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Newsclips - August 19, 2022

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Texas Lawbook - August 19, 2022

Texas M&A activity rockets to new highs

Mergers and acquisitions in Texas rocketed to new highs during the first half of 2022, eclipsing the record deal counts of both the first and second half of 2021. The dollar value of those transactions, however, declined significantly from the year because of a dearth megadeals by corporate giants such as AT&T, Chevron or Match.com, according to statistics gathered by the Texas Lawbook. Companies made 507 M&A transactions during the first six months of 2022 compared to 477 for the first half of last year. M&A activity in the first half of the year easily outpaced pre-pandemic levels, jumping 75 percent from 289 deals in 2019. Eric Otness, a partner at Skadden Arps in Houston, said 2021 was such an “incredible year” that dealmakers did not expect 2022 would keep up.

Corporate lawyers attributed the heated M&A market in Texas to multiple factors. Interest rates, while increasingly slightly during the first half of the year, remained historically low. The energy sector, boosted by rising commodity prices, bounced back, accounting for about one-third of the Texas transactions and nearly half of the total deal value during the first six months of 2022. And businesses in the middle and lower-middle market — sparked by private equity funds — hit record highs in dealmaking. Debbie Yee, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis in Houston, said that consolidation in the oil and gas industry is continuing at a moderate pace, with public companies continuing to look at acquisitions of private companies to increase scale, free cash flow and shareholder returns. “We are seeing significant financial investor interest in real assets, conventional energy and renewable and energy transition assets,” Yee said. M&A activity, however, trailed off during the second quarter of 2022 as interest rates began to rise. The number of deals feel to 225 in the second quarter from 282 deals in the first. Energy transactions (energy and mining) accounted for the lion’s share of deals at 32 percent followed by technology (12.8 percent), manufacturing (8.1 percent), health care (6.3 percent), business services (5.5 percent) and financial services (3.7 percent).

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Axios - August 19, 2022

Advocacy group wants to expand Texas abortion law

The anti-abortion advocacy group Texas Right to Life will lobby for new legislation that would expand aspects of 2021's Heartbeat Act, which incentivizes individuals to sue anyone who assists in an abortion, a spokesperson for the organization tells Axios. Why it matters: The proposed bill would allow anyone to file a civil lawsuit against someone allegedly violating the state's abortion laws, no matter the age of the fetus. It would include an option to sue out-of-state organizations that mail abortion-inducing drugs directly to Texas patients.

The big picture: Texas has been a leader in anti-abortion legislation, passing the uniquely structured Heartbeat Act — which doesn't have exceptions for rape and incest — and a trigger law that makes performing an abortion a felony punishable by fines up to $100,000 and life in prison. The Heartbeat Act has been mimicked in other states, including Florida and Ohio. California recently passed a gun control bill modeled on the Texas law. Of note: A majority of Texas voters — 54% — oppose a total ban on abortions, per polling earlier this year from the Texas Politics Project at UT. Details: The proposed legislation doesn't have a name yet, but Texas Right to Life has been calling it "Hold Abortionists Accountable." Flashback: Texas' law allowing people to sue was the subject of copious litigation in multiple jurisdictions — there's an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to it — but the bill was ultimately allowed to stand. Texas Right to Life organized a whistleblower reporting system allowing people to anonymously report anyone violating the law. What they're saying: "We're still in the stage of having conversations with legislators, but there is an interest in making sure the abortion industry is held accountable and assessing different legislative strategies for accomplishing that goal," Kimberlyn Schwartz, Texas Right to Life's media director, tells Axios.

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NBC News - August 19, 2022

McConnell says Republicans may not win Senate control, citing ‘candidate quality’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday downplayed expectations of Republicans capturing control of the Senate in the fall elections, describing “candidate quality” as an important factor. “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they're statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said in Florence, Kentucky, at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce luncheon when asked about his projection for the 2022 election. “Right now, we have a 50-50 Senate and a 50-50 country, but I think when all is said and done this fall, we’re likely to have an extremely close Senate, either our side up slightly or their side up slightly.” Even though history strongly favors the party out of power — in this case the GOP — to make gains in midterm races, McConnell has long worried that subpar candidates could play into Democrats' hands. While he didn't mention any names, there are examples across the country.

In Pennsylvania's open Senate race, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its rating Thursday from "toss up" to "lean Democrat" as GOP nominee Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor, struggles against Democrat John Fetterman, the state's lieutenant governor, who leads in recent polls. Apart from Oz, Republicans have nominated numerous first-time candidates backed by former President Donald Trump in states such as Georgia, Arizona and Ohio to run against seasoned Democratic politicians. The Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with McConnell, recently bought $28 million worth of airtime in Ohio to support Republican nominee J.D. Vance. The Republican Party establishment also failed to recruit preferred candidates in other states, like New Hampshire. McConnell may be feeling déjà vu from 2010 and 2012 when his party fell short of capturing control of the chamber in part due to weak candidates such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Todd Akin in Missouri. Despite their woes with candidates, Republicans still have opportunities to add to their ranks. They need a net gain of just one seat to seize control of the Senate from the Democrats and effectively gain veto power over President Joe Biden's legislative agenda and nominees for top administration positions and judgeships.

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Houston Chronicle - August 19, 2022

Biden’s White House touts Medicare savings for 3.2 million Texans in Inflation Reduction Act

The Biden administration said Thursday that the Inflation Reduction Act will directly lower health care costs for hundreds of thousands of Texans, in addition to adding cost protections to all 3.2 million Medicare recipients in the state who access prescription drugs. The administration released state-by-state projections as it begins touting its signature climate and health care spending package, which Democrats in Congress passed last week and the president signed into law Tuesday. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the health care measures alone will have profound impacts for millions of Americans struggling to keep up with soaring prescription drug costs. The legislation means people on federal health care programs “won’t have to ration their doses because they can’t afford what the doctor prescribed,” Becerra said.

The roughly $700 billion package stops spiraling drug prices for those with Medicare coverage in several ways. It empowers Becerra to negotiate prices with manufacturers, punishes drug companies that raise prices faster than inflation and limits the patient’s annual out-of-pocket spending to $2,000. It also caps costs for insulin at $35 a month. Moreover, the legislation extends for three years the temporary subsidies offered last year as pandemic relief for Texans who obtained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Those subsidies alone are expected to keep 370,000 Texans insured with private coverage who would have otherwise dropped off if the subsidies ended, according to the federal health agency. Republicans united in opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act, mainly condemning price tag and investments in renewable energy. The package includes changes to the tax code that target major corporations and that Democrats say will more than cover the costs of the legislation, driving down the federal deficit over the next decade. Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning think tank Every Texan, said extending the Affordable Care Act subsidies is “a big deal,” since many middle-income Texans had not been eligible for them before the pandemic. Under the temporary assistance, more than a half million Texans obtained ACA health coverage — the most of any state, Pogue said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 18, 2022

One former and one current state rep are set to get part of lucrative Houston airport contracts

City Council on Wednesday passed a highly lucrative contract granting food and beverage shops inside Bush Intercontinental Airport to a partnership that includes a former legislative colleague and longtime friend of Mayor Sylvester Turner. Airport concessions contracts, among the most profitable available at City Hall, typically inspire lengthy debate and often a fair dose of controversy. That hardly was the case Wednesday, when one 10-year contract was approved unanimously with almost no discussion and a vote on another was delayed for a week. The two deals, offering food, beverage and retail space inside the airport’s newly renovated Terminals D and E, would bring an estimated $116.4 million to the city’s coffers over the next decade. The operators getting the contracts would see far more gross revenue than that.

An affiliate of London-based SSP Group is leading the food and beverage contract approved Wednesday, which will include 16 store fronts. Multiplex Inc., the concessions company founded by former state Rep. Helen Giddings of Dallas, is a 6 percent junior partner in that deal. Giddings has owned the concessions company since 1989. She served for decades with Turner in the Texas House and once said they had desks, offices and Austin condos directly next to each other during their tenure there. The SSP deal also involves Karen Garcia, the wife of Roland Garcia, who chaired the city’s Hispanic Advisory Council for Turner. Garcia held the same role under then-Mayor Annise Parker. Bidding documents show he attended the conference meeting about the bid in September. Karen Garcia’s KHG Consulting LLC is a 5 percent partner in the venture. State Rep. Ana Hernandez, a Houston attorney who served for a decade with Turner before his election to City Hall in 2015, is a 10 percent partner in the retail contract now set for a vote next week, which is headlined by Paradies Lagardère.

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Axios - August 19, 2022

National progressive political organization targets Texas Latinos

Determined to mobilize Latinos, a national progressive political organization is entering the Texas fray. Driving the news: Organizers at Mijente tell Axios they plan to spend as much as $1.2 million in Texas in the coming months as part of their "Fuera Abbott" campaign. The money will chiefly pay for door-knocking and fieldwork in South Texas aiming to oust the governor. Why it matters: The Texas governor's race, pitting two master fundraisers in incumbent Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O'Rourke, is shaping up as the most expensive in the nation — and the mobilization of voters in traditionally low-turnout areas of the state could tip the race.

The intrigue: Ads from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee meant to target likely Latino voters have been criticized as condescending and out of touch. Meanwhile, Republicans have made a formidable bid to woo voters — and Abbott has vowed he will win at least half of Texas' Hispanic vote. In June, Republicans flipped a South Texas U.S. House seat. What they're saying: "We want to push back against the recruitment of Latinos by the right wing," Mijente political director Tania Unzueta tells Axios. Unzueta points to the organization's activity in Georgia ahead of the 2021 runoff elections, in which Mijente sent more than 376,000 texts to voters as part of its "Georgia con Ganas" campaign. Context: For years, Democrats have tried, with limited success, to drive to the polls South Texas voters they deem sympathetic to their message. "There's been a lack of consistent investment in Texas," Unzueta says. "We hope that now changes as people are paying more attention. The thing we keep hearing is that no one knocks on doors now — except Republicans."

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Austin American-Statesman - August 19, 2022

Uvalde school board to take up firing of Pete Arredondo

The Uvalde school board has called a special meeting for Wednesday to consider firing embattled school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo. The meeting takes place three months after the Robb Elementary School shooting. Arredondo has been criticized for his role in the flawed response to the massacre that left 19 students and two teachers dead. A special Texas House committee tasked with investigating the shooting determined that Arredondo failed to act quickly enough to shoot and kill the gunman. The report, released in July, also determined that Arredondo held the role of incident commander at the scene and was responsible for directing law enforcement officers. He reportedly has said he did not believe he was in charge.

Officers stormed classrooms 111 and 112 more than an hour after police first arrived on the scene, waiting even as children inside the classrooms called 911 for help multiple times. Arredondo was placed on paid administrative leave in June. In July, when the board was last expected to fire Arredondo but postponed the decision to allow due process, he was put on unpaid administrative leave. Parents and community members have been calling for Arredondo to be fired along with the other five district officers who responded to the shooting, as well as other district leaders including Robb Elementary Principal Mandy Gutierrez and district Superintendent Hal Harrell. During public comments over the last few months, parents, community members and students have expressed concern and frustration with the district’s lack of response, calling on district leaders to “clean house.” “Why do you continue to employ these officers?” Rachel Martinez, a mother of four Uvalde students, said in a July meeting. "And then we will have to return our children to you for eight hours a day, five days a week. … You need to clean house and start from zero. This failure falls on all of you.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 19, 2022

When will the Bible, other books return to Keller school shelves?

Keller school district Superintendent Rick Westfall anticipates that the Bible and a graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary “will be on (Keller school library) shelves very soon” after being temporarily removed as the titles are reviewed to ensure compliance with new standards. The comments Thursday follow national coverage of an email sent to Keller principals earlier this week asking for all currently and previously challenged books to be removed from shelves. The move generated backlash from several organizations, including PEN America, a free speech and literary organization that protects free expression in the United States and worldwide. The books were to be removed by the end of Tuesday before the start of classes on Wednesday, according to the email.

Some of the titles included all versions of the Bible and “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation.” Westfall noted that more than 50 copies of “The Diary of Anne Frank” have remained in circulation, with only the graphic adaptation being challenged. The district’s curriculum director, Jennifer Price, sent an email that said in part, “Please collect these books and store them in a location (book room, office etc.) More information will be sent regarding action for these books.” In the statement released Thursday, the superintendent said the removals were not permanent. “I want to assure you that Keller ISD is not banning the Bible or the Diary of Anne Frank, as has been suggested in some headlines and shared on social media, but I want to explain where this miscommunication came from,” he said. “Regardless of headlines or social media stories, none of the books under re-evaluation were banned.” The guidance to principals, Westfall said, follows the adoption of new policies by the school board “related to the acquisition and review of instructional materials and library books.” Under the new policies, books that have been challenged by community members as being inappropriate for schools are required to be held in a “Parental Consent Area” until the challenge process is complete, the superintendent said.

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Houston Chronicle - August 19, 2022

Flood of 2,300 departing workers leaves Texas child welfare agency scrambling: ‘Absolutely a crisis’

Nearly 2,300 employees have left the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services since the beginning of the year, stressing an agency that has already experienced some of the highest turnover rates of any large state department. In interviews and at public town halls, more than two dozen current and former employees described a department that has been stretched thin for more than a year, needlessly losing passionate workers who carry decades of experience and knowledge. From dangerous overtime shifts watching children in hotels to political drama to problems with their supervisors, workers say the agency has lost its mission — and in the end, it’s Texas kids who suffer for it.

One child welfare worker said she knew she needed to quit when, last year, she visited the home of a parent suspected of child neglect. The mother failed a drug test for methamphetamine, but because there was no “immediate danger,” the caseworker could not remove the child from the home, she said. She lost sleep for weeks. Another worker said she first thought of resigning after a foster child, staying in a temporary placement at a DFPS office, threw a perfume bottle at her in spring 2021. She considered quitting again when she was assigned to drive a child to and from his placement, four hours roundtrip almost every day, and officials, she said, would sometimes change the hotel he was staying at overnight without letting her know. She finally quit in February, after her bosses suggested they would discipline her when she needed a break from her overtime shift to pick up her own children from a closing daycare. Of the 2,267 employees who left the agency by Aug. 3, about 83 percent of them had quit — the highest voluntary exit rate the department has seen since it became an independent agency in fall 2017.

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Houston Chronicle - August 18, 2022

Texas' safe haven law allows parents to give up newborns, but it's rarely used. Here's what to know.

Safe haven laws, also known as "Baby Moses laws," originated in Texas and have been around for years. But the laws are rarely used and many people don't even know they exist. With discussion around the laws resurfacing in the months after Roe v. Wade's overturn, here's what you need to know. What are safe haven laws? A flurry of Houston baby abandonments in the '90s led Texas to become the first state to enact a safe haven law in 1999. Created as an incentive for parents in crisis who are unable to care for their newborns, the law allow parents to drop off babies 60 days or younger at any hospital, fire station or EMS station in the state, no questions asked. The baby will then be protected and given medical care until a permanent home is found. Provided the baby arrives unharmed and safe, the parents avoid prosecution for abandonment or neglect.

Do people actually use the laws? Roughly 400,000 babies are born in Texas each year, but data shows that a small fraction of people actually utilize the option. Just 172 infants have been relinquished under the state's safe haven law since 2009, according to data from the Department of Family and Protective Services. Why? Most families have likely never heard of it, said Sheila M. Katz, a sociology professor at the University of Houston. This is especially true for middle- and low-income families who may not have the "extra bandwidth" to explore something until they're in the situation, Katz said. Data shows Texas' annual number of cases hasn't greatly fluctuated over the years, but Texas saw a jump in cases in 2020, with 21 children surrendered in total. Nine of those cases came from Harris County and its surrounding counties.

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Dallas Morning News - August 18, 2022

Recipe for a reliable Texas grid: A gas plant plus 22,000 batteries and backup fuel

This is what modern reliability looks like on the Texas grid. A 240-acre industrial site, along a bend of the Brazos River an hour’s drive southwest of Fort Worth, brings together old-school fossil fuels and the latest in renewables. A natural gas power plant and a storage battery system work side by side, usually to meet the ever-rising demand for electricity in Texas. There’s also a week’s worth of backup diesel fuel on site, just in case. The DeCordova facility, owned by Irving-based Vistra Corp., the state’s largest power provider, has been generating electricity since 1975. The original gas steam plant was replaced with four combustion turbines in 1990. They got a major upgrade four years ago, enabling Vistra to fire up the gas units and generate full loads within 10 minutes.

Need a faster response? The storage batteries next door can turn on instantly and feed about 26,000 megawatts into the grid — providing enough power to cool 52,000 homes during peak conditions. Vistra spent just over $125 million on the batteries, which came online in May. The system includes 22,360 battery modules housed in 86 air-conditioned shipping containers that seem to stretch on and on. It’s the largest energy storage system in the state, the company said, and the first to be paired with a natural gas “peaker” plant that’s designed to come on during periods of high demand. “We decided to make the investment in reliability and resiliency,” said Claudia Morrow, Vistra’s senior vice president of development. Reliability has become the catchword for Texas’ electric industry since February 2021. That’s when a brutal winter storm shut down much of the grid for days, cutting off power to millions and leading to hundreds of deaths. Since the catastrophic event, state leaders have put reliability first, ahead of simply creating more cheap power. They overhauled the regulatory agencies, including the Public Utility Commission and the grid operator it oversees, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, known as ERCOT.

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Dallas Morning News - August 18, 2022

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar says he supports repealing the state’s ‘tampon tax’

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar says he supports removing the state’s “tampon tax,” a measure that has stalled in the Texas Legislature for six years. Hegar and Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman, both Republicans, put out a statement Thursday voicing “strong support” for removing sales tax on feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons. “Our economy and state revenues are strong, and Texans are grappling with inflation and challenging price increases on everyday goods,” Hegar said in the prepared statement. “These circumstances provide a tremendous opportunity to rectify this issue and exempt these products that represent a critical need for Texas women.” According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, 23 states and Washington, D.C., exempt period products from sales tax.

The comptroller has faced pressure from activist groups to stop collecting sales tax on feminine hygiene products. The Texas Menstrual Equity Coalition argues that pads and tampons should be considered wound care products like bandages and eye patches, which aren’t subject to tax. Earlier this year, Hegar’s office denied around 40 requests for refunds of the sales tax charged on period products submitted by activists. Though activists argue the comptroller can choose to classify period products as wound care, and therefore tax exempt, without the Legislature, Hegar’s statement said the effort will require new legislation and Gov. Greg Abbott’s approval. The next legislative session begins in January 2023. Hegar’s office estimates the state would lose out on around $28.6 million in revenue over the next two years by eliminating sales tax on period products. Hegar said this figure is small relative to the state’s overall revenue outlook.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 18, 2022

San Antonio-based USAA eliminating more jobs, apparently in USAA Bank

USAA, one of San Antonio’s biggest employers, is cutting more jobs. The company declined to elaborate, but interviews with employees and posts on LinkedIn, Reddit and The Layoff indicate USAA eliminated employees in information technology, business continuation, client advising and human resources. One former employee said the cuts were across various departments within USAA Federal Savings Bank. They come 18 months after the insurance and financial services company named a new president for the bank, which has been under regulatory scrutiny in recent years. In March, it eliminated more than 90 jobs.

It’s unclear how many employees are losing their jobs in the latest round. At least some are being given 60-day notices and the opportunity to apply for a different position with USAA. Many had worked there for decades and were “passionate and very talented high performers,” said a former employee who requested anonymity to avoid jeopardizing severance benefits. “To say we are in shock would be an understatement,” the former employee said. The person said they heard the number of cuts is in triple digits and appeared aimed at restructuring the business. Along with the 60-day notice, most if not all employees are being given transition support and a severance package, the person said. Another former employee said many workers were given notice last week and USAA did not indicate why roles and departments were being eliminated. The person, who also requested anonymity to protect benefits, worked for USAA for more than 20 years. “I was completely blindsided,” the person said.

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KXAN - August 18, 2022

How connected is your Texas county to high-speed broadband?

For the last 20 years, those at the nonprofit Connected Nation have been working to bridge the digital gap. “We believe that the digital divide should be completely closed,” said Jessica Denson, the nonprofit’s communications director. Today, the Federal Communications Commission defines a minimum of 25 megabits downloaded per second and three megabits uploaded per second as high-speed broadband. “You can do some basic stuff, but you can’t go five or six people necessarily,” she said. “You may be teleworking your kids’ remote learning, and that could be a problem.”

The 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload standard has been in place since 2015. Those at the nonprofit said that’s outdated with speeds that aren’t enough for most internet users. Under the 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload standard, Mason County has the least connectivity with only 68% of households having access to those broadband speeds. However, when bumping up to a minimum download of 100 and upload speed of 10 Mbps per second, then Mason County has even less access with under 5% of households being able to browse the web at those speeds. Just recently, federal and state leaders pledged millions in infrastructure upgrades. The latest effort will bring $10 million to Lampasas and San Saba counties. The money will help connect 647 people, 19 businesses and 151 farms to high-speed internet.

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KXAN - August 18, 2022

Challenges of human trafficking investigations, survivor care

After a human trafficking bust freed more than 200 victims, including two teenagers in Austin, KXAN is digging into the challenges of investigating these cases and taking care of survivors. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said the bust was a result of an effort called “Operation Cross Country.” Investigators found or identified 141 adult victims and 84 minors. “These are children that need very, very supportive and professional care,” said Lisa Knapp, founder of the temporarily shuttered Nicole’s Place, a shelter for girls and young women who are sex trafficking survivors.

She said the facility closed temporarily after Nicole’s Place reached a settlement with a nearby neighborhood architectural control committee. The committee stated the buildings were on restricted property. Knapp said she’s also running into red tape trying to open another facility in Williamson County. She wishes at least one was open now to provide refuge to any of the survivors of this month’s bust who are from Central Texas. “It will take a great deal of time and energy of professionals to help them,” she said. While Knapp is worried about survivors’ resources, the Deliver Fund is concerned about suspects. “You can’t have human trafficking without a human trafficker,” said Nic McKinley, the nonprofit’s founder. He said the group helps law enforcement agencies, including the Austin Police Department, catch human trafficking suspects as perpetrators take victims from city to city or state to state. “We wrap around those law enforcement officers to enhance them and make them as effective and efficient as possible with their time,” McKinley said. Law enforcement agencies don’t have to pay for Deliver Fund’s resources, but the group said inflation has slowed the amount of donations coming in.

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The Hill - August 18, 2022

Texas cattle industry faces existential crisis from historic drought

The megadrought in the Western U.S., the region’s worst in 1,200 years, is threatening America’s cattle heartland: withering pastures, wrecking feed harvests and endangering a quintessential way of life. The drought is forcing ranchers here in Texas and across the Southern plains to make an agonizing decision: Sell early now for less money than they planned on — or hold on, pray for rain and risk losing everything. “We’ll keep selling cows till it rains,” Texas High Plains rancher Jim Ferguson told Amarillo station KAMR, which collaborated with The Hill on this story.

For now, Ferguson is just selling his oldest calves, for which he’ll be able to get the best price. But with no rain in the forecast, and therefore no prospect of lush winter pastures for his herds to eat, “it won’t be long before we start getting into the younger ones.” The drought is echoing through beef supply chains, resulting in higher prices for consumers for at least the next two years — and likely serving as the final blow to many small, family-run cattle herds that represent a key part of the industry. “The lack of water in general, it’s hurting us all the way around. Any way you can think of,” cattle buyer Josh Sturgeon told KAMR, which is owned by The Hill’s parent company, Nexstar Media. Sturgeon had come to auction in search of deals from ranchers such as Ferguson, forced to liquidate their herds for lack of water to grow cattle feeds — or the money to buy them.

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Dallas Morning News - August 19, 2022

Texas children struggling with grief after pandemic losses

Youngsters Karis, Creighton and Cortland Cooper lounged in their living room on a hot summer day watching Lego Star Wars -- with photos of their late grandfather and great-grandmother lining the shelves just to the side of the flatscreen. The kids lost those grandparents to COVID-19 along with their great-aunt and great-uncle -- all within three months. They weren’t able to visit sick relatives in the hospital before they passed. The last conversations with their grandfather — who they normally saw at least twice a week— were over the phone. “I’m a single parent so for my kids, my dad was a father figure to them,” said Shannon Cooper, the siblings’ mom. Children nationwide are still struggling with grief after losing close family members during the pandemic. Many families are reaching out to their children’s schools and local organizations for help.

Some North Texas districts have hired crisis counselors or formed partnerships with grief resources in the community while others have come up with innovative ways to support students on campus. More than 14,000 Texas children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 in the first 15 months of the pandemic alone. They also watched parents lose jobs and struggle financially, experienced food insecurity, housing instability or fell behind in school because of disruptions. Such stressors can make it difficult for kids long term. Adverse childhood experiences are linked to mental health problems, lower self-esteem, sexual risk behaviors, increased risk of substance abuse, suicide, violence and shorter schooling, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “And we talk about grief. Grief is -- it’s complicated,” said Jessica Gomez, a doctor of psychology and executive director at the Momentous Institute. “It’s not just the loss of someone, but there have been so many losses in the past two years.” Research shows that many of the challenges children faced when COVID-19 hit can have short- and long-term consequences on their mental well-being. Children are more anxious, less connected and more likely to have experienced trauma than they were before the pandemic, according to a report from Texans Care for Children.

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Dallas Morning News - August 19, 2022

Long-planned D-FW ‘super highway’ trail finally gets a name

A new sprawling pedestrian and cycling trail that will span Dallas to Fort Worth now has a name. Welcome, DFW Discovery Trail. Completion of the 66-mile trail, which will link Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving and Grand Prairie, is expected in early 2024. This spring, the North Central Texas Council of Governments narrowed the name to two possibilities — DFW Discovery Trail and DFW Trinity Trail — and asked people to vote online. In a nail-biter, DFW Discovery Trail won with 51% of the vote. North Texas leaders and transportation planners have described the trail as a sort of “super highway” that will promote healthy living, reduce traffic congestion and draw tourism for events like races.

Planning for DFW Discovery Trail began in the 1990s, and the five cities started working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments in 2013. Once complete, DFW Discovery Trail will connect existing smaller trails, including the Trinity Skyline Trail in Dallas, Fort Worth Trinity Trails, Campion Trail in Irving and River Legacy Trail in Arlington. More than 50 miles of the trail have already opened. So far, the trail has cost roughly $41 million, which includes a combination of local, state and federal dollars. A spokesman for the North Central Texas Council of Governments said an estimate for the remaining pieces of the trail is not yet known. In addition to the name, voters chose the trail’s new logo, a circular design that can be customized to incorporate different colors and wildlife.

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Houston Chronicle - August 19, 2022

Texas needs more land dedicated to state parks to keep up with public demand, report shows

Texas state park visitors increased 37% from 2020 to 2021, a new study states, and advocates say more land should be secured for recreation. Texas’ state parks are not adequately meeting public demand, according to a report from Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. About 2.4% of Texas land is protected as parks, forests and other recreation spaces. The report states Texas ranks 35th in the nation for state park acreage per capita. Texas has 8 million more people than Florida, but 86,000 fewer acres of state parkland. More park land would be especially beneficial to Houstonians, said Michael Lewis, clean air and water advocate at Environment Texas. “If you're in Houston, it's hard to get out to a state park and a lot of our parks are kind of in the middle of nowhere, because that's where the nature is,” he said. “By expanding in those areas, we can better serve the world.”

Lewis, who spoke at a news conference Thursday in support of growing state parks, said as the state population grows, the state park system cannot keep up. "As COVID-19 has forced us indoors, Texans have realized exactly how much we want to be outdoors," Lewis said. Texas land trends, released by Texas A&M Natural Resource Institute, found between 1997 and 2017, Texas developed more than 2.2 million acres of farms, ranches and forests, limiting opportunities for conservation as more spaces become at risk of being developed. He said his family camps a lot and has had to make reservations months in advance for some parks in the Austin area. “We have to make reservations months in advance for some places,” he said. The report lists parks that need to be developed and opened to the public. Davis Hill State Park, 45 minutes northeast of Houston, was acquired by the state in 1983, but it remains closed. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department authorized the acquisition of 50 acres, including inholdings and strategic adjacent land. "Moving forward in this park's development is significant progress, as having a new park so close to Houston would provide immense value to the region," the report reads. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation also identified 17 parks and wildlife management areas at risk of development near their borders. They include Brazos Bend State Park and Sheldon Lake State Park in the Greater Houston/Gulf Coastal Plains.

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CBS 11 - August 19, 2022

UNT announces it will not raise tuition for 7th year in a row

While it seems like the price of just about everything is up these days, UNT students will be happy to hear that they won't be paying more for tuition next year. In its August meeting, the UNT System Board of Regents approved a budget for the 2023 fiscal year that includes no raises in tuition. "We are thrilled to announce that for the seventh consecutive year, the UNT System will not raise tuition," said UNT System Chancellor Dr. Michael R. Williams. "During a time when inflation is at an all-time high, the entire UNT System remains committed to providing an education of great value that is accessible and affordable for all students." It was not immediately clear what, if any, alternative measures would be taken to save money, but Williams reiterated that the UNT System was committed to keeping families safe from unnecessary financial burdens.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 18, 2022

Activists are pushing for a polling station in the Dallas County Jail

Activists are pushing for a polling site in the Dallas County Jail by the upcoming November election. But it’s unclear whether that will happen - not all officials are on board, or even sure if it’s possible. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office won’t say whether or not it is open to the idea. “The Dallas Sheriff’s Office has standard operation procedures in place to make sure people charged to our care can vote,” said spokesperson Jasmyn Carter. The effort follows the placement of a polling station in Harris County Jail, the first of its kind in Texas. The county has used the site for multiple elections since last November and has no plans of dropping it, said Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tebben Lewis. Some county commissioners support putting a polling place in the jail, but with personnel shortages, logistical questions and failed inspections racking the jail facilities in Dallas County, trying to host a polling site doesn’t top the list of priorities for others.

“I’m having enough problems just trying to get the staff to run the jail,” said Commissioner John Wiley Price, who chairs the jail population and maintenance committees. “That is less than last on my list.” Advocates acknowledge the challenges but point to what they say is the real issue: political will. “Some of the biggest concerns may be around logistics, maybe within the jail, which really prefaces to, is this something we want to do,” said Carvell Bowens, a lead organizer with Texas Organizing Project. “But this is something we have to do. We can’t just stand by.” Harris County’s success led to efforts in other Texas counties. Several groups, including nonprofits such as Move Texas and Texas Organizing Project, sent a letter to Dallas County officials in May about making it happen here. “We just thought, let’s do it here in Dallas… let’s fight the good fight for those who are incarcerated,” said Andrea Flores, an organizer with MOVE Texas, who added that a similar effort is underway for Bexar County’s jail in San Antonio. Poor access to the ballot and voter suppression have long been issues in Texas but remedies rarely foreground the incarcerated, something advocates for the polling site hope to change.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 18, 2022

Dallas gets $19 million to help residents hit hard by COVID and struggling to pay rent

Dallas renters struggling to pay their rent can apply for up to 18 months in financial relief thanks to the renewal of a city program to help low-income residents who were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. DHA, formerly called the Dallas Housing Authority, on Thursday announced having received an additional $19 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 last month to help people who have lost jobs or income and are behind on rent. Myriam Igoufe, DHA’s chief research and innovation officer, said many residents — especially low-income households — continue to experience long-lasting effects of the pandemic. The new infusion of funds could mean “light at the end of the tunnel” for many renters, helping them gain economic resiliency and avoiding homelessness,” Igoufe said.

“We know that sometimes six months of [rental] assistance is just not enough because of the financial trade-offs and sacrifices that folks have made to be able to keep their head above water.” The first installment of $18 million in federal funds, in 2020, helped about 1,200 renters in three months, Igoufe said. In the last two weeks, DHA has already committed $2.5 million from this second round of funds. Renters who are accepted into the program should expect to get relief within up to a week, Igoufe said. Applications are being taken at dallasrentrelief.com. The program doesn’t cap how much rent relief an applicant can receive each month, but it does limit the number of months a person can receive help. A renter doesn’t have to be delinquent on rent to apply; a self-assessment of one’s risk of homelessness is sufficient, Igoufe said. However, renters must also have a current lease to apply, which means people experiencing homelessness are not eligible. Renters who received money from the program’s first installment in 2020 and 2021 can apply again; however, applicants can only receive a cumulative 18 months of aid. If an applicant already received six months of assistance, they’re eligible for 12 months of support in 2022-23.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 18, 2022

San Antonio’s industrial market is expanding. One example: A $230 million project in China Grove

San Antonio’s industrial real estate market has long paled in comparison with major Texas distribution hubs such as Houston and Dallas, with relatively little construction of new space. That’s begun changing as the city attracts businesses, its population swells and more manufacturing, warehouse and distribution space is built. “We are becoming a more looked-at market,” said Michael Kent, executive vice president at Stream Realty Partners. “We’ve had a lot of space get built here, and that does tend to help tenants as they’re looking around Texas.” One example: A developer is breaking ground this summer on a sprawling $230 million industrial park in China Grove.

NorthPoint Development’s Foster Commerce Center will include six buildings spanning more than 2.2 million square feet off South Foster Road south of Joe Louis Drive. The Kansas City, Mo.-based company said the project will create more than 1,000 permanent jobs and over $35 million in annual wages, as well as 950 temporary construction jobs. Stream Realty Partners, which is leasing Foster Commerce Center, is expecting interest from food and automotive manufacturers and distributors, Vice President Kevin Cosgrove said. H-E-B operates a distribution center across the road. Stream tracks properties for lease that are owned by investors. In 2012, it tallied 31 million square feet of such space with a vacancy rate of 10 percent. Today, the inventory is up to 55 million square feet while vacancy has fallen to less than 6 percent.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 18, 2022

Austin favorite Kerbey Lane Cafe's first San Antonio restaurant now open at Rim Crossing

A San Antonio outpost of the beloved Austin mainstay Kerbey Lane Cafe is now open. The storied restaurant, which is equally revered for its pancakes and queso, has been a favorite of Austinites for more than 40 years. The restaurant's new branch, located in the Rim Crossing shopping center, is the first expansion outside of the Austin area for the brand. "We’ve been flippin’ pancakes and slingin’ queso for the Austin community since 1980,” Kerbey Lane CEO Mason Ayer said in a statement. “We are so thrilled to bring our homemade food and local comfort to our neighbors in San Antonio." Kerbey Lane has earned a legion of loyal followers for its queso, which comes in four variations, including vegan options made with a cashew-based cheese alternative.

Breakfast tacos, eggs Benedict, migas and more are available for the breakfast crowd. Lunch and dinner options include chicken-fried steak and chicken platters, chipotle beer battered fish and chips, bacon-wrapped meatloaf and more. San Antonio's Kerbey Lane location opened Monday. The restaurant is operating with limited hours and selling a limited menu of food items and nonalcoholic drinks at half off through Aug. 28 ahead of the cafe's grand opening. Kerbey Lane Cafe launched its first location in a historic 1930s bungalow on Kerbey Lane in Central Austin in 1980. The brand has since expanded to 10 locations in the greater Austin area.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 18, 2022

City of San Antonio hopes higher pay, particularly at Metro Health, will attract more applicants

City officials are banking that higher salaries will help fill dozens of positions at San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department, which has been plagued with staffing shortages while at the forefront of the city’s response to COVID-19 over the last two years. The city plans to increase its entry-level wage from $15.60 to $17.50 an hour under a proposed budget recently presented to City Council as the pandemic stretches into a third year and the health department confronts the spread of monkeypox. Officials jumped the starting pay to $15.60 last summer, thinking they would get ahead. But mounting inflation has cut into last year’s increase, and private sector employers have raised wages.

It’s become increasingly difficult for the city to fill its open jobs, particularly in the medical field. At the end of July, Metro Health had 90 open positions, a vacancy rate of 16 percent — well above the city’s rate of 9.6 percent. Public health outreach workers are among a smaller handful at the city expected to receive a larger pay bump than others because of how far behind they are from the market wage. A recent job posting for a community health worker shows a wage of $16.90 an hour, below the planned new starting wage of $17.50 proposed in the budget. City leaders hope the better starting pay and raises in the proposed budget will attract new workers to fill vacant positions as much as to keep existing employees on the job.

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National Stories

NBC News - August 19, 2022

Republicans escalate IRS rhetoric as senator warns Americans not to apply for new jobs

It is unusual for a U.S. senator to publicly warn Americans not to apply for a job and threaten to eliminate it. But that's what Senate Republican campaign chair Rick Scott, R-Fla., did this week, publishing an open letter encouraging job seekers not to pursue new IRS positions, vowing that Republicans, who hope to take control of Congress next year, will quickly "defund" those jobs. Scott claimed the Biden administration will use the Democrats' newly enacted Inflation Reduction Act to create "an IRS super-police force" to "audit and investigate" ordinary Americans. "The IRS is making it very clear that you not only need to be ready to audit and investigate your fellow hardworking Americans, your neighbors and friends, you need to be ready and, to use the IRS’s words, willing, to kill them," he wrote, referencing a job posting for the agency's Criminal Investigation division, which has been mischaracterized.

Scott's depiction of a new force of IRS agents targeting average Americans lacks basis in the text of the new law and has been dismissed by Democrats as a fabrication. It was debunked — indirectly — by formal guidance Wednesday by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to the IRS. In a memo to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, obtained by NBC News, Yellen told the agency to use the law's $80 billion cash infusion to "enforce the tax laws against high net-worth individuals, large corporations, and complex partnerships who today pay far less than they owe." "As I wrote last week, these investments will not result in households earning $400,000 per year or less or small businesses seeing an increase in the chances that they are audited relative to historical levels," Yellen wrote, emphasizing that the funds would help "improve taxpayer service, modernize technology, and increase equity in our system of tax administration by pursuing tax evasion by those at the top who today do not pay their tax bill." Scott's threat to eliminate the new IRS jobs is, for the time being at least, an empty one. It's unclear if Republicans will win full control of Congress — and if they did, President Joe Biden would still have veto power to prevent them from undoing his signature legislation. But the missive represents a dramatic escalation in Republican attacks on a provision of the Inflation Reduction Act bolstering the IRS — part of a strategy to stir up anti-government voters with deep misgivings about the agency ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

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CNBC - August 19, 2022

Home sales fell nearly 6% in July as housing market slides into a recession

Sales of previously owned homes fell nearly 6% in July compared with June, according to a monthly report from the National Association of Realtors. The sales count declined to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.81 million units, the group added. It is the slowest sales pace since November 2015, with the exception of a brief plunge at the beginning of the Covid pandemic. Sales dropped about 20% from the same month a year ago. “In terms of economic impact we are surely in a housing recession because builders are not building,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. “However, are homeowners in a recession? Absolutely not. Homeowners are still very comfortable financially.”

The July sales figures are based on closings, so the contracts were likely signed in May and June. Mortgage rates spiked higher in June, with the average rate on the 30-year fixed loan crossing 6%, according to Mortgage News Daily. It then settled back into the high 5% range. That rate started this year around 3%, so the hit to affordability in June was hard, especially coupled with soaring inflation. Homebuyers are also still contending with tight supply. There were 1.31 million homes for sale at the end of July, unchanged from July 2021. At the current sales pace, that represents a 3.3-month supply. While demand is falling off due to weaker affordability, prices remain stubbornly high. The median price of a home sold in July was $403,800, an increase of 10.8% year over year. Price gains are now moderating, though, as this is the smallest annual rise since July 2020. “The median home sales price continued to climb, but at a slower pace for the fifth consecutive month, shining a light on how downshifting buyer demand is moving the housing market back toward a more normal pace of activity,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “A look at active inventory trends shows that home listings were nearly twice as likely to have had a price cut in July 2022 compared to one year ago.”

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Associated Press - August 18, 2022

Judge may allow public release of some of affidavit used for search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago q

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Justice Department to put forward proposed redactions as he committed to making public at least part of the affidavit supporting the search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s estate in Florida. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart gave prosecutors a week to submit a copy of the affidavit with proposed redactions for the information it wants to keep secret after the FBI seized classified and top secret information during a search at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last week. The hearing was convened Thursday after several news organizations, including The Associated Press, sought to unseal additional records tied to last week’s search, including the affidavit. It is likely to contain key details about the Justice Department’s investigation examining whether Trump retained and mishandled classified and sensitive government records.

The Justice Department has adamantly opposed making the affidavit public, arguing that doing so would compromise its ongoing investigation, would expose the identities of witnesses and could prevent others from coming forward and cooperating with the government. The attorneys for the news organizations, however, argued that the unprecedented nature of the Justice Department’s investigation warrants public disclosure. “You can’t trust what you can’t see,” said Chuck Tobin, a lawyer representing the AP and several other news outlets. In addition to ordering the redactions, the judge agreed to make public other documents, including the warrant’s cover sheet, the Justice Department’s motion to seal the documents and the judge’s order requiring them to be sealed. Those documents showed the FBI was specifically investigating the “willful retention of national defense information,” the concealment or removal of government records and obstruction of a federal investigation.

