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Newsclips - January 29, 2020

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 28, 2020

Retired teachers group director says members shocked by TRS rent

The recently revealed starting base rent of $326,000 a month that the Teacher Retirement System of Texas plans to pay for upscale office space in downtown Austin has stunned at least one group of taxpayers — retired teachers. “They’re shocked,” said Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. “People are just mad, and they don’t understand how (the retirement system) could be spending this much money on a lease” when cheaper alternatives outside downtown likely were available.

Lee said his group, with nearly 100,000 retired teachers, is considering formally opposing the decision by managers of the pension fund to rent space in the 36-story Indeed Tower under construction on West Sixth Street, which is expected to be among the premier office buildings in the city after it opens next year. He said it’s unclear what can be done about the lease at this point, however, because it was finalized last February. “It’s really hard to unscramble scrambled eggs,” Lee said. A Teacher Retirement System spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. But state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, who serves on the Texas House committee overseeing pensions and financial services, said the retirement system should back out of the deal. “Time to withdraw from the lease and start over,” Flynn said. The price tag “is a commitment that the (pension plan) and retired teachers cannot afford.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 28, 2020

MJ Hegar raises $1.1M in Senate bid

MJ Hegar, a Democrat seeking to replace U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday that she has raised $1.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 and has $1 million in cash on hand. Hegar, a retired Air Force helicopter pilot from Round Rock, also reported that more than 29,000 donors have contributed to her campaign. A majority of those donors were Texans and nearly all of her donations came in amounts of less than $100 dollars, she said.

“We have tapped into the energy and excitement in Texas to build a winning grassroots campaign that is raising millions of dollars from tens of thousands of individuals,” Hegar said in a statement. “I am proud that the strength of our fundraising has enabled us to build out the strongest operation and put us in the best position to meet the demands of a Texas-sized winning Senate race.” Hegar proved to be a strong fundraiser in 2018 when she raised more money than U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and came within 3 percentage points of unseating him in a district once considered to be a GOP stronghold.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 28, 2020

UT will require new students to show proof of measles vaccinations starting this fall

The University of Texas will require all incoming students to show proof of the measles vaccination starting in Fall 2020, according to University Health Services.

The new requirement, first reported by the Daily Texan, comes after a case of the measles was reported in Travis County in December — the first such case since 1999. The infected individual contracted the virus while traveling through Europe. While in Austin, the person visited a number of places but no secondary exposures were found, public health officials told the American-Statesman earlier this month.

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Houston Chronicle - January 28, 2020

Three meetings this week could set course for $7 billion remake of Interstate 45

Three Houston Planning Department meetings scheduled for this week, days prior to a key state deadline, could prove pivotal in shaping how Interstate 45 is rebuilt — with ramifications for years to come.

The meetings, which start Thursday, will be the first chances for residents opposing the $7 billion-plus project to realign and widen I-45 from downtown north to the Sam Houston Tollway to view the city’s proposed adjustments, which Houston will convey to the Texas Department of Transportation this spring. TxDOT is leading efforts to rebuild I-45, which is outdated. State officials have spent nearly two decades planning for the eventual rebuild and are months away from the federal approvals needed. If approved later this year or early 2021, construction could begin in 18 to 24 months. In addition to adding two managed lanes in each direction from downtown to the tollway, the project will:

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Houston Chronicle - January 28, 2020

GLO announces key changes to $4.3 billion Harvey flood plan

The Texas General Land Office announced Tuesday it is modifying its plan for spending $4.3 billion in federal flood control aid with changes aimed at speeding up the pace of recovery efforts and allowing local governments to receive more funds for joint projects. The funds, approved by Congress in February 2018 after Hurricane Harvey, are intended to help pay for projects to prevent future flooding.

Under the initial draft plan, local entities were limited to three projects each, with joint projects counting toward the cap. Houston and Harris County officials argued that provision would penalize them for collaborating. Under the final plan, local governments may submit three applications in partnership with other entities, on top of the three-project cap on individual projects. State officials also lifted a provision of the draft plan that required all entities to receive funding for a project before starting on a second round of project applications. Instead, projects that reach a “minimum score” will receive funding, without regard to applications from other jurisdictions. The change was directed toward concerns from local officials who said the requirement would slow the pace of projects.

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Houston Chronicle - January 28, 2020

President Trump approves study for historic Emancipation Trail from Galveston to Houston

Southeast Texas could soon be home to just the second National Historic Trail in the U.S. honoring African American history, thanks to an unlikely political partnership in Washington, D.C. President Donald Trump on Monday night signed into law a bill authored by U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — a Houston Democrat, and a Texas Republican — commissioning a federal study for a 51-mile Emancipation Trail between Galveston and Houston.

It’s a necessary first step toward establishing the national landmark, which commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Galveston. Houston’s Naomi Mitchell Carrier tried hard not to break down as she explained what it could mean for telling the full history of Texas. Carrier has spent decades researching the history of the trail, including testifying before Congress last year. She said there were 300,000 men and women who helped build Texas’s wealth through slavery, and they have long been left in the shadows of history. Now Texas and the nation are on the cusp of finally giving them a voice, she said.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 28, 2020

Hutto agrees to $115,000 settlement with former employee

The Hutto City Council has approved a $115,000 settlement with former employee Emily Parks, who filed a discrimination claim against the city. Parks was the former chief of communications for the city. A memorandum about the settlement agreement has been released to the public but does not say why the claim was made.

When the council approved the agreement Thursday, it also voted to ask the Texas attorney general for a ruling about whether it could release more details about it, said Stacy Schmitt, a city spokeswoman and assistant to the city manager. Parks’ lawyer, Logan Howard, declined to comment Tuesday. The city’s lawyer, Michael Shaunessy, also declined to comment this week. The Texas Municipal League will pay $60,000 of the total settlement and the city will pay the rest, Shaunessy said at the council meeting Thursday. He said the league provides insurance to the city that covers part of the claim.

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Houston Chronicle - January 28, 2020

Magen Fieramusca charged with capital murder in Heidi Broussard case

A Houston woman accused of kidnapping an Austin mother and her newborn was indicted Tuesday on a charge of capital murder in the mother’s death.

Magen Fieramusca was previously charged in December with kidnapping Heidi Broussard and her 3-week-old baby, Margo, and tampering with Broussard’s body. Prosecutors have said the two women were friends. A Travis County grand jury indicted Fieramusca in the case. Fieramusca asyphixiated Broussard with a leash and with her hands while she was in the process of kidnapping the mother and her baby, according to the indictment. FBI behavioural analysts said they believe Fieramusca was driven by a compulsive desire to have a baby.

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Newsclips - January 28, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 28, 2020

Expensive special election for suburban Houston race could be bellwether in battle for Texas House in 2020

Whoever wins the election for a suburban Houston statehouse district on Tuesday will represent the area for only nine months and almost certainly will never cast a vote in the Legislature unless they’re re-elected in November’s general election. But the election to fill the vacancy left by longtime Republican lawmaker John Zerwas in House District 28 has taken on epic proportions as a potential bellwether in Democrats’ push to win control of the Texas House for the first time in two decades.

Democrats, eager for early momentum, are pouring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from national groups to their candidate, educator Eliz Markowitz. Three of the party’s presidential hopefuls -- Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Mike Bloomberg -- have thrown their support behind her. And native sons Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro have stumped for her in the district. O’Rourke has called on his legion of followers to help block walk for Markowitz, and he visited the district multiple times on her behalf, including over the weekend for a final push before Tuesday’s election.

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Associated Press - January 28, 2020

News of Bolton book rocks impeachment trial

A single paper copy in a nondescript envelope arrived at the White House on Dec. 30. Four weeks later, news of John Bolton’s book manuscript about his time as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser has exploded into public view, sending a jolt through the president’s impeachment trial.

The book contains an account of an August conversation in which Bolton says Trump told him that he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from Ukraine until it helped him with investigations into political rival Joe Biden. It’s a dramatic eyewitness rebuttal to claims by Trump and his legal team that the president didn’t hold up the aid for political reasons. The account immediately gave Democrats new fuel in their pursuit of sworn testimony from Bolton and other witnesses, a question expected to be taken up later this week by the Republican-led Senate. Bolton has already told lawmakers that he is willing to testify, despite the president’s order barring aides from cooperating in the probe.

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Vox - January 27, 2020

Trump’s goal of keeping out low-income immigrants just got a big boost from the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court on Monday allowed a rule to go into effect that creates new barriers to low-income immigrants seeking to enter the US, representing a major victory for President Trump in his mission to restrict legal immigration. The so-called public charge rule, published in August by the Homeland Security Department and originally scheduled to go into effect October 15, 2019, establishes a test to determine whether an immigrant applying to enter the US, extend their visa, or convert their temporary immigration status into a green card is likely to end up relying on public benefits.

Opponents of the rule had challenged it on the basis that it flouts the narrow definition of what it means to be a “public charge” — dependent on government benefits — under federal immigration law. In a 5-4 decision, the high court’s conservative majority voted to allow the rule to be implemented while legal challenges brought by the state of New York and immigrant advocacy groups proceed. Apart from Justice Neil Gorsuch, who derided lower courts’ attempts to block the rule before issuing final decisions, the justices didn’t elaborate on the reasoning behind the decision. Immigration officials will now have much more leeway to turn away those who are “likely to be a public charge” based on an evaluation of 20 factors, ranging from the use of certain public benefits programs — including food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Medicaid — to English language proficiency.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 27, 2020

Largest Texas labor union backs progressive Cisneros over incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar

The Laredo immigration attorney challenging longtime U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in the Democratic primary snagged the backing of the state's largest labor group over the weekend, the latest potential boost for her insurgent campaign, and one that comes three weeks before voting begins. The Texas AFL-CIO — which has some 240,000 members across the state — endorsed Jessica Cisneros, 26, saying “this district needs someone who is going to stand up for working people, stand up for poor people, and stand up for justice.”

The group in the past has declined to endorse Cuellar, a 15-year incumbent, even when he ran unopposed in primaries. His campaign spokesman said the congressman doesn’t seek the labor group’s endorsement and has instead focused on racking up endorsements from local officials and groups. It’s the latest big endorsement for Cisneros, who has raised over $1 million for her campaign and has drawn the backing of major progressive groups, including EMILY’s List. “They know we're running a campaign by and for the people, one that puts the needs and workers of our community ahead of the corporate interests that have bought out our communities for too long,” Cisneros said in a statement. “Together, we can make the United States and South Texas work for the people it strives to represent.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

Light turnout expected for race to replace Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in Texas House

On Tuesday, voters in Dallas’ District 100 will select a candidate to replace Mayor Eric Johnson in the Texas House. The special election features community advocate Lorraine Birabil and Dallas businessman and minister James Armstrong III. The winner will fill the remainder of Johnson’s term, which ends after this year. Then the winner, and perhaps the loser, will contend in the March 3 primary for the term that begins in 2021.

Johnson represented the district, which includes parts of West Dallas, East Dallas and southern Dallas, for 10 years before leaving the post in June after being elected Dallas mayor. He has not endorsed a candidate to succeed him. Early voting totals indicate a small turnout in the contest, which has had few dramatic moments and has been staged in near obscurity. Just over 1,000 people voted early in a district that has 170,000 residents. You can find polling places on the Dallas County elections website.

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Dallas Morning News - January 28, 2020

Elizabeth Warren backs Candace Valenzuela in District 24 congressional race

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has endorsed Candace Valenzuela in the Congressional District 24 race. “As an educator and former school board leader, Candace Valenzuela knows first hand the struggles that working families face,” Warren said in a statement released Tuesday to The Dallas Morning News. “I know she’ll be an unwavering force in Congress that will fight tirelessly for them both at home and in Washington.”

Valenzuela, 35, is running in a crowded primary field for District 24, a seat Democrats hope to take from Republicans in the November general election. The seat is currently held by longtime Rep. Ken Marchant of Coppell, who is retiring after his term ends this year. A mother of two, Valenzuela served as a Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District trustee from 2017-2019. “I’m really grateful for Sen. Warren’s support,” Valenzuela told The News. “I’m the Democrat that can flip Texas 24 and work hard for working families in Washington.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 28, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Bots against beef? Harvard vs. A&M scientist struggle did science no favors

We Texans love our beef, and we don’t like it when someone suggests we shouldn’t. Oprah did so on national television and a disgruntled cattle industry hauled her into a six-week trial in Amarillo in 1998. Now, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp has his own, pardon the pun, beef over beef, this one with Harvard University researchers, who accuse A&M researchers of conducting a biased, pro-beef study published last fall in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

We aren’t going to pick sides on the merits of the research or the criticism. But we will take issue with the way this dispute has played out publicly and the disservice it does to scientific credibility. Over the years, most of us have read headlines about beef research and probably have come to the conclusion that findings often are remarkably free ranging. Beef consumption is either good or bad for your health, depending on the parameters of the study and, the bane of academic research, ideological predispositions and the impact of funding support on outcomes.

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Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

Man who stopped White Settlement church shooting warns of attack on Second Amendment

Jack Wilson stood before 600 churchgoers Sunday for a different kind of service, one that emphasized the need to train armed parishioners in case they ever confront an attacker like Wilson did at his church in White Settlement. “There’s no question,” Wilson, 71, advised the crowd gathered at North Pointe Baptist Church in Hurst. “If you see someone and they display a gun, it’s time to act.”

The event marked the first time Wilson has spoken at a major church safety seminar since he shot the assailant who opened fire Dec. 29 in West Freeway Church of Christ and killed two worshipers. He’s received at least 20 more invitations to address similar trainings that are surging in popularity after a series of deadly church shootings. Wilson, a firearms instructor who trains his congregation’s volunteer safety team, used his platform to emphasize the importance of practice and preparation. He also warned of an attack on the Second Amendment, specifically criticizing Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg, who has made addressing gun violence a focus of his campaign. “If we were operating under Bloomberg’s position, we wouldn’t have had any guns in there,” Wilson said in an interview. “The outcome would have been extremely more severe than it was.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

Should a school board member be an advocate for special needs students? Lancaster ISD says no way

A Dallas judge is considering whether a Lancaster school board member can continue to serve as a volunteer advocate for students with special needs in the district. Carolyn Morris, who was elected to the board last year, says she’s been a parent advocate for children with physical or learning disabilities for 30 years. The work allows her to sit in on meetings between parents and teachers to speak on behalf of students when decisions are made about their eligibility for special education classes.

Lancaster ISD says that’s a conflict of interest. The district sued Morris in October, saying her role as a board member should preclude her from advocating on behalf of individual parents and students. District officials were not immediately available for comment Friday. Involving a trustee in such discussions could put undue pressure on teachers and administrators during such negotiations, the district’s lawsuit claims. As a trustee, Morris also could have access to information that advocates don’t normally have. Morris, whose term expires in 2022, denied any conflict between her dual roles. The case went to trial in the 44th Civil District Court in Dallas last week. Judge Bonnie Lee Goldstein is expected to rule this week.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 27, 2020

Texas factory output continues its rebound

Factory output in Texas appears to be perking up, amid a recent easing of the international trade tensions that have been roiling manufacturers statewide and nationally. Growth in the state production index --a barometer of conditions in the Texas manufacturing sector devised by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas -- accelerated in January, continuing a rebound that began last month in the wake of its first contraction in more than three years in November.

