when compared with numbers pulled from the Police Department’s own database, the auditor’s report found. In the past, the department routinely changed how it crunches drunken driving statistics — key data used to help shape law enforcement decisions made by city and police officials, according to the report.

Texas Tribune - July 19, 2017

Dallas getting its first female police chief with hire of Detroit deputy

The Dallas Police Department has a new police chief. Sources told WFAA that City Manager T.C. Broadnax has hired Detroit Deputy Chief Ulysha Renee Hall, who will be the first female to serve as police chief in Dallas. “I am honored to be chosen to lead the Dallas Police Department at this critical time in its history,” Hall said in a statement released Wednesday. “I look forward to building on the successes of the past, preserving community trust and ensuring the safety of our officers and the entire Dallas community.”

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Phillips: Dallas' monuments to the Confederacy must come down

It's time to exorcise the ghosts of the Confederacy that haunt Dallas. The city has a massive Confederate War Memorial near the Dallas Convention Center that incorporates statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Sidney Johnston, as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis. We have a Robert E. Lee Park in Oak Lawn that features an equestrian statue of the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia near a replica of a slavery-era plantation home. The great seal of the Confederate States of America can be found at Fair Park. And although the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary School will be changed, eight other Dallas schools remain named after prominent Confederates. It is time for these tributes to the Confederacy to come down.

San Antonio Express News - July 20, 2017

San Antonio school leaders unite to oppose ‘bathroom bill’

Bexar County’s public school districts have joined the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to oppose efforts to impose a uniform bathroom use policy on Texas schools, the so-called bathroom bill that is a key goal of social conservatives for the current special legislative session in Austin. In a letter sent to House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and members of the Bexar County delegation on Monday, 15 school superintendents and the chamber’s president, Richard Perez, wrote that the proposal to restrict what bathrooms transgender students can use is an attempt “to solve a problem that does not exist in our schools.”

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

City Council, awaiting bond election, adopts 5-year capital spending plan

Houston City Council approved a capital projects plan Wednesday that envisions a November bond election to help support billions of dollars in improvements over the next five years. The plan calls for $538 million in improvements to city facilities, such as expanded police and fire stations, renovated libraries, miles of bike trails and repairs to city buildings, to be paid for with tax revenues and philanthropic donations. The plan, known as the CIP, relies on a November bond vote as a key funding source.

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Dallas program to prevent teen pregnancy under threat after Trump cuts

In parts of Dallas, teenage girls are more likely to get pregnant than get a college degree. In some neighborhoods, one in nine females has a baby by the time she turns 19. To combat this, a federal grant provided $1 million to fund annual sexual education programs for parents and students in these high-risk areas. But this month, President Donald Trump's administration quietly scrapped 81 teen pregnancy prevention program and research grants, including the Dallas one. "This is going to be devastating," said Gwen Daverth, CEO of The Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "This is the most substantial source of funding in our state."

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Ponnuru: Students can withstand an occasional Milo Yiannopoulos

Can science, which has given us so many blessings, also help us settle disputes about free speech on campus? Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, thinks so. She argues that science can "provide empirical guidance for which kinds of controversial speech should and shouldn't be acceptable on campus and in civil society." It's a point that she doesn't prove and that poses dangers to which she seems blind. ... The science she cites does not really help her case. Her judgment about Murray and Yiannopoulos may be correct, but it is not obviously scientific. It's hard to see how she overcomes this problem.

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

Cruz touts study showing GOP health plan boosts enrollments, saves money

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's "Consumer Freedom" amendment to the stalled Republican health care bill would expand coverage and reduce premiums, though at the cost of steep deductible and out of pocket costs, a government study has found. The Texas Republican touted the study Wednesday as President Donald Trump met over lunch with Republican senators at the White House to revive legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare. "It was a good and productive meeting," Cruz told Fox News afterwards. "I think we're close. There's a lot of common ground."

Associated Press - July 19, 2017

Health plan's fall brings dread for 'Obamacare' recipients

One American was able to afford her toddler's latest heart operation. Another had the means to go back to college to pursue her dreams. They and thousands of others were able to do so as beneficiaries of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. And while Republicans in Congress failed this week to craft a new health care plan, they did succeed in shaking the confidence of those who rely on the act the most. President Donald Trump's "Let Obamacare fail" remark did nothing to assuage their fears.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Dallas Morning News - July 19, 2017

Protesters call out Cornyn, Cruz, other GOP senators on healthcare

Sylvia Higgins, a registered nurse from Corpus Christi, had the day off work Thursday. So she came to Washington, D.C., to join a mass protest in senators’ offices organized by Indivisible and other groups. Higgins came to represent her union, National Nurses United, and tell Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz why they should support health care for all. “I write them every week, and I get back the same form letter,” she said. “We just want to continue to remind people what we need and that it is is health care as a basic human right available to everyone.” ... The protest was originally scheduled for Tuesday. It was moved to Wednesday when four Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas — said Monday that they would not support the bill, sinking any hopes of a Republican majority carrying it.

Houston Press - July 19, 2017

Did Ted Cruz (Accidentally) Help Save Obamacare?

Senator Ted Cruz was all set to revamp his image. Instead of the agitator, he was going to become the deal maker, the man who made it possible to actually repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, fulfilling a campaign promise Cruz and so many other Republicans have been chanting for years now. The Republican health care bill introduced in June struggled to gain traction in the Senate — it had to pass with 50 votes, a problem since all Democrats and at least ten of the 52 Republicans were openly against the bill — so Senate leaders looked for a compromise that would mollify both the far-right conservatives, who felt the bill did not cut enough spending on health care, and the moderates, who thought it cut too much.

Washington Examiner - July 19, 2017

Antle: A bipartisan deal on Obamacare is a pipe dream

The Republicans' failure to repeal and replace Obamacare on their own has Washington talking about a grand bipartisan compromise on healthcare. Don't believe it. The two parties have never been further apart on healthcare than they are right now. That hasn't stopped Democrats and Republicans from wishing otherwise. Rather than repeating the same failed partisan process yet again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets, and improves our healthcare system," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

CBS News - July 19, 2017

Is there any common ground for GOP, Dems on health care?

Cost-sharing subsidies -- albeit perhaps with not as much funding as exists today -- are one plausible area of agreement, said Gary Claxton, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Obamacare introduced the cost-sharing subsidies to the market, giving money to insurance companies intended to lower out-of-pocket costs for Americans earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line. "I think there would be agreement that that is pretty important if you want lower-income people to continue to participate," Claxton said. At the same time, Mr. Trump could theoretically end the subsidies at any time, which is making health insurance companies uneasy.

New York Times - July 14, 2017

Barrett: When Is Speech Violence?

What’s bad for your nervous system, in contrast, are long stretches of simmering stress. If you spend a lot of time in a harsh environment worrying about your safety, that’s the kind of stress that brings on illness and remodels your brain. That’s also true of a political climate in which groups of people endlessly hurl hateful words at one another, and of rampant bullying in school or on social media. A culture of constant, casual brutality is toxic to the body, and we suffer for it. That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering. On the other hand, when the political scientist Charles Murray argues that genetic factors help account for racial disparities in I.Q. scores, you might find his view to be repugnant and misguided, but it’s only offensive. It is offered as a scholarly hypothesis to be debated, not thrown like a grenade.

Seeking Alpha - July 17, 2017

Putnam: BankruptcyData's Analysis Reveals 35% YTD Increase In Retail Bankruptcies

The Retail, Services and Finance/Insurance/Real Estate sectors all saw increases in their percentages of overall business filing bankruptcies in Q2 2017 compared to the same period last year. During Q2 2017, Texas overtook New York as the state generating the highest percentage of overall business bankruptcies but YTD 2017 New York remained on top. Companies with sales of $500,000 or less generated 56% of all business bankruptcy filings during Q2 2017 and 61% YTD. Though overall bankruptcy activity is trending upward, public company bankruptcies are down 31% thus far in 2017.

San Antonio Express News - July 19, 2017

Texas lawmaker’s proposal seeks to combat fraud on seafood labeling

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold orders his fish cooked whole so he knows what he is eating, given the suspicious seafood that has appeared on his plate in the past. “There were a couple times where I said, ‘This isn’t flounder,’” said Farenthold, sponsor of newly introduced labeling legislation that aims to cut down on the deception that plagues consumers and Gulf of Mexico fishermen alike. DNA tests on seafood in Texas and elsewhere have showed that seafood at markets and restaurants is mislabeled roughly one-third of the time. What’s sold as snapper or grouper might be tilapia farmed in China. That wild-caught “Gulf shrimp” may have originated in Asia, raised in ponds laden with veterinary drugs unapproved in the U.S.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Lindenberger: How John Cornyn can call Democrats' bluff, fix Obamacare and restore faith in Washington, all in one stroke

Sen. John McCain may be ailing, but his political instincts are in fine shape. On Monday night, he sent a statement from his sick bed urging fellow Republicans to start over on health care and invite Democrats to join them in fixing Obamacare, rather than repealing it. That's precisely what Republicans in the Senate ought to do now that they have failed, once more, to agree on a replacement for the increasingly durable Affordable Care Act. McCain's suggestion is vastly better than the one President Donald Trump called for today: Let Obamacare fail, as he put it, and hope the Democrats come crawling to the Republicans desperate for a fix. Senate leaders seem set on giving Trump's disastrous approach a try, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his deputy, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, predicting a vote on just such a repeal-only measure in the next couple of weeks.

The Hill - July 19, 2017

Dems launch ‘no confidence’ resolution against Trump

14.7K Pelosi: 'Republicans should stop hiding from the truth' 00:2401:37 Autoplay: On | Off A group of liberal House Democrats stepped up criticism of President Trump on Wednesday, introducing a “no confidence” resolution that officially questions Trump’s fitness to serve as commander in chief. It logs a laundry list of controversies swirling around the president — including his campaign’s many contacts with Russian officials, his refusal to release his taxes, his verbal attacks on women and the press, and his firing of FBI Director James Comey. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the resolution has been endorsed by 23 more Democrats, including Reps. John Lewis (Ga.), a civil rights icon; John Yarmuth (Ky.), ranking member of the Budget Committee; David Cicilline (R.I.), who leads the Democrats’ policy and communications arm; and Judy Chu (Calif.), who heads the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

Reuters - July 19, 2017

U.S., Canada, Mexico agree on fast-paced NAFTA talks - sources

U.S., Mexican and Canadian officials have agreed to an aggressive timetable to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), sources said, aiming to conclude early next year to avoid Mexico’s 2018 presidential elections. The plan is to hold seven rounds of talks at three-week intervals, according to two Mexican officials who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. ... The first round of talks to upgrade the accord underpinning over a trillion dollars of trilateral trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada is due to take place in Washington from Aug. 16-20, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday.

New York Times - July 20, 2017

Trump Refugee Restrictions Allowed for Now; Ban on Grandparents Is Rejected

The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily upheld broad restrictions against refugees entering the United States but allowed grandparents and other relatives of American residents to come while legal challenges to the Trump administration’s travel ban move forward. The justices, in a brief unsigned order, let stand part of a ruling from a federal judge in Hawaii that had narrowed the administration’s efforts to limit travel from six predominantly Muslim countries, an effort that has prompted confusion at the nation’s airports, a global outcry and much litigation since President Trump announced it a week into his presidency. But the justices suspended a second part of the lower court’s ruling, standing firm for now against allowing an estimated 24,000 refugees from across the world to resettle in the United States.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

How upscale areas like Uptown Dallas get classified as needy to lure foreign investors seeking visas

The tony North Texas suburb of Westlake doesn’t conjure up images of a distressed area with high unemployment. Neither does the hip enclave of Uptown Dallas. Nor does the booming jobs corridor that runs through Collin County. But local mayors and county judges, at the urging of developers, have signed off in recent years on giving those thriving areas just that label. The absurd contradiction is the result of a permissible, if brazen, strategy to maximize use of the EB-5 immigrant investor visa. In that program, foreigners invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in American enterprises in exchange for getting on the fast track to receive a green card.

Houston Chronicle - July 20, 2017

Cruz touts study showing GOP health plan boosts enrollments, saves money

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's "Consumer Freedom" amendment to the stalled Republican health care bill would expand coverage and reduce premiums, though at the cost of steep deductible and out of pocket costs, a government study has found. The Texas Republican touted the study Wednesday as President Donald Trump met over lunch with Republican senators at the White House to revive legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act, known widely as Obamacare. "It was a good and productive meeting," Cruz told Fox News afterwards. "I think we're close. There's a lot of common ground."

Associated Press - July 20, 2017

Trump campaign inner circle called before Senate committees

Members of the Trump campaign's inner circle, including his eldest son and son-in-law, are being called before Senate committees next week to talk about the 2016 election. The week has the potential to deliver the most high-profile congressional testimony involving the Russian meddling probes since former FBI Director James Comey appeared in June. Donald Trump Jr. is scheduled to appear July 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee along with former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a witness list released by the panel Wednesday.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Politico - July 20, 2017

Kelly: States 'nuts' if they don't ask feds for election protection help

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday that states that aren't asking Washington for help in protecting their election systems from hackers are "nuts." But while Kelly said he supported the Obama administration’s decision to designate U.S. election systems “critical infrastructure,” given threats from Russia and other entities, he also acknowledged that elections remain the domain of the states. "All of the input I get from all of the states are 'We don’t want you involved in our election process,'” he said. “I think they’re nuts if they don’t [seek help. But] If they don’t want the help, they don’t have to ask.”

Politico - July 20, 2017

Sen. Paul backs Trump's frustration with Sessions' recusal

Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday backed President Donald Trump’s criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, using the president’s scolding of the nation’s top law enforcement official to push his own libertarian-leaning criminal justice policy. “I agree with @realDonaldTrump, his Attorney General should not have recused himself over reported incidental contacts with Russian officials,” Paul (R-Ky.) wrote on Twitter Thursday morning, just hours after The New York Times published an interview with the president in which he said he would not have nominated Sessions to be attorney general had he known that the former Alabama senator would recuse himself from the Justice Department’s ongoing Russia investigation.

New York Times - July 20, 2017

Trump Demands That Senators Find a Way to Replace Obamacare

President Trump ordered senators back to the negotiating table on Wednesday for a last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, just one day after angrily accepting the measure’s demise and vowing to allow President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement to crater. Mr. Trump, staring down a high-profile defeat on an issue that has confounded him and defied Republican consensus, told the party’s senators they must not leave Washington without acting on a measure to roll back Mr. Obama’s health law and replace it with something better. Simply repealing the bill without an alternative would increase the number of people without health insurance by 17 million in 2018, a figure that would jump to 32 million in 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Politico - July 19, 2017

Supreme Court won't let Trump travel ban hit grandparents

The Supreme Court has rejected the Trump administration’s effort to subject foreigners who are grandparents or cousins of Americans to the president’s travel ban executive order, but the justices will allow the administration to block many refugees for now. The Trump administration said grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts did not qualify for a travel ban exemption, which was required by the high court for foreign citizens with close ties to U.S. people or institutions. But a federal judge in Hawaii disagreed with the administration’s interpretation and ordered officials to exempt a broader set of relatives.

Washington Post - July 20, 2017

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he plans to stay in role, despite Trump’s comments about him

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he plans to stay in his job despite the president’s public assertion that he would not have nominated Sessions to the post had he known that he would recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Sessions said he had the “honor of serving as attorney general,” and he planned “to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.” Asked how he could keep working, having apparently lost President Trump’s confidence, Sessions responded: “We’re serving right now. The work we’re doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue. “I’m totally confident that we can continue to run this office in an effective way,” Sessions added.

Dallas Morning News - July 20, 2017

Postrel: Culture-war travel bans to Texas and other states are counterproductive

It's now illegal to use California state funds to travel to eight other states: Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas. The travel ban, which went into effect Jan. 1 and expanded last month, punishes states with laws that run afoul of California's anti-discrimination statute covering sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Texas, for instance, has a new law allowing private child welfare groups that receive state money to cite "sincerely held religious beliefs" in declining to place children with certain types of families, including gay couples or single parents. Kansas allows student religious groups to require members or leaders to adhere to specific doctrines or conduct rules, including those about sex. That may sound like an inoffensive measure, but California, by contrast, requires officially recognized student groups to adopt an "all comers" policy that lets any currently enrolled student join or serve as an officer.

Forbes - July 16, 2017

Benko: Senator Cruz, Give The Oath Of Office Some Teeth

Senator Cruz, you are well steeped in the Constitution. Here’s a simple thing you could do to set in motion something to help shift the federal government back toward Constitutional integrity. The very first action of a newly-minted Congressperson or Senator is to take an oath of office. The oath goes as follows: I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God. Executive branch officials, down to career civil servants, take this oath, too. That of the president, set forth in the Constitution itself, differs slightly. But is it really an oath?

All - July 19, 2017

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

IBM: We will reconsider our commitment to Texas if a bathroom bill passes

The Texas Legislature is once again gathering in Austin, this time for a special session. One of the most controversial topics is the so-called “bathroom bills,” which regulate which restrooms transgender people can use. Tech companies have come out against bathroom bill proposals, and perhaps none as vocally as IBM, which has taken out full-page ads in several major Texas newspapers and is bringing employees to the state Capitol to speak out against it. We talked with IBM’s Diane Gherson, a senior vice president for human resources at IBM, about the company’s stance on the bathroom bills.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Gov. Abbott jokes he’ll dance on the Capitol steps if he goes 20 for 20

Gov. Greg Abbott began a week-long blitz of radio interviews Wednesday with an introduction by Bob Cole on KOKE in Austin that referred to the 1982 film musical, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” “There’s a classic scene in there with Charles Durning (playing the governor of Texas), there on the Capitol steps of our great state Capitol, doing the dance that he calls the sidestep,” Cole said. “Well I tell you what, if things work out the way I hope they work out and I pass all my 20 special agenda items, I will be doing that same dance,” Abbott responded, which set Cole, with some of his partners on the show, to singing, “Ooh, I love to do that little sidestep, now you see me, now you don’t.”

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Cities want meeting with Abbott over local control

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the "Texas brand," city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader. "We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas," a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

KSAT - July 17, 2017

Speaker Straus says he's not worried about criticisms from people "on the fringes"

In the span of a week, he was asked to step down as Texas Speaker of the House and called the architect of a Ponzi scheme, and that was by members of his own party. So how does Joe Straus keep his cool, amid political sniping? "You know, in politics, it's a tough sport, and sometimes you're going to have to put the personal comments to the side if you're going to be focused on results, which is what I try to do," Straus said. As he sits in his Capitol office, Straus talks about letting things “roll off his back.” One of his biggest critics occupies the office on the other side of the building from his. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s latest critique comes about the speaker’s school finance plan.

Waco Tribune - July 18, 2017

Waco Tribune: OK, governor, we will grade our lawmakers on safeguarding 'local control'

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has decided the best way to begin a special legislative session heavily focused on destroying local control is by declaring he will compile what can only be called an enemies list. During remarks to the Texas Public Policy Foundation this week, he vowed to call out state lawmakers who don’t back his 20-item agenda: “We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out — who is for this, who is against this, who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.” The governor seems to be assuming tactics regularly employed by far-right lobbyist and “journalist” Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans, whose political scorecard measures legislators’ votes against Empower Texans’ own notions of how they should vote, even as Sullivan and his backers decide for themselves exactly what “conservative” means. In this case they have clearly drawn lines between battling Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Abbott. Sullivan bluntly says legislators must “side with Abbott and reform-minded Texans or side with the obstructionist regime of Straus.”

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 18, 2017

Kennedy: Call it Texas lawmakers’ Session About Nothing. (Some Republicans say keep it that way.)

The Texas Legislature’s Session About Nothing is off to a noisy start, spending 30 days and $1 million passing laws nobody wants. Mostly, our lawmakers are collecting another paycheck to bring back the same bills they didn’t want last session. Even some business Republicans who’ll vote and pass these laws don’t really want them. But they’re pressed by evangelical Christian conservatives. You think I’m kidding? Executives from New York-based IBM came to lobby against LGBT-bashing “bathroom bills” and left confused.

New York Times - July 19, 2017

How the Senate Health Care Bill Failed: G.O.P. Divisions and a Fed-Up President

President Trump was fed up with the grind of health care legislation, and at a dinner with Republican senators on Monday at the White House, he let them know it. He told the lawmakers how annoyed he was with one Republican who was not there, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who had gone on television over the weekend to oppose a Senate health care bill that once held the promise of victory for Mr. Trump. It is one thing to vote no, Mr. Trump told the group, according to one of the guests. It is another, the president said, to go on all of the Sunday shows and complain about it. The scene on Monday night was an exasperating end for Mr. Trump to a month of negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature domestic legacy.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Houston Democrats raise $1.2 million to challenge Congressman John Culberson

A crowded field of Democrats eyeing a chance to take on Republican John Culberson in his west Houston congressional seat have raised more than $1.2 million in the last three months, according to new campaign finance reports. Culberson, meanwhile, reported $335,672 in campaign receipts over the same period, between April and June. So far, however, he faces a lone Republican opponent in next year's GOP primary, businessman David Balat, who raised $76,015. Leading the Democratic pack is nonprofit executive Alex Triantaphyllis, who has raised more $451,000 so far. Behind him Houston lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who reported more than $365,000 in fundraising.

Politico - July 18, 2017

Judge denies injunction against Trump voter fraud panel

A federal judge has turned down an effort to force President Donald Trump's controversial voter fraud commission to open its first official meeting to in-person, public attendance and to force disclosure of more records about the group's work. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said there wasn't enough indication that the panel planned to defy a federal sunshine law, particularly after the commission published thousands of pages of information online and announced plans to make more data public in a timely fashion. ... The suit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and an Alabama-based group representing current and former prisoners, the Ordinary People Society, levels a broad set of legal claims at the commission.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Is it Day 200 of Joe Straus not meeting one on one with Dan Patrick?

More than halfway through 2017, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told reporters he’d repeatedly sought one-on-one meetings with Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a fellow Republican, without drawing a single “come on over.” Past the 32-minute mark of Patrick’s July 13 Texas Capitol press conference, Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News inquired into teamwork between Straus and Patrick, who had just vowed to guide the Texas Senate to rapid advancement of all 20 agenda items placed by Gov. Greg Abbott on the agenda of the special session that was starting the next week. “Do you think you need to work with Speaker Straus in order to pass this stuff through the House?” Fikac asked. Patrick said: “Look, I’m always willing to work. I have requested through the entire session a meeting with the speaker. I never had a one-on-one meeting with the speaker the entire session or since session ended.” In contrast, Patrick said, he regularly talks with and sees Abbott.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

New poll shows Greg Abbott's popularity drop, but still comfortably among most popular governors

Days after Gov. Greg Abbott launched his 2018 re-election bid, a new poll shows a steep drop in his net approval rating, but he is still maintaining a comfortable position among the most popular governors in America. Independent research surveying site Morning Consult examined 50 governors across the nation, ranking them by their approval and disapproval ratings. Abbott landed at No. 11 with a 60 percent approval rating and 27 percent disapproval rating. Since the poll was last conducted in April, Abbott has dropped four places from number seven, when he had a 64 percent approval and 24 percent disapproval rating.