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Washington Post - August 19, 2022

Pa. Senate race no longer tossup as Fetterman memes zero in on Oz’s wealth

In Pennsylvania’s contentious Senate race, Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is hitting his Republican rival, Mehmet Oz, where he lives. Fetterman took aim Wednesday at the number of houses Oz owns, using the celebrity doctor and TV personality’s 10-property portfolio to paint him as a wealthy carpetbagger who is out of touch with average Pennsylvanians. “I’ve never spoken to a PA resident who doesn’t know how many houses they have … let alone be off by 8,” Fetterman quipped on Twitter after a Tuesday report by the Daily Beast that Oz owns 10 properties — far more than the two “legitimate” houses he claimed in an exchange with a Democratic operative during a recent public event. Oz defended himself by saying he purchased his houses with his own money — a swipe at Fetterman, who relied on significant financial assistance from his family until becoming lieutenant governor in 2019. “You lived off your parents until you were almost 50. Regular people don’t mooch off their parents when they’re 50. Get off the couch John!” Oz tweeted. He replied to Fetterman in a follow-up tweet that he had “10 properties” but “2 homes,” which he said he disclosed when he announced his candidacy.

The social media mudslinging has been a hallmark of the race since the candidates emerged from the May primary, though Fetterman’s camp has shown far more fluency with pop culture and social media. (After the Twitter row, the Fetterman campaign trolled Oz with a game-show parody of “Family Feud” titled “How Many Houses Do You Own?”) The social media spat comes as new prognostications show that the tight race is drifting in Fetterman’s favor: On Thursday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report shifted its rating of the race from “toss up” to “lean Democrat.” With less than three months until Election Day, the news is a boon for Democrats who need to retain every seat to hold on to their Senate majority. Earlier this year, analysts had predicted November would be a wipeout for Democrats — midterms tend to be rough on the president’s party — but Democrats are hoping abortion rights and President Biden’s recent legislative wins on drug pricing and climate change will galvanize voters this fall. At the same time, several Republican Senate candidates endorsed by former president Donald Trump have struggled, including Oz, retired football star Herschel Walker in Georgia, and venture capitalist and author J.D. Vance in Ohio. Fetterman has repeatedly mocked Oz for his supposed lack of Pennsylvania bona fides, enlisting New Jersey celebs to troll Oz, who spent decades as a resident of the Garden State before moving in 2020. When Oz attempted to reach voters with more slice-of-life messages, Fetterman’s team highlighted the wealthy doctor’s often-fumbling attempts to style himself as an everyman.

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CNN - August 19, 2022

Russian vehicles seen inside turbine hall at Ukraine nuclear plant

New video has emerged online showing Russian military vehicles inside a turbine hall connected to a nuclear reactor at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where intensified shelling has fueled fears of a nuclear disaster. CNN has geolocated and confirmed the authenticity of the video, which began circulating on social media Thursday. It's unclear when the video was taken. The footage shows one of the six turbine rooms located on the western side of the nuclear plant, located in the southeastern city of Enerhodar. Each turbine hall is connected and built into a large building that houses a nuclear reactor. The vehicles, which appear to be standard Russian military trucks, are sitting in the far western edge of the building on the ground floor, just over 400 feet (130 meters) from the reactor.

At least five vehicles -- with one clearly marked with the pro-war symbol "Z" -- are seen in the video, with at least two tent-like structures nearby. There are a number of assorted pallets near the vehicles. It's unclear from the video whether the pallets and tent-like structures are part of the Russian military or are related to power plant operations. Moscow has previously said the only military equipment at the plant is related to guard duties. On Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that satellite imagery, "shows that weapons, especially heavy ones, are not placed on the territory of this station." CNN reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment on what is inside and around the military vehicles in the turbine room, but did not immediately receive a response. Both Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of threatening nuclear terrorism, particularly around the plant. Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian forces of storing heavy weaponry inside the complex and using it as cover to launch attacks, knowing that Ukraine can't return fire without risking hitting one of the plant's reactors. Moscow, meanwhile, has claimed Ukrainian troops are targeting the site.

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New York Times - August 19, 2022

DeSantis hails voter fraud crackdown, but start is slow

Seven weeks after Florida’s state government opened a new office of election crimes and security, Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Thursday that 17 people had been charged with casting illegal ballots in the 2020 election, in which 11.1 million Floridians voted. The governor called the arrests “a first salvo” in a long-overdue crackdown on voting crimes. Critics called the announcement a publicity stunt that said less about voter fraud than about holes in the state’s election security apparatus that had allowed the violations to occur in the first place. Mr. DeSantis, who is seeking re-election this year and is widely considered to be running an unannounced campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has made action against voter fraud a centerpiece of his tenure as governor. He offered crucial backing last year to legislation tightening the rules for registering to vote and casting ballots. The State Legislature allotted $1.1 million for his 15-person election crimes office after he proposed its creation late last year.

But while the specter of widespread fraud has become a staple of Republican political rhetoric, there is no evidence that election crimes are a serious problem in Florida or anywhere else in the nation. There and elsewhere, most violations appear to involve people who ran afoul of laws that restrict voting by former felons, or people who cast two ballots, usually in separate states where they spend different parts of the year. Experts say that many of those violations appear to be inadvertent. The 17 people charged on Thursday were all felons, convicted of murder or sex offenses, who were barred by law from casting ballots. All but one were men, and all but two were in their 50s or older. Casting an ineligible ballot is a felony punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and up to $5,000 in fines. “That was against the law, and now they’re going to pay for it,” Mr. DeSantis said. The governor said more arrests were forthcoming, and suggested that they would include so-called double voters and noncitizens who cast illegal ballots — another offense that experts say is frequently the result of confusion about voting rules. He added that a paucity of voting fraud prosecutions in recent years reflects a lack of enforcement, not a lack of fraud.

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Newsclips - August 18, 2022

Lead Stories

Washington Post - August 18, 2022

Trump rakes in millions off FBI search at Mar-a-Lago

Former president Donald Trump bombarded his supporters with more than 100 emails asking for money based on the FBI’s search of the Mar-a-Lago Club for classified materials last week. They paid off. Contributions to Trump’s political action committee topped $1 million on at least two days after the Aug. 8 search of his Palm Beach, Fla., estate, according to two people familiar with the figures. The daily hauls jumped from a level of $200,000 to $300,000 that had been typical in recent months, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss nonpublic information. The donations stayed unusually high for several more days and are still above average, both of these people said, though they have leveled off in recent days. There are more contributors than usual, these people said, and the average donation has climbed.

The influx comes at a crucial time for Trump as he considers an early announcement for a 2024 presidential campaign and has seen dwindling returns on his online fundraising solicitations earlier this year. The former president’s PAC brought in $36 million in the first half of the year, dropping below $50 million in a six-month period for the first time since he left office, according to Federal Election Commission data. The cash bonanza also provides a concrete sign that Trump is reaping some political benefits from the revelation that he is under investigation by the Justice Department for potential violations of laws including the Espionage Act. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly boasted in emails, social media posts and right-wing media articles that the search warrant would backfire on President Biden and rally Republicans around Trump. The search prompted sympathetic statements from politicians such as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and former vice president Mike Pence, who are not reflexively full-throated in defending Trump. And on Tuesday, Wyoming primary voters delivered a resounding defeat to Rep. Liz Cheney, whose leadership as a Republican on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol made her a top priority for Trump to unseat. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

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Axios - August 18, 2022

Rep. Cody Harris urges rural schools to wade into book wars

State Rep. Cody Harris, an East Texas Republican, wants rural schools to speak out against "pornographic content" in public schools, using Austin ISD as an example of a school district "actively engaged in exposing students" to explicit material. Why it matters: The move by Harris is the latest effort by GOP lawmakers to wage a war against content in schools and libraries that they deem inappropriate, including books examining race, gender and sexuality. What they're saying: "Schools like Austin ISD are actively engaged in exposing students — even elementary school students — to grotesque sexual and downright pornographic content that is unquestionably inappropriate and has no place in a public school system," Harris, who is up for reelection, wrote to superintendents in his district in a letter obtained by Axios Austin.

The other side: "No, we're not," Jason Stanford, a spokesperson for AISD, quipped. Between the lines: A spokesperson for Harris sent Axios videos from a Twitter account called "Libsoftiktok" — which regularly denounces transgender people and gender-affirming care for children — as reason for the letter. The account posted at least two videos tagging Austin ISD. One example included Austin ISD's "Pride Out! Party in the Park" event in March, which hosted a drag show, activities for all ages and music at Eastside Early College High School. The district held the event in defiance of a letter from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said it violated state law. Details: Harris added that while local control should be preserved, "it should not be used as an excuse to allow out-of-control political subdivisions to bombard students with filth — whether it be gay pride celebration at an elementary school or graphic illustrations in a library book. I am convinced that for good rural schools to survive, you must speak out — whether that's on your own or through the association that you pay to represent you," Harris said.

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Houston Chronicle - August 18, 2022

Oil companies struggle to secure financing, as banks feel climate pressure

Increasing questions around the future of oil demand are making it harder and harder for oil companies to secure financing from banks and other large investors for drilling projects. As governments move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the expansion of electric vehicles, some financial institutions are becoming wary about investing in oil projects that take years to develop when demand could be substantially lower once production begins. As a result, the cost of securing capital through loans and selling stock is expected to double for oil companies in the years ahead, making projects more expensive and less desirable to investors, said Jim Burkhard, head of oil markets research at S&P Global.

“The investment threshold for investing in new oil is higher today,” he said. “There’s much greater uncertainty about the future of oil demand. You have all these markets saying we don’t want your oil at some point in the future.” Driving the trend are asset management firms and investments banks less inclined to put money into an industry that has not only struggled financially since the oil price crash of 2014 but is also in conflict with internal mandates to reduce the carbon footprints of the companies in which they invest. That comes even as oil companies’ stock prices have improved dramatically over the past 12 months, with a resurgent global economy and the war in Ukraine driving up crude prices. For instance, shares of Exxon Mobil, the Houston-based oil giant, have increased 65 percent over the last 12 months. But investment banks remain reluctant to issue long-term debt to oil companies, a trend that began even before the loss of demand that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dean Foreman, chief economist at the trade group American Petroleum Institute.

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Reuters - August 18, 2022

Pence says he would consider testifying to Jan. 6 Capitol riot panel

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday he would consider testifying before the House of Representatives committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol if he were to receive an invitation. Aides to Pence told the panel in June that former President Donald Trump pressured the then-vice president to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Pence has said he believes Trump was wrong to believe the vice president had the power to reverse the outcome of the election, whose results were being certified by Pence and lawmakers when the Capitol came under attack.

Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. One of Pence's senior aides has testified to the committee, and his top staffer at the time, Marc Short, testified before a federal grand jury investigating the attack. The committee, however, has not publicly extended an invitation to Pence. Speaking at an event in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Pence said he would give any invitation to testify "due consideration.""Any invitation that would be directed to me, I would have to reflect on the unique role I was serving in as vice president," Pence told people gathered for a "Politics & Eggs" breakfast at New Hampshire's Saint Anselm College. A Jan. 6 committee spokesperson did not immediately respond on Wednesday to a request for comment. Members of the committee said in June they were considering whether to compel Pence to testify. Pence said on Wednesday it "would be unprecedented in history for a vice president to be summoned to testify on Capitol Hill." The U.S. Senate website shows that Schuyler Colfax voluntarily appeared before a House select committee in January 1873 while vice president to Ulysses S. Grant from 1869-1873. At least six current and former presidents have also testified before congressional committees, the website shows.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Trump to host fundraiser for Texas AG Ken Paxton at New Jersey golf course

Donald Trump is set to host a pricey fundraiser for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at the former president’s New Jersey golf course. The fundraiser will take place Sept. 1 at Trump’s National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and will also feature Fox News commentators, according to the event’s invitation. “Attorney General Paxton is grateful for President Trump’s support and is deeply honored the President has agreed to host this event,” Paxton spokeswoman Kimberly Hubbard said. Tickets for the fundraising dinner range from $1,000 to $50,000. Included in the base ticket price is a dinner reception and an after party with unnamed Fox News commentators. Guests willing to shell out $50,000 will get a picture with Trump and ride on a private jet from Dallas to the New Jersey golf club, according to the invitation.

The fundraiser comes as recent polls show Paxton, who is seeking a third term as the state’s top lawyer, could be vulnerable in November. The incumbent is two points ahead of Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza, the tightest margin of any statewide race, a recent Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll found. Of the poll’s respondents, 34 percent said they planned to vote for Paxton, and 32 percent plan to vote for Garza. Garza, a political newcomer, outraised Paxton in recent months, though the incumbent has more cash on hand. Paxton had $3.5 million on hand, ahead of Garza’s $450,000. Trump endorsed Paxton’s bid for reelection in July 2021. The two have long been political allies, and Paxton supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Paxton filed a failed lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to invalidate election results in four states. Paxton beat out primary challenger George P. Bush in May, despite a history of legal trouble and scandals. The attorney general was indicted for securities fraud in 2015, and has yet to face trial. He is also being investigated by the FBI for allegations he exchanged state secrets for favors from a campaign donor. The former president has helped Paxton fundraise before, hosting an event for the AG at Mar-A-Lago in September 2021.

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Associated Press - August 17, 2022

AP, Texas Tribune and other newsrooms ask court to unseal Henry Cuellar search warrant

The Texas Tribune and other national and local news organizations on Tuesday asked a federal court to unseal a search warrant used in the January FBI raid of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s Laredo home and campaign office. The raid was a remarkable move by the executive branch on a sitting lawmaker given the search’s proximity to Cuellar’s competitive March 1 primary. The details of the raid have not been officially released, but Cuellar’s attorney, Joshua Berman, has said that the congressman is not the target of a federal investigation. Cuellar has also said that the raid will show he has done no wrong. Shortly after the raid, ABC News reported that a grand jury sought records related to Cuellar, his wife and one of his campaign staffers over connections to Azerbaijan. Cuellar is a member of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus and often speaks out advocating for the oil-rich country. The Associated Press confirmed the report.

“The adequacy (or inadequacy) of the Justice Department’s guidance on taking overt investigative steps close-in-time to an election is a subject of keen public interest and a source of recurring public debate,” the news organizations write in their request. Cuellar’s office deferred comment to Berman, his lawyer. Berman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FBI declined to comment. The Associated Press, Gannett, Gray Media Group and Hearst also signed on to the request, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Texas. Gannett and Hearst both operate numerous major Texas newspapers, and Gray Media Group owns Texas television stations including Laredo. Lawyers from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press are representing the news organizations for free. In addition to the search warrant, the news outlets request the search warrant applications, supporting affidavits and any other related records.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 17, 2022

Nicole Russell: This conservative is rethinking gun culture after Uvalde

I’m a conservative mother of four who goes to a gun range semi-regularly to practice. But after the Uvalde tragedy, I’ve wrestled with what it means to keep our children safe. I’m not the only one. A new back to school ad released Tuesday by the political group Mothers Against Greg Abbott pits juxtaposes a child’s innocence and gun violence. In the ad, an upbeat country song plays while a mom dresses her young boy for school. When the song ends and the camera pans out, the boy is wearing body armor and a helmet. “Our kids aren’t soldiers,” the ad reads. “Vote for change November 8.” The ad sounds happy but looks macabre. The irony exaggerates, but it’s jarring and makes a salient point: In Uvalde, 19 kids similar to the boy in the ad were obliterated so badly the coroner has purposely refused to describe what he saw when identifying their bodies. Our kids are indeed not soldiers and apparently, the law enforcement who arrived in Uvalde to help that day and failed to act aren’t, either.

The coroner need not go into graphic detail. Over four years ago, a similarly deranged shooter entered another school, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 adults and high school students. The killer has already been found guilty but his sentencing trial has been ongoing for weeks now, and broadcast to the public. The trial has shown grisly evidence of what an AR-15 does to a human body. It’s almost unimaginable save for the fact that multiple medical examiners have taken to the stand to describe it. Students who survived have been called to testify and show graphic photos and videos from their cell phones to the jury. Members of the generation that grew up online, whose instinct was to film the tragedy as it unfolded, had to live through more guilt and trauma as they played for the jury the sounds of friends moaning as they died. Between the chilling audio, emotional testimony of parents — the mother of one victim, Luke Hoyer, still hasn’t moved his cell phone charger from the outlet in his room the day he was killed — and the technical verbiage of the medical examiner’s analysis, the Parkland sentencing trial is Exhibit A of the terrible evils a human can inflict upon others. There are all kinds of evil in the world, but that perpetrated on children, innocent human beings, seems the most gut-wrenching. For a parent, losing a child, especially to a heinous tragedy, represents the unthinkable. Most parents would rather die than outlive their children. Keeping them safe is centermost in the mind, and in times like these, nauseatingly so.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 18, 2022

North Texas school leaders worry about new social studies standards

As the Texas State Board of Education works to retool the state’s guidelines for what and when students learn about history, civics and geography, some school officials in the Fort Worth area say they’re worried that the proposed standards the board is considering are unworkable. The board is in the middle of the first major rewrite of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, for social studies in more than a decade. The standards dictate what Texas students are expected to know at each grade level. The biggest changes in the proposed standards include a shift to a more chronological presentation of history in elementary and middle school and the elimination of stand-alone Texas history classes in fourth and seventh grades. State history would instead be included alongside other concepts across several grade levels.

The board held its first public hearing about the proposed changes on Aug. 1, with a second meeting scheduled later this month. The board plans to hold a final vote to adopt the proposals in November. The drafts are available online. But social studies curriculum directors at some districts in Tarrant County say they’re worried that Texas history could become watered down under the proposed standards. They also say the proposed standards include concepts at the early grades that young children won’t be able to understand. “There are a lot of things that we’re asking students to understand or be able to do that go far beyond what their conceptual understanding is for the world in general,” said Darsi Bickley, the social studies curriculum coordinator for the Northwest Independent School District. Bickley pointed to a section in the kindergarten standards that would require that students be able to explain what rights the 13 colonies demanded from Great Britain in the years leading up to the American Revolution. But kindergartners struggle to understand that Texas is a part of the United States, which is a part of North America, Bickley said. Most won’t be able to explain what Great Britain is and what the 13 colonies were, let alone how they related to each other, she said.

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Houston Chronicle - August 18, 2022

GOP already is attacking Harris County’s new elections administrator, citing tax lien

Harris County's new elections administrator has not taken office yet, but the Harris County GOP is already trying to shape his reputation. On Wednesday, State Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, tweeted an image of records showing Clifford Tatum has a federal tax lien of more than $100,000. Bettencourt questioned Tatum's ability to run the office based on his tax records. According to the tweet, the records were obtained July 5, the date Tatum's selection was announced. The Internal Revenue Service filed the $108,209 lien against Tatum last October. In response to Bettencourt’s tweet, Tatum said in a statement: "This is a personal tax matter and not related to my career as an elections administrator. I have been in touch with the IRS and expect the matter to be resolved by the end of the year. I have been a public servant for over 20 years and my personal life has never impacted my professional career."

Tatum was selected by a unanimous vote of the five-member Harris County Election Commission in July. He was appointed to replace former Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, whose resignation went into effect on July 1. Beth Stevens, director of voting for the office, currently serves as interim administrator. Tatum served as general counsel for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2015 to 2019. He is the former executive director of the District of Columbia Board of Elections, and served as the interim director for the Georgia State Elections Division. On Tuesday, Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel was the only person on the five-member Harris County Election Commission to vote against final approval of Tatum, which could not be completed until after he had established residency in Harris County. The commission met briefly to take the vote and adjourned in under 10 minutes.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Bank of Texas gets a new CEO

Bank of Texas is getting a new leader on Jan. 1. Mark Wade will replace longtime CEO Norm Bagwell, who led the bank for more than 15 years and will transition to a part-time role in January. “I have tremendous pride in the brand and track record of success we have built in Texas, and I have no doubt Mark will continue that momentum when he steps into the role,” Bagwell said in a statement.

Bagwell has a long history in the banking world of Dallas. After getting degrees in history and business administration from Southern Methodist University, he worked for MBank in Dallas, which failed in 1989. He then worked his way up to president of Bank One Dallas, which merged with JP Morgan Chase. While working at Chase, Bagwell was suffering from kidney failure, and his wife, Robin, donated one of her kidneys to him. Bagwell previously told The Dallas Morning News, “Robin said, ‘I have done the research, and I have decided that I am going to donate my kidney to someone. If you want it, you’d better get in line.’ " The up-and-coming leader, Wade, joined the company in 2001 as the Dallas corporate banking manager and was named president and chief operating officer in 2008. Since 2020, he has been executive director of the company’s commercial banking line of business.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 17, 2022

New Texas law has ‘In God We Trust’ signs popping up on campus as school begins

As the new school year starts, “In God We Trust” signs are popping up at schools across Texas under a new state law that requires schools to display them if they are donated. The law was known as Senate Bill 797 and it was passed by the Legislature and enacted by Gov. Greg Abbott last year. It says schools “must display in a conspicuous place in each building of the school or institution a durable poster or framed copy of the United States national motto,” so long as it is donated to the school.

In the Houston area, the Yellow Rose of Texas Republican Women donated the signs to a number of schools in Cy-Fair ISD. And the Northwest Austin Republican Women’s Club donated the signs to local schools, which bill sponsor Sen. Bryan Hughes promoted on Tuesday. “The national motto, In God We Trust, asserts our collective trust in a sovereign God,” the East Texas Republican wrote on Twitter, identifying himself as the author of the bill. I’m encouraged to see groups … and many individuals coming forward to donate these framed prints to remind future generations of the national motto.” Also, in Dallas-Fort Worth, “America’s only Christian conservative wireless provider,” Patriot Mobile, donated the signs to every campus in Southlake Carroll ISD. Southlake has been the epicenter of recent culture wars over public education in Texas, with highly-publicized battles over critical race theory, district diversity policies and how and whether the Holocaust can be lawfully taught under Texas law. The district is the subject of three federal civil rights probes into alleged discrimination against students based on their race, gender and country of origin.

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Houston Public Media - August 16, 2022

Houston ISD enrollment down 15,000 compared to pre-pandemic level

More than 209,000 students were enrolled in Houston ISD during the school year interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years later, the district’s total student population still hasn’t recovered. Statistics from HISD show 194,852 children are enrolled for the upcoming 2022-23 school year. That’s 15,000 less than the 2019-20 total. School officials said the pandemic caused chaos in the education system, and that is the main reason why numbers remain down. Districts in the area and around the country lost contact with some students when classes abruptly transitioned to remote instruction. "As national trends reflect a decrease in enrollment following the pandemic, HISD is committed to simplifying the enrollment process, removing barriers, and expanding outreach efforts to our surrounding communities to ensure all students have access to a world-class education in HISD,” the district said in an emailed statement.

HISD said its Student Enrollment team has participated in several community events and collaborated with its Research and Accountability department to target the neighborhoods with declining enrollment. "Each nine-feeder pattern community was canvassed to ensure all families had access to enrollment information," the district said. "Over the next two weeks, our teams will continue to engage families in their communities and provide enrollment guidance and opportunities at several community-based events." Student enrollment representatives will be at Delmar Stadium during the first week of school beginning August 22 to assist families with enrollment questions and concerns. Outreach efforts include direct mail, e-mail, phone banking and home visits. Superintendent Millard House III and other district officials went door knocking at this time last year to encourage students to return to school. The "Students Within Reach Walk" resulted in 81 HISD students returning to school. The Walk is an annual event, but the district didn’t confirm whether or not they had an event this year. On Monday, HISD was given its first Texas Education Agency ranking since 2020. The district received a B, along with several other area school districts like Alief, Fort Bend, and Klein.

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Axios - August 18, 2022

Texas teachers are paid nearly 22% less than other college grads

Texas public school teachers get paid 21.5% less than other college graduates, according to the Economic Policy Institute, which advocates for fair pay for low- and middle-income workers. Why it matters: Schools are already struggling with teacher shortages, and this pay gap can exacerbate the current conditions and discourage college students from entering the profession, the new report says. The big picture: The national pay gap between teachers and similarly educated non-teachers grew to a record 23.5% in 2021.

Inflation-adjusted weekly wages for teachers have remained essentially flat since 1996, increasing just $29 compared to 2021 figures, the institute found. College graduates in other professions saw wages increase $445 in the same period. Yes, but: The Texas teacher pay gap is not the absolute worst — Colorado's is 35.9% ... yikes! The smallest pay gap is Rhode Island at 3.4%. The Texas Education Agency's minimum salary for teachers with zero experience is $33,660 in the 2021-22 school year. The median starting salary for teachers in the Houston area is about $60,000. Zoom in: Houston ISD raised all teacher salaries by 11% for the 2022-23 school year to be competitive with other districts in the region. Starting pay is now $61,500.

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Axios - August 17, 2022

Some Texans departing the state over social laws

Finding new laws limiting LGBTQ+ rights intolerable, some Austinites are now leaving the state. The big picture: There are still vastly more people moving to Austin — and Texas generally — than leaving it, but interviews conducted by Axios suggest a new wave of migration may take hold as people desperate or well-off enough aim for states they deem more welcoming. Catch up quick: Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year ordered state agencies to investigate the parents of transgender kids for child abuse for pursuing gender-affirming care. Last year, he signed into law a measure that forces public school students to play on sports teams based on their assigned sex at birth.

By the numbers: About 1.8 million Texans identify as LGBT, per an analysis of census data by the Public Policy Institute of California that studied only those four identities. Roughly 100,000 people in the greater Austin metro describe themselves as LGBT, according to a 2021 city report. What they're saying: "All the legislation with trans kids in schools, that was our moment of knowing the Texas we grew up in really was no longer safe," said Ava Cole, who moved with her wife, a software engineer, and 2 1/2-year-old child to Asheville, North Carolina, in May. Cole says she's "very attached" to her identity as a Texan — family lore holds that her ancestors arrived in the Lone Star State in the early 19th Century — but in North Carolina, where a Republican legislature faces off against a Democratic governor, she said, "there's a still a fair fight." Plus: "Liberal Austin has always felt a little like a joke to me," says Cole. "It's not queer. There's not a queer neighborhood."

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Houston Public Media - August 17, 2022

University of Houston student arrested, charged with arson after Monday night fire in campus dorm

A University of Houston student is accused of intentionally starting a fire Monday night on the fourth floor of a campus dormitory, causing the temporary displacement of dozens of residents. Kevin Okofo, 26, was arrested Monday night and charged with arson for his alleged role in the fire, according to Harris County court documents, which say the fire was started by igniting a flammable liquid. In a motion for sufficient bail filed Tuesday morning by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Okofo is alleged to have said he started the fire at the University Lofts, 4200 MLK Blvd., “because he wanted to and because he could.” Capt. Bret Collier of the University of Houston Police Department said Okofo also is suspected of trying to start a second fire outside of a convenience store in a student common area on campus.

He was spotted nearby and arrested by UHPD, according to Collier, who said no injuries were reported at either location. “It’s worrisome that it happened,” said Faisal Rawas, whose daughter lived at University Lofts last year and was moving back in Tuesday for the start of a new school year. “It just can happen at any time. That’s the scary part, and that the guy was trying do to it somewhere else also. I don’t know what’s the deal.” Okofo requested to be provided with an attorney and had not been assigned one as of early Tuesday afternoon, according to court documents. He remained in jail as of Tuesday, and a bail amount had not yet been set by a judge, court records show. Chris Stipes, a spokesperson for the university, said as many as 293 residents and staff members were registered to be in the building at the time of the fire, which occurred shortly after 9 p.m. Monday, according to Collier. All residents were evacuated, and about 60 students accepted an offer for accommodations at other dorms on campus, Stipes said.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Prominent Dallas lawyer gets 5 years in federal prison for money laundering

Former Dallas defense attorney and DART board member Ray Jackson has been sentenced to five years in federal prison on a money laundering charge. Jackson, 52, pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to launder money he believed was from narcotics trafficking, saying that he laundered $380,000. A judge sentenced him Tuesday. Jackson was arrested in April 2021 after a sting operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. A former client of Jackson’s, identified as “Person A” in court records, was the leader of a “large-scale opioid distribution ring,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas said. He recommended Jackson to an undercover DEA agent in September 2020 as someone who could launder about half a million dollars in drug proceeds a month through nontraceable cash businesses — such as carwashes and laundromats — and shell corporations.

“Person A vouched for Jackson’s trustworthiness,” authorities wrote in court records. The undercover agent delivered $100,000 in cash to Jackson in his office three weeks later, authorities said. Using various bank accounts with his firm, Jackson eventually deposited the money, minus a 5% fee, into the DEA’s undercover bank account. The following month, the agent took $300,000 in cash to Jackson’s office, where he again negotiated a 5% fee to funnel the money to the agent’s bank account. Jackson had faced up to 20 years in prison for each financial transaction. His lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Authorities noted that drug traffickers need people to launder the proceeds from their sales. “With overdose deaths and poisonings reaching record highs, everyone will be held accountable for their criminal actions,” Eduardo A. Chávez, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Dallas office, said in a written statement.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

UTSW is awarded $2 million to recruit a new scientist to study skin cancer

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute approved nearly $90 million in awards for cancer research, including $2 million in funding for The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The grants were approved during a meeting of the institute’s oversight committee at the State Capitol on Wednesday morning. The $2 million awarded to UTSW is a recruitment grant to relocate Siqi Liu, Ph.D., from Rockefeller University to UTSW. Recruitment grants help to bring “the brightest cancer researchers to Texas,” institute CEO Wayne Roberts said in a statement. In addition, nine prevention programs across the state received grants, including one that will focus on increasing breast cancer screenings for Black residents of rural East Texas. The program is called DEFEAT at UT Health Tyler. Finally, the committee approved $64 million for nine Texas companies focused on developing new cancer products, drugs or therapies.

The largest awards were $17.6 million for PLUS Therapeutics in Austin and $17 million for Rapamycin Holdings in San Antonio. Michelle Le Beau, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at the institute, said that recruitment awards are when institutions nominate top scientists around the country to set up a lab in Texas. The scientist coming to UTSW on a grant, Liu, is studying the mechanisms that lead to skin cancer. “She is an extremely accomplished young scientist,” Le Beau said. Liu will use the $2 million to set up a new lab at UTSW and hire a team of about three to five people, said Le Beau. “With scientists, there is an outstanding return on investment,” she said. “Because they use the funds to conduct research that they then use to secure larger amounts of funding from CPRIT or national funding resources.” The institute, which was established in 2007, has recruited about 280 scientists to Texas and has awarded over $3 billion in grants to Texas research institutions and organizations. The organization said its efforts have generated over $7.6 billion in additional public and private investment.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

‘The Russians wanted to break me’: Fort Worth native Trevor Reed on his time in prison

“Hang in there, take one day at a time. Just remember that there’s people here who are fighting for you and that care about you, and that they’re not going to stop fighting until [you] all come home.” That’s the advice Trevor Reed, the Fort Worth native and former Marine who was imprisoned in Russia for almost three years, has for Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad right now, he said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News Wednesday. Several Texans are on that list, including WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner. Last week, just a little over three months since his release from Russian prison, Reed called on President Joe Biden and Congress to classify the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“Russia has begun to see foreigners there, especially Americans, as hostages, and taking hostages is a terrorist act,” Reed said. “If Russia has developed that type of strategy for dealing with foreign states, and they’re going to act like terrorists, then they deserve to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism — not only for that, also for their invasion of Ukraine.” Reed was arrested in Moscow in 2019 after he got drunk and allegedly grabbed the arm of an officer as he was being driven to a police station. Prosecutors said he caused the vehicle to swerve and endangered the lives of officers. The U.S. ambassador at the time dismissed the allegation as “preposterous,” and video from traffic cameras showed no evidence of swerving. In April, the Biden administration organized a trade to secure Reed’s freedom, releasing a Russian drug smuggler who had spent a dozen years in U.S. prison. Reed’s family, friends and the White House were worried Reed had contracted tuberculosis in the Russian gulag, and concern for his health was mounting. Reed said he ultimately testing negative for tuberculosis, but his doctors guessed that never receiving treatment for COVID-19, which he contracted in May 2021, led to him tearing the bronchi in his lungs.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Dallas County begins to lay the groundwork for possibly building a new jail

Dallas County commissioners have taken the first step in considering renovations or new county jail construction by allocating more than half a million dollars to study their options. The Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved an exploratory committee to review the current county jail facility on West Commerce Street in an effort to meet state standards. Dallas County’s jail has failed inspections two years in a row. Tuesday’s reported jail population count surpassed 6,300 inmates, reaching nearly 88 percent capacity. Every month, the county spends $12 million to run and operate the jail. Commissioner Elba Garcia said the jail is the county’s biggest expense, and it’s time to revisit whether the costs are justified. “It’s the right time to do it if we want to look into the future,” she said in an interview. “We have a dated criminal justice system, we need to be sure that we incorporate new jail standards, and we incorporate new ways of doing things.”

Dallas County has contracted with engineering consultant firm MEPCE for $595,000 to provide a master plan study within six months. The study is expected to conduct a “thorough evaluation of current and future capacity needs for the system.” Existing maintenance costs, policies and protocol, the needs of current and existing inmates, the meeting of state standards and facility layout will all be reviewed. The jail is housing more inmates than normal because of a judicial case backlog and lengthy waiting times for mentally ill inmates who should be transferred to state hospitals, said Commissioner John Wiley Price, head of the Jail Population Committee. The jail has been a sore point for Dallas County, despite more than $354 million in jail tower upkeep and costs over the last five years, according to county data. This year’s inspection report found logging observations for suicidal inmates were out of compliance, jail doors were broken by inmates and multiple inmates complained about uncleaned laundry for those under crisis care.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 17, 2022

Judge Alex Kim defends Tarrant juvenile courts after audit

The head of Tarrant County’s 323rd District Court, which oversees juvenile criminal cases, spoke publicly for the first time in his defense after an audit found his two associate judges rarely holding hearings and the vast majority of youths held in detention are Black or Hispanic. Judge Alex Kim told members of the Juvenile Board on Wednesday that that he runs the most efficient court in Tarrant County and that race is never a factor in his decisions to detain juveniles. The Juvenile Board, made up of judges, formally reviewed the audit’s findings during its meeting Wednesday, a day after county commissioners had strong words about the problems uncovered. County commissioners had requested the audit because the juvenile detention center has been overcrowded for months.

The audit’s findings show that while the numbers of cases have declined over the years, more youths are being detained and for longer periods before trial. The two associate judges who handle juvenile cases cancel or postpone so many of their scheduled hearings that one is called “ghost” court privately among employees. Glen Whitley, the leader of the county commissioners, has called for “defunding” the two associate judges. On Wednesday, the Juvenile Board members pressed Whitley on why he wanted them to decide so quickly to do away with the two judges. Whitley said said that the county must submit its budget by Sept. 13, and the commissioners need to know whether to include the salaries. “I’m not convinced how much those associate judges are working,” Whitley said. The commissioners on Tuesday agreed to hire the auditor for more in-depth review of the system. The new audit likely won’t be finished by Sept. 13. No decisions were made Wednesday by the Juvenile Board. Kim responded Wednesday that the COVID omicron strain forced judges to close their courts early in the year. Not true, said Bennie Medlin, the director of the county’s Juvenile Services. Medlin said that the system handled COVID well, and there was never an outbreak in the center.

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Houston Chronicle - August 18, 2022

Ex-Harris Co. judge gets probation in shotgun attack during confrontation with ex-husband's new lover

Years of legal trouble for a former Harris County civil judge have come to an end with three years probation. Alexandra Smoots on Wednesday wept as Judge Chuck Silverman granted her deferred adjudication on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge — an offense stemming from her decision in August 2020 to fire a shotgun during an argument with her ex-husband’s girlfriend. The incident exacerbated a downward spiral marked by laundry list of personal woes, including a breast cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy treatment, infidelity, divorce, foreclosure on her home and a federal indictment for wire fraud. The indictment prompted her suspension from the bench in the 164th District Court.

She pleaded guilty to the federal charges later in 2020 and the case in the 183rd District Court represented the last hitch to moving on. Smoot’s fate in the assault case was expected to be decided Wednesday during a pre-sentencing investigation, but the judge told both parties that he had already settled on a punishment and the hearing would be a “waste of time.” “I don’t think it’s a benefit to this court and society to idle along,” said Silverman, who addressed Smoots as judge throughout the appearance. “I would like everything to continue on the up for you.” Houston police arrested Smoots following the incident in the 14000 block of Jewel Meadow Drive involving a woman whom her then-husband had an affair with. She arrived at the home — knowing that her spouse was inside with the woman — and honked her horn repeatedly. The girlfriend came outside wielding a longboard, court records show. The judge then pointed a shotgun out her car window and opened fire, striking the home. The judge fled, according to police.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 17, 2022

Omni Fort Worth plans to add 400 rooms, restaurant downtown

A major expansion of the Omni Fort Worth Hotel, which was sidelined during the pandemic, is back on track with plans for a second smaller tower extending to West Lancaster Avenue and an additional parking garage. The $217 million project will result in a 400-room expansion over an entire city block, currently the site of a Tarrant Community College administrative building. Omni is under contract with TCC to purchase the property. The city of Fort Worth would contribute $53 million in incentives to the project. When the work is complete, including a refresh of the existing hotel, the Omni Fort Worth will have 1,008 rooms over two blocks across from the Fort Worth Convention Center along Houston Street. The existing Omni tower is 33 stories and was built in 2009.

It is unclear how many stories the new tower will have, but renderings show it would be similar in height to other Lancaster corridor buildings. The expansion was expected to start moving forward in March 2020, but COVID-19 shut down the country and upended the travel industry. The halt forced a full reconsideration of the project, which at the time had a $174 million price tag. The revived plans were presented Tuesday to the Fort Worth City Council. Robert Sturns, director of Fort Worth’s economic development, discussed a partnership between the Omni and the city. “The fact that Omni is looking forward to bring this project back is just an indicator that the overall health of the market is strong and better,” Sturns said. The Omni has committed to creating 50,000 square feet of meeting space in the new tower, and 15,000 square feet for a restaurant facing Lancaster Avenue. In exchange, the city would contribute incentives for improvements to the surrounding streetscape. The luxury hotel chain must spend a minimum of $202.3 million on the expansion with 15% of hard and soft costs to minority and women-owned contractors, according to the city. Completion is required by the end of 2026.

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Axios - August 17, 2022

Downtown Dallas office space is being converted into housing

Developers are converting millions of square feet of office buildings into residential units in an effort to fill empty space in Downtown Dallas. Why it matters: Dallas is competing with the broader North Texas region to attract employers and residents alike — and reimagining the city's core plays a big role in that effort. Driving the news: One of the most recently announced renovation projects will convert multiple floors of the Santander Tower — previously known as Thanksgiving Tower — into 228 apartments. Other projects include Bryan Tower, Energy Plaza and Renaissance Tower, per the DMN.

State of play: More people are working from home or only going to the workplace a few times a week in the wake of the pandemic, forcing developers to reassess office spaces. Travel to workplaces has dropped 8% in Texas compared to before the pandemic and has dropped 16% in Dallas County alone, according to mobility data from Google. Details: The pandemic accelerated a trend to flip office buildings into residential units and increase mixed-use developments downtown. Those residents were vital to keeping businesses afloat and the city's core alive during coronavirus shutdowns, per officials at Downtown Dallas Inc., which promotes business and residential growth in the central business district. Zoom in: More than 14,000 people now live downtown, compared to just a few hundred 20 years ago. Last year, 556 apartment units opened downtown and hundreds more are on the way. What they're saying: Downtown has a competitive advantage for drawing residents and companies because of the urban options it offers, including restaurants, nightlife and the arts, new DDI president and CEO Jennifer Scripps tells Axios. "If I'm thinking about returning to work, am I going to want to spend two days in Downtown Dallas or a suburban office campus that feels like why did I leave my home office?" she said.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Man killed in Fort Worth shooting identified as ‘pillar’ of Dallas’ Asian community

The man killed in Fort Worth this week after a traffic accident spurred a shooting has been identified as Chin “Jin” Shin — the owner of Encore Family Karaoke, co-owner of the DanSungSa Korean restaurant’s Dallas location and a “pillar” of Dallas’ Asian community. Authorities responded to a call about an accident at the intersection of the southbound lanes of South University Drive and Interstate 30 about 2:45 a.m. Monday, where police learned Shin had been shot after an argument escalated into gunfire. The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office confirmed Shin, 43, died from gunshot wounds. Fort Worth police said Wednesday they were still “interviewing all involved subjects”; authorities have not announced any arrests.