The index came in at 10.5 this month, up from 3.6 in December and from negative 2.4 in November — but still down from a reading of 13.5 in January a year ago. Positive readings indicate expansion, while negative readings indicate contraction. Other measures of the state’s manufacturing sector, such as new order growth and capacity utilization, also improved this month, according to the Dallas Fed, which compiles the monthly snapshot through surveys of industry executives. “Growth accelerated in the Texas manufacturing sector in January, with the production index pushing further into positive territory and the new orders index surging to a 15-month high,” Dallas Fed senior business economist Emily Kerr said in a written statement.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 27, 2020

Baylor University student does not have coronavirus, officials say

The Baylor University student who was being monitored for the deadly coronavirus has tested negative for the new virus, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District said Monday.

The student had been in an isolated room on the Baylor campus where they were being monitored by local and state health officials, the university said on Friday. The student had recently traveled to China. The student is at least the second in the state to be tested for the virus, following a student at Texas A&M University. The Texas A&M student also returned negative test results for the virus, school officials reported Sunday.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 27, 2020

McCaul raises $500K in 4th quarter in reelection bid

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said Monday that he raised $500,000 in the last three months of 2019 for his reelection campaign. The fundraising figures, due Friday at the Federal Election Commission, bring his 2019 fundraising haul to $1.6 million, according to his campaign. McCaul has $1 million in cash on hand.

“Washington is polarized, and too often partisanship rules the day,” McCaul said. “That’s why I am working with members of both parties to cut through the gridlock and lower the cost of health care, make higher education more affordable, protect women and children from human trafficking and take care of our nation’s veterans.” McCaul, the top ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was first elected in 2004. National Democratic operatives have set up an office in Austin to target McCaul’s 10th Congressional District, among six other Republican-held districts in Texas that Democratic leaders have identified as ripe for takeover in 2020. McCaul defeated lightly funded Austin lawyer Mike Siegel last year by just 4.3 percentage points.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 26, 2020

Juan Castillo: The young are leading Texas’ conservative climate moment

Spending time in Texas convinced me: Young conservatives will lead the GOP to action on climate change. These young conservatives see in climate change an opportunity to prove the truth of free enterprise principles. They’re done with the old merchants of doubt tropes—it’s sunspots, volcanoes, tilts of the earth; the scientists are on the take; more CO2 will make plants grow even better; and warming could generally be a good thing.

Put a young conservative like Randan Steinhauser in front of the Georgetown Republican Women’s Club, where she spoke a couple of months ago, and let her tell her story to women closer to her mother’s generation. Steinhauser talked of conservative principles. Those at the meeting heard Steinhauser’s concern for her three young children and the impacts that climate change will have on their lives. They softened. They seemed tired of the running from their own observations of obvious climate change. They were ready to hear solutions that fit with their values and dismiss the merchants of doubt. They don’t want big government regulatory plans; they want a discussion of how free enterprise innovation could solve climate change. Young conservatives like Steinhauser accept the imperative of their generation. Enough is enough when it comes to denial of climate change. They’re not alone.

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Houston Chronicle - January 28, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: You call this a trial? Call the witnesses.

The case for calling additional witnesses in the Senate trial of the president is getting stronger by the day. So is the opportunity for Texas’ two senators to show both backbone and leadership by voting to demand testimony of witnesses who so far the president has succeeded in muzzling. It takes just 51 votes for the Senate to subpoena former National Security Advisor John Bolton, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Trump’s acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and compel their testimony. Will such testimony help the president? Or strengthen the case against him? It’s impossible to know for sure, but neither does it matter.

The Senate heard testimony from witnesses in the trials of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and there is simply no good reason to refuse to hear what they and others might add.. All that is required is for four Republican senators to join the 47 Democrats to vote for the subpoenas. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he’ll welcome such a vote after the presidents’ lawyers rest their defense later this week. So, who among the 51 Republican senators will be brave enough to vote for those subpoenas? Why can’t Texas count on one or both of its senators to do so? Both Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are fierce defenders of the president. Were they to demand the testimony of Bolton and others be heard, it would provide cover for moderates to quickly make the vote a fully bipartisan effort. That would do so much to help ensure that whatever verdict the Senate reaches, Americans on both sides of the question come away knowing the president hadn't been able to cherry pick the evidence admitted to the trial.

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Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

Trump lawyers’ anticipated focus on Biden thrusts spotlight on Sylvia Garcia’s impeachment case

President Trump’s lawyers on Monday are expected to launch a rollicking attack on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, thrusting the spotlight on U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s attempt last week to preempt the case against the former vice president. Garcia, a Houston Democrat whose district includes the East End, South Houston and parts of Pasadena, landed a spot earlier this month as one of seven impeachment managers tasked with making the case that Trump should be removed from office.

On Thursday, the day before Democrats concluded their opening arguments, Garcia drew attention when she sought to quash the key Republican argument that Biden pressed for the ouster of Ukraine’s top prosecutor to halt an investigation into Burisma Holdings, an oil and gas company that employed Hunter Biden. Devoting almost an hour to the topic, Garcia contended the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was “widely perceived as corrupt” by European allies, international organizations and Republican senators who signed a letter urging the Ukrainian president to “press ahead with urgent reforms” to Shokin’s office. Those were the true reasons he was fired, Garcia argued. The investigation into Burisma went dormant under Shokin, Garcia further argued, and no witnesses in the House’s impeachment inquiry found “any factual basis for this allegation.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 27, 2020

Two more restraining orders granted against company in west Houston blast

A state judge on Monday granted two temporary restraining orders in Friday’s explosion at a Spring Branch-area industrial facility, instructing Watson Grinding and Manufacturing to preserve evidence related to the blast.

The ruling follows two other temporary restraining orders issued against the company for damages to homes, filed in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. More than 400 Houston-area homes were damaged during the event, and Frank Flores, 44, and coworker Gerardo Castorena Sr., 45, died. The first order granted on Monday was for a lawsuit alleging Flores’ wrongful death. The second was for a class action lawsuit related to property damage.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 27, 2020

North Texas company agrees to pay $3 million over scheme to hire undocumented workers

A North Texas company will pay the government $3 million for its role in a scheme to illegally hire undocumented immigrants, a Department of Justice official announced on Monday. Speed Fab-Crete in Kennedale agreed to the payment in a non-prosecution agreement with the US. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas. The $3 million will be forfeited to the U.S. Treasury for use in promoting law enforcement activities related to immigration enforcement, according to a Justice Department news release.

While no charges were filed against the company, five individuals have already pleaded guilty in connection with the crime. Four executives at Speed Fab-Crete, a precast concrete manufacturing company, hid two dozen undocumented employees from Immigration & Customs Enforcement and have pleaded guilty, authorities said. Charged in the case were Speed Fab-Crete owners Carl Hall, David Bloxom and Ronald Hamm, and Chief Financial Officer Robert James. Mark Sevier, the owner of Take Charge Staffing, the Fort Worth temp agency to which the employees were transferred, was also charged. Bloxom is a former Fort Worth school board member. Hall and Sevier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to unlawfully harbor illegal aliens, a felony. Bloxom, Hamm and James pleaded guilty to unlawful employment of aliens, a misdemeanor.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 28, 2020

TX Supreme Court to hear arguments in case over Fort Worth’s game room regulations

The Texas Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday morning over eight-liner gambling machines in Fort Worth and the extent to which the city can regulate them. The case stems from ordinances the Fort Worth City Council passed in 2014 that regulated where game rooms could be located, including restricting them to industrial-zoned areas and banning them from being within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, hospitals or residential areas .

At the time, game room operators and gaming machine companies quickly sued the city. Portions of the ordinance related to restricting game rooms to certain areas were struck down, although the city is still allowed to enforce some building requirements, hours of operation and more. While the case stems from Fort Worth’s ordinances, both the city and slot machine operators involved in the lawsuit are asking the Texas Supreme Court to address broader questions that could affect how cities are allowed to regulate the popular slot machines, often known as eight-liners.

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WFAA - January 22, 2020

'It makes me sick': Parents concerned after alleged child predator out on bond, despite 3 arrests in 2 months

Police and parents are urging families to be on alert after an alleged child predator is now free on bond despite three separate arrests in two months, including allegations he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old boy repeatedly over the course of six months at the city-run REC facility. The boy told police 25-year-old Chansellor Hill, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall and 260 pounds, trapped him in a family bathroom, sexually assaulted him and took pictures on his cellphone between May and October of 2019, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

The alleged abuse stopped when Hill told REC employees what he’d done, and later confessed to police, according to the affidavit. “It makes me sick,” said Carol Jones, a REC member who said she hadn’t heard about the allegations from the workers at the facility. Police arrested Hill in October. In the same month, he was also arrested on charges of indecent exposure near a playground at CJ Hutchins Park, though police say no kids were around when that happened. Police arrested Hill again in December after a student at Silver Lake Elementary School told police Hill showed him a photograph of his genitals on a cellphone in April of 2018.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 27, 2020

Sen. Ted Cruz’s impeachment podcast tops charts, with 500k downloads

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is now America’s top podcaster. “VERDICT,” the daily podcast the Texas Republican records every night after the Senate impeachment trial lets out, was topping the iTunes charts on Monday, beating out wildly popular shows like “The Joe Rogan Experience” and The New York Times’ “The Daily.” It’s been downloaded more than 500,000 times so far, according to Cruz’s office.

Cruz says it’s an effort to reach people directly. “Most people don’t have time to turn on C-SPAN and watch 13 hours of impeachment proceedings,” he tweeted on Monday. “The idea of the #Verdict podcast is something easy, that someone can download and listen on the way to work in the morning.”

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KUT - January 28, 2020

UT Austin students demand transparency in sexual misconduct cases at town hall event

UT Austin students urged university leadership to admit the school has failed them, during a town hall meeting Monday on faculty sexual misconduct. At the nearly two-hour event, students asked questions, shared stories and protested how UT has handled faculty members accused of misconduct.

“By the fact that you are here and you are telling us your stories, yes, we have failed you,” UT President Greg Fenves said to the packed auditorium an hour into the discussion. Students questioned why UT does not notify students which professors have been found guilty of misconduct and why some faculty members who have violated misconduct policies are still allowed to teach. “Why should students report to a system that has traditionally protected the identities of the people we are reporting against and which has not protected students against retaliation?” one student asked.

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 28, 2020

Elizabeth Warren backs Garza in Travis County DA race

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren endorsed local attorney Jose Garza for Travis County District Attorney on Tuesday, marking another high-profile endorsement for incumbent Margaret Moore’s challenger.

Garza, the co-executive director of the Austin-based nonprofit Workers Defense Project, will challenge Moore in the March 3 Democratic primary. “With Jose as District Attorney, Travis County will gain another champion in the fight to transform our criminal justice system,” Warren said in a statement. “As an experienced public servant with a proven track record of standing up for working families, I know that Jose will be the fighter that Travis County communities deserve.” Garza, who also worked in the Obama administration as a secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor, has served as a state and federal public defender on the Texas-Mexico border.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 28, 2020

‘You have to be on your A game.’ New rodeo tournament increases stakes in Fort Worth.

Jake Brown knows his rodeo. While growing up in North Texas, the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo was the premier area rodeo in Brown’s eyes. Within the past year, he’s witnessed some big changes. For the first time, the rodeo is using a tournament format and the prize money offered to competitors is more than $1 million.

By making those sweeping changes, Fort Worth joins the Houston and San Antonio rodeos that use a tournament format and offer competitors a seven-figure purse. “This new format is what rodeo is going to,” Brown said. “Houston does it. San Antonio does it. It’s a step in the right direction. I am an old school guy and I like tradition, but this new coliseum and this new format is just amazing. It takes Fort Worth to a whole new level.” The new coliseum is Dickies Arena, a state-of-the-art, technologically advanced venue. Last weekend, Brown, who lives in Cleveland, Texas, about 60 miles northeast of Houston, was part of the new chapter in Fort Worth. He competed Friday night during the opening performance of the pro rodeo tournament.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 27, 2020

San Antonio Hispanic Chamber CEO stepping down

The head of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is stepping down, less than a year after she took the job. Diane Sánchez’s last day will be Feb. 1, the chamber’s board of directors announced Monday.

A South Texas native and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Sánchez joined the chamber in February 2019. Her predecessor, Ramiro Cavazos, departed in the fall of 2018 to lead the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C. Sánchez didn’t respond to requests for comment. The board received Sánchez’s resignation Saturday. It was unexpected, said chairwoman Erika Gonzalez, but the board doesn’t expect operations to be interrupted.

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Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

How a 2020 census undercount would hurt efforts to fight poverty in Dallas for the next decade

Texas has billions of federal dollars and at least three congressional seats to gain if the 2020 census accurately counts its growing population. But the shadow of a population undercount looms over the Lone Star State due to privacy concerns among mixed immigration status families and hard-to-count populations not responding to the census. And beyond risking some of Texas’ newfound political strength, an undercount would hurt the state’s fight against poverty for the next decade.

Funding for programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Women Infants and Children, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Section 8 housing voucher program is dictated heavily by data derived from the decennial census. Those programs play a key role in lifting families out of poverty and helping them reach complete independence, said Sara Albert, a public policy expert and leader of the public policy team for the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions. About 281,000 people live at or below the poverty level in Dallas, according to census data, and about 83% of them are Hispanic or Black.

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National Stories

The Hill - January 28, 2020

McConnell struggles to maintain GOP unity post-Bolton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is struggling to maintain control of President Trump’s impeachment trial following news of former national security adviser John Bolton’s bombshell manuscript. McConnell on Monday deflected growing calls, including from fellow GOP senators, to allow testimony from Bolton and other potential witnesses, which could prolong the trial and deal a massive blow to Trump and Republicans.

Senate debate over whether to call additional witnesses was upended Sunday following a New York Times report revealing that Bolton claims in a draft of his forthcoming book that Trump told him directly he wanted to freeze U.S. assistance to Ukraine to spur an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden. McConnell’s strategy all along has been to keep the trial as short as possible and avoid giving more political ammo to Democrats to use against Trump and vulnerable Republican senators in the 2020 elections. The GOP leader urged fellow Republicans at a lunch meeting Monday to keep their powder dry and not make a decision on the need to subpoena witnesses and documents until the end of next week, after Trump’s defense team has presented its arguments and senators have had a chance to ask questions on the Senate floor.

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The Hill - January 28, 2020

Washington Post suspends reporter after Bryant tweets

The Washington Post has suspended a reporter who said she received death threats on Twitter after sending a tweet with a link to a 2016 story about the Kobe Bryant rape case. The tweet from Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was sent shortly after news reports of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday and was met with vitriol from people online.

In a statement, the Post said Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while it reviewed whether her tweets violated the Post’s newsroom’s social media policy. “National political reporter Felicia Sonmez was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated The Post newsroom's social media policy,” the Post’s managing editor, Tracy Grant, said in a statement. “The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” It’s not clear whether the Post was upset with Sonmez’s tweet about the Bryant rape case, which included a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story, or whether later tweets by the reporter may have broken the Post’s policies.

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NPR - January 28, 2020

Election officials to convene amid historic focus on voting and interference

Top election officials from all 50 states are meeting in Washington this week to prepare for 2020 — a gathering amid widespread concern over whether the upcoming elections will be fair and accurate, as well as free of the kind of foreign interference that marred the 2016 campaign.

