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Newsclips - May 12, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 11, 2021

Secede? TEXIT supporters push for proposal to come up in special session after failing to get hearing

Texas Nationalist Movement president Daniel Miller called on Gov. Greg Abbott Tuesday to include a proposal that would allow Texans to vote on whether the state should leave the United States and become an independent republic in a special session. The press conference by supporters included Fredericksburg Republican Rep. Kyle Biedermann, who filed the bill also known as TEXIT, along with other GOP colleagues including co-authors Rep. Jeff Cason of Bedford and Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City. The bill has failed to receive a hearing in the House Committee on State Affairs and appears all but dead unless it is tacked onto another proposal. In response, the Texas Nationalist Movement, a group that has pushed for a vote on Texas becoming an independent nation for over a decade, and its supporters held the presser to kickoff 15-plus hours of virtual testimony, according to Miller.

“Chairman (Rep. Chris) Paddie, R-Marshall, has ignored the pleas of Texans who have done all but begged for this bill to be heard,” Miller said. “He has not scheduled it for a hearing, effectively killing it this session. The only reason to not give this legislation a public hearing is to perpetuate the lie that TEXIT supporters are old, white and uneducated.” Added Miller: “In short, the political establishment doesn’t want the world to see the true face of TEXIT.” When asked why Chair Paddie didn’t give his bill a hearing, Biedermann pointed toward the numerous hot-button issues being addressed this session and also placed blame on the media and other lawmakers for labeling it as a “secession bill.” Biedermann said this is not a bill for secession, but is rather meant to conduct a dialogue. Cason calls this proposal a “starting point” and echoed Biedermann’s sentiment, saying, “being allowed to have a dialogue about this referendum doesn’t mean we’re leaving the union.” Cason added, “We shouldn’t be afraid to start this dialogue.” When directly asked if he personally favors secession, Biedermann said he favors the discussion and giving a vote to the people in order to give the state the “leverage so that we can bring our country back to what it should be through our Constitution.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 11, 2021

Texas House approves bill mandating sexual harassment training for lobbyists, with two no votes

A bill to require sexual harassment training for lobbyists at the Texas Capitol sailed to easy passage in the House on Tuesday, with just two votes in opposition. Before the final vote, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, applauded her colleagues in the chamber for taking "a stand for decency, and for people who work for us, no matter who they may be." Thompson's bill would prohibit sexual harassment by lobbyists and allow people who work around the Texas Capitol to file complaints against people for violations. It would also require lobbyists to complete sexual harassment training as part of their licensing process. The House gave initial approval to the bill on a voice vote, meaning members called out support or opposition and no record vote was recorded, on Monday.

Members voted 145-2 to approve House Bill 4661 on final passage, sending the bill to the Senate. Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, and Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, were the only votes against the measure. The Senate unanimously passed a similar proposal earlier this month, but it differs from the House version in that it only relates to training for sexual harassment — not the complaint process. House Bill 4661 and Senate Bill 2233 were filed in late April, days after the Texas Department of Public Safety launched a criminal investigation into whether a lobbyist drugged the cocktail of a woman who works as a legislative staffer at the Texas Capitol. The lobbyist, whose identity was not publicly released, denied the claim and the authorities later determined that there was not enough evidence to support the allegation and “no crime occurred in this instance.”

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 11, 2021

Robocity, USA? With the rise of robots in San Antonio, we're heading that way

Robots are rising in San Antonio. That may sound like a cheerleader’s refrain from economic development talking points, but when it comes to robots, San Antonio keeps winning. With the late April news of Plus One Robotics’ $33 million funding round and expansion, germ-zapping robot maker Xenex’s explosive growth and several other companies like Reckon Point, Xyrec and Renu Robotics gaining momentum, the South Texas robot business is booming. And don’t forget Southwest Research Institute and Toyota, San Antonio’s heavyweights in the robot game.

Then there’s the SATX Robotix Meetup, a group of more than 430 people who’re either in the business or interested in the industry. Erik Nieves, chief executive and co-founder of Plus One Robotics at Port San Antonio, said the group is better attended than Austin’s version. San Antonio’s special strain of robots are for business or industrial use. These are business-to-business robots, not humanoids like C-3PO or the Terminator. Nor are these machines with household applications like a Roomba or automatic pool cleaner. Think robots at work on large-scale disinfecting, building trucks, unpacking pallets, sorting packages, lasering paint off aircraft, mapping building interiors or industrial-sized lawn mowers for solar panel farms. “Consumer robots might come from Asia, or at least Boston, but the application of robot tech to industrial problems is what SA does best,” Nieves said. Before we can riff on the area’s robobiz, it’s worth thinking about what exactly a robot is. The best definition my brain concocted was “a machine that performs a task autonomously.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 11, 2021

Sharon Grigsby: A mother’s death and a daughter’s truth: Why a rape survivor decided it was time to tell the whole story

According to the 2015 obituary for Nancy Elizabeth Underwood — formidable business owner, big-hearted philanthropist and member of a prominent Dallas family — the 63-year-old “died in her sleep.” That wasn’t true. Six years later, Nancy’s daughter Courtney wants to set the record straight: Nancy Underwood died by suicide March 26, 2015, after years of living with debilitating nerve pain and depression. Courtney, 38, has fiercely protected her mother’s memory from what she fears will be the unkind judgment of others. Now she hopes that speaking honestly about Nancy’s suicide — and its impact on Courtney’s own mental health — will spark desperately needed conversations throughout North Texas. With the pandemic pushing people’s mental health to the breaking point, Courtney is stepping forward at an important moment. Courtney never shied away from other painful truths. In her relentless advocacy to get resources for sexual assault survivors, she has publicly shared her own story of being raped at age 15.

The suicide secret is much scarier, she told me. “Sexual assault is about something done to you. But mental illness? Too many people think that defines your very essence.” Courtney’s trepidation speaks to the unjust stigma that still clings to suicide and mental illness. Her courage to go public with her family’s personal struggles is a reminder that help and hope do exist. The Underwood family has long been among the bold-faced names of Dallas and the Park Cities. The SMU law library is named for Courtney’s late maternal grandparents — developer and City Council member George Jr. and Nancy Lou. Like so many families, the Underwoods kept their personal business behind closed doors. Their motto if something was wrong: Ignore it and just work harder. Courtney said that was doubly true for the Underwood women. Courtney’s mother pushed herself to finish first at whatever task was in front of her: law school, commercial real estate, fundraising or child-rearing.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 11, 2021

As camping ban takes effect, why didn't Austin have a better plan to house homeless?

Beginning Tuesday in Austin, it will again be illegal for people experiencing homelessness to camp in public, after a citywide vote to restore criminal penalties. The ban — approved overwhelmingly by voters May 1 — returns the city to the policy it had in place for 23 years before June 2019, when the Austin City Council passed a controversial measure to eliminate penalties for living in many public spaces. But as the ban goes back on the books, key issues remain unsettled about the relocation options for the unsheltered population. With housing and shelters brimming at capacity, it's likely that many will continue to camp unlawfully in their current location or move somewhere more remote, where it will still be unlawful but less likely to draw the attention of law enforcement.

On Monday, the city announced details on its enforcement plan, which it will roll out in four escalating phases. The first 30 days will include community engagement and education, during which the Austin Police Department will provide verbal warnings except in the case of imminent threats to health or safety. After the completion of that phase, police will begin issuing written warnings and citations with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine that many people would probably be unable to pay. Then in the third phase, police may initiate arrests and/or encampment clearances for noncompliance after a citation has been issued. Arrests would continue in the fourth phase, although the city says it hopes by then to be able to direct people to alternative campsites and available shelter. The city's pace in creating housing options ahead of the election raises questions about what leadership could have done differently in the two years since the council repealed the ban — and whether that timeline was reasonable to execute even with the best of strategies.

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Politico - May 11, 2021

Ted Cruz bets big on Facebook

Sen. Ted Cruz isn't up for reelection until 2024. But the Texas Republican has spent more on Facebook advertising over the past two months than all but one senator, an investment strategy that other lawmakers have used in recent cycles to help set the stage for presidential runs. Cruz has plowed more than $240,000 into Facebook advertising since the platform started accepting political ads again two months ago. The only sitting senator who has spent more is Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who forked over $335,000 for ads on the social media giant, according to a POLITICO analysis of Facebook advertising disclosures.

Republicans say the approach will help Cruz raise dollars online and cultivate and collect email addresses of small dollar donors. And while the investment could pay off in what’s likely to be an expensive Senate reelection bid — Cruz’s 2018 race against Beto O’Rourke was the second most expensive of the cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — it also could serve the Texas Republican well if he decides to run for president again, which Cruz has said he hoped to do. Politicians with an eye on the White House have built digital-heavy campaign fundraising apparatuses in the past. Vice President Kamala Harris spent heavily on online ads in early 2017 right after she was elected to the Senate. Back then, her team told HuffPost that she was taking advantage of small donors' enthusiasm for contributing to Democrats after Trump's election; and, indeed, the roughly $300,000 she spent on digital ads resulted in nearly $750,000 in small dollar donations. The email list she built through those ad campaigns served her well after she launched her presidential campaign two years later, when she raised millions right out of the gate. Cruz’s outsize spending has, like Harris’, also led to a small-dollar surge. His campaign and allied groups raised $5.3 million in the first quarter of this year — 98 percent of which came in increments of $100 or less, according to Cruz’s team.

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Houston Chronicle - May 11, 2021

Mayor Turner plans to rely on federal relief money to plug holes in $5.6 billion budget

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to use an influx of federal cash to give firefighters a “raise the city can afford,” fully replenish Houston’s $20 million rainy day fund ahead of hurricane season and stay clear of the city’s savings account, an unusual amount of flexibility for an administration used to closing massive budget deficits, according to the $5.1 billion annual spending plan he unveiled Tuesday morning. The proposals mostly are made possible by an infusion of about $304 million in federal relief money set to deposit into the city’s coffers Tuesday. Turner proposes to use $188 million of that money in the budget to close what he estimated would be a deficit of $201 million and fund a slew of other initiatives. “Without this flexibility, the city would be facing catastrophic cuts across all services,” Turner said.

The budget itself will change in the coming days and weeks, Turner said, as city officials get more clarity about the aid they are set to receive and how they can spend it. Pay raises for firefighters were not included in the mayor’s budget plan released Tuesday. Turner, who would not reveal the size of those raises, said he would announce more information and adjust the budget plan to accommodate the additional cost next week. Among the funded initiatives is some $25 million over three years to build out alternative police teams, which pair officers with mental health counselors or replace them altogether. Turner said the city also is reserving funds to help Solid Waste, which has fallen behind on heavy trash collection and other services amid the pandemic. He said he will reserve funds to hire contractors when the department lags behind, and also look at helping the department be “more competitive” in the hiring process, but he would not say whether that means workers will get raises. He said he is exploring those options.

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Houston Chronicle - May 11, 2021

FEMA has approved assistance to roughly 1 in 8 Texans who applied after February freeze, data shows

FEMA officials have approved about 50,000 out of nearly 400,000 applications for assistance from Texans affected by February’s winter weather, as the deadline to request federal assistance looms. Figures provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency show that of 398,366 assistance applications recorded as of Thursday, 137,718 had no decision, pending insurance, 4,977 applications remained pending, 94,309 applications were found ineligible and 51,282 applications for assistance had been approved. Determinations can be appealed. FEMA has said it can’t duplicate benefits from insurance or another source.

The disaster relief program — launched shortly after the freeze paralyzed the state’s power grid, burst water pipes and contributed to the deaths of nearly 200 people across the state — had approved more than $160 million as of Thursday. FEMA spokesman Alberto A. Pillot said the numbers of applications change daily. Applications may also be in different states of approval; for instance, a household may be approved for housing assistance and have an application pending for other assistance. The deadline to apply for federal assistance is May 20. “We would like to focus mainly on the positive side of the approved registrations,” Pillot said via e-mail last week. “Many residents who register for federal assistance will ultimately find their damages are covered by existing insurance policies, don’t meet the required severity for uninhabitable homes, they’re determined ineligible or registered but reported no damages.” Pillot said the approved funding totals “is a far better number to indicate not only what’s being done to help residents but the extent of need following the winter storm.” The application process, Pillot said, can take a few days from the point an individual learns they may be eligible to when they receive help, assuming all necessary documents are provided.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 11, 2021

Fraud alert! Someone in Texas could be filing for unemployment benefits with your data

How serious is the problem of scammers filing for unemployment benefits using stolen personal information in Texas? Between March 2020 to April, the Texas Workforce Commission received more than 4.4 million unemployment applications. Of those, 611,000 claims were suspicious, and most were blocked before benefits were paid, according to officials with the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.

Investigators with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office are receiving three to four telephone calls every day from residents whose identities have been stolen. That’s why Tarrant County prosecutors are warning residents to be on alert for their identities being stolen. “At a time when people need help, they are having their identities stolen and fake employment claims filed,“ said Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson in a Tuesday news release. “Stay alert, document any problem and report identity theft to your local police.” Prosecutors noted that the scammers take someone’s information such as name, address, Social Security or credit card number and assume that identity. Residents who are currently working, but receive an unemployment claim should not ignore it, prosecutors said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 11, 2021

Former Arlington mayoral candidates throw support behind Michael Glaspie in runoff

Michael Glaspie announced Tuesday that all of his former opponents who did not advance to the June 5 runoff have endorsed him for Arlington mayor. Glaspie, a minister who previously served on City Council and Arlington school board, announced on his campaign Facebook he received support from Marvin Sutton, Doni Anthony, Cirilo “CJ” Ocampo Jr., Dewayne Washington and Kelly Burke. The five ran for mayor but did not receive enough votes to make the runoff. Glaspie was the second-highest vote-getter, receiving 21.12% of the vote while Jim Ross received 47.39%. “The good part about it, hopefully, with their interest that they’ve shown, it’ll be an opportunity for our community to really capitalize on their perspectives, their passions, their concerns for Arlington, so that we can all work to make this a better place in which we can enjoy,” Glaspie said in a phone interview.

Burke, Anthony, Sutton and Ocampo confirmed they had endorsed him. Washington declined comment. Sutton, outgoing District 3 council member who came in third place with 14.95% of the vote, said Glaspie’s experience as an at-large council member representing District 8 helped him make a decision. “I think moving forward with the growth of the city and some of the concerns I had, that experience played a major role in my decision,” Sutton said. Anthony, a sales employee and activist who campaigned on free speech, government transparency, public safety, business deregulation and small business support, said endorsing Glaspie was “a simple choice.” She said her decision was based on Ross’ targeting of her during the campaign and his failure to disclose a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing on a Star-Telegram candidate questionnaire, as well as Glaspie’s focus more on improving the city than spending money.

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Dallas Morning News - May 11, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Let neighbors in gentrified areas keep their homes

If there’s one city planning buzzword that has people talking, it’s gentrification. Between 2007 and 2017, the number of Google searches for that word more than doubled. It has appeared in news reports, city council meetings, neighborhood groups, and even sitcoms. Now, if the Texas Legislature acts fast, it can create a tool to reduce the negative effects of gentrification. Too often, reinvestment in historically neglected neighborhoods leads to displacement of the very people it might help. When a city builds a park or a developer builds a block of luxury lofts, that’s good news for nearby homeowners who will see the value of their property rise. But sometimes that rise is so large and rapid that the neighbors who stand to benefit — the ones who have lived in the neighborhood for generations — can’t afford the property tax bill and are forced to leave.

State Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, has proposed a pilot program that would allow taxing entities to offer freezes to homeowners in gentrifying areas. House Bill 1577, co-authored by Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; Hugh Shine, R-Temple; and Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, would allow homeowners in targeted neighborhoods to have the assessed value of their property frozen until the 2037 tax year. The bill targets two census tracts in South Dallas and five in Harris County. We think this is a methodical approach to good policy. Davis has also proposed House Joint Resolution 81, calling for a constitutional amendment that would allow taxing entities to create their own similar freeze programs. We prefer this pilot approach. If it proves successful in these places, it could be expanded to other gentrifying areas. There are neighborhoods in Oak Cliff and West Dallas we would recommend next.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 11, 2021

Elaine Ayala: MSNBC host O'Donnell posed to Rosie Castro the issue of the moment, what will come of voter suppression?

Lawrence O’Donnell invited San Antonio civil rights leader Rosie Castro on his MSNBC show “The Last Word” last week. In part, it was to acknowledge Mother’s Day and honor the work mothers do on behalf of their children and their communities everywhere, especially single mothers like her. O’Donnell doesn’t ordinarily gush on guests, but he was obviously taken by hosting her alongside one of her sons, Julián, the former mayor of San Antonio, former housing secretary in the Obama administration and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Castro raised twin sons on San Antonio’s West Side, helping prepare them for leadership in one of the poorest areas in Bexar County and the country. Her other son, Joaquin, has become a star of the Democratic Party from his post in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he has become a voice on national and foreign affairs. O’Donnell posed to Rosie Castro the question of the moment. What will be the result of a Republican-led voter suppression movement to limit voting access to voters of color, younger voters and even disabled voters? Rosie Castro’s response was classic Castro — direct, dead-on and delivered without emotion or hesitancy. There will be lawsuits, she said

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San Antonio Express-News - May 11, 2021

San Antonio oilman Brian Alfaro appeals 121-month prison sentence for defrauding investors

San Antonio oilman Brian Alfaro, convicted last year of defrauding investors in the sale of units in oil and gas wells, has appealed his 121-month prison sentence. Alfaro, 52, also wants a federal appeals court to set aside an order directing him to pay about $9.9 million in restitution to 425 victims. He is not seeking to overturn his conviction. The appeal was filed Monday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans by San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum, who defended Alfaro during his trial last year.

“We believe there were errors made in the sentencing, so we’re appealing to the higher court to review a variety of sentencing issues,” McCrum said Tuesday. Alfaro is serving his sentence at a Fort Worth facility for inmates with special medical needs. He has multiple sclerosis. A jury found Alfaro guilty of seven counts of mail fraud following an eight-day trial in February 2020. Prosecutors told jurors Alfaro used investors’ money to support his lavish lifestyle, including buying a more than $500,000 Lamborghini and Spurs season tickets. Alfaro did not take the stand in his own defense. During sentencing, he accepted responsibility for his crimes and indicated he would not appeal his conviction.

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WFAA - May 10, 2021

The Superconducting Super Collider: How Texas got the world’s most ambitious scientific project and why it failed

Jo Bhore still has a large map of the Superconducting Super Collider, or SSC, along with a workbag of memorabilia — including old newspaper clippings, a work ID and a 485-page book on why it failed — all stored away like old baseball cards. It’s been 30 years, but he doesn’t like to look at them. “I kept these old files,” Bhore said. “I don’t know why, but I did.” Bhore was one of the world’s leading tunneling experts when he was picked as construction manager for the SSC’s above-ground buildings and 54-mile tunnel. “[These files] have wonderful memories of what we did, how we did it, and then the letdown,” Bhore said. “You know, this is the biggest project I ever built, and I’d given up a lot for it.”

The SSC is described by those who worked on it as one of the world’s most ambitious scientific projects. It was fully designed and partially built, but most outside of North Texas and even many here today have never heard of it. The SSC started as just an idea among scientists in the 1970s to improve the study of particle physics. By 1983, the U.S. Department of Energy recommended building the project and assigned a design group to draw up plans. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan approved the 54-mile super collider that would have been three times larger than the largest collider in existence today. Physicist Roy Schwitters left a professorship at Harvard when he was assigned to oversee the project as laboratory director in 1989. “It was a really important experience,” Schwitters said. “It was a great opportunity and I still consider it a tragedy.” Schwitters says he still has a handful of keepsakes, but the most meaningful photo he kept depicts two workmen in hardhats staring up at a 200-foot shaft leading down to the tunnel surrounding them. He was also on the site selection committee for the project that nearly every state in the country applied for, with 43 total proposals submitted. Edwin Farrar was on Waxahachie’s city council from 1981-1985 and helped put together Ellis County’s proposal to lure the project and its 8,000 jobs.

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The 19th - May 11, 2021

How Houston’s first pregnant councilmember is using her power to enact change

Abbie Kamin could not keep food down. She was hit with bouts of debilitating pain. Some days, she could barely get out of the bed. Yet all the while, Kamin worked. It was a rough first trimester, but the global pandemic offered a strange silver lining for the Houston city council member: Kamin spent last summer joining council meetings from bed. During the worst of her morning sickness she disabled video, even though it made colleagues suspicious. Texts came in: Why is your camera off? But she wasn’t ready to share that she was pregnant. “Whether you’re in office or not, pregnancy is not talked about enough openly, publicly — the good, the bad, the ugly,” Kamin said. “Growing up, pregnancy was just, ‘Beautiful … you’re glowing! Oh, it’s this amazing thing!’ Meanwhile, I’m literally bedridden for three months straight.” It’s been an eventful first term for Kamin, who was elected in late 2019.

During her first month in office, an explosion at a manufacturing building in northwest Houston killed three people and injured more than a dozen, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses. Two months later, the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in the city. There were summer protests over racial injustice in Houston, which George Floyd called home for several years. Days after announcing her pregnancy in September, Kamin was sharing alerts with constituents through emails and social media about a tropical storm causing severe street flooding. But through all of this, Kamin wondered what she would have done if meetings had been held in person. Would she have had the physical energy to attend? Would she have bolted repeatedly from the room to throw up? And what about city of Houston employees who are pregnant? What happened if they had severe morning sickness, which can impact a pregnant person’s ability to work? She recognized virtual video calls wouldn’t always be an option. For some, it never was. “That really is what kind of set me off on these months of exploration and work,” Kamin said. “Thinking about how women just get through this, and are expected to just deal with it.” Kamin, 33, is the first pregnant person to ever serve on Houston’s city council. There have been parents — some currently on the council — but she was pregnant while crafting policy, giving her an even more unique outlook on what it means to help run America’s fourth largest city.

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City Stories

KVUE - May 10, 2021

Former Smithville mayor charged with sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child

The former mayor of Smithville has been arrested and is facing felony charges of sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child. According to a joint statement from the city's current mayor, city manager and chief of police, Scott Saunders Jr. was arrested and booked into the Bastrop County Jail on Monday, May 10, on two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child. Court records show the sexual assault charges were filed on May 4 and the indecency charge was filed on May 10. The joint statement says that at the beginning of 2021, allegations were made via Facebook posts about possible "indiscretions" alleged to have been committed by Saunders.

The statement says that due to the nature of the allegations and the fact that criminal offenses may have occurred, the information was forwarded to the Texas Rangers for an investigation to eliminate any potential conflict of interest to the City and "provide protection for everyone involved." In January, KVUE's media partners at the Austin American-Statesman reported that Saunders was resigning from his position two months after winning reelection. According to the Statesman's report, Saunders said at the time that he had "been thinking about resigning for about a year" and that he chose to resign in January because Smithville would be having a city council election in May and a mayoral election could be added to the ballot without the need for a special election.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 11, 2021

'Modernizing is key': Austin-based Army Futures Command continues to grow, adapt

As Austin-based Army Futures Command continues to expand its presence and modernization efforts around Austin and the state, its best practices could help model innovation for the Department of Defense and the rest of the military. On Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks toured several Austin sites for the Austin-based innovation unit to learn more about how it's working to harness and acquire technology and train talent. Futures Command is a public-private initiative that leads modernization projects for the Army. The military chose Austin for its headquarters in 2018.

“The (defense) secretary has been very clear that modernizing is key. As deputy secretary, my job is to help bring new strategies to execution, and that line goes right through process development and capabilities for us, and eventually resourcing and that's what Army Futures Command is all about to the Army,” Hicks said. She said it helps her to see what part the Army is playing in moving the Department of Defense towards modernization. Futures Command won’t be the end-all standard for modernization for the Department of Defense, but Hicks said the goal is to take the best ideas from each branch's modernization efforts. “What we really want to do at the corporate or enterprise-level really is pull up those good ideas and see what’s working,” Hicks said “From there, we can start to think about what are their major policy changes or their authority structure. Everything from promotion to how budgets are determined. We’re just at the beginning of that journey.”

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National Stories

Vox - May 11, 2021

Got the vaccine? Experts say you can relax about your Covid-19 risk now. Really.

White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said he will not go into restaurants or movie theaters, even though he’s vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated people should continue masking up indoors and avoiding large gatherings. News outlets have reported on “breakthrough infections” of Covid-19 among the fully vaccinated. All of this can make it seem like getting vaccinated may not be enough to liberate people from the fear of getting sick and the precautions they’ve taken to avoid the coronavirus in the past year. So I posed a question to experts I’ve talked to throughout the pandemic about Covid-related precautions: How worried are you about your personal safety after getting vaccinated? They were nearly unanimous in their response: They’re no longer worried much, if at all, about their personal risk of getting Covid-19. Several spoke of going into restaurants and movie theaters now that they’re vaccinated, socializing with friends and family, and having older relatives visit for extended periods.

“I’m not particularly worried about getting ill myself,” Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University, told me. “I know that if I do somehow end up infected, my chances of developing serious symptoms are low.” Instead, experts said they mostly remain cautious to protect others who aren’t yet vaccinated. The vaccines are extremely effective — dramatically cutting the risk of any symptoms, and driving the risk of hospitalization and death to nearly zero. There’s some evidence that these vaccines also reduce the risk of transmission, but we’re still learning how much they prevent someone who is vaccinated from infecting another person. When experts are still taking precautions, it’s this concern for others that primarily drives them. But, over time, they see even those concerns for others becoming less necessary, too. “It’s about protecting others. Vaccination makes me essentially safe,” William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, told me. “There’s accumulating evidence, too, that breakthrough cases are less likely to transmit (they have lower viral loads), so by being vaccinated I’m already helping protect others. But I’m also going to continue with behaviors consistent with lower contact rates in the community overall. As more and more are protected through vaccination, I’ll feel less and less of a need for that.” As vaccination rates climb and daily new cases and deaths drop, experts said that people should feel more comfortable easing up on precautions, shifting the world back to the pre-pandemic days.

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CNBC - May 11, 2021

$100 million New Jersey deli: Ex-Trump tax lawyer owned shell company created by mystery investors

Shell companies sure make strange bedfellows. A New York real estate tax lawyer — who did work for former President Donald Trump decades ago — in 2011 purchased a shell company whose creators later became key investors in a mystery $100 million company that owns just a small New Jersey deli, records show. The shell company — Europa Acquisition I Inc. — was one of eight shell entities set up in 2010 by Peter Reichard and Peter Coker Sr., the North Carolina-based investors in deli owner Hometown International. After Reichard and Coker sold them, most of those shell companies — including the one later purchased by Trump’s former real estate tax lawyer Allan Schwartz — ended up having their registrations revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to keep current in their disclosure filings, records show.

The shell companies were named in numerical sequence, starting with Europa Acquisition I and ending with Europa Acquisition VIII. Schwartz, the former Trump lawyer, told CNBC in a phone interview that he knew nothing about Coker Sr. and Reichard, Hometown International, or its deli in Paulsboro, New Jersey, which has minuscule sales. Coker Sr. and Reichard sold the Europa shell months before Schwartz bought it from other entities. Schwartz, 73, is the latest person with an eyebrow-raising history to pop up in financial records linked to the deli company investors or to entities they were involved in. “I know nothing about it,” Schwartz said Monday after a reporter told him that key investors in Hometown International had created a shell company he once owned. Schwartz laughed when he was told details about Hometown International, including its market valuation of $100 million despite it owning only a South Jersey deli that had sales of less than $37,000 for the past two years.

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CBS DFW - May 11, 2021

Federal judge tosses out NRA bankruptcy case

A federal judge on Tuesday, May 11 dismissed the National Rifle Association’s bankruptcy case, leaving the powerful gun-rights group to face a New York state lawsuit accusing the NRA of financial abuses and that aims to put it out of business. The case was over whether the NRA should be allowed to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, where the state is suing in an effort to disband the group. Though headquartered in Virginia, the NRA was chartered as a nonprofit in New York in 1871 and is incorporated in the state. Judge Harlin Hale said he was dismissing the case because he found the bankruptcy was not filed in good faith. His decision followed 11 days of testimony and arguments.

Lawyers for New York and the NRA’s former advertising agency grilled the group’s embattled top executive, Wayne LaPierre, who acknowledged putting the NRA into Chapter 11 bankruptcy without the knowledge or assent of most of its board and other top officers. Lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James argued that the case was an attempt by NRA leadership to escape accountability for using the group’s coffers as their piggybank. But the NRA’s attorneys said it was a legitimate effort to avoid a political attack by the Democrat. LaPierre testified that he kept the bankruptcy largely secret to prevent leaks from the group’s 76-member board, which is divided in its support for him. The NRA declared bankruptcy in January, five months after James’ office sued seeking its dissolution following allegations that executives illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars for lavish personal trips, no-show contracts and other questionable expenditures.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 11, 2021

Las Vegas is back. Here's where to go to avoid crowds.

After a year of being cooped up, nobody really needs extra motivation to get out and stretch their legs. Most of us are done pretending to enjoy those excruciatingly painful workouts. We’re beyond over putting together 500-piece puzzles, only to find we’re missing a couple of pieces. And what about that online learning class you subscribed to so you could be more well-rounded but forgot to cancel and now have been charged a couple of hundred bucks? It’s time to put those good times behind because an old friend is waiting. Vegas is back, baby!

Last year at this time, the Las Vegas Strip was virtually a ghost town. Empty. Zilch. No bells, no whistles. Casinos were shuttered. Pedestrian traffic had been replaced by families on bicycles. Even ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, a Vegas resident, was spotted pedaling up the famed boulevard. While some resorts remain closed, some have reopened to 80 percent capacity. The Cosmopolitan received approval to open without restrictions. Shows are returning to the Entertainment Capital of the World, and so are high-priced hotel rooms. But there are still deals to be had if you know where to look. There are plenty of things most tourists do: gamble, eat, drink and gamble some more. There are the fountains at Bellagio and the Mirage volcano. And the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum. And there are swimming pools galore.

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Newsclips - May 11, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Texas gets $15.8B bonanza in pandemic aid, far more than it lost in revenue

The state, cities and counties of Texas will soon receive a $25 billion bonanza under the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law signed by President Joe Biden in March. The Treasury Department issued details Monday of the $350 billion set aside for state and local governments under the massive package, approved by Congress with only Democratic support. Dallas County will receive $512 million. The city will get another $355 million. Only Harris County and Houston are higher on the list in Texas, with budgetary infusions of $916 million and $608 million heading their way soon. Republicans in Congress vehemently opposed the state aid, deriding it as a bailout for states that mismanaged their budgets.

But only blue California, which actually ran a surplus during the crisis, stands to receive more than Texas, where the infusion will have an outsized impact on a budget controlled by Republicans: Gov. Greg Abbott and the GOP hold majorities in the Legislature. Texas stands to receive a $15.8 billion windfall – far more than the roughly $4 billion the state lost as COVID-19 sent economic shudders across the globe, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation. Texas counties will share about $5.7 billion, and cities will get $3.4 billion. “Because states and local governments have to balance their budgets, a lot of them had to lay off employees when the economy.... slowed and tax revenues fell. We’re talking about 1.3 million state and local employees out of work,” Biden said at the White House. “The money we’re distributing ... now is going to make it possible for an awful lot of educators, first responders, sanitation workers to go back to work.” States have wide flexibility on how they use the funds from the American Rescue Plan.

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Houston Chronicle - May 11, 2021

Bill limiting Gov. Abbott's powers during pandemic also voids most local rules

The authors of the Pandemic Response Act aimed at first to limit Gov. Greg Abbott’s powers during such public health crises and give the Legislature more say in how to manage them. But the heavily amended version that received initial approval from the Texas House on Monday would also constrain local government officials with the same zeal. Abbott’s dependence on executive orders to manage the pandemic, rather than calling the Legislature into session, was a point of contention for Republicans and Democrats alike last year. Members wanted to have more say on pandemic-related decisions, and many conservative members were staunchly against restrictions they saw as impeding on Texans’ rights. Some even filed suit against the governor.

House Bill 3, a priority for House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, that he has described as “the House’s blueprint for pandemic response,” passed on a 92-45 vote, with Democrats split and most Republicans voting in favor. It needs one more vote before it heads off to the Senate. The bill would indeed add new checks on the governor, mainly by forming a committee to review the governor’s pandemic disaster declarations and proclamations. That committee would have the option to dissolve all or parts of the governor’s orders when the Legislature is not in session. The 12-member committee would be made up of the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, who as joint chairs would convene the group when necessary, and various House and Senate committee chairs. The governor would still have the authority to issue orders to close businesses in part or in full, mandate face coverings or place limits on voluntary surgeries or other procedures. But the governor would be required to get approval to renew such orders beyond 30 days. And if a pandemic lasts more than 120 days, the governor would be forced to call a special session to continue a disaster declaration. But on top of that, local government officials’ powers would also be limited, and the governor actually gains a new authority. The bill prohibits local governments from closing businesses or limiting their maximum occupancy, plus any local government deemed by the governor to have required a business to close would be prohibited from levying certain tax increases. The bill also includes protections for most businesses from civil suits related to the pandemic.

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Washington Post - May 10, 2021

How an obscure Texas security company helped convince Americans the 2020 election was stolen from Trump

Key elements of the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald Trump took shape in an airplane hangar here two years earlier, promoted by a Republican businessman who has sold everything from Tex-Mex food in London to a wellness technology that beams light into the human bloodstream. At meetings beginning late in 2018, as Republicans were smarting from midterm losses in Texas and across the country, Russell J. Ramsland Jr. and his associates delivered alarming presentations on electronic voting to a procession of conservative lawmakers, activists and donors. Briefings in the hangar had a clandestine air. Guests were asked to leave their cellphones outside before assembling in a windowless room. A member of Ramsland’s team purporting to be a “white-hat hacker” identified himself only by a code name. Ramsland, a failed congressional candidate with a Harvard MBA, pitched a claim that seemed rooted in evidence: Voting-machine audit logs — lines of codes and time stamps that document the machines’ activities — contained indications of vote manipulation. In the retrofitted hangar that served as his company’s offices at the edge of a municipal airstrip outside Dallas, Ramsland attempted to persuade failed Republican candidates to challenge their election results and force the release of additional data that might prove manipulation.

“We had to find the right candidate,” said Laura Pressley, a former Ramsland ally whose own claim that audit logs showed fraud had been rejected in court two years earlier. “We had to find one who knew they won.” He made the pitch to Don Huffines, a state senator in Texas. Huffines declined. He tried to persuade U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.). Sessions declined. No candidate agreed to bring a challenge, and the idea of widespread vote manipulation remained on the political fringe — until 2020, when Ramsland’s assertions were seized upon by influential allies of Trump. The president himself accelerated the spread of those claims into the GOP mainstream as he latched onto an array of baseless ideas to explain his loss in November. The enduring myth that the 2020 election was rigged was not one claim by one person. It was many claims stacked one atop the other, repeated by a phalanx of Trump allies. This is the previously unreported origin story of a core set of those claims, ideas that were advanced not by renowned experts or by insiders who had knowledge of flawed voting systems but by Ramsland and fellow conservative activists as they pushed a fledgling company, Allied Security Operations Group, into a quixotic attempt to find evidence of widespread fraud where none existed.

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NBC News - May 10, 2021

Colonial pipeline hack claimed by Russian group DarkSide spurs emergency order from White House

The federal government issued a rare emergency declaration on Sunday after a cyberattack on a major U.S. pipeline choked the transportation of oil to the eastern U.S. The Colonial Pipeline, responsible for the country’s largest fuel pipeline, shut down all its operations Friday after hackers broke into some of its networks. All four of its main lines remain offline. The emergency declaration from the Department of Transportation aims to ramp up alternative transportation routes for oil and gas. It lifts regulations on drivers carrying fuel in 17 states across the South and eastern United States, as well as the District of Columbia, allowing them to drive between fuel distributors and local gas stations on more overtime hours and less sleep than federal restrictions normally allow. The U.S. is already dealing with a shortage of tanker truck drivers.

The emergency order extends through June 8, and can be renewed. Colonial has yet to declare a date it expects it will resume full operations. In a statement Monday afternoon, the company indicated it was working to slowly resume operations and hopes to restore services by the end of the week. “While this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve, the Colonial operations team is executing a plan that involves an incremental process that will facilitate a return to service in a phased approach,” the company said in a press release. In a press briefing Monday, Homeland Security Advisor Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall said that Colonial initially shut down its networks as a precautionary measure, and that while the hackers broke into networks devoted to the company’s business operations, it did not reach computers that control the physical infrastructure that transports gasoline and other fuel. Industry experts have already warned that a prolonged shutdown of the pipeline could push gas prices higher and cause disruptions in eastern parts of the U.S. The FBI confirmed Monday that the culprit is a strain of ransomware called DarkSide, believed to be operated by a Russian cybercrime gang referred to by the same name.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Former state Sen. Don Huffines announces he’ll challenge Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in GOP primary

Former Texas state Sen. Don Huffines is running for governor, and from the broadsides he launched against two-term Gov. Greg Abbott’s stewardship on Monday, it’s clear the Dallas businessman will try to attack the incumbent Republican from the right. Huffines is a real-estate developer who with his twin brother, Phillip, has supported staunchly conservative Texas GOP causes, at times showing a libertarian bent. He is the first Republican to announce he’ll challenge Abbott next year.

“The Austin swamp may not be as wide as Washington but it’s just as deep,” Huffines said in a tweeted video. In a written statement, he added, “For too long, Texas has been let down by politicians who offer nothing but excuses and lies. Our border is still wide open. Property taxes keep going up. And our election laws continue to be ignored. Plain and simple, our politicians aren’t getting things done, and Texans have rightfully run out of patience.” Asked if he has a comment on Huffines’ entry in the race, Abbott political strategist Dave Carney texted, “I have none. Who?” Carney referred a reporter to Abbott spokesman Mark Miner. “Doubt anyone has time with the end of session upon them all,” Carney said.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Trump backs Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s 2022 reelection in first endorsement for Texas statewide candidate

With more than a year until the 2022 election, former President Donald Trump on Monday backed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s bid for re-election. “He is outstanding and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” the announcement said. Patrick, a Republican who presides over the Senate, has said he will seek a third four-year term. The stamp of approval is Trump’s first for a Texas statewide candidate this year and comes notably early in the election cycle.

The legislative session is still underway. Patrick has not yet drawn any official Republican primary challengers, unlike other statewide GOP officials. On Monday, former state Sen. Don Huffines jumped into the governor’s race and signaled he would be running to the right of Gov. Greg Abbott. Land Commissioner George P. Bush is weighing a bid against embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is reportedly under FBI investigation over allegations he abused his office to help a campaign donor. Paxton denies wrongdoing. Many Texas Republicans are vying to align themselves with Trump, who remains popular with the state’s conservative base, which often turns out for primary elections. It remains to be seen whether other endorsements from Trump will follow. Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, said the Trump endorsement cements Patrick’s “conservative credibility,” which could help him raise money and insulate him from potential primary challengers. In his statement, Trump said Patrick has stood up “for Life, Liberty, the Second Amendment, Border Security, our Military and our Vets, and our God-given Freedoms.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Save Texas history. Line dance.

It’s a warm night. Cicadas are crooning loudly in the post oaks. A half-empty bottle of beer sweats on a tree stump next to you. The dance hall’s wood-slat shutters are open, showing a river of straw-hatted dancers flowing past the windows. Through them, you can see someone you’ve been trying to get up the nerve to ask for a dance. That scene, or one very like it, has repeated for generations in our state. And one historic preservation group is working to make sure it keeps on happening. There are almost 400 dance halls in Texas, more than in any other state. They have a rich history. The oldest were built in the late 19th century as German and Czech settlers established towns around a community meeting place. Some had specialties: Turnverein were early gyms. Farmer Verein were something like ag extension offices, offering farming seminars on weekends after which members would clear away the furniture and throw a dance. In general, these are rickety wooden structures with more history and less kitsch than bedazzled spectacles like Billy Bob’s Texas.