Shin was born in South Korea before immigrating to the United States in 1983, and grew up in various parts of Louisiana and North Carolina before moving to Texas. He graduated from Berkner High School in Richardson, served as a Marine and earned a business degree from Western Governors University. Those who knew Shin told The Dallas Morning News he was a supportive, kind, big-hearted, fun-spirited man with an “iconic Chewbacca call” and a lifelong commitment to giving back. Donny Sirisavath, the chef behind Darkoo’s Chicken Shack, had been friends with Shin for about 10 years and described him as a goofball who got along with everyone. ”He could have a conversation about anything and everything,” Sirisavath said. “He was just a fun-spirited person.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sirisavath said Shin reached out to him with an idea to help him and other businesses. The idea was to create a collaborative pop-up in which businesses took over Encore Family Karaoke’s kitchen to help keep each other afloat. “On that day, he was like, ‘If you guys ever need help, I’m always here for you,’” Sirisavath said. “He was never a selfish guy.” Angela Nguyen, a close friend of Shin, said he had a wonderful singing voice. One of her favorite songs he sang was Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” “It gives me shivers just to hear him sing it,” she said. “I’m gonna miss that voice so much.” Peng Dang of Arlington said he had been friends with Shin, whom he described as a “pillar of Dallas’ Asian community,” since Shin came out to support him at a comedy show just over a year ago.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Dallas council mulls $1 billion bond package, including $150 million to foster housing

Dallas voters could be asked to approve a new bond program for the fourth time in less than two decades to pay for better streets and city infrastructure. City officials presented a draft plan to City Council members Wednesday to get voters in May 2024 to greenlight a $1 billion program, including setting aside $150 million to improve roads and storm drainage in underserved areas in the hopes it’ll attract more affordable housing developers. The proposal was panned by several council members who noted no money would be devoted toward building more homes, no cash would address neighborhood environmental harms or climate change, and that around $85 million would be focused on fixing existing city buildings with repairs that should be paid for through the general fund. The city also still has projects waiting for bond dollars that voters approved in 2017, 2012 and 2006. The latest program was for $1.05 billion and the city has earmarked around $870 million for projects as of the end of June.

“I don’t feel like we’re moving the needle here,” said council member Adam Bazaldua, who called the proposal “underwhelming.” “I feel like we’re just adding more of the same,” he said. Despite the fact that voters have authorized the sale of up to $3 billion in bonds since 2006, largely for street and transportation improvements, the city still has large funding needs. Decades of neglect and disinvestment in southern Dallas have left several neighborhoods lagging behind their northern counterparts, with some not even connected to the city’s water and wastewater system. The city is also facing problems with affordable housing for low-income residents, a growing homeless population and poor transportation infrastructure. Dallas has more than 2,000 miles of missing or broken sidewalks and city officials estimated last year that it would cost $2 billion to repair half that amount. The city also needs $54 million to build curb ramps in sidewalks to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Council members last year voted against asking voters to approve a hastily proposed $300 million bond solely for street and traffic signal improvements.

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National Stories

Associated Press - August 18, 2022

Trump CFO’s plea deal could make him a prosecution witness

Donald Trump’s chief financial officer is expected to plead guilty to tax violations Thursday in a deal that would require him to testify about illicit business practices at the former president’s company, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Allen Weisselberg is charged with taking more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation from the Trump Organization over several years, including untaxed perks like rent, car payments and school tuition. The plea deal would require Weisselberg to speak in court Thursday about the company’s role in the alleged compensation arrangement and possibly serve as a witness when the Trump Organization goes on trial in October on related charges, the people said. The two people were not authorized to speak publicly about the case and did so on condition of anonymity.

Weisselberg, 75, is likely to receive a sentence of five months in jail, to be served at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island complex, and he could be required to pay about $2 million in restitution, including taxes, penalties and interest, the people said. If that punishment holds, Weisselberg would be eligible for release after about 100 days. Messages seeking comment were left with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. Weisselberg is the only person to face criminal charges so far in the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running investigation of the company’s business practices. Seen as one of Trump’s most loyal business associates, Weisselberg was arrested in July 2021. His lawyers have argued the Democrat-led district attorney’s office was punishing him because he wouldn’t offer information that would damage Trump. The district attorney has also been investigating whether Trump or his company lied to banks or the government about the value of its properties to obtain loans or reduce tax bills. Former District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who started the investigation, last year directed his deputies to present evidence to a grand jury and seek an indictment of Trump, according to former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz, who previously led the probe.

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Politico - August 18, 2022

Dems mount $10M ad campaign to sell landmark law — and skirt a November wipeout

Democrats passed their landmark legislation in time for the midterms. Now they need to sell it to voters — and the first phase of that effort is taking shape. In plans shared first with POLITICO, a trio of Democratic groups — Climate Power, the League of Conservation Voters and Future Forward USA Action, a nonprofit backed by several major Democratic donors — is dropping $10 million on a national TV ad campaign to define the legislation in the minds of voters. It’s the largest paid ad effort to bolster the legislation so far, as an array of Democratic groups and candidates kick off a 90-day sprint to promote the package and defy a brutal electoral environment for the party. “The magnitude, the scope and the importance of what Congress and Biden just did for climate change is transformational … and it is essential that people understand the magnitude of what just happened,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters. He predicted that Republicans would try to mislead voters about the bill, and “we can’t sit around and wait for that to happen. We need to aggressively tell this story.”

It’s a task the party has been particularly bad at in the past — most notably in 2010 after the passage of Obamacare — and there’s no guarantee this time will be different. “There was no campaign to win the win” after passage of the Affordable Care Act, said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power, “whereas the other side spent $450 million to define it as a socialist takeover.” That cycle, Democrats lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats. After President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law on Tuesday, White House cabinet officials fanned out across the country to stump for it, hosting events in California, Iowa, New Jersey, Arizona, Mississippi and Nevada on Thursday and Friday. Vulnerable senators are talking it up on the campaign trail, while Democratic TV admakers are rushing to cut ads. “I know frontline members have already shot spots explaining their vote, touting what’s in the bill and basically saying — promises made, promises kept on lowering prescription drug costs and health care costs,” said Ian Russell, a Democratic admaker and former political director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “You’ll see those ads proliferate for frontline Democrats.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 18, 2022

Challenges at Baker Hughes may foreshadow struggles for industry's transition to lower carbon energy

The oil industry around the globe is awash in money. With the price of crude at a 14-year high during the second quarter, producers, refiners and services companies made record amounts of money. But there was at least one notable exception: Houston oil field services company Baker Hughes. The company, which provides workers and equipment to drillers, lost $839 million from April to June, while chief competitors Halliburton ($109 million profit) and Schlumberger ($959 million) enjoyed the fruits of high oil prices. Baker Hughes’ difficulties are perhaps an early warning to an oil field services industry trying to find new focus as producers begin to embrace lower-carbon energy and seek equipment and services that will help them get there.

The world’s largest oil field services companies are making different bets on how fast the transition will come and how far it will go as they navigate the uncertainty of the evolving oil industry. Baker Hughes’ rivals, Schlumberger and Halliburton, have continued to focus on drilling and production. Baker Hughes, meanwhile, has moved more quickly toward the energy transitions, positioning itself as a technology company offering digital services, low- and no-emissions equipment, and technology for emerging energy sources such as hydrogen. “A lot of oil field services companies have lost focus,” said Vikas Mittal, marketing professor at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. “They want to be a technology company, they want to be a digital company, they want to be a socially responsible company, they want to be a net-zero company. The one thing they don't want to be is a service company.” Mittal said clients for oil field services want reliability — the security of knowing the company they hire can service the complex equipment involved in oil drilling. “Their value proposition,” Mittal said, “is providing the right level of service.” Instead of focusing on service, Mittal said companies are focusing too much on investors that want steady profits — and want companies to show they can keep up with the changing energy industry.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Think twice about period tracking, pregnancy apps, new study says

A new study shows many period and fertility tracking apps aren’t clear about what user data they would share with law enforcement, raising concerns the information could be used to prosecute people in states where abortion is banned. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion, several states, including Texas, have implemented near-total bans on abortion. The study, released Wednesday by the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, found that 18 of 25 popular period and pregnancy tracking apps and wearable devices raised privacy concerns. Most of the apps surveyed did not have privacy policies that clearly explained what data could be shared with U.S law enforcement, according to Mozilla. These apps also share a wide range of data with third-party businesses and research institutions, and some do not have strong password protection or encryption features.

“Our research confirms that users should think twice before using most reproductive health apps; their privacy policies are riddled with loopholes and they fail to properly secure intimate data,” Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s vice president of advocacy, said in a prepared statement. In July, the U.S House Oversight Committee asked several app developers and data brokers to provide more information about the reproductive health data they collect from users, and to whom they sell it. Seema Mohapatra, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, said consumer behavior is one of many new privacy concerns in a post-Roe world. “It is not clear if some of these trackers, these companies, would voluntarily give this information, or would only give it if it is required by law enforcement,” she said. Many of the apps Mozilla reviewed do not specify if they would give police the data they request without a subpoena.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Pence tells GOP to stop lashing out at FBI and demanding to defund it over Trump search

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday implored fellow Republicans to stop lashing out at the FBI over the search of Donald Trump’s Florida home and denounced calls by some of the former president’s allies to defund the FBI, saying that was “just as wrong” as a push by Democratic activists to shift money from police. Pence also said he would give “due consideration” if asked to testify before the House committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. His pleas for restraint come as law enforcement officials warn of an escalating number of violent threats targeting federal agents and government facilities since agents last week searched Mar-a-Lago as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump’s estate earlier this year. Speaking in New Hampshire, Pence said he has been troubled by what he called the politicization of the FBI. He also said the Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland should be more forthcoming about what led authorities to conduct the search.

But Pence, who is trying to stake out his own political path as he and Trump both consider 2024 presidential campaigns, also had a message for the GOP. “I also want to remind my fellow Republicans, we can hold the attorney general accountable for the decision he made without attacking the rank-and-file law enforcement personnel at the FBI,” he said at the Politics & Eggs event, a breakfast gathering at St. Anselm College for business leaders that has become a customary stop for White House hopefuls in the early-voting state. “The Republican Party is the party of law and order,” Pence continued. “Our party stands with the men and women who stand on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level, and these attacks on the FBI must stop. Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police.” Trump and some other Republican lawmakers have tried to capitalize on the search by portraying it as an act of political persecution and an attack on the rule of law. For the onetime political allies, their paths diverged on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of angry Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an effort to stop Congress’ formal certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

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Washington Post - August 17, 2022

Youngkin plans trip to Michigan, repeats criticism of Justice Department

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said Tuesday that he’ll travel to Michigan at the end of the month to campaign for that state’s Republican gubernatorial nominee, the latest in a series of nationwide political trips that are likely to continue into the fall. After remarks to the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce at the Colonial Heritage golf club, Youngkin on Tuesday also renewed criticism of the Biden Justice Department for its handling of the search of former president Donald Trump’s home in Florida last week, where federal agents seized sets of classified documents. Youngkin’s forays into the national spotlight continue to fuel speculation that the political newcomer has presidential ambitions — chatter that he calls humbling without specifically rebutting. Youngkin visited Nebraska last month to speak with state Republicans and appear at a fundraiser with GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen. On Tuesday, Youngkin said he intends to stump for more candidates later this year.

“I’m going to go to work in the fall to support Republican governors in their races,” he said. “I got a lot of help from Republican governors in my campaign, and I’m looking forward to returning the favor. … There will be other trips set through the fall.” Youngkin will travel to Michigan to headline the state GOP’s Aug. 27 convention and campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, who is echoing some of the K-12 education themes that Youngkin rode to the Executive Mansion last year as she tries to unseat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) in November. “Governor Youngkin’s victory in Virginia demonstrated the political power of parents who want to be involved in ensuring their children get a great education,” Dixon said in a written statement. “He also understood the economic challenges facing families and the need for safe communities. I am honored for him to join me and help create a family-friendly Michigan.” Ron Weiser, chairman of the Michigan GOP, said Youngkin would help the party “rally the troops.” Left-leaning Progress Michigan greeted the announcement with a harshly worded statement that called out Youngkin for his personal opposition to same-sex marriage and for a lawsuit against him and several other current and former executives of the Carlyle Group accusing them of profiting at the expense of investors and taxpayers.

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Newsclips - August 17, 2022

Lead Stories

Associated Press - August 17, 2022

Targeted by Trump, Cheney trounced in Wyoming as Palin seeks win in Alaska

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Donald Trump’s fiercest Republican adversary in Congress, was defeated in a GOP primary Tuesday, falling to a rival backed by the former president in a contest that reinforced his grip on the party’s base. The third-term congresswoman and her allies entered the day downbeat about her prospects, aware that Trump’s backing gave Harriet Hageman considerable lift in the state where he won by the largest margin during the 2020 campaign. Cheney was already looking ahead to a political future beyond Capitol Hill that could include a 2024 presidential run, potentially putting her on another collision course with Trump. Still, the results were a powerful reminder of the GOP’s rapid shift to the right. A party once dominated by national security-oriented, business-friendly conservatives like Cheney’s father, former Vice President and one-time Dallas resident Dick Cheney, now belongs to Trump, animated by his populist appeal and, above all, his denial of defeat in the 2020 election.

In Alaska, another Trump ally, former Gov. Sarah Palin, hoped to step into the national spotlight Tuesday as well. The 2008 vice presidential nominee was actually on the ballot twice: once in a special election to complete former Rep. Don Young’s term and another for a full two-year House term starting in January. On the other side of the GOP’s tent, a periodic Trump critic, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, had an opportunity to survive the former president’s ire, even after voting to convict him in his second impeachment trial. The top four Senate candidates in Alaska, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election, where voters will rank them in order of preference. With Cheney’s loss, Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are going extinct. In all, seven Republican senators and 10 Republican House members backed Trump’s impeachment in the days after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress tried to certify President Joe Biden’s victory. Just two of those 10 House members have won their primaries this year. After two Senate retirements, Murkowski remains the only such Senate Republican on this year’s ballot. In Wyoming, Cheney had been forced to seek assistance from the state’s tiny Democratic minority. But Democrats across America, major donors among them, took notice. She raised at least $15 million for her election, a stunning figure for a Wyoming political contest.

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Bloomberg - August 17, 2022

Inside Bill Gates' secret push to save Biden's climate bill

It was the middle of July — with temperatures surging through one of the hottest summers in US history, half of the country in drought — and the Senate’s all-important member, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, had slammed the brakes on legislation to combat global warming. Again. That’s when billionaire philanthropist and clean-energy investor Bill Gates got on the phone with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose job it was to hold together the Democrats’ no-vote-to-spare majority. One of the world’s richest men felt he had to give one of the nation’s most powerful lawmakers a little pep talk. “[Schumer] said to me on one call that he’d shown infinite patience,” Gates recounted in an interview last week, describing for the first time his personal effort to keep climate legislation alive. “You’re right,” Gates told Schumer. “And all you need to do is show infinite plus one patience.” Gates was banking on more than just his trademark optimism about addressing climate change and other seemingly intractable problems that have been his focus since stepping down as Microsoft’s chief executive two decades ago.

As he revealed to Bloomberg Green, he has quietly lobbied Manchin and other senators, starting before President Joe Biden had won the White House, in anticipation of a rare moment in which heavy federal spending might be secured for the clean-energy transition. Those discussions gave him reason to believe the senator from West Virginia would come through for the climate — and he was willing to continue pressing the case himself until the very end. “The last month people felt like, OK, we tried, we're done, it failed,” Gates said. “I believed it was a unique opportunity.” So he tapped into a relationship with Manchin that he’d cultivated for at least three years. “We were able to talk even at a time when he felt people weren’t listening.” Few had any idea at this time that talks remained open at all. In addition to Gates, an ad hoc group of quiet Manchin influencers sprang into action just when climate legislation seemed out of reach. Schumer’s office credited the bill's passage to persistence and otherwise declined to comment. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware brought in a heavyweight: former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, who has spent decades advising Democrats.

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Axios - August 16, 2022

Amid drought, water flow into key Texas reservoirs reaches zero

Central Texas' major lakes are starting to feel pond-like. Driving the news: The amount of water flowing from key rivers and creeks into lakes Travis and Buchanan, the chief reservoirs of Central Texas, is now zero. Why it matters: At 56% of capacity, the giant lakes are starting to look a lot more half empty than half full — and tensions are starting to rise along the river basin over who deserves water most. Details: The Pedernales River and the Llano River have contributed zero drops of water into the Highland Lakes for at least two weeks now, per an Axios Austin review of data from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the agency that manages the river.

The lack of rain and inflows is leading to dangerously stagnant water. Last month, Austin officials warned that "people should not drink or ingest water directly from Central Texas lakes" after a dog died, likely from accidentally ingesting harmful algae. The big picture: The water that flows through those lakes and downstream to the Gulf is the drinking water for Austin and other Central Texas cities, cools the South Texas nuclear reactor and sustains the ecosystem in Matagorda Bay. In July, the LCRA opted to cut off lake water for downriver rice farmers. What they're saying: "The tension will only increase," Steve Box, executive director of the Bastrop-based group Environmental Stewardship, tells Axios. After years of comity up and down the basin, lubricated by consistent rains, expect a return of the sometimes angry competition between agricultural, municipal and industrial interests over the region's key resource. What we're watching: So far, officials in Austin and other cities have imposed only mild watering restrictions. Expect drought rules to be ratcheted up soon, as policymakers play catch up with a record-setting stretch of hot weather.

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Houston Chronicle - August 16, 2022

ERCOT names Pablo Vegas as new CEO during 'urgent' closed-door meeting after name leaked to media

ERCOT’s board of directors on Tuesday named Pablo Vegas, a utility industry veteran and executive at an Indiana utility, to lead the state’s beleaguered power grid manager, still recovering from the catastrophic failures of the February 2021 winter storm. Vegas will assume leadership of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, when public confidence in ERCOT remains low and the power grid is challenged by growing demand, tight supplies and a lack of investment in power plants and transmission. He will succeed Brad Jones, who has served as interim CEO for more than year following the ouster of former CEO Bill Magness in March 2021. “Everything about Pablo is exceptional. He has an exemplary track record at major organizations, and a highly technical background that will serve this organization well,” said Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT. “Pablo is the right leader at the right time to address the complex grid we have and the dynamic mix of resources we have.”

Vegas, who was selected from a field of more than 100, according to ERCOT officials, is vice president of NiSource, an Indiana-based utility that operates in six states. He has worked in the utility industry for 17 years, including a two-year stint with American Electric Power in Texas. ERCOT did not disclose Vegas’ salary, but his contract said he could receive up to $500,000 in reimbursements for relocation expenses. He is scheduled to begin his new job Oct 1. Vegas’ selection process, however, was not without controversy. He was named the new CEO during an “urgent” closed-door meeting. On Monday, the board called a meeting and went immediately into a closed executive session, before emerging about an hour later to say members would ratify what was discussed when they convened for their regular meeting on Tuesday. It was unclear whether the board took a vote during the closed session, which would be illegal under the Texas Open Meetings Act. As a private nonprofit, however, ERCOT is not subject to the law, even though it is responsible for managing the flow of electricity to 90 percent of Texas.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 16, 2022

Most Texans in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational or medical use, new poll shows

If it were up to most Texans, marijuana would likely be legal by now, a new poll shows. The latest study by UT Tyler and the Dallas Morning News found that the majority of Texans support or strongly support the legalization of marijuana, be it for recreational or medicinal purposes. A cumulative 55% of participants supported or strongly supported using it recreationally, the study found, while 72% said they supported or strong supported using it medicinally to treat to help treat illnesses. Recreational marijuana use is currently legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., while cannabis is legal for medical purposes in 38 states and in D.C. In Texas, possession of marijuana, depending on the quantity, is at least a Class B misdemeanor and punishable by up to six months in jail with a $2,000 fine.

That said, many of the state's urban centers like Houston and Austin have diversion policies, allowing those caught with small amounts to avoid arrest and other penalties. The goal of Harris County's Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program is to ensure that individuals who commit the non-violent crime of possessing a misdemeanor amount of marijuana are not stigmatized by a criminal record that limits their employment, education, and housing opportunities. "Our prosecutors are stretched thin, and we want them working on crimes against victims; marijuana is not that,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “It also gives law enforcement more time to answer serious calls- rapes, robberies, from people in need in our community.” A number of state leaders, including Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller, and local advocates have previously called for expanding legal access to pot. In April, the Chronicle's Erica Grider wrote that the war on weed is a losing battle that Texas voters may need to end at the polls. August's poll isn't the first to reveal such findings, either. Another poll from DMN-UT Tyler in May showed an overwhelming percentage of registered Texas voters (91% of Democrats, 85% of independents and 74% of Republicans) backed the idea.

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Houston Chronicle - August 16, 2022

By busing migrants to New York, Gov. Abbott is actually helping them stay in U.S., researcher says

By busing immigrants seeking asylum in the United States to New York City, Gov. Greg Abbott is giving them a free ride to a place where they are likely to have a much easier time making their cases to stay in the country than if they were to remain in Texas. In Texas’ largest immigration courts, in Houston, judges are notoriously hard on asylum cases. Since October, they have denied 83 percent of them, according to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. The courts in New York City, meanwhile, have approved 82 percent of asylum cases in that time, well above the national average of roughly 50 percent. “Abbott is practically ensuring that these migrants will be allowed to stay in the country,” said Austin Kocher, a Syracuse University professor who studies immigration data. “He’s doing them a favor.”

Abbott started busing migrants to Washington, D.C., in April in an effort to draw President Joe Biden’s attention to an unprecedented surge of migration across the U.S.-Mexico border. This month, the governor expanded the busing operation farther up the East Coast to New York, which he called “the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has boasted about within the sanctuary city.” “Texas has taken unprecedented action to protect Texans and help our overwhelmed border communities, where the Biden administration is dumping migrants,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. Adams, meanwhile, has vowed that New York will offer asylum-seekers the shelter and support they need, though he complained even before Abbott began busing migrants there that the city’s resources were already strained. Abbott’s office said that as of Friday, Texas had sent more than 800 migrants to New York. Immigration courts in New York are among the most favorable in the nation for asylum-seekers. “They’re basically guaranteed to get approved,” Kocher said.

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Axios - August 16, 2022

New school year brings Texas sex education changes

Texas middle school students could learn about contraceptives, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and how to have healthy relationships this school year after the state's first update to the sex education curriculum in more than two decades. Abstinence remains the primary focus of pregnancy prevention. Why it matters: Texas has the ninth highest teen birthrate in the country, not far behind Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma. What's happening: Seventh and eighth grade students can be taught about various birth control methods, including condoms and contraceptives under the change, which was approved by the state's education board in 2020 and went into effect this month.

At the high school level, the topics are taught in health classes, which are not required to graduate. Yes, but: Parents and guardians must now opt in to the sex education curriculum. And, the materials do not cover sexual health issues in the LGBTQ+ community. State of play: Dallas-based North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (NTARUPT) has merged with the Austin-based Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and San Antonio-based Healthy Futures of Texas to work as one statewide teen pregnancy prevention program. The nonpartisan organization, which now operates under the name Healthy Futures of Texas, is focused on ensuring equal access to sex education and preventing teenage pregnancies primarily in the Dallas area, San Antonio and the valley. What they're saying: Students should be taught what healthy relationships look like in case those aren't modeled for them at home so they can make informed romantic decisions. "They just need so much information and access in order to really make these good life choices. We need to make it easy for them to make good life choices," Healthy Futures of Texas CEO Evelyn Delgado told Axios.

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KHOU - August 16, 2022

Why is Houston considered a heat island?

Why are some cities like Houston considered “heat islands?" According to the EPA, heat islands are cities that have higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas. It’s probably not a huge shock that the city of Houston is considered a heat island. In 2020, the city worked with several agencies to conduct a heat mapping project. It found there was over a 17-degree difference between the hottest and coolest areas in Houston and Harris County. For example, researchers found on Richmond Avenue near Chimney Rock that was 103 degrees, while one the same day it was 86 degrees in Channelview.

According to the EPA, heat islands form for several reasons, including reduced natural landscapes in urban areas, urban material properties, urban geometry, heat generated from human activities and geography. Trees, vegetation, and water bodies can help cool the air by providing shade, transpiring water from plant leaves, and evaporating surface water, respectively, according to the EPA. Hard, dry surfaces like roofs, sidewalks, roads, buildings, and parking lots contribute to higher temperatures. Human-made materials such as pavements tend to absorb and emit more of the sun’s heat compared to trees, vegetation, and other natural surfaces. The EPS also said the dimensions and spacing of buildings within a city influence wind flow and urban materials’ ability to absorb and release solar energy. So, in areas that have been heavily developed, those surfaces and structures become large thermal masses that cannot release heat quickly.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 16, 2022

Keller schools in a rush to remove “challenged” books

Principals in the Keller school district got a last-minute request on Tuesday to remove all books from classrooms and libraries that were challenged during the past year. The books were to be removed by the end of Tuesday before the start of classes on Wednesday. Some of the titles included the all versions of the Bible and “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation.” The district’s curriculum director, Jennifer Price, sent an email that said in part, “Please collect these books and store them in a location. (book room, office etc.) More information will be sent regarding action for these books.” Laney Hawes, who served on the committee to review “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” protested the district’s stance on Twitter, stating that the removal violates children’s Constitutional rights.

Parents, residents and employees may challenge books in the district. A committee made up of parents, staff and possibly students reviews the books to determine if they should be removed. Bryce Nieman, a spokesman for the Keller school district, said all books that were challenged during the past year were removed Tuesday to be reviewed again after trustees adopted new policies on removing and challenging books. The new policy will provide more specific guidelines to make sure the books are age and grade appropriate, he said. On Monday, the school board will vote on the specific guidelines for the policies, said Nieman, who added that Keller is basing its policy on the TEA model. Nieman said the Bible was one of the books that was challenged, but it was approved to go back to the schools. The books’ removal also sparked outrage from PEN America, a free speech and literary organization that protects free expression in the United States and worldwide.

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Dallas Morning News - August 16, 2022

Depositions sought from Dallas mayor, police chief about Diamond Ross’ death in custody

The family of a woman who died of a drug overdose in Dallas police custody is seeking depositions from four top local officials as they search for answers about the 34-year-old’s death to “hold accountable” the institutions involved, according to their attorney and court documents filed Tuesday. Ethelyn Ross, the mother of Diamond Ross, and her attorney Justin Moore filed the deposition notices for Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Dallas police Chief Eddie García, Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief Dominique Artis and interim city marshal David Pughes, according to the court documents. None of the four were in their current roles when Diamond Ross died in 2018, but the filings note them as representatives of institutions involved in the case.

Dallas police and Dallas Fire-Rescue declined to comment, the mayor’s office directed a request for comment to the city attorney’s office and the marshal’s office did not immediately respond. Depositions, where people answer questions from attorneys, are considered testimony and are similar to witnesses called to testify in court. Ross’ family and Moore have sought answers and disciplinary action against two officers involved in the case, Larry Moody and William Ortega. A grand jury declined to indict the officers on criminal charges last year. Ortega resigned during the internal police investigation and now works for the Allen Police Department, while Moody — a Dallas police sergeant — was issued an internal written reprimand. Ross’ family filed a federal lawsuit in 2020 against Dallas and multiple agencies, seeking compensatory, special and punitive damages, an acknowledgement that Ross’ rights were violated and a change in police policies related to mental-health and substance abuse intervention.

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Dallas Morning News - August 16, 2022

Only half of Texas parents are open to vaccinating their children against COVID-19, poll finds

Parents’ willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine for their children has returned to nearly 50% after dipping below 40% in May, according to an August poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. Forty-eight percent of parents surveyed said that they either definitely will get or have already gotten their children ages 6 months and older vaccinated. That’s up from 38% of parents who said the same in May for their children ages 5 and older, and a one point increase from 47% of parents who said the same in February. The August poll is the first since COVID-19 vaccines were approved for children under 5.

Results in the May poll from the question of whether parents would get their children vaccinated were likely outliers influenced by worries about booster doses for younger age groups, said Mark Owens, pollster and associate professor of political science at UT-Tyler. The child-sized vaccine booster dose wasn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration until mid-May. “Parents were a little bit uncertain about any of the vaccine’s risks at the time,” among other concerns, Owens said. “Now that there’s better certainty… it lets people be more confident in the results.” While feelings about vaccinating children changed between the May and August polls, attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccinations for adults and masking remained stagnant, even as the highly contagious BA.5 variant caused cases and hospitalizations to rise.

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Dallas Morning News - August 16, 2022

Jose Rodriguez’s quest for a better life in the U.S continues after Texas-to-NYC bus ride

Jose Rodriguez was tired, hungry and beaten down when he crossed the border from Mexico into Texas after a two-month journey. He didn’t have money, and he didn’t have many options. Although he had originally hoped to go to Miami, he heard there was a free bus to New York. Officials told him that if he boarded the bus, there’d be help waiting for him. Rodriguez believed there was a plan — that Texas and New York were working together. He knows now he was wrong. “We arrived deceived,” he said. “I didn’t know that the governor had commanded this. They boarded us and brought us and that’s it. We didn’t know — just that the bus was free. I don’t know why, I thought they [Adams and Abbott] were friends.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to bus migrants to New York has become a Red vs. Blue showdown, with Abbott using migrants as political pawns to bolster his standing with tough-on-immigration Republicans ahead of midterm elections. Mayor Eric Adams has blamed an overwhelmed homeless shelter system on the influx of migrants, using them and Abbott as scapegoats for what critics say are deep-running problems in the city’s shelter system. Abbott and other Republican leaders in Texas are firm in saying the buses will continue to roll to New York, Washington and other communities that consider themselves sanctuary cities for migrants. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he supports the governor’s initiative and echoed Abbott in insisting “the Democrats are squarely responsible” for the mess at the border that led Texas to begin busing migrants out of state. The Texas Division of Emergency Management also took to Twitter on Monday to deny the allegations from New York and Washington officials that migrants are not getting adequate food, water and information. Seth Christensen, the agency’s chief of communications, wrote that “the @NYCMayor‘s claims are absolutely not true.” Lost in the political rhetoric are the stories of people like Rodriguez. A 38-year-old from Venezuela with a family of four children he had to leave behind, Rodriguez arrived in New York with the same dream that has driven immigrants for centuries — the hope of a brighter future. But so far he, like many of the others on Abbott’s buses, has found himself caught in the middle of a political firestorm, a casualty of a culture war over immigration and the nation’s Southern border.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 16, 2022

Buc-ee’s chain is heading to the Midwest and will bring Texas pride to another new state

Buc-ee’s, the Texas-based convenience store chain known for its clean restrooms, beaver mascot, and expansive variety of meals and snacks, is expanding to another state. Buc-ee's will break ground on a 53,000-square-foot travel center in southwest Missouri on Aug. 23. The center at 3284 N. Mulroy Road in Springfield will have 120 fueling positions and stock thousands of snack, meal and drink options including Texas barbecue, fudge, kolaches, Beaver nuggets, jerky and pastries. The chain, which launched a multistate expansion in 2019, recently broke ground on its first Colorado location, south of Denver.

“Springfield is the birthplace of Route 66,” said Stan Beard, director of real estate for Buc-ee’s. “It’s perfectly natural that Buc-ee’s, the ultimate road-trip destination, is coming to this gorgeous stretch of Americana history. We are delighted to be a part of this community and excited to make Springfield our first stop in Missouri.” Officials including Springfield Mayor Ken McClure and Springfield Councilman Abe McGull will attend the Aug. 23 groundbreaking. The new store will add 200 permanent, full-time jobs to Springfield, according to Buc-ee's. Opening is projected for December 2023. Buc-ee's operates 35 stores in Texas and nine in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee. The company was founded in Lake Jackson, south of Houston, in 1982.

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Houston Chronicle - August 16, 2022

Gov. Greg Abbott deploys Chuck Norris to help stop the next school shooting

Texas is turning to Chuck Norris to help stop the next school shooting. With school restarting around the state, Gov. Greg Abbott is touting a safety program that calls on parents, teachers and students to report suspicious activity on the state’s iWatch website. To promote the reporting system, Abbott has tapped 82-year-old former action movie star Chuck Norris to star in new public service announcements promoting the system. “Parents, teachers, and students deserve to feel safe and secure returning to school this fall, and who better to help spread the message about the iWatchTexas reporting system than ‘Texas Ranger’Chuck Norris?” Abbott said in a statement to the media on Tuesday. Norris was the star of the television series Walker Texas Ranger which ran from 1993 to 2001. In the new PSAs, Norris says he loves bringing bad guys to justice.

“But law enforcement can’t stop the bad guys if they don’t know who they are,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to tell you about iWatch, a website, phone app and service that allows Texans to report suspicious activity.” The iWatch system has been in place for several years, but Abbott in June called for ramping up awareness of the system after the Uvalde shooting. Like other Texas Republicans, Abbott has rejected calls from the left for more gun control measures, saying they are not the solution to mass shootings, instead focusing on mental health resources and school security measures. Abbott said it is part of a laundry list of steps he’s taken since the Uvalde school shooting where 19 children and two teachers were killed in May. Abbott said he’s ordered comprehensive school safety reviews of all Texas public schools, more training of school-based police and the creation of a new Chief of School Safety and Security position within the Texas Education Agency.

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

‘Find our identity’: New manager Tony Beasley starts his tenure with challenge for Rangers

n Tuesday, barely 24 hours into Tony Beasley’s tenure as manager, a change in the Rangers’ approach to preparation became plainly visible. They all managed to wear the same-colored T-shirt. For the record: Royal blue. Hey, baby steps. Sound — or look —like eyewash? Sure. Mostly, color-coordination is. On Wednesday, all the logos might even match, too. But it’s not so much the dressing as it is the message interim manager Tony Beasley wants to get across for however long he holds the job. First, the “collective,” matters. Second, so do details.

“I challenged everyone to dig within ourselves and face the reality that we haven’t played up to our ability and to dig deep and find our identity,” Beasley said of his initial message to his team in the moments after he was named Chris Woodward’s replacement. “I want them to trust and believe we can still finish the season on a positive note; we can still do some great things. I just challenged them to have a collective, competitive attitude.” When the players emerged in their relatively matching tops, it was for the old stalwart of spring training fundamentals: a pitchers’ fielding practice drill. It is not a common in-season occurrence. But Rangers pitchers have been dreadful at that aspect of the game. So, they were going to spend some time at it. And a few moments later when PFP morphed into batting practice, the whole team — every last member of the roster — was on the field. That hasn’t regularly been the case. Shortstop Corey Seager does not hit on the field before games.

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Houston Chronicle - August 17, 2022

IDEA Public Schools’ 2019 luxury jet deal came shortly after critical state audit

IDEA Public Schools was under state investigation for inappropriate, lavish spending even as its board voted unanimously to spend up to $15 million to lease a private luxury jet for its executives in 2019. Just two weeks before the deal for the jet was approved, IDEA — the largest charter school network in the state — had promised the Texas Education Agency that it would be “strictly enforcing” new fiscal responsibility policies enacted in response to that ongoing investigation. State education authorities in 2021 began an investigation into IDEA for its financial practices, but the existence of the earlier inquiry makes it clear that allegations of improper spending and conflicts of interest at the charter school network stretch back further than has been previously reported, starting with a whistleblower’s complaint in 2015.

Since then, the Texas-based chain of 143 schools has received more than $3 billion in public education funding. IDEA serves 60,000 students in Texas, with four schools in the greater Houston area and 30 in the greater San Antonio area. At present, both the U.S. Department of Education and the state education agency are investigating IDEA’s spending and procurement — investigations that were launched in response to “potential financial wrongdoing” that IDEA reported to the authorities, an IDEA spokeswoman said. The parallel investigations and associated audits have already led to the departure of two CEOs and other top officials at the chain; IDEA points out that the deal for the jet used money raised privately — not public education funds. In a statement, IDEA spokeswoman Candice Burns wrote: “Every dollar entrusted to IDEA Public Schools should support the success of our students. As IDEA’s board of directors discovered and shared publicly more than a year ago following an investigation they commissioned, unfortunately there was a period in IDEA’s history when a small group of senior executives did not uphold our commitment to direct every resource toward IDEA’s educational mission.

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Houston Chronicle - August 17, 2022

Landlord that got $1M in COVID funds, then failed to pay water bill, fights evicted tenants in court

After Congress unleashed federal funds to battle the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic, more than $1 million flowed to Haff and Company Construction, which owns and builds properties in Houston. But at the same time it was getting fully forgiven Paycheck Protection Program funds and Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds, the company failed to pay more than $12,700 in taxes to Harris County, Houston, the Houston Independent School District and the Houston Community College System for the 2020 tax year, court records show. And, for four of its properties, it hadn’t made a water payment since 2016, according to Houston Public Works. In July, the city turned off the water for the four shotgun homes in Third Ward. Shortly after, the electricity was turned off, and then tenants found themselves locked out of their homes on Aug. 7. Roxann Thomas, property manager for Haff and Company Construction, said the company had been unable to pay the $11,000 water bill and had instead paid households between $800 and $1,000 apiece to move.

Now their fight has landed in court. While they wait for it to play out, families are locked out of the homes where their possessions remain. One is struggling in an extended-stay hotel, savings dwindling, as the school year approaches. Tenants filed cases asking to be able to re-enter their homes and for utilities to be restored. Haff and Company Construction filed a counterclaim in one case, asking for “sanctions, fines and attorney fees” to be awarded because they alleged the case was frivolous and included false statements. So far, one household’s case, heard by Justice of the Peace Wanda Adams, resulted in a settlement in which Haff and Company Construction will pay for one month in an extended-stay hotel and moving expenses. The other two families’ requests were denied by Justice of the Peace Sharon Burney. Dana Karni, managing attorney for the Eviction Right to Counsel Project at the nonprofit Lone Star Legal Aid, said Tuesday morning that the nonprofit was preparing to appeal those decisions to county court, in addition to filing new lawsuits asking for damages to be awarded for claims of wrongful eviction and illegal lockout. In its counterclaim, Haff and Company Construction argued it would be impossible to restore utilities in 24 hours due to the necessary water line repairs. “All tenants agreed to relocate due to the water issue,” Thomas said Tuesday in a text message. “I assisted everyone that needed assistance.” She said her lawyer and a lawyer representing tenants could arrange for families to retrieve items inside the homes.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 16, 2022

'We won't be the quiet school': Huston-Tillotson president shares vision for university

As the new president of Huston-Tillotson University, Melva K. Williams has an “aggressive agenda” to help Austin’s only historically Black university succeed. Williams was named the president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson on Friday after the retirement of former President Colette Pierce Burnette on June 30. Williams previously served as the vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at Southern University in Shreveport, La., which is also a historically Black university. Williams previously held multiple positions within the Southern University System, including executive associate to the chancellor and assistant vice chancellor at SU-Shreveport, vice chancellor at SU-New Orleans and the system's chief of staff. She also has served as a professor, board member and associate dean at various other colleges and universities.

During a news conference Monday attended by a crowd of community members, Williams said she planned to continue to build on the work that Burnette — the institution’s first female president — had done during her seven-year tenure. She said the school’s history of being the first university in Austin meant that it needed to continue being “first” and doing “firstlike” things. “We’ll continue to break some records,” Williams said. “We’ll continue to really compete in this space. We won't be the quiet school here in downtown Austin. ... We will find ourselves in places where we can partner and really expand our wings.” Williams’ goals for the university include working with the Huston-Tillotson community to create a strategic plan, building partnerships with local industries and expanding fundraising so the campus has enough resources to support students, staff and faculty. “My goal is to really connect with the faculty, with the staff, with the students to create a shared vision that will be our vision going forward,” Williams said. “I didn't come here to place a vision on top of HT and to put a round peg into a square hole.”

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 16, 2022

Tarrant judges may be fired after audit of juvenile courts

Tarrant County’s top elected leader has called for two appointed judges to lose their jobs after an audit of the juvenile justice system revealed they rarely hold hearings, which has contributed to dramatic overcrowding in the detention center. Another county leader on Tuesday suggested publicly that some of the “systemic problems” in how young people are detained are rooted in racism. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on the audit Friday after obtaining a copy. The 21-page audit uncovered wide-ranging problems at nearly every level, including violations of Texas law in how some youths are housed, and how two associate judges who handle juvenile cases cancel or postpone most of their scheduled hearings. One earned the nickname “ghost” court among employees. Other Texas counties of similar size are not having the types of overcrowding problems that Tarrant has, even as the number of juvenile criminal cases has decreased over the last decade.

On Tuesday, Tarrant County commissioners formally reviewed the audit, prepared by Carey Cockerell, who served as Tarrant County’s director of juvenile services for 20 years. The commissioners had strong words in reaction to the audit. “I would like for us to talk about this at the Juvenile Board meeting tomorrow to get a feel for defunding those two courts,” said Glen Whitley, the top commissioner. “I want to talk to them about if we did away with the judges, we asked them to assign another district judge to help oversee (cases).” The Tarrant County Juvenile Board, which meets Wednesday, is made up of judges across the county. The 323rd District Court judge, Alex Kim, oversees the juvenile detention center and the two associate judges. The audit doesn’t name the two associate judges, but they are Cynthia Terry and Andy Porter. Porter is running for election this fall to be the Criminal District Court No. 4 judge. Terry is running this fall to be the 325th District Court judge.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 16, 2022

Bilingual Fort Worth school counselors want a pay stipend

At McLean Middle School, counselor Morris Adams said he works flexibly and seamlessly with his assistant principal to serve students and their Spanish-speaking parents. Since Adams is bilingual, he’s often the contact point for these parents. He connects with parents over the phone, works with other counselors when they have language needs and drafts letters and other communications. If Adams weren’t bilingual, an administrative clerk could act as a translator. Bilingual clerks receive bonuses for their language skills. But Adams, who connects with about half a dozen Spanish-speaking parents a day, receives no extra compensation for his dual language abilities. As Fort Worth schools begin a new school year, counselors like Adams are asking the district to pay them for their bilingual skills, which they say are critical in connecting with the predominantly Hispanic communities they serve. “We have the population to support the need,” he said.