Austin American-Statesman - July 19, 2017

Study: UT System graduates earn more, but major, campus matters

Workers who received bachelor’s degrees from University of Texas System schools tend to earn more than their peers who graduated from other Texas or U.S. universities, with choice of major exerting the most influence on future earnings, according to a study released Wednesday. Researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that UT System graduates earned a median salary of $39,600 three years after graduation. All Texas workers with a bachelor’s degree earned $36,800 at the same point after graduation, and similar workers nationwide earned $34,000, according to the report, called “Major Matters Most.”

Vice - July 14, 2017

Perry: The Texas Gerrymandering Trial Could Change All of America

No matter how the judges rule, this process could conceivably go all the way to the US Supreme Court, where gerrymandering has been at the center of lots of big, precedent-setting decisions lately. In June, the justices agreed to hear a case on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Race was at issue in May when the justices upheld a lower court's rejection of two districts in North Carolina. Plus, this all relates to a larger push for the voting rights of non-whites that gained new urgency after the Supreme Court tossed out a key feature of the Voting Rights Act mandating federal oversight of state voting laws in 2013. But the impact could be even more immediate. According to the Associated Press, Texas gives the US House of Representatives a bigger "gerrymandering bump" than any other state. Per the AP's number-crunching, gerrymandering allowed House Republicans to occupy as many as 22 seats they otherwise wouldn't have, and "nearly four" of those seats are in Texas.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Following low reading scores, Abbott launches new school initiative

Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency have launched an elementary school reading initiative in the wake of declining reading scores on state standardized tests this spring. Parts of the Texas Readers initiative build on efforts to improve literacy among public school students. However, included in the plan that Abbott outlined on Tuesday are a public service marketing campaign in partnership with PBS, the United Way and Univision; new, free online instructional materials for teachers; and tools to help teachers monitor student progress. “While Texas has some of the best public schools in the country, there is still more we can do to provide our children with the best education possible,” Abbott said in a news release.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Herman: Bad day at the Capitol for Texas Democrats, more to come

Thanks, Democrats, for showing up for Tuesday’s opening day of the oh-so-special legislative session, but it looks like you’ll be just a minor speed bump as the Republicans steer the state even farther to the right. Despite the tension in the Capitol, things got off to an amicable start in the upper chamber as a bipartisan gaggle of senators chatted about grandkids — Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, has a cute new one! — moments prior to the opening gavel. During a break in the impromptu meeting of the Senate grandparents caucus, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, chatting with a journalist at the press table, shared his underdog team’s strategy: “We’re going to avail ourselves of all the parliamentary tools at our disposal to achieve legislative goals and objectives.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Cook: Vaccines protect Texas children

Vaccines are one of the most important and life-saving medical marvels. For decades, people in this country and almost worldwide haven’t had to worry about outbreaks of polio, measles, chickenpox and other contagious illnesses, thanks to widespread vaccinations. When kids are vaccinated, there is less concern that they will contract diseases when they go with their friends to the local swimming pool or the playground. Can you imagine being too scared to allow your kids to partake in these summertime rituals? That is how parents felt in the 1940s and 1950s, when polio was rampant. The reason we stopped seeing these diseases is because of the overwhelming success of vaccines themselves, and not because these diseases don’t exist anymore.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Democrats call for a vote to repeal the sanctuary city ban

Democrats on Tuesday called on a vote to repeal the sanctuary city ban passed during the regular session and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. “We ask [Straus] to bring SB 4 to the floor to repeal the bill,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat and Mexican American Legislative Caucus chairman. “He knows it’s not a good bill. His constituents know it’s not a good bill.” A special legislative session began Tuesday, but lawmakers can only take up matters requested by Gov. Greg Abbott. He has not included any immigration-related issues on his agenda.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Texas lawmakers show their special session agenda opinions with pins

Texas lawmakers are taking sides on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda, and they are expressing their support or discontent through a somewhat nontraditional method: lapel pins. Abbott called a special session to address issues that didn’t make the cut by sine die of the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature. Lawmakers can only address topics that are on the governor’s 20-item agenda, which largely consists of conservative policy goals.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Waiving rules, Senate GOP moves fast on key bills

Waiving rules and blocking Democrats, Republicans in the Texas Senate opened the special legislative session Tuesday by taking rapid action on two key bills, potentially allowing Gov. Greg Abbott to open the overtime session to a longer list of conservative priorities as early as Wednesday afternoon. Abbott said he will expand the special session’s agenda after the Senate approves two “sunset” bills allowing five state agencies, including the Texas Medical Board, to continue operating. To hasten action on the bills, Republicans voted along party lines to waive a rule requiring 24-hour notice of meetings so the Business and Commerce Committee could consider the sunset measures while the Senate was in a late-morning recess.

Texas Tribune - July 19, 2017

Lawmakers to target Austin's worker protections on construction projects

Cesar Ovalde has been working in the construction industry for the better part of 15 years. Most of the time, he’s working on large commercial projects, and gaps in training, he says, can cause problems. “A lot of times there are new people that arrive and they don’t know the standards. If there’s an electrician that is working as a painter or vice-versa, they don’t know each other’s work and this can frequently cause accidents,” he said in Spanish. In Austin, though, workers like Ovalde received some relief when the city council passed new regulations: Companies that went through a newly-created expedited permitting process for large commercial projects have to follow a set of “better builder” protections that require companies to pay workers at least $13.50 an hour, follow certain safety standards and offer training and worker’s compensation insurance.

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

Janda: Texans deserve better than the Better Care Reconciliation Act

When Republicans began working on their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, I immediately heard from many of the 150,000 Houston-area residents who have coverage through our company, Community Health Choice, under that law. They were very concerned about whether they would still have insurance if the ACA (Obamacare) were repealed. We surveyed them about their experience under Obamacare and the response was overwhelming: 85 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their plan and would recommend it to their family and friends. While these hard-working Texans may live in the same state in which U.S. Sen. John Cornyn lives, based on his July 12 TribTalk column, we live in vastly different worlds. If we look at this frankly, we’ll see that most Texans live in the world where the ACA makes life better.

Texas Tribune - July 19, 2017

Ramsey: Follow the leader — if you can find him

You can’t vote with the governor if you don’t know what his positions are. Gov. Greg Abbott told the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation this week that he’ll be keeping score during the special session that started Tuesday, letting people know which lawmakers are with him and which ones are against him. Abbott is putting 20 items on the agenda; it’s simple to figure out what he wants the Legislature to work on. But the devil is in the details, as they say, and there is a world of difference between one set of restroom regulations and another, between various property tax proposals or voucher schemes.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Latest Texas fundraising totals shed light on key races

Statewide officials, state lawmakers and the candidates who'd like to unseat them faced a Monday deadline to report their campaign finances for the first half of the year. For incumbents, the fundraising window was far smaller: The only time they had to raise money was the last 12 days of June because they are prohibited from accepting campaign contributions in and around the regular legislative session. Those rules don't apply during the special legislative session, which began Tuesday.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Trump administration: Trust Texas on voter education spending

Federal courts should trust Texas to properly educate voters on new ID rules ahead of the 2018 elections instead of insisting that money be spent on a marketing campaign, President Trump’s justice department argued in a filing Monday. The filing, part of the Trump administration's recent support for Texas in its years-long battle over the state's 2011 voter ID law, comes despite widespread criticism of Texas' voter education efforts ahead of the 2016 election. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is considering what, if any, consequences Texas should face following her April ruling that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters by passing the nation’s strictest voter ID law six years ago.

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

DePillis: Online sales taking bite out of state revenue just when Texas needs it

As online shopping takes bigger and bigger bites out of the business of brick-and-mortar stores, it's not only undermining retail employment but also continuing to pose problems for state and local governments, which lose billions of dollars in sales taxes each year to online purchases. Sales taxes made up 31 percent of all state revenue in 2016. But the Supreme Court found in 1992 that it's only legal to impose sales taxes if the vendor has a physical presence in the state where the buyer is located. Over the years, that has taken a toll on state sales tax collections - 22 states saw their revenues either decline or fail to keep pace with inflation last year, according to analysis of census data by National Public Radio.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Paxton has $5.2 million heading into reelection season

Attorney General Ken Paxton raked in more than $1 million during the first half of the year, bringing the indicted Republican's political war chest to more $5.2 million, according to state records. Details of Paxton's political fundraising, filed Monday with the Texas Ethics Commission, shows that the attorney general who is facing felony charges of securities fraud still enjoys political and financial support from big donors as he nears his trial and his first reelection bid as the state's top lawyer. "Even prior to his public service, he was a GOP activist working in the political trenches at the local level," said Matt Welch, Paxton's campaign spokesman.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Tomlinson: Texas businesses rallying against bathroom bill

When did it become OK for the state's top politicians to ignore Texas executives on issues critical to our economic future? Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are reviving their bill that would deny transgender Texans the liberty to live public lives. These politicians, pandering to a few Republican primary voters, have rejected calls from Texas' top business leaders to stop this quixotic effort to bring opprobrium and boycotts to our state. Texans now need the entire business community to demand that their state representatives and senators kill this hurtful bill, fulfilling the wishes of the majority of Texans, according to numerous polls.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Former Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks' family invests in body camera company

A Georgia-based company that makes body cameras for law enforcement has gotten a boost from Hicks Holdings, the investment arm of the family of financier and former Texas Rangers and Dallas Stars' owner Tom Hicks. Tom Hicks, chairman and founder of Hicks Holdings (Hicks Holdings) Tom Hicks, chairman and founder of Hicks Holdings (Hicks Holdings) Hicks Holdings announced the investment Tuesday. It did not disclose the amount, but partner Mack Hicks said Hicks Holdings led the round of investment. Georgia-based Utility makes body cameras and in-car video systems for police departments and law enforcement agencies. The technology has become more common as activists and groups like Black Lives Matter have called attention to fatal police shootings and demanded more information about the circumstances surrounding such incidents.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Party tensions highlight opening of Texas Legislature's special session

Strains between Republicans and Democrats marked Tuesday's start of a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott. While internal GOP battles are likely to rage, on opening day, at least, Republicans didn't bare fangs at one another. Instead, Senate Republicans calmly ignored — and rolled over — Democrats' objections to their plans to rush through agency "sunset" legislation that failed to pass in the regular session, giving Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick a reason to demand that Abbott call lawmakers back.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Bills to increase penalties for voter fraud filed in wake of West Dallas scandal

Texas lawmakers are proposing tougher penalties for voter fraud and tighter oversight of the state's mail-in ballot procedures. Senate Bill 5 was filed by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and will be considered by lawmakers during the special legislative session that began Tuesday. Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, filed an identical companion bill in the House. "We're looking at increased penalties," Hancock said of his bill. "We're also looking at keeping up with current times, technology and all of that." The bill would elevate the seriousness of some voter fraud crimes, raising them from Class B to Class A misdemeanors or state jail felonies.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Texas launches effort to boost reading skills after STAAR results slip

Texas will amp up efforts to boost literacy skills for kids after years of lackluster STAAR exam results. Gov. Greg Abbott and education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday announced a program aimed at improving teacher training and getting more innovative tools into classrooms, such as free online instructional materials. The effort also includes a public awareness effort to encourage reading at home so more children will be reading at grade level by third grade. The Texas Readers program comes after this year's STAAR results indicated Texas students are having a harder time passing reading and language arts tests. The preliminary results for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness showed a significant dip in the percentage of students passing those tests compared to spring 2016.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Texas high on the shopping list for foreign home buyers

Buyers hunting a home aren't just competing with house flippers and investors. Nationwide, the number of foreign buyers in the home market has surged to a record high in the last year and Texas is one of their favorite destinations. International buyers purchased more than $153 billion in U.S. residential properties in the 12-month period ending in March, according to an annual study by the National Association of Realtors. That was a 49 percent increase in dollar volume from sales to foreign buyers in the previous year. The biggest rise in U.S. homebuying came from Canadian purchasers, the Realtors said.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Democrats want to keep sanctuary cities ban 'front and center' in special session

As the special session of the Texas Legislature kicked off Tuesday, Democrats and opponents of the state's newly passed sanctuary cities ban worked to keep what they consider the negative effects of the law in the public eye. "We wanted to make sure that [Senate Bill 4] and the negative consequences of SB 4 stay front and center during the special session," said Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Democrat and the leader of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. Democratic lawmakers teamed up with business organizations, which many observers say were missing in action on the sanctuary cities debate during the regular session, and focused Tuesday's news conference on the economic damage the law and other controversial proposals, like the bathroom bill, could have on Texas.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

Perri: Bridging an artificial divide

A few Sundays ago, during my speech at the Impeachment March at the Texas Capitol, I noticed about 20 alt-right counter-protesters clad in red. Some wore “MAGA” hats, while others donned bandannas that covered their faces. They marched to the front of the crowd and positioned themselves so they’d be right in my line of sight, daring me to call out their hero. For a few moments, I felt uneasy, losing my train of thought. When I mentioned the Russian hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails, one of them yelled, “What was in the emails?” The alt-right counter-protesters created a palpable tension during the march, actively disrupting speakers and heckling attendees.

New York Times - July 18, 2017

Bathroom Bill Tests Clout of Rare Moderate in Increasingly Conservative Texas

When Texas lawmakers gather here for the start of a 30-day special legislative session on Tuesday morning, they will most likely decide the fate of the Texas version of North Carolina’s bitterly divisive legislation regulating the access of transgender people to public bathrooms. But something else will be on the line, too: whether moderate Republicans have a role to play in a state party increasingly dominated by far-right Christian conservatives, and whether the last powerful moderate Republican in Texas can keep his job and his influence. State Representative Joe Straus, the speaker of the Texas House, has long employed a mild-mannered, commerce-focused brand of Republican politics in the mold of former Gov. George W. Bush.

San Antonio Express News - July 18, 2017

Paxton brings in more than $1 M in fundraising

Attorney General Ken Paxton raked in more than $1 million during the first half of the year, bringing the indicted Republican’s political war chest to more than $5.2 million, according to state records. Details of Paxton’s political fundraising, filed Monday with the Texas Ethics Commission, shows that the attorney general who is facing felony charges of securities fraud still enjoys political and financial support from big donors as he nears his trial and his first re-election bid as the state’s top lawyer. “Even prior to his public service, he was a GOP activist working in the political trenches at the local level,” said Matt Welch, Paxton’s campaign spokesman. “The fact that more people are supporting Attorney General Paxton’s campaign to a greater extent than before is a testament to his track record of success and outstanding leadership on issues important to all Texans.”

San Antonio Express News - July 18, 2017

Garcia: Gallego likely to run, regardless of redistricting

Pete Gallego didn’t attend last week’s redistricting trial in San Antonio and says he didn’t pay close attention to the proceedings. That’s a little hard to believe, given that one of the prime topics of testimony last week was U.S. District 23, the sprawling piece of political real estate that the Alpine-based Democrat represented for two years, before losing his seat in 2014 to Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Gallego sounds like he’s gearing up for his fourth straight congressional run and while many of us have believed that his decision (to run or not to run) hinged on what changes the courts make to the District 23 map, he insists that redistricting is not the determining factor for him.

San Antonio Express News - July 19, 2017

Republicans run roughshod over Democrats as special session convenes

Republicans ran over Democrats in the Senate on Tuesday to fast-track a special session agenda that’s under fire from big-city mayors, transgender advocates, educators and abortion-rights activists, among others. “It’s frustrating, but we’re not going to take anything lying down. We’re going to do everything we can to represent our community,” Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said after Democratic efforts to slow down the process were shut down by the Republican majority.

San Antonio Express News - July 18, 2017

Groups wants voter ID law scrapped, state put under judge’s supervision for decade

Minority groups have asked a federal judge to scrap Texas’ voter identification law and place the state under the jurist’s supervision for at least a decade, according to court filings this week. Not only are the groups taking on the state over the law they say discriminates against blacks and Latinos, but they also want U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to kick their former ally, the U.S. Justice Department, out of the case. “The United States’ shameful and disgraceful dismissal of their intent claim for political purposes should disqualify them from participating further in this proceeding; the ideals of equality inculcated in the United States Constitution are not subject to such shabby treatment as demonstrated by this administration,” Rolando Rios, a lawyer representing the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and Commissioners, wrote in a court brief.

Texas Monthly - July 14, 2017

Trump Isn’t the Only Politician Who Wants Texas Voter Data

Requests for states to release voter information following President Donald Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud have sparked controversy around the country but appear quite common in Texas. On Friday, the Texas Secretary of State’s office released a list of requests for voter information it received since January 2015 under an open records request from Texas Monthly. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach requested voter information from all 50 states, including names, birthdays, the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, and individual voter history dating back to 2006.

KHOU - July 16, 2017

Trump gets a Texas-made Stetson cowboy hat for 'Made in America' week

President Donald Trump on Monday announced July 17 as “Made in America Day” and July 16-22 “Made in America Week” as part of a “buy American, hire American” initiative. The White House hosted dozens of American companies to showcase their products. The lone Texas company was Stetson Hats, which gave the president a custom-made Cowboy hat. “It’s beautiful,” Trump said as he tried on the hat. Stetson has a plant in Garland. After Trump’s win in the November election, Bowie, Texas hatmaker American Hat Co. made him a mink and beaver fur hat.

Canadian Record - July 14, 2017

Rep. Ken King discusses politics vs. policy in Austin, and the looming special session

When we sat down with Ken King last month to talk about the just-adjourned 85th Legislature, it was pretty clear that his third legislative session as District 88 State Representative had been a rough one. Rep. King expressed his frustration with the political posturing of both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Daniel Patrick, and with the sharp divisions between the House and Senate. Combined, those toxic forces set the stage for the impending special session called by Abbott, which begins next Tuesday, July 18. As he prepared to head back to Austin for what promises to be a shorter, but likely contentious, 30-day session, Rep. King sized up the situation: Both Abbott and Patrick are running for office, and most likely, it will be the same one. “I expect Patrick to run for governor,” he said. “I think part of Abbott’s calling this special session is about posturing because they’re going to have a race.”

McAllen Monitor - July 15, 2017

Cuellar to Gov. Abbott: reimburse border

For three years, the state of Texas has avoided reimbursing border communities money spent on humanitarian relief efforts during the immigrant waves of unaccompanied minors that inundated the region — stating that those communities were not eligible under federal rules to be reimbursed. But on Friday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling hoping to clear up any ambiguity regarding legislation that Cuellar introduced years ago designed to do the very thing the state has avoided doing. “I understand that there was a misunderstanding between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Governor’s Office that led to the assumption that the use of FEMA’s State Homeland Security Program federal funds to reimburse communities was not allowed,” Cuellar wrote in a letter obtained by The Monitor.

The New Yorker - July 17, 2017

The Wall (of Reeds) that the Border Patrol Would Like to Tear Down

Someone wandering along the banks of the Rio Grande, on the American side, in the summer of 2009 might have been startled by a small cardboard box plummeting to the ground. Neatly sealed with blue packing tape, its paper wrapping crisp and clean, the box would have felt light, even empty. But then, on further inspection, an observer would have noticed the platoon of tiny black insects exiting a slit on one end. Slightly larger than a gnat, the insects would have buzzed off, one by one, into the South Texas heat. The insects were wasps, which hours earlier had been taken from a refrigerator at the Moore Air Base, in Edinburg, Texas, where they’d been maintained in a soporific state, and placed, with utmost care, in the belly of a Cessna 206 by John Goolsby, an entomologist for the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service. Between 2009 and 2012, 1.2 million wasps—at least a hundred per box—rained down along a five-hundred-and-eighty-eight-river-mile stretch of the border from Brownsville to Del Rio, as part of a joint program between the U.S.D.A. and Customs and Border Protection.

Valley Morning Star - July 15, 2017

Abbott aims for RGV win in re-election bid

Past the Ann Richards Administration building, down the street named after the family of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, into a neighborhood sporting the same name, Gov. Greg Abbott wheeled down a block in Bentsen Heights, a community in west McAllen. It was the day after Abbott formally launched his re-election campaign in San Antonio and his first stop was yesterday in the Rio Grande Valley, a Democratic region that more and more Republicans have been visiting recently. “Gov. Abbott is serious — I was kind of surprised he talked about it today,” said Dave Carney, Abbott’s general consultant and a longtime Republican adviser who has worked in Texas politics for more than 20 years.

Longview News Journal - July 14, 2017

Restaurant bills hailed by association as cost-cutting

Legislation that eliminates fees for food handlers is one of the victories the Texas Restaurant Association says it achieved during the recently concluded regular session of the Legislature — and Longview restaurateurs were pleased by the success. Senate Bill 1089, authored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, eliminates all food-handler fees and documentation requirements for food service employees who pass an ANSI-accredited or state-registered food-handler course, according to the association. ANSI is the American National Standards Institute. The association, which has 5,200 members, described SB 1089 as a "great windfall for restaurant employees."

County Stories

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 18, 2017

‘Bathroom bill’ targeted by powerful North Texas business leaders

Some powerful North Texas business leaders on Monday pressed Gov. Greg Abbott to drop plans for transgender bathroom legislation they said would discriminate against Texans and be bad for business in the state. The letter — delivered to Abbott on the eve of the special session — states that such a bill, which would determine where transgender Texans may use the bathroom, would “seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.” Among the 14 business leaders signing the letter were CEOs from Tarrrant County-based American Airlines, DFW Airport and BNSF Railway. Company leaders say they constantly are trying to recruit talented workers to Texas.

San Antonio Express News - July 19, 2017

As Air Force grows, command maps new buildings for Lackland

The Air Education and Training Command is eyeing construction plans that call for a modernization of key facilities at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, particularly housing for recruits in basic training as the Air Force increases its strength after years of cutbacks. While the number of basic training graduates is projected to remain just above 37,000 a year through 2021, the command will add four new large dormitory complexes in the coming years. Two others built in the mid-1960s will be renovated as part of a larger plan for new construction at bases in Texas and Mississippi.

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

Wallach: Harris County's vote isn't safe from the Russians -- Here's how to fix that

Last September, in the run-up to the election, we learned that Russians had attempted to attack 33 states' voter registration databases, later revised upward to 39 states. I was asked to testify about this in Congress, and my main concern was that the Russians might attempt to simply delete voters altogether, creating electoral chaos. All the pieces were in place, but the election came and went without wide-scale problems. What happened? We know that the Obama and Putin had a "blunt" meeting at the G20 that same September, so it's possible that Obama was able to rattle Putin enough to make him pull back. Maybe Putin decided that leaking stolen emails was good enough. We may never know the full story, but what is clear is that we need to adequately defend ourselves against future nation-state attacks on our elections, whether from Russia or elsewhere. As James Comey warned the Senate Intelligence Committee recently, "They will be back."

