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Newsclips - June 18, 2021

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Houston Chronicle - June 18, 2021

Whatever you heard Winter Storm Uri will cost Texas taxpayers, it's probably more

Anyone who has walked under or near high-voltage power lines has heard them crackle and hum. Thanks to Winter Storm Uri — and Texas’s free-market energy system — that noise will likely end up costing Texas taxpayers millions of dollars. The sound is line-loss — electricity that disappears into the air during its trip through power lines, like water evaporates as it flows through canals. Typically its cost is an afterthought. Yet the astronomical price Texas regulators set for electricity during February’s deep freeze meant the cost of the non-existent power quickly ballooned into huge bills. In February 2020, line-loss charges cost Harris County about $17,000. This February the cost exceeded more than a half-million dollars, a 2,800-percent increase. In Tarrant County, the evaporated-electricity charges jumped nearly 6,000 percent — from $5,000 in February 2020 to more than $300,000 over the same period in 2021.

“It’s a breath-taker,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, chairman of the Public Power Pool, a cooperative that buys electricity for about 100 government agencies. Call them the hidden taxpayer costs of the winter storm. Everyone agrees storm-related power price surges will cost Texans billions of dollars, much of it paid out over years of higher rates. But no one has totaled all the ways, large and small, that residents will pay for the event. Publicly funded state agencies needing to keep the lights and heat on during the freeze racked up huge bills. In February 2020, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates the state’s prisons, paid about $1.2 million for natural gas. This February the cost soared to nearly $8.5 million. The University of Texas-Austin paid $940,000 for gas in February 2020. In 2021: $3.65 million. Last month, state legislators passed laws to help companies borrow billions of dollars to pay for storm-inflated power costs and bill ratepayers over time to pay it back. Yet well before that, many Texas cities that own public utility companies already had been forced to scrounge up additional millions to cover gas and electric bills hugely inflated by the storm-caused shortages. Outside of Dallas, Denton borrowed $140 million. Georgetown, just north of Austin, borrowed $48 million to cover the cost of providing electricity to its residents during Uri. Ratepayers will have to cover that, as well as a projected $5 million in interest and costs over the term of the loan.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Texas loses to Oklahoma on electric vehicle company Canoo’s ‘mega-factory.’ Power grid cited as one reason.

The electric vehicle maker Canoo announced Thursday that it would take a mega-factory and thousands of high-paying jobs to the Tulsa region, citing Oklahoma’s “energy-forward initiatives.” North Texas was “definitely in the race” in the multistate competition for the new assembly plant, but Texas energy infrastructure issues and other factors led the company to choose Oklahoma, chairman and CEO Tony Aquila told The Dallas Morning News. “Will we be big enough fish in that pond? Will we get enough support out of the governor?” Aquila said. “We had to factor all these things in.”

The announcement was made at Canoo’s first-ever investor day at Texas Motor Speedway, and it came with residents of the state on high alert for potential power blackouts. On Monday, ERCOT warned residents to conserve energy or risk rolling blackouts like the ones the state saw during February’s winter storm. “We see Oklahoma the same way we saw Texas in 2008,” Aquila said. Canoo is one of the first public companies to host an in-person investor day since the pandemic began to ease, and it limited attendance at the event. About two dozen investors listened as executives laid out Canoo’s growth plan and rode around the motor speedway track in test model vehicles. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt was there and said Oklahomans were “over the moon excited.” Stitt touted Oklahoma’s energy costs, which he says are the lowest in the country. “We are committed to making you the next Henry Ford of EVs,” Stitt told Aquila. The state of Oklahoma and Canoo agreed to an incentive package worth as much as $400 million if the company meets staffing and wage goals, including hiring a workforce that is 10% military veterans, according to Canoo.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Texas loses again as Supreme Court dismisses multi-state challenge to Obama health law

Rejecting a Texas-led lawsuit, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday preserved the Affordable Care Act for a third time, saving the health insurance coverage of tens of millions of Americans. In a 7-2 ruling, justices said Texas and 17 other Republican-led states and two individuals do not have legal standing to overturn Obamacare. The decision kept the entire law intact, reversing lower courts in New Orleans and Fort Worth, and thwarting a three-year effort by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton’s suit threatened the health coverage of more than 20 million Americans at a time when the coronavirus pandemic and economic upheaval forced more workers and families into the ranks of the uninsured. Spokesmen for Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas, which leads the nation in both the number and share of its residents who lack health coverage, has refused to expand Medicaid to low-income adults of working age, despite Obamacare’s strong inducements. Other key elements of former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement protect people with pre-existing health conditions, offer a range of no-cost preventive services and allow children to stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26. Also left in place is the law’s now-toothless requirement that people have health insurance or pay a penalty. In 2017, Congress reduced the penalty to zero. The move provided an opening for Paxton and other Republicans to claim that with repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, Chief Justice John Roberts’ 2012 opinion upholding the law’s constitutionality should no longer apply. Congress has power to tax people who lack health insurance, Roberts wrote. Paxton said elimination of the penalty erased the justifying tax, and with it, the requirement for individuals to buy health insurance. Without the individual mandate, all of the law’s other provisions should fall, too, he said. But as in 2012 and 2015, when the law also was upheld, the Supreme Court on Thursday frustrated Obamacare’s diehard opponents.

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Washington Post - June 17, 2021

‘Pure insanity’: How Trump and his allies pressured the Justice Department to help overturn the election

The Justice Department leaders were losing their patience. For weeks, President Donald Trump and his allies had been pressing them to use federal law enforcement’s muscle to back his unfounded claims of voter fraud and a stolen election. They wanted the Justice Department to explore false claims that Dominion Voting Systems machines had been manipulated to alter votes in one county in Michigan. They asked officials about the U.S. government filing a Supreme Court challenge to the results in six states that Joe Biden won. The president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, even shared with acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen a link to a YouTube video that described an outlandish plot in which the election had been stolen from Trump through the use of military satellites controlled in Italy. “Pure insanity,” Rosen’s deputy Richard Donoghue wrote to him privately. In the last weeks of 2020 and the first of 2021, the demands from Trump and his allies pushed the department to the brink of crisis.

Though most scoffed at their increasingly far-fetched and desperate claims, one relatively high-ranking Justice Department lawyer seemed to entertain Trump’s requests — pushing internally to have the department assert that fraud in Georgia was cause for that state’s lawmakers to disregard its election results and appoint new electors. Trump contemplated installing him as attorney general, as other Justice Department leaders considered resigning en masse. The new details laid out in hundreds of pages of emails and other documents released Tuesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee show how far Trump and his allies were willing to go in their attempts to use the Justice Department to overturn Biden’s win — a campaign whose full contours are still coming into view five months after Trump left office. The endeavor involved the White House chief of staff and an outside attorney, who peppered department officials with requests that they said came on behalf of Trump himself to investigate baseless claims of election fraud. Their efforts intensified in the days before Congress was set to formally recognize the election results Jan. 6 — and culminated in an Oval Office showdown Jan. 3. This account is based on those documents as well as interviews with several people involved in or briefed on the events of late 2020 and early 2021. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a politically sensitive matter.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Edgar Tirado’s killing by police on LBJ Freeway was a ‘failure’ of Texas’ mental health system, his family says

Police chased Edgar Tirado Jr. as he ran across at least eight lanes of traffic, somehow avoiding all the speeding cars on LBJ Freeway near Coit Road in North Dallas. It was April 19. The two-hour long chase began after the police received multiple 911 calls about a man with a gun who had allegedly robbed a restaurant and a few stores, and attempted a car-jacking. On a service road, Tirado pointed what appeared to be a handgun at officers who were perched high on the sides of Interstate 635. Three officers fired at Tirado, killing him. In the following investigation, authorities learned that Tirado’s gun was a replica. And his family and friends want the public to know that Tirado, 28, was no violent criminal. His parents said it was a sad and traumatic ending to the life of a man who fell through the cracks of the mental health system instead of getting treatment for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Before his mental illness affected his health, Tirado was a standout student at Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, with dreams of pursuing a career in the U.S. Air Force. The eldest brother in a close and loving family, he always wanted to see a smile on his sisters’ faces. But his family struggled to help him as he began to suffer extreme paranoia and depression in his 20s. Starting in 2018, Tirado spent time in and out of jail after run-ins with Garland Police for low-level offenses like trespassing. For months, Tirado’s parents had been asking Dallas County officials for help in getting their son involuntarily committed, family emails show. Records obtained by The Dallas Morning News show that Dallas police detained Tirado two times before the April 19 incident through an APOWW, known as an Apprehension by Peace Officer Without Warrant. It’s a legal process that police use when a person appears to be experiencing a psychotic episode. Instead of jail, they’re taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and temporary detention. The person can be held for up to 72 hours, and the stay can be extended.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Texas Gov. Abbott signs permitless handgun carry into law

Texans can soon begin carrying a handgun in public without a license or training, after Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation allowing permitless carry. The hotly contested law takes effect Sept. 1. People 21 and older who can legally possess a handgun will no longer need a state-issued license to carry it outside their homes or vehicles. By signing the divisive measure opposed by police groups, Abbott delivers a major win to conservative activists, who long sought to do away with the state’s license requirement. Proponents say law-abiding Texans shouldn’t need a permit to exercise their Second Amendment rights. Critics counter the licensing system works to weed out dangerous people from carrying deadly weapons on the streets.

Right now, Texans must clear a background check, pass a safety course and show they can shoot to get a license to carry a handgun in public. More than 1.6 million are licensed in Texas. Each year the state rejects a few thousand applicants, mostly because of criminal history. The law leaves the licensing process intact for people who still want to get one. Texans do not need a permit to carry a long gun in public. The Republican governor made expanding gun rights a priority this session, the first since gunmen killed 30 people in mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa. After the 2019 tragedies, state GOP leaders seemed willing to consider tightening gun laws, but backed off after their party maintained control of the Legislature in the November elections. After uncertainty about whether permitless carry could clear the GOP-controlled Senate, members made changes meant to appease law enforcement and hesitant Republicans. People are prohibited from permitless carry in the five years after they’ve been convicted of certain misdemeanors. They are assault causing bodily injury; deadly conduct; terroristic threat; and disorderly conduct with a firearm. Schools, polling places, bars, sporting events and several other locations are off limits for guns. Businesses can also bar people from carrying inside by posting a sign.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Is former Fort Worth mayoral candidate Deborah Peoples running for Tarrant County Judge?

Deborah Peoples may be mulling a run for Tarrant County Judge. The former Fort Worth mayoral candidate, who lost to Mattie Parker by 6 percentage points in the June 5 runoff election, posted a simple question Wednesday morning on Facebook. “County judge?” read the post, written at 7:55 a.m. The move could set up a possible rematch between Peoples and former Mayor Betsy Price, who announced her run for Tarrant County Judge last week. The former chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party lost by 14 points when she challenged Price for the mayor’s job in 2019.

“I’m certain she will bring a spirited campaign, but I’m confident voters will find my pro-taxpayer, pro-police and pro-economic growth policies more desirable,” Price said Wednesday in a statement to KXAS-TV (NBC 5). The station also asked Peoples if she was running, and she said in a text message, “Anything is possible but I am working on multiple projects right now.” Tim O’Hare, former mayor of Farmers Branch and founder of the Southlake Families PAC, is also in the race for county judge after announcing his candidacy in late May. He and Price will face off in the Republican primary next March. Glen Whitley, who has been Tarrant County Judge since 2006, announced earlier this month he would not seek a fifth term.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Biden signs law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, marking end of slavery in Texas long after emancipation

Saturday will mark 156 years since Union forces landed in Galveston with belated news that slaves had been emancipated more than two years earlier. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a law declaring a national holiday for Juneteenth, the day long recognized as the official end of slavery in the United States. A 94-year-old Fort Worth civil rights icon, Opal Lee, was at his side, holding the hand of Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to serve as vice president. “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments.... They embrace them,” Biden said. “Great nations don’t walk away. They come to terms with the mistakes that were made.” Juneteenth has been a state holiday in Texas for four decades, and has spread to nearly every state in recent years as a celebration of freedom and national evolution.

For Biden, the East Room ceremony marked the second time in two weeks that he’s thrown the full moral weight of the presidency behind a call to confront past inequities. On June 1, he traveled to Oklahoma for a somber commemoration of the 1921 massacre of hundreds of Black Tulsa residents at the hands of a white mob. A bipartisan and racially diverse group of VIPs crammed into the gilt adorned East Room for the Juneteenth bill signing, none more glittering than Lee, who drew attention to the cause in 2016 by walking from her hometown to Washington. “I’m just – I don’t know what to say. Joyful, humble, exhilarated,” she told The Dallas Morning News. “I want people to understand: It’s not a Black thing, it’s not a Texas thing. It’s an American thing.” Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, led the push in Congress for the new holiday with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat. Both stood with Biden in the East Room as he signed the legislation, along with other lawmakers. Biden handed Lee one of several pens he used to sign the measure into law. “When we all decide that we’re brothers and sisters under the skin, that we all want the same thing — a decent place to stay, a job that pays decent wages, schools, adequate healthcare. When we get together and dispel those discrepancies, we will be the greatest nation in the whole wide world,” Lee told The News.

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Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Migrants will replace inmates in a South Texas prison

Texas is transferring inmates from a state prison to make room for migrants detained by state authorities, a prison system spokesman said Thursday. The prison system began moving inmates from the Dolph Briscoe Unit prison in Dilley to other prisons Wednesday, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel said. The medium-to-minimum-security prison about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio has a staff of 233, including 165 security officers, and can hold 1,384 inmates, according to the TDCJ website. “This action will allow the unit to serve as a central holding facility for non-TDCJ detainees who have been arrested and charged with a state offense,” Desel said in a statement.

Dilley already is the location of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility, the privately managed South Texas Family Residential Center, which can accommodate as many as 2,400 detainees, including children. The move was made in response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that state authorities arrest and confine migrants who are in the country illegally and committed a state or federal crime, he said. “Fortunately, the agency currently has the available bed capacity to assist in Operation Lone Star,” Desel said. On Wednesday, Abbott announced that the state’s jails were looking for additional bed space to house the rising number of people being arrested. Abbott also said he would spend $250 million in state money and crowdsourced financing to continue the construction of walls along the Texas-Mexico border that then-President Donald Trump started and President Joe Biden suspended.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Federal government closing Friday for new Juneteenth holiday, as Biden signs bill marking day when emancipation news reached Texas

Over the weekend thousands will join in celebrating Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Texas – a tradition that stems from 1865. And this year, for the first time, it will be national holiday. President Joe Biden will sign that into law in an East Room ceremony on Thursday afternoon, following unexpectedly swift approval in Congress this week after years of effort. Thursday morning the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that because the 19th falls on Saturday, the new holiday will be observed on Friday, June 18th, with the federal workforce granted a paid day off and most government offices closed.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had single-handedly blocked the holiday, arguing the federal budget couldn’t take the strain of another paid day off for workers. He abruptly dropped his objection on Tuesday and within hours, the Senate unanimously approved the bill, followed Wednesday by the House in a 415-14 vote. The actions came after another impassioned push by Opal Lee, a Fort Worth civil rights icon known as the grandmother of Juneteenth. Several members of Congress cited Opal as a leader in the long effort to more formally recognize Juneteenth nationally. The bill represents the culmination of years of work by Texas lawmakers, including Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who had pushed Juneteenth legislation in several congresses. “What I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom,” Jackson Lee said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “47 states have taken up a commemoration and celebration because there is something about freedom that is contagious. And that is what this holiday will bring about.” On June 19, 1865, Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to inform some of the last slaves in the United States of their freedom and to announce the end of the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation over two and a half years earlier. Jackson Lee read some of Granger’s words on the House floor Wednesday during the debate.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 17, 2021

Woman told mother, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ before death at Carswell federal women's prison in Fort Worth

A 54-year-old woman awaiting her sentencing hearing died inside a federal prison in Fort Worth after being transferred to receive medical care. Sherri Hillman died Monday night at FMC Carswell, which is the only federal medical facility for incarcerated women in the country. Hillman was not yet sentenced on her charge of selling methamphetamine and was awaiting her pre-sentencing hearing at a jail in Kentucky. Hillman contracted COVID-19 at Laurel County Correctional Center, a Kentucky regional jail, in January. She was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator on Jan. 8. Since then, she was transferred across various jails and hospitals, mostly in Kentucky, Hillman’s mother, Jan Addington, said. After her hospitalization for COVID-19, Hillman’s health never fully returned.

On May 18, Hillman was transferred to a hospital in Kentucky where she had surgery on May 21, her attorney, Barry Glenn, said. Her condition still did not improve. COVID-19 can cause long-lasting health problems, especially when people have pre-existing conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hillman had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema, according to court records. Hillman and her attorney had filed several motions, which are sealed, in April concerning Hillman’s health. Glenn said he could not say what the motions were about specifically. “She was transferred to (Carswell) in Fort Worth because most people thought she would be getting better care there than in Kentucky,” Glenn said. “Because that’s a county jail and they said they did not have the capability or the means to care for her anymore.” On June 1, U.S. marshals transferred Hillman to FMC Carswell. She was put into quarantine when she got to Carswell, per CDC guidelines.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 18, 2021

Meet Mattie Parker. How family, Texas politics and a tiny town shaped Fort Worth’s mayor

A debate on whether Mattie Parker’s 5-year-old son would don appropriate clothes in time for her swearing in ceremony was answered when he swiftly appeared in the foyer fully dressed, but definitely shy. The brown boots on his feet weren’t to his liking though, so he kicked them off in favor of some Nikes, and commenced climbing a large decorative rock. It seemed an appropriate middle ground had been found in this brief impasse. This is not an uncommon scene at Parker’s home, which she described in a text as “maybe mass chaos!” As Fort Worth’s next mayor Parker, 37, must lead a city of more than 900,000 that, like her son Laney, doesn’t always know which direction it wants to go.

The chaos of family life will be an asset to Fort Worth, Parker said in an interview recently, noting that her new council colleagues represent more than 20 children between their families and extended families. This is a time when the city can improve the quality of life for families in every neighborhood, she said. “We’ll be faced every night with ‘Am I doing the right job for those kids, for my children?’’’ Parker said. “There’s a new younger generation taking the torch and willing to lead. It’s an exciting time for Fort Worth.” Parker supporters have a lot of confidence she’s the right person for the job. They see a smart woman who represents the kind of young professionals Fort Worth needs to attract as well as a fair arbiter capable of getting diverging parties to agree. She’ll face tough challenges with a city that has grown by 25% in the past decade, several new council colleagues with limited government experience and the looming need to reconcile wide differences in the diverse city. “She’s going to have to be very innovative in a time when the city is growing so fast,” Betsy Price, the city’s mayor for a decade, said after Parker won the June runoff. “She’s going to lead us through those times.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 17, 2021

Thousands of Arlington’s schoolchildren are exposed to fracking fumes, report warns

More than half of Arlington’s public school children attend classes within half a mile of a natural gas drilling site, prompting concerns about the effects of fracking on their health, according to a new report published Tuesday. A year-long investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting — which produces the popular news podcast Reveal — found that more than 30,000 Arlington kids go to school near a drilling site. Up to 7,600 infants and toddlers are dropped off at private daycares within the same half-mile radius of drilling, according to the center’s analysis. The new data comes as Total, a French energy company which operates under the name TEP Barnett in North Texas, continues to expand natural gas drilling throughout Tarrant County, particularly in Arlington. The growing city of 400,000 is home to 52 drilling sites and hundreds of wellheads, many of which are earning greater scrutiny from activists, local officials and daycare operators worried about the impact of gas drilling fumes on public health.

Tarrant County, home to just over 4,000 wellheads, has the highest rate of birth defects among large counties in Texas, according to the center’s analysis. Drilling is also concentrated in neighborhoods where the majority of residents are people of color and lower-income, said Ranjana Bhandari, an activist interviewed extensively for the report published in the Texas Observer and Mother Jones. As executive director of the environmental advocacy group Liveable Arlington, Bhandari has led several actions to increase the distance between school-aged children and natural gas drilling, pointing to scientific studies linking close proximity to drill sites with higher rates of childhood asthma, leukemia and birth defects. Emissions from drill sites can include exhaust from diesel trucks or rigs as well as the chemicals used to frack, a method of drilling that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground to extract gas and petroleum. “The public health research has already been presented to our city council, to people who make these decisions, so in some sense it shouldn’t be new,” Bhandari told the Star-Telegram. “I hope this will encourage them to think differently, because this is critical to the wellbeing of Arlington that we don’t keep worsening inequality and that we don’t keep adding to the health burdens that people already face because of environmental issues.”

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San Antonio Express-News - June 17, 2021

Jon. R. Taylor: Wild, weird and what? The 87th Texas Legislature

(Jon Taylor is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.) It’s been said that politics in Texas is a contact sport. The late Molly Ivins once quipped that the Texas Legislature is “the finest entertainment in Texas.” The 87th Texas Legislature did its best to fulfill these observations and then some. The Legislature had a tumultuous start amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a looming budget deficit of nearly $1 billion and Winter Storm Uri. It ended with a chaotic Memorial Day weekend voting frenzy that saw, among other things, a walkout by House Democrats that stopped a highly restrictive and constitutionally dubious election bill, open conflict between the lieutenant governor and speaker, a threat by the governor to veto the Legislature’s funding and calls for at least one or more special session. And they say that politics is boring.

While some, such as Gov. Greg Abbott, claimed that the 87th Legislature was successful and the most conservative legislative session in a generation, others loudly noted that the session was downright terrible, one of the worst in history. Debates about success or failure aside, the Legislature sent almost 1,100 proposed new laws to Gov. Abbott for his signature and proposed eight new amendments to the Texas Constitution. Abbott is correct: It was the most conservative Texas Legislature in a generation. Ironically, it could have been even more conservative were it not for some infighting among Republican leaders in the Senate and House. That infighting led to delays that killed several priority projects, including the election bill. The actions of the 87th Legislature will likely have long-term impacts on both our state and nation. Depending on your political persuasion, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. This session saw passage of legislation allowing permitless carry of pistols. Texas designated itself as a Second AMendment sanctuary state. Legislation was passed that severely restricts abortion after the first six weeks. The ability of cities to cut police funding was weakened. Using one-time federal dollars, the state will ramp up border security. A bill goes to the governor’s desk that would make it a felony for Texas protesters to obstruct emergency vehicles. And a bill was passed that excludes places of worship from emergency closures even after a disaster has been declared.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 17, 2021

San Antonio ISD and 29 other districts ask Abbott to add virtual schools funding bill to any special session

Thirty school districts, including San Antonio Independent School District, and two associations signed a letter to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to add legislation funding virtual learning to any special session for other proposed laws. A bill that would have ensured districts receive funding for each student enrolled in online-only classes died after Democrats broke quorum to kill a controversial voting bill. The bill was expected to be called at 11:40 p.m. May 30. The signatories of the letter sent Wednesday noted that many districts scrapped plans to offer virtual learning this upcoming school year after the bill did not get a vote.

SAISD was one of those that suspended plans to provide a virtual school option for the next school year. Laura Short, an SAISD spokeswoman, said they are keeping a close eye on the upcoming special legislative session, which could happen as early as next month, to see if virtual learning might gain some traction. She said the district is offering a safe, in-person school experience for all students next year. “We ended this year on a safe, strong note, and we will begin on a strong note, too — beginning with our Summer Jumpstart program and again in the fall,” Short said in an email. “We respectfully request that you add virtual learning to the list of items for the legislature to act on during any special session you call prior to the 88th Legislative Session,” the letter reads. “Over the past year, many students have discovered that virtual learning provides them with an opportunity to learn and grow in their own unique way.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 17, 2021

Texas A&M University System will observe Juneteenth

Texas A&M University system will observe Juneteenth Friday, giving all students and employees the day off to observe the holiday. The announcement comes after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act Thursday, which establishes June 19 as a national holiday. Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, the day enslaved people in Galveston were finally told they were free. The Texas announcement came two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

To recognize the observance, the Texas A&M System will close all 11 of its universities and eight state agencies Friday, June 18. “This is a special day that originated in Texas and we’re proud to honor it,” A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said in written statement. Employees who provide essential services or who are needed for support Friday should still report to work, but will be provided compensatory time off, according to the release. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner commended Biden for his decision to sign the holiday into law and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for helping pass legislation through the U.S. Congress to make it possible. “From this day forward, the federal holiday will remind the nation of the historical struggles Black Americans faced and the incredible progress made in the United States,” Turner said in a written statement.

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Houston Chronicle - June 17, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Cheerleader's Snapchat F-bomb is no reason to limit student speech

One Saturday in spring 2017, cheerleader Brandi Levy, 14, learned she didn’t make the cut for the varsity cheer team at her Pennsylvania high school, and reacted like impetuous teenagers sometimes do. She sent a message to her friends over Snapchat featuring a selfie of herself giving the middle finger, the image superimposed with a charming tirade of expletives: F school, F softball, F cheer, F everything. That burst of rebellion — or slew of “unattractive swear words” as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has called it — has landed Brandi at the center of what could be among the most important student free speech cases of the past half-century. We hope the justices use the case to extend into the Internet era fundamental protections that have been in place since at least 1969, when the court famously backed students in Des Moines, Iowa, who had been suspended for wearing black armbands to school in silent protest of the Vietnam War.

Alarmingly, however, if the justices overturn the two lower courts who have ruled in Brandi’s favor, they could usher in a new, more restrictive notion of when schools can punish — and therefore censor — student expression. The stakes are high — not because we see it as vital that students be free to use profanity when the mood hits them. It’s because the case may determine whether it will be government — teachers, administrators, local police or city hall — that sets the standard for what thoughts are too offensive, or whether that job will remain in the hands of parents or guardians, and all the other soft influences from coaches to pastors to extended family capable of doing so much to steer young people’s development. The court’s decision will go a long way in telling young people whether their government trusts them to develop their own thoughts and to express themselves, without fear of official sanction. Brandi’s profane message — the F words were all spelled out — was seen by about 250 “friends” on Snapchat and, as chats on the mobile app are programmed to do after 24 hours, disappeared into the ether. Except that it didn’t. A fellow cheerleader had taken a screen shot of it, and turned it over to her mother, a coach on the team. Brandi was suspended from the cheer squad for her coming sophomore year. The school cited team rules requiring students to show respect for each other and the school. Officials reasoned since she had made it clear she was upset about not making the team, her post was disruptive to rest of the squad. The school says some students were left “visibly upset” by her comments. Rather than accept her punishment, she and her parents did something most teenagers never do: They made a federal case out of it. A federal district court ruled that since the speech was outside of school hours and away from campus, it could not be deemed sufficiently disruptive to education to warrant censure. A unanimous court of appeals agreed.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 17, 2021

Texas power grid 'stable,' but ERCOT reiterates call for conservation

The danger of the lights unexpectedly going out across Texas this week has lessened. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the agency that operates the state's power grid, described it as stable Thursday, despite reiterating a call from earlier in the week for Texans to cut back on their electricity usage through Friday. "At this point, I believe we will come out of the conservation appeal" as scheduled on Friday, ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said. "My understanding is the outlook will continue to get better" as more power plants are repaired and come back into service. ERCOT first issued its plea for conservation on Monday, after an unusually large number of power plants went offline for unplanned repairs at the same time that demand for electricity was soaring as temperatures approached triple digits.

Sopko said the conservation efforts by Texans paid off. Peak demand on the ERCOT grid hit a new June record — 69,943 megawatts between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday — but the figure is below the peak of 73,000-plus megawatts it had been on track to hit. The previous record for June was 69,123 megawatts, set in 2018. One megawatt is enough to power about 200 homes on a summer day. ERCOT officials said they aren't certain why so many plants went out for unplanned repairs at around the same time, but they are beginning an investigation into the matter. On Monday, nearly 12,000 megawatts of generation capacity were offline for unplanned maintenance — several times more than typical for June. As of Thursday morning, the figure was down to about 9,300 megawatts, ERCOT said, because some of the plants had come back into service.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 17, 2021

Texas AG Ken Paxton asked to weigh in on Austin ISD's decision to end PTA-funded staff

A state lawmaker has asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on whether a new state law requires the Austin school district to allow parent-teacher associations to continue funding additional school staff for the upcoming school year. In a request for a nonbinding opinion from Paxton, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, asked whether House Bill 1525, set to go into effect in September, means the school district must accept PTA donations already collected for the 2021-22 school year. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation on Wednesday. The attorney general's office received the request Tuesday and has 180 days to respond.

Taylor asked Paxton to "expeditiously review the law" and the district's actions "as campuses in AISD and elsewhere in the state struggle to determine the effect of AISD's position on their schools." The request is the latest pushback to the district's announcement this spring that it would end the longstanding practice because of concerns that it leads to inequities between schools with more affluent and powerful PTAs, which tend to be at schools with predominantly white student bodies, and schools with less PTA support, often in poorer areas. Nearly all of the more than 30 staff salaries funded by PTAs during the last school year are at schools located west of Interstate 35, the historic racial and ethnic dividing line in Austin. The National PTA organization and other Texas school districts also avoid the practice because of similar equity concerns.

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Politico - June 17, 2021

Cruz: McConaughey would be a 'formidable' candidate for Texas governor

Sen. Ted Cruz said Thursday that actor Matthew McConaughey would be a "formidable candidate" for Texas governor, something the Academy Award winner has said is a "true consideration" for him. McConaughey, a Texas native and Austin resident known for his roles in "Dazed and Confused" and "Dallas Buyers Club," has been in touch with Texans in infleuntial political circles about a potential bid to unseat Gov. Greg Abbott. Even as he has publicly discussed his interest in a gubernatorial bid, the actor has been vague about his political leanings and it is unclear which party he would align with or if he would run as an independent.

Cruz (R-Texas), a self-described “big fan” of Abbot, said in an interview on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show on Thursday that he hopes McConaughey decides not to run. While Abbott is a “close friend and mentor” of Cruz’s, the senator said he knows McConaughey a little bit and likes him personally. “He's a very charming, very affable guy,” Cruz said. “He's a movie star, and a good-looking, charming, affable movie star can be a really formidable candidate on the ballot. And I hope that doesn't happen, but you know what? He's going to have to make his own decision whether he's going to run or not,” he added. Republicans have maintained a stranglehold on the governor's mansion in Austin since Democrat Ann Richards was defeated in 1994 by George W. Bush. No Democrat has held statewide office in Texas since 1998.

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Austin Chronicle - June 17, 2021

Unhoused moved to "Bridge Shelter" as city HEALs its first encampment

Nearly all of those who have been living outside of the Terrazas Branch Library in East Austin have been moved into “bridge shelter,” in the first effort to relocate people and clear campsites as part of the Housing-Focused Homeless Encampment Assistance Link (HEAL) initiative approved by City Council in February. City officials confirmed for the Chronicle that 20 people were placed into rooms at the SouthBridge shelter, a former Rodeway Inn which had become a Protective Lodge for those experiencing homelessness and facing high health risks from COVID-19; it began operating as transitional housing this week. As a condition for staying in the shelter, residents must engage with case managers to try to secure longer-term housing, but the hope is that people will be allowed to move on at their own pace and increase their stability before entering a housing program.

In May, Council approved a $1.4 million contract with Family Eldercare and a $500,000 addendum to a $2 million contract with Integral Care to provide rapid rehousing (RRH) as a next stop for people who accept temporary shelter as part of HEAL. Both contracts would cover about 16 months of housing, which is typical; RRH programs are primarily for people who suddenly lose housing rather than those with long-term experience of homelessness. But this would still allow time for those sheltered under HEAL to access stabilizing services (such as health care) and potentially move into future permanent supportive housing (PSH) or other affordable housing options. The HEAL resolution Council adopted in February did not specify Terrazas as the first site, and indeed didn’t name any locations outright; it instead offered direction to staff filled with hints about encampments that have frustrated neighborhoods and their Council members. It referred to an East Austin location “on a sidewalk or public easement adjacent to or leading to a public library”; the area is represented by CM Pio Renteria, who lives a few blocks away. While Terrazas, along with other Austin Public Library branches, has been closed during the pandemic, the Downtown Austin Community Court has operated there since August 2020, having outgrown its original home on East Sixth Street.

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Fort Worth Report - June 15, 2021

Rapid population growth could hurt Fort Worth if jobs don’t follow, expert says

Fort Worth’s booming population is good news as long as the city can grow jobs that keep all those new residents employed within the city’s limits, experts say. “You might have population growth, and that makes for a nice headline,” Kyle Walker, Texas Christian University’s director for the Center of Urban Studies, said. “But is this reflecting the growing prominence of the city as an economic center, or is it reflecting sort of the growing bedroom community city that is sending workers elsewhere?” Recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Fort Worth is the second-fastest growing city in the nation. Its population grew to 927,720 in 2020, an annual growth rate of 2.1%, moving it from the 13th- to the 12th-largest city in the nation. By 2025, Fort Worth is projected to grow to over 1 million people. The city’s comprehensive plan attempts to “position Fort Worth to compete successfully on the national and international stage for creative, high-growth businesses.”

“We’ve grown tremendously, and we’ve stepped out of the shadow of Dallas,” Mayor Mattie Parker said. “People didn’t know who we were, and now we have been really proactive when it comes to economic development opportunities.” Fort Worth created an economic development strategic plan in 2017, meant to address the city’s economic status over the next five years and beyond. The city’s 2021 comprehensive plan cites issues found in the strategic plan, such as the city’s job-housing ratio eroding, residents becoming increasingly dependent on work in other cities and residential land use exceeding commercial use. Fort Worth’s bread and butter has been blue-collar jobs, Economic Development Director Robert Sturns said, but the city must now invest in creating jobs in finance, banking, IT and tech. These talks around attracting such companies should have started 20 years earlier, he added. “You’ve got those kinds of white-collar opportunities that have been historically on the east side (of the Metroplex) looking at where there are workers that can fill these positions,” Sturns said. “Fort Worth has this great base, but we want to ensure we’re getting opportunities in more of those high-tech, high-paid positions.” Companies are “agnostic” when it comes to finding an area to relocate to in the Metroplex, Sturns said. But a rapidly growing population can help Fort Worth distinguish itself from the surrounding area.

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Dallas Observer - June 17, 2021

‘They need to go home’: Neo-Nazis can’t find a warm welcome at Texas rallies

Nearly two hours southeast of Dallas, halfway to Houston, Centerville sits on the side of Interstate 45. It’s a small town, home to fewer than 1,000 people. So, when a handful of out-of-town neo-Nazis showed up on a street corner on June 5, waving their flags and holding up “White Lives Matter” placards, word spread quickly and a commotion followed. When local resident Spencer Culton spotted the masked white nationalists, he whipped out his phone and started recording. “I don’t know where these motherfuckers are from,” he narrated, approaching the group, “but they need to go home.”

A neo-Nazi wearing a white shirt and a black bandana replied, “We’re getting out of y’all’s town.” “Hurry up with it,” Culton shot back. Another local, a man in a National Rifle Association T-shirt and a ball cap, stepped up and shook the neo-Nazi’s hand. While he respected their right to protest, he said, they should do it elsewhere. “Most of us here have kids,” the man said, “and we don’t need that shit here in our town.” Maybe the White Lives Matter crew, a small group of far-right demonstrators who have tried and mostly failed to organize a spate of rallies in Texas in recent months, thought a town like Centerville would welcome them. If so, they were mistaken. A similar scenario played out in Fort Worth on April 11, when a much-touted White Lives Matter demonstration only managed to attract three or four supporters. Like in Centerville, Fort Worth didn’t have much interest in their message. In fact, counter-protesters and anti-racists in North Texas outnumbered the neo-Nazis. That same day, the neo-Nazis had decided to nix a White Lives Matter rally in Houston after local anti-racists and anti-fascists announced plans to push back in force. Since 2016, White Lives Matter demonstrations have come as a direct backlash to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based watchdog.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 17, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Ghastly things happen at the Collin County jail

Late last week, we learned of another death in the Collin County jail. This one, Dakota Lee Kent, was the unborn son of Lauren Kent, who was an inmate there in 2019. Lauren Kent’s pleas for medical attention were ignored until, eventually, she gave birth to Dakota over a toilet in her cell, she alleges in a lawsuit. The Collin County jail has already lost seven employees because of the case of Marvin Scott III earlier this year. Scott was an inmate there who died while in custody. The Collin County medical examiner ruled it a homicide. Now, two years after her incarceration, Kent is suing the county and a company called Wellpath that contracts with the jail to provide medical care.

Kent was arrested May 30, 2019, on a charge of credit card abuse, according to county records. The lawsuit says she was homeless and pregnant, and that she found a lost credit card in a parking lot and used it to buy food. But it’s what happened after her arrest that matters. A nurse at the jail gave her a pregnancy test that confirmed she was pregnant on May 30, 2019, the suit says. According to the lawsuit, Kent asked to see a doctor almost every day of her incarceration before she gave birth on July 5. That request was never granted. Kent was having abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. She communicated with jailers by written message through a digital kiosk. Those messages, cited in the lawsuit, were desperate: “PLEASE IM BEGGING YOU,” she wrote. “I NEED A DOCTOR.” On July 1, Kent started sending messages that she hadn’t felt her baby move in 24 hours and that she had passed a blood clot. But she was told that she would have to soak two pads with blood before she could see a doctor. County and Wellpath employees accused her of “crying wolf,” all according to the lawsuit.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2021

To the prayers of many, Southern Baptists change course on abuse, race issues

For three years, the Southern Baptist Convention has been at a crossroads, its leaders warning that the world was watching as the faith group dealt with scandals over sexual abuse, racism and misogyny. And for three years, victims of each have waited with bated breath, have anxiously pleaded and prayed that the nation’s second-largest faith group would change course. Many of their prayers were answered this week in Nashville. That much was clear by the sobs of three abuse survivors that echoed across a packed convention center on Wednesday, after the faith group overwhelmingly approved a historic investigation into alleged misconduct by top leaders.

That much was clear a day prior, as a Black Texas pastor rejoiced that he would not have to leave his beloved denomination over racism and white supremacy. That much was clear as the SBC’s annual meeting adjourned Wednesday evening, and as thousands of shocked-but-relieved believers departed for home, ready to return to the local church work that is sacrosanct to their faith. Over two days, some-17,000 SBC church delegates — many of them young — offered one rebuke after the next of the faith’s hard-line leaders who’ve been at the center of myriad scandals that had already pushed out well-known officials and numerous Black churches, including one of Houston’s largest congregations. Hannah Kate-Williams on Wednesday night was still in shock. “Today, I saw the power and ripple effect of a few men willing to come alongside us,” Williams said. “Because a people few stood first and said we were worthy, many followed and acted on our worth.” “This is the heart of Jesus,” she continued.