During a June 28 school board meeting, where trustees discussed and finalized the upcoming school year’s budget and employee pay, multiple counselors asked district officials to provide a stipend for being bilingual. Counselor Itzia Oscos told the trustee that she wants to see counselors’ pay reflect their skills. “Employees’ commitment and loyalty depend on feeling cared about and supported by their employer,” she told the board. The Fort Worth school district is a majority Hispanic district. It served about 48,000 Hispanic or Latino students in the 2021-2022 school year, well over half its student population. A number of positions within the district receive a stipend of between $450 to $4,000 a year for their bilingual skills, including clerks and teachers. Oscos said bilingual Fort Worth teachers, administrators, assistant principals and diagnosticians also receive a stipend. The district’s online compensation plan for 2021-2022 does not specifically mention stipends for those positions, but Adams said assistant principals receive stipends that are tied to them being bilingual education certified.

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Katy News - August 16, 2022

Communities In Schools of Houston to expand student support services to RISE Strong HISD campuses in 2022-2023 school year

Communities?In?Schools (CIS) of Houston announces the expansion of its student support services for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) RISE Strong initiative to all 24 campuses targeted for improvement by the district. Of these campuses 19 are new to CIS for the 2022-23 school year, bringing the total number of HISD campuses served by CIS to 56 campuses. RISE (Redesign, Innovate, Support, Empower), is a bold strategic plan under HISD Superintendent Millard House II to measurably improve underserved and underperforming campuses that have received a D or F rating. As part of the initiative, these RISE campuses are to receive additional supports such as CIS. The campus-based CIS staff provides direct services within HISD schools in partnership with teachers and family members to help address the academic and non-academic needs of students.

CIS provides students with supportive guidance and counseling and works with school personnel and local service providers to ensure delivery of critical resources, such as food, housing, healthcare, mental health services and access to technology, thus allowing students (and educators) to focus on academics. “Our goal is to honor the assets and strengths that were pre-existing and provide the support needed to accelerate and advance the transformation of our struggling campuses by implementing the RISE cohort to better serve our students and their families in the quest for academic excellence,” said Dr. Denise Watts, HISD Chief of Schools. “We will equip our RISE schools with outstanding staff and resources to dramatically improve outcomes. The services of our partner, CIS of Houston, are critical in changing the trajectory of student’s lives with its proven model of intervention and support.”

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Dallas Morning News - August 16, 2022

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gives $1.2 million to local education nonprofit

Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott has given a local education nonprofit $1.2 million as part of a $38.8 million gift to Junior Achievement USA and 26 other local Junior Achievement operations. Junior Achievement is a nonprofit organization that provides education for work readiness, financial health, entrepreneurship, sustainability, STEM and economics. The $38.8 million donation is the largest gift from a single donor in the organization’s 103-year history. The $1.2 million for Dallas is the largest single one-time donation the local organization has received.

Jan Murfield, Junior Achievement of Dallas CEO and president, said the gift will allow the organization to expand virtual programming that has seen a dramatic increase in demand. She said the Dallas operation will invest in staff, programs and new initiatives. “We greatly appreciate the generosity of MacKenzie Scott for this amazing gift to our organization,” said Murfield in a statement. “We see this investment as recognition of the passion and commitment of the business leaders, educators, volunteers and other partners who support Junior Achievement in our community.” In 2021-22, Junior Achievement of Dallas served more than 113,000 of Dallas’ 1 million school-age students, according to a release. Nearly 80% of the organization’s student population is considered economically disadvantaged. Murfield said student impact has tripled in the last two years.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 15, 2022

Bill credit for CPS Energy customers is not best use of city’s surplus, CPS interim CEO says

CPS Energy’s CEO says a one-time customer credit proposed by City Manager Erik Walsh wouldn’t be the best use of a $75 million revenue windfall the utility has provided the city this year. CPS is still smarting from ratepayers’ anger after it distributed a credit worth a few dollars after Winter Storm Uri, when households went without power for days in early 2021. The utility doesn’t want to go through that again, interim President and CEO Rudy Garza said Monday. “There are better ways to utilize that money than a credit, but it’s not my call,” he said in a meeting with the Express-News editorial board. Garza suggested the city could more directly target the funds to customers that need it most.

“Buying down past-due balances for customers who may never be able to catch up, that’s a policy objective that the council has to decide what the best use of revenue is,” Garza said, referring to the utility’s tally of roughly $160 million in unpaid bills. “We would be supportive of that as a policy objective.” City Council is to vote by the end of the month on how to spend the money. Walsh last week proposed giving ratepayers a credit worth an average $31 in October after CPS bills jumped 50 percent this summer from a year ago as heat and natural gas prices have risen. The city is reaping a windfall because it takes 13 percent of every dollar CPS collects. That puts it on track to receive $75 million more from CPS than City Hall had budgeted. Walsh proposed spending $45 million on a direct rebate to CPS customers, $5 million on a fund for low-income ratepayers and $25 million on other city projects. The average San Antonio household faced a $225 CPS bill in June, and bills in August and September are expected to go higher. “A $30 credit for residential customers when you have a $500 bill, relatively speaking, it’s not much,” Garza said.

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National Stories

Kansas City Star - August 17, 2022

'It's over with': Abortion recount hampers Kansas Republicans' pivot to general election

Kansas Republicans have spent the past two weeks trying to move on. The landslide Aug. 2 vote preserving abortion rights in the state constitution was a stunning defeat for many anti-abortion Republicans. GOP candidates up and down the ballot quickly pivoted to the Nov. 8 general election. Rather than continuing the fight over abortion, Republicans were hoping to shift the focus back to inflation and President Joe Biden as they seek to tie incumbent Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Rep. Sharice Davids to the president whose popularity has sagged in recent months. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the Republican nominee for governor, and former Cerner executive Amanda Adkins, the Republican nominee in the 3rd Congressional District, have both shown little desire to make abortion a central focus on their campaigns following the Aug. 2 amendment vote.

But now a far-right Wichita anti-abortion activist and a Colby-based election denier are keeping abortion front and center. Mark Gietzen and Melissa Leavitt raised $120,000 to trigger hand recounts in nine counties, including the largest in the state. The recount won’t dramatically move the needle on the more than 165,000 vote lead. But it will keep the issue top of mind for voters as Republicans seek to win back the governor’s office and the 3rd District in November. Neither Schmidt’s campaign, nor Adkins’ campaign, responded to questions about whether the GOP candidates supported the recount effort. “What’s ironic is the very people who I think it hurts are on the side of the people continuing to keep it in the spotlight,” said Stephanie Sharp, a former moderate Republican state legislator who now operates a political consulting firm. She added that she believes the recount “hurts Amanda and Derek but the right can’t let it go.”

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Associated Press - August 16, 2022

Western states hit with more cuts to Colorado River water

For the second year in a row, Arizona and Nevada will face cuts in the amount of water they can draw from the Colorado River as the West endures more drought, federal officials announced Tuesday. Though the cuts will not result in any immediate new restrictions — like banning lawn watering or car washing — they signal that unpopular decisions about how to reduce consumption are on the horizon, including whether to prioritize growing cities or agricultural areas. Mexico will also face cuts. But those reductions represent just a fraction of the potential pain to come for the 40 million Americans in seven states that rely on the river. Because the states failed to meet a federal deadline to figure out how to cut their water use by at least 15%, they could see even deeper cuts that the government has said are needed to prevent reservoirs from falling so low they cannot be pumped.

“The states collectively have not identified and adopted specific actions of sufficient magnitude that would stabilize the system,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton said. Together, the missed deadline and the latest cuts put officials responsible for providing water to cities and farms under renewed pressure to plan for a hotter, drier future and a growing population. Touton has said a 15% to 30% reduction is necessary to ensure that water deliveries and hydroelectric power production are not disrupted. She was noncommittal on Tuesday about whether she planned to impose those cuts unilaterally if the states cannot reach agreement. She repeatedly declined to say how much time the states have to reach the deal she requested in June. The inaction has stirred concerns throughout the region about the bureau’s willingness to act as states stubbornly cling to their water rights while acknowledging that a crisis looms. “They have called the bureau’s bluff time and again,” Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said of the Colorado River basin states. “Nothing has changed with today’s news — except for the fact that the Colorado River system keeps crashing.”

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Fox Business - August 16, 2022

Nexstar Media purchases 75% of CW Network from Warner Bros Discovery and Paramount

Nexstar Media Group announced Monday it would obtain a 75% ownership stake of The CW television network from Warner Bros Discovery and Paramount Global. Mark Pedowitz, the network's current chairman and CEO, will continue in his current role, while the original owners of The CW will retain 12.5% ownership of the company. The transaction is expected to officially close within the next few weeks during the third quarter, according to TheWrap. Executives at Nexstar made the announcement during a conference call with investors and Wall Streets analysts. The media group will acquire The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Nexstar is expected to assume $100 million of the network's debt.

"Our acquisition of The CW is strategically and operationally compelling, as it will enable us to leverage our operational experience to improve the network’s performance through our management of this powerful national platform," said Perry Sook, Nexstar's CEO, in a statement. "We plan to apply the same strict financial standards to operating The CW as we apply to our other businesses." During the call, Nexstar president Tom Carter added that the CW would shift its programming from a teen and young adult audience to make it more appealing to an older demographic. Moreover, executives at Nexstar said they plan on making the network profitable by 2025. "It’s no secret that The CW is not profitable. But this is not typical for fully distributed broadcast or cable networks. In fact, according to SNL Kagan data, no other broadcast network operates at an ongoing loss," said Nexstar CFO Lee Ann Gliha. "Based on our plans, we believe we can bring The CW to profitability by 2025." Nexstar is currently the largest local broadcasting company in the United States with 200 stations in 116 markets and was previously the largest CW affiliate.

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Washington Post - August 17, 2022

Trump is rushing to hire seasoned lawyers — but he keeps hearing ‘No’

Former president Donald Trump and close aides have spent the eight days since the FBI searched his Florida home rushing to assemble a team of respected defense lawyers. But the answer they keep hearing is “no.” The struggle to find expert legal advice puts Trump in a bind as he faces potential criminal exposure from a records dispute with the National Archives that escalated into a federal investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other statutes. “Everyone is saying no,” said a prominent Republican lawyer, who like some others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations. Trump is no stranger to legal proceedings, and his scramble to hire lawyers in the face of an ominous federal probe recalls his predicament in the summer of 2017, when he was under scrutiny from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in the Russia probe.

Once again, Trump is struggling to find a veteran criminal defense lawyer with a strong track record of dealing with the Justice Department in a sprawling, multipronged investigation. Longtime confidants and advisers of Trump have grown extremely worried about Trump’s current stable of lawyers, noting that most of them have little to no experience in cases of this type, according to two people familiar with the internal discussions. Taylor Budowich, a Trump spokesman, defended the quality of the former president’s legal team in a statement Tuesday night, pointing to former federal prosecutors Evan Corcoran and James Trusty. “The President’s lead counsel in relation to the raid of his home, Jim Trusty and Evan Corcoran, have decades of prosecutorial experience and have litigated some of the most complex cases in American history," Budowich said. “President Trump is represented by some of the strongest attorneys in the country, and any suggestion otherwise is only driven by envy.”

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The Hill - August 17, 2022

TikTok to crack down on paid influencer political ads ahead of midterms

TikTok will label all content related to the midterm elections and crack down on paid influencer political ads as part of its plans to prepare for the upcoming midterm elections, the company announced Wednesday. The popular video sharing app will label content identified as being related to the elections, and all content from accounts that belong to governments, politicians and political parties in the U.S. The labels will direct users to click to enter the TikTok Elections Center, a resource with information available in more than 45 languages about elections and voting access created with partner organizations. The center launches Wednesday, six weeks earlier than it did ahead of the 2020 election. TikTok head of safety Eric Han said the earlier launch date will help “capture more of the midterms conversation over the summer months.”

TikTok’s ban on political advertising includes content influencers are paid to create, but the paid influencer content can be harder to detect than a traditional ad. As part of the effort to mitigate such content, over the next few weeks TikTok will publish a series of educational content on the Creator Portal and host briefings with creators and agencies to explain the rules. If TikTok discovers political content was paid for and not properly disclosed, it will be removed from the platform. The platform also has a tool that allows creators to disclose when they’re working with a branded partner, which it did not have in 2020. TikTok is pledging to weed out election misinformation and harassment targeting election workers as well. As posts are being fact checked, they will be ineligible for recommendation into users’ “For You” feeds, the place where users largely engage with content on the app. Posts that are found to be misinformation will be removed. If a post is deemed “unsubstantiated,” but not false, it will remain on the app but stay ineligible for recommendation. Users will also be prompted to reconsider sharing posts that are deemed “unsubstantiated.”

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Dallas Morning News - August 17, 2022

Roberto Salinas - León and Martín Rodríguez Rodríguez: Mexican nationalism is damaging North American trade. Here’s a way out

(Roberto Salinas-León serves as executive director of Atlas Network’s Center for Latin America, where Martín Rodríguez-Rodríguez is a visiting research fellow.) Mexico’s statist agenda of energy nationalism is generating tensions with its trade partners. Recently, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai requested dispute settlement consultations under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy is a significant step backward for regional competitiveness, growth and North American energy integration. López Obrador’s success in selling his counter-reformation crusade to return to a state-sponsored monopoly in hydrocarbons and electricity appeals to what he interprets as apprehension of foreign investment in extractive sectors, and a nostalgia for the expropriation of private oil interest undertaken by Lázaro Cárdenas in 1938 — an episode revered by popular folk wisdom in the country. Not surprisingly, he has chosen Sept. 16 — Mexico’s Independence Day — as the theatrical setting to issue a “response” to complaints levied by the U.S. and Canada.

In 2004, during a visit to Mexico City, Nobel laureate in economics Vernon Smith detected this psyche of nationalism surrounding the politics of oil development in Mexico and suggested that the country should emulate the success of the Alaska Permanent Fund. Smith argued that empowering everyday citizens with an individual property stake in the country’s oil and natural resources would reconcile energy nationalism with a broad pro-growth market approach to private investments in every part of the productive chain of the energy sector. Here, then, is a way out. Encouraged by Smith’s insight, we have developed a reform proposal that offers a credible path forward for Mexico. The initiative would entail a reboot of the current Mexican Petroleum Fund and turn it into a sovereign wealth fund that universally empowers all citizens with ownership of individualized titles in a citizen trust, thereby also mitigating the discretionary fashion in which political leaders of all stripes use and abuse the windfall fiscal benefits of resource revenue in the country. Our core idea is to grant property rights over the country’s energy and mining resources, and therefore to the income rights derived from extracting and exploiting such potential wealth. This entails turning nationalism on its head and, literally, giving “power to the people.” If “el petróleo es del pueblo” is true, then let us give it to the people — via individualized property titles in a citizens’ wealth fund. This will create new and positive incentives to maximize the returns on resource capital, and thereby create a popular constituency in favor of allowing long-term investment. In this way, citizens become key (and hopefully loud) stakeholders in the development of the country’s energy sector and not, as it happens today, passive spectators.

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Newsclips - August 16, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 15, 2022

Vast majority of Texans at least partly blame Trump for Jan. 6 attack on Capitol

A vast majority of Texans hold Donald Trump responsible for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, when a violent mob tried to block Congress from certifying the election of President Joe Biden. The finding in a new Dallas Morning News poll follows months of House hearings on the riot and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Only 28% of Texans said the defeated president did nothing wrong regarding Jan. 6, while 42% say he was directly responsible for the attack, according to a new Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll. Another 28% believe Trump encouraged those involved but was not directly responsible. The eight House Jan. 6 committee hearings so far have focused on key events and communications before, during and after the attack. These included planning by far-right extremist groups, Trump allies’ efforts to discredit the election results, and the president’s inaction during the 187 minutes from when he urged supporters to march on the Capitol at the Stop the Steal rally until his eventual calls for the mob to disperse.

Roughly 18 million people watched the most recent prime time hearing on July 21. The average viewership was 13 million, according to Bloomberg. The committee may not have changed many minds. Roughly two-thirds of Texans surveyed say the hearings did not change their views on what happened or who was responsible, including 70% of Republicans. Republicans are far less likely to blame Trump for the violent attack. Just over half – 52% – say he did nothing wrong, though 15% hold Trump “directly responsible” and another 32% agree that he encouraged the rioters. Amanda Moreno of Houston, a Republican who voted for Trump in 2020, believes he should face consequences for what happened, though she said she didn’t need the hearings to bring her to that conclusion. “This is our Capitol, this is what America stands for. And if we allow anybody to just storm, that area, our Capitol, I mean, what does that say about us as a nation?” Moreno asked. “What does that say about him as our president?” Still, despite her feelings about Jan. 6, Moreno said that if the 2024 election came down to Biden or Trump, she would still vote for Trump again. Another respondent in the survey, Republican Brian O’Neil of Houston, said he had initially thought that police had effectively invited the rioters into the Capitol by removing barricades.

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Dallas Morning News - August 16, 2022

House GOP poised to release scathing report on Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan

One year after the collapse of Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government, House Republicans led by Austin Rep. Michael McCaul put a harsh spotlight Monday on the decision to withdraw all U.S. forces. “It has been an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions,” McCaul said on CNN, blasting President Joe Biden. “This is going to be a stain on this president and this presidency. I think he is going to have blood on his hands for what they did.” A 121-page interim report that Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee plan to release Tuesday offers a scathing assessment of Biden’s decisions and the ensuing fallout. McCaul, now in his ninth term, is the panel’s top Republican. He would become chairman if control of the House flips in November, and the report serves as a sort of blueprint for hearings he could launch as soon as January. The Dallas Morning News obtained a draft ahead of the release.

Monday marked the first anniversary of the day the fundamentalist Taliban retook control of the capital. Republicans have long slammed Biden for miscalculations in pressing ahead with the withdrawal. Two decades of occupation and conflict ended not with a peaceful handoff to allies, as hoped, but with thousands of desperate Afghans converging on the Kabul airport, and scenes of an embassy evacuation that evoked the fall of Saigon and the U.S. defeat in Vietnam. A bombing Aug. 26 at the airport’s Abbey Gate left 13 U.S. military personnel dead, along with 160 Afghans. McCaul chastised the Biden administration for turning down the Taliban’s offer to provide more security in the final days. And he warned that Afghanistan has become a “breeding ground for terrorism” as it was before Sept. 11, 2001. The White House has punched back at what it calls a “partisan report…riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.”

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Texas Monthly - August 16, 2022

Remembering Paul Burka — the state’s most revered political writer was the heart and soul of Texas Monthly

With Paul Burka’s death Sunday night at age eighty, there are almost too many losses to count. Galveston-born, educated at Rice University and the University of Texas law school, Paul loved Texas and knew more about it than anyone else on the Texas Monthly staff, where he worked as an editor and writer from its earliest days in 1974 until his retirement in 2015. He knew its tiniest towns, its best barbecue, its worst small-time pols and best baseball players. More important, he knew what Texas should be and could be, and devoted his life to trying, heroically, to make it so. All these qualities made him, in turn, a great journalist, one who knew intuitively what Texans wanted—and needed—to read. Swimming holes and chili were as coverage-worthy as governors and senators, and even Chevy Suburbans, which all came within his purview. He had vision to spare in that way. Paul scared the bejesus out of Texas politicians who knew he could always outthink them, see through them, and at least try to shame them into doing the right thing. “He has no ideas, but he knows the name of every precinct chairman in Texas,” he once said of our current governor, “having no ideas” being about the worst thing Paul could think or say about anyone.

He was also, of course, a great editor, one who reminded us constantly that our primary obligation was not to the rich or the powerful or even our subjects, whoever they were, but to our readers. He hated the back-and-forth, “he said/she said” of newspaper reporting, and always pushed us toward what was right and true. He always, always made even the best pieces better—and everything had to be the best in his eyes before it went into Texas Monthly, even a dumb gossip column I wrote many years ago. (“It’s flat,” he said of my copy, as if he were describing a roadkill platter situated in the center of an otherwise glorious banquet table.) He was confident in his beliefs, and arguing with Paul could be bracing but never nasty—he just wore you down until you saw that you were sadly misguided. Paul was also generous with all that he knew; he was a natural mentor, eager to share, as virtually all the Texas Monthly writers and, later, his students at UT learned. Maybe because he adored his wife Sarah and daughter Janet as much as his sons Barrett and Joel, his expectations for and faith in women—“girls” to him, yes—were the same as for the guys. You might not have recognized your story when you got an edit back, but you learned from it, if you were smart. Eventually your pieces would start coming back with some resemblance to what you wrote. “All the sentences were mine,” one writer bragged of his National Magazine Award–winning story. “Just in a different order,” quipped Paul, his editor. But maybe the most wonderful thing about Paul—and the reason so many loved him so much, as I did and will to the end of my own days—was that he was as wonderfully flawed as he was brilliant and generous. He was a man of prodigious proportions. He was the only staffer who could pose for a magazine spread with an upside-down bowl of chili on his head and still look august. But whenever he wore a tie, it came accessorized with a stain of mustard or barbecue sauce.

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Vanity Fair - August 16, 2022

The Trump convert who looks like she's about to unseat Liz Cheney

In the summer of 2016, when Donald Trump had vanquished his GOP rivals but had yet to be formally named the party’s presidential nominee, a group of his opponents launched a Hail Mary effort to keep him off the ballot. Supporters of Ted Cruz, who had earned the second-most delegates and was one of the last of that year’s large large primary field to fall, began desperately pushing behind the scenes for the Republican National Convention’s Rules Committee to free the delegates that had been pledged to Trump — a procedural move that could have, in theory, blocked his nomination. Among those who participated in that failed effort? Harriet Hageman, a former Wyoming Cruz delegate and politician, who once openly described Trump as “racist and xenophobic,” and and the “weakest” contender the Republicans could put forth.

Flash forward six years: Hageman now appears to be on the cusp of defeating Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, who she advised in 2014 and campaigned for in 2016, as a full-on MAGA candidate with the endorsement of Trump, the man she now claims is the “greatest president” of her lifetime. “I heard and believed the lies the Democrats and Liz Cheney’s friends in the media were telling at the time, but that is ancient history as I quickly realized that their allegations against President Trump were untrue,” Hageman told the New York Times last year, after the outlet reported on her participation in efforts to undermine his 2016 nomination. “I am proud to have been able to renominate him in 2020,” she said. “And I’m proud to strongly support him today.” That degeneration — from warning about the dangers of Trump to vowing loyalty to him — is the story of the GOP over the course of the last half decade. It’s played out on the individual level, in officials like Lindsey Graham, who once cautioned that Republicans would be “destroyed” and “deserve it” if they backed Trump, only to become one of his most subservient allies on Capitol Hill. And it’s played out on an institutional level, with the establishment building the Trumpism it once claimed to abhor into the party infrastructure, bracketing the GOP platform with the Big Lie and fully embracing his brand of culture war grievance. In fact, it’s played out so many times that the GOP’s descent into the party of Trump is no longer really news; when Republicans are scrambling to defend the former president against possible espionage charges, it feels redundant to measure his dominance of the party.

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State Stories

MySA - August 15, 2022

Gillespie County elections administrator resigns over 2020 death threats

A Gillespie County employee is resigning from her job after dealing with death threats over the 2020 election, but she is not the first to leave. Gillespie County elections administrator Anissa Herrera told the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post that she will be leaving her position on Tuesday, August 16.

"The year 2020 was when I got the death threats," Herrera said to the Standard-Radio Post. "It was enough that I reached out to our county attorney, and it was suggested that I forward it to FPD (Fredericksburg Police Department) and the sheriff’s office." Herrera was an inaugural member of the elections office and was with Gillespie County for almost a decade, according to the report. She was the elections clerk under the county clerk's office before she was named elections administrator in 2019. After the 2020 election, Herrera's tenure took a turn for the worse. She told the Standard-Radio Post that she was threatened, stalked, and was called out on social media. According to the report, other people in the elections department have left for similar reasons.

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Chron.com - August 15, 2022

Back to school ad shows Texas child wearing body armor for first day back

The Mothers Against Greg Abbott PAC premiered a new back to school-themed campaign ad on Monday, just as children across the Lone Star State started returning to the classroom. In the 30-second clip, a mother helps dress her elementary-aged son for the first day of school, buttoning his shirt and tying his shoes. A cheerful-sounding country track plays in the background. However, the lyrics tell a different story.

"Little boys and little girls followin' the rules, gettin' ready for the first day of school," a man sings along to a guitar melody. "Politicians say they make our land safe and free. They're supposed to stand for you and me. Keep our children safe for you and me." As the mom proudly snaps a photo of her son, it is soon revealed that she was actually dressing him in body armor and a helmet. The child looks solemnly into the camera while holding a sign that reads "First Day of School." "Our children are not soldiers," a caption reads as the screen fades to black. "Vote for change on November 8th." The ad is the third released by the women-led PAC against Gov. Greg Abbott in order to rally votes for his Democratic gubernatorial opponent Beto O'Rourke in the upcoming November election. The group is also collecting signatures for a letter to be sent to Abbott on gun safety reform, calling for the implementation of universal background checks, raising the age to buy a gun to 21, and mandatory waiting periods.

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Axios - August 16, 2022

Liz Cheney raises big cash from $950k from Texas

Liz Cheney is widely expected to lose her Republican congressional primary today, but she has far outraised her opponent in Texas, per an Axios examination of federal campaign finance data. Why it matters: In light of Cheney's steadfast post-Jan. 6 opposition to Trump — she voted to impeach him and serves on the House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol — the donations are a glimpse into Texas' anti-MAGA and pro-MAGA forces. And it's a window into Cheney's deep financial network should she run for higher office.

What’s happening: Notable Houston donors to Liz Cheney for Wyoming include … Nancy Kinder, a philanthropist whose husband founded energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan; John L. Nau III, CEO of beer distributor Silver Eagle Beverages; James Pitcock, CEO of Williams Brothers Construction Company; Andrew Levy, CEO of Avelo Airlines, the new Houston-based airline; Zoom out: Other Texas contributors include George W. Bush loyalists Karl Rove and Karen Hughes; Bobby Ray Inman, who served as director of the National Security Agency and has served twice as interim dean of the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs; Dallas-based energy executive Jere Thompson; Austin-based philanthropist and the Texas Republican Party's 2020 victory chair Stacy Hock; Dallas oil executive Ray Hunt; Dallas investor Ross Perot Jr.; Austin environmental educator Andrew Sansom. Yes, but: Texas money is also backing Cheney's opponent, Harriet Hageman, who has backed the former president's lies about the 2020 election. The single largest Texas contribution came from Houstonian Windi Grimes, who in December contributed $10,000 to Hageman's campaign.

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Houston Chronicle - August 16, 2022

Harris County judge blocks new attempt to stop 10 percent minimum bail bonds for violent offenders

A judge rejected a second attempt by a bail bonding business to put an end to a Harris County rule requiring defendants accused of violent offenses to pay a minimum 10 percent fee to secure their release from jail, officials said Monday. 55th District Court Judge Latosha Payne ruled Aug. 9 against a temporary injunction stemmed from civil litigation lodged in April against the Harris County Bail Bond Board that attempted to prevent the premium policy from taking effect. A judge blocked the initial attempt as well. All About Bail Bonds owner and plaintiff Sunya Claiborne argued in the lawsuit that the policy jeopardizes her business — calling the minimum fee requirement “classic price fixing and a per se antitrust violation.” The lawyer for the plaintiff, Kevin Pennell, said he plans this week to appeal the judge’s order.

Without the minimum fee, Claiborne planned to “offer competitive pricing of less than 10% of the face amount of the bond to consumers who desire to purchase a bail bond for themselves, or their loved ones charged with a designated offense and qualify for reduced payment terms,” according to court documents. The Harris County Attorney’s Office — whose attorneys were unaware of the judge’s ruling until the order was uploaded Monday to the Harris County District Clerk’s Office — defended the Bail Bond Board against the lawsuit. The policy was prompted by a Commissioners Court resolution urging the board members to adopt rules regulating the minimum fee that a bondsman must collect to secure a defendant’s release on violent charges. “People accused of violent crimes should not get any discounts while they await trial,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who proposed the fee minimum to county commissioners, said in a statement. “This affects no one accused of the most minor, nonviolent offenses who would be stuck in jail because they aren’t able to pay.” Judge Payne based her decision on pleadings from both sides filed in June. Garcia cited a Houston Chronicle investigation into bail payments for suggesting a fee minimum. The Chronicle in 2021 reviewed hundreds of bail documents and found that bondsmen were more often accepting lower than 10 percent fees on more violent crimes. This included filings made prior to misdemeanor bail reform, which resulted in the majority of defendants in low-level offenses being granted cash-less bail.

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Dallas Morning News - August 15, 2022

Even conservative Texans support some new gun restrictions, poll finds

A majority of voters, including almost half of Republicans, don’t believe elected officials are doing enough to prevent gun violence, according to a new poll. Results from The Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll, which surveyed 1,384 registered voters across Texas Aug. 1-7, indicates a majority of people want more legislation to address gun violence. The results also mirror previous polls that showed the statewide consensus on guns has shifted since the May 24 massacre at a Uvalde elementary school that killed 21. Most voters — 63% of those polled — either somewhat or strongly disagreed with the idea that elected officials are doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to the survey. That includes 49% of Republicans and 75% of Democrats. Only 30% of voters said elected officials are doing enough. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. James Pace, a Lexington native living in San Antonio who answered the poll, said he thinks elected officials are doing enough within the confines of the Second Amendment.

“What can a governor do?” Pace, 48, said. “Everybody plays politics, but it’s out of his hands.” But 66% of voters said Gov. Greg Abbott should call a special session to have lawmakers consider legislation they could pass to curb mass shootings. Roughly the same number of Texans said they are concerned about gun violence in their community. Even Pace, an Army veteran who holds traditionally conservative views on gun rights, said steps should be taken to limit access to firearms for some people. He said he doesn’t believe an 18-year-old should be able to buy an assault rifle: “It’s a very difficult question,” he said, “but I think the maturity level is not there for civilians until they’re 21.” A vast majority of voters agreed: 52% of those surveyed said they “favor a great deal” laws that would raise the age limit to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21. When including those who said they favored age increases “a moderate amount” or “a little,” that percentage climbs to 75%, including 72% of Republicans. Such laws would have prevented the 18-year-old gunman in Uvalde from legally purchasing the rifle he used to commit the massacre.

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Dallas Morning News - August 15, 2022

Greg Abbott’s first TV ad in Texas governor’s race features marriage, paralyzing accident

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection campaign heads to television this week with a biographical ad featuring his wife, Cecilia, discussing their marriage and the accident that put him in a wheelchair. The statewide ad will run for two weeks, campaign aides told The Dallas Morning News. The buy costs at least $3 million and is the opening salvo in a media campaign that could approach $100 million. “It gives us the opportunity to begin the discussion and engagement with voters,” said Dave Carney, Abbott’s chief political strategist. In the ad, Cecilia Abbott talks about meeting her husband at the University of Texas and marrying him in 1981. In 1984, Abbott was paralyzed from the waist down when an oak tree fell on him as he was jogging through a Houston neighborhood following a storm. He was 26 at the time.

“I learned what Greg Abbott was really made of when I saw how he responded to his paralyzing accident,” she says in the ad. “His recovery took months, but he never gave up.” Cecilia Abbott goes on to say, “The joys of our marriage and adopting our daughter, Audrey, showed me the depths of his love and commitment.” “Hard work, perseverance, and family,” she said to close out the spot. “That’s what defines Greg and how he governs Texas.” Abbott, who is known as an aggressive campaigner, has been effective in his political career by producing biographical ads that reflect his struggle to succeed while using a wheelchair. His first campaign for governor featured the critically acclaimed ad “Garage.” Shot in Dallas, it featured Abbott rolling his wheelchair up an-eight story parking garage to build strength.

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Houston Chronicle - August 15, 2022

Faced with a two-decade wait, these families had to leave Texas to receive disability services

Sheletta Brundidge never thought she would be thankful for a 9-year-old daughter who talked back and gave her sass. But sitting in the backyard of her home just outside St. Paul, Sheletta finds herself giddy. Her daughter, Cameron, was making clever arguments to open a package addressed to her brother that had arrived at their front door — even though Sheletta said she couldn’t. Four years ago, Cameron was put in a classroom for deaf children because she couldn’t speak a single word. She wasn’t potty trained. She didn’t understand how to play with toys. Now, she can take visitors on a tour of the family’s five-bedroom home. She can politely order a blue and red popsicle from an ice cream truck and pay with exact change.

So, Sheletta, 50, did the only thing she could think to give her children a chance — she and her now ex-husband, Shawn, moved to Minnesota, leaving behind generations of family members and close friends. The Houston Chronicle interviewed half a dozen families who, like the Brundidges, have made the difficult decision to leave the state in order to get their children help. Most never wanted to leave. They didn’t feel they had a choice. “I was born and raised and ready to die in Houston,” Sheletta said. “But I told Shawn, ‘We have to get out of here.’” Although experts estimate there are 500,000 Texans living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a Houston Chronicle investigation found that the state has the capacity to serve barely a fifth of those individuals. That means nearly 200,000 people are waiting for care, some for nearly 20 years. Lawmakers in recent years have invested some money into alleviating the waitlist, but experts say it's not enough to make a dent. Stakeholders are now recommending that the Legislature eliminate the current waitlist by 2033. It's been six years since the Brundidge family moved, and Sheletta’s children are now holding conversations. They can play with each other. They can read and write. Cameron tested out of services three years ago. Brandon followed suit the next year. Their paperwork now reads “a history of autism.” Sheletta knows this never would have happened in Texas — in fact, she’d likely still be waiting for services.

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KXAN - August 15, 2022

Why this Texas teacher stayed amid an education vacancy crisis

Biology teacher Nikki Sorto has been a teacher at McCallum High School for as long as she has been married to her husband of 29 years. Her now-adult children went to the school. As a veteran teacher, she still gets excited when talking about her students. But, as she puts it, if you asked her last school year — she would have told you she was retiring.

“I was exhausted. I was heartbroken and I felt society and the powers that be were pushing us even harder, in a time we were trying to regroup and collect and draw in the kids and build a community back,” Sorto said. A record 70% of teachers surveyed by the Texas State Teachers Association said they were seriously considering leaving the profession as they ended the school year last spring, according to a survey of 668 Texas educators. A separate 2021 Ed Week Research Center survey found when teachers were asked the biggest factor keeping them in education, teachers were most likely to point to “love for students.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 15, 2022

Cellphone company donates ‘In God We Trust’ signs to Carroll ISD

Patriot Mobile, a conservative Christian cellphone company that contributed to school board candidates in several North Texas school districts, has donated “In God We Trust” signs to display at all Carroll schools in Southlake. Trustees accepted the donation during a special board meeting Monday. Under state law, if school districts receive donations of the posters with the national motto, “In God We Trust,” they must be displayed in prominent locations at all campuses. Scott Coburn, chief marketing officer for Patriot Mobile, said during the meeting that the company is proud of its Christian message and said several employees live in Southlake. “As you know, ‘In God We Trust” is our nation’s official motto,” Coburn said. “This law requires K-12 schools to display signs combined with our nation’s flag.”

Three people in the audience signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. All thanked Patriot Mobile for the donation. Kelly McGuire, who spoke during the meeting, said she was pleased with the donation and didn’t agree with social media posts that were critical of the signs. McGuire asked for the policy review committee to add on-campus signs to items under review. The Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition posted about the Patriot Mobile donation on its Twitter feed and urged people to sign up and speak. One person wrote: “I thought we were trying to keep politics out of classrooms. Now, we have a far right PAC making presentations at school board meetings Make it make sense.” In the May school board elections, Grapevine-based Patriot Mobile poured $500,000 into a PAC to support candidates in the Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller and Mansfield school districts. Meanwhile, Coburn said Patriot Mobile is looking forward to donating the “beautiful posters.” “We live here. We attend school. We love Southlake,” he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 16, 2022

Texas might be 'colder than normal' this winter, Farmers’ Almanac says

Savor the rest of the sweltering summer because this winter in Texas is going to be “colder than normal,” according to Farmers’ Almanac. The Almanac, which has been predicting the weather outlook for farmers and gardeners for over 200 years, says to expect a “chilly” winter with “normal precipitation.” Cold temperatures are expected to arrive in the South in mid-to-late November, mid-to-late December, and early and late January. The Farmers' Almanac previously predicted Texas’ deadly winter storm in 2021, in which heavy snowfall, ice storms and bitter temperatures put an enormous strain on the state’s power grid, leaving millions without electricity. Over 200 people died.

For this year, North Texas could see the most potential for snow and ice storms throughout the season. The Almanac says that heavy snowfall is expected to reach North Texas by the first week of January, followed by “significant snows” from North and Central Texas by the second week. While this winter “will be filled with plenty of shaking, shivering and shoveling,” most of the cold weather is expected to “rattle warm weather seekers in the Southeast and South Central states, but the real shivers might send people in the Great Lakes area, Northeast, and North Central regions hibernating.” Since 1818, the Farmers’ Almanac has offered long-range weather predictions using a system that has been “altered slightly and turned into a formula that is both mathematical and astronomical,” according to its website. Only a weather prognosticator who goes by the pseudonym Caleb Weatherbee knows the exact formula.

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Texas Public Radio - August 15, 2022

Uvalde school officials incorrectly said there were no limits to enrollment in its virtual academy

Last week the superintendent of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District said any parent who wants to enroll their child in the district’s new virtual academy would be able to. But according to the Texas Education Agency, Uvalde CISD is still currently required to limit virtual instruction to 10% of its total enrollment. “TEA put out some (information in response to the pandemic) that (virtual learning) could only be so many students for so much time,” Uvalde Superintendent Hal Harrell said during last Monday’s school board meeting. “They have waived all those pieces, so our virtual academy will be stood up as long as we need to for our families, our students.”

Harrell again stated that there wouldn’t be a limit on virtual enrollment when Uvalde mom Rachel Martinez asked about it during public comments. “I just want to verify that virtual classes will be without question made available for any student or parent who prefers to go that route, regardless of how many parents enroll or wish to enroll,” Martinez said. "Absolutely,” Harrell replied. "Kindergarten through grade 12." But according to TEA, Uvalde has not been granted a waiver. Uvalde CISD has not even applied for one. When asked to explain the discrepancy, Harrell said he planned to apply for a waiver if the district needed one. “The 10% (cap) is still in effect,” Harrell said. “If our request exceeds that number, I will apply to the state for a waiver to go beyond the 10%. But I'm going to do what I need to do to make sure we take care of our families and our students and their choice for their educational setting.” Harrell said he was confident TEA would approve the waiver if Uvalde CISD needs it. “We've had some strong or some very good verbal conversations. I'm not going to put the (Texas Education) Commissioner on task for that right now, but he's been very, very supportive,” Harrell said.

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Austin American-Statesman - August 15, 2022

Steve Worster, two-time All-American powering the Wishbone at Texas, dies at 73

Steve Worster, a two-time All-American fullback at Texas and a central figure in coach Darrell Royal’s thunderous, innovative Wishbone offense from 1968-70, died on Saturday, according to the UT sports information department. He was 73. Funeral arrangements are still pending with the Claybar Funeral Home in Orange. Known to Texas fans as “Woo-Woo” Worster, the hard-charging fullback from Bridge City helped the Longhorns win the 1969 and 1970 national titles with a 30-2-1 combined record. UT won three Southwest Conference titles during his three seasons on the varsity squad, and Worster finished with 2,353 career yards and 36 touchdowns.

Royal used a formation that included three running backs who lined up in a formation that looked like a wishbone. With three runners and the quarterback, the Horns had four running threats going all sorts of directions. Worster averaged an eye-popping 5.1 yards per carry and bulldozed his way into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor and the Texas Sports and Texas High School Halls of Fame. “This is a sad time for a lot of us,” former Texas running back Billy Dale, Worster’s teammate, told the Houston Chronicle. “The wishbone was defined by the Worster Bunch, and now our namesake is gone.” Worster was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round in 1971. He ultimately played one year in the Canadian Football League before retiring from football. Worster is survived by his daughter, Erin, and son, Scott.

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Dallas Morning News - August 15, 2022

Rangers fire manager Chris Woodward in midst of fourth straight losing season

From the time the Rangers finally got to spring training, Chris Woodward was direct. There would be no excuses. The team had a new, state-of-the-art facility, a beefed-up roster, three years’ experience with a painful teardown and rebuild process. This Rangers team needed to expect to win. Even had it boiled down to a logo — “E2W” — emblazoned on T-shirts. And on Monday, the second anniversary of the last time the Rangers spent a day over .500, there were no excuses. Only consequences. The Rangers fired Woodward two games shy of his 500th with the club and with a season remaining on his contract, the club announced Monday. Third base coach Tony Beasley was named the interim manager. It is unclear whether Beasley would be a candidate for the permanent role.