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Rural county offers 900 air-conditioned beds for inmates suing Texas prisons over heat

A rural county east of Houston is offering up a novel remedy for the state's problems with overheated prisons. As Texas inmates await a federal judge's ruling -- expected any day -- on whether to grant them emergency relief from dangerous indoor temperatures at prison units that don't have air conditioning, Newton County Judge Paul Price penned an unsolicited letter to U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison. Newton County, near the Louisiana border, has a 900-bed, air-conditioned facility that's vacant and available for use should Ellison see fit to consider it, Price wrote.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

ICE arrests ‘gang member’ who had been released from Travis County Jail

Federal immigration officials say they have arrested a documented “Sureños 13” gang member, who had been previously deported four times, a few weeks after he was released from the Travis County Jail. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents filed a detainer request with the Travis County Jail for 33-year-old Julio Cesar Mendoza-Caballero on June 16, the agency said in a news release on Tuesday. The same day, authorities at the jail released Mendoza-Caballero from custody without alerting ICE, federal officials said. ICE agents took Mendoza-Caballero back into custody on Friday in Austin for illegally reentering the United States. The news release did not provide details on Mendoza-Caballero’s arrest.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Industry upheaval prompts city to hold off on new taxi permits

Houston's taxi supply will stay with the status quo for at least another six months, as city officials and paid ride companies assess what's next for an industry inundated by app-based competitors such as Uber and Lyft. City Council on Wednesday is scheduled to approve a plan delaying issuance of additional taxi permits until next March 1. The delay was sought by regulators, cab drivers and the two companies that possess about seven out of every 10 taxi permits in Houston. "Due to the flux in the market and impact of (transportation network companies), the administration and council has listened to the industry and determined this is not the best time," said Cindy Clifford, spokeswoman for Houston Yellow Cab, the city's largest taxi firm.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Ragland: Dallas, it's time to bring down old Confederate monuments, and our mayor looks ready to do it

The Confederate generals who loom in granite-and-marble glory over two historic Dallas parks may be standing on borrowed time. Excuse me while I let this out: Yippee! Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings won't come right out and say this, but he willingly, if somewhat reluctantly, tips his hand. "Personally," Rawlings said, "I'm careful about espousing my point of view too much but not ashamed to do it. Slavery was the greatest sin that America ever participated in and we need to appropriately own up to that and move beyond it."

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Rally at Capitol takes aim at Abbott, Patrick’s special session agenda

More than 350 people called together by a coalition of social advocacy groups and Democratic-leaning political organizations rallied on the south steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday, the first day of the special legislative session. The group gathered in the dead heat of an Austin summer day to air their grievances against Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s special session agenda. One Texas Resistance, a coalition made up of more than 25 progressive and social justice advocacy groups, organized the event. Some participants shared their personal stories and how certain agenda items would affect them.

Waco Tribune - July 18, 2017

Waco leaders see special session as tug of war between state, cities

As the Texas Legislature’s special session begins Tuesday, Waco-area leaders are bracing for what they see as an assault on local power to tax, regulate and annex. Of 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has called on the Legislature to consider in this session, eight involve curbing local control. Aside from must-pass legislation reauthorizing several state agencies, Abbott has marked property tax reform as his top priority. That could involve further restricting the tax increases that local governments are allowed without voter approval, and limiting spending to a formula using inflation and population growth.

National Stories

Reuters - July 18, 2017

Americans want U.S. goods, but not willing to pay more: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Americans say they love U.S.-made goods. They are less enthusiastic, however, about paying a premium for them. At the AMES Companies Inc factory here, the wheelbarrows coming off the assembly line once every six seconds cost the company more to make in the United States than abroad, but U.S. retailers generally will not charge more for them because consumers would balk, AMES President Mark Traylor said. Nearly all U.S. manufacturers face the same squeeze. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found 70 percent of Americans think it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy U.S.-made products. Despite that sentiment, 37 percent said they would refuse to pay more for U.S.-made goods versus imports. Twenty six percent said they would only pay up to 5 percent more to buy American, and 21 percent capped the premium at 10 percent.

USA Today - July 17, 2017

A's on the rise in U.S. report cards, but SATs flounder

The good news on America's report cards: More high school teachers are handing out A's. But the bad news is that students aren't necessarily learning more. Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen. In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%. That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A's on report cards might be fool's gold.

The Hill - July 18, 2017

Dem donors buzzing about Kamala Harris

The Democratic donor class is abuzz about Kamala Harris after the freshman California senator was feted this weekend at an event in the Hamptons surrounded by top fundraisers. The Bridgehampton event, where Harris mingled with top donors and supporters of Hillary Clinton, was the ultimate signal that Harris is “thinking much bigger” than the Senate, one top bundler said. “She’s running for president. Take it to the bank,” another fundraiser said. “She’s absolutely going to run.” Donors say Harris is giving them a glimmer of hope when they need it the most. They see the former prosecutor-turned-California attorney general as embodying the qualities a Democratic presidential candidate would need to win the White House in 2020.

Axios - July 16, 2017

Swan: Tax reform shocker -- the White House actually has a plan

Here's a shocker that shouldn't be a shocker: The White House actually seems to have its act together on tax reform. Activists and business leaders who've been meeting with Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, Marc Short & Paul Teller from legislative affairs, and Sean Spicer (who's leading the comms strategy), all tell us the same thing: They're surprised about how much planning and organizing the White House has already done, given its ham-handed approach to the health care rollout. The administration will start pitching the tax reform effort in mid-August, according to sources involved. They're hoping to get the bill itself finalized for mark-ups after Labor Day (count us as skeptical on that.) But while that happens, expect to see CEOs, White House surrogates, and high-profile conservative activists start talking up the plan. Sources close to the effort say the White House is looking to avoid the mistakes of the health care debacle, when they failed miserably to build nationwide support.

The Hill - July 18, 2017

Koch-backed group: Congress shouldn't propose new foreign tax

An advocacy group backed by wealthy GOP donors Charles and David Koch is pushing back against the idea of a minimum tax on U.S. companies’ foreign earnings. Lawmakers are looking at a foreign minimum tax as they work on rewriting the tax code and discuss how to prevent U.S. companies from shifting profits overseas. But Americans for Prosperity (AFP) views the idea as counterproductive. “Policymakers in Washington should be focused on making the American economy more competitive, rather than looking for new revenue streams from American businesses and their customers,” AFP chief government affairs officer Brent Gardner said in a statement Monday.

New York Times - July 18, 2017

Democrats Perfect Art of Delay While Republicans Fume Over Trump Nominees

When Senate Democrats in 2013 drastically weakened the ability to filibuster presidential nominees, it seemed as if they were creating a glide path for a president whose party controlled the Senate to speed through confirmations. But as President Trump and Senate Republicans are learning to their great displeasure, that has not been the case. Instead, a new kind of delaying tactic was born, one meant not to block a particular nominee but to snarl the Senate and limit the number of people who can get confirmation votes. The barrier, as employed by both parties, is at the heart of an escalating fight over the pace of confirmations and the Trump administration’s ability to fill jobs. With the health care debate temporarily postponed, the focus will now shift to the conflict over nominations.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Reddick: Public support for college is slipping. Why that’s trouble

The recent results of a Pew Research Center survey on the public’s views of colleges and universities are disheartening. Pew found that during the past year, Republicans perceiving higher education in a negative light has increased 13 percentage points. Among Republicans, 58 percent now perceive colleges and universities negatively, while 36 percent viewed them as positive. Among Democrats, 19 percent see higher education as negative while 72 percent see it as positive. It’s no secret that one likely cause of this change is the 2016 presidential election and the political climate that followed. College campuses were — and still are — the sites of protests leading up to and following the election. This is part of the role that universities have historically played as sites of social activism, from Edward R. Murrow’s leadership of the National Student Federation of America in the 1930s to the student protests over Vietnam and civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

House approves Texan's bill to delay Obama-era ozone standards for reducing pollution

The House on Tuesday approved Texas Rep. Pete Olson’s bill to delay the timeline for states to meet ozone standards, mostly along a 229-199 party-line vote. The Pearland Republican’s bill, H.R. 806, would give states until October 2026, over nine years, to reach the 2015 ozone standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration. The bill also would limit future regulations that crack down on the pollutant. The bill includes seven Texas co-sponsors: Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan; Rep. Henry Cuellar D-Laredo; Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point; Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas; Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood; Rep. Brian Babin; R-Woodville; and Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

NRA video featuring Dallas radio host goes after Washington Post's coverage of gun owners

A commentator from Dallas on the National Rifle Association's TV channel addressed Washington Post reporter Alex Horton in a new video released that accuses the Post of defending “the violent left” and disparaging gun owners. Horton, an Iraq vet who has lived in Frisco, Austin and San Antonio, published a story last week on another recent video released by the group called “Organized Anarchy,” featuring NRA spokesman and former Navy SEAL Dom Raso. Headlined “‘Organized anarchy’: The NRA’s new dark video talks politics, not guns,” Horton’s story pointed out the politicized nature of the video, which criticized activist protesters but featured only one gun.

Wall St. Journal - July 17, 2017

WSJ: The Trumps and the Truth -- The best defense against future revelations is radical transparency.

Even Donald Trump might agree that a major reason he won the 2016 election is because voters couldn’t abide Hillary Clinton’s legacy of scandal, deception and stonewalling. Yet on the story of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, Mr. Trump and his family are repeating the mistakes that doomed Mrs. Clinton. ... Even if the ultimate truth of this tale is merely that Don Jr. is a political dunce who took a meeting that went nowhere—the best case—the Trumps made it appear as if they have something to hide. They have created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion. Don’t you get it, guys? Special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating the Russia story. Everything that is potentially damaging to the Trumps will come out, one way or another. Everything. Denouncing leaks as “fake news” won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36% approval rating shows.

Pro Publica - July 17, 2017

Lost Mothers

An estimated 700 to 900 women in the U.S. died from pregnancy-related causes in 2016. We have identified 120 of them so far. ... Twenty-six-year-old Amanda Eva Garcia lived in Texas, where maternal deaths have increased sharply in recent years. One of 16 siblings, “she came from a really hard life,” said Zak Tiemann, her boyfriend since 2011. She was sweet-natured and excitable, with a raucous laugh that burst out of nowhere — “little things put a big smile on her face.” She especially doted on her 9-year-old daughter, June, and their 2-year-old, Zoey. “Her mom abilities were so good,” Zak said. “She was the best mom I’ve ever seen.” Amanda didn’t earn enough in her assembly-line job making foam food containers to afford insurance, so like more than half of women who give birth in Texas, she got her care through Medicaid. After delivering her third daughter, Zayleeana, by C-section on July 5, 2016, she and the kids went to stay with Zak’s mom while he picked up work in San Antonio, 35 miles away.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

How do undocumented immigrants pay taxes?

The question of how undocumented immigrants pay taxes is often asked in the debate over immigration. One reader wrote to us and said he does not believe undocumented immigrants like Juan Rodriguez, the subject of the Chronicle's Out of Time series, can legally pay taxes. Or, if they do, it's only by obtaining illegal tax Social Security Numbers or other tax IDs. For federal income taxes, said Abby Eisenkraft, the CEO of Choice TaxSolutions Inc., "the IRS will treat an undocumented person living in the United States the same as a U.S. citizen or resident." That person "is treated as a resident for tax purposes, regardless of immigration status," meaning that "the undocumented person is responsible for filing a federal and state tax return where applicable," said Eisenkraft.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Target's chief sounds alarm on pullback by Hispanic shoppers

Target Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian Cornell is sounding alarm bells over the state of Hispanic shoppers in the U.S. - a key growth demographic for many retailers and consumer brands. "The Hispanic consumer in the U.S. is shopping much less," Cornell said at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech event Tuesday in Aspen, Colo. "They are staying home. They are going out less often." Cornell didn't mention President Donald Trump by name, but he talked about a shift in behavior this year and mentioned "border towns" - where retailers for years have depended on shoppers from northern Mexico for higher revenue.

Associated Press - July 18, 2017

Lawyer: Russian developer's staffer also at Trump Tower meet

Revelations that a Russian developer's representative was the eighth attendee at a Trump Tower campaign meeting arranged by President Donald Trump's eldest son prompted a new round of castigation on Tuesday from Democrats. It also brought word that the special counsel investigating possible Trump campaign ties to Russia wants more information about the sit-down. Officials from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller reached out over the weekend to a lawyer for Ike Kaveladze, who also goes by the name Irakly Kaveladze, attorney Scott Balber told The Associated Press. Kaveladze works for a Russian developer who once partnered with Trump to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow,

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2017

Senators, we've got 4,000 people on the line

Never underestimate the power of a ticked-off woman on hold. Lots of them. Men, too. All who have something to say about their health care. In fact, according Daily Action, an old-fashioned national phone-tree, there were just more than 3,500 direct callers from Texas to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn's offices in recent weeks to support the current Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, or to oppose the Republican's U.S. Senate replacement plan. When callers quickly discovered they could not get through to Cruz's Austin or Washington D.C. offices -- hitting either a busy signal or recorded message -- they launched an "Adopt-A-Senator" Day where 500 callers phoned U.S. Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat, to let his office know that people in the Lone Star State were concerned.

Houston Chronicle - July 18, 2017

Trump Administration defunding teen pregnancy prevention programs

The Trump administration is quietly cutting more than $213 million of grant money for teen pregnancy prevention and research programs at institutions across the country, a number of them in Texas. More than 80 institutions this month received a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informing them they will lose Obama-era grants aimed at helping teens avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. The White House is calling for the redirection of the money toward abstinence and personal responsibility programs.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Texas Republicans in Congress process health care bill's collapse

It took less than 24 hours for the defection of two Senate Republicans to bring about the complete collapse of their party's health care overhaul efforts. The unraveling began Monday evening with the announcements from U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, that they would oppose the current version of a bill overhauling former President Obama's 2010 health care law. That put U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell two votes short of the minimum 50 votes he needed from his 52-member caucus. "It was disappointing," U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said Tuesday.

Washington Post - July 18, 2017

With health-bill collapse, Republicans face uncertain electoral future in 2018

As the seven-year Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act crashed on the threshold of the Senate, President Trump offered his party a rescue strategy. Step one: Blame Democrats. Step two: Win more seats and try again. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it,” said Trump. “In ’18, we’re going to have to get some more people elected. We have to go out and get more people elected that are Republicans.” Trump made explicit what Republicans had been hoping since the repeal fight started — that whatever happened, voters would blame the Democrats for their health-care costs. It’s an audacious strategy that flies against current polling and electoral history. It counts on messaging, distracted voters and a built-in electoral advantage to guide the party past the rocks.

Washington Post - July 18, 2017

Trump had undisclosed hour-long meeting with Putin at G-20 summit

After his much-publicized two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting early this month with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Trump chatted informally with the Russian leader for up to an additional hour later the same day. The second meeting, undisclosed at the time, took place at a dinner for G-20 leaders, a senior administration official said. At some point during the meal, Trump left his own seat to occupy a chair next to Putin. Trump approached alone, and Putin was attended only by his official interpreter. In a statement issued Tuesday night after published reports of the conversation, the White House said that “there was no ‘second meeting’ between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting,” it said, “is false, malicious and absurd.”

Washington Post - July 19, 2017

Even in Trump era, new poll shows a mixed outlook for Democrats in 2018

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll offers conflicting forecasts for the 2018 midterm elections, with voters clearly preferring Democrats in control of Congress to check President Trump even as Republicans appear more motivated to show up at the polls. A slight majority of registered voters — 52 percent — say they want Democrats to control the next Congress, while 38 percent favor Republican control to promote the president’s agenda, according to the poll. Yet a surge in anti-Trump protests does not appear to have translated into heightened Democratic voter enthusiasm — a signal that could temper Democrats’ hopes for retaking the House majority next year.

Washington Post - July 19, 2017

Trump’s wall: The inside story of how the president crafts immigration policy

The border wall looms large for President Trump. Aboard Air Force One last week, talking with reporters en route to Paris, he ruminated about the wall of his dreams — 700 to 900 miles long, with transparent sections so that border agents aren’t hit on the head by “large stacks of drugs” tossed over from the Mexican side, and outfitted with solar panels. And no, Trump insisted, he was “not joking.” “There is a very good chance we can do a solar wall,” he said, “which would actually look good.”

New York Times - July 19, 2017

Driving While Undocumented, and Facing the Risks

Heading to church one evening in late March, a farmworker and her sister were stopped for speeding in the village of Geneseo, N.Y. They were driving with their five children in the back of the minivan. Two were not in car seats, as required. The police officer, trying to cite the driver for the infractions, discovered she had no driver’s license, so he called Border Patrol to review her Guatemalan passport. Both sisters were undocumented immigrants. They were detained and are facing deportation. Under a Trump administration that has taken an aggressive stance on illegal immigration, the moving car has become an easy target. A broken headlight, a seatbelt not worn, a child not in a car seat may be minor traffic violations, but for unauthorized immigrants, they can have life-altering consequences.

Politico - July 19, 2017

Tax reform becomes a must-win issue for the White House

With President Donald Trump’s effort to undo Obamacare derailed by opposition from Republican senators, the White House has turned its attention to its next big shot at a big win: tax reform. The long-held GOP goal of re-engineering the U.S. tax system has now become a political imperative for the Trump administration, which has yet to deliver any major legislative victories despite Republican control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Politico - July 19, 2017

Poll: Trump Jr. meeting was a bad idea

A majority of voters say it was inappropriate for Donald Trump Jr. to accept an offer to meet with an attorney linked to the Russian government, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. More than half, 52 percent, say meeting with a Russian government attorney was inappropriate. Only 23 percent of registered voters say meeting with a Russian government attorney was appropriate. The remaining 25 percent have no opinion.

All - July 18, 2017

Lead Stories

Politico - July 18, 2017

GOP health care bill collapses

President Donald Trump's top legislative priority was dealt a potentially fatal blow Monday night as two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the party's health care overhaul. Trump quickly called on Republicans to simply repeal Obamacare and begin work on a new health care plan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would try to do so. “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," McConnell said.

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

Governor says local governments threatening the Texas brand

Gov. Greg Abbott is making no apologies for loading up this week's special session agenda with items challenging the authority of local governments, which he declared Monday are threatening the Texas brand. He said regulations like local tree ordinances are promoting "socialism" and "collectivism." In a speech blocks from the state Capitol, Abbott warned that local governments are infringing on property rights, increasing regulations and growing taxes, when the state is trying to do the opposite. Those are "California-like" policies, he said.

Washington Post - July 17, 2017

Opposition from two more GOP senators spells potential end for health-care overhaul

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a signature priority for President Trump. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what had already been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the current bill. They joined Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

Wall St. Journal - July 16, 2017

White House Plans Messaging Campaign to Refocus Attention on Trump’s Agenda

The White House on Monday will embark on a three-week messaging campaign aimed at refocusing attention on President Donald Trump’s agenda and framing a debate later this summer over rewriting the U.S. tax code. The “Made In America” campaign, which starts with the president highlighting locally made products from around the country, is the latest attempt by Mr. Trump’s communications team to control a narrative that has consistently spun out of their grasp during the six months since the inauguration. The challenge controlling the message is partly due to turmoil within the West Wing over strategy and tactics. Disagreements continue over how the communications shop should be organized and on what policies the team should concentrate, White House officials said.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

'How will Potty Police know I'm transgender if governor doesn't,' critic says after posing with Abbott

A transgender San Antonio woman went to Gov. Greg Abbott's re-election campaign announcement last week with one mission: to pose for a photo with him. Ashley Smith, 45, accomplished that and then shared the image on social media with the caption: "How will the Potty Police know I'm transgender if the Governor doesn't?" Soon, the post, which Smith said was intended to raise awareness about opposition to a proposed "bathroom ban," took off and went viral.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

First Reading: For Texas GOP, the special session may be The Most Dangerous Game

It turns out that the Texas Disposal System’s Exotic Game Ranch in Creedmoor is really quite lovely and very cool. Not at all what I expected at a landfill on the outskirts of Travis County. But, as I drove out to the Travis County Republican Party’s Summer Bash, I had an uneasy feeling. It’s not just that Texas Republicans like their guns, like to shoot and kill things, like to eat the things they kill and probably have a taste for forbidden meats. And, I mean, would anyone really notice if there were one or two fewer aoudads or barasignhas roaming the landfill after the Republicans came and went?

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

Four Texas Republicans in Congress were just outraised by Democratic challengers

There are early signs of Democratic enthusiasm in Texas in the latest round of federal campaign finance report filings over the weekend, but whether that fundraising support will translate into trouble for Republicans remains to be seen. Four GOP incumbents from Texas – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Ted Poe of Humble and Lamar Smith of San Antonio – found in recent days that their Democratic challengers had posted better fundraising hauls than they had in the second quarter of this year. "It's happening in other places as well," said Achim Bergmann, a Democratic consultant who has clients across the country including one challenging Culberson. "It's particularly surprising and encouraging in a place like Texas, and it might be an indication of where Republicans are taking things for granted and are going to be sorry."

San Antonio Express News - July 17, 2017

Fikac: Straus doesn’t want to be choice of ‘most extreme’

House Speaker Joe Straus could hardly sound less worried about a cadre of tea-party Republicans who have threatened to mount a rare leadership challenge in the middle of his term. “When don’t I?” the San Antonio Republican told the San Antonio Express-News when asked about the possibility of having a potential challenger. “When haven’t I? It’s a competitive business.” Straus said he’s confident that his focus on core issues is what the House overall wants, avowing that he’s not interested in being the No. 1 choice of “a handful of the most extreme members.”

Washington Post - July 17, 2017

Vice chair of Trump’s voter fraud commission wants to change federal law to add new requirements for voting, email shows

The day after Donald Trump was elected president, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, now the vice-chair of Trump's commission on voter fraud, told Trump's transition team of a proposal to change federal law to allow stricter requirements on voter registration. Kobach's team was "putting together information on legislation drafts for submission to Congress early in the administration," Kobach wrote to transition team member Gene Hamilton in an email. "I have some already started regarding amendments to the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act] to make clear that proof of citizenship requirements are permitted (based on my ongoing litigation with the ACLU over this)."

The Hill - July 17, 2017

GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West

Demographic change is slowly, but inevitably, moving Western states to the left. The political power of Las Vegas is a hint of the GOP’s worst-case scenario: A mega-metropolitan area so dominant, and so Democratic, that it swamps the Republican advantage in increasingly conservative rural areas. Republicans who have watched Nevada politics in recent years worry their party’s struggles in the Silver State will be a harbinger of things to come as the face of the American electorate changes — especially in other Mountain West states such as Arizona and Colorado. “The Wild West is slowly becoming an Urbanized West,” said Mike Slanker, a Republican strategist in Las Vegas.

Washington Post - July 16, 2017

Bernstein: Today’s conservatives clearly don’t understand government’s role as an insurer. Here’s why.

A lot of what key Republicans say in the health-care debate (and other debates too, such as Social Security) suggests that they fundamentally fail to understand the concept of insurance. For example, Vice President Pence was quoted over the weekend criticizing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion for putting “far too many able-bodied adults” on the program. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) argued that his ill-considered amendment to the Senate replacement plan — the one that allows insurers to offer bare-bones plans that bifurcate the risk pool and thus invoke the classic insurance “death spiral” — “ensures consumers have the freedom to choose among more affordable plans that are tailored to their individual health-care needs.” A few months ago, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) argued that Obamacare’s fatal structural flaw was that it was set up so that the healthy would subsidize the sick.