Despite major government efforts to upgrade security, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that about 41% of Americans surveyed do not think the country is prepared to protect the U.S. election system from another attack. Voters also say their biggest concern is disinformation, followed by voter fraud and voter suppression. Forty-four percent think it's likely that many votes will not actually be counted in 2020. While most voters have confidence in their state and local governments to run a fair election, 43% do not think those officials have done enough to make sure that there's no foreign interference. Many more blame President Trump. Fifty-six percent say he has done little or nothing to keep the elections safe. A slim majority think the president, who has repeatedly questioned Russian tampering in 2016, actually encourages foreign interference.

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NPR - January 28, 2020

Curbing 'birth tourism' means consular officials have to get personal

The Trump administration took steps Friday to restrict visas for pregnant women trying to visit the United States. It's part of an effort to curb what the administration calls "birth tourism."

But Sarah Pierce, policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, says the practice isn't as common as the name might suggest. She says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fewer than 10,000 babies are born in the U.S. to foreign-national mothers who reside abroad. "We do think that this is a very small issue, but we don't have exact numbers," she says. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution established birthright citizenship, which means anyone born here automatically becomes a U.S. citizen.

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NBC News - January 28, 2020

'Oh my God, Sanders can win': Democrats grapple with Bernie surge in Iowa

The greatest trick Bernie Sanders ever played was convincing the world the chance he could win didn't exist. The independent senator from Vermont has been running for president for the better part of five years, but some Democrats are only just now, a week out from the first contest in the 2020 presidential primary season, beginning to come to grips with the fact that he could actually win the nomination. "Suddenly, we have the Democratic establishment very nervous about this campaign. We got Wall Street nervous," Sanders told a crowd of roughly 1,100 Sunday night in Sioux City. "They're starting to think, could this really happen?"

"We are their worst nightmare," he added. Next Monday's caucuses remain a toss-up, according to the polls. But Sanders has taken the lead in several recent surveys of Iowa and New Hampshire and continues to be the field's best fundraiser — without having faced the same intensity of incoming fire as some other candidates, like fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren. A Sanders win would turn the Democratic Party upside down, much as Donald Trump's victory did for the GOP in 2016. But how could virtually no one see Sanders coming when he nearly overturned the party establishment four years ago when he came within a whisker of winning Iowa?

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Wall Street Journal - January 28, 2020

Trump Mideast plan said to favor Israeli goals

President Trump’s Middle East peace plan, to be formally unveiled Tuesday, is a detailed blueprint of more than 50 pages that outlines his administration’s ideas about how to resolve core issues on borders, security and Jerusalem that have bedeviled negotiators for decades. Although the administration has steadfastly declined to publicly discuss specific elements, people briefed on the contents described a plan that heavily tilts toward the Israeli position on key issues.

The plan, they say, envisions Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, including areas Palestinians claim as the capital of a future independent state. The Palestinians would have control over some neighborhoods on outer parts of East Jerusalem. There would be land swaps between areas controlled by the Israelis and Palestinians. In the end, the Palestinians might control 70% to 80% of the West Bank. That would fall short of Palestinian demands, but the plan isn’t expected to formally rule out a Palestinian state. Officials have said Israelis and Palestinians won’t be forced to leave their homes as Israel expands its borders. Unlike past efforts, the Trump administration isn’t expected to seek compromises that would allow some Palestinians to return to land they or their families left after Israel’s creation or receive compensation for it.

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New York Times - January 27, 2020

Bolton was concerned that Trump did favors for autocratic leaders, book says

John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, privately told Attorney General William P. Barr last year that he had concerns that President Trump was effectively granting personal favors to the autocratic leaders of Turkey and China, according to an unpublished manuscript by Mr. Bolton. Mr. Barr responded by pointing to a pair of Justice Department investigations of companies in those countries and said he was worried that Mr. Trump had created the appearance that he had undue influence over what would typically be independent inquiries, according to the manuscript.

Backing up his point, Mr. Barr mentioned conversations Mr. Trump had with the leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Xi Jinping of China. Mr. Bolton’s account underscores the fact that the unease about Mr. Trump’s seeming embrace of authoritarian leaders, long expressed by experts and his opponents, also existed among some of the senior cabinet officers entrusted by the president to carry out his foreign policy and national security agendas. Mr. Bolton recounted his discussion with Mr. Barr in a draft of an unpublished book manuscript that he submitted nearly a month ago to the White House for review. People familiar with the manuscript described its contents on the condition of anonymity.

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Brownsville Herald - January 25, 2020

Detainees launch hunger strikes in ICE facilities

Various complaints filed in federal court in Brownsville show that three detainees held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in the Rio Grande Valley have launched hunger strikes since late December. A case filed on January 14 by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE marks at least the fifth documented hunger strike forcing officials to ask a federal court for permission to forcibly restrain, feed, and hydrate undocumented detainees since August of last year.

At least four of those hunger strikes have taken place inside DHS facilities in Port Isabel. ICE noted that officials are required to respond if detainees have not eaten within a certain period of time. Guidelines posted on the agency’s website stated that “Any detainee who does not eat for 72 hours shall be referred to the medical department for evaluation and possible treatment by medical and mental health personnel.” Officials are authorized to encourage detainees to accept medical treatment and may refer the detainees to medical treatment before the 72-hour time limit, according to the policy guidelines, which also stated that detainees on hunger strikes may be isolated and placed under supervision. According to the recent case filing, ICE filed a petition for the involuntary administration of hydration and restraints against detainee Naveen Kumar on Jan. 14. The restraining order was granted by U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr. the same day.

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Newsclips - January 27, 2020

Lead Stories

New York Times - January 26, 2020

Trump tied Ukraine aid to inquiries he sought, Bolton book says

President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton. The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates. He also sent a draft to the White House for a standard review process for some current and former administration officials who write books. Multiple people described Mr. Bolton’s account of the Ukraine affair. The book presents an outline of what Mr. Bolton might testify to if he is called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial, the people said. The White House could use the pre-publication review process, which has no set time frame, to delay or even kill the book’s publication or omit key passages. Over dozens of pages, Mr. Bolton described how the Ukraine affair unfolded over several months until he departed the White House in September. He described not only the president’s private disparagement of Ukraine but also new details about senior cabinet officials who have publicly tried to sidestep involvement.

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Houston Chronicle - January 27, 2020

The test: Can Democrats flip the most watched Republican district in Texas?

An onslaught of spending and national attention has led to unprecedented voter turnout for a special runoff election in Fort Bend County where both parties are vying for a win that could forecast whether Texas is ripe for a shift in political power.

Cameos from busy presidential hopefuls and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of political ads have flooded the north Fort Bend County district in an effort to prop up Democrat Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz, an educator, in the longtime Republican district for the Texas House. Gary Gates, a Republican and founder of a property management company, is fighting back against the onslaught with the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott and other high-ranking Republicans along with $1.5 million of his own money added to his campaign. The attention on the otherwise small legislative race has led to high turnout ahead of Tuesday’s special election. Nearly 18,000 voters cast ballots early and by mail during the four-day early voting period last week. The turnout eclipses the number of people who voted early over a 12-day stretch last fall when voters whittled down the original field from seven candidates to two in November.

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Dallas Morning News - January 26, 2020

GOP jurors overreact to ’head on a pike’ comment, says Sylvia Garcia, Texan on House impeachment team

Houston congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, thrust into the spotlight as a freshman by landing a spot on the elite squad of House impeachment managers, said Sunday that while she’s frustrated at GOP senators’ unwillingness to budge, the trial hasn’t been an exercise in futility. And she isn’t giving up hope that a handful of Republicans will see the wisdom in prolonging the trial by calling eyewitnesses to President Donald Trump’s misdeeds.

“I sense that they are listening,” she said on a call with Texas reporters and a few from out of state. “I think we are connecting with them. …At least 4 or 5 have said that they’re still open to our requests for more witnesses. We presented a very strong case…. I really do hope that the senators are not only listening, but are taking it in.” Garcia, 69, is a former judge, Harris County commissioner and state senator, and one of the first two Latinas elected to Congress from Texas. As one of the seven prosecutors picked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she was the first House member to speak Spanish on the Senate floor. Even if Republicans stick with Trump, despite what she views as overwhelming evidence against him, she said, the effort has not been wasted.

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Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, let’s remember the current refugees whom Gov. Abbott wants to turn away

As the famous saying goes, when one door closes, another door opens. Except of course when it doesn’t. For refugees trying to get to the United States — and Texas in particular — who were already properly vetted for years by our own U.S. agencies, the doorway to a safer, more free and potentially more prosperous life seemed open and welcoming, even in the midst of the volatile and complicated immigration debate in our country. That door was cruelly slammed shut by Gov. Greg Abbott recently as he led Texas to be the first state to deny refugees access under the President Donald Trump’s executive order.

A judge temporarily halted implementation of the order, but if the U.S. keeps this door shut, there may be no other doors to safety and security for refugees in need. It is a shocking and deeply disturbing situation. On Monday, our country will observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we recall the 6 million Jewish victims and 11 million other victims of Nazi oppression. Abbott’s decision to refuse refugees, so close to the time of this international day of memory, is a painful slap for those whose families and communities suffered great losses as a result of the indifference showed to those in need. When all the world needed in 1939 was someone — anyone — to lend a hand to literally save a life, an open door could have mitigated the terrible decree that befell those souls.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 26, 2020

UT working to improve safety near campus, UT President Fenves says

Citing a recent increase in violent crime in Austin, including two University of Texas students being stabbed downtown last week, UT President Gregory L. Fenves said the institution is working to beef up safety and security on campus. Both injured students are recovering, he said.

Since 2016, the university has significantly bolstered security on campus, including increasing the size of the university’s Police Department force, Fenves said in a news release Sunday. It said the department coordinates daily with local and state law enforcement on safety in the areas around campus, including West Campus. “Incidents like this serve as a reminder that we must remain focused on keeping members of the UT community safe,” Fenves said.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 26, 2020

Chip Roy: Stuck in traffic? Washington is in Texas’ way

Every morning, millions of Texans hit the road to take their children to school, run errands, and commute to work. Inevitably, they are confronted with one of Texas’ most persistent issues, soul-sucking gridlock traffic. Time lost in Austin traffic amounts to 104 hours a year per driver, putting Austin in the top 15 worst traffic cities in America. Unfortunately, status-quo philosophies and special interests in Washington are doing little to relieve our chronic congestion issues.

Politically, transportation funding is broadly recognized as a proper role of government. After World War II, a forward-thinking generation of Americans helped modernize and connect our country from coast to coast. The federal interstate system was completed in the early 1990s, and states have since taken on the bulk of maintenance and repair. Today, leaders in Washington should ask if the “necessary” bureaucracies of the past will effectively meet the demands of the future. Congress is using a Cold War-era federal transportation apparatus to solve 21st-century infrastructure issues. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) finances most federal government spending for highways and mass transit. Revenues for the trust fund ($35.7 billion in fiscal year 2019) come from transportation-related excise taxes, primarily federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel (18.4 cents per gallon). The HTF has been underwater for years, dependent on congressional bailouts for shortfalls.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 25, 2020

Thousands take part in Texas Rally for Life at Capitol

Carl Johnson was one among more than 5,000 anti-abortion activists to march Saturday toward the Capitol during the Texas Rally for Life in the name of “peace, love and God.” Johnson, holding one of four of his children at Saturday’s event, said he chose to travel to Austin from his home in Spring Branch near San Antonio for the rally in hopes of one day ending abortions in the United States.

Anti-abortion demonstrators kicked off the event at 1 p.m. at the intersection of 14th Street and San Jacinto Boulevard with a march to the Capitol. State Rep. Jeff Leach; U.S. Rep. Chip Roy; and Sylvia B. Johnson-Matthews, the Houston Pregnancy Help Center’s chief executive officer, were just a few of the speakers who spoke during the rally that followed. Claire Culwell, who introduced herself to the crowd as an abortion survivor, also spoke at Saturday’s rally about her journey to find her birth mother, which she said ended with the revelation that her twin died from the abortion. “I can tell you what it felt like to look into my birth mother’s eyes and realized I survived something that was meant to take my life, and that I was walking around every single day for 21 years not knowing I was a twin-less twin in the name of choice,” Culwell said.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 25, 2020

Democrats vying for U.S. Senate seat woo AFL-CIO

MJ Hegar sought to remind folks of her status as the front-runner in a still ill-defined and wide-open race for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, with a rip-roaring closer at the AFL-CIO convention Saturday. “He knows he’s going home, y’all. Cornyn is vulnerable. He knows it. It’s why he’s got people chasing me all over town videotaping everything I’m saying, trying to catch me saying something wrong,” the decorated combat veteran told the more than 400 delegates and guests gathered at the Omni Austin Hotel at Southpark. “If we send an ass-kicking Texas woman to D.C. to deliver a healthy dose of Texas values ... we’re going to be able to send our boot-licking pantywaist of a senator packing.”

By presenting only the six most formidable candidates in the field of 12, the event winnowed the choice to a manageable number for a discussion, moderated by Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy. The candidates all generally pledged to support labor’s agenda on health care, apprenticeship programs, immigration reform, pension protection and organizing rights. But with scarcely more than five weeks before the March 3 primary, it is possible to imagine a scenario in which votes are so evenly distributed that almost any two of the candidates on the stage Saturday could end up in a May 26 runoff that seems inevitable. An AFL-CIO endorsement before the close of the convention Sunday would be a huge leg up in the Democratic contest. Levy said the labor organization’s executive committee met Friday with the other candidates who were not on stage. But with a two-thirds vote required, an endorsement seems unlikely, though all the more meaningful if it were to happen. When Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 points of defeating Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, decided to run for president instead of challenging Cornyn, Hegar — who ran a strong but losing race against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in 2018 — jumped in and got a quick fundraising start amid the expectation that she might be able to clear the field.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 25, 2020

Ken Herman: Democrats’ Senate candidates a fiery bunch

Six Democratic U.S. Senate candidates went into labor Saturday in a South Austin hotel ballroom. Two of them were men. So that was interesting. It lasted about 90 minutes and was largely without discomfort, save for a moment we’ll explore forthwith. When it was over, each hoped their efforts at the debate would deliver the Texas AFL-CIO’s endorsement in the party’s scramble to pick a nominee to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November.

That delivery is in doubt because it’s possible no candidate can get the two-thirds vote Sunday needed for an endorsement. The Saturday debate, as is often the case in a Democratic primary, showed little difference on issues of interest to labor. The candidates took frequent shots at Cornyn, who faces four unknowns in his party’s primary. The Democratic race could turn on factors other than policy, factors such as résumé, experience and identity. That last one — ignited by an ill-fated attempt at humor — provided Saturday’s only moment of discomfort, one on which two candidates tried to make political hay.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 24, 2020

Deepwater Horizon settlement money to be used for new coastal land purchase

Using money from a settlement tied to a decade-old oil rig disaster, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved purchasing 1,100 acres on Matagorda Peninsula as part of a wider nature preservation effort along the Gulf of Mexico. The acquisition will be the latest in a series of restoration efforts along the gulf in the wake of the 2010 explosion at the offshore Deepwater Horizon that left 11 people dead and as many as 3.2 million barrels of crude spilling into the gulf.