“Chris Young and I had the very difficult task of informing Chris Woodward of our decision today,” Rangers President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels said in a written statement. “In his tenure as Rangers’ manager, Chris worked tirelessly under what was at times some difficult circumstances. He has been dedicated and passionate in his efforts to improve the on-field performance of the Texas Rangers, and it is greatly appreciated. He has represented the organization with class and dignity. “We have had extensive discussions over the last several weeks and while the team’s current performance is certainly a big part of this decision, we are also looking at the future. As the Rangers continue to develop a winning culture and put the pieces together to compete for the postseason year in and year out, we felt a change in leadership was necessary at this time. “On behalf of the entire Texas Rangers organization, we thank Chris and wish him and his family the very best.”

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Texas Monthly - August 15, 2022

Chris Hooks: The Trump raid’s newest victim: the Texas GOP

Though much about the administration of Donald Trump was hard to pin down, there was one ironclad rule of his presidency. If you happened to be a public official, a man or woman with some reputation to safeguard, and you put that reputation on the line defending or otherwise giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, it would end in one of two things happening, and often both. One, time would reveal your complicity in some awful crime that endangered your mortal soul. And two, you would eventually be made to look a fool. This happened with remarkable consistency, but memories are short and elected officials hate learning lessons as much as anybody. So on Monday, when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, Texas Republicans from the fringes of the party to the governor lined up in near-unanimous anger. No matter that the Department of Justice had brought to a judge evidence that Trump had been stashing classified documents at his resort and golf course, or that the judge saw the evidence and agreed to a search warrant. The FBI search was an abuse of power, Senator Ted Cruz tweeted; Biden was a new Richard Nixon, according to Governor Greg Abbott, who wrote that “never before has the country seen an Administration go to such extent to use the levers of government to target a former President and political rival.” State representative Bryan Slaton from Royse City, a member of the right fringe, raged that “we are at war with the Left. Watergate pales in comparison,” before saying, preposterously, that “Texas should immediately expel all FBI employees from our state until this madness ends.”

The end of the Republic was nigh; as the state GOP itself put it on social media, “Biden has crossed the Rubicon. If there was any doubt remaining, we are now living in a post constitutional America where the Justice Department has been weaponized against political threats to the regime, as it would in a banana republic. It won’t stop with Trump. You are next.” When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river with his army in 49 BC, it marked a key moment in the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire, with Caesar becoming tyrant. The meaning of the Texas GOP’s analogy was clear: the American republic is dying, Biden is a tyrant, and force may be necessary to defend it. The responses from state leaders to the search were particularly clarifying for one reason in particular: in condemning the warrant, not one major elected Republican official in Texas expressed the slightest bit of interest in whether the former president had committed a crime. Leaders objected not to accusations made against Trump that may have led to the search—about which they had no information—but to the fact that a former president of their party was the subject of an investigation at all. The truth of the matter was irrelevant. Take Abbott’s accusation that Biden is “next-level Nixonian.” It’s true that the specter of Nixon, an authoritarian populist who used unethical and illegal methods to try to cling to power before being granted immunity from prosecution by his successor, hangs over American politics right now—just not in the way Abbott thinks. (The former president’s actions on January 6 exceed anything that Nixon could have imagined in his most fevered, drunken state.)

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San Antonio Express-News - August 16, 2022

Uvalde County OKs review of Sheriff’s Office over mass shooting

Uvalde County commissioners will launch an independent review of the actions of sheriff’s deputies during the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School, but probably not for at least six months — after state police finish their criminal investigation. County Commissioner John Yeackle and County Judge Bill Mitchell said the report will also examine Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures. “We didn’t have an active-shooter policy at the county,” Yeackle said. “That is not surprising because many small communities never think that it will happen to them, and don’t have a written policy to that effect. That will be something that will definitely have to be addressed going forward.”

County commissioners approved the measure 3-0 on July 25 — with one important figure absent: Mariano Pargas. Aside from being the county’s elected commissioner for Precinct 2, Pargas is a lieutenant with the Uvalde Police Department and was acting chief the day of the mass shooting. Pargas was among more than 375 officers from nearly two dozen federal, state and local agencies who responded. A Texas House committee investigating the incident issued a scathing report in mid-July that outlined “systemic failures and egregious poor decision-making” among responding officers during the incident. Police waited more than an hour to confront and kill the gunman. The report said Pargas and other officers were aware of 911 calls coming from the classrooms during the delay. Some were waiting for more officers and better equipment to arrive, Pargas told the committee.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 16, 2022

Contaminated Fifth Ward rail yard linked to highly dangerous toxic waste mixed with creosote

Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens residents have been fighting for years to get hazardous creosote chemicals cleaned up from the ground and groundwater around their homes. But creosote might not have been the only harmful substance that workers used at the rail yard in the neighborhood, and it might not have been the most dangerous. Workers mixed hazardous waste with the creosote as part of the process for treating wood at the Union Pacific property, according to a newly obtained report shared with the Houston Chronicle. This waste came from four different locations — three of which became Superfund sites, meaning federal officials considered them among the country’s worst cases of contamination.

Railroad officials referred to this dangerous mix of industrial waste as “creosote extender,” according to the report. Creosote, which is made up of different components, can be combined with oil to treat wood. In Fifth Ward, it was added in a 3:7 ratio, a hazardous combination that could have contained dozens of toxic compounds — or more. “Creosote is not the primary problem,” said chemical engineer Jim Tarr, who wrote the report in 2002 to provide information for a law firm representing workers who alleged they were harmed on the job. “Creosote extender is the primary problem, because of the nature of the extreme toxicity associated with some of these compounds.” At the time creosote extender was being used, Southern Pacific Railroad owned the site. Union Pacific merged with Southern Pacific in 1997 — after the wood treatment had stopped. Attention on the rail yard in the historically Black community has increased in recent months because federal regulators are keeping tabs on the site, and Houston and Harris County officials are threatening lawsuits. Union Pacific has proposed a plan to the state for remediating environmental concerns, but city and county officials, residents and environmental experts say that plan doesn’t go far enough. Union Pacific said in a statement that it was aware Southern Pacific used an extender, and that documents showed Southern Pacific “unknowingly received contaminated extender from a supplier” that was discontinued after it was discovered.

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San Antonio Current - August 15, 2022

Inflation hitting San Antonio's Latino consumers, businesses especially hard

NEWS FEATURES Inflation hitting San Antonio's Latino consumers, businesses especially hard According to a June study published by Liberty Street Economics, some demographics, including Latinos, are suffering worse under the current bout with inflation than other Americans. By Michael Karlis on Mon, Aug 15, 2022 at 8:00 am SEND A NEWS TIP Although inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% this June, U.S. Latinos experienced price hikes closer to 9.7%, a study found. - Shutterstock / Nong2 Shutterstock / Nong2 Although inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% this June, U.S. Latinos experienced price hikes closer to 9.7%, a study found. Everyone feels the bite from inflation. Whether buying groceries, filling up at the gas pump or paying utility bills, it's hard to escape what some economists linken to a tax imposed without legislation. Even so, not every Alamo City resident is feeling the same amount of pain from that bite. According to a June study published by Liberty Street Economics — a think tank that analyzes Federal Reserve data — some demographics, including Latinos, are suffering worse under the current bout with inflation than other Americans. Liberty Street analyzed the effects of inflation by examining the spending patterns of white, Asian, Black and Latino Americans. To determine which group was hurt the worst, its experts then analyzed the inflation rate on what each demographic was buying at the time.

"When overall inflation began rising in March 2021, inflation disparities surged, with Black and Hispanic Americans experiencing higher inflation than the national average," the report said. Although inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% this June, U.S. Latinos experienced price hikes closer to 9.7%, the study found. What's more, the inflation rate burdening that demographic was 1.2% higher than for white Americans, whose rate was 8.5%. River City Federal Credit Union President and CEO Jeff Ivey said that strain is apparent as he talks to his customers, 65% of whom are Latino. "For a lot of folks, it's getting harder and harder to provide the basics," Ivey said. "I'm talking about putting food on the table versus buying school supplies or getting the car fixed or paying utilities. It just becomes more of a challenge."

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D Magazine - August 15, 2022

Community Police Oversight Board members square off against Dallas Police Association President

Some members of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Board pushed back last week against Dallas Police Association president Mike Mata’s claims on a local talk radio show that they say disparaged the board. Mata, the head of the police department’s largest union, made the statements on WBAP 820’s The Rick Roberts Show on August 3. On the conservative radio station’s website, the description of the discussion reads: “210 police officers shot in the line of duty so far this year, 46 of them ambushes. All the BLM and ‘hands up-don’t shoot’ nonsense, these stats are no surprise. Mike Mata, President of the Dallas Police Association, joined Rick Roberts to talk about this dangerous trend of hating on cops that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.” On the show, Mata castigated the board for judging officers without understanding “what we do, nor have they taken any educational courses on our policy, our use of force continuum, or what our use of force (policies) are.” Mata also claimed that the board’s information on procedures and policy came from handouts.

Both board chair Jesuorobo Enobakhare and member Brandon Friedman disagreed with much of what Mata said on the show. “Mr. Mata is definitely peddling false truths,” Enobackhare said. Friedman posted a substantial Twitter thread refuting the DPA president’s claims. “Board members without armed public service experience are no less valuable than those who have it,” he wrote. “In many cases, their varied experiences make them more suited to overseeing armed public servants than if the Board were, say, all retired cops. I’m sorry Mr. Mata doesn’t get that.” There appears to be a fundamental difference in how the president of the Dallas Police Association sees the objectives of the board and who empowers it versus what the board is actually tasked with doing, and who it answers to. “When you listen to some of these hearings, it’s not about whether the officers follow policy, it’s not whether they followed the law,” Mata said in a phone call Friday. “It’s whether they’ve hurt somebody’s feelings and they felt like they could have been, you know, gentler or they could have been not understanding the situation that the officer was placed in. And there’s an avenue for that—it’s called internal affairs.”

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KERA - August 16, 2022

Arlington groups planning 'biggest oppositional campaign' as council takes up term lengths

Arlington City Council will vote Tuesday evening on a ballot measure that, if voters approve it, would expand city council term lengths from two years to three. Under the change, council members and mayor could serve up to nine years at each post. City council unanimously approved the ballot question during their Aug. 9 evening meeting. Meanwhile, Zachary Maxwell says, he and others are planning the "biggest oppositional campaign that the city's seen" to fight it this fall and exploring whether to campaign for a recall amendment. Maxwell led the 2018 referendum to put council's current term limits, which cap elected officials at six years on city council and six years as mayor. Around 63% of voters in 2018 approved the current limits. However, the debate didn't end on election day four years ago.

A state district judge in 2018 threw out a lawsuit that sought to invalidate the 2018 results, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. City council in 2020 organized a term limits task force, which recommended four two-year terms with a two-year "cooling off" period as an alternative. Council did not take up the recommendation. Council members in late July received emails from people asking council consider three-year term lengths. Maxwell says the vote marks the third time council has tried to make changes after the November 2018 election. "I think my initial reaction was somewhere in the ballpark of, 'Here we go again,' because this is just another example of council doing something that appears to be a very rushed, self-serving decision that was not taken to the public at all before it was put to a ballot," he says. Council, who has publicly discussed the proposal since Aug. 2, say their efforts are not rushed and that the ballot question will not do away with term limits. Andrew Piel, District 4 council member, said during a work session that people have had time to voice their concerns since the committee's formation in 2020.

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National Stories

NBC News - August 15, 2022

Rudy Giuliani informed he's a target of probe into Trump's alleged election interference in Georgia

Rudy Giuliani is a "target" of the criminal investigation into possible 2020 election interference in Georgia by former President Donald Trump and others, his attorney told NBC News. The lawyer, Robert Costello, said that as part of their efforts to compel Giuliani’s testimony, Georgia prosecutors initially told New York courts that Giuliani was a material witness. But Costello said Giuliani's lawyers were informed Monday that he is a "target" of the probe. Giuliani, Trump's former personal attorney and former mayor of New York City, was ordered last week to testify in person Wednesday before a grand jury handling the case. The grand jury, called by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, subpoenaed Giuliani in July as a material witness as part of its investigation into "coordinated attempts to unlawfully alter the outcome of the 2020 elections."

The subpoena said Giuliani made statements at legislative hearings in Georgia falsely claiming that there had been "widespread voter fraud" in the state. Giuliani was ordered to testify by a judge after he failed to appear at a July 13 hearing to challenge the subpoena. Costello said Monday that Giuliani still intends to testify before the grand jury this week. The New York Times was first to report that Giuliani was informed he was a target of the probe. Meanwhile, a federal judge on Monday denied Sen. Lindsey Graham's effort to quash a subpoena seeking his testimony in the Georgia investigation. In a 22-page order, U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May in Atlanta rejected Graham's arguments against having to testify before a special grand jury, including his contention that the speech and debate clause of the Constitution shields the South Carolina Republican from providing testimony. Graham's lawyers had argued that a post-election phone call Graham made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in November 2020 had a legislative purpose and therefore was covered by the clause.

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Wall Street Journal - August 16, 2022

Merrick Garland weighed search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for weeks

Attorney General Merrick Garland deliberated for weeks over whether to approve the application for a warrant to search former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, people familiar with the matter said, a sign of his cautious approach that will be tested over the coming months. The decision had been the subject of weeks of meetings between senior Justice Department and FBI officials, the people said. The warrant allowed agents last Monday to seize classified information and other presidential material from Mar-a-Lago. Mr. Garland now faces a more momentous decision that will further sharpen an already unprecedented and politically fraught situation: whether to pursue charges against Mr. Trump or any of his allies over their handling of the records at issue and their interactions with Justice Department officials seeking to retrieve them.

A decision to bring charges in the matter against Mr. Trump or any of his allies would thrust the Justice Department deeper into a political environment in which the former president’s supporters and Republican lawmakers are already accusing Mr. Garland and the department of overreach. “If disclosed, the affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course, in a manner that is highly likely to compromise future investigative steps,” the department wrote in its filing. A judge will ultimately decide but is unlikely to unseal the document given the government’s opposition. Federal agencies also have warned about the prospect of violence against law-enforcement officials in retaliation. A western Pennsylvania man was charged Monday with threatening to “slaughter” Federal Bureau of Investigation agents after the Mar-a-Lago search, with investigators writing in a federal criminal complaint that he wrote social-media posts, including one that said everyone “from the director down to the janitor who cleans their…toilets deserves to die.” Workers recently erected metal barricades around the FBI’s Hoover Building headquarters, a target of some of the threats. The department Monday asked a judge not to make public the affidavit on which the search warrant was based, as some news-media outlets had sought, writing in a court filing that the document contains “critically important investigative facts” about witnesses and tactics.

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Politico - August 16, 2022

Judge orders Graham to testify in Atlanta-area Trump probe

A federal judge on Monday turned down Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bid to throw out a subpoena compelling him to testify before the Atlanta-area grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. “[T]he Court finds that the District Attorney has shown extraordinary circumstances and a special need for Senator Graham’s testimony on issues relating to alleged attempts to influence or disrupt the lawful administration of Georgia’s 2022 elections,” U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May wrote in a 22-page opinion rejecting Graham’s effort and sending the matter back to state courts for further proceedings. The ruling is a victory for District Attorney Fani Willis, who is leading the grand jury probe that resulted in a subpoena for Graham (R-S.C.) to appear for an Aug. 23 interview. Investigators intend to query Graham about two phone calls with Georgia election officials, at the same time Trump was attempting to subvert his defeat, that included a discussion of the process for counting absentee ballots.

“Senator Graham has unique personal knowledge about the substance and circumstances of the phone calls with Georgia election officials, as well as the logistics of setting them up and his actions afterward,” May wrote. “And though other Georgia election officials were allegedly present on these calls and have made public statements about the substance of those conversations, Senator Graham has largely (and indeed publicly) disputed their characterizations of the nature of the calls and what was said and implied. Accordingly, Senator Graham’s potential testimony on these issues … are unique to Senator Graham.” In a statement issued later Monday through his Senate office, Graham indicated he would appeal the ruling. “Although the district court acknowledged that Speech or Debate may protect some of Senator Graham’s activities, she nevertheless ignored the constitutional text and binding Supreme Court precedent, so Senator Graham plans to appeal to the 11th Circuit,” his office said in a statement. Graham had argued that the subpoena should be completely scrapped because it violated the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which protects federal lawmakers from being subject to questioning for matters related to their official duties. Graham contended that as a senator, his calls about the election process were related to policy matters that could be construed as official business.

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Wall Street Journal - August 16, 2022

Money pours into funds targeting solar power, cell towers and data centers

Investment companies such as KKR Co. and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. are raising money at a record clip to invest in power plants, telecom towers, and data centers—businesses that can thrive even as inflation runs rampant. Infrastructure funds have raised about $130 billion this year, already outpacing the record of $125 billion set last year, according to Preqin, a data provider. Contributing to that total were a $17 billion fund raised by KKR, a $15 billion equivalent from Brookfield and a $14 billion fund from Stonepeak Partners LP. Investors include state pension funds from Alaska and New York, as well as other institutions such as China Life Insurance Co., according to the data provider and documentation from the pensions. Meanwhile Sweden’s EQT AB is aiming to raise the equivalent of $5.2 billion in a new infrastructure fund, touting inflation protection and low volatility as among the fund’s advantages. The fund will invest in core-infrastructure projects, such as utilities and telecom towers.

Such funds can take months to raise, meaning that much of this year’s record-breaking haul isn’t directly related to the recent surge in inflation. But that backdrop is likely to increase the demand for infrastructure investment. If current trends continue, “allocations to infrastructure funds will continue to increase for protection against inflation and price volatility in the public and private-equity markets,” said Gordon Bajnai, head of global infrastructure at Campbell Lutyens & Co., a firm that helps buyout shops raise money. The global transition to greener energy and the increasing digitization of the world economy will also help drive industry growth, Mr. Bajnai said, by pushing up demand for certain kinds of infrastructure. Pension funds and insurers have long been attracted to assets such as utilities, toll roads and ports, because their predictable income streams match up well with investors’ longer-term liabilities. While these investments typically offer lower returns than technology and other growth companies, they are usually well-equipped to pass through higher costs to customers. That is a big advantage in the current environment. U.S. consumer-price inflation hit a four-decade high in June, at 9.1%, and remained elevated in July at 8.5%, while prices are also rising rapidly in other economies, such as the U.K. and continental Europe. In May, KKR struck a $2.1 billion deal to acquire the U.K.’s ContourGlobal PLC. The alternative-asset manager noted that revenue from about 90% of the power-generation company’s contracts was inflation-linked.

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CNN Business - August 15, 2022

Majority of Americans say they're worried about being able to pay for housing

If you are feeling the pinch of higher rents, you're not alone. Nearly 60% of renters saw a rent increase during the past year, while just 38% said they saw their income increase, according to a study from Freddie Mac. And renters were less likely than all employed respondents to have gotten a raise. As a result, nearly 1 in 5 who experienced a rent increase said they are now "extremely likely" to miss a payment. "The surge in rents that took place over the last 12 months has created even greater housing uncertainty for the most vulnerable renters," said Kevin Palmer, head of Freddie Mac Multifamily. "Our survey shows that the national housing affordability crisis is worsening, and that inflation is a key driver." Of those who saw a rent increase, 15% said it was a hike of more than 10%.

Higher housing costs and inflation have altered the plans for many potential homebuyers as well, according to the study. Nearly three-quarters of renter households who were planning to buy a home said they've become less likely to over the past year. Among those less likely to buy, half said it was because of high home prices, while 39% pointed to difficulty coming up with a down payment and 34% blamed increased interest rates. While 48% of respondents said they have cut nonessential items like entertainment because of rising prices, 44% said they have put less money toward their savings. The higher costs are translating into real pocketbook concerns for households. A majority of survey respondents, 62%, said they were concerned about not being able to pay for their housing in the next year. An even greater share, 84%, said they are concerned about an economic recession and half are concerned about losing their job. While 39% of respondents reported having enough money for the things they want to spend money on in addition to what they need, 41% said they live paycheck to paycheck with just enough money coming in to get by. Roughly 20% of people reported they sometimes don't have enough money for basics like food and housing until the next payday.

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Politico - August 15, 2022

Cheney's next mission: Keeping her anti-Trump megaphone

When the Justice Department searched Donald Trump’s home, signaling a possible escalation of investigative work that’s drawing closer to the former president, it also created a complication for Liz Cheney. For a year now, Cheney has wielded an unrivaled megaphone as the GOP’s voice of Trump opposition, using her role on the Jan. 6 select committee to keep political pressure on her nemesis. But the side-by-side federal probe is now a live feed of anti-Trump counter-programming, one the Wyoming Republican welcomes yet must share the spotlight with as she and the rest of the select panel keep designing future presentations that portray the former president as a threat to American democracy.

“We’ve always felt that we have parallel but separate missions, and the committee is going to continue to do the committee’s work,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a select panel colleague of Cheney’s, said about the DOJ investigation. “For me, none of this is political.” Yet for Cheney, the political consequences will be evident on Tuesday. She is likely to lose her House seat to pro-Trump Harriet Hageman in the GOP primary, according to most public polls, despite an active effort to corral support from Wyoming Democrats who have welcomed her work on the Jan. 6 panel. That loss is likely to only heighten the importance of Cheney’s role in the Capitol attack investigation in terms of keeping her name in the mix ahead of a 2024 presidential field that she has not ruled out trying to join — if she can find a lane as a Trump spoiler without helping him by serving as a foil. And some fellow Republicans predict she’ll have no trouble commanding attention, even if she loses her House seat, thanks in large part to her select committee platform.

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Associated Press - August 15, 2022

Lawyers appeal Brittney Griner’s Russian prison sentence

Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner on Monday filed an appeal against her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday. Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted on Aug. 4. She was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. Griner played for a women’s basketball team in Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, but the grounds of the appeal weren’t immediately clear.

Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the sentence was excessive and that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole. Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain. Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage. Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”

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Newsclips - August 15, 2022

Lead Stories

New York Times - August 14, 2022

Why abortion has become a centerpiece of Democratic TV ads in 2022

In Michigan, Democrats took aim at the Republican nominee for governor almost immediately after the primary with a television ad highlighting her opposition to abortion, without exceptions for rape or incest. In Georgia, Democrats recently attacked the Republican governor in another television ad, with women speaking fearfully about the specter of being investigated and “criminalized.” And in Arizona, the Republican nominees for both Senate and governor were confronted almost instantly after their primaries with different ads calling them “dangerous” for their anti-abortion positions. All across America, Democrats are using abortion as a powerful cudgel in their 2022 television campaigns, paying for an onslaught of ads in House, Senate and governor’s races that show how swiftly abortion politics have shifted since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June.

With national protections for abortion rights suddenly gone and bans going into effect in many states, senior White House officials and top Democratic strategists believe the issue has radically reshaped the 2022 landscape in their favor. They say it has not only reawakened the party’s progressive base, but also provided a wedge issue that could wrest away independent voters and even some Republican women who believe abortion opponents have overreached. In the fallout of the ruling, Democrats see the potential to upend the typical dynamic of midterm elections in which voters punish the party in power. In this case, although Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, it is one of their top policy priorities — access to abortion — that has been most visibly stripped away. “Rarely has an issue been handed on a silver platter to Democrats that is so clear-cut,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster working with multiple 2022 campaigns. “It took an election that was going to be mostly about inflation and immigration and made it also about abortion.”

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Axios - August 15, 2022

GOP worries Beto could win the suburbs

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke drew thousands of people to a rally in Frisco during the weekend, prompting worry among some Collin County Republicans. "Texas is turning blue," Kyle Sims, a GOP Collin County precinct chair, told his Facebook followers after seeing the size of O'Rourke's crowd. "Collin County is turning blue." Why it matters: If he has any hope of defeating Gov. Greg Abbott in November, O'Rourke will have to do well in the state's suburbs. Collin and Denton counties could be key battlegrounds. Driving the news: O'Rourke told reporters in Frisco that the large crowd is a signal that he can win in Collin County.

The big picture: Concerns about the stability of the state's power grid and Abbott's declaration that the Uvalde shooting "could have been worse" — combined with the fact that a majority of Texans opposed overturning Roe — have likely weakened Abbott's stronghold. Yes, but: A lot of Texans blame Democrats for the recent spike in inflation. By the numbers: Last month, a Quinnipiac poll showed Abbott had a five-point lead over O'Rourke. A new Dallas Morning News poll shows a similar margin, but 66% of voters polled also said the governor should call a special session to help curb mass shootings — which has become a cornerstone of O'Rourke's campaign. Former President Trump won Collin County with 51% of the vote in 2020. O'Rourke lost Collin County by around 6 percentage points in his 2018 U.S. Senate bid against Republican Ted Cruz. The intrigue: O'Rourke's campaign has made a point of highlighting Republican-leaning voters who say they're planning to vote for him this year. Plus, few states will likely benefit from the new Inflation Reduction Act as much as Texas. The bottom line: Oddsmakers still think Abbott is a heavy favorite, but it'll be closer than it looked like it would be even a few months ago.

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Dallas Morning News - August 15, 2022

Texans not very confident in power grid’s ability to avoid blackouts, poll shows

When it comes to avoiding energy blackouts this summer, few Texas voters are very confident the electric grid is prepared, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler taken in early August. Only 15% of registered voters surveyed said they had a great deal of confidence that the grid is prepared to avoid blackouts in their community. Half of those surveyed had either no confidence or not too much confidence that the grid is prepared. Nearly a third of those surveyed — 31% — had a fair amount of confidence while 4% said they didn’t know. In July, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas asked Texans to conserve energy after projecting an energy shortage, and while ERCOT said it did not expect systemwide outages, the call brought the state’s fraught relationship with its power grid to the forefront as Texans saw continuous triple-digit temperatures. Last year, Texas was devastated by its infamous winter storm that knocked out power to millions of homes and ultimately resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Texans. Up to 70% of ERCOT’s customers lost power, according to a survey by the University of Houston.

Multiple factors have been blamed for the issues since the winter storm struck, including ERCOT and Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas’ independent power grid, Texas’ renewable energy sector and its deregulated energy market. Asked about how candidates for governor would handle the grid, 35% of respondents said Gov. Greg Abbott would do a better job, while 33% said Beto O’Rourke would. Thirteen percent said it was about the same. Ten percent said neither would do a better job and 9% didn’t know. When the question about confidence in the grid’s preparation through this summer was divided along political lines, 25% of Democratic-identifying respondents said they had no confidence in the grid’s preparation this summer and 31% answered that they did not have too much confidence. Of Republican-identifying respondents, 13% had no confidence and 28% did not have too much confidence. With a fair amount of confidence were 22% of Democratic-identifying respondents and 39% of Republican-identifying respondents. Fewer Republican-identifying respondents — 16% — had a great deal of confidence in grid preparation than the 18% of Democrat-identifying respondents who answered the same.

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Houston Chronicle - August 15, 2022

Retired teachers seek elusive pension boost as Texas banks $27 billion windfall

Retired Texas teachers are increasingly bullish on their chances of securing the first increase in their monthly pension checks in a decade when the Legislature reconvenes in Austin next year, though it remains unclear if they will secure the necessary support of Republican leaders. Fueling their optimism is the shape of Texas’ largest teacher pension fund, which is on firm enough footing for state lawmakers to have a “healthy discussion” about hiking retirees’ checks, the fund’s executive director said in June. And unlike in recent years, when those efforts failed amid tighter budget conditions, lawmakers are projected to have a $27 billion surplus in next year’s legislative session. The renewed push for a cost-of-living increase comes at a dire period for Texas’ public education system, which is kicking off the school year under a teacher shortage and the prospect of further attrition.

The vast majority of the state’s retired educators don’t receive Social Security, leaving them reliant on pension benefits that have long failed to keep pace with cost-of-living expenses, even before the country’s latest inflation surge. More than half of them have never seen an increase in their monthly payments. But while there seems to be broad agreement that retired teachers aren’t receiving enough, not everyone has the same idea for how to address it. Some Republicans, wary of locking the Teacher Retirement System of Texas pension fund into higher costs over time, argue teachers and school districts would be on the hook for higher contribution rates down the road if the state finds itself unable to cover costs. “Because TRS is a fixed-benefit plan, any additional payout can undermine the integrity of the plan. And while that’s somewhat true of a one-time contribution, it’s far more significant for an ongoing contribution,” said state Rep. Jim Murphy, a Houston Republican who chairs the House GOP Caucus and previously oversaw the committee that handles pension bills.

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State Stories

Washington Post - August 14, 2022

Five years on, Sutherland Springs shooting victims fight for government to admit liability

Ryland Ward knows he looks different from other kids, though it's hard for him to talk about why. When he moved to a new school in Lampasas, the small Central Texas town where he lives with his mother, the 10-year-old felt other children staring at him when he wore a T-shirt to class. Just below his sleeve, at the crook of his left elbow, a deep chunk of flesh is missing - as if a monster had taken a bite out of his arm. That monster was a high-velocity bullet, and the cavernous scar a lifelong physical reminder of the gunshot wounds the boy sustained when a man armed with an AR-15-style rifle opened fire inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in 2017. Twenty-six people were killed and 20 others were wounded in the attack, including Ryland, who was shot at least four times at close range. The bullets exploded through his left arm, stomach, pelvis and left leg, causing such destruction to his 5-year-old body that doctors still can't say for certain how many bullets hit him.

Like Ryland, many who were directly affected by the shooting continue to suffer physical and emotional pain years later. But their anguish has been exacerbated by a legal battle with the federal government over its failure to stop gunman Devin Kelley from purchasing his weapons - by forwarding information about his violent past that would have been caught in a background check. After survivors were forced to paint in excruciating detail the enduring toll of the massacre, a federal judge found the government liable. Yet the Department of Justice gave notice in June it planned to appeal, although more recently it has opened the possibility of a settlement. Its grounds for an appeal are not yet known, but in the trial it argued that background checks would not have stopped the bloodshed - a position that clashes with the Biden administration's strong support of background checks and tightened restrictions on access to weapons. Dozens of Sutherland Springs victims, including Ryland's mother, brought the suit against the United States Air Force in 2018 after the branch admitted it failed to report Kelley's history of violence, including a 2012 conviction for domestic assault to the FBI. That conviction, which led to his dismissal from the Air Force, should have prevented the former airman from being able to buy the guns he used in the attack, which ended with Kelley's suicide.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 15, 2022

Uvalde dad is awash in grief and anger, knowing his little girl will never grow up

Alfred Garza III spends a lot of time in his modest living room surrounded by photos of his daughter, Amerie Jo. The biggest is a school portrait — she stares straight at you, a half-smile on her face and a small earring in her pierced left ear. Garza’s little girl is growing up in that photo, an adjustment all its own for any parent, now frozen in time. That is one of the things — maybe the biggest thing — gnawing at him. Amerie Jo was 10 when she was shot to death. Robbed of her in the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School that claimed 18 other fourth-graders and two teachers, Garza is trying to make sense of it. He quit his job as a car salesman and is in no rush to return to work. His other plans? Well, what plans? “Yeah, sometimes not doing anything, you know?” said Garza, 35. “I do think it’s good to stay busy, so that way it gets your mind off things, but I do also think it’s good to reflect and sometimes take time to think about stuff, so that way so we can process it.”

He visits with friends and attends public meetings. He has joined gatherings of bereaved families — but since he didn’t have legal custody of his daughter, he has been kicked out of some of them. He takes photos of the murals and benches dedicated to Amerie Jo’s memory. Garza also posts frequently on Facebook. On occasion, the messages are alarming. “God help me,” he wrote Aug. 3. “The devil is lurking…” Grief has affected all of Uvalde. It affects individuals in different ways. “The situation has brought out the ugly in some people, and (in) how it’s affecting me,” Garza said on a recent hot afternoon at his home. He got animated when he talked about his daughter, but he didn’t cry. Neither did he have tearful moments when talking about other family tragedies, like his mother’s death in a car accident on Christmas Day 2017. She was so badly burned, they held a closed-casket funeral. They didn’t have to do that for Amerie Jo, who was shot in the abdomen with a high-velocity rifle bullet. “It’s hard to describe in words. I mean, I’ve had a lot of losses in my life,” Garza said. “Those are all hard but my daughter is just different. “I feel like there’s a certain space that I haven’t been on that’s never gonna be filled again, and I have pieces that are broken within me that are never gonna be fixed,” he said. The death of his girl weighs heavily. He wonders about her being scared in the final moments, and what she thought about as she died.

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Fox News - August 14, 2022

Texas lawmaker to NYC Mayor Eric Adams over busing migrants: 'Address the root cause'

Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson slammed New York City Mayor Eric Adams, telling the mayor he needs to address the "root cause" of the border crisis after his feud this week with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott over bussing migrants to New York City on "One Nation."

"It's absolutely comical. I mean, if this guy wants to address the issue, he needs to go and do what Kamala Harris said she was going to do at the very beginning: Address the root cause. The root cause is right down the hall from where she sits in the White House. It's in the Oval Office," says Rep. Ronny Jackson. "That's where the root cause is. But this is crazy. He's upset because he's had several thousand people that have shown up in New York City. Brian, we get over 6,000 a day that we know of and we get umpteen zillion more that we can't even track. Texas has been bearing the burden of this for so long. We are going broke in the state of Texas, trying to take care of the federal government's job."

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KIIITV - August 14, 2022

Texas experts predict about a foot of rain is needed to prevent crop disruption in 2023

As a summer of severe drought continues in South Texas, some are holding their hopes high for rain this weekend. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Agent Jaime Lopez is keeping an eye on crop production in Nueces County, providing important insight to those who work on the land. "We probably need somewhere in the area of 10 to 12 inches of rainfall, from now to February, just to replenish the moisture that we'll need just to get a crop for next year," Lopez explained. Lopez said crop production now is about half of what it was a year ago with limited rainfall. Crop producers are working hard to plow fields to prepare for rain, which is a method to capture moisture in the soil for next year's crop season. Crop season runs for five months starting in February, and if rain doesn't come, crop production in Nueces County will most likely suffer. "Right now, there is no moisture at all, so we couldn't plant a crop right now if we wanted to," Lopez pointed out.

"You could see a lot of these acres not even get planted," Lopez said. "It just would not make a lot of sense to spend the money, the input cost, if there is a minimal chance of actually getting a crop." Nueces County is one of the top producers of grain sorghum in Texas, which is what you would see in a local field along with cotton. Lopez explained that the rain needed does not need to come all at once, just in steady amounts by next February. That could be exactly what crop producers need to stay motivated. "From a moral standpoint, it's just a big boost knowing that maybe this drought could possibly be broken, and we do have some rain, and things have turned in our favor," Lopez added. The 3NEWS weather team predicts as much as three inches of rain through Tuesday. Each droplet is an important first step towards preparing for next year's growing season.

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Chron.com - August 10, 2022

Did Chip and Joanna Gaines' 'Fixer Upper' break Waco?

It was David Koresh who first introduced television audiences to Waco as news cameras captured smoke pouring from the cult leader's compound located outside of the Texas town. Viewers watched Federal agents breach the burning building decked in full SWAT gear with rifles, as cult members slowly emerged from the flames. For two decades, the self-proclaimed prophet, bullets and fire were Waco's legacy. Then in 2013, Americans saw a new side of Waco thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines, hosts of the Home and Garden Television network's "Fixer Upper." The couple became America’s sweethearts with Chip's goofy nature and Joanna's model looks—not to mention their religious values, swarm of handsome children, family focus and design skills. Nine years later, the couple has a new show on their own network, named for their thriving Magnolia brand, as well as magazines, books, apparel and design lines. And Waco itself has become a star.

Waco is a dichotomy. It’s a city with an average household income of $40,349 and where more than 25 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to the most recent U.S. Census. But it is also the home to Baylor University where undergraduate tuition sits at $51,738 per year. Where tourists can buy a $58 candle from Magnolia. While Magnolia's success has been a boon to the Waco economy, local homeowners are experiencing the ill effects of living in a now-famous city. The increase in property values has led to a substantial rise in property taxes that some Wacoans find themselves struggling to afford. Homeowners received an average tax appraisal increase of 29 percent, KWTX reported. Magnolia did not respond to requests for comment. Pam Hanson of Coldwell Bankers has been a realtor in Waco since 2004 and has witnessed the city’s growth, including one local who has to list his home because of the tax hikes. "He's being forced out of his home because he can't afford to live there. He's being forced out of a home that he's earned for 30 years," she says. "That’s not the American dream."

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Houston Chronicle - August 15, 2022

Jennifer Medcalf: Without new leasing, Gulf Coast businesses face certain downturn

(Jennifer Medcalf is president of The Reach Group, a Houston energy consulting firm, and a member of the board of directors of National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group for the offshore energy industry.) As Washington debates the definition of a recession, dark clouds are looming over Gulf Coast businesses. The growing, multi-year gap in offshore oil and gas leasing means fewer energy projects are active in the Gulf of Mexico. While economists and experts try to parse through market indicators, the equation in the Gulf of Mexico is fairly simple: no new offshore projects mean billions in investments and spending disappear and Houston businesses are going to face a dire outcome. U.S. energy policy is following a path that it has not taken since the Johnson administration. This year will mark the first year since 1965 that the United States. has not held an offshore oil and gas lease sale. For context on how long ago that is, consider this: Bonanza was the most popular show on television in 1965. While recent consequential legislation adds certainty and predictably to nearer term Gulf of Mexico leasing, a new formalized and finalized offshore leasing program is still necessary to secure the long-term competitiveness of the region.

The Biden administration has been slow walking the resumption of offshore oil and gas leasing. Despite the legal obligation to maintain a leasing program and to schedule and hold offshore lease sales, the previous leasing program expired on June 30th with no replacement program on deck. Energy policy is in uncharted waters and a course correction is needed. A strong portfolio of lease blocks is a fundamental part of how offshore energy is produced. Most leases do not contain commercially viable amounts of oil and natural gas. Companies only explore and fully appraise their prospects after they have secured leasing rights. If a lease block doesn’t have the necessary oil and gas with commercial viability, the lease is turned back over to the federal government. The more leases and acreage there are to explore, the greater the chance is of finding opportunities for U.S. production, spurring new investment and creating jobs. Conversely, as the number of active Gulf of Mexico leases continue to shrink, the likelihood of new projects and jobs diminish. Each offshore oil and gas project can be viewed as a massive engine that generates a tremendous amount of economic power. A new deepwater project could reasonably expect $8.8 billion in spending over its three-decade lifecycle.

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Texas Observer - August 10, 2022

Notorious Houston serial killer requests compassionate release

Elmer Wayne Henley Jr, a gray-haired 66-year-old serving six life sentences for his role in Houston’s most notorious serial killings, is requesting compassionate release from Texas prison, according to letters some victims’ families recently received. In August 1973, Henley, then 17, shirtless and jittery from a night of partying, was arrested and confessed to participating in a murder, rape, and torture ring led by Dean Corll, a Houston electrician and former candy maker with no criminal history. For years, Corll had used Henley and another teen as procurers to lure victims. Most of those missing boys and young men had been branded as runaways by police—and their murders had gone undetected—until Henley killed Corll. Within a week he led authorities to 27 clandestine graves. At the time, the so-called “Houston Mass Murders” were described as the most lethal in modern U.S. history—the Pope sent his condolences and Truman Capote considered writing about the case as a sequel to his book In Cold Blood. The term serial killer had not yet been invented.

Most capital murderers are ineligible for compassionate release in Texas: That path is not available to those sentenced to death or life without parole. But in Henley’s case, Harris County prosecutors did not seek a death sentence, which the U.S. Supreme Court had declared to be cruel and unusual punishment on June 29, 1972. Texas did not adopt life without parole sentences until 2005. Texas officials rarely grant compassionate release, though people who are terminally ill, permanently disabled or elderly are potentially eligible for what’s called medically recommended intensive supervision. Texas has the nation’s largest prison population, with more than 140,000 people incarcerated in 2022. In all, 49 states provide some type of compassionate release. Even with a COVID-19 epidemic that rendered prison conditions infinitely more hazardous, Texas officials reported granting compassionate release to very few. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles approved 76 persons for release in 2019—59 terminally ill and 17 already assigned to long-term care. Even after the pandemic began, that did not change. In 2020, they released 60, including 40 terminally ill and 20 in long-term care. However, Henley is not a typical aging and ailing Texas prisoner. The death toll associated with the ring he joined as a junior high school dropout made international news in 1973 and continues to rise.

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Houston Chronicle - August 15, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Cryptocurrency miners profit from solving a problem they created for Texas' electric grid

Economically efficient markets often appear corrupt, and the latest example to get stuck in Texans’ craw is the electric grid paying cryptocurrency miners millions to solve a problem they helped create. Miners build computer farms that consume enormous amounts of energy to generate currencies like bitcoin and ether. About a dozen have come to Texas, partly because China and other jurisdictions are kicking them out. The main draw is the wholesale electricity market operated by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. ERCOT offers some of the cheapest power in the country, often as little as $20 a megawatt-hour. While the price can go up to $5,000 a megawatt-hour when demand overwhelms supply, ERCOT will pay industrial users to shut down during those periods.