The most famous are Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Schroeder Hall in Goliad, and Luckenbach where the hall and the settlement are synonymous. But there are others closer to home like Dallas’ Longhorn Ballroom and Sons of Hermann Hall, and Fort Worth’s National Hall and Stagecoach Ballroom. Some Texas music legends got their start playing these halls, including George Strait, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen. They have been incubators for polka, Western swing, honky-tonk and Tejano music. But these gems of history and Texana are in trouble. Even before 2020, many were on life support. Then the pandemic shuttered all but a few. Operators have turned to charity, ingenuity and the occasional drive-through barbecue dinner to stay afloat. Casey Jordan, executive director of an Austin nonprofit called Texas Dance Hall Preservation, said saving them is important because of their rarity.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Hedge fund founder Dan Kamensky gets prison sentence for fraud during Neiman Marcus bankruptcy

The New York hedge fund founder who was charged with committing fraud during Neiman Marcus’ bankruptcy last year has been sentenced to six months in prison. Marble Ridge Capital founder Dan Kamensky, 48, pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud and extortion committed while he was on a committee of unsecured creditors in the Neiman Marcus bankruptcy. The sentence, handed down Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Denise L. Cote in New York, includes six months of supervised release under home detention after the prison term.

Kamensky admitted he pressured a rival bidder to abandon a higher offer for Mytheresa, an asset owned by Neiman Marcus at the time, so that his hedge fund could buy it for a lower price. Kamensky had a legal duty to represent the interests of all unsecured creditors and secure the best offer. “Daniel Kamensky committed bankruptcy fraud — undermining the integrity of bankruptcy proceedings and violating his fiduciary responsibility — in an effort to take extra profits for himself and his hedge fund,” said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in a statement. “As he himself predicted, this fraud has now landed Daniel Kamensky in prison.” Kamensky, who was a successful bankruptcy lawyer before starting his hedge fund, admitted he tried to cover up his actions by telling a Jeffries LLC investment banker to lie on his behalf. According to an FBI investigation and prosecutor’s court documents, Kamensky told the banker “This conversation never happened” and “Do you understand ... I can go to jail?

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Dallas Morning News - May 11, 2021

Texas House advances bill targeting ‘critical race theory’ over objections from education, civics and business groups

A bill that educators say could have a chilling effect on Texas classrooms and efforts to have honest conversations about race is barreling ahead in the Legislature. The House voted 81-52 early Tuesday morning to give initial approval to a bill that supporters describe as an effort to keep “critical race theory” from being taught in schools. It’s a move that would bring Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature in line with some other conservative states, though House Democrats attempted to derail the bill with pointed questions about the legislation’s intent and potential harm. Dozens of groups decried the bill — and its Senate companion, which already cleared that chamber — as an infringement on speech and existing education standards, saying it would weaken attempts to prepare students to be informed, active citizens.

During heated exchanges on the House floor, Democrats also labelled the legislation as a way of white-washing the country’s painful history of slavery. The idea of banning critical race theory — an academic framework that, among other things, probes the ways in which government policies uphold systemic racism — has become a conservative rallying cry, while the meaning of it has become twisted. The backlash comes as schools across the country consider steps to boost their diversity and inclusion efforts, including bringing on diversity officers, seeking unconscious bias training for staff and examining their curriculums through a racial equity lens. Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, introduced the bill on the floor by asking: “Do you want our Texas kids to be taught that the system of government in Texas and the United States is nothing but a cover-up for white supremacy?” Rep. Mary González, D-El Paso County, immediately pushed back, saying she earned her doctorate in part by doing academic research using critical race theory texts. The ideas “healed” her, she said, and helped her understand society. She repeatedly pressed Toth to share how many critical race theory books he’s read — cover to cover — to inform his legislation. He responded by saying he’s read papers.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Texas House OK’s bill to ban plant-based foods from using ‘meat’ and ‘beef’ on labels

Plant-based and other meatless products could be accused of misleading consumers under a bill approved in the Texas House on Monday. Texas is the latest state to debate measures that would prohibit foods that don’t contain animal products from using words like “meat” or “beef” in their name. The bill, which was approved after a brief but divisive debate, needs one more vote in the House to advance to the Texas Senate. Rep. Brad Buckley said his bill would protect consumers, including vegetarians and vegans, from buying something by mistake.

“This is for those who choose to eat meat, but it’s also for those who choose to not eat meat,” said Buckley, a Killeen Republican who also helps run a small cattle operation, according to The Austin-American Statesman. House Bill 316 would prohibit products derived from insects, plants or cell cultures — which come from in vitro animal cells harvested in the lab and not slaughtered animals — from using the terms “meat,” “pork,” “poultry product” and “beef” in their names. Using these words could result in a company being accused of misleading consumers. The bill would not bar these products from using broader terms, like “burger.” Bills like these have cropped up in several states as products like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers have gained in popularity. Many of those that have become law have been attacked in the courts for violating the free speech rights of the company. Figures in the livestock industry, including the Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Poultry Federation and Texas Pork Producers Association, support the House bill. It’s opposed by Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger and related organizations like the Plant Based Foods Association and Alliance for Plant Based Inclusion.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Man who confronted protesters in viral incident faces assault charge, Plano police say

Plano police said Monday that a man who angrily confronted a group of protesters earlier this month faces a misdemeanor assault charge for his actions during the incident, which was captured on viral video. A short time after police announced the charge, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton waded into the fray, decrying “mob rule” and “lawlessness” in the city. Demonstrators organized the May 2 march to demand justice for Marvin Scott III, a Black man who died March 14 after being forcibly restrained while in custody at the Collin County jail.

Scott, 26, had been arrested in Allen after police found him sitting next to a joint; civil-rights attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing Scott’s family, has suggested he was having a mental-health crisis. At the county’s detention center, jailers tried to strap Scott to a restraint bed, pepper-sprayed him and placed a spit hood over his head before he became unresponsive. Scott’s death was ruled a homicide caused by “fatal acute stress response in an individual with previously diagnosed schizophrenia during restraint struggle with law enforcement.” Seven jailers were fired following an internal investigation — one has successfully appealed the decision — and an eighth resigned. Scott’s family and their supporters have called for arrests as the Texas Rangers continue a criminal investigation. Video from the May 2 demonstration shows the group standing in an intersection at Preston Road and State Highway 121, holding signs and chanting among the vehicles.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Investigation into allegations of bribery and threats of violence in Kemp ISD stalled in court

An investigation into allegations of bribery, threats of violence and racist remarks in Kemp schools is stalled in court as the district tries to fend off a potential state takeover. Judge Jan Soifer granted the school district a temporary restraining order in March that halted the Texas Education Agency’s investigation into the small 1,600-student school district located 45 miles southeast of Dallas. A hearing on the order is scheduled for Thursday. Late last year, TEA officials signed off on a preliminary report that described a toxic climate and dysfunctional board that “misused its position to assert control and power, creating chaos and conflict” that hindered Kemp.

The investigators reported an instance wherein the Kemp school board president wanted a reason to fire the superintendent, so she tried to get a district employee to seduce the school leader. TEA investigators concluded that Commissioner Mike Morath should lower the district’s accreditation status and replace the elected board of trustees with appointed governors -- a severe sanction that’s been used just a handful of times in Texas. Kemp officials refuted TEA’s findings in a January response that called the state’s investigation “one-sided.” Attorney Stephen Dubner denied many of the state’s conclusions and questioned the credibility of the agency’s witnesses. Kemp officials took agency to court instead of meeting with the commissioner or a representative to respond to the findings and present new evidence.

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WFAA - May 10, 2021

AG Ken Paxton writes scathing rebuke of Plano police after one person charged in Plano rally incident; debate spills into city council meeting

A May 2 protest within the city limits of Plano has garnered wide-scale attention. The incident involves a confrontation between a driver who exited his vehicle and confronted protestors. The latest to chime in on the topic is Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a Monday afternoon Facebook post. The rally was held to call for justice for Marvin Scott. Scott died on March 14 while in custody at the Collin County Jail. Witnesses told WFAA the rally was peaceful and the confrontation between the driver and protestors lasted under two minutes and at the very end of the scheduled protest. Plano Police released a statement on the incident on Monday, saying dispatchers received multiple calls from stalled drivers at State Highway 121 and Preston Road. The initial call to police was about a possible "malfunctioning signal." It was later determined there were "50 protestors in and around the roadway."

There are multiple videos that show the encounter between the driver and the protesters. The driver is heard yelling to the one officer on scene, "Get these [expletive] people out of the way!" The driver engages with the officer for a few seconds and later turns to the crowd and appears to attempt to slap a phone out of the hand of one of the protestors. "During this incident, a female reported that she was assaulted by a male who confronted the protestors. Due to the position of the crowd, the officer did not witness the assault. The officer de-escalated the situation by removing the male away from the crowd...After speaking with the victim and the suspect, and reviewing video footage of the incident, detectives filed an Assault-by-Contact charge with the Municipal Court against the male suspect," reads the police statement. The Plano Police Department says it is not releasing the name of the suspect or the victim for their personal safety concerns. Police said the victim filed an assault by contact charge — a Class C misdemeanor.

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WFAA - May 10, 2021

After slow start to billion-dollar program, Texas now getting help to more struggling renters and landlords

Fifteen months into this pandemic, the monthly struggle continues for two populations: People who’ve lost jobs or wages and can’t pay rent…and landlords. That lost rent is their lost income. Not only are landlords not getting paid; they might have been able to make more money in this red-hot housing market where rentals are in huge demand. But in many cases, they can’t evict delinquent tenants. Or can they?

The CDC still has a moratorium on evictions, which requires you to fill out a declaration form. That relief was first put in place in 2020. It is scheduled to go through June 30, 2021. That CDC rule had been backed up by a Texas order, but that state order expired March 31. Texas judges have been told to essentially judge for themselves whether to keep enforcing the CDC protection. Evictions are already underway in places like Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Houston. And there may be more to come because now even the CDC’s moratorium has been invalidated by a court, and a legal battle is underway. Even those who’ve been protected from evictions still owe for the months they didn’t pay. If they get kicked out, they’ll have bad debt and that may make it hard for them to find another place to live. Do they become homeless? And if so, how many people are at risk? We don’t fully know. But we do know that in a Census survey a few weeks ago, 1,191,796 Texas had "no confidence" or "slight confidence" that they could make the next month’s rent.

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Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

Fort Bend County leaders, gentlemen's clubs praise new increased age requirement for sexually oriented businesses

A proposed bill that would raise the minimum age to work at an adult entertainment establishment from 18 to 21 is on its way to the governor’s desk. Local state representatives, nonprofits and even the clubs themselves are praising the initiative. House Bill 3520 and its counterpart, Senate Bill 315, also known as the SMART Act, both passed last week. In a rare sign of political unity, the bills passed unanimously through both the House and Senate. Texas Rep. Jacey Jetton, representative for House District 26 which includes most of Sugar Land and Richmond among other areas of Fort Bend County, was one of HB 3520 co-sponsors. “This is something I’ve been working on with both the senators and representatives and even Gov. Abbott,” Jetton reported. “We know now that sexually oriented entertainment businesses contribute heavily to sex trafficking.”

Jetton stated that approximately 79,000 young adults and minors have been trafficked in Texas. Raising the minimum employment age for adult entertainment clubs, he said, is the first step to combating trafficking that occurs through the clubs. “Data indicates raising the minimum age on sexually oriented businesses will be a beneficial step in this process,” he said. “As leaders in Texas, we must also continue educating people about the realities of human trafficking.” Creating a three-year buffer in age will have multiple benefits, Jetton said. In addition to helping curb sex trafficking, the increased age will make it easier to identify underage workers. “Just like in the alcohol industry, it’s easier to tell if someone claiming to be a 21-year-old is actually a minor,” he noted. “Sometimes minors claiming to be 18 can be difficult to identify, but that three-year difference will be easier for people to see and report.” Rhonda Kuykendall, volunteer council member for Child Advocates of Fort Bend, was present at the state capitol when the Smart Act cleared the senate on May 6. CAFB, a nonprofit organization that provides services and resources to children and families to help children who have been abused and neglected, frequently works with victims of human trafficking.

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Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

'Get your tiger back inside': Caretaker drives off after deputy's showdown with big cat in Houston

Police are looking for a man whose tiger escaped a west Houston home and came face-to-face with an armed off-duty Waller County Sheriff's Office deputy in a residential neighborhood, according to video of the encounter. The footage shows the tiger lounging in the grass and then walking toward a man with a gun drawn around 8 p.m. in the 1100 block of Ivy Wall Drive, near the Energy Corridor. Police spokesman Victor Senties identified the man as a law enforcement official from the nearby county who happened to be nearby when neighbors spied the tiger.

At least one 911 caller told police that the tiger “had a collar around its neck” and was “looking aggressive,” according to authorities. The apex predator paced toward the deputy by crossing the street, prompting him to shout out some profanities to the tiger’s apparent caretaker who emerged from a home, the video shows. The caretaker, when confronted, said, “We’re with the zoo" but did not elaborate. “Get your tiger back inside,” the deputy cried out, without firing any shots during the tense confrontation. The tiger was later corralled back inside a home. Within minutes, the caretaker rushed the animal away in a white Jeep Cherokee as police arrived. Its escape was noted in police radio traffic. “We’ve got one running away with the tiger in the car,” officials said on a law enforcement radio channel. The officers chased after the caretaker but lost sight of him as he fled at a high rate of speed toward Highway 6, Senties said. No charges have been filed.

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Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

Genealogy, DNA testing lead Beaumont police to Ohio in effort to solve woman's brutal 1995 murder

On Jan. 13, 1995, a young Beaumont second-grade teacher arrived home from school after a long week, walked her dog, and then poured a glass of wine and settled in for the evening. She called her boyfriend. The phone call was likely the last one she ever made. When Mary Catherine Edwards’ friends and former students think of her, they remember the woman who greeted them with hugs every day. They remember the teacher who watched out for them, who bought snacks with her own money for homeroom parties, who lit up their day with beaming smiles. Now, decades later, they still choke up recalling the 31-year-old woman’s murder, a case that went cold until late last month, until investigators used DNA testing and genealogy websites to home in on a suspect. On April 29, cold case investigators from the Beaumont Police Department and the Texas Rangers flew to Cleveland, where they arrested a 61-year-old man they say raped and killed Edwards.

Over the past few years, some 20 million people have had their DNA tested by companies such as 23andMe, connecting long-lost relatives or helping families gain insight into their origin and history. Detectives from agencies around the country have also started harnessing the databases to try to crack cases by tracing criminal suspects’ family trees. The technique gained international attention in 2018, when investigators used the method to help identify the Golden State Killer, a former police officer who murdered at least 13 people and raped 50 women between 1973 and 1986. The technique has also sparked controversy. Civil rights activists and genealogists warn of privacy violations and say law enforcement is using the technology without any oversight, and in some cases working with genealogy testing websites in ways that violated users’ terms of service. In the subsequent backlash, some sites barred law enforcement or excluded users’ data from law enforcement searches unless they explicitly agreed to opt in.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 10, 2021

Facing questions after 2021 power crisis, Texas natural gas industry opposes new protective measures

Advocates for the Texas natural gas industry have spent much of the 11 weeks since February’s deadly power blackouts downplaying the sector’s culpability in the crisis and working to stop lawmakers from requiring winterization of far-flung wells and pipelines. But new data suggest failures by natural gas producers and suppliers to keep the commodity flowing might have triggered as much as a fifth of the freeze-related power outages near the peak of the calamity. What's not up for debate is that statewide production of natural gas — a major source of fuel for electricity generation — slumped dramatically amid the historic winter freeze and prices for it soared.

Production fell by nearly half at one point during the emergency, compared with levels earlier in February, according to IHS Markit, a company that aggregates information about the energy sector. Natural gas spot prices climbed from an average of about $2.80 per million British thermal units at the main West Texas trading hubto a high of $206.19 — a 73-fold increase. At least 151 people, including 12 in Travis County and three in Williamson County, died statewide for reasons related to the frigid temperatures and others lost limbs to frostbite, as many power plants faltered just when needed most. Property damage from the power outages has been estimated at over $200 billion, while water service to more than 12 million people across the state also was disrupted because pipes froze and burst. Proponents of the state's natural gas industry — in addition to its regulator, the Texas Railroad Commission — have largely deflected blame for the overall crisis, saying freeze-related outages at power plants exacerbated issues at natural gas production and supply facilities because they rely heavily on electricity to operate and to resolve their own weather-induced problems.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 10, 2021

How effective are COVID-19 vaccines in the real word? Two studies offer 'stunning' results, doctor says

Baylor Scott & White hospitals in Round Rock, Temple and Waco have been contributing to real-world studies reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show a significant difference in people who have received a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus and people who have not. The first study began as a flu study to test the effectiveness of that vaccine each year and has continued during the coronavirus pandemic to be a flu study as well as a COVID-19 study, once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines began to be in use. A new CDC report took data collected from this study from 24 hospitals (including the Round Rock, Temple and Waco hospitals) in 14 states, and looked at people ages 65 and older who came into the hospitals with flu- or COVID-19-like symptoms.

The researchers then looked at whether the patients tested positive for COVID-19 and whether they had received one, two or zero doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Because this study was looking at January through March data, it considered only injections of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. People who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were not considered for this study. Using this real-world data, the study found the vaccines were 94% effective in protecting people who had received both doses of the vaccine and 64% effective for people who had gotten just one dose. These numbers mirrored what was found in the large-scale vaccine clinical trials, but with a significant difference. People in the clinical trials tended to be healthier and younger, said Dr. Manjusha Gaglani, director of the Center for Research in Vaccines and Infections and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Baylor Scott & White Health, "whereas here we are looking at everybody."

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KUT - May 10, 2021

Austin won't make arrests during first phase of reinstating rules related to homelessness

After voters passed Proposition B on May 1, Austin is reinstating rules that ban homeless encampments on public land, prohibit sitting or lying down in parts of the city, and place a nighttime curfew on panhandling. While those rules go into effect Tuesday, the city said enforcement would be phased in. In an announcement Monday, the city said police won't ticket or arrest folks during an initial 30-day period unless there's an immediate threat to public health or safety. The city said officers will instead "provide available resources and verbal warnings." Police will "begin to issue written warnings and initial citations" in the second phase of enforcement, the announcement said.

In the third and fourth phases, the city said, officers can "initiate arrests and/or encampment clearances in situations where compliance has not been achieved after a citation has been issued." Prop B won by a 15-point margin. Supporters argued the city's 2019 decision to soften criminal penalties related to homelessness made the city less safe and contributed to an increase in public encampments. Opponents argued criminal penalties for behavior related to homelessness often make things harder for people to get housing. The outline of the plan comes after days of confusion surrounding the strategy. City Manager Spencer Cronk and interim Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon will provide an update at a news conference Tuesday. Last week, Cronk floated the idea of a "phased approach," suggesting APD wouldn't immediately start issuing tickets to people who violated the ordinances. "It is important for all of our residents to know that, even with multiple departments partnering on their implementation efforts, this is not going to happen on May 11," he said. "This is going to be a process that is over time."

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KXAN - May 10, 2021

Proposed power outage alert system aims to improve communication in future winter storms

Texas lawmakers have spent hours discussing legislation aimed at addressing the failures of the state’s power grid, infrastructure and lack of reliable emergency communications during February’s deadly winter storm. Advocates and Texas families are urging legislators to address these issues, with less than 30 days remaining in the legislative session. “The clock is ticking, and with just a few short days left, the Texas legislature really needs to get some of these bills — including this one that would establish an ALERT system — over the finish line,” said Tim Morstad, the state associate director at AARP Texas. His team has advocated, in particular, for the creation of a statewide alert system to be used when disasters or power outages threaten to strike.

“Those older Texans who are at home — trying to figure out what’s going on in an emergency like this — truly, it could have been a matter of life or death. If we had a little more notice, if we had a better system in place to share information,” he said. House Bill 12, which would commission a study on this type of alert system, moved from the House over to the Senate Committee on Jurisprudence. Michele Richmond, Executive Director for the Texas Competitive Power Advocates, told lawmakers the system needed to use, “Very clear terms that everyone can understand, not using acronyms.” Meanwhile, Adam Haynes with the Conference of Urban Counties raised the point that other proposals offer funding to cities to implement legislation like this, but no funding would be provided to county governments, with the bill written as-is. “So, if we are called to implement this program, it will be a cost to taxpayers,” he said. He explained they support the intention of the bill, but wanted to work with the writers on adjustments to make it more feasible for counties to participate and execute the study. Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa asked why they didn’t utilize the existing technology and system the state uses for Amber and Silver Alerts. Experts pointed the committee to several other bills that would make this possible.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 10, 2021

UT Arlington renames building after discovering former dean’s racist past

UT Arlington has renamed Davis Hall, one its campus buildings, after its namesake was heavily criticized for having a racist past against Mexicans, Black people and poor whites. The building’s former namesake was of E.E. Davis, who from 1925 to 1946 served as dean of North Texas Agricultural College, when the college was still racially segregated. Davis advocated for segregation, sterilization of the disabled and adopting eugenics. The UT System Board of Regents voted unanimously on May 6 to change the name of the building to the University Administration Building.

The university will also begin to change the name on campus maps, its website and the building itself, UTA interim president Teik Lim said in a statement. The proposal to rename the building reached the board of regents after UTA’s Student Congress passed a resolution in April 2020 recommending the building bear another name. The resolution states that Davis thought fundamental causes of poverty were “negroes, Mexicans, and lowly whites” and that UTA’s student body, which is one of the most diverse in the nation, does not reflect the views of Davis. After the resolution passed, a task force made up of faculty, students and staff found that Davis was a “racist, ableist, and bigot.” The task force recommended that the name be changed. “Davis is not someone that we can memorialize in good conscience with physical recognition on our campus,” the task force said in a statement. “He regarded the lives of racial and ethnic minorities as having a lesser value than whites, diminished their life’s worth to cotton subsisting and farm work.” The task force found that the former administrator had a history of racist behavior.

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KERA - May 7, 2021

Texas Muslims work from the outside in to encourage representation in the Legislature

Texas has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country, but not one of the state’s more than 180 state lawmakers identifies as Muslim. That’s motivated organizations like EMGAGE Texas, to make sure Muslim voices are heard all levels of state government. Nabila Mansoor lives in Fort Bend County, near Houston. She is the executive director of EMGAGE Texas. "EMGAGE is a civic engagement organization that is primarily dealing with ensuring that the Muslim American community is civically engaged in such a way that they know about elections and they know how important elections are," Mansoor said. Capturing lawmakers' attention at a hearing during the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting, Mansoor testified via Zoom in Urdu — one of the top 10 languages other than English that’s spoken in Texas households.

EMGAGE is a national organization. In Texas, they're working with state and local lawmakers to make sure Muslims in the state don't feel left out in the policymaking process. Imad Ahmed, Mansoor’s colleague, works with Texas lawmakers to pass legislation in line with Islamic values. "One of the central themes you see in Islam is this idea of helping out those who are marginalized, helping out those who are oppressed, helping out the poor," Ahmed said. This legislative session, the organization is working on items like making Eid an optional holiday, condemning human rights abuses and adding the term "Imams" to the list of individuals who can perform marriages, which is something that just passed in the House. They don't do it alone. EMGAGE's Texas Legislative Director, Richard Evans, said they try to work with other organizations that share their priorities. "I think that they all have a common theme to make sure that processes we have here in Texas are fair, for people of any race, creed, color, religion." The organization empowers young Muslims through their Emerging Leaders program. Ayesha Muzaffar learned the ins and outs of policy making through the program. During college at the University of Houston, Muzaffar interned at the U.S. Capitol and then at the Texas Capitol with Rep. Garnet Coleman, D- Houston.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

Drivers still diverted to toll lanes along Texas 288 as company researches reason for collapse

Collapsed pavement along Texas 288 continues diverting drivers into its toll lanes, as the company that maintains the freeway in Harris County sorts out what made its new road sink three weeks ago. Blueridge Transportation Group has brought in geotechnical experts along with engineers but has not confirmed any specifics of what led to the collapse along the general use lanes of Texas 288 south of Loop 610 near Holmes. Blueridge built the toll lanes and maintains the general use lanes along Texas 288 under a 50-year agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation. “We are working very closely with TxDOT to ensure the safety of the traveling public and to open the roadway as quickly as possible,” Blueridge spokeswoman Raynese Edwards said. “In the interim, we are asking that those who are traveling to Beltway 8 and beyond on (Texas) 288 to please utilize the express toll lanes.”

Tolls are waived through the area as the company completes the “investigative stage,” Edwards said Crews closed the lanes April 18, citing a “potential problem” with the southbound portion that led to a collapse of the road and a retaining wall. Since then, equipment and workers have descended on the area, excavating the damaged area and removing a portion of the retaining wall. TxDOT officials are monitoring the situation, said Raquelle Lewis, the department’s Houston-based spokeswoman. “While toll operations are important given normal conditions, our primary concern is always motorists’ safety,” Lewis said, “and that is where our focus is at this time.” Though the collapse has not crippled traffic in the area, as traffic volumes remain below pre-pandemic levels, drivers have wondered whether it is a harbinger of other problems.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

Houston Farmers Market reopens, with aspirations to be a national draw

Seattle has the Pike Place Market. San Francisco has the Ferry Building. New York has Chelsea Market. And Houston? Todd Mason, founding partner of the investment company MLB Capital Partners, hopes that the Houston Farmers Market, a 18-acre open-air affair dating back to 1942 will soon be the same for Bayou City. He envisions it as more than a place with a devoted regional following for its fresh fruits, nuts and spices, but also a destination. A place where Houstonians take out-of-town family and the city’s chambers of commerce show off as they make the case for businesses to relocate to the city. “I want this to be such an iconic thing that everyone comes to see it,” Mason said.

The newly revamped Houston Farmers Market completed construction in April, roughly doubling its amount of retail market space. Vendors, who spent the months the market was under construction operating out of tent, have already moved in, and high-profile restaurants, including Crawfish and Noodles and a casual concept by James Beard award-winning chef Chris Shepherd, are set to open this fall in newly constructed buildings flanking the open breezeway where produce and plants are being sold. The passage channels a gentle wind through the space when there is one, while giant overhead fans cool the space when there is not. The heavy sweetness of mangoes and warmth of cinnamon and chiles waft up from the stalls. On a recent Monday, shoppers wound their way through the food stalls that had already opened. “I love it,” said Zuli Diaz of the changes as she purchased avocados, chiles de árbol, poblanos and spiced chickpeas to bring home with her to New Orleans. She started coming to the Houston Farmers Market two decades ago when she lived here; now, she visits whenever she’s in town. She appreciated that the new structures provided shelter from the weather. “If it was raining before, it was just a tarp.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 10, 2021

In runoffs for San Antonio City Council, two progressive candidates make headway

A pair of young progressives could push the San Antonio City Council further left and form a left-wing coalition on the council — should they win in the June runoff elections. Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Teri Castillo surged to the front of crowded fields in races May 1 to represent the East Side and near West Side, respectively. Both have drawn the backing of the Democratic Socialists of America’s San Antonio chapter and the Texas Organizing Project, a grassroots organization that heavily funded the recently failed Proposition B campaign to strip collective bargaining from the police union. They each face candidates considered more moderate in the June 5 runoffs. In District 2, McKee-Rodriguez will go head to head with his former boss, first-term incumbent Jada Andrews-Sullivan. In District 5, Castillo is up against Rudy Lopez, a retired city employee, for the open seat.

The candidates hail from parts of town with high poverty and poor public infrastructure, the result of decades of discriminatory policies that discouraged investment in Black and Hispanic areas. The candidates’ areas also now face rising property values owing to the ongoing revitalization of nearby downtown. Castillo and McKee-Rodriguez feel frustration toward a council that leans left but that they see as insufficiently aggressive when it comes to protecting the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. “I believe that I represent a wave that the local government has ignored,” said Castillo, a 29-year-old teacher. “I think it’s just folks hearing their sentiments echoed, and folks are ready to push that forward.” To Castillo and McKee-Rodriguez, that means pressuring the council to go bold on a progressive agenda: reforming police, plugging more city funds into affordable housing, boosting protections for renters and forcing city-owned CPS Energy to close its coal-fired Spruce power plant, among other ideas. “They’re going to really push the council,” political consultant Demonte Alexander said.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

Federal regulators authorize Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in kids 12 to 15

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in kids 12 to 15 years old, paving a path for the country to move closer to vaccinating the majority of the population. That opens up vaccine eligibility to 17 million adolescents, or 5.7 percent of the U.S. With schools across the country planning to return to hybrid or in-person learning by the fall, public health officials have pushed for immunizing youth to prevent further spread of the virus. “Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from COVID-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner. “Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations.”

Researchers found that youth 12 to 15 experienced similar side effects to adults, including sore arms, fatigue, headache, chills and fever. Side effects were reported more often after the second Pfizer dose, according to the data. Pfizer is now seeking full FDA approval for its COVID-19 vaccine, which would allow clinicians to administer the two-dose series even after the federal emergency is over. Emergency use authorization can help vaccine sites use up their existing supply, too. As vaccine demand ebbs across the country, public health officials and hospitals are resorting to walk-in clinics and incentives to convince people to get the vaccine. In Texas, where more than a quarter of the population is under 18, it could go a long way in boosting vaccination numbers. The vaccine manufacturer started a clinical trial for kids under 12 last month at Baylor College of Medicine.

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Associated Press - May 10, 2021

US to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in health care, reversing Trump policy

The U.S. will protect gay and transgender people against sex discrimination in health care, the Biden administration announced Monday, reversing a Trump-era policy that sought to narrow the scope of legal rights in sensitive situations involving medical care. The action by the Department of Health and Human Services affirms that federal laws forbidding sex discrimination in health care also protect gay and transgender people. The Trump administration had defined “sex” to mean gender assigned at birth, thereby excluding transgender people from the law's umbrella of protection. “Fear of discrimination can lead individuals to forgo care, which can have serious negative health consequences," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “Everyone — including LGBTQ people — should be able to access health care, free from discrimination or interference, period.”

It marked the latest step by President Joe Biden to advance the rights of gay and transgender people across society, from military service, to housing, to employment opportunities. Becerra said in a statement the policy shift will bring HHS into line with a landmark 6-3 Supreme Court decision last year in a workplace discrimination case, which established that federal laws against sex discrimination on the job also protect gay and transgender people. Despite that ruling, the Trump administration proceeded to try to narrow the legal protections against health care discrimination, issuing rules that narrowly defined “sex” as biological gender. A federal judge had blocked those rules from taking effect, although Trump administration officials argued that as a legal matter health care discrimination was a separate issue from the employment case the Supreme Court decided. Monday's action means that the HHS Office for Civil Rights will again investigate complaints of sex discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Hospitals, clinics and other medical providers can face government sanctions for violations of the law.

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Associated Press - May 10, 2021

Did US hiring slow because of a ‘labor shortage’?

The anticipation for the U.S. jobs report for April, released Friday morning, was high. Most experts agreed that after a yearlong pandemic, tens of millions of layoffs and widespread disease and death, a likely second straight month of nearly 1 million added jobs would send a clear signal: The economy was bounding back toward full health after a devastating recession. Instead, the report was a clunker. To nearly everyone’s surprise, employers added a comparatively paltry 266,000 jobs, down drastically from a gain of 770,000 in March, which itself was revised down from an initially much higher figure of 916,000. Once the shock wore off, economists grappled with a host of questions, starting with: What happened last month — and why? What did the tepid hiring gain say about the state of the job market and the economy? And is there really a labor shortage?

SO WHY WAS THE JOB GAIN SO LOW? The broadest explanation is that any time an economy has to recover from a severe shock, it isn’t likely to proceed smoothly. But the pandemic may be causing a broader reshaping of the economy as companies, workers and customers adapt to a new normal. Month-to-month job gains will be choppy. In fact, the swiftness and strength of the recovery so far are themselves part of the cause. Consumer confidence has surged, and many companies report soaring demand as Americans unleash pent-up desires to travel, eat out, and shop. Sales of new cars and homes are still rising. Yet because the economy is rebounding faster than almost anyone thought it would, many companies were caught flat-footed. Surging consumer demand has caused widespread shortages of parts and raw materials, including lumber, semiconductor chips and even chicken wings.

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Bloomberg - May 11, 2021

Gas stations run dry as pipeline races to recover from hacking

Gas stations along the U.S. East Coast are beginning to run out of fuel as North America’s biggest petroleum pipeline races to recover from a paralyzing cyberattack that has kept it shut for days. From Virginia to Florida and Alabama, stations are reporting that they’ve sold out of gasoline as supplies in the region dwindle and panic buying sets in. An estimated 7% of gas stations in Virginia were out of fuel as of late Monday, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan. The White House said in a statement it is monitoring the situation and directing government agencies to help alleviate any shortages. Colonial Pipeline Co. said it’s manually operating a segment of the pipeline running from North Carolina to Maryland and expects to substantially restore all service by the weekend.

The Colonial pipeline has been shut down since late Friday. On Monday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation pointed the finger at a ransomware gang known as DarkSide. While President Joe Biden stopped short of blaming the Kremlin for the attack, he said “there is evidence” the hackers or the software they used are “in Russia.” Colonial Chief Executive Officer Joe Blount and a top lieutenant assured Deputy Energy Secretary David Turk and state-level officials that the company has complete operational control of the pipeline and won’t restart shipments until the ransomware has been neutralized. The dwindling supplies come just as the nation’s energy industry was preparing to meet stronger fuel demand from summer travel. Americans are once again commuting to the office and booking flights after a year of restrictions. Depending on the duration of the disruption, retail prices could spike, further stoking fears of inflation as commodity prices rally worldwide. The U.S. East Coast is losing around 1.2 million barrels a day of gasoline supply due to the disruption, according to a note from industry consultant FGE.

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Bloomberg - May 9, 2021

Gates divorce talks started in 2019 on Epstein link, WSJ Says

Melinda French Gates began working with divorce lawyers well over a year before her split with Bill Gates was announced last week, partly over concerns about her husband’s dealings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, according to the Wall Street Journal. The 56-year-old spoke with attorneys from several firms as early as October 2019, saying the marriage was “irretrievably broken,” the Journal reported Sunday, citing documents and people familiar with the matter. Her unease about her ex-husband’s ties to Epstein dates back to at least 2013, the paper said. The New York Times reported in October 2019 that the billionaire had met with Epstein several times, and once stayed late at his New York townhouse. A spokeswoman for Microsoft Corp. co-founder said at the time that the meetings had centered on philanthropy. Epstein had died in jail two months prior while awaiting trial on federal charges related to sex trafficking.

The divorce was negotiated during the pandemic, involving legal teams working with a mediator to divide their fortune, which the Bloomberg Billionaires Index pegs at $145 billion. The couple said that they plan on remaining co-chairs and trustees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Billionaire Warren Buffett serves as the foundation’s third trustee. All three have vowed to give away the vast majority of their wealth. In the days after the split was announced, a holding company that Bill Gates created transferred equity stakes in four different companies, worth more than $2 billion in aggregate, to Melinda French Gates, Bloomberg News has reported. The bulk of it is from about 14.1 million shares in Canadian National Railway Co. Days before he died in a New York jail, Epstein named a little-known biotech venture capitalist named Boris Nikolic as backup executor of his will. Nikolic had worked as a science adviser to Bill Gates and more recently funded more than a dozen firms in gene editing and other health technologies. In an emailed statement at the time, Nikolic told Bloomberg that Epstein had not consulted him about the will and that he had no intention to fulfill the duties.

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Washington Post - May 9, 2021

Joshua A. Douglas: Republicans aren’t just making it harder to vote. They’re going after election officials, too.

(Joshua A. Douglas is a law professor at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law. He is the author of “Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting.”) The right to vote is under attack, as are the people who protect that right. Multiple states have passed or are considering new restrictive voting rules in response to the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen. There is, of course, no evidence of massive voter fraud in 2020 — and President Biden legitimately won the election — but that has not stopped unscrupulous politicians in states such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Iowa from considering new strict rules on absentee balloting, the ability to use a drop box, and even providing food or water to voters waiting in line. These attacks on our democracy have received much attention. Far less noticed, however, have been provisions in these laws that penalize local election officials who administer our elections.

Iowa, in addition to limiting voter access by cutting early voting days and forbidding local election officials from mailing out absentee ballot request forms without a specific request from a voter, will now make it a crime if election workers violate the new rules. Florida has enacted a rule that limits ballot drop box availability to only during early voting hours, and provides that, “If any drop box at an early voting site is left accessible for the return of ballots outside of early voting hours, the supervisor is subject to a civil penalty of $25,000.” A Texas proposed bill would subject a local registrar to fines if the registrar fails to mail out notices demanding proof of citizenship to individuals otherwise deemed ineligible to vote. It would also criminalize election workers who “distance or obstruct the view of a [poll] watcher in a way that makes observation reasonably ineffective.” Arizona legislators want to make it a felony for an election worker to mail an early ballot to a voter who has not requested one. Election officials were already under immense pressure during and after the 2020 election. Death threats to these officials abound. Armed protesters, angry that Donald Trump had lost Michigan, descended on the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Just this weekend, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs was given police protection after death threats stemming from the farcical election audit happening there. In Georgia, a voting machine technician was sent an animated image of a hanging noose. And it’s not just statewide, high-profile individuals who are facing these threats. Local election officials, too, have received racist, threatening messages — all because they stood up for democracy.

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The Hill - May 10, 2021

California scores staggering $75B budget surplus

California’s budget is in the black — by a staggering amount. A state that expected perhaps the most severe budget crunch in American history instead has a more than $75 billion budget surplus, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said Monday, after a booming stock market and better-than-anticipated tax revenues over the pandemic-plagued year. As recently as a year ago, California’s top elected officials were staring into a budgetary abyss that made the Great Recession look like a pothole. Newsom’s office projected a budget deficit of up to $54 billion, or about a quarter of the entire state budget. Legislators prepared to cut state government to the bone.

“We were scared, all of us,” state Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I) told The Hill last month. “We all agreed, 'Hey, we’re going to take a hit because we’re heavily dependent on high-income earners.'” But the stock market’s rebound, and its yearlong rally, have helped repair the gap. California is unusually reliant on receipts from capital gains tax, so a strong year in the market is good news for state government. Initial public offerings from companies like DoorDash and Airbnb helped, while sales tax revenues also came in in greater amounts than expected. Newsom said in an address Monday that he would propose using much of the money to fund what he said would be the biggest economic recovery package in state history. Newsom’s $100 billion proposal would add $12 billion more in direct payments to California residents, including $600 to most people and an extra $500 to families with dependents. The payments would go to families making less than $75,000 a year.

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Newsclips - May 10, 2021

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 10, 2021

Democrats wanted to flip Ron Wright’s seat. Instead they wonder why they were shut out

Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, confident the Congressional District 6 seat could be flipped, thought she would be in a runoff with Republican Susan Wright for the U.S. House seat that was held by Wright’s husband. Instead, Democrats were shut out of a runoff in the special election. Wright received 19.2% of the votes and Republican state Rep. Jake Ellzey 13.9%, according to unofficial results from the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Just 354 votes separated Ellzey and Sanchez. Political analysts and observers say low Democrat turnout, a field of 23 candidates and a district that favors Republicans played a role in keeping a Democrat out of the race.

While former President Trump credits his endorsement of Wright, Sanchez thinks the outcome on May 1 could have been different if the state Democratic Party did more to step in and support a single candidate. The district covers southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. The special election was called after the death of U.S. Rep. Ron Wright in February. A date for the runoff has not been set. “Just stand back during this runoff, because it will get ugly, and I’ll get loud,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, which works to elect Democrats. Most of the district’s voters were concentrated in Tarrant County, where 52,752 people cast ballots. There were 20,917 votes cast in Ellis County and 4,705 in Navarro. Looking closer at Tarrant County, Wright won with 17.4% of the vote. Sanchez was second at 15.7%, and Democrat Shawn Lassiter received 11.3%. Sanchez and Lassiter did well in southeast Tarrant County.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Texans taking handgun licensing classes at record rate as GOP lawmakers seek to nix requirement

A tech worker worried after a string of mass shootings and anti-Asian violence. New parents who want to protect themselves in a neighborhood with rising crime. Three young women curious to learn more about firearms before making a purchase. All were gathered into an Austin classroom on a recent Saturday trying to get their licenses to carry a handgun, a process that may soon become optional if the Republican-led Legislature has its way. The push to do away with the state’s license requirement and associated safety training comes as Texans are arming themselves at record pace. The FBI ran more than 2.3 million background checks on potential gun buyers in Texas last year, eclipsing the previous record of 1.7 million set in 2016, data show. This year is already on pace to match the spike in sales during 2020.