Using money from a settlement tied to a decade-old oil rig disaster, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved purchasing 1,100 acres on Matagorda Peninsula as part of a wider nature preservation effort along the Gulf of Mexico. The acquisition will be the latest in a series of restoration efforts along the gulf in the wake of the 2010 explosion at the offshore Deepwater Horizon that left 11 people dead and as many as 3.2 million barrels of crude spilling into the gulf.

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Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2020

Houston’s World Cup bid hopeful of hosting six matches

This time last year, former Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti began to find his stride after leaving the team in late 2018 to lead the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee. This time next year, he hopes the committee and the city will be preparing to host those World Cup matches, which will be played in 16 cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Canada and Mexico will host three games each. The other 10 host cities will be chosen from a pool of 17 American venues which include those in Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore. “We’re expecting U.S. Soccer and FIFA to be making a decision on the final 10 cities … at some point this year, so all focus is on that,” Canetti said. When the United States hosted the 1994 World Cup, nine venues (in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Detroit and New York areas in addition to Chicago, Orlando, Washington, D.C. and the Cotton Bowl in Dallas) were selected.

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Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

UH family mourns copter crash victim John Altobelli

Former University of Houston baseball player John Altobelli and two members of his family were among the nine people killed in the helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday. Altobelli, 56, an outfielder for the Cougars from 1984-85, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, were on the helicopter that crashed in the hills outside Los Angeles. Also confirmed to have been killed, according to reports, was Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

UH baseball coach Todd Whitting said he was “absolutely devastated” by the deaths of Altobelli and his family. “Not only was John a great supporter of the UH program, but he was a great friend,” Whitting said. “He had such a zest for life and was a tremendous friend to all of us that were close to him.” Chris Pezman, UH’s vice president of intercollegiate athletics, said in a statement the school is “saddened” by the death of Altobelli.

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Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

Opponents inch closer to filing lawsuit over Port of Brownsville LNG terminals

Environmentalists and other opponents of three proposed liquefied natural gas export terminals at the Port of Brownsville are one step closer to filing a federal lawsuit to halt the projects after losing requests to have permit decisions reconsidered. Over the past week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied requests filed by the Sierra Club, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and other opponents to reconsider the agency's Nov. 21 decision to issue permits for the Texas LNG, Annova LNG, Rio Grande LNG and the supporting Rio Bravo Pipeline.

Under federal law, the next step for opponents seeking to stop the projects would need to file a lawsuit. “These projects would disproportionately impact our already-marginalized Latino community, subject us to increased air pollution, and threaten our local tourism economy," Sierra Club Brownsville organizer Rebekah Hinojosa said in a statement. "With this decision, FERC has completely dismissed those concerns and signaled that we do not have the same environmental rights as other people. We will not stop fighting to ensure that these dangerous facilities are never built.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

Jerome Solomon: Kobe Bryant was much more than a winner on the court

Saturday, while watching my girls, each a precious blessing, playing basketball, I thought about how special teaching them the game is going to be. What they don’t know about the sport, compared to what they will know once I work with them, is going to bring us so much closer together. I laughed out loud imagining the day, years from now, when we will make fun of how little they knew about the game — my double-dribbling 11-year-old, my airball-shooting 10-year-old — and how Daddy made a difference. While scrolling through my Twitter timeline this morning, I saw a video clip of Kobe Bryant sitting courtside with his daughter.

He was explaining some aspect of the game he loves to one of his four girls. She seemed so happy to be counseled her dad. It hit me in an odd way. This is my dream. I have a list of close friends, fathers to daughters, whom I admire and want to emulate. They are so much better than I am at this father thing. This morning, I said to myself, “I want to be like Kobe.” Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash. He was 41. According to reports, that smiling girl, so pleased to be spending time with her father, was Gianna Bryant. She was also in that helicopter. Thirteen years old. Gone. All of the spin moves, dunks and jumpers that make up the highlight reel to Kobe’s sports life are not what I will remember most. I will always be touched by that father-daughter moment.

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Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

In honor of Kobe Bryant, Mark Cuban says No. 24 will never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick

After the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday, the Mavericks have decided to pay tribute to the former Lakers legend. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban declared in a statement Sunday evening that No. 24 will “never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick.”

“We are shocked and saddened by the devastating news of the passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Kobe was an ambassador for our game, a decorated legend and a global icon. Above all, he was a loving and dedicated father. “Kobe’s legacy transcends basketball, and our organization has decided that the number 24 will never again be worn by a Dallas Maverick. “Our hearts go out to all the lives lost and the families impacted by this terrible tragedy. We send our thoughts and prayers to Vanessa and the family, the Lakers organization and Kobe Bryant fans everywhere.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 27, 2020

From his independent perch, Bernie Sanders launching Democratic Party takeover

Bernie Sanders is leading a revolution to win the White House, but first he has to seize the Democratic Party. As an independent senator from Vermont, Sanders is mounting his takeover of the Democratic Party largely from the outside. He has described himself as a Democratic socialist, a moniker that spooks Democrats who worry that socialism in any context could cost them a shot at beating President Donald Trump.

Sanders’ political affiliation has been ambiguous. In 2016, he said he was a Democrat running for the Democratic nomination for president. But in the Senate, he’s still listed as an independent. In 2019, he signed a loyalty pledge to the Democratic Party stating that he is a member of the party and will serve as a Democrat if elected president. But he also signed paperwork to run as an independent for reelection to Senate, even though he’s running for president as a Democrat. Whatever the case, Democrats are wary of calling out Sanders for remaining an independent. They have good reason to leave that issue alone. Sanders’ political revolution is real. He’s proved to be a prolific fundraiser and organizer. He’s near or at the top of most presidential polls. In the 2016 presidential contest, Sanders won 23 primaries and caucuses and more than 45% of the delegates.

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Dallas Morning News - January 26, 2020

David Schrank: Texas cannot pave its way out of traffic problems

When we drive to work, we’re more than just commuters; we’re data points in a daily test of the laws of supply and demand. And the result is the same every day. The roadway space we want exceeds the space we have. Federal, state and local agencies have for decades responded primarily with more roadway lane miles. Since demand is likely to grow, now would be a good time to expand our thinking beyond supply-side solutions and talk about a different, demand-side approach. We can take a big bite out of our growing gridlock dilemma, illustrated by the 2019 Urban Mobility Report, without adding a lot of lane miles, (though we’ll still need some new roadways to address growth and maintenance.)

We can do that by reducing the number of cars at the busiest travel times. Transportation professionals call this travel demand management, or TDM. TDM got a lot of attention in the 1970s and 1980s, when high oil prices and long lines at gas stations created a sense of urgency about transportation challenges. Rather than feeling a financial constraint imposed by an energy crisis like decades ago, commuters today are feeling squeezed for time. With that in mind, TDM is an old concept worthy of new effort, and it includes some very simple and doable ideas.

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SE Texas Record - January 23, 2020

Storm attorneys throw financial support behind public adjuster in race for HD 26

Several notable storm attorneys have donated thousands of dollars to Matt Morgan, a Republican seeking to become the next representative for House District 26.

And while trial lawyers tend to primarily support Democrats, apparently Morgan, a public adjuster licensed in Texas, Georgia and Colorado, has attracted the attention of attorneys who make their living suing insurance companies. In the past six months, Morgan has raised around $19,000 – a good chunk of which ($2,500) was supplied by Houston attorney Chad Wilson, campaign finance records show. As previously reported, Wilson was one of three attorneys fingered by convicted hail attorney Kent Livesay.

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KXAN - January 27, 2020

Medical board settles ‘unwanted’ butt lift, patient death complaint against Cedar Park doctor

After nearly three years of investigations and court battles between a Cedar Park cosmetic surgeon and the Texas Medical Board, both sides ended the legal back-and-forth. In August, the TMB and Dr. Lawrence Broder signed a Mediated Agreed Order to settle two separate formal complaints the board filed against Broder: one from August 2017 and the other filed in March 2019.

The complaints detailed multiple allegations — stemming from TMB investigations — that Broder violated the Texas Medical Practice Act. Violations of the Act could lead to serious sanctions against a doctor’s medical license — including license revocation. The alleged violations concerning Broder happened between 2016 and 2018. Broder owns Beleza Medspa, with its main surgery center located in Cedar Park. The 2017 complaint against Broder and the death of a 26-year-old patient was at the center of a KXAN investigation into the time it takes the TMB to finish investigations into doctors that aired in February 2018.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 26, 2020

In Bexar County, bail bond companies ‘at the table’ for bail reform

Last spring, Cindy Gabriel, owner of Gabriel Bail Bonds, went to District Judge Ron Rangel, leader of Bexar County’s criminal district courts, with a request. On March 30, 2019, a chronically unemployed man named Richard Dallas Ortiz had been charged with possessing a small amount of methamphetamine. A city magistrate set his bond at $5,000. To get out of jail, Ortiz signed a contract with Gabriel, agreeing to pay her an undisclosed fee to guarantee his appearance at a May 21 court date. If Ortiz failed to show, Gabriel would be liable for the full $5,000. But just a few days later, Gabriel wanted out of the contract. On April 4, she filed an affidavit in Rangel’s court for a surety surrender, alleging Ortiz had broken their agreement “by not reporting in on a periodic basis” and failing “to complete the paperwork in allotted time.”

Rangel granted Gabriel’s motion, triggering a warrant for Ortiz’s arrest, and ordered the defendant put back in jail without bond, court records show. That meant an easy profit for Gabriel, who kept the fee. The order by Rangel, who said he is a “leading proponent on bail reform” despite his family’s ties to the bail bond industry, came at a fraught time for the Bexar County criminal justice system. For weeks, Rangel and the nine other district court judges had clashed with county officials over bail reform. The death of Janice Dotson-Stephens, a jail inmate with a history of mental illness, had raised concerns about the inequities of cash bail: how it often leaves poor defendants behind bars awaiting trial while those with money walk free. Advocates for bail reform want those accused of most low-level, nonviolent offenses — misdemeanors and some felonies — to receive personal recognizance bonds, or PR bonds, which allow them to await trial outside jail without paying bail. If a defendant can’t afford bail, he either can wait in jail until his trial or find a bondsman to put up the money for a fee, usually 10 to 15 percent of the total bond. The $2 billion bail bond industry strongly opposes bail reform in the United States, the only country other than the Philippines in which it is legal.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2020

Raj Mankad: We didn’t sign up for this. Living in Houston shouldn’t mean constant fear of explosions.

Part of the bargain of living in Houston is the proximity to industry. I accept long waits at railroad crossings as freight cars slowly pass. Those railcars represent jobs at the port. I accept sharing the road with semis. I accept that a getaway to the beach includes views of massive petrochemical plants. But living in Houston does not have to mean unbreathable air. It does not have to mean a state of constant fear, a dread that the quiet warehouse down the street will explode.

I felt the explosion this morning. It woke me at 4:30 a.m. even though I live more than 15 miles away from Watson Grinding and Manufacturing where it occurred. Details are still emerging. At least two people are reported to have died. Police Chief Art Acevedo said that people who live within a mile of the blast should look for debris. And body parts. The explosion shook our bodies and now we see images of our fellow Houstonians, who are wounded, whose windows have been shattered, whose walls and ceilings are damaged. I feel that too. First of all, we have to care for ourselves and our neighbors. Let’s acknowledge, once again, that we have and are going through so much as a city. Years punctuated by major floods and by explosions that rock us to the core. Even for those of us who escape with bodies and property intact, or who recover in a year or two, we carry trauma.

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Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2020

Houston homeowners pick up pieces of home, lives after explosion

Roy Hernandez stood inside what was left of his home — shattered glass, roof insulation dropping from the ceiling, doors blasted off their hinges — and worried about what he’d wear to work Monday. “All my uniforms are up there, underneath all this rubble,” he said in the middle of what used to be the living room.

Outside his broken window sit the remains of the Friday morning explosion at the Watson Grinding Manufacturing. The blast killed at least two workers, sent nearly 20 others to the hospital and damaged more than 200 homes in its vicinity, leaving a few dozen of them uninhabitable — including Hernandez’s. Investigations are ongoing into what caused the fiery explosion at the plant, where authorities said propylene — a chemical used to produce films, fibers and plastic packaging - was leaking.

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Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

Rain complicates recovery for neighbors near plant explosion

Maria Hernandez was on the verge of tears Sunday morning as she looked at her crumbling home near the site of the deadly Watson Grinding explosion that damaged more than 200 homes in west Houston. After a night of rain, the ceiling of her bedroom collapsed around 8:30 a.m., dumping debris onto where she would have been sleeping had she not stayed with relatives in Katy. The cracks in her Bridgeland Lane home — down the street from the bayou that neighbors the plant — were wider than what she found on Friday after the initial blast.

“I don’t feel safe,” said Hernandez, 45.“The house is moving.” She and her family spent much of the morning loading trucks with salvaged furniture but she said everything in the damaged bedroom is off limits. “We can’t go back in there. The landlord said, ‘Do not go back. I’m sorry,’” she said. Kent Heap, of Louisiana, was perched on the roof of his sister-in-law’s home, also on Bridgeland Lane, pondering how to fix a leak in the chimney. He arrived Friday to help her.

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 26, 2020

Schiff ‘has not paid the price’ for impeachment, Trump says in what appears to be veiled threat

President Trump escalated his attacks on Rep. Adam B. Schiff on Sunday, issuing what appears to be a veiled threat against the California Democrat one day before Trump’s team is expected to deliver the crux of its defense in the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. “Shifty Adam Schiff is a CORRUPT POLITICIAN, and probably a very sick man,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning. “He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”

Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is the lead impeachment manager in the Senate trial. Schiff responded in an interview on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” saying he believes Trump’s remarks were intended as a threat. “This is a wrathful and vindictive president; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Schiff said in the interview. “And if you think there is, look at the president’s tweets about me today, saying that I should ‘pay a price.’ ”

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Washington Post - January 26, 2020

Trump’s spiritual adviser called for ‘all satanic pregnancies to miscarry.’ It was a metaphor, she says.

A Florida pastor and longtime spiritual adviser to President Trump says she was speaking in metaphor when she recently prayed in a sermon for all “satanic pregnancies” to end in miscarriage. In video of the Jan. 5 sermon, posted by the liberal advocacy group Right Wing Watch, televangelist pastor Paula White breathlessly calls on Jesus Christ to “command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now.”

“We declare that anything that’s been conceived in satanic wombs, that it will miscarry, it will not be able to carry forth any plan of destruction, any plan of harm,” White said before an auditorium of congregants. As of Sunday morning, the clip, which was just under two minutes long, had been viewed more than 2.5 million times. White’s words are largely being interpreted literally — that she wishes for evil women to have miscarriages — but she shared a rare response to the criticism in which she explained that she was speaking in metaphor, praying for evil plans to be foiled in her congregants’ lives.

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Des Moines Register - January 25, 2020

Des Moines Register Editorial: Elizabeth Warren will push an unequal America in the right direction

No wonder Iowa Democrats are unsettled. Each of the remaining candidates campaigning across Iowa ahead of the caucuses could make a fine president. Each would be more inclusive and thoughtful than the current occupant of the White House. Each would treat truth as something that matters. Each would conduct foreign policy by coalition building rather than by whim and tweet. The outstanding caliber of Democratic candidates makes it difficult to choose just one.