Planners at ERCOT said they expect demand from crypto miners to grow to 27 gigawatts in the next four years, almost as much as Houston uses. ERCOT struggled to meet 80 gigawatts of demand during the hottest hours this summer, leading critics to question whether Texas’ fragile grid can handle a 33 percent increase in load. Crypto miners promise to shut down when demand spikes; it’s part of their business plan. Riot Blockchain, one of the pioneers in Texas crypto mining, operates from a former aluminum smelter in Rockdale because it has an industrial-scale interconnection with the ERCOT grid. Riot Blockchain’s game plan is simple: generate bitcoins when power is cheap and collect financial incentives to shut down when electricity gets expensive. The company claimed its business plan would help stabilize the grid, but more on that later. Last July was the hottest on record, and generators on the ERCOT grid struggled to meet demand. Riot Blockchain said bitcoin production dropped 28 percent compared to last July because the grid was wobbling. As a result, Riot only generated 318 bitcoins in July and sold 275, generating about $5.6 million, significantly less than last year. But Riot said it voluntarily curtailed 11,717 megawatt-hours in July, enough to power 13,121 average homes for one month, the company said. ERCOT gave it $9.5 million in return, more than making up for the lost bitcoins.

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Houston Chronicle - August 15, 2022

Permian Basin drives 46 percent of oil and gas business deals last quarter, research shows

The country’s most productive oil field, the Permian Basin spanning across parts of West Texas and New Mexico, is driving nearly half of all oil and gas merger and acquisition deals, according to an energy research firm. During the second quarter of year companies inked about $12 billion worth of merger and acquisition deals related to oil and gas production, data from Enverus Intelligence Research shows. That’s down about 18 percent from the $14.7 billion of deals done in the first few months of the year. Mergers and acquisitions often follow the health of the economy: The number of deals declines during a downturn and rises in good times. Even with worsening inflation and a potential recession looming, the price of crude — which settled Thursday just above $95 per barrel — is still attracting buyers even as deals slowed.

Private equity sellers made up around 80 percent of the quarter’s deal value, according to Enverus. The research firm notes the deals would have slowed down even more without the onslaught of private equity-backed sales. “As anticipated, the spike in commodity prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine temporarily stalled mergers and acquisitions as buyers and sellers disagreed on the value of assets,” said Enverus Intelligence Research director Andrew Dittmar in a statement. “High prices, though, also encouraged a rush by private equity firms to test the waters for mergers and acquisitions.” The Permian Basin garnered $5.5 billion in deal activity, mostly thanks to the merger between Midland-based Colgate Energy Partners and Denver’s Centennial Resource Development. Enverus expects the Permian to be the main driver of deals moving forward. While market volatility may spook some investors, data firm PwC expects overall oil and gas mergers and acquisitions to speed up during the second half of the year. In its outlook the international firm said private equity firms attracted to high oil and gas prices are driving the deals.

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Dallas Morning News - August 14, 2022

Why the Dallas Regional Chamber is being touted as the nation’s chamber of the year

Dallas Regional Chamber president and CEO Dale Petroskey has a favorite saying: “If you’re a member of the business community in Dallas, you’re on the winning team. But if you’re a member of the Dallas Regional Chamber, you’re inside the winning locker room.” It’s now the official winning locker room. The chamber has been named the national chamber of the year by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. Dallas is one of four winning chambers in separate categories sorted by size. The Dallas chamber won in the association’s largest category and beat two other finalists, the Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in Hilton Head, S.C., and the Portland Business Alliance in Portland, Ore.

The Dallas chamber was singled out for its success in recruiting businesses to the area, its Take Care of Business campaign, which vaccinated North Texans over the age of 16, and a campaign tool kit for vaccinations that included employee information posters, resources for employers and vaccine providers in the area. “Chambers of commerce have never been more essential to regional prosperity,” said Sheree Anne Kelly, ACCE president and CEO, in a statement. “This achievement reflects how hard chambers work to ensure the vibrancy of their communities and organizational success.” The chamber helped attract over 200 headquarters relocations since 2010, including six Fortune 500 companies. And the region gained 1.3 million jobs during the same time frame. The award, given since 2007, involves a multistage process of benchmarking, application and interview. It recognizes excellence in operations, member services and community leadership. The association represents more than 1,600 chambers and 9,000 members globally. Petroskey says his team won the award for many reasons but mainly it’s about the strength of the staff. “The bar has been high here, and we choose people who can jump over that bar,” he said.

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NBC News - August 14, 2022

Texas man convicted of child sexual assault dies after chugging from bottle as verdict is read

A Texas man charged with five counts of child sexual assault died after a jury convicted him and he chugged a bottle of liquid in the courtroom, his lawyer said Friday. After the first count was read on Thursday afternoon and the Denton County jury returned a guilty verdict, Edward Leclair, 57, started drinking from a plastic water bottle filled with what appeared to be clear liquid, lawyer Mike Howard said. “I looked over and noticed him drinking,” Howard said. “His hand was shaking. At the time, I thought it was shaking because of the verdict. Then he kept drinking and drinking.” Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck told the Denton Record-Chronicle the liquid appeared "cloudy." She did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It isn’t clear what was in Leclair’s bottle.

Leclair, a former Navy mechanic and corporate recruiter, was indicted two years ago on five counts of sexual assault on a person between the age of 14 and 17. He said he was innocent of the charges, Howard said. The conviction came after three-and-a-half hours of deliberations and Leclair faced a possible sentence that ranged from probation to 100 years, Howard said. “With charges like these, if they find a defendant guilty a very stiff punishment is certainly possible,” Howard said. Leclair had been out on bond during the trial and not subject to the same restrictions as someone in custody, his lawyer said. He drank most of what was in the bottle before being remanded to a cell to await sentencing, Howard said. Howard briefly talked to his client while he waited there, and Leclair appeared “dejected and in shell shock — all the things you would expect,” Howard said. Minutes later, back in the courtroom, the bailiff said that Leclair was throwing up, Howard said. The jury was sent home and Leclair was taken on a gurney to the hospital.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 14, 2022

Jennifer Eckert: Our freedom to read is under attack. Here’s how to defend it.

(Jennifer Eckert is a library specialist at Northside Independent School District. This commentary is adapted from a recent speech she gave at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio.) If magic exists, it’s the ability of stories, music, plays, movies and art to communicate feelings and experiences. To elicit emotional responses and create connections between people, almost in defiance of time and space. I was lucky and privileged to grow up in a house full of books, with parents who read a lot and encouraged my sister and me to read. My parents gave us a lot of freedom to choose what we read, to build our reading lives according to our own interests and passions, which helped us grow up to be readers. I have fond memories of being read to as a child, of sharing good books with friends, of raging about an assigned reading I hated (“Moby Dick,” anyone?) and, of course, of those books that came to define pivotal moments in my life, leading me to work as a librarian. Unfortunately, not all children experience that. Not all children live in homes with overflowing bookshelves or attend schools with robust library collections, and a librarian to guide them through the stacks and help them find that just-right book.

Not all children live in areas with easy access to a public library or with parents who have the time or ability to take them there on a regular basis. As teachers, librarians and parents who want to help our students and children build robust reading lives and become lifelong readers, we are fighting an uphill battle. There is much to overcome: lack of access to books; lack of certified librarians in schools; distractions from phones and other devices; and, recently, censorship in the form of book challenges. It’s clear through research that allowing children to self-select their reading material and providing time to read will help them to do better in school. It builds the stamina and the practice of reading that can carry them through the more demanding academic reading they will face in high school and college. Students who read for pleasure, even if it’s fiction, have bigger vocabularies and can more easily empathize with other people. Reading for pleasure allows students to imagine new worlds and people different from themselves, which allows them to interact in our diverse world more effectively and empathetically.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 14, 2022

After finding an abandoned baby in the trash, this Texas student chose fatherhood

Texas-based college student Jimmy Amisial was walking to a New Years Eve party in 2017 while visiting family in Haiti when he noticed a crowd of people gathered around a pile of trash. What he saw when he approached the onlookers crushed him: a crying 3-month-old boy, covered in ants and lying on top of the garbage. “I was looking at the precious living soul, just crying, and my heart dropped to my throat,” said Amisial, who was 22 at the time. Amisial picked up the baby and brought him home. He reported the incident to police, who made a report about the abandoned baby. Authorities said Amisial could become the child’s guardian. Amisial wasn’t sure — he tossed and turned at night, with doubts about how he could be a father — but eventually agreed and named the boy Emilio Angel Jeremiah. “I took a leap of faith by doing that, even though I didn’t know what I was gonna do,” said Amisial.

Nearly five years later, Amisial is fighting to become Emilio’s adoptive father — and offer him a better life, potentially in the United States. Emilio currently lives with Amisial’s mother, Elicie Jean, in Haiti. “I would like for me to be able to show him love and be financially stable, finish school and be able to take care of him and show him how to be great, show him love, how to be kind to people,” said Amisial. In an online fundraiser, Amisial has raised nearly all of his $60,000 goal to pay the Haitian government for the costly adoption. The process began in 2019 and Amisial is hopeful that by next year, he’ll officially be Emilio’s father. He said excess funds will be used for Emilio’s schooling in Haiti, to support the local orphanage in Emilio’s city and possibly to help pay for Amisial to finish his education. Emilio will be turning 5 at the end of August. He and Amisial talk on WhatsApp calls a few times a week. Emilio is learning Spanish in addition to Haitian Creole and will be studying English this year. Amisial said the chatty kiddo loves playing basketball and soccer and has already learned the word “try.” “He’s so fun to be around,” said Amisial, now 27. “I really miss him and I can’t wait to see him. Whenever I get the chance to go back, I will.”

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San Antonio Express-News - August 14, 2022

‘Uvalde Strong’: Astros honor resilient residents at Sunday’s game

Ten-year-old Caitlyne Gonzales, standing with her family in the Minute Maid Park outfield on Sunday before the Astros’ series finale against the Oakland Athletics, proudly clutched a ball signed by Astros star Jose Altuve. “And I got a picture with him!” Caitlyne added. Caitlyne was a fourth grader in Uvalde’s Robb Elementary last May 24 when a gunman massacred 19 students and two teachers. She was in a classroom across from the gunman and lost two close friends, Jacklyn Cazares and Eliahna Torres, in the tragedy. The Astros on Sunday bused about 500 Uvalde residents, including Caitlyne and her family, from Uvalde to Minute Maid Park as part of “Uvalde Strong” day at the ballpark. The Astros also handed out 2,500 tickets in the city of Uvalde for the game, meaning about 3,000 Uvalde residents made up the large crowd on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s our honor to have you here,” Astros owner Jim Crane told the group gathered along the first base line in the rightfield seats a couple of hours before the Astros started their final contest of a six-game homestand. Altuve, third baseman Alex Bregman, pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and Astros manager Dusty Baker joined Crane with the group in right field before the game. “We’re going to go out there and try to (get) another World Series ring for you guys,” Altuve said to cheers from the Uvaldians. Baker told the group: “I’m glad you’re here, and I’ve got nothing but love for you. The whole world was shaken … I’m glad you’re here. Hopefully it can help the healing process … (but) the main thing is to have a good time today, and I know you’re going to be loud.” A few minutes later in the Astros dugout, Baker reflected on the emotional moment in Minute Maid Park and what it meant to have so many Uvaldians on hand for the game. “It’s tough on them and it’s tough on us, because you don’t know what to say,” Baker said. “… You think about your children and your grandchildren, and it gives us more motivation to win. … This is what we’re here for. We’re not only here to play ball for our town, for ourselves and for our teammates, we’re here to aid the healing of people.”

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San Antonio Express-News - August 12, 2022

Cary Clack: Laugh was the profanity, not O’Rourke’s word choice

When your intent to interrupt, mock and ridicule someone backfires, and you become the mocked and ridiculed, neither you nor your defenders can complain about your treatment or tsk tsk because someone used bad words and called you a bad name. When you laugh during the recounting of a murderous mass shooting, no verbal response can come close to being as grotesque as what you found funny. Since his 2018 campaign for the U.S. Senate, Beto O’Rourke is known for his propensity for profanity. Some think it’s refreshing and real because it reflects his passion. Some find it off-putting and juvenile. Others consider it calculated and part of his stump speech. But on Wednesday evening during a town hall in Mineral Wells, O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for governor, let loose an epithet that has gone viral for its morally outraged spontaneity.

Supporters of Gov. Greg Abbott, identified by their T-shirts, who appeared to not be disruptive, just standing and listening, were in the back of the room where O’Rourke was speaking. When O’Rourke talked about Uvalde and the AR-15-style gun used to murder 19 children and two teachers, a male Abbott supporter is heard laughing — loud enough as if he wanted to be heard. In mid-sentence, O’Rourke, turned toward the man, pointed, and said, “It may be funny to you MF, but it’s not funny to me, OK!” His supporters jumped to their feet with raucous cheers and applause. It may have been the most exquisitely, indignant use of “MF” ever used in American politics. Not gratuitous or planned, but a human reaction to the inhumane action of someone laughing about the murders of children and their teachers. This is the second time in less than three months that O’Rourke, Uvalde, and profanity have intersected. On the day after the shooting, as Abbott was speaking at a press conference, O’Rourke stood up from the audience to confront him: “The time to stop this was after Sante Fe High School. The time to stop this was after El Paso. The time to stop the next shooting is right now and you are doing nothing,” he said. “You are all doing nothing. You said this is not predictable, this is totally predictable. …”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - August 14, 2022

Lake Travis school district cuts bus routes amid driver shortage

The Lake Travis school district last week announced it is cutting many of its bus routes amid a driver shortage. The district will no longer provide bus service to students who live within two miles of their campus, and those who live outside two miles can take the bus only every other week. Classes begin Tuesday. Brad Bailey, the assistant superintendent of operations, said the district has less than half the bus drivers as it did before the pandemic. He cited the high cost of living in the Lake Travis area as one of the reasons for the district's struggle to find employees, including bus drivers.

Over the summer, he said, the district increased the base pay for drivers from $20 to $22. The pay can go up to $33 depending on how much experience the drivers have. For bus drivers, Bailey said. the high price of housing in the area means some people would have to commute an hour or more to work multiple times a day when instead they could work at their local school district and make a little less money but spend less on transportation to work. Bailey said the district will readjust the bus schedule if it can hire more drivers. He said he is working with the district's director of transportation to mitigate the driver shortage by hosting job fairs and getting certified people in the district to drive buses. “We started going through plans to see how we can make up the difference in our driver shortage,” Bailey said. “We were having our office staff drive. We were having our mechanics drive. Anybody we could find that has (a commercial driver's license) was driving a bus and then we kept on losing drivers.”

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Fort Worth Report - August 15, 2022

Fort Worth ISD superintendent search appears delayed

Students return to school Aug. 15, but the next Fort Worth ISD superintendent’s first day will not be until after the start of September. The nine trustees are weighing the pros and cons of the six candidates they interviewed in person Aug. 4-6 at Cantey Hanger Plaza. This group may contain their next leader — or not. The school board is looking to replace departing Superintendent Kent Scribner, who is exiting the job after seven years. Lawyer Brian Newby is consulting trustees on their search. The school board is in a sort of holding period as each trustee considers who should lead the district of about 73,000 students and build a consensus behind one candidate.

“They may narrow that down, or they may ask for six more,” Newby told the Fort Worth Report. “There’s just no telling until they finish their evaluation. There’s no deadline for how long they’re going to take.” Newby did not disclose the total number of applicants for the job nor provide a breakdown of the candidates’ genders or whether they are from Texas or out of the state. He cited a law that does not require school districts to disclose superintendent candidate information. School board President Tobi Jackson pointed questions about the search to Newby, who, she said, the board agreed would handle public comments on the process. Illinois-based Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates is conducting the superintendent search. In its bid to get the search, the firm told trustees it could have a new superintendent in place by Aug. 15, the first day of school. Trustees hoped to have a new district leader sometime in September, Newby said. “That may or may not be the case,” he said. “It just depends on the board’s evaluation of the candidates they have, and whether or not they need to interview additional candidates. or are ready to narrow down from the six.”

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San Antonio Express-News - August 15, 2022

Truckers hauling thousands of gallons of water daily the only thing keeping Concan from going dry

Every morning since late June, Allen Ramirez has been part of a continuous trucking operation to keep water flowing for the people of Concan, a small town about 85 miles west of San Antonio. Getting to work by 7 a.m., Ramirez pumps about 7,000 gallons from a groundwater well into an 18-wheeler that he then drives about 6 miles across town to four 50,000-gallon tanks. Then he pumps the truck’s contents into them. Filling the truck takes 45 minutes to an hour, and pumping it out takes another hour. He then repeats the process for the rest of his workday, as does co-worker Douglas Pena in another truck. Both are contracted drivers hired by the Concan Water Supply Corp. Together, they fill the tanks eight to 10 times a day. If either man falls behind, or a truck breaks down, or they interrupt their route for any reason, the tanks run the risk of drying up, leaving more than half the town without drinking water.

“This is about all we can do right now,” said Dick Earnest, general manager of Concan Water Supply. “We’re just keeping up with the water demand, but we have to do it constantly or we’ll run out.” Amid the drought gripping South Texas, five of the eight groundwater wells in Concan have gone dry, leaving only two producing wells and one barely functioning well to supply the town. Residents can no longer water their lawns or fill their swimming pools, and from midnight to 6 a.m., the water is shut off. Concan is emblematic of many Texas towns that are drying up and where water companies face decisions similar to those that Earnest has made. Months without rain and temperatures above 100 degrees have left most of South and Central Texas parched. Four towns, including Concan, have been designated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as suffering extreme shortage, meaning they’re at risk of running out of water in 45 days or less. Five towns are in priority shortage status, 13 are deemed concerning, and numerous others are being watched for possible water outage issues. Concan Water Supply has so far spent $200,000 transporting water across town and is about to spend an additional half-million dollars to dig a new well that goes down about 1,500 feet into the Trinity Aquifer in search of water. But all its efforts are just acts of survival until the ultimate natural solution comes.

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El Paso Matters - August 14, 2022

Downtown arena lawsuits cost El Paso taxpayers $3.3 million

Since 2017, El Paso taxpayers have paid $3.3 million in legal fees surrounding the controversial Downtown multipurpose cultural and performing arts center – and the costs will continue to climb as litigation continues. At least $50,000 has been billed to the city through May of this year by the Alexander Dubose Jefferson Townsend law firm based in Austin and the Kemp Smith law firm based in El Paso, according to documents obtained through the Texas Public Information Act. City Attorney Karla Nieman, in an interview with El Paso Matters, could not say how much longer the litigation might last, or how much more the legal fees will add up to. There is no cap on the legal costs. She said the city hired outside counsel due to the complexity of the topic and the volume of the cases filed by the opponents.

Kemp Smith charges the city hourly rates ranging from $220 to $380, while Jefferson Townsend is charging from $200 to $1,000 per hour, documents show. Details of the expenses that were subject to attorney-client privilege were redacted in documents released to El Paso Matters. About $1.4 million of the total fees was used for legal expenses related to the real estate acquisition of the properties within the arena footprint. Nieman said the city is proceeding with an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court while it continues negotiations with Max Grossman and Houston preservationist J.P. Bryan. Bryan is funding the legal challenges against the city. Grossman declined to comment on their legal expenses. A University of Texas at El Paso art history professor who has been active in historic preservation efforts, Grossman maintains that the site and buildings in Duranguito have historic value and should be preserved. “J.P. and I remain steadfast in our belief that the Duranguito neighborhood is worth saving and that it would be of more economic value to the city fully restored than if it were replaced by an ‘arena’ or anything else,” Grossman said in email responses to El Paso Matters.

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National Stories

NPR - August 15, 2022

This group's wiped out $6.7 billion in medical debt, and it's just getting started

Soon after giving birth to a daughter two months premature, Terri Logan received a bill from the hospital. She recoiled from the string of numbers separated by commas. Logan, who was a high school math teacher in Georgia, shoved it aside and ignored subsequent bills. She was a single mom who knew she had no way to pay. "I avoided it like the plague," she says, but avoidance didn't keep the bills out of mind. "The weight of all of that medical debt — oh man, it was tough," Logan says. "Every day, I'm thinking about what I owe, how I'm going to get out of this ... especially with the money coming in just not being enough." Then a few months ago — nearly 13 years after her daughter's birth and many anxiety attacks later — Logan received some bright yellow envelopes in the mail. They were from a nonprofit group telling her it had bought and then forgiven all those past medical bills. This time, it was a very different kind of surprise: "Wait, what? Who does that?"

RIP Medical Debt does. The nonprofit has boomed during the pandemic, freeing patients of medical debt, thousands of people at a time. Its novel approach involves buying bundles of delinquent hospital bills — debts incurred by low-income patients like Logan — and then simply erasing the obligation to repay them. It's a model developed by two former debt collectors, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton, who built their careers chasing down patients who couldn't afford their bills. "They would have conversations with people on the phone, and they would understand and have better insights into the struggles people were challenged with," says Allison Sesso, RIP's CEO. Eventually, they realized they were in a unique position to help people and switched gears from debt collection to philanthropy. What triggered the change of heart for Ashton was meeting activists from the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 who talked to him about how to help relieve Americans' debt burden. "As a bill collector collecting millions of dollars in medical-associated bills in my career, now all of a sudden I'm reformed: I'm a predatory giver," Ashton said in a video by Freethink, a new media journalism site. After helping Occupy Wall Street activists buy debt for a few years, Antico and Ashton launched RIP Medical Debt in 2014. They started raising money from donors to buy up debt on secondary markets — where hospitals sell debt for pennies on the dollar to companies that profit when they collect on that debt.

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Associated Press - August 14, 2022

School shooter's brain exams to be subject of court hearing

A defense mental health expert in the penalty trial of Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz can pinpoint when he realized the 23-year-old mass murderer still has “irrational thoughts” — the two were making small talk when Cruz began describing plans for an eventual life outside prison. Wesley Center, a Texas counselor, said that happened last year at the Broward County jail as he fitted Cruz's scalp with probes for a scan to map his brain. The defense at hearings this week will try to convince Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer that Center and other experts should be allowed to testify at Cruz's ongoing trial about what their tests showed, something the prosecution wants barred. “He had some sort of epiphany while he was in (jail) that would focus his thoughts on being able to help people,” transcripts show Center told prosecutors during a pretrial interview this year. “His life's purpose was to be helping others.”

Cruz, of course, will never be free. Since his arrest about an hour after he murdered 14 students and three staff members at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, there has never been any doubt his remaining years would be behind bars, sentenced to death or life without parole. Surveillance video shows him mowing down his victims with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and he confessed, eventually pleading guilty in October. Prosecutors made their argument for death to the seven-man, five-woman jury and 10 alternates over three weeks, resting their case Aug. 4 after the panel toured the still-bloodstained, bullet-pocked classroom building where the massacre happened. The jurors also watched graphic surveillance videos; saw gruesome crime scene and autopsy photos; received emotional testimony from teachers and students who witnessed others die; and heard from tearful and angry parents, spouses and other family members about the victims and how their loved one's death impacted their lives. They watched video of the former Stoneman Douglas student calmly ordering an Icee minutes after the shooting and, nine months later, attacking a jail guard.

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NBC News - August 15, 2022

Mastriano and Oz: An 'awkward marriage' atop the Pennsylvania GOP ticket

Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz, the GOP's nominees in Pennsylvania for governor and the Senate respectively, share little in common other than the support of former President Donald Trump. They're otherwise poised to go their separate ways this fall, and that's what some state Republicans believe is best. "I think they should keep separate," said Lou Capozzi, the chairman of the Cumberland County Republican Committee. "They have different messages. There's some people who are going to be receptive to Doug’s message. And hopefully, they'll vote for him. And there’s going to be people that are receptive to Oz’s message. And there may be some crossover." Mastriano, a state senator most prominently known for having been outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and for having been intimately involved in an effort to appoint fake electors to stop President Joe Biden from taking office, has sought to quell concerns among the state's GOP establishment that he is too far to the right to win this fall.

Oz, a celebrity TV doctor who faced scrutiny from hard-line conservatives for past comments about abortion and transgender youths, has tried to shore up his standing with the right-wing base while building inroads among independent voters. The efforts have been on parallel tracks. Mastriano and Oz haven’t made any firm commitments to campaign together or host joint fundraisers. Although they have appeared at the same state party functions or at events put on by outside groups, they have done little to promote each other — Mastriano’s posting of photos on Twitter and Facebook of the two at the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police convention in Erie this month was a notable exception. Trump-backed tickets in other areas have converged. In Arizona, Kari Lake, Trump's pick for governor, and Blake Masters, his Senate choice, campaigned together on the eve of the primary. In Michigan, Matt DePerno, Trump's preferred candidate for attorney general, joined Tudor Dixon, his choice for governor, on the campaign trail hours after he endorsed her late last month.

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Religion News Service - August 15, 2022

Republicans keep mostly mum on calls to make GOP ‘party of Christian nationalism’q

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has spent much of the summer calling on her fellow Republicans to become the “party of Christian nationalism,” even selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Proud Christian nationalist.” Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference’s meeting in Texas Aug. 5, she said the Christian nationalism label is nothing to be “ashamed” of and encouraged other members of her party to “lean in to biblical principles.” Two other Republican politicians have disputed the principle of the separation of church and state. In late June Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, speaking at the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt, Colorado, proclaimed she is “tired of the separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution.” Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano referred to church-state separation as a “myth” in a speech earlier this year.

Religion News Service reached out to more than 50 House and Senate Republicans seeking their response, questioning whether they support calls to make the RNC the party of Christian nationalism. The list ranged from hardline conservatives to more moderate Republicans who recently voted to codify the legalization of same-sex marriage into federal law. Two Republicans responded: Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. Lankford, a stalwart conservative and Southern Baptist who earned a master’s of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and still occasionally performs marriage counseling and weddings, answered by locating the separation of church and state in the Constitution. “I took an oath to defend the US Constitution which states, ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’” Lankford said in a statement. “While my personal faith is firmly in Jesus Christ, our nation protects the right of each person to choose any faith, change their faith, or have no faith. That has been true from George Washington to the present.” Mace, who attends services at Sea Coast Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, also attributed the principle to the founders of the federal government. “The Republican Party has room for anyone that believes in the fundamental principles of limited government, federalism, and keeping taxes low for all Americans,” read her statement. “Our founders designed a nation that explicitly maintains the separation of Church and State, something which should continue to be a guiding principle of our Republic.”

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Associated Press - August 14, 2022

Salman Rushdie 'on the road to recovery,' agent says

Salman Rushdie is “on the road to recovery,” his agent confirmed Sunday, two days after the author of “The Satanic Verses” suffered serious injuries in a stabbing at a lecture in New York. The announcement followed news that the lauded writer was removed from a ventilator Saturday and able to talk. Literary agent Andrew Wylie cautioned that although Rushdie's “condition is headed in the right direction,” his recovery would be long. Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and in an eye that he was likely to lose, Wylie had previously said. “Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humour remains intact,” Rushdie's son Zafar Rushdie said in a Sunday statement that stressed the author remained in critical condition. The family statement also expressed gratitude for the “audience members who bravely leapt to his defence," as well as police, doctors and “the outpouring of love and support.”

Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault charges in what a prosecutor called “a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack” at western New York's Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center. The attack was met with global shock and outrage, along with praise for the man who, for more than three decades — including nine years in hiding under the protection of the British government — has weathered death threats and a $3 million bounty on his head over “The Satanic Verses.” “It’s an attack against his body, his life and against every value that he stood for,” Henry Reese, 73, told The Associated Press. The cofounder of Pittsburgh's City of Asylum was on stage with Rushdie and suffered a gash to his forehead, bruising and other minor injuries. They had planned to discuss the need for writers' safety and freedom of expression. Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie's bravery and longtime championing of free speech in the face of intimidation. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan labeled Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists” and actor-author Kal Penn called him a role model, "especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora.”

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NPR - August 15, 2022

Sen. Rand Paul wants to repeal the Espionage Act amid an investigation into Trump

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is calling for the Espionage Act to be repealed amid a federal investigation into whether former President Donald Trump violated that law. "The espionage act was abused from the beginning to jail dissenters of WWI. It is long past time to repeal this egregious affront to the 1st Amendment," Paul wrote. The statement comes less than a week after the FBI search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Investigators took multiple sets of classified documents in order to determine if Trump breached a series of laws relating to top secret information. So far, he has not been charged in the investigation. This is the first time in U.S. history that a former president has been investigated under the Espionage Act, but it's not the first time the law has been under scrutiny, experts say.

The Espionage Act was passed in 1917, a few months after the U.S. entered World War I. The original law made it illegal for people to obtain or disclose information relating to national defense that could be used to harm the U.S. or benefit another country. That description has helped prosecute some spies, but increasingly it has been used to threaten or put to trial those who leak sensitive information, Sam Lebovic, a history professor at George Mason University, told NPR. During the Obama administration, eight people were charged with leaking national security secrets to the media under the Espionage Act — more than all the previous administrations combined. At least six more leakers were charged during the Trump administration, according to Lebovic. Over the years, press freedom advocates have grown concerned that administrations cherry pick what leaked information is deemed a threat to national security. "Government officials leak classified information to the press all the time. That's how huge amounts of journalism happen," Lebovic said. "Most of it is let go and allowed to happen. Only the instances that really upset the government in power are the ones that are prosecuted."

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Newsclips - August 14, 2022

Lead Stories

New York Times - August 14, 2022

Trump lawyer told Justice Dept. that classified material had been returned

At least one lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump signed a written statement in June asserting that all material marked as classified and held in boxes in a storage area at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and club had been returned to the government, four people with knowledge of the document said. The written declaration was made after a visit on June 3 to Mar-a-Lago by Jay I. Bratt, the top counterintelligence official in the Justice Department’s national security division. The existence of the signed declaration, which has not previously been reported, is a possible indication that Mr. Trump or his team were not fully forthcoming with federal investigators about the material. And it could help explain why a potential violation of a criminal statute related to obstruction was cited by the department as one basis for seeking the warrant used to carry out the daylong search of the former president’s home on Monday, an extraordinary step that generated political shock waves.

It also helps to further explain the sequence of events that prompted the Justice Department’s decision to conduct the search after months in which it had tried to resolve the matter through discussions with Mr. Trump and his team. An inventory of the material taken from Mr. Trump’s home that was released on Friday showed that F.B.I. agents seized 11 sets of documents during the search with some type of confidential or secret marking on them, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI” — shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.” Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility. The search encompassed not just the storage area where boxes of material known to the Justice Department were being held but also Mr. Trump’s office and residence. The search warrant and inventory unsealed on Friday did not specify where in the Mar-a-Lago complex the documents marked as classified were found. Mr. Trump said on Friday that he had declassified all the material in his possession while he was still in office. He did not provide any documentation that he had done so.

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Dallas Morning News - August 14, 2022

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger in new poll

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his Democratic challenger, Rochelle Garza, are neck and neck in a new poll, a sign the embattled incumbent is vulnerable in November. Paxton leads Garza 34%-32% among registered voters — the tightest margin of any statewide contest, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday. Eight percent supported Libertarian candidate Mark Ash, 7% opted for “someone else” and 18% are not sure. The results suggest the race could be Democrats’ best shot at winning a statewide office after a nearly three-decade lockout. The poll, conducted August 1-7, surveyed 1,384 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. Paxton, a Republican and close ally of former President Donald Trump, is seeking a third term under a cloud of legal troubles. Garza, a civil rights attorney from South Texas, is a political newcomer unknown to many voters.

Both have strong support within their own parties, the poll found. But Garza has a 5-point lead among independents, who also make up the biggest chunk of undecided voters and could swing the election. Half of independent voters said they disapprove of Paxton’s job performance, the poll found, up from 41% in May. A falling number (18%) think Paxton has the integrity needed to serve in the office he’s held since 2015. Paxton has been under indictment for securities fraud for almost his entire tenure, but a trial has been delayed by wrangling over where to hold one, how much to pay prosecutors and non-legal reasons, like Hurricane Harvey and the pandemic. In late 2020, the FBI began investigating Paxton after former aides accused him of illegally helping a campaign donor. No federal charges have been filed. Paxton denies wrongdoing. The legal problems, however, fueled attacks by Republicans and Democrats that may be resonating with voters on the fence.

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Politico - August 14, 2022

The medical crisis that finally convinced Republicans in North Carolina to expand Medicaid

The early days of Courtney Smith’s pregnancy were dark. She bled for six weeks, a common but frightening experience during the first trimester of pregnancy. Doctors in Louisiana, where Smith was living at the time, made matters worse by suggesting she might miscarry. After diagnosing her with hypertension, diabetes and depression, the doctors “threw pills at me,” Smith says. Medicaid paid for her care, but the care was poor: Her Prozac dose was too high, her blood pressure medication was too low, and they gave her medication to control her diabetes without giving her a way to monitor her blood sugar. Meanwhile, her boyfriend made it clear he wasn’t interested in being a father. By the time she was eight weeks pregnant, she was ready to drive into the bayou and end her life. Her family urged Smith to come home to Hendersonville, N.C., where in January her older sister helped enroll her in that state’s Medicaid program. Because Smith’s pregnancy was high-risk and many providers don’t accept Medicaid, it took her two months to get a prenatal appointment. She was 19 weeks along when she finally got into the Mountain Area Health Education OB/GYN clinic in Asheville. This time, her experience with Medicaid was entirely different.

A family nurse practitioner corrected her medications, put her on insulin to control her diabetes, and connected her to a mental health counselor. Her bleeding had stopped and an ultrasound revealed she was due to deliver a healthy girl in August. “They have been wonderful to me,” Smith, 31, says of the staff at MAHEC. “I’m so glad I’m getting the prenatal care I need now.” But there was a catch. When Smith first arrived at the clinic this winter, she was told her Medicaid benefits would end two months after her due date. Federal law requires Medicaid to cover low-income mothers for just 60 days after they give birth, a period that is often not long enough to treat chronic issues such as diabetes and postpartum depression. Obstetricians and maternal health advocates have worried for years that prematurely cutting off coverage has exacerbated a nationwide maternal mortality crisis; the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. Then Smith got some surprising and welcome news. In April, North Carolina became one of 15 states to extend Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. And the lawmakers who voted for the change were the same Republicans who had fought Medicaid expansion for years. The impact of this extension, say health experts, will be dramatic. In 2020, 41 percent of births in North Carolina were covered by Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The state Department of Health and Human Services estimates this postpartum extension could help more than 50,000 women, at a cost to the state of about $12.5 million a year. “It’s a really, really big piece,” says Sarah Verbiest, executive director of the Collaborative for Maternal and Infant Health at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “For people who don’t have access to insurance, they can’t get any of this care.”

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San Antonio Report - August 13, 2022

As school begins, superintendents say state’s $100M in safety funds have yet to be seen

As students return to school this month, superintendents from Northside and Judson independent school districts say the state has failed to help them do anything to prevent tragedies like the shooting at an Uvalde elementary school in May that left 21 people dead. The state’s Republican leaders declined requests to call a special session to address the issue this summer, but in June rolled out a plan to spend $100 million on school safety measures such as bullet-resistant shields and mental health services. Speaking at a school safety summit at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Buena Vista Theater Saturday, Judson ISD Superintendent Jeanette Ball and Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods said they had yet to see any of that money, even though students in their districts begin class later this month.

“I have heard about these funds to buy shields and things like that, but I know that we have not received anything yet,” said Ball. Woods said Northside ISD had received some federal pandemic assistance since the end of the last school year, but nothing from the state, which said it plans to pull roughly $105.5 million for school safety from its budget surplus at the Texas Education Agency. Up until the Uvalde shooting, Woods said, “What we’d heard from leadership at state is, ‘You’ve got more than enough federal money, you don’t need more.'” Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on when schools could expect to see the money. When the plan was unveiled in June, Abbott said the state was “acting swiftly to ensure our schools are secure and that children, teachers, and families across Texas have the support and resources they need to be safe as we work to prevent future tragedies like the heinous crime committed in Uvalde.” Saturday’s summit was organized by state Reps. Trey Martinez-Fischer, Diego Bernal, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Ray Lopez and Liz Campos. Rep. Lyle Larson, the lone Republican to participate, was represented at the gathering by his chief of staff.

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KXAN - August 14, 2022

State of Texas: Some Uvalde officers did not get active shooter training

Less than half of all local Uvalde peace officers had completed active shooter training when the Robb Elementary School mass shooting occurred on May 24, a KXAN investigation found. Months later, these officers and “hundreds of responders from numerous law enforcement agencies — many of whom were better trained and better equipped than the school district police,” continue to face scrutiny regarding the actions taken over the course of 73 minutes from the time officers arrived on scene to when the shooter was neutralized, as detailed in the Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee report on the Robb Elementary Shooting. Forty-one of those who responded were local officers from the Uvalde Police Department and the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office, according to the report. The report stated responders “failed to adhere to their active shooter training.” However, KXAN found besides officers with the school district, the “active shooter training” referenced numerous times throughout the report had never been completed by many members of Uvalde law enforcement.

KXAN reviewed Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE, records related to the law enforcement experience and training history of every licensed peace officer with the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, the Uvalde Police Department and the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office. According to the Uvalde CISD website, its police department currently consists of five police officers. On May 24, there were six active police officers with the Uvalde CISD Police Department, with a total of nearly 100 years of combined law enforcement experience, according to TCOLE records. The Texas Education Code requires all school-based law enforcement officers to complete active shooter training. TCOLE records state all six of the UCISD officers had completed the required active shooter training.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - August 14, 2022

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott still leads Beto O’Rourke, new poll shows

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is maintaining a modest lead over Democrat Beto O’Rourke in the simmering race for Texas governor, though his road to victory could be bumpy. According to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler, Abbott has a 7-point cushion over O’Rourke, unchanged from a similar survey in May. The poll, conducted Aug. 1-7, surveyed 1,384 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. Powering the governor’s lead is his handling of the Texas economy, with 53% favoring his stewardship and 41% who disapprove. Only 9% blamed Abbott or Texas lawmakers for inflation, while 48% blamed higher costs for goods and services on President Joe Biden. “Regardless of the many things that are happening, Abbott’s standing and trust in the economy is what’s holding that lead,” said Mark Owens, a political scientist at UT-Tyler and director of the poll.

But all is not rosy for Abbott, particularly when it comes to gun control, with 66% of voters saying the two-time incumbent should call a special session on curbing mass shootings. Could the gun issue be Abbott’s albatross? The poll found that 63% don’t think elected officials are doing enough to stop mass shootings, which returned to the headlines after the May 24 massacre of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Roughly the same number of Texans are concerned about gun violence in their community. “Not only are they concerned that a mass shooting could happen in their community, many people think that the Legislature and elected officials are not doing enough,” Owens said. A majority of voters — 56% to 43% — also say Texas is headed in the wrong direction under Abbott’s leadership. “It’s not a hard choice,” said Deborah Crowe, a 62-year-old corporate proofreader from Arlington and poll participant. She said she’s been disappointed with Abbott’s inaction on gun control and bolstering the power grid, and though the governor has not indicated he’s interested in a 2024 White House run, Crowe believes he has aspirations for higher office.

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Dallas Morning News - August 14, 2022

Texans mostly split over Roe abortion ruling, but more are unsure, poll shows

More Texans surveyed disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade than approve, according to a new Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll released Sunday. Of the 1,384 Texans surveyed Aug. 1-7, 49% said they somewhat or strongly disapproved of overturning Roe vs. Wade, and 42% said they strongly or somewhat approved of overturning the precedent and returning the issue to the states. The results from the survey, which has a 2.8% margin of error, mark a slight shift from the last time the poll was conducted in May, shortly after the leak of the Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark case that originated in Dallas County. In May, 53% of Texans surveyed said Roe should not be overturned, and 46% said it should be overturned. Just 1% of respondents said they didn’t know if it should be overturned or not.

Now, in the aftermath of the high court’s ruling, 9% of respondents said they don’t know if they agree or disagree with removing the constitutional protection of the right to an abortion. Mark Owens, director of the poll and a political scientist at UT-Tyler, said the percentages of respondents who said they agreed and disagreed with the decision both dropped from May. “Our last poll had been just after the opinion had leaked, and then, everyone had an opinion about whether it should happen or it should not happen,” Owens said. “I think now that it really has happened, more people have moved to not being sure where they should go, even though we’re a couple months after the decision.” National polls taken after the decision found between 56% to 60% of Americans disapprove of overturning Roe, a higher number than in the Texas poll. “I think that more people in Texas may have wanted to see Roe overturned, but it was not a majority of voters in the state,” Owens said. “So lawmakers going into January 2023, this will be an issue that they have to talk about and therefore talk about on the campaign trail.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 14, 2022

Texas school districts with four-day weeks: Pros and cons

Last school year, the DeKalb Independent School District in East Texas struggled to recruit enough educators to teach its 800 students. Administrators hired eight teachers working to get certified, but there were still two positions that were never filled. “It was difficult. We had a pre-K teacher position open all year. Because we couldn’t fill it, we had one pre-K classroom with 35 students last year,” superintendent Chris Galloway says. “We also had a chemistry position open half the year and ended up going through three different substitutes. It makes it difficult for students that need consistency.” Right after the district announced that it had a new four-day schedule in April, applications started rolling in. The district was able to fill all 14 open positions for the upcoming school year before June, much earlier than usual. At least three staff members with over 20 years of experience came to DeKalb from other districts, mainly due to the four-day week.