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Bloomberg - June 18, 2021

After blowing $300 billion, U.S. shale is finally making money

Marathon Oil used to represent everything that was wrong with U.S. shale: enormous debtloads, lavish executive pay and a seeming willingness to spend whatever it took to boost output. The company hemorrhaged money, and the stock plunged 84 percent from a peak in 2014 through the end of last year. This year, CEO Lee Tillman took a different tack. He cut his own pay 25 percent, got rid of its corporate aircraft and with oil output down 20 percent after the pandemic, pledged to leave it there. The result? The stock doubled this year. Its peers are doing well too. U.S. wildcatters are the second-best performing sector in the S&P 500 Index. After years of booms and busts that produced astronomical losses along with a whole lot of oil, the fracking industry seems to have found a sweet spot. It’s poised to generate more than $30 billion of free cash this year, a record, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

While that’s just a blip compared with the $300 billion that Deloitte estimates the sector burned over the previous decade, it marks at least a temporary revival for an industry that a year ago had been largely written off by investors. For sure, frackers have benefited from the 50 percent run-up in global oil prices this year as demand roars back in places where the pandemic has receded. Just as important to their bottom lines, though, has been the ability to hold back on new supply, to avoid drilling the more marginal wells they would have in years past. They’re saving cash instead of spending money to ramp up output at all costs. It’s a turnaround from the early days of the shale revolution a decade ago, when new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques unlocked vast oceans of crude from rock previously considered impermeable, loosening the OPEC cartel’s grip on global production. Back then, with oil trading over $100 a barrel and global concerns of shortages, lenders and stock investors rewarded companies for high production. Profits would naturally flow later, so the thinking went. But the industry was a victim of its own success, pumping more oil than anyone needed.

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Wall Street Journal - June 18, 2021

West risks blackouts as hydroelectric power dries up

States across the West are at risk of electricity shortages this summer as a crippling drought reduces the amount of water needed to generate hydroelectric power. Some of the region’s largest reservoirs are at historically low levels after a dry winter and spring reduced the amount of snowpack and precipitation feeding rivers and streams. The conditions are especially dire in drought-stricken California, where officials say the reservoir system has seen an unprecedented loss of runoff this spring—800,000 acre-feet, or enough to supply more than a million households for a year. The California Department of Water Resources operates eight major hydroelectric facilities that are now forecast this year to be about 30% of their 10-year average generation, the agency said.

Hydroelectric power, some of which was imported from other states, accounted for about 16% of California’s generation mix in 2019, according to state data. California needs all the electricity it can get when temperatures climb: The margin for error is slim when it comes to balancing supply and demand, so any reduction in generation capacity can pose significant challenges. Meanwhile, streamflow forecasts for Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are among the five driest on record, according to an update this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Colorado River’s Lake Powell is projected to receive only 25% of the water it normally would between April and July, according to the agency. Lake Powell is the main reservoir that feeds Nevada’s Lake Mead, where the Hoover Dam is located. The dam is one of the nation’s largest hydroelectric facilities, capable of producing enough power to serve about 1.3 million people. About 23% of its output serves Nevada, and 19% serves Arizona. Most of the remainder serves Southern California.

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Washington Post - June 17, 2021

Supreme Court’s pro-ACA decision spurs both parties to new strategies

The decision by a conservative Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act could usher in an end of a bitter, 11-year drive to get rid of the law, as both parties immediately began scrambling to recalibrate their strategies with a sense that the political reality of health care was immutably altered. Some Republicans conceded Thursday that, after a decade of repeal votes, political campaigns and legal challenges, their quest to nullify the entire law probably is dead. Confronted with a 7-2 ruling that marked the third time the high court has preserved the law, some GOP members of Congress suggested that they would, instead, start plotting legislatively to trim back parts of it. President Biden and his fellow Democrats, for their part, see in the court decision a springboard to build on the 2,000-page statute.

They and outside analysts say the law’s survival also provides Democrats a chance to seize on health care in the upcoming congressional elections, portraying the party as protecting Americans’ coverage along with defeating the coronavirus pandemic. In the hours after the ruling, the Biden administration did not lay out specific elements of the president’s agenda that it will now pursue in Congress. But potential goals include lowering the eligibility age for Medicare and the relatively controversial idea of creating a public alternative to private health plans sold through the ACA insurance marketplaces. “We’re working on it. Now that we know the Affordable Care Act has passed this last test, we know we’ve got our sea legs under us,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in an interview. “Now we have an opportunity to talk about where we can go. Until we had this decision, it would have been folly to talk about those things.” The battle over the ACA has helped define the polarized political landscape of the past decade. It boosted the tea party in 2010, propelled Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 and created a dramatic moment when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blocked his party’s repeal push. More recently, the ACA’s rise in popularity helped Biden’s cause in the 2020 election.

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Roll Call - June 17, 2021

Senators running out of patience on mask mandate for travelers

Republican senators are expressing mounting impatience with the federal mask mandate for travelers, arguing that the lifting of restrictions in most public places should extend to airplanes, rail and transit. In a markup of rail and safety legislation on Wednesday, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee rejected along party lines an amendment introduced by Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., that would end the mandate, but not before Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, acknowledged that he, too, was feeling impatient. Schatz suggested that the Senate introduce a “sense of the Senate” resolution that would encourage the Biden administration to reconsider its rule, acknowledging that while the agencies are the experts on issues, they “are not infallible.”

“Sometimes they move slowly,” Schatz said. “Sometimes they’re a little too precautionary.” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., backed the Scott amendment. “I think we should express the sense of this committee that what is being foisted on us now in the name of science is hogwash,” he said. Hours later, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg why travelers on airplanes were required to wear masks while those gathered in crowded airport bars were not. She said she asked because of a recent conversation with two flight attendants who expressed concern about passengers who had become violent because of the mandate. The Federal Aviation Administration has received reports of about 2,500 unruly passengers this year. Buttigieg said the mandate remains in place because of some unique circumstances, such as the fact that planes feature “a number of people from different places passing through the same small place,” as well as the presence of children on airplanes. No vaccine has been approved for those under 12.

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Newsclips - June 17, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Quick Take: As ‘wall governor,’ Abbott chooses years of headaches on chance that gambit may help him in 2022

The Greg Abbott border wall gambit is a high-risk, low-reward venture. It’s politically hazardous. With Wednesday’s announcement that Texas will mix private donations and tax dollars to build the wall or fence — or “physical barriers on voluntarily donated private and public lands,” as a letter signed by top lawmakers put it — Abbott guaranteed that his political career is now mostly about a public works project. Not education. Not easing traffic congestion. Not adding other needed infrastructure, such as a reliably functioning power grid. Abbott is now “the wall governor.”

For years, he is likely to be dogged by questions about land procurement, design and progress of construction, not to mention the effort’s underlying finances and whether it works at stopping unauthorized entries by determined, if not desperate, people from foreign countries. “We expect full transparency and accountability so the public will know all the money coming in and how that money is being used,” the Republican governor stressed at a Capitol news conference. For starters, Abbott and other GOP leaders raided the state prison system’s budget for $250 million. It’s a small slice of a nearly $7 billion, two-year prisons budget that the state’s rebounding finances probably can cover. However, wall building costs could spiral — and the public’s willingness to help could flag. This will take years to sort out. Look for reporters to start tracking the private donations of cash and filing open-records requests. Look for owners of borderlands, though they may signal initial willingness to demand no compensation, to consider posterity. Look for environmental groups to sue. Look for local pushback over routes and aesthetics. Abbott’s move is low reward because he’s unlikely to reap a huge political dividend. Consider his 2022 effort to win a third four-year term: Who’s going to give Abbott credit for launching a state border wall initiative who isn’t already likely to vote for him?

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Dallas Morning News - June 15, 2021

How a week-old fire at Comanche Peak shut down a nuclear power unit and pressured Texas’ grid

One of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant’s two units has been offline for more than a week following a June 7 fire in the main transformer, putting pressure on the Texas power grid and contributing to this week’s plea for statewide conservation. The plant’s shutdown worsened the power grid-capacity crunch that triggered the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to call for energy-saving measures through Friday. ERCOT recommends raising thermostats to 78 degrees or above and avoiding the use of large electronics like ovens and washing machines. The cause of the fire at the plant near Glen Rose remained under investigation Tuesday, said Victor Dricks, senior public affairs officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Unit one is at full capacity while unit 2 is shut down.

Each unit of the plant, owned by Irving-based company Vistra Corp. and located 60 miles southwest of Dallas, can put out about 1,150 megawatts when operating at full capacity, according to NRC data. That’s enough electricity to power 1.15 million homes during normal conditions and up to 460,000 additional households during peaks. The fire, which began around 3:30 p.m. on June 7, was extinguished within 20 minutes and without major injuries, according to an NRC event report. It took place in the plant’s main transformer, which is located outside of the buildings that house the pressurized water reactors “The reason the plant is still shut down is because [Vistra] ... is still investigating exactly what happened and what they need to do to repair that transformer,” Dricks said. “This plant has not had an unusual number of shutdowns.” The 2.3-gigawatt Comanche Peak plant, one of the nation’s newest, began supplying power to the state’s grid in August 1990. It’s one of two nuclear power plants in the state that supply a combined 11% of ERCOT’s electricity annually. “We are working diligently to repair the transformer in order to bring the unit back online — there are no issues with the unit itself,” said Meranda Cohn, senior director of communications and media relations at Vistra.

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Bloomberg - June 9, 2021

Texas renewables defy GOP backlash with $20 billion in projects

Four months after the failure of the Texas electric grid sparked a backlash against clean power, investors and developers have decided just what the state needs: more renewable energy. Much more. Texas is on pace to have as much green-power development in coming years as the next three states combined, according to the American Clean Power Association, a Washington-based trade group. Projects totaling 15 gigawatts — equal to the total electrical capacity of Finland in 2019 — are under construction or in advanced development, more than double three years ago. That’s according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or Ercot, the state’s grid operator. All told, the forthcoming wind, solar and battery-storage projects are worth an estimated $20 billion to $25 billion, the American Clean Power Association said.

“We’re not tapping the brakes,” said Philip Moore, senior vice president of Danish power giant Orsted A/S’s North American onshore unit, which just finished building a large solar and storage complex to provide power for West Texas oil and natural gas fields. “Coming out of the storm, we continue to see Ercot as a growth market.” The building boom demonstrates the appeal that wind and solar continue to have for investors as the green transition accelerates, with companies under increasing pressure from shareholders and environmental groups to tackle climate change. It also bodes well for U.S. President Joe Biden’s push to eliminate power-sector emissions, since Texas produces more electricity than any other state. Just four months ago, the industry’s future in Texas was called into question after widespread blackouts during a deadly winter storm stoked speculation among some conservatives and fossil-fuel proponents that frozen wind turbines were to blame. Though gas plants also failed and were a bigger factor in the crisis, Republican lawmakers in the state considered slapping fees on new clean-power projects, a threat that made investors skittish. But the legislative session wrapped up recently without passage of a law imposing such fees.

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Washington Post - June 16, 2021

Fed estimates inflation will grow faster than projected just 3 months ago and moves up expectations for rate hike

The Federal Reserve expects inflation will climb to 3.4 percent this year, higher than the central bank’s previous forecasts, while also projecting for the first time that there could be two interest rate hikes in 2023. The predictions, released Wednesday after the Fed’s two-day policy meeting, depict a delicate but mostly upbeat narrative of where central bankers think the economy is headed, as well as a serious revamp of predictions from just three months earlier. In March, the Fed predicted inflation would be 2.4 percent for this year. Moreover, earlier Fed estimates didn’t project an initial interest rate hike until 2024.

The new snapshots of the economy come as the Fed and White House are facing increasing criticism from the GOP and some economists that trillions of dollars of stimulus spending, combined with low interest rates and the Fed’s other economic supports, are now overheating and endangering the economy. For its part, the Fed expects prices for certain goods and services to continue to rise over the next few months, especially in industries with backlogged supply chains. However, the Fed also expects that the labor market will keep building strength. And while the central bank isn’t ready to stem inflation by raising interest rates just yet, Chair Jerome H. Powell sent the message that the Fed is keeping a close eye on inflation. “Shifts in demand can be large and rapid,” Powell said at a Wednesday news conference. “Inflation could turn out to be higher and more persistent than we expect.” Powell added that the Fed would be ready to respond quickly if inflation is broader or more persistent than officials currently think. On Wednesday, the Fed kept interest rates near zero, as expected.

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State Stories

KXAN - June 16, 2021

Argument involving teens escalated to Austin mass shooting on 6th Street, affidavit says

An argument between two groups of teens on East Sixth Street escalated to a shooting that killed one person and injured 13 others June 12, an arrest affidavit from the Austin Police Department said. APD says Jeremiah Roshaun Leeland James Tabb, 17, pulled a gun from his waistband. He and his “crew” walked by another group of people, exchanged words with them and then started shooting.

The affidavit says as the group Tabb was in walked by the other group, Tabb said, “What y’all wanna do? Y’all wanna fight?” A minor from the other group replied with, “it’s whatever,” and then the affidavit says that’s when Tabb pulled out his gun and started shooting. The same minor said Tabb shot him in the leg a few days before in Killeen, the affidavit said. Killeen police told KXAN on June 8, officers were called to a Harker Heights hospital to talk to a teen who had been shot. The victim told them he was outside a home on Toledo Drive when a dark-colored sedan drove by and fired shots toward him. Police are looking into potential suspects, the department said Wednesday. Another minor police interviewed in Austin said the group immediately starting running away and heard gunshots behind him.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Senate breaks stalemate, passes bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday passed the Senate Tuesday by unanimous consent after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., announced he was dropping his opposition that had blocked approval. “Happy that my bill to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday just passed the Senate,” Cornyn tweeted. “It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years. Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union.” The House is expected to follow suit and pass the legislation today, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature. The partner bill, introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, currently has 166 cosponsors in the House, with 90 original cosponsors. If both chambers pass the legislation, President Joe Biden would likely sign it into law.

Passage of the bill in both the Senate and the House would mark the end of a long fight for many members of the Texas delegation to recognize the long-celebrated holiday. Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865, is currently recognized by 47 states and the District of Columbia. When Cornyn first introduced the bipartisan legislation to the Senate in 2020, Johnson blocked the bill, saying he would not support another paid holiday for federal employees. Cornyn told reporters at the Senate on Tuesday that without Johnson’s objection, the bill was likely to pass. “If he won’t (object) then it’s likely to pass, so that’ll be good,” Cornyn said. Johnson released a statement Tuesday announcing his intention to let the bill pass. “While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter,” he said. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.” Johnson was the sole Republican to object last year when Cornyn and other cosponsors first attempted to pass the legislation by unanimous consent. Members of the Senate can request to pass a bill via unanimous consent to expedite proceedings, typically on non-controversial bills that are expected to pass with broad support. If any one Senator objects, though, the request is rejected and the bill is effectively killed.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Corruption trial of Dallas developer opens with testimony of disgraced ex-council member

Dwaine Caraway’s phone rang as the Dallas City Council member was meeting with FBI agents and prosecutors in his attorney’s office to hash out a plea deal in a school bus kickback case. It was Ruel Hamilton, a local developer of affordable housing, and he “needed a favor,” prosecutors said. FBI agents, scarcely believing their luck, had been interested in Hamilton’s activities for a while, so they asked Caraway to call him back, prosecutors said. Caraway agreed and, prompted by agents, asked the developer for a meeting the following morning in his office so the FBI could record it. That meeting would lead to another federal corruption case — one involving Hamilton and his business before the City Council. Jurors in Hamilton’s federal bribery trial on Tuesday heard two different interpretations of that 2018 encounter.

It’s one of several key events that are hotly contested by prosecutors and Hamilton’s attorneys in his public corruption trial, which kicked off this week before Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham told jurors that Hamilton, 65, wrote Caraway a $7,000 check during the 2018 meeting after the council member asked for financial help for his and his mother’s medical expenses. Meacham said during opening statements on Tuesday that the check was a bribe. Hamilton also is accused of paying bribes to another former council member, Carolyn Davis, for help with his housing developments in the city. Hamilton needed lucrative and highly competitive tax credits — awarded through the city — for his housing developments, Meacham said. One of the developer’s projects, Royal Crest apartments, was in Caraway’s district and did not meet the city’s requirements for public financing, Meacham said. But the City Council approved it anyway because of Davis’ efforts, he said.

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Dallas Morning News - June 15, 2021

Paul Quinn College in Dallas unveils first new buildings in 40 years

Paul Quinn College, like most nationwide, was forced to shut down its campus to students because of the pandemic. President Michael Sorrell talked with school officials about how they could turn this into an opportunity to grow. “We said, ‘What can we do if students didn’t come back to campus for 18 months?’” Sorrell recalled. On Tuesday the college celebrated its first new buildings on campus in 40 years. The nearly $20 million makeover included the Trammell S. Crow Living and Learning Center — a residence hall that will house 135 students — and a wellness center that contains athletic facilities and more. While other colleges opened campuses up — at least partially — Paul Quinn only offered classes virtually because of the pandemic. The school will go back to in-person learning this fall.

So Paul Quinn opened its doors to the public this week, allowing community members to tour the new amenities — which include a new jogging trail — as the college reintroduces itself. The festivities also included a free on-site COVID-19 vaccination clinic and performances by music groups. “I haven’t been here in a year because of COVID,” said Camron Powell, 20, a junior at the school. “This is my first time coming back, and it’s actually amazing.” Powell heard about the plans and projects the college wanted to tackle as a freshman and was excited to see them finished before graduating. “We’re growing very quickly,” Powell said. Those driving by the campus can now see a “We Over Me” sign on the new wellness center that highlights the college’s belief that “the needs of a community must always supersede the wants of an individual.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Will Texas legislators take harsher steps to ‘abolish’ critical race theory?

Texas lawmakers will revisit critical race theory during a special session, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement the day after he signed into law a bill aimed at barring the teaching of certain concepts related to race and racism in public schools. The new law “is a strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas, but more must be done,” Abbott wrote in Wednesday’s statement. Abbott has not said when a special session will take place, what else will be on the agenda or what he wants from legislation to further address critical race theory. His move signals a desire for a stricter version of the new law.

The bill he signed Tuesday sought to ban the theory from schools but didn’t define or mention the concept explicitly. Some educators worry that there could be repercussions if they broach race or current events in class. They also worry that the law could hamper efforts to address racism and equity in schools. Before Abbott signed the bill, some had posited that he would veto it and place the topic on a special session agenda to be reworked. Pat Hardy, a Republican member of the State Board of Education and a former history teacher, urged him to do so, calling the version that passed “piece-of-junk” legislation. “Get ready,” said Aicha Davis, a Dallas-area Democrat who also serves on the State Board of Education and opposed the bill. “Special session is fast and furious.” She suspects that in sending the issue back to legislators, Abbott intended for them to strip out some language added by House Democrats. They tried to make the bill more palatable by adding provisions to require students to learn about diverse communities and leaders. Those amendments require teaching about the Chicano movement, Native American history and the history of white supremacy and the ways it is morally wrong, among other things.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Abbott signs into law bill prohibiting abortions if Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday signed into law a bill that would outlaw abortions in Texas if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. The measure, House Bill 1280, would make it a second-degree felony to perform or try to perform an abortion, and would take effect 30 days after an applicable court ruling.

Under the bill, if the fetus dies, the penalty would be upgraded to a first-degree felony with the potential for a life sentence. Abortion providers who violate the ban also could lose their license and face fines of at least $100,000. The law includes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, and only narrow exceptions for pregnant women who face medical emergencies. The bill came from state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, and was carried in the Senate by McKinney Republican Angela Paxton. The signing comes just a few weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to take up a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The court said it will hear arguments this fall. It also follows Abbott’s recent signing of a contentious bill that bans abortions after detection of a fetal heartbeat, which is as early as six weeks. That measure is set to take effect Sept. 1.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Family hopeful about future of Texan imprisoned in Russia after Biden takes up the case with Putin

No breakthroughs were made, but during a much-anticipated meeting Wednesday, President Joe Biden spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the cases of ex-Marines Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, Americans imprisoned in Russia for crimes they say they did not commit. Lawmakers had urged Biden to address Reed’s and Whelan’s cases with Putin during the Geneva summit, the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders since Biden became president. The tone of the meeting was “positive,” Biden said in a news conference. “I raised the case of two wrongly imprisoned American citizens, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed,” Biden told reporters. “The bottom line is I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by.”

Reed is a Fort Worth native and a former University of North Texas student who was arrested in Moscow in 2019 after getting drunk. On the way to the station, police allege, he grabbed an officer’s arm and caused the car to swerve. There is no video evidence to corroborate the charge, and U.S. officials have said the allegation is unfounded. Biden did not discuss the two Americans’ cases further or provide details about the possibility of a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia. Still, a spokesperson for the Reed family said they were pleased with the contact about the matter. “We’re thrilled he said Trevor’s name,” Jonathan Franks said. “It’s been 671 days, and it shouldn’t have taken that long.” In an interview with NBC News last week, Putin had appeared open to a prisoner swap involving Russians jailed in the U.S. on smuggling charges. Putin also referred to Reed as a “just a drunk” and a “troublemaker,” spurring renewed calls for Biden to demand some sort of movement on Reed’s case during today’s summit.

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

VP Harris hails Texas Dems who quashed SB7 as ‘courageous leaders and...American patriots’ at voting rights confab

Vice President Kamala Harris welcomed Texas lawmakers to the White House on Wednesday, celebrating a brash victory in a late night walkout that derailed one of the GOP’s most aggressive efforts to rewrite state-level election rules since Donald Trump’s defeat. “You are courageous leaders and American patriots,” she told the group in the Roosevelt Room, just off the Oval Office. Harris is the Biden administration’s point person on voting rights. Like Democratic leaders in Congress a day earlier, she held Texas up as an example of GOP ardor for voter suppression and the visiting legislators as paragons of resistance.

The Texans spent Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, recounting the push from Gov. Greg Abbott and his allies to curb Sunday morning voting valued by Black churches, and explaining how Senate Bill 7 would have empowered judges to toss out an election without evidence of widespread fraud, a provision nicknamed the “Trump amendment” for the ex-president’s baseless claims the 2020 election was stolen. Democrats abandoned the Texas House chamber in the waning hours of the session last month, breaking quorum and killing SB7. In the halls of Congress and at the White House, the Texans pleaded for federal legislation to nullify state-level voter suppression laws to make such extreme tactics unnecessary. Harris readily assured them that’s a top priority. “We will do everything in our power as an administration to lift up the voices of those who seek to preserve the rights of the future. We’re not telling people how to vote. And frankly, this is not a Democratic or a Republican issue. This is an American issue,” Harris said, adding that SB7 “clearly has been written in a way that will make it difficult for people.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Dallas Mavericks part ways with president, general manager Donnie Nelson

Ten days after the Mavericks’ first-round playoff loss to the Clippers, longtime Mavericks president and general manager Donnie Nelson and the franchise on Wednesday “mutually agreed to part ways,” the team announced. Just three weeks ago, Nelson became the NBA’s longest-tenured general manager, at 16 seasons, after Danny Ainge stepped down as the Celtics’ general manager. Nelson was hired by the Mavericks as an assistant coach in 1998 and attained the title of general manager in 2005. “I just want to thank Donnie for his 24 years of service to this organization,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in statement released by the franchise.

“Donnie has been instrumental to our success and helped bring a championship to Dallas. His hard work, creativity and vision made him a pioneer. Donnie will always be a part of the Mavs family and I wish him all the best.” Since being promoted to president of basketball operations in July 2002, the Mavericks went 903-622 (.592) in the regular season under Nelson. Since 2005-06 (his first full season as GM), Dallas was 733-546 (.573) in regular season games. The Mavericks won the franchise’s first NBA title in 2011, but have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs in multiple appearances since.

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Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2021

Judge won't toss confession of girlfriend of suspected killer of Vanessa Guillén

Nearly a year after the remains of Vanessa Guillén were found in a remote woods, the Houston soldier’s family sat in the same room for the first time with the woman accused of helping to mutilate, bury and cement over her body. “Of course they spoke to us previous to entering the courtroom about having no outbursts, but it was really hard to sustain all of that,” Mayra Guillén, the older sister of the slain Fort Hood Army specialist, said Wednesday outside the Waco courthouse. “Seeing this person for the first time ever, it brings back a lot. ... It was really hard to maintain your cool.” Cecily Ann Aguilar sat shackled in an orange jail uniform on the opposite side of the courtroom from the Guillén family, flanked by two public defenders at the hearing. After 2½ hours of testimony, U.S. District Judge Alan D. Albright succinctly denied her request to suppress her confession.

Her defense lawyer argued that officers had improperly questioned Aguilar after she’d given them different stories in two previous interviews. They said she could get in trouble for lying to federal officers. They encouraged her to tell them the truth without explaining she had a right a lawyer and that anything she said could be used against her, defense counsel said. Aguilar told police Spc. Aaron Robinson bludgeoned Guillén. During her confession, Robinson escaped the place where he was detained at Fort Hood, and, as police narrowed in to make an arrest, he shot himself in the head, authorities said. Lewis Berray Gainor, her defense lawyer, argued Wednesday that police deliberately violated the law by waiting to give Aguilar her Miranda Rights until after she confessed on June 30, 2020. Aguilar, 23, of Killeen, is accused of helping her boyfriend, Spc. Aaron Robinson, hide the body of the 20-year-old arms mechanic after he bludgeoned Guillén with a hammer in an armory at the military post.

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Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2021

Erica Grieder: Beto O'Rourke wants Texans to fight for voting rights this summer

Beto O’Rourke wants to register you to vote--no, really, he does. The former congressman this month has been barnstorming around the state, rallying Texans to support voting rights, and he’s signed up as a volunteer deputy registrar in every county he’s visited along the way, including Harris County. The El Pasoan may also be laying some informal groundwork for another statewide race, following the 2018 campaign for Senate that saw him come within three points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Certainly, many Democrats are hoping that’s the case, if only because their party has yet to muster a challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican.

But on Sunday, when we met at Green House International Church in north Houston, O’Rourke was focused on more urgent issues: he may be a candidate again next year, he told me, but for now he’s focused on the fight for voting rights, in Texas and across the country. To that end, he had just registered a voter named Diane, after knocking on her door in the blazing heat. The concern is not misplaced. Last month, Democrats in the Texas House blocked passage of Senate Bill 7, an “election integrity” measure, by breaking quorum on the last day of this year’s regular session; Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has vowed to revive the measure in a special session this summer. Similar measures have already passed in Republican-led states including Florida and Georgia, with the support of national conservative groups—and of former President Donald Trump, who continues to insist that the 2020 election was stolen from him. All of this, according to advocates, illustrate the need for passage of the federal For the People Act, a major voting rights package which passed the House in March but has yet to be taken up by the Senate. A number of Democratic lawmakers from Texas traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to press that case.

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Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2021

Potential Harris County jurors vaping, doing yoga in Zoom court plays into fight over virtual trials

A civil trial’s jury selection spiraled last week as prospective Harris County jurors on Zoom did just about everything but pay attention - including playing video games, applying makeup, driving, sleeping and vaping on camera. An account of the mayhem in state District Judge Dedra Davis’ virtual court was included in a motion last week to the Texas Supreme Court, where a defendant in another of the jurist’s cases is attempting to fight her attempts to force a virtual jury trial over their objections. As more and more judges physically return to their courtrooms and hold jury trials in person, virtual trials are still allowed under pandemic-era emergency orders from the state’s high court. The state Supreme Court case — involving a multi-million dollar personal injury lawsuit against Allied Aviation Fueling Company of Houston, Inc. — could address a judge’s ability to demand a virtual trial, which many civil and criminal attorneys have outright opposed since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“I think most trial lawyers in the state, not all, believe very strongly that a virtual trial is not only unauthorized, but is not the way to run a railroad,” said Rusty Hardin, a civil attorney for Allied Aviation. Davis set the Allied case for a virtual trial despite the company’s objections, and attorneys appealed the case up to the Texas Supreme Court before jury selection could begin. The supreme court has since delayed the virtual trial unless all parties consent. When the Allied case was halted, Davis shifted to an asbestos case. Two summer interns for Rusty Hardin & Associates, representing Allied Aviation, watched the jury selection in the asbesos case last Wednesday and wrote down what they saw for a court filing to the supreme court. Attorneys for the company on Thursday submitted the brief as part of their efforts to oppose their previously ordered virtual trial, instead of their preferred in-person setting. Among the potential jurors in the asbestos case was one woman who put on makeup and applied fake eyelashes during the Zoom call. Davis saw her and responded, “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,” the interns reported. Other people drove cars, disappeared off camera, or positioned themselves so their faces couldn’t be seen, according to the court filing.

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Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: If Texas will not regulate methane emissions, then the feds must

The oil and natural gas deposits in the Permian Basin are millennia older than the states of Texas and New Mexico, which today sit on top of them. The methane and other greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the tens of thousands of wells in Permian do not recognize political boundaries, floating wherever the prevailing winds take them. Those imaginary lines on the map, though, make a considerable difference to operators of those wells. Texas and New Mexico’s differing approaches to regulating the energy industry prove the importance and necessity of Congress reinstating restrictions on methane leaks. To say Texas takes a laissez-faire approach to methane emissions would be an understatement.

Methane is the element of natural gas that burns, giving off heat for generating electricity or cooking food. The problem is that natural gas prices are so low, and the cost of sealing up equipment can be so high that too many well operators either burn it off with flares or let it leak out. The gas is far more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide and is responsible for 25 percent of global warming. The Permian Basin is the nation’s hot spot for methane leaks, and requiring the industry to plug them would go a long way toward slowing climate change. New Mexico recognizes the economic value and the environmental importance of capturing methane. In March, New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Commission voted unanimously to require operators to capture 98 percent of natural gas emissions and barred them from venting or flaring except for emergencies. Chair Adrienne Sandoval said the new regulations came after months of consultation with industry executives, environmental groups and the public. The industry has until the end of 2026 to comply.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 15, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Why Texas veers from crisis to crisis with its power grid

Six months ago, most Texans had never even heard of ERCOT. Right now, the state’s power-grid operator is a national punchline, so renowned for its ineptitude that comedians can go viral with ERCOT parody videos. The scope of ERCOT’s infamy really struck me on Monday afternoon when Blaire Erskine, a Georgia-based actress and comedy writer, tweeted a satirical clip in which she posed as a spokesperson for the grid operator. Erskine’s video came on the heels of ERCOT’s announcement that the state power grid is under heavy stress, due to a combination of power-plant outages and high electricity usage. ERCOT urged Texans to conserve power this week. “You know, we’ve got a tight, hot little grid out there,” Erskine deadpanned. “And we’ve gotta take care of it or it’s gonna bust. We can’t be having that. That’ll be a mess. So we’re just asking the people of Texas to make small sacrifices. Just little sacrifices, no blood or anything like that.”

The kicker line came in a reference to progressive New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a favorite bugbear of the Republicans who control Texas politics. “Would you rather have AC or would you rather have AOC?” Erskine asked. In Texas, the question always comes down to whether we want a state government devoted to addressing the crucial issues that impact our daily lives — public education, health care, energy, infrastructure, etc. — or one that delivers red meat to the GOP’s right-wing base. ERCOT’s warning came only six days after Gov. Greg Abbott assured Texans, during a signing ceremony for two ERCOT-related bills, that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.” If Abbott believed this blatant bit of spin to be true, his powers of denial surely outstrip his gubernatorial powers. To be sure, SB 3, one of the bills signed by Abbott, took the long-overdue step of requiring weatherization of Texas power plants. Lack of weatherization was cited as a primary cause of devastating blackouts during this year’s February freeze that left more than 4 million Texans without power and caused an estimated 700 deaths.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 15, 2021

Gov. Abbott signs Texas medical marijuana expansion into law

Texans with post-traumatic stress disorder and any form of cancer will soon be eligible to receive medical marijuana. Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed an expansion of the state’s restrictive medical marijuana program into law, also opening access to individuals participating in research initiatives. The measure, House Bill 1535, takes effect Sept. 1. “This new law is an important step forward for veterans, cancer patients and many other Texans,” said Nick Etten, a former Navy SEAL and founder of the Veterans Cannabis Project, who noted that many Texas veterans cope with PTSD. “Moving forward, we will continue to work with lawmakers in future legislative sessions to build on this law, develop a broader approach towards medical cannabis, and make sure it is a truly effective medical tool for the veterans who gave so much for our country.”

The law is a victory for Texas’ medical marijuana advocates, though many were disappointed that the bill was stripped of its biggest changes during the legislative process. HB 1535 originated in the Texas House, where lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a version of the measure that would have also expanded eligibility to patients with any condition that causes acute or chronic pain, and that would have given the state health department the ability to approve other conditions. The lower chamber’s version also would have increased the legal limit for THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, from .5 percent to 5 percent. But those provisions were taken out once the bill made its way to the Texas Senate, which limited the program’s expansion to PTSD and cancer patients. Previously, only patients with terminal cancer and a few acute seizure disorders could access medical marijuana. The upper chamber also agreed to increase the legal limit for THC, but only up to 1 percent. Texas is among 47 states and four territories that offer medical marijuana programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 16, 2021

Fort Worth student with autism died after being restrained at school. What happened?

Ebonie Baltimore got a call on March 1 from the group home where her nephew, Xavier Hernandez, lived. Something had happened to Hernandez at school, the caller said, and he’d been taken to the emergency room. When Baltimore and several other family members got to John Peter Smith Hospital, they were led to a private room. Baltimore knew something was wrong when hospital workers came in. Some were in tears, she said. Baltimore’s mother, Joyce Baltimore, asked the lead doctor to give her some good news. “There’s no good news,” the doctor said.

Hernandez was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after noon that day, according to records from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was 21. Medical examiners haven’t yet determined his cause and manner of death. Hernandez, who had autism, went to Boulevard Heights, a school in the Fort Worth district for disabled students. Teachers at Boulevard Heights restrained Hernandez earlier on the day he died, a district spokesman confirmed. An attorney with Disability Rights Texas, a Dallas-based disability rights group, said the organization is investigating reports that those restraints were improper and unnecessary. Disability Rights Texas is also investigating the restraint of another Boulevard Heights student, fourth-grader Toni Crenshaw, in an incident that was caught on video in May. The video had been circulating on social media before someone called it to the attention of Toni’s mother, Sandra Crosby. The incidents at Boulevard Heights follow a report released by Disability Rights Texas in December that says school districts across Texas use physical restraints against disabled students far more often than their peers. Disability rights advocates, parents of disabled students and some in Congress want to see stricter limits placed on when and how schools are allowed to restrain students.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 16, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Gov. Abbott found way to make Texas border wall plan worse: begging public to donate

Gov. Greg Abbott wants you to know he’s serious about Texas building its own border wall. Forget that he didn’t mention it while the Legislature was in session for five months. Don’t dwell on the cost or the logistical and legal obstacles. Pay no attention to the fact that Abbott’s proposal came only after his potential Republican primary rival, former state Sen. Don Huffines, made it central to his campaign. No, the governor is so super-intent on doing this thing that on Wednesday, he appeared with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan in Austin to discuss the idea. And he’ll soon take Donald Trump on a tour of the “decimated” border, according to the former president.

For the moment, let’s take Abbott at his word and examine the idea on its merits. It’s not up to Texas to police the border. It’s clearly a federal job, and even if you think Washington has botched it, it’s a mistake to direct more state tax money and personnel to it. Conservatives rightly celebrate the Constitution’s clear delineation of duties and powers. Abbott announced Tuesday that he had signed a resolution supporting the 10th Amendment’s reservation of power not explicitly granted to the federal government to states and the people. Yet, here he’s trying to take on a federal task. Abbott has come up with a workaround for what he called a “tidal wave of illegal immigrants.” By erecting barriers, he said Wednesday, Texas can arrest them on charges of trespassing. It’s a dangerous extension of state law enforcement into federal immigration law, bound to create legal hurdles and complications. He and legislative leaders are kicking off the project with a budgetary shell game, moving $250 million by declaring an emergency. And yet, he all but admitted that the project is too expensive for the state by asking the public to donate to the cause. How embarrassing. Do Texans really want government by GoFundMe?

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Austin American-Statesman - June 16, 2021

Deadly Austin mass shooting began as confrontation between Killeen teenagers, police say

Downtown Austin appeared to be back in the pre-pandemic swing of things last weekend, with hordes of visitors reveling on Sixth Street. But, according to police, a confrontation between teenagers from Killeen led to an exchange of gunfire that killed one person and injured 13 more. The shooting — the city's worst mass casualty incident in seven years — claimed the life of Douglas Kantor, a 25-year-old tourist. The New York native who lived in Michigan had come down to Texas to hang out with some old friends in Austin but may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An arrest affidavit Austin police filed Wednesday morning for Jeremiah Tabb, one of two people arrested in connection with the shooting, cited witness accounts to describe the moments leading up to the shooting. Although the document connects Tabb to at least one shooting injury, it but does not indicate who wounded any of the other victims. Tabb, 17, has been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection to the shooting. He was not listed as being in the Travis County Jail on Wednesday. The other person arrested is younger than 17 and, because they are a juvenile, police have not released any information on them. Investigators used social media and witness interviews to connect the dots on how teenagers from Killeen ended up in downtown Austin that night. A juvenile witness, whose full name was not revealed in the affidavit, was interviewed by police after they found out he was sent to Dell Seton Medical Center after being wounded in the shooting.

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Fox 4 - June 16, 2021

Children sleeping in CPS offices prohibited under new Texas law

Hundreds of kids in state custody in Texas have been bunking in Child Protective Services offices for months. That has to change but many question where the kids will go. New legislation signed by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits kids from sleeping in CPS offices. The Texas Department of Family Health Services reported there were more than 300 kids sleeping in state offices in April.

Sheree Scott with Dallas non-profit Buckner International says hundreds of kids taken into protective custody are now with no place to go. They had been staying in CPS offices until the governor recently outlawed the practice with an unfunded mandate, leaving the state agency scrambling to find an alternative. Buckner reached out and took in eight children locally and 32 across the state. "It was only right that Buckner step up and lead the way so we can do our part," Scott said. Dallas CASA president and CEO Kathleen Lavalle said several factors created the shortage of beds for kids in foster care or the child welfare system. COVID-19 caused some foster families to no longer take placements. Eight residential treatment centers also closed in the state of Texas because either the license was suspended or they are under heightened monitoring as a result of pending lawsuits.

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Associated Press - June 16, 2021

Texas bullet train group inks deal with Milan design firm

The developer of a long-planned — and controversial — high-speed rail line that would get passengers from Dallas to Houston in 90 minutes announced Tuesday that it signed a $16 billion contract with an Italian company to build the project, in what could be a step toward realization. Webuild, based in Milan, will oversee heavy construction of the planned 236-mile project for developer Texas Central, the companies said in a news release. Webuild will operate through U.S. subsidiary Cheshire, Connecticut-based Lane Construction Corporation. Nearly half the distance the bullet train will cover — at speeds up to 200-mph — will be elevated to reduce the impact on property owners, the companies said.

Residents have fought the high-speed train, which has been discussed for decades and would rely on acquiring land through eminent domain to construct the rail line. Trey Duhon, who heads a group called Texans Against High-Speed Rail, criticized Tuesday's announcement, saying it was just the developer continuing to try to drum up support for an unpopular project. "Texas Central takes every opportunity to generate what sounds like progress to keep interest and investments alive," said Duhon, who also is the highest-ranking elected official in Waller County, outside Houston. "Texas Central has been reporting that construction will begin ‘within the next six months,’ ‘later this year' or ‘soon’ for the last five years." Webuild CEO Pietro Salini said the project brings further focus to the company's work in the U.S., its single biggest market. "Being part of such a challenging project as leader of the design and construction of the railway is a unique experience that we are extremely proud of," Salini said. Webuild was created in 2020 from Salini Impregilo, a leading player in major infrastructure projects that acquired Lane in 2016 and more recently Italy’s Astaldi engineering firm. Building the project will employ 17,000 people directly, Webuild said. The rail link itself would use Japanese bullet train technology and would employ 1,500 people once completed.