But ultimately Iowa caucusgoers need to do that. Who would make the best president at this point in the country’s history? At a time when the economic deck has become so stacked against working Americans that the gap between rich and poor is the highest in more than 50 years? At a time when a generation of war has stressed military families and sapped the treasury? The Des Moines Register editorial board endorses Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses as the best leader for these times. The senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts is not the radical some perceive her to be. She was a registered Republican until 1996. She is a capitalist. “I love what markets can do,” she said. “They are what make us rich, they are what create opportunity.”

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New Hampshire Union-Leader - January 26, 2020

New Hampshire Union-Leader: Amy Klobuchar can win

If you are a New Hampshire voter who thinks Donald Trump is doing a good job, you can probably sleep in on primary day, Feb. 11. Try as they might, his Republican challengers have not made a dent in the President’s popularity within the party here.

If you are an independent or Democrat, however, yours may be one of the most consequential votes ever cast in a New Hampshire Primary. If there is to be any realistic challenge to Trump in November, the Democratic nominee needs to have a proven and substantial record of accomplishment across party lines, an ability to unite rather than divide, and the strength and stamina to go toe-to-toe with the Tweeter-in-Chief. That would be U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is sharp and witty, with a commanding understanding of both history and the inner workings of Capitol Hill.

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Truthout - January 23, 2020

Mike Ludwig: Clinton says Sanders achieved “nothing.” My community clinic shows she’s wrong.

Hillary Clinton has touched a nerve with her attacks on Bernie Sanders in a new docuseries premiering on Hulu and a subsequent interview with the Hollywood Reporter. In the docuseries, Clinton paints Sanders as an isolated career politician who failed to achieve anything meaningful in the Senate. “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done,” Clinton said. While it was Clinton’s comments about “Bernie bros” and her initial reluctance to say whether she would support Sanders if he won the Democratic nomination that set off a firestorm of controversy, her comments on Sanders’s congressional record were what struck me.

Regardless of which candidate one prefers, it’s hard to deny Sanders’s record of accomplishments over the years. In 2014, Sanders worked with Republican Sen. John McCain to pass a $16.3 billion health care bill for veterans that was badly needed after years of war overseas. But most of all, I thought about CrescentCare, the federally qualified community health center where I see my primary doctor. Established in 2014 by a local organization fighting HIV in New Orleans, CrescentCare has had a big impact on the lives of many people in my community — and my own. Sanders has slipped funding for community health centers in several health care bills over the years, but his biggest achievement came in 2010 as Congress was nearing the end of a bitter battle over the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After a series of high-stakes political negotiations, Sanders secured $11 billion in funding for these federally subsidized clinics that, by law, must operate in communities considered medically underserved due to poverty, elevated health risks and a shortage of health care providers.

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NPR - January 26, 2020

2 new US cases Of Wuhan Coronavirus confirmed in California

Health officials in two California counties have reported over the weekend two new cases of Wuhan coronavirus in the state, bringing the total number of cases in the U.S. to four. The Orange County Health Care Agency reported Saturday that a man in his 50s tested positive for the infectious disease and is currently being treated in isolation at a local hospital.

Meanwhile, officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported a second new case in California on Sunday. Both counties said the cases had been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to health officials in Orange and Los Angeles counties, both cases involved people traveling from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the infectious disease outbreak. Officials said both patients are receiving care at local hospitals, and that the risk of local transmission remains low. The Orange County health agency said in a statement that officials will continue to monitor people who have had close contact with the patient, who is in "good condition," according to Orange County Health Officer Nichole Quick. She added that there is no evidence of person-to-person transmission.

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AFP - January 26, 2020

Three rockets hit US embassy in protest-hit Iraqi capital

Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq's capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands of protesters kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country. The attack marked a dangerous escalation in the spree of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.

None of the attacks has been claimed but Washington has repeatedly blamed Iran-backed military factions in Iraq. On Sunday, one rocket hit an embassy cafeteria at dinner time while two others landed nearby, a security source told AFP. A senior Iraqi official told AFP at least one person was wounded, but it was not immediately clear how serious the injuries were and whether the person was an American national or an Iraqi staff member working at the mission. The US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Associated Press - January 27, 2020

Democrats demand Bolton testify at Trump's impeachment trial

The stakes over witness testimony at President Donald Trump's impeachment trial are rising now that a draft of a book from former national security adviser John Bolton appears to undercut a key defense argument. Bolton writes in the forthcoming book that Trump told him that he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from Ukraine until it helped him with politically charged investigations, including into Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump's legal team has repeatedly insisted that the Republican president never tied the suspension of military assistance to the country to investigations that he wanted into Biden and his son.

The account immediately gave Democrats new fuel in their pursuit of sworn testimony from Bolton and other witnesses, a question expected to be taken up later this week by the Republican-led Senate. The trial resumes Monday afternoon with arguments from Trump's defense team. Bolton's account was first reported by The New York Times and was confirmed to The Associated Press by a person familiar with the manuscript on the condition of anonymity to discuss the book, “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir," ahead of its release March 17. When the Times report went online Sunday night, the seven House Democratic managers immediately called on all senators to insist that Bolton be called as a witness and provide his notes and other relevant documents. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, issued the same call.

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Newsclips - January 26, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2020

Texas could put a Democrat over the top, but presidential candidates still focused on early contests

When the Democratic presidential contenders emerge — or stumble — in the early contest states, they will encounter a treasure-trove of delegates in Texas. At stake on March 3 are 261 delegates (228 pledged) who will be awarded on a proportional basis. That’s more than the combined 155 delegates on tap in the four early primary contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. So winning in Texas could catapult a candidate to the Democratic nomination for president, or make underdogs instant contenders.

According to the Texas Democratic Party, the state had 262 total delegates, but lost one when Eric Johnson, an automatic delegate, left the Texas Legislature to become Dallas mayor. “A candidate can win many more delegates in Texas than in the early primary and caucus states,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “Because of the structure of the Texas primary, it’s very important to engage voters everywhere.” Unlike recent Texas presidential primaries, when the field had only two major contenders, the 2020 Lone Star contest is more like a battle royal, with candidates trying to toss each other over the top rope to seize the party’s nomination. The increased level of competition means that candidates are maximizing time, money and resources in the early contest states such as Iowa, where polls show a four-way battle between former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

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Wall Street Journal - January 26, 2020

So long, California? Goodbye, Texas? Taxpayers decide some states aren’t worth it

Larry Belardi and Bobbie LaPorte are longtime San Francisco residents, but they are planning to leave California for Nevada next year. A turning point was the federal tax overhaul that Congress passed in late 2017. The law made it costlier to own a house in many high-price, high-tax areas, reshaping the economics of homeownership in those slices of the U.S. Two years after President Trump signed the tax law, its effects are rippling through local economies and housing markets, pushing some people to move from high-tax states where they have long lived. Parts of Florida, for example, are getting an influx of buyers from states such as New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

Many people saw their overall taxes go down after the 2017 law was passed. But the law had two main changes making it tougher to live in high-cost, high-tax states, especially compared with lower-taxed options. It essentially curbed how much homeowners can subtract from their federal taxes for paying local property and income taxes, by capping the state and local tax deduction at $10,000. It also lowered the size of mortgages for which new buyers can deduct the interest, to $750,000 from $1 million. These changes have the biggest impact on a sliver of the population who have high incomes and live in expensive areas. They tend to have white-collar jobs and the ability to pick up and move. Many own their own businesses, work remotely or are nearing retirement. Critics say the changes have hurt everyone who lives in high-tax states, by taking a bite out of tax revenue. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, panned the state and local tax cap last year. “It has redistributed wealth in this nation from Democratic states—we’re also called blue states—to red states,” he said at the time.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 24, 2020

Texas Rep. Escobar will give Democrats’ response to Trump State of the Union

Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar will deliver the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech next month — a coveted gig for the El Paso Democrat still in her first term in Congress. Escobar, who shares with Houston Democrat Rep. Sylvia Garcia the distinction of being the first Texas Latinas ever elected to Congress, will deliver the Spanish language response to Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Friday, noting that Escobar’s election made history.

Both of the Texas Democrats have rapidly gained clout in their first terms in office. Pelosi put Garcia on the team of Democrats presenting the House’s case for impeachment to the Senate. “Our diversity is our strength,” Escobar said. “Now more than ever, Democrats will continue to celebrate our diversity, defend our democracy, and work for a more equal and just nation.” Escobar has quickly made a name for herself as an advocate for reforming gun laws after a mass shooting in El Paso in which 22 people died last summer, and as a vocal supporter of impeachment from her seat on the House Judiciary Committee that drafted the articles charging Trump with abusing his power and obstructing Congress.

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Washington Post - January 24, 2020

Bloomberg gets under Trump’s skin as he ramps up spending on 2020 ads

Mike Bloomberg is lagging behind his Democratic competitors in the polls, and he will not appear on the next presidential debate stage or on the ballot in Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina. But the former New York mayor has attracted the obsessive attention of President Trump, who is annoyed by Bloomberg’s constant ads targeting him, concerned about the billionaire’s outsize spending, focused on his growing numbers in the polls and seemingly fixated on his TV appearances.

The president has repeatedly attacked Bloomberg on Twitter, calling him “Mini Mike” to insult his small stature, and frequently focused on him in conversations with campaign advisers and White House officials. “It’s very clear that the ads we are running have gotten under his skin because they are effective,” said Howard Wolfson, a senior Bloomberg aide. “Mike’s poll numbers are improving, the president is screaming. Mike is a data-driven guy. When he sees data is working, he doubles down.”

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ABC News - January 23, 2020

'Take her out': Recording appears to capture Trump at private dinner saying he wants Ukraine ambassador fired

A recording obtained by ABC News appears to capture President Donald Trump telling associates he wanted the then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch fired while speaking at a small gathering that included Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman -- two former business associates of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani who have since been indicted in New York. The recording appears to contradict statements by Trump and support the narrative that has been offered by Parnas during broadcast interviews in recent days. Sources familiar with the recording said the recording was made during an intimate April 30, 2018, dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Trump has said repeatedly he does not know Parnas, a Soviet-born American who has emerged as a wild card in Trump’s impeachment trial, especially in the days since Trump was impeached. "Get rid of her!" is what the voice that appears to be Trump’s is heard saying. "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it." On the recording, it appears the two Giuliani associates are telling Trump that the U.S. ambassador has been bad-mouthing him, which leads directly to the apparent remarks by the president. The recording was made by Fruman, according to sources familiar with the tape. "Every president in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his Administration," White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

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New York Times - January 25, 2020

Trump team, opening defense, accuses Democrats of plot to subvert election

President Trump’s legal defense team mounted an aggressive offense on Saturday as it opened its side in the Senate impeachment trial by attacking his Democratic accusers as partisan witch-hunters trying to remove him from office because they could not beat him at the ballot box. After three days of arguments by the House managers prosecuting Mr. Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors, the president’s lawyers presented the senators a radically different view of the facts and the Constitution, seeking to turn the Democrats’ charges back on them while denouncing the whole process as illegitimate.

“They’re asking you to tear up all of the ballots all across the country on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people,” Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, said of the House managers. “They’re here,” he added moments later, “to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history, and we can’t allow that to happen.” The president’s team spent only two of the 24 hours allotted to them so that senators could leave town for the weekend before the defense presentation resumes on Monday, but it was the first time his lawyers have formally made a case for him since the House opened its inquiry in September. The goal was to poke holes in the House managers’ arguments in order to provide enough fodder to Senate Republicans already inclined to acquit him. While less combative than their famously combustible client, the lawyers relentlessly assailed the prosecution’s interpretation of events, accusing House Democrats of cherry-picking the facts and leaving out contrary information to construct a skewed narrative. They maintained that none of what the Democrats presented the Senate justified the first eviction of a president from the White House in American history.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

Texas districts are dramatically cutting back on suspensions. Can Beaumont learn from them?

Across all 45 schools in Alief ISD, administrators, teachers and support staff comprise an “Above and Beyond Team,” tasked with ensuring a safe, orderly campus. Their job entails promoting initiatives aimed at improving student behavior, analyzing which programs are working best and monitoring campus discipline data, the kind of behind-the-scenes work that has helped Alief, in southwest Houston, reduce its out-of-school suspension rate by 53 percent over the past decade.

“Most of that change comes from within us, the adults, realizing that we no longer serve traditional kids from traditional homes,” said Roxanna Barnes, a prevention and safe schools specialist in Alief. “We know that kids are human, they’re going to make mistakes and we want them to see beyond their mistakes.” As Beaumont ISD grapples with the state’s highest out-of-school suspension rate — 46 issued per 100 students last school year, far exceeding any other district with at least 1,000 children — educators in hundreds of districts like Alief have reduced their use of harsh discipline in recent years, offering potential insights for Beaumont officials. In recent weeks, as the Houston Chronicle and Beaumont Enterprise have investigated the district’s extraordinarily high suspension rate, Beaumont Superintendent Shannon Allen and Board of Education President Thomas Sigee have acknowledged the need to make administrative changes aimed at curbing frequent discipline. About 3,325 out of the district’s 19,000 students were suspended at least once last school year, missing a combined 17,500 days of school.

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Houston Chronicle - January 26, 2020

Erica Grieder: Dan Crenshaw is right to say that Republicans can’t afford to ignore climate change

This past week, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw called on his fellow Republicans to take climate change seriously — a welcome development. No, the Houston-area congressman isn’t coming out for the “Green New Deal” being promoted by a fellow freshman with a high profile, New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Rather, he is backing a new initiative from House Republicans that offers a more conservative approach to the problem.

With polls showing voters in both parties increasingly concerned about global warming, the move by Crenshaw and other young Republicans to acknowledge the threat and put forth a plan is shrewd politics, if nothing else. Some of Crenshaw’s 2nd District constituents may be cynical about his motives, as he looks ahead to a potentially tough re-election fight in the fall. But his willingness to challenge climate change deniers is something to cheer, given that they have outsized influence in the House GOP. Crenshaw discussed the issue during a question-and-answer session on Wednesday at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation in Austin.

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Houston Chronicle - January 24, 2020

Rep. Henry Cuellar gets dark money help as he defends against progressive challenger

Just weeks before voting starts in what is expected to be U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s toughest re-election fight in years, a dark money group is flooding his South Texas district with ads supporting him. The nonprofit American Workers for Progress has poured more than $720,000 into ads in Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, McAllen, Brownsville and Harlingen, according to Advertising Analytics, a private firm that tracks political advertising.

Little is known about the newly formed group. A longtime Democratic operative listed as its president declined to comment. Cuellar's campaign spokesman says he knows nothing about the group, as does the state Democratic party. Nonetheless, the heavy spending is a sign of how nervous some in Cuellar's orbit are that Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration attorney from Laredo who has become a star in progressive circles, could end his 15-year stint in Congress. The race will provide an early indication in 2020 of the electability of several progressive hopefuls in Texas. They argue that a key to turning the state blue will be reaching voters who have not made a habit of voting in the past, especially young and minority voters, who they believe can be energized by an unflinching progressive message.

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Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2020

Private border wall in the Rio Grande Valley meets wide opposition — including the Trump administration

Rey Anzaldúa stepped onto his wooden dock on the Rio Grande to bemoan the rapid progress of a shiny steel border wall looming over the carrizo cane at the edge of his 70-acre property. “It’s un-American,” he said. “It shouldn’t happen in the U.S.” Blocked in court until a judge recently lifted a restraining order, the 18-foot high-wall of galvanized steel bollards, a privately funded project, is gaining about 1,000 feet a day as crews race to build 3 miles along a bend in the river.