Prior to the change, the district conducted a survey and found that 75% of students, 78% of parents and 100% of teachers were interested in the four-day week. An additional hour was added to the school day to make up for Fridays being off. The switch added more time to each class — over 1,800 minutes per class period. Amid statewide teacher shortages, four-day school weeks are gaining popularity among small, rural school districts in Texas. Nearly 43,000 Texas teachers left their job in the last school year, according to a July report from the Texas American Federation of Teachers. And a whopping 66% of educators throughout Texas said they have recently considered leaving their jobs. On March 10, the state launched the Teacher Vacancy Task Force to address staffing challenges facing Texas public schools. Twenty-seven Texas districts implemented the change for the 2022-2023 school year, hoping to attract and retain teachers. In 2016, Olfen ISD in West Texas became the first school district in the state to make the switch to a four-day school week. That was after a bill passed by the 84th Texas Legislature amended the Texas Education Code, no longer requiring 180 days of instruction. The only requirement now is that districts operate for a minimum of 75,600 minutes. To allow for a shortened week, the 41 school districts in Texas embracing the change lengthen the school day and/or the school year.

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Associated Press - August 12, 2022

Family of Vanessa Guillén seeking $35 million in damages from government

The family of a Texas soldier who was was sexually harassed and killed at a military base near Killeen in 2020 filed a lawsuit Friday seeking $35 million in damages from the U.S. government. The family of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillen is seeking damages on the basis of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, sodomy and wrongful death. An investigation by military officials into the death of Guillen, who was killed by a fellow soldier at U.S. Army base Fort Hood, found that she was also sexually harassed and that leaders failed to take appropriate action. The lawsuit describes two instances in which Guillen was harassed during her time as a soldier and Guillen's suicidal thoughts as a result of coping with the harassment, which she told family that she did not report for fear of retaliation.

“This will be an opportunity for every victim to feel not only like they have a voice but that they can be made whole,” said Natalie Khawam, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Guillen family. The lawsuit follows a decision Thursday by a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco stating that an Army colonel could proceed with a lawsuit against a former Air Force General over a sexual assault allegation. The court found that a law baring service members from seeking damages over injuries during service did not apply. Guillen was declared missing in April 2020. Her remains were found that July, when the soldier accused of killing Guillen died by suicide following a confrontation with officers. A civilian faced charges for allegedly helping Robinson dispose of Guillen’s remains. Guillen's death and claims by her family that she was harassed and assaulted at the Texas base sparked a social media movement of former and active service members who came forward about their own experiences in the military with the hashtag #IAmVaessaGuillen. State and federal lawmakers have since passed legislation in honor of Guillen that removed some authority from commanders and gave survivors more options to report.

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KSAT - August 13, 2022

Uvalde CISD school board will consult attorney on Pete Arredondo’s termination hearing in closed session

The Uvalde CISD school board will consult an attorney during a closed session next week in regards to Pete Arredondo’s delayed termination hearing. According to the school board’s agenda for its next meeting on Monday, Aug. 15, the closed session will include an attorney consultation about Arredondo’s termination hearing and “procedural rules, legal representation and updates on legal issues surrounding Robb Elementary property.” It’s unknown if any decisions will be made on Arredondo’s termination during the closed session. This comes after two previous UCISD board meetings postponed his termination, both at the request of Arredondo’s attorney. His fate was supposed to have been originally decided on July 22.

UCISD Superintendent Hal Harrell recommended Arredondo’s firing after being blamed for the botched law enforcement response to the massacre at Robb Elementary School that claimed 21 lives on May 24. Arredondo was placed on paid administrative leave by the district nearly one month after the shooting. Lt. Mike Hernandez has since resumed his duties. Since the shooting at Robb Elementary, the Uvalde community has criticized the school board for not holding Arredondo accountable and a lack of security at the school prior to the shooting, The Associated Press reports. Arredondo is the chief of a six-person department, and he was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the Robb Elementary shooting -- the worst school shooting in Texas history. Law enforcement waited over an hour before confronting the shooter, and the blame has largely fallen on Arredondo.

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KHOU - August 13, 2022

Health expert Dr. Peter Hotez says his Twitter account was hacked

Health expert Dr. Peter Hotez confirmed to KHOU 11 that his Twitter account was hacked Saturday after a common scam was posted to his page. The scam claimed he had multiple PlayStation 5s available for sale, claiming that all the proceeds would go towards charity. Dr. Hotez, a leading infectious disease expert with Texas Children's Hospital and the Baylor College of Medicine, told KHOU 11 that he has been locked out of his account and did not have access as of 5 p.m.

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Houston Chronicle - August 13, 2022

Hundreds energized at 2022 Women’s Convention in Houston held in aftermath of Roe v Wade decision

The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year brought Christel Reyna back to a dark time in her life, she said, when at 19 years old she became pregnant from a rape. Without abortion access, the now 50-year-old California woman doesn’t know whether she would be alive to share her story. “Having Planned Parenthood available to me to go in and talk to them and help me come to my own decision, that was important to my survival,” she said. The recent wave of state legislation cutting back nearly 50 years of abortion rights was top of mind for Reyna and hundreds of people who on Saturday attended the 2022 Women’s Convention in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

The weekend-long event recalled the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, which came at a pivotal time for the women’s rights movement. The years leading up to that conference saw the passage of Title IX, which protects people from discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs, and Supreme Court wins that granted access to birth control for unmarried women and abortion. “Because of the overturning of Roe, I think this particular convention has fired up the passion and the advocacy and activism of many feminists and allies who really want to make sure they are educated and ready to do whatever is necessary to fight back against this,” said Christian Nunes, president of the D.C.-based National Organization for Women. While the Roe decision served as an energizing force throughout the convention, feminist groups spoke to a variety of topics, including wage equality, healthcare, childcare infrastructure and political representation. For many, the issues were deeply connected.

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Houston Chronicle - August 12, 2022

15 years after a prison guard paid a gang to beat him, Daryl Davis finally gets Texas to pay up

Daryl Davis was a decade into his 37-year sentence for aggravated assault when he was attacked in Texas’s Polunsky prison facility in Livingston. The first time the Mandingo Warriors gang used a broom handle to beat him. Days later they pummeled him using a magnet stuffed into the end of a sock as he turtled on the prison floor. The Department of Criminal Justice transferred Davis to another unit for protection. To the Tyler native known inside as “Major,” the assaults didn’t make sense. He wasn’t affiliated with any gang. He started asking around. The prison’s hyperactive rumor mill soon spit out an explanation: A guard who had accepted an inmate’s bribe for favors believed — wrongly — that Davis had turned him in. Seeking retaliation, the guard paid the gang in smoking tobacco to attack Davis.

The discovery launched Davis on an improbable D-I-Y legal journey that lasted a decade and a half. Representing himself in federal court, he prevailed over State of Texas attorneys at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, known for its conservative bent. At trial, he summoned the same gang members who had beaten him to describe how they’d been hired by the guard. Convinced, the jury awarded Davis $25,000 for the attack. That was just the start. For the next dozen years Davis tried to get the State of Texas to pay up. He filed petitions and wrote letters from his cell. Davis served 18 years and 6 months in prison after being convicted of beating his girlfriend with a full 40-ounce beer bottle. Once paroled, he started dropping in on state legislators. He haunted the Capitol in Austin, telling his story to anyone who would listen. “The first thing I remember thinking is, ‘How the hell did he get in here?’” recalled Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. Staffers for Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, and Rep. Carl Sherman, a DeSoto Democrat, confirmed their bosses also heard Davis’s story. “I’m not a Republican, I’m not a Democrat,” Davis said. “I’ll walk with all of them.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 13, 2022

Beto heckler says he wasn’t laughing at Uvalde shooting

A gun and ammo store owner who laughed as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke spoke about the Uvalde shooting during a Mineral Wells town hall Wednesday night has come forth to say the massacre wasn’t what he was laughing at. Ron Warren, who owns An Eye for an Eye Guns and Ammo in Mineral Wells, told a reporter for Mineral Wells Area News he was laughing at O’Rourke’s lack of gun knowledge. “I would’ve went through a burning building with a toothpick to get those babies out, because that’s wrong what happened in Uvalde,” Warren told a Mineral Wells Area News reporter.

Warren, donning a navy blue U.S. Air Force veteran ball cap and a t-shirt calling O’Rourke a curse word in Spanish, was among the protesters who attended Wednesday evening’s event at the Crazy Water Hotel. The town hall was a part of O’Rourke’s 5,600-mile campaign tour of the state. O’Rourke has heavily hammered the state Legislature’s lack of action following the Uvalde mass shooting that resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers. Talking to the crowd about the massacre, O’Rourke said the weapon was originally designed for combat use and was purchased by the shooter legally. O’Rourke said the gun was designed to be used in combat and during Vietnam to “penetrate an enemy’s soldier’s helmet at 500 feet and knock him down dead,” pausing briefly before talking about Uvalde, “up against kids at five feet.” Warren laughed between O’Rourke saying “dead” and “up against kids at five feet.” O’Rourke then turned to him and pointed. “It may but funny to you, [expletive], but it’s not funny to me,” O’Rourke said. The crowd roared, and the video of the exchange went viral, amassing millions of views on social media and gaining national attention.

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Dallas Morning News - August 13, 2022

How does the Texas sun get turned into electricity for your home?

The most plentiful energy source sits above our heads everyday, and since the invention of the first solar cell in 1883, we’ve been working to harness the sun’s energy. Today, it’s easy to spot solar farms from a mile away, often looking like a lake in the distance. Spread out through open fields are rows and rows of photovoltaic modules, colloquially called solar panels. Enel, an international renewable energy company, began development of the Lily Solar and battery storage site in Kaufman County in 2020. Today, it operates 421,400 panels on 1,400 acres just outside Scurry, a town of 690 residents about 40 miles southeast of Dallas. Most of the sprawling site is used for solar arrays, or groups of panels that harness energy from the sun and convert it to useable electricity. The rest of the space is a BESS paddock, or a battery energy storage system.

Jonathon Parras, who has been with Enel for three years and in the renewable energy industry for eight, serves as site lead for Lily and manages a small team of technicians who keep the site running smoothly, pumping power from the sun onto the Texas grid. The entire site can be run by as little as two people, one for the panels and one for the batteries, but on most days there are anywhere from four to ten technicians that keep an eye on the equipment, scientific readings, grid conditions and cleaning. “Everybody needs energy, and I feel like if you can source it from something that’s unlimited, that’s the best way to do it and provide for everyone,” Parras said. “It’s a nice clean source and it’s unlimited.” The Lily team is just part of the state’s growing solar energy workforce of over 11,000. As the industry expands, more solar fields are popping up across Texas. In a field like Lily’s, solar cells are combined to create solar modules, which, when lined up in rows are called solar arrays. Together, an array the size of Lily creates 180 megawatts of power-- enough to keep the lights on and the air conditioning running for 33,000 homes annually.

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Dallas Morning News - August 13, 2022

Lin-Manuel Miranda responds to Texas church’s ‘problematic’ rendition of ‘Hamilton’

Lin-Manuel Miranda acknowledged he’s seen the news of the McAllen church’s controversial, unauthorized rendition of his popular musical Hamilton, but said it’s not his fight to stage. “Grateful to all of you who reached out about this illegal, unauthorized production,” Miranda wrote in the tweet. “Now lawyers do their work.” The show, produced by RGV Productions and The Door McAllen church, changed several scenes to incorporate biblical themes, and was followed by a sermon comparing being gay to having an addiction — despite Miranda being known for his support of LGBT causes. The theater-centric OnStage Blog first reported on the controversy. The Dallas Morning News obtained video of the Aug. 5 performance, which ran for about two hours, and the brief sermon that followed.

It was during the 15-minute sermon one of the church’s pastors said “Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs — with homosexuality — maybe you struggle with other things in life, your finances, whatever, God can help you tonight. He wants to forgive you for your sins.” But in a statement to The News, pastor Roman Gutierrez said the church is not anti-LGBT and “everyone is always welcome.” Gutierrez said he obtained legal permission to produce the church’s show, which a Hamilton spokesperson denied. “Hamilton does not grant amateur or professional licenses for any stage productions and did not grant one to The Door Church,” the spokesperson said, adding that a cease-and-desist letter was sent to the church on Saturday after the Friday performance. With his statement on Twitter, Miranda shared a letter from the Dramatists Guild, in which the group said they condemned the church for changing lyrics, adding text without permission and performing without a license. “We hold up the Door McAllen Church’s brazen infringement to shine a light on the problematic pattern of some theatrical organizations performing authors’ work without a license and rewriting the text without authorial consent,” the guild wrote. “No organization, professional, amateur, or religion, is exempt from these laws.”

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Houston Chronicle - August 13, 2022

Lamar CISD superintendent says 'mean and nasty' bullies contribute to widespread teacher shortage

Aggression toward teachers and school districts is taking a toll on educators, Lamar CISD Superintendent Roosevelt Nivens said, adding that many are choosing to leave the profession instead of having to deal with the bullying. Society is very unforgiving," Nivens said at a recent Katy Area Chamber of Commerce meeting. "I'm talking to teachers, and they are just tired. People have become comfortable being mean and nasty." The superintendent said the rhetoric from some adults and portions of society is partially to blame for the severe teacher shortage that many districts are facing, including his. The meeting on Wednesday was organized by Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting public schools.

Nivens and two other superintendents from local schools presented their district’s plans, but he focused on the bullying. Standing in front of a projector screen with those messages that he said lambaste educators and the school system, he shared some of the email he's received or social media posts he's seen. "I'm a concerned citizen on what these kids are being taught," one email read. "Can you tell me what is taught in school because people are being brainwashed." Nivens noted the emails shared Wednesday were among the more tame he's received. Robert Long, advocacy director for Raise Your Hand Texas, and Nicole Hill, communications director for teachers union Texas AFT, said their organizations have recently seen an increase in bullying against teachers. "Legislative issues and social issues have a lot of people upset," Long said, "and people are turning on the teachers because of it." Both Long and Hill said they believe teachers are being scapegoated over political issues like banned books, LGBTQ+ students and racial inequality. "A large part of the hatred towards teachers is the politicization of their classrooms over the past couple of years in Texas," Hill said. "We've seen that in this very politically-motivated surge of book banning, and people combing through library lists. Politicians, not parents, have made it seem like this is a teacher vs. parent issue."

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Galveston County Daily News - August 13, 2022

Fight over ownership of Galveston’s Babe’s Beach hits the courts

The Galveston Park board of trustees has filed a lawsuit that leaders say is needed to protect a public investment of about $75 million that went into building Babe’s Beach and to ensure planned reconstructions projects worth about another $50 million or so aren’t derailed. The petition, filed Friday in the 212th Judicial District Court, also seeks a temporary restraining order against two people who claim ownership of beach land and two people who operate rental businesses on that land, one of whom is a park board trustee. The lawsuit raises questions about the lines between a public and private beach and whether land claimed by the Gulf of Mexico and restored with public money returns to private owners or remains under state ownership.

The petition asserts owners Ted O’Rourke and Gulf Properties, as well as vendors Frank Maceo and Jason Worthen, a park board trustee, are preventing the park board from accessing public lands and of operating concessions on a public beach. “Defendants now claim private property rights of the public beach, which was restored by renourishment,” court documents assert. “Defendants are preventing the park board from operating under its lease with the state of Texas to operate on the public beach by placing unauthorized vendors on the public beach.” Long-held state practice has asserted that land once submerged because of natural erosion becomes state land by default. A 20-year surface lease signed with the Texas General Land Office in 2015 gives the park board permission to conduct certain business on state-owned property along the seawall from 61st Street to the western end of the seawall.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 12, 2022

Kyle Rittenhouse selfie with Texas police officer sparks outrage on department's Facebook page

A photo of a Thrall police officer posing with Kyle Rittenhouse that was posted to the department’s official Facebook account has begun circulating on social media, sparking outrage. The photograph, posted on Thursday, shows Rittenhouse grinning next to an unnamed Thrall officer in front of a vehicle. “Make those stops, you never know who you might meet,” the post reads. “Today it was Kyle Rittenhouse, welcome to Texas.” About six hours later, the post was edited by the Central Texas police department after intense backlash.

The edited post read: “I must have missed something, I believe that this young man was arrested, charged, indicted and then found not guilty by a jury of his peers. Is this not how our country works anymore? The hate in these comments is terrible, if you have information that is contrary to that I would honestly love to hear it.” In 2020 at the age of 17, Rittenhouse drove from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in response to protests for the shooting of a Black man by a white officer. Rittenhouse had said he wanted to help law enforcement protect property amid civil unrest. He was accused of fatally shooting two men and injuring another with his rifle. He was acquitted last year of multiple felony charges during his high-profile trial in which he argued he acted in self-defense. Now 19-years-old, Rittenhouse recently made headlines in Texas after he said he was attending Texas A&M University. A school spokesperson later said Rittenhouse had not been accepted at the university. Rittenhouse later tweeted that he was moving to Texas this year to attend Blinn College in Brenham, a two-year institution that has a strong transfer rate to A&M, according to the Houston Chronicle. Acceptance, however, is not guaranteed. The Thrall Police Department’s Facebook post received nearly 1,800 comments.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 13, 2022

As retirement nears, Nelson Wolff encourages leaders to protect Spurs

As his long career in public service nears an end, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has a message for local leaders: Focus on protecting the Spurs rather than trying to secure a second major professional sports franchise for San Antonio. “In my view, you are not going to see an NFL team here for a long time,” Wolff said. “You are not going to see a Major League Baseball team here for a long time." “People don’t understand that. They say, ‘OK. You’ve got 2 million people. We’ll draw real good.’ Well, what they don’t know is, we don’t have the corporate base. And, without being too cynical, major league sports has become a corporate game.”

Wolff’s comments came during an interview in his 10th-floor office at the Paul Elizondo Tower. During the conversation, his wife, Tracy, looked for personal items to take home before his fifth term as county judge ends Dec. 31. “I’ve got some great stuff from the Texas Legislature. We’ll save some of that,” Wolff said, referring to mementos collected during his time as a state lawmaker in the 1970s. One prized possession in his large memorabilia collection is from long before he entered politics: a framed photo of his days as a Little League baseball player for the G.S. McCreless Home Builders. “Baseball was king then,” Wolff, 81, said wistfully. From his days as a skinny young ballplayer on the Southeast Side, Wolff grew to become arguably the most influential politician in San Antonio history. The Democrat’s legacy includes a sports landscape that has his fingerprints all over it.

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KHOU - August 14, 2022

State resources activated ahead of possible tropical weather, governor says

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday announced the activation of state resources ahead of possible tropical weather in South Texas. "The National Hurricane Center expects very low potential for a tropical cyclone to develop from a cluster of showers and thunderstorms off the Texas coast, and threats into next week include significant rainfall and flash flooding," the Governor's Office said in a release.

"The State of Texas is proactively initiating preparedness measures in anticipation of heavy rainfall for our coastal and South Texas communities," said Governor Abbott. "State agencies are monitoring the developing weather conditions along the coast and preparing comprehensive response measures. I urge Texans in these regions to remain weather-aware and follow the direction of local authorities to ensure their own safety and the safety of their loved ones."

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Austin American-Statesman - August 14, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Congress acted. So why isn't this air safety rule in place?

We’ve all heard the expression: It would take an act of Congress to accomplish some incredibly difficult task. Except in this case, Congress has acted. Nearly four years ago. Heck, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, polar opposites in their politics and temperaments, were on the same page in championing this measure. And we’re talking about a matter of public safety, life and death. Yet the rule in question — requiring commercial hot air balloon pilots to undergo annual medical screenings, a basic safeguard that might have prevented the 2016 Lockhart balloon crash that killed 16 people — is stuck in a bureaucratic maze. Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to adopt such a rule by the spring of 2019. We’re still waiting.

In the federal government, “delay is certainly not unusual. Some degree of (bureaucratic) indifference is certainly not unusual,” said Doggett, who has been a congressman for nearly three decades. “But this goes far and beyond anything I've ever seen in my entire career, in terms of an agency being directed to do something and ignoring the direction.” Perhaps you’re thinking: Hot air balloon regulations are not exactly a front-burner issue for most Americans. The FAA estimates the rule will affect roughly 350 pilots who provide hot air balloon rides to paying customers. (The rule won't affect balloonists who fly for their own enjoyment.) But we’re also talking about the federal response to the deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history, a wholly avoidable tragedy that devastated families. And we’re talking about Congress plainly directing a federal agency to do a specific thing by a specific deadline in the name of consumer safety … and that thing hasn’t happened. As the American-Statesman first reported in the aftermath of the Lockhart crash, the National Transportation Safety Board had tried for years to get the FAA to beef up its regulation of the hot air balloon industry. In 2014, the NTSB had even predicted a “high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident” if the FAA didn’t improve oversight.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - August 13, 2022

National register listing sought to preserve Institute of Texan Cultures building in San Antonio

The Conservation Society of San Antonio is preparing to nominate the building occupied by the Institute of Texan Cultures — one of the few structures remaining from the 1968 World’s Fair — as a state and national historic landmark. “I’m sure you can’t name me another building in San Antonio that looks like it,” said Vincent Michael, executive director of the Conservation Society. “We’d like to preserve it.” The midcentury modern structure, which looks like an inverted pyramid, was designed by Houston architectural firm Caudill, Rowlett and Scott and constructed as the Texas Pavilion for HemisFair. The society’s effort comes as the University of Texas at San Antonio is weighing several options for the institute’s future, which include moving it or renovating the building that’s long housed it.

Michael said the Conservation Society has wanted to nominate the building to the National Register of Historic Places for some time, but the move makes sense as UTSA is focusing on the future of the institute. “We just wanted to focus on the building,” he said. The National Register includes more than 96,000 properties. Listing is “the first step” for eligibility for federal tax credits and grant programs for renovations, according to its website. Michael said the designation would put no additional restrictions on renovations unless tax credits were used. The Conservation Society, which works to preserve city and state history, has hired archaeologist and historian Nesta Anderson to conduct research and documentation for the building’s nomination to the State Historical Commission and National Register. Along with its unique architectural features, Michael said the 182,000-square-foot building at 801 E César E. Chávez Blvd. is culturally significant — and not only for its place in the World’s Fair.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 13, 2022

Fort Worth increasing water bill fees to clean up the city

Your water bill could go up a little bit next year, but not because of anything coming out of the tap. Fort Worth is considering tripling the environmental protection fee residents and businesses pay every month on their water bills. It’s part of an effort to increase the city’s capacity to clean streets and remove litter, while also spreading the costs of litter pick up move evenly. Monthly fees for residential users will go from 50 cents to $1.50, while fees for commercial users will go from $10 to $30 per month and fees for industrial users will go from $35 to $105 per month. This is the first time the fee has been increased since it was introduced in 1995.

Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens said she has no objections to the rate increase given the needs of a growing city and the fact that the fee hasn’t been increased in 27 years. “No one wants to see a water bill go up, but if we can deliver the service responsibly in a timely fashion maybe the rub won’t be so challenging,” Bivens said. District 3 council member Michael Crain said he’s not usually a fan of increasing fees, but said feedback from his constituents convinced him it might be needed. “I get calls all the time from neighborhoods of why aren’t we getting our streets cleaned and I have to explain we only have two street sweepers for the whole city,” he said. Those two sweepers can only cover 580 of Fort Worth’s roughly 8,100 miles of city streets per month. If the city increases the fee, it’s proposing buying 10 additional street sweepers, which it estimates can cover a combined 6,380 miles every month. The city is also proposing some of the funds be used to expand the number of litter crews.

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KUT - August 14, 2022

'I’m pretty speechless': Austin ISD school board unanimously approves equity-focused bond

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to put a $2.44 billion bond on the November ballot. It is the largest bond package in AISD history, but district officials and school board members say what makes the bond significant is its investment in historically underserved schools and communities. “I’ve been in Austin all my life. I have never seen AISD bring forward such an equity-focused bond," said Trustee LaTisha Anderson, who represents District 1. "I never thought I would see that. I’m pretty speechless.” The bond will require a $0.01 increase to the debt service tax rate, even though the district's overall tax rate will drop. If voters approve the bond program later this fall, the district will be able to renovate schools, address critical infrastructure needs and invest in security upgrades.

Just two days earlier at a board work session, Anderson and a couple of other trustees raised concerns about the direction the bond was heading in. The initial bond proposals were put together by the community-led bond steering committee. That group used an “Equity by Design” process that centers historically underserved communities to develop a draft bond for $1.75 billion and another for $2.25 billion. On Monday, the Austin ISD administration released its recommendations for the bond, urging trustees to approve the larger package. The administration’s plan mirrored nearly 90% of the steering committee’s, but there were several notable changes. The steering committee had wanted to spend at least $115 million at both Northeast Early College High School and LBJ Early College High School to help modernize those campuses, which overwhelmingly serve Black and Hispanic students in District 1. But the Austin ISD administration had suggested reducing the funding for each project to $60 million. The administration also departed from the steering committee’s proposal by seeking to increase funding for projects at several campuses such as Bear Creek Elementary and Austin High, where more than 50% of the student population is white.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - August 13, 2022

House passes $700B bill that cuts costs for Medicare, targets tax cheats, boosts green energy

The U.S. House on Friday passed a sweeping spending package aimed at juicing green energy and reining in health care costs, sending the bill to the White House and delivering a major victory for Democrats just months before the midterms. The roughly $700 billion package empowers Medicare to negotiate drug prices, extends funding for the Affordable Care Act for three years and includes close to $370 billion in federal funding to expand tax credits for electric vehicles and boost wind and solar power. The Medicare changes will impact nearly 4.5 million Texans, limiting their out-of-pocket costs and capping the cost of insulin at $35 a month.

The so-called Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 also tweaks the tax code to target major corporations and tax cheats, which Democrats say will more than cover the costs of the legislation, driving down the federal deficit over the next decade. The bill is the culmination of months of negotiation and false starts, a significantly slimmed down version of the massive Build Back Better package that was a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda. Its passage — which seemed unlikely just weeks ago — marks a key win for the president’s party as it braces for what many expect to be a brutal midterm for Democrats. It passed the House on a party line vote, with Democrats cheering it as a win for working people. Republicans called the legislation reckless and said it will do little to drive down inflation, despite its name. “This life-changing legislation increases the leverage of the people’s interest over the special interest,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats this week. “This bill makes a tremendous difference at the kitchen table of America’s families.”

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Midland Reporter-Telegraph - August 13, 2022

Rig count declines for second consecutive week

The air is being let out of the drilling activity balloon as strong crude prices, which prompted independent operators to ramp up drilling, have been coming back down to earth. Oilfield services firm Baker Hughes said Friday its US rig count, which it has reported weekly since the 1940s, inched down by one to 763 rigs. That marks the first time the rig count has declined for two consecutive weeks in two years. The count is 262 rigs or 53% higher than the 501 reported last August. The number of rigs drilling for crude rose three to 601 – 203 more than the 398 counted a year ago. The number of rigs drilling for natural gas dropped one to 160, 58 more than the 102 reported a year ago.

Like the US, Texas dropped one rig during the week for 372 at work statewide, 140 more than the 232 working last year. New Mexico was unchanged at 104 rigs. Louisiana (2), Oklahoma (1) and West Virginia (1) were the producing states that reported higher rig counts while Alaska (1) and Pennsylvania (2) joined Texas in seeing declines. The Permian Basin likewise dropped one rig, reporting 346 at work throughout the region, 100 more than the 146 reported last year. Lea County, New Mexico, was the most active county in the Permian with 61 rigs, up six for the week. Those six rigs may have come from second-place Eddy County, New Mexico, which dropped six rigs for 40. Midland County fell seven rigs – the steepest drop of the week – for 32 rigs this week. Martin County was close behind with 31, up four for the week. Reeves County had 29 rigs, up one, while Loving County fell two to 27. Upton County posted the steepest increase of the week – eight rigs – for 21 at work within county lines. Howard County also reported 21 rigs, down two. Ward County had 15 rigs, up two, and Glasscock County recorded 12 rigs, up three for the week.

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NBC News - August 14, 2022

How Democrats’ surprise climate and health care bill came together after months of setbacks and reversals

Like many others in this town, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema first saw the news on Twitter. Her fellow centrist Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, had cut a surprise deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on a sweeping climate, health care and tax package that most people in their party had left for dead. Sinema was blindsided, said a source close to the senator. She hadn’t been included in the secret Manchin-Schumer talks; she hadn’t been consulted before the agreement was announced either. But the Arizona Democrat wasn’t upset at being left out. She could count to 50 and knew that Manchin and Schumer would need to come to her eventually to get her vote in the evenly divided Senate where Republicans would surely unite in opposition.

Democrats had toiled for a year and a half, trying to get Manchin and Sinema on board with President Joe Biden’s signature domestic agenda. Build Back Better would remake the U.S. economy and social safety net by investing trillions in child and senior care, universal preschool and free community college, in addition to combating climate change and lowering the cost of health care. When Manchin abruptly broke off talks with Biden and the White House in December 2021, declaring that he couldn’t vote for a slimmer, House-passed $1.7 trillion package, Democrats were furious, then resigned themselves to the fact that Build Back Better would probably never become law. They were right. The climate, health and tax package passed by the House on Friday and sent to Biden’s desk is dramatically scaled down from the president’s original vision, which had drawn comparisons to FDR’s New Deal. But it’s also much more robust than the pared-back health care provisions that Manchin signed off on just weeks ago. The bill, on its way to becoming law, represents the largest U.S. investment ever to fight climate change. “The members that were directly involved in the negotiations — it shows their strength,” Sen. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico said in an interview. This is an account of how a flurry of last-minute, behind-the-scenes deal making this summer handed Biden and the Democrats their most significant legislative accomplishment since seizing all the levers of power in Washington in January 2021. It is pieced together from interviews with Senate and House lawmakers, senior Democratic aides and White House officials.

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Associated Press - August 13, 2022

Southern Baptists say denomination faces federal investigation

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention said Friday that several of the denomination’s major entities are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The SBC’s statement gave few details about the investigation, but indicated it dealt with sexual abuse. The SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., has been plagued by problems related to clergy sex abuse in recent years.

“Individually and collectively each SBC entity is resolved to fully and completely cooperate with the investigation,” the statement said. “While we continue to grieve and lament past mistakes related to sexual abuse, current leaders across the SBC have demonstrated a firm conviction to address those issues of the past and are implementing measures to ensure they are never repeated in the future.” Earlier this year, an SBC task force released a blistering 288-page report from outside consultant, Guidepost Solutions. The firm’s seven-month independent investigation found disturbing details about how denominational leaders mishandled sex abuse claims and mistreated victims. There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department about the investigation.

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McClatchy - August 14, 2022

US government still trying to rescue journalist Austin Tice

At 4:30 in the morning on May 2, Debra and Marc Tice woke up in their Texas home to a phone call from the White House. President Joe Biden wanted to meet them in Washington that afternoon. It was an opportunity they were not going to miss. Their son, Austin Tice, a journalist and former U.S. Marine, had been abducted in Syria nearly a decade ago. U.S. efforts to locate and bring him home had stalled. So the Tices hurried to the Oval Office that day. Biden entered the meeting well-briefed, flanked by top national security staff, according to two people in attendance. Despite ongoing back-channel negotiations with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrians still would not seriously discuss Tice’s case. The last direct, face-to-face meeting in January 2022 had not produced another. The president described to the family a burgeoning Syria policy he thought could provide an opening for Assad to engage on Tice, noting recent U.S. sanctions relief on entities in northern Syria. But nothing had led to a breakthrough so far.

Ten years after Austin Tice disappeared, and three months since that meeting, a sprawling, multinational and often halting effort to get him back is showing signs of revival. Channels of communication through third parties that went dormant for months are back on, and direct contact between the United States and Syria is quietly underway, raising hopes that a serious negotiation is possible. For the Tices, pleading for a president to prioritize their son’s case was a soberingly familiar affair. This was the third president they had met with since Austin was abducted at a checkpoint southwest of Damascus on August 14, 2012, while reporting on Syria’s descent into war for McClatchy, The Washington Post, and other publications. Barack Obama’s presidency was consumed by the outbreak of the Syrian conflict in 2011, and his decision to sever diplomatic relations with Damascus, shuttering the U.S. Embassy there and Syria’s here, closed off the typical avenues a country would have to negotiate over the safe return of its citizens. The U.S. government assessed in 2012 that the Syrians had detained Tice. In 2014, as the war raged on and a new extremist group, Islamic State, gained ground, Debra Tice spent 83 days in Damascus – matching Austin’s 83 days on the ground reporting from the country – in search of answers. She struggled to secure meetings, but finally received a message from a high-ranking Syrian official. “I will not meet with the mother,” the message said. “Send a United States government official of appropriate title.” The note crystallized her belief that Austin’s freedom could only be secured through direct negotiations.

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Houston Chronicle - August 13, 2022

Predicting oil demand amid climate change? Good luck

For years, the economists and analysts oil companies rely on to forecast energy demand far into the future have struggled to make sense of climate change. On one hand, governments and corporations worldwide have pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions, threatening to push oil from the linchpin of the world’s energy system to a footnote. But so far, those same actors have shown limited signs of making the hard choices that a wholesale reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would likely require. Seven years after world leaders agreed in Paris to work together to fight climate change, global emissions continue to rise. Now, recent moves by government leaders to spur consumers to buy more electric vehicles, both in the United States and abroad, are creating greater uncertainty around predictions of sustained crude demand for decades to come — central to the economies of Texas and oil producing regions around the world.

House and Senate Democrats have passed a climate and health care bill that includes almost $370 billion in clean energy incentives, which some analysts believe could drive electric vehicles to almost half of U.S. car sales by 2050. That follows a decision by the European Union to end the sale of cars that run on gasoline and diesel by 2035 and Chinese President Xi Jingping’s efforts to electrify China’s fast growing vehicle fleet, pledging in a speech earlier this year to put a stop to, “near-term development gains at the expense of the environment.” These and other developments have led analysts at S&P Global, a leading consulting firm whose annual CERAWeek conference is a see-and-be-seen event for the oil sector, to rethink some of their assumptions about the pace at which oil demand will decline, said Jim Burkhard, the firm’s head of oil market research. “The incredible thing is a lot of these commitments were made during the worst economic downturn we’ve seen since WWII when it wasn’t clear the economy was going to come roaring back,” said Jim Burkhard. “The push for electrification has clearly gained a lot of momentum.”

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The Hill - August 14, 2022

GOP under fire for rhetoric over IRS

Republicans are coming under fire for their rhetoric over $80 billion in funding for the IRS included a massive climate, tax and health care bill that Democrats in Congress are sending to the White House. The funding, over 10 years, is intended to help the IRS enforce various provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, which would raise more than $700 billion in new revenue by instituting a 15-percent corporate minimum tax, taxing stock buy backs and extending a cap on deductions for business losses, in addition to helping the IRS enforce existing tax law. Of the $80 billion, more than half would go to increased enforcement, like audits. Republicans, who have nursed grievances over the IRS going back to the Obama administration that were inflamed further by fights over former President Trump’s tax returns, have taken aim at the funding, arguing it amounts to creating a new army of IRS agents to go after taxpayers.

But the IRS, Democrats and outside experts all say the new enforcement money will mostly allow the IRS to focus on audits of the wealthy. “Contrary to the misinformation from opponents of this legislation, small business or households earning $400,000 per year or less will not see an increase in the chances that they are audited,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig in a letter dated Aug. 11. In an appearance on Fox & Friends this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) questioned whether the IRS was ready to send in armed units of agents into small Iowa businesses. “Are they going to have a strike force that goes in with AK-15s already loaded, ready to shoot some small business person in Iowa with these, because I think they’re going after middle class and small business people, because they think that anybody that has pass-through income is a crook, and they aren’t paying their fair share, and we’re going to go after them,” he said. In using the phrase “pass-through,” Grassley was referring to owners of certain types of companies, like partnerships and sole proprietorships, that allow for income to be reported on the tax returns of their owners. The Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act extends a limitation on the ability of pass-throughs to use losses to write off costs like salaries and interest. The limits were initially set up by the Trump administration’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

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New York Times - August 14, 2022

Trump sics the GOP. on the FBI

It was inevitable that the Scofflaw and the Law would clash. Still, it is one of the most bizarre loop de loops in Donald Trump’s dark, crazy reign over Republicans that he turned a party that was pro-law and order and anti-Evil Empire into a party that trashes the F.B.I. and embraces Vladimir Putin. It is the greatest con of the century’s greatest con man: hijacking his own party. The Republicans are echoing “unhinged leftists from 1968,” Tom Nichols, The Atlantic writer, noted Friday on “Morning Joe.” “‘The F.B.I. is the enemy, the F.B.I. is the Gestapo, the F.B.I. is the enemy within.’” President George H.W. Bush resigned his N.R.A. life membership when the N.R.A., just before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, sent out a fund-raising letter, calling federal agents “jack-booted thugs.” “Your broadside against federal agents,” Bush wrote, “deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country.” Now, the idea that federal agents are “jack-booted thugs” is a G.O.P. mantra.

At a demented Republican news conference Friday on the Hill, Representative Elise Stefanik laced into the F.B.I. leadership “that protected Hillary Clinton, James Comey and continues to protect Hunter Biden” and “that perpetrated the false Russia hoax for years.” Trump expects that kind of obeisance. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser report in their new book, “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,” that Trump told his chief of staff John Kelly that he wished his generals were as loyal as Hitler’s were. It’s Pavlovian now. Republicans don’t even hesitate before protecting Trump, even though he’s being investigated for possibly violating the Espionage Act. His casual attitude toward classified material is nothing new. The Times’s Mark Mazzetti wrote that “officials who gave him classified briefings occasionally withheld some sensitive details from him” because they saw him as a security risk. The lord of Mar-a-Lago assumes that whether he’s in or out of office, all top-secret papers are his, to tweet, wave around, declassify or deploy as political weapons. He didn’t think he would appear as a traitor — the word he used to describe Edward Snowden — when he stashed classified material in his Florida Xanadu, with its approximately 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms. As an autocrat at heart, Trump simply conflates himself with the republic.

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Newsclips - August 12, 2022

Lead Stories

Washington Post - August 11, 2022

Justice Dept. seeks to unseal motion for search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that the Justice Department has filed a motion for a judge to unseal the court-authorized warrant that led FBI agents to search the Florida residence of former president Donald Trump. Garland, noting the “substantial” public interest in the matter, said he personally authorized the request for a search warrant. He said he decided to file the motion to unseal since Trump had publicly revealed Monday’s raid, setting off a firestorm of news coverage and reaction. “The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing," the motion says. "That said, the former President should have an opportunity to respond to this Motion and lodge objections, including with regards to any ‘legitimate privacy interests’ or the potential for other ‘injury’ if these materials are made public.”

Garland’s statement Thursday marks his first public appearance or comment since agents executed the warrant at Mar-a-Lago Club, taking about a dozen boxes of material after opening a safe and entering a padlocked storage area. The search was one of the most dramatic developments in a cascade of legal investigations of the former president, several of which appear to be growing in intensity. The investigation into the improper handling of documents began months ago, when the National Archives and Records Administration sought the return of material improperly taken to Mar-a-Lago from the White House. Fifteen boxes of documents and items, some of them marked classified, were returned early this year. The archives subsequently asked the Justice Department to investigate. This spring, Trump’s team received a grand jury subpoena in connection with that probe, two people familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details, confirmed to The Washington Post on Thursday. Investigators visited Mar-a-Lago in the weeks following the issuance of the subpoena, and Trump’s team handed over some materials.

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San Antonio Express-News - August 11, 2022

Texas elections officials targeted amid 2020 fraud claims report threats, intimidation to Congress

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff. Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood. The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year. The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

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Dallas Morning News - August 11, 2022

Lawsuit accuses Mark Cuban of duping investors with crypto ‘Ponzi scheme’

A new lawsuit accuses billionaire Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban of partnering with now bankrupt crypto platform Voyager Digital to dupe investors in “a massive Ponzi scheme.” A class-action lawsuit filed on Wednesday on behalf of millions of investors alleges that 3.5 million Americans lost over $5 billion dollars in cryptocurrency assets through Voyager. Voyager temporarily suspended all trading and withdrawals on its platform on July 1 shortly before filing for bankruptcy in New York on July 5, listing both assets and liabilities between $1 billion and $10 billion. Voyager users are now waiting to see if they will get their money back when the company comes out of bankruptcy, either on its own or with a new owner.