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City Stories

Click2Houston - June 16, 2021

HPD Chief Finner aims to use coordinated law enforcement efforts to target violent crime in Houston

Police Chief Troy Finner called on local, state and federal agencies to continue working together to reduce violent crime in Houston. “Why now?” Finner asked during a law enforcement summit Wednesday. “It’s a good time.” Finner said the agencies convened to share intelligence and discuss hotspots. He also said they plan on targeting the “most violent individuals” causing havoc in the community, including those who have been arrested, charged, and waiting to go to court and those who have been charged, but not arrested.

“We’re going after them,” Finner said. “We’re going to use the strong arm of a combined law enforcement team, regardless of the agency. Everybody that’s here, working this area, we’re gonna work together.” Finner said law enforcement leaders expressed the frustrations of the frontline officers and deputies, who believe the court system is not moving fast enough. The slowness is allowing many violent offenders to remain in the streets, in some cases committing more crimes, when they should be in jail, Finner said. He said there are 1,500 murder cases awaiting trial, including 500 for capital murder. “If we’re arresting people, but they’re not going to prison when they need to: that’s a problem,” he said.

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KXAN - June 17, 2021

More than 3,000 Austin Energy customers without power Thursday morning

More than 3,000 Austin Energy customers are without power Thursday morning, according to the utility’s outage map. An outage that’s spread across south Austin including a portion of Congress Avenue between U.S. Highway 290/Ben White Boulevard and West Stassney Lane, was reported at 3:45 a.m. Austin Energy currently estimates they’ll have power restored to the area by 7:16 a.m. The outage area is all west of Interstate 35 and stretches from the freeway past South First Street into portions of the South Manchaca neighborhood. Austin Energy says they have crews responding to the area to figure out why the power is out.

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National Stories

Bloomberg - June 16, 2021

Biden pause on oil leases on public lands blocked by judge

A federal judge lifted the Biden administration’s temporary ban on new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters. In a victory for 13 red states that filed the legal challenge in Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty granted a preliminary injunction Tuesday blocking President Joe Biden’s Jan. 27 executive order while the litigation continues. Biden’s order called for a 60-day pause during which the Interior Department would conduct a “comprehensive review” of its leasing program. The president said the agency should consider its “broad stewardship responsibilities,” including the impact of global warming.

Oil industry advocates cheered the ruling after warning that any long-term halt in leasing jeopardizes jobs and domestic energy production. Environmental groups countered that the judge’s order fails to account for the damage done by climate pollution. The Interior Department said it’s reviewing the ruling and will comply with it. The agency said it’s working on an interim report that will “outline next steps and recommendations for the department and Congress to improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs and build a just and equitable energy future,” according to an emailed statement. Doughty’s ruling requires the Interior Department to immediately restart its leasing program, even as the agency continues its review of the effects of drilling.

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CNN - June 16, 2021

Officer injured in Capitol riot blasts GOP lawmaker's behavior as 'disgusting' after tense exchange

A DC Metropolitan Police officer who defended the US Capitol on January 6 blasted GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde on Wednesday evening for what he called "disgusting" behavior during a tense exchange. Michael Fanone, who was stun-gunned several times and beaten with a flagpole during the riot, told CNN's Don Lemon on "Don Lemon Tonight" that he had come across Clyde in the Capitol and had been dismissed by the congressman after approaching him outside an elevator Wednesday afternoon. Fanone's account comes after 21 House Republicans, including Clyde, voted against legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who had defended the Capitol.

The vote stood as the latest reminder that members of Congress still cannot agree on the facts of the deadly January 6 riot, and prompted the officer's visit to Capitol Hill. "I was very cordial. I extended my hand to shake his hand. He just stared at me. I asked if he was going to shake my hand, and he told me that he didn't who know I was. So I introduced myself. I said that I was Officer Michael Fanone. That I was a DC Metropolitan Police officer who fought on January 6 to defend the Capitol and, as a result, I suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as a heart attack after having been tased numerous times at the base of my skull, as well as being severely beaten," Fanone said. "At that point, the congressman turned away from me." Once the elevator doors opened, Fanone said, the congressman "ran as quickly as he could, like a coward." Clyde's office did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment. The congressman also previously ignored questions from CNN asking to explain his vote against the Congressional Gold Medal bill. Clyde

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Wall Street Journal - June 16, 2021

Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, forceful on Jan. 6, privately are in turmoil

The far-right group the Oath Keepers is splintering after board members accused the founder of spending its money on hair dye, steaks and guns. The leader of the Proud Boys, choked off from the financial system, is printing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts to make money. The finances of the two most visible groups with members involved in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol are sputtering. Leaders are low on cash, struggling with defections and arguing with members over the future. The Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys have seen more than three dozen of their members or affiliates arrested in connection with Jan. 6. Prosecutors are investigating the money trail that led the groups to Washington that day and examining the roles played by the Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, and the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, neither of whom entered the Capitol building. In late April, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents surrounded Mr. Rhodes in unmarked vehicles in Lubbock, Texas, seized his iPhone and served him a search warrant, said the Oath Keepers’ general counsel, Kellye SoRelle.

The warrant sought evidence about any “planning, preparation or travel” to breach the Capitol on Jan. 6, including any “tactical training” or weapons procurement. His phone has since been returned. Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers appeared well-organized at the Capitol, some coordinating with walkie-talkies and wearing military-style outfits. Behind the facade of power is a yearslong cash crunch exacerbated by internal discord and isolation from financial firms and social media. Fallout from Jan. 6 made it all worse. “We’re bleeding,” Mr. Tarrio said in an interview in April, referring to an e-commerce business he uses to support himself and other Proud Boys members. “We’ve been bleeding money since January, like hemorrhaging money.” The ideas driving the groups are far from dead. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised on fringe crowdfunding sites for the legal defense of those who participated in the Jan. 6 riot. Many members who have left the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers haven’t abandoned their causes. Some have formed new groups or joined other far-right organizations. A report by U.S. intelligence agencies in March said that more violence is likely due to conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Jan. 6 riot. It also said individuals or small cells are more likely to undertake violent acts than are organized extremist groups.

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AFP - June 15, 2021

'Breyer, retire!' Political storm forms around US chief justice

Pressure on US Chief Justice Stephen Breyer to retire is growing: progressive Democrats are anxiously eyeing his seat, Republicans have laid down the gauntlet, and issues from abortion to voting rights could all be at stake. Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell turned up the heat Monday when he said his party would block anyone nominated to Supreme Court by Democratic President Joe Biden if Republicans regain control of the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. No opposition majority party "would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election," McConnell said in a radio interview.

The next presidential election is not until November 2024. But what would happen, McConnel was asked, if a seat opened up in 2023 -- theoretically with plenty of time before Americans go to the polls? "Well, we'd have to wait and see," he replied. Understanding the status of the nine justices on the highest US court requires some doublethink: the justices are appointed for life, which is supposed to guarantee their independence -- but they are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate, which makes their rise to the bench inherently political and forever colors their image. Under the weight of this contradiction the justices play a defining role in American life. They often rule on issues which Congress cannot agree on: the Supreme Court, for example, ended school segregation, legalized abortion and approved gay marriages. In the increasingly polarized United States the selection of a new justice has ignited multiple political crisis.

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Houston Chronicle - June 16, 2021

Realtors call for nation to view homes as 'critical infrastructure'

The National Association of Realtors called for the government to begin viewing housing as critical infrastructure and to boost the amount of resources invested in building more homes in a report released Wednesday morning. “Following decades of underbuilding and underinvestment, the state of America’s housing stock, which is among the most critical pieces of our national infrastructure, is dire,” the report said. It called the scale of underbuilding “enormous” and a major reason for the current affordability crisis. Fixing the problem, it found, would “require a major commitment to build more housing of all types by expanding resources, addressing barriers to new development and making new housing construction an integral part of a national infrastructure strategy.”

The report, authored by the real estate economics consulting firm Rosen Consulting Group, found that the United States is 6.8 million housing units short of a balanced market, and that to address that gap, builders would have to construct 2 million units a year. That’s a 60 percent increase over the 1.3 million units a year. The housing gap has been caused, in part, by a slowdown in building. Between 1968 and 2000, the number of housing units in the United States grew an average 1.7 percent a year. That slowed this century to an average 1 percent a year, and in the last decade things slowed even more: the housing stock grew at a rate of 0.7 percent a year. That’s in line with population growth over the past decade, but Rosen Consulting Group said the lack of building has shifted the average age of housing stock over the past two decades, meaning a larger share of homes will reach the point of “functional obsolescence” in coming years.

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Newsclips - June 16, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 15, 2021

Summer heat and ERCOT's latest struggles renew fears of power grid failure

Many Texans spent Tuesday wondering if electricity to their homes and businesses was going to go out, uncertainty that might last through Friday and that is raising fresh questions about the dependability of the state's power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state agency charged with operating the grid, has asked people to cut back on electricity use this week because demand could outstrip generation capacity, which might result in rolling blackouts. An unusually large number of power plants are offline for unplanned repairs, ERCOT said, creating a potentially serious situation for the grid as temperatures approach triple digits and demand soars. "The pressure is on the (power plant operators) to turn their wrenches and get this fixed and get their plants back online," said Andrew Barlow, a spokesman for the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT.

"The unexpected loss of these power plants was certainly a shock" this week, he said. For many people, so was the high-profile plea for conservation, with summer not even officially here yet — meaning the hottest months of the year are still ahead — and coming in the wake of the grid's disastrous failure amid February's winter freeze. “That it happened so early in June, it makes me nervous about what is in store for us, not just later this summer but also in the years ahead," said Virginia Palacios, executive director of Commission Shift, an advocacy group that contends the state should do more to shore up the grid. Neither ERCOT nor the utility commission has disclosed the individual power plants they said are offline for unplanned repairs. But a unit of the Comanche Peak nuclear plant southwest of Dallas is among them, accounting for nearly 1,200 megawatts of the generation capacity out for unplanned maintenance — or enough to power nearly 250,000 homes on a summer day. A subsidiary of Vistra Corp. owns Comanche Peak, and a spokeswoman for the company said it is "working diligently" on repairs. She said the unit shut down automatically and safely because of a fire at its main transformer.

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NBC News - June 16, 2021

Biden begins long, tense meeting with Putin

President Joe Biden sits down for the first time since taking office with Russian President Vladimir Putin here on Wednesday in what’s expected to be an hours-long, contentious meeting — one where Biden has said he will lay out where U.S. red lines are, and the consequences for Russia if they're crossed. Biden and Putin, who arrived at the summit site first, shook hands and exchanged a few brief words while posing for a photo on the red carpet outside the main entrance. As expected, neither gave remarks, and the two leaders did not respond to shouted questions from reporters. Following the greeting, the two disappeared inside, double doors closing behind them. The summit is scheduled to last four to five hours and will be broken into two sections: a meeting featuring Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Putin and Russia’s foreign minister only, followed by a larger group session with additional participants.

After the meetings, Putin will hold a solo press conference followed by one from Biden. Security around Villa La Grange, the picturesque mansion and lakeside park where the summit is taking place, has been extremely tight. The park is blocked off by thick rolls of barbed-wire fencing with Swiss police patrolling the grounds. A large section of the city has been closed off with police boats dotting the crisp waters of Lake Geneva, in a city known for its neutrality and international cooperation. Geneva is no stranger to high-profile diplomatic meetings. Former President Ronald Reagan met here in 1985 for the first time with then head of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in what was seen as the beginning of the thaw between the two countries. But other than the location, there are expected to be few parallels between the meeting 36 years ago between the Russian and American leaders and the one taking place here Wednesday.

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Austin American-Statesman - June 15, 2021

Court temporarily halts transfer of Ken Paxton criminal trial from Houston

A state appeals court has added another delay to the long-delayed securities fraud criminal case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Three weeks after a three-justice panel on the Houston-based 1st Court of Appeals ordered Paxton's case returned to Collin County for trial, the appeals court temporarily halted the transfer to take a closer look at the issues involved. Prosecutors had asked all nine justices on the appeals court to review the panel's ruling, and Tuesday morning's order gave Paxton's lawyers 30 days to respond to the request.

Paxton was indicted in Collin County almost six years ago on two felony charges of securities fraud, but prosecutors succeeded in moving the case to Houston in 2017, arguing that they could not get a fair trial in Paxton's home county, which he represented during 12 years in the Texas House and Senate before becoming attorney general in 2015. Paxton's legal team later objected, arguing that the judge who ordered the transfer had lost jurisdiction over the case, and two Houston trial court judges agreed, sending the case back to Collin County in 2020. That transfer was halted when prosecutors appealed, leading to a May 27 ruling by a three-judge panel — all Democrats — that said prosecutors failed to prove that the original transfer order was valid and should be enforced. One of the panel members, Justice Gordon Goodman, disagreed with part of the ruling, saying in a separate opinion that the order sending the case to Houston was valid because the Texas Constitution allows a district judge to hold court for another when they deem it expedient.

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Houston Chronicle - June 15, 2021

'It sets up a crime.' Gov. Abbott describes his plan to arrest migrants at border

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said he wants to build a new fence along the Mexican border that could trap immigrants who enter the country illegally into committing jailable crimes. The remarks, part of an interview that aired Tuesday on the conservative podcast Ruthless, come after the governor vowed last week to finish portions of the Texas border wall that the Trump administration struggled to complete, and that the Biden administration has sought to end work on. While a full plan isn’t expected until Wednesday, Abbott said a fence will be the first step, believing it “will slow people to some extent, but also it sets up a crime.”

“Anybody coming across the border who in any way tries to damage that fence, they are guilty of two crimes,” he said. “One is trespassing, the other is vandalism.” Under a disaster declaration issued earlier this month by the Republican governor, property offenses along the border are treated as higher level crimes. “We will be putting these people in jail for a long time,” Abbott said. Immigration experts have said the move will likely face legal challenges. The Supreme Court in 2012 blocked a similar effort by Arizona Republicans, who passed a law that would allow state police to arrest migrants on trespassing charges, among other things. The court ruled states cannot enforce immigration law. But the high court has changed dramatically since that 5-3 ruling — with former President Donald Trump appointing three new, conservative justices — and Abbott may be betting that precedent could be overturned. And unlike in Arizona, most of Texas’s border land is privately owned, which Abbott may see as an opening. Abbott's push is the latest in his monthslong attack on the new Democratic administration over the flood of immigrants into the state, including tens of thousands of unaccompanied children.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 16, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: 'The lieutenant governor is just a jerk': Lyle Larson takes on Dan Patrick

Lyle Larson recently completed his sixth regular legislative session in the Texas House. The last four of those sessions have been dominated by the presence of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, whose relentless culture-war crusades often divert the Legislature from handling the most pressing issues in the state. Larson guested on this week’s episode of the Express-News’s Puro Politics podcast, and he made no effort to conceal his disdain for Patrick. Larson commended his old friend and fellow San Antonio Republican, Joe Straus, for being “able to knock the crazy off the train” during Straus’ tenure as speaker of the House.

Patrick frequently derided Straus for not doing enough to facilitate the most divisive pieces of Patrick’s agenda. This year, Patrick leveled similar criticisms at Dade Phelan, the new House speaker. “The lieutenant governor is just a jerk,” Larson said. “He’s not a good man. I’ve had meetings face-to-face. He’s soulless. “You look into his eyes and there’s nothing there. He’s got a lot of hostility. He’s a control freak. He’s got a lot of things you don’t want in leadership.” Larson said he was “dismayed” to learn that Patrick will seek another term in 2022 and added that he hopes a viable GOP primary challenger emerges to spare the state from the “nonsense” inflicted on it by the lieutenant governor. “I’m not certain what drives him. I think he’s got some psychological issues. He’s got just an insatiable desire for power. I think it’s time for him to see the gate and get out the gate.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 16, 2021

Trump to join Abbott for Texas-Mexico border tour to attack Democrats’ ‘dereliction of duty’

Donald Trump will tour the state’s border with Mexico later this month, after accepting an invitation from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate what Trump termed an “unmitigated disaster zone.” The trip, on June 30, is an apparent response to Vice President Kamala Harris not visiting the U.S.-Mexico border amid ongoing tensions over how to address an influx of migrants. “What [President Joe Biden] and Harris have done, and are continuing to do on our border, is a grave and willful dereliction of duty,” Trump said in the statement from Save America, the PAC Trump created after leaving office. “My visit will hopefully shine a spotlight on these crimes against our Nation — and show the incredible people of ICE and Border Patrol that they have our unshakeable support.”

For months, Harris has been the focus of GOP criticism for not visiting the border, which Republicans have been quick to deem a crisis zone. Harris has responded to that criticism by saying the administration is trying to focus on migration’s root causes, rather than performing “grand gestures.” The border has seen a recent influx of migrants in recent months, leading her to warn “Do not come” while in Guatemala earlier this month. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. On Wednesday, Abbott is scheduled to detail his plan to build a barrier along the state’s border with Mexico, while ramping up arrests of migrants — a proposal that has already drawn threats of legal challenge. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who said he supports the plan “100% support,” and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, will attend. President Joe Biden stopped construction on the border wall when he took office and has since redirected funding to other projects. In his release, Trump claimed the Biden administration created the “single worst border crisis in U.S history,” after it reversed several Trump-era policies, including loosening restrictions on asylum seekers and stopping construction on a border wall that Trump had long touted as a key policy initiative for his administration. Trump cited new “catch-and-release” policies as making way for unrestrained crime on the southern border. “Our Nation is now one giant sanctuary city where even dangerous criminals are being cut loose and set free inside the U.S interior on a daily basis,” Trump said in the statement.

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Dallas Morning News - June 15, 2021

Gov. Abbott signs ‘anti-critical race theory’ bill into law over objections from educators and civic groups

Texas on Tuesday became the latest conservative state to bar certain concepts related to race and racism from being discussed in the classroom, ignoring the passionate objections of educators who say the new law will make it harder for them to teach about America’s true past and present. A bill that legislators say sought to ban “critical race theory” in school — but never defined or mentioned the concept explicitly — stirred fear among educators that there could be repercussions for broaching current events during class. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the broad legislation into law without fanfare, according to the Texas Legislature Online service. The law will go into effect in September. The governor’s spokeswoman did not respond to The Dallas Morning News’ requests for comment Tuesday night.

Now, educators and civics advocates question how the vague language in the bill actually translates into the classroom and whether a legal challenge could strike it down. They’ll be closely watching how the State Board of Education takes on the Legislature’s mandate and revamps Texas’ social studies curriculum. “We’ve got a piece-of-junk legislation for us to work with,” said Pat Hardy, a Republican member of the State Board of Education and a former history teacher who had hoped Abbott would veto the legislation. The Legislature approved the bill in the dramatic final days of session after hours of debate and procedural back and forth. Teachers and education groups made impassioned pleas against it, saying it would have a chilling effect on social studies classrooms — particularly in teaching current events — and stymie districts’ work to address racism and equity in schools. “This will stifle the teaching of huge, important facts about history, which still affect much of our life today,” said Clay Robison, the Texas State Teachers Association spokesman. “Teachers and students need and deserve the whole truth about our history, our culture and what our problems are.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 15, 2021

Texas Reps. Cloud, Gohmert and Roy vote against awarding Capitol police gold medals for actions on Jan. 6

Texas Reps. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria, Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, and Chip Roy, R-Austin, voted against a House bill Tuesday to award four congressional gold medals to the United States Capitol Police and those who protected the building on January 6, 2021. The bill, introduced by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, passed 406-21 with strong bipartisan support. Cloud, Gohmert and Roy voted against, with all “nays” coming from Republican representatives.

It is initially unclear why Cloud, Gohmert and Roy voted against the bill, but they were not alone. Other members of the GOP also opposed the measure, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, spoke in support of the bill during the debate. “I am very proud to rise today, and to thank Speaker Pelosi for the vision and leadership,” Jackson Lee said on the floor. “I rise and support this gold medal, I rise that we never have this happen again, and I rise to say ‘thank you.’ The simple words of ‘thank you.’”

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Dallas Morning News - June 15, 2021

Reps. Crenshaw, Cotton say they’re getting hundreds of whistleblower complaints from armed forces members

After launching a whistleblower page to “tell the country what’s happening in our military,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, say they’ve received hundreds of complaints from members of the armed forces concerning Pentagon extremism and “woke” military ideology. Cotton questioned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, telling the former commander of U.S. Central Command he wanted to share “just a small selection of what your own troops are saying.” “One marine told us that a military history training session was replaced with mandatory training on police brutality, white privilege and systemic racism,” Cotton said. “He reported several officers are now leaving his unit, citing that training.”

Cotton detailed other submissions he said were received through the whistleblower webpage, including one from a servicemember who said their unit was required to read the book White Fragility and an airman who said their unit was forced to participate in a “‘privilege walk,’ where members of the wing were ordered to separate themselves by race and gender in order to stratify people based on their perceived privilege.” During the committee hearing, Cotton also submitted a list of complaints for the record. There were 28 total submissions on the document, obtained by The Dallas Morning News, ranging in focus from critical race theory to alleged bias in military academies. One complaint was included twice. “Woke Fundamentalism in the Military training at my units (redacted) treats the thought of saying ‘All Lives Matter’ as heretical and unacceptable,” one reads. “The unit encouraged turning in those who have such thoughts beliefs during the ‘extremism stand down day.’”

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

From 128 flights a day to 900: DFW Airport marks 40 years as an American Airlines hub

In June 1981, American Airlines announced 11 new routes from DFW International Airport, including flights to Austin, Corpus Christi, Lubbock, Orlando, Fla., and Portland, Ore. For the first time, it also dubbed DFW International Airport as a network hub, a new emphasis that would transform North Texas into one of the centers of the aviation world. American Airlines is marking 40 years since it made DFW a hub airport, a designation meaning that it uses the airport to route passengers from other connecting airports. Of course today, DFW International Airport is American Airlines’ primary hub, not far from the company’s corporate headquarters in Fort Worth. “At that time 40 years ago, the airline had never before begun service to as many stations on a single day,” American Airlines vice president of DFW hub operations Jim Moses wrote in a memo he sent to employees Friday.

It’s hard to imagine that American Airlines wasn’t the dominant airline at DFW 40 years ago, said Jim Hodgson, a former Continental Airlines pilot and executive director of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum. “Braniff and Delta had a big presence here, along with Continental and pretty much everyone else, even Northwest,” said Hodgson, who was based out of DFW. “Everyone was represented, and American was one of them.” Several of those airlines have gone out of business (Braniff) or merged into other airlines (Continental and Northwest), while Delta has a significantly smaller presence here in favor of bigger hubs in Atlanta and Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, American has doubled down on DFW, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, American Airlines was responsible for 88% of passengers traveling through DFW. On a given day, more than 60% of passengers at the airport are just passing through, usually on an American flight. Last summer, American Airlines designated DFW as its “trans-Pacific hub,” meaning that most of its international flights from Asia and the Australian region now land and take off from DFW. American Airlines has had a presence in North Texas since the 1930s, when it was a network of smaller regional carriers. Some even claim American Airlines was started in Dallas in the form of one of those original companies, Southern Air Transport.

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Houston Chronicle - June 15, 2021

#AbbottFailedTexas trends again, as Texans brace for potential power outages amid heat wave

Less than one week after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation promising to strengthen Texas' electric grid, residents were asked this week to start conserving electricity in preparation for potential "last resort" forced outages amid a relentless heat wave that has sent temperatures into the 100s and air conditioning demand soaring. In a rare early summer alert, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas warned customers on Monday to turn thermostats to 78 degrees or higher and to cut back electricity use until at least Friday.

The warning did not go over well with Texans, who were told last week by Abbott that “everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas." The hashtag #AbbottFailedTexas started trending online Monday and Tuesday, with social media users across the state saying they are fed up with the grid's apparent unreliability. Many said that facing a possible blackout during a heat wave has triggered PTSD-like feelings from the deadly February storm that left millions without power for days in below-freezing temperatures. Online reactions were mixed between lighthearted memes and more serious takes calling out lawmakers. The recently-signed legislation, Senate Bill 3, consists of weatherization mandates that call for winter preparation at power plants and some natural gas facilities and the creation of a statewide alert system - but those won't take effect until next winter. Experts said while those reforms are welcome, they still fall short of preventing another grid failure and do not address the fundamental problem of increasing power generation during extreme weather and emergency situations.

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Houston Chronicle - June 15, 2021

Sen. Ted Cruz joins Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in call for Fauci's firing

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz wants Dr. Anthony Fauci to be fired, alleging the nation’s top infectious disease expert “behaved more like a two-bit politician than a scientist” during the coronavirus pandemic. “This is someone that had a position of enormous responsibility in the government during a time of great peril, during a time of worldwide pandemic,” Cruz said in an interview with conservative radio host Michael Berry. “He was saying whatever was politically convenient, he was saying whatever the Democrats wanted said at the time and the science was secondary.”

Cruz’s comments come as Republicans have increasingly criticized Fauci over a trove of his emails from last year that was released to news organizations, including the Washington Post. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing firebrand from Georgia, led a news conference with a handful of House Republicans on Tuesday making similar calls. President Joe Biden has put Fauci — who emerged as a star to many Democrats as he occasionally disagreed with former President Donald Trump — at the head of his administration’s response to the virus. “I’m very confident in Dr. Fauci,” Biden said earlier this month, dismissing GOP criticism over his emails. Cruz isn’t the first Texas Republican to express “dismay” over the Fauci emails. “Fauci lost my trust long before this,” U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Houston Republican, tweeted when the emails were first published. “Never contextualizing his statements, never giving honest risk assessments, always treating us like we are too stupid to do anything but lockdown and wear masks forever. The emails show it was worse than we thought.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 15, 2021

Early Texas standardized test scores show big declines in math, steady reading rates in high school

Texas’ first trove of 2021 state standardized test scores offers early confirmation of what many educators feared: students fell dramatically behind in math amid the pandemic. Results from spring algebra tests given to Texas high school students show a major decline in performance compared to 2019, particularly among Black, Hispanic and lower-income students. By contrast, performance on high school English tests slightly dipped this year, mirroring nationwide studies suggesting that students’ reading skills continued to develop — albeit slower — throughout the pandemic.

Taken together, the scores offer one of the state’s earliest looks at the academic fallout from the pandemic, which upended education across Texas and pushed millions of children into online-only classes for varying lengths of time. The data only includes performance of state End of Course exams that high school students must pass before graduating, with limited exceptions. State officials are expected later this month to release scores for students in grades 3 through 8 on the tests, known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR. While the high school results allow for drawing broad conclusions, the data does not offer a precise apples-to-apples comparison between scores from 2019 and 2021. The tests were not given in 2020. Making such comparisons are difficult, for several reasons. For example, many more struggling students re-took End of Course exams in 2019 than 2021, likely skewing the results from 2019 lower. In addition, a small fraction of teens taking virtual-only classes this spring opted out of the tests, which could impact average scores in 2021.

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Houston Chronicle - June 15, 2021

Houston Chronicle honored as best newspaper in Texas

The Houston Chronicle has won 13 first-place awards — including the Newsroom of the Year honor — in the state’s annual journalism contest, marking the third year in a row the Chronicle was recognized as the best overall newspaper in Texas. The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, which oversees the contest, made the announcement Tuesday.

Judges wrote that the Chronicle has “an aggressive newsroom with an impressive mix of local news, watchdog journalism and project work” in announcing the Newsroom of the Year selection. The paper also won first place in community service for a series of investigative stories about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It took third place in that category for interactive and multimedia content on the pandemic. Staff photographer Godofredo Vásquez won three-first place awards in the contest. He was recognized as Star Photojournalist of the Year, and he also took first place in news photography, along with top honors in the photojournalism category for images he took inside the COVID-19 intensive care unit at United Memorial Medical Center. He also took third place in sports photography.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 16, 2021

Tarrant County deputies, officials clash with protesters over ICE enforcement in jails

Sheriff’s deputies clashed with protesters at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting, almost a year after Tarrant County agreed to indefinitely renew a plan to stay in a federal program that lets sheriff’s deputies work as ICE agents. ICE out of Tarrant County, an organization dedicated to eradicating the federal 287(g) program, showed up at the meeting with a handful of members asking the commissioners to consider ending the program because they said it creates fear, mistrust and anxiety among immigrant communities. Fewer than 10 appeared at the meeting. The ICE policy was not on the agenda, so commissioners could not respond. But, when the last member spoke, they broke out in chant as they made their way to exit.

Immediately, county deputies escorted them out. The group claims at least one of its members was shoved. While the chants started and the members were taken out, County Judge Glen Whitley said if it was legal, he wanted to dish out citations to the members for disturbing a public meeting and asked if there was a way to stop them from attending meetings altogether. The county’s district attorney’s office is looking to see if they cite the protesters, Whitley said in a phone interview. “We try to treat folks with respect and we expect the same,” Whitley said. “If they’re not going to be respectful, then I want to see if I can basically bar them coming back.” In the coming weeks, the court may put the federal program on the agenda again, but it would be to review updated data and not take the program away. Whitley said because it is a federal program, the Biden Administration can take a look at it and possibly get rid of it. Commissioner Devan Allen expressed concerns that members could be wrongfully cited for exercising their First Amendment rights. Deputies could be heard discussing the possibility of jailing the protesters. The ICE policy has been in place since 2017, when Sheriff Bill Waybourn took office. The commissioners have since voted along party lines once a year to renew the program. But on June 16, 2020, officials instead renewed it indefinitely, with the caveat that they would still review the program.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 15, 2021

Texas AG sues group accused of targeting Black community in multimillion-dollar scam

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against “Blessings in No Time,” a scam in which people were promised a “blessing” of money eight times the amount of their donation if they contributed to the organization. The founders of the group from Prosper, Texas, are accused of promoting the pyramid scheme and scamming tens of millions of dollars from people primarily in the Black community in Texas and across the country, according to the lawsuit filed in District Court in Collin County. People were promised if they gave money to BINT, they would receive eight times that amount in return if they recruited other people to join, the suit says. Victims paid between $1,400 to $1,425 and were promised a return of over $11,200 each if they recruited others, Paxton said in a news release Tuesday.

BINT also promised each person the right to receive a full refund, but this was also false, he said. BINT owners admitted their refund account is empty even as many refund requests have gone unpaid, Paxton said. One victim of the scheme said BINT presented itself as a “Godly, ALL-Black, socially conscious gifting community that came about on the tail-end of a lot of this past summer protest,” according to a statement included in the suit. The person brought in six of their family members, according to the suit, and BINT showed the family “heavily documented refunding guarantees.” But they never got their money back, and the family lost a total of $32,000. The scam caused rifts in the family and the initial contributor said in their statement that they at one point “considered suicide because I brought my family into this financial slaughter.” “This was my first encounter with gifting circles,” the person’s statement said. “I am ashamed I believed them.” The suit includes requests for a temporary asset freeze and injunction against BINT to keep the company from continuing to ask for donations. “BINT scammed Texans out of money by exploiting their deeply-held religious faith during a national crisis,” Paxton said in the news release about the suit. “This is despicable behavior, and BINT will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 15, 2021

Texas Motor Speedway plans to dramatically reduce the number of seats amid upgrades

Built as the largest racetrack in the United States, and second only to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway will now resume its downsizing plans. Outgoing TMS president Eddie Gossage said the track still plans to undergo a series of upgrades that was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional plans now include further reducing the number of suites, and seats. The demand is simply no longer there for a 100,000-seat facility virtually anywhere in the world.

“I don’t want to say 50,000 because I think that’s too low but I’d think the sweet spot for us is about 75,000,” TMS assistant general manager Kenton Nelson said Monday. “Think of this as a re-modernization of Texas Motor Speedway.” TMS’ unofficial seating capacity is just over 100,000. It also has 204 suites. “I think what you’ll see is taking out a row of seats and replacing it with a drink and food rail in front of it,” Nelson said. “We could expand the size of the seat from 18 inches wide to 22 inches wide, so it’s more comfortable. “Fans want to be comfortable, and we will offer something that is a hell of a lot more comfortable than (current grandstand seat).” When TMS was under construction in the mid-1990s, the original plans were for a 70,000-seat facility. But Gossage kept selling more tickets and track owner Bruton Smith kept adding more seats. More than 20 years later, TMS’ 1.5-mile oval track is fine; it’s the size of its stands that is outdated.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 15, 2021

Longtime Tarrant County Commissioner J.D. Johnson says he will not seek reelection

Tarrant County Precinct 4 Commissioner J.D. Johnson, 82, announced Tuesday morning he will not seek reelection in the Republican Primary once his term ends in 2022. “It’s been an honor. I’ve enjoyed it. But I’m getting tired,” Johnson said. Johnson, a Fort Worth Republican, has served on the Commissioners Court since 1987, making him the longest-serving commissioner in history. He will finish his term with 36 years of leading Precinct 4, which covers west Fort Worth and northwest Tarrant County.

His announcement comes after County Judge Glen Whitley announced he would not seek reelection, making the way for Republicans Betsy Price and Tim O’Hare to face off in the March primary. “It is the highest honor to serve Tarrant County which is why I felt it was necessary to make my intentions known now, so whomever follows in this office will have time to be prepared for the election cycle ahead,” Johnson said in a statement. Johnson plans to relax and enjoy his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Before taking the county seat, he served on the Saginaw City Council for nine years during the 1970s-1980s with six of them as mayor. He worked for Southwestern Bell now known as AT&T before being on the court. His son, Joe D. “Jody” Johnson, is the county’s Precinct 4 Constable. J.D. Johnson is self-described as a “strong fiscal conservative.” In the last 35 years, he said he has championed for property tax rate cuts and eliminating inefficiency and waste. He is the first Tarrant County commissioner to receive a gubernatorial appointment to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 16, 2021

Fort Worth’s new mayor, council pledge unity for the city in first speeches

With an excitement for fresh ideas, five new Fort Worth City Council members took oaths Tuesday evening, including Mattie Parker, one of the youngest mayors to lead a major city. This year’s election saw the most turnover on council in about a decade thanks in part to Betsy Price’s decision not to seek a sixth term as mayor. Of the council’s nine members, six have never held office. In speeches, the newly elected members committed to finding common ground, working with neighborhoods, striving for inclusion and raising the city’s quality of life. They were sworn in at the Fort Worth Convention Center rather than City Hall to accommodate a large crowd of supporters who often applauded or cheered loudly.

Estrus Tucker, a Como native, civic leader and diversity consultant, advocated for the newcomers to find unity in the city and on the council. He told them to “lead the city to a place of well being and equity for all our people.” “May your collective leadership ever be in service of we, the people,” Tucker said in a speech before the swearing in. Parker, 37, beat Deborah Peoples, 68, in the June runoff after neither was able to muster the necessary 50% plus one needed to win the general election outright. That election featured 10 candidates vying for mayor. In her speech, Parker said the council should move past partisan politics and find commonalities, arguing the question is not “if we move right or left, but how we move Fort Worth forward?” “We all have a fierce love and desire to leave Fort Worth better than we found it,” she said later of the council colleagues.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 15, 2021

San Antonio City Council gets younger, more progressive as new council members sworn in

As a slate of young progressives took their seats on San Antonio City Council on Tuesday, some of the council’s old guard warned them against pursuing too ideological of an agenda. Four new council members who prevailed in the June 5 runoffs took the oath of office Tuesday — including three progressives, who could further tilt the balance of a left-leaning council. Among them are two self-identified democratic socialists — Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Teri Castillo, who will represent the East and West sides, respectively.

McKee-Rodriguez unseated his former boss Jada Andrews-Sullivan for the District 2 seat. He alleged that while working for her, he experienced homophobic treatment. McKee-Rodriguez will be the first openly gay man to serve on the council. On Tuesday, he cast his victory as a milestone for the LGBTQ community and vowed to push for the establishment of a city office of civil rights — which will deal in part with enforcing the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. “For any people who share identities, any people who don’t feel represented, I hope that in the future this opens a door for you because there are so many before me who opened this door,” McKee-Rodriguez said. Castillo beat a more moderate candidate in the open race to succeed District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who left because of term limits.

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KXAN - June 15, 2021

Austin Mayor Adler: Gov. Abbott ‘doesn’t seem to care’ about ‘unreliable’ ERCOT power grid

Austin Mayor Steve Adler directed a strong message at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday — after ERCOT, the commission that directs 90% of the state’s power, released a conservation alert. On Monday, ERCOT, or the Electric Reliability Commission of Texas, drew national contempt for urging Texans to conserve energy due to many forced generation outages just months after millions were left without power for days during February’s historic winter storm. The incident is widely acknowledged as a colossal failure on the part of ERCOT. It’s faced ferocious scrutiny since.

Now, Adler is calling on Abbott to do something about it. “It’s Day Two of conservation warnings from @GregAbbott_TX delicate power infrastructure,” Adler tweeted Tuesday morning. “It’s still technically spring and Texas is experiencing late-summer temperatures, power plants offline, and the governor is tweeting about a border wall that he can’t fund.” Adler poked at the governor’s Tuesday announcement that he’d solicit individual donations to fund construction on the Texas-Mexico border wall. The mayor called Abbott’s priorities in question, saying the governor would likely care more about keeping the power reliable if it affected Texas business. “Maybe when a corporation tells the governor that an unreliable power grid is bad for business, he’ll finally listen,” tweeted Adler. “He doesn’t seem to care about whether it’s bad for people.” As of Tuesday afternoon, Abbott has not addressed the alert via Twitter or through an official statement. Adler’s comments refer to one of Abbott’s tweets about Texas business: “Texas ranked #1 again,” the governor tweeted in response to a state award for attracting development projects. “…Thanks to all the job creators in Texas.”

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Brownsville Herald - June 15, 2021

Cameron County DA: SpaceX may be violating Texas law

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz has written a scathing letter to SpaceX stating the agency may be in violation of two state laws that include obstructing a highway and impersonating a public servant. The letter was sent to SpaceX’s Shyamal Patel, a senior director, in response to a letter Save RGV sent to Saenz on June 3, stating SpaceX is in violation of a Sept. 1, 2013 Memorandum of Agreement between the county and the state’s General Land Office, and the original 2014 Record of Division by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“As shared with your staff, be advised the actions of SpaceX and its staff/employees/agents/contractors may constitute crimes in the State of Texas,” Saenz writes. The letter states that in early April 2021 Cameron County had advised Patel that this conduct was inappropriate. The deadline for SpaceX to respond to the letter was Monday. The Brownsville Herald reached out to SpaceX Tuesday afternoon for comment, and as of late Tuesday the company had not replied. The two road closures pertaining to a possible obstructing highway violation are Remidios Avenue and Joanna Street, which SpaceX ordered closed, Saenz says. Both are county roads. Saenz states he sent some his staff out to the location to see if there was “veracity” to the complaint filed by Save RGV and that his staff was stopped and detained by Oscar Lopez, a member of SpaceX’s security team. Lopez told the DA’s staff that it could not use the road and had to turn around and return to Highway 4.

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Politifact - June 15, 2021

Fact check: Beto O'Rourke says Texas was warned for years about power grid

The massive power outage in Texas that left millions with no heat amid frigid temperatures should have come as no surprise, according to former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke. "Texans are suffering without power because those in power have failed us," said O’Rourke in a Twitter thread, calling out Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. "State leaders don’t get to say that they didn’t see this coming. Energy experts and State House Dems, among others, were warning of this for years. Abbott chose to ignore the facts, the science and the tough decisions and now Texans will once again pay the price," tweeted O’Rourke, a 2019 Democratic presidential candidate.