It should be complete this week. The wall is the latest flash point in President Donald Trump’s plan to erect hundreds of miles of border fencing to deter immigration. Built by North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel Co. on land it agreed to purchase, the wall is about 11 yards from the river on the floodplain. The U.S. government joined the nearby National Butterfly Center and other opponents in suing to block construction, citing concerns the barrier will worsen flooding and could change the river’s course. The wall hasn’t been approved by the International Boundary and Water Commission, a treaty organization that regulates construction and water use along the Rio Grande by both the U.S. and Mexico.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Texas Parks and Wildlife approves fee structure for Managed Lands Deer Program

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted a fee structure for the highly popular Managed Lands Deer Program on Thursday. A price tag will now be associated with the benefits landowners and hunters receive from a voluntary program that has traditionally been free of charge. MLDP offers liberal bag limits and a five-month long season to participants; valuable opportunity outside of the regular deer season.

The fee structure corresponds to the two MLDP options in which properties are enrolled, the conservation or harvest option. The harvest option is self-service and provides automated tag issuances that aren’t site-specific. The conservation option, which accounts for 83 percent of enrollment, provides customized one-on-one assistance from TPWD staff and tag issuances that are tailored to each property. Conservation option participants are required to have a wildlife management plan, conduct population surveys and improve habitat. The fee per management unit, or individual ranch, is $300 under the conservation option. For properties with multiple management units, like large ranches with multiple low-fence and high-fence pastures, the charge will be $300 for the first unit and $30 for each additional unit.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2020

Anne Wicks and Eva Chiang: Texas, don’t throw out the STAAR exam just because you don’t like the results

Texas Rep. Matt Shaheen has vowed to lead the charge to replace the State of Texas Academic Assessment of Readiness (STAAR) exam with a different kind of test. If you read his critique of the STAAR, you would swear that Texas’ annual exams are as valid as a Russian Twitter bot. Shaheen is wrong in his criticism of the STAAR, but he is right that teachers benefit from using a second type of test to ensure students are on track throughout the academic year. The STAAR test is a summative test designed to provide a yearly snapshot of student progress that allows us to compare groups of students by race, gender, geography and more.

It also is designed to show us —Texas taxpayers and voters — the progress of students year-over-year on state standards.Shaheen, a Republican representing Plano, suggests that we need an entirely new test that instead adapts to each student’s level. Adaptive tests are commonly used as formative assessments. Formative tests produce real-time data that help to inform a teacher’s instruction to ensure that students are on track over time. But, those tests typically don’t let us compare the progress of one group of students with another. If you are participating in a fitness challenge at your exercise studio, you likely weighed yourself at the start, and you will weigh yourself at the end. That is equivalent to your STAAR results.

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Dallas Morning News - January 25, 2020

Glimpse of history: Dallas mayor joins parade of spectators witnessing Trump impeachment trial

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and former state Sen. Don Huffines are among the Dallasites who have made their way to the Senate gallery to witness history -- the third impeachment trial of a president. Both attended on Thursday, the second day of the House managers’ three-day opening arguments. Johnson said it was “something else” to spend a few minutes taking in the trial, having been given guest passes by the office of Sen. Ted Cruz.

= “I’d never been in the Senate gallery, period,” the mayor said. “I haven’t spent much time in Washington at all. But I’m a history major. I’m a person who loves government. So it was just extraordinary to see history being made.” He’s hanging onto his gallery pass to show his kids someday. “No matter what you think about the substantive arguments being made and all the politics surrounding it, we’ve only had three impeachments go to trial in the Senate in the history of the country,” he said. “It was very interesting.” Johnson was in Washington for meetings at the White House.

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2020

Baylor University student being tested for coronavirus

The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District is investigating whether a Baylor University student who recently traveled to China has contracted the new coronavirus that has erupted out of that country, the university confirmed Friday. The university said that the student has been isolated in a room on campus as a precaution and that his residence hall — in particular, his dorm room — has been thoroughly cleaned.

“The student is being monitored by Baylor, state and local health officials," Baylor said in a news release. "The University also is working with the student to make sure needs are being met during the isolation period.” A county health official could not say if the student had a roommate. Tests for the virus were conducted Thursday, the Waco health department said in a news release. The county hadn’t been told when it might get results back from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2020

The Texas economy added almost 1,000 jobs a day in 2019

Texas employers created 28,900 new jobs in December, even as the state’s unemployment rate crept up slightly, according to data released Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission. For the year, the state’s labor force grew by 342,800 jobs — the equivalent of nearly 1,000 new jobs a day. Overall, the state saw a “slight downshift in growth” in 2019 compared with the year before, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas assistant economist Christopher Slijk. The state added 391,800 jobs in 2018.

“Considering the tightness of the labor market, it’s not surprising," Slijk said. The state’s 3.5% jobless rate in December ticked up slightly from November’s 3.4% — a historic low that the state held steady for six consecutive months. It had been the lowest rate since the state began recording unemployment in 1976. “For a state this size, we’d expect to see some movement one way or another, but it’s been remarkably stable,” Slijk said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 24, 2020

Will Fort Worth area Democrats survive competitive primaries to flip red seats blue?

Democrats are ardently working to wrestle the 150-member Texas House from Republican control for the first time in nearly two decades. They’re effectively nine seats away, and Democrats are betting on picking up some of Tarrant County’s historically red seats to usher in that new era. The stakes are high: the party in power will have a greater say in redrawing political boundaries for the next decade.

But first, Democratic candidates will have to devote money and messaging to emerge from the March 3 primary in order to have a chance at taking on their Republican opponents. Candidates, lawmakers and strategists largely think the competitive primaries will help — not hurt — Democrats’ chances to flip red seats blue. “Good candidates oftentimes become even better during contested primaries, and usually the things that good candidates do during a primary end up helping them in the general election,” said Matt Angle, a Democratic strategist and director of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 26, 2020

Bud Kennedy: Who’s right on guns, Jack Wilson or Mike Bloomberg? Hero of church shooting speaks out

Church shooting hero Jack Wilson is still a grieving survivor, and now he’s also in the middle of the gun-rights debate. On “Fox and Friends” last week, the sharpshooting gun instructor and former Hood County reserve deputy said New York Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg is mistaken about whether church worshipers should be armed, or should wait for police to handle a shooting.

“Mr. Bloomberg — had we operated by his standards or his wishes, the carnage would have been significantly greater,” said Wilson, 71, of rural Hood County. He’s the security volunteer who brought an armed Keith Kinnunen down with one shot from across the church, ending the Dec. 29 attack that killed Rich White, 67, of Westworth Village, and Tony Wallace, 64, of Fort Worth. This is Texas, where some of our elected officials think God gave us guns and wrote the Second Amendment. So the shooting has renewed the debate over gun laws. It didn’t help the argument for stricter gun laws after Bloomberg told an Alabama audience the very next day after the shooting, “It’s the job of law enforcement to have guns. ... You just do not want the average citizen carrying a gun in a crowded place.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 24, 2020

With 2 possible cases in the state, North Texas prepares for the coronavirus

North Texas leaders are ramping up efforts to respond to the coronavirus, in the event that anyone in the Dallas-Fort Worth area shows symptoms of the fast-spreading disease that originated just last month in China. Two students at Texas colleges are being tested for possible cases.

At DFW Airport, American Airlines is providing extra supplies of sanitary wipes on flights to and from several Chinese cities. American offers nonstop service from DFW to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. American also is giving flight crews the option of wearing protective face masks on flights to and from those cities, even though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t recommended such action. “The safety of our customers and team members is our top priority,” Curtis Blessing, American spokesman, said in an email. “We are in close contact with the US Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health officials and will coordinate with them on any required health and safety related measures.” However, no additional screening is being required of passengers arriving at DFW on international flights, airport spokesman Bill Begley said.

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Texas Observer - January 26, 2020

He may not be a candidate, but Beto O’Rourke is rebuilding his Texas organizing machine for 2020

Beto O’Rourke began 2019 as a political phenom, but ended it as an also-ran. The much-hyped former U.S. representative from El Paso initially rode a wave of optimism from his nationally watched Senate campaign, but struggled to gain support in the presidential race. It was an underwhelming end of a chapter for a man who was once viewed as the great hope for Texas Democrats. But even though—to the dismay of many supporters—O’Rourke opted not to jump into the crowded Democratic primary to take on Senator John Cornyn, he had no intention of watching 2020 from the sidelines.

His 2018 race against Ted Cruz, and the down-ballot Democratic wave that came with it, signaled that Texas is now a bona fide battleground in 2020. Democrats could potentially take control of the state House for the first time in two decades. A battery of state and national Democratic organizations is now committed to spending big money on Texas legislative and congressional races. And the eventual Democratic presidential nominee might actually make a real play for the state’s 38 electoral college votes. So what’s O’Rourke’s role in this? He saw an opportunity in the 20,000 volunteers in Texas who provided the organizing jet fuel for his Senate campaign. That statewide political operation was unparalleled in Texas, and even the nation. It was O’Rourke’s magnetic charisma and aspirational call for a new kind of politics that attracted masses of volunteers in the first place, and only he could get that going again. But this time, he won’t be a candidate.

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SE Texas Record - January 20, 2020

Fifth Circuit shuts down transgender pronoun appeal – Texas Values says case illustrates absurdity of gender identity politics

Norman Varner’s record of conviction won’t be amended to reflect his new name – Kathrine Nicole Jett, as the Fifth Circuit recently shot down the transgender woman’s appeal – a case that one group says illustrates the absurdity of gender identity politics. The opinion sparked a slew of media coverage and while many of the circulating news articles are quick to focus on LGBTQ rights issues, some pieces fail to even state Varner’s crimes. In 2012, Varner pled guilty to attempted receipt of child pornography and was sentenced to 180 months in prison, followed by 15 years of supervised release.

Varner’s federal sentence was influenced by his previous convictions at the state level for possession of child porn and failure to register as a sex offender. Court records show that in 2018, Varner wrote a letter to the district court requesting that the name on his judgment of committal be changed to reflect his “new legal name of Kathrine Nicole Jett.” Varner’s letter explained that he had come out as a transgender woman in 2015 and planned to have gender reassignment surgery. Attached to the letter was a certified copy of a 2018 order from a Kentucky state court changing Varner’s name.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 24, 2020

Texans take star turns in impeachment drama

Texans are playing starring roles in the impeachment drama unfolding in the Senate this week, prosecuting the case against President Donald Trump, defending the president in front of TV cameras during breaks and working behind the scenes to bolster Trump’s defense:

? U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, one of the seven House impeachment managers, gave a forceful presentation that took head-on what has been a difficult issue for Democrats — the role of former Vice President Joe Biden. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are making lots of media appearances — they cannot speak on the floor — with Cornyn hewing to the GOP leadership plan downplaying the need for witnesses and Cruz playing to the Republican base by pushing for Hunter Biden as a potential witness. U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, an adviser to the White House legal team, has been waiting in the wings. The defense case will begin Saturday. Garcia on Thursday took on a favorite Republican talking point — that Joe Biden as vice president had threatened to withhold $1 billion in Ukrainian aid unless a corrupt prosecutor was dismissed, one who allegedly was investigating Biden’s son, a board member of a Ukrainian gas company.

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KVIA - January 23, 2020

El Paso city Rep. Claudia Ordaz-Perez facing new ethics complaints over campaign contributions

El Paso city Rep. Claudia Ordaz-Perez is facing new ethics complaints stemming from the campaign contribution reports she filed last week. As ABC-7 has previously reported, Ordaz-Perez is resigning her city council seat to run for state representative for District 76.

Ross Moore, who does not live in her district but described himself as a taxpayer in the city of El Paso, on Thursday filed 24 complaints alleging Ordaz-Perez failed to report many donations of more than $500 while she's served on city council. The city code reads, "If a member of the city council accepts a campaign contribution from a contributor of five hundred dollars or more, he shall report the amount and the donor by an item for notation on the consent agenda of a city council meeting within thirty days of the date of such contribution." "This is an issue of transparency and accountability," Moore told ABC-7. He is the president of the El Paso Federation of Teachers which endorsed Elisa Tamayo, Ordaz-Perez's opponent, last week.

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Brownsville Herald - January 23, 2020

With Texas’ blessing, new oyster industry developing along gulf

It’s a pearl of an idea. Wild oysters already are harvested in a strictly regulated fishery in Texas. But beginning as early as the end of this year, these prized shellfish raised on saltwater farms in the Laguna Madre and elsewhere along the coast could begin hitting seafood stores.

Last year Texas became the final state on the Gulf of Mexico to legalize off-bottom oyster mariculture, a process which uses raised “beds” in shallow waters which oysters attach to, grow from, and eventually are plucked and processed. Nationally, the farmed oyster business generates about $175 million annually. In Texas, it could quickly become a multi-million-dollar industry, too. The new oyster mariculture program in Texas couldn’t come at a better time. Global wild oyster harvests have declined by 43 percent since 2000, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A key hurdle Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials face now is identifying the right spots to set the oyster beds. Areas with sea grass beds which serve as nurseries for aquatic species and food for sea turtles are out, as are spots with oil and gas pipelines, existing natural oyster reefs and gulf islands where birds nest.

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KXXV - January 25, 2020

Attorney general tells Galveston City Council it can't stop gun shops from locating near schools and churches

After Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened a lawsuit, the Galveston City Council repealed a local rule this week that aimed to put some space between gun shops and schools. Galveston previously had on its books some regulations that required a minimum of 200 feet of distance between gun stores and a school, place of worship or public park, reported The Houston Chronicle .

But in a unanimous decision, the city council voted to repeal the regulations on Thursday. On Dec. 17, Assistant Attorney General Cleve Doty wrote a letter to the city of Galveston stating that the land use regulation violated state law. Doty requested the city rule to be overturned or else face legal retaliation, The Chronicle reports. “The Office of the Attorney General demands that the City repeal these regulations and any like them immediately,” Doty wrote in the letter. “Rather than file litigation now, we are confident that the City of Galveston intends to comply with Texas law and will rescind regulations that are in violation of Texas law.”

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San Angelo Live - January 25, 2020

Local GOP candidates tout experience at overflow Republican Women Lunch

The center of the political universe in west Texas was the Riverview Restaurant in San Angelo Thursday as most of the candidates running for congress in Texas' 11th Congressional District watched as the two candidates for Tom Green County Commissioner and Tom Green County Sheriff politely addressed a crowd twice as large as expected for the monthly meeting of the Concho Valley Republican Women club.

The CVRW has long been the center of grassroots power and activism in Tom Green County and is known across Texas as a formidable force in local politics. In fact, there's not one Democrat Party candidate for any local office on the ballot. Precinct one long time incumbent County Commissioner Ralph Hoelscher is challenged by former Miles ISD trustee Cary Houston. Commissioner Hoelscher outlined his reason for running for a fifth term on the court. He said unfunded mandates from the Texas legislature and a reduction in the rollback tax rate from 8 percent to 3.5 percent may force counties to cut services.

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Politifact Texas - January 24, 2020

Fact-check: Has Austin removed legal consequences for where ‘homeless lie, sleep...defecate?’