Amarillo Globe News - July 16, 2017

Seliger says local control at risk in Texas Legislature’s special session

State Sen. Kel Seliger said the special session that starts Tuesday is an assault on local control. “There’s no other way you can look at it,” said the Republican from Amarillo, where he was mayor for eight years. The 20-item special session agenda, assembled by Gov. Greg Abbott, is chock full of items peeling back the power of local governments to decide everything from property taxes to bathroom access and even tree-trimming. One of the issues at the forefront of the session is rising property tax bills. Abbott supports placing a cap on how much local governments can increase taxes each year.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

Miller: Private sector holds key to fixing schools

As we Texans watch the start of a special session of the Legislature, it seems clear that the leadership of our public officials hasn't a clue about what to do to deal with a public education system in deep trouble. And the private sector doesn't seem to provide any serious insight or initiative either. Considering what's going on in Austin, one has to ask: Where are the bold, forward thinking leaders that made Texas great? The public school finance system is dysfunctional. After more than a quarter century of state Supreme Court rulings declaring the finance system unconstitutional and attempting to prescribe an outcome from the bench - ineptly - the court's most recent ruling last year at last threw in the towel and told the Legislature that it's their duty - so: Fix It! - in the strongest words of criticism of the system imaginable.

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

EnverVest's $2 billion energy fund worthless as bust keeps hurting

The Houston investment firm EnerVest is selling oil and gas holdings to fend off creditors after the value of a $2 billion hedge fund launched during the oil boom plunged to almost nothing as the effects of the worst oil bust in a generation are still felt. The stakes of some the nation's biggest institutional investors, including foundations and pension funds, appear all but wiped out. EnerVest, founded 25 years ago, developed a complex financial structure and an unusual approach to investing in the energy industry, but its fund ultimately succumbed to the same miscalculations that pushed hundreds of drillers into bankruptcy during the two-year oil bust.

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

DePillis: The internet is still cutting into Texas sales taxes

We've heard a lot about how online shopping is taking a bite out of brick and mortar stores, leading to a collapse in retail employment. But it continues to pose problems for state and local governments, which lose billions of dollars in sales taxes each year to online purchases. Sales taxes made up 31 percent of all state revenue in 2016. But the Supreme Court found in 1992 that it's only legal to impose sales taxes if the vendor has a physical presence in the state where the buyer is located. Over the years, that has taken a toll on state sales tax collections — 22 states saw their revenues either decline or fail to keep pace with inflation last year, according to an NPR analysis of Census data. Over the last four decades, the aggregate tax base for all states has shrunk rather than grown, a 2015 study found.

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

More teachers taking on summer jobs to get by

Summer traditionally is a time for teachers like Chris Williams to take a break after a busy and stressful school year, but this year he finds himself working to the point of exhaustion. Monday through Thursday, Williams works 7 1/2 hour days as an instructor at a summer school. Then he logs in another 15-20 hours on weeknights and weekends as a sales associate at the Barnes & Noble on West Gray near Shepherd. "For me, if I did not have to work at Barnes & Noble or any kind of second job, I wouldn't spend more summer time watching Netflix or at the beach," Williams said. "I would really spend more of that time doing things that are reasons why I got into the profession in the first place - help students make connections."

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2017

New York company fires off limited edition Texas gun

A New York-based company has created one of the most Texas guns you'll ever see. What does New York know about Texans and their guns? Well, perhaps more than you would have thought. Kimber is creating 800 of its limited-edition "Texas Edition 1911 pistols." The handgun features "Come and Take It" on the left of an ivory grip and the Lone Star flag on the right. ... The release is meant to celebrates Texans' "superior American values and 2nd Amendment rights activism."

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2017

Texas Democrats press Abbott against release of voter data to Trump commission

Texas Democrats are demanding that the administration of Gov. Greg Abbott turn over "all communications" between state officials and President Donald Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is seeking comprehensive voter registration data across the country. In a letter Thursday to Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, the Texas Democratic Party called on the state to produce documents by July 20 regarding officials' interaction with the Trump commission. The open records request alleges that the Trump commission's probe is designed to bolster Trump's "unsubstantiated claim" that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election by non-citizens.

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

Weissert: Special session revives racial tensions, 'bathroom bill'

The start of the special session will bring Rinaldi, Romero and Nevarez all back together for the first time since that confrontation — and things should stay civil. But underlying racial tensions persist. Opponents say the sanctuary city law targets Hispanics, empowering police to force people who look like they might be in the country illegally to "show your papers." Immigrant rights groups have asked a federal court to block the law as discriminatory before it takes effect Sept. 1. Conservatives counter that it will make Texas safer and have asked a separate federal judge to declare it constitutional pre-emptively.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Schnurman: Can a band of Texas CEOs prevent the scarlet letter of a 'bathroom bill'?

Politicians love to say Texas is wide open for business. But will they listen to those who actually do business here? On Monday morning, leaders from 14 Dallas-area companies took a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that's widely seen as discriminating against transgender people in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has directed lawmakers to consider such a proposal in a special session that starts on Tuesday. Collectively, the local companies behind the letter generate over $322 billion in annual revenue and have over 730,000 employees around the world. Some adopted pro-LGBT policies decades ago, and all put a premium on attracting a diverse workforce.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

Roberts: The 4 reforms conservatives should demand during the Texas Legislature's special session

By any measure, Texas is the nation's premier land of opportunity, where initiative, a good work ethic and perseverance offer a significant chance for success. Though most signs point to the Lone Star juggernaut continuing, the Texas Legislature will need to take bolder steps to ensure that it does. Put simply, the recently concluded legislative session fell far short of the transformational conservative, free-market reform required to nurture the so-called Texas Model. The imminent special session offers an opportunity to do so. The time-tested, proven recipe for success in Texas has been low taxes, fair regulation and maximizing liberty while limiting government.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

Jeffers: If Texas business leaders want to defeat bathroom bills, they need to call out Gov. Abbott

Texas business leaders are finally stepping up, but they need to do more than write letters and hold news conferences if they want to defeat the so-called bathroom bills they say will hurt the economy and cast the state as welcoming discrimination. "We can do better than this," said Dallas City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates during a news conference held at the Capitol by the Texas Association of Business. "Don't discriminate." Lawmakers convene Tuesday for a special session that will be highlighted by the debate over proposals to limit which restrooms transgendered people can use.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

AG Paxton: Tree ordinances may violate Texas Constitution

City tree ordinances can violate the Texas Constitution if they deprive landowners of “all economically beneficial or productive use of land,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a written opinion released Monday, one day before the Legislature begins a special session that will tackle the tree issue. The “takings clause” of the Texas Constitution provides that “no person’s property shall be taken, damaged, or destroyed for or applied to public use without adequate compensation being made.” Ordinances that regulate tree removal violate the takings clause if landowners are not fully compensated for restrictions that unreasonably interfere with their right “to use and enjoy their property,” Paxton concluded.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Israel: School finance reform should be top priority

Less than two months after the end of an exhausting regular session, the state Legislature returns to town this week. While I wish lawmakers were spending time working on real solutions for Texans, I am concerned a special session will mean little more than a summer full of divisive, embarrassing politics. So how did we get here? The Texas Constitution gives the governor the power to call special sessions of the Legislature upon “extraordinary occasions.” During the regular legislative session, the so-called “safety net bill,” which extends the existence of certain critical state agencies, died in an end-of-session standoff between the House and the Senate.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Business groups tell Texas lawmakers: Reject ‘bathroom bill’

crapped corporate expansions and relocations. Discontinued national conventions and conferences. Canceled sporting events and concerts. Those are the economic consequences Texas lawmakers are risking if they approve legislation regulating where transgender people can use the bathroom during the special session of the Texas Legislature that begins on Tuesday, according to corporate executives, business lobbyists and tourism officials. “State-sponsored discrimination has very severe economic consequences,” said Jeff Moseley, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, during a rally Monday morning on the steps of the state Capitol.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Ahead of special session, Abbott and Patrick cast a wary eye at Straus

In back-to-back appearances Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held what amounted to a pep rally for the special session that begins Tuesday, with the governor calling for a running public count of who is with or against his 20-item agenda, and Patrick warning House Speaker Joe Straus not to get in the way. “I’m going to be establishing a list,” Abbott said in a midday question-and-answer event on the session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank where many of the governor’s priorities are born and raised. “We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out,” Abbott said. “Who is for this. Who is against this. Who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Washington to send Texas National Guard $2.3M for border security

The federal government will send $2.3 million to the Texas National Guard this year as part of a four-state border security preparedness program, Lt. Col. Travis Walters said Monday. Washington will also take control over the 100 guardsmen stationed along the Texas-Mexico border who had been sent there as part of the state’s border security campaign. (Depending on their mission, National Guard units take orders from either the president or the governor.) Gov. Greg Abbott framed the news as a sign that the federal government is finally recognizing Texas’ role in handling a surge in asylum-seeking immigrants from violence-stricken Central American countries that began in the summer of 2014 and overwhelmed immigration authorities.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Special session: We asked where lawmakers stand. Here’s what they said.

Over two and half weeks, the American-Statesman attempted to reach every Texas House member on where they stand on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda. Forty-seven of 150 legislators responded — a figure too small to reach broad conclusions about whether there is enough support for all 20 items — but the answers show that Republicans are not in lock step with Abbott. The survey responses show there is not uniform Republican support on 17 of the agenda items. The responses suggest that the governor has yet to win over at least some Republicans, who hold a big majority of House seats and will determine which measures succeed.

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

Gov. Abbott says cutting property taxes top task for special session

Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that reducing property taxes is his top priority for the legislative special session that begins Tuesday. In a half hour question-and-answer event with Kevin Roberts, executive vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Abbott said it’s hard for a parent to choose the favorite of his 19 children — referring to the number of items he added to the agenda of a session that he had to call to in order to extend the life of the Texas Medical Board and four other agencies.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Morris: Special session should deliver big, bold decisive action

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special legislative session with an ambitious agenda that is sure to make hard-working Texans smile. By passing reforms that return power to the governed, lawmakers again have a historic chance to expand opportunity and prosperity for all Texans. Vested, special interests will undoubtedly be pulling out all the stop, though if principled lawmakers prevail, then Texans may see more control over their property taxes, an end to government collection of union dues and an expansion of educational freedoms. To make the most of this special session, lawmakers should start with meaningful reforms to property tax collection by returning local control to the taxpayers.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Abbott: Overregulation makes Texas dream a California nightmare

Runaway regulations by cities are already hitting your wallet and threaten to turn the Texas dream into a California nightmare. Today’s reality is that more Texans are working than ever before. With our strong economy, overall lower costs of living and high quality of life, Texas remains the best place to raise a family, build a business and create greater opportunity for all. But that promise is in peril. While we rightly rail against overreach by the federal government — like the previous administration’s attempt to take away rights from Texas landowners by regulating ponds and ditches on private land — local municipalities are increasingly infringing on private property rights and driving up costs for homeowners, renters and job-creating businesses alike.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Democrats vow to resist special session’s ‘make-believe crises’

Saying the special legislative session is built on “make-believe crises,” House and Senate Democrats vowed Monday to resist wherever possible, starting by denying Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick the ability to speed the approval of bills in the early part of the special session. Patrick, who presides over the Senate, cannot suspend Senate rules without the support of 25 senators, including five of the body’s 11 Democrats. “He doesn’t have five Democrats,” said Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso, head of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “This is not a time for us as Democrats to just roll over and say yes we want to get out of here, pass all your bad legislation.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Patrick promises to be Abbott `wing man’ against any Straus sniping

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sharpened his attack on House Speaker Joe Straus Monday as a potential obstacle to the success of a conservative special session agenda that the speaker had derided as “manure.” “I’m a 20-for-20 guy,” Patrick told a policy orientation of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, referring to his support for all 20 items on the governor’s agenda for the special session. “Texas is the most conservative state,” Patrick said, adding he will not let “one man,” in Straus, thwart the will of the governor, the Senate, the membership of the House and the people of Texas.

Texas Tribune - July 14, 2017

Peterson: Federalism in the Trump era: Conservatives should commit to decentralization

"Town institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to knowledge; they put it within the grasp of the people; they give them a taste of its peaceful practice and accustom them to its use. Without town institutions, a nation can pretend to have a free government, but it does not possess the spirit of liberty." — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835. For at least the next year and a half, Republicans face the challenge of governance. The 2016 election put power in their hands at the national and state levels to a degree not seen since the Civil War. Most major U.S. cities, however, remain under Democratic leadership. The challenge of constructing a governing vision — highlighted by Yuval Levin — is especially acute for Republican leaders in states with liberal urban populations and representatives. Intergovernmental conflict has intensified in the Trump era, with city leadership calling for local control in policy areas ranging from bathroom privileges to immigration enforcement, and state governments attempting to curtail it. Ongoing attempts by Republican leaders to circumvent municipal control of local issues are misguided and likely to undermine the construction and implementation of a long-term governing vision.

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

Texas Democrats lay out their own special session priorities

House and Senate Democrats on Monday unveiled their priorities for the upcoming special legislative session, including some measures that fall in line with the agenda Gov. Greg Abbott laid out in his call and some that depart entirely from it. In a joint press conference, Democratic leaders in both chambers vowed to champion the issues "that matter to all Texans," and to fight for legislation that will protect "our kids, our economy, our health and our communities." Priorities for the Democrats include school finance reform and reducing maternal mortality — both of which are on Abbott's list in some capacity. Several other issues, including criminal justice reform and equal pay, are not — and are unlikely to make it to the floor for a vote.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

Spriggs: Progress made, but there’s more to do for Texas children

In his January State of the State address, Gov. Greg Abbott elevated the reform of the child protection system as his No. 1 emergency item. This occurred against the backdrop of U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack’s 2015 ruling that Texas’ foster care system violated children’s constitutional right to be “free from an unreasonable risk of harm.” Media scrutiny also revealed major problems with Child Protective Services, such as children sleeping in hotels and CPS offices due to placement shortages. Our system was in crisis; with high turnover and high caseloads, the foundation was crumbling as children slipped through the gaps. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, the Legislature took significant steps toward filling these gaps and began the process of re-laying a solid foundation to build on in the coming sessions.

San Antonio Express News - July 17, 2017

Abbott calls tree ordinances “socialism”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called municipal tree preservation ordinances, such as San Antonio’s, “socialism” and applauded a legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton suggesting that local ordinances protecting trees are unconstitutional. The attorney general’s opinion comes just as the Legislature’s special session, which includes plans to address municipal tree ordinances, is scheduled to begin. All municipal preservation ordinances could be in the state’s cross hairs if the Legislature takes up the issue, regardless of the details of the individual local laws. Paxton’s opinion was issued as a response to an inquiry from state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, who asked the attorney general whether tree ordinances violate the Texas Constitution.

San Antonio Express News - July 18, 2017

Texas officials warn of increase in food-borne illness

State health officials are warning of an increase in Texas in the number of people who've contracted a food-borne illness often linked to imported produce. The Department of State Health Services says 68 cases of cyclosporiasis have been reported in the last month and officials are asking health care providers to pursue testing and report any additional cases. There are more than 250 different food-borne diseases, but cyclosporiasis is among the most common that are closely tracked by health agencies.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Hey, Texplainer: What will the special session cost taxpayers?

Hey, Texplainer: What is the cost to the Texas taxpayers and the state for the special session? What is the breakdown of the cost? As government programs go, a 30-day special session is pretty cheap — a cool $1 million. Paying lawmakers is the largest expense: In addition to their annual salary of $7,200, they currently earn $190 per day in what's called a "per diem" — meant to cover their expenses in Austin. That per diem pay has varied over the years; it's capped by IRS allowances and set by the Texas Ethics Commission, the agency that also regulates the behavior of campaigns, candidates and public officials.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Workers' rights group seeks to highlight the other side of NAFTA

As the state’s business leaders vie for a seat at the table during the North American Free Trade Agreement’s upcoming renegotiation talks, another interest group is hoping there is enough room for one more point of view. Unlike those who advocate for cheaper products and tariff-free commerce, they're speaking out for the blue-collar workers on both sides of the Rio Grande who say they have been devastated by the trade agreement. “Our stance has been for almost 20 years that NAFTA has created an economic situation in which people are forced to leave their hometowns and their communities,” said Bianca Hinz-Foley Trejo, the program director for Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (ATCF).

San Antonio Express News - July 17, 2017

Abbott promises to publish daily list of lawmakers who oppose his priorities

Facing pushback from House leadership on key parts of his special-session agenda, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he’ll be publishing a list on a daily basis of lawmakers who are backing and opposing his priorities Abbott, speaking at a forum hosted by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation on the day before the session begins, said that the foundation and others may establish lists as well. “We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis and call people out — Who is for this, who is against this, who has not taken a position? No one gets to hide.”

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

At the Texas Capitol, bathroom bill debate revs back up

There’s a slight sense of déjà vu at the Texas Capitol. Legislative proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans are rolling in. LGBT advocates are fiercely denouncing them as discriminatory. Fearing economic fallout, business groups and corporations are rallying in opposition. And the leaders of the House and Senate are once again squarely at odds over the issue. It’s a familiarity that has turned people like Chelsa Morrison — the mother of an eight-year-old transgender girl named Marilyn — into a “complete nervous wreck.”

San Antonio Express News - July 17, 2017

Texas lawmaker’s proposal seeks to combat fraud on seafood labeling

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold orders his fish cooked whole so he knows what he is eating, given the suspicious seafood that has appeared on his plate in the past. “There were a couple times where I said, ‘This isn’t flounder,’” said Farenthold, sponsor of newly introduced labeling legislation that aims to cut down on the deception that plagues consumers and Gulf of Mexico fishermen alike. DNA tests on seafood in Texas and elsewhere have showed that seafood at markets and restaurants is mislabeled roughly one-third of the time. What’s sold as snapper or grouper might be tilapia farmed in China. That wild-caught “Gulf shrimp” may have originated in Asia, raised in ponds laden with veterinary drugs unapproved in the U.S.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Peacock, Quintero, Ginn: Special session may be a good investment for Texans

Not everyone, it seems, is excited about the Texas Legislature assembling in Austin for the special session set to begin on July 18. One common complaint by those who’d prefer members stay home is the high cost of a special session to taxpayers. Past estimates for the cost of a 30-day special session have topped $1 million. However, if the Legislature actually passes bills on the 20 charges specified in the call by Gov. Greg Abbott, Texans could see a return on their investment in the special session far surpassing their wildest expectations.

San Antonio Express News - July 16, 2017

Alles: Don’t let Abbott mess with tree ordinances

Despite the legislative session being one of the most contentious in recent memory, homebuilders and cities managed to agree on a bill limiting local tree ordinances. But Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed the bill and called for statewide repeal of tree ordinances in the special session that begins Tuesday. Based on past incidents, one can easily predict the consequences of Abbott’s legislation; homebuilders from California will come into our community and clear-cut entire hillsides of trees. To make way for big-box parking lots, giant heritage oaks will be routinely destroyed. And taxpayers will be saddled with the costs of dealing with the stormwater runoff, air pollution and water contamination these new developments generate.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Snyder: How Democrats can stop a bad special session

It’s going to be a long summer for Texas Democrats. From their perspective, the recently-concluded legislative session was already a disaster. Over strenuous opposition, Republicans rammed through long-sought legislation to ban sanctuary cities with Senate Bill 4. They also passed SB 8, a sweeping bill that bans most second-trimester abortions. The stingy state budget, passed with only lukewarm Democratic support, underfunds public services and drastically cuts state funding for Medicaid and public universities. Democrats spent most of the session playing defense, slowing down divisive and destructive legislation including the “bathroom bill,” private school vouchers, anti-union legislation and caps on local government taxation and spending.

Texas Tribune - July 18, 2017

Why the murder charge against the Texas police officer who killed Jordan Edwards is rare

A Dallas County grand jury indicted a former Balch Springs police officer on a murder charge Monday in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, an exceedingly rare legal step in Texas that illustrates the controversy surrounding the shooting since details of it rocked the community in April. Though news of police shootings has become commonplace in Texas and throughout the nation, disciplinary action against an officer isn’t typical and a murder indictment is almost unheard of. It takes overwhelming evidence for investigators and prosecutors to challenge an officer's decision to fire his or her weapon, even in controversial incidents. In the rare instances they do, it is often for a lesser charge, like manslaughter or aggravated assault.

Dallas Morning News - July 18, 2017

Lindenberger: For transgendered Texans, defeating 'bathroom bill' is about saving lives

When Texas lawmakers return to Austin today for the special session, they'll be fighting over the very lives of transgender teenagers and others in Texas, whether they're willing to admit it or not. This isn't hyperbole, and it's not a secret. Just ask Speaker Joe Straus, the conservative Republican who leads the lower chamber. "I won't have the suicide of a single Texan on my hands," he explained when asked why he opposed the Senate version of the bill so desperately sought by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. That's the same message he gave to two emissaries Patrick sent late in the session trying to change his mind. And it's the same message Straus hit when he later spoke to reporters about how much he opposed the bill that passed in the Senate.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Ahead of special session, Abbott and Patrick cast a wary eye at Straus

In back-to-back appearances Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick held what amounted to a pep rally for the special session that begins Tuesday, with the governor calling for a running public count of who is with or against his 20-item agenda, and Patrick warning House Speaker Joe Straus not to get in the way. “I’m going to be establishing a list,” Abbott said in a midday question-and-answer event on the session at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the conservative think tank where many of the governor’s priorities are born and raised. “We all need to establish lists that we publish on a daily basis to call people out,” Abbott said. “Who is for this. Who is against this. Who has not taken a position yet. No one gets to hide.”

Texas Monthly - July 12, 2017

Susan Combs Joins Trump’s Assault on the Endangered Species Act

While the national news media has been fixated on President Donald Trump’s Russian connections, failures on tax and health care revisions, and the lack of his promised border wall, his administration has been building a U.S. Department of Interior team to effectively dismantle the Endangered Species Act. Trump’s latest addition is the appointment of former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs as assistant secretary of interior for policy, management, and budget. A Vassar College graduate from a ranching family in Brewster County, Combs is no stranger to the critter versus people wars. Combs has been vocal in her opposition to how the Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Nixon in 1973, has been implemented.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 16, 2017

Taxpayers’ tab at least $34,580 a day when Texas lawmakers meet in special session

When the special legislative session starts Tuesday, taxpayers will pay at least $34,580 for every day lawmakers work. And that’s just to cover the per diem that each legislator will receive, said RJ DeSilva, a spokesman for the Legislative Budget Board. Other costs — from utilities to printing — will drive the final bill higher for the 30-day session. Gov. Greg Abbott has chosen 20 bills for lawmakers to consider, ranging from tree ordinances to determining where transgender Texans may use the restroom.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

Brodesky: Joe Straus for president

Politicos, particularly those of the tea party persuasion, like to note that House Speaker Joe Straus is not elected statewide. The implication being that Republican primary voters across the Lone Star State would never elect a moderate such as Straus, making the good speaker a RINO obstructionist to the true conservative agenda. To Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland and other tea party darlings, Straus hasn’t earned his place at the Republican table even though he is a lifelong R who was sitting at the table when Stickland was potty training. That’s why I say, Joe Straus for president! Let’s face it, 2020 is fast approaching and the country sure could use his steady and thoughtful leadership that unifies people and serves the public with dignity, grace, pragmatism and compassion.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 14, 2017

Turner: Legislature should work for Texans

The Texas Legislature should be focused on providing real solutions for all Texans. When we meet, whether in a regular or special session, our highest priorities should always be our state’s kids, economy, health and communities. Fortunately, Texas House Democrats have answers to the challenges facing our public schools, new Texas mothers, our criminal justice system, and our lagging economy. Bills filed by Democrats during the regular session, as well as the proposals we will file in the special session, can address each of these issues in a way that helps all Texans and their families.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 17, 2017

Constitutional carry: State rep pushes gun bill during special session

Some Texans are gearing up for a gun fight at the Texas Capitol during this special session. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland said he hasn’t given up on a plan to let Texans carry their firearms without first having to get a permit or safety training. The controversial plan, known as constitutional carry, died during the regular legislative session this year. But the upcoming special session that starts Tuesday could be the right time to make this proposal law, the Bedford Republican said.