Several firearms instructors said their recent classes have been filled with people new to handguns who were driven by fear to seek a license to carry after a year rocked by a pandemic, divisive elections and nationwide protests. Nearly a half-million people sought a license here in 2020, the highest number in the last five years. “A lot of these people four years ago were probably voting for gun control candidates; now they’ve said ‘I need to get a gun to protect myself,’” said Lon Krieger, a firearms instructor in Central Texas. The training class is only one piece of the licensing process; people must also pay a fee, show they can shoot and clear a background check before they can start carrying a handgun in public. But the loss of the training requirement is among the most concerning to critics, who warn that people who’ve never touched a handgun before could start carrying one on the streets and at businesses. In the training class, instructors go over how to safely store handguns, where people can carry them, when to pull the trigger and how to defuse conflict. Michael Cargill, who taught the Saturday class at Central Texas Gun Works, is a prominent gun rights activist at the Capitol who has taken the city of Austin to court for refusing to let him carry a handgun inside city hall. Even he is one of several firearms instructors with some misgivings about permitless carry. “I think everyone should have a right to carry a handgun, absolutely,” said Cargill, who is taking a neutral position on the bill. Without the class, Cargill worries people will know even less about the state’s gun laws. “I’m afraid they’re going to get themselves in trouble,” he said.

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KUT - May 10, 2021

It's becoming clearer who profited from the blackouts, and that's raising questions of price gouging

The blackouts that hit Texas in February left more than 100 people dead and caused billions of dollars in debt for those who found themselves on the wrong side of the state’s famously laissez-faire energy market. For others, it created huge earnings the full scope of which are now coming into focus. Until recently, companies that made a lot of money during the freeze have tried to keep a low profile about it. But quarterly financial reports have come due making that information harder to conceal. The big winners: companies that sold natural gas. During the blackouts both electricity and gas were in short supply, and both could be sold at a premium. The price for wholesale electricity in Texas is capped by state regulators. There is no such market control for gas, which increased hundreds of times its normal value.

That price hike let companies like BP, Kinder Morgan and Energy Transfer make billions. Big banks that had invested in electricity and gas contracts before the freeze, like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, also cashed in. The size of the profits has led some to question whether price gouging took place. “If a gas station raises prices from $2 to $5/gal during a hurricane they go to jail for price gouging,” UT Professor Michael Webber posted on Twitter after the blackout. “If a natgas provider raises prices from $2 to $200/MMBTU during a cold snap even though their costs didn't materially change, that seems just fine with Texas authorities.” One group that has not been “fine” with it are power companies that had to pay those high prices for gas. Those deals have triggered lawsuits. In one high-profile example, San Antonio’s municipally owned electric utility, CPS Energy, is involved in litigation with multiple suppliers. Those include BP, Enterprise Products, Chevron and Energy Transfer, a company that reportedly made $2.4 billion from the storm. The Texas attorney general is also investigating the possibility of market manipulation on the part of electricity and natural gas suppliers. But, as the lawsuits and investigations continue, state legislators are creating laws to ensure that the companies that profited in the freeze get paid.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 9, 2021

41 Texans charged in U.S. Capitol riot so far; many identified through social media, video

Internet sleuths identified Austin resident Joseph Barnes in a variety of ways after he entered the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6 and said, "This is our country," while making his way inside, according to investigators. First, a London-based news organization captured Barnes and others on video. Then someone alerted the FBI, claiming to recognize Barnes in the video. Another person also contacted the FBI, identifying Barnes and telling agents that they had gone to Anderson High School in Austin together. Then, a third person informed FBI agents that Barnes worked for commercial real estate company JLL and provided the company's webpage, which listed Barnes as the vice president. He has since lost his job with that company.

The FBI "is not prosecuting all of the folks who walked into the Capitol through an open door, where there was no security," said Barnes' attorney, Don Flanary. "People just happened to see him on TV, so they filed charges." Still, Barnes' case was one of hundreds in which FBI agents tracked down — often with the help of ordinary people — suspects investigators say participated in the January insurrection. Of the 405 people arrested and charged so far, as the list of suspects continues to grow, 41 are from Texas. The only states with more were Florida and Pennsylvania. Barnes was the only Austinite charged, though others are from nearby counties. "In a criminal case, if you have 10 or 20 people, that's a lot. There are hundreds here," said Sam Bassett, an Austin attorney who is representing another Texas defendant, Jeffrey Witcher of Bastrop. "So, it's a very complicated case, in terms of the magnitude, the political context and the national publicity."

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 9, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Texas GOP voting suppression efforts take welcome turn toward compromise

As a general rule, this editorial board is against legislation that is unnecessary, erodes fundamental rights and is borne of lies. Senate Bill 7 was all of these things when it first emerged in March as the shining armor against a phantom menace called widespread voter fraud that no one, despite 15 years of looking, had ever seen. It sought to erode voting access statewide but was tailor-made to suppress voting in Harris County, a Democratic stronghold where voting conveniences and pandemic safety measures had led to record turnout in the presidential election. SB 7 and its accomplice bills banned everything from drive-thru voting to casting a ballot after 9 p.m. They streamlined voter purges, which are ripe for abuse and errors, redistributed polling sites away from heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods; and gave partisan poll watchers, who have a long history of voter intimidation, free reign to stalk voters with recording cell phones. But a funny thing happened while you were sleeping the other night: Texas lawmakers approved a version of SB 7 that doesn’t include any of those provisions and actually accomplishes some of what Republicans claim to be their core mission — protecting election integrity.

At this point, the worst thing about the bill the House passed last week is that it was ever filed at all. Indeed, if Republicans had introduced the current version from the get-go, Texas might have avoided some of the polarizing debate over voter rights, the shrill accusations of suppression and the allusions to “Jim Crow 2.0.” But then, that wouldn’t have energized a single primary voter, would it? We are not naïve about the political theater involved in this process or about what really led to SB 7’s rehabilitation in the House on Thursday night or about what evil may creep back into the bill now that a backroom conference committee gets to reconcile the changes with a Senate bill still rife with suppression. We can only hope that Republican leaders hell-bent to pass something they can call an “election integrity” bill in their primary campaign ads will settle for one that stops short of outright discrimination — a bill that won’t eventually be unraveled anyway in federal court as most of Texas’ restrictive voting laws have been. The changes didn’t come because Democrats and Republicans joined hands, sang kumbaya and pledged to put democracy before politics. We’d like to think the pressure from more than 50 companies including AT&T and American Airlines, 175 business leaders, advocates for voting rights and people with disabilities, mayors, county judges and yes, this editorial board, played some role. But in Thursday’s epic, overnight debate, it was really old-fashioned parliamentary guerrilla warfare that gave Democrats the edge.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 9, 2021

Twyla Carter and Nick Hudson: Doubling down on money bail system will be a costly mistake for Texas

(Carter is the national policy director at The Bail Project. Hudson is a policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas.) Texas taxpayers spend approximately $2.2 billion each year to run the state’s overcrowded jails, where nearly three in four people are sitting behind bars awaiting trial, mostly because they cannot afford to post bail. Despite this, Texas lawmakers have decided to double down on money bail with Senate Bill 21, which would restrict release without monetary conditions and require judges to review citizenship status before deciding on bail, and House Bill 20, which would require judges to use a problematic algorithmic tool before setting bail. Both bills also expand the pool of people who would remain locked up awaiting trial, either by increasing the cost of bail for certain charges or refusing to offer bail at all. Money bail was originally supposed to be a form of conditional release while a case was pending, set according to one’s ability to pay. But today, judges routinely set cash bail beyond people’s means. Those who can't afford to pay remain behind bars, while those with money — whether guilty or innocent — can go home.

The economic inequality of this system is obvious, and people of color bear the brunt of this injustice. Access to money is an arbitrary way to make decisions about who goes free before trial. Requiring money bail is both unnecessary to ensure return to court and ineffective at ensuring public safety. Consider the experience of The Bail Project. This nonprofit organization uses donations to provide free bail assistance to thousands of people in need every year. Those who are helped have no financial obligation to The Bail Project or the courts, yet they return to over 90% of their court dates. As for public safety, supporters of money bail argue that without requiring such a payment, people who pose a danger to the community would go free. But under the current system, people with access to wealth can buy their freedom whether they are actually a danger to the community or not. Money has nothing to do with safety, and neither does HB 20 or SB 21. These bills will not ensure accused persons return to court or protect public safety. They simply add more money into the system. The result could be thousands more low-income Texans trapped in jail before trial — when they are still presumed innocent.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 9, 2021

Tanisha Woods: State workers deserve a retirement they can count on

(Woods is a state correctional officer and president of AFSCME Texas Corrections Local 3920.) Where I come from, your word is your bond. You keep your promises and fulfill your obligations. I’m a correctional officer. For 12 years, it’s been my job to keep people safe. I enforce the rules, keep order and help ensure that when inmates come back into our community, they come back on better terms than they left. Our pay is modest, and our work is downright dangerous. In return for our service, the state promises a secure pension — a retirement we can count on. This is challenging work, and that’s why it upsets us when politicians in Austin don’t keep their promises. What went wrong? Our workers still pitch in our fair share to the pension fund with every paycheck. But the state of Texas was supposed to be fulfilling its obligations to make the fund solvent, too, and when increased funding was necessary, the state came up short. Now there’s a $15 billion shortfall.

State employees have done our part. To keep the Employees Retirement System stable over the years, workers have accepted increased contribution rates, an increased retirement age and unfriendly changes to our benefit calculations. Senate Bill 321 seeks to do two things. First, Texas would finally address the unfunded liability by committing $510 million per year to make the fund solvent — that’s a good thing. Second, for new employees, they’re scrapping the reliable classic pension plans (“defined benefits”) for a more risky “cash balance” plan — that’s just nonsense. While I appreciate the Legislature is starting to do its part to fund Texas pensions, there’s absolutely no reason to force new employees into an inherently more risky cash balance plan. We fully support the commitment of $510 million per year to ERS to cover the state’s obligations and make the fund actuarially sound, but introducing a cash balance plan for new employees isn’t needed to bring the plan to actuarial soundness. Texas workers deserve better than our state — our bosses — giving us our due with one hand and taking away what’s promised with the other.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 9, 2021

UT diversity and inclusion work takes toll on Black faculty, students, staff

Richard Reddick serves on 17 different committees, attends several meetings each week andparticipates in various ad hoc service activities, many of which have some tie to diversity and inclusion efforts at the University of Texas. He often sees the same people in these spaces, and they’re typically from marginalized groups. Often unpaid for their outside diversity and inclusion efforts, Black faculty and staff members are among those who frequently get called on for the work, said Reddick, the associate dean for equity, community engagement and outreach at UT’s College of Education. Reddick led a committee that looked into the origins of “The Eyes of Texas,” releasing a report on UT’s school song in March.

Amid pressure from students and others on campus, university leaders have put a greater emphasis on diversity initiatives after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. At the same time, private efforts have cropped up to respond to the climate on campus, including addressing "The Eyes of Texas." Coined in 1994 by Amado Padilla, a psychology researcher at Stanford University, the term "cultural taxation" refers to the phenomenon that occurs when universities task members of marginalized communities with much of the diversity and inclusion work on campus. For Black faculty and staff, that means serving on committees and boards, speaking on panels and participating in other initiatives that aim to address issues of inequity. “Every (predominantly white institution) has these challenges,” Reddick said. “It can be a great place in so many ways, but just the microaggressions, the microinvalidations, the climate issues are persistently problematic. And so I think it is stressful. It is burdensome. … You have to sort of set your own limits because they will be set for you.” The reality is that a considerable amount of diversity and inclusion work falls on marginalized groups on campus who are most affected by issues of inequity. That’s why UT's Deseré Cross Ward can’t stop thinking about the rate at which Black professionals are taking flight from their workplaces to seek out more diverse and inclusive environments.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 8, 2021

Mike Finger: As coaches' power fades, Gregg Popovich might be 'one guy left'

Sports Illustrated asked this weekend if NBA coaches still matter. The Spurs will learn the answer for themselves soon enough. When the man who’s won more games than anyone in league history walks away, San Antonio will replace him with someone who won’t wield the same power or command the same respect, because nobody on the sideline does anymore. “Only one guy left,” Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal told SI, “and that’s Gregg Popovich.” Popovich, for his part, always has scoffed at such notions of his singularity. He’s maintained for more than two decades that all he did was get lucky enough to end up with Tim Duncan, and he never stops reminding himself of to whom he owes his livelihood.

To this day, any time he and his current or former assistants are able to have a meal together, they give a toast. “Thank you, Timmy,” they say, clinking their glasses, while their basketball benefactor no doubt sits at home squeezing a video-game controller. But just as Duncan was the last of his kind — something surely to be noted when he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame next Saturday — there’s a good chance Popovich will be the last of his. As the excellent piece by SI’s Howard Beck pointed out, Popovich fit into the “Great Man Theory of NBA coaching” that spanned from Red Auerbach to Pat Riley to Phil Jackson. “And you could say that model is outdated, even obsolete,” Beck wrote. There remain a few thriving, mutually beneficial superstar-coach relationships in basketball — Steph Curry and Steve Kerr in Golden State being the closest modern incarnation of Duncan and Popovich or Michael Jordan and Jackson — but they’re becoming more temporary than ever.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 9, 2021

With investors and - possibly - legislators on board, Texas cannabis industry poised for growth

The appearance of a humdrum, sunken field of grass across the street from an Army Reserve center here belies the site’s importance to an industry being primed for swift growth in Texas: the cannabis business. Right now, the most visible sign of activity is a mound of dirt used for a mid-April groundbreaking ceremony by the multistate company that’s investing $25 million to build a cannabis cultivation and retail facility here. It’s a bold move that may say a lot about the state of the industry in Texas — and what such a company sees coming down the pike.

“I suspect if you grabbed a random person on the street and asked them if cannabis was legal in Texas, they would probably look at you like you’re crazy and say ‘no,’” said Marcus Ruark, president of goodblend Texas, which is preparing the site for its 63,000-square-foot marijuana growing facility. The notion that it’s “crazy” is because cannabis is still illegal in Texas, which is home to some of the strictest anti-marijuana laws in the nation. But a gradual expansion of the state’s limited medical marijuana program in recent years could soon give way to an industry that’s accessible to a broader swath of Texans. While still relatively low, the number of Texans utilizing the state’s medicinal marijuana Compassionate Use Program has grown by 180 percent over the past year. Some estimate there are about 2 million Texas patients eligible to use cannabis, but many just don’t know about the program. “So we’ve started making an investment in that and getting the word out and increasing awareness, and I think that’s definitely helping,” Ruark said.

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WFAA - May 9, 2021

'Permitless carry' initially didn’t have the votes to clear the Texas Senate. How did it pass?

Texans will soon be able to carry a handgun without needing a permit or any training once Gov. Greg Abbott signs a 'permitless carry' bill into law. The measure, which has never had widespread public support, passed easily in the Texas House this session. But it had appeared to be roadblocked in the Texas Senate as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested it did not have enough votes to pass in that chamber.

So, what changed? “What changed is that I think that [Texas] House passed a good bill, and I think we made it stronger,” Patrick explained on Sunday’s Inside Texas Politics. “You know, some people, some of the headlines said the bill was stuck in the Senate. Well, that was just not true. We received the bill, I formed a committee called ‘Constitutional Issues,’ which I knew would move the bill to the floor because all the Republicans on the committee supported the bill. Then we passed the bill last week." "So, we passed the bill, and [in] about 14 business days from the time we got it from the House.” Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia and the Dallas Police Association lobbied against the legislation in Austin, saying it is irresponsible to let untrained people carry firearms. But Patrick claimed more than 100 Texas sheriffs supported the bill. “The key was we wanted to guarantee people's constitutional right to carry, law-abiding citizens, and we opened up a lot of other categories for people to carry." But the bill also gave law enforcement a new tool to use against offenders, Patrick claimed.

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WFAA - May 9, 2021

Will Texas Democrats field a viable candidate for governor next year?

As the Texas legislature grinds through its final weeks in Austin, many politicos wonder whether Texas Democrats will field a viable candidate to challenge incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott next year. “I expect that we will," said Matt Angle, the president of Lone Star Project, a Democratic consultant. "I think it is still a little bit early while the legislature is going on. Plus, the uncertainty of redistricting makes it unclear what kinds of districts that legislators and certain members of Congress are going to have, so I think that once the legislature ends, and once redistricting ends, I think we’ll see some pretty strong candidates running for statewide office."

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, 30, is widely seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. But she told Inside Texas Politics last month that she is not interested in running for that position. Beto O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News in April that he will not challenge Abbott either. Few other high-profile names have emerged for Democrats right now. Actor Matthew McConaughey has flirted with the idea of political office, and that has fueled speculation that he might challenge Abbott. McConaughey even led a recent poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, 45% to Abbott's 33%. “I think his performing well in polls is more a reflection of people being dissatisfied with Greg Abbott,” Angle qualified. “I think people are able to convey on Matthew McConaughey everything that they want that Abbott is not.” Democrats narrowly missed a runoff spot in U.S. House District 6. That seat has been vacant since Republican Rep. Ron Wright died in February after a COVID-19 diagnosis. Wright’s widow, Susan, and fellow conservative Jake Ellzey advanced to a runoff after more than 20 candidates entered the race. Since both are Republicans, the seat will not change hands.

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Houston Chronicle - May 7, 2021

Erica Grieder: Retaliatory action by state Rep. Dutton doesn't improve prospects for HISD reform

It’s usually the Republican members of the Texas House who confound and frustrate the chamber’s Democrats. So give Houston Democrat Harold Dutton this much: On Friday, he successfully stunned the rest of his caucus by single handedly reviving one of the most contentious measures of the session — days after declining to support it himself. He apparently did so in a fit of pique, after getting crossways with state Rep. Alma Allen, also a Houston Democrat, over an unrelated piece of legislation, House Bill 3270. That bill, which Dutton authored, seeks to expand the power of Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to take action regarding struggling school districts. It would have given Morath the power to oust the nine trustees of the Houston Independent School District, and replace them with a state-appointed board. Morath has been trying to take control of the HISD board since 2019, but the effort has been tied up in court.

Dutton made a straightforward case for his bill when it came to the House floor Thursday night, despite pushback from Allen, among others, who argued that the measure would undermine local control. “If you have let a school fail for five years in a row, the school board has to get the hell out of the way,” countered Dutton, a Fifth Ward native who was first elected in 1984. The debate ended when Allen produced a point of order on the bill and it was sustained shortly after midnight, killing the legislation. Then things took a strange turn: Dutton sent word that the Public Education committee on Friday morning would reconsider a highly controversial bill related to the rights of transgender children. That measure, Senate Bill 29, seeks to codify current state-level regulations that bar trans kids in Texas public schools from competing on sports teams that correspond to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. It had attracted hours of wrenching testimony, some of it from the kids themselves, on its way through the Senate — and advocates for LGBTQ Texans breathed a sigh of relief when it failed to pass out of the Public Education committee earlier in the week. The committee’s Democrats, including Dutton, were joined by Republican Dan Huberty in deciding not to advance it.

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Houston Chronicle - May 10, 2021

COVID a 'watershed' moment for mental health, ex-Rep. Kennedy says in Houston

Patrick Kennedy believes we are in a watershed moment for America’s understanding of mental health and illness. “COVID-19 is the single biggest moment for mental health in my lifetime and, I think, our nation’s lifetime,” Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman and longtime mental health advocate, said at Menninger Clinic fundraising luncheon last week. Kennedy is the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, and founded the Kennedy Forum after leaving Congress a decade ago amid his own struggles with addiction. Among the forum’s goals are breaking down stigmas of mental illness, and removing the silos that allow mental health to be viewed and treated as separate from other health care.

It’s work that’s taken on new meaning during the pandemic, which has exacerbated mental illness, mood disorders and substance abuse problems that were already at a near-crisis level in many parts of the country. “I don't think there's any doubt that the mental health of many people in our community has suffered because of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jonathan Stevens, chief of adult and child psychiatry at the Menninger Clinic. “There are some populations who were already dealing with mental illness before COVID-19, and they’ve seen a worsening. But there are also a lot of people who did not have issues that are seeing issues for the first time.” Johnson cited internal research from the Menninger Clinic that showed inordinately high rates of severe anxiety, depression and nightmares among adults who’ve been admitted there during the pandemic. Similar trends have been observed nationwide, and across age groups.

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Houston Chronicle - May 7, 2021

Army Corps takes alternate route to fund $26B Ike Dike project

When President Joe Biden proposed a nearly $2 trillion infrastructure bill, some Texas officials had high hopes that it might include funding for the long-awaited “Ike Dike” project to protect the Houston-Galveston region from catastrophic storm surge. However, the Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing another funding route for the $26 billion project. Col. Timothy Vail, commander for the Corps’ Galveston district, said the agency is adhering to a methodical federal process as it works toward completing the chief engineer’s report on the massive coastal barrier, siloed from Washington’s political headwinds. The goal, Vail said, is for that report to be ready for funding through the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, a biennial, typically bipartisan bill that helps pay for flood mitigation infrastructure across the country. “Congress would have a substantial amount of time to review this report, potentially have hearings on this report, ask questions on their report, both formally and informally before the Water Resource Development Act (of 2022)” was drafted, Vail said in an interview at the Corps’ Galveston headquarters.

Members of Texas’ congressional delegation are exploring whether the infrastructure bill could at least partially fund the project, but time is a factor with Biden aiming to get a bill passed by this summer. The Corps is still months away from officially putting the project on the table for congressional funding. Corps officials said they are sorting through a final round of public comments as they target late August or early September for release of the final report. The agency will first submit the project for review to the governor’s office and federal and state officials. Then it goes to Congress for consideration. The barrier proposal calls for a gated structure stretching across the mouth of Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel that could be activated in the event of major storms. It also calls for 43 miles of dunes protecting the Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula coastline, as well as gates where Galveston Bay meets Clear Lake and Dickinson Bayou, and a “ring levee” that would protect the north side of Galveston island. At least one Houston Democrat, U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, is working to ensure Biden’s $1.8 trillion infrastructure package includes funding for the latest version of so-called Ike Dike. Fletcher is making the case to the Biden administration and Democrats on key committees drafting the infrastructure bill that a catastrophic storm surge in the Houston Ship Channel would have devastating economic ripple effects, potentially crippling the busiest port in the country and much of the nation’s petrochemical industry. But Biden’s infrastructure plan doesn’t include specific projects, and it’s unclear whether the $50 billion that the plan earmarks to guard the country against powerful storms would help fund the coastal barrier. Biden, who made a pitch for the infrastructure bill during appearances Thursday in Lake Charles, La., and New Orleans, has indicated to congressional leaders that he wants the measure passed this summer.

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Dallas Morning News - May 9, 2021

Texas adds 1,416 coronavirus cases, 19 deaths

Across the state, 1,416 more COVID-19 cases were reported Sunday, including 1,358 new ones and 58 older ones that were recently added by labs. The state also reported 19 COVID-19 deaths, raising its toll to 49,591. The state’s case total is now 2,905,110, including 2,486,826 confirmed and 418,284 probable ones.

There are 2,399 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, including 496 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. On Saturday, 3.1% of patients in the hospital region covering the Dallas-Fort Worth area were COVID-19 patients — below the 15% threshold the state has used to define high hospitalizations. The seven-day average positivity rate statewide for molecular tests, based on the date of test specimen collection, was 4.3% as of Saturday. For antigen tests, the positivity rate for the same period was 2.6%. A molecular test is considered more accurate and is sometimes called a PCR test; an antigen test is also called a rapid test. Gov. Greg Abbott has said a positivity rate above 10% is cause for concern. According to the state, 11,447,408 people in Texas have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 8,709,410 — 38.8% of the state’s population 16 and older — are fully vaccinated.

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Dallas Morning News - May 10, 2021

Texas GOP lawmakers compelled to dish red meat to primary electorate eager to avenge Trump

If you need a quick primer on the state of Texas politics, simply examine last week’s action in the Texas Legislature. It harkens to the critical 2020 elections, captures the moods of Texas voters and foreshadows what’s on tap in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond. Here’s what happened. Republican lawmakers took a hard turn right by pushing legislation that impacts voting, adds abortion restrictions and allows most residents to carry a gun without a permit.

This session was supposed to be highlighted with legislation that bolstered the state’s electric delivery system to avoid the blackouts that occurred during February’s winter storm. Additionally, Texas leaders vowed to use the session to deal with whatever economic fixes are needed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. While those issues have been a major part of the activity in Austin, they essentially serve as a shell, with the bills on guns, abortion and voting being the red meat that fills it. Texas Republicans are emboldened by their impressive 2020 victories. They easily held the Texas House in what were forecast to be tough races, and Donald Trump beat Joe Biden in the Lone Star presidential race, though Biden went on to win the White House. But it’s Republican primary voters who are driving the action in Austin. Many of them are supporters of Trump and they accept his false claim that he lost reelection to Biden because of fraud. Last month during a tele-town hall meeting with Republican District 6 congressional candidate Susan Wright of Arlington, Trump suggested that election irregularities cost him a bigger victory in Texas. Polls show that a majority of Texans from both parties support election reform, but for different reasons. Democrats want legislation that makes it easier for residents to vote, while Republicans are driven by concerns about fraud.

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Washington Post - May 7, 2021

Ted Cruz said his election objections weren’t about blocking Biden. Then someone asked about it.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was not about to let an upstart like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) outmaneuver him in pandering to President Donald Trump’s base of support. So when Hawley announced a few days before Congress met to affirm the 2020 electoral college votes that he would object to the vote totals from Pennsylvania, Cruz put together a contingent of senators to make the same promise. The group, Cruz’s office explained in a statement, was “acting not to thwart the democratic process, but rather to protect it.” That assurance, buried at the bottom of the lengthy missive, was meant to address the obvious concern that blocking the counting of electoral votes ran the (infinitesimal) risk of derailing the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who, by all objective accounts, had clearly won the race. But Cruz and the gang insisted that because the election “featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities,” they had no choice but to throw up the stop sign.

It’s important now as it was then to point out that utterly unfounded allegations of fraud and irregularities — like those raised in the months after the 2020 election — are better addressed by confronting the false claims directly and confronting those spreading them. But when the person propagating the falsehoods has an energetic base of millions of supporters, it’s much easier politically to simply treat them as valid, to try to figure out a way to both treat those unserious claims as serious and also maintain a sober distance from the nonsense. Cruz’s “we must lamentably and futilely object” approach was the narrow path he chose to walk. As protesters gathered outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 — motivated by Trump’s rhetoric and, perhaps in some cases, by Cruz’s and Hawley’s — Cruz stood on the Senate floor to make his case. “Let me be clear,” Cruz said in his speech on that day: “I am not arguing for setting aside the result of this election.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 10, 2021

Fort Worth’s use of ‘sewage sludge’ on farmland is still causing a stink in rural areas

Before she ever heard the word “biosolids,” Katherine Smith knew that the smell wafting across her 160-acre property in Bosque County was abnormal. Starting in early March, she tracked the days where she could barely peek her head outside without feeling nauseous. Out of 49 days, she marked 28 as “STINK.” “It’s impossible to say just how much it stinks,” Smith said in late April. “I got home from the store on Thursday, opened my car door and started gagging because it smells so bad. I barely could get my car unloaded and my groceries inside without throwing up.” By mid-March, Smith learned where the odors were coming from: the 4,000-acre Houston ranch, which lies just across the Brazos River from her family’s property at Brazos Point, near Kopperl, about 60 miles south of Fort Worth.

On Feb. 25, ranch owner Ryan Houston began accepting biosolids fertilizer, also known as sewage sludge, from the city of Fort Worth, unknowingly opening a new chapter of controversy over how the byproduct of wastewater treatment affects rural communities. Houston did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Mary Gugliuzza, a spokesperson for Fort Worth’s water department, said Synagro, the city’s contractor, finished applying biosolids on April 23 and did not receive a complaint about odor until March 22. Smith said her neighbors were confused and did not know where the smell came from, which could have caused the delay. The organic fertilizer is in high demand from rural farmers, but has also generated years of complaints from nearby residents who say the product is not properly dried, leading to foul odors that can last for weeks or even months after it’s applied. “We don’t really have a choice with biosolids,” Gugliuzza said. “Unless most people are going to stop going to the restroom, we’re not going to stop producing biosolids. It’s just one of those byproducts of the wastewater treatment process, but it is a beneficial byproduct of the process.”

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Spectrum News - May 8, 2021

What should Texas do with its old wind turbine blades?

This west Texas city greets its visitors with a huge wind turbine blade with the words “Welcome to Sweetwater. Wind Energy Capital of North America” painted across the 160-foot structure. The blade stands as a symbol of the importance of the wind energy industry to this city on the edge of the Texas plains. Texas produces more wind energy than any other state in the country, much of it here off of Interstate 20. If Texas was a country, it would rank fifth among the world’s wind energy producers. Sweetwater’s wind energy industry started in the late 1990s and has fueled the local economy with turbine-related jobs and a boom for landowners. Today, President Joe Biden’s call for investing in America’s clean energy resources, including wind, fuels hopes of more opportunities to come. But for all the benefits the wind turbines have brought to Sweetwater, a critical question remains: What to do with the worn-out wind turbine blades when they are replaced?

Wind turbine blades last an average of about 25 to 30 years. When they are replaced, the old blades become a challenge, from transporting them out of the field to finding a place to store the blades, which can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing. Finding an environmentally friendly and economical way to dispose of the blades will become a growing problem. In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 54,000 turbines in operation at the moment with 164,000 blades, according to Global Fiberglass Solutions. Over the next two years, an estimated 35,000 of those blades will be decommissioned and need somewhere to go. Last year G.E. Renewable Energy, a division of General Electric, announced that it would begin recycling the blades by shredding them into raw material for use in cement manufacturing. In the Netherlands, one city turned the old blades into a playground. Cork, Ireland, is experimenting with using retired blades to construct bridges. Still, thousands of old blades have been cut into pieces and laid to rest in landfills, where the fiber-reinforced plastic will never break down. A municipal landfill outside of Casper, Wyo., another wind energy hub in the U.S., has been the resting place for more than 1,120 blades, and the city expects to receive another 250 in the coming year. The U.S. currently has very little regulation regarding the disposal of wind turbine blades. Adding to the problem is the fact that blades have gotten longer during the last 30 years, as wind technology has advanced, creating longer blades and shorter turbine towers for better energy production.

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New York Times - May 9, 2021

Mimi Swartz: Could Matthew McConaughey be all right, all right, all right for Texas?

When I first heard the rumors that Matthew McConaughey was considering a run for governor of Texas, my reaction was fury. Did he not recall Kinky Friedman, the musician-comedian-novelist-gadfly whose candidacy in 2006 helped blow up the Democratic vote and gave us Rick Perry as governor for 14 years? Did he not understand that being governor of the second largest state involves a lot more than cogitating, as Mr. McConaughey does in a commercial sitting at the wheel of a Lincoln MKC, how to get around Old Cyrus the bull, who blocks his path on a desolate West Texas highway? You can’t always back up, turn around and “take the long way,” mister. Just what, I wondered, has Mr. McConaughey been smoking? Celebrities turned politicians have a very mixed record. See: Davy Crockett, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, Ronald Reagan and, of course, the 45th president. But in a state as dazed and confused as Texas, we don’t need David Wooderson sitting in the statehouse telling us everything is going to be all right, all right, all right. Or do we? Our previous and current governors, Mr. Perry and his successor, Greg Abbott, have done nothing while claiming just that. Maybe Mr. McConaughey could do better.

It isn’t news to anyone that many Texans abhor government interference. Mr. Perry seems to think that extends to keeping warm when temperatures drop to record lows. After a cataclysmic storm knocked out the state’s power grid in February, he said, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business” — a sentiment probably not shared by the friends and families of the 111 people (or more) who died of hypothermia and other storm-related causes. The current legislative session — with Republicans in full control — has been grim. You can’t say they mind government interference when things like women’s reproductive systems or voting rights are involved. It was amid this bleak news that I started reconsidering my attitude toward a possible Governor Bongo (For the uninformed: Mr. McConaughey was once arrested at his home in Austin, stoned and naked, for an exuberant session of bongo drumming in the wee hours). Yes, thinking that things couldn’t possibly get worse is never a great way to choose a candidate. But I don’t seem to be alone in thinking that a man who has played a lawyer in the movies might be better for Texas than the lawyers who play at being leaders in the Capitol.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 10, 2021

Tarrant COVID vaccinations see an uptick in minority neighborhoods, but it isn’t enough

Months after it was made clear that Tarrant County was not getting COVID-19 vaccines to minority and low-income neighborhoods as much as white, affluent neighborhoods, data shows progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go. Places like the historically Black Stop Six neighborhood have seen an increase of about 5% since March, while the predominantly Black and Hispanic 76104 ZIP code saw about a 3% increase. Diamond Hill, one of the county’s predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, saw about a 2% increase. While progress has been made, the vaccination rates are still relatively low and officials say the work isn’t done.

The barriers contributing to relatively low vaccination rates in minority communities are a combination of vaccine hesitancy, accessibility, inconvenient hours and poor translation services, officials say. The county has paid UNT Health Science Center $2.5 million to bridge the gap in vaccination rates in minority communities. It has put up four vaccination sites, launched a marketing campaign and continues to emphasize vaccine education. Those sites are operating in Saginaw, Stop Six, Ridgmar Mall and at UT Arlington. On Tuesday, UNT HSC officials reported that they have administered close to 14,000 doses and more than 50% of those have gone to people who identify as white. Hispanic or Latino residents made up about 34%, Black people 11% and Asians 9%. Five of UNT HSC’s 10 most-served ZIP copes are predominantly white while the others include certain areas that are majority white but also have a high Black and Hispanic or Latino population, such as east Arlington and ZIP code 76112, which is near Stop Six. The next phase in vaccination efforts includes reaching home-bound individuals and establishing pop-up vaccine clinics in high-traffic areas such as grocery stores or churches.

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City Stories

KVUE - May 9, 2021

San Marcos making a splash as official Mermaid Capital of Texas

San Marcos is making waves in the Texas Legislature! The Central Texas city is one step closer to officially becoming the Mermaid Capital of Texas after a resolution passed both chambers and is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. HCR 13 and SCR 9 would designate San Marcos the official Mermaid Capital of Texas for a 10-year period beginning this year. “For thousands of years, the mermaid has been one of the most striking symbols of humanity’s connection with the natural world,” the House resolution says. “Over the past century, this legendary figure has come to represent the city of San Marcos and its special relationship to the water resources of Central Texas.”

Mermaid statues started popping up around the city in 2018, recalling the Aquamaids show that started in the 1950s and ended in the ‘90s at Aquarena Springs. It included Ralph, the pig, which is memorialized in one of the city’s statues. “The mermaid symbol is our connection to our past with Aquarena Springs and the Aquamaids,” Mermaid Society SMTX founder July Moreno told KVUE in 2019, referring to the characters that performed at the theme park. “And the new transformation of what was once seen as entertainment with the Aquamaids is now seen as a revival of the mermaid for environmental protection of our San Marcos River.” San Marcos leaders hope getting the official designation will make the city more of a tourist destination.

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KXAN - May 8, 2021

Austin City Hall surrounded with tents in camp-in protest against new public camping ban

Opponents of Austin’s public camping ban surrounded City Hall with tents on Friday night in a protest against the ban. The protest comes in response to voters electing to pass Proposition B, which reinstates the camping ban and reintroduces a criminal penalty for offenders. It passed with 57% of the vote.

The City of Austin has since said the ban will come into effect on May 11. On Saturday morning, City Hall was still surrounded by tents after protesters apparently slept inside them overnight. Signs reading ‘criminalization kills, housing for all’ and ‘what would city council do without their homes?’ were placed on some of the tents. City Manager Spencer Cronk told council Thursday the new law passed by voters will be phased in gradually and be done in a safe and humane manner. “City staff is currently working to develop a phased implementation of the camping ordinance beginning on its effective date of May 11th, with an emphasis on health, safety, and connection to services wherever possible,” a city spokesperson told KXAN in a follow-up email Friday.

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National Stories

Associated Press - May 8, 2021

Gaetz, Greene take mantle of Trump's populism at rally

U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, two of the Republican Party's most controversial figures, kicked off their "America First Rally" roadshow Friday with a Trump-centric revival of sorts for the MAGA faithful at a Florida retirement community. The gathering appeared to be an attempt to position the two conservatives as successors to the former president's populism. "Tell me, who is your president?"" Greene shouted after walking out onto a ballroom stage in front of hundreds of supporters wearing "Trump" T-shirts and "Make America Great Again" red ballcaps. "Trump!" the mask-less crowd of retirees wearing MAGA red yelled back.

Joking that he was a "marked man in Congress ... but a Florida man," Gaetz called former President Donald Trump "the undisputed leader of the Republican Party." "Today, we send a strong message to the weak establishment in both parties: America First isn't going away. We are going on tour," Gaetz said. "It's no longer the red team against the blue team. It's the establishment against the rest of us." Gaetz held up himself and Greene as challengers to the establishment and successors to Trump's populism. "They lie about us because we tell the truth about them," Gaetz said of the establishment. The indoor rally took place with just a week until Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg faces a deadline to enter a plea deal that could lead to damaging information against the Florida congressman. Gaetz alluded to the investigation by referencing what he said were distorted descriptions of himself as someone who has wild parties with beautiful women. Both Republican members of the House of Representatives have come under fire in recent months, though for different reasons.

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Associated Press - May 9, 2021

Cyberattack on U.S. pipeline is linked to criminal gang

The federal government is working with the Georgia-based company that shut down a major pipeline transporting fuel across the East Coast after a ransomware attack, the White House says. The government is planning for various scenarios and working with state and local authorities on measures to mitigate any potential supply issues, officials said Saturday. The attack is unlikely to affect gasoline supply and prices unless it leads to a prolonged shutdown, experts said. Colonial Pipeline did not say what was demanded or who made the demand. Ransomware attacks are typically carried out by criminal hackers who scramble data, paralyzing victim networks, and demand a large payment to decrypt it.

Colonial Pipeline did not say what was demanded or who made the demand. Ransomware attacks are typically carried out by criminal hackers who scramble data, paralyzing victim networks, and demand a large payment to decrypt it. The attack on the company, which says it delivers roughly 45 percent of fuel consumed on the East Coast, underscores again the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure to damaging cyberattacks that threaten to impede operations. It presents a new challenge for an administration still dealing with its response to major hacks from months ago, including a massive breach of government agencies and corporations for which the U.S. sanctioned Russia last month. In this case, Colonial Pipeline said the ransomware attack Friday affected some of its information technology systems and that the company moved “proactively” to take certain systems offline, halting pipeline operations. In an earlier statement, it said it was “taking steps to understand and resolve this issue” with an eye toward returning to normal operations. The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil from refineries located on the Gulf Coast through pipelines running from Texas to New Jersey. Its pipeline system spans more than 5,500 miles, transporting more than 100 million gallon a day.

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New York Times - May 9, 2021

As scrutiny of cryptocurrency grows, the industry turns to K Street

When federal regulators late last year accused one of the world’s most popular cryptocurrency platforms of illegally selling $1.38 billion worth of digital money to investors, it was a pivotal moment in efforts to crack down on a fast-growing market — and in the still-nascent industry’s willingness to dive deeply into the Washington influence game. The company, Ripple Labs, has enlisted lobbyists, lawyers and other well-connected advocates to make its case to the Securities and Exchange Commission and beyond in one of the first big legal battles over what limits and requirements the government should set for trading and using digital currency. Ripple has hired two lobbying firms in the past three months. It has retained a consulting firm staffed with former aides to both Hillary Clinton and former President Donald J. Trump to help it develop strategy in Washington. And to defend itself against the S.E.C., it hired Mary Jo White, a former chairwoman of the commission during the Obama administration.

Ripple is just one of a long list of cryptocurrency companies scrambling for influence in Washington as the Biden administration begins setting policy that could shape the course of a potentially revolutionary industry that is rapidly moving into the mainstream and drawing intensifying attention from financial regulators, law enforcement officials and lawmakers. “There is a tectonic shift underway,” Perianne Boring, the president of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a cryptocurrency lobbying group, told other industry lobbyists, executives and two House lawmakers who serve as industry champions, during a virtual gathering last month. “If we don’t start planning and taking action soon, we have everything to risk.” So far, cryptocurrency has been a highly volatile investment, but it is already starting to alter the way individuals, companies and even some central banks do business. Firms like Ripple, which is based in San Francisco, run cryptocurrency platforms that allow customers to make nearly instant global payments through a system that operates largely outside government monetary networks.

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9 News - May 9, 2021

6 victims in shooting at Colorado Springs birthday party, suspected gunman takes own life

In a "senseless act of violence" early Sunday morning, a man drove to a birthday party at a mobile home, walked inside and started shooting, killing six people and himself, according to police. The Colorado Springs Police Department said officers responded to a report of the shooting at 12:18 a.m. in the 2800 block of Preakness Way, which is in a manufactured home community along South Powers Boulevard. Officers found six adults dead inside the residence. One man was taken to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries, police said.