In early January, a man stabbed one person to death and injured others at an Austin shopping center. His attack ended at a burrito shop, where he jumped from the roof and later died from his injuries. Police later identified the attacker as a man experiencing homelessness, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to highlight the incident as part of his ongoing assault on homeless policies in Austin. “What Austin has done over the past half year is to perpetuate a sense of lawlessness in the city by the homeless,” Abbott told reporters at the Capitol. “They have removed, seemingly, any legal consequences to the actions where the homeless lie, sleep, where they defecate.”

Austin has changed the parameters of its ordinances regulating public camping related to homeless people multiple times since first suspending a ban on camping in public in June. But even when the regulations were at their most lax, they included provisions preventing camping in certain areas and legal consequences for violating the policy. Abbott did not return requests for comment seeking more information about his claim. Abbott has been publicly sparring with Austin leaders over the city’s homeless policies since June, when the City Council voted to make public camping (except in parks) legal, as long as a person did not endanger “the health or safety of another person or of themselves” or make “usage of such area unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous.” The original policy made it legal for people to sit, sleep or panhandle on public sidewalks as long as they didn’t engage in behavior or actions deemed aggressive.

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Waco Tribune-Herald - January 25, 2020

TSTC Waco chosen for first Tesla service training program in Texas

TSTC Waco will become the first school in Texas where students can learn to service Tesla electric cars through a 12-week program. A local industry recruiter said the distinction could pave the way for placement of a Tesla-branded service center in Greater Waco.

Tesla is the car company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, who already has a fondness for the area. His SpaceX company that specializes in private rocketry operates a testing facility in McGregor that employs nearly 600 people. And Musk, a native of South Africa, has been spotted dining at Donald Citrano’s Coffee Shop Cafe on West McGregor Drive. An affinity for the area aside, opening a service center locally would seem to make good business sense, said Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. “Looking at domestic growth, Texas continues to be a leading state in both business and population growth, a trend that is projected to continue for decades to come,” said Collins in an email response.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 25, 2020

Mayor Sylvester Turner: More must be done to keep Houstonians safe from chemical accidents

It took a phone call to Camp Lejeune from Houston’s police chief to get a Marine back to Houston to grieve with his family after Friday’s deadly explosion at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing. Gerardo Castorena Jr.’s father was one of two men killed by the early morning blast at the Spring Branch-area plant, which damaged more than 200 nearby homes, knocked dozens off their foundations, and rattled windows across the city. But his superiors at the North Carolina base did not immediately authorize him to return home because his father’s identity had not yet been officially confirmed, Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

“It made it a priority for us to get the young Marine home,” said Acevedo, noting the Marine was expected home Saturday night. The 4:30 a.m. explosion obliterated much of the Gessner Road plant, killing Gerardo Castorena Sr., 45, and coworker Frank Flores, 44, both of whom had showed up early to work out in the on-site gym. Investigators spent Saturday combing the wreckage, but ended the day without releasing new details. Authorities have identified the chemical involved as propylene, which is used for the production of films, fibers and plastic packaging, but Acevedo said determining the cause of the blast will take days. After taking his second tour of the site, Mayor Sylvester Turner said more must be done to protect Houstonians from dangerous chemicals and called on state and federal lawmakers to give the city more regulatory leeway.

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KUT - January 24, 2020

Austin Police Chief pushes back on claim that City Council resolution decriminalizes pot

“First and foremost, marijuana was not decriminalized,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference Friday, a day after the City Council voted not to spend money on testing suspected marijuana except in high-priority felonies. “That is an action that can only be taken by the state Legislature,” he said. He later added: "At this point, nothing will change. We will handle it as we have."

He said there are two options: An officer will either cite a person, if warranted, and release them, or an arrest will be made. The Travis County district attorney and the county attorney have been dismissing some marijuana cases since Texas legislators legalized hemp last year. But APD has continued to cite for low-level possession even though it doesn't have the testing protocols to distinguish marijuana from hemp. On Thursday, Council unanimously voted not to spend city money on testing except in the case of high-priority felonies, like trafficking or violent offenses.

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National Stories

CNN - January 25, 2020

Parnas recording shows Trump talking with indicted businessmen the President has said he doesn't know

A nearly 90-minute recording released Saturday of President Donald Trump at a 2018 donor dinner that included indicted businessmen he has claimed he doesn't know features Trump speaking animatedly about removing the US ambassador to Ukraine -- at one point stating, "Get rid of her!"

The tape was shared publicly by an attorney for Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who subsequently worked with Rudy Giuliani to push for ousting the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. She was ultimately removed from her post in April 2019. "Get her out tomorrow. I don't care," the President says at a dinner with donors at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. "Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it." CNN has listened to the entire audio but has not yet conclusively identified the individual speakers other than the President.

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Associated Press - January 26, 2020

Trump lawyers argue Democrats just want to overturn election

President Donald Trump’s lawyers plunged into his impeachment trial defense Saturday by accusing Democrats of striving to overturn the 2016 election, arguing that investigations of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine have not been a fact-finding mission but a politically motivated effort to drive him from the White House. “They’re here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone told senators. “And we can’t allow that to happen.”

The Trump legal team’s arguments in the rare Saturday session were aimed at rebutting allegations that the president abused his power when he asked Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and then obstructed Congress as it tried to investigate. The lawyers are mounting a wide-ranging, aggressive defense asserting an expansive view of presidential powers and portraying Trump as besieged by political opponents determined to ensure he won’t be reelected this November. “They’re asking you to tear up all the ballots across this country on your own initiative, take that decision away from the American people,” Cipollone said.

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New York Times - January 25, 2020

Lamar Alexander, set to leave office, is G.O.P. wild card on witnesses

The ghost of Howard H. Baker Jr., the Republican senator from Tennessee who turned against Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, is hovering over Senator Lamar Alexander. Mr. Alexander, a third-term Republican from Tennessee who is retiring at the end of this year, has said that no one outside his family has had more influence on him than Mr. Baker, the former Senate majority leader who is remembered for the penetrating question he posed as Nixon stared down impeachment: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Now Mr. Alexander may hold in his hands the fate of another Republican president who is facing removal from office. He is one of four Republican moderates who have expressed openness to bringing witnesses into President Trump’s impeachment trial. Of the four, he stands out because he is not running for re-election and arguably has nothing to lose. Yet as the Senate heads toward a vote on the matter, Mr. Alexander — who has broken with Mr. Trump over trade, the border wall and health care — does not appear ready for a Howard Baker moment. He has said he will make a decision about witnesses after Mr. Trump’s team presents its defense and senators have an opportunity to ask questions, but he does not sound eager to defect. “As the House managers have said many times, they’ve presented us with a mountain of overwhelming evidence,” he told reporters in the Capitol on Friday. “So we have a lot to consider already.”

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BuzzFeed - January 25, 2020

Mike Pompeo sent investigators to Ukraine ahead of his visit to look into the possible surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch

State Department investigators this week interviewed hundreds of diplomats and employees at the US embassy in Ukraine as part of an investigation into the alleged surveillance of former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch by associates of Rudy Giuliani, two US officials with knowledge of the investigation told BuzzFeed News. The interviews were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday by officers from the State Department’s federal law enforcement and security arm, the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), the diplomatic sources told BuzzFeed News. One of the sources said DSS was coordinating with Ukrainian authorities, which opened their own investigation into the matter on Jan. 16.

The US embassy declined to comment. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, which announced the Ukrainian investigation, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Saturday but it said previously that it would be asking US authorities to work together. One diplomatic source described the investigation as “cynical” and a “cover your ass” move on the part of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of his scheduled visit to Kyiv on Jan. 30 and 31. The source said it seemed as though it was happening “so that Pompeo could walk in and say: ‘investigating your security is our number one priority.’” One of the sources described US embassy workers as being “spooked” by the surprise investigators showing up. It’s unclear how many of them were present, but the embassy employs over 300 people, including diplomats and local staff, so it would take several officers to get through them all in two days. All diplomats and staff were explicitly told not to speak to the press about the matter, according to one of the sources.

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NPR - January 25, 2020

After contentious interview, Pompeo publicly accuses NPR journalist of lying to him

One day after a contentious interview that was followed by an expletive-filled verbal lashing of NPR host Mary Louise Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is publicly accusing her of lying to him — "twice." In a statement released by the State Department on Saturday, Pompeo says Kelly first lied "in setting up our interview."

He does not explain how and offers no evidence. In their recorded interview from Friday, the nation's top diplomat declined to respond when Kelly asked whether he owed an apology to Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She was ousted from that post last year after allies of President Trump accused her of disloyalty. "I agreed to come on your show today," Pompeo replied, "to talk about Iran." Kelly pushed back, telling Pompeo, "I confirmed with your staff last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine." She later said she specifically flagged her intention to do so in writing, noting, "I never agree to take any topics off the table." Pompeo asserts Kelly again lied "in agreeing to have our post-interview conversation off the record." That unrecorded conversation took place when the Pompeo aide who cut off the formal interview summoned Kelly to the secretary's private living room.

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The Hill - January 26, 2020

Romney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (R) said Saturday that it is “very likely” he will be in favor of calling witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial against President Trump. However, the GOP lawmaker said he will hold off on making his final decision until after Democratic impeachment managers and the president’s defense lawyers conclude their opening arguments.

"I think it's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses, but I haven't made a decision finally yet and I won't until the testimony is completed," the Utah Republican said Saturday after the first day of the Trump team’s opening arguments, CNN reported. Romney declined to say whether he thought the president’s defense team was effective in the opening hours of their arguments, saying, "I just don't have any comments on the process or the evidence until the trial is over,” CNN reported. Earlier this month, Romney was the first GOP lawmaker to specifically say that he wanted to hear from former White House national security adviser John Bolton in the course of the impeachment trial.

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Roll Call - January 24, 2020

Democrats pick women from key 2020 states for State of the Union response

Democratic leaders announced Friday that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, who both hail from critical 2020 states, will give the responses to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4. Whitmer leads Michigan, a top presidential and congressional battleground that Trump won by less than half a percentage point in 2016. Escobar, who will give the Spanish-language response to the president’s address, represents a deep-blue district in Texas, where Democrats are hoping to make gains in the state’s diversifying suburbs.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Whitmer as “a forward-looking leader who is laser-focused on solving problems for everyday Michiganders and is uniquely qualified to deliver Democrats’ message of progress for all Americans.” After serving in the state legislature and as a county prosecutor, Whitmer won the governor’s race in 2018 by nearly 10 points. Michigan is a top target for both parties this year, especially with the state’s competitive Senate race between Democratic incumbent Gary Peters and Army veteran John James, as well as a handful of competitive House races. Escobar, a freshman and one of the first two Latinas to represent Texas in Congress, recently joined House Democratic leadership as co-representative of the freshman class, replacing California Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned in October. She succeeded Democrat Beto O’Rourke in the House, after he vacated his seat for an unsuccessful run for Senate in 2018.

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Filter - January 23, 2020

Why so many prosecutors enjoy uncontested re-election

There is so much we don’t know about local prosecutors’ offices. Despite handling the vast majority of US criminal cases, virtually none of them collect, let alone publicize, data on charging practices, plea bargains and sentencing. And while it is commonly known that many elected prosecutors rarely face competitive elections, the extent of this lack of competition has not been comprehensively understood. A remarkable new report from the Prosecutors and Politics Center at the University of North Carolina School of Law, headed by Professor Carissa Byrne Hessick, promises to change the way we understand prosecutors’ incumbency advantage.

Prof. Hessick and her team processed an immense amount of data, including the most recent prosecutor election results for the 2,318 districts in the 45 states that elect local prosecutors. They found that the majority of these elections for counties with a population of less than one million have a single, unopposed candidate—while counties with over one million people generally see a contested election. In addition, an incumbent prosecutor only gets a challenger approximately 25 percent of the time—whereas when the prior chief prosecutor opted not to run again, there were two or more candidates almost half the time.

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Newsclips - January 24, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to change Texas Senate rules to benefit GOP if Dems win more seats in 2020

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says that even if Democrats gain more seats in the Texas Senate, he’ll urge ruling Republicans to change rules to maintain control of the flow of legislation in the chamber next session. As long as Republicans retain a majority of the 31-member Senate, they should keep revising rules so Texas continues “leading on federalism,” or a reduced role for the federal government and greater clout for the states, Patrick said Thursday.

Patrick quickly emphasized that he believes the GOP will perform well in the November general election. But his comments, delivered before a conservative audience at an event sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, underscored how he remains hostile to Texas Senate traditions that empowered minorities, whether of party or geography. Speaking with foundation executive director Kevin Roberts and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint at a luncheon attended by hundreds of conservative activists, Patrick noted that he already helped persuade GOP senators to toss a longstanding “two-thirds rule.”

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Texas A&M student being tested for coronavirus

A Texas A&M University student was being tested Thursday for a deadly new coronavirus that has sparked health fears around the world, university officials said Thursday.

The man — who recently traveled from Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated — is isolated at home, said Brazos County Health District officials, who declined to identify him. If the case is confirmed, the officials said they would promptly announce it. ?(Health district) officials have described the immediate health risk to the campus community as low,” Texas A&M said in a statement. Classes will continue as scheduled. The student’s symptoms appear to be improving, said Dr. Eric Wilke of the Brazos County Health Authority. The man does not need any treatment, Wilke said. “It’s fortunate that he had mild symptoms,” Wilke said.

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CNBC - January 23, 2020

It’s going to get a lot easier to export some firearms from the US due to a new Trump administration rule

In a move aimed at boosting the sale of U.S. firearms and ammunition abroad, the Trump administration has eased regulations on some commercial firearms exports. American manufacturers will have fewer registration requirements in order to obtain an export license, as the State Department moved jurisdiction of certain firearms sales to the Commerce Department. The change, announced last week, was entered into the Federal Register on Thursday. It will be effective March 9.

The long-delayed rule change, which began under the Obama administration, is intended to lower costs for U.S. gun-makers such as American Outdoor Brands Corp. and Sturm, Ruger and Co., while refocusing regulatory attention on weapons sales that could pose national security risks. For example, under the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department must disclose any commercial arms sale worth $1 million or more to Congress for review. The Commerce Department has no such requirement. What’s more, the State Department requires an annual fee from companies in the industry, whereas Commerce does not require such a fee.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

McNamee, longtime Texas GOP attorney, will step down from FERC

Bernard McNamee, a former advisor to Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said Thursday he would not seek a second term on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. With only six months left in his term, the announcement puts a near end date on the service of a powerful conservative voice at FERC, who has argued against policy encouraging energy companies to shift away from fossil fuels as unlawful and detrimental to the U.S. economy.

In a statement Thursday, McNamee said he made the decision based on his family. "This is one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs I have ever had. I have enjoyed the work, the issues, and the people. In short, I have loved this job; but I love my family more," he wrote. From the moment President Donald Trump nominated him in 2018, McNamee has proved controversial. As the Senate debated his confirmation, video emerged of him calling climate change efforts, "an organized propaganda war” against fossil fuels. Last month, he and Chairman Neil Chatterjee ruled that state power regulators had the right to assess a surcharge on power sources that receive government subsidy, a blow to wind and solar farms, along with nuclear power plants, facilities many states are trying to grow in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Texas lobbyists and politicians dodged $800k in fines, thanks to weak campaign finance laws

Texas state Rep. Ron Reynolds was running for his fourth term when in early 2016 he abruptly stopped reporting his finances to the state. He didn’t file another report for about two years, keeping secret the amount of money he raised during that time and the identities of those who gave it to him. Reynolds, D-Missouri City, is one of about a hundred candidates, lobbyists and political action committee treasurers each year who fail to file mandatory disclosures of their donors and expenses, racking up thousands of dollars in fines as a result, according to an analysis by Hearst Newspapers.