Spectrum News - July 14, 2017

Ponzi schemes and cooking the books: Texas special session edition

The special session of the 85th Texas Legislature begins on Tuesday. And for those thinking the division between the House and Senate might have subsided, think again. During a news conference Thursday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick laid out a plan to tap the Texas lottery to pay for teacher bonuses. He wants to spend $700 million each year in lottery revenue to give veteran teachers a boost. Patrick says the lottery raises about $1 billion yearly for education. His plan would force school districts to use most of that on pay bumps for teachers with at least six years of experience, and retirees with more than 20 years.

Houston Press - July 14, 2017

Fanelli: Hunting Feral Hogs From Hot Air Balloons in Texas — What Could Go Wrong? Plenty, Say the Pilots.

An odd piece of Texas legislation due to go into effect September 1 allowing hunters to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from hot air balloons appears to have neglected input from one key constituency: the pilots themselves. “It seems like one of the most ill-conceived pieces of legislation I’ve ever heard of,” said Phil Bryant, a hot air balloon pilot and owner of Ballooning Adventures of Texas, a full-service balloon company in Houston, when asked about it by the Houston Press. Bryant’s reaction mirrored the response of multiple hot air balloon enthusiasts who were confused by the motivation, implementation and, in particular, the logistics of Texas House Bill 3535. All noted they were never asked for input from Republican State Congressman Mark Keough, who sponsored the bill this spring. The law passed unopposed, a rare occurrence in this year’s legislature.

KXAN - July 17, 2017

Texas National Guard on border to go under federal orders

The federal government will begin funding Texas National guardsmen working on the border as part of Operation Secure Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday. “The taxpayers of Texas have funded border security, a federal responsibility, for far too long,” said Gov. Abbott. “I am grateful that the federal government and Congressional appropriators are stepping up and dedicating additional resources to provide for the safety and security of all Texans. The state of Texas also extends it gratitude to the men and women of the Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety for their continued commitment to securing our border.”

Austin Chronicle - July 14, 2017

Whittaker: Lege Lines -- Does Texas Really Need a Special Session

Few items capture the spirit of American politics quite like the campaign pin. As the sides get drawn for the state Legislature's upcoming special session, lawmakers have taken to sporting their team's respective badges. On one end, a lapel pin that says simply "Sunset and Sine Die" – a reference to the one required piece of outstanding work from the regular session, a bill to ensure the continued existence of the Texas Medical Board. On the other, a badge that champions a full "20 for 20," as in the 20 items on Gov. Greg Abbott's agenda when session starts on Tuesday, July 18. The frustrating truth for lawmakers is that the time-limited 30-day special was eminently avoidable. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his allies in the Senate killed the TMB Sunset bill in May, giving Abbott an excuse to call a special. But rather than just bringing lawmakers back to pass only what is essential, the Guv has fashioned himself a political Rube Goldberg machine: Once the sunset bill gets passed by the Senate, Abbott will add an additional 19 items to the call. Most are hard-line Republican dogma, like crippling local government budgets and further throttling Planned Parenthood's funding streams.

Digital Journal - July 17, 2017

Houston Energy Attorney Launches Surprise Primary Challenge to Ted Cruz

Stefano de Stefano, a free market Republican and Houston-based energy attorney, emerged Monday as the sole Republican primary challenger for Sen. Ted Cruz’ seat in the U.S. Senate. "Texas Republicans deserve a big-tent alternative who can bring private sector know-how to bear against the gridlock in our federal legislature," said de Stefano. Until de Stefano, Ted Cruz faced a clear path to the Republican nomination. A primary challenge from the center scrambles the electoral calculus and threatens to spoil the faceoff between Tea Party incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke. "People are fed up with political posturing on either side of the aisle," said de Stefano. "Texans want a reasonable candidate they can trust to get the job done."

Associated Press - July 17, 2017

Texas' biggest assisted-living facility for Medicaid closing

The largest assisted-living facility for Medicaid recipients in Texas is voluntarily shuttering after years of budget deficits and as residential developers clamor for real estate in the nation's seventh fastest-growing city, the owner confirmed Friday. The Westchester Plaza, a 12-story property at the center of Fort Worth's medical district, has operated as an assisted-living facility for the elderly since 1998. It has a licensed capacity of 275 residents but is down to about 115 residents, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Too few, owner Doug Sweeney told The Associated Press, to pay for its continued upkeep. The residents — low-income, intellectually or physically disabled adults — learned Monday that they have until August 10 to find a new place to live.

This article appeared on the ABC News website

County Stories

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - July 17, 2017

Off-year doesn’t stop campaign funds as Lubbock area politicians report finances

The first day to file for a spot on the 2018 primary ballot is November 11 — still months away. The new financial statements didn’t reveal any new candidates, but they did give a glimpse of how much money is being raised in contested races - none more heavily than the U.S. House District 19 seat where two Democrats are challenging first-term U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington. Arrington has a sizable war chest. The Congressman’s financial forms filed last week show he raised almost $280,000 since the beginning of March, bringing his total cash on hand to $514,926. According to the Federal Election Commission, 61 percent of the contributions have come from individuals, and 33 percent have come from Political Action Committees. The biggest contributor was the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC from Minnesota that donated $5,000. Arrington also received more than $2,000 from the Beef PAC, the BNSF Railway PAC and the General Electric PAC. Arrington is a member of the House agriculture committee.

Weatherford Democrat - July 13, 2017

New law will outsource CPS cases

Caseworkers in Parker, Tarrant, Palo Pinto, Johnson, Hood, Somervell and Erath County will soon see many of their duties outsourced as a result of reforms made by the legislature to the Texas’ Child and Protective Services division. Passed by the 85th legislature this year, the new law would outsource case management duties to nonprofit organizations. Known as Single Source Continuum Contractors, these organizations are already responsible for delivering foster care services, and under the new bill, they will be responsible for overseeing tasks that currently fall to caseworkers. Although the new concept is known as “community-based care,” Parker and the six other counties were already under a similar model called ‘foster care redesign.’

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

Poverty on the rise in Houston's suburbs

The number of high-poverty areas outside the Houston area's inner cities has more than doubled, according to a recent Harvard University analysis. The analysis showed that in the Houston metro area, the number of high-poverty census tracts that are low population density -- in other words, "outside of urban core areas," according to researchers -- has grown from 22 to 56. The analysis was part of "The State of The Nation's Housing 2017" by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, released last month. The findings track with a growing body of research and commentary that has shown that the most rapidly-increasing sector of poverty is in the suburbs -- long considered bastions of idyllic American life.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

Denton County GOP precinct chair says anti-fascist group is attacking him online

A Denton County Republican official says he's being attacked for being a supporter of President Donald Trump. Joseph Kane, the county GOP precinct chair, said he fears for his family's safety after being labeled a white supremacist on social media. Kane volunteered to become a Denton County Republican Party precinct chair after Trump was elected. He says he's now the target of a group called Antifa, an anti-fascist group involved in violent clashes.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Hundreds of Texas teachers rally against special session issues

More than 1,000 teachers and retired public school teachers, members of all major statewide teacher groups, descended onto the Capitol on Monday to decry major parts of Gov. Greg Abbott’s education agenda that lawmakers are slated to tackle during the special legislative session that starts Tuesday. Traveling from across the state, the teachers wore red t-shirts as they rallied in the blistering heat against what they called state leaders’ attempts to privatize education and silence teachers by giving them a $1,000 pay raise without adding new money into the public education system.

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2017

Did hackers target Harris County election systems? Officials won't say

Despite widespread alarm over the breadth of Russian cyber attacks on state and local election systems last year, including revelations of Dallas County being targeted, Harris County officials are refusing to say whether hackers similarly took aim at the nation's third-largest county. Releasing information on whether Harris County election systems saw attacks from Russian hackers would threaten the county's cyber security by emboldening hackers to further target local systems, county officials said this week. The county's argument was dismissed by experts, who said the secrecy is unnecessary, and could actually downplay the seriousness of the threat and the resources needed to combat it.

National Stories

The Hill - July 17, 2017

Poll: Americans see healthcare as most important issue

Americans view healthcare as the most important issue facing the country but are doubtful Congress will pass legislation that will lower premiums and cover more people, according to a Bloomberg poll released Monday. With the GOP push to repeal and replace ObamaCare serving as the poll’s backdrop, 35 percent of Americans surveyed indicated healthcare was their top issue, more than twice as many as any other option. The other leading issues included unemployment and jobs (13 percent), terrorism (11 percent), immigration (10 percent) and climate change (also 10 percent). A majority, 64 percent, disapproves of how President Trump is handling healthcare, compared to 28 percent approving.

New York Times - July 16, 2017

In Clash Over Health Bill, a Growing Fear of ‘Junk Insurance’

Julie Arkison remembers what it was like to buy health insurance before the Affordable Care Act created standards for coverage. The policy she had was from the same insurer that covers her now, but it did not pay for doctor visits, except for a yearly checkup and gynecological exam. “I couldn’t even go to my regular doctor when was I sick,” said Ms. Arkison, 53, a self-employed horseback-riding teacher in Saline, Mich. The plan did not cover her exams before and after hip surgery, her physical therapy after her operation, the crutches she needed while she recovered, or any of her medications. She estimates that she spent $20,000 on medical care in the seven years before she could buy a plan through the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

CNN - July 15, 2017

Moore: Why the Cruz amendment is smart policy

Republicans are finally getting smart on Obamacare. It took one of the savviest Republican senators -- Ted Cruz of Texas, with an assist from Mike Lee of Utah -- to get the GOP ?to figure out how to replace Obamacare, reduce premiums, and save money for the government. And all without alienating millions of voters. But he's pulled the Republicans' fannies out of the fire by having flipped a political losing strategy into a big-time winner. The Cruz amendment -- which has been inserted into the GOP Senate health plan -- is smart, because it doesn't take anything away from anyone. If you want Obamacare -- you can have it. You can have the coverage for the 10 "essential benefits,?" you can have the subsidies and the exchanges that were supposed to save $2,500 per family. It's still there for you.

Huffington Post (HuffPost) - July 14, 2017

Ted Cruz Wants To Split Insurance Markets. He Should Look At Tennessee.

Senator Ted Cruz’s plan to segment the individual insurance market, essentially allowing insurers to sell both ACA-compliant plans and skinnier, non-compliant plans, is getting a lot of attention. A version of the idea is in the Senate healthcare bill, currently in review by the Congressional Budget Office, and it could be the framework for a GOP healthcare compromise. But would it accomplish Republicans’ goals of lowering costs and improving competition? We don’t have to speculate entirely—one state already has a carrier that operates in almost the exact scenario Cruz’s plan describes. Farm Bureau Health Plans of Tennessee has been selling both underwritten and ACA plans in Tennessee in 2017. Let’s look at the lessons Cruz and his colleagues could learn from Tennessee, but first, let’s get a little more background on what’s being called the “Cruz amendment.”

Slate - July 17, 2017

Salam: How the Republicans Can Get Health Care Passed

I see two ways forward for the GOP. The first would be to go all-in on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s “consumer freedom option.” The basic idea behind Cruz’s proposal is that as long as insurers sell Obamacare-compliant insurance policies, they’d also be free to sell non-Obamacare-compliant policies. McConnell has incorporated a version of Cruz’s proposal in the latest version of the BCRA, but it’s caused more confusion than anything else. The fear is that Cruz’s approach would lead younger healthier consumers to flee Obamacare-compliant policies for cheaper non-Obamacare-compliant policies, which would drive premiums on those non-Obamacare-compliant policies through the roof. Cruz is trying to allay the fears of GOP senators by telling them this isn’t so—that everyone would be included in a single risk pool. But it’s not clear how this would work in practice.

Bloomberg - July 17, 2017

Americans Feel Good About the Economy, Not So Good About Trump

Almost six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Americans are feeling fairly optimistic about their jobs, the strength of the U.S. economy, and their own fortunes. That should be welcome news for the president, except for one thing: The public’s confidence largely appears to be in spite of Trump, not because of him. The latest Bloomberg National Poll shows 58 percent of Americans believe they’re moving closer to realizing their own career and financial aspirations, tied for the highest recorded in the poll since the question was first asked in February 2013. A majority expect the U.S. stock market to be higher by the end of this year, while 30 percent anticipate a decline. Yet they don’t necessarily think Trump deserves credit for rising markets and falling unemployment.

Washington Post - July 17, 2017

Most of the bounces in Trump’s approval ratings aren’t real

Donald Trump’s approval rating is one of the key news stories of 2017. That’s true not just for political junkies. Approval — or the lack of it — can give the president more or less power as he negotiates with Congress. How do we know a president’s approval rating? From polls. But how the poll data are processed makes a difference in what the results are. That becomes clear when we look at the graph above, prepared by Alexander Agadjanian, which shows Trump’s 2017 support this year according to two different kinds of polls: Adjusted for party. The red dots come from YouGov, a survey organization that adjusts its estimates for party identification. That means it estimates approval among Republicans, independents and Democrats, and then averages that over the proportion of these groups in the population. In doing so, it adjusts for any problems that result when a disproportionate number of Democrats or Republicans respond to a particular survey. Not adjusted for party. The black dots come from various other pollsters who did not adjust their polls for party ID.

Washington Post - July 17, 2017

Why this group is trying to stop Amazon from buying Whole Foods

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, sees Amazon the way some Rust Belt workers see global trade — as a threat to American jobs. So on Monday, Perrone plans to file a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that letting Amazon buy Whole Foods would trigger a wave of store closures and eventually quash customer choice. “Amazon’s reach will ultimately reduce the number of grocery competitors that consumers can choose from,” he wrote in the complaint. “Regardless of whether Amazon has an actual Whole Foods grocery store near a competitor, their online model and size allows them to unfairly compete with every single grocery store in the nation.”

The Hill - July 16, 2017

Immigration activists fear for future of ‘Dreamers’ program

Pro-immigrant activists are growing increasingly pessimistic that the Trump administration will defend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program from court challenges. The program, based on an executive order signed by former President Obama, gives work permits and protects from deportation around 750,000 people who were illegally brought into the country as children. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly told Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) lawmakers this week that he didn't believe the program was legally sustainable.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

With backing from major airlines and Trump, will air traffic control reform finally take off?

After decades of debate and failed attempts at reform, an effort to transform the country’s air traffic control system — which handles nearly 44,000 daily flights — is facing the most favorable conditions for takeoff it’s had in years. A proposal that would spin off the federally-managed air traffic control system into a private, not-for-profit corporation is working its way through the House of Representatives, with a vote possible as early as this week. The plan is widely supported by commercial airlines, including American Airlines and Southwest, who argue changing management is key to speeding up the modernization of the system’s aging infrastructure, which in turn can improve efficiency and reduce traffic congestion as more and more people take to the skies each year.

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

Tomlinson: GOP health care bill is anything but conservative

The closer you look at the Republican bill repealing Obamacare, the more you realize it's simply another means to government-funded health care. Instead of making the health care system more efficient, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to give taxpayer money to private companies and shift costs onto state and local taxing authorities. It still taxes and spends a lot of money, just differently. The new version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act doesn't cut all of the taxes on the wealthy like the last one did. Instead, it spends the money on subsidizing health insurance companies so they'll keep premiums down in a couple of states. If it passes, Texans will be subsidizing Alaskans' health care.

Forbes - July 17, 2017

Millennials Don't Like Ted Cruz's Cheap Health Plans

The latest proposal from the Republican-led U.S. Senate to gut the Affordable Care Act offers the opportunity for Americans, particularly young people, to purchase less expensive policies with skimpier benefits. But advocates for young Americans say Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s recent additions to the GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, also known as Trumpcare, miss the mark. Millennials want adequate benefits and tend to use more services provided via Obamacare’s essential health benefit packages, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, that may not be a part of bare-bones plans. ... Conservative opponents of Obamacare say young people who are healthy need catastrophic coverage, but few Americans purchase such coverage. “Just 3% of young people currently enroll in catastrophic coverage,” Young Invincibles' Mishory said. “Moreover, deductibles for these plans will be a whopping $7,350. The average Millennial's net worth next year is estimated to be $11,724.”

The Hill - July 17, 2017

Officials clash at FEC over confronting Russian influence in 2018 elections

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is sharply divided over how the election watchdog agency should respond to Russian interference in the U.S. election as more revelations come to light about foreign meddling during 2016. Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee, believes the FEC should play a more active role and consider rulemaking proposals to prevent foreign influence in future U.S. elections. She advocates a forward-looking, "prospective" approach focused on preventing future influence in the 2018 midterm elections. Federal election law prohibits foreign nationals or entities from making campaign contributions or influencing U.S. elections.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

Whitfield: Why this rush to repeal Obamacare is immoral

Turning away, for just a moment, from the miscellanea of our slow-seeming apocalypse, from Antarctic icebergs, North Korean nukes and Russian collusion, let's focus a little on what's more acutely important, on what touches most of us mostly. And that's on what Congress is trying to do with health care. Admit it, you don't know what the heck they're talking about. Neither do I. To be fair to President Donald Trump — for once, he was right: "It's an unbelievably complex subject." If we're honest, we'll admit we're little wiser on the subject than he. Never mind your friend who blurts out "single-payer!" like he's figured it out and you're stupid. Never mind the confident on either the hardened right or the hardened left.

Politico - July 17, 2017

White House under pressure to drop Export-Import Bank nominee

President Donald Trump is standing behind former Rep. Scott Garrett, his choice to head the Export-Import Bank, amid escalating pressure from business groups to pull the plug on the nomination. “Scott Garrett is imminently [sic] qualified to lead the Ex-Im Bank,” White House spokeswoman Natalie Strom said in a statement to POLITICO. “The President stands behind his nomination and is looking forward to his confirmation.” Trump’s defense of the New Jersey Republican comes as rumors swirl that Garrett may withdraw amid fears that his nomination will not win enough votes to clear the Senate.

Monmouth University - July 17, 2017

Poll: Trump Rating Holds Steady Despite Campaign’s 2016 Russia Meeting -- 4-in-10 support impeachment, higher than for Nixon at start of Watergate

Donald Trump's approval rating has held fairly steady since the last Monmouth University Poll despite recent revelations that family members and campaign aids met with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. In fact, concern about Russia's influence in the White House has barely budged in the past two months. About 4-in-10 Americans currently support impeaching Trump six months into his term, which is significantly higher than the number who called for Richard Nixon's impeachment six months into that president's second term. ... Currently, 41% of the public think that Trump should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency, while 53% disagree. The Monmouth University Poll asked the same question used by the Gallup Poll during Nixon's presidency. In July 1973 as the Watergate scandal started to unfold, just 24% of the public supported impeachment and 62% were opposed. Support for Nixon's impeachment was significantly lower six months into his second term as president than it is for the incumbent today. Interestingly, Nixon's job rating at that point in his tenure - 39% approve and 49% disapprove - was about the same as Trump's current rating.

New York Times - July 18, 2017

Trump Recertifies Iran Nuclear Deal, but Only Reluctantly

President Trump agreed on Monday to certify again that Iran is complying with an international nuclear agreement that he has strongly criticized, but only after hours of arguing with his top national security advisers, briefly upending a planned announcement as a legal deadline loomed. Mr. Trump has repeatedly condemned the deal brokered by President Barack Obama as a dangerous capitulation to Iran, but six months into his presidency he has not abandoned it. The decision on Monday was the second time his administration certified Iran’s compliance, and aides said a frustrated Mr. Trump had told his security team that he would not keep doing so indefinitely.

Washington Post - July 18, 2017

Trump suggests Republicans will let ACA market collapse, then rewrite health law

President Trump predicted Tuesday morning that Republicans may wait for the federal insurance market to collapse and then work to broker a deal to rewrite the nation’s landmark health-care law. In a series of tweets, Trump blamed the demise of a months-long effort to rewrite the Affordable Care Act on Democrats “and a few Republicans,” but he suggested that the drive to overhaul the law was not completely over. “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!” he tweeted. He added in a separate tweet: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Washington Post - July 18, 2017

Report calls for new civil service system with more power to agencies

In the boiling debate over the federal civil service system, a congressionally chartered think tank offers this stark assessment: “The federal civil service system is broken. This breakdown undermines the federal government’s ability to meet the needs of its citizens.” The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) rejects moderate fixes and recommends a fundamentally new approach — a federated personnel system giving each agency more power. The report says its title, “No Time to Wait,” was chosen to reflect a “profound sense of urgency.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 18, 2017

House budget blueprint boosts military, cuts food stamps

House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a budget that makes deep cuts in food stamps and other social safety net programs while boosting military spending by billions, a blueprint that pleases neither conservatives nor moderates. The GOP plan, authored by Budget Chairman Diane Black, R-Tenn., is critical to GOP hopes to deliver on one of President Donald Trump's top priorities — a Republican-only effort to overhaul the tax code. Unclear, however, is whether GOP leaders can get the measure through the House. Conservatives want deeper spending cuts while moderates are concerned the reductions go too far. Black announced a committee vote for Wednesday, but action by the entire House could be delayed by the ongoing quarrel between the GOP's factions.

All - July 17, 2017

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

Abbott raises $10 million in 12 days; has $40.8 million in the bank

Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign reported raising more than $10 million between June 19 and 30, leaving the campaign with $40.8 million in the bank. Texans For Greg Abbott reported that nearly 45% of donations were from first-time donors, that more than 91% of all donations were for less than $200 and that 92% of all donors were from Texas. “I am humbled and grateful for the support I have received from Texans across this great state,” Abbott, who announced for re-election on Friday, said in a statement. “My campaign is building the largest grassroots army ever assembled in the Lone Star State, with the goal of keeping Texas the brightest beacon of freedom in the country. In the upcoming election, our campaign will be relentless in our efforts to identify and turn out conservatives to keep Texas red.”

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

CEOs from AT&T, American Airlines, TI and BNSF join the chorus against a ‘bathroom bill’

CEOs from 14 leading employers in the Dallas area, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, are taking a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that would discriminate against transgender people in Texas. On Monday morning, they delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. A bathroom bill, the letter says, “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.” “Our companies are competing every day to bring the best and brightest talent to Dallas,” the letter says. “To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion. This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”

Washington Post - July 17, 2017

The prevailing view of Trump has only worsened: He’s ‘unpresidential’

During the 2016 campaign, the biggest concern about President Trump almost always boiled down to one thing: his temperament. Even people who liked Trump had a problem with it. Polls regularly showed that more than 6 in 10 registered voters said he didn't have the right personality and style to be an effective president. Just weeks before the election, 62 percent said he didn't have this baseline quality, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. He won anyway. Trump has now been president for six months, and he's had ample opportunity during that time to prove people wrong. He's taken foreign trips, responded to crises and delivered a well-received speech to Congress. And yet, Americans may now see him as even less presidential than they did before. A new Post-ABC poll shows a whopping 70 percent of Americans describe Trump as acting “unpresidential.” Only 24 percent say he's acted in a way that's “fitting and proper for a president of the United States.”