"Words fall short to describe the tragedy that took place this morning," said Colorado Springs Police Chief Vince Niski. "As the chief of police, as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, as a member of this community, my heart breaks for the families who have lost someone they love and for the children who have lost their parents." Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said, "Today we find ourselves mourning the loss of lives and praying solemnly for those who were injured and those who lost family members in a senseless act of violence on Sunday morning." Police said it appeared the shooter was the boyfriend of one of the female victims. Friends, family and children were gathered inside the trailer to celebrate when the shooting occurred. The children were not injured and are now with relatives, police said. Detectives were working to determine a motive, and the investigation was ongoing, police said. The El Paso County Coroner's Office will release the identifications of the victims and the official cause and manner of death. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis released a statement saying, "The tragic shooting in Colorado Springs is devastating, especially as many of us are spending the day celebrating the women in our lives who have made us the people we are today.

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Nexstar - May 9, 2021

White House, lawmakers push to get kids back into the classroom

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says he wants to get students across the country back into the classroom. “We need to provide in-person learning opportunities for all students, 5 days a week, in the fall. I want it now in the spring, but we’ll problem solve with folks,” Cardona said. Cardona says even when schools are reopened, there is much work to be done to make up for lost time. “I’m very heartened to hear about your determination in reopening school full time,” said Oklahoma Republican Congressman Tom Cole. Cole says his district offered in-person learning since August and saw better results for those who came into the classroom.

“I think the evidence both medically, for the health of the kids, and educationally is pretty clear,” Cole said. Washington Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler says there has been significant learning loss and wants to see that change. “No child is less than any other child, so how do we make sure we catch them up?” Beutler asked. “We need to do everything to get our students in, everyday they are not in the classroom is a day waster,” Cardona said. With the possibility for the FDA to approve use of the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12- to 15-years-old, the White House says it is prepared. “We have the ability to move very, very quickly on a number of fronts,” said White House COVID Task Force Coordinator Andy Slavitt. Cardona is asking Congress for around $103 billion in next year’s budget, to double funding for schools in need, expand access to Pre-K and increase mental health resources.

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Newsclips - May 9, 2021

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 8, 2021

ERCOT forced dozens of natural gas facilities offline during winter storm

ERCOT confirmed that it forced dozens of natural gas facilities to go offline during the February winter storm under a program that pays large industrial users to shut down when electricity supplies are short. Hundreds of major electricity users, such as data centers, manufacturing plants and oil and gas facilities, have entered into “demand response” contracts with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, requiring them to install an automatic circuit switch or manually shut down operations when power demand threatens to exceed supply on the grid. Under these contracts, the state’s grid operator has the authority to interrupt power to large industrial customers when there are less than 1,750 megawatts of spare power on the grid.

“We confirmed that some of (these industrial customers) are related to oil and gas,” ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said. ERCOT said it is unclear how much of an effect contractual shutdowns of natural gas facilities had on natural gas supplies and gas-fired power plants, which accounted for about half the power plant outages during the freeze. Other natural gas wells, pipelines and compressor stations suffered freezes and power outages during ERCOT’s mandated rolling blackouts. There are thousands of oil and gas facilities in Texas. These contractual outages affected a small portion of them. Power plant operators have blamed inadequate natural gas supplies for the catastrophic power failure during the storm, which led to nearly 200 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. Natural gas production in Texas fell by nearly half during the storm, and the largest share of generation outages occurred at natural gas power plants, according to the Energy Department.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 7, 2021

Judge rejects Sid Miller's challenge to Texas Senate COVID-19 testing rules

A state judge has tossed out a lawsuit by state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who argued that his constitutional rights were violated by a Texas Senate rule that requires visitors to take a COVID-19 test before gaining access to the Senate gallery and committee hearing rooms. In a short order issued Friday afternoon, state District Judge Jan Soifer of Travis County ruled that her court lacked jurisdiction to order the Senate to change its policies. As a result, Soifer rejected Miller's request for an injunction blocking the testing policy and dismissed his lawsuit against the Senate, its sergeant-at-arms and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a fellow Republican who presides over the Senate. Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer representing Miller and conservative leader Steven Hotze in the lawsuit, said he will appeal the ruling.

"I never thought I would see the day when a Republican majority in the Texas Senate would require one to take an experimental vaccine or a medical exam to exercise their rights under the First Amendment," Woodfill said. "We are hopeful the Texas Supreme Court will right this wrong and restore the rights afforded to all Texans under the Constitution." During a hearing in the case Tuesday, Woodfill argued that the testing policy violated free speech protections and the right to petition the government for people like Miller and Hotze who decline to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and object to tests for the coronavirus as invasive. Under rules approved by all 31 senators in January, access to the Senate side of the Capitol is restricted to those who receive a negative COVID-19 test, administered for free at the Capitol's north entrance, or those who show proof of vaccination. Miller testified that he will not get the vaccine, believing he has natural antibodies after an earlier bout with COVID-19, meaning the only way he can testify as required at committee hearings is to undergo a test beforehand.

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Reuters - May 9, 2021

Cyber attack shuts down top U.S. fuel pipeline network

Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline has shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast's fuel supply, after a cyber attack that the company said was caused by ransomware. The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has drawn attention to how critical U.S. energy infrastructure is vulnerable to hackers. The shutdown has raised fears of a price spike at gasoline pumps ahead of peak summer driving season if it persists. Colonial transports 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined products through 5,500 miles (8,850 km) of pipelines linking refiners on the Gulf Coast to the eastern and southern United States.

Colonial said it shut down systems to contain the threat after learning of the attack on Friday. That action also temporarily halted operations and affected some of its IT systems, the company said. While the U.S. government investigation is in early stages, one former official and two industry sources said the hackers are likely a professional cybercriminal group. The former official said investigators are looking at a group dubbed "DarkSide," known for deploying ransomware and extorting victims while avoiding targets in post-Soviet states. Colonial said the incident involved the use of ransomware, a type of malware designed to lock down systems by encrypting data and demanding payment to regain access. Colonial has engaged a cybersecurity firm to launch an investigation and contacted law enforcement and federal agencies, it said.

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Washington Post - May 9, 2021

Liz Cheney’s months-long effort to turn Republicans from Trump threatens her reelection and ambitions. She says it’s only beginning.

Rep. Liz Cheney had been arguing for months that Republicans had to face the truth about former president Donald Trump — that he had lied about the 2020 election result and bore responsibility for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — when the Wyoming Republican sat down at a party retreat in April to listen to a polling briefing. The refusal to accept reality, she realized, went much deeper. When staff from the National Republican Congressional Committee rose to explain the party’s latest polling in core battleground districts, they left out a key finding about Trump’s weakness, declining to divulge the information even when directly questioned about Trump’s support by a member of Congress, according to two people familiar with what transpired.

Trump’s unfavorable ratings were 15 points higher than his favorable ones in the core districts, according to the full polling results, which were later obtained by The Washington Post. Nearly twice as many voters had a strongly unfavorable view of the former president as had a strongly favorable one. Cheney was alarmed, she later told others, in part because Republican campaign officials had also left out bad Trump polling news at a March retreat for ranking committee chairs. Both instances, she concluded, demonstrated that party leadership was willing to hide information from their own members to avoid the truth about Trump and the possible damage he could do to Republican House members, even though the NRCC denied any such agenda. Those behind-the-scenes episodes were part of a months-long dispute over Republican principles that has raged among House leaders and across the broader GOP landscape. That dispute is expected to culminate next week with a vote to remove Cheney from her position as the third-ranking House Republican.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 7, 2021

Critics decry Democratic chairman’s push to pass transgender sports bill as an act of retaliation

In a stunning reversal, the Texas House Committee on Public Education approved a highly controversial bill Friday that would require young transgender athletes to compete only on teams that match the sex designated on their original birth certificate. The surprise vote on the bill that would prevent transgender athletes from competing on teams that align with their gender identity came three days after the proposal failed to receive enough votes and appeared to die in the same committee. By Friday morning, the bill was revived in a formal meeting without a livestream after an 8-5 vote in what appears to be retaliation from Chair Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, against his own party.

Before calling the proposal to another vote, Dutton noted a bill he authored that would essentially guarantee the ouster of Houston ISD’s school board. The bill was sent back to committee Thursday after a point of order was sustained as it faced opposition from fellow Democratic lawmakers. “I don’t know how big this problem is, and I wish I did because I’d be in a better position to make this vote,” Dutton said. “But I can tell you this: The bill that was killed last night affected far more children than this bill ever will.” Dutton added, “So as a consequence, the Chair motions that Senate Bill 29 as substituted be reported favorably to the full House … Show the Chair voting aye.” Republicans hold a narrow 7-6 advantage on the committee. After refraining from a vote Tuesday, Dutton was the only Democrat to vote for the measure Friday. Dutton paired with an additional vote from Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who was absent and did not vote earlier this week.

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Dallas Morning News - May 7, 2021

Texas delegation requests close to $2 billion in funding request ‘earmarks’

Earmarks are back. The congressional practice of members essentially hand-picking projects was banned from Congress in the early 2000?s after it became synonymous with “pork barrel” legislation. But it’s been given another chance under a new system. Twenty-one members from Texas’ 35-member Congressional delegation — the 6th Congressional District in North Texas currently is open — requested a total of close to $2 billion for the 2022 fiscal year. Every Texas Democrat and eight Texas Republicans — Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Houston, August Pfluger of San Angelo, Pete Sessions of Waco, Troy Nehls of Richmond, John Carter of Round Rock, Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Michael Cloud of Victoria and Tony Gonzales of San Antonio — made requests.

Earmarks for The House Appropriations Committee are now dubbed “community project funding,” while earmarks for the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are called “member designated projects.” Details of the requests are posted on the websites of the House Appropriations Committee and the lawmakers themselves. Member designated projects have not yet been posted on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s website. Earmarks were banned in 2011, after they became tarnished by corruption when four members went to jail for handing out federal money in return for personal favors. Members were “bringing home the bacon” by asking for thousands of federal dollars for projects that were criticized for being unnecessary, such as Alaska’s famous “bridge to nowhere,” which would have connected the small city of Ketchikan to a small airport on a nearby island racking up costs close to $450 million. Republican Rep. Kay Granger’s $110 million Trinity River Vision project in Fort Worth was also criticized as pork in the early 2000?s. She earmarked the project when she couldn’t get it authorized in a previous bill the House and Senate couldn’t come to agreement on.

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Dallas Morning News - May 8, 2021

Some are welcomed, most turned away, as haphazard immigration policies play out along the border

Inside a threadbare migrant shelter, with an aluminum roof rattling in the wind, the preacher implored 19 migrants to believe that hope loomed somewhere outside. The words reverberated among the Central Americans, all wiping away tears after being hastily expelled from the U.S. For the vast number, including Jose Samuria, all was lost. As he prayed, with dust seeping through a wall of wooden planks, Samuria, a 36-year migrant from El Salvador, couldn’t hold back his tears. He mumbled: “I feel hopeless, defeated.” Hundreds of miles downriver in Del Rio, an unusually chilly dawn welcomed dozens of migrants from Venezuela. They were fresh from crossing the border with help of smugglers, through the rough, high waters of the Rio Grande. On the banks of the river, migrants shivered as two Texas State Troopers watched closely, waiting for the U.S. Border Patrol.

One trooper offered his windbreaker to Franco Centeno, 27, who turned to the trooper and whispered, “Gracias.” His friend, Jean Nava, 32, put his arms around Centeno, hoping to provide warmth and comfort. Pointing to U.S. soil, he said, “We’re here.” Venezuelans are generally getting in through Del Rio, where they can ask for asylum, but Central Americans are being turned back into Ojinaga. These paradoxical scenes of humanity play out daily along this remote stretch of the Texas-Mexico border from Ojinaga to Del Rio and Eagle Pass. They underscore the contradictions embedded in the nation’s broken immigration system where migrants, faced with an inconsistent patchwork of rules, often rely more on luck than uniform policies from the U.S. government. Their fate is also increasingly defined by Mexico, which in helping the U.S. ease overcrowding at border facilities, plays a crucial role in determining which migrants get in. The fluid situation represents “basically the Balkanization of immigration controls at the border,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration policy analyst in Washington. “If the federal government isn’t going to step in to have a coherent policy, I think what you’re seeing is local and state authorities on both sides of the border stepping in and doing what they think is necessary to maintain their national interest.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 8, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: ‘My name is Dan and I’m an alcoholic’

It is natural that we expect our lawmakers to be held to a high standard of conduct. But sometimes we forget that our lawmakers also are human and, as such, are flawed too. Last month, state Rep. Dan Huberty crashed his Corvette into another vehicle as he returned home from the state Capitol. The Republican lawmaker from the Houston area failed a field sobriety test and was arrested. For Huberty, this was an embarrassing moment of public reckoning that we imagine he had hoped would never come. Instead of denying and deflecting, he took a more forthright course.

Last week, he appeared on the House floor to apologize to colleagues, friends, constituents and the passengers in the other vehicle. And the words he spoke were powerful and introspective. “My name is Dan and I’m an alcoholic,” he said as he disclosed that he is seeking treatment and has struggled with alcoholism throughout his adult life. The legal system will determine Huberty’s punishment, and punishment is important in cases of proven drunk driving. Legal consequences, however, are only part of accountability. The other portion involves personal responsibility and commitment to beat addiction and allow those who care to support the recovery. The irony is that Huberty had worked for decades with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a national organization whose mission has been to prevent alcohol-impaired people from getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. But that’s the scurrilousness of addiction. Huberty understood the mission of MADD, yet made this mistake

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Dallas Morning News - May 8, 2021

Dallas man arrested in San Antonio after 41 migrants found in back of tractor-trailer he was driving

A Dallas man was arrested in San Antonio Thursday night after authorities found more than three dozen migrants in the back of a tractor-trailer he was driving. Aron Bernard Griffin, 49, faces one charge of smuggling undocumented noncitizens. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Several people called 911 on Thursday and reported seeing people in the back of the truck, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Texas said in a news release.

The truck was tracked down at a gas station on Interstate 10 in San Antonio. Fourty-one undocumented people were detained at the scene by Homeland Security agents, the attorney’s office said. One migrant was taken to a hospital for dehydration, a spokesman with the San Antonio Fire Department told KTVT-TV (Channel 11). Griffin told authorities that he had made an arrangement with another person to pick up the migrants in Laredo and take them to San Antonio for money. San Antonio police Lt. Jesse Salame told KTVT that the 911 calls “potentially saved a lot of lives.” “We never know how these cases are going to end up, but somebody was alert enough that they noticed something suspicious,” he said. “They called us, and we had an officer that was behind the vehicle relatively quickly.” Griffin was scheduled to appear before a judgefor an initial court appearance on Friday. It was unclear whether he has an attorney. Homeland Security Investigations is working the case with the help of San Antonio police, the attorneys office said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 9, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Would a free beer help people get past COVID vaccine hesitancy? How about cash?

Millions of people in Texas and around the nation are behaving as if the coronavirus pandemic is largely over, taking the huge drops in cases, hospitalizations and deaths as signs that it’s time to get back to a full life. They’re not wrong, but there’s a threat to this delicate victory: a stark decline in the number of people stepping up to get vaccinated. It seems odd after months of people scrambling for an appointment and fierce arguments about who should be able to get the shot. Now, it’s basically available on a walk-up or same-day basis, yet fewer people want it.

In Tarrant County, public health director Vinny Taneja told county commissioners Tuesday, “we would open up to long lines, 350-400 people in the first hour at each site, to now doing 400 people per day at our sites.” It’s a troubling trend because the battle is not yet won. COVID-19 remains a threat and may for a long time. Taneja, while acknowledging tremendous progress in recent weeks, noted slight recent upticks in hospitalizations and cases serious enough to require intensive care. Vaccine hesitancy is high in several demographic groups. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to winning them over. Community leaders and doctors need to target their messages and continue to get creative. County Judge Glen Whitley told the Editorial Board that three groups have high rates of vaccine hesitancy: staunchly conservative Republicans, Hispanics who fear interacting with police or government officials, and Black residents, especially older ones swayed by the history of mistreatment and sometimes experimentation by doctors.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 9, 2021

Granbury mayor submits resignation days after DWI charge was upgraded to felony

Granbury Mayor Nin Hulett submitted his resignation Thursday, days after his misdemeanor driving while intoxicated arrest from late April was upgraded to a felony. Hulett wrote in his resignation letter, which is available online, “I am truly thankful for the opportunity to serve my city these past ten years.” “Our City staff and City employees are truly among the best in the State, and I am proud to count our many involved citizens as friends and neighbors,” Hulett wrote in the letter, dated May 6.

The document makes no mention of his April 25 DWI arrest, or his two previous DWI arrests. Hulett was arrested in the early morning hours during a traffic stop and booked into the Hood County Jail, Sheriff Roger Deeds said. The DWI charge was initially a class B misdemeanor. That was upgraded to a felony on May 3 after Granbury police confirmed Hulett had previously been convicted twice of DWI, Granbury Deputy City Manager Michael Ross said. He was arrested that day, court records showed. One of his previous DWI arrests occurred in Fort Worth in November 2007, according to Tarrant County court records, which indicated it was his second offense. He was sentenced in April 2008 to 90 days in jail followed by two years probation. It’s unclear where or when Hulett’s first DWI arrest took place. Hulett was first elected to mayor in 2013. His current term will expire in November 2002, according to the city’s website. He wrote at the end of his resignation letter that, “Granbury has a special place in my heart, and I look forward to watching our city grow and prosper.” He signed his name at the bottom.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 8, 2021

Mother says Tinslee Lewis improving, seeks more time in court battle with Cook Children’s

The mother of 2-year-old Tinslee Lewis, whose family has been fighting to keep her alive at a Fort Worth hospital, says her daughter is improving, noting Tinslee is taking occupational therapy and she has been weaned off pain medication, according to court documents filed Thursday. Tinslee Lewis’ mother, Trinity Lewis, said Cook Children’s Medical Center has “grossly mischaracterized” Tinslee’s condition. Tinslee has been at Cook Children’s for most of her life. Born with a rare heart condition, Tinslee has been kept alive with medical care and “extreme efforts,” according to hospital officials.

The paperwork filed Thursday by attorneys for the Lewis family was in response to hospital officials asking the 48th District Court of Fort Worth to quickly schedule a trial date to decide whether life support care should be removed from Tinslee. The hospital has asked for a July 26 trial date. Attorneys for Tinslee and her mother filed paperwork asking for a January 2022 date. The hospital says that Tinslee cannot feel anything except pain. In multiple court proceedings, doctors testified that Tinslee has no chance of recovery and each day is tortuous for her. “This child should not be forced to endure this fate for months on end while this matter continues its creep through the legal system,” the hospital’s appeal filed April 16 said. But in court documents filed Thursday, the Lewis family says the proposed July 26 trial date would prevent them from gathering evidence and consulting experts to make their case. In addition, Tinslee’s doctors have consistently told Trinity that she is doing better than they expected and she has improved, according to the family’s motion. “She is not stiff. She is no longer nasally intubated,“ according to the court documents. “She is pointing and communicating.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 8, 2021

Bud Kennedy: Texas’ ‘most conservative 48 hours’ went Greg Abbott’s way for 2022 (and 2024?)

Call it the Greg Abbott Protection Session. With a governor up for re-election in 2022 and maybe considering a presidential run in 2024, Republican lawmakers are pushing potential opponents out of the way like Panhandle snowplows during the Big Freeze:

Gun-rights activists, the faction that has barked loudest at the governor the past two years? They’ll get to carry a handgun without a license. Abortion abolitionists, the extremist Republican faction that demands Texas completely end abortions regardless what the Constitution and courts say? They’ll get a bill allowing anyone anywhere to sue anyone else who helped an abortion in any way, presumably including family members, building landlords, Uber drivers and the clinic window washer. MAGA obsessives, the crowd that can’t let go of election complaints even after more than 50 judges rejected buffoonish claims of problems with the 2020 presidential outcome? They’ll get new statewide election laws to tighten down on voting, although not the vengeful crackdown on Houston that was proposed. That only leaves the Republicans who were mad at Abbott over COVID-19 restrictions, and they don’t seem mad anymore. Only 13% of Republicans disapproved of Abbott’s performance in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, and that included a higher percentage of abortion opponents no doubt satisfied with the new House and Senate bills.

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Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

Fort Bend won't consider joining GHP due to silence on Texas' restrictive voting bills, judge says

Fort Bend County Judge KP George said Thursday the county will not consider becoming a member of the Greater Houston Partnership following the group’s silence on bills in the state Legislature that he called “suppressive pieces of legislation reminiscent of Jim Crow era tactics prior to the Civil Rights era.” George’s statement came a day after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced they no longer plan to hold their annual state of the city and county addresses with the Greater Houston Partnership due to the group’s silence. George said he supported the pair’s rebuke; all three are Democrats.

“The implications of silence on this issue are too consequential and that Hidalgo and Turner have decided to make that clear is admirable,” George said. “Our County had been considering joining the Greater Houston Partnership for some time now, but following their silence on this, we will no longer consider becoming a member organization. Now is the time to take a stand, the eyes of history are indeed upon us now.” In his statement, George noted the changes that the county made to make voting more accessible ahead of the 2020 election, including the extension of voting hours, making the Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land a mega-voting site and creating drive-thru voting for individuals unable to walk into a center. The bills, Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6, would limit polling hours, ban drive-thru voting, loosen restrictions on poll watchers and streamline voter roll purges. Backers say they measures would enhance election security, but critics say they emanate from former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election — falsehoods that spurred the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. “These laws affect our citizens both at the polls and in the economy and I, like Hidalgo and Turner, believe the Greater Houston Partnership should care about that,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 7, 2021

'Inordinate' amount of April waste leads to pileup of heavy trash across Houston

Overwhelmed by high volumes of heavy trash last month, city collection crews are running a week behind schedule and have enlisted an outside contractor to help clear the junk waste that remains piled outside homes across Houston. The city’s Solid Waste Management Department collects heavy trash items, including furniture and appliances, every other month, alternating with tree waste collection during the other months. City officials are continuing to collect tree waste in May as scheduled and are asking residents to keep their uncollected heavy trash in a separate pile. To handle the backlog, the city has hired DRC Emergency Services, a contractor that typically handles Houston’s disaster debris removal, Mayor Sylvester Turner said at this week’s City Council meeting. DRC has deployed at least a dozen crews to supplement collection efforts by city employees, according to the mayor.

“There was an inordinate amount of junk waste that was put out in the month of April,” Turner said. “There was more than has been out there in a while, so (crews) have fallen behind for about a week.” District A Councilmember Amy Peck said residents of her northwest Houston district have reported delays in heavy trash pickup for the last two weeks, suggesting crews are even farther behind schedule in some areas than the mayor reported. City officials have used a number of stopgap measures in recent years to help the beleaguered Solid Waste Management Department, which has not added enough collection routes to meet the demands of the growing city and, even after ordering dozens of new collection vehicles in 2019, continues to operate a worn-down fleet. While Austin, San Antonio and Dallas charge their residents more than $20 a month for garbage collection, Houston does not charge anything aside from a $1.14 monthly fee for garbage and recycling bins enacted last year.

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Houston Chronicle - May 8, 2021

Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke rally against bills they say suppress minority voters

Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro joined forces at the Texas Capitol on Saturday to rally against election reform bills that they called blatant attempts to suppress voters in Black and Hispanic communities. As statewide elections near, Castro said Republicans in the Texas Legislature are responding with numerous bills aimed at suppressing minority voters. “We are here today to say ‘No, we will not stand for that,’” the former San Antonio mayor told hundreds of activists who gathered on the south steps of the Capitol less than 24 hours after the Texas House approved an election reform that Democrats have vocally opposed. O’Rourke, the former El Paso Congressman who is weighing a potential run for governor, said Republicans are focusing on restricting voting when there are much bigger issues facing the state.

“These jokers can’t even keep the lights on, or the heat on, or the water running when the temperature drops in Texas, now they want to take over our elections,” O’Rourke said in reference to the deadly February storms that left millions without electricity. But the authors of the two biggest election bills, Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6 have said their legislation attempts to make elections in Texas more secure. The Texas House passed a heavily amended version of Senate Bill 7 on Friday afternoon by a 78-64 vote, with eight members not voting. That bill would give partisan poll watchers increased access and power at polling sites and crack down on what Republicans call vote harvesting, where outside groups help voters fill out applications for absentee ballots and help them submit those votes in time to be counted during an election. State Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican, is the lead sponsor of SB 7 and says vote harvesters can tamper with ballots, which he’s trying to stop.

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Click2Houston - May 8, 2021

Texas sets up call center to connect businesses, organizations with mobile vaccination teams

Texas is launching a call center to increase COVID-19 vaccinations statewide, according to a press release. Businesses and civic organizations can schedule to have a mobile vaccination team vaccinate employees, visitors or members. To qualify, the business or organization must have 10 or more employees who voluntarily choose to be vaccinated. Interested parties can call 844-90-TEXAS and select Option 3 to schedule a visit.

Homebound Texans are also encouraged to call the hotline and select Option 1 to request a state mobile vaccination team to visit their home. Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), and the Texas Military Department (TMD) announced the State Mobile Vaccination Team Thursday. Officials said the State Mobile Vaccine Pilot Program originally launched in January to improve COVID-19 vaccination effects in underserved areas of Texas, per the release. These teams are made up of members of the Texas National Guard and coordinated by TDEM. “Vaccines are the most effective tool in Texas’ fight against COVID-19, and we are committed to making COVID-19 vaccines even more widely available to Texans across the state,” said Governor Abbott. “The State Vaccine Call Center will help connect businesses and civic organizations with these life-saving shots and ensure that more Texans have an opportunity to get vaccinated. I urge organizations and businesses to call 844-90-TEXAS and schedule a visit from a state mobile vaccine team. Here in Texas, COVID-19 vaccines will always be strongly encouraged and always voluntary.”

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Associated Press - May 8, 2021

Alabama court clears way for suit over Texas woman’s death

The Alabama Supreme Court cleared the way Friday for a lawsuit over the death of a Texas woman who killed herself after claiming she was raped while attending the University of Alabama. The court said that a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Megan Rondini was not barred by the fact that she took own life. The decision came in response to a question from a federal judge who is considering the suit against T.J. Bunn Jr., who the young woman accused of sexual assault before taking her own life months later in 2016. Bunn maintains the two had consensual sexual relations, the decision said, and his attorneys argued that a wrongful death suit can't go forward because Rondini killed herself. But the possibility that the suicide was linked to Rondini's allegation meant the suit can continue, the state court ruled.

Rondini, then a 20-year-old junior who planned to attend medical school, met Bunn at a Tuscaloosa bar in July 2015, according to the complaint. She was later sexually assaulted at his home, possibly after being drugged, the suit contends. Bunn, who is from a prominent family in Tuscaloosa, was not charged with a crime. His attorneys placed a full-page advertisement in The Tuscaloosa News publicly identifying Bunn and stating that messages sent by Rondini before the encounter showed it was consensual. The lawsuit was filed by Rondini's parents, Michael and Cindy Rondini of Austin, Texas. She had returned to Texas and was living there when she died. With the Supreme Court decision, U.S. District Judge David Proctor can now continue with the federal case. The parents have presented “sufficient evidence” for a jury to conclude that Bunn’s actions led to Rondini killing herself, Proctor wrote last year in asking the state court to clarify a legal question.

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Texas Monthly - May 7, 2021

Historic 6666 Ranch almost twice the size of Chicago gets the perfect steward

Midway through the last decade, filmmaker Taylor Sheridan emerged out of nowhere (well, almost: he grew up on a ranch in Cranfills Gap, a town of fewer than a thousand located an hour or so west of Waco) to become one of Hollywood’s preeminent Western storytellers. The first feature film for which he was a credited writer, the 2015 cartel thriller Sicario, was a commercial and critical success. It spawned a sequel and put Sheridan on track for an Oscar nomination (for writing 2016’s Hell or High Water), his directorial debut, Wind River, and the Kevin Costner–led Paramount television series Yellowstone. Last week, the feature Without Remorse, starring honorary Texan Michael B. Jordan and co-written by Sheridan, was released on Amazon; next week, he’s got yet another film in theaters and on HBO Max, the Angelina Jolie thriller Those Who Wish Me Dead. On top of all of that, he’s also involved in the Paramount+ adaptation of the Texas Monthly podcast Boomtown. Busy guy!

This week, according to unofficial-but-reported-everywhere sources, Sheridan found time to add another title to his already extremely hyphenated list of roles: he’ll be the new owner—or, at least, the face of the new ownership group—of Texas’s legendary 6666 Ranch, a property that has accumulated a mythic status since Samuel “Burk” Burnett first purchased a hundred head of cattle branded with four sixes back in 1870. It was put up for sale in accordance with the will of Anne Windfohr Marion—Burnett’s great-granddaughter—after her February 2020 death. It’ll be the first time in the ranch’s history that a member of the Burnett family doesn’t own the property. The 6666 Ranch was first listed in December, and it is an unusual property. First and foremost, it’s enormous—with three divisions totaling over 266,000 acres, it’s larger than San Antonio, nearly twice the size of Chicago, and about six times the size of Brooklyn. (Yet, it’s still only the ninth-largest ranch in the state, a fact that speaks to the sheer immensity of Texas’s historic ranches.) It’s a thriving brand in ranching, and the new owner gets 100 percent of solar and wind generation rights, as well as 25 percent of the mineral rights on the property. The sale price hasn’t been disclosed, but when the ranch was put on the market in December, the three divisions were listed at a combined $341.7 million.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 8, 2021

Ken Herman: Political consultant Julian Read lived long enough, large enough to shape history

My friend Julian Read, a gentleman of the old school and friend to many, called me in January. Just checking in, he said. Catching up. How were my wife and I doing? Just fine, we said. And Read said he was just calling to tell us he loved us. And he was calling because he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to tell us that again. Sounded like he was checking in and catching up with lots of folks. Like I said, a gentleman with many friends. And a life that included links to a varied and legendary cast of characters, including John F. Kennedy, John Connally, Elvis Presley, Darrell Royal, Siegfried and Roy, and many more. We went by to visit Read on April 10, as we had in the past, at Westminster Manor. By then, he was bedridden, his body failing. But his mind was sharp and his eyes twinkled that twinkle they had when he told a story. And, boy, did he have stories. Folks tend to be that way when they’ve led interesting, rewarding lives. Read’s ended Saturday at age 93, when he died of what his family is calling natural causes, the causes he knew were bringing his life to an end back when he called us in January.

He died at Westminster Manor, about a mile from his beloved mid-century modern home of 53 years in West Austin. At Westminster, Read, by nature, was a self-appointed activity director, organizing events and outings. He couldn’t help himself. People persons often can’t. Julian Otis Read was born near Fort Worth to parents James Otis Read and Tillie Naomi Swaim, early Texas farming settlers who moved the family to Fort Worth so their kids could get the education they never had. He attended Fort Worth Paschal High School, coincidentally with my late mother-in-law, who never forgot Read or that he was very tall. In 1945, at age 18, Read worked as a cub sportswriter and copy boy at the now-defunct and legendary-to-many Fort Worth Press newspaper. Fifteen bucks a week, but worth so much more via exposure to for-the-ages sportswriters Blackie Sherrod, Dan Jenkins and Bud Shrake. Read covered golf for the paper and showed his moxie early on when he called Ben Hogan in his hospital room after the famed golfer’s near-fatal 1949 car wreck. Freelancing on the side to supplement his less-than-magnificent newspaper income, Read once did publicity for an up-and-coming singer who at the time was thrilled to get $500 for a show. Elvis later commanded higher paychecks. In 1951, Read left the newspaper and, in a one room office-apartment, set up shop in the emerging world of public relations. Compressing many years here, that successful venture grew into Read-Poland Associates with offices around the state and in D.C. Clients were varied and impressive, including HemisFair '68, the official 1968 World's Fair held in San Antonio, DFW Airport, Southwest Airlines, illusionists Siegfried and Roy, Disney’s World on Ice, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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Texas Observer - May 4, 2021

La Niña brings wildfires

Brad Smith is looking at Texas’ wildfire forecast, and what he sees is not encouraging. Smith, the head of a Texas A&M Forest Service division that predicts fires, has one of the best handles on when and where one will strike in Texas. In the spring of 2017, Smith scoured available climate and weather data and determined that there was a good chance of a massive wildfire breaking out in the Texas Panhandle; he alerted firefighting personnel, then booked it from College Station to Amarillo to see if his prediction would come true. Unfortunately, it did. More than 1 million acres were engulfed in flames and seven people died. “It was really tragic,” Smith says. In an interview this March, he pointed out a similarity between 2017 and 2021: Both years have been visited by La Niña, a weather phenomenon in which cool Pacific Ocean temperatures cause hot, dry weather in North America. Smith says La Niña years generally correspond with increased wildfire danger in Texas partly due to worse drought conditions.

It’s not unlike the Santa Ana winds that drive the devastating wildfires that ravage California. In 2006, La Niña weather contributed to a wildfire in the Panhandle that destroyed 90 structures, forced mass evacuations, and killed 12 people. The weather pattern manifested again in 2011, spurring another big fire in Possum Kingdom and sparking a blaze in Bastrop that was the most destructive wildfire recorded in state history. La Niña tends to persist only through the winter months, Smith says, but this year it’s expected to last through spring. Scientists have already established that wildfires are linked to climate change, and Smith says that over the decades, he’s watched Texas fires grow in volume, severity, and sheer number. New research also indicates that climate change may make conditions associated with La Niña even more pronounced. Tim Brown, a Nevada-based researcher who studies the interface of drought and wildfire, says he also sees trouble on the horizon with La Niña this year. “I predict we could have a very active wildfire season.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 8, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Cheney and Larson are united in their alienation from the GOP

Liz Cheney and Lyle Larson have a lot in common. They are both Republican lawmakers with long, deep histories in party politics. Cheney, the U.S. representative from Wyoming, has a father who served as vice president of the United States, a member of Congress and chief of staff for the late President Gerald Ford. Larson, the San Antonio-based state representative, worked at the age of 19 on his dad’s unsuccessful 1978 GOP campaign for Congress. Both of them are stalwart, traditional conservatives. Cheney has a 91 percent conservative ranking from Heritage Action and 78 percent from the American Conservative Union.

Larson is so rooted in fiscal conservatism that he refused to accept a pay increase during his time on Bexar County Commissioners Court because he considered it a waste of taxpayer money. As a congressional hopeful in 2008, he advocated the Fair Tax, a conservative pipe dream that would replace the federal income tax with a 23 percent sales tax. At the moment, Cheney and Larson are united by their shared political alienation. They are outcasts from their party, for reasons that have little to do with ideology. Cheney simply committed the political sin of acknowledging and accepting the results of a 2020 presidential election in which Republican President Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 7 million votes and the Electoral College by 306-232. She declined to participate in her party’s game of coddling Trump’s delusional claims the election had been stolen from him.

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Bloomberg - May 6, 2021

Energy Transfer made $2.4 billion from Texas winter storm

Energy Transfer LP, the pipeline giant controlled by billionaire Kelcy Warren, has emerged as the biggest winner so far from the deadly winter storm that paralyzed Texas in February. The company saw a positive earnings impact from the extreme weather of about $2.4 billion, it said Thursday in its first-quarter earnings statement. Energy Transfer raised its full-year earnings guidance to as much as $13.3 billion, from up to $11 billion previously. The stock jumped as much as 4.9% in after-hours trading. The company joins a growing list of gas market players who reaped windfalls totaling almost $5 billion amid the chaos of the storm. Plunging prices and power cuts interrupted the normal flow of gas from many wells. Those with available supplies were able to sell at sky-high spot prices.

Speculation over the extent of Energy Transfer’s gains began soon after the storm when Co-Chief Executive Officer Marshall McCrea told investors in a conference call that the company had done “exceptionally well” as a dramatic gas shortage spurred demand for the supplies held in the company’s storage facilities. The fossil-fuel hauler was sued by CPS Energy, a Texas utility, in the immediate aftermath of the crisis for allegedly charging a natural gas price more than 15,000% higher than normal. Energy Transfer rejected the claims. “During the storm, employees manned facilities 24 hours a day, ET’s transmission lines remained fully operational and the Partnership did everything within its control to keep plants running and field compression idling, so that ET would be prepared to deliver natural gas to facilities throughout Texas for residential consumption and power generation,” the company said in the statement. Kinder Morgan Inc., another pipeline operator, said last month the storm had a $1 billion positive impact on its results. BP Plc also reported an “exceptional” quarter in gas trading; while it didn’t break out more detail, one Citigroup Inc. analyst estimated BP’s Texas-related gain easily exceeded $1 billion, Meanwhile Australian investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd. pocketed $210 million.

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KXAN - May 8, 2021

Travis County district attorney outlines justice reform efforts

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office is incorporating new principles to help guide prosecutors. District Attorney José Garza updated Travis County Commissioners Court on those principles Thursday. It’s part of an effort on justice and bail reform.

In Thursday’s meeting, Garza discussed the following guidelines for prosecution of cases: “Bail: Those who have committed heinous crimes and are a danger to the community should remain in custody pending trial. But we must work to ensure that it is not just the wealthy who are given an opportunity to be released when they are not a danger to the community. While we cannot set bail ourselves, we will follow our bail statute, and we will be using this analysis to recommend bail to the Judges who will make the final determination: We will not consider a person who is an attendance risk, meaning they have missed court in the past but have not attempted to evade the police, a flight risk. For anyone charged with a State Jail Felony, there will be a presumption of release with no conditions if it is determined that the person poses no threat to community safety or risk of flight. For anyone charged with a higher-level felony, there will be a presumption of release with the least restrictive condition necessary to ensure that the person is not a risk to the community or risk of flight. Anyone who poses a future risk of harm to our community or a risk of a flight that cannot be addressed by conditions other than pre-trial incarceration should remain in custody.”

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County Stories

D Magazine - May 7, 2021

New Census numbers show Dallas had no role in pandemic population boom

The Dallas-Fort Worth area added nearly 120,000 people during the pandemic, mostly on the backs of booming suburban counties. In fact, Dallas had nothing to do with that growth: Dallas County added just 285 people while its neighbors saw thousands of relocations in 2020. Collin County grew by 36,997 people, about a 3.6 percent increase. Not bad for a single year. Denton County added 30,559, a 3.4 percent jump. Even Tarrant County jumped by 22,065, an increase of about a percentage point. The Census released its preliminary 2020 figures this week. These are the estimates released annually, not the full 10-year assessment that will be released later this year. It shows the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan statistical area remains the fourth largest MSA in the country, ahead of Houston but still about 2 million below Chicago. No other MSA grew as much as Dallas-Fort Worth.

In fact, the more populous MSAs—Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York—all lost residents from 2019 to 2020. Dallas-Fort Worth trailed only Phoenix in migration numbers: 88,970 people moved to Phoenix while 74,920 moved to DFW. (The 120,000 number includes births along with migration.) But the numbers have to be concerning for Dallas boosters. Dallas County has added a little over 44,000 people in the last five years, which would’ve taken Collin about 18 months to pull off at its current rate. (Tarrant has grown by 305,180 people since 2016. Collin has added 127,756 people and Denton has jumped its population by 111,756.) The Census hasn’t parsed this down to cities yet, but Dallas hasn’t fared well in recent years. You’ll recall in 2019, when Peter Simek dove into more detailed numbers to learn that Dallas County was bleeding millennials to surrounding suburbs.

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Houston Chronicle - May 8, 2021

Teen shot while group played with gun in Harris County

A teen underwent surgery Saturday after he was shot when a group of friends played with a gun that discharged in southeast Harris County, authorities said. Police didn’t release the condition of the teen, who was not identified, when he was taken to the hospital after the 2 p.m. shooting in the 2800 block of West Bay Area Boulevard, said Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

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City Stories

McAllen Monitor - May 8, 2021

Near death, nurse says she refused ventilator in bid to fight COVID with her own breath

Dub her the mother of all survivors. Jo Ann Cavazos of San Benito has recently been cleared to go back to work as a licensed vocational nurse after a harrowing experience with COVID-19 in the fall of 2020, removing the single mother from her children for four weeks at one point when she was hospitalized due to the virus. It’s a tale she often tells about the time she “shouldn’t be here today.” Her strength and faith, however, proved all she needed to overcome.