We found that O’Rourke spoke accurately — there had been years of warnings by energy experts about the state’s power system following cold weather in February 2011, when around 200 generating units faltered, causing power outages for 3.2 million customers, according to a post-mortem of that crisis. In August 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp., wrote a 357-page report about the February 2011 outage. The report stated that in 1989, after cold weather caused many generators to fail, the Public Utility Commission of Texas issued a number of recommendations aimed at improving winterization of the generators. However, "these recommendations were not mandatory, and over the course of time implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011," the report stated. The report found that in 2011 "the generators did not adequately anticipate the full impact of the extended cold weather and high winds." More thorough preparation for cold weather could have prevented many of the weather-related outages, the report found.

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Texas Monthly - June 15, 2021

2021: The best and worst legislators

Since 1973, our biennial list of the best and worst legislators has tried to make the chicanery (and occasional valor) of the Texas Legislature a little more visible through brief portraits of the body’s saints and sinners. We try to capture the wackiness of the proceedings while taking seriously the impact that decisions made in the Capitol have on the lives of Texans. This year’s Best and Worst list is the product of hundreds of conversations with lawmakers, legislative staffers, lobbyists, activists, and other observers of the Lege. We’ve done our best to consider the perspectives of many warring parties and double-check their claims. The session overlapped with two of the biggest crises the state has faced in recent memory: the pandemic, which has killed at least 50,000 Texans so far, and the February blackouts, which killed an estimated 700. Both exposed decades of underinvestment and mismanagement of the state’s critical infrastructure. But lawmakers didn’t concern themselves much with the state’s health-care system, and even the blackouts quickly took a back seat.

The Best: Representative Senfronia Thompson, Representative Jeff Leach, Representative Angie Chen Button, Representative Terry Canales, Representative Stephanie Klick, Representative James Talarico, Representative Dustin Burrows, Representative Chris Paddie, Representative Donna Howard, and Representative Trent Ashby. The Worst: Representative Briscoe Cain, Representative Harold Dutton, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, The Senate Democrats, Representative Gary Gates, Senator Bob Hall, Senator Charles Perry, Representative Kyle Biedermann, Representative Steve Toth and Senator Bryan Hughes. Special Awards: Bull of the Brazos: Representative Jessica González, The Cockroach: Representative Bryan Slaton, Furniture: Representative Michelle Beckley, Representative Hubert Vo, Representative J. M. Lozano, Representative Jake Ellzey. Honorable Mentions: Representative Garnet Coleman, Senator Larry Taylor, Representative Lyle Larson. The Freshman Class: Representative Ann Johnson, Representative Jasmine Crockett, Representative Shelby Slawson, Senator Sarah Eckhardt.

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KUT - June 15, 2021

Austin says arrests at homeless camps will not be 'typical' as police ramp up enforcement of ban

Austin leaders on Tuesday addressed the arrests of people experiencing homelessness as police and city staff cleared dozens of encampments around City Hall on Monday. The arrests were for interfering with public duties and failure to obey a lawful order — not for violating the camping ban Austin voters reinstated in May — police said. People began camping near City Hall in protest of the ban's reinstatement. On Monday morning, the Austin Police Department and city staff moved people camped on private property and encampments in the way of a project to build out bike and pedestrian lanes. Scores of Austinites at the encampments Monday told KUT they hadn't been told to move. The tense scene came as the city and APD begin to more actively enforce the ban on public encampments.

While officers are empowered to ticket and arrest people as of Sunday, they're being encouraged to use criminal penalties as a last resort. Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey said Tuesday that the arrests were not for violating the city ordinance banning camping, and that she hoped the confusion and arrests wouldn't be par for the course going forward. "The actions that happened yesterday were not what would be typical under the rollout of the new camping ordinance," she said. Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said he hopes officers will continue outreach in lieu of ticketing. The city's staggered approach has emphasized outreach since the ordinance went into effect May 11. Since then, Chacon said, officers have given 390 warnings and visited 70 camps to tell folks they are violating Austin's ban on public camping. Still, he admitted, officers don't yet have a clear answer where people can go for shelter.

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CNN - June 15, 2021

Lone Star State lawmakers put Texas-sized pressure on Washington Democrats over voting rights

Nearly two dozen Democratic members of the Texas state Legislature are taking their voting rights fight from Austin to Washington this week. The trip is a "Hail Mary" effort of sorts, to apply some Texas-sized pressure on US lawmakers to support the passage of the For the People Act, a comprehensive federal voting rights bill that would counteract many of the voting restrictions put in place by Republicans at the state level.

The cross-country blitz comes just weeks after Texas Democrats, in dramatic fashion, notched a rare victory in killing the Republican-controlled Legislature's flagship election overhaul bill, Senate Bill 7, by walking off the state House floor as the clocked ticked down on the 2020 session. The move left the Republican majority without the quorum they needed to approve the bill this session in the final hours before a midnight deadline. The state's Republican governor, who claimed the bill improved election security, has vowed to call a special session to bring the contents of SB7 back for a vote later this year, sparking a renewed effort by Texas Democrats to push for federal intervention. "Without a national standard for voting rights and voting reform, states are going to just chip away at the rights of voters state by state," Texas state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, one of the SB7 walk-out organizers, told CNN shortly after arriving in Washington, DC, on Monday. "Hopefully, this might inform minds and shape opinions when folks are in that Senate cloakroom wrestling over how they're going to proceed with HR1 and HR4."

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 15, 2021

Bexar County judge plans to reject $32K donation from Black Rifle Coffee Co. over 'personal attacks'

Pointing to “vile and despicable” social media posts, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff plans to reject a $32,000 check from a local business for a rescue boat. Instead, he wants to use county funds — pending the approval of county commissioners. Sheriff Javier Salazar said he understands Wolff’s position. Without elaborating, he said he is working on a proposal to buy a boat that would not use taxpayer funds. Although commissioners meet Tuesday, there’s no agenda item concerning a rescue boat. “The unfortunate area drowning deaths being reported on as I write this illustrate our need for this lifesaving equipment in Bexar County,” Salazar said in a statement.

Over the weekend, a man and a woman in Guadalupe County went missing after saving two children from drowning in the Guadalupe River. The body of 22-year-old Casandra Kendrick was later recovered, but authorities have not found the man. Commissioner Trish DeBerry balked at an initial request from Sheriff Javier Salazar in April to spend $20,000 from the nonprofit Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation for a rescue boat. The foundation was created two years ago and is maintained by the San Antonio Area Foundation to fund non-budgeted items for the department. DeBerry said it was “insulting” for the sheriff to bring a request for a “shiny new toy” when there were other needs, such as equipment for deputies. At the time, commissioners asked Salazar to return with details about storage, liability, maintenance and operation of the boat. It seemed as if controversy over a search and rescue boat for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office had nearly been resolved once Black Rifle Coffee Company, a veteran-owned business, donated funds for the watercraft earlier this month. Its co-owners posed with the sheriff and an oversized $32,000 check in a photo widely circulated online.

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National Stories

CNN - June 15, 2021

Jim Langevin and Michael T. McCaul: Biden's historic opportunity with Putin

(Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island, is a member of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. Rep. Michael T. McCaul, a Republican from Texas, is the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. They jointly co-founded and co-chair the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus.) Over the past several weeks, many Americans have become intimately familiar with the national security threat of ransomware. The Colonial Pipeline hack knocked out a major pipeline that supplies fuel to nearly half of the East Coast, sparking panic-buying across the country, and the JBS hack brought down the world's largest meat supplier, driving up meat prices. This was a wake-up call for many Americans -- if our gas stations and grocery stores aren't safe from international cybergangs, what else is vulnerable? How much worse can these ransomware attacks get?

The answer -- much worse. And it comes with potentially deadly consequences. What if the next target is a natural gas pipeline in the dead of winter? Or hackers manage to infiltrate our electrical grid or threaten our water supply? Cyberexperts estimate that the US suffered 65,000 ransomware attacks last year. FBI Director Chris Wray compared the recent spate of ransomware attacks to 9/11, and the Justice Department is now elevating the investigation of ransomware to the level of terrorism. According to statements by US officials, the criminals who targeted Colonial Pipeline and JBS are likely operating from inside Russia (Editor's Note: The Kremlin has denied any responsibility). Ultimately, President Vladimir Putin needs to be held responsible, since we know that nothing significant happens in Russia without the former KGB officer's knowledge. As such, President Joe Biden must use Wednesday's summit with Putin to confront this dire national security challenge head-on by making ransomware a priority item on his agenda. Biden must make it clear to Putin that responsible states do not allow criminal gangs to operate freely from their soil. International law is unambiguous -- nations have a responsibility to police the criminal hackers using their networks. At best, Putin and his cronies continue to willfully turn a blind eye to these attacks. At worst, these ransomware gangs operate with the explicit blessing of the Kremlin. Either is unacceptable.

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CNN - June 15, 2021

Moderates win the day in close vote over Southern Baptist presidency

Alabama pastor Ed Litton will be the next president of the Southern Baptist Convention following a narrow election win Tuesday -- a victory for the more moderate establishment against a conservative insurgency in an ongoing fight within the nation's largest Protestant denomination. The vote comes as the SBC has been grappling with questions about racial reconciliation, gender roles within the clergy and how to handle sex abuse cases. Litton defeated the favored candidate of conservative Southern Baptists, Georgia pastor Mike Stone, in a runoff, receiving support from 52% of the delegates (called "messengers") to the SBC's annual meeting in Nashville. "My prayers and congratulations are with Pastor Ed Litton as Southern Baptists continue to serve our churches and our communities," said Stone in a statement Tuesday evening.

The outcome was uncertain in the days and even hours before the vote, which took place at one of the largest annual meetings in SBC history. More than 13,000 messengers voted in person Tuesday, a year after the 2020 meeting was canceled due to the Covid pandemic. Lindsay McDonald, the wife of a pastor from Casey, Illinois, told CNN that she and her husband voted for Litton in part because of his "compassion" and understanding of "different people groups" in communicating the Gospel. But she says she expected the race to be close. "Coming into the convention, we believed that Mike Stone was going to be a very good contender as president," said McDonald, who has been attending SBC annual meetings for 14 years. "We were thankful that Ed Litton was the one that did win." Despite the talk of unity, Southern Baptists appeared headed for a major split over the sorts of culture-war issues usually reserved for politics, such as race and gender. The internal conflict took on a particularly Trumpian tone, pitting a populist group of self-identifying "real" Southern Baptists against those they say would transform the church into something unrecognizable to many traditionalists.

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Houston Public Media - June 15, 2021

Proposed law would bring renters greater eviction protections in a national emergency

Houston renters unlawfully evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic could receive relief if a new federal bill is passed into law. On Monday, members of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties met to discuss potential legislative remedies for unlawful evictions occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic. The subcommittee, which includes Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, discussed the proposed HR 1451, or the Emergency Eviction Enforcement Act of 2021. If passed, the legislation would provide a "right of action" to renters who have been unlawfully evicted during national emergencies by allowing them – or the U.S. Justice Department – to challenge that eviction in court.

Jackson Lee described the legislation as a "civil rights buffer" designed to mitigate the "disastrous (evictions) that poor people have been the victims of." If an eviction is found to be illegal, renters would also become entitled to damages paid out by the landlord. It would also allow the Office of the Attorney General to intervene on behalf of evicted tenants. Although HR 1451 was written in response to unlawful evictions that have taken place under a national eviction moratorium during the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill seeks to establish a renter's right of action during all future national emergencies as well. Yet even with those federal protections, millions of Americans have faced evictions. In Harris County alone, more than 30,000 eviction cases have been filed since March of 2020. At the hearing, Jackson Lee cited reporting from Houston Public Media that described Houston residents forced out of their homes without an official eviction order, and despite the eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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New York Times - June 16, 2021

As pandemic recedes in U.S., calls are growing for an investigative commission

The lawyer who led the inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks has quietly laid a foundation for a nonpartisan commission to investigate the coronavirus pandemic, with financial backing from four foundations and a paid staff that has already interviewed more than 200 public health experts, business leaders, elected officials, victims and their families. The work, which has attracted scant public notice, grew out of a telephone call in October from Eric Schmidt, the philanthropist and former chief executive of Google, to Philip D. Zelikow, who was the executive director of the commission that investigated Sept. 11. Mr. Schmidt urged Mr. Zelikow to put together a proposal to examine the pandemic, which has caused nearly 600,000 deaths in the United States alone.

Now, with the nation beginning to put the crisis in the rearview mirror, Washington is taking up the idea of a Covid-19 commission. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate, and have the backing of three former homeland security secretaries — two Republicans and a Democrat — as well as health groups and victims and their families. Unlike the rancorous debate that doomed the proposal for a panel to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, discussion of a Covid-19 commission has not produced partisan discord — at least, not yet. Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and a lead sponsor of the Senate bill, noted that its work would cover both the Trump and Biden administrations. “If I can get past what I consider to be the biggest hurdle, which is not to have this viewed through a partisan political lens, then I think there should be strong support for it moving forward,” Mr. Menendez said in an interview on Tuesday. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month committed to an inquiry into the pandemic that would place “the state’s actions under the microscope” and take evidence under oath. But in Washington, a commission with subpoena power could be a hard sell to Republicans wary that such a panel would become an instrument to investigate former President Donald J. Trump.

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Miami Herald - June 13, 2021

Titanic clash pits DeSantis against potent cruise industry as it prepares to restart

The return of operations for one of South Florida’s most iconic industries has turned into a battle of the heavyweights. On the one side is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Emboldened by growing approval ratings, DeSantis refuses to budge from a state law he sought that bars the cruise industry from requiring passengers be vaccinated. On the other: The industry, a powerful pillar of Florida tourism, is quietly crafting a work-around for the governor’s mandate as it seeks to restore public confidence and restart cruising after a 15-month shutdown that has put thousands of Florida jobs on hold and cost the industry billions — not including losses to its suppliers.

The vaccine conflict is not an ideal setting for the industry’s restart, said Rockford Weitz, director of the Maritime Studies Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. “This is definitely not how the cruise industry would prefer it to unfold,” he said. “Unfortunately, the politics of vaccines has put the industry between a rock and a hard place — between Florida and the CDC who have totally different views on how they should operate their businesses.” Along with the economic costs are the potential health consequences. According to experts, vaccines are the most important way to prevent deadly COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships. Cruises have resumed from Caribbean ports and, so far, all adult passengers have been required to be vaccinated. In at least one case, those requirements prevented what may have otherwise become a deadly outbreak. At U.S. ports, some cruise companies vow to defy Florida’s ban and restart cruises as soon as June 26 using the same vaccine requirements, in violation of Florida’s law. Other companies have backed down, saying they won’t require proof of vaccines. At least one, Royal Caribbean International, has embarked on a two-pronged approach, encouraging all passengers to be vaccinated and, while not requiring them, imposing more restrictions and costs on unvaccinated passengers.

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The Verge - June 15, 2021

Tech antitrust pioneer Lina Khan will officially lead the FTC

The Senate confirmed Lina Khan as commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday, by a vote of 69-28. Shortly after the vote, multiple reports said that Khan would chair the agency, a surprise shift that drew applause from progressive Democrats. This afternoon, President Biden made it official, and Khan was officially sworn in as Chair of the FTC. “The Biden administration’s designation of Lina Khan as Chair of the Federal Trade Commission is tremendous news,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who championed breaking up Big Tech in her 2020 presidential campaign, said in a statement Tuesday. “Lina brings deep knowledge and expertise to this role and will be a fearless champion for consumers.”

The news broke during a Senate Judiciary antitrust hearing on smart home tech Tuesday, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) noted that Khan would act as chairwoman of the FTC, surprising many in the audience. Multiple news outlets have gone on to confirm Klobuchar’s statements. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Verge. First nominated in March, Khan will give Democrats a majority on the commission, filling a vacancy left by Republican appointee and chair Joseph Simons who resigned in January. Khan’s appointment signals an increased focus on antitrust regulation against major tech companies, which has been a focus of her legal scholarship. Khan rose to prominence after a 2017 paper, titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox,” arguing that new antitrust statutes were necessary to prevent anti-competitive behavior from online platforms like Amazon. More recently, Khan played a significant staff role in assembling the House Antitrust report on competition in digital markets.

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Newsclips - June 15, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

ERCOT warns customers to conserve power in rare early-summer alert

The state’s grid manager on Monday urged Texans to turn down thermostats and cut back electricity use as the combination of record demand and an unusually high number plant outages shrunk the reserve of available generation near critical levels. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued at least two conservation alerts as temperatures climbed into the mid-90s and demand headed toward a record 73,000 megawatts — well above the previous record for June of 69,123 megawatts in 2018. Meanwhile, more than 12,000 megawatts of generation went offline, about 15 percent of the system’s capacity of 86,000 megawatts and far above 3,600 megawatts of outages that ERCOT had forecast. One megawatt can power around 200 homes on a hot summer day.

“That’s the major deviation at this time,” said Warren Lasher, a senior director of system planning for ERCOT. “Clearly today, outages were much higher than expected.” With the official start of summer still more than a week away, the conservation alerts — issued when available power generation shrinks below 2,500 megawatts — comes shortly after the Legislature passed reforms to the state power market following the February power crisis that contributed to some 200 deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 3 into law, which mandates the weatherization of power plants; creates a statewide emergency alert system; improves communication among those in the industry; and designates some natural gas facilities as “critical” so their power can't be turned off during crises. Abbott said that bill, along with a handful of others, ensured “that everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.” Experts, however, said the early season conservation alerts by ERCOT show that a fundamental problem remains unaddressed: the state needs more power generation to keep up with its population and handle emergency situations.

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KXAN - June 14, 2021

Austin mass shooting: Teen arrested at Killeen area high school is 2nd suspect

A second suspect has been arrested in connection with the mass shooting that killed one and injured 13 others in downtown Austin’s Sixth Street over the weekend. Jeremiah Roshaun Leland James Tabb, 17, is charged with aggravated assault, according to a release from the Austin Police Department.

Tabb was arrested Monday without incident in Killeen while enrolled in a summer school class, police say. Killeen ISD police say the suspect was arrested at Harker Heights High School. On Saturday afternoon, APD confirmed the arrest of another juvenile in connection with the deadly shooting. Douglas John Kantor, 25, died from his injuries at an Austin hospital Sunday at 12:01 p.m. after the shooting, police say. At an initial police briefing, APD Police Chief Joseph Chacon said 11 people were receiving treatment at one hospital, while one victim went to a separate hospital, another received treatment at an emergency room and another self-transported. Chacon said his officers rushed six patients to the hospital in their patrol vehicles, while Austin-Travis County EMS paramedics ended up taking four. Three were transported in personal vehicles, police said.

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NBC News - June 15, 2021

A Texas ruling backed vaccine mandates. But businesses are still wary.

The dismissal of a lawsuit by Texas hospital workers who challenged their employer’s Covid-19 vaccination requirement could embolden other companies to mandate shots for their workers, experts said Monday. But it remains to be seen whether they will. Few companies are eager to require vaccinations for returning workers “primarily because it’s become a political issue rather than a medical issue,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president at the Chicago-based executive outplacement and coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“In our most recent survey, just 3 percent anticipated mandating vaccinations for workers returning to the office," Challenger said. "Most companies want to know that their workers are vaccinated, but they’re taking a more carrot than stick approach, offering incentives like extra vacation days. Or they’re letting workers who have been vaccinated not wear masks in the office." That said, there is “plenty of precedent” for hospitals in particular to require that workers be vaccinated, Challenger said. “Flu shots, for example,” he said. NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos agreed. “This ruling is not a surprise,” Cevallos said of U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes’ ruling, which was announced Saturday and which upheld Houston Methodist Hospital’s requirement that all staffers be vaccinated. “This is pretty settled law.” In May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “came out with guidance that said private employers can require workers to be vaccinated, and this ruling essentially affirms that,” Cevallos said.

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NBC News - June 15, 2021

The Biden-Putin summit features high stakes, low expectations

President Joe Biden will arrive Wednesday in Switzerland for his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a decade in a period of stark deterioration in relations between their two countries. White House officials have increasingly downplayed their expectations for the meeting. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said he doesn't expect any significant outcomes. Biden, asked before he left Europe whether he could reach an understanding with Putin on cyberattacks, quipped in response: "Who knows, at this point?" The lack of expected results is in sharp contrast to the long list of U.S. complaints: recent ransomware attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure, election interference, increasing aggression toward Ukraine and Putin's crackdowns on political opposition.

Little progress to resolve those issues is expected. The best-case scenario for Biden, several people familiar with the planning said, is likely to be an error-free summit and headlines back home saying he delivered a tough message, in contrast to former President Donald Trump's chummy attitude toward Putin. "This is not a light-switch moment," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday. "This is about the president wanting to do two things, and he's been very clear about it — to tell President Putin directly that we seek a more predictable, stable relationship, and if we're able to do that, there are areas where it's in our mutual interest to cooperate. But if Russia continues to take reckless and aggressive actions, we'll respond forcefully." Putin and Biden are no strangers. "I'm not a big fan of Putin's," Biden said in 2006, when he was in the Senate. "I think we should have a direct confrontation with Putin politically about the need for him to change his course of action." Since then, Russia has annexed Crimea, interfered in U.S. elections, hacked into U.S. companies and government computers and been tied to numerous murders of political dissidents and journalists. "Putin today, over the course of this decade, has become way more autocratic at home and way more belligerent towards the United States and the West in his foreign policy," said Michael McFaul, who was the U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration and helped prepare Biden for his last meeting with Putin.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

Rep. Louie Gohmert files suit against House officials for metal detector fine

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler is suing House of Representatives administrative officials for “unjust and unconstitutional” fines, the latest twist in his ongoing quest to upend a House rule that makes members of Congress pass through metal detectors in the U.S. Capitol. Gohmert and fellow Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, of Georgia, have filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against two House officials – Sergeant in Arms William Walker and Catherine Szpindor, Chief Administrative Officer. The lawsuit protests a $5,000 fine levied on Gohmert and Clyde by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, for evading the metal detectors outside the House chamber.

The lawsuit states that the officials threatened the rights of Gohmert and Clyde by “selectively and punitively enforcing a rule against only Republican Representatives” and “engaging in the constitutionally-prohibited reduction of Plaintiffs’ congressional salaries as a means of harassing democratically-elected Representatives who are members of the opposition party.” It also accuses them of hampering the ability of Republicans to reach the House floor for votes. Gohmert had previously appealed the $5,000 fine in February, but the House Ethics Committee upheld the fine. The House adopted the metal detector rule in early February, with zero Republicans casting a vote in its favor. Gohmert and Clyde were the first lawmakers to be fined for the offense. Under the rule, lawmakers that refuse to comply with the security measure would be fined $5,000 for the first offense and $10,000 for each subsequent offense. Members are able to appeal a fine before the House Ethics Committee. But if they fail to pay the fine after 90 days, the amount will be deducted from their pay.

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

With help from heavy rainfall, Texas inches closer to opening its first water reservoir in decades

Texas is closer to opening its first water reservoir in 30 years after heavy rainfall in the spring. Bois d’Arc Lake in Fannin County was first planned in the 1980s and was put into motion in 2018 when the North Texas Municipal Water District won federal approval to begin the lake’s construction. The district provides water to 1.8 million people in 80 cities and communities across 10 counties. The project is expected to cost approximately $1.6 billion and begin delivering water in 2022.

The reservoir, named after the tree bearing the same name, is expected to quench the thirst of fast-growing neighborhoods and corporate campuses in Collin County and surrounding areas, water district officials said upon the lake’s federal approval in 2018. The lake will be able to hold up to 120 billion gallons of water, according to the district. North Texas experienced over 12 inches of rain in April and May, contributing to Bois d’Arc Lake’s rapid rise, the North Texas Municipal Water District said. The recent wet weather pattern resulted in lake closures and minor flooding across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But the water district said it is controlling the amount of water in the reservoir as crews continue the lake’s construction. “At nearly a third full, the lake level is close to where we expected it to be,” spokesman Jeff McKito wrote in an email. Excess water is being spilled into the Bois d’Arc Creek and is leveling out beneath the creek banks. According to McKito, the lake’s dam, which is projected to stand at 90 feet, is the current focal point for construction. Crews are working to complete the dam’s structure, water pump and overflow weir. Administrative offices and three boat ramps are also on the agenda before the lake’s completion. Although the reservoir is close to being operational, McKito said the water district does not yet know when visitors will be permitted to use the lake recreationally.

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

New Dallas City Council sworn in, and mayor urges them to ‘get back to basics’

Four new Dallas City Council members and 10 returning elected officials were sworn in to new two-year terms Monday as Mayor Eric Johnson made a public call for city leadership to “get back to basics” after two years where he has at times been at odds with his colleagues. Johnson, who is midway through his first four-year term, said he and the new council should focus on addressing residents’ frustrations with city services while also planning for the future of Dallas. “It’s about working together to solve the common problems of our residents and our businesses and provide them with new opportunities. It’s not about what divides us,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s time to let go of the old political divisions. We can put the past behind us and move forward together, and we must.”

Joining the council on two-year terms are Jesse Moreno in District 2 representing parts of downtown, East and South Dallas; Jaynie Schultz in North Dallas’ District 11; Gay Donnell Willis in Northwest Dallas’ District 13; and Paul Ridley in District 14 representing parts of downtown, Uptown and East Dallas. Among issues the new city council will tackle: longstanding concerns over public safety, delays in monthly bulk trash pickup around the city, and the city’s building permitting process. The city also has to address issues with response to emergency and non-emergency calls. The city reports 65% of 911 calls were answered within 10 seconds as of April and 27% of 311 calls answered within 90 seconds. The goal is 75% for 311 calls and 90% for calls to 911 to be answered within those time frames. In recent months, the city council has signed off on new plans to address equity, environmental concerns and climate change, citywide transportation, and economic development with an emphasis on growth and job creation in southern Dallas. There’s also a growing number of residents experiencing homelessness or in danger of losing their homes, highlighting a need for more affordable housing and services to keep new and older homeowners in their homes. The city also has to address gaps in access to parks and internet access for residents, along with its degrading streets and sidewalks. Lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and February winter storm also remain.

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

Dallas city corruption trial begins for local developer accused of bribing former Council members

It’s a transaction that happens routinely in politics: the payment of money by a business owner to a public official with the expectation of some future favor. But when is that payment an illegal bribe and when does it fall into the category of normal political influence peddling? A Dallas federal jury will soon decide the matter – at least in the case of local developer Ruel Hamilton, who is accused of bribing two former Dallas City Council members. A jury was picked on Monday to hear the federal corruption trial in downtown Dallas. The government will begin presenting testimony and other evidence on Tuesday morning following opening statements. Prosecutors say Hamilton, 65, a longtime developer of affordable housing, made payments to Carolyn Davis and Dwaine Caraway in exchange for their help on the council with his real estate properties.

The alleged $40,000 in bribes to Davis included “illegal campaign donations for the candidates of her choice,” prosecutors say. The idea was to help establish Davis as a political consultant after she left the council so she could lobby for Hamilton and others, prosecutors said. At the time of the alleged bribe, Davis was chair of the council’s Housing Committee. She pleaded guilty in March 2019. She died four months later in a car crash that also claimed her daughter. The trial is the latest in a string of Dallas City Hall corruption cases to hit the federal courts over the years. It’s expected to last about three weeks. The case is notable because it targets a white businessman who is said to have paid the bribes. Previous federal corruption trials in Dallas have mainly involved local Black politicians, leading to accusations from community members of racial bias in prosecutorial decision making. The government says the money Hamilton paid was part of an illegal quid pro quo; an agreement for specific official acts. But Hamilton has argued in court filings that he was legally giving campaign money to local politicians like any other donor. “There is no denying the fact that many people mistakenly equate the exercise of perfectly legitimate First Amendment activities as corruption, including the sort of making of campaign contributions and cultivating friendships with elected officials that are at issue in this case,” said one of his attorneys, Abbe Lowell, in a trial brief.

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

‘Proceed carefully’: Dallas County lowers COVID-19 threat level for unvaccinated

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced Monday that the county was lowering the coronavirus threat level to yellow — the lowest it has been since the county began its color-coded warning system last year. The change, announced on Twitter, means that unvaccinated people can safely increase activities such as eating inside restaurants, shopping and travel. In all instances, physical distance, hand washing and face coverings are still recommended for unvaccinated people.

Earlier this month, county commissioners raised questions about whether the tool had outlived its purpose given most pre-pandemic activities have returned and federal health officials have relaxed nearly all precautions for fully vaccinated people.

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

Putin calls Trevor Reed ‘drunk and a troublemaker,’ floats swap of ex-Marine for jailed Russians

Russian President Vladimir Putin called ex-Marine Trevor Reed “just a drunk” and “a troublemaker,” in a rare acknowledgment of the imprisoned Texan’s case in advance of his summit with President Joe Biden in Geneva. Putin also suggested that Reed is lucky to be in a Russian prison, because if he’d attacked a cop in the United States — as authorities say he did in Moscow — “he would have been shot dead on that spot.” Reed’s family recoiled Monday at Putin’s comments in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s summit, calling them “offensive.” Asked by NBC News’ Keir Simmons if he would consider freeing Reed and Paul Whelan, another ex-Marine whom U.S. officials say has been imprisoned on trumped-up charges — perhaps to use as bargaining chips — Putin said negotiating terms of release “can be talked about.”

He indicated that Russia would raise the matter of its own citizens who are currently imprisoned in the U.S. “Your guy, the Marine — he’s just a drunk and a troublemaker. As they say here, he got himself s---faced and started a fight,” Putin said. “Among other things, he, he hit a cop. It’s, it’s nothing. It’s just a common crime. There is nothing to it.” NBC taped the interview Friday and released the transcript on Monday. Reed, a 29-year-old Fort Worth native, was arrested in Moscow in 2019 after he got drunk and allegedly grabbed the arm of an officer as he was being taken to a station, causing the vehicle to swerve and endangering the lives of officers. The U.S. ambassador dismissed the allegation as “preposterous” and noted that video evidence showed no swerving. Reed is serving a 9-year prison term. “His family will find that incredibly distressing to hear you talk about him that way,” Simmons responded to Putin. “It does sound, though, as if you would consider some kind of a prisoner swap.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

Gun ranges don’t plan major changes once Texas allows permitless carry

Some North Texas gun ranges say Texas’ move to permitless carry will shift the focus of training they offer, but they aren’t planning major changes at their businesses. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he’ll sign House Bill 1927, which will allow permitless carry, with some exceptions, beginning Sept. 1. At the Shoot Point Blank range in Lewisville, “it’ll be business as usual,” store leader Shon Rolfe said. People have to be at least 18 and present a valid government ID to shoot at the range. If they’re inexperienced, they’ll have to attend a quick safety demonstration. Others, including Defender Outdoors Shooting Center in Fort Worth, Targetmaster Indoor Shooting Center in Garland and Garland Public Shooting Range, will maintain similar basic practices.

Shoot Point Blank and other ranges are continuing to offer concealed-carry courses that teach people how to safely use handguns and explain the laws that apply when carrying them. Others, including Denton County Sports Association Inc. and Texas Gun Experience, are offering a constitutional-carry class that’s adapted to the new law. Permitless carry will affect business, said Bryan Rastok, Texas Handgun Experience’s marketing manager. “It is going to knock out one of our biggest segments, which is the Texas license-to-carry class,” he said. Once the law goes into effect, people 21 and older can openly carry a handgun without a license, as long as they can legally possess a handgun. People who have been convicted of felonies or domestic violence are blocked from permitless carry, as are people who have been convicted of some misdemeanors, such as assault causing bodily injury and disorderly conduct with a firearm.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

Eva Guzman, former Texas Supreme Court justice, moves to challenge Paxton

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman has taken steps to challenge Attorney General Ken Paxton, which would make her the second well-known Republican to seek to unseat the embattled incumbent. The former judge, who resigned from the high court on Friday, would join a field that also includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who announced his candidacy earlier this month.

The move would complicate what was already a high-profile GOP primary, with the heir to the Bush political legacy moving aggressively to replace Paxton, who has faced years of legal troubles, including a pending state securities fraud indictment and corruption accusations by former aides, which are being investigated by the FBI. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. Guzman has not made a formal announcement but has filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission, according to the Texas Tribune, which obtained a copy and first reported on her planned run. In a statement to the Tribune, a political consultant said Guzman would be disclosing more soon. Guzman, 60, was the first Hispanic woman elected to statewide office in Texas when she won a full term on the Supreme Court in November 2010. She had previously served on the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals, to which she was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry. Bush's uncle, former Gov. George W. Bush, first appointed Guzman to the 309th District Court in Harris County in 1999. Her second full term on the court was set to expire next year, leaving Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint her replacement on the all-GOP court.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

Houston ISD trustees make it official, approve Millard House II as new superintendent

Millard House II will become Houston ISD’s new superintendent on July 1, following the district’s school board unanimously vote Monday to make his selection official. The pro forma vote follows the naming of House as HISD’s lone superintendent finalist on May 21. Texas law mandates that school boards name a lone finalist, then wait at least 21 days before formally approving their selection. Trustees approved a contract for House on Monday, but would not immediately release terms of the agreement. House’s predecessors, former superintendent Richard Carranza and current Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, both earned a base salary of $345,000.

House has served the past four years as superintendent of Tennessee’s Clarksville-Montgomery County School System. He previously held top administrative roles at Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. The 49-year-old emerged as an unexpected pick for the job, given that he has no significant Texas ties and leads a district roughly one-fifth the size of HISD. However, trustees and former colleagues described House as a dedicated, open-minded and even-keeled leader who is well-suited to navigating the complexities of the state’s largest public school district. “This work will be difficult, there will be tough decisions, but it’s worth our children,” House said Monday. Lathan has spent the past three years as interim superintendent, an abnormally long tenure marked by the threat of severe state intervention and the board’s unwillingness to remove her temporary tag. She is set to become the superintendent of Missouri’s Springfield Public Schools on July 1. House has made brief comments twice in the past several weeks about his selection as HISD superintendent, largely focusing on his commitment to working in collaboration with board members and the Houston community. He has not granted interview requests made by the Houston Chronicle.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

Fox 26 reporter Ivory Hecker alleges network 'muzzling,' teases audio leak through Project Veritas

Houston Fox 26 reporter Ivory Hecker on Monday went off script during a 5 p.m. broadcast, alleging that she is being muzzled by the network and will release secret recordings of "what goes on behind the scenes at Fox." The reporter said on air that she sent the recordings to the conservative activist group Project Veritas. In an email to the Chronicle, the group confirmed they obtained audio from Hecker and intend to publish the material on Tuesday night.

Hecker, who could not be reached for comment, did not specify details of the recordings during the broadcast. "I want to let you the viewers know, Fox Corp has been muzzling me to keep certain information from you, the viewer," she said during the broadcast. "And from what I am gathering I am not the only reporter being subjected to this. I am going to be releasing some recordings about what goes on behind the scenes at Fox because it applies to you, the viewers. I found a nonprofit journalism group called Project Veritas that’s going to help put that out tomorrow so tune into them.” Hecker is a general assignment reporter and fill-in anchor for the station, according to her bio on the station's website. She previously worked as a reporter and fill-in anchor for KARE, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis. Representatives for Fox Corporation and the local station could not be reached for comment. Project Veritas is an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups, according to the Washington Post. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias, according to the Post.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 14, 2021

Did a shooting happen at Lackland? Air Force, San Antonio police disagree

Days after a lockdown at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland forced anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 trainees, their instructors, a major medical center and assorted civilians to hunker down for nearly three hours, the Air Force and local police are at odds over what caused it. Joint Base San Antonio said Friday that possibly two gunmen fired into the base near the Valley Hi gate last Wednesday. San Antonio police later said the claims were not “credible or valid,” but as the week began, Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller, commander of the joint base, insisted otherwise. “Numerous military and civilian personnel with extensive experience reported that they heard gunfire in the vicinity of the base perimeter and took immediate cover,” she said in a statement released Monday afternoon in response to questions from the Express-News.

“Although no evidence or eyewitnesses were identified, we are confident that the reports were credible and Security Forces and off-base authorities took the appropriate and immediate action to safeguard the base and personnel in the vicinity.” Miller’s statement waved off a question about whether base security personnel had launched an assessment of its gate staffing and infrastructure after the incident. “We are unable to discuss specifics surrounding base security; however, the safety and security of our personnel is of utmost importance to our Security Forces team and they will always take necessary measures to ensure our installation remains a safe place to work, train, live, and support the mission,” she said. In a statement Friday, Miller had praised the response of both local police and Security Forces, the Air Force law enforcement organization that defends the gates of its bases around the world.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 14, 2021

Bribery case at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph has a major defense contractor under scrutiny

“Contract award is complete. You better get that Audi RS5 on order. The Millions are coming!” The Sept, 18, 2013, text was from Keith Alan Seguin, a former civilian worker at Randolph Air Force Base, to government contractor David Bolduc Jr. It came after the pair had secretly worked together to rig a $413 million contract for flight simulation products and services to steer it to megacontractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Bolduc, of Herndon, Virginia, stood to profit because the Beltway-area company he co-owned, QuantaDyn Corp., collected about $100 million from the deal as a subcontractor. Seguin, who made about $65,000 at his government job, got a cut from the secret arrangement to sustain his high-rolling lifestyle. The text instructed Bolduc to pay for a high-performance car — it cost about $70,000 at the time — because the tainted cash was about to flow, according to federal investigators.

Seguin, 55, of Spring Branch, has signed an agreement with prosecutors and is set to plead guilty Tuesday in federal court in San Antonio to wire fraud conspiracy. He has admitted conspiring with Bolduc and others to fix a series of government contracts between 2006 and 2018 so he could collect $2.3 million in bribes. Seguin also plans to admit stealing items meant for fulfilling some of the contract work and selling them online, and to not reporting the money he got in the bribery scheme to the IRS. The kickback scheme, which continued even after Seguin retired from the government in 2017, is the largest military graft case to come out of San Antonio in at least a decade. Had an audit not uncovered discrepancies, he and Bolduc would have collected on another rigged contract worth $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion, records show. “This thing was huge,” said one federal source familiar with the investigation, which lasted several years. “These (defendants) were about to cut a deal of over a billion dollars until they were stopped.” Another co-owner of QuantaDyn already has pleaded guilty on behalf of the company to charges that it participated in the bribery scheme. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery sentenced QuantaDyn in October to five years’ probation and ordered it to pay tens of millions of dollars in fees and penalties to resolve criminal liability with the Justice Department.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 14, 2021

Senator Ted Cruz endorses Susan Wright for North Texas congressional seat

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is supporting Susan Wright, the wife of late Rep. Ron Wright, in her bid for Texas’ 6th Congressional District. Wright is in a July 27 runoff with fellow Republican Jake Ellzey, a state representative in the Texas legislature. The two were the top vote-getters in a May 1 special election to fill the seat of Ron Wright, who died in February after battling lung cancer and COVID-19. “Texans in the 6th Congressional District deserve a strong voice in Washington, which is why I’m proud to endorse Susan Wright for Congress,” Cruz said in a video shared on Twitter Monday. “Susan is a lifelong Republican who spent her life serving others. I’m confident that Susan will work with me and strong conservatives to secure the border, to rebuild our economy and to bring our Texas values to the Washington swamp.”