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2017

Texas tea party: the birth and evolution of a movement

Nine years ago, fresh off a term as a Smith County commissioner in northeast Texas, JoAnn Fleming drove to Dallas for a "boot camp" with other like-minded conservatives. It wasn't on the radar of the public or most of the Texas political establishment. But many now consider it a key event in the birth of the tea party movement. The goal was to examine how government works - and how they could force changes to make officials more accountable. Also on the agenda: how to get their point across, voter to voter.

Associated Press - July 17, 2017

No Trump slump in tourism but there could be a Trump bump

Last winter, the U.S. tourism industry fretted that Trump administration policies might lead to a "Trump slump" in travel. But some now say those fears were premature. International arrivals and travel-related spending are up in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016. There might even be a "Trump bump," according to Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, a nonprofit representing the travel industry.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2017

Tomlinson: Turns out, government is better at controlling some health costs

Medicare is not a bad deal for taxpayers after all. The federal health care program for the elderly pays lower reimbursement rates to doctors and hospitals than commercial insurance policies, and is about even with Medicare plans administered by private insurers, according to a new study from the University of Southern California. The finding that the government does a better job of controlling some health care costs is critically important as President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress consider major changes to the nation's health care system. "We found that physician reimbursement rates in Medicare Advantage are very similar to traditional Medicare," said Erin Trish, the study's lead author and an assistant research professor at the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.

Texas Observer - July 14, 2017

Trump Administration Preparing Texas Wildlife Refuge for First Border Wall Segment

For at least six months, private contractors and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have been quietly preparing to build the first piece of President Trump’s border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. The federally owned 2,088-acre refuge, often called the “crown jewel of the national wildlife refuge system,” could see construction begin as early as January 2018, according to a federal official who has been involved in the planning but asked to remain anonymous. “This should be public information,” the official told the Observer. “There shouldn’t be government officials meeting in secret just so they don’t have to deal with the backlash. The public has the right to know about these plans.”

Associated Press - July 16, 2017

Texas 'bathroom bill' may shape 2018 GOP primary campaigns

Though "bathroom bills" targeting transgender people fizzled in deep-red states across the U.S., the issue is still white hot in Texas, where the Legislature is heading into special session prepared to revive it and conservative groups are vowing revenge on Republican lawmakers who don't approve it. Whether Texas eventually enacts a law requiring transgender people to use public restrooms according to their birth-certificate gender, the issue is looming large over Republican primaries set for March. Powerful business entities, from Apple to the NFL, oppose such a bill as discriminatory, but insurgent candidates have promised to brand lawmakers who dare reject it — or try to remain neutral in the face of so much outcry — as soft on social issues dear to conservatives.

This article appeared on the ABC News website

State Stories

San Angelo Standard-Times - July 16, 2017

MORITZ: In Texas, politics is rarely limited to two parties

As we hover in the netherland that bridges the upcoming special legislative session with the advent 2018 campaign cycle, let’s ponder the question of whether Texas is firmly on path to resume its status of being a three-party state. That wasn’t a typo. For more some 40 years starting in 1961, three separate political affiliations played distinct roles in the electoral process of the Lone Star State. We begin with ’61 because that was when Texas elected its first Republican – a little-known professor named John Tower from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls – to a statewide office since the age of Reconstruction.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

SAEN: Regional funding needed to monitor air quality

With a stroke of his veto pen, Gov. Greg Abbott wiped out a bunch of air quality monitors here and in other cities across Texas. Places where the air is hard to breathe and good monitoring is crucial to good policy. It was a regrettable and shortsighted decision, as unsurprising as it was unfortunate. After all, Texas politicians have a long track record of making poor decisions when it comes to the health and well-being of their constituents. Just by way of example, consider how it took years for lawmakers in Austin to pass a law to ban texting while driving even though the combination kills hundreds of Texans each year. Abbott signed that bill into law, and then promptly announced a desire to get rid of tougher local bans.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

Special session carries high stakes on political, policy fronts

The special session that begins Tuesday is a high-stakes proposition for state leaders’ reputations and the well-being of Texans, who could pay more than $1 million for lawmakers to go into overtime to consider issues affecting taxes, education, abortion, health and the state’s economy. The nationally watched fight over which public restrooms transgender people can use — at least in public schools — is just the tip of the agenda sketched out by Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s plunging into the session fresh off his re-election announcement. Abortion and school voucher proposals figure prominently, along with proposals pitting local governments against the state on everything from property taxes to tree regulations to rules on using cellphones while driving.

San Antonio Express News - July 14, 2017

SAEN: Investment in teacher education reaps high dividends

A $50 million investment in teacher education over the next 10 years by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation is a game changer for the teaching profession in this state. The funding will help the state develop a robust pipeline of well-trained educators to go into the classroom to educate the workforce of tomorrow. Texas has more than 350,000 classroom teachers. They are the backbone of Texas’ public education system. Recruitment of teachers is highly competitive, but once hired they rarely receive the mentoring and specialized training that would help keep them successful in their jobs, nor do districts receive sufficient help in retaining them.

San Antonio Express News - July 14, 2017

Abbott says he wants four more years to take on ‘liberals’

Gov. Greg Abbott, saying he has kept the promises he made when he launched his first campaign for governor here, returned to the Alamo City on Friday to ask voters to give him four more years so he can take on the “liberals” trying to make Texas inroads. “To keep Texas the very best state in the United States, I’m running for re-election,” Abbott told an enthusiastic crowd at The Depot in Sunset Station. “I’ve proven that I’m willing to take on the liberals, I’m willing to take on Washington, D.C., and I’m counting on you to have my back.” Vocal protesters among the crowd were led out of the hall before the governor spoke; Shannon Perez of the protest group Indivisible said three people were detained and released. One heckler briefly interrupted Abbott’s speech but was drowned out by supporters chanting Abbott’s name.

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2017

What's Texas doing right about criminal justice? A lot, according to the New York Times

Texas has long harbored a reputation as a tough justice state with a penchant for hefty prison sentences and a notorious proclivity for capital punishment. But this weekend, the New York Times editorial board heaped praises on the Lone Star State for its attention to criminal justice reform, as most recently seen in a freshly passed anti-snitch bill. "Prosecutors love jailhouse informants who can provide damning testimony that a cellmate privately confessed to a crime," the Times wrote. ... Of course, it's not all praises and honors; the Times suggests that the new law could go further and that, in a better system, maybe it wouldn't have been necessary to begin with. (Click here to read more about the new law.) But that's not just Texas's fault.

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2017

HC: Mayor Abbott -- The Legislature's special session agenda reflects a city council campaign.

Gov. Greg Abbott should run for mayor. He can pick any city. Come back to the old hometown and challenge Sylvester Turner. Stay in the state capital and run against Steve Adler. If big cities don't appeal to Abbott, he could try West University Place, where Mayor Susan Sample could school him in small-town politics. Abbott, who called a special session of the state Legislature that begins Tuesday, apparently thinks he knows how to run every city from El Paso to Texarkana. Just look at the session agenda. It's a bunch of bullet points cribbed off a direct-mail piece from a city council campaign.

Houston Chronicle - July 17, 2017

Tassin: How Gov. Abbott's voucher plan hurts disabled kids

As the Texas Legislature gears up for a special session next week, Gov. Abbott made it clear he wants lawmakers to pass vouchers for children with disabilities. The theory is that by providing public funding for a private education, vouchers will provide parents a "choice" in how to best educate their child. But will parents of children with disabilities really have the choice they want? The governor, lieutenant governor and others appear to believe that private education is better than public education for these children; thus, the state should divert taxpayer dollars to pay for private education. But is this really what parents want for their children or what children with disabilities want for themselves? Can private entities really provide students with disabilities a better education? My experience says no, and so does research.

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2017

Emmett: One-size-fits-all state property tax plan is flawed

As the county judge of Harris County, the state's most populous county with 4.7 million residents, I completely understand and share the taxpayers' disgust with rising property taxes, and I applaud Gov. Greg Abbott's efforts to put the issue front and center in the special legislative session that starts Tuesday. At the same time, I fear efforts by some legislators to force misguided and needlessly complex "one size fits all" solutions on the entire state. One of those proposed solutions would limit a county's revenue growth to a formula determined by population growth plus inflation. While that may sound like a reasonable approach, such a limitation could be catastrophic to Harris County if it is not crafted carefully.

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2017

HC: The next big storm -- The special session should make some progress on hurricane preparedness.

The special session of the Texas Legislature, which opens Tuesday, has the potential to be, as they say in Amarillo, as worthless as a sidesaddle on a sow. Gov. Greg Abbott called the 30-day meeting to protect his right flank. It will cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars and result in little more than a replay of the mud wrestling that came to a miserable end in late May. But there is a way to take the sow's ears and make something worthwhile. In his call to action, Abbott should include a system to protect our region from a killer, so-called "Scenario 7" hurricane. A Scenario 7 hurricane is one that is 15 percent stronger than Hurricane Ike and makes landfall in the vicinity of Freeport. Researchers paint a grim picture of such a storm's aftermath: thousands dead; billions in property damage; hundreds of thousands homeless; and catastrophic environmental damage.

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2017

School districts brace for looming spending fight with state lawmakers

Despite a $34 million drop in revenue for the coming budget year, Aldine ISD school board members gave teachers a 2 percent pay raise for the 2017-18 school year, hoping to keep the district's salaries competitive. Aldine could afford the raises and maintain a balanced budget by pulling $44.5 million out of its dwindling reserves. But unless the district makes cuts or receives an infusion of cash soon, Aldine can only tap that "rainy day fund" for a few more years before money runs out. "It looks grim," said Viola Garcia, president of the Aldine ISD Board of Trustees. "It doesn't look like there will be sufficient support for the neediest students, and that's where Aldine is."

Houston Chronicle - July 15, 2017

Sanborn: Does our Legislature hate our kids? -- With their actions as well as inactions, state lawmakers fuel the perception that they do not care about our children or Texas' future

The regular Texas legislative session has ended and a special session is about to begin to focus on work judged incomplete by Gov. Greg Abbott. Incomplete is a good term because one has to ask: Aren't we forgetting about our future? Aren't we forgetting about the children? We hear from legislators time and time again about how much they care about the most vulnerable residents of our state. But if actions speak louder than words, then the inaction on the part of our elected leaders is deafening. Do they not care about children? One in 10 children born in America is born in Texas. Sixty percent of all of Texas public school children are growing up in low-income households; indeed 440,000 Texas children are growing up in households where the average annual income is less than $9,000.

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

The Look Ahead: What to expect during the first week of the special legislative session

We’re back! Welcome to a special edition of The Dallas Morning News' weekly political preview: The Look Ahead. On Tuesday, state politicos will descend on Austin for a special session of the Texas Legislature. Why are they coming back at the height of the heat-induced summer doldrums? In part because they failed to pass a critical bill during the regular session that would keep alive several state agencies, including one that licenses doctors. Many Capitol observers place the blame on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who torpedoed the legislation in an effort to force a special session on property-tax legislation and the so-called bathroom bill.

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

Mulling a third match with Hurd, Gallego says he's "energized about 2018"

Less than a year after he lost his bid to reclaim his U.S. House seat, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is seriously considering another run for Congress, citing shifting political winds in Texas' 23rd congressional district following the election of President Donald Trump. A 2018 campaign would be Gallego's third against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who unseated the one-term Gallego in 2014. Gallego then unsuccessfully challenged Hurd two years later, losing by 3,051 votes — an outcome Gallego believes would be much different if the election were held today. "It's certainly a different environment out there today than it was six months ago," Gallego said in an interview. "I have seen a lot of energy and enthusiasm in Democratic ranks — more than I've ever seen."

Texas Tribune - July 14, 2017

Babberney: In defense of trees, shade and local control

As a sixth-generation Texan, I love my home for its independent spirit and natural beauty. I am proud to live in a place that recognizes the value of our urban forest and takes its preservation seriously. Unfortunately, Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican cronies have made it their mission to revoke tree preservation ordinances in communities throughout Texas. This is a foolish, short-sighted idea that would be devastating to local communities across the state; it should never have been floated by the "party of small government" and "local control." Abbott claims Austin violated his property rights by requiring him to replace a protected tree he removed, but I have not heard him explain why he believes this. Municipalities have been regulating private property for decades. Why does the governor not decry the "communistic" regulation of electrical contractors? Or zoning regulations?

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

At some Texas universities, students accused of rape can transfer without a record

When Sierra Smith told Baylor University she’d been sexually assaulted by a classmate during a 2016 spring break trip to South Padre Island, she hoped administrators would move to protect her and other students. It took several months of investigation, but the university eventually did, suspending the male student for three semesters for violating Baylor’s sexual violence and harassment policies. But by then, the punishment had little effect. The student Smith reported had already transferred to a new school — without a blemish on his record. “It bothers me that there could be another girl out there who could go through this, too,” she said.

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

A Pass to Poison: Texas regulators largely fail to crack down on polluters

DEER PARK — For more than two decades, Dennis Gallagher was a proud Shell employee. During his 22 years working at the energy juggernaut’s sprawling, 80-year-old complex in this Refinery Row suburb of Houston, he learned to oversee different parts of the massive chemical plant and refinery. The facilities manufacture not only oil but a variety of hazardous chemicals that — if mishandled — could easily explode and level the 2,300-acre compound, located less than a mile from residential neighborhoods. Until two years ago, the Michigan native’s only truly bad day at work was in 1997, when a gas compressor exploded and he was “picked up like a leaf” and blown back 25 feet. Then came what should have been a quiet Sunday in August 2015, when everything went wrong.

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

IBM ups the ante in fight against Texas bathroom bill

As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts. In an internal memo sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM's human resources chief outlined the New York-based company's opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.

Texas Tribune - July 17, 2017

Ramsey: Special session sniping underway before the opening gavels

At Wimbledon, tennis players shake hands at the beginning and end of each match. Boxers exchange fist-bumps before they start knocking each other’s brains out. As a special session of the Texas Legislature commences, state leaders are trash-talking each other. If you were hoping the gathering that begins Tuesday would offer civility and a fresh start after a rancorous regular session this year, you’re out of luck. The oil-and-water relationship of the leaders of the Senate and the House seems perfectly intact. They appear to have spent the last seven weeks seething instead of cooling off.

Austin American-Statesman - July 17, 2017

What makes a special session so special?

The Legislature meets Tuesday for the start of a special session. Gov. Greg Abbott wants lawmakers to tackle 20 topics, some of which proved contentious during the regular session. The first order of business: a bill that would keep five state agencies in operation. After that, Abbott will open up the session to the other 19 items on his agenda, including legislation that would regulate which public bathrooms transgender people can use, allow special needs students to use state money for private school tuition, limit property tax increases and void local ordinances restricting tree removal and driving while talking on a cellphone.

The Hill - July 17, 2017

Wilson: Texas Republicans take aim at liberal cities

The sunset red granite of the Texas state capitol stands at 302 feet. It towers over nearby Travis County and Austin municipal buildings, as if to convey a physical superiority over those lesser government bodies. When legislators return for a special session this week, they will advance a series of laws that would make that state supremacy more concrete. Republicans who run Texas are increasingly targeting laws passed by cities and counties with so-called preemption measures, bills that would restrict a local government's power to pass laws regulating certain industries or setting policy. It is part of a national trend in which Republican legislators are moving to preempt local governments, on issues ranging from minimum wage laws to immigration enforcement and even the use of plastic bags at retail establishments.

Texas Observer - July 16, 2017

Wilder: Greg Abbott’s Latino Problem

Greg Abbott announced his re-election campaign in San Antonio on Friday. Despite my eternal mystification as to why Abbott wants to be governor (he seems to be largely animated by fears of his base and Dan Patrick), there’s little doubt that he’s popular among the GOP primary voters who decide elections in this state. It’s also the case that the governor is sitting on an obscene pile of cash — $34 million at last check. As of yet, he’s drawn no Democratic challenger and the long-rumored primary challenge from Dan Patrick remains just that — a rumor. In other words, Abbott is in good shape at the moment. But, then, that’s not much of an accomplishment. How many incumbent Texas Republicans running for re-election to a statewide office have lost in the last two decades? The only name that comes to mind is Victor Carrillo, the former Texas Railroad Commission member who had the misfortune of a Hispanic surname.

Wall St. Journal - July 14, 2017

Do Texas Lawmakers Want a State Bathroom Policy?

Texas is facing a bathroom emergency. Gov. Greg Abbott effectively has been forced to reconvene the state legislature Tuesday for a 30-day special session. What will likely dominate is an issue he has avoided all year: transgender access to public restrooms. The Texas business lobby doesn’t want a repeat of the scene in North Carolina, and Mr. Abbott usually is attuned to its wishes. But he has been outflanked on this point by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a conservative former talk-radio host with a knack for setting the state’s agenda. Mr. Patrick has been pushing a bill that would require people in government facilities to use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex. Like the ill-fated North Carolina law, it would also pre-empt local governments from regulating bathrooms in private facilities.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2017

Why you will see fewer cranes on the North Texas horizon in the coming months

The cranes are leaving, one by one. Up in Plano's Legacy West, in Dallas' Uptown district — anywhere there's been a lot of office construction — the number of construction cranes is dwindling. North Texas office building has dropped by almost 40 percent in the last 18 months. And this year the office development in Dallas-Fort Worth will decline further by half. As major companies including Toyota, Liberty Mutual Insurance, State Farm and JPMorgan Chase finish their big office campuses, office-building totals in the area are plunging. That's a good thing. Unlike in previous boom cycles, most of what's being constructed around town this time are corporate buildings — not high-rise build-it-and-they-will-come projects that sometimes miss the mark.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2017

Legal fees figure in decision on Pasadena voting rights appeal

It's a question every Vegas roulette player and weekend poker-game enthusiast eventually faces: Should I cut my losses or go for broke? A legal dispute over civil rights and fair elections, of course, shouldn't be regarded as a game of chance. But as Pasadena's mayor and city council consider whether to continue appealing a judge's decision in a voting rights lawsuit, they're struggling to calculate the best way to contain their legal fees. Either option available to them is a gamble. In an executive session during a recent meeting, newly installed Mayor Jeff Wagner and council members discussed Patino v. Pasadena, the 2014 lawsuit that challenged a new council structure created in a charter change election.

Houston Chronicle - July 16, 2017

Double fatality following high-speed chase in Houston underscores nationwide problem

Sirens and flashing lights filled the dark sky Sunday morning after yet another police chase - this time a pursuit that ended in a fiery crash that left two men dead in north Houston. High-speed chases have been a source of controversy in recent years, but Houston Police Department was prompt in offering an explanation as to why their officer started pursuing these two men. "It was a very short pursuit lasting under two minutes and we're very fortunate that it had no innocent citizens or officers injured in this incident," HPD spokesman Kese Smith said Sunday. "But at the end of the day the suspects are responsible for their actions."

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2017

Houston police to stop field testing for drugs

The Houston Police Department says it will no longer have officers conduct field tests that give initial indications whether a substance is an illegal drug. The tests have been criticized over the years for giving false positives in cases around the country. In Harris County, where Houston is located, the tests have led to wrongful drug convictions and exonerations after lab tests confirmed no illegal substances in many cases. Police Chief Art Acevedo said Friday the change was made for safety reasons. Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid, was discovered in recent local drug seizures. Officials say the drug can be deadly if not properly handled.

Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2017

Hundreds wary of GOP health care bill attend Doggett town hall meeting

Hundreds of people flooded a downtown Austin church on Sunday for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s town hall meeting with constituents, where they discussed how a proposed Republican health care bill could affect their medical benefits and supplemental programs like Medicaid. Austin’s lone Democratic congressman was hosting his fifth town hall meeting this year at the First United Methodist Church in anticipation of a Senate vote this month on a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care legislation. Replacing “Obamacare” has been a priority for President Donald Trump and the GOP-majority Congress. The latest version of the Republican bill would repeal the mandate that requires individuals to carry insurance and for businesses to offer it.

San Antonio Express News - July 14, 2017

For some San Antonians, battle over Obamacare repeal is personal

Kelly Trout has always dreamed of her daughter, Caroline Larson, leading an independent, fulfilling life. Larson, 35, was born with a rare condition — “uber rare,” as she puts it — that left her legally blind with mental and physical disabilities, and unable to live on her own. Thanks to Medicaid, Larson shares a group home with five other adults, who also have disabilities. She’s lived there for eight years. “Once she got into the group home, she was more independent than even I thought she could be,” Trout said. “That’s priceless.” But in recent months, Trout has grown wary of what might happen to her daughter if Senate Republicans pass their health care bill.

San Antonio Express News - July 17, 2017

Local leader Martinez remembered for nationwide advocacy

Jaime Martinez, a dedicated civil and workers rights activist who used his powerful voice to help those with little representation in San Antonio and across the nation, died Sunday. He was 70. Martinez, known for his many works in San Antonio, also is known for creating the César E. Chávez Legacy and Educational Foundation in the Alamo City and coordinating a march here to remember the champion of farmworkers. Martinez was “making sure we were celebrating the legacy of Chávez, and being unashamed of the fact that we believe in celebrating and memorializing leaders in San Antonio, no matter what minority they may be,” said Gabriel Quintero Velasquez, march event coordinator with foundation. He worked alongside Martinez.

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2017

DMN: DART's focus on rail hurts those who need transit most

Dallas Area Rapid Transit has built a light-rail network that is the envy of similarly sprawled cities nationwide. Since 1990, when construction first began on the light-rail system that now stretches 93 miles, the agency has spent $5.4 billion to build it. About $4 billion of that has come from local sales taxes. And even after accounting for fares paid in, DART spends $140 million every year to run light rail. That emphasis on rail has, to a large degree, shortchanged the riders who most need DART: the working poor whose commutes are far more likely to require buses than trains.

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 17, 2017

Leubsdorf: Let's outline Trump's achievements during his first six months in office

Here are some other Trump "achievements:" -Embraced autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Egypt and abandoned longtime U.S leadership in seeking to enhance democracy and human rights. -Insulted U.S. allies in Europe, especially Germany, and undercut longstanding U.S. treaty commitments. -Compromised Israel's intelligence sources. -Spurred more divisiveness in an already divided Middle East by setting off a squabble between Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally, and Qatar, home of the region's biggest U.S. military base. -Undermined U.S. global leadership on climate change by withdrawing from the Paris agreement, joining only Syria and Nicaragua as nonparticipants. -Reversed decades of Republican support for free trade, ceding leadership in Asia to China by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and elsewhere by encouraging the British exit from the European Community.

Politico - July 16, 2017

Meet Obamacare repeal’s top salesman

Senate Republicans are in a grumpy mood these days. Then there’s John Cornyn, who’s almost unfailingly optimistic about the GOP’s chances of passing its Obamacare repeal bill despite the increasingly long odds. “I mean, if you’re going to be in a leadership role, you don’t have the luxury of public hand-wringing,” Cornyn, the Senate majority whip, said in a recent interview in his Capitol office. Whether he’s wringing his hands in private is another matter, but the Texas Republican is facing his toughest test yet in his 4 1/2 years as chief vote-counter for the Senate GOP: rounding up 50 votes to dismantle Obamacare. The news of Sen. John McCain's eye surgery and subsequent delay of the health care vote has only further complicated that task, giving critics of the GOP bill more time to pile on.