Working as an LVN for 18 years, she’s currently employed at South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital in Brownsville, and is a student at Baptist Health System School of Health Professions of San Antonio. Due to the nature of her work, Cavazos found herself on the front lines of the pandemic last year. Her workplace is known for rehabilitating patients who have suffered from disabling injuries or diseases such as strokes, brain and spinal cord injuries, but as things escalated and the hospital began seeing more infected patients, they created a COVID unit to combat the virus. The unit mostly consisted of the same nurses in order for them to avoid further contact and spread of COVID-19. Cavazos was quick to learn that the virus had unusual characteristics where treatment had to become specific to how the patients were uniquely affected.

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San Antonio Report - May 7, 2021

San Antonio chosen to host international cycling race affiliated with Tour de France next year

An international cycling event sponsored by the organization that runs the Tour de France is coming to San Antonio next year. The event is the first announced in the U.S. by L’Etape, a global cycling series sponsored by the same group that runs the world’s most famous cycling race. L’Etape is holding races in 14 different countries in 2021, including three in Mexico and one in Canada. Expected to draw thousands of people, the San Antonio event is scheduled for April 8-10, 2022, the last weekend of Fiesta, San Antonio Sports CEO Russ Bookbinder said Friday. It will include social- and family-oriented rides, along with professional races of multiple distances up to 100 miles.

“It’s a cycling event for everyone,” Bookbinder said San Antonio Sports, a 37-year-old athletics nonprofit that brought Final Four championships and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon to San Antonio, successfully bid for L’Etape with the help of Visit San Antonio and members of the hotel industry among others, Bookbinder said. “Our goal is to make this much like the Rock ‘n’ Roll [marathon] was to running in this community,” Bookbinder said. “We believe L’Etape will do that for cycling. We see that as really positive for the health of our community.” Bookbinder was not able to share additional details about the event Friday, saying that an official announcement will come June 1. Efforts to reach Michael Brown, the Canada-based organizer for L’Etape events to be held in the U.S., were not immediately successful on Friday.

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D Magazine - May 8, 2021

It is time for Dallas to adopt ranked-choice voting

Amid all the postgame analysis that has been flying about in the aftermath of last Saturday’s municipal elections, one simple and striking fact bears mentioning: up until a few election cycles ago, sitting council members were rarely challenged. That has changed – big time. Last Saturday’s elections saw competitive races in nearly every district, and three incumbents—David Blewett, Adam Bazaldua, and Carolyn King Arnold—have been forced into runoffs. In general, that’s a good thing. More candidates mean more ideas are brought to the table, more citizens are engaged in the electoral process, and council members are more responsive to the constituents who put them in office. But this new era of Dallas politics has also created a situation in which runoff elections are almost inevitable, particularly in crowded races where there is no incumbent. This means the city’s general election basically functions like a primary. We saw this in the 2019 mayoral election and in the 2017 mayoral election. When 9 or 10 candidates are running for a single office there is virtually no way one of those candidates is going to secure 50.01 percent of the votes. The first election narrows down the field; the real decision is made in the runoff. That’s a problem. Municipal voter turnout is already very low, and it is even lower in the runoffs. They’re also expensive. But there’s a simple solution: ranked-choice voting.

Ranked choice voting — which we’ve mentioned before — is an electoral process that is gaining popularity throughout the country, particularly in local elections, precisely because it remedies some of these problems. According to FairVote.org, 22 municipalities and states have adopted ranked-choice voting, including some large cities like New York, Oakland, and San Francisco. Ten additional cities and states, including Alaska, are considering or have adopted ranked-choice voting for future use. Austin just adopted it over the weekend. So, what is ranked-choice voting and how does it work? With ranked-choice voting, voters don’t pick a single candidate for office, rather, they rank their favored candidates in order. You can mark as many or as few candidates as you like, and you still need 50 percent of the votes to win. But if first choice votes are tallied and no candidate has secured a majority of the first-choice picks, an automatic runoff is trigged. All the second-choice votes are added to the tallies of the two candidates with the most first choice votes. The candidate with the most first and second choice votes wins the election. I was thinking of this voting system yesterday while listening to Philip Kingston and TC Fleming break down the election results on their podcast Loserville. The questions heading into each of the runoffs they examined are almost all the same: Which losing candidate’s voters are most likely to support which of the two candidates still standing, and how many of those voters are likely to show up to polls again to cast that vote?

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 8, 2021

Brian Byrd endorses Mattie Parker for Fort Worth mayor ahead of June 5 election

Brian Byrd, former Fort Worth mayoral candidate, endorsed Mattie Parker on Friday for the June 5 runoff against Deborah Peoples. “I am confident she will be a smart and positive leader we can trust to protect taxpayers and keep our families safe,” Byrd said in a press release. “For these and many other reasons, I support Mattie Parker for Mayor and urge all residents who value an efficient City Hall to do the same.”

Byrd, the former District 3 councilman, worked with Parker when she was chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price. Byrd said he’s seen firsthand the “impressive energy, intellect, and judgment” that Parker will bring as mayor. “The endorsement from my friend Brian Byrd means so much to me and the success of our campaign,” Parker said in a statement. “As our next Mayor, I will continue seeking the advice and counsel of councilman Byrd in my efforts to help every neighborhood in every part of our city thrive and prosper.”

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National Stories

Associated Press - May 9, 2021

States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

States asked the federal government this week to withhold staggering amounts of Covid-19 vaccine amid plummeting demand for the shots, contributing to a growing U.S. stockpile of doses. From South Carolina to Washington, states are requesting the Biden administration send them only a fraction of what's been allocated to them. The turned-down vaccines amount to hundreds of thousands of doses this week alone, providing a stark illustration of the problem of vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. More than 150 million Americans — about 57 percent of the adult population — have received at least one dose of vaccine, but government leaders from the Biden administration down to the city and county level are doing everything they can to persuade the rest of the country to get inoculated.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Friday that the federal government has dedicated $250 million for community organizations to promote vaccinations, make appointments and provide transportation. He cited examples such as holding conversations with small groups of people in minority communities in St. Louis and asking Rhode Island churches to contact community members and offer them rides to vaccination sites. He also noted that a global Hindu American organization has turned temples into vaccination centers, making it easier for elderly members to get shots in a familiar setting. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has added a vaccination site in which people can get their shots in a Formula 1 garage near the race tunnels. The Biden administration announced this week that if states don't order all the vaccine they've been allotted, the administration will shift the surplus to meet demand in other states. In another sign of the burgeoning national surplus, Biden announced last week that his administration would share the nation's entire stock of AstraZeneca doses with the world once it clears safety reviews.

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Associated Press - May 8, 2021

In a small New Hampshire town, the 2020 election still rages

Meetings of the Windham Board of Selectmen are usually as sleepy as they sound — a handful of residents from the New Hampshire town, a discussion of ambulance fees, maybe a drainage study. So when a crowd of about 500 people showed up last week, some waving American flags, carrying bullhorns and lifting signs questioning the presidential election, Bruce Breton knew things were about to change. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Breton, who has served on the board for 18 years. “The groundswell from the public is unbelievable.” The crowd at the Monday meeting had been fired up by conservative media, which in recent weeks has seized on the town’s election results for four seats in the state House as suspect.

The attention, fanned by a Donald Trump adviser who happens to be a Windham resident, has helped a routine recount spiral, ultimately engulfing the town in a false theory that the national election was stolen from Trump. It doesn’t seem to matter that Republicans won all four state House seats in question. The dust-up shows just how far Trump’s election lies — and the search for evidence to support them — have burrowed into American politics, even the most local. Like House Republicans in Washington fighting over what some call the “Big Lie” and lawmakers in Arizona conducting a partisan “recount,” this bedroom community is still wrestling with the aftermath of 2020. The trouble started when Kristi St. Laurent, a Democratic candidate for the state House, requested a recount after falling 24 votes short in the November election. Instead of gaining a few votes in her House race as she expected, the 53-year-old physical therapist learned that the recount showed that four of the Republicans each received an additional 300 votes. Laurent lost 99 votes.

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Associated Press - May 9, 2021

2 Catholic bishops at odds over Biden receiving Communion

They share Roman Catholicism as a faith and California as their home base. Yet there’s a deep gulf between Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego in the high-stakes debate over whether politicians who support abortion rights should be denied Communion. Cordileone, who has long established himself as a forceful anti-abortion campaigner, recently has made clear his view that such political figures — whose ranks include President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — should not receive Communion because of their stance on the issue. The archbishop issued a pastoral letter on the topic May 1 and reinforced the message in an hourlong interview Friday with the Catholic television network EWTN.

“To those who are advocating for abortion, I would say, ‘This is killing. Please stop the killing. You’re in position to do something about it,’” he told the interviewer. In neither the letter nor the interview did Cordileone mention Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, by name. But he has criticized her in the past for stances on abortion that directly contradict Catholic teaching. McElroy, in a statement published Wednesday by the Jesuit magazine America, assailed the campaign to exclude Biden and other like-minded Catholic officials from Communion. “It will bring tremendously destructive consequences,” McElroy wrote. “The Eucharist is being weaponized and deployed as a tool in political warfare. This must not happen.” The polarized viewpoints of the two prelates illustrate how divisive this issue could be if, as expected, it comes before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its national assembly starting June 16. There are plans for the bishops to vote on whether the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine should draft a document saying Biden and other Catholic public figures with similar views on abortion should refrain from Communion.

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Washington Post - May 8, 2021

Florida ran a nearly flawless election in 2020. Republicans decided to change the voting rules anyway. Here’s how.

By all accounts, Florida ran a virtually flawless election in 2020. There were no major reports of fraud, long lines or ballots of eligible voters being disqualified due to non-matching signatures. Voters didn’t even let the coronavirus pandemic get in their way. Overall turnout hit a stunning 77 percent of the electorate — its highest level in Florida in nearly two decades. Floridians of all political party affiliations voted by mail in record numbers, too, with 53 percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans choosing to cast their ballots this way. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida had set the “gold standard” for how to run an election by doing it so well in a difficult year.

Despite that, DeSantis and the GOP-controlled legislature insisted new security measures were needed, aligning themselves with former president Donald Trump’s false claims that fraud is a widespread threat to elections. The law requires election officials to share more information about the number of votes cast. In a live broadcast on Fox News on Thursday to sign Senate Bill 90, DeSantis said a provision in the law requiring county election supervisors to publish hourly turnout numbers will provide transparency to the public about how many Floridians have cast ballots — and prevent bad actors from dumping “satchels” of fraudulent votes into ballot boxes. DeSantis was amplifying an accusation made repeatedly by Trump, who has stated falsely that hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots were dumped at election offices in states such as Wisconsin and Michigan. It blocks private donations to assist election administration. In the same broadcast, DeSantis said the provision prevents “private money” from running Florida’s elections. He called the practice “Zuckerbucks,” a reference to millions of dollars that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated to help state and local election administrators around the country prepare for last year’s pandemic-mired election — funds that helped both Republican and Democratic counties in Florida in 2020.

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New York Times - May 7, 2021

Elizabeth Bruenig: I became a mother at 25, and I’m not sorry I didn’t wait

If someone had asked on the day of my college graduation whether I imagined I would still be, in five years’ time, a reliable wallflower at any given party, I would have guessed so. Some things just don’t change. What I would not have predicted at the time is that five years hence I would be lurking along the fringes of a 3-year-old’s birthday party, a bewildered and bleary-eyed 27-year-old mom among a cordial flock of Tory Burch bedecked mothers in their late 30s and early 40s who had a much better idea of what they were doing than I ever have. Nobody was remotely rude to my husband and me, though our differences were fairly obvious; at most, they seemed a little surprised to find a pair of 20-somethings in a situation like ours. That much — and the dreamy gaze of one driven to distraction by love of their child — we had in common.

As a rule, having and raising children is never easy; this is especially true in the United States, where, compared with similarly developed countries, parents enjoy relatively little support. And while recent conservative caterwauling over the push for subsidized child care suggests America won’t be joining the ranks of the Nordic countries in terms of parental benefits any time soon, the loss may be as much theirs as anyone’s — it is, after all, the right that frets most vocally about the nation’s declining birthrates. (The 2020 census data, released last month, showed that over the last decade, the population grew at its slowest rate since the 1930s, in case you’ve so far been spared the ensuing panic.) Insofar as the current baby bust is related to lengthening delays in childbearing among younger generations, one might suspect birthrate hand-wringers would have a special interest in relieving the financial hardships associated with having kids, but one would be somewhat mistaken. While a slim vanguard of right-leaning statesmen have backed policies that would shore up struggling families, they have met resistance from their own side.

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CNBC - May 8, 2021

Dogecoin plunges nearly 30% during Elon Musk’s SNL appearance

As Elon Musk – the self-proclaimed “Dogefather” – made his “Saturday Night Live” debut, the price of dogecoin fell off a cliff. The meme-inspired cryptocurrency fell as much as 29.5%, dropping to 49 cents at one point. Musk mentioned dogecoin in his opening monologue and on “Weekend Update,” SNL’s satirical news show. In a Q&A with hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost, Musk called himself the “Dogefather,” said dogecoin was a “hustle,” and howled, “To the moon,” a catchphrase popular among doge enthusiasts intent on driving the value of the cryptocurrency to one dollar.

The price of dogecoin began to rebound during the “Weekend Update” skit. As of this writing, it is worth 57 cents, down about 17% from the beginning of the show. During the frenzied sell-off, several Robinhood users complained that Robinhood’s crypto trading wasn’t working. The company confirmed the outage on Twitter. Service was restored in less than an hour. This isn’t the first time that Robinhood has missed out on major trading volume in dogecoin. Last month, the trading platform said customers experienced “sporadic crypto order failures” during a dogecoin rally. Wall Street wasn’t expecting the dip. “Also known as the Dogefather, Musk will undoubtedly have a sketch on cryptocurrencies that will probably go viral for days and further motivate his army of followers to try to send dogecoin to the moon,” wrote Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note on May 4.

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Newsclips - May 7, 2021

Lead Stories

Politico - May 6, 2021

Laws banning transgender student athletes splinter GOP

Republicans saw a ready-made wedge issue to rally the GOP’s base when, soon after Joe Biden took office, he moved to expand protections for transgender people, including in school sports. The president and his Democratic allies, conservatives said, were ruining women’s athletics, and Republican lawmakers across the country advanced a raft of bills designed to keep transgender women and girls from playing on female teams. Yet what once promised to be a galvanizing force for the Republican Party ahead of the midterm elections and 2024 has instead devolved into a source of division within the GOP, hobbling one potential presidential contender — Kristi Noem — and pitting other Republican governors against lawmakers of their own party.

First Utah’s Republican governor, Spencer Cox, bucked the GOP’s conservative base, declaring in February that he wouldn’t sign a bill banning transgender women and girls from playing female sports. Then Noem, the South Dakota governor, waffled on transgender legislation in her state, infuriating conservatives. In late April, the Republican governor of neighboring North Dakota, Doug Burgum, vetoed a similar bill. Most recently, Caitlyn Jenner, a California Republican who announced her bid for governor last month, voiced support for the bans. The former Olympic gold medalist, who came out as transgender in 2015, told TMZ that banning transgender women and girls from competitive sports was "a question of fairness." Far from a unifying new fixture in the GOP’s culture wars, the question of how to treat transgender student athletes is instead inflaming rifts within the party — and quickly becoming a litmus test for Republicans who aspire to higher office. “For those who dream about a 2024 future, starting with Kristi Noem,” said Bill McCoshen, a Wisconsin-based Republican strategist, “you don’t want to be in a position to be against your own party, which all of those governors have done so far.” He said: “It will help certain voters decide who the conservatives are in the race.”

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Texas Politics Project - May 6, 2021

Jim Henson and Joshua Blank: With their approval numbers sagging, Texas GOP leaders double down on their primary voters

The politics of much of the last year have found elected officials deflecting blame for the multiple crises that have beset Texas onto multiple scapegoats – from local elected officals to feckless or incompetent burueacrats in Texas to the Biden adminstration – and urging Texans to follow their lead. But evidence of declines in voters’ approval of statewide incumbents suggest that for an increasing share of voters, current Republican leadership may bear at least some responsiblity. Texans’ ratings of the job performances of statewide elected leaders in the latest UT/Texas Tribune Poll reveal how Texans' tough year has affected views of their elected officials – and set the stage for a rightward lurch in the current legislative session that prefigures the dynamics of the 2022 GOP primary elections. For the most part, durable partisan attachments reinforced by polarization have helped shelter Republican incumbents from a greater erosion in support from their base in the wake of the global pandemic and its effects, and the comparatively localized crisis resulting from exposure of the weakness of the exalted “Texas model” by the February winter storm. Nonetheless, almost all incumbents have suffered when looking at the trends over the last 18 months. While most of the statewide officials we track have seen declines in their job approval, none have fallen farther than Governor Gregg Abbott.

This is understandable given that he had the farthest to fall as the most popular Republican in the state, but also because of his decision to take the figurative if not literal position as head of the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic (just under 50,000 dead and counting) and its economic fallout (unemployment in the state still sits at 6.9% as of March). A look at Abbott’s approval ratings over the length of his term reveals that over the last year and a half, his biggest losses came from his softest support — especially among Democrats whose approval spiked briefly during the early days of the pandemic, when prospects were uncertain and Abbott’s decision to place himself at the center of the initial response provided calm in a time of extreme uncertainty. Back in April 2020, in the first of five University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls measuring pandemic attitudes to date, Abbott enjoyed the approval of the majority of Texas voters, 56%, with 32% disapproving, giving the governor a net approval of +24 — his highest approval in 20 UT/TT polls conducted since 2015, his first year in the office. This resembled other, earlier upticks in Abbott’s approval, usually driven by non-GOP Texans responding to his handling of other disasters (e.g. Hurricane Harvey and the mass shooting in El Paso). Abbott’s high general approval (relative though it may be in a nominally Republican, though largely urban, young, and diverse state) was likewise seen in his handling of the COVID crisis, with a similar 56% of Texans giving him approving marks in April of last year and only 29% disapproving (net +27).

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Associated Press - May 7, 2021

Texas lawmakers advance restrictive election bill despite Democrats' all-night fight

Texas lawmakers advanced a restrictive election bill early Friday as Republicans overcame Democratic efforts to derail the legislation. Democrats had vowed to wage an all-night fight against the bill, which they argue would suppress voting and disenfranchise voters of color. Republicans led by Rep. Briscoe Cain, the chair of the Elections Committee, say the House bill would ensure ballot integrity and protect voters from coercion and fraud. The key vote at 3 a.m. in the Texas House followed hours of debate as Democrats, who had little means of stopping the bill in the GOP-controlled state Capitol, deployed technical challenges and hours of questioning that Rep. Cain appeared unprepared at times to answer.

Finally, an agreement was reached between Republicans and Democrats leaving the bill with 20 amendments that significantly watered down some of what advocates called the most problematic aspects of the bill as it passed the key vote 81-64. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has urged legislators to pass election legislation, which he made a priority for the session ending May 31. The bill was originally proposed as House Bill 6, but Republican lawmakers used a legislative maneuver to ensure that it would advance quickly. Last week, Republicans replaced the text of a different bill, SB 7, a Senate elections bill, with HB 6. A second vote is still required to advance SB 7 out of the House, after which the Senate and House bills are expected to end up in a conference committee, where they would be reconciled by legislators and then sent to Gov. Abbott to sign. The Texas vote came after Florida became the latest U.S. state to enact restrictive voting laws, with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signing the legislation live on Fox News' "Fox & Friends." It enacts restrictions on voting by mail and at drop boxes, which Democrats and activists warn could suppress voter turnout.

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KXAN - May 6, 2021

How the camping ban won, and what political experts say it means for future Austin elections

Otto Swingler is a native Austinite who works and lives downtown. It was less than three weeks before the May 1 election day when we walked by the homeless encampments along Lady Bird Lake that motivated Swingler to become politically involved – for the first time in his life. “I don’t consider myself a strongly leaning Democrat or Republican either way. I don’t think this is a political issue, quite frankly,” he said. Swingler voted for Proposition B, which Austinites passed to reinstate the city’s ban on public camping anywhere not designated by the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

The proposition also creates criminal penalties for those sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in and near downtown and University of Texas areas. Additionally, solicitation, or requesting money at specific hours and spots or in an aggressive way, will also be criminalized. Swingler says he’s not anti-homeless but considers the growing number of tent cities in Austin a public health and safety issue. He says his girlfriend won’t run the hike and bike trail alone. “You pay to use these sidewalks, these running trails — you’ve got all this public infrastructure that has been completely taken over,” he said. During our interview with Swingler, a man experiencing homelessness approached us. He said he’d arrived in Austin eight months earlier. He said he didn’t know where he would go if public camping wasn’t allowed. “They’re the ones [expletive] telling us we can’t live anywhere, and there’s nowhere else to live,” said the man, who identified himself as “Truth.” The exchange is a microcosm of the public camping ban debate. It has impassioned Austinites on all sides, says Don Kettl, Professor at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “It’s been hard to remember anything in recent Austin memory that has generated so much interest, so much support, so much debate,” he said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

Black Texas lawmaker shames Republicans for refusing to take up George Floyd Act

A debate over local police funding turned emotional Thursday in the Texas House as Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a freshman Democrat from Dallas, called out Republicans’ refusal to take up a landmark police reform package in the wake of the George Floyd killing last summer. “You should let my elected officials decide what to do with my city,” she said, her voice rising. “Because sadly enough, plenty of people haven’t been to South Dallas, where Black people are afraid most of the time because they don’t know if they’re gonna get killed.” The comment was in response to Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who wants to punish Austin and other large progressive-run cities that decrease their police funding.

A bill he authored that would strip annexation powers from offending municipalities easily passed the House on Thursday after Republicans voted down several Democratic amendments, including one that would have given the police an option to voluntarily opt in to certain budget reductions. It moves to the Senate next, where lawmakers their passed their own version last month. “A vote for this bill is a vote for public safety,” Goldman said. Democrats had been hopeful this year that a sweeping police reform package could pass in the Legislature, even with both chambers controlled by Republicans. Floyd’s killing last summer by a former Minneapolis police officer sparked nationwide protests over police brutality and calls for racial justice. The Texas George Floyd Act has been stuck in procedural limbo, however, and only a few pieces have made it past the lower chamber. “Instead of us doing something to protect people in the state, we decide to punish people who are already suffering,” Crockett said. “That is what’s wrong in this House.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

10-foot alligator killed, dragged half-mile by driver on Texas highway

A man was driving east on Texas 99 in Montgomery County early Thursday when he encountered an unusual roadway obstacle in the middle of the highway: a 10-foot, 300-pound alligator. The driver did not see the massive reptile as he crossed a bridge over the San Jacinto River around 3 a.m. and plowed into the gator at 70 mph, killing it, according to the Montgomery County Police Reporter. The man drove nearly half a mile with the alligator wedged under his car.

The sedan was severely damaged, but the driver was not injured. The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, Precinct 4 Constable's Office and multiple local fire departments responded to the scene of the crash. Heeding a county game warden's instructions, authorities dumped the dead gator into the San Jacinto River. Last week, a gator stalled traffic on the Fred Hartman Bridge along Highway 146, where authorities joked that it "seems to be napping." The number of alligators and reports of alligator sightings in Montgomery County has grown in the past two decades, though there is no official population count, said Brannon Meinkowsky, one of the county's game wardens. This is partly due to the county's human population growth and development. "Areas that used to be in the middle of the woods are now parks and subdivisions. So I think the numbers have increased, but also their wooded areas or secluded areas have decreased," Meinkowsky said. This is not the first time an alligator has been run over in Montgomery County, Meinkowsky said, but car collisions with deer are far more common. In general, drivers should keep in mind that wildlife may run across driver's paths in rural areas.

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Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

Texas Republicans target 'critical race theory' with bill to muzzle teachers on racism, sexism

After months of denouncing calls for the country to more fully reckon with its discriminatory roots, Texas Republicans are joining national conservatives in a push to restrict how teachers can talk about race and racism. A bill that supporters say will strip politics from public education, but that critics call a thinly veiled attempt to whitewash American history, has already passed the Senate and could be voted on by the House as early as Friday. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. The measure targets critical race theory, an academic movement that has become a buzzword among Republicans who dispute the existence of white privilege and systemic racism. The bill would limit teachers from pushing its core tenets, such as connecting modern day inequities to historical patterns of discrimination.

Racism is “part of our reality, and that’s part of our shame, and we shouldn’t do anything to cover that up,” said Rep. Steve Toth, a Republican and the bill’s author in the House. “But what we should also not do is blame that on tender little children that have done nothing wrong.” The backlash stems in part from the 1619 Project by The New York Times that asserted slavery and its remnants were more integral to the country’s founding than is commonly acknowledged. The essay collection, commemorating the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to colonial Virginia, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and has been adapted into children’s literature and lesson plans for educators. School districts in some states are adapting parts of the project into their curriculum, and the Biden administration announced last month that it wants to prioritize education grants to programs that “take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.” The Texas legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, would bar schools from requiring teachers to talk about current events, and prohibit teachers from discussing certain viewpoints, including that some people are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

Appeals court sides with Houston fire union over city in collective bargaining case

A panel of appellate court judges on Thursday rejected the city’s attempt to strike down a key provision of state law that governs how police and firefighters negotiate their wages and benefits, dealing a blow to Mayor Sylvester Turner in his long-running dispute with the Houston fire union. Barring a city appeal, the ruling clears the way for a judge to set Houston firefighters’ pay for up to a year and compensate them for “past losses.” Firefighters have received raises of just 3 percent since 2011, after rejecting offers they say included too many concessions. Voters in 2018 approved a ballot measure granting firefighters pay “parity” to police of similar rank and seniority, but a district judge ruled the measure unconstitutional. Thursday’s ruling came in a case that arose in June 2017 after Turner and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association failed to agree on a new contract through collective bargaining.

The union sued the city, claiming Turner’s administration failed to negotiate in good faith. As part of that lawsuit, the firefighters invoked a provision of state law that allows a state district judge to set their pay after Turner declined to enter contract arbitration. The city responded by arguing it was unconstitutional for judges to determine the pay of firefighters and police officers. Justices Ken Wise, Charles A. Spain and Meagan Hassan of Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals sided against the city, ruling the provision does not run afoul of the Texas Constitution separation of powers clause that prohibits one branch of government — the judiciary, in this case — from exercising power that belongs to another branch. The justices also rejected the city’s argument that state lawmakers did not set specific enough guidelines for courts to determine firefighters’ compensation. Texas law requires public employers to give firefighters pay that is “substantially equal” to “comparable employment in the private sector.” “The Legislature chose sufficiently detailed but not too confining language to account for the many different circumstances affecting compensation and other conditions of employment,” the justices wrote in their opinion, in which they also ordered the city to cover the fire union’s legal fees. City Attorney Arturo Michel said the Turner administration “respectfully disagrees” with the ruling, but has yet to decide whether to appeal.

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Dallas Morning News - May 6, 2021

Federal judge defends her efforts to clean up Texas’ foster care system amid complaints from providers

A federal judge is defending her efforts to root out slipshod foster care operations in Texas, saying providers who blame her edicts for a current bed shortage are mistaken. U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack said the “heightened monitoring” of caregivers that she’s ordered and her blocking of bad operators from getting new licenses and state contracts are wins for the 10,000 children in long-term foster care. In heightened monitoring, as of last month, 78 foster home recruiting agencies and congregate-care facilities received tighter scrutiny. Of them, nine are under “phase one” monitoring and receive weekly visits from a team of state officials, according to a second annual report on Texas’ compliance that Jack’s monitors compiled.

“This is going in the right direction,” Jack said during a two-day compliance hearing held via Zoom. It wrapped up Thursday afternoon. Referring to a federal appeals court’s decision that said her original proposed remedies went too far in trying to prescribe how near to their homes children had to be placed, by improving the “placement array” of beds, Jack said, “I’m not into array issues, I’m into safe placements.” Quantity is state leaders’ problem to solve, she implied. The two-day hearing came amid fast-moving events in Texas foster care at a time when the number of children sleeping in CPS offices has spiked and providers are complaining that between the COVID-19 pandemic, low state reimbursements and tougher enforcement, they’re finding federal contracts for immigrant children attractive.

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Dallas Morning News - May 6, 2021

ERCOT releases summer outlook assessment, reassures Texans the state power grid will hold up

ERCOT released its annual summer outlook early Thursday with reassurances that the power grid will be ready to handle record-breaking demand for power as Texans prepare to crank up their AC units during the state’s hottest months. In the report, the grid operator outlined several scenarios that could lead to situations like February’s outages, but said there is a less than 1 percent chance they would occur. Some energy consultants and analysts are not convinced.

“Instability like what we’ve seen recently should make Texans worried for summer,” said Daniel Cohan, an atmospheric scientist and an associate professor of environmental engineering at Rice University Insecurity about the state grid operator’s ability to handle extreme weather events was first spurred by February’s winter storm, when higher-than expected demand exceeded the amount of power available on the grid. To prevent longer state-wide blackouts, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas initiated outages that affected 70% of Texans over the course of a week. Fears were again stoked last month, when, on mild spring day, ERCOT issued a conservation notice to residents and businesses as it struggled to meet demand that was higher than forecasted. Woody Rickerson, vice president of grid planning and operations for ERCOT, reassured consumers in late April that the spring scare was due to taking more generators offline for maintenance so that they would be ready to handle peak demand over the summer.

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Dallas Morning News - May 6, 2021

Ron Simmons: After counties followed wildly different voting protocols last year, Texas needs to clarify the rules

Thursday, January 31, 2013. The day I first learned what it meant to be in government and how the sausage was made. It was my first legislative session as a state representative, and the speaker of the House had just informed members of their committee assignments for the 83rd Legislature. This is done on the House floor and is open to the public. I never knew in advance which committee assignment I would receive in any of the three sessions I served, so this day is met with great anticipation, even more so in a lawmaker’s first session, as he or she probably has absolutely no idea how anything works under the pink granite dome in Austin. After leaving the House floor that morning, I went back to my office and shortly thereafter, one of my staff members came to me and said, “Governor Perry is on the phone.”

Certain that this was a prank by one of my colleagues or one of my friends back home, I said, “Sure,” and walked away. The staff member insisted it really was the governor (whom I had met only in a receiving line), and so I picked up the phone and said, “This is Ron.” The next thing I heard was my first real lesson in making public policy. The governor called to both congratulate me and inform me that I had been appointed to the Elections Committee, which writes the rules for elections. So there I was, days into being a legislator, and already I was being put in a position that would draft legislation that would touch every Texan. There were many more senior members in the House, and many from the other party, but I was being entrusted with that seat. I say all of this to get us to the point of understanding what went on in the 2020 election and the legislative reaction. Just like every darn thing in 2020, the election season was like no other (and I am not even talking about any particular candidate) in that no one knew exactly what rules, laws, procedures, executive orders and other protocols needed to be followed amid a pandemic, and what exactly those rules meant. When confusion exists, a variety of interpretations follow. Some local election officials interpreted the statutes to allow a change in who received mail-in ballots, how people could vote (motor voting), the role of poll watchers and voting hours. There were some court rulings in these areas, but there needs to be a clearer definition, in legal statute, as to what is allowed and what is not in the operation of elections.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 6, 2021

Luther Elmore: A historic chance to protect our public pension

(Elmore is president of AFSCME Texas Retirees, Chapter 12. He retired from the Texas General Services Commission in 2002 and lives in Austin.) For the first time in a generation, Texas state employees, and retirees like me, are entering the final month of the legislative session with reason for hope. Last week, the Senate approved Senate Bill 321, a transformational proposal that would protect the stable and secure pension on which so many public employees have come to rely. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joan Huffman, commits $510 million a year moving forward to pay the Employees Retirement System’s ballooning unfunded liability. Under this schedule, ERS would be actuarily sound in just three years. Lawmakers would then be able to consider a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees at that time — the first since 2001. The House of Representatives must now do the same — and do right by the 250,000 current and retired employees who dedicated our careers to making Texas safer, stronger and healthier.

ERS was first established in 1947, after World War II when many American employers began offering employee pension plans. This was long before private companies decided to reduce costs by directing workers to personal retirement savings accounts such as an IRA or a 401(k). The state could never compete with private sector salaries. Instead, it promised a steady, safe pension to attract the law enforcement and corrections officers, parks and wildlife employees, health care professionals, and other workers who have made Texas great. I received this promise when I started my 26-year career with the state’s Comptroller of Public Accounts in 1976. The promise was simple: each month, workers would contribute a percentage of their salaries to the pension fund and the state would match the contribution. When the employees retired, they would get a monthly payment for the rest of their lives, based on how long they had worked and their highest salaries. Sometimes, the state would provide cost-of-living adjustments to help keep up with inflation. Over the past decade, new employees have been asked to increase their contributions from 6 percent to 9.5 percent of their salaries. Even with that extra contribution, ERS is now $15 billion short of what it would need to fund all its pension commitments today (called the unfunded liability) and on track to run out of money by 2061.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 6, 2021

Ann Lee: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick should embrace lowering pot possession penalties

(Lee is the executive director of RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.) Rooted in years of research and personal experience, I have long held the belief that the prohibition of marijuana is diametrically opposed to the Republican principles of limited government, individual responsibility and personal freedom. Because of this, in 2012 my husband Bob and I had the idea for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). As a 91-year-old conservative Republican woman I have seen quite a lot in my long and blessed life. Since 1970 my time has been dedicated to being both a leader and activist in the Republican Party. During that time, I have served as a local precinct chair for over 30 years. In 1983, I co-founded the group Women for Reagan. Over the past 35 years I have participated as a state delegate to almost every Texas GOP convention.

It is my hope that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick uses his power and influence to right the wrong of a policy which has been damaging to so many individuals for too many years, by simply reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis. HB 441, which reduces the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor and eliminates the threat of arrest, and HB 2593, which reduces the penalty for two ounces of marijuana concentrate from a felony to Class B misdemeanor, do just that. Both pieces of legislation have passed through the Texas House of Representatives and only Lt. Gov. Patrick can advance them further. Raised in Louisiana to a Christian family, I thought marijuana was the devil’s weed and associated marijuana use with immorality. I fell hook, line, and sinker for all the lies the government had put out about marijuana. It wasn’t until 1990 that I recognized the very real medical benefit which cannabis offered. A workplace accident put my son, Richard, in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. Though I once believed marijuana to be a dangerous “gateway” drug, after a lot of research and believing Richard in how it helped him, we began to question the illegality of marijuana. We concluded that the plant was good medicine and ought to be legal. Beyond its medical value, the harm from prohibition clearly far outweighs any benefits.

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KXAN - May 6, 2021

After storm-related ousters, Texas utility commission resumes work with new leaders

A reconstituted Public Utility Commission met for the first time Thursday with two new board members taking over for the previous board, the entirety of which resigned in the aftermath of February's winter storms. Chairman Peter Lake and Commissioner Will McAdams sat on the dais for the first time Thursday. Their appointments to the board followed sweeping resignations after the February freeze that triggered widespread power outages and killed nearly 200 Texans. Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Lake and McAdams to be the state's top power regulators after disastrous testimony at the Texas Legislature from the board's previous chairwoman and the publication of a Texas Monthly article indicating the sole remaining commissioner had pledged to protect the profits of energy companies that made millions during the winter freeze.

Lake has been a member of the Texas Water Development Board since 2015. He also worked in oil and investing. The Texas Senate confirmed his appointment on April 20. "It's been a big couple of weeks," Lake said at the outset of the meeting. The Senate confirmed McAdams on April 13. Prior to becoming a commissioner, McAdams was president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, a lobbying group. He was an advisor to former House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and was a staffer for Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown. "I think it is fair to say that I am in shock that I am sitting at this table," McAdams said. "Years ago when I was a staffer in the audience, I never thought I would be sitting in this seat nor with a caliber of a partner and colleague in yourself. This is a bit of a dream."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 7, 2021

Ryan Rusak: ‘Wild West’ hype on Texas gun laws never comes true. Why listen on permitless carry?

As the Texas Legislature considered a new gun law, a politician opposed to it predicted: “The only outcome of the passage of this bill will be more people killed by gunfire.” She blamed “a few legislators who appear intent on embarrassing this great state as a place where gun-toting vigilantes roam the streets.” That was Gov. Ann Richards in 1993, discussing the right to carry a concealed handgun. Next, it was a decorated military leader, warning that “there is great concern that the presence of handguns, even if limited to licensed individuals age 21 or older, will lead to an increase in both accidental shootings and self-inflicted wounds.”

That was retired Adm. William McRaven, then the chancellor of the University of Texas System, in 2015, on allowing licensees to carry weapons on college campuses. “I hope we don’t have a host of Texans running around with a Rambo mentality,” that was former Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, when the Legislature approved open carry, also in 2015. Seen any Sylvester Stallone doppelgangers lately? The same super scary speculative scenarios are being trotted out again as the Legislature moves to allow the carrying a handgun without a license, or “constitutional carry,” as its proponents call it. The Senate approved the bill Wednesday, sending it back to the House. If the two can agree on a final version, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he’ll sign the measure. The idea of permitless carry isn’t perfect. It’s good that someone who wants to carry a gun should be required to submit to a licensing process and training. And opponents have a point that no right comes without limits. The debate is heated, but the impact on gun owners either way is probably marginal.

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Associated Press - May 6, 2021

Jonathan Bush, brother of President George H.W. Bush, dies

Jonathan Bush, the younger brother of the late President George H.W. Bush and uncle of former President George W. Bush, has died. He was 89. Jonathan Bush died Wednesday at his home in Jupiter, Florida, according to a spokesman for the Texas-based George & Barbara Bush Foundation. He would have turned 90 on Thursday. In a post on Twitter, the foundation said he was “a fine gentleman and a noble soul," adding that he was “a great song and dance man — without a doubt the best dancer of his siblings.” Bush, who worked in finance, was the last surviving of the family's five siblings.

George H.W. Bush died in 2018 at his Houston home. Their sister, Nancy Bush Ellis, died in January. Brother William Henry Trotter Bush, known as “Bucky," died in 2018, and brother Prescott S. Bush Jr. died in 2010. Their father was Prescott Sheldon Bush, a U.S. senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963. Jonathan Bush helped raise funds for his nephew's presidential campaign and was among family members his brother sent to be official stand-ins at ceremonies across the world. Jonathan Bush was the father of Billy Bush, who was fired by NBC due to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape with Donald Trump and now hosts the pop culture news show “Extra." In an Instagram post called his father “the greatest man I'll ever know.”

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KXAN - May 5, 2021

House lawmakers give green light to reinstate statewide Office of Health Equity

A new statewide health equity office is closer to becoming a reality for Texans. House lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would reinstate the office that was created in 2010, but was stripped of its funding during the 2017 legislative session. It operated under several names over the years including the Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement, and dedicated employees focused on racial disparities in health care.

It’s a story the KXAN investigative team has been following for months. State Representative Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed the bill in March. He’s been fighting to bring the work back to the forefront for decades. He told KXAN the pandemic’s unequal effect on various populations based on factors such as race, socioeconomic status and region highlighted why the office is needed now more than ever. The bill will now go to a Senate committee for a vote.

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Dallas Morning News - May 5, 2021

Robert Jeffress hopes to combat vaccine fears with First Baptist Dallas’ COVID-19 vaccination effort

To combat vaccine hesitancy among Christian evangelicals, First Baptist Church in Dallas will have a COVID-19 vaccination clinic May 16. Senior pastor Robert Jeffress said he hopes the move will encourage people to get shots so more of his 14,000 congregants can come and worship in person. “Our church will never be what it needs to be until you’re back. The greater risk is the spiritual danger of staying isolated,” Jeffress said in a recent sermon. “I’m not forcing anybody to get the vaccine. That’s your choice. But what I am saying is if you are not back yet, and would like to come back, one option is to take the vaccine, and therefore you don’t have to worry about what other people do or don’t do here in the church.”