Adam Moskowitz, the managing partner of the Miami-based Moskowitz Law Firm, which filed the suit at the US District Court in Southern Florida, said it’s not likely the bankruptcy process will get users their money back. “I’ve never seen a bankruptcy where people come out of it better than they were before,” said Moskowitz. Stephen Ehrlich, CEO of Voyager, and the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA team owned by Cuban, are also listed as defendants. The lawsuit says that Cuban, Ehrlich and the Mavericks should pay the victims back. “Cuban and Ehrlich, as will be explained, went to great lengths to use their experience as investors to dupe millions of Americans into investing — in many cases, their life savings,” the lawsuit claimed. Cuban did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit. The suit said that Cuban and Ehlrich “personally reached out to investors, individually and through the Dallas Mavericks, to induce them to invest in the deceptive Voyager platform.” Moskowitz said his firm has heard from hundreds of Voyager investors who said they made an account with Voyager after seeing Cuban endorse it. Some of the investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.

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Chron - August 12, 2022

New York City Mayor Eric Adams threatens to send locals to campaign against Texas Governor Greg Abbott

New York City Mayor Eric Adams threatened on Tuesday to bus New Yorkers to Texas to campaign against Governor Greg Abbott. His remarks came in response to the Republican leader's ongoing policy of bussing undocumented migrants detained at the Texas-Mexico border to New York City and other so-called "sanctuary" cities, Fox 26 reported. "I already called all my friends in Texas and told them how to cast their votes," said Adams during a Tuesday news conference. "I am deeply contemplating taking a busload of New Yorkers to go to Texas and do some good old-fashioned door knocking because we have to… get him out of office."

Adams' statement comes after he blasted Abbott on Sunday, claiming the governor had lied to migrants about the destinations of the busses—a charge Abbott's office has vehemently denied. The mayor also joined Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser by requesting federal assistance in managing the influx of migrants: "@GregAbbott_TX used innocent people as political pawns to manufacture a crisis. New Yorkers are stepping up to fix it — that’s our city’s values. But we need the federal government’s help — money, technical assistance and more," Adams wrote in a Tuesday morning tweet. Abbott shot back that cities such as the mayor's are perfect for accommodating those bussed from Texas.

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State Stories

Texas Monthly - August 11, 2022

Paul Hobby and Bret Biggart: Let’s cut the red tape that’s holding back solar energy in Texas

(Bret Biggart is CEO of Freedom Solar, a solar-system installer based in Austin. Paul Hobby is managing partner of Genesis Park, a Houston-based private equity firm that has invested in Freedom Solar. Hobby is a former CEO and chairman of Texas Monthly.) Texas can barely keep up with growing demands for electricity driven by our state’s booming population and the extreme temperatures resulting from climate change. Yet we make it more difficult than it needs to be for homeowners to take stress off the grid by installing solar panels to power their own homes. Red tape and delays imposed by municipalities, utilities, and homeowners associations get in the way. Our company, Freedom Solar, has thousands of customers with solar panels installed on rooftops waiting for interconnection across the state, with average delays ranging from five weeks in Austin and the Dallas–Fort Worth area to more than four months in Houston and San Antonio. Extrapolating from data gathered by the consultancy Wood Mackenzie, we estimate that Texas likely has more than one gigawatt of solar power awaiting approvals behind a pitiful web of unnecessary governmental and quasi-governmental paperwork. That’s enough electricity to power, on sunny days, all the households in Austin and Fort Worth.

All manner of home builders and contractors complain about the slow pace of bureaucratic permitting, but given that energy drawn from the sun has been preventing a calamity for the state’s grid this summer, special consideration should be given to streamlining regulations for solar projects. While, yes, we stand to benefit financially if such reforms are made, this is about much more than generating business for Freedom Solar. It’s about doing everything possible to stabilize our grid. And it’s about instituting plain old common sense. Consider, for example, the plight of one of our customers, a couple in West University Place, a municipality carved out of southwest Houston, who recently commissioned rooftop solar panels for their house. They prefer that their names not be used, so let’s call them Mr. and Mrs. Green. Before the city government would approve the installation of their panels, the Greens were told, they needed to write letters to their neighbors informing them about their plans. They had to look up the names and addresses for two neighbors behind, two in front, and one on each side of their home. Then they were to deliver the required letters to the city, which would mail them to the neighbors. But their missives were rejected by the city because they had sealed the envelopes. The city had not previously told the Greens that the letters must be unsealed.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2022

Complaints dropped against Tarrant property value protester

Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation dropped complaints against Chandler Crouch, a Fort Worth Realtor who helps Tarrant County homeowners protest their property tax appraisals. The letter came the day before the Tarrant Appraisal District board is set to meet. On the agenda is the agency’s handling of the complaints against Crouch and the potential dismissal of Chief Appraiser Jeff Law. The investigation was the result of complaints filed by a Tarrant Appraisal District employee Randy Armstrong, director of residential appraisals. Law has known about the complaints and their origin since late last year. In the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation’s letter to Crouch dated Aug. 11, the licensing entity said there was insufficient evidence to establish violations of law or administrative rules.

“It proves TAD leadership is either highly biased against anyone that becomes effective at protesting or they are so incompetent that they don’t know the tax code to recognize what a violation looks like,” Crouch said of the letter. “Either way, I don’t want them in charge of valuing my house.” Armstrong wrote in his original complaint that Crouch “files thousands of protests annually that he cannot possibly responsibly and properly represent.” In the complaint, Armstrong invoked his position at TAD. Crouch was notified of the complaints in November at which point he reached out to Law. The matter was not publicly discussed until months later, after Crouch’s attorney Frank Hill sent multiple letters to the Tarrant Appraisal District board, asking the agency to separate itself from the complaints. Hundreds braved the triple-digit heat to show support for Crouch during a June 30 special board meeting. Because the meeting room could only fit 14 people, many were forced to wait outside, amplifying calls for transparency at the agency. The meeting with take place at 10 a.m. Friday at 2500 Handley-Ederville Road.

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KERA - August 12, 2022

North Texas farmers worry extreme heat are stunting crops and hurting attendance at markets

Extreme temperatures are hurting some North Texas farmers financially. The hot weather is stunting their crops and they are worried that the hot weather is driving away customers at local markets, where they rely heavily on in-person sales for their businesses. Jefferson Braga is a vendor at the Dallas Farmers Market and owns Braga Farms, an urban farm that operates in the DFW area. Braga said the lack of rain in North Texas is hurting his crops. “We didn’t have rain for a month in the late Spring, May into the summer,” Braga said. “And even now in the summer we’ve hardly had any rain. The crops are a little bit smaller.”? Braga sells eggplants, fresh herbs and various greens at two markets including the Saint Michaels Farmers Market. Braga said he doesn’t have enough produce to sell because of Dallas’ recent triple-digit weather.

Amanda Austin, a manager at the Coppell Farmers Market, said that farmers have noticed that their summer crops are late to bloom because of the heat. And this has pushed back their planting schedules for the fall. Farmers planting fruits and vegetables have told her they are struggling.? Austin said slower periods of crop growth for farmers usually happen from August to September. “This year, the impact [of the heat] came an entire month early,” Austin said. “Farmers started struggling three to four weeks ago.” Local farmers said they will continue to do everything they can to attract more customers to their stalls. They are encouraging people to support local markets. “We’ll have a lull for about a month where the only folks passing by are on their way [to somewhere else]. It’s not as busy,” Braga said. Local farmers markets in North Texas are looking for ways to beat the heat.

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El Paso Matters - August 8, 2022

Documents: El Paso Water takes $1.2M fine fight across state lines

El Paso Water officials are making the case that New Mexico environmental regulators have no business fining the utility over a decision to divert sewage into the Rio Grande for months. Attorneys representing El Paso Water said the New Mexico Environment Department has no power to fine a Texas water utility, according to filings requesting a hearing before the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission. The commission regulates New Mexico’s water pollution, and hears appeals of fines or other enforcement actions from state environment officials. NMED issued a $1.2 million fine to El Paso Water in June, alleging the utility violated New Mexico’s water quality laws and failed to give proper notice regarding the sewage spill, which started after heavy rains burst corroded pipelines in August 2021.

Between August 2021 and January 2022, the utility diverted more than 1.1 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Rio Grande, saying there was no other option until a replacement fiberglass pipeline was completed. The severity of the fine was based primarily on “the egregiousness of the discharge, namely the duration and volume of untreated wastewater released into the Rio Grande,” and potential risks to health, Matthew Maez, a spokesperson for NMED, said in an email. A seven-figure fine is a significant cost. For comparison, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued $2.4 million in water quality fines in fiscal year 2021 across 205 administrative orders. El Paso Water vowed publicly in mid-June to fight the action. The utility is disputing NMED allegations of both surface water and groundwater violations, requesting hearings on each. Attorneys for both sides will have a 15-minute slot at the upcoming Aug. 9 WQCC meeting in Santa Fe, according to a draft agenda. El Paso Water officials declined interviews, citing pending litigation. In the filings, attorneys representing El Paso Water said that NMED failed to meet its own standards for issuing violations, ignored that federal agencies are the sole authority on the Rio Grande, and called the fines excessive. “It is a Clean Water Act matter, under which the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction and (so does) the state of Texas because the release occurred in the state of Texas,” attorney Thomas Hnasko said in an interview. “The New Mexico Environment Department, however, has been informed every step of the way on El Paso’s response to this very unfortunate and uncontrollable situation.”

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NBC News - August 12, 2022

A Granbury mom’s campaign to ban library books divided her town — and her family

Weston Brown was scrolling through Twitter last month when he came across a video that made his chest tighten. It showed a woman at a school board meeting in North Texas, calling on district leaders to ask for forgiveness. “Repentance is the word that’s on my heart,” she said near the start of the video. For months, the woman in the clip had been demanding that the Granbury Independent School District ban from its libraries dozens of books that contained descriptions of sex or LGBTQ themes — books that she believed could be damaging to the hearts and minds of students.

Weston, 28, said his heart was racing as he watched and rewatched the video — and not only because he opposes censorship. He’d instantly recognized the speaker. It was his mother, Monica Brown. The same woman, he said, who’d removed pages from science books when he was a child to keep him and his siblings from seeing illustrations of male and female anatomy. The woman who’d always warned that reading the wrong books or watching the wrong movies could open the door to sinful temptation. And the one, he said, who’d effectively cut him off from his family four years ago after he came out as gay. “You are not invited to our house for Thanksgiving or any other meal,” his mother had texted to him in November 2018, eight months after he revealed his sexual orientation to his parents. Weston, who lives with his partner in San Diego, had long ago come to terms with the idea that he would never again have a meaningful relationship with his parents. He still loved them and desperately missed his younger siblings, he said, but he was done trying to convince his mom and dad that his sexuality wasn’t a choice or a sin. He was done challenging their religious beliefs and praying for them to change. Until he saw the video of his mom at a school board meeting. In recent months, Weston has watched as the same foundational disagreements that tore his family apart have begun to divide whole communities. Fueled by a growing movement to assert conservative Christian values at all levels of government, activists across the country have fought to remove queer-affirming books from schools, repeal the right to same-sex marriage, shut down LGBTQ pride celebrations and pass state laws limiting the ways teachers can discuss gender and sexuality.

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Houston Chronicle - August 11, 2022

After FBI Trump raid, ex-Texas sheriff Troy Nehls says search warrants are easy: ‘Get a crazy judge’

U.S. Rep. Troy Nehls, a Republican who served Fort Bend County sheriff for eight years, said Thursday that he doesn’t believe the FBI needed solid information to get a warrant to raid President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, because to get a search warrant “all you need is a little bit of probable cause and you get a crazy judge to sign it.” “So they found a liberal judge,” Nehls said in an interview on Fox News, where he joined other Texas Republicans in casting the Mar-a-Lago raid as politically motivated. “I was in law enforcement for 30 years, eight years as a sheriff of a large county in Texas, and it just takes probable cause to execute a warrant to search someone’s home,” Nehls said. “The next thing you know, they’re into Mar-a-Lago, looking around, snooping around.”

Nehls’ comments came hours before the Justice Department on Thursday asked a court to unseal the warrant the FBI received before searching the Florida estate. Trump, who will have a chance to object to the motion to unseal the warrant, has so far resisted calls to produce a copy of it himself. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he personally approved the search warrant, part of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified White House records recovered from Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. Nehls was one of a handful of Texas Republicans who dined with Trump at his golf club in New Jersey on Tuesday, the day after the FBI search. U.S. Reps. Randy Weber of Friendswood and Michael Cloud of Victoria also attended. Nehls said Trump was not concerned. “You didn’t see Donald Trump sweating at all,” he said. “He was very cordial, he was signing hats. We had a great conversation for almost three hours.” Texas Republicans have continued to demand answers from the Biden administration about the raid.

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Dallas Morning News - August 12, 2022

Gov. Abbott touts school choice agenda at Dallas private school

Gov. Greg Abbott pushed his school choice agenda after a roundtable on parents’ role in education at a South Dallas private school on Thursday. Abbott has made parental rights a cornerstone of his reelection campaign and has said he supports voucher-like efforts for families to use public funds toward private school. The state should not have the authority to keep children in public school systems where they’re not succeeding, he said after the roundtable at The King’s Academy. “Some children have different education needs,” Abbott said. “We need to understand that some schools may provide a one-size-fits-all approach to educating our kids, and the fact of the matter is not all kids are that same size — different kids need different programs.”

Abbott talked with parents and administrators at the academy, a private school that mainly serves low-income families and covers about 95% of its operational costs through donations. Maya Bello’s daughter starts first grade at the academy next week. Although she said there is “nothing wrong with public school,” Bello chose the academy because of its religious affiliations. She added that where children attend school should not solely be decided by what ZIP code they live in. “That choice should be up to the parent and not the state or anybody else,” Bello, 38, said. Conservatives appear to be laying the groundwork for a major push toward school vouchers or similar initiatives in the next legislative session. Texas American Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo issued a statement after Abbott’s event criticizing the governor for appearing to lean into vouchers at a time when the state is struggling with teacher shortages and lags behind others in educator pay. The group represents more than 65,000 teachers and other educational professionals.

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Houston Chronicle - August 12, 2022

HISD board OKs the purchase of gear for district police expected to help in active shooter scenario

Houston ISD trustees Thursday evening approved a measure to buy 200 rifles, ammunition and 200 ballistic shields for the district’s police department, which Superintendent Millard House II said last week was not prepared with its current equipment to stop an active shooter. Trustees voted 6-3 on the purchase after spending roughly an hour in closed executive session discussing the item and about 20 minutes of intense discussion from the dais. Trustee Dani Hernandez proposed postponing the measure by a week because she was “not willing” to proceed without more specific information. That effort, however, failed with a 3-6 vote. Earlier in the meeting, about a dozen speakers urged the board to delay the vote or to vote no.

“I need more information about the broader safety plan for the district in general. At this time, I don’t believe I have all the information I need,” Hernandez said before the vote. “I don’t think that we have explored all options at this point — safety is essential for HISD.” HISD Police Chief Pete Lopez told the board last week he was confident in the training the police department had received but he did “not have a lot of confidence in preparing our officers to encounter a suspect without the proper equipment.” The equipment to be purchased would be used to help with scenario-based training to learn how to respond to such a threat. “My officers are dedicated to our students and to our staff and regardless if we have the equipment or not, we are still going to respond,” Lopez said after the vote. “This act tonight will allow us to respond in a safer manner.” The police gear will be for specific situations, not items that police will walk around with, House said. “The bigger issue here is ensuring that they have all the tools possible so that they can be as safe as possible,” House said, “and provide the kind of safety that we want to provide on campuses.”

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San Antonio Express-News - August 11, 2022

‘Transitional year’: Six Flags attendance nosedives as discount offers end; revenue and profit fall

Six Flags Entertainment Corp.’s revenue and profit declined in the second quarter as attendance plunged during what its leader called a “transitional year” for the company. The company’s 27 parks in the U.S., Mexico and Canada — including Six Flags Fiesta Texas — drew 6.7 million visitors in the second quarter, down from 8.5 million in 2021 and 10.5 million in 2019. President and CEO Selim Bassoul, who took the reins at the company in November, said he is focused on increasing prices, pursuing customers who are willing to spend more at the company’s parks and upgrading amenities. “We have basically changed our strategy of creating a better guest experience by having fewer people in our parks,” he said during an earnings call Thursday with analysts.

Six Flags generated $435.4 million in the second quarter, down from $459.8 million during the same period in 2021 and $477.2 million in 2019 prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The company attributed the decrease in revenue to lower attendance and a $5 million drop in sponsorship, international agreements and accommodations. “This is a transitional year for Six Flags, as we reset the foundations of our business model to focus on delivering a premium guest experience, while at the same time, correcting for decades of heavy price discounting,” Bassoul said. Profit dropped sharply to $45.4 million, or 53 cents a share, during the three months ended July 23. That was down from $70.5 million, or 81 cents a share, a year ago and from $79.5 million, or 94 cents a share, three years ago. Fewer visitors came to Six Flags parks because the company eliminated free tickets and low margin offerings while raising prices, chief financial officer Gary Mick said. In discussing his strategy, Bassoul cited prices at Six Flags Great Adventure park in New Jersey. A season pass to the park averaged $75 in 1994, he said. Even though the company added more rides and invested in the park, that price remained flat in 2019.

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Dallas Observer - August 11, 2022

Another Battle of the billboards: Mothers Against Greg Abbott take on Texas' Governor

Texas’ incumbent Republican governor is touting billboards raised in support of his reelection bid, but a group called Mothers Against Greg Abbott PAC has unveiled signs of its own. Earlier this week, Abbott tweeted a photo of a red, white and blue billboard, which thanked him “for supporting parental choice.” The governor has campaigned on letting parents decide where they want to send their children to school, be it public, private or charter. “I'm running for re-election to ensure parents are the main decision-makers in their child's education,” he said in a tweet Tuesday. But not everyone believes that Abbott has done enough for the state’s schools, especially when it comes to campus safety.

The conservative politician faced harsh criticism following the Uvalde elementary school shooting in May, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults. Detractors argued that he failed to enact meaningful gun measures and that he continued to prioritize donors over Texas’ students and families. Mothers Against Greg Abbott (note the ironic “MAGA” acronym) is among his most outspoken critics. The group claims to be composed of Democrats, moderate Republicans and independents who share the goal of booting Abbott from the governor’s mansion. The anti-Abbott MAGA has released attack ads, with one targeting the state’s strict abortion ban. Now, they’ve revealed a new billboard campaign encouraging Texans to back Democrat Beto O’Rourke for governor. The PAC’s billboards depict a girl carrying a backpack outside Robb Elementary School, the site of the Uvalde shooting. To the picture’s left, the group included a quote from one of Abbott's post-Uvalde press conferences: “It could have been worse.” To the photo’s right, it reads: “Stop School Gun Violence. VOTE BETO!” The mothers announced the billboards in a tweet on Tuesday evening. “Our first Billboards are up!” the group wrote. “It will continue to be worse and get worse if Greg Abbott wins. We know what Abbott's world like, it's time to ‘Take Texas Back’ democrats." #VoteBeto.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2022

Beto O’Rourke’s F-bomb retort riles up base on social media

Texas candidate for governor Beto O’Rourke is seldom shy about what he’s thinking or hesitant to say what he feels, especially out on the campaign trail. That was profanely clear Tuesday night during a stop in Mineral Wells where O’Rourke, a Democrat, was speaking to a group of mostly supporters and unleashed a particularly incendiary obscenity at a heckler. While O’Rourke was telling the crowd his views on assault weapon limitations in the wake of the 19 children and two teachers who were murdered by an 18-year-old man in Uvalde, a person in the medium-sized audience could be heard laughing, according to video and multiple reports.

In the viral clip, which has been watched by more than 6.5 million people as of Thursday afternoon, O’Rourke laments the fact that the Uvalde killer lawfully bought his weapons and ammunition the week of his 18th birthday. “And take that weapon that was originally designed for use on the battlefields in Vietnam, to penetrate an enemies’ soldiers helmet at 500 feet and knock him down dead,” O’Rourke said from the middle of a mostly seated group. At this moment, laughter can be heard, before O’Rourke whips around and points at the heckler. “... up against kids from five feet. It might be funny to you mother [expletive], but it’s not funny to me.” The pro-O’Rourke crowd erupted in cheers of support of his sentiment. The clip has galvanized O’Rourke’s supporters on social media, with many non-Texans urging the state to vote for him against the incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. But the viral moment has also riled up Abbott’s base, with many complaining about the offensive language.

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Dallas Morning News - August 11, 2022

Dallas Regional Chamber celebrates contributions of retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson leaves office in a few months, but the Dallas Democrat plans to keep pushing to improve the city she’s represented for decades. “I’ll never lose interest in the community and I’ll continue to work,” Johnson said Wednesday, citing hopes for building up particular areas of South Dallas. “I know that I cannot do what I have in mind, to complete that, by the time that I leave office, but I’m trying to put all the factors in place now and I will try to see that through.” The Dallas Regional Chamber honored Johnson during its annual congressional forum, presenting her with a newly created award that will bear her name and go to retiring officials who have had “extraordinary, long-lasting positive impact on the Dallas Region.”

Johnson spoke Wednesday about her political career’s humble beginnings, rooted in a shoestring campaign for the Texas House in 1972. Her win in that race made her the first Black woman elected to public office from Dallas, just one of many historic markers she set over the years. The Voting Rights Act was a relatively recent development at the time and it was shortly after she was first sworn in that the Supreme Court issued its landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion. Fast forward to present day, when voting access laws are being hotly debated once again and the Supreme Court has overturned Roe, upending five decades of federal abortion rights. Johnson, a former nurse, recalled how she welcomed the Roe decision at the time and still believes it was rightly decided in 1973. She called for more people to engage politically and encouraged more women to run for office, but also cautioned any prospective lawmakers that getting things done requires late nights and a lot of hard — and not particularly glamorous — work. “It’s not an easy job … it’s a serious job,” Johnson said.

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Dallas Morning News - August 11, 2022

Texas cattle producers to invest $670 million in new beef plant in Amarillo

Texas cattle producers will invest $670 million in a new beef processing plant in Amarillo that’s expected to create 1,600 jobs. Producer Owned Beef’s state-of-the-art facility, designed to slaughter 3,000 cattle a day, will be backed by nearly $24 million in state and local tax incentives when it breaks ground next year. More than $12 million will come from the Texas Enterprise Fund, the governor’s pot of money for closing economic development deals. “The importance of Texas Enterprise Fund along with Amarillo EDC backing for this project cannot be overstated,” said Casey Cameron, CEO of Producer Owned Beef, in a statement. “Our commitment is to build and operate a beef processing facility that stands out from the rest of the industry in animal well-being, environmental protections, team member safety and ergonomics, and the highest quality beef products.”

Producer Owned Beef said its cooperative business model seeks to restore balance in the beef industry by reversing pay disparities for cattle producers. As owners of the company, producers will receive a percentage of wholesale beef prices for the cattle they supply and a share of the profits from the plant. “Many of our ranchers and feeders are third-, fourth- or even fifth-generation producers who have invested their lives in feeding Americans,” said board member Monte Cluck. “With this model, where producers are also owners, we’re creating economic sustainability for small and medium-sized producers by ensuring they receive a greater share of the financial upside for the hard work they do.” The plant, on JackRabbit Road between Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 287, is expected to begin production in 2025. According to AgDaily, four companies now harvest 85% of the U.S. grain-fed cattle processed for steaks, roasts, and other cuts of meat for consumers. “Beef and beef production are part of Amarillo’s culture and history, with nearly 28% of cattle fed in the United States coming from the Texas Panhandle region,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson told AgDaily.

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County Stories

KHOU - August 11, 2022

Houston-area health departments prepare to administer monkeypox vaccine via new method in effort to increase supply

The monkeypox virus continues to spread locally and nationwide. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 9,492 cases in the U.S. The Texas Department of State Health Services says 701 of those are in Texas. Local health officials report 223 cases in Harris County including 195 in the city of Houston. Now, local health departments are gearing up to administer more vaccines using a new method authorized by the FDA. It should increase the vaccine supply but for now, there are no changes to who is eligible for the shot.

That means people with HIV are still not eligible. "I really feel unsafe," said Josh Mica. Mica wishes he could roll up his sleeve to get the shot. "I don't qualify," said Mica. "A lot of my friends have had to lie to get this vaccine." Despite living with HIV, he and others with HIV and other immunocompromised conditions remain ineligible to receive the vaccine. "They're marginalizing one community over another one, and this time they're marginalizing the HIV community," said Mica. "We do fully recognize that people who have immunocompromised medical conditions like HIV are at increased risk for complications should they become infected," said Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse. But local health officials say it comes down to vaccine supply. "Given the amount of vaccine we have, even with the expanded guidance for the vaccine, it's still not enough for all those who are potentially eligible," said Harris County Health Authority Dr. Ericka Brown.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2022

Trans man files discrimination lawsuit against DFW hospital

A transgender man says he was harassed, discriminated against and eventually fired at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth because of his gender identity, according to a lawsuit filed in Tarrant County on July 19. The man worked at JPS from 2013 to July 2021, according to the civil suit, and medically transitioned from a woman to a man about five years ago. About a year before his medical transition began, he told his supervisor about the transition so she could educate and prepare his coworkers if needed. But the supervisor did not talk to the team, the suit says, and the man’s coworkers started to harass him and be hostile toward him. In response to the suit, a JPS spokesman said JPS “believes in equality in its employment practices and has a firm commitment to diversity and inclusion consistent with our Equal Employment Opportunity policy. JPS does not discriminate based on sex or gender identification.”

The spokesman said the hospital will not comment publicly about “any employment action taken with respect to any particular individual,” but noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the allegations, and issued a dismissal of the charge and a right to sue letter to the former employee. According to court documents, the man filed a discrimination charge against JPS with the EEOC division of the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division in January. “Instead of ensuring that the harassment and discrimination stopped, JPS told me that there is nothing that can be done to stop the harassment and discrimination,” the man wrote in the discrimination charge. The man, who worked at the hospital, said in the suit that his coworkers blatantly refused to use his correct pronouns and talked about him within earshot. The coworkers called him “a he-she, it, abomination and made comments that (he) was not even human,” the suit says. The coworkers asked him inappropriate questions about his sexuality and genitalia and called him “Mr. Potato Head,” because, the suit explains, “you can just stick things onto a Mr. Potato Head doll.” When the man reported the harassment to his supervisor, according to the suit, the supervisor said there was nothing she could do because “everyone has different beliefs” and “it was (his) word against that of his coworkers.”

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - August 11, 2022

HEB unveils plan for grocery store in Mansfield

H-E-B is finally making its way into Tarrant County, the grocery chain announced Thursday. The San Antonio-based retailer known for its Texas brands, butter tortillas and local produce said it will build a new store in Mansfield, Texas, about 20 minutes south of Fort Worth. It will be the first confirmed H-E-B grocery store in Tarrant County. “The store builds on the company’s longstanding presence in the area and reinforces its commitment to serve more customers in this dynamic and growing part of Texas,” the company said in a release. H-E-B owns about 28 acres at the site, located on the corner of U.S. 287 and Broad Street.

“Additional details will be shared at the store’s groundbreaking, which is expected early next year,” the company said. “For years our residents have asked for an H-E-B, and on behalf of the City Council, we are proud to welcome this economic driver and much desired business to Mansfield,” Mansfield Mayor Michael Evans said in a release. Mansfield’s council previously expressed the community’s growing need for an H-E-B location and courted the company for support. Back in 2018, zoning changes indicated a Mansfield H-E-B would be nearly 107,000 square feet with its own restaurant including a drive-thru and outdoor patio. But at the time, H-E-B remained coy about plans to open a store or start construction.

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Houston Chronicle - August 12, 2022

Conroe City Council ousts city administrator and director of finance

The Conroe City Council on Thursday fired two top city leaders, citing a lack of communication for one and financial decisions, including the approval of invoices from a construction firm for thousands of dollars in expenses for meals, sunglasses and T-shirts, for the other. The firings of City Administrator Paul Virgadamo and Director of Finance Steve Williams, each by a 3-2 vote, are effective immediately. The council named Assistant Director of Finance Collin Boothe as interim director of finance, but did not appoint an interim city administator. Dozens of people packed city hall with the foyer of the building standing room only as people watched the meeting through the windows around the chambers. Council members Howard Wood, Harry Hardman and Marsha Porter voted to fire the two with Curt Maddux and Todd Yancey opposing.

The firings came a day after public comment on personnel items about Thursday’s agenda, which Virgadamo requested. Usually personnel matters are discussed in closed, executive session. Williams did not attend Wednesday’s discussion or Thursday’s meeting and could not be reached for comment.. A handful of Virgadamo supporters, including his wife Stephanie and former Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, urged the council not to move forward with his firing. “You heard many people speak here saying we don’t know the reasons why, I haven’t heard the reasons why myself,” Virgadamo said of the council’s decision for termination. Wood, Hardman and Porter cited a lack of communication as a deciding factor in their decisions, saying it had it interfered with their decision- making responsibilities. Virgadamo said he was not contacted by Wood or Porter regarding any job performance concerns. In May, Virgadamo received a positive annual review from the council and was given a raise. “I’m very disappointed neither of you came to me with concerns,” he said.

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KSAT - August 11, 2022

SCUCISD students excited for return to class as parents try to qualm lingering fears

Thursday was the first day of school for students in the Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City Independent School District, which means summer is officially over. The day is an exciting day, but for many families, there are still some lingering concerns about safety in light of the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde. “I think there’s always fears, right, especially with what’s been going on in our world recently. But we have to put our faith in the school, the staff, has learned in past experiences and they are putting all their efforts and training in themselves to go ahead and take action if anyone decides to attempt to harm out students,” said Mario Reyes, a parent of a student. School officials said they have worked really hard to ensure that all safety and security measures are in place, and that the area needing upgrades have been improved. Thorough training and communication will continue to play out throughout the school year.

“I’ve been seeing a heavy police presence at the school over the summertime, so that gives me a little more reassurance on what’s going to be happening on what’s going down, so that makes me feel a little more comfortable,” said Alexander Gibson, a parent of student. But it wasn’t all stress, at least for the students who were dropped off at John A. Sippel Elementary School. Many of them said they are more than ready for school to begin. “He’s more excited than me, so I mean that makes it all worthwhile,” Gibson said. Reyes agreed. “To be able to watch her grow, and be excited to go from kindergarten to first grade. She sees it as a great step in her life, especially in school, and she enjoys it. So, she’s definitely excited for today,” Reyes said. School officials said they are looking forward to an exciting new year, with a lot of new programs and extracurricular options to offer.

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National Stories

Associated Press - August 11, 2022

Armed man approaches FBI Cincinnati office, exchanges gunfire with authorities in standoff

An armed man decked out in body armor tried to breach a security screening area at an FBI field office in Ohio on Thursday, then fled and was injured in an exchange of gunfire in a standoff with law enforcement, authorities said. The confrontation at the FBI’s Cincinnati field office comes as officials warn of an increase in threats against federal agents in the days following a search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Federal officials said the man had “attempted to breach” the visitor’s screening area at the FBI office and fled when he was confronted by agents. He was chased onto Interstate 71 and has exchanged gunfire with police, according to the Clinton County Emergency Management Agency.

The suspect left the interstate and abandoned his car on nearby roads, where he exchanged gunfire with police. The man has “unknown injuries,” but no one else was hurt, the patrol said. The standoff remained in progress as of midafternoon Thursday. Officials in Ohio have locked down a mile radius near the interstate and urged residents and business owners to lock doors and stay inside. An FBI evidence team has arrived at the office to investigate, according to multiple media reports. There have been growing threats in recent days against FBI agents and offices across the country since federal agents executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. On Gab, a social media site popular with white supremacists and antisemites, users have warned they are preparing for an armed revolution. Federal officials have also been tracking an array of other concerning chatter on Gab and other platforms threatening violence against federal agents. FBI Director Christopher Wray denounced the threats as he visited another FBI office in Nebraska on Wednesday. “Violence against law enforcement is not the answer, no matter who you’re upset with,” Wray said Wednesday in Omaha.

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Associated Press - August 11, 2022

CDC loosens COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, drops 6 feet recommendation

The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine if they come into close contact with an infected person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others. The changes, which come more than 2 1/2 years after the start of the pandemic, are driven by a recognition that an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, agency officials said. “The current conditions of this pandemic are very different from those of the last two years,” said the CDC’s Greta Massetti, an author of the guidelines. The CDC recommendations apply to everyone in the U.S., but the changes could be particularly important for schools, which resume classes this month in many parts of the country.

Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools do routine daily testing, although that practice can be reinstated in certain situations during a surge in infections, officials said. The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation, which said students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — instead of quarantining at home — to keep attending school. With no quarantine recommendation anymore, the testing option disappeared too. Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is deemed high, or if a person is considered at high risk of severe illness. School districts across the U.S. have scaled back their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks even before the latest guidance was issued. Some have promised a return to pre-pandemic schooling. Masks will be optional in most districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have dialed back or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements. Public schools in Los Angeles are ending weekly COVID-19 tests, instead making at-home tests available to families, the district announced last week. Schools in North Carolina’s Wake County also dropped weekly testing.

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Politico - August 12, 2022

How the Trump FBI search puts swing-state Republicans in a bind

As news broke that the FBI had searched Donald Trump’s Florida home, MAGA loyalists and even some of the former president’s potential 2024 rivals rushed to a full-throated defense of the former president. But not every Republican joined the chorus. While the FBI search has given a jolt of energy to the conservative base, the issue is proving to be more complicated in pivotal battleground races that could determine control of the chamber — places where Republicans had been hoping to keep the focus on Democrats’ economic woes and off of Trump. On Monday night, while several Senate GOP nominees jumped to blast the FBI and federal justice officials, Republican candidates in the swing states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina held off.

The next morning, as pressure mounted from vocal right-wing activists, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who is running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, took to Twitter with a message that did not mention Trump by name but merely lamented the country’s divisions and asserted that Americans had “every right” to demand answers about the search and seizure of documents. Rep. Ted Budd, who is seeking a Senate seat in North Carolina, likewise eventually tweeted from his official Congress account after his office was bombarded with calls asking about his response. His statement said Americans deserved a “full explanation” of what happened. Those calls for transparency from Oz and Budd differ markedly from the more fiery rebukes from other Republicans who painted America as a lawless banana republic — and reflect that some GOP candidates in battleground states are erring on the side of caution in discussing a Trump investigation that could influence critical independent and suburban voters.

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Washington Post - August 12, 2022

FBI searched Trump’s home to look for nuclear documents and other items, sources say

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation. Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands. The people who described some of the material that agents were seeking spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. They did not offer additional details about what type of information the agents were seeking, including whether it involved weapons belonging to the United States or some other nation. Nor did they say if such documents were recovered as part of the search. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department and FBI declined to comment.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday that he could not discuss the investigation. But in an unusual public statement at the Justice Department, he announced he had personally authorized the decision to seek court permission for a search warrant. Garland spoke moments after Justice Department lawyers filed a motion seeking to unseal the search warrant in the case, noting that Trump had publicly revealed the search shortly after it happened. “The public’s clear and powerful interest in understanding what occurred under these circumstances weighs heavily in favor of unsealing,” the motion says. “That said, the former President should have an opportunity to respond to this Motion and lodge objections, including with regards to any ‘legitimate privacy interests’ or the potential for other ‘injury’ if these materials are made public.”

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Associated Press - August 11, 2022

Congress to vote on major climate change bill Friday, aims to boost green energy

After decades of inaction in the face of escalating natural disasters and sustained global warming, Congress hopes to make clean energy so cheap in all aspects of life that it’s nearly irresistible. The House is poised to pass a transformative bill Friday that would provide the most spending to fight climate change by any one nation ever in a single push. Friday’s anticipated action comes 34 years after a top scientist grabbed headlines warning Congress about the dangers of global warming. In the decades since, there have been 308 weather disasters that have each cost the nation at least $1 billion, the record for the hottest year has been broken 10 times and wildfires have burned an area larger than Texas. The crux of the long-delayed bill, singularly pushed by Democrats in a closely divided Congress, is to use incentives to spur investors to accelerate the expansion of clean energy such as wind and solar power, speeding the transition away from the oil, coal and gas that largely cause climate change.

The United States has put the most heat-trapping gases into the air, burning more inexpensive dirty fuels than any other country. But the nearly $375 billion in climate incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act are designed to make the already plummeting costs of renewable energy substantially lower at home, on the highways and in the factory. Together these could help shrink U.S. carbon emissions by about two-fifths by 2030 and should chop emissions from electricity by as much as 80%. Experts say it isn't enough, but it's a big start. “This legislation is a true game-changer. It will create jobs, lower costs, increase U.S. competitiveness, reduce air pollution,” said former Vice President Al Gore, who held his first global warming hearing 40 years ago. “The momentum that will come out of this legislation, cannot be underestimated." The U.S. action could spur other nations to do more — especially China and India, the two largest carbon emitters along with the U.S. That in turn could lower prices for renewable energy globally, experts said. Because of the specific legislative process in which this compromise was formed, which limits it to budget-related actions, the bill does not regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but deals mainly in spending, most of it through tax credits as well as rebates to industry, consumers and utilities.

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CNN - August 11, 2022

The IRS is set to get billions for audit enforcement. Here's what it means for taxpayers

The Internal Revenue Service is finally about to get the additional funding its officials have long been waiting for. The Democrats' Inflation Reduction Act calls for delivering nearly $80 billion to the IRS over 10 years. After months of negotiations over the sweeping spending package, the Senate passed the bill earlier this month, sending the legislation to the House for a vote before it reaches President Joe Biden's desk. The funding would help support the work of the IRS -- including but not limited to audits -- and in turn, is expected to bring in more federal tax revenue to help offset the cost of the Democrats' plan to lower prescription drug costs and combat climate change. IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, along with his predecessor, have asked Congress for additional funding. The agency's budget has shrunk by more than 15% over the last decade. As a result, staffing levels and audit rates have been declining for years.

The agency's struggles became even more apparent to taxpayers during the Covid-19 pandemic when it could not keep up with filings. The IRS is still playing catch-up, having started the year with a backlog of 11 million unprocessed tax returns. But some Republicans are attacking the proposed increase in IRS funding, arguing that it would leave more middle-class Americans and small businesses with the headache of facing a tax audit. Democrats, and Rettig -- who was appointed by former President Donald Trump -- have said repeatedly that the intent is not to target the middle class but instead focus on making sure wealthy tax cheats comply with the law. It's ultimately up to the IRS how the money is used. "The IRS has for too long been unable to pursue meaningful, impactful examinations of large corporate and high-net-worth taxpayers to ensure they are paying their fair share," Rettig wrote in a letter sent to lawmakers last week. "The goal should not only be to increase audits, but improve the productivity of audits. You want the IRS to select the businesses and people for audits who really have not been compliant," said Janet Holtzblatt, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

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Reuters - August 11, 2022

Zelenskiy tells officials to stop discussing tactics, probe opens into leak

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday told officials to stop talking to reporters about Kyiv's military tactics against Russia, saying such remarks were "frankly irresponsible". In the wake of blasts that wrecked a Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday, the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers cited unidentified officials as saying Ukrainian forces were responsible. The government in Kyiv, on the other hand, declined to say whether it had been behind the explosions. "War is definitely not the time for vanity and loud statements. The fewer details you divulge about our defence plans, the better it will be for the implementation of those defence plans," Zelenskiy said in an evening address.

"If you want to generate loud headlines, that's one thing - it's frankly irresponsible. If you want victory for Ukraine, that is another thing, and you should be aware of your responsibility for every word you say about our state's plans for defence or counter attacks." Separately, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said security services had opened a probe into one of the cases where officials had talked to newspapers. "A leak like this disrupts the plans of the Ukrainian armed forces since the enemy adjusts its actions and uses this information against us," she wrote on Facebook. Pictures released by a satellite firm showed three near-identical craters where buildings at the Russian air base had been struck. The burnt-out husks of at least eight destroyed warplanes were visible.

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NPR - August 11, 2022

Most Americans support using the popular vote to decide U.S. presidents, data shows

Most Americans support using the popular vote and not the electoral college vote to select a president, according to data from the Pew Research Center. About 63% of Americans support using the popular vote, compared to 35% who would rather keep the electoral college system. Approval for the popular vote is up from January 2021, when 55% of Americans said they back the change; 43% supported keeping the electoral college at that time. Opinions on the systems varied sharply according to political party affiliation. 80% of Democrats approve of moving to a popular vote system, while 42% of Republicans support the move. Though, many more Republicans support using the popular vote system now than after the 2016 election, when support was at 27%. There is also an age divide: 7 out of 10 Americans from ages 18 to 29 support using the popular vote, compared to 56% in Americans over 65 years old.

There have been five presidents who won the electoral vote, but not the popular vote — John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. There are 538 electors, one for each U.S. senator and U.S. representative, plus three for Washington, D.C., which gets three electoral votes in the presidential election even though it has no voting representation in Congress. The number of electors has changed through history as the number of elected members of Congress has changed with the country’s expansion and population growth. How electors get picked varies by state, but in general state parties file slates of names for who the electors will be. They include people with ties to those state parties, like current and former party officials, state lawmakers and party activists. They’re selected either at state party conventions or by party central committees. The Pew survey was conducted from June 27 to July 4 of this year.

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