Politico - July 17, 2017

How hospitals got richer off Obamacare

A decade after the nation’s top hospitals used all their advertising and lobbying clout to keep their tax-exempt status, pointing to their vast givebacks to their communities, they have seen their revenue soar while cutting back on the very givebacks they were touting, according to a POLITICO analysis. Hospitals’ behavior in the years since the Affordable Care Act provided them with more than 20 million more paying customers offers a window into the debate over winners and losers surrounding this year’s efforts to replace the ACA. It also puts a sharper focus on the role played by the nation’s teaching hospitals – storied international institutions that have grown and flowered under the ACA, while sometimes neglecting the needy neighborhoods that surround them.

Politico - July 17, 2017

How the White House and Republicans underestimated Obamacare repeal

The longer Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare flounder, the clearer it becomes that President Donald Trump’s team and many in Congress dramatically underestimated the challenge of rolling back former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement. The Trump transition team and other Republican leaders presumed that Congress would scrap Obamacare by President’s Day weekend in late February, according to three former Republican congressional aides and two current ones familiar with the administration’s efforts. Republican leaders last fall planned a quick strike on the law in a series of meetings and phone calls, hoping to simply revive a 2015 repeal bill that Obama vetoed.

Politico - July 14, 2017

The inequality at the heart of Medicaid

Over the past few months, Democrats have hammered Republican health care reform proposals as dangerous and devastating for the poor. Sen. Elizabeth Warren exclaimed, “These cuts are blood money. People will die,” while others have suggested that they are the “real death panels.” These attacks have only the loosest relationship with the facts, but Democrats have a point when they argue that the GOP’s Medicaid reforms don’t simply reinstitute the pre-Obamacare status quo. Critics frame this as a bad thing and warn that the changes “would end Medicaid as we know it.” But Medicaid has already changed greatly from its authors’ original design. While often failing to secure essential services for the neediest beneficiaries in the poorest states, the program allocates a disproportionate and ever-increasing amount of money to the richest states, whose representatives now boast of it as a “middle-class program.” The program’s lopsided growth has left it poorly focused on its core mission—and needing reform to get back on track.

Washington Post - July 17, 2017

Most Americans think Trump Jr.’s meeting was inappropriate — but few were newly convinced of collusion

It’s been less than a week since America first learned of the existence of an email that seemed to clearly demonstrate the willingness of some in the Trump campaign to accept the assistance of the Russian government in their effort to win the 2016 presidential race. In black and white, Donald Trump Jr. is offered the opportunity to meet with a lawyer connected to the Russian government who can provide “documents and information that would incriminate” Hillary Clinton. That information, Trump Jr. is told, “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” “If it’s what you say [it is] I love it,” Trump Jr. replies. If opponents of President Trump were hoping that this was a smoking gun that would tilt support away from him, though, a new Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday will quickly disabuse them of that idea.

Washington Post - July 15, 2017

Winners and losers of the biggest state political battles of the year so far

Even though one party is entirely in control of Washington right now, not much of substance is happening in Congress. So let's spend a few minutes on the nation's 50 other legislative bodies. Most state legislative sessions wrapped up earlier this month, and state lawmakers passed thousands of new laws. There were big battles, and clear winners and losers. One noteworthy trend: Despite Republicans having near-historic majorities in governors' mansions and state legislatures, some progressive causes made it into the winners category. Kind of.

San Antonio Express News - July 16, 2017

Lambrecht: Veterans lining up for the Democrats in congressional races

Democrats angling to retake the U.S. House hope military veterans can carve their way into Republicans’ long-held seats, including the San Antonio-area district represented by Lamar Smith. Joseph Kopser of Austin, a West Point graduate who returned to Texas with the Bronze Star after two tours of duty in Iraq, is among Democrats vying for the nomination in the district Smith has represented since the mid-1980s. Besides military service, Kopser, 46, looks to be a candidate who can raise money, a talent that national Democrats find appealing. An aide said he will report initial receipts of $200,000 to the Federal Election Commission, an impressive fundraising haul, given that he declared his candidacy May 23.

New York Times - July 15, 2017

NYT: Texas Cracks Down on the Market for Jailhouse Snitches

Prosecutors love jailhouse informants who can provide damning testimony that a cellmate privately confessed to a crime. Jailhouse informants, in turn, love the perks they get in exchange for snitching, like shortened sentences, immunity from prosecution or a wad of cash. As you might imagine, though, in a market driven by such questionable motives, the testimony these informants provide is often unreliable. Even worse, it can be deadly. False testimony from jailhouse informants has been the single biggest reason for death-row exonerations in the modern death-penalty era, according to a 2005 survey by the Center on Wrongful Convictions. They accounted for 50 of the 111 exonerations to that point, and there have been 48 more exonerations since then.

The Hill - July 15, 2017

Trump’s war on the State Department

President Trump is seeking to radically remodel the State Department in an unprecedented way, according to former officials from administrations of both political parties. The administration’s efforts, which include a proposed budget cut of nearly 30 percent, a hiring freeze and a potential reshuffling of offices within the State Department, have left scores of positions unfilled, demoralizing the staff that remain. Past GOP presidents have also sought to cut the State Department down to size, and even current employees have acknowledged bureaucratic problems at Foggy Bottom.

The Hill - July 14, 2017

Progressives: Dems at risk of perennial election defeat

Democrats risk losing election after election if they focus too much on winning back white blue-collar voters from President Trump, according to progressives worried that young minorities are abandoning the party. “We are not going to get back to national majorities again without these voters,” said Cornell Belcher, the top pollster who worked on both for former President Barack Obama’s campaigns. Belcher recently conducted focus groups in Florida and Wisconsin for the Civic Engagement Fund that point to the problems Democrats have with millennials of color. The group, founded by progressive leader Andrea Hailey, analyzes data from past elections to increase voter engagement.

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2017

DMN: Women are at risk if Trump administration tampers with campus sexual assault rules

On behalf of college women whose reports of sexual violence were long disregarded, we call on U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos not to roll back valuable federal protections. Women's campus safety remains far too often in jeopardy, as evidenced close to home by the enormity of the Baylor sexual assault tragedy and a 2017 University of Texas survey that found 15 percent of female undergrads at the Austin flagship said they had been raped. Despite similar reports nationwide, the Trump administration is considering nullifying 2011 guidelines that cover how schools must handle sexual assault allegations.

New York Times - July 16, 2017

McCain’s Surgery May Be More Serious Than Thought, Experts Say

The condition for which Senator John McCain had surgery on Friday may be more serious than initial descriptions have implied, and it may delay his return to Washington by at least a week or two, medical experts said on Sunday. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has already announced that votes on a bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act will not begin until Mr. McCain’s return. A statement released by Mr. McCain’s office on Saturday had suggested that he would be in Arizona recovering for just this week, but neurosurgeons interviewed said the typical recovery period could be longer.

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2017

DC lawmakers to Texas: Don't mess with Reagan National Airport

Some Texas lawmakers, always looking for direct flights home without stop-overs, are in a new tiff with the Beltway crowd over long-standing limits on the distance that flights can travel to and from the capital city's favorite, close-in airport. The long-standing dispute has come up again in an amendment filed by Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar that would grant a narrowly-drawn waiver to the current limit of 1,250 miles. Cuellar's plan, which he wants to add to a defense spending bill, would exempt certain flights serving airports "within 25 miles of a military medical center, an extremity injury and amputee center of excellence, as defined by the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2009, or a traumatic brain injury or burn treatment facility." That happens to fit the bill for San Antonio International Airport, nearly 1,400 miles from D.C. Washington area lawmakers are not amused.

The Hill - July 16, 2017

Rand Paul: I don't think McConnell has votes to pass healthcare bill now

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday said he doesn't think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has the votes to pass the Senate GOP's healthcare bill. "I don't think right now he does," Paul, a vocal critic of the Senate's healthcare plan, said on "Fox News Sunday." Paul said the real problem is that Republicans won elections on their promises to repeal ObamaCare. "But this bill keeps most of the ObamaCare taxes, keeps most of the regulations, keeps most of the subsidies," he said. "And creates something that Republicans have never been for, and that's a giant insurance bailout superfund."

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: It was 'easier' being 'ultimate decision-maker' as Exxon chief

In the years that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ran Exxon Mobil, the Texan sat at the top of a famously well-oiled corporate machine that relied upon what he describes as "very long-standing, disciplined processes and decision-making." These days, though, he's operating in a bit different environment. His boss, President Donald Trump, has sometimes contradicted his foreign policy pushes. Tillerson's advice on key issues such as the Paris climate accord has sometimes been overruled. And he is still grappling with a bureaucracy he called "largely not a highly disciplined organization."

The Hill - July 13, 2017

Koch-backed group launches ads urging lawmakers to drop GOP border tax

Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a group backed by wealthy GOP donors Charles and David Koch, launched ads on Thursday urging members of the House Ways and Means Committee to give up on the Republican border-adjustment tax proposal. Among the lawmakers targeted in the digital ads are Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and tax-policy subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who support the proposal to tax imports and exempt exports. The border-adjustment tax (BAT) was a key part of the tax-reform plan House Republicans released last year. Proponents argue that it would remove incentives for companies to move jobs overseas and would raise revenue to help pay for tax cuts.

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2017

Former US President Jimmy Carter out of hospital in Canada

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was back at a Habitat for Humanity worksite Friday, a day after he was hospitalized for dehydration while working with the organization to build homes for needy families in Canada. A smiling Carter showed up in blue jeans and a work shirt to the site in the St. James neighborhood of Winnipeg, where hundreds of Habitat for Humanity volunteers joined the former president and his wife, Rosalynn, to build 25 homes. Carter, 92, was discharged earlier in the morning from St. Boniface General Hospital where he was treated "as a precaution" for dehydration, Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said.

Associated Press - July 17, 2017

US to create independent military cyber command

After months of delay, the Trump administration is finalizing plans to revamp the nation's military command for defensive and offensive cyber operations in hopes of intensifying America's ability to wage cyberwar against the Islamic State group and other foes, according to U.S. officials. Under the plans, U.S. Cyber Command would eventually be split off from the intelligence-focused National Security Agency. Details are still being worked out, but officials say they expect a decision and announcement in the coming weeks. The officials weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter so requested anonymity.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Politico - July 13, 2017

Clarke, Knake: The Russians Will Be Back. Will We Be Ready?

In recent days, our nation’s response to the continued threat of foreign meddling in American elections has taken something of a surprising turn. Coming off his two-hour conversation on Friday with Vladimir Putin in Hamburg, President Donald Trump touted Putin’s personal assurance that there was neither any Russian manipulation of the 2016 election nor any Russian plans to disrupt future American elections. He even floated the prospect of creating a joint U.S.-Russia “impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.” As if Putin is trustworthy. As if his assurances are more believable than the mountain of evidence demonstrating the exact opposite.

Dallas Morning News - July 13, 2017

Patterson: 30 years later, the trial of the Butcher of Lyon still informs my sense of justice as a Texas judge

Thirty years ago, a French court convicted Nazi Klaus Barbie of crimes against humanity committed in France during World War II. On July 4, 1987, after an eight-week trial, Barbie, the former Nazi Gestapo chief of German-occupied Lyon, France, was found guilty of more than 300 counts of crimes against humanity. Like the Nuremberg trials, which were held before military tribunals shortly after World War II, the Barbie trial was a lesson of history and an exceptional act by the French of remembrance and justice. Sitting among the witnesses and victims in the Lyon courtroom, I witnessed the trial. As a federal prosecutor in New York City, who had prosecuted criminal cases and had assisted with an extradition of war criminals, I was keenly interested in observing one of the first major war crimes trials since the Nuremberg trials and, perhaps, I thought, one of the last of the World War II war crimes trials.

Houston Chronicle - July 12, 2017

Raphling: 'Back the Blue' Act is a pass for street justice

At least victims of unjustified police violence can still bring civil rights lawsuits to get some measure of justice and accountability. These lawsuits for years have been the primary way for Americans to get justice when police officers violate their fundamental rights. But now, even that method is under attack. On May 16, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, introduced the "Back the Blue Act." It purports to "protect" police officers by expanding the federal death penalty and making assault on an officer a federal crime with harsh mandatory minimum prison sentences, measures whose deterrent effect is generally dubious at best. But it also seeks to significantly limit our ability to hold officers who violate the law accountable.

Fox News - July 14, 2017

What the Senate's 3.8% surtax means for American taxpayers

With Senate Republicans planning to retain a 3.8% surtax on investment income in their health-care bill, it is a good time for American taxpayers to know exactly how this tax works. The 3.8% surtax was enacted in 2010 to help fund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It took effect in 2013, and this year it is expected to bring in nearly $30 billion, according to the Tax Policy Center. Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to repeal the tax, retroactive to Jan. 1, but those in the Senate surprised many recently when they revealed plans to keep it. This levy was billed as a tax on the richest, and often it is: More than three-quarters of its revenue comes from households earning more than $1 million. In 2017, these households will owe an average of about $37,000 each due to this tax, while those earning between $200,000 and $500,000 will owe an average of about $200 each. The averages conceal wide variations, however.

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2017

Which group gives the most to U.S. charities? Answer may surprise you

Americans gave more than $390 billion to U.S. charities in 2016, according to the annual Giving USA report, which was published in June. It may surprise you to learn who is doing most of the giving. Year after year, the Giving USA report reveals the vast majority of dollars come from individuals rather than foundations or corporations. In 2016, 72 percent of the money given to charities came from individuals, a 4 percent uptick from 2015 and a much larger percentage than foundations, which account for 15 percent of donations, or corporations, which account for 5 percent. The remaining 8 percent of donations came from bequests.

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

Women's March from NRA to Department of Justice focuses on civil rights tied to gun ownership

Aly Crain arrived at the Women’s March rally Friday with sunscreen on her face, stickers on her shirt and friends to march with. She also wore dangling earrings in the shape of Texas. The Houston woman, who is working this summer for the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington, D.C., decided to attend the march because of her strong feelings on gun ownership laws. “Gun violence is a huge issue, and I understand Second Amendment rights, but I definitely support gun control and sensible gun ownership,” she said. “It causes way too many deaths every year, and there are so many mass shootings in the United States compared to any other developed country.”

All - July 16, 2017

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

Straus fires back

Ahead of a special legislative session defined by hot-button measures, House Speaker Joe Straus on Friday sharpened his message against “divisive” social issues and said top leaders instead should focus on challenges such as reversing Texas’ slide in a new business ranking. The San Antonio Republican, who has stood firm against a far-reaching bathroom bill, said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News that his chamber will look at all the issues put forth by Gov. Greg Abbott for lawmakers’ consideration, which are championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. But he said his focus, and that of other House members, remains on core issues such as school finance. “My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said.

San Antonio Express News - July 14, 2017

Chasnoff: Politics motivating Abbott’s priorities

If timing is everything in politics, Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-election bid announcement on Friday came right on time. Held just days before the start of a special legislative session, Abbott’s event at Sunset Station was an opportunity to change a pesky, potentially perilous political story line: that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has driven the Legislature’s conservative agenda this year. Determined to see such legislation become law, Patrick effectively forced Abbott last month to call the special session. He did so by stalling a bill in the Senate needed to keep state agencies open.

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

Judges in Texas redistricting case skeptical of state's argument on final day of trial

A six-day trial on the state's electoral maps ended with the three judges hearing the case grappling with a central question: Did the Legislature do everything it could in 2013 to ensure that maps federal courts had found racially discriminatory were fixed? State lawmakers drew new maps for the state's congressional and statehouse elections in 2011 as part of the redistricting process adopted every 10 years. But federal courts ruled those maps discriminatory and ordered the state to draw new ones. In 2012, the three-judge panel in San Antonio gave state lawmakers new maps as an interim fix. The state adopted those maps — which are the ones currently used in elections — with very few changes during the next year's legislative session.

The Hill - July 14, 2017

Insurers warn Cruz provision will 'skyrocket' premiums for sick people

The two leading health insurer trade groups sent a strongly-worded letter Friday expressing opposition to a controversial conservative provision included in the latest GOP ObamaCare replacement bill. America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association warned that the provision from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) would mean “premiums will skyrocket for people with preexisting conditions” and “millions of more individuals will become uninsured.” The letter expresses opposition to a provision, included in the new GOP repeal bill, that would allow insurers to sell plans that do not meet ObamaCare regulations, including the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, if they also sold plans that did meet the requirements.

Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2017

Bethune, Cooper: We’re praying for an end to bullying from Patrick, Abbott

We’ve all seen it: The schoolyard bully chooses the most vulnerable victim, then uses fear to pressure peers into joining the campaign. Unless someone strong calls out the bully and defends the weak kid, the bully succeeds in consolidating power. We are calling out the bullying behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his ally Gov. Greg Abbott towards the most vulnerable among us. While the percentage of students who identify as transgender is small, many school districts have found caring ways to support families as they encourage healthy development of these children.

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2017

Texas leads U.S. in number of farms. It also leads in foreign-bought agricultural land.

With good reason, Texas politicos like to brag on the state’s agricultural exploits: Texas leads the nation when it comes to cattle, cotton and hay production and boasts more farms and ranches than any other state in the union. But Texas agriculture has another distinction that gets considerably less attention. Over the last ten years, Texas also leads the nation when it comes to foreign purchases of its agricultural land. Foreign companies and individuals have bought 1.7 million acres of farm-, timber- and pastureland in Texas over the last decade, far more than in any other state, according to a Statesman analysis of data obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The foreign-owned land — an area the size of Travis, Hays and Williamson counties combined — is worth about $3.3 billion.

Buzzfeed - July 14, 2017

Mr. Smith Goes to Greenland

Lamar Smith, one of the most vocal critics of climate science in Congress, led a secret trip to the Arctic in May, BuzzFeed News has learned. He and at least eight other US representatives, mostly members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, met with scientists working on the front lines of climate change. It had the potential to be an awkward or even hostile visit. As chair of the science committee for the past four years, Rep. Smith of Texas has waged a public war with federal climate scientists, or “so-called self-professed climate scientists,” as he called them in March. He’s challenged their research and integrity, repeatedly subpoenaed their emails, and voted to gut their funding.

State Stories

Law 360 - July 13, 2017

Texas Sen. Taps New Attys For Securities Fraud Defense

State Sen. Carolos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who is also an attorney, has retained additional counsel to defend him against securities fraud charges tied to a fracking sand company after a federal magistrate judge ordered his original counsel disqualified because of a conflict of interest. After a hearing Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry J. Bemporad disqualified Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra PLLC from representing Uresti, but stayed the order until Aug. 7, giving Watts time to appeal the decision. That same day, Tab Turner of Turner & Associates PA filed notice that he was joining Uresti's defense team, and then on Tuesday Darrell Barger of Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer LLP joined as well.

Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2017

Warren Buffett’s battle over Texas auto law could hinge on technicality

Is it possible to own a company without controlling it, or even being “affiliated” with it? That’s the fine point of corporate governance state officials and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. are debating and weighing. The issue stems from Berkshire Hathaway’s efforts to maneuver around a state law that has jeopardized the conglomerate’s ongoing operation of nearly three dozen Texas car dealerships because it also owns a company that manufactures recreational vehicles, Indiana-based Forest River Inc.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

At redistricting trial, Hurd says more districts should be like his

Federal judges in a redistricting trial over Texas’ alleged racial gerrymandering heard closing arguments in San Antonio on Saturday in a case that could have major implications for the 2018 midterm elections in the state. The trial is part of an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2011 by a coalition of civil rights groups and individuals who claim that the state has suppressed minority voting rights in at least three congressional districts. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, testified Saturday as the state’s final witness. He represents Congressional District 23, which is one of three districts found by a federal court March 10 to be drawn along racially discriminatory lines. The others are District 27 in Corpus Christi and District 35 along the San Antonio-Austin corridor.

San Antonio Express News - July 15, 2017

Special session carries high stakes on political, policy fronts

The special session that begins Tuesday is a high-stakes proposition for state leaders’ reputations and the well-being of Texans, who could pay more than $1 million for lawmakers to go into overtime to consider issues affecting taxes, education, abortion, health and the state’s economy. The nationally watched fight over which public restrooms transgender people can use — at least in public schools — is just the tip of the agenda sketched out by Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s plunging into the session fresh off his re-election announcement. Abortion and school voucher proposals figure prominently, along with proposals pitting local governments against the state on everything from property taxes to tree regulations to rules on using cellphones while driving.

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

North Texas families with transgender kids support one another, wage 'war' against bathroom bills

LITTLE ELM — Justin Baize didn’t know if he was strong enough. He loved his family, but maybe this was too hard, too confusing. Maybe this was the limit to his strength. So he got some of his things together and looked for a place to stay, in case he needed to leave, in case only distance and time apart could help him make sense of it all. But then he met some other dads with transgender kids. He might not understand his child now, they told him, but he wasn’t alone. They’d help him figure it out.

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2017

Texas' success shows why federal criminal justice overhaul still badly needed

The state of Texas and its impressive record of prison reform are at the center of an ongoing debate in Washington about the long-overdue and widely supported overhaul of America's criminal justice system. Texas lawmakers passed sweeping prison reforms in 2007, and began closing prisons in 2011. Texas will shutter four more by Sept. 1. Meanwhile, as our newspaper's Austin bureau chief, Brandi Grissom, has reported, crime rates have fallen for several years running. It was this record of success that Sen. John Cornyn used in Washington as he began working several years ago with conservative and liberal senators to make sweeping changes to a federal system bloated by inflexible mandatory sentences.

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2017

Groups warn about 'anti-LGBT' legislation ahead of special session

Legislation that would bar transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity threatens the safety of the state's most vulnerable citizens, leaders of several LGBT rights groups said Friday, four days before the start of a special legislative session. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott are "hell-bent on using transgender children and adults as scapegoats to push their extremist political ideology," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "These bills are bad for the state, they are bad for the economy, they are bad for residents, and they are bad for children."

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

North Texas religious leaders step up to speak out against state's SB4 immigration law

The Rev. Jesus Belmontes has seen up close the anxiety, pain and suffering of those who fear calling the police. A woman married to a U.S. citizen told Belmontes that she was afraid to report her husband's abuse of her. He said the woman's husband threatened to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on her if she turned him in. And when another woman visiting his San Juan Diego Catholic Church in northwest Dallas earlier this year had her truck stolen from the church's parking lot, she refused to call police, he said. She was afraid officers would ask her immigration status and deport her.

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

Trees, texts and taxes: Texas lawmakers prep for heated debate over ‘local control’

Let the civics lessons begin. Nearly half of Gov. Greg Abbott's 20-item checklist for the special legislative session that starts Tuesday consists of proposals to clamp down on what he calls "a patchwork quilt of regulations" and undisciplined spending by localities. From taxing to tree-cutting to texting while driving, Abbott's agenda for the overtime gathering amounts to a harsh rebuke of Texas cities. For mayors and council members in the state's big cities, the message is plain: Ignore tax-hating, socially conservative and oft-libertarian voters who dominate GOP primaries at your peril.

Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2017

Haynes: How Texas could give teachers a big raise without costing taxpayers anything

On July 18 the Texas Legislature convenes for a special session to address 20 items, one of which is a $1,000 pay raise for teachers. Education spending represents a major chunk of each state's budget, bloated with the usual unnecessary layers of government bureaucracy. In 2012 Congressional testimony, Neal McCluskey with the Cato Institute stated, "Our public schools have been on a decades-long hiring binge with ultimately no gains to show for it." In May 2017, EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, released its updated report, "Back to the Staffing Surge: The Great Teacher Salary Stagnation and the Decades Long Employment Growth in American Public Schools."

Dallas Morning News - July 15, 2017

State's argument in redistricting trial takes hit because of lawmaker's silence

Texas' defense of its electoral maps suffered a setback Friday when a state witness couldn't defend lawmakers' intentions for much of his testimony. A three-judge panel is considering whether state lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities during a special legislative session in 2013, when they redrew the 2011 maps that the panel ruled discriminatory earlier this year. The plaintiffs in the case — which include minority lawmakers and civil rights organizations — say many of the problems with the 2011 congressional and statehouse maps carried over to the 2013 versions.

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2017

Turner: Why are Texas Republicans unwilling to address real problems in the special session?

The Texas Legislature should be focused on providing real solutions for all Texans. When we meet, whether in a regular or special session, our highest priorities should always be our state's kids, economy, health and communities. Fortunately, Texas House Democrats have answers to the challenges facing our public schools, new Texas mothers, our criminal justice system, and our lagging economy. Bills filed by Democrats during the regular session, as well as the proposals we will file in the special session, can address each of these issues in a way that helps all Texans and their families. Unfortunately, however, working with House Democrats to find bipartisan solutions is not high on Governor Greg Abbott's list of priorities.

Texas Tribune - July 14, 2017

Licensing director is seventh official out at troubled Texas liquor agency

Licensing Director Amy Harrison is the seventh official out at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission since April. TABC spokesman Chris Porter said Friday Harrison "separated" from the agency Wednesday. Jo Ann Joseph, previously the deputy director of licensing, will act as licensing director until a decision is made about Harrison's permanent replacement, Porter said. Harrison helped oversee the creation of a controversial flyer depicting agency honchos partying during out-of-state junkets. Her departure comes less than a week after the acting executive director abruptly quit, saying he did not want to participate in the "termination" of Harrison.

Texas Tribune - July 15, 2017

With no opposition in sight, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott formally launches 2018 re-election bid

Warning that “liberals are trying to mess with Texas,” a confident Gov. Greg Abbott promised Friday he’ll fight to keep Texas in conservative hands if voters give him another four years in office. “Every far-left liberal from George Soros to Nancy Pelosi are trying to undo the Texas brand of liberty and prosperity,” Abbott said, referring to the Democratic mega donor and U.S. House minority leader, respectively. “I have news for those liberals: Texas values are not up for grabs.” Abbott’s wife Cecilia and daughter Audrey were at his side when Abbott made his re-election bid official at Sunset Station, the historic and beautifully restored train depot in the St. Paul Square District in downtown San Antonio.

Texas Tribune - July 14, 2017

On day 5 of redistricting trial, Texas rebuts claim that current political maps discriminate

The State of Texas pushed back Friday against allegations that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against millions of Hispanic and black voters in adopting its current political maps, with the state's lawyers trying to convince federal judges not to order changes ahead of the 2018 elections to better accommodate the state’s surging population of minority voters. “They were legal and complied with the law,” state Rep. Drew Darby said of the maps, testifying before a three-judge panel. Darby, a Republican from San Angelo, chaired the House Committee on Redistricting in 2013, when lawmakers approved state House and Congressional maps that are the subject of trial this week, the latest in six years of legal wrangling.

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2017

Wear: Drive to ax local phoning-while-driving law might be mere distraction

So, the phoning-while-driving battle at the Legislature, seemingly settled in May after a 10-year slog, will be with us again in the special session beginning this week. At least, that’s what Gov. Greg Abbott would prefer, based on a draft call for the session released last week. Abbott’s official summons to the Legislature, at least for now, included only some must-pass “sunset” bills to keep a few state agencies running. But then, when that legislation has moved through the Senate, the governor tells us he’ll add an additional 19 policy priorities to the call for the 30-day session. They include wiping out all local laws on using a phone — excuse me, an “electronic communication device” — behind the wheel.

Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2017

Two Views, Mackowiak: Session provides a golden opportunity for Texas House

Compared to a 140-day regular session, which begins slowly and ramps up over time, a 30-day special session, which begins Tuesday, requires focus and deliberate speed. The Senate wants to hit the gas. The House wants to hit the brake. Gov. Greg Abbott has been hitting the gas for weeks, lining up House and Senate bill sponsors for all 20 of his special session agenda items, seeking co-sponsors, meeting with legislators and even bringing Democratic legislators on board for some of the items. He wants this special session to succeed. This special session will be a clarifying moment for Texas.

Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2017

National law association boycotts Texas over anti-transgender policies

The American Association of Law Libraries says its upcoming conference in Austin will be its last in Texas, unless the state reverses what the group calls anti-LGBT policies. “A commitment to diversity is one of AALL’s core values,” reads a letter from the association sent to Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio leaders. “The recently-signed bill to allow discrimination against LGBTQ families (HB 3859) and the pending anti-transgender ‘bathroom bill’ expected to be taken up during the Legislature’s special session, directly harm LGBTQ people. We cannot stand by as Texas enacts legislation that discriminates against this vulnerable community.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2017

Two Views, Smith: Special session will known as ‘the summer the music died’

“I tell you friends there’s a song in every town,” Pat Green warbled in his hit “Songs About Texas.” It’s hard to argue with that, given the evidence. Dallas, wrote Jimmie Dale Gilmore, “gives a beautiful light,” at least when seen from a DC 9 at night. Glen Campbell could hear Galveston’s “sea winds blowing” from the jungles of Vietnam. Bob Wills swung with “A Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas.” Yes, Dumas has a song. This comes to mind as Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Legislature begin a special summer session to — among other ugly things — muddy up all that local color with renewed efforts to mute the voices of local residents.

Austin American-Statesman - July 14, 2017

Castillo: As Trump pulls back on a border wall, some aren’t pleased

Like the twisting Rio Grande, President Trump’s position on a border wall is changing course. The president, who made the promise of a “big, beautiful border wall” one of the cornerstone promises of his campaign, significantly dialed back on the pledge Thursday, telling reporters that a 2,000-mile-long wall is no longer necessary “because you have a lot of natural barriers.” “You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious,” Trump said, according to excerpts released by the White House from the president’s conversation with journalists aboard Air Force One. “You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So, you don’t need that.” Hmmm, that sounds a lot like Texas to us.

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2017

How two ICE programs let sheriffs cash in on immigration crackdown

After an embarrassing jail escape that was blamed in part on inadequate facilities, Walker County in 2012 issued $20 million in bonds to build a new jail. It was a hefty price tag for the county of fewer than 70,000 people north of Houston, and officials pledged to search for new revenue streams to help pay for the jail. This year, they found one: The Walker County sheriff’s office is getting into the immigration business. “One of the things we said we were going to do when we told the taxpayers we were going to build a new jail is that we would always look for ways to make additional revenue. That is what we are doing,” Sheriff Clint McRae told the Huntsville Item this spring.

Austin American-Statesman - July 15, 2017

Castillo: Teachers deserve applause — and a raise plan with real funding

At a spelling bee at Zavala Elementary School in McAllen long ago, I stood in front of our hushed fifth-grade classroom, all eyes on me. My stomach bounced around in my throat, but I was cocky, too. After all, I consistently scored in the top 1 percent nationally in spelling aptitude tests then. But a spelling bee was new territory for me and my barrio classmates — and after what seemed like an unnerving eternity, it was at last my turn. And I whiffed. As I began the long, slow walk back to my desk, I saw my teacher’s reaction — a mix of disbelief and disappointment and a vague head shake indicating Linda Unland expected much more from me.

Wall St. Journal - July 14, 2017

Do Texas Lawmakers Want a State Bathroom Policy?

Texas is facing a bathroom emergency. Gov. Greg Abbott effectively has been forced to reconvene the state legislature Tuesday for a 30-day special session. What will likely dominate is an issue he has avoided all year: transgender access to public restrooms. The Texas business lobby doesn’t want a repeat of the scene in North Carolina, and Mr. Abbott usually is attuned to its wishes. But he has been outflanked on this point by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a conservative former talk-radio host with a knack for setting the state’s agenda. Mr. Patrick has been pushing a bill that would require people in government facilities to use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex. Like the ill-fated North Carolina law, it would also pre-empt local governments from regulating bathrooms in private facilities.

El Paso Times - July 16, 2017

Special session is sign of state on wrong track: Moody

Next time you spend hours in line at a Department of Public Safety office trying to get your license renewed, you’ll have something in common with the legislators and staffers coming back to Austin for a special session later this month. Those lines and this session are both wasteful, senseless situations created by a betrayal of the principles that once drove government in this state. Politics can be complicated and confusing, but your local DPS office is a crystal-clear example of everything wrong with government. Wait times have increased by nearly 80 percent at many centers in recent years, and if DPS had gone through with their recently announced decision to cut hours and employees, those times would’ve multiplied.

Austin American-Statesman - July 16, 2017

Herman: Lawmakers headed back to town. Isn’t that special?

The Texas Legislature reconvenes Tuesday for a special session. Special is a, well, special word, one of those words whose meaning morphs depending on how you say it. Dictionary.com boils the adjective form of special down to this primary definition: “of a distinct or particular kind of character.” Yes, but remember how special sounded when Dana Carvey’s Church Lady, on “Saturday Night Live,” would say “Well isn’t that special” to express you’re-headed-to-hell displeasure?

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - July 15, 2017

Kennedy: Texas’ No. 1 weekend show? Abbott’s 600K viewers on Facebook

While reporters await the next tweeted missive from the Oval Office, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is a video star on Facebook. Since Abbott made a surprise Facebook Live appearance May 7 to sign Texas’ new immigration law, his following has surged to 1.2 million users, passing former Gov. Rick Perry’s. Abbott is now one of the 15 most-“liked” politicians nationwide. When Abbott launched his 2018 re-election campaign Friday in San Antonio, thousands of Texans watched live. By late Saturday, the speech had piled up more than 300,000 viewings.

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - July 14, 2017

Jay Leeson: Tom Craddick, half a century later, is still his own politician

Tom Craddick — for better or worse — has always been his own politician. He’s stood against Texas political headwinds since his first election as a 25-year-old Roman Catholic Republican nearly half a century ago. “My dad was a Democratic precinct chairman when I ran. He had to resign,” Craddick recalls. “He said, ‘Son, the state is run by Democrats, you won’t ever get anywhere.’” Craddick won. He was sworn in six days prior to Richard Nixon’s first inaugural address in January 1969, just one of eight Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives. “Greatness comes in simple trappings,” Nixon exhorted, calling for a renewed national dialog. “To lower our voices would be a simple thing.”

WFAA - July 15, 2017

U.S. Rep. Granger won't hold town halls because of ‘so many threats'

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger won’t be holding a congressional town hall meeting in Fort Worth this summer because she said it’s too dangerous. “I wish we could have a town hall meeting and engage with others,” said Granger, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. “There are so many threats going on.” This comes just weeks since a gunman opened fire during an early morning practice of Republican congressmen trying to get ready for the charitable Congressional Baseball Game in Virginia. And it comes six years after U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot at a Tucson grocery store during a “Congress on Your Corner” constituent event.

Weatherford Democrat - July 14, 2017

State emissions oversight questioned by new report

The state’s environmental watchdog disputes the findings, but a new report says the agency let industries foul Texas air for five years, with penalties so low that it may have paid to pollute. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality levied penalties on less than 3 percent of illegal air pollution releases during industrial malfunctions — events that emitted more than 500 million pounds of pollutants, including benzene, which can cause cancer below the odor threshold — between 2011 and 2016, according to “Breakdowns in Enforcement.” “We had the general idea that TCEQ did not have a very strong enforcement record,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas and co-author of the report. “A lot of this has been anecdotal. Now we know.”

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 16, 2017

Why you will see fewer cranes on the North Texas horizon in the coming months

The cranes are leaving, one by one. Up in Plano's Legacy West, in Dallas' Uptown district — anywhere there's been a lot of office construction — the number of construction cranes is dwindling. North Texas office building has dropped by almost 40 percent in the last 18 months. And this year the office development in Dallas-Fort Worth will decline further by half. As major companies including Toyota, Liberty Mutual Insurance, State Farm and JPMorgan Chase finish their big office campuses, office-building totals in the area are plunging. That's a good thing. Unlike in previous boom cycles, most of what's being constructed around town this time are corporate buildings — not high-rise build-it-and-they-will-come projects that sometimes miss the mark.

Dallas Morning News - July 14, 2017

Genetically engineered mosquitoes could wipe out Zika, but some in Dallas County oppose local trials

The mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne illnesses showed up in 38 new counties in the U.S. in 2016 — and 34 of those counties are in Texas, according to a report in the Journal of Medical Entomology last month. The increase in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes could have serious consequences. Already there have been 16 cases of Zika reported in Texas in 2017, with 389 Texans registered in the Centers for Disease Control's Zika Pregnancy Registry. Some pregnant women who contract Zika could have babies with birth defects. In May, the Collin County Health Department reported the first West Nile Virus case of 2017. The case serves as a reminder of the 2012 outbreak of West Nile virus, when 36 people died from West Nile infections in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin counties. More than 1,000 people suffered mild to severe symptoms.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2017

Houston sits on bond funds despite affordable housing needs

Despite repeatedly promising to address Houston's affordable housing needs, city officials sat for years on more than $30 million in voter-approved housing bonds with little intention of using them. Three times in the last 16 years, voters have agreed to let the city take on new debt to demolish blighted buildings, repair seniors' homes or build new subsidized apartments. Of the $53 million they approved, however, Houston issued and spent just $21 million, while the number of low-income families facing housing burdens grew by tens of thousands. As of this month, some 44,000 families were on a waiting list for subsidized housing through the Houston Housing Authority alone.

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 13, 2017

DC lawmakers to Texas: Don't mess with Reagan National Airport

Some Texas lawmakers, always looking for direct flights home without stop-overs, are in a new tiff with the Beltway crowd over long-standing limits on the distance that flights can travel to and from the capital city's favorite, close-in airport. The long-standing dispute has come up again in an amendment filed by Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar that would grant a narrowly-drawn waiver to the current limit of 1,250 miles. Cuellar's plan, which he wants to add to a defense spending bill, would exempt certain flights serving airports "within 25 miles of a military medical center, an extremity injury and amputee center of excellence, as defined by the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2009, or a traumatic brain injury or burn treatment facility." That happens to fit the bill for San Antonio International Airport, nearly 1,400 miles from D.C. Washington area lawmakers are not amused.

Washington Post - July 16, 2017

Poll finds Trump standing weakened since springtime

President Trump’s standing with the American people has deteriorated since the spring, buffeted by perceptions of a decline in U.S. leadership abroad, a stalled presidential agenda at home and an unpopular Republican health-care bill, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Approaching six months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has dropped to 36 percent from 42 percent in April. His disapproval rating has risen five points to 58 percent. Overall, 48 percent say they “disapprove strongly” of Trump’s performance in office, a level never reached by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and reached only in the second term of George W. Bush in Post-ABC polling. Almost half of all Americans (48 percent) see the country’s leadership in the world as weaker since Trump was inaugurated, compared with 27 percent who say it is stronger. Despite the fact that Trump campaigned as someone skilled at making deals that would be good for the country, majorities also say they do not trust him in negotiations with foreign leaders and in particular Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Hill - July 14, 2017

Russian lobbying that touched Trump tied to Moscow figures

The Russian lobbying effort that pierced President Donald Trump’s inner circle and touched Democratic and Republican lawmakers was directly connected to three Moscow businessmen, according to lobbying registration records and interviews. The lobbying campaign was led by Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and his lobbying partner Robert Arakelian, but also involved a former Democratic congressman and a former Export-Import Bank official, lobbying disclosure forms show. Akhmetshin and Arakelian filed a series of lobbying disclosure reports in 2016 and 2017 detailing their work for a group called The Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation. They reported lobbying on adoption issues related to the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law reviled by Vladimir Putin that sanctioned Russia for human rights abuses in the death of a Russian whistleblower named Sergei Magnitsky.

Wall St. Journal - July 14, 2017

States to Health Insurers: Please Come Back

Nevada officials were stunned last month to learn that Anthem Inc., the only insurer selling plans statewide through the insurance exchange, was planning to pull back next year, leaving consumers in most counties with no way to get plans under the Affordable Care Act. “It felt like a gut punch,” says Heather Korbulic, executive director of Nevada’s insurance exchange, where consumers buy ACA coverage online. When she learned of the situation from insurer filings, she says, she blurted out loud: “Holy shit, what are we going to do?” Nevada officials quickly began pushing to solve the problem. As some insurers announce plans to pull back or exit insurance exchanges, and others seek major rate increases for next year, states are trying to hold together fraying individual insurance markets.

Texas Tribune - July 15, 2017

After dissident's death, Ted Cruz hopeful about changing Chinese Embassy address

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is re-upping his push to rename the address of the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. “as soon as possible” after a pro-democracy dissident in the wake of the Nobel Peace Prize winner's death. Liu Xiaobo, a leading critic of Communist Party rule in China, died in state custody in a Chinese hospital on Thursday after battling liver cancer. He played a key role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." A year earlier, a Chinese court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for his contributions to Charter 08, a political reform manifesto.

Daily Caller - July 14, 2017

Peel: Americans Unwittingly Subject Themselves To Genetic Discrimination

Millions of Americans are using home DNA testing kits to discover their ancestry or uncover their risk of developing certain diseases. Unbeknownst to them, testing companies are selling or giving away the personal genetic information gleaned from these kits. This information, though theoretically anonymous, can easily be traced back to specific individuals. In the wrong hands, it could be used to discriminate against or even persecute law-abiding citizens. Patients deserve stronger protections to prevent such abuse. Genetic testing companies bury disclosures about data sharing in their user agreement forms.

The Hill - July 15, 2017

Five key senators who will make or break healthcare reform

The fate of Republican legislation to repeal and replace major parts of ObamaCare rests on a handful of senators who have strong reservations about the bill and a variety of political reasons to either support or oppose it. Two Republicans have already said they will vote against a motion to proceed to the bill next week, giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) no margin for error. If one more GOP senator defects, the bill will fail and party leaders will have to go back to the drawing board or altogether shelve the healthcare reform effort

Washington Post - July 15, 2017

McConnell defers vote on Senate health-care bill as McCain recovers from surgery

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put off plans late Saturday to vote on a bill to overhaul the nation’s health-care system this week, after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced he would be at home recovering from surgery, leaving Republicans short of the votes they needed to advance the legislation. McCain underwent surgery in Phoenix on Friday to remove a blood clot from above his left eye. “On the advice of his doctors, Senator McCain will be recovering in Arizona next week,” said McCain spokeswoman Julie Tarallo. A statement from the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix said the senator is resting at home “in good condition” and that “the surgery went very well.”

Washington Post - July 16, 2017

Trump campaign paid firm of lawyer representing Trump Jr. before emails were made public

President Trump’s campaign committee made a payment to the law firm of an attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. last month, nearly two weeks before it was announced that the same attorney would be representing the president's son in Russia-related probes, according to a campaign finance report filed Saturday. The committee reported in the filing to the Federal Election Commission that it paid $50,000 to the law firm of attorney Alan Futerfas on June 27. That payment was made 13 days before it was publicly revealed that Futerfas would represent Trump's eldest son in the Russia investigations.

Washington Post - July 14, 2017

Russian American lobbyist was present at Trump Jr.’s meeting with Kremlin-connected lawyer

A Russian American lobbyist and veteran of the Soviet military said Friday that he attended a June 2016 meeting between President Trump’s oldest son and a Kremlin-connected lawyer. The presence of Rinat Akhmetshin adds to the potential seriousness of the Trump Tower gathering that is emerging this week as the clearest evidence so far of interactions between Trump campaign officials and Russian interests. And it underscores how, despite Donald Trump Jr.’s pledge this week to be “transparent,” new details about the encounter continue to become public amid investigations by Congress and a special counsel into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Politico - July 15, 2017

DÁmico: I Ran Oppo Research Against Donald Trump. He Has No Idea What He’s Talking About.

President Donald Trump dismissed concerns about his eldest son’s meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer and a former Soviet spy promising dirt on Hillary Clinton with a wave of his hand. “It’s called opposition research,” he said at a news conference in Paris on Thursday. A day earlier, the president had asserted, “I think many people would have held that meeting.” As a professional opposition researcher who has been doing it for over a decade, I know nothing is farther from the truth. During the 2016 election cycle I was the research director at American Bridge 21st Century, where I led the investigative efforts targeting Trump. The opposition research department at Bridge is one of the largest in politics, investigating Republicans at all levels of government to hold them accountable for their actions. Even in a partisan research environment, though, there are rules and standards.

Politico - July 15, 2017

Trump campaign and fundraising committees raise $13.9 million in second quarter

Donald Trump’s campaign operation raised $13.9 million between the start of April and the end of June of this year, drawing in significant funds from several donors without histories of giving large amounts to federal campaigns, according to FEC records. The $13.9 million total was brought in by the Trump campaign and two joint fundraising committees set up to help raise money for Trump and the Republican National Committee. Trump’s campaign reported spending $4.37 million during the quarter. At least $221,363 was at Trump businesses, including rent paid to Trump Tower and lodging at the Trump International Hotel. About half of the campaign’s spending during the three-month period – $2 million – was on digital services.

New York Times - July 15, 2017

Dowd: Game of Trump

In an interview with reporters on Air Force One on the way to Paris, President Trump once more tried to deflect blame from Russia for the election hacks. “And I’m not saying it wasn’t Russia,” he said. “What I’m saying is that we have to protect ourselves no matter who it is. You know, China is very good at this. I hate to say it, North Korea is very good at this. Look what they did to Sony Studios.” He bragged about his cunning when he brought up the hacks with Putin. After citing it once, Trump said, “I then said to him again, in a totally different way.” Wow. That must have really outfoxed the lethal former K.G.B. agent. You know nothing, Donald Trump.

New York Times - July 15, 2017

Krugman: Ted Cruz’s Giant Leap Into the Known

When it comes to health care, there are lies, damned lies, and CBO-bashing. Republicans are deploying all three strategies, with Mike Pence’s vile lie about the disabled – the utterly false claim that Medicaid expansion has actually hurt those most in need of help – drawing lots of justified outrage. But the really big push over the next couple of days will be the attempt to trash CBO estimates that are almost sure to show massive losses, even if the CBO is somehow prevented from considering the Cruz amendment. One answer to this stuff is to notice that everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows something about insurance markets is declaring the same thing: that this proposed bill would be a disaster. We’ve got the insurance industry declaring it “simply unworkable”; the American Academy of Actuaries saying effectively the same thing; AARP up in arms; the Urban Institute forecasting disaster; and more.