Ben Lovvorn, First Baptist’s executive pastor, said the church is partnering with Dallas County Health and Human Services and will distribute as many Moderna doses as needed based on advanced registrations. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said the clinic is one of many efforts the county is using to target groups of people who may be hesitant to get the vaccine. In Deep Ellum, for example, he said the county is partnering with local businesses to target younger bar patrons. Jenkins said he hoped Christians who attend other churches would be more likely to sign up for the vaccine at First Baptist. “That may change minds,” he said. “We’re just trying to get to every community. ... What we can all identify is that we’re stronger together. We all need to do our patriotic duty and get the vaccine.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

Transgender woman's shooting death at Houston Chick-fil-A devastates community amid rise in violence

The first day Iris Santos wore a dress to Elsik High School, a group of boys sexually harassed her, called her slurs and threw a trash can at her. But the transgender teen wasn’t fazed. Relatives say she was unapologetically herself, a trait many admired. The joy and relief Santos felt presenting herself for the first time outweighed any negativity. “I’m me now,” Santos told her sister, Louvier Santos. “I’m finally me.” Santos, 22, was shot to death around 9:30 p.m. April 23 as she sat at a table outside Chick-fil-A in the 8600 block of Westheimer. No arrests have been made in the case, and police said they have not yet determined if Santos was targeted because she was transgender. The loss of the spiritual, kind, loving tarot card reader and mystic has crushed those who knew her. They remember her as a caring and nurturing person who would do anything to help and heal others.

“Nothing is going to be the same now because she’s not here anymore,” said Maria Carreon, Santos’ mother. “My heart is bleeding. It’s broken.” Her killing is a blow to the transgender community, which suffered the deadliest year on record in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Activists and advocates have held vigils for Santos, calling for justice and an end to the violence. They are also frustrated with the way authorities are handling the case and others involving transgender victims. So far in 2021, there have been 20 transgender or gender non-confirming people killed in the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign., putting it on pace to have more than the record 44 killings recorded by the nonprofit in 2020. “Texas has been the epicenter of U.S. deaths of trans people in the past five years,” said Diamond Stylz, executive director of the nonprofit Black Transwomen Inc. Violence against transgender people, especially Black and Hispanic women, has increased in recent years for many reasons, Stylz said.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 6, 2021

A Texas National Guard soldier was sexually harassed. Then, the military turned on her.

Texas National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Nicole Tinker was only days into what was supposed to be a nine-month Kuwait deployment when a high-level officer took an unwelcome and uncomfortable interest in her. Capt. Josue Muñoz, five ranks her senior, texted “sexy” in response to her work-related message last fall. They had barely met. Her unit had not even left readiness training at Fort Hood. In other texts, Muñoz told the decorated 17-year Guard veteran, his deployment subordinate, that he recently recovered from COVID-19 and that “you can finally get in my mouth.” Muñoz used a vulgar term to describe two soldiers who “blocked” him from being closer to Tinker in a meeting, and he told her that they would be in such tight quarters at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, that they would be joined “at the hip or mouth, whichever comes first,” according to hundreds of pages of investigative records.

Tinker spiraled into self-doubt as she embarked on her first international deployment since 2007, a world away from her husband and 2-year-old daughter as the holidays approached. On the 16-hour overseas military transport flight, she weighed the risks of reporting Muñoz, knowing his popularity among Guard troops, and of remaining silent. After arriving on base in the middle of the desert, Tinker trembled submitting a handwritten sexual harassment complaint: “I tried to play it off because I didn’t know how to take it and I felt like I already let his actions go too long,” she wrote. She gave investigators copies of Muñoz’s texts. After weeks of enduring cold stares from fellow soldiers and feeling shunned as her complaint became chow hall gossip, Tinker learned Muñoz was being reprimanded and might lose his full-time Guard job. Her relief that Texas National Guard leaders, who declined interview requests for this story, had done the right thing was short-lived. Less than a month later, they specifically came after her.

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Houston Chronicle - May 6, 2021

Texas House member tests positive for COVID a week after mask mandate was lifted

A week after the Texas House dropped its mask requirement, the chamber is juggling a COVID-19 scare. State Rep. John Raney, a Brazos County Republican, has tested positive for the virus, his office confirmed to The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. He participated in committee hearings as recently as Thursday morning, when he sat maskless at his desk — surrounded by a clear barrier — for a higher education committee meeting. He was also present for floor votes this week.

It’s unclear how many lawmakers were potentially exposed — and also unknown how many members have some form of immunity, either through vaccinations or previous infections. The chamber noted its first coronavirus case in January, when state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, tested positive. A representative for Raney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday, and phone lines in both his Austin and Bryan offices go to voicemail. The News reported that the representative has been vaccinated and is asymptomatic; it is unclear why Raney was tested for the virus and when. The House decided to lift its mask mandate last week amid mounting pressure from Republicans, who pointed to the state’s plummeting COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as reason to return to normal. Gov. Greg Abbott had used similar explanations when he removed Texas’ statewide mask requirement in March. Members of the public are required to get a COVID-19 test or show their vaccination card before they enter the Capitol, but such a requirement was never instituted in the House. There is no clear protocol for notifying members when a colleague tests positive, outside of regular contact tracing procedures.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 6, 2021

Family told ‘things happened, that’s the way it is’ after suicide in Tarrant Jail, lawsuit says

A man who died by suicide in the Tarrant County Jail was not provided mental health assistance even after his family warned jail officials that he was going through a mental crisis, according to a lawsuit that was filed by his family last week. Dean Stewart, 50, was pronounced dead on April 26, 2020, and the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office listed his cause of death as hanging and the manner of death as suicide. He was arrested on April 5, a suspect in a road rage shooting where the victim was uninjured, police records say. The lawsuit says the shooting stemmed from one of Dean’s “paranoidal delusions concerning a car he thought was following him.” Spokespeople for the jail and county did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday afternoon.

Before his death, there were plenty of clues that Stewart suffered from serious mental instability and should have been watched closely or taken someplace where he could have received appropriate treatment, his brother told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2020. Instead, he was taken to the Tarrant County Jail where jailers failed to make face-to-face observations on Stewart, according to documents obtained by the Star-Telegram from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Because of those failures, the jail lost its certification for six days in May 2020. The lawsuit says that Dean’s mother, Betty, spoke with Dean after his arrest. He acted paranoid and talked about people wanting to kill him. Several members of his family told jail administrators that something bad was going to happen if they did not do something to protect Dean and make sure he was on his medications. Administrators told his family that Dean was moved to a suicide prevention/detection cell, but according to the lawsuit, he was not provided help and not placed on suicide watch. The morning after Dean’s death, the lawsuit says, a jail guard told Dean’s brother that the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office “was just understaffed and undertrained.” Another guard told his brother that, “things happened, that’s the way it is,” according to the lawsuit.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 6, 2021

Tarrant Water District may move forward with plan to rush hiring of general manager

The Tarrant Regional Water District board may move forward with president Jack Stevens’ plan to choose a new general manager before his replacement is sworn into office. Stevens, the longest serving board member at 17 years, finished last in a field of six that included fellow incumbents James Hill and Leah King. Mary Kelleher, a former board member, will replace Stevens. Other candidates included Jeremy Raines, Charles “C.B.” Team and Glenda Murray Thompson. Before the election Stevens told the Star-Telegram editorial board he wanted to choose a replacement for Jim Oliver before any new members were sworn in. The board will meet Tuesday to canvass ballots from Saturday’s election. The regular meeting is scheduled for May 18.

Oliver, the general manager for 35 years, announced his retirement earlier this year. Stevens did not return a call or emails requesting comment. Marty Leonard, first elected in 2006, served on the hiring committee that vetted applicant search firms. On the phone Tuesday, she wouldn’t commit to a timeline for selecting a new top executive. At first she said the May 18 meeting made more sense, but then said the board might consider a candidate at the special canvassing meeting. She declined to say who the top candidates were. “We’ll have a decision real soon, but we’re not finished with the process,” she said. Another longtime board member, Jim Lane, also elected in 2006, said he doubted the board would make a decision before the regular meeting, though it could be discussed in an executive session after the canvassing. Neither said whether they would support selecting a new general manager before Kelleher is sworn in. Kelleher, during the April editorial board meeting, said she thought whoever voters chose should be involved in the decision on a new general manager.

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National Stories

Washington Post - May 6, 2021

Stefanik emphasizes support for false election claims, Trump movement ahead of leadership vote

Rep. Elise Stefanik on Thursday emphasized her support for former president Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen through voter fraud as she seeks to lock down support to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the third-ranking House Republican. Stefanik (N.Y.) appeared Thursday morning on the podcast of former Trump campaign and White House aide Stephen K. Bannon, where she sought to make the case that she is a reliable supporter of Trump and devoted to his brand of nationist populism, distancing herself from her ties to the old establishment wing of the party and her moderate voting record in Congress. Trump and many of his allies have rallied around Stefanik to succeed Cheney as chair of the House GOP Conference after the Wyoming Republican made clear she would continue to publicly challenge Trump’s false claims about the election and place blame on him for the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Appearing on Bannon’s show less than a week before Republicans are expected to vote Cheney out, Stefanik sought to cement her place in leadership by giving credence to unfounded theories about election fraud, including in Arizona. “I fully support the audit in Arizona,” she said. “We want transparency and answers for the American people. What are the Democrats so afraid of?” The GOP-held state Senate in Arizona is reviewing the 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in an effort to prove election malfeasance, though previous audits in the state have found no wrongdoing. The largely partisan exercise has enraged Democrats who see it as one more attempt to undercut faith in the democratic process. Stefanik also said that the problem with elections is widespread. “We need to fix these election security issues going into the future,” she said. “And it’s not just Arizona.” During her interview, Stefanik echoed many of the GOP talking points about alleged election fraud, claiming that “in many cases, there was no signature verification process.” She also said she heard from voters in her district “who did not receive their mail-in ballot when they applied for one and I even heard from voters who received the wrong mail-in ballots.”

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Washington Post - May 5, 2021

CDC says coronavirus could be under control this summer in U.S. if people get vaccinated and are careful

Coronavirus infections could be driven to low levels and the pandemic at least temporarily throttled in the United States by July if the vast majority of people get vaccinated and continue with precautions against viral transmission, according to a strikingly optimistic paper released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report comes as administration officials and leaders in many states are sounding more confident that the country can return to a degree of normalcy relatively soon. President Biden on Tuesday announced a new vaccination goal, saying he wants 70 percent of adults to have had at least one dose by July 4. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the modeling results give Americans a road map out of the pandemic — so long as they continue to get vaccinated and maintain certain mitigation strategies until a “critical mass of people” get the shots.

“The results remind us that we have the path out of this, and models, once projecting really grim news, now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring,” she said. The CDC report is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it is a set of four scenarios based on modeling of the pandemic, using different assumptions about vaccination rates, vaccine efficacy and precautions against transmission. Each scenario shows an epidemic curve in which the national increase in cases that began in early March hits a peak and then plummets in late spring, leading to a dramatically improved viral landscape this summer. In the less optimistic scenarios, hospitalization numbers will vary significantly from state to state. Under the most optimistic scenario, deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, could drop into the low 100s per week in August and into the “tens” per week in September, according to Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the paper’s senior authors. Currently, more than 4,000 people a week are dying of the disease, and about 578,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.

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Washington Post - May 6, 2021

Observers report ballots and laptop computers have been left unattended in Arizona recount, according to secretary of state

Ballots have been left unattended on counting tables. Laptop computers sit abandoned, at times — open, unlocked and unmonitored. Procedures are constantly shifting, with untrained workers using different rules to count ballots. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) on Wednesday sent a letter outlining a string of problems that she said observers from her office have witnessed at a Republican-led recount of the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona’s largest county. In the six-page letter, Hobbs wrote that elections are “governed by a complex framework of laws and procedures designed to ensure accuracy, security, and transparency” but that the procedures governing the ongoing recount in Phoenix “ensure none of those things.”

Former Arizona secretary of state Ken Bennett (R), who is acting as a spokesman for the audit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the audit’s Twitter account, @ArizonaAudit, tweeted that Hobbs’s allegations were “baseless claimes [sic].” “The audit continues!” read the tweet. On Wednesday, a top official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division wrote in a letter to the state Senate president that information reviewed by the department “raises concerns,” asking that the Arizona Senate provide information to ensure federal laws were not being violated. She wrote that reports suggested that ballots were “not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed.” The recount of Maricopa County’s nearly 2.1 million ballots was ordered by the GOP-led state Senate, despite the fact that county officials, as well as state and federal judges, found no merit to claims that the vote was tainted by fraud or other problems. Republicans hired a Florida-based private contractor called Cyber Ninjas, whose chief executive has echoed former president Donald Trump’s false allegations of fraud, to handle the recount.

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Wall Street Journal - May 7, 2021

Millions are unemployed. Why can’t companies find workers?

In a red-hot economy coming out of a pandemic and lockdowns, with unemployment still far higher than it was pre-Covid, the country is in a striking predicament. Businesses can’t find enough people to hire. Rising vaccination rates, easing lockdowns and enormous amounts of federal stimulus aid are boosting consumer spending on goods and services. Yet employers in sectors like manufacturing, restaurants and construction are struggling to find workers. There are more job openings in the U.S. this spring than before the pandemic hit in March 2020, and fewer people in the labor force, according to the Labor Department and private recruiting sites. Surveys suggest why some can’t or won’t go back to work. Millions of adults say they aren’t working for fear of getting or spreading Covid-19. Businesses are reopening ahead of schools, leaving some parents without child care. Many people are receiving more in unemployment benefits than they would earn in the available jobs. Some who are out of work don’t have the skills needed for jobs that are available or are unwilling to switch to a new career.

Hiring has been robust recently, despite the labor shortfall. U.S. employers added 916,000 jobs in March, according to the Labor Department, and economists project that the April jobs report, due out Friday, will show employers added 1 million more. Weekly unemployment claims fell to 498,000 last week, a new low since the pandemic began. Still, the shortage threatens to restrain what is otherwise shaping up to be a robust post-pandemic economic recovery. Some businesses are forgoing work, such as not bidding on a project, delivering parts more slowly or keeping a section of the restaurant closed. That reduces the pace of the economy’s expansion. Other companies are raising wages to attract employees, which could inflate prices for customers or reduce profit margins for owners. Workers could stand to benefit from a temporary reduced supply of labor. They could command promotions and better wages, which they then could spend in their communities, boosting economic output. They might also be able to negotiate more flexible schedules or other perks. Analysts say the labor shortages should ease over time as more potential workers are vaccinated, schools fully reopen and federal benefits expire, though the process could take months and the impacts are already being felt.

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Gizmodo - May 6, 2021

Politician's Zoom background can't hide fact that he's actually driving

Andrew Brenner, a state senator in Ohio, is getting some heat for driving while participating in a Zoom call earlier this week. The Ohio Senate is currently taking up a bill that would create additional penalties for distracted driving and a local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, pointed out the irony of the situation. But local media aren’t discussing perhaps the funniest aspect of this whole minor scandal: Brenner turned on a virtual background to make it appear like he was at home in his office. And he failed miserably. Monday’s meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board was just 13 minutes long, but those were apparently precious minutes that Brenner couldn’t waste. Brenner turned his camera on and off repeatedly in an apparent effort to disguise where he was actually calling from.

Brenner, a Republican, can be seen at the start of the meeting sitting in his car while it’s stationary, according to video available on the government website the Ohio Channel. And while some workplaces might think it’s weird to take video calls from your car, there’s nothing inherently dangerous about calling from a vehicle, as long as you’re not actually driving and fiddling with your phone the entire time. But that’s precisely what Brenner did. Brenner picks up his phone around the 1:50 mark in the video and his camera is suddenly turned off. When it’s turned back on at about the 2:35 mark we see him tinkering with the virtual background and Brenner puts up what appears to be a home office behind him, as you can see in the GIF below. The camera is turned off yet again, and the next time we see Brenner is at the 4:20 mark, still with his seatbelt fastened, and his ridiculous virtual background flickering away. Amazingly, he then turns his camera off yet again, apparently unhappy with the way it’s making him look.

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Miami Herald - May 6, 2021

DeSantis signs voting bill before pro-Trump audience. Election supervisors concerned

During a nationally televised event hosted by a fan club of former President Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed into law contentious and wide-ranging changes to the state’s voting system, including provisions targeting voting by mail and limiting the use of ballot drop boxes. Highlighting the sharply partisan debate surrounding Senate Bill 90, passed by state lawmakers last week, DeSantis barred Florida reporters from attending the event held in West Palm Beach before the group Club 45 USA. Fox News was granted exclusive access. “We’re not resting on our laurels, and me signing this bill here says, ‘Florida your vote counts,’ ” DeSantis told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” as supporters and lawmakers cheered behind him. “Your vote is going to be passed with integrity and transparency.”

The announcement was quickly condemned by Democrats, who pointed out the partisan setting. Multiple voting rights groups announced they were filing lawsuits against the state on the grounds the new law was unconstitutional. “This morning’s showboat for-FOX News-only bill signing effectively clenched Republicans’ grip on our state’s election system, enacting oppressive measures to restrict voter access and empower partisan poll watchers,” said state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation. Fox News also clarified in a statement after the event that it “did not request or mandate that the May 6th event and interview with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) be exclusive to FOX News Media entities.” Senate Bill 90, passed by the Legislature along party lines last week, takes effect immediately, with dozens of changes to the state’s voting laws.

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NBC News - May 6, 2021

Trump signed off on last-minute Medicaid changes. Now Biden faces the legal challenges

Brandi McCutchen calls her son “Smiley Brylee” because he always has a smile on his face, despite facing the serious challenge of cerebral palsy. At 20, Brylee is only 58 pounds and 49 inches tall. Without the ability to walk, talk or clear his throat, he requires constant monitoring by his family and health professionals at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. His survival depends on it. But the medical costs and needs are high, which leaves Brylee and his family fully reliant on the care they receive through Tennessee’s Medicaid program, known as TennCare — health coverage used by approximately 1.6 million people in the state. Some now say TennCare is under threat because of changes made by the Trump administration that will last for a decade. Less than two weeks before President Joe Biden came into office, the Trump administration provided Tennessee a 10-year waiver that caps the state’s Medicaid funding. It also allows Tennessee lawmakers to use a portion of any federal cash they save from the program in other areas of the state.

Critics say it will encourage Tennessee to make cuts to Medicaid to shore up other state programs and fundamentally change TennCare. That’s why the McCutchens, along with 11 other Tennessee families, filed a lawsuit with the Tennessee Justice Center against the Department of Health and Human Services last month. Their aim is to force the Biden White House to rescind the changes. For their part, the McCutchens have already seen the 168 hours of care — the amount prescribed by Brylee’s doctor for each week — whittled down to 150 because Tennessee's Medicaid program cut the number of hours it will cover. They fear this new form of Medicaid approved under the Trump administration will bring additional cuts and hurt Brylee further. “What are we supposed to do? We do all that we can, but we don't have the means,” said Brandi McCutchen, who cares for Brylee while her husband works overnight shifts as a deputy for the local sheriff’s office. “We pay all we can, but what’s left is what the government funds are for and why the state approved Medicare and Medicaid services.” The Department of Health and Human Services, which is named in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the Tennessee case. This case, and similar ones in other states, has the Biden administration walking a legal tightrope to unwind President Donald Trump’s Medicaid policies.

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Newsclips - May 6, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 5, 2021

Texas AG Ken Paxton roped into securities fraud debacle between financial advisor, ex-partners

Two former business partners have successfully pulled Ken Paxton into yet another securities fraud dispute, adding to the attorney general’s mounting legal problems. The case dates to 2016, when the man who oversees Paxton’s financial assets accused a company called Unity Resources and two of its investors of defrauding him. The two men denied the allegations and pointed the finger back at Paxton, arguing he was responsible because he too was an investor and served as the company’s lawyer. Last week, the Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas agreed with the two men that Paxton could be named a “responsible third party” in the suit. The 11-1 opinion by the Democrat-dominated court reversed its previous decision that initially found Paxton could not be added to the case.

The decision does not mean Paxton, a Republican, is deemed liable for any alleged wrongdoing at this time, nor does it clear the two men being sued. But it does open the attorney general to being found liable for malpractice if a judge or jury ultimately finds him responsible for the allegations against Unity Resources and his former business partners. “Questions regarding [Paxton’s] liability for damages, his inclusion in the jury charge, or the propriety of summary judgment are not before us,” Justice Leslie Osborne wrote for the majority. Paxton is being roped into this dispute as he faces the most intense public scrutiny of his career. The two-term attorney general, who is up for reelection next year, is under FBI investigation based on allegations he abused his office to help a campaign donor and faces a whistleblower lawsuit filed by several former employees who accused him of the misconduct. Paxton has also been under indictment for securities fraud — criminal charges that carry a penalty of up to 99 years in prison — since 2015. Paxton pleaded not guilty to the latter charges and has been awaiting trial for years while parallel disputes are resolved. The Dallas appellate court’s decision, which was filed April 28, will not affect Paxton’s state criminal charges, which are unrelated to the civil fraud allegations in this case. Paxton’s lawyers and his spokesman, Ian Prior, did not respond to requests for comment. Underlying this legal battle is a personal one between Paxton and the two men who pulled him into the suit: Byron Cook and Joel Hochberg.

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Associated Press - May 5, 2021

Facebook board upholds Trump ban, just not an indefinite one

Former President Donald Trump won’t return to Facebook — at least not yet. Four months after Facebook suspended Trump's accounts for inciting violence that led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the company's quasi-independent oversight board upheld the bans. But it told Facebook to specify how long they would last, saying that its “indefinite" ban on the former president was unreasonable. The ruling, which gives Facebook six months to comply, effectively postpones any possible Trump reinstatement and puts the onus for that decision squarely back on the company. That could leave Facebook in the worst of all possible worlds — one in which Trump's supporters remain enraged over the bans, his critics pushing for broader social-media regulation and the company stuck with a momentous issue it clearly hoped the oversight board would resolve.

The decision only “kicks the can down the road,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, who said it highlighted the need for greater government oversight of social platforms. The board ruled that Facebook was correct to suspend Trump’s account four months ago for inciting violence that led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. But it said the company erred by applying a vague penalty and then passing the question of whether to ban Trump permanently to the board. “Indefinite penalties of this sort do not pass the international smell test,” oversight board co-chair Michael McConnell said in a conference call with reporters. “We are not cops, reigning over the realm of social media.” In a statement, Trump did not address the decision directly, but said that actions by Facebook, Twitter, and Google are “a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country.” He added: "These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 6, 2021

Lyle Larson: Republicans should be making voting easier, not harder

Imagine your football team just won the national championship. Then the coach decides to change the quarterback, the offense and the defensive scheme. Does that make any sense whatsoever? If conspiracy theorists are to be believed, in the 2020 November election, mass voter fraud took place across the country. While evidence is lacking to prove mass voter fraud occurred, even if it did, the fraudsters must have stayed out of Texas, because Republicans won big. In 2020, President Donald Trump won Texas, the Texas House retained its 83-67 Republican majority, and 22 of 36 seats in the Texas Congressional delegation remain in Republican hands (one is vacant). Despite Republican electoral success, voter “integrity” legislation is coming before the Texas House this week. The bill’s proponents promise it will make elections more secure, but the reality is that it includes several provisions that will make it harder for eligible voters to cast their ballot.

What’s even more perplexing is the proposed legislation attacks voting practices that Republicans have relied on for decades to turn out voters. According to a recent poll from Ragnar Research Partners, 64 percent of Texas Republicans cast their ballots early. Republicans cast half of all absentee ballots in Texas’ 2020 general election. Among all Republican voters 55 or older in Texas, 91 percent voted early or by mail. When asked, 73 percent of voters (including 58 percent of Republican voters) support extending early voting by one week. 84 percent of voters (including 80 percent of Republican voters) support increasing the number of polling stations. The proposed legislation, HB 6, would restrict counties from lengthening early voting hours or adding polling places, would allow poll watchers to harass voters, and would prohibit officials from providing unsolicited mail-in ballot applications. The suppression tactics included in this bill would hurt the Republican Party as much or more than its opposition. One can only wonder — are the bill authors trying to make it harder for Republican voters to vote?

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Houston Chronicle - May 5, 2021

Turner, Hidalgo to pull out of GHP luncheons over chamber's silence on Texas voting bills

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo no longer plan to hold their annual state of the city and county addresses with the Greater Houston Partnership because of the chamber group’s silence on bills in the Texas Legislature that the pair say will add unacceptable obstacles to voting, according to three people with knowledge of the plans. The move, which the pair are expected to announce at a 1 p.m. news conference, is a rare public rebuke of the region’s largest chamber of commerce, which typically has enjoyed a close relationship with Houston-area politicians. A group of GHP board members said the partnership’s leaders stifled their attempts to get the group to speak out against parts of Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 6.

Hidalgo and Turner have been urging business leaders to oppose the bills, which would limit polling hours, ban drive-thru voting, loosen restrictions on poll watchers and streamline voter roll purges. Harris County’s elections administrator said a key provision of the Senate voting bill will result in the shifting of polling sites away from inner Houston, which has higher concentrations of Black and Latino voters, to outlying areas populated with higher numbers of white voters. Houston mayors and Harris County judges traditionally have delivered their annual state of the city and county addresses at luncheons hosted by the GHP in a downtown ballroom. The events offer an opportunity for political and business leaders to rub shoulders and lay out an agenda for public-private cooperation in the coming year.

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State Stories

FOX 7 Austin - May 4, 2021

Texas has more anti-LGBTQ legislation than any other state, says HRC

The Human Rights Campaign says 2021 is the worst year on record for anti-LGBTQ legislation in Texas. Advocates gathered in front of the state capitol Tuesday to speak out against the legislation. Perhaps the youngest advocate, 8-year-old Cecelia Gonzales spoke out on behalf of her 11-year-old transgender sister. "My siblings and I are really worried that our state is going to pass bills that hurt us…" she added, "...We love living in Texas and don’t have to move, but I know we will have to if [lawmakers] keep trying to hurt us. My sister has lots of friends and family that love and support her but it seems that people making laws don’t understand we are all different in unique ways. But that doesn’t mean we should be treated differently. Stop attacking my sister and my family."

Cecelia’s father, Frank Gonzales says they are tired of traveling to Austin from Dallas for advocacy work. "We are tired of defending the legitimacy of our daughter's existence," he said. With more than two dozen bills filed this legislative session, Texas has more anti-LGBTQ legislation than any other state according to the Human Rights Campaign. "These bills are not really rooted in the real world. They’re rooted in fear, they’re rooted in discrimination. They’re rooted in disinformation. Cruelty is not just the byproduct, cruelty is the point." said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. Bills up for consideration include HB 1399, which could impact a trans-child's ability to receive gender-affirming medical care, as well as SB 1646, which would punish a parent facilitating that care for child abuse. "These mothers and parents across the country are heroes, not criminals. The only people who should be labeled abusers here are legislators who are trying to hurt trans-kids for political gain," said David. SB 29, which would impact transgender children's ability to play school sports was voted down by the House Public Education Committee Tuesday. "If history has taught us anything it's that you can't compromise with hate," said state Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock).

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Galveston County Daily News - May 5, 2021

Long-term care facilities struggle as COVID-19 wanes

Even as many Galveston County residents begin to imagine a future after the coronavirus pandemic, Kimberly Mostek, administrator at Gulf Healthcare Center in Galveston, is unsure life ever will return to what it was before at long-term care facilities, she said. Because long-term care facilities were hotbeds of coronavirus outbreaks in the early months of the pandemic, state and business leaders forced changes in how the industry operates — clamping down on how many jobs members of a mostly transient workforce could take at a time and requiring more protective equipment to interact with residents. Although the number of COVID cases is declining, those changes and the added costs they drove are here to stay, Mostek said. That means the long-underfunded industry is in trouble without state help, she said. “Without help, we’re going to have no choice but to cut staff,” Mostek said. About two-thirds of Texans in long-term care facilities are covered by Medicaid, said Cara Gustafson, a spokeswoman for United in Care, a coalition formed to advocate for better Medicaid reimbursements for long-term care facilities.

Before the pandemic, Texas ranked 49th in the nation for its Medicaid reimbursement rate, Gustafson said. During the worst months of the pandemic, state leaders approved a funding increase of about $19.63 a day, from about $141 a day to $160, to help facility operators offset added costs. That increase is set to expire at the end of July, however, and facility operators across the state are worried about what that might mean for the future of the industry, Gustafson said. It’s not exactly clear where the Texas Legislature sits on the request. The $285 million needed to maintain the current level of funding through 2023 was not included in the state’s budget but was included in a wish list, Gustafson said. Officials are working with legislators to secure the funding, Gustafson said. Galveston County legislators didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment about whether they supported keeping the higher reimbursement rate.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 5, 2021

Texas 'heartbeat bill' banning abortions at 6 weeks gets initial approval from House

The Texas House on Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill that would effectively ban most abortions by outlawing the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically before a woman is aware she is pregnant. Abortion rights advocates have called the bill one of the most extreme abortion restrictions proposed in the state to date, and emotions were running high as lawmakers debated the measure on the House floor. Standing at the front of the chamber, surrounded by a handful of other Republican women, Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville, opened the debate by sharing a story about her mother, who was given a “dim prognosis” about her pregnancy and advised by doctors to have an abortion.

Despite this advice, Slawson said her mother carried the pregnancy to term and gave birth to a healthy baby. “And now, 44 years and 2 days later, that little baby girl is standing in this chamber, her heart still beating as strongly and as rapidly as it did all those years ago, as she lays out before you Senate Bill 8, the Texas Heartbeat Act.” Federal courts have halted attempts in other states to implement similar “heartbeat bans,” but supporters of the proposal moving through the Texas Legislature say that their version of the bill was built to withstand similar legal challenges because it leaves enforcement of the law up to the public. Instead of leaving public officials to enforce the legislation, the bill allows for any private resident to file suit against abortion providers or anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion in violation of the law. Minimum damages afforded in the bill would be $10,000 for a violation. Legal experts said it is unlikely that this strategy would successfully shield the ban from legal challenges, should it become law, and a letter delivered to House members from nearly 400 lawyers said the "exceptionally broad" language in the bill would create an "unprecedented" cause of action that "subverts the foundations of our judicial system."

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Austin American-Statesman - May 4, 2021

Williamson County, former sheriff Robert Chody face new excessive use of force lawsuits

Two more federal lawsuits alleging excessive use of force in arrests have been filed in the past week against former Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody and Williamson County. Ramsey Mitchell, a Midland resident, filed a lawsuit on Monday saying that Williamson County deputies beat him until he was unconscious and left him with lasting injuries during a traffic stop in 2019 filmed by the "Live PD" television show. Mitchell also sued five former and/or current deputies, as well as Big Fish Entertainment, the producer of "Live PD," and the A&E Network, which aired the show. Chody did not return requests for comment about the lawsuits, and Williamson County does not comment on pending litigation. Chody has three other pending lawsuits against him claiming excessive use of force.

He lost his reelection bid in November and has been indicted in both Travis and Williamson counties on evidence tampering charges in the destruction of "Live PD" footage that showed deputies chasing and using force on a Black man who died in 2019. "Live PD" filmed the daily activities of deputies. It was canceled in June 2020 after the Statesman reported that the show had destroyed video of Javier Ambler's death during a traffic stop by Williamson County deputies. According to Mitchell's lawsuit, "Live PD" told Chody that unless he could make encounters more entertaining, including use of force incidents, the show would stop filming in the county. "This claim was based on statements made by deputies describing Chody and 'Live PD’s' relationship," said Blerim Elmazi, one of Mitchell's lawyers, on Tuesday.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 4, 2021

Ken Herman: Legislative deadlines approaching. And the best mustache in the Texas House

Crucial, bill-killing deadlines are approaching. Republicans are cranky about what the GOP-controlled Legislature hasn't done. And a Junction lawmaker has been honored by the Texas House for his "magnificent, two-fisted soup-strainer" of a mustache. As you perhaps have noticed, the 87th gala biennial legislative/political/egofest rodeo known as the Texas Legislature has been meeting and doing stuff since Jan. 12. We get what we pay for: $600 per month per lawmaker (plus expenses). And remember, developing nations yearn for this. A couple of things are certain as of Tuesday (day 113 of 140 that end May 31): Most all of this year’s major issues still are somewhere in the legislative meat grinder and time's a-dwindlin’.

OK, there's one more thing: Not much legislation has been approved in both chambers. That's not all that unusual as each chamber focuses on passing its bills prior to considering the ones that come over from the other chamber. And the process is geared toward a flood of approvals in the closing weeks as bills can become bargaining chips on unrelated bills. Through Monday, only 43 bills had been approved in both chambers. That’s out of 6,909 filed. By comparison, 1,429 bills were approved by both chambers in the 2019 regular session and 1,211 were OK’d in the 2017 regular session. (Those numbers don’t include resolutions.) Some important deadlines are creeping up on us as the Legislature moves to the May 31 sine die motion that will bring the regular session to an end. This year’s sine die motion will not mean the 87th Legislature is sine dead. There’s sure to be a special session because redistricting was delayed due to delayed stats from the 2020 census.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 5, 2021

Texas educators alarmed by bills targeting class discussions on racism and sexism

Education advocates worry bills targeting discussions of racism and sexism in Texas public schools will hinder teachers' ability to discuss current events, history and ethnic studies with students. The Republican authors of the bills moving forward in the Legislature say their goal is to prevent the federal government and educators from pushing a political agenda in schools. The Texas Senate last week passed Senate Bill 2202, which, among other things, would ban mandates for teachers to receive training or conduct class discussions on racism and sexism. Such discussions can be grounded on the ideas of critical race theory, a framework of thought focused on examining and challenging racism.

Companion legislation, House Bill 3979, could be taken up by the House as soon as Friday, according to its author, Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands. “We send our kids to school to learn and to learn how to think critically, but we don't send them there to be indoctrinated,” Toth told the American-Statesman. The bills don’t mention critical race theory, but they broadly target its tenets of acknowledging white supremacy and systemic racism and sexism. They also seek to ban private funding for the development or purchase of curriculum rooted in those principles. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said the legislation “stops critical race theory and 1619 myths in Texas schools.” The 1619 Project is an initiative from The New York Times examining the role of slavery in the founding of the United States and slavery's legacy. It was cited as inspiration in a proposal from the Biden administration for a grant program “to support the development of culturally responsive teaching and learning.”

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Dallas Morning News - May 5, 2021

Bill to let people carry handguns without license passes Texas Senate on strength of GOP votes

A proposal to let people carry handguns in public without a license or training cleared a major hurdle Wednesday, winning passage in the Senate and putting Texas on a path to become the latest state to lift firearm permitting requirements. All 18 Republican Senators voted for the divisive legislation, after making changes meant to ease law enforcement concerns and win over hesitant colleagues. The chamber’s 13 Democrats voted against the bill. The vote delivers a major victory to gun rights activists, whose efforts to advance permitless carry in Texas have gone nowhere in years past.

Under the bill, people 21 and older who can legally have a handgun could carry it in public without the license, safety course and background check required now. About 1.6 million Texans are currently licensed to carry. The final vote continued Wednesday evening, even after Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, collapsed on the Senate floor and was rushed out by first responders. Creighton was involved in a vehicle collision last week and “sustained minor injuries,” but had returned to the Capitol Wednesday to vote on the bill, his office said in a statement. During some six hours of debate, Democrats decried the bill as dangerous. The licensing process works to weed out people who shouldn’t be carrying firearms, they said, and removing it will make it harder for police to differentiate bad guys with guns from the good. The Department of Public Safety denied 2,422 license to carry applicants last year, mostly due to past criminal convictions, according to department data. “More criminals are going to walk around with guns openly, I promise you,” said Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio. “More vigilantes are going to rise up.” Republicans, however, said law-abiding citizens should not have to get permission to protect themselves or be forced to spend weeks getting a license. Under the bill, people convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanor offenses would not be allowed to carry handguns publicly. “This bill does nothing radical but protect our right to protect ourselves,” said Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. “When your life and safety is at risk, seconds count.” The House already passed its own version of permitless carry and Gov. Greg Abbott has said he would sign the legislation.

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Dallas Morning News - May 5, 2021

Parents of dead toddler say foster care agency ignored signs their son was being abused, lawsuit says

The biological family of 3-year-old Amari Boone, a Fort Worth toddler who died in April 2020 while in foster care, is suing ACH Child and Family Services, the organization that managed his case. According to the suit, Amari had two emergency visits to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth under ACH’s watch before his death from a brain injury. The lawsuit alleges that details about his injuries were never added to his case file and that ACH didn’t ensure Amari was safe in his foster home. His caretakers, Deondrick Foley and Joseph Delancy, were arrested earlier this year. A Tarrant County grand jury indicted the men in March. Foley is charged with seven counts of injury to a child by omission resulting in bodily injury, while Delancy was indicted on five counts of the same charge.

Amari’s biological parents, Ariana George and Rodney Boone, sued for more than $1 million. The Button Law Firm filed the suit April 12 in Dallas County and requested a trial in front of a jury. The suit also names Amari’s case manager, Sheila Roberson and her bosses, supervisor Chaisity Frida-Caro and director Jalaha Lawrence. Neither ACH nor the employees have filed a response to the lawsuit in the court.ACH chief executive Wayne Carson declined to comment on the suit. An ACH spokesman declined to say whether Roberson, Frida-Caro and Lawrence still work for ACH. They could not be reached through publicly listed phone numbers. “We remain heartbroken over last year’s tragic loss of Amari Boone, and our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends,” an ACH spokesman wrote. “Because it is pending litigation, we are unable to provide any further comment.” ACH chief executive Wayne Carson declined to comment on the suit. An ACH spokesman declined to say whether Roberson, Frida-Caro and Lawrence still work for ACH. They could not be reached through publicly listed phone numbers. “We remain heartbroken over last year’s tragic loss of Amari Boone, and our deepest sympathies are with his family and friends,” an ACH spokesman wrote. “Because it is pending litigation, we are unable to provide any further comment.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 5, 2021

New Alamo collections building to break ground this summer as work continues on massive project

Work on a two-story, 24,000-square-foot Alamo Exhibit Hall & Collections Building begins this summer. The $15 million facility will be constructed on state-owned Alamo grounds. Alamo Trust, the nonprofit heading the project, estimates it will be complete in summer 2022. Among other pieces from the Alamo Collection, the entire Phil Collins Collection will be displayed in a 10,000-square-foot exhibit space, which is five times larger than what the Alamo has today. The building also includes space for storage and to conserve artifacts.

But, project leaders emphasized, the facility will not replace a proposed visitor center and museum, currently planned at 100,000 square feet. When Phil Collins donated his collection, it was under the condition that a facility to exhibit all 200-plus items would be built or in a significant stage of design by October 2021. The museum plans were delayed when some of the major fundraisers pulled out of the project after the Texas Historical Commission denied a request to relocate the Alamo Cenotaph — a 56-foot-tall monument to the fallen Alamo defenders in the plaza. Still, the Alamo Trust is targeting a 2025 museum launch. Once it is completed, the Collins collection will be moved to the new building. Meanwhile, the trust finished installing eight high-tech moisture monitors inside and outside the iconic Alamo church in April. The church’s preservation is a top priority, Alamo Executive Director Kate Rogers told the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee on Tuesday. Data from the monitors will be collected for at least a year.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 4, 2021

Bexar County wants to ensure Alamo history includes 'good and the bad'

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the “good and the bad” of the Alamo’s history should be on display at a proposed museum next to the historic site. It’s time for the county to get involved, Wolff said Tuesday. Bexar County commissioned a diverse group of historians and scholars to work on an interactive website detailing the area’s history. The project is beginning its third phase, and Wolff said the county should use its resources to support the proposed museum.

“I think at some point here we need to become more active, quite frankly,” Wolff said. “We have an opportunity to have a major impact on what will happen in the Alamo museum.” His colleagues agreed, saying they want to be sure the county’s project includes unbiased representations of Native Americans and other people of color. Early mission burial records simply attributed a person’s death to “killed by Indians.” Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores said historical context is needed to avoid stereotypes. “Just because the history is racist, we as a community need to be careful that we don’t continue to perpetuate the racism,” she said. Mario Salas, a member of the county’s historical commission who has taught African American studies, said most people don’t know that Santa Anna had an all-Black regiment here in 1836 because that part of the story has been marginalized.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 5, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Fix SAPD lost the election battle, but may end up winning the war

In 2013, Julián Castro won a third term as mayor of San Antonio with a little more than 29,000 votes. Last Saturday, Ron Nirenberg won a third term as mayor of San Antonio with more than 92,000 votes. Even when you factor in this city’s population growth over the past eight years, it’s a remarkable difference. But it doesn’t tell us much about Nirenberg or his standing with local voters. Certainly, Nirenberg’s 2-1 victory over former Councilman Greg Brockhouse was a declaration of support for the mayor’s calm, steady handling of the COVID-19 crisis and a confidence in the economic recovery we sense is on the way.