Wright — who has served as district director for former state Rep. Bill Zedler and his successor Rep. David Cook — is also supported by former President Donald Trump. Trump endorsed Wright in the days leading up to the May 1 election. “Thank you, Senator Ted Cruz — I’m honored to have your support and look forward to fighting alongside you in DC!” Wright said in a Monday tweet. Wright in May received 19.2% of the votes in the field of 23 candidates, and Ellzey received 13.9%. There were 11 Republicans running for the seat, 10 Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent. While Ted Cruz didn’t formally endorse earlier in the race, he had expressed opposition to Ellzey. “Texans in CD-6 deserve a strong conservative voice in Congress,” Cruz told The Texas Tribune in an April statement. “Jake Ellzey’s financial support from never-Trumpers, openness to amnesty, and opposition to school choice should concern Texans looking for a conservative leader.” Ellzey has the support of former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who pushed back against criticisms Ellzey wasn’t a strong enough Republican. Perry also served as Secretary of Energy under Trump. “Ted doesn’t know Jake Ellzey, is all I can say,” Perry said in April, campaigning with Ellzey in Waxahachie. “He’s got some bad information.”’

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 14, 2021

UIL will vote on high school shot clock proposal during Legislative Council meeting

The UIL Legislative Council will meet in Austin on Tuesday to review and vote on rules and proposed rule changes, one of which is a shot clock at Texas high school basketball games. The full meeting can be viewed live on the UIL Legislative Council Webpage. The athletic portion of the meeting will start at around 9:45 a.m. A proposal will be to add a shot clock, but only for Class 6A and 5A, the two largest classifications.

In May, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) announced that a 35-second shot clock will be permitted in high school basketball games by state associations beginning in the 2022-23 season. Only nine states currently use a shot clock at high school basketball games: California, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington. While Texas isn’t one of them, the UIL follows NFHS guidelines when it comes to high school sports. The UIL recently conducted a three-year trial that allowed schools to experiment using a shot clock for tournaments, but the UIL said that “the shot clock was not substantial enough to justify pursuing the matter further.”

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Dallas Observer - June 14, 2021

U.S. Capitol riot: North Texas realtor Katherine Schwab facing additional charge

The FBI is continuing its investigation of North Texas' Capitol rioters. Last week, the government submitted a new court filing in the case of three North Texas real estate agents who reportedly took a private flight to Washington to join the rally-turned-riot. The government slapped Colleyville’s Katherine “Katie” Staveley Schwab with an additional charge for her alleged involvement in the insurrection. According to court documents, Schwab “willfully and knowingly engaged in an act of physical violence” on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the building, egged on by Trump's false claims that the presidential election was stolen from him. Along with Frisco real estate broker Jennifer “Jenna” Leigh Ryan, Schwab had previously pleaded not guilty to four counts, including violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building.

Schwab’s attorney did not return the Observer's request for comment by publication time, but Ryan’s attorney, Guy L. Womack, gave us an update. Schwab is likely facing another count because the government believes she kicked a news outlet’s camera, which had fallen to the ground, Womack said. Ryan, meanwhile, is not facing any new charges. “We feel more optimistic than ever,” Womack said. Ryan attracted international media attention over her alleged involvement in that day's events, in part because she and Schwab had flown on a private plane to Washington. The Frisco broker had also livestreamed her journey stepping foot inside the Capitol building and smiled for a photo in front of a broken window. Capitol insurrectionists stormed the building after being fed lies that the presidential election had been rigged against Trump. Many destroyed federal property and some allegedly intended to kidnap or kill politicians. Nearly 500 people have been arrested nationwide for their alleged participation in the riot, said Melinda Urbina, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Dallas office. Many of those charged call North Texas home. Urbina said so far 24 people have been arrested across her office’s division, which covers much of the state’s top half. The last person to be arrested was a Lubbock man who turned himself in earlier this month.

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KXAN - June 15, 2021

Heat continues while tropical system organizes in Gulf

After our first 100 degree day of the year Monday, we’ll be just as hot Tuesay with afternoon highs soaring close to the century mark again. Tuesday’s rain chances will also mimic Monday’s activity with spot showers and isolated thunderstorms possible late day. Although the brief showers and associated rain-cooled air is welcomed, the majority of us can expect dry skies under a mix of sun and clouds.

A disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico near the Bay of Campeche holds a 70% chance of further development over the next five days. Early indications push this storm east of us over the weekend as a weak system, but we’ll continue to monitor its progress in the days to come. If the storm does indeed stay east, it could make us even hotter and drier than we’d otherwise be for Father’s Day, potentially causing temperatures to rise to 100 degrees yet again.

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Forbes - June 11, 2021

Texas ratepayers are being saddled with nearly $38 billion in excess energy costs from Winter Storm Uri

On February 16th, the Texas Public Utility Commission issued a now-infamous order that wholesale electricity prices in the state should be set at $9,000 per megawatt-hour. The claim was that the high price was needed to incentivize electricity production during the week that Winter Storm Uri was hammering the state and millions of Texans were blacked out due to a shortage of juice. The order declared that such a high price was needed because “energy prices should reflect scarcity of supply.” That’s exactly what happened: energy prices skyrocketed. Now, as the dust is settling and the Texas Legislature has adjourned after passing several bills that aimed to fix the state’s fragile electric grid, three truths have become clear: the state’s policymakers have not done enough to ensure the resilience and reliability of the grid, the February 16 PUC order kept electricity prices far too high for far too long, and Texas ratepayers will ultimately be saddled with about $37.7 billion in excess energy costs.

Top leaders in the state are trying to minimize the political fallout from the disaster. On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claimed “Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas.” That is not true. Abbott made a show of signing a pair of bills aimed at addressing the state’s electricity crisis. The measures require infrastructure weatherization, an emergency alert system, better coordination among the state’s regulators, and changes in how the PUC and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas will be managed. But the state did not go far enough to avert another disaster. The Texas grid is still vulnerable and the disaster that occurred in February could be repeated next winter. Heck, the state could face blackouts this summer because the structure of the state’s energy-only electricity market is still not incentivizing enough reliable capacity to be built and maintained. Further, the state did not go far enough in requiring natural gas producers to weatherize their infrastructure. And as Jolly Hayden of Austin-based consulting firm GDS Associates, pointed out in March, the state hasn’t done enough to “develop a more granular load reduction plan” that would allow utilities and ERCOT to reduce electricity demand more selectively, a move that would allow critical buildings (fire stations and hospitals) to have power while cutting power to less important customers.

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Wall Street Journal - June 14, 2021

Brazos urges Abbott to veto winter storm finance legislation

Brazos Electric Power Cooperative Inc. lobbied Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to veto a pair of bills that would compel electricity cooperatives to put their customers on the hook for full payment to the state’s grid operator for power purchases during February’s extreme winter weather in the state. Louis Strubeck, a lawyer representing Brazos in its bankruptcy case, said in a court hearing Friday that co-op executives met with the governor’s staff over the legislation, which would compel Brazos and other co-ops to issue debt to pay the full amount owed to the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Brazos also sent a letter to the governor urging him to veto the debt-financing legislation, Mr. Strubeck said Friday.

“We think if those bills are signed into law, they have serious consequences for Brazos,” he said at a hearing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston. Texas lawmakers passed legislation last month that authorizes several sources of financing to cover the huge bills that some electricity cooperatives and retailers, including Brazos, ran up during the freeze. It requires cooperatives that still owe money to the state grid operator Ercot to “use all means necessary” to sell 30-year securitization bonds, using the proceeds to pay their storm bills in full. Many Texas utilities, including co-ops, retail electricity providers and municipal utilities, have challenged the elevated prices Ercot allowed power providers to charge during the extreme winter weather in February. Executives for Brazos didn’t return calls on Friday. Brazos filed for bankruptcy in March overwhelmed by the more than $2 billion in bills owed to Ercot for energy purchases during the storm.

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ABC 7 - June 14, 2021

Meet Opal Lee, the grandmother of Juneteenth

Opal Lee may not be walking a mile in her ancestor's shoes, but she's taking several major strides in continuing their mission. The 94-year-old is confident that this year, Juneteenth will finally become a national holiday across the country. "It's going to be a national holiday, I have no doubt about it. My point is let's make it a holiday in my lifetime," Lee said. She first celebrated the holiday as a child growing up in Marshall, Texas, before moving to Fort Worth at age 10. But there was one story she kept quiet her whole life: the night when 500 white rioters forced her family out of their home and set it on fire. "The people didn't want us. They started gathering. The paper said the police couldn't control the mob. My father came with a gun and police told them if he busted a cap they'd let the mob have us," Lee recalled. "They started throwing things at the house and when they left, they took out the furniture and burned it and burned the house."

It was June 19, 1939. Juneteenth. "People have said that perhaps this is the catalyst that got me onto Juneteenth, I don't know that," said Lee. But what Lee does know is that she isn't dwelling on what happened back then. In 2016, Lee had an epiphany: "I was about 89, I'm pushing 90. And I don't see anything I've done, and I feel like there is something more that I can do. My idea was to walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., and that surely somebody would notice a little old lady in tennis shoes. If I left in September 2016, I got to Washington on January 10th, 2017." In 2020, lawmakers introduced a resolution aiming to recognize the historical significance of the holiday, and the results on making Juneteenth a federal holiday were close. "We were so sure and so close because the Senate was having a vote and one lone man descended," she said. That man is Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who said that while he favored celebrating the end of slavery, he would not support adding another paid day off for federal workers. But lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, both of Texas, recently reintroduced legislation to nationally recognize Juneteenth.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Why is it so hard to build in Dallas?

One thing you hear too often in Dallas is that it’s hard to do business — especially the business of building Dallas. It’s hard to get permits. It’s hard to get inspections. It’s hard to get hearings. It’s hard to get approval if you get a hearing. Every step of the process is a struggle. We watched this unfold in recent weeks with a plainly beneficial and important development called The Trailhead, along Grand Avenue near White Rock Lake. The mixed-use project does just about everything you could ask of a good development. It provides affordable housing. It creates a pedestrian link to the Santa Fe Trail. It mixes residential and retail uses.

It is exactly the sort of forward-looking project that creates much-needed housing supply in a city desperate for more housing at every income level. And it does it in a way that encourages greater density and moves the city forward on reducing car dependence. This being Dallas, it almost didn’t happen. And that needs to change. Let’s walk through the nightmare. From almost its inception, the development has been subject to misleading and outright false information spread on social media and on a website calling itself Save the White Rock Skyline. Set aside that the development — even at its maximum proposed height — was always a midrise plan that wasn’t wrecking anyone’s views. The question needs to be — save the skyline for whom exactly? The answer appears to be a small group of well-off residents around Garland, Gaston and Grand who are known for digging in against change of any kind. The Trailhead development failed to win approval at the City Plan Commission, which has an unfortunate history of putting the interests of small bands of self-interested neighborhood activists over the larger needs of the city.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 14, 2021

Fort Worth has nearly $180M in federal stimulus. How it will come to your neighborhood

Fort Worth is getting about $180 million to help correct losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and boost efforts to fix longtime problems in neighborhoods across the city. Fort Worth expects to receive a little more than $173.7 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, a nearly $2 trillion stimulus package passed in March. The Biden administration sent funds to state and local governments as a tool to offset the cost of battling the pandemic. Unlike a similar stimulus under the Trump administration, the money can be used for a broader array of things as a means to boost the economy and lessen the social impacts of the pandemic. Other agencies and programs in Tarrant County received money, including nearly $40 million for Trinity Metro, $10.5 million for homelessness programs and $29 million for rental assistance.

“This helps us get ahead in some of those areas where we’d want to do it, but it wasn’t quite the next thing on the list,” Deputy City Manager Jay Chapa said. “Otherwise everybody is sitting around going ‘OK, these are great ideas. How do we get everybody to participate and put money into it?’” Chapa said the city’s first priority is restarting projects delayed by the pandemic. Numbers haven’t been finalized, but he said those projects will likely be around $40 million. The largest is an effort to expand and remodel the downtown convention center. The total scope of the project involves replacing the saucer arena with a larger, more modern and more flexible space, realigning Commerce Street and building a second convention hotel. Work on Commerce Street was delayed and could cost around $25 million, Chapa said. Other Public Events projects put off during the pandemic amount to about $5 million. The city had also planned work on streets, sidewalks, lighting and parks in minority neighborhoods. That work could cost about $10 million.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

Turner picks director for Houston Emergency Center

Robert Mock, who has led the Houston Emergency Center on an interim basis since Feb. 1, will take permanent control of the job, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Monday. The center functions as the city’s hub for emergency communications, taking round-the-clock 911 calls. The agency usually takes in 1.8 million emergency calls per year and another 800,000 non-emergency calls, according to its website. Mock will oversee 161 employees.

Mock, formerly the chief of police for Houston Independent School District, took over for David Cutler, who retired on Jan. 31, and two weeks later faced the winter freeze that crippled power and water systems in Houston and across Texas. Turner said in a statement that he has full confidence in Mock. “He was highly effective as Interim Director at the Houston Emergency Center and will undoubtedly maintain this effectiveness as the permanent HEC Director,” Turner said.

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National Stories

NBC News - June 15, 2021

Critical race theory invades school boards — with help from conservative groups

A booby-trapped billboard. A list of demands. A conservative media frenzy. Jeff Porter, superintendent of a wealthy suburban school district in Maine, had no idea that his community was about to become part of a national battle when in the summer of 2020 a father began accusing the district of trying to “indoctrinate” his children by teaching critical race theory. To Porter, the issue was straightforward: The district had denounced white supremacy in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police, but did not teach critical race theory, the academic study of racism’s pervasive impact.

But the parent, Shawn McBreairty, grew increasingly disgruntled and soon connected with No Left Turn in Education, a rapidly growing national group that supports parents as they fight against lessons on systemic racism. That action turned a heated conflict with the school board into one that soon drew national attention, mobilized by a new, increasingly coordinated movement with the backing of major conservative organizations and media outlets. It’s a movement that has amped up grassroots parental organizing around the country, bringing the lens and stakes of national politics — along with the playbook of seasoned GOP activists — to school boards. “I was very naïve at the beginning of the year,” Porter said. “I thought it was a concerned parent who had taken it a little too far. I didn't understand this until recently, but these were tactics from national organizations to discredit the entire district.”

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NBC News - June 14, 2021

Omar, Greene face dueling censure resolutions in House for recent remarks

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar will be the target of dueling resolutions expected to be filed this week admonishing them for remarks that critics said were antisemitic or inappropriate. Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., is expected to unveil a resolution Wednesday that would censure Greene, of Georgia, for remarks last month comparing House mask rules to the Holocaust. Her remarks were roundly criticized by fellow Republicans. Greene has already been stripped of her two committee assignments after her social media posts came to light that showed her spreading dangerous and racist conspiracy theories. Separately, Schneider led a group of House Democrats last week who publicly criticized fellow Democrat Omar, of Minnesota, accusing her of giving "cover" to terrorists and suggesting her remarks reflect a "deep-seated prejudice."

Omar later clarified her comments in which she appeared to equate the U.S. and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban. Schneider said afterward that he was satisfied with her response. The clarification by Omar, however, didn’t satisfy Republicans, who have frequently sought to cast her as indicative of a deeper antisemitic sentiment in the Democratic Party. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., is leading an effort to craft resolution to censure Omar. It will also censure other members of the so-called squad, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for “defending terrorist organizations” and blames the trio for recent antisemitic attacks in the U.S., according to a Banks spokesman. He is working on the measure with two other Republican representatives, Mike Waltz of Florida and Claudia Tenney of New York. Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, a Palestinian American, have all made statements criticizing the Israeli government and U.S. support, which have been met with criticism. In 2019, the House voted to condemn antisemitism in response to statements made by Omar, but the resolution did not name her. And Tlaib said Republicans had mischaracterized remarks she made about Israel and the Holocaust.

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Orlando Sentinel - June 14, 2021

DeSantis’ much-touted Florida EVerify immigration law snares no one

Private employers in Florida have been required to use E-Verify, a federal system for checking the legal status of a potential hire, since the start of the year. But there have been no complaints made to the state agency in charge of enforcing the law in the five and a half months it’s been in effect. A Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman told the Orlando Sentinel there have been no complaints and no enforcement measures taken against any employers since the provisions affecting private businesses took effect Jan. 1. The lack of tangible enforcement within the new law has led to criticism from those who seek more aggressive measures to ensure undocumented immigrants aren’t being hired. “It’s a fake bill. It’s paper thin. It’s window dressing,” said Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills. “It’s a bill to make it looked like we passed EVerify in the state of Florida.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed his fellow Republicans in charge of the Legislature to pass the bill last year and included it as a top priority, arguing it would help screen undocumented immigrants from the workforce and help lead to pay increases for low-wage workers. “Lower-income workers also shouldn’t have their wages depressed by cheap foreign labor,” DeSantis said in his 2020 State of the State speech. “Assuring a legal workforce through E-Verify will be good for the rule of law, protect taxpayers, and place an upward pressure on the wages of Floridians who work in blue collar jobs.” A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not return an email seeking comment Friday. But the law passed by the Legislature contains little teeth and imposes few requirements on private businesses. The bill, SB 664, requires state and local governments and their contractors and subcontractors to use EVerify, something that was already required for state agencies under a previous executive order issued by DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott. Scott, though, failed to pass an EVerify bill during his eight years in office. Private employers were called to use EVerify under the law or use an I-9 document used by federal immigration authorities to determine immigration status. The documents must be kept on file for three years for any hire made after Jan. 1.

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Los Angeles Times - June 13, 2021

Lala Tanmoy Das: The kids who aren’t all right — the pandemic’s lasting toll on youth mental health

(Lala Tanmoy Das is a medical and doctoral student studying the neurobiology of addiction in New York City.) On a busy night shift in the psychiatric emergency room, during a monthlong psychiatry rotation for medical school, I first met my patient, a teenager. She was hunched over a stretcher at the far end of the hallway. Before the pandemic, she spent lots of time with her friends and loved going to school. Then COVID-19 lockdowns turned school virtual, and she was staring at herself for hours on end on Zoom. She told me that she became displeased with her appearance on the screen, comparing herself to her peers at every possible instance. As her self-loathing thoughts intensified, she became more isolated and began restricting her food intake. She lost more than 50 pounds, and her feelings of inadequacy worsened. She began cutting herself. After her parents found her pacing up and down the roof of her building, they brought her to the ER.

During my psych rotation, I saw patients of all ages, but I was alarmed by how many of them were tweens and teenagers. I saw firsthand the harsh mental toll the pandemic has taken on young people. A recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that mental-health-related visits to emergency rooms between April and October 2020 increased by 31% among youth ages 12 to 17, and by 24% among children aged 5 to 11, compared to 2019. What concerns me most about the narrative around youth mental health is the idea that kids are resilient and thus eventually will recover from the stressors of this past year without mental health support. Children are resilient, but they are also vulnerable, and I have seen how setbacks that might barely register for an adult can have an outsized impact on some adolescents. I worry that too many parents are relying solely on the resilience of childhood and are not learning to recognize early signs of emotional trauma among young people who have been separated from friends, teachers and the structure of in-person schooling. Many of the young people that I cared for in the psychiatric ER identified as transgender or nonbinary, or were questioning their gender or sexual identities. Schools can often be a haven for these teens, a place where they can express themselves and find acceptance among their peers. For many of these patients the isolation of the pandemic meant staying home with family members who at best didn’t support them, and in some cases berated them and refused to accept them. One transgender patient described daily intolerance, including being forced to do what their parents described as gender-conforming chores to “fix my confusion.” They spiraled into a major depression and attempted suicide several times.

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NPR - June 14, 2021

Millions could face eviction with federal moratorium ending and a logjam in aid

Mehran Mossaddad has spent much of the pandemic scared and lying awake at night. He's a single dad with an 10-year-old daughter living outside Atlanta. "I get panic attacks not knowing what's in store for us," he says. "I have to take care of her." Mossaddad drives Uber for a living, but when the pandemic hit, he stopped because he couldn't leave his daughter home alone. As a result, he has fallen more than $15,000 behind on his rent, and his landlord has filed an eviction case against him. So back in March, when a federal moratorium on evictions got extended, and he heard Congress had approved nearly $50 billion for people to catch up on rent and avoid eviction, Mossaddad thought help was on the way. "I do believe in miracles," he told NPR back then. "It is a relief."

Now Mossaddad's miracle is evaporating. He applied for the federal aid and was approved. But he and his legal-aid lawyer say the county where he lives caps the amount anyone can receive for back rent at just 60% of what's owed, with a maximum of $5,000. "Which is very generous, it really is, but it's not going to solve our problem," Mossaddad says. "So things are looking pretty ugly right now." The problem he has run into is that the government effort to distribute billions of dollars to prevent evictions is looking pretty ugly, too — at least in some parts of the country. Seven million people are still behind on their rent, according to the Census Bureau. An eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire at the end of the month.

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Newsclips - June 14, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 14, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott touts law banning vaccine passports for businesses but effects may be limited

Texas businesses can’t make customers prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, under a bill Gov. Greg Abbott signed recently. “Vaccine passports are now prohibited in the Lone Star State,” the Republican declared in a video on June 7. The so-called passports have become a flashpoint in a national debate over COVID-19 vaccinations, with some saying they offer an option to help businesses reopen safely, while others contend people shouldn’t have to disclose their status to receive services or entry. Texas is one of 15 states, all led by Republican governors, that have some kind of restriction on COVID-19 vaccine passports. But the effects of the new law — one of the state’s first responding to the coronavirus pandemic — are far from certain.

Few major businesses in Texas, like sports stadiums and grocery stores, have been requiring proof of vaccination. Others, like universities and hospitals that had wanted to verify whether students or patients are vaccinated against COVID-19, may now be forced to rethink those plans. At least one major cruise line will still require most passengers to show they’ve been immunized before setting sail from Galveston next month. A spokesman said Carnival is following federal coronavirus protocols that call for 95% of guests to be fully vaccinated. Texas’ law does not restrict businesses from using “COVID-19 screening and infection control protocols in accordance with state and federal law to protect public health.” The law kicks in as the state is still trying to boost vaccination rates. About 59% of adults in Texas have had at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, though the number of shots administered statewide each week has steadily fallen from a peak in early April. President Joe Biden set a goal to have 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated by July 4, but the country is unlikely to meet that target. Public health experts said a law banning vaccine passports could muddy the message that the shots are a safe and effective way to combat COVID-19.

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Wall Street Journal - June 14, 2021

Oil hits pandemic high as investors bet on green energy

Some investors are wagering that Wall Street’s preference for green energy will depress spending on oil extraction, setting the stage for supply shortages and higher fuel prices. The bets come as money managers line up trillions of dollars for wind, solar and other renewable programs and expenditures on oil projects tumble. The drop in fossil-fuel spending is becoming so severe that energy companies could struggle to quench the world’s thirst for oil, some analysts say. Crude is still expected to remain in high demand over the next decade to make transportation fuels and petrochemicals used for plastics and other household products. U.S. consumption has surged lately following the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, and output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have given prices a further boost.

U.S. crude hit $71.48 a barrel Monday, its highest level in more than 2½ years, and has roughly doubled since the end of October. Some traders are using options, which allow the holder to buy or sell an asset at a specific price in the future, to wager on prices hitting $100 by the end of next year. Even after OPEC and its allies lift output in the months ahead, some analysts think production will struggle to catch up to demand, which the International Energy Agency projects will rise at least through 2026. Spending on oil extraction fell last year to about $330 billion, less than half the total from its 2014 record, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie. That figure is expected to rise just modestly this year and in the years ahead. Leigh Goehring, managing partner at commodities-focused investment firm Goehring & Rozencwajg Associates, said he thinks prices will soar in coming years as consumption tops production capacity for a sustained period for the first time ever. His firm lifted its investments in energy producers during last year’s crash and has maintained those holdings. “This is the basis for the next oil crisis,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territory.”

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Associated Press - June 14, 2021

Exodus of election officials raises concerns of partisanship

There is no shortage of job openings for local election officials in Michigan. It’s the same in Pennsylvania. Wisconsin, too. After facing threats and intimidation during the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, and now the potential of new punishments in certain states, county officials who run elections are quitting or retiring early. The once quiet job of election administration has become a political minefield thanks to the baseless claims of widespread fraud that continue to be pushed by many in the Republican Party. The exits raise a pressing question: Who will take these jobs? Barb Byrum, clerk of Ingham County, Michigan, has an idea.

“These conspiracy theorists are in it for the long haul. They’re in it to completely crumble our republic, and they’re looking at these election administrator positions,” said Byrum, a Democrat. “They’re playing the long game.” It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many election officials across the country have left their posts and why, since the departures are not generally tallied. Retirements also are common after presidential elections. But in places that do track such information, along with anecdotal accounts from county officials, it is clear that many have recently left because of the newfound partisan rancor around the jobs and the threats many local election workers faced leading up to the November election and afterward as former President Donald Trump and his allies challenged the results. About a third of Pennsylvania’s county election officials have left in the last year and a half, according to a spokesman for the state’s county commissioners association, who cited heavy workloads and rampant misinformation related to voting among the reasons. “It was particularly challenging last year with all the misinformation and angst out there,” said Lisa Schaefer, executive director of the ?County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “And none of it was caused by county election officials.”

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Five Thirty Eight - June 13, 2021

Most candidates take the hint after two losses. Why won’t Beto O’Rourke and Charlie Crist?

On paper, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and current Florida Rep. Charlie Crist have little in common. The former, a somewhat progressive three-term Democratic House member with a failed presidential bid, is reportedly mulling a gubernatorial run in Texas. The latter, a former Republican, is hoping to reclaim his old office in the Florida governor’s mansion — this time as a Democrat — by challenging Republican incumbent Ron DeSantis. But both O’Rourke and Crist are risking their political credibility if they run again and lose, as they’ve already failed to win two consecutive runs for office. Even worse, they could be marked as perennial candidates. And given the track record of candidates who have already had multiple unsuccessful bids for higher office, both men are facing uphill climbs.

For starters, candidates who’ve lost just once — let alone twice — often don’t have much better luck the next go-around. We looked at candidates who’ve run for U.S. Senate, governor or president after they lost just one election and then tried to run again and found that since 1998, only 33 of 121 of them have managed to win higher office after having lost once.1 Losses transcended political parties, too, with 53 Democrats and 36 Republicans failing in their second attempt.2 In understanding why these 33 candidates were successful the second time around, one pattern stands out: Just over one-third of these candidates were already in office when they tried to seek another seat; specifically, they were all sitting senators with their eyes on the presidency (think Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona and Cory Booker of New Jersey, to name a few). Another 30 percent were candidates who unsuccessfully ran for one office but successfully ran for another (Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp). And then there were 27 percent who lost their first race but won in a subsequent election for the same office (former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, former Nevada Sen. John Ensign)

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 13, 2021

Stronger enforcement coming for Austin camping ban; questions persist about where people will go

Beginning Sunday, enforcement of Austin's ban against camping in public moves into a stricter phase in which Class C misdemeanor citations can be given for failing to comply with the law. The potentially heightened consequences facing the 2,000-plus unsheltered people living on the streets and in tents follows a 30-day educational period in which city staffers and law enforcement reached out to people experiencing homelessness to explain a four-phase enforcement strategy and issued what amounted to verbal warnings without forcing people to vacate.

Although officers can start giving tickets Sunday, the enforcement guidelines under this phase state that written warnings should be issued first, and that formal citations should be limited to individuals who have already been warned. Those enforcement measures also pertain to two other restrictions on homelessness: sitting or lying down in the downtown or University of Texas campus areas, and soliciting money or other things of value at specific hours and locations. Meanwhile, there has been little progress in answering the question as to where people who are currently camping in public areas might go. Without enough space in shelters to accommodate everyone, people might continue to camp illegally, either in the locations where they are now or in remote areas where they are unlikely to attract much attention. Despite meeting three times in the past week, the City Council members head into their annual summer break having not chosen any locations for sanctioned encampments where camping would be lawful.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

Lack of funding, resources biggest challenges for athletics at historically Black colleges

When John Walker III transferred from Texas A&M University to Texas Southern University to continue his basketball career, he raised a lot of eyebrows. “I definitely had to answer a lot of questions, like ‘Whoa, what?!’” said Walker, 22, who plays forward. “People thought I was giving up the game. People didn’t think I was even coming to play basketball.” Going from a large university with a booming athletics department and ample funding to a historically Black college with lesser resources seemed like a risky move. Many feared he’d fall under the radar, he said. “That’s been so far from the truth,” the Houston native said. “For every good thing you can find about a Power 5 school, you can find a deeply enticing thing about an HBCU,” Walker said.

Walker said he felt part of a close-knit community of students, coaches and athletes. And he welcomed becoming part of TSU’s historic legacy and a culture he readily identified with. Still, Walker’s experience highlights some of the stigma student-athletes face when choosing HBCUs and the systemic challenges athletic departments at Black institutions endure due to lack of funding. TSU’s basketball coach Johnny Jones, who previously coached at Louisiana State University and the University of North Texas, says lack of funding and resources are the biggest challenges for HBCU athletic departments. For top schools with advanced academic programs, athletic programs are moneymakers and largely self-sufficient. For Black colleges that are already underfunded and cannot afford state-of-the-art stadiums, athletics cost. As a result, facilities and the sports teams themselves are affected. A U.S. Today analysis of 227 state college athletic budgets during 2018-2019 showed the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M boasted revenues exceeding $200 million, making each of the schools $19.6 million and $43.7 million, respectively.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2021

More Texas companies are plugging into electric vehicles. Will shoppers follow?

The electric vehicle landscape continues to expand, recently boosted by President Joe Biden’s climate policies, growing demand and new models by automakers. But will Texas, the largest oil-producing state in the United States, be onboard with the rise of all-electric automobiles? The Woodlands-based chemical-maker Huntsman Corp. is certainly embracing it, ramping up production of ethylene carbonate, which is used to operate lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, at its Conroe facility. The company will add a range of new high-purity grades of ethylene carbonate for electric vehicle battery applications by mid-2023. “Electronic vehicles will have five times the number of circuitry and electronics than a diesel vehicle has. There is an opportunity,” CEO Peter Huntsman told the Houston Chronicle in March.

The move leverages Huntsman Corp.’s position as the only U.S. producer of cyclic carbonates and supports the rapid growth of lithium-ion battery markets for electric vehicles, which represent a small segment of the $953 billion U.S. auto industry. Still, auto makers are heavily investing, introducing new electric pickup trucks and sports cars to showrooms to establish footholds in the burgeoning market. Tesla is constructing a gigafactory outside Austin to produce electric cars, pickup trucks and batteries. The manufacturing plant is expected to be completed before the end of 2021, with some operations potentially coming online sooner. General Motors in January announced it would produce only electric vehicles by 2035. That same year, California’s ban on sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles will go into full effect. Ford unveiled the F-150 Lightning, an all-electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup, last month. The Michigan-based automaker has committed $11.5 billion to electrify some of its most popular vehicles.

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Houston Chronicle - June 14, 2021

Home generator demand, along with ingenuity, surge after winter freeze

Frank Paul never wanted to be without electricity again after losing power and heat for 12 hours during the February freeze. He knew hurricane season was on its way. So, Paul, 46, went shopping, hunting for a 9,400-watt Firman tri-fuel generator that could run on gasoline, natural gas or propane and power his entire Cypress home. He called his local Costco and asked the manager if the store had the $800 generator in stock. “He started laughing,” Paul said. Generators are always highly sought after in Texas, which has its fair share of hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes, but the extended outages during the February freeze has supercharged demand.

Consumers say popular models of generators are hard to come by, flying off the shelves almost as soon as they arrive. Electricians say they have a backlog of customers waiting to install generators as memories of the winter storm that plunged millions of Texans into frigid darkness and caused nearly 200 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage remain raw. “People really don’t have confidence in government and elected leaders anymore to provide basic necessities,” said Paul. “At the end of the day, you have to have a backup plan.” Data on generator sales is scant, and comparisons between 2020 and 2021 are skewed by the pandemic. Anecdotally, however, consumers said certain brands of generators, such as the Firman tri-fuel generator, are often sold out at stores. Generator sales, especially during Texas’ sales tax holiday for emergency supplies in April, were particularly brisk this year, retailers and consumers said.

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Houston Chronicle - June 13, 2021

Beto pulls in Houston on hot day, fires up crowd over voting the rules

More than just the Houston heat fired up the crowd at voting rights rally Sunday, where former Congressman Beto O’Rourke urged action against a restrictive bills being championed by Republicans. “I don’t care about the Democratic Party,” O’Rourke told the crowd nearly two hours into the rally in 95-plus-degree heat at a Fifth Ward park. “I don’t care about the Republican Party. I care about democracy, and we are going to lose it if we do not stand up.” More than three dozen bills about voter integrity have been passed or filed in state capitols, prompted by Republican calls to improve election integrity. While some invalid ballots in past elections were cast and a handful of criminal charges filed, claims of widespread or organized fraud have gone unproven.

In Texas, Democrats at the last minute scuttled Senate Bill 7 in the legislative session, saying it included several racist provisions, including restricting Sunday polling hours to weaken voting drives at predominantly Black churches and easing the process to challenge election results with virtually no proof of fraud. Drive-thru voting options, overnight voting and use of large voting centers would be outlawed, as would sending en masse offers for people to apply to vote by mail. In some earlier proposals, which drew criticism from disability rights groups, a voter would need to provide proof to claim a disability entitles them to vote by mail. “It would have criminalized innocent people,” Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, D-Houston. The offices of State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park — the bill sponsors — did not respond Sunday to a request for comment.

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KXAN - June 14, 2021

‘This senseless tragedy has put an end to all his dreams’: 25-year-old dies in downtown Austin mass shooting; another fighting for her life

The family of a 25-year-old man who died from his injuries after a mass shooting attack on downtown Austin’s 6th Street says he was set to marry his high school sweetheart. Douglas John Kantor, 25, died from his injuries at an Austin hospital Sunday at 12:01 p.m., police say. Kantor’s family said he was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center. “He was shot through the abdomen just below the rib cage, straight through,” Kanton’s brother Nick Kanton said. “He suffered from the time of the injury until time of death, it was the most gruesome thing I could think to wish on someone. It’s painful to discuss, but I think the public deserves to know what my brother suffered.”

Kantor was visiting Austin from Michigan, according to his family. In a statement, the family says Doug was “looking forward to marrying his high school sweetheart of 10 years and starting a family.” “He was loved by all who knew him and had an infectious smile that would light up any room. He was loved by his family, friends and everyone who met him. This senseless tragedy has put an end to all his dreams,” the family said in a statement to KXAN’s Jala Washington. The family said that Kantor is originally from Airmont, New York. He moved to Michigan, completing a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at Michigan State. He was working in the IT Department at Ford Motor Company. Kantor continued his education at the University of Michigan, earning his Masters degree in business. According to the family, Jessica Ramirez was on 6th Street celebrating her 34th birthday when she was shot. Her family says the single mother of five is fighting for her life and needed back surgery because of the location of one of the gunshots. Ramirez’s mother set up a GoFundMe page.

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KXAN - June 13, 2021

3 overnight shootings in Austin 1 day after 6th Street mass shooting

As the Austin community, along with the nation, is still digesting news of the mass shooting on 6th Street Saturday, several other shootings in the city have already followed the incident that sent 14 people to the hospital. Three separate shootings sounded across the Austin area in the early morning hours of Sunday, Austin police say. Here’s what we know.

This east Austin shooting incident happened around 2:09 a.m. near Todd Lane, nearly the same location as a different shooting that happened just days earlier. While there are few details on what led up to the incident, police report there was a large gathering before. Two female victims are said to be in critical, but stable condition in the hospital. This incident happened around 2:39 a.m. Sunday, on Jollyville Road in north Austin. According to police, one male suspect was taken to the hospital with a non-life threatening gunshot wound. This north Austin shooting incident was reported at 3:07 a.m. on Howard Lane. Police say a man was taken to a Round Rock hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 13, 2021

After eight years on San Antonio's City Council, what's in store for two outgoing councilwomen?

Rebecca Viagran and Shirley Gonzales walk out of City Hall this week as the longest-serving councilwomen in recent San Antonio history. Viagran and Gonzales — representatives of the predominantly Hispanic South and West sides — will step down Tuesday as they hit City Council’s maximum limit of four two-year terms. It’s unclear what their political future holds. In their eight years on council, the two women forged political identities around bringing more public and private dollars to their districts — some of the poorest parts of the city, the result of historic discrimination against communities of color leading to high poverty rates and poor public infrastructure.

Gonzales and Viagran aren’t leaving quietly. This week, Gonzales excoriated a North Side councilman for opposing a housing development on the city’s majority-Black East Side and accused him of “flat-out racism.” When another North Side councilman complained that white men would benefit less than women and people of color from city subsidies for small businesses, Viagran shot back that she wished she could give even more. Gonzales has made no secret of her mayoral ambitions — though she said she won’t challenge Nirenberg, who handily secured a third term in May. If he wins a fourth term, Nirenberg would hold the mayor’s seat until 2025. “Waiting around for four years is a long time in politics,” Gonzales said. In the meantime, she’s floated possible runs for county judge and county commissioner. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who’s been in the spot since 2001, has said he won’t seek another term next year. Viagran wasn’t as forthcoming with her political plans — to be expected from a council member who’s garnered a reputation for keeping her cards close to the vest. “No comment on that,” Viagran said coyly when asked about future ambitions.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 11, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: In seeking to evict migrant kids, Abbott hits new low

There is no bottom to Gov. Greg Abbott’s cynical brand of politics, just as there appears to be no place in his heart for innocent migrant children. And if Abbott gets his way, there will be no place for these children in Texas. By now, it’s clear Abbott will play the ugly politics of immigration for all it is worth, even at the expense of children. In his stunning June 1 “disaster declaration in response to the border crisis in Texas,” Abbott has sought to shutter by Aug. 30 more than 50 state-licensed facilities that house more than 4,000 migrant children. The Biden administration is now threatening legal action. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials have called the proclamation “a direct attack” on the immigration system and the Office of Refugee Resettlement that runs a network of more than 200 facilities and programs in 22 states.

HHS officials have said they have no plans to close facilities. This isn’t the first time Abbott has leveraged children to posture politically about immigration. In April, Abbott held a dramatic news conference in which he made serious and unfounded claims of sexual abuse of unaccompanied migrants housed at the temporary emergency site at the Freeman Coliseum. Those allegations were never proven. In March, Abbott created and expanded Operation Lone Star, directing Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Rangers to conduct interviews of unaccompanied minors. So far, he has deployed more than 1,000 DPS troopers and hundreds of Texas National Guard soldiers to the border. We wonder, what will he do next? Regarding his declaration, Abbott told Fox News: “Texas is going to start arresting everybody that comes across the border.” He vowed to charge them with aggravated trespass, with up to a year in jail.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 13, 2021

Panel probing utilities', city of San Antonio's winter-storm response pushes back deadline for report

San Antonians will have to wait a little while longer for a post-mortem on how municipal government and the city’s major utilities handled the winter storm in February. The mayor-appointed Emergency Preparedness Committee was initially expected to submit a report on the deep freeze to Mayor Ron Nirenberg by June 15. But at the committee’s meeting Friday, its last public session, members said they’ll need until at least June 24 to wrap up the report. Still, a few answers emerged from the committee Friday.

A map CPS Energy provided to the committee shows some parts of town went as many as 59 hours without electricity during the freeze. And others either never lost power or did without electricity for less than an hour throughout the crisis. The wide-ranging report will examine how CPS Energy responded to the storm and how parts of the city dealt with power the outages for longer than others. It will also examine preparations by the city and the San Antonio Water System for emergencies going forward. Another segment of the report will detail the suffering San Antonio residents experienced with no power or water for hours or days at a time. One key question the committee has sought to answer: Did the power outages the week of Feb. 14 take place unevenly across San Antonio? “It’s fair to say two things. One, the interruptible circuits were not equally interrupted,” said former city councilman Reed Williams, chairman of the committee. “And two, it doesn’t seem that any area of the town ... was proportionately hurt more than other areas of town.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 14, 2021

How a Fort Worth nonprofit, Texas A&M Law worked to exonerate a man convicted of murder

For Mike Ware, the process of trying to get a person exonerated for a crime they didn’t commit reveals a lot of inequities in the criminal justice system. As an adjunct professor at the Texas A&M School of Law and the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, a nonprofit that identifies and works to exonerate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, he’s realized the one thing that falsely convicted people have in common is that they’re all a part of some marginalized demographic. He has also realized, during the 15 years of the Fort Worth-based Innocence Project’s existence, that it’s relatively easy to wrongfully convict a person, but it’s very difficult to exonerate them.

That’s why when he sees a successful outcome, like the recent exoneration of 44-year-old Houston resident Lydell Grant who was wrongly convicted of murder, the case feels extremely rewarding. In 2012, Grant was convicted of murder in the stabbing death of 28-year-old Houston resident Aaron Scheerhoorn outside a bar. Six eyewitnesses testified against Grant during the trial. Grant had an alibi for the night of the murder, but was still sentenced to life in prison. In spring 2018, after Grant contacted the Innocence Project for help, Jason Tiplitz, a Texas A&M School of Law student and member of the Innocence Project legal clinic, found anomalies in DNA evidence that proved Grant’s innocence. Since the projects’ inception in 2006, the Innocence Project has partnered with the Texas A&M School of Law to review and assist in cases of wrongful conviction. A&M Law students review and vet cases that have credible evidence of innocence and that may have relied heavily on eye witnesses for conviction, Ware said. They work on cases — often for several years — investigating the original trials and providing litigation in hopes of overturning the conviction.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 13, 2021

Risk of heat-related illness increases as temperatures rise in North Texas

Summer weather in North Texas is bringing an increased risk of heat-related emergencies. MedStar paramedics treated nine people for what appeared to be heat-related emergencies Saturday, according to a news release. The emergency medical services implemented an extreme weather response procedure around 1 p.m. Sunday as the heat index reached 105. MedStar medics will stage in strategic areas to respond to patients who are at highest risk and upgrade the priority of heat-related calls, according to the release.

The National Weather Service in Fort Worth forecasts temperatures throughout the workweek to hang in the mid- to upper-90s. MedStar warns of heat-related illnesses during this time, including heatstroke and heat exhaustion, and advises avoiding spending extended periods of time in the heat. If someone is experiencing a heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency caused by long and intense exposures to heat, it warrants an immediate 911 call, MedStar said in the release. Symptoms can include confusion, vomiting, changes in sweating, hot and flushed skin, rapid heart rate, decreased sweating, shortness of breath, decreased urination, increased body temperature and even possibly convulsions. Heat exhaustion happens when someone loses too much water and salt through excessive sweating. It can disturb brain function and circulation. Symptoms can include muscle cramps, paleness, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Children and the elderly are at higher risk.

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Dallas Morning News - June 13, 2021

Julieta Chiquillo: I want to go back to the office. Does that make me a bad mom?

(Julieta Chiquillo is a member of The Dallas Morning News editorial board.) My 2-year-old son is a cheerful, curious, incessantly chatty boy who sings to himself in his crib and who waves to the garbage man on Fridays. As his mother, I am contractually obligated to tell you he’s perfect, but you should know I am also telling you the truth. Well, almost perfect. He’s a picky eater who can turn a meal into an ordeal. Phillip, my husband, tries all sorts of playful things to get our son psyched about breakfast, lunch or dinner. A few days ago, Phillip burst into song: “Eat, eat, what a treat! Eat, eat.” He was singing a verse from “Baby Signing Time,” a TV series that teaches kids American Sign Language. That cute song had been in heavy rotation during our family lockdown in the early days of the pandemic.

The song takes me back in time, and my reaction to it now is aversion. It loops in my head with all of the memories of being forced to stay at home. My feelings about remote work are complicated. The work-from-home experience that the pandemic forced on those of us lucky enough to be able to do our jobs remotely spurred a lot of soul-searching, especially among working mothers. We reevaluated the packed schedules, the maddening commutes, the having to have dinner magically ready by 7. For many working moms, going back to “normal” is untenable. Despite the fact that working from home while managing family duties has been stressful in its own way, many of my friends — hard-working professionals who are devoted moms — would prefer to keep working remotely part of the week if not most of the week. Schedules are more manageable, they’re more productive, and they get more face time with their kids. I get all of that. Which is why I’m scared to say this out loud, but here it goes: I’m back in the office, and I love it. Before you judge me, know that I do plenty of that myself. Not a day goes by that I don’t live in fear that I’m a bad mother. Sadly, it’s a common fear among us moms — another thing that gnaws at us on top of work deadlines, the bills or the grocery list.

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KXAN - June 11, 2021

Air Force veteran fights for refund following TxTag upgrade overcharges

Racheal Silverwolfe spent nine years in the U.S. Airforce. She served at Desert Storm and conducted biological nuclear testing. “I ended up with massive liver damage,” she said. “I have problems with my lungs.” As a result, Silverwolfe said she goes to 15 to 20 medical appointments each month. She is often using TxTag toll roads to get there. “It’s rather frustrating,” she said. “A lot of time on the road.”

Because she has disabled veteran plates, her toll charges are usually refunded right away. The Texas Department of Transportation, which funds TxTag and its toll operations, waives toll fees for eligible veterans to support those who have served our country. But then, TxTag began upgrading its system late last year. That included migrating a large amount of customer data. Silverwolfe said about four weeks of charges were not waived. She spent five months speaking with TxTag customer service representatives and opening help tickets before she finally got her money back. Silverwolfe isn’t the only driver who was overcharged in the wake of that upgrade. KXAN investigators have reported on the system changes extensively, which have so far led to drivers being refunded more than $12 million in overcharges.

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WFAA - June 13, 2021

After blowing through $2 billion trust fund & borrowing billions more, Texas unemployment agency to look at ways to replenish funds

Gov. Greg Abbott is eliminating the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit early on June 26. Texas will be the latest state to cancel the enhanced payments in a bid to get more people to look for jobs as employers complain they are having trouble filling open positions. The Texas Workforce Commissioners plan to meet Monday to discuss how the agency will replenish the unemployment fund we all rely on if we lose our jobs. Going into the pandemic, the agency had about $2 billion in its trust fund to pay benefits. When the pandemic caused record job losses last spring, TWC blew through its entire trust fund in less than three months. They have been borrowing heavily from the federal government ever since; recently hitting $6.9 billion in loans.

In the days ahead we’ll be looking for details on how commissioners plan to refill the unemployment fund before the next economic catastrophe strikes. The Workforce Commission is also scrambling to switch out its computer system. Remember how it kept crashing in the early days of the pandemic? And how new federal aid was repeatedly delayed because it would take weeks to reprogram TWC computers? The agency says it was in the process of replacing its antiquated network, but then priorities had to shift dramatically. They say it was all “Funded and the project had just begun development when the pandemic began”. Now that the volume of claims has come down significantly from the worst of the pandemic, TWC is once again focusing on its outmoded computers, “Work on that is already moving forward”. But they don’t have a timeline for how long the computer conversion will take.

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WFAA - June 13, 2021

'It’s an opportunity to walk the walk': State senator from Travis County on running for Texas land commissioner

Not long after the current commissioner of the Texas General Land Office announced he’d be running for attorney general, Sen. Dawn Buckingham said she’d be running to take over his job. The Republican from Travis County is off to a strong start fundraising, with $2 million already in her campaign bank. She anticipates a $5 million race, so it will be expensive.

Buckingham said she spoke to the lawmakers who were rumored to be interested in the position before announcing, so she doesn’t think she’ll be running against any colleagues. “As the first agency in the state of Texas, it is the tip of the spear, literally, to defend the land we walk on,” Sen. Buckingham said on Inside Texas Politics. “I think it’s an opportunity to walk the walk, you know, and not just talk the talk.” Senator Buckingham will not have to give up her Senate seat while running for commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. She became the first Republican from Travis County to be elected to the Texas Senate in 2016 and the first woman ever elected to represent Senate District 24.

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Rio Grande Guardian - June 11, 2021

GOP group seeks to flip six state House seats in South Texas

Six House of Representatives seats in South Texas currently held by Democrats are being targeted for flipping by a Republican group in 2022. The seats are: District 74, represented by state Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass; District 31, represented by state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City; District 41, represented by state Rep. R.D. ‘Bobby’ Guerra of McAllen; District 38, represented by state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III; of San Benito, District 37, represented by state Rep. Alex Dominguez of Brownsville; and District 34, represented by state Rep. Abel Herrero of Robstown. The group looking to turf out the incumbents is the Associated Republicans of Texas (ART), along with its offshoot, the Hispanic Voter Network (HVN).

“Over the last few cycles Democrats have seen their margins narrow in South Texas up and down the ballot,” said Aaron De Leon, political director of ART. “Gone are the days of one-party dominance in South Texas. The anti-border security, anti-police and anti-business policies coming out of the Democrat Party today are in direct conflict with the values of South Texas voters.” De Leon said ART plans to build on the group’s past successes and help recruit, train and fund quality Republican challenger candidates in State House districts along the border. “We look forward to recruiting and funding strong candidates in the region and expanding the map for Republicans in 2022,” De Leon added. ART is a nonprofit organization committed to growing the Republican majority in the Texas Legislature and strengthening the future of Republicans in Texas. HVN is an extension of ART’s mission focused on Hispanic voters and candidates. De Leon said HVN works with business leaders, elected officials and community volunteers to identify Hispanic candidates for the State House and to increase Hispanic voter turnout in support of pro-business, conservative, Republican candidates.

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Click2Houston - June 12, 2021

Judge rules in favor of Houston Methodist in lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccines

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Saturday from a group of Houston Methodist employees opposing the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. 117 employees sued the hospital over its policy requiring staff to get the vaccine or be fired. “This is not coercion. Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer,” said U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes. The judge also denied a request for a restraining order to block Houston Methodist from suspending the unvaccinated employees.

The hospital’s vaccine deadline was last week, and more than 170 employees were suspended without pay for the next 14 days after not complying with the vaccine requirement. “In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines are not safe. With more than 300 million doses administered in the United States alone, the vaccines have proven to be extremely safe. The number of both positive cases and hospitalizations continues to drop around the country, proving that the vaccines are working in keeping our community protected,” Houston Methodist wrote in a statement. Jared Woodfill, the lawyer represent the Houston Methodist employees, said they will appeal. All of my clients continue to be committed to fighting this unjust policy,” Woodfill said in a written statement. “What is shocking is that many of my clients were on the front line treating COVID-positive patients at Texas Methodist Hospital during the height of the pandemic. As a result, many of them contracted COVID-19. As a thank you for their service and sacrifice, Methodist Hospital awards them a pink slip and sentences them to bankruptcy.”

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Politico - June 13, 2021

Rep. McCaul: It's time to consider 'hitting back' at Russia

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul on Sunday urged the U.S. to consider “hitting back” at Russia for harboring cyber ransom hackers, amping up the pressure on President Joe Biden to make the recent ransomware attacks a focus of his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The president needs to demonstrate with Putin, there will be consequences to your actions if you continue to do this,” the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Sanctions are great, but I think it’s time to start thinking about hitting back,” he said. "They need to know that — that when they do this, there are consequences to their actions and we're going to hit them back," McCaul added. "Until we do that, they're going to continue with bad behavior." The U.S. has been hit by a growing number of ransomware attacks, with criminal networks recently taking a major interstate gasoline pipeline and one of the world’s largest meat processors offline. U.S. officials have blamed both attacks on ransomware gangs with ties to Russia. When DarkSide, a ransomware gang based out of Russia, caused the Colonial Pipeline to shut down last month, Biden told reporters Russia had “some responsibility” to address the cyberattack. Biden is expected to broach the attacks in his meeting with Putin on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Politifact Texas - June 14, 2021

Fact check: Yes, Texans pay some of the highest property taxes in the nation

The claim: “Texans have some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and the tax only goes up. We will put the broken property tax system on a path to zero.” — Republican Don Huffines, who is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2022 primary election. To cure the state of its taxation problem, Huffines’ campaign proposes an unusual solution for a state that already doesn’t collect income taxes — the elimination of property taxes altogether. PolitiFact rating: Mostly True. There are several different ways to compare and rank states’ property tax burden. Depending on the ranking methodology used, Texas has between the 6th highest and 13th highest property taxes.

Huffines, a former GOP state senator from Dallas, recently launched gubernatorial bid is wagering that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott isn’t Republican enough for Texas. There’s little question that property taxes in Texas have generally been rising year over year. The Texas Comptroller’s Biennial Property Tax Report shows that single family home values have been on the rise since 2010, resulting in a corresponding rise in the property taxes levied by local governments in each of those years. In 2010, local governments in Texas collected $40.2 billion in property taxes. By 2019, the latest year for which data is available, that number had risen to $67.2 billion. Nearly half of these totals is collected from property taxes levied on single family homes. But has this rise launched Texas taxes into the realm of high-tax states like New York, California and New Jersey? Does Texas now have “some of the highest property taxes in the nation,” as Huffines claims? State and local governments depend on tax revenue flowing from three different categories, explained Kevin Erdmann, a tax policy expert at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “There’s three pretty basic areas of taxation: sales tax, income tax and property tax,” he said. “Those are the big three to choose from and each state has chosen to weight each one slightly differently. But at the end of the day they all have bills to pay.” Texas is one of nine states with no income tax, therefore relying more heavily on the two other areas of taxation.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 13, 2021

Mayor Sylvester Turner spent Saturday bar hopping to increase Houston's vaccination rate

John Gipson sipped a margarita as he waited the necessary 15 minutes under the watchful eye of health workers after receiving the coronavirus vaccine. Gipson, 50, did so with the encouragement of Houston leaders, who are turning out at concerts and clubs to try to find people who still need the vaccines. That outreach Saturday included a grassy field in Acres Homes, steps from the Montgomery Road stops for Route 44 buses that give the community its “44” or “fo-fo” nickname. A Houston Health Department van and crew occupied a corner of the CAMZ Food Truck Park on opening day, as hundreds streamed in for an evening of concerts. Elected leaders took to the stage to celebrate the opening but also to boost vaccine numbers.

“You can be done with it,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told the crowd during a break in the music. “We are making it available, for free, today, right here. Get your shot. I don’t want anybody else to get sick from COVID-19.” As demand for the shot wanes, officials have fanned out in harder-to-reach communities. So far, officials are still catching up in Acres Homes, the mayor’s home turf. More than 111,00 people — the vast majority Black — live in the three ZIP codes that make up most of the neighborhood. Only 32.5 percent are fully vaccinated, trailing the Harris County average of 38 percent, according to figures updated Saturday by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The reasons for the disparity vary, residents and officials said, including lack of transportation, inability to schedule shifts around unconventional or long work shifts and hesitancy to believe the vaccines save lives. Combating that is making the pitch repeatedly and responding immediately when someone is ready to go. “A lot of times, free, easy access will do it,” said Donna Cee Whitelow, an Acres Homes resident who works with the city on the neighborhood’s Complete Communities initiative, one of Turner’s signature programs.

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Austin Chronicle - June 11, 2021

Austin is a world-renowned tech capital. Why can’t the city get it right?

The city of Austin's Communications & Public Information Office is, among other things, in charge of the content on the city's website. Another department, Commun­i­ca­tions & Technology Management, is, among other things, in charge of providing technical support for the website. Both CPIO and CTM employ web developers and other in-house technical experts. However, neither department created APH's COVID-19 vaccine portal. Instead, the city contracted with third-party vendors using software from Salesforce, the Fortune 500 tech giant that dominates the customer relationship management market.*

The Chronicle interviewed a dozen former and current tech workers with the city to compile this report, many of whom preferred to speak off the record. They say that the vendors implementing the Salesforce platform did not test the vaccine portal to see how many users it could handle before the site went live. So when thousands tried to sign up for vaccines, it crashed. This failure to "load test" the portal, our sources say, was one of several serious blunders made in its design.* But the workers share the conviction that though a vendor built the vaccine portal, its failure is the responsibility of city leaders. As one said, "If you're going to use a vendor, you still need to tightly control the process." City leaders have shown no eagerness to embrace responsibility for what happened on March 15, or before, or since. Chris Stewart, the chief information officer of CTM, made it clear after a prior crash in February that though he is the city's top technology manager, he wants no blame for the malfunctions. After KXAN ran a critical news piece on the February crash, Stewart sent memos to the City Manager's Office and to his workers, both obtained by the Chronicle.

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National Stories

Associated Press - June 13, 2021

Schools across US brace for surge of kindergartners in fall

School districts across the United States are hiring additional teachers in anticipation of what will be one of the largest kindergarten classes ever as enrollment rebounds following the coronavirus pandemic. As they await the arrival next fall of students who sat out the current school year, educators are also bracing for many students to be less prepared than usual due to lower preschool attendance rates. “The job of the kindergarten teacher just got a lot harder,” said Steven Barnett, senior co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. He coauthored a report that found that the number of 4-year-olds participating in preschool fell from 71% before the pandemic to 54% during the pandemic, with poor children much less likely to attend in-person.

Kindergarten is not required in most states, and in normal times, parents sometimes “red-shirt” children who would be young for their kindergarten class to give them an extra year of developmental readiness. This year, even children nowhere near the cutoff age were held out of school because of health concerns and the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Among them was the daughter of Christina Neu, who held her back even though her daughter has a December birthday and already would be relatively old for her class because the entry cutoff is the end of August. Across Kansas, kindergarten enrollment fell by nearly 9%. “There was a little bit of fear, not wanting her to have to deal with kind of an unknown there,” Neu said, adding that her eldest daughter, who is 8, had just been diagnosed before the pandemic with 26 different food allergies and her immune system already was in overdrive. “We wanted to make sure that as a family we were being smart and being safe.”

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KXAN - June 13, 2021

America’s image has improved since Biden election, Pew study says

The U.S. is being viewed more favorably since the inauguration of President Joe Biden back in January. That’s according to a study from Pew Research Center, which polled 16 publics — and found about 75% having confidence in Biden, while only 17% expressed the same for former President Donald Trump in 2020. Support for many of Biden’s policies also ranked higher than those of Trump, including his immigration policies.

At the end of the Trump presidency, 83% of the same publics polled said they had no confidence in Trump. At the beginning of the Biden presidency, that number dropped to 22%. Seventy-seven percent of publics said Biden is qualified to be president, while only 16% felt Trump was. While U.S. favorability varies by country, depending on history and relations, overall most countries show an uptick in respect for the U.S. Nevertheless, America’s reputation has taken a hit over several years, data shows. When asked if the U.S. political system is currently working, only 50% said it was. And while Americans might like to think of itself as a model for other countries, the publics polled disagree. Only 17% said the U.S. serves as a good example for other countries. Fifty-seven percent said it used to be a good example but has not been in the past few years.

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NBC News - June 12, 2021

Virtually all hospitalized Covid patients have one thing in common: They're unvaccinated

There are only three Covid-19 patients at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital, on Long Island, New York — a far cry from when the hospital, which is part of Northwell Health, had as many as 600 patients during the peak of the pandemic. All three patients, who are in the intensive care unit, have one thing in common, said Dr. Hugh Cassiere, director of the hospital's critical care services: They're unvaccinated. The trend appears to be occurring at hospitals nationwide. "I haven't had anyone that's been fully vaccinated become critically ill," said Dr. Josh Denson, a pulmonary medicine and critical care physician at Tulane University Medical Center in New Orleans.

It's been the same for Dr. Ken Lyn-Kew, a pulmonologist in the critical care department at Denver's National Jewish Health: "None of our ICU patients has been vaccinated." Unvaccinated children, too, seem to be at increased risk for severe illness. "In our local hospitals, the kids that are getting sick are the ones that are not vaccinated," said Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas, and a national spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Thanks to the Covid-19 vaccines, the number of patients hospitalized has plummeted, from more than 125,000 on average in early January to just over 15,000 on average this week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The vaccines are working really well," Denson said. "It's just ridiculous not to get it."

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Associated Press - June 13, 2021

Israel swears in new coalition, ending Netanyahu's long rule

Israel’s parliament on Sunday narrowly approved a new coalition government, ending the historic 12-year rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sending the polarizing leader into the opposition. Naftali Bennett, a former ally of Netanyahu turned rival, became prime minister after the 60-59 vote. Promising to try to heal a divided nation, Bennett will preside over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight parties with deep ideological differences. But the 71-year-old Netanyahu made clear he has no intention of exiting the political stage. “If it is destined for us to be in the opposition, we will do it with our backs straight until we topple this dangerous government and return to lead the country,” he said.

The vote, capping a stormy parliamentary session, ended a two-year cycle of political paralysis in which the country held four deadlocked elections. Those votes focused largely on Netanyahu’s divisive rule and his fitness to remain in office while on trial for corruption charges. To his supporters, Netanyahu is a global statesman uniquely capable of leading the country through its many security challenges. But to his critics, he has become a polarizing and autocratic leader who used divide-and-rule tactics to aggravate the many rifts in Israeli society. Those include tensions between Jews and Arabs, and within the Jewish majority between his religious and nationalist base and his more secular and dovish opponents. Outside the Knesset, hundreds of protesters watching the vote on a large screen erupted into applause when the new government was approved. Thousands of people, many waving Israeli flags, celebrated in central Tel Aviv's Rabin Square. President Joe Biden quickly congratulated the new government.

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New York Times - June 10, 2021

Headliners and headdresses return to Las Vegas. Will tourists follow?

Penn Jillette, one half of the Penn & Teller magic and comedy act that has helped define nightlife in Las Vegas for decades, bounded onto the stage the other night and looked across a maskless but socially distanced audience scattered across the theater at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. “We just did 421 days without a live show,” he said, referring to the forced sabbatical that stretched through the end of April, his silent partner, Teller, finally back at his side. “Boy, it’s nice to see people in the theater.” The next morning, less than a mile away, a troupe of acrobats from Cirque du Soleil was somersaulting through the air, all wearing masks, as they warmed up on a steel frame ship swinging over a 1.2 million-gallon pool in anticipation of reopening “O” in July and a second show, “Mystère,” later this month. By the end of the year they hope to have seven Cirque du Soleil shows back at full capacity.

Fifteen months ago, this bustling tourist destination in the desert shut down almost overnight, as theaters, restaurants and casinos emptied out and Las Vegas confronted one of the biggest economic threats in its history. The stakes could not be higher as the Strip tries to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic and the first crop of shows face a challenging reality: It is hard to open shows without tourists, and it’s hard to draw tourist without shows. But a walk through its bustling sidewalks last week suggests an explosion of activity, befitting — in its extravagance, and this city’s appetite for risk — what has always made Las Vegas what it is. The change since last spring, as measured by the return of surging morning-to-midnight crowds, is head-snapping. While just 106,900 tourists visited Las Vegas in April 2020, according to the Convention and Visitors Authority, some 2.6 million people visited this April — a big rebound, but still almost a million shy of what the city was attracting before the pandemic.

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NPR - June 13, 2021

Tackling 'energy justice' requires better data. These researchers are on it

Poor people and people of color use much more electricity per square foot in their homes than whites and more affluent people, according to new research. That means households that can least afford it end up spending more on utilities. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, arrives as the Biden administration has said that it wants 40 percent of federal climate spending to reach poorer communities and communities of color, including initiatives that improve energy efficiency. Researchers have said better data on wealth and racial disparities is needed to make sure such plans succeed. The researchers found that in low-income communities, homes averaged 25 to 60 percent more energy use per square foot than higher-income neighborhoods.

And within all income groups except for the very wealthiest, non-white neighborhoods consistently used more electricity per square foot than mostly-white neighborhoods. The results were even starker during winter and summer heating and cooling seasons. "This study unpacks income and racial inequality in the energy system within U.S. cities, and gives utilities a way to measure it, so that they can fix the problem," says Ramaswami, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University and co-author of the study. Ramaswami says more investigation is needed to understand why this racial inequity exists. It's likely that utilities need to better tailor energy efficiency programs to reach underserved communities. She says there are also bigger, structural issues utilities have less control over, such as whether people own their homes or rent. For the study, researchers looked at two cities: Tallahassee, Florida, and St. Paul, Minnesota. They combined detailed utility and census data and measured how efficient buildings were in specific neighborhoods. "We were struck when we first saw these patterns," said Ramaswami.

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Newsclips - June 13, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2021

White House to Congress: Leave border wall funding to Texas, at up to $46M per mile

A day after Gov. Greg Abbott said the state of Texas would pick up where former President Donald Trump left off building a border wall, the White House urged Congress to cancel billions of dollars in funding for the wall — making it clear that Texas will likely be left to cover the tab on its own. And according to the White House, it will be a costly endeavor. The Biden administration said Friday that Trump spent as much $46 million per mile on some segments of the wall. The administration completed a review of border wall projects Friday and made clear it doesn’t plan to build more. Officials said the administration will return $2 billion to military construction projects that the Trump administration had raided to fund the wall — including sending $22 million to build dining halls at Camp Bullis outside San Antonio.

The Homeland Security Department, meanwhile, announced it would spend the rest of remaining border wall funding to address “urgent life, safety and environmental issues resulting from the previous administration’s wall construction,” including repairs on the Rio Grande Valley flood protection system that officials say was damaged by crews working to build the wall. The department also announced it will review the eminent domain actions taken by the previous administration for wall construction and return the land it does not use to its prior owners. The agency said it will begin discussions with owners of land it deems is still necessary for “life, safety, environmental or other remediation work.” The news comes after the Republican governor said he will detail his plans to have the state build the wall next week, so little is known about the scope of his plan or how he proposes to pay for it. “Long term, only Congress and the president can fix our broken border. But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our communities safe,” Abbott said at an event billed as a border security summit in Del Rio. “We are going to do everything we can to secure the border, and it begins immediately.”

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Wall Street Journal - June 13, 2021

Markets are leaving little room for the Fed to be wrong on inflation

Investors have faith in the Fed. Over the past three months consumer prices, excluding volatile food and energy, have risen 2%, equivalent to a shockingly high annual rate of 8.2%. Rather than panic and dump bonds, investors have piled into Treasurys and pushed 10-year yields back down to where they stood in late February. Confidence in the central bank is absolute. To be fair, the Fed is probably right: This burst of inflation is probably transitory. The reopening of the economy released a surge of pent-up demand, while supply bottlenecks are restricting production and distribution. As things get back to normal inflation should calm down. But investors need to consider the possibility that the Fed is wrong, too. The risk that inflation continues to overshoot is clearly much higher than usual, while the risk of undershooting is lower.

Instead of leaving a larger margin of error around forecasts, bond markets are leaving little, perhaps none, with a yield of just 1.45% on the 10-year Treasury. The bond market’s best guess on long-term consumer-price inflation, the break-even rate for the five years starting in five years’ time, is down from a peak of 2.38% to just 2.23%; that implies inflation slightly below the Fed’s target on its preferred price gauge. Even short-term inflation expectations are priced for the Fed to hit its target after a brief bout of inflation in the next 12 months. If that proves mistaken, bond yields and inflation break-evens—the gap between ordinary and inflation-linked Treasurys—should be higher, and big technology stocks should be lower. As Michael Pond, head of global inflation-linked research at Barclays, points out, the Fed was right the last time it bet on inflation being transitory, in 2011. The European Central Bank’s two rate increases that year are widely seen as a mistake that contributed to the region’s economic troubles.

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KXAN - June 12, 2021

Austin mass shooting: 1 suspect in custody, another still at large in 6th Street attack

Austin police confirmed Saturday afternoon one suspect is in custody and another is still at large in connection with a mass shooting in downtown Austin that left at least 14 people hurt early Saturday morning. Police thanked the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force for partnering with them to make the arrest. Earlier on Saturday, Austin police identified two suspects in connection with the shooting on East Sixth Street.

During a briefing, Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the shooting happened at 400 E. Sixth Street, which is near Trinity Street. There are many bars in the area. The initial 911 call about shots fired came in at about 1:24 a.m. and was followed by many more. Chacon said 11 people are receiving treatment at one hospital, while one victim went to a separate hospital, another received treatment at an emergency room and another self-transported. There are no deaths to report at this time. Two of these patients are in critical condition, according to Chacon. He said most victims are innocent bystanders. Earlier in the day, Chacon could only share a vague description of one suspect. He said the man may be a Black man with a “skinny” build and locs-style hair. A motive for the shooting is not yet known. Chacon said the shooting appears to be isolated just to that area in downtown. “This does appear to be an isolated incident between two parties,” Chacon said.

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The Hill - June 13, 2021

Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill

Democrats are opening the door to revamping a sweeping election reform bill, considered a top priority for the party’s base, as they try to shore up support within their own ranks. Democrats have vowed to hold a vote on the For the People Act in just over a week, giving them a matter of days to try to figure out a series of changes that, even if it doesn't peel off GOP votes, at least lets them claim unity. That started a conversation among Senate Democrats about either paring down the 800-page bill, or breaking off smaller pieces entirely as stand-alone legislation.

The For the People Act is a sweeping bill that, among other initiatives aimed at expanding voting, requires states to offer mail-in ballots and a minimum of 15 days of early voting, while calling for online and same-day voter registration. It also overhauls campaign finance rules, changes the makeup of the Federal Election Commission, imposes new ethics rules for public officials and establishes new requirements on congressional redistricting. When the bill was written it was largely viewed as a messaging bill, meant to be used to make a political point rather than pass, because Democrats were out of power. But it emerged as a top priority for the party’s base and underscoring its importance, House Democrats gave it its first bill slot — H.R. 1 — when they won back the majority. Senate Democrats followed suit earlier this year. The bill can’t get 60 votes as currently drafted with every Republican dug in against the legislation, which they view as a far-reaching attempt by the federal government to control elections. “Their marquee bill, S. 1, is such a brazen political power-grab that the question isn’t even whether it could earn bipartisan support. The question is how wide the bipartisan opposition will be,” said Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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Austin American-Statesman - June 12, 2021

Will Austin shooting hurt 6th Street businesses already pummeled by COVID-19 pandemic?

Crowds began returning to Sixth Street only recently, a ray of economic hope for the downtown restaurants, bars and performance venues beaten down and left teetering financially over the past 15 months by the coronavirus pandemic. But Saturday's mass shooting — in which at least 14 people were wounded, two critically, in the early hours of the morning — is now bringing national notoriety to one of Austin's most well-known entertainment districts, dealing a fresh blow to businesses in the area just as they were trying to regain their footing. "For 35 years I've been on Sixth Street, and I've never heard of anything like this for all the time I've been here," said Bob Woody, who operates 20 bars on Sixth Street. "Now this is the story people all around the world are hearing."

It remains to be seen whether the shooting — and the news coverage of it — will have any ripple effects on Austin's hospitality industry, which was pummeled during the pandemic. The region's leisure and hospitality sector shed more than 60,000 jobs in the initial weeks of the pandemic. With only about half having returned since then, the sector accounts for the majority of the Austin area's continued pandemic-related job losses. Woody, whose bars include downtown hot spots Buford’s, Blind Pig Pub and Shakespeare’s Pub, believes the shooting will damage the Sixth Street district. In addition to the traditionally local younger crowd, Woody says Sixth Street also relies on tourists, conventioneers and international travelers. "Sixth Street is our crown jewel — this is a global brand," Woody said. "Any type of thing that tarnishes the reputation of any part of the city hurts our whole city. It hurts tourism; it hurts convention business in the future; it hurts hotel revenue."

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2021

With disaster recovery funding in turmoil, Harris County flood control chief resigns

Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russ Poppe submitted a letter of resignation to Commissioners Court on Friday, saying he plans to step down July 2. Poppe, 45, said the demands of the job, which have grown significantly since Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the passage of the historic $2.5 billion flood bond program the following year, had grown too great. “While I greatly appreciate your continued support for making Harris County more resilient with natural disaster, the growing expectations associated with these efforts have adversely affected the quality of my personal life to a point I can no longer sustain,” Poppe wrote.

His departure comes at a precarious time for the agency, which is attempting to close a $700 million funding gap in its flood bond program. Poppe is due to present a plan to Commissioners Court June 29 to ensure all planned projects can be completed. Poppe, who has worked as an engineer for Harris County since 2005, became head of the flood control district five years ago. For years, the agency had a $120 million annual budget that remained static even as the county grew rapidly. Harvey shook county leaders from that sense of complacency. Commissioners Court in 2018, led by County Judge Ed Emmett, proposed a $2.5 billion bond program to make up for past under-funding of flood control projects. Poppe joined court members on a barnstorming tour of community centers, churches and school cafeterias to campaign for the bond, the largest in county history. He excelled at communicating complex engineering concepts to the public, which helped convince skeptical voters that better flood protection was worth a tax increase. The bond passed with 86 percent support.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2021

Texas Supreme Court dismisses former City Council candidate’s request for new election

The Texas Supreme Court rejected a long-shot request to give former Dallas City Council candidate Donald Parish Jr. a chance at a new election. Parish, a pastor, came in third in last month’s election to represent South Dallas’ District 7, short by just 28 votes to advance to the runoff election, in which the candidate in second place, Kevin Felder, lost to incumbent Adam Bazaldua. In a complaint filed May 21, Parish claimed irregularities with voting locations made the race void. On Friday, the Supreme Court denied a petition by Parish for a new election and did not offer an opinion.

Parish’s complaint argues the race’s tight election results made the problems reported at several polling places significant. Nine polling sites, many of which were in South Dallas, had problems ranging from broken voting machines, to workers who couldn’t access buildings or supplies because they didn’t have keys, to too few electrical outlets or extension cords for voting machines. Some voters were turned away. Last month, Michael Scarpello, Dallas County’s elections administrator, told Dallas City Council members the issues delayed the sites’ 7 a.m. opening time anywhere from about an hour to four. Northwood Hills Elementary School in North Dallas’ District 11 was the last to open at 11:15 a.m. because an election worker couldn’t find keys. Bazaldua said in May that residents reported being told by poll workers that they had to vote at specific sites, even though residents could vote at any of the voting centers in the county. One resident told The Dallas Morning News he did not try and vote at another location after being turned away. “We will continue to litigate the election contest, which is a statutory remedy provided to my client under the Texas election code, and he has performed all required steps to access that remedy,” Elizabeth Alvarez, who is representing Parish, said following the denial. Parish did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. According to the complaint, there is evidence that some voting machines were turned off, some legal ballots were excluded and illegal ballots were included.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2021

Michael Irvin to Amber Guyger: ‘The man behind the curtain’ retires after 40 years advising Dallas judges

Countless documentaries and talk shows focus on Dallas County’s most high-profile trials. On Friday, the person with the inside scoop on all the major criminal cases over the past four decades retired. He’s not one of the robed judges or one of the boisterous lawyers who plead for justice or mercy before juries. Kerry Young is the quiet, well-respected chief staff attorney always ready on the sidelines to advise the county’s judges on legal quandaries large and small. He was a figure who could escape the media buzz unnoticed to his windowless office tucked away on the second floor of the criminal courthouse where the only view from his desk was dozens of law books he’s spent his life studying.

Photos and videos of judges would appear on the front pages of newspapers and lead primetime newscasts and Young might appear unidentified in a corner of the images as he whispered advice. Despite his anonymity to the public, Young played an integral role in almost every major Dallas County criminal case over the past 40 years. That includes Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, who pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in 1996, and former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger, convicted in 2019 of murdering Botham Jean. “He was basically the man behind the curtain,” said Manny Alvarez, a Republican judge of Criminal District Court 5 from 1995 to 2006. Young, 65, worked in the staff attorney’s office longer than any sitting judge and trained nearly all of them when they were newly sworn in. No matter what experience judges had as prosecutors or defense attorneys, sitting on the bench requires new skills. The three staff attorneys, including Young, would step in to help. “We’re their boss, but they generally know more than we do,” said Democrat Tracy Holmes, judge of the 363rd Criminal District Court since 2007.

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Dallas Morning News - June 12, 2021

Do you use drugs? If you own a gun, the feds could put you in prison, which worries cannabis advocates

Mathew Lavon Payne had taken to shouting and waving around an AK-47 rifle at his home. The 44-year-old Sulphur Springs man struggled with drug addiction and deteriorating mental health and as a result had exhibited some recent erratic behavior, court records show. But he was not a hardened criminal with a long rap sheet. Still, people felt something should be done -- just in case. Payne was arrested in late 2019 and pleaded guilty to a rarely-used federal charge: possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. In April, a judge in Plano sentenced him to 30 months in federal prison.

The death toll from gun violence including mass shootings continues to rise as does the threat of domestic terrorism. Congress has not passed any comprehensive gun control measures in years due to ideological disagreements. Instead, federal prosecutors are left with the nation’s drug laws as a key tool to keep guns out of the wrong hands. In North Texas, that has included neo-Nazis, anti-government extremists, heavily-armed individuals who made threats, various street criminals and others. Specifically, the government is using a law that makes it a crime for “unlawful users” of drugs to have guns and/or ammunition. A previous drug conviction is not necessary, just ample evidence of ongoing drug use such as recent arrests, positive drug screens or an admission of drug use to police. One need not have had any previous run-ins with the law; even social media photos of someone using marijuana or other drugs will suffice. “I think it’s a response to the mass shootings, probably,” said Heath Hyde, who was Payne’s defense attorney. “A way of controlling people who they don’t think should have guns.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2021

Biden stopped deporting child migrants from Central America, but has expelled 10,000 young Mexicans

Amnesty International issued a scathing report Friday asserting that nearly 10,000 Mexican children have been expelled soon after crossing the border since President Joe Biden took office — despite his vow to end harsh Trump-era treatment of young migrants, and a legal duty to make sure they don’t face danger if they’re sent back. Biden has halted deportation of unaccompanied children from other countries, a shift welcomed by immigrant advocates. But Customs and Border Protection continues to turn back children from Mexico, even though many are fleeing the same sorts of violence as migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who account for a huge spike in migration in recent months — and who do not face immediate deportation.

About 50,000 migrants classified as “unaccompanied alien children,” or UACs, have attempted to cross the border since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to CBP data. About one in five are Mexican, and 95% of those are expelled almost immediately, with no change in the pace of expulsions since Biden took over, according to Brian Griffey, the author and lead researcher on the Amnesty International report. “Contrary to Biden’s promise to stop turning away unaccompanied kids to potential harm at the border, they are still returning almost all unaccompanied Mexican children, clearly on the discriminatory basis of their nationality, rather than on a real determination that they’re safe to be returned to Mexico,” Griffey said. The White House and CBP ignored requests to respond to the Amnesty report, titled Pushed into Harm’s Way. Vice President Kamala Harris, in Guatemala this week, issued a stern warning to migrants to dispel the perception that the Biden administration will welcome them. “If you come to our border, you will be turned back. … Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border,” she said.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2021

U.S. Embassy fears for health of Trevor Reed, the Fort Worth native held by Russia

Five days before the Biden-Putin summit, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow sounded an alarm Friday about the condition of Trevor Reed, the former Marine imprisoned on charges that the U.S. considers a pretext for holding him as a bargaining chip. Reed, 29, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on May 25 and in the 16 days since has been barred from communicating with his parents in North Texas or U.S. diplomats. “We are gravely concerned about his health,” the embassy said in a statement, adding that the facility where Reed has been hospitalized has refused to provide updates on his health. “We insist that this brazen attempt to isolate Mr. Reed from both his family and his government immediately cease.”

Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will hold their first face-to-face meeting Wednesday in Geneva. The agenda is packed with sources of recent tension, including Russia-based cyberattacks on a critical U.S. fuel pipeline, last year’s SolarWinds cyberattack that affected government agencies and most of the Fortune 500, and military threats to Ukraine. U.S. officials under both the Trump and Biden administrations have pressed for the release of Reed and another former Marine, Paul Whelan. Lawmakers in both parties have demanded the men’s release, and their detention is among the friction points overshadowing the summit. “Several Americans remain unjustly detained in Russia, including Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday. “The Kremlin’s Kafkaesque treatment of American citizens must stop, and President Biden should make their return a priority of the visit.” “Cutting off the embassy’s communication with Trevor, especially as he is now battling COVID after being refused a vaccine, is completely unacceptable,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said Friday. “The Putin regime needs to release Trevor and send him home to his family immediately.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 10, 2021

1836 Project promoting 'patriotic education' in Texas heightens concerns about whitewashing history

Since The New York Times’ 1619 Project was published two years ago, Republicans across the nation have rallied against it — rejecting the project’s central ideas that slavery was far more integral to the country’s founding than commonly acknowledged, and that its remnants have a lasting impact on society. Now, Texas lawmakers have countered with a new effort to promote “patriotic education” — the 1836 Project, named for the year Texas declared independence from Mexico. As Gov. Greg Abbott signed the project into law this week, he declared that “we must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place.” The measure, House Bill 2497, earned bipartisan support this session, passing the House by a vote of 124 to 19, and 22 to 9 in the Senate.

It establishes a panel of nine political appointees tasked with educating about Texas history, whose work will mostly be found in informational pamphlets given to Texans receiving driver’s licenses. The committee will “promote awareness” of Texas’ past as it relates to “the history of prosperity and democratic freedom in this state,” according to the bill. But critics fear that goal — encouraging patriotism and highlighting the state’s successes — will leave out key parts of Texas’ history, including much of its history of racism. Those concerns are heightened by another education bill on Abbott’s desk that would significantly minimize lessons about systemic racism in Texas public schools. “‘Patriotic education’ isn’t education; it’s propaganda,” tweeted Kevin M. Kruse, a history professor at Princeton University. “And it’s honestly not that patriotic to raise the next generation on whitewashed, simpleminded half-truths just because it makes you feel good.” Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound and the author of the bill, said the project aims to teach about all parts of Texas’ past, good and bad, and accused liberals of trying to “divide” the country by only focusing on negative aspects of American history.

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Houston Chronicle - June 12, 2021

Erica Grieder: Abbott wants to build a border wall: Where have we heard that before?

God help us, it’s Republican primary season in Texas. That was clear on Thursday, when Gov. Greg Abbott held a border security summit in Del Rio. “While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” Abbott said, explaining that he intends to arrest more individuals crossing the border and form an interstate compact with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to tackle the migrant “crisis.” He continued: “I will announce next week the plan for the state of Texas to begin building the border wall in the state of Texas.” Abbott went on to refer to “border barriers” — a term that doesn’t suggest a physical, contiguous wall of the sort that Donald Trump so often called for, first as a candidate and then as a one-term president. And Abbott said he’ll give more information on his plan in the coming days.

In other words, Texans aren’t necessarily confronting the prospect of a costly and controversial border wall being built in the state; we’re just living with the reality of a governor who posits such things, for seemingly political reasons. Since the Texas Legislature held its regular biennial session this year, Abbott could easily have designated border security as one of his emergency items for the session; he didn’t. Nor did he urge lawmakers to allocate funding for a border wall specifically — as they may well have done, given how many other partisan priorities sailed through the Legislature this session. In light of that, Abbott’s call for a border wall in Texas seems like a direct response to that exact same idea being put forward by former state Sen. Don Huffines, a Republican who declared last month that he would challenge Abbott in next year’s GOP primary. Huffines has said that, as governor, he would “immediately authorize construction on a border wall.” “We will build our own wall without the federal government, and we’re not going to ask their permission to do it,” Huffines said. “It will be a Texas wall. And we won’t stop building until it’s complete.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 13, 2021

With border wall plan, could Gov. Abbott succeed where Trump failed?

Two months ago, the notion of Texas building a wall along the Mexican border was practically a nonstarter among Republican state leaders. A bill to revive former President Donald Trump’s flagging effort was quashed in the Texas House, never discussed in the Senate and left out of Gov. Greg Abbott’s policy priorities for the legislative session. “With well over 100,000 illegal immigrants crossing the open Texas border last month, I don’t understand how this isn’t a top priority,” state Rep. Bryan Slaton, a freshman Republican from Royse City, lamented to a conservative news outlet in April, saying House leaders had refused to give his border wall bill a hearing.

Now the proposal is front and center for the party. Abbott vowed Thursday to pick up where Trump left off, even if the logistics remain elusive. The governor said he would provide a full plan next week. The announcement has raised immediate questions about how the governor would pay for and carry out a task that the former federal administration had struggled to complete. On Friday, the Biden administration revealed that Trump had spent up to $46 million a mile on some segments of the wall. The Trump administration finished about 450 miles of construction, almost all of it repairs to existing barriers. Most of that work was done outside of Texas, where crossings are more difficult given the remote terrain. Abbott said in a radio interview Friday he envisions at least some of the money would be crowdsourced, a strategy used during the Trump years that became mired in allegations of fraud. The Legislature has already approved a record $1.1 billion in funding for border security over the next two fiscal years to cover the costs of state trooper patrols. The only available state dollars are about $11 billion in the rainy day fund, or nearly $16 billion in federal stimulus that is set to be allocated this fall in a special legislative session. The federal funds, however, have a number of strings attached to them, and it’s unclear whether the House and Senate would agree to use those dollars for the wall.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 12, 2021

Panel probing utilities', city of San Antonio's winter-storm response pushes back deadline for report

San Antonians will have to wait a little while longer for a post-mortem on how municipal government and the city’s major utilities handled the winter storm in February. The mayor-appointed Emergency Preparedness Committee was initially expected to submit a report on the deep freeze to Mayor Ron Nirenberg by June 15. But at the committee’s meeting Friday, its last public session, members said they’ll need until at least June 24 to wrap up the report. Still, a few answers emerged from the committee Friday. A map CPS Energy provided to the committee shows some parts of town went as many as 59 hours without electricity during the freeze. And others either never lost power or did without electricity for less than an hour throughout the crisis.

The wide-ranging report will examine how CPS Energy responded to the storm and how parts of the city dealt with power the outages for longer than others. It will also examine preparations by the city and the San Antonio Water System for emergencies going forward. Another segment of the report will detail the suffering San Antonio residents experienced with no power or water for hours or days at a time. One key question the committee has sought to answer: Did the power outages the week of Feb. 14 take place unevenly across San Antonio? “It’s fair to say two things. One, the interruptible circuits were not equally interrupted,” said former city councilman Reed Williams, chairman of the committee. “And two, it doesn’t seem that any area of the town ... was proportionately hurt more than other areas of town.” CPS Energy distributes power through a network of about 700 circuits throughout its service area. Several thousand households and businesses sit in any one circuit area.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 12, 2021

Blue Origin customer bids $28M to fly with Jeff Bezos on first crewed flight from West Texas

Blue Origin secured an astronomical bid of $28 million for a seat on its first crewed flight from West Texas. The commercial space company, working with RR Auction, held a live auction on Saturday to determine who would join Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark on the New Shepard mission scheduled for July 20. After weeks of sealed and unsealed online bidding, more than 20 people participated in Saturday’s auction and were willing to pay the opening bid of $4.8 million.

The seat was sold in less than 10 minutes to the person bidding $28 million. This money will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, that seeks to inspire future generations to pursue STEM careers and to help invent the future of life in space. On top of the $28 million, the winner will pay a 6 percent buyer's commission for their purchase of the roughly 11-minute ride to space and back. It is a suborbital flight, so the crew will not circle the globe. For comparison, Axiom Space is charging $55 million a seat to fly crew to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule. The first Axiom Space crew is scheduled to launch next year on a multi-day mission. Blue Origin did not name the winner on Saturday. It said the auction winner and a fourth person will be announced soon. The New Shepard reusable suborbital rocket system can hold six people, but this first crewed flight will only carry four.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 13, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: Young Latina campaign manager helped make history in District 2 runoff

Jalen McKee-Rodriguez and Jordee Rodriguez bonded three years ago as aspiring educators in the Teach for America program. During a month together at Teach for America’s Houston institute, McKee-Rodriguez and Rodriguez (no relation) realized they had a lot in common. They were the same age, they were both LGBTQ and they shared a commitment to progressive political change. Rodriguez, who grew up in Laredo, immediately made a deep impression on McKee-Rodriguez, a biracial military brat who graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio, with the way she had transcended a traumatic childhood. “Her mother was a judge in Mexico who was really big on cracking down on the cartels,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “And her mother was eventually kidnapped about 15 years ago. We still hope that her mother is alive.

“Jordee was really young and was basically the parent-guardian for her siblings. What stood out to me when I met her was that she said to me, ‘If my mom was willing to die for justice, and die doing the right thing, I should be willing to live to do the same.’” That kind of passion and commitment can knock down the sturdiest walls of resistance. Over the past six months, Rodriguez applied that commitment to managing the District 2 City Council campaign of her old Teach for America colleague. On June 5, McKee-Rodriguez pulled off the difficult trick of unseating a San Antonio council member — Jada Andrews-Sullivan — and did so in emphatic fashion, by a margin of more than 26 percentage points. He became the first openly gay man elected to City Council in San Antonio. This stunning political triumph was produced by a 26-year-old first-time candidate and a 26-year-old first-time campaign manager. McKee-Rodriguez doesn’t hesitate to give credit to Rodriguez for enabling him to run a campaign that successfully defied the old-school political orthodoxy.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 12, 2021

SAPD: Reports of shots fired at Lackland not 'credible'

Reports of shots fired at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on Wednesday were not “credible or valid,” the San Antonio Police Department said Saturday. The base went into lockdown Wednesday after military personnel received numerous reports about “potential shots” fired at 12:15 p.m. into the base from outside the Valley Hi Gate, Joint Base San Antonio said in a statement. The lockdown was lifted at 3 p.m. that same day. JBSA said the reports had conflicting information. SAPD said details were “vague and sparse.”

Officials could not locate or contact the person who initially reported the gunshots, SAPD said in a report. People in nearby public areas, such as the Oyo Hotel and restaurants, were unaware of gunshots in the area, police said. After searching the area, “officers were unable to locate any indication that a shooting had occurred,” SAPD said in a statement Saturday. Officers could not find physical evidence of a shooting. No injuries were reported. The Joint Base San Antonio Crisis Action Team and emergency responders worked with SAPD, the Department of Public Safety and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to search for possible shooters and clear the area Wednesday. Meanwhile, as many as 20,000 trainees, military training instructors and civilians waited inside buildings until the lockdown was lifted. Students and teachers with Lackland ISD had been dismissed before the lockdown, according to Burnie Roper, the school district’s superintendent. Staff that were still at the district were in lockdown. JBSA closed its investigation of the incident Friday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 11, 2021

Bud Kennedy: ‘People need to see a good movie’: Behind Fort Worth’s love for `12 Mighty Orphans’

It’s Fort Worth’s little art-house film with big dreams. But the first thing you have to remember about “12 Mighty Orphans” is that it’s only a movie. If you start trying to nitpick the whens and wheres of Fort Worth in the 1930s, then you won’t enjoy a charming tale about how a fraternal lodge children’s home on the city’s east side fielded one of the dominant teams in segregation-era Texas high school football.

OK, so maybe the Masonic Home Mighty Mites’ decade-long stardom was compressed into one season, and maybe the timing is off about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role. Just enjoy a great story from the oil-boom era when Fort Worth ran the world, back when Star-Telegram Publisher Amon G. Carter could call up the president to talk about this little home for Texas Masons’ abandoned “orphans” and the underweight, under-equipped but tough-as-nails team. For America, the movie tells a classic underdog story about throwaway Depression-era kids and how they found hope, strength and love. For Fort Worth, the movie is also a chance to see the city’s digitally recreated 1930s skyline from then-new Farrington Field, and to relive the days when the old Fort Worth Press evening newspaper dominated sports reporting in a city and state fascinated with college and high school football. It was an era when the city produced celebrities like movie star Ginger Rogers and golf’s Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and when Broadway producer Billy Rose staged an outdoor musical at a festival celebrating Texas’ centennial, and when Carter went on every national broadcast and buttonholed every elected official to promote Fort Worth.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 11, 2021

Fort Worth residents warned not to share info on website seeking to ‘verify’ votes

County officials are advising Fort Worth residents to ignore a post card that asks them to verify their vote by entering personal information on a non-secure website. The postcard, sent to some Fort Worth residents, says “Find out if your vote counted in Fort Worth.” Inside, it says the recipient received the notice because records show they voted in the May 1 election. The card says it wants to make sure no irregular votes were added and that people’s votes counted. Four council seats, the mayor and a school board seat were decided in Saturday’s runoff. A web address is listed where people can “verify their vote.”

“Our goal is to identify any voting irregularities and help Fort Worth have the most fair elections in the country,” the pamphlet reads. The Department of Homeland Security said the 2020 general election was the most secure in history. Heider Garcia, the county’s elections administrator, said in a statement that the county has no knowledge of who is sending the pamphlets or why. “We have no control over any information entered on this site nor do we know what they might do with that information,” he said. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office is also urging that people not engage. A spokesperson said the office is unaware of the pamphlet being mailed out elsewhere in the state and is asking that people who get the pamphlet discard it, spokesperson Stephen Chang said in a statement. “As Tarrant County has stated — they did not send this postcard, and it is not an official mailing,” he said. “Texas has a secret ballot and anybody claiming to be able to tell a voter about their individual ballot is attempting to deceive voters. We encourage voters to be very cautious regarding such claims and that they guard their personal information from use by third parties making such claims.”

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Texas Observer - June 8, 2021

Texan adoptees argue that they should have a right to see their own birth certificates.

Shawna Hodgson, a mother of four who lives in Tomball, learned about her deep Texas roots the hard way: As an adoptee, she couldn’t just pay $22 and get a copy of her own birth certificate like other Texans. Instead, she had to spend more than 10 years and $15,000 on private searches, court and legal fees, and DNA tests. Finally, she connected with a distant cousin in 2014 after submitting a DNA sample to 23andMe, and then traced her birth mother and father, partly by texting that cousin and other complete strangers. Hodgson felt elated and proud when at age 40 she met both her birth parents—and tracked her roots back six generations.

But she knew that many other adoptees may never be able to trace their family tree. More than 50 years ago, Texas, and most other states, sealed off adoptee access to their birth records, except through special permission from a judge. Only two states never closed access to those records and over the years, eight others have reopened them. Hodgson is among those arguing that Texas should do the same. A bill to give adoptees access to their birth certificates in Texas made its way through the Texas House this legislative session but hit a logjam in the Senate—again. The upper chamber first blocked a similar measure in 2015. The legislation has now failed to pass despite attempts in four sessions, despite strong support in both chambers. Hodgson, who is the spokesperson for the Texas Adoptee Rights Coalition, argues that Texas is denying a basic civil right to more than 970,000 adoptees.

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CNN - June 12, 2021

Federal board unanimously approves to rename 16 Texas geographic sites that included the word 'Negro'

Sixteen Texas geographic locations with names like "Negro Creek" will no longer include the term "Negro" following a decision by a federal board. The US Board on Geographic Names unanimously approved a proposal on Thursday in its monthly meeting to rename the 16 geographical features in Texas that include the word "Negro." The board, which authorizes the official name changes, made the decision in response to a request from the Texas Legislature, said US Board on Geographic Names research staff, Jennifer Runyon, in an emailed statement to CNN.

"We believe this shows the continued significance of the BGN and the importance of being responsive to concerns about names that are considered offensive, while adhering to established principles, policies, and procedures," said Runyon. "The BGN adopts a careful and systematic approach to governing geographic names data and is more relevant and more challenging than ever during the era of the Internet and Geographic Information Systems. We take this responsibility very seriously and hope that everyone will honor the outcomes of the decision process." The US Board on Geographic Names is a federal body created in 1890 to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the federal government. The board includes representatives of federal agencies concerned with geographic information, population, ecology, and management of public lands. In 1991, Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who was a state senator at the time, co-sponsored a legislation to change the names of 19 geographical sites. Until this week, only three sites had been renamed, according to a statement from Ellis.

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Inside Higher Ed - June 11, 2021

With Texas Women's University formally becoming system, Texas gets 7th Public University System

As many college and university systems look to downsize and consolidate, Texas Woman’s University has plans to grow. The coed, public university based in Denton, Tex., is now officially a university system. A new Texas law established the Texas Woman’s University system as the seventh public university system in the state. The university’s three campuses in Denton, Dallas and Houston will become independent institutions under the new system. The Denton campus, which is the oldest and largest, will become the system’s flagship university. The new system bucks a trend, said Jason Lane, dean of the School of Education at the State University of New York at Albany. He noted that many state university systems -- including those in Alaska, Georgia and Pennsylvania -- have completed or are considering consolidations.

The system has many operational and managerial details to work out, said Carine Feyten, chancellor of the system and president of Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Two additional presidents will be hired to take the helm at the Dallas and Houston universities, and Feyten’s office will oversee the process, a university spokesperson said. Both institutions will also have to be independently accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which is the accreditor of Texas Woman’s University These processes could take four or five years, Feyten said. Little will change at all three campuses in the short term. Administrative offices including admissions, financial aid and student life already exist on each campus and will remain operational. She said the new law did not authorize any additional state funding for the new system, and the funding structures will not change right away. The new law is the first step toward creating three independent institutions under the system and bringing much-needed additional leadership to the Dallas and Houston campuses.

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Texas Monthly - June 9, 2021

Griddy argues it was, in fact, a champion of consumers

Not long before Valentine’s Day, Pat Wood III got a text message from Griddy Energy, his electric provider, warning that extremely cold weather was about to wreak havoc on the electricity market in Texas. “Prices are looking to stay at record rates over the next couple of days due to the polar vortex,” the notice read. “Unless you are a Griddy energy-saving expert, we recommend you immediately switch to another provider.” Wood followed the company’s advice, even though almost no Texan could be considered more of an “energy-saving expert.” The former chairman of the state’s Public Utility Commission, appointed by Governor George W. Bush in 1995, Wood helped set up Texas’s deregulated market. He later followed Bush to Washington and ran the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where he dealt with the California power crisis in 2001 and a blackout in the Northeast—one of the largest in U.S. history—two years later. Wood’s Houston home is built to maximize energy efficiency—solar panels on the roof, storage batteries in the garage, an electric vehicle that he charges at night when prices are cheaper, and a smart thermostat that receives electricity price updates in real time and adjusts the temperature accordingly.

In other words, he was the ideal Griddy customer. Griddy charged its 29,000 Texas customers about $10 a month to help them buy electricity wholesale. Most days that meant lower prices than other consumers could get, about 13 percent less per kilowatt-hour, on average. Griddy says that difference saved its customers $17 million between the company’s spring 2017 launch and last February. Those savings came with risks, however. Wholesale prices fluctuate constantly, so Griddy customers lacked certainty in their electricity costs from day to day, or even hour to hour. By contrast, those who have fixed-rate plans through most other electric retailers usually pay more, but they enjoy predictable bills. The price volatility built into Griddy’s business model left its residential customers financially vulnerable during the severe winter storm in mid-February. Power plants and natural-gas providers in Texas—who are not required to winterize their facilities, as are their counterparts in neighboring states that weathered the storm with little disruption—froze and tripped offline, cutting electricity to more than four million homes as temperatures stayed below freezing for days. The desperate need for heat statewide caused wholesale prices to spike. Some Griddy customers’ bills ran as high as $17,000 for that month. The company became a target for lawsuits, fodder for unflattering stories about Texas in the national media, and an easy scapegoat for public officials looking for someone to blame. Just weeks after the crisis, Griddy found itself sued by the state and forced into bankruptcy. In late May, the Legislature outlawed wholesale plans like Griddy’s altogether.

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KUT - June 13, 2021

Austin police can start ticketing people for panhandling and camping or sitting in public

The Austin Police Department will begin enforcing a city ban on camping in public that was reinstated by Austin voters last month. Proposition B, the citizen-led effort to reinstate the rules, officially went into effect May 11, but the city adopted a staggered approach to enforcing the ban, along with prohibitions on panhandling and sitting or lying down in public. APD said police have visited more than 40 encampments over the last month to tell people they’re violating the law. As of today, officers can issue warnings and fines of up to $500. Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon has said he wants officers to rely more heavily on verbal and written warnings over the next month. Starting July 11, APD said, officers will issue tickets to folks who’ve been given written warnings. Starting Aug. 8, they can arrest people who refuse to move. Chacon has said he wants arrests for violating the ordinances to be a “last resort.”

How does APD plan on enforcing this? APD's training bulletin defines a camp as a public place at which people are storing personal belongings "for an extended period of time" — whether it be in a tent or a shelter. Vehicles are not explicitly included in the ordinance, but APD's guidelines suggest officers can issue citations for people sleeping in cars, too. Officers are required to inform people of where they can legally camp or find shelter. Under the guidelines, lawful campsites include the Esperanza Community, a state-sanctioned encampment off 183 in Southeast Austin, as well as Austin's Emma Long Metropolitan Park and McKinney Falls State Park. The city is expected to provide additional options at a later date. Prop B reinstated the rules on sitting or lying down in public that were in place before July 2019. It's illegal to sit or lie down in stretches of downtown, West Campus and East Austin, though APD's guidelines say officers should focus enforcement efforts on areas "near busy roadways and areas that pose a higher risk of wildfire or flooding."

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City Stories

KDH News - June 11, 2021

Volunteers wash more than 2,000 pounds of lost clothing in CCISD

A small contingent of volunteers, including members of the Miss Five Hills Scholarship Pageant and their families, washed, dried, folded and sorted 2,430 pounds of clothing on June 3 at Wells Laundromat in Copperas Cove. The sixth annual Laundry Day was done in partnership with Communities in Schools of Greater Central Texas. Once a year, members of the Copperas Cove Five Hills Royalty gather clothes, shoes, jackets, sweaters and other items from the lost and found at all Copperas Cove ISD schools, a few Killeen ISD schools and Taylor Creek Elementary School, which is a part of the Lampasas School District.

After the clothes are washed, dried and sorted, CIS coordinators at every campus will look through the items to see what that particular campus is most in need of. They are able to look through the different boys and girls items and sort by size and choose the items that most needed for that schools clothing pantries. “I would like to start off by saying Communities In Schools of Greater Central Texas are appreciative and grateful to be partnered with CCISD, the Five Hills Royalty, and Wells Laundry,” said Russell Jenkins, the CIS site coordinator at Fairview-Miss Jewel Elementary School. “Without them and what they do, our jobs would be more difficult. I attend this event and pick up the coats, jackets, hats, and other clothing for a variety of reasons.” Kenny Wells, owner and founder of the laundromat, has donated many of his washers and dryers for a good cause, including the annual Laundry Day. “It’s a pleasure for Well’s Laundry to do this for the young ladies and men involved in this, because I believe that it is a character building opportunity for them and it provides coats and other clothing for those in need in our community,” Wells said. Jenkins said the Laundry Day helps him with an annual event he puts on in the fall.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 11, 2021

San Antonio-area home builders canceling contracts with buyers as construction costs soar

Deborah Longoria-Narro envisioned the one-story brick and stone house on a corner lot in the Cibolo Canyons neighborhood on San Antonio’s far North Side as her dream home. “I’m 69 and I wanted one nice, final house to live out my final years,” she said. “It’s a beautiful little lot. Most lots don’t have trees. This one happened to have about 10 oaks on it. So I was just completely obsessed with the house.” Longoria-Narro will never get to call the house on Colina Crest home. Builder Empire Communities abruptly terminated her purchase contract at the end of March. She and Empire have different takes on what triggered the cancellation.

In a letter to Longoria-Narro, Jarves Warren, Empire’s sale vice president, cited her “dissatisfaction with the construction process” and “harassing calls to other homebuyers in the community” as reasons why it terminated the contract. Longoria-Narro called Empire’s reasons a pretext for placing the house back on the market for a much higher price. She agreed to pay $343,600 for the house; Empire relisted it for $425,000, she alleged. When “Empire realized the property was more valuable, it kept Ms. Narro’s money and ousted her from her rights in the property,” according to a lawsuit filed against the builder last month. With home prices soaring due to the rising cost of building materials and the scarcity of labor and supplies, stories like Longoria-Narro’s are surfacing. Prospective home buyers are learning the purchase contracts they signed give home builders significant say when it comes to canceling the agreements or forcing buyers to pay more than the agreed price.

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National Stories

Washington Post - June 13, 2021

Trump’s shadow still looms over cloudy skies at G-7 summit

Addressing U.S. troops shortly after his arrival in England this past week, President Biden took pains to stress the importance of working with allied nations, emphasizing a partnership "grounded on democratic ideals and a shared vision of the future." He underscored his belief in the importance of Article 5, the NATO agreement that an attack on one nation is an attack on all, calling the U.S. commitment “rock solid” to the alliance’s “sacred obligation.” And he took a stern posture ahead of a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin — warning that he planned to “let him know what I want him to know.” Through it all, Biden never once mentioned the name of his predecessor, Donald Trump. Yet Trump’s shadow has loomed large over Biden’s first trip abroad as president — an eight-day swing through Cornwall, England; Brussels; and Geneva, where Biden is being welcomed as much for who he is not as for who he is.

The global specter of Trump has transformed itself from an active storm to a threatening cloud, creating an overseas atmosphere in which Biden was greeted with equal parts optimism and skepticism. One senior European official described his horror at the Jan. 6 assault by pro-Trump rioters on the U.S. Capitol — and said he had an even worse feeling reading opinion polls since then showing that a substantial portion of Republican voters believe Biden is an illegitimate president, a baseless claim perpetuated by Trump. “Your democracy is in serious trouble,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about an ally. Biden, by contrast, was greeted with delight by leaders at the Group of Seven gathering of the world’s wealthy market democracies, who are relieved that Trump’s tantrums will be replaced by Biden’s backslapping. Speaking from a beach in Cornwall, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called working with Biden a “breath of fresh air.”

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Washington Post - June 10, 2021

Michael Gerson: This is what Southern Baptist Convention leaders are dishonoring when they embrace bigotry

The departure of Russell Moore — the most definitively Baptist person I’ve ever known — from the Southern Baptist Convention means that Christian conscience is no longer welcome at the top of the United States’ largest Protestant denomination. Until recently, Moore was president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the policy arm of the SBC. Two leaked letters written by Moore outline the reasons for his outrage and his resignation — a catalogue of racism, misogyny and cruelty by members of the denomination’s executive committee that confirms every stereotype of evangelical hypocrisy and bigotry. Moore accuses SBC leaders of covering up cases of sexual abuse, of mocking Baptist women making claims of abuse, of trying to block the hiring of minorities, of making viciously racist comments, and of harassing and pressuring Moore to secure his silence.

One incident provides the flavor: When Moore proposed that White Christians join with Black protesters in opposing police violence, Moore was told by an SBC leader that “only those with guns would prevent Black people from burning down all of our cities.” We have Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This is the gospel according to the Proud Boys. Moore’s charges are serious and specific. The responses from the accused have been vague, smarmy and blustery. In a contest of credibility, there is no contest. Moore is a man of faith and conviction who spent years trying to defend a tradition he loves before feeling compelled to leave it. His opponents have betrayed the denomination and the Gospel they claim to serve. As Moore notes, this sort of thing has produced a lot of ex-Southern Baptists, as people have moved to other denominations or fallen out of faith entirely. But my main concern is not the attendance figures of a denomination. It is the role that Christians should be playing in our broader society, and the consequences when that is lost.

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The Hill - June 13, 2021

Rising crime rejuvenates gun control debate on campaign trail

The battle over gun control is emerging as a campaign issue heading into the midterms as gun violence rises in the U.S. The country has seen a wave of gun-related deaths as it reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive for NBC News, firearm deaths increased by 15 percent last month compared to the same period in 2019. Republicans have attributed the rise in violence to progressive efforts to reform and in some cases direct funds away from police departments. But Democrats say gun policies are at the heart of the issue.

“At the moment there’s so many examples of irresponsible gun ownership, people having easy access to guns. It sort of makes the case,” said University of New Haven criminal justice professor Michael Lawlor, who also served as a Democratic member of the Connecticut House of Representatives. Democrats point to polling that shows more Americans in favor of stricter gun control regulations. Eighty-four percent of voters, including 77 percent of Republicans, say they support gun buyers having to go through a background check, according to a March Morning Consult poll. “It’s very much become sort of a triple threat,” said Charlie Kelly, a senior political adviser to the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. “It mobilizes voters, it persuades, and it’s also increasingly becoming a litmus test issue where if a candidate is not supportive of gun safety measures, they’re basically disqualified as a choice for a voter.” The issue has already permeated the campaign trail ahead of the 2022 midterms. Randy Friese, a trauma surgeon and Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives, and Kina Collins, a community organizer and activist in Chicago, have both been affected personally by gun violence and have made the issue a central tenet of their campaigns.

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NPR - June 12, 2021

Biden's summit with Putin follows a harrowing history of U.S. meetings with Russia

President Biden's first meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin could be the most contentious between the leaders of the two countries since the Cold War ended three decades ago. Biden has an agenda of grievances, complaints and protests pertaining to Russian activities abroad and Putin's suppression of dissidents at home. Putin has shown no interest in altering his behavior and has his own lists of accusations about U.S. actions in Europe and the Middle East. So this meeting June 16 in Geneva, unlike Putin's meeting with President Trump in 2018, will recall the long and often tumultuous series of summits between the leaders of the two powers dating back to World War II and their decades of jockeying for dominance on the global stage.

The postwar world was born, in a real sense, in the first summit meetings between U.S. and Soviet leaders while World War II raged. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin met twice with President Franklin Roosevelt and then with his successor, Harry Truman, each time with the fate of entire continents very much in the balance. Roosevelt met Stalin in 1943 and early in 1945, both times in the presence of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In the 1943 meeting, held in Tehran, Stalin promised not to make a separate peace with Germany, and the Anglo-American leaders promised to open a second front in France within a year. In February 1945, with Germany nearing defeat, the Big 3 met at Yalta, the Soviet Black Sea resort. Here, Stalin promised to enter the war against Japan after Germany had surrendered, but did not make any commitments regarding the European territory his Red Army was taking from the retreating Nazis. At that point, Roosevelt had only weeks to live.

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CNN - June 12, 2021

New book suggests Birx wanted Trump to lose presidential election

A new book written by one of President Joe Biden's top coronavirus advisers suggests Dr. Deborah Birx hoped former President Donald Trump would lose the 2020 presidential election. In "Preventable," his new book detailing the federal government's failures on mitigating the pandemic, Andy Slavitt writes that he met with Birx last August in Minnesota after she briefed local officials. Once a close adviser to Trump, she had been cast out of his inner circle by that time and replaced by Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no epidemiological experience whom Trump hired after watching him on Fox News. Sidelined from her once prominent role, Birx spent her days traveling the country and providing detailed data to government officials. It was one of those briefings in Minnesota that she invited Slavitt to attend.

"I wanted to get a sense for whether, in the event of a strained transition of government, she would help give Biden and his team the best chance to be effective," Slavitt writes in his new book, even though the outcome of the election was not yet known. "At one point, after a brief pause, she looked me in the eye and said, 'I hope the election turns out a certain way,'" Slavitt writes. "I had the most important information I needed." CNN has reached out to Birx for comment. For the last six months, Slavitt has served as Biden's senior adviser on the Covid-19 response. That public-facing position included regular television appearances and weekly briefings with reporters. Slavitt stepped down from that role on Thursday, citing a 130-day limit on special government employees. His new book, a copy of which was obtained by CNN, comes out Tuesday. Before serving in the Biden administration, Slavitt played a quieter role in the pandemic response as he watched Trump downplay it from the outside. Slavitt advised several officials while Trump was in office, including in phone conversations with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, where he urged them to take it more seriously and place greater emphasis on testing.

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NBC News - June 13, 2021

At least six people shot, three killed in Cleveland

Three people were killed and at least six people were shot in an early morning shooting Saturday in Cleveland, police said. No other details were released, but it was one of multiple mass shootings to occur Friday and Saturday around the country. At least 14 people were injured early Saturday in a shooting in Austin, Texas, where two people were in critical condition, said interim police Chief Joseph Chacon. Most of the victims appeared to be innocent bystanders. "This is one of the most significant incidents that we've ever had happen in our city," Chacon said. One of two suspects was arrested Saturday evening, and investigators believe the shooting stemmed from a dispute between the two, Chacon said.

In Dallas, four adults and a 4-year-old were shot Friday and sustained injuries that were not life-threatening. Police had not determined what caused the shooting nor publicly identified any suspects. In Savannah, Georgia, one person was dead and eight others, including two children, were injured Friday night. A 2-year-old was struck in the foot, and a 13-year-old was wounded, police said. The person who was killed was an adult, and other victims were seriously or critically injured, police said. In Chicago, a woman was killed and at least nine others were wounded when two men opened fire on a group of people standing on a sidewalk on the South Side early Saturday morning, NBC Chicago reported. A 29-year-old woman struck in the leg and abdomen was pronounced dead at a hospital. Victims ranged from 23- to 46-years-old and were in fair condition, police said.

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Politico - June 11, 2021

Barr distances himself from Trump-era subpoenas of Democratic lawmakers

Former Attorney General William Barr on Friday distanced himself from reports that the Trump Justice Department seized communications records belonging to two prominent Democratic lawmakers who were spearheading investigations into then-President Donald Trump. In a phone interview, Barr said he didn’t recall getting briefed on the moves. Barr’s comments came after The New York Times reported that in 2017 and 2018, the Justice Department secretly seized the records of at least 12 people connected to the House Intelligence Committee, including its current chair. Barr became attorney general in 2019.

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog announced Friday it would open a review of the records seizures, and Democratic leaders are standing up their own probes. According to the Times, the leak investigation swept up the metadata of the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who has since become its chair, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, another prominent Trump critic who sits on the panel. Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president's push to unmask leakers of classified information. Trump "was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases,” Barr said. “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”

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Newsclips - June 11, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2021

Texas Republicans say lowering the bar for overturning elections is bad policy. So why did they try?

In a sweeping overhaul of Texas elections law that Republicans rushed toward approval in the waning hours of the legislative session, one provision stood out to critics as particularly alarming. The hastily-added clause would have made it easy for a judge to overturn an election, even if there were only thin evidence of fraud. With former President Donald Trump’s historic efforts to nullify his November loss still fresh in their minds, Democrats singled out the measure as irresponsible. “Just think about that — your election, YOUR election could be overturned without the other side being required to prove actual voter fraud,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrolton, in an impassioned speech on the floor of the Texas House. “The implications of this are unthinkable. To make matters worse, the provision was not in either the Senate or the House version of the bill.” The bill never passed, dying at midnight on May 31 after the Democrats blocked a vote on it by walking out. Yet policy debates have given way to an even more basic question: Who added the “Overturning Elections” section to it?

One of the members of the conference committee that crafted the final version of the bill, state Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nagodoches, says he doesn’t know. Other top Republicans who worked on the final draft of the legislation say they don’t know either. What’s more, Clardy now denounces the measures related to overturning elections and says Republicans don’t plan to revive them in a future bill. “There was zero appetite or intent or willingness to create some low bar where a single judge can overturn the results of an election,” Clardy said in an interview with Hearst Newspapers. “That would be horrendous policy, and it would never be healthy for the democracy.” Democratic members say there is no way those provisions were inserted by mistake. They say they raised concerns about them with Republicans when there was time to spare for the bill to be revised. The sections would have lowered the standard of proof to overturn an election from “clear and convincing” evidence to a “preponderance of the evidence.” And they gave judges the ability to void elections even if it couldn’t be demonstrated that fraudulent ballots made a difference in the outcome. If the bill had passed, Texas would have been one of few states to have lowered the bar so much, opening the door to a flood of potential election challenges, election law experts said.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2021

Gov. Abbott pledges to finish Trump's border wall and use state troopers to arrest migrants

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday said Texas state troopers will now begin arresting migrants crossing the southern border — a move that immigration experts say is legally dubious — and that the state will also pick up where former President Donald Trump left off building the border wall. “Long term, only Congress and the president can fix our broken border. But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our communities safe,” Abbott said at an event billed as a border security summit in Del Rio. “We are going to do everything we can to secure the border and it begins immediately.” With the announcement, Abbott positioned himself squarely at the center of an ongoing political battle between Republicans and President Joe Biden over a months-long increase in migrant crossings at the southern border.

Even as the number of border patrol encounters begins to plateau — with the numbers of those with unaccompanied children and families dropping for two straight months — apprehensions at the border remained at a record high in May, according to data released this week. While President Joe Biden has left in place a public health order issued by President Donald Trump to turn away most migrants caught crossing the border, his administration has made exceptions for unaccompanied minors and has increasingly allowed families in as well. The president says he inherited a mess of an immigration system from Trump. Republicans, however, say the surge has been fueled by Biden’s moves away from some of Trump’s stricter immigration policies and statements Biden made during the presidential campaign, when he promised a more lenient approach. Border patrol encounters with migrants seeking asylum began rising during the Trump administration last spring, but peaked this spring.

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Washington Post - June 11, 2021

Ten Senate Democrats and Republicans say they reached five-year, nearly $1 trillion infrastructure deal

A bipartisan group of 10 Senate Democrats and Republicans reached a new deal on infrastructure on Thursday, agreeing to a nearly $1 trillion, five-year package to improve the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and Internet connections. The new blueprint, described by four people familiar with the plan, marks a fresh attempt to resurrect negotiations between congressional lawmakers and the White House after an earlier round of talks between President Biden and the GOP fell apart this week. But it remains unclear if the early accord will prove to be enough to satisfy either the White House or a sufficient number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill at a time when disagreements between the parties are rife. The new deal is the product of five Democrats and five Republicans — Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.).

Their early agreement calls for about $974 billion in infrastructure spending over five years, which comes to about $1.2 trillion when extrapolated over eight years, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details had not yet been released formally. The package includes roughly $579 billion in new spending. Democrats and Republicans agreed to focus their investments on what they see as core infrastructure, and their plan does not include any new tax increases to finance the spending, the four people familiar with the plan said. But it does appear to wade into politically fraught territory by proposing changes to the gas tax: Lawmakers do not plan to raise the rate, but they do seek to index it to inflation, according to one of the sources, meaning consumers’ costs at the pump could rise. The overall package is larger than the plan that GOP lawmakers, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), presented to the White House in recent days — a proposal that Biden ultimately rejected as insufficient. Capito and her colleagues had put forward more than $300 billion in new spending over eight years, with the rest set to come from regular legislative efforts to fund federal programs in areas like transportation and water.