It wasn’t the mayoral election, however, that motivated San Antonians to go to the polls. The Nirenberg-Brockhouse contest was an afterthought, a snoozefest, a sequel that failed to match the drama of its 2019 predecessor. Of course, the big attraction in this year’s city election was Proposition B, a ballot measure created by the reform group Fix SAPD and designed to repeal the San Antonio Police Officers Association’s right to collective bargaining. There are few moral victories in politics, but Saturday night we saw one in San Antonio as Proposition B received more than 73,000 votes and lost by a margin of only 2.3 percentage points. Keep in mind that Fix SAPD has been in existence for less than a year. Its leaders are young, sharp and impassioned, but they had little political experience. They got important canvassing and funding help from the Texas Organizing Project, but minimal support from people in the political or business establishment, most of whom didn’t want to tangle with the police union. That included Nirenberg, who has been one of the union’s most persistent critics over his eight years as an elected official. In 2016, he was one of only two council members to vote against a mediated agreement between the city and SAPOA, because he thought it was too costly for the city.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 5, 2021

Bud Kennedy: How Texas and Corona beer taught all of America to celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is about a third-generation Texan’s heroism. Not about beer. Or that’s how it was until 32 years ago, when Texas entrepreneurs took hold. Today, Texans are in the middle of the debate over whether Mexico’s 1862 battlefield victory over the French should be remembered with solemn reverence or drunken revelry. If nothing else, we can agree that Cinco de Mayo is truly a Texas import.

Texas-born Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza and Texas Revolution hero Juan Seguín commanded an outmanned army of Mexicanos and Tejanos to chase the invading French away from Puebla, Mexico, forever giving underdogs hope and giving beer a marketing campaign. In 2014, when a San Antonio student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire objected to a fraternity-sorority Cinco party called a “Phi-esta,” she was objecting to the whole idea of “drinko of Cinco” and a holiday where foam washes away heritage and Zaragoza’s heroism. Turns out Texans were behind that, too. In 1989, the San Antonio-based Gambrinus Co., then regional importers of Corona beer and other Grupo Modelo brews, launched an ad theme that flourished with TV commercials from the Dallas-based Richards Group. In 1993, Gambrinus marketing director Ron Christesson told Modern Brewery Age magazine that Cinco is “becoming one of the beer industry’s biggest promotions.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 6, 2021

Democrat Beto O’Rourke throws support behind Deborah Peoples for Fort Worth mayor

Beto O’Rourke wants Fort Worth voters to turnout in support of Deborah Peoples for mayor. The former Texas congressman endorsed Peoples on Thursday, saying he was proud to partner with her to turnout voters in Fort Worth. Peoples is running against Mattie Parker, a nonprofit CEO and former aid to Mayor Betsy Price. The pair received the most votes in a crowded field to head to the June 5 runoff. Price is not seeking reelection.

“Deborah’s 30 years of executive experience and lifelong commitment to Fort Worth will make her an excellent mayor,” O”Rourke said in a prepared statement. Peoples is a former AT&T vice president and chairperson of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. She ran against Price in 2019. “I am honored to have the endorsement of Congressman O’Rourke, and I look forward to working with him to bring supporters of all backgrounds to vote on June 5th united around our message of One Fort Worth,” Peoples said in a statement. Though O’Rourke, a Democrat, lost the 2018 U.S. Senate race by just under 3%, Tarrant County shifted blue for him. He beat Ted Cruz here by 3,869 votes. O’Rourke is the latest Democrat to support Peoples for the nonpartisan position. Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, endorsed Peoples. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, endorsed the campaign in early April. Republican U.S. Rep. Kay Granger supported council member Brian Byrd’s bid in January, but Byrd was unable to muster enough voters to make it the June runoff. Peoples has several other endorsements, including from Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, State Board of Education Member Aicha Davis and Tarrant County Constable Michael Campbell. The national Collective Political Action Committee, which focuses on boosting Black politicians, also endorsed Peoples. Parker has also collected wide-ranging endorsements, including Price and both the police and firefighters associations. The list also includes Republican state Reps. Phil King and Craig Goldman as well as Democrat Pete Geren, a former congressman, outgoing councilman Dennis Shingleton and former council members Danny Scarth, Bill Meadows and Zim Zimmerman. A spokesman for Parker’s campaign said more endorsements would becoming in the following days.

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Houston Chronicle - May 5, 2021

Enel announces three major Texas renewable energy projects, including its largest US solar farm

Enel Green Power said Wednesday that it plans to build its largest solar farm in North America just southeast of Waco, another solar project in Grimes County, northwest of Houston, and a wind project near Abilene. The Italian renewable energy company projects the three projects would have the combined capacity to generate nearly 1,200 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 240,000 Texas homes on a hot summer day. The new projects would boost Enel’s generating capacity in Texas to about 2,000 megawatts, or enough for power about 400,000 homes in Texas. Georgios Papadimitriou, head of Enel Green Power in the United States and Canada, said the projects reflect the company’s focus on Texas, which is the nation’s largest producer of wind energy and home to a fast-growing solar sector.

Enel, one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world, made its initial U.S. investments in the Midwest about 15 years ago, but has targeted Texas since 2018. “Texas has been, and we think it will definitely continue to be, one of the most business-friendly states,” Papadimitriou said. “It’s one of the states where we can develop very quickly new power plants, and a state where energy markets are open to receiving investments like the ones we currently have underway.” Part of Texas’ appeal, he said, is the relative ease of permitting energy projects. That helps companies get projects online faster than other places in the United States. The largest of the new projects, a solar farm in Falls County near Waco, is projected to produce about 639 megawatts once it’s operational in the fall of 2022, and an adjacent, utility-scale storage facility will be able to store 59 megawatts. Enel officials anticipate the Waco project, called Roseland, will create 350 temporary construction jobs and 18 permanent jobs, and generate more than $52 million in lease payments to the landowner and $59 million in local tax revenues over a 35-year lifetime.

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Houston Chronicle - May 5, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Carrying a handgun in public should require a license, just like driving

Guns have played a considerable role in Texas’s history, and gun culture is alive, well and thriving. Fancy firing ranges are opening across the state. HTX Tactical Firearms last week opened a new location in Houston. Nardi’s Gun Club in San Antonio opened a new facility in Rolling Oaks. I understand the fascination with weapons and shooting. My mother gave me a rifle and a handgun when I was a teen. I carried an M16A1 in the Army and somehow managed to qualify with a rattly old M1911 pistol. I earned a German Army marksmanship medal after proving my skills with a 9mm pistol, an assault rifle and a light machine gun. My oldest friend compares target shooting to playing golf. Rarely do you get off a perfect shot, but when you do, it feels good. Other friends admire the engineering: Every design decision is a trade-off, and enthusiasts love to argue over them.

Like many people who have carried a weapon professionally, I have mixed feelings. I am especially concerned about how people use guns to make political statements, especially in the constitutional carry movement. As fascinating and fun as they may be, pistols are designed to kill people. The more civilians carry them in public, the greater the dilemma for business owners and their customers who don’t want to be around guns. Supporters of constitutional carry believe the Second Amendment guarantees U.S. citizens the right to carry a handgun unless they have lost their right. They want the Texas Legislature to drop background checks and training requirements before carrying a handgun, concealed or openly. Twenty states have adopted some form of permit-less carry. Theoretically, residents in those states can purchase a pistol at a gun show, buy ammunition, and carry a loaded weapon on their belt without government oversight. I often compare gun rights to the constitutional right to freedom of movement. No state allows U.S. adults to drive without a license. To test my metaphor, I took the Texas License to Carry course. I filled out an application on the Department of Public Safety website, which took about 10 minutes. Then I made an appointment for finger-printing, which took 40 minutes, including driving time. I had to pay $52.

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KVVX - May 5, 2021

Communities in Schools want to make sure they get more state funding to continue academic success

Communities in Schools is the largest provider of campus based behavioral health for students in the state. Efforts here in Central Texas with CIS Heart of Texas work along side students to help them mentally, emotionally and academically. Preparing them for the next grade level all the way through graduation. CIS wants to make sure they get enough state funding this Legislative Session. Aaron Mize, Executive Director of CIS Heart of Texas says they work with 22 schools across 7 districts. "We would like to increase our depth on campuses there's a need for mental health services," Mize said.

Services currently include a site coordinator, who works one on one with the student to help them with whatever needs they might have in and out of school. With the Covid-19 pandemic resources were stretched but CIS adapted and still in the 2019-2020 school year set their students up for success. "It's been more expensive to run programming virtually, and we've identified a lot of new needs in the past year," Mize said. There are 3,500 students in the CIS Heart of Texas program but throughout the state that 105,000 students are seeking help through CIS programs. "We have had a couple students this year that have lost parents due to covid," Site Coordinator, Tammy Taylor said. Taylor has worked with CIS for 14 years and is a Site Coordinator at Chilton Secondary, working on her fourth year. She has 125 students she either checks in on every other week or meets daily with others.

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Associated Press - May 5, 2021

SpaceX completes first successful rocket launch and landing in South Texas

SpaceX launched and successfully landed its futuristic Starship in South Texas on Wednesday, finally nailing a test flight of the rocketship that Elon Musk intends to use to land astronauts on the moon and send people to Mars. The previous four tests flights ended in fiery explosions before, during or soon after touchdown at the southeastern tip of Texas, near Brownsville. This latest upgraded version of SpaceX’s full-scale, stainless steel, bullet-shaped rocketship soared more than 6 miles over the Gulf of Mexico before flipping and descending horizontally, and then going vertical again just in time for touchdown.

“Starbase Flight Control has confirmed, as you can see on the live video, we are down. The Starship has landed!” announced launch commentator John Insprucker. A fire at the base of the 160-foot rocket quickly was extinguished, and the rocket remained standing after the six-minute flight. Musk tweeted the landing was “nominal” — by the book, in other words. Success came on the 60th anniversary of the flight of first American in space, Alan Shepard. And it capped a stunning two weeks of achievements for SpaceX: the launch of four more astronauts to the space station for NASA, the nation’s first nighttime crew splashdown since the Apollo moonshots, and a pair of launches for its mini internet satellites. Less than a month ago, NASA chose SpaceX’s Starship to deliver astronauts to the lunar surface in the next few years. The $3 billion contract was halted last week after the losing companies — Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics — protested the selection. Musk said last month that the NASA money will help development of Starship, which is meant to eventually launch atop a Super Heavy booster. He said it’s been a “pretty expensive” project so far and mostly funded internally. The first high-altitude test was in December. “As you can tell, if you’ve been watching the videos, we’ve blown up a few of them. So excitement guaranteed, one way or another,” Musk told reporters after the private company’s second crew flight on April 23. Long after Wednesday’s touchdown, Starship was still standing tall.

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Washington Post - May 5, 2021

In South Texas, frustration with high-speed chases, increased crime exacerbates political tensions

About 300 yards from the LaSalle County courthouse on Main Street is a fenced-in lot packed with stolen pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans that were mostly stolen in major cities and gutted of their seats by smugglers looking to transport migrants who illegally crossed the border. Some of the vehicles were hastily painted white to blend in with vehicles headed to oil fields. Although Cotulla is dozens of miles from the border, it is close to a Border Patrol checkpoint that smugglers try to avoid by using back roads, going off-road, crashing through ranch fences and driving dangerously fast before crashing or abruptly stopping, the doors of the vehicle then flying open and people dispersing in all directions. Some degree of illegal immigration, human smuggling and organized crime has long been part of life in mesquite country, especially along the busy Interstate 35 corridor, but South Texas law enforcement officials say it has increased in recent weeks, and hazardous high-speed chases have become a routine occurrence in rural communities.

Tiny law enforcement agencies, such as the one here in LaSalle County, act as a second layer of a border enforcement apparatus that tries to stop smugglers, drugs and undocumented immigrants before they disappear into big cities. This increase has worried many local residents, and the debate over possible solutions often plays out on the Facebook pages of sheriff’s and police departments, with views falling along already tense political lines. LaSalle County, where more than 87 percent of residents identify as Hispanic, has long been led by Democrats. But in the 2020 election voters backed Donald Trump, making him the first Republican presidential candidate in at least three decades to win the county. Anyone who has lived in South Texas in the past 30 years can wax poetic about giving water to parched “walkers” or migrants of years ago, usually single men from Mexico looking for work. But the past four years of border policies makes this feel different, residents of different political persuasions say. They are afraid that the border-crossers evading capture at the river — often while the Border Patrol is busy processing large numbers of migrant families and unaccompanied children — are ending up in the back of smugglers’ stolen cars and threatening their safety. But the question of what should be done divides residents, with many conservatives blaming the increase in crime on the Biden administration’s approach at the border and too much compassion for migrants arriving in the United States, while many liberals — including local elected leaders — countering that the increase is the expected result of increased patrolling and attention to the border.

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MyParisTexas.com - May 4, 2021

Lamar County Democratic Party Chair Gary O’Connor resigns after calling Sen. Tim Scott an ‘Oreo’

Lamar County Democratic Party Chairman Gary O’Connor has offered his resignation in response to mounting pressure from both parties after calling Senator Tim Scott an “oreo” in a Facebook post. “I am deeply and sincerely sorry for my inappropriate and hurtful use of racist term I used to describe Sen. Tim Scott on my personal Facebook page. It was insensitive, and I have embarrassed myself and my party by its use,” Lamar County Democratic Party Chairman Gary O’Connor told the Washington Examiner Tuesday. “As a result, I feel compelled to offer my resignation as chair of the Lamar County Democratic Party for consideration by the County Executive Committee,” O’Connor said.

On Apr. 29, O’Connor shared Washington Post’s article “What the back-and-forth over America being a ‘racist country’ is actually about,’” in which he wrote on social media, “I had hoped that Scott might show some common sense, but it seems clear that he is little more than on oreo with no real principles.” After the post went viral, many political officials slammed O’Connor for the racial slur, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West, and United States Representative Pat Fallon. “This is disgusting, hateful, and completely unacceptable. O’Connor must apologize to @SenatorTimScott & step down immediately,” Abbott wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “@texasdemocrats censure him.” West said, “It appears that Lamar County Texas Democrat Chairman Gary O’Connor took to social media and disparaged Sen. Tim Scott by calling him a racist slur “Oreo.” Not surprisingly, the Party of systemic racism has defended him, and he is yet to resign. It’s time to use one of Saul Alinsky’s tactics, ridicule, against the Texas Democrat Party. Let’s all mail or personally deliver a package of Oreos to the Texas Democrat Party headquarters until their racist Chairman from Lamar County, Gary O’Connor resigns. I will be doing so as I find O’Connor’s remarks, and his defense, utterly offensive and disgusting. Then again, what should we expect from the Party who founded the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow?” No announcement has been made on who will replace O’Connor as Lamar County Democratic Party Chairman.

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Houston Public Media - May 5, 2021

Texas advocates worry misinformation is driving proposed ban on trans care for kids

At a committee hearing in the Texas House of Representative last month, GOP lawmakers questioned witnesses about House Bill 1399, legislation that would strip physicians of their license or liability insurance if they provide transition care for transgender kids and teens. Republican members of the House Public Health Committee expressed skepticism in their questioning. But many also publicly admitted it was subject matter they weren't familiar with. “I don’t know the language here, I’m just a simple country lawyer from Sherman, Texas," said state Rep. Reggie Smith. "I’m just trying to figure this out." Despite their unfamiliarity, lawmakers voted 6-4 to pass the legislation out of committee. That lack of understanding is what advocates and trans care providers fear is informing a group of bills seeking to criminalize transition health care for transgender youth in Texas. The bills have gained traction in the past few weeks, with at least three voted out of committee.

"It's basically, to be blunt, uninformed lawmakers, superseding best practice, evidence-based practice," said Dr. Aliza Norwood, who treats transgender adults at Vivent Health in Austin. The Pediatric Endocrine Society has warned lawmakers across the country that "implementation of these bills will worsen mental health, increase the risk of suicide, and contribute to poorer overall health in (trans and gender diverse) patients." Research on trans health care is still a burgeoning field, and experts say they're still learning about the effects of transition care. But many major medical organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and theWorld Professional Association for Transgender Health, have also spoken out against these bills. They're worried that the legislation might exacerbate an ongoing mental health crisis among transgender youth. Research shows major disparities between transgender and cisgender kids and teenagers.One national survey found that trans high school students are five times more likely to attempt suicide. "In individualized cases, providing access to medications actually reduces the risk of suicidal ideation and suicide," Norwood said. "So when they say it’s life-saving, it means that their child was miserable. So miserable, in fact, that they were thinking about ending their lives."

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County Stories

Fox 4 - May 5, 2021

Ban on bribes halts Tarrant County plan to pay people to get COVID-19 shot

With COVID-19 vaccination rates slowing down, a Tarrant County leader is looking for ways to convince more people to get the shot. Judge Glen Whitley thought offering people $50 dollars might get them to show up, but a federal ban on bribes stands in the way. Paying people to get the vaccine is being talked about because Tarrant County has tens of thousands of vaccine doses available and few takers. The lines to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Tarrant County are all but gone.

"I can tell you at our sites we would open up to long lines of 350-400 people in the first hour at each site to now doing 400 people a day at our sites," said Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja. "So there is a sharp decline." Ideas to jump start vaccinations included offering people cash. Locally, it is not a legal option, Whitley says the National Association of Counties is exploring an appeal at the federal level. "Hopefully they may be able to get the federal government to reverse, relax or do whatever that will allow us to be able to if we chose to pay and incentive," Whitley said. "If we can move into that arena, I would want to pay the folks who have already gotten their vaccine as well. I don’t want it to be just some." Whitley’s theory involves paying $50 to each person who receives a full COVID-19 dosage as well, in fairness, making the payments retroactive to residents who have already received shots. A rough estimate on the price tag for such a plan is $2.1 million.

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Dallas Morning News - May 4, 2021

Dallas has some of the worst Internet access in the U.S. Can the county fix it?

Dallas County Commissioner J.J. Koch is set to ask his colleagues Tuesday to position the local government as a leader in closing one of the worst digital divides in the nation. Koch, a Republican who represents northern Dallas County, will make his opening pitch with a report he commissioned that shows access to high-speed internet is far worse than imagined. Residents across the county, he and his researcher will say, are paying too much for too little — if they have any access at all. Among the most staggering data points: Three out of every 10 Dallas County homes don’t have access to the 2010 standard of broadband.

“The problem is we’re at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to broadband,” Koch said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, previewing the report’s findings. “This is not something we can fix around the edges.” At stake is a lost generation of school children who fell behind and are unable to catch up, a highly skilled workforce that attracts businesses to North Texas, and access to health care, which is increasingly relying on telehealth and at-home technology, said Todd Furniss, the researcher. “If you don’t have access to broadband, you don’t have access to the American dream or the modern economy,” he said. “It means you don’t have access to education, jobs and health care.” The digital divide — or the dearth of technology and internet access — is not a new problem. It has been studied by academics and industry experts and written about by journalists and activists. And local governments here and state governments across the country have taken steps to close the gap. Texas, until recently, has resisted a singular statewide solution. This spring, lawmakers in Austin are finalizing plans for a new state broadband office and positioning Texas to be eligible for new federal resources. The global coronavirus pandemic that forced most into their homes exacerbated the problem. And private internet providers are neither doing enough nor have a market incentive to fix this issue, Koch said. For its part, Dallas-based AT&T has acknowledged the digital divide as a serious problem and has invested nearly $4 billion into the city’s networks to boost reliability, coverage and speed, a spokeswoman said. The investment, she said, has been particularly acute in southern Dallas, where 70% of homes now have access to high-speed fiber lines. There is a difference, however, between access and affordability.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 5, 2021

‘Success to me looks like less victims’: Dallas Police Chief Eddie García’s crime plan receives warm response

Dallas Police Chief Eddie García did not mince words on Wednesday when he said the department needs more officers as the city is growing and that it needs to tackle poverty and blight to achieve a long-term drop in violent crime. “Success, to me, looks like less victims,” García said. “We didn’t get into this situation overnight.” On Wednesday, the chief presented his first crime plan since he took the helm of the Dallas Police Department in early February. García told council members on Wednesday that the department will focus on small geographic areas that drive violent crime in Dallas.

The plan received overwhelming positive support from the mayor and council members on Wednesday, with a few critiques that council members, particularly those who represent the Northern parts of Dallas, who did not want to see patrol officers moved to southern parts of the city. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson called the report “the most important document that’s going to come out of City Hall this year.” García’s violent crime plan ranges on short, medium and long-term strategies. It will focus on hot spot policing, interrupting and disrupting violent people and places and making improvements to the community to deter crime. García plans to enlist the help of other city departments, such as code compliance and the Office of Integrated Public Solutions, adding that crime reduction is going to require a “multi-faceted approach.” García said reallocating manpower away from certain patrol divisions is not a part of the plan. Council member Adam McGough said he would have liked to have seen specific measurable goals for crime reduction — although García stressed that other factors, outside of police control, could greatly affect that.

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Dallas Morning News - May 4, 2021

Southlake election results a rebuke of the ‘rage mob’ that supports critical race theory, PAC says

Southlake Families, a political action committee that says it is “unapologetically rooted in Judeo-Christian values,” is claiming victory for the outcome of Saturday’s city and school board elections. Every candidate backed by the group, which has raised more than $200,000 since last summer, according to an NBC report, won with about 70% of the vote. “This landslide victory is from hundreds of volunteers and donors, thousands of hours and all of us having the spines to stand up to the rage mob,” the group posted in an email blast. The results have the Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition, a group led by current and former students, and others vowing to continue their push for diversity, equity and inclusion in Carroll ISD in spite of the election results. “It’s heartbreaking and devastating,” Anya Kushwaha, a coalition founder who graduated in 2016, said Tuesday. “Now we know there’s no chance of school board-level change.”

Kushwaha said the addition of the two new board members, Cameron “Cam” Bryan and Hannah Smith, will effectively table any advancement of the coalition’s goals within the district. The election results appear to be a resounding dismissal of the cultural competence plan, which a committee of more than 60 stakeholders presented nine months ago in response to a 2018 incident in which a video surfaced of a group of white Carroll ISD students chanting the N-word. Former Dallas Cowboys player Russell Maryland, whose children attended Carroll ISD schools, was one of the members on the committee the district created. “Deep down,” Maryland told The Dallas Morning News in October, “I said to myself, ‘This is something I need to do. This is a problem that has to stop. It has to end somewhere.’” The plan is in limbo after a mother in the district filed a lawsuit last year claiming that the board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, and a Tarrant County judge granted a temporary restraining order barring the district from moving ahead with it. Two trustees who support the plan, Carroll ISD board president Michelle Moore and vice president Todd Carlton, were indicted last month on charges of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.

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Fort Worth Report - May 4, 2021

With summertime looming, campaigning is hard for mayoral candidates

While some are planning a summer vacation, others are preoccupied with how to make the polls the only destination on Fort Worth residents’ minds. Monday, the two remaining candidates for Fort Worth mayor emailed supporters within minutes of each other. Mattie Parker’s email at 3:41 p.m. contained a reminder that Wednesday is the deadline to register to vote in the June 5 runoff and linked to the Tarrant County Election Administrator’s website. Deborah Peoples’ email at 3:44 p.m. solicited donations for yard signs that she hoped would serve as voting reminders. In an interview with the Report, Peoples said Tuesday that her email soliciting donations for signs is emblematic of how she’d be as mayor. She said she had prioritized paying campaign workers over paying for signs until supporters started requesting them. She said that’s how she’ll continue to campaign and lead if elected. “The way I will lead the city of Fort Worth is to make sure I am checking on people and investing in people,” she said.

Parker wrote in a statement that her campaign is also about people and that’s what makes it strong. “The inclusivity of our campaign has been one of our biggest strengths — a team of diverse community and business leaders all working together for a safer and more prosperous future for every family,” she wrote. “Because of our positive campaign, our fundraising has certainly benefited.” Both candidates will try to barrage Fort Worth voters during the next month, James Riddlesperger, a professor of political science at Texas Christian University, told the Report during an interview. “The truth is they are going to do their very dead level best to carpet bomb the entire city with communications and particularly with free communications,” Riddlesperger said. Riddlesperger said campaigning in Fort Worth is challenging because of its booming population. On one hand, it might be impossible to campaign solely by going door to door in a city home to nearly 1 million people. On the other hand, it might be too expensive run ads that broadcast to the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. “When you pay for television or radio ads here, five out of the six people you talk to aren’t even relevant to your election and yet you have to pay for that air time so it’s extraordinarily expensive,” he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 5, 2021

Leon Valley businessman wants to 'bury' division of the past, says election was vindication for ouster two years ago

Leon Valley businessman Benny Martinez, ousted from his Place 4 City Council seat two years ago but elected to Place 1 on Saturday, wants his suburban community to “bury” rancor of the past. Martinez was removed from office through a process known as forfeiture in 2019 by a vote of two council members. Voters then recalled those council members in November 2020. “I’ve been vindicated. In fact, I’ve had two or three texts and a couple of emails saying, ‘Benny’s vindicated,’” Martinez said Monday. Martinez will be sworn in May 18 after emerging at the top of a three-way race.

Aside from his unceremonious forfeiture in 2019, a forensic auditor’s report into a profanity-laced virtual council meeting in April 2020 noted the session had been hacked by “multiple Benny Martinezes,” he said. That meeting, held in council chambers with council members participating remotely, was shut down when internet trolls interrupted, shouting profanities and piping in music with pornographic lyrics. “And I was at the meeting. So how could I log in and be posting?” Martinez said, laughing. One of the hackers who used his name had a profile with a woman’s photo. Making light of the incident, some Leon Valley residents who support Martinez have hailed the election victory of “the real Benny Martinez,” who carried 493, about 47 percent, of the votes. He was followed by Elaine Valdez, who had 37 percent, and Evan Bohl, with 16 percent, for an open council seat.

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National Stories

Washington Post - May 5, 2021

Liz Cheney: The GOP is at a turning point. History is watching us.

In public statements again this week, former president Donald Trump has repeated his claims that the 2020 election was a fraud and was stolen. His message: I am still the rightful president, and President Biden is illegitimate. Trump repeats these words now with full knowledge that exactly this type of language provoked violence on Jan. 6. And, as the Justice Department and multiple federal judges have suggested, there is good reason to believe that Trump’s language can provoke violence again. Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.

The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution. In the immediate wake of the violence of Jan. 6, almost all of us knew the gravity and the cause of what had just happened — we had witnessed it firsthand. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) left no doubt in his public remarks. On the floor of the House on Jan. 13, McCarthy said: “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” Now, McCarthy has changed his story. I am a conservative Republican, and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law. Each of us swears an oath before God to uphold our Constitution. The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud. The question before us now is whether we will join Trump’s crusade to delegitimize and undo the legal outcome of the 2020 election, with all the consequences that might have. I have worked overseas in nations where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 5, 2021

CIA veterans push back at ridicule from Ted Cruz, Donald Trump Jr. over diversity pitch

National intelligence veterans are pushing back against ridicule prominent Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have cast over the CIA's latest ad featuring a young Latina officer as part of the agency's effort to recruit a more diverse workforce. Mark Polymeropoulos, a 26-year CIA veteran, said diversity in the agency's ranks is an "operational advantage." "I want case officers who look like the UN, so I can choose the best athlete for each particular op," he tweeted. "Agency needs to push Diversity efforts to win, not to be ‘woke.’ I applaud their efforts, but also note they have a ways to go." Larry Pfeiffer, a former CIA chief of staff and director of the Hayden Center for Intelligence, said: "I would suggest that if you don’t like it, you are probably not whom the ad is targeting for employment. Strength from diversity."

The agency's video features an officer who describes herself as a "daughter of immigrants" and a "cisgender millennial." Released last month as part of the agency's "Humans of CIA" series, it aims to highlight the broad range of individuals behind the agency's operations by allowing "real officers to share their firsthand experiences," an agency spokesperson said. The unidentified 36-year-old Latina officer goes on to say: "I am intersectional, but my existence is not a box-checking exercise. I am a walking declaration, a woman whose inflection does not rise at the end of her sentences suggesting that a question has been asked. I did not sneak into CIA. My employment was not, is not, the result of a fluke or a slip through the cracks." But Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. both took to Twitter to mock the latest installment in the "Humans of CIA" series. "If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un ... would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne," Cruz tweeted Tuesday, referring to the fictional protagonist of the "Bourne Identity" series.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 5, 2021

Texas Senator Ted Cruz joins Donald Trump Jr. in mocking CIA diversity pitch

The CIA's effort to recruit a new generation of more diverse spies has faced unexpected pushback from some prominent Republicans. The agency's latest recruitment ad, which features a young Latina officer who describes herself as a "daughter of immigrants" and a "cisgender millennial," is meant to broaden the CIA's appeal, but instead has become a lightning rod. "I am intersectional, but my existence is not a box-checking exercise. I am a walking declaration, a woman whose inflection does not rise at the end of her sentences suggesting that a question has been asked," the unidentified 36-year-old woman says. "I did not sneak into CIA. My employment was not, is not, the result of a fluke or a slip through the cracks."

The ad, released last month, is part of the agency's "Humans of CIA" series, which aims to highlight the broad range of individuals behind the CIA's operations. But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Donald Trump Jr., both took to Twitter to mock it. "If you’re a Chinese communist, or an Iranian Mullah, or Kim Jong Un ... would this scare you? We’ve come a long way from Jason Bourne," Cruz tweeted Tuesday, referring to the fictional protagonist of the "Bourne Identity" series. Donald Trump Jr. also sprinkled his Twitter feed with commentary on the "wokeness" of the ad. “China & Russia are laughing their asses off watching CIA go full woke. ‘Cisgender.' ‘Intersectional.’ It's like (the satirical news site) @TheBabylonBee is handling CIA's comms. If you think about it, wokeness is the kind of twisted PSYOP a spy agency would invent to destroy a country from the inside out," Trump, Jr. said.

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The Hill - May 5, 2021

Federal judge vacates CDC's eviction moratorium

A federal judge on Wednesday vacated a nationwide freeze on evictions that was put in place by federal health officials to help cash-strapped renters remain in their homes during the pandemic. The ruling was a win for a coalition of property owners and realtors, who brought one of several challenges against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) eviction moratorium, which was put in place under former President Trump and later extended through June. In a 20-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, who was appointed by Trump, ruled that the agency exceeded its authority by putting in place the temporary eviction ban. "The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not," Friedrich wrote.

A federal judge on Wednesday vacated a nationwide freeze on evictions that was put in place by federal health officials to help cash-strapped renters remain in their homes during the pandemic. The ruling was a win for a coalition of property owners and realtors, who brought one of several challenges against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) eviction moratorium, which was put in place under former President Trump and later extended through June. In a 20-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, who was appointed by Trump, ruled that the agency exceeded its authority by putting in place the temporary eviction ban. "The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not," Friedrich wrote. A number of other judges have ruled on the eviction ban’s lawfulness, with landlords holding a slight advantage in its win-loss record against the federal government.

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NBC News - May 5, 2021

Trump, other top Republicans back Stefanik to replace Cheney as GOP conference chair

The battle at the top of the Republican Party entered a new front Wednesday as former President Donald Trump and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise publicly backed Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as chair of the House Republican Conference. In a Wednesday morning statement, Trump said Cheney "has no business" in GOP leadership, adding Stefanik "is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair." A Scalise spokeswoman, Lauren Fine, told NBC News: "House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for conference chair." The statement was first reported by Punchbowl News.

This means the top two House Republican leaders — Scalise of Louisiana and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California — no longer have confidence in Cheney, clearing the way for her removal as the party's third-ranking leader in the House. Cheney, of Wyoming, remains defiant and will not step down from her leadership role, her spokesman said. In order for Cheney to be removed, a motion would have to be raised before the conference, which will then have to vote. That could happen as early as May 12 when the House is back in session and Republicans are likely to hold their next conference meeting. "Liz will have more to say in the coming days," Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler said. "This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight." Stefanik, 36, of New York, who has served in the House since 2015, has been making calls to fellow GOP members in a bid to replace the embattled Cheney, two Republicans with direct knowledge told NBC News. "Thank you President Trump for your 100% support for House GOP Conference Chair," Stefanik tweeted Wednesday. "We are unified and focused on FIRING PELOSI & WINNING in 2022!" Stefanik’s prominence within the GOP conference increased during Trump's first impeachment when she vigorously defended him.

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CNN - May 5, 2021

How Amy Coney Barrett has changed the Supreme Court in ways Kavanaugh hasn't

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has aligned most often with Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch in her first months on the bench. Yet as the court enters the final weeks of its annual session, Barrett is also separating herself from brethren on the right with a lower key, attention-deflecting manner. As she has adopted the legal method of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Barrett has avoided the flamethrower rhetoric that defined him and some followers on the bench today. Of the cases heard in oral arguments and resolved already this term, she has voted 100% of the time with Thomas and Gorsuch. But many more cases are to be decided and she has not so perfectly aligned with those two justices on emergency requests decided without full briefing or arguments.

In one death penalty case, Barrett broke from her colleagues on the right, as she signed an opinion by liberal Justice Elena Kagan that prevented Alabama from executing a condemned man without his pastor present. For decades, the high court was ideologically split 5-4, conservative-liberal, and the most pronounced conflicts came down to differences between those two camps. Now that Barrett has succeeded the late liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the court is divided 6-3, such tensions certainly remain, but an intriguing subplot is emerging as the six justices on the right, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, navigate among themselves. So far, Barrett's votes with Thomas and Gorsuch have revealed loyalty to the textualist method of interpretation more than to a particular result. That was seen, for example, in a case last week that found the conservative trio in sync with the court's three remaining liberal justices to favor a Guatemalan immigrant fighting deportation.

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New York Times - May 5, 2021

Taking ‘extraordinary measures,’ Biden backs suspending patents on vaccines

The Biden administration came out on Wednesday in support of waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines, siding with international efforts to bolster production amid concerns about vaccine access in developing nations. The United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some of the world economic body’s intellectual property protections, which could allow drugmakers across the globe access to the closely guarded trade secrets of how the viable vaccines have been made. But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, drafted by India and South Africa and backed by many congressional Democrats. Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, announced the administration’s position on Wednesday afternoon, as the pandemic continues to spiral in India and South America.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said in a statement. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.” Support from the White House is not a guarantee that a waiver will be adopted. The European Union has also been standing in the way, and changes to international intellectual property rules require unanimous agreement. Ms. Tai said the United States would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization over the matter, but that they would “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.” Standing against her will be the pharmaceutical industry, which responded angrily to the extraordinary decision. Stephen J. Ubl, the president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, called the announcement “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”

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Newsclips - May 5, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 5, 2021

Texas continues to lead US in raw population growth, Census Bureau estimates

Texas continues to lead the United States in raw population growth, according to Census estimates released Tuesday. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the Lone Star State had 373,965 more residents in 2020 than in 2019, a bigger increase in raw numbers than in any other state. Texas was followed by Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and Georgia. The spike — the largest for Texas since 2017 — is believed to have pushed the state’s population to 29.36 million. In terms of a percentage increase, though, Texas’ 1.29 percent rise trailed Idaho, Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

The population estimates are released yearly and are not the results of the 2020 Census, the decennial count overseen by the federal government. The Census Bureau did announce last week that that count found the resident population of the U.S. was 331,449,281 as of April 1, 2020. Texas has gained the most residents numerically since 2010, entitling the state to two new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The estimates released Tuesday, meanwhile, identified more growth in metro areas and Texas suburbs. The Census Bureau said Collin and Denton counties were on track to have larger population increases than Harris County, with Fort Bend County recording the sixth-largest population rise in the country. Much of the expansion is driven by migration, with Texas once again serving as the top destination for relocating Americans. It’s expected to remain second to Florida in the number of arriving international migrants.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 4, 2021

Sid Miller urges judge to void Texas Senate’s required COVID-19 tests

With his lawyer objecting to COVID-19 vaccines as "experimental injections" and coronavirus tests as invasive medical procedures, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller asked a state judge Tuesday to void Texas Senate rules requiring Capitol visitors to obtain a negative test or show proof of vaccination. "I believe in the statement in the constitution that the citizens of Texas have the right to petition their government. I can't see where it says if they've taken a COVID vaccine, or if they've taken a COVID test, or they take a, you know, strep test or if they take an HIV test," Miller testified. "I believe in transparency. I believe in open government. And this restricts the public's access to petition their government," he told state District Judge Jan Soifer of Travis County during a three-hour hearing.

Senators unanimously adopted rules for this legislative session that require showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, administered at no cost at the Capitol's north entrance, to get a wristband granting access to a committee hearing room or the gallery overlooking the Senate floor. Lawyers for Attorney General Ken Paxton defended the rule as a reasonable effort to protect health and ensure the Senate's continued operation under authority granted by the Texas Constitution. "No one is required to undergo a COVID test in order to access constitutional rights. The testing is voluntary," Emily Ardolino, Paxton's deputy chief of general litigation, argued Tuesday — adding that a test is not required to email or telephone senators, submit written testimony during a committee hearing or view Senate meetings online. "There are many alternate means to participating in petitioning government (and) observing sessions," Ardolino told the judge. "It really just comes down to, they don't want to. Disagreement with a government policy does not create a constitutionally protected right." Soifer ended the hearing, conducted online and livestreamed on the court's YouTube channel, by saying that she hoped to issue a ruling by the end of Friday.

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Houston Chronicle - May 4, 2021

Snubbed by Greater Houston Partnership, 175 business leaders raise alarm about Texas voting bills

A group of 175 business leaders sent a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan on Tuesday morning opposing several key provisions of the voting bills being debated in the Texas Legislature, which they said would add unacceptable barriers for Houston residents to cast a ballot. They included 10 members of the Greater Houston Partnership board, whose efforts to push the region’s largest chamber of commerce to condemn the bills were rebuffed by the group’s president. With the partnership silent on legislation Harris County leaders say will make voting more difficult for everyone and discriminate against people of color, the members said they could not stomach sitting on the sidelines. “When you have an organization that is supposed to reflect the diversity and inclusion, and has taken steps on its website to discuss racial equality but does not have the spine to bring forth to a vote an issue that is as important as this, we felt we had no choice but to bring it in a public forum,” said Gerald Smith, who also sits on the partnership’s executive committee.

The letter takes Phelan up on the speaker’s invitation last month for business leaders to flag provisions in the bills, including House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, that could add obstacles to voting. It raises alarm over provisions that would move polling sites away from Houston’s urban core, limit voting hours, ban drive-thru voting, remove restrictions on poll watchers, streamline voter roll purges and add a host of criminal penalties for poll workers and local election officials found in violation of the Texas Election Code. “These provisions, among others, will inevitably damage our competitiveness in attracting businesses and workers to Houston,” the letter states. “Especially as we aim to attract major conferences and sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup, voter suppression is a stain on our reputation that could cost our region millions of dollars.” The Republican lawmakers who wrote the legislation say the bills are needed to make elections more secure, though voter fraud in Texas elections is extremely rare. Several of the proposals take aim at rolling back efforts Harris County made in 2020 to make voting easier. Carrin Patman, whose father served as a state senator, said any reasonable person who reads the text of either SB7 or HB6 would conclude the bills have little to do with improving election integrity, as proponents including Gov. Greg Abbott claim.

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Wall Street Journal - May 5, 2021

Facebook Oversight Board is set to rule on Donald Trump ban

Facebook Inc.’s independent oversight board said it would issue a ruling Wednesday morning that could determine whether former President Donald Trump can return to the company’s Facebook and Instagram platforms. Facebook was among social-media platforms that suspended his accounts following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has said the suspension was important to reduce the risk of violence through the inauguration of President Biden. The company later referred the suspension to the oversight board as the company grappled with how to treat one of its highest-profile users after his exit from public office. The coming ruling places a spotlight on a relatively new panel that is unique among social-media companies.

Facebook has said it found that two posts by the former president violated the company’s rules against praise and support for the riot at the Capitol. In a video posted to Facebook and an accompanying post, Mr. Trump reiterated unsubstantiated claims about election fraud and, while encouraging the rioters to go home peacefully, implied that their actions stemmed from justifiable anger. Facebook ruled that content was prohibited, and Mr. Zuckerberg said Mr. Trump was seeking “to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden. ” But questions remain about the timing and rationale of Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision, with critics alleging the company was stifling free speech or that the former president was banned to appease the incoming Democratic administration. “The reaction to our decision shows the delicate balance private companies are being asked to strike,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, in a January company blog post. “Some said that Facebook should have banned President Trump long ago, and that the violence on the Capitol was itself a product of social media; others that it was an unacceptable display of unaccountable corporate power over political speech,” he said in the post.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 5, 2021

Erica Grieder: Proposed 6-week abortion ban brazenly disregards Texans' rights

Advocates for reproductive rights have always needed a certain degree of stoicism in Texas. This year, a taste for bleak humor would also come in handy. The Texas House on Wednesday is planning to take up a measure that seeks to whack away at access to the procedure by outlawing most abortions after the six-week mark. State law currently bans most abortions after 20 weeks. But Senate Bill 8 — like its identical counterpart, House Bill 1515 — isn’t your usual six-week abortion ban. It also includes a bizarre yet novel enforcement mechanism that could, according to legal experts, open the door to a slew of potential lawsuits against any Texan who helps someone terminate a pregnancy. “Instead of going with the typical state enforcement, which is how laws typically work, they’ve sort of invented a new mechanism where it’s up to private citizens to enforce the ban,” explained Dyana Limon-Mercado, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes.

SB8 focuses on the six-week mark because it is the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Advocates for reproductive rights say the measure is effectively an outright abortion ban. Many people don’t even realize they’re pregnant at such an early stage. Even if they do, they would have to jump through the various hoops the state has already set up, as well as arrange for time off work or child care or so on. And that’s assuming that the decision to terminate the pregnancy is an easy one, which it often is not. A number of states have already passed six-week abortion bans, only to see them struck down— including by conservative courts such as the Fifth Circuit, which last year threw out a Mississippi law banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. “All agree that cardiac activity can be detected well before the fetus is viable,” the court wrote, adding: “That dooms the law.” Under Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court held that women have the right to an abortion prior to the point of viability. Pro-life groups in Texas are trying a different tack. SB8, as passed by the Senate, would leave enforcement to individuals by creating a private cause for action. Such a law might not pass constitutional muster, but it can’t be challenged via the same litigation strategy that has thwarted all the other statewide six-week bans passed to date.

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Dallas Morning News - May 4, 2021

Transgender sports bill dealt what could be final blow by Texas House panel

The Texas House Committee on Public Education potentially dealt a final blow Tuesday to the controversial proposal that would require young transgender athletes in the state to compete only on teams that match the sex designated on their original birth certificate. The bill could still be revived or added to other legislation, though the vote by the House committee makes it much more difficult for the conservatives who have pushed the measure to get it to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott, who has said he would sign it. Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said the bill addresses a “manufactured problem,” later adding, “I fear it will be a stain that we can’t remove” if it passes.

“The only reason we’re doing this is because certain Republican legislators … want to brag to their far-right primary voters that they hurt trans kids, the same voters who think the election was stolen,” Talarico said. “There’s no other purpose in this bill than to hurt kids, and I didn’t come here to hurt kids.” The bill, from Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry, faced fierce opposition during public hearings before passing the Senate. Both lawmakers and LGBTQ advocates call the legislation discriminatory and say it unfairly targets transgender children, who are already marginalized, by preventing transgender athletes from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity. Opponents of the bill, including several Democrats on the committee, view the legislation as a solution looking for a problem, and the committee ultimately came one vote short of sending the measure to the full House. “It’s OK that a bill dies,” said Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio. “That’s OK. It’s part of the process. What’s the worst that could possibly happen? We know what happens if we do [pass] it. And I just don’t think it’s worth it.” The vote came just days after Abbott said he would sign the bill, which would further tighten University Interscholastic League policies, which are already strict on transgender athletes.

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Dallas Morning News - May 4, 2021

House OKs bill letting Texas Farm Bureau sell health coverage exempt from insurance laws

Leaders of the Texas House are promoting bills that critics say would revive the bad old days of health insurance when coverage was prohibitively expensive or outright denied for people with pre-existing conditions. On Tuesday, the chamber initially approved legislation that would let the Texas Farm Bureau sell health plans exempt from insurance laws and many consumer protections. It requires one more vote to advance to the Senate for further debate. Backers say the new coverage could provide cheaper alternatives for people who cannot afford health insurance. It would apply to the relatively small number of Texans who purchase coverage on their own and aren’t insured through an employer, Medicaid or Medicare.

Unlike most insurance policies though, this one would not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act and its requirements to provide a wide range of benefits, such as mental health and pregnancy care. Republicans said mandates are what’s driving up costs and noted the Texas Farm Bureau could offer those same benefits if members want them. “We get into the mentality of trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and make everything look the same,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, an anesthesiologist. “We need choice. We need competition. We need a variety of options in the marketplace.” Several Democrats fought the bill, saying it would lead to discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, who could be denied, charged more or forced to wait up to six months before coverage kicks in. They also warned that the new plans could siphon off young, healthy people from the ACA marketplace, potentially driving up costs in that program. “That’s how insurers can cherry pick out the healthiest people to bring into a plan, while leaving people with a pre-existing condition… in other plans,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “That drives up rates and makes insurance more expensive across the board.” The bill passed the Republican-controlled chamber 93-52 with several Democrats voting in favor.

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Dallas Morning News - May 5, 2021

Elizabeth Souder: The new ERCOT CEO wants you to trust the Texas electricity grid

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas hired an old hand as its interim chief executive. And that should give Texans hope that they won’t have to spend the summer digging survival bunkers and stocking up on batteries and trail mix. When industry insiders were creating the first protocols for the Texas grid operator, veteran energy executive Brad Jones was at the table. He spent years developing generation and working with regulators for TXU, and he spent years in top roles at ERCOT. Jones has been to many rodeos.

ERCOT, still reeling from criticism over its handling of the record winter freeze, announced last week that it hired Jones, 58, as interim chief executive for up to one year as the company conducts a search for a permanent leader. He will lead the grid operator past the February outage crisis and into the crucial summer months at a time when the economy is reawakening and more people are moving to Texas, bumping up demand for electricity. It’s not surprising that on his first day on the job, Jones declined to offer a solution to the reliability issues that led to power outages in February. He knows that all potential solutions — building more plants, deregulating the industry, fundamentally changing the market to favor more capacity, building more power lines — also present serious challenges. Instead, Jones said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News that he will start by rebuilding trust. Trust with electricity companies, trust with lawmakers, and trust, most crucially, with regular Texans. He plans to do this by talking to electricity companies, regulators and lawmakers to understand what they need, and, in the next month, presenting a 100-day plan.

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Dallas Morning News - May 4, 2021

Texas lawmakers see civics bills as a rejection of ‘woke’ philosophies. Educators say they would have a chilling effect

Texas lawmakers are quickly advancing bills that teachers and civics education advocates worry would have a chilling effect on classrooms and hamper efforts to encourage students to be effective citizens. Education groups are mobilizing against moves they say would clash with existing standards, infringe on free speech and make it more difficult for students to get involved in civic life. The Senate recently passed wide-ranging legislation from Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, which he cast as a way to ensure social studies teachers focus on “traditional history” and refrain from discussing certain concepts related to race and racism.

The House could soon vote on its companion bill. The legislation comes amid continued debate over what students should be taught about America’s complex past and present. Part of the Trump administration’s legacy is a fervent desire in conservative states to promote “patriotic education” and ban the teaching of critical race theory, an academic framework that, among other things, probes the ways in which government policies uphold systemic racism. Bills with similar objectives gained traction in other red states — including Idaho and Tennessee — in recent weeks. In a Facebook post, Creighton summed up his bill as an attempt to prevent “the Biden Administration from advancing mandates on requiring critical race theory curriculum because, in Texas, we will not make students apologize for our country and our history.” It’s passage was cheered by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as a rejection of “woke” philosophies.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 5, 2021

Why wasn’t AT&T Stadium opened during freeze? Arlington officials weigh storm response

Arlington leaders want to explore additional generator power and disaster response accommodations after the February winter storm that left more than 5 million Texans without power. Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, said he received a call from a mother with a child after they lost power, asking where they could go. Asking around, Piel was told there was no guarantee of power at any facilities except for hospitals. “I was very disturbed by that,” Piel said before asking whether the city could explore adding generators to a recreation center or using a portable generator.

Fire Chief Don Crowson and other city staff broke down each day of freezing temperatures, water pressure loss and recovery as residents scrambled for warmth, water and information. The presentation included information on decisions made during the storm. The city experienced more than 2,500 water breaks, predominantly at homes and businesses where owners let their water run. “We chased those leaks for days,” said Craig Cummings, Arlington Water Utilities director. Cummings said poor advice or false information on social media prompted demand for water at levels higher than what the department would see in August. At the time of the freeze, Pierce Burch Water Treatment Plant was running when John F. Kubala Water Treatment Plant would normally run. Only one plant normally runs during February, which Cummings described as a “mundane month.” Cummings said the city plans to install a generator at Pierce Burch; Kubala already has a generator. Additionally, he said, the city could consider keeping both plants running. Water issues, he said, were not due to systemic failure; rather, increased demand brought down the system.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 5, 2021

‘It’s just sad.’ North Texans pick up pieces after tornadoes destroy businesses, homes

Curtis Haley was pacing around the barn, pulling down shades over windows in anticipation of the impending storm, when he saw the dark, spiraling funnel cloud headed his way. He set his half-full bottle of Dos Equis down on the bar, used by guests during wedding receptions held inside the picturesque structure of wood and metal, which has large sliding doors that open up to acres of flowing prairies and the Brazos River. He ran across his property, past cattle and interconnecting fences and small sheds, to the underground storm cellar by the main house. He shuffled down the steps and pulled the door shut tight behind him. Above him, the world tossed and turned with fury, tearing through the five-year-old wedding venue, the Barn on the Brazos, he started with his wife, Cathy Haley, in Blum. When Curtis stepped outside as the storm cleared, structures he had been inspecting only minutes earlier were reduced to rubble, Cathy said.

The full scope of the damage became even clearer in the light of day Tuesday morning. Curtis and Cathy were joined by friends and family as they carefully stepped through the ranch littered with debris. The barn for the receptions, situated near the front gate, had a sheet of metal missing from its roof, and bits of wood and glass covered the floor. Directly across the dirt road, a shed used for storage and woodworking had three-fourths of its roof open to the sky. The outdoor wedding area further down the road — filled with wooden pews, arches and a pair of barn doors — was turned into a debris field. Up past the wedding area was the brick house where the bride and groom have had the option of staying together before their wedding day. It’s the same house that Curtis’ parents used in the 1980s for their cattle and meat business, Haley’s Feed Lot, and then later lived in during their retirement until they died. It was perhaps the hardest-hit structure — the roof had flown off and walls toppled over. Curtis’ Ford pickup, which he got when he was 16, was surrounded by the remains of the garage.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 4, 2021

Ted Cruz: Texas is fighting back against big businesses that threaten oil, gas jobs

In the past few years, we’ve seen a dangerous shift in American big business. Powerful CEOs have made the decision to use their companies to enforce the political agenda of today’s Democratic Party, which is controlled by the radical left. Just this year, MLB pulled its All-Star game out of Georgia because the state legislature — elected by the people of Georgia — passed a common-sense election bill. In Texas, American Airlines spoke out against voting legislation moving through our Legislature. Coca-Cola, Amazon, Google, Delta Airlines and General Motors are only a handful of the big corporations that have weighed in on behalf of the radical left. Big business isn’t just wielding its power to stop Republican voting bills. Corporations are also trying to punish the oil and gas industry to toe the left’s line on climate change.

Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest asset managers, announced that his firm would divest from fossil fuels to help combat climate change. JP Morgan Chase has followed suit and is instituting a rating system to judge companies on “environmental, social, and governance” issues, including climate change. In response, Texas lawmakers are putting Main Street over Wall Street. State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, filed Senate Bill 13, which would direct the Texas comptroller to form a list of investment companies that discriminate against the fossil fuel industry and the businesses that rely on it. If Texas state agencies are investing public funds with the firms that threaten the fossil fuel industry, the investment firms have 90 days to reverse course, or Texas state agencies will divest their funds from those firms. As Birdwell said when SB 13 passed the Senate: “If you boycott Texas energy, Texas will boycott you.” Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, is sponsoring SB 13 in the Texas House. On Monday, the House moved it one step closer to being law. SB 13 would protect Texas jobs against the woke mob, and I am particularly thankful to Birdwell and King for their leadership.

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Houston Chronicle - May 3, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Greenhouse gas emissions spike in Permian Basin, as climate change pressure mounts

The worst nightmare of the oil and gas industry has come true: environmental groups are using satellites to observe and report greenhouse gas emissions from their well pads. The Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, Georgia Tech and the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research used a European Space Agency detector to take 200,000 readings across the 61,000 square-mile Permian Basin. The average rate of methane emissions had recently doubled, according to data published in the journal Science Advances. Methane is a far more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Well operators release it while drilling and completing a well, but it also leaks from malfunctioning equipment. Some environmentalists want to ban new natural gas wells because the industry does not control methane leaks. EDF’s data paint drillers in a poor light.

“These are the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin. There’s so much methane escaping from Permian oil and gas operations that it nearly triples the 20-year climate impact of burning the gas they’re producing,” co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at EDF, said while describing data collected between May 2018 and March 2019. The first eight months of 2020 were just as bad, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kayrros, a consulting firm that combines satellite technology with other observation tools to develop industry intelligence. The problem is not just in the Permian Basin. “Based on the number of methane hotspots detected in the oil and gas sector, visible methane emissions around the world have increased by approximately 32 percent (in 2020),” according to a Kayrros analysis. “In Algeria, Russia and Turkmenistan, the increase is even higher, totaling over 40 percent.” No one seriously thinks we will eliminate the need for oil and natural gas anytime soon. But investors, buyers and consumers are expecting the industry to produce them cleaner. France and Ireland recently rejected liquefied natural gas shipments from Texas due to concerns over Permian Basin emissions.

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KXAN - May 4, 2021

237 children sleeping in CPS offices as Texas foster care ‘capacity crisis’ worsens

More than 200 children slept in state offices for multiple nights in March of this year as the “capacity crisis” in the Texas foster care system continues to worsen. According to data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, during February 2020 — before the coronavirus began to spread in Texas communities — 34 children spent two or more nights sleeping in DFPS offices. By March 2021, that number had increased by nearly seven times, with 237 kids sleeping in offices. Scott Lundy, CEO of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, said he has worked in the child welfare system for three decades. He called 2020 the “most challenging year” of his career.

In short, there aren’t enough beds to accommodate every child entering the foster care system, and Lundy said it’s reaching the level of a “catastrophe.” “The capacity crisis that we have right now is the worst that I’ve ever seen,” Lundy said. A spokesperson for DFPS said providers have been “profoundly affected by the pandemic and more recently by February’s winter storm.” They explained foster care providers have struggled to recruit and train foster families willing to open their homes, while residential treatment centers have faced similar struggles with retaining qualified staff. According to state data, Texas gained 393 beds for children in Fiscal Year 2020 but lost 540 beds. So far in FY 2021, we’ve already lost 696 beds, while only gaining 112. “DFPS is constantly working with providers to bring more capacity online, while prioritizing child safety over sheer numbers of beds,” the spokesperson said.

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KXAN - May 4, 2021

‘John and Joseph’s Law’ voted out of Texas Senate committee unanimously

Alice Almendarez anxiously thought about her words. It was a moment she had prepared for over the last several years. “I’m a little bit nervous,” admitted Almendarez as she began to testify in front of Senators with the Criminal Justice Committee. She drove in from Houston hours earlier just so she could share her father, John’s story. “He was held in the county morgue for two years before being – sorry – before being buried unidentified as an unknown Hispanic male,” said Almendarez emotionally. She recalled going to the morgue and asking if they had any bodies that matched his description. “I was told they did not when he was in the same morgue that I was standing in the entire time. And I believe the reason for this was there was no database. There was no way for the clerk in the front desk to check if there was a body back there,” explained Almendarez.

She told lawmakers that “John and Joseph’s Law” would have given her family closure much sooner. Named after her father and another Houston resident, the law would require a law enforcement agency that receives a report of a missing child or person to enter case details into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs within 60 days. A justice of the peace or a medical examiner would be required to enter details about unidentified bodies into NamUs also within the same timeframe. Case details would include dental records, fingerprints, and clothing descriptions. KXAN’s investigation “Missing in Texas” found that 10 states have passed laws with similar requirements. NamUs has been based in North Texas, but it was recently announced that it will now be managed by RTI International (RTI), a nonprofit research institute, out of North Carolina later this year.

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Politico - May 5, 2021

Texas Republicans want Biden to play the villain. They just need to make it stick.

On Joe Biden’s third day in office, he went through a rite of passage weathered by every modern president: He got sued. Texas — the nation’s largest Republican-held state — did the honors, hitting the new administration with a lawsuit targeting Biden’s decision to temporarily pause deportations. But where the state proved to be a well-funded legal foil to President Barack Obama on everything from health care to environmental and labor regulations, Texas Republicans may find it more difficult to score politically against the new administration. Texas is mounting its offenses earlier and more aggressively than it did against the previous Democratic president — including a new challenge on Tuesday. It’s the same role California and New York played when Donald Trump was president, suing over abortion restrictions, changes to Obamacare and immigration measures. California didn’t let up, filing nine lawsuits against the federal government on Trump’s last day in office.

Yet, Biden’s long years in the public eye, the more moderate tone he hit on the campaign trail opposite liberal stalwarts like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and the fact that he’s white, have made him less polarizing than Obama. And while Biden may still prove to be a useful villain for GOP leaders frustrated with policies more liberal than Obama’s, they are also trying to fend off a far-right insurgency as Republicans court more moderate suburban voters. “There was more grassroots opposition to Obama, the stimulus and Obamacare,” said Republican consultant Brendan Steinhauser, who has worked on campaigns for Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, both Texas Republicans. Trump activated a different type of Republican voter, he said — one who worries less about pushing conservative economics and more about culture war flash points. Where Texas Republicans used the legal system a decade ago to deliver a steady stream of red meat to their base, Biden is a far less popular target after losing Texas by less than 6 percentage points in 2020, an unusually close result in the reliably red state.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 4, 2021

'One of the greatest': Austin rock 'n' roll critic and historian Ed Ward has died at age 72

After failing to respond to friends and neighbors, Austin rock 'n' roll critic and historian Ed Ward was found dead by police on a welfare check at his South Austin home late Monday afternoon, his friend Jon Lebkowsky has confirmed. He was 72. Among the first staff music critics for the American-Statesman, Ward wrote or cowrote four books, including two volumes of a comprehensive history of rock music. He was in Austin working on a third volume. "Ed Ward was the critic of all music critics," said author and journalist Joe Nick Patoski, who recommended his friend Ward to replace him as music critic for this newspaper in 1979. "From the early days of Rolling Stone magazine through Creem and the Village Voice to the Austin-Statesman, 'Fresh Air,' and beyond, he never shied from voicing his opinion on cultural matters that counted most for his generation." Ward also was passionate about food and wrote about it for the Austin Chronicle under the pen name Petaluma Pete.

"He was fond of barbecue and Mexican food," Lebkowsky said. "He liked dives and out-of-the-way places. Ed was so great, completely cantankerous. And he was a consummate critic, a critic of everything. At the same time, he was a wonderful friend and he really did look out for his friends." Born Nov. 2, 1948, Ward grew up in Eastchester, N.Y., and attended Antioch College, a private liberal arts college in Ohio. A fan of folk music, he started writing on the subject in 1965. Based in San Francisco, he served as a staff writer for Rolling Stone, Creem and Crawdaddy. Austinites got to know him as the music critic for the American-Statesman from 1979 to 1984. "He transformed the job," said Peter Blackstock, who worked in the newspaper's sports department during the early 1980s and now shares the music beat with Deborah Sengupta Stith. "The paper decided to go big and outside with Ed. When I was in high school, I first started reading Ed, about concerts coming to the Erwin Center. He covered the big stuff. He also took the Austin music scene seriously. He could converse in the country world but was definitely from a rock 'n' roll background. His timing was right to dovetail with the Austin punk scene during the late '70s and early '80s." The critic was not without his own critics. "The 'Dump Ed Ward' stickers started appearing about a month after his byline," Patoski said. "Music people in Austin weren’t used to sharp criticism. In many respects, Ed was Austin's first real music critic. His documentation of the scene as it boomed in the 1980s is without peer."

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CNN - May 3, 2021

A GOP candidate ran on an anti-Trump platform. He won just 3% of the vote.

Michael Wood’s candidacy in this weekend’s special election for Texas’$2 6th district was regarded as a potential canary in a coal mine. Wood, on paper, had all the sorts of attributes that Republican voters have long prized – he’s a Marine veteran and a small business owner. He was also, however, an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump, and argued that the Republican Party needed to move beyond the 45th President in order to survive. It’s that last attribute that drew so much national attention to Woods’ candidacy. In a crowded field with most of the candidates vowing their unstinting support for Trump, could Woods cut through by tapping into dissatisfaction with Trump within the GOP? And if he did, was that a sign that Trump’s grip on the GOP was slipping? Uh, no.

Wood finished 9th. He got just over 2,500 votes – good for 3.2% of the overall vote. Which, oomph. The leading candidate? Susan Wright, the widow of the late Texas Rep. Ron Wright, with 19%, who was personally endorsed by – you guessed it – Donald Trump. “Susan surged after I gave her an endorsement last week,” tweeted the former president over the weekend. “Her wonderful husband is looking down, and is very proud of her!” (The other candidate who qualified for the July runoff was state Rep. Jake Ellzey, who also fashioned himself as a strong supporter of Trump.) Wood was unbowed in the wake if his dismal showing, releasing a statement that said in part: “I am gravely concerned about the state of the Republican Party. Let me be clear: this is not because I lost an election. I am concerned because a Republican President of the United States lied to the American people, took advantage of his supporters’ noble patriotism, encouraged a mob to disrupt the lawful operations of the United States Congress, was derelict in his duty as commander-in-chief to put an end to this insurrection – and then the overwhelming majority of elected Republicans in Congress failed to show the courage this moment required. Republican members of Congress then voted to overturn an election and attempted to disenfranchise millions of Americans. The events of January 6, 2021 are a stain on America. The failures of Republicans in the weeks that followed are a stain on the party of Abraham Lincoln.” It’s worth noting here that Wood was always something of a long shot – no matter how he positioned himself vis a vis Trump in the primary. Wright’s name ID – due to her late husband’s time in office – made her the frontrunner from the start. And Ellzey not only had a base in the district from his state House seat but had also run unsuccessfully against Ron Wright in 2018.

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NBC News - May 4, 2021

Christopher Mosley: President Bush's immigration-focused art exhibit is an exercise in revisionism

Perhaps no president since Richard Nixon has had a post-administration life as unexpected as George W. Bush. Walking away in 2008 from a hideous near-collapse of the economy, a highly scrutinized bailout of corporations and banks, and just a handful of indefensible wars, Bush could have led a quiet life. Instead, he became one of the most famous living artists in the world. Indeed, at age 74, the president has a new painting exhibition at his library in Dallas titled, "Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants."

Despite only starting to paint in 2012, Bush clearly has some ability, a fact remarked upon by critics. He also has access to the greatest art instruction money can buy and works with known artists such as Sedrick Huckaby. When his works unwittingly debuted via email hack by the notorious Guccifer in 2013, the art world scratched its collective chin with typical pretense and bemusement. But lost somewhat in the meditation on formalism and pedantic art history was Bush’s legacy. Although there has been some backlash, Bush’s painting is his best career rehabilitation tool. And it’s working: His approval rating doubled in less than a decade. While some on the right accused Bush of offering amnesty via policy during his administration, it is hard to call him a friend to immigrants. The Bush administration sharply increased workforce raids and attacked those who employed immigrants, the very people who try to help those who move to the United States for a better way of life, illegally or not. Bush doubled the number of border patrol agents during his time in office and militarized the nation's southern border by deploying the National Guard there. He created the Axis of Evil terminology in a State of the Union address that made all of the citizens of three entire countries — Iran, North Korea, and Iraq — criminally suspicious.

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Texas Monthly - May 3, 2021

What exactly does John Cornyn do all day? Well, for one thing, he tweets. A lot.

Twitter launched in 2006, but didn’t really find its footing as a social media platform until March 2007, when it became the talk of that year’s South by Southwest festival. The site quickly transformed from a widely derided showcase for irrelevant narcissism in 140-character bits—an easy refrain at the time was that Twitter existed for users to tell the world what they had for lunch—to something more expressive, expansive, and often downright weird. (Eventually, Twitter would be credited with a key role in world events such as the Arab Spring.) In February 2008, right around the time he celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday, Texas’s then–junior senator John Cornyn signed up. In the years since, he has taken to the platform like a man born to it.

A recent analysis of the Twitter habits of each member of Congress from Washington, D.C.–based public affairs consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies found that Cornyn was, in fact, the most prolific tweeter in Congress over the first three months of 2021. During that time, he (or someone in his office) sent nearly 2,200 tweets and retweets. That’s more than double the number sent by the second-most active member of his party—Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona—and nearly 1,400 more than Texas’s junior senator Ted Cruz, who’s the third-most prolific GOP tweeter. Cornyn’s closest challenger to the title of Congress’s biggest Twitter-head is Democratic Pennsylvania congressman Dwight Evans, who sent an impressive 1,740 tweets over the first three months of the year. While social media is often stereotyped as a haven for millennials and zoomers who want to waste time, seven of the nine most active Twitter users in Congress are in their sixties or older (fellow Texan Lloyd Doggett, at 74, is the fifth-most prolific tweeter in national elected office). Cornyn’s tweets come in a variety of forms: the personal (remember his brisket?), the cryptic (often unattributed excerpts from articles he’s read), and the snarky (“It’s summer, Chuck,” he wrote in response to a 2019 tweet from Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer noting that July was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet). Sometimes Cornyn wants to push a policy position such as border reform, sometimes he wants to let you into his life, and sometimes he just wants to make fun of his rivals with a beer.

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KFDA - April 29, 2021

Fiery 18-wheeler crash on Texas highway sends 2 to hospital

A semi caught fire Wednesday after what officials called a “major traffic accident” south of Stratford on U.S. Highway 287. According to the Sherman County Sheriff’s Office, the crash happened about six miles south of Stratford in the northbound lane of U.S. 287. Both truck drivers are hospitalized, and one is in critical condition. The Department of Public Safety says one semi-truck was parked on the shoulder of the road when, for unknown reasons, another semi crashed into it. Both trucks caught fire and the drivers were able to escape. The driver of the semi-truck that crashed into the parked semi was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Traffic traveling north was diverted.

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KUT - May 4, 2021

Bill to prevent Texas cities from banning natural gas heads to governor’s desk

It's unclear whether any Texas cities have banned natural gas hookups in buildings. But now they won't be able to — if a bill approved by the state Senate on Tuesday becomes law. House Bill 17 by state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, was initially written in response to California cities banning natural gas use in new buildings to fight climate change. With the support of the natural gas industry, Oklahoma and Louisiana have already preemptively passed laws to ban local natural gas bans. But Deshotel’s legislation got a rebranding in Texas when it was included on the list of bills prioritized in response to the February blackout. In explaining the bill to fellow lawmakers, Deshotel said "gas played an important part in helping a lot of people” during the blackout. “I know in my own home, I was able to keep things going because we had a generator that kicked on and ran on natural gas,” he said in a hearing of the House’s State Affairs Committee this spring.

HB 17 went on to gain approval by the state House. Now that it has also cleared the Senate, it's expected Gov. Greg Abbott will sign it into law. In Texas the plan is opposed by environmental groups who worry it is written so broadly it could end local incentives for going green. But it’s also under scrutiny for another reason. Some say it would actually increase the likelihood of another large-scale blackout by pushing more natural gas to new homes and less to power plants that need it during cold spells. “This bill absolutely, unequivocally, would make the problem worse,” Doug Lewin, an energy efficiency advocate and president of the consulting firm Stoic Energy, told KUT in March. HB 17 is not the only gas-friendly bill that’s been pitched as a blackout fix. Another, already approved by the state Senate and up for a hearing in the House on Thursday, would raise the cost of renewable energy. Adding extra cost to wind and solar power has been a long-term goal of the fossil fuel industry and its allies at the state legislature. But opponents, including a group of companies like Amazon, General Electric and Goldman Sachs, say it could slam the brakes on Texas’ booming wind and renewable sector. As far as the ban on the gas ban is concerned: It’s hard to find a city in Texas that has tried to implement such a policy. The City of Austin may have come closest when it considered phasing out new gas hookups in 2030 as part of its long-term climate plan. But that proposal never made it out of draft form. The city softened its approach to natural gas after intense lobbying by the industry.

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County Stories

Lufkin Daily News - April 29, 2021

Jasper County withdrawing from Deep East Texas Council of Governments

Jasper County is withdrawing from the Deep East Texas Council of Governments, less than two years after the regional planning authority moved its headquarters from Jasper to Lufkin. The county’s move to the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission — SETRPC — was approved Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott. DETCOG officials say transferring programs and services “will take place over a period of time.” No official time table was given when the transfer was announced Wednesday.

Texas is divided into 24 planning and economic development regions. SETRPC is based in Beaumont and includes Hardin, Jefferson and Orange counties. DETCOG, which moved its headquarters to Lufkin from Jasper in 2019, will continue to cover Angelina, Houston, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties. Jasper County officials have been participating in some SETRPC meetings during the past two years, Jasper Judge Mark Allen said. “Through this process, it was learned that the vast majority of Jasper County’s daily out of county commerce and employment migration was to SETPRC counties, as well as for medical, veterans and higher education services,” he said. DETCOG director Lonnie Hunt said regional officials supported the move. “We respect the right of Jasper County officials to divide where they will best be served,” he said. “We will do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition as we hand off existing programs in Jasper County to SETRPC.” Originally organized in Diboll in late 1966, DETCOG was based in Jasper for more than four decades before moving to Lufkin in December 2019 to provide a more centralized location for services in the multiple-county region.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 4, 2021

There’s no channel, but some Panther Island land is on the market, ready for development

The largest chunk of privately owned land on Panther Island is on the market. LanCarte Commercial, in collaboration with Panther Island Property Group, announced late last week that 26 acres across 10 parcels would be up for sale. The land is prime for development as a mix of commercial and residential, LanCarte said in a statement. The development is being called Upstream. The announcement comes roughly a month after the opening of White Settlement Road, which had been closed to traffic because of bridge construction.

“We’ve been invested on Panther Island for over a decade, and having had the benefit of watching the progress from the sidelines, the marked increase in activity and completion of several key development milestones over the past few months are signaling to us that ‘lift-off’ moment has arrived,” Mark Brock, Managing Partner of Lionhead Real Estate, the largest private investor on the Island, said in a prepared statement. Six of the Upstream parcels are reading for construction now, according to LanCarte. Seven of the parcels would front proposed canals or other waterfront. Exact address for the parcels were not available, but a promotional brochure shows three lots surrounding La Grave field along the Trinity River. Most of the lots are to the east of North Main off of North Commerce and North Calhoun, but three lots front North Main, including one at the corner with NE Fifth Street. Encore Panther Island, a separate apartment development, will bring 300 luxury units to the area. It features the first channel and river walk, which flows through the middle of the complex.

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WFAA - May 5, 2021

'It was just a surreal moment': Allen High School crowns first LGBTQ+ prom king

For a while, Lee Haskett and the rest of his class didn't even know if they would have a senior prom. "When I heard that prom was going to happen, I said okay I want to do something big," Haskett said. His first step was to apply to be on the prom court. He was voted on by the student council, and it was up to the rest of the students to make the final decision.

Spoiler alert: He won. "It was just a surreal moment," Haskett said. "I actually did something, and it matters to people.” The bigger victory wasn't the crown itself, but who he won it for. “I ran for inclusivity," Haskett said. "I ran for the LGBTQ+ community, or the rainbow mafia as I like to call it.” Haskett came out in ninth grade. Since then, he says he's been fully owning his identity and passions. "Pre-COVID, I used to wear heels, corsets, anything that I wanted, to school every single day," Haskett said. So, it likely didn't come as much of a surprise for his classmates that he accepted his Prom King title in a gown, one he made himself. Haskett said he's loved fashion since elementary school, when he would design outfits for Barbie dolls because he didn't like the clothes she came in. His passion is for creating evening gowns.

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National Stories

Politico - May 4, 2021

Meet the people deciding Trump’s fate on Facebook

A group of 19 lawyers, scholars, activists and journalists from around the world will announce on Wednesday whether former President Donald Trump’s Facebook account is to be reinstated or kept off the platform for good, a ruling with massive implications for U.S. politics. The so-called Facebook oversight board has been deliberating Trump’s case since January, when he was booted off after the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol over fears he might incite more violence. Their decision could give the former president back one of his most powerful megaphones or muzzle him permanently on yet another major social media platform. While the board members have spoken sparingly about how they are weighing Trump’s suspension, many have a long track record of weighing in on contentious issues around free speech on social media, and their backgrounds could offer a glimpse into how they each approached Trump’s blockbuster case.

A spokesperson for the board declined comment for this story, but the group has previously said its diversity of opinions is its strength. “The Oversight Board has Members with various backgrounds, expertise and characteristics, so that they can make fair decisions on cases from around the world,” the board tweeted last year. The board has no shortage of vocal Trump critics — some who have even suggested he should be imprisoned over his role in the storming of the Capitol or that he’s a bigot and a racist. But their views on free speech online are far more complex, meaning they could still go either way on Trump’s suspension. Here’s what we know about the board members, and what their experiences in the realms of law, government, academia, human rights and journalism may tell us about Trump’s fate on Facebook. One of the board’s five U.S. members has been deeply involved in the determination of whether Trump stays or goes on Facebook, while another is sitting out the decision entirely. Under the board’s rules, a panel of five members first reviews any case and makes a recommendation, which is then accepted, rejected or amended by a majority vote from the entire body. While the members of the smaller panel are not disclosed, it always includes one member from the case’s region. That means at least one U.S. member was directly involved in the board’s initial read of the Trump case. The cast of Americans includes two prominent conservative figures — former federal judge Michael McConnell and John Samples, vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute. Alongside them are two other lawyers steeped in debates around online speech, Columbia Law professor Jamal Greene and University of Oklahoma law professor Evelyn Aswad.

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Axios - May 5, 2021

McCarthy trashes Cheney on hot mic

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday he's "lost confidence" in Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) during a moment of candor caught on a hot mic, a tape reviewed by Axios shows. What he's saying: "I think she's got real problems," McCarthy told Steve Doocy off-air ahead of a live "Fox and Friends" interview. "I've had it with ... I've had it with her. You know, I've lost confidence. ... Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place." The comments, made amid seeming cross-talk with Doocy, outlined how the House conference chair could be removed by a vote from the chamber's Republican members.

McCarthy's comments contrasted from the nearly 6-minute, on-air interview where he told Doocy he'd heard members concerned about Cheney's ability to carry out her job as a party leader. "This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan. 6," Cheney spokesperson Jeremy Adler said in response to McCarthy's aired Fox interview. "Liz will not do that. That is the issue." Why it matters: To date, McCarthy has left some of his more pointed criticisms to his lieutenants, but this firmly puts him on the record — even if it was accidental. Top Republicans told Axios' Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene last week that Cheney could be removed within a month.

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New York Times - May 3, 2021

Michelle Goldberg: Why the Right loves public school culture wars

There is a quote from Ralph Reed that I often return to when trying to understand how the right builds political power. “I would rather have a thousand school board members than one president and no school board members,” the former leader of the Christian Coalition said in 1996. School board elections are a great training ground for national activism. They can pull parents, particularly mothers, into politics around intensely emotional issues, building a thriving grass roots and keeping it mobilized. You could easily write a history of the modern right that’s about nothing but schools. The battles were initially about race, particularly segregation and busing. Out of those fights came the Christian right, born in reaction to the revocation of tax exemptions for segregated Christian schools. As the Christian right grew, political struggles over control of schools became more explicitly religious. There were campaigns against allowing gay people to work in schools and against teaching sex education and evolution. Now the Christian right has more or less collapsed as anything but an identity category. There are still lots of religious fundamentalists, but not, post-Donald Trump, a movement confidently asserting itself as the repository of wholesome family values.

Instead, with the drive to eradicate the teaching of “critical race theory,” race has moved back to the center of the public-school culture wars. I put critical race theory in quotes because the right has transformed a term that originally referred to an academic school of thought into a catchall for resentments over diversity initiatives and changing history curriculums. Since I first wrote about anti-critical race theory activism in February, it’s become hard to keep up with the flurry of state bills aimed at banning the teaching of what are often called “divisive concepts,” including the idea, as a Rhode Island bill puts it, that “the United States of America is fundamentally racist or sexist.” “We will reject Critical Race Theory in our schools and public institutions, and we will CANCEL Cancel Culture wherever it arises!” the irony-challenged Mike Pence tweeted last week. As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed out, Glenn Youngkin, a candidate in Virginia’s Republican primary, recently released four anti-critical race theory videos in 24 hours. Part of the reason the right is putting so much energy into this crusade is because it can’t whip up much opposition to the bulk of Joe Biden’s agenda. Biden’s spending plans are much more ambitious than Barack Obama’s were, but there’s been no new version of the Tea Party. Voters view this president as more moderate than Obama, a misconception that critical race theory scholars would have no trouble explaining. Republicans have groused about how hard Biden is to demonize. They need a more frightening, enraging villain to keep their people engaged. Critical race theory — presented as an attack on history, a program to indoctrinate children and a stealth form of Marxism — fits the bill. The recent elections in Southlake, Texas, show how politically potent the backlash to critical race theory can be.

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Salon - April 30, 2021

Inside the fight to overturn a ban on yoga in Alabama's public schools

In early 2019, a high school student asked Alabama state Rep. Jeremy Gray about his daily routine during a talk he was giving at a public high school in his district. The 35-year-old former Division I football player and CFL star said it often includes yoga — at least twice a week. "As football players and athletes, we do yoga as a way to recover," Gray told Salon. But his admission also unveiled a surprising truth about the state of Alabama: yoga is banned in public schools. The high schoolers he stood in front of were legally prohibited from having the activity be part of their public school curriculum. The ban, which has been in effect since 1993 and was voted on by the Alabama Board of Education, states: "School personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga."

When Gray, a Democrat from Opelika, learned about the seemingly antiquated ban, he set out to overturn it — introducing Alabama House Bill 246 (HB 246) in the hopes that it would make a positive contribution to his community. "Yoga is literally everywhere," Gray said. "It's in churches, universities, it's at football practice, basketball practice, the local YMCA, so I didn't really think it was a big deal until I introduced the bill and it was heavily opposed by conservative groups." For the past two years, the bill has been bitterly contested by outfits like the Eagle Forum — which was founded by Phyllis Schlafly, best known for organizing the right-wing movement that stopped the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and warning of the "psychological" dangers of feminism. She was also supported publicly by former President Donald Trump before her death. Today, the bill is in a critical stage as it sits in front of powerful Rules Committee, where it waits for approval to be sent along for debate in the full state Senate. Though the bill has already passed through the state House, if the bill is voted down by the Rules Committee, it dies. "That happened to me my first year, in 2019, where [the committee] didn't want to vote on the bill," Gray said. This time around, there are just three opportunities to get it on the calendar before the legislative session ends.

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NBC News - May 4, 2021

Schools are sending kids to virtual classes as punishment. Advocates say that could violate their rights.

Before his kindergarten classes begin for the day, Raynardo Antonio Ocasio watches from his mother’s third-floor bedroom window as his classmates line up on the sidewalk below. “It actually makes him sad,” said his mother, Mayra Irizarry. “He doesn’t understand why he’s not going to the school. He wants that interaction. He wants to be around kids.” But Raynardo, 6, has been banned from his classroom since September. After attending in-person classes for four weeks last fall at the Zeta Charter School, across the street from his apartment in northern Manhattan, Raynardo was banished to the school’s virtual classes for failing to wear a mask and follow other Covid-19 safety rules. The school said pushing Raynardo out was necessary to keep teachers and students safe at a scary moment in the pandemic.

Administrators across the country made similar decisions as they tried to reopen safely amid fraught politicized debates and angry disputes over masks and public health. Student advocates in six states told NBC News that they’re working with numerous students who’ve either been excluded from in-person classes or have been threatened with exclusion if their behavior doesn’t improve. School leaders may be acting in the interest of safety, but advocates say that removing students from in-person classes because of their behavior may violate those students’ rights, especially if they have disabilities. Federal law requires public schools like Zeta to provide all students with the support they need to succeed in the most appropriate classroom for them, which could mean bringing in a counselor or working with parents to improve a child’s behavior. Advocates say the students they’ve seen removed from in-person classes this year are the same ones who’ve been traditionally more likely to be removed from class: children with disabilities, who have a harder time following some rules, and Black or Latino children who are more likely to be punished for their behavior than their white classmates.

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