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Dallas Morning News - June 11, 2021

Cryptocurrency wins votes of confidence from Gov. Abbott, Texas Department of Banking

Digital currencies skyrocketed during the pandemic and Texas doesn’t want to be left out of a future boom in the industry. The Texas Department of Banking sent out an industry notice Thursday to let state-chartered banks know that they have the authority to provide custody, or safekeeping, services for virtual currencies. As of the end of February, there were 216 Texas state-chartered banks regulated by the Department of Banking. “Texas is seeing the rise in the virtual currency industry and trying to get out ahead of it and ensure our regulated banks are prepared to remain competitive,” said Marcus Adams, the state banking department’s assistant general counsel.

This isn’t a new law, but rather the state determining that existing law allows this. If a customer holds their own Bitcoin or other virtual currency, that means they have private keys in a wallet to access their currency. But in Texas, they can turn that responsibility over to a third-party bank. The bank can either store a copy of the key as it does important documents or the customer can fully transfer the digital currency to the bank. Just because banks can take on this new role, doesn’t mean they all will. Adams said banks need to assess if they have the proper risk management to do so. The clarification of the interpretation of Texas law comes shortly before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to hold a signing ceremony in the next two weeks for the “Virtual Currency Bill,” recognizing the legal status of virtual currencies. Texas will be the second state after Wyoming to recognize blockchain and cryptocurrency in its Uniform Commercial Code, which governs commercial transactions. “Blockchain is a booming industry that Texas needs to be involved in. I just signed a law for Texas to create a master plan for expanding the blockchain industry in Texas,” Abbott tweeted out last week.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 10, 2021

Dallas expected to be among first major districts to ban school suspensions as part of work to tackle racial disparities

Kicking students out of school will no longer be a go-to option for Dallas educators if trustees approve a proposal aimed at cutting down on practices that have disproportionately impacted Black students. Trustees were briefed on a new student code of conduct Thursday that removes suspensions -- both in-school and out-of-school -- as a potential repercussion for most offenses. Only severe misconduct -- such as possessing drugs or making a terroristic threat -- may still require a student to be expelled or removed from campus.

Educators will rely on a menu of other consequences for discipline that include sending students to new Reset Centers -- classrooms in more than 50 comprehensive middle and high schools meant to separate students from their normal environment while not disrupting their academic progress. They differ from in-school suspension in that students will have to complete classwork remotely while working to address behavioral issues. “It’s a moral imperative -- as educators and as human beings -- when we look at our [discipline] data … that we do something different for kids and for schools,” said Vince Reyes, DISD’s assistant superintendent for school leadership. Trustees are expected to approve the discipline overhaul at a June 24 meeting for the changes to be implemented next school year.

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Dallas Morning News - June 9, 2021

Murphy says Cornyn wouldn’t budge enough on clarifying which gun sales require a background check

Sen. Chris Murphy said Thursday that talks aimed at closing loopholes in the gun buyer background check system failed because Texas Sen. John Cornyn wouldn’t budge enough on sharpening the definition of commercial gun seller. Cornyn and Murphy, D-Conn., declared Wednesday they had hit an impasse and had abandoned talks that began about two months ago. “The good news is, John Cornyn is not the only Republican senator interested in talking,” Murphy told reporters at the Senate, emphasizing that while “Cornyn negotiated in good faith… where we ended up just was not better than current law.”

Murphy has been pushing for tougher gun restrictions since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn. Cornyn is a former member of the Senate Republican leadership, and an NRA-backed gun rights advocate. He authored a law that improves data collection for the system used to prevent criminals and people with a history of domestic violence or serious mental illness from buying a gun illegally. “He was always an important partner because getting John’s buy-in, we thought, was a way to get to 60” votes needed to overcome a filibuster, Murphy said, conceding that without Cornyn on board, that task will be much harder. “If you brought a commercial background checks bill to the floor, it would have Republican votes. I just don’t know that it would have 10,” Murphy said. “So, we’re talking now with a handful of people including Lindsey Graham and Pat Toomey. Don’t know if we’ll get to the finish line but it’s good to have multiple potential partners.”

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Dallas Morning News - June 10, 2021

Dave Lieber: Businessman who dreams of buying Dallas Cowboys says he proved his critics wrong on contact tracing

Who is this guy who claims with a straight face that he wants to – get this – buy the Dallas Cowboys? Das Nobel turned heads his way when the state awarded him a $295 million contract last year to run the Texas contact tracing program for coronavirus victims. Even though it’s federal money, that’s a lot of money to go to someone nobody’s heard of. Several readers contacted The Watchdog with questions about this. One wrote, “Not really sure what the money is being used for.” “I haven’t seen or heard anything about the progress of the project and results of the investment,” another wrote. “Could you look into this and report the findings to readers?” The Watchdog is happy to.

At first, it was a true underdog story. Nobel, who came to America from Bangladesh as a teen 25 years ago, beat out some of the best-known global brands to win the contract. MTX Group, his little-known company headquartered in Frisco, knocked out giants like IBM, AT&T and Accenture to win an emergency contract. His job? Build in less than a week’s time a call center dedicated to contact tracing in Texas. When MTX won, legitimate questions were raised by competitors, reporters and politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats in the legislature. A group of Republicans even sued to stop the contract, which did not have legislative approval. Why did the Texas Department of State Health Services skip the public posting process and invite 11 companies to bid? Why were companies only given 48 hours to prepare a proposal? And why was the bid awarded only five days later? Answer: The state was in a big hurry to organize a statewide tracing system in the midst of the pandemic. Why pick a company that had little experience in contact tracing? Answer: What company did have experience doing that a year ago? Nobel promised a quick setup, which happened, but in the early weeks the program did not run smoothly. Why did Nobel’s LinkedIn profile state he had a doctorate when he hasn’t finished his dissertation? Answer: An embarrassing error fixed after it was pointed out.

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Dallas Morning News - June 10, 2021

Texas school districts roll back options after lawmakers fail to extend life of virtual learning

Nearly 1,000 students told Frisco ISD administrators that they wanted to continue with online learning next school year, but now that’s not going to happen. On Tuesday, Frisco Superintendent Mike Waldrip announced that the district had to cancel plans to open a virtual school this fall because funding to continue the option wasn’t clear. Numerous other districts, including Round Rock and Hays, also have scrapped plans. “With no signs that the Texas Education Agency will act soon to grant districts a waiver, Frisco ISD has no choice but to discontinue planning for this option in the coming school year,” Waldrip said in his letter to families.

The future of online education is in flux after Texas lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have funded schools that chose to offer remote instruction next year, leaving families who planned to enroll their students scrambling to make alternate arrangements. The legislation became a late-in-the-session casualty of a House Democrats-led walkout aimed at killing a controversial election bill. While in-person learning works better for the vast majority of students, some thrive in online classrooms. Many families also wanted to continue remote learning as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Current law only gives full state funding to a handful of full-time virtual schools that were in existence before 2013, though those regulations were waived at the start of the pandemic. Texas schools are funded largely based on in-person attendance.

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Dallas Morning News - June 10, 2021

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he will seek a third term in 2022

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it official Thursday: the Republican is seeking a third term leading the state Senate. In an announcement video, Patrick touted his conservative bona fides and promised to “crush” the Democrats in 2022. “The Democrats are bragging again they are going to turn Texas blue, well I am not about to let that happen,” said Patrick, 71. Former President Donald Trump has already endorsed Patrick, a stamp of approval that carries weight with the state’s most conservative voters who typically vote in GOP primaries. No high-profile Republicans have jumped into the race to challenge Patrick, but at least one aired grievances with his leadership this week.

“I do not support Dan Patrick for reelection — I think he needs to go, I think we need somebody else in there, somebody who’s actually committed to being a productive member,” Rep. Cody Vasut, R-Angleton, said during a recent business luncheon, according to The Brazosport Facts. Ever since an eleventh-hour walkout by House Democrats killed the GOP’s divisive elections bill, Republican leaders have sparred about who’s to blame. While Patrick pointed the finger at House Speaker Dade Phelan, who he accused of slow-walking legislation, House members said the blame rests with the Senate for making last-minute changes that triggered delays. Gov. Greg Abbott has promised to call a special session to reconsider the bill, though he has not yet said when. Patrick oversaw a chamber this session that passed most of his 31 priorities, many of which focused on divisive social issues popular with the conservative base, like limiting abortion and expanding gun rights, but also included addressing the electric grid. Democrats were largely sidelined, after a rule change Patrick championed that effectively limited their say in which bills reached the floor.

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Houston Chronicle - June 10, 2021

1836 Project promoting 'patriotic education' in Texas heightens concerns about whitewashing history

Since The New York Times’ 1619 Project was published two years ago, Republicans across the nation have rallied against it — rejecting the project’s central ideas that slavery was far more integral to the country’s founding than commonly acknowledged, and that its remnants have a lasting impact on society. Now, Texas lawmakers have countered with a new effort to promote “patriotic education” — the 1836 Project, named for the year Texas declared independence from Mexico. As Gov. Greg Abbott signed the project into law this week, he declared that “we must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place.” The measure, House Bill 2497, earned bipartisan support this session, passing the House by a vote of 124 to 19, and 22 to 9 in the Senate. It establishes a panel of nine political appointees tasked with educating about Texas history, whose work will mostly be found in informational pamphlets given to Texans receiving driver’s licenses.

The committee will “promote awareness” of Texas’ past as it relates to “the history of prosperity and democratic freedom in this state,” according to the bill. But critics fear that goal — encouraging patriotism and highlighting the state’s successes — will leave out key parts of Texas’ history, including much of its history of racism. Those concerns are heightened by another education bill on Abbott’s desk that would significantly minimize lessons about systemic racism in Texas public schools. “‘Patriotic education’ isn’t education; it’s propaganda,” tweeted Kevin M. Kruse, a history professor at Princeton University. “And it’s honestly not that patriotic to raise the next generation on whitewashed, simpleminded half-truths just because it makes you feel good.” Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound and the author of the bill, said the project aims to teach about all parts of Texas’ past, good and bad, and accused liberals of trying to “divide” the country by only focusing on negative aspects of American history. “This is about bringing us together as Texans,” Parker said on a conservative radio show Wednesday morning. “This is about all of the things that bind us together and celebrating those. Yes, we have terrible things in our history. We’ve had wonderful things in our history. But we can’t pick and choose — we can’t go and cancel some part of our history or revise this or that. All of our history needs to be taught.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 10, 2021

Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife game warden's shooting of alligator sparks backlash in Fulshear

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife is under fire from the Fulshear community after a game warden shot an alligator that had wandered into a residential area. On June 4, a Fulshear resident reported that an alligator had wandered into their garage in the Fulshear Run subdivision. Both the Fulshear Police Department and the TDPW responded to the call. After the game warden removed the alligator, residents said, he moved the animal to a grassy area and shot it. While the Fulshear Police Department has an unofficial policy of catching and releasing alligators without harming the animal, many residents were angered that the game warden’s office took over the scene and killed the animal.

Part of the interaction was caught on film by a neighbor. The video shows the alligator being removed from the garage with a catch pole around its mouth. The alligator thrashes at first, but then calms down, eventually allowing the officer to lead it to the grass. The video cuts out at that point, but witnesses state that the officer ordered residents to return to their homes, and then he shot the animal. According to Fulshear Police Department Chief Kenny Seymour, the alligator was a six-foot long juvenile. On Monday, Capt. Brandi Reeder of the TDPW stated that her office would be reviewing body camera footage from the officer. The TDPW has yet to issue an official statement or the results of the footage. Jennifer Weaver of the TDPW noted that while she had not seen the videos, her office trusts its officers implicitly when making decisions about whether or not to kill an animal. “If (the officer) shot the animal, it’s because that’s what had to be done,” she said. “We’re not going to let an alligator kill a person just to spare the alligator’s life. We’ll always choose to protect human lives.”

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Houston Chronicle - June 10, 2021

After Abbott lifted Texas' mask mandate, COVID has waned - but the flu hasn't

Houston has seen a “rapid” increase in respiratory illnesses since Gov. Greg Abbott ended Texas’ mask mandate nearly three months ago, according to new research from Houston Methodist Hospital epidemiologists. In a study published last week, Methodist researchers documented “a marked increase” in cases of rhinovirus/enterovirus, an upper respiratory infection, in the weeks after mask mandates were lifted in Texas. The report found similar upticks of influenza cases over the same period. Influenza, the paper’s authors said, typically peaks during winter months before dropping to low levels in the summer. Houston hospitals had reported record-low levels of influenza earlier this year, which doctors have credited to safety precautions, such as mask wearing and hand-washing.

In April, the Chronicle reported just three patients had tested positive for influenza during the 2020-2021 flu season, compared to 983 patients during the 2019-2020 flu season. Doctors test for both flu and COVID-19 as a precaution. The number of respiratory illnesses has been on the rise for the last three months. Dr. Wesley Long, a Methodist epidemiologist who co-authored the study, said the increase is likely because people have been re-exposed to pathogens they may have been able to avoid throughout the pandemic. “Now, as people take off their masks, we start to see these other colds in place,” Long said. “Other normal pathogens are now circulating that are non-COVID.” Abbott announced the end of the state’s mask mandate on March 3.

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Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2021

10 Texas Democrats to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday

Ten Texas Democratic lawmakers will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington on Wednesday after they staged a walkout that killed Republican-proposed voting restrictions. The Democrats who will be in attendance are: Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, Chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, Chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, Chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, Rep. Gina Hinajosa, D-Austin, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

Martinez Fischer said in a statement Thursday that Democrats are looking to the White House to put pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that would override restrictions already passed and being proposed in Republican-led states. “We are deeply appreciative that Vice President Harris understands what is at stake and is leading the way to protect our democracy,” he said. “We are honored to stand with her, Congressional Democrats, and the entire Biden Administration.” The For the People Act appeared dead on Sunday when the lone Democratic holdout, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, said in an op-ed in The Charleston Gazette-Mail that he would not vote for it, nor for getting rid of the filibuster to push it through. “Some in my party have argued that now is the time to discard such bipartisan voting reforms and embrace election reforms and policies solely supported by one party,” he wrote. “Respectfully, I do not agree.” The 818-page bill still could be broken up and passed in pieces.

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Houston Chronicle - June 10, 2021

HISD board approves bigger-than-expected pay raise for teachers

Houston Independent School District teachers will see raises averaging about $3,500 next year after the district’s board Thursday tacked on bigger pay hikes to the 2021-22 budget. The unanimous vote by trustees came amid concerns that HISD’s teacher pay continues to lag behind neighboring districts, which generally pay about $1,000 to $5,000 more. HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan proposed a more modest pay hike, citing significant financial uncertainty looming over the district, but board members overruled her recommendation while approving their $2 billion budget.

Under the approved plan, HISD teachers, counselors, nurses and other employees on the same salary schedule will get a $2,500 raise and an extra pay hike tied to their experience level, known as a “step” raise. The step increases range from $50 to $2,365, with an average of nearly $1,000. In all, most teachers will see a pay bump of roughly 5 percent. “I am glad that we are making this (change) today, to make sure everybody knows the priority for HISD is our students, which are directly impacted by our teachers,” Trustee Dani Hernandez said. The final total represented a compromise between Lathan’s proposal, which called only for a step increase, and a pitch made by Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who pushed for adding a $5,000 raise. Board members also voted Thursday to mandate that incoming Superintendent Millard House II, who is expected to take the reins early next month, propose a potentially larger teacher pay raise in August once the district’s financial picture becomes clearer.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 10, 2021

Outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price announces bid for Tarrant County judge seat

After much speculation, outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, a Republican, announced Thursday she will run for Tarrant County judge. Her announcement comes days after County Judge Glen Whitley announced he would not seek reelection in 2022. Whitley has been in the seat since 2007 and on the Commissioners Court since 1997. “With the news of Glen’s retirement, I announce my intent to run for Tarrant County Judge. Not only do I have the fire and passion to continue serving the good people of our county, but my decades of business and public servant experience — both as Tarrant County Tax Assessor and Mayor of Fort Worth — make me an ideal and qualified candidate for this position critical to both our present and future,” Price said in a statement.

She would be the county’s first woman judge. Price described herself as a “strong, conservative and compassionate leader” who brings people together to get things done. In the coming months, the former mayor will work with elected leaders and county business owners to find innovative solutions that protect taxpayers, make neighborhoods safe and grow our economy with quality jobs, she said in a statement. She will make a “more formal and official announcement in the coming months” to kick her campaign off. Price served as Fort Worth’s mayor since 2011, and was the Tarrant County tax assessor for 10 years before running for mayor. Her former chief of staff, Mattie Parker, won the runoff to replace Price on Saturday, defeating Deborah Peoples, outgoing chair of the county Democratic Party.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 10, 2021

Arlington businessman gets 40 years for bilking investors in digital marketing scheme

An Arlington businessman has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for engaging in a fraudulent digital marketing investment scheme that bilked investors, many of them elderly residents, out of millions of dollars. Richard Gregory Tilford was sentenced Wednesday in Collin County. Tilford also got 10 years on each of six counts of selling unregistered securities and 10 years on each of six counts of acting as a registered dealer. The sentences will be served concurrently.

A former McKinney pastor and a local radio personality also have been sentenced to prison in the case. The scheme revolved around StaMedia, according to officials with the Texas State Securities Board. StaMedia was an internet advertising company and investors were told that the company was backed by a digital media patent valued at $85 million. Investors were promised a guaranteed 9 percent return on their investments, but StaMedia never generated any revenue and investor funds were used to pay for defendants’ personal expenses, the state board said in a news release. Tilford was indicted on charges in Collin County in 2018. Co-defendant Bobby Guess was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the scheme. Guess, of Frisco, was an investment advisor and local radio personality and wrote, “Robbed with a Pen Again,” a book that purported to advise investors to help protect assets from fraud.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 10, 2021

Amtrak execs push to get Wichita back on track with proposed route from Newton to OKC to FW

The top two executives of Amtrak committed their support Tuesday to creating a new rail route that would link Newton and Wichita to Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, opening a variety of possible connections to Chicago and the east and west coasts. The proposal announced by Amtrak President Stephen Gardner and CEO Bill Flynn would close a longstanding gap by extending the Heartland Flyer route from its current northern terminus at Oklahoma City through Ponca City, Wichita and Newton. It would also increase the frequency of train service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

“We have great partners already with Oklahoma and Texas to support this service and we look forward to welcoming a new partner with Kansas, extending the service north from Oklahoma City, through Wichita up to Newton,” he said. Additionally, “Our vision for the Heartland Flyer adds more trains between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City and then would take what today is one initial daily round trip and make that three daily round trips,” he said. The new service from Newton to Oklahoma City would be forecast to have a trip time of three hours and 20 minutes, about an hour more than it would take to drive the route, Amtrak estimates. Currently, Amtrak contracts with a bus company to provide service between the two cities. Oklahoma City to Fort Worth would take just under four hours “which is equivalent to the trip time you see today traveling in the peak by car between these locations,” Gardner said. He projects “an annual economic impact of more than $64 million and additional $1.9 billion in economic activity that would come from the capital investments needed to make this expansion of service possible.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 10, 2021

In ‘historic’ decision, Texas commission votes down plans for Mansfield concrete plant

Three years of neighborhood opposition to a concrete batch plant just outside of Mansfield culminated with a historic decision on Wednesday, as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted 2-1 to reject an air quality permit application filed by Bosque Solutions. The outcome could not have been more surprising to the Tarrant County residents who have spent more than $130,000 in legal fees to challenge the permit in court and before the commission, said Jan Hurlbut, who lives less than a mile from the plant’s proposed site at 7327 Gibson Cemetery Road. “We thought for sure they were going to go ahead and approve it, and that’s what they had indicated they were going to do previously,” she said. “I do believe that in the last month, they heard public pressure, and they heard it loud and strong. All the efforts that we made led to this moment.”

She and her husband, Roger, have spent years fundraising and organizing legal counsel for nine neighbors who live within 440 yards of the site and qualified for a contested case hearing, which is similar to a civil trial in district court. Residents living in the rural area near Mansfield told the Star-Telegram they are concerned that air pollution from the plant could cause health problems and exacerbate their pre-existing conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to their attorney, Adam Friedman, the group was the first in TCEQ history to win a challenge to a concrete batch plant after Judge Joanne Summerhays ruled that the agency should deny the permit last November. Now that two governor-appointed commissioners have voted in favor of accepting the judge’s ruling, the case could have far-reaching consequences for communities across Texas opposing the arrival of industrial facilities near their homes.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 10, 2021

As CPS Energy names interim general counsel, it says outside lawyer tab to hit $10 million this year

Days after CPS Energy’s top attorney and two of her deputies resigned, the utility on Thursday named an interim general counsel — and disclosed that it expects to spend about $10 million this year on outside attorneys. The private-sector lawyers are representing CPS in lawsuits against 17 natural gas companies and the Texas power grid operator for high-dollar bills stemming from Winter Storm Uri in February. The massive legal battle — which CPS Energy’s chief executive on Thursday dubbed “monumental” — is an effort to sidestep about $1 billion in debt stemming from the historic deep freeze. At least in the interim, the campaign will be led from the CPS side by Shanna Ramirez, formerly a vice president at the utility, who was promoted to general counsel.

She was elevated after former General Counsel Carolyn Shellman abruptly left her post last week after working at CPS since 2006. Former Deputy General Counsels Abigail Ottmers and Zandra Pulis left the utility along with Shellman. “I have a great deal of respect for the attorneys that are leaving, and for the attorneys that have stayed,” Ramirez said Thursday. “We’re continuing what we started, and that’s to protect the interests of our customers and our community.” It’s not clear why the attorneys resigned, and CPS officials have sought to downplay the trio’s exit. “It’s not the first time that people have exited an organization,” said Paula Gold-Williams, CPS chief executive. “Every single role in the executive ranks, we plan for succession all the time. Sometimes the velocity of it is extreme, like in this case. Sometimes you have more time.” After a special board meeting Tuesday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg pointed out that third-party law firms CPS hired — rather than in-house lawyers — are handling most of the litigation against natural gas suppliers and ERCOT.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 9, 2021

Elaine Ayala: In the matter of flag waving, worry about those of the Confederacy and Nazi Germany

When Ashley Saucedo of Southwest Legacy High School in Texas and Ever Lopez of Asheboro High School in North Carolina draped Mexican flags over themselves at their high school graduations, they weren’t dishonoring the U.S. flag and all for which it stands. Deported U.S. military veterans similarly aren’t dishonoring their country of birth when they’ve unfurled U.S. flags to show they feel betrayed and want to come home to their families. When the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures flies the Mexican flag alongside the five others that once flew over Texas, they’re not insulting Old Glory. They’re simply telling the story of Texas.

Texans have had a hard time recognizing those stories. They’ve been reticent to see that its land once belonged to Native Americans and later Mexico, and that half of that became the Southwestern United States. Some Texans have failed to recognize that this country committed atrocities to get where we are, sins that included Native American genocide, African slavery, Japanese internment and state-sanctioned violence against Mexicans and Mexican Americans. So when people gather for Cinco de Mayo or Dieciséis de Septiembre and use the Mexican flag or its three colors as the theme, they’re not saying they salute that flag over their own. Showing such pride in their heritage, especially in honor of parents, grandparents and more distant ancestors, isn’t a display against the country in which they live and pledge allegiance. Those who see it that way have twisted the circumstances and intentions, sometimes intentionally. They’re insulted where no insult was meant. They feel threatened. Plenty of other flags and symbols should be held in contempt, and those who are criticizing these graduates need to hear that. They are criticizing these students for showing their appreciation for their parents’ sacrifices and for taking pride in how far they have come.

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San Antonio Express-News - June 10, 2021

'Time to pass it on' - Patti Radle to step down as president of San Antonio ISD board

Patti Radle, for decades a leading figure in the city’s educational, political and nonprofit worlds, is stepping down as board president of the San Antonio Independent School District. Radle, 73, a former SAISD elementary school teacher, has represented District 5 on the school board since 2011. She was voted president in 2015, the year Superintendent Pedro Martinez was hired. Radle isn’t leaving the board; her term as a trustee runs until 2023. But she said she will not seek reelection as president when the trustees select officers on June 21. Radle made the announcement at Monday’s board meeting and recommended District 6 Trustee Christina Martinez as her replacement.

As board president, Radle helped lead the district through a period of dramatic change marked by improved state accountability scores, higher graduation rates, a record-setting bond issue and the struggle to educate students safely and effectively during the coronavirus pandemic. She said now feels like the right time to step down and facilitate a smooth transition to new leadership. “I have other things that I’ve had to not totally put aside, but they're not getting the attention I wish they would,” Radle said. “I’ve been doing it for six years, and I am really happy to have been able to work with (Martinez) for six years, to be a good supporter and really work with him. But I think it is time to pass it on.” Martinez said Radle’s leadership has been instrumental in bringing about positive change at the district. He described her as a dedicated and revered advocate for children and families. “If you don’t know her — and there’s not a lot of people that don’t know her — she brings a level of respect and credibility,” he said. “She has been a champion for our district; she has been a champion for all the causes that we have taken up.”

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Spectrum News - June 8, 2021

Texas Republicans celebrate mayoral win in McAllen

Texas Republicans are celebrating after picking up mayoral seats in counties that went for President Biden in 2020. While these local elections are officially nonpartisan, the political reactions to the races were far from it. The Republic Party was particularly proud of the performance in McAllen, especially after Democrats’ disappointing results in the November election. ?City commissioner Javier Villalobos edged out his colleague Veronica Whitacre in the June runoff election by just over 200 voters. Perhaps what is most surprising for the McAllen mayor-elect is how much his win captured the attention of state and national Republicans. Villalobos is a former Hidalgo County GOP chair.

“It was a nonpartisan race. I had good support by conservative individuals, but I also have very good support from Democrats, from some libertarian friends and independents," Villalobos told Capital Tonight. Among the Republicans who championed Villalobos' victory was Gov. Greg Abbott. In a statement, the governor called Villalobos a "proven leader." Abbott appointed Villalobos, an attorney, to the Prepaid Higher Education Tuition board in 2018. Villalobos is also an appointee of former Gov. Rick Perry. “People are opening up their eyes that competition is good. When I was a Republican chairman, I always used to say it that we don't get enough from the feds or the state, because it was just a one-party system in the sense. I think it's very important. I think things are changing," Villalobos said. According to U.S. Census Bureau data McAllen has a population of more than 143,000 and is nearly 85 percent Latino. For years, Democrats have won the largely Latino portion of Texas, until 2020. But Andrew Smith, a political science lecturer at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, cautions against calling the area a bastion for Democratic candidates. He pointed to the Catholic and Evangelical movements, as well as the ranching and agrarian economy.

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Spectrum News - June 9, 2021

With borders closed, small businesses struggling to make ends meet

After 40 years in business, Roberto Garza and his wife Bertha have seen a lot and withstood it all. They've survived peso devaluations, recessions and border closings, but the 15-month ban on nonessential visitors crossing into the United States has taken a toll on the couple's downtown Laredo, Texas, store, decimating their bottom line. "About 50, 60% less," Garza said when asked about the financial hit his store has incurred. So, how does he stay afloat? "Changes. We cut expenses. Even our own life," he said.

While Garza’s life has changed, commercial traffic hasn’t. The train tracks in Laredo remain busy as the railcars make their daily journey over the river between the U.S and Mexico. The same goes for the trucks because in Laredo commerce is good and trade continues to thrive. Teclo Garcia is Laredo’s director of economic development and he’s quick to point out that the city itself hasn’t really been affected by the pandemic. “Our commercial traffic didn’t see much of a dip at all because trade continued to move as if it were 2019," said Garcia. Sadly, the people who have felt the brunt of the ban are the locals. Because if you’re not deemed essential, the country is closed. “Anybody who’s lived in Texas, close to any border knows that when you live in a border community, you’re essentially living in two countries," Garcia said. "You’ve got family and friends and favorite restaurants and stores on both sides of the border. One side of their world has been completely shut off.”

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MyRGV.com - June 10, 2021

Masks now optional at H-E-B for those fully vaccinated

H-E-B has updated its mask policy and will now allow fully vaccinated customers, employees and vendors to go into the stores without a mask. “After reviewing updated guidance from the CDC on mask use, H-E-B will make facial coverings optional for fully vaccinated Partners, vendors, and customers inside our stores,” the company said on its website. The change went into effect on Wednesday. “Throughout the pandemic, H-E-B has been a leader in developing strong Covid-19 safety measures to protect our Partners, customers, and communities, and we are encouraged by the favorable Covid-19 trends in Texas.”

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Longview News-Journal - June 10, 2021

Former Gregg County GOP chair charged with theft to plead guilty

A former Gregg County GOP chair and White Oak mayor who was sentenced to federal prison in 2019 for loan fraud is expected to plead guilty to theft charges. Tim Lynn Vaughn, 61, is charged with theft of property between $30,000 and $150,000 and theft of property between $2,500 and $30,000.

He is expected to plead guilty Aug. 4 in Gregg County’s 124th District Court. The charges were detailed in two grand jury indictments from May 2020. From July 7, 2016, through Jan. 5, 2017, Vaughn is accused of theft of between $30,000 and $150,000 from “G. Neeley,” according to court documents. On Dec. 11, 2016, Vaughn is accused of theft of building materials valued at between $2,500 and $30,000 from Cassity Jones Lumber. Vaughn was sentenced in September 2019 to one year in federal prison for forging his wife’s signature on loan documents. He pleaded guilty earlier that year to making false statements to a Longview bank to obtain a loan on which he later defaulted. He was indicted on four total offenses, including two counts of false statement to the bank and two counts of aggravated identity theft. According to court documents, an FBI investigation found that Vaughn forged signatures on loans with First Bank & Trust-East Texas and with Texas Bank and Trust. Proceeds from the Texas Bank and Trust loan were used to pay outstanding balances on other loans issued to Vaughn and his businesses by the bank, resulting in a loss of more than $95,000.

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Daily Beast - June 10, 2021

Mark Cuban on the future of the Mavs, taxing billionaires, and why Elon Musk is ‘irrelevant’ to crypto

“I haven’t slept in two days,” explains Mark Cuban. “So, I apologize for being a step slow.” The dot-com billionaire (net worth: $4.2 billion) is blaming his insomnolence on the Dallas Mavericks’ first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA playoffs, an event that’s triggered rampant speculation regarding the team’s two young stars, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, with reports indicating that the lengthy Latvian once known as the “unicorn” does not get along with the Slovenian wunderkind and feels like an “afterthought.” His basketball franchise’s future is just one of many topics we explored over the course of our wide-ranging conversation, which just so happened to fall on the same day that ProPublica published an explosive report revealing how the world’s top billionaires, despite their surging wealth, pay next to nothing in income tax (we covered that too).

But the official occasion for our talk is Shark Tank, the ABC reality-television show that recently wrapped its 12th season and is vying for a number of Emmys. The show sees entrepreneurs in search of additional investment capital present their businesses to its five “sharks,” the most compelling of which is Cuban, in the hopes that they’ll back them. “Every story is impactful. That’s why I like to do it—you’re literally helping people’s dreams come true,” says Cuban. “You’re changing the lives of not just them, but their families and their employees. It’s really rewarding just to be part of it.” A report in ProPublica today revealed that America’s richest paid little to no income tax, and we’ve already seen the wealth of America’s richest rise over $1 trillion during the pandemic. What do you think we should do to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots? Because that gap is widening every day.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 10, 2021

Mesquite makes it easier to run for city council

Mesquite launched a new web page this week that makes it easier for residents to run for city council in the November 2 municipal election. Prior to the page, candidates needed to go to the city secretary’s office in person to pick up candidate packets and other relevant information. The new page creates a centralized location for all information pertinent to aspiring city council candidates, including the election and campaign season timeline, requirements for running for council, relevant paperwork and guidebooks about campaign finance and electioneering.

The positions up for grabs this November include: Mayor, which is elected at-large for two-year terms and is limited to four consecutive terms; City Council places 1 through 6, which serve two-year terms and are elected by voters who live within district boundaries. The first day of the filing period is July 17 and the last day is August 16. October 4 is the last day to register to vote in November 2 election with early voting taking place from October 18 to October 29.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 11, 2021

Biden looks at financial rules to deprive oil of capital, shift country on climate

The Biden administration, facing a Congress unlikely to take significant action on climate change, is considering reaching beyond environmental law to establish tough, new financial regulations that raise the capital costs of the nation’s fossil fuel industries. To accomplish the president’s agenda of dramatically lowering greenhouse gas emissions, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Treasury Department are in various stages of rulemaking to encourage the nation’s banks, institutional investors and other financial players to invest more heavily in clean energy, mirroring efforts underway in the European Union. The strategy threatens to accelerate the shift of investment away from the oil and gas companies that dominate the Houston and Texas economies, depriving them of the capital they need to launch drilling projects, expand and hire workers, analysts and policy experts said.

It would only add pressure on an industry that has fallen out favor with investors after years of high costs and low returns and uncertainty over its future in a low-carbon world. “The SEC is where the money that goes into the ground gets regulated, so it’s a big deal for them to get into the climate game, not to mention all these other financial regulators moving at the same time” said Kevin Book, managing director at the research firm ClearView Energy Partners. “Nobody who assesses the health of these (publicly traded) entities will be able to say (emissions) don’t matter anymore.” The process is still in the early stages. Furthest along is the SEC, which is still collecting comments on how greenhouse gas emissions are reported. The agency has not said what action it might take, but the examination signals an attempt to establish uniform reporting standards that would allow investors to make apples to apples comparisons between not only companies but entire industries, experts said. Companies now report emissions through a variety of voluntary protocols — with varying standards — that allow companies to present themselves as cleaner than they are, a practice known as “greenwashing.”

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New York Times - June 10, 2021

Hunting leaks, Trump officials focused on Democrats in Congress

As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor. All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed. Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.

But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations. The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations. While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one. Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.

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Associated Press - June 11, 2021

Oregon GOP legislator ousted over state Capitol breach

Republican lawmakers voted with majority Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives to take the historic step of expelling a Republican member who let violent, far-right protesters into the state Capitol on Dec. 21. Legislators said on the House floor that this could be the most important vote they ever cast. They then proceeded Thursday night to expel an unapologetic Rep. Mike Nearman with a 59-1 vote, marking the first time a member has been expelled by the House in its 160-year history. The only vote against the resolution for expulsion was Nearman’s own. Rep. Paul Holvey, a Democrat who chaired a committee that earlier Thursday unanimously recommended Nearman’s expulsion, reminded lawmakers of the events of Dec. 21, which were an eerie foreshadowing of the much more serious Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

“On the morning of Dec. 21st, a couple hundred protesters — some of them heavily armed and wearing body armor — arrived at the Capitol for a protest, with the intent to illegally enter and presumably occupy the building and interrupt the proceedings of the Oregon Legislature,” Holvey said. “Staff and legislators were terrified. We can only speculate what would have happened if they were able to get all the way in.” Nearman said he let the protesters in because he believes the Capitol, which has been closed to the public to protect against spread of the coronavirus, should have been open. The assault happened during a peak of the pandemic. But even Republicans, who are often bitterly opposed to Democratic initiatives on climate change and some other bills, said the crowd outside the Capitol that day was not made up of constituents who wanted to peacefully engage in the democratic process. Some were carrying guns. Some shouted false QAnon conspiracy theories about Democrats kidnapping babies. They carried American flags, banners for former President Donald Trump and a sign calling for the arrest of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. They broke windows and assaulted journalists. “Nobody should have opened the door to the people who were here that day,” said Rep. Daniel Bonham, a Republican and a member Holvey’s special committee.

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CNN Business - June 10, 2021

Investors holding $41 trillion demand action on climate — now

Investors managing more than $41 trillion in assets are loudly calling on world leaders to immediately step up their climate game if they don't want to miss out on a wave of clean energy investment. More than 450 major investors signed a letter that was released Thursday urging governments to set more ambitious emission reduction targets, detail "clear" road maps to decarbonize pollution-heavy industries and implement mandatory climate risk disclosure requirements.

The letter, signed by Fidelity, State Street and other influential asset management firms, marks the strongest call yet from investors urging governments around the world to take bolder steps to fight the climate crisis. And it comes just as the leaders of G7 nations meet in the United Kingdom to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and other major global issues. "These gaps — in climate ambition, policy action and risk disclosure — need to be addressed with urgency," the signatories wrote in the letter. The not-so-subtle warning is that countries that drag their feet risk being left behind as investors send their money elsewhere. "Those who set ambitious targets in line with achieving net-zero emissions, and implement consistent national climate policies in the short-to-medium term, will become increasingly attractive investment destinations," the letter read. "Countries that fail to do so will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage."

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Washington Post - June 10, 2021

The media called the ‘lab leak’ story a ‘conspiracy theory.’ Now it’s prompted corrections — and serious new reporting.

Early last year, New York Times science writer Donald G. McNeil Jr. reported on a controversial theory about the coronavirus that had begun to sweep around the planet — that it may have started in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, not as a random and naturally occurring pathogen. The “lab leak” theory — disputed then as now — challenged the semiofficial thesis that the virus had jumped from an infected animal to a human in a food market in Wuhan. Allies of President Donald Trump had pushed the theory, casting doubt on statements by officials of China’s ruling Communist Party. Yet the Times never ended up publishing McNeil’s 4,000-word story, after what he called “a good-faith disagreement” over scientific concerns, the complicated nature of the evidence and questions about the political motives of the mostly anonymous sources who were promoting it at the time, he later wrote.

In hindsight, the decision looks fortuitous. McNeil, while open to the possibilities and following many leads, ultimately came down on the skeptical side. “New Coronavirus Is ‘Clearly Not a Lab Leak,’ Scientists Say,” as he tentatively headlined it — a conclusion that now appears to be not very clear at all. Since last year, the lab-origin story has gained new converts and respectability, despite China’s denials — in part thanks to journalists such as McNeil (who later left the Times amid an unrelated controversy) who have taken a fresh look at the limited evidence that has dribbled out over the past year. The journalistic reconsideration of the lab story has been told not just in probing new stories — The Washington Post has published five stories about it on its front page in the past 2 1/2 weeks, some prompted by President Biden’s order of a 90-day review of the theory by intelligence agencies — but in corrected headlines and in editors’ notes affixed to last year’s stories. New information often casts out old, but it is unusual for news outlets to acknowledge so publicly that they have changed their understanding of events.

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NBC News - June 10, 2021

Pentagon chief supports major shift in how military handles sex assault cases

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin signaled to lawmakers Thursday that he supports stripping commanding officers of the authority to decide whether troops accused of sexual assault should face prosecution. A shift to place such decisions in the hands of independent legal authorities would amount to a sea change in the way the military handles sexual assault cases. Austin plans to make his recommendation to President Joe Biden in the coming weeks, according to a defense official. “As I have said before, what we are doing is not working and we need to fix it,” Austin said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I want to be sure that whatever changes to the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] I recommend to the president – and ultimately to this committee – are scoped to the problem we are trying to solve, have a clear way forward on implementation, and ultimately restore the confidence of the force in the system.” Austin stopped short of explicitly endorsing particular changes to the way the military has long handled sexual assault allegations, but the defense official said Austin’s position aligns with the recommendations of a Pentagon panel set up to study the issue. The commission established by Austin recommended that independent military lawyers - rather than commanding officers – should decide whether to court-martial those accused of sexual assault or harassment. Lawmakers, including Democratic Sen. Kristin Gillibrand of New York, have long demanded such a change as the only way to come to grips with the problem that has plagued the military for decades. “Clearly, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” Austin said Thursday. “One assault is too many. The numbers of sexual assaults are still too high, and the confidence in our system is still too low.”

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