Yet candidates with unpaid fines can continue to run for office and the committees can go on operating, thanks to a weak enforcement system that allows them to dodge their responsibility to the state and voters. Reynolds still owes over $74,000 as he runs for re-election this year. The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which handles collections for the Texas Ethics Commission, since 2005 has won the right in court to collect $1.1 million from late filers, including Reynolds, but the office has then written off $800,000 as uncollectible, effectively ending attempts to financially penalize candidates and political committees.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Republican Pierce Bush warns of ‘dangerously naive’ AOC and Beto O’Rourke in TV ad

Republican Pierce Bush is out with his first television ads in the hotly contested GOP primary battle for one of the Houston area’s most competitive congressional seats.

Up until now, Republican Kathaleen Wall, who is largely self-funding her campaign, has been the only contender in the battle for the 22nd Congressional District on area television. In Bush’s new ad, he flashes images of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke talking about immigration reform proposals. Then Bush comes on the screen and warns: “Democrats want open borders and it’s dangerously naive.” His tough take on the border comes as many of the 15 Republicans running in the March 3 primary are also brandishing their tough immigration stances. Wall’s TV ads have promised to help build a border wall with President Donald Trump.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Texas Gov. Abbott to Californians: ‘Don’t blow it when you come here.’

As President Donald Trump was leaving the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Wednesday his eye caught a familiar face in the crowd. When the president spied Gov. Greg Abbott, who's been in Davos, Switzerland, since Saturday, Trump immediately rushed over with a handshake, a big hug and asked the Texas governor if he wanted a seat on Air Force One. “I’ll give you a ride,” Trump said in a warm exchange caught on Twitter.

Abbott said he was grateful for the offer but had two more days of work in Switzerland before heading back home. Abbott is on an 11-day economic development mission that started in Israel on Jan. 14. In Davos, he participated in the World Economic Forum, where he talked up the state’s booming economy and was trying to strike deals to get more businesses to move to Texas. Abbott had no shortage of praise for Trump during an interview on FOX Business from Davos, where he said Trump delivered one of his best speeches ever. He said Trump was able to explain American exceptionalism and did not apologize for the nation’s strong economy.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Octavio N. Martinez, Jr. and Will Francis: Texas must support an inclusive child welfare system for LGBTQ parents, kids

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston recently joined the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in filing a federal lawsuit challenging a rule that prohibits taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies from discriminating based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. We should be troubled by anything that would remove protections for an already vulnerable class of young people. And, perhaps more importantly, we should fear the possibility of further reducing the state’s already scarce pool of foster families.

LGBTQ youths are overrepresented both within the foster care system and within child welfare in general. Child welfare data indicates that approximately 30.4 percent of youths with child welfare involvement identify as lesbian, bisexual or gay and that approximately 11.78 percent of youths in foster care identify as nonbinary, transgender, gender diverse or unsure. Our state is in the middle of a costly and complicated overhaul of its child welfare system, one set in motion by a federal judge’s ruling four years ago that the system exposed children to such harm that it was unconstitutional. Despite being just a few years removed from images of children sleeping in state agency offices (having no place else to go), we are once again acting as if we have the luxury of raising barriers to equal participation in the foster care system by otherwise qualified foster parents. What do we mean by “qualified”? We mean a diverse array of foster and adoptive families who are prepared to accept a child’s gender identity and provide that child with the kind of gender-affirming care that is associated with improved well-being and mental health.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Pediatrician group wrong to blame reporting on child abuse

The injuries that brought the children to doctors’ attention were harrowing — a 5-month-old with skull fractures and internal bleeding, a 2-year-old with her feet burned and covered in blisters — situations made only more fraught by the concern that these injuries were not accidental, but the product of abuse. In both cases, specially-trained child abuse pediatricians determined that mistreatment was likely, and the children were taken away by Child Protective Services. In both cases, families’ lives were upended, thrown into a bureaucracy designed to safeguard children from harm and scarcely pay attention to cries of innocence from alleged abusers.

In both cases, detailed alongside others in the Houston Chronicle and NBC News investigation “Do No Harm,” the doctors were wrong. Instances of child abuse pediatricians implicating credibly blameless parents are not common, the investigation detailed, but they aren’t the bizarre outliers that some in the medical field want us to believe. In response to the reporting, more than 300 families across 38 states came forward to share their own stories of misdiagnoses. Of lost jobs, ruined reputations and financial distress. Of children being taken away and emerging scarred from their time in foster care. Texas lawmakers rightly paid attention and have called a series of legislative hearings to explore potential improvements, including requiring a second medical opinion before the state removes a child from a home. But there was also a less heartening response from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their take? Blame the messenger.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Gus Reyes: Faith-based adoption benefits families and should be allowed to follow deeply held beliefs

Bringing a child into your home who comes from a different background and, too often, a trauma-filled past, is not easy. It requires great strength of heart, patience and unconditional love — but most importantly, it requires a community that grants such strength. When my wife and I first decided to adopt 25 years ago, we had planned to bring one infant into our family. We then learned our son had a brother also in the foster system. Despite having planned to adopt only one child, we couldn’t imagine separating them. This decision stretched us financially and challenged us emotionally and spiritually. But our church community rallied around us — showering our boys with love and support.

We had not used a faith-based agency for our adoptions, but the process made clear to us why so many people adopt and foster through faith-based groups. They provide the spiritual and emotional support we were lucky to find in our church community. Though we are grateful for those who united us with our two beautiful sons, if we were to do it all again, my wife and I would seek a faith-based agency that shared our most fundamental values and beliefs to provide that support. Our nation is in a foster care crisis, and our experience with adoption showed us the value of faith-based agencies in both foster care and adoption. Religious agencies are great at what they do. Religious agencies recruit and retain foster parents at a higher rate than their secular counterparts. And it’s no wonder why. These agencies aren’t simply a vehicle for uniting a family with a child; they provide holistic support and guidance grounded in shared values and trust. Faith-based groups want to help meet the foster care crisis, but a federal regulation bars many such groups from doing so because it would require them to endorse and certify same-sex relationships (in the foster parent evaluation process) even if doing so goes against their beliefs.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Brazos County investigating suspected case of mysterious virus

Brazos County’s health department is investigating a suspected case of the mystery pneumonia-like virus that has claimed 18 lives in China and was confirmed in the U.S. for the first time earlier this week.

The department, located in the Bryan-College Station region, said in a tweet that the patient had traveled from Wuhan, China, where the so-called 2019 novel coronavirus originated. Another departmental tweet said health-care providers in the area were aware of the public health guidance about the virus and quickly recognize the patient met the criteria for testing. The patient is being kept isolated at home.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Native American group files new claims in Alamo lawsuit

A Native American group has filed an amended petition in its federal lawsuit claiming the Alamo is a cemetery that merits legal protection. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation filed the new document this week that focuses claims against the nonprofit Alamo Trust Inc., as well as its CEO, Douglass W. McDonald, and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. In December, a federal judge had dismissed San Antonio and two state agencies as defendants in the lawsuit seeking to slow down the $450 million, four-year overhaul of Alamo Plaza in efforts to protect the area as a historic cemetery.

The group’s amended petition accuses the Alamo Trust and General Land Office of selectively applying and interpreting the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in an attempt to exclude Tap Pilam from participating in the Alamo project. Members of Tap Pilam claim lineal ties to ancestors at the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Tap Pilam executive member Ramón Vásquez said Alamo officials have “weaponized” NAGPRA by inviting “tribal representatives not native to Central or South Texas,” with different cultural practices than those of Tap Pilam, to guide the project on an archaeology advisory committee. “This approach indicates Commissioner Bush regards all Indians as the same, regardless of their direct connections to those buried at the Alamo, and that having Indians at the table is enough,” Vásquez said at a news conference Thursday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2020

TCU student’s lawsuit says faculty ‘dehumanized’ her, school ignored reports of racism

A Texas Christian University student says she was harassed, discriminated against, and physically assaulted while attending TCU from 2018 to 2019. The 20-year-old black woman filed a federal lawsuit Jan. 15 in district court in Dallas against the university, the TCU board of trustees and five TCU employees. She is referred to as Jane Doe No. 1 throughout the suit.

The employees listed as defendants are Diane Snow, dean of the honors college; Frederick Gooding, an assistant professor of African-American studies; Rob Garnett, an associate dean of the honors college; Darron Turner, chief inclusion officer and Title IX director; and Russell Mack, an instructor. Aaron Chimbel, the dean of the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University and a former TCU faculty member, is also named as a defendant. Doe, who is still enrolled at TCU, said the university revoked her merit-based scholarship without explanation, segregated her from white classmates, falsely accused her of plagiarism and ignored her reports of racism.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2020

In brief, Cook Children’s says baby on life support is in ‘vicious cycle of suffering’

Cook Children’s Medical Center argued against a family’s appeal to continue a baby’s life-sustaining care at the Fort Worth hospital in a motion filed Thursday. Cook Children’s legal brief was filed in response to the family’s argument submitted on Jan. 16 to the Texas Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. The family of 11-month-old Tinslee Lewis is appealing a judge’s decision that would allow Cook Children’s to take Tinslee off life support.

Tinslee’s family contends she still has a chance to get better and that the hospital does not have a right to decide whether she lives or dies. The hospital says Tinslee has severe health problems that will not improve and continuing her care is causing her unnecessary pain and suffering. Tinslee was born prematurely in February with a rare heart defect called an Ebstein anomaly. She also suffers from a chronic lung disease and severe chronic pulmonary hypertension, and has undergone several complex surgeries. A legal battle between the family and the hospital broke out in October, when a hospital ethics committee unanimously ruled to remove life-sustaining care for Tinslee.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger’s GOP primary heats up as conservative groups offer dueling endorsements

Hours after an influential conservative group backed Fort Worth Rep. Kay Granger’s GOP primary challenger, the longtime incumbent on Thursday rolled out a high-profile endorsement of her own. The dueling announcements from the Club for Growth – which is supporting Chris Putnam, Granger’s opponent – and National Right to Life, which is backing Granger, reflect a growing escalation in a GOP-held district that’s typically lacking in buzz.

Granger, the top Republican on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is the only GOP incumbent in North Texas who’s facing a serious challenge in the March primary. The 12-term lawmaker has been bracing for the competition, stockpiling support from key conservative groups and leaders – none more significant than President Donald Trump, the Republican who last month gave Granger his “complete and total” endorsement. So Granger was ready when the anti-tax Club for Growth threw its support behind Putnam, a well-funded former Colleyville city councilman, and criticized her record along the way.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

Jim Lehrer, Dallas journalist and longtime host of ‘PBS NewsHour’, dies at 85

Jim Lehrer, co-host and later host of the nightly PBS NewsHour that for decades offered a thoughtful take on current events, has died, PBS said Thursday. He was 85. Lehrer died “peacefully in his sleep,” according to PBS. He had suffered a heart attack in 1983 and more recently, had undergone heart valve surgery in April 2008. For Lehrer, and for his friend and longtime partner Robert MacNeil, broadcast journalism was a service, with public understanding of events and issues its primary goal. Lehrer was also a frequent moderator of presidential debates.

“We both believed the American people were not as stupid as some of the folks publishing and programming for them believed,” Lehrer wrote in his 1992 memoir, A Bus of My Own. “We were convinced they cared about the significant matters of human events. … And we were certain they could and would hang in there more than 35 seconds for information about those subjects if given a chance.” Tributes poured in from colleagues and watchers alike, including from Fox News’ Bret Baier, who called Lehrer “an inspiration to a whole generation of political journalists— including this one." Dan Rather said “few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer.” And Jake Tapper of CNN called Lehrer “a wonderful man and a superb journalist.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him a “champion for truth and transparency.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 24, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Nancy Cline in the GOP primary for Texas House District 65

GOP primary voters in Texas House District 65 have two strong pro-education and property tax reform-oriented candidates in Nancy Cline and Kronda Thimesch, either of whom would be a strong advocate for these issues in Austin. But since elections are binary choices, our nod narrowly goes to Cline.

Cline, 57, and Thimesch, 52, have long histories of public service in the community and share similar opinions and experiences. Thimesch served on the Lewisville ISD board, Cline on the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD board. Both are business owners. Both consider themselves fiscal conservatives, cite the need to secure the Texas-Mexico border, want to reduce regulatory burdens and favor criminal justice reform that reserves jails and prisons for the most violent criminals. And yes, both say lawmakers need to do more to relieve property tax burdens on homeowners and make the investments in schools that the state — and students — need to be competitive.

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KXAN - January 23, 2020

New standards for charter schools likely to be adopted by Texas Education Agency

The Texas Education Agency is expected to approve new standards for charter schools in the direction of the legislature. When approved, charter school organizations that meet certain standards will be encouraged to add more campuses. Both supporters and critics say it will encourage large networks like Kipp, IDEA, and Harmony to open up more campuses.

KIPP has several charter schools in Austin. If the non-profit meets new state standards there could soon be more locations according to Autumn Arnett from the Texas Charter Schools Association. “Eliminates the red tape for schools that have proved they have a good academic and financial history,” said Arnett, who wants to cut into a waitlist thousands of students deep. The new scoring system will be separated into three tiers: 70% based on academics; 20% based on financials; and 10% based on how the school complies with state rules and regulations.

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ABC 13 - January 24, 2020

Massive explosion in NW Houston felt across region

A massive explosion rocked a northwest Houston neighborhood and the blast was felt all across the region Friday morning. It happened around 4:25 a.m. and originated in the 4500 block of Gessner Rd.

It's not clear what exactly happened but fire and a large debris pile can be seen in the area between Gessner and Steffani Lane in the Westbranch neighborhood. Entire structures were destroyed in the blast. Broken windows, doors, and garage doors were reported across a wide area near the blast. Witnesses reported seeing two people walking out of the debris field that were injured. Houston firefighters told Eyewitness News the two are expected to recover. It wasn't clear how many other people may be injured.

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KUT - January 23, 2020

For hemp to work, farmers want rules that fit reality

Although there’s no shortage of people in Texas planning to get into the hemp industry, many of them have serious concerns about how it will be regulated. There is no regulation right now because it’s been illegal to grow hemp in Texas for almost 100 years.

But last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing farmers to grow hemp – the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana – for fiber and CBD. Ever since, the Texas Department of Agriculture has been formulating regulations for the revived crop. Farmers had a chance to weigh in on those rules at a public hearing in Waco on Wednesday, and one of the main points of contention was how the plant’s THC levels will be tested. If a plant contains more than 0.3% THC, it’s considered marijuana and must be destroyed. But some people, like Hondo tomato farmer Kevin Calloway, said the figure is too low. He argued the rule will cause lots of growers to lose crops and money.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Former Precinct 2 Constable Vela indicted on charges of aggravated perjury, official oppression

Michelle Barrientes Vela, now a candidate for sheriff, was indicted Thursday on six criminal charges stemming from her three years as Precinct 2 constable — a tenure marred by staff problems, confrontations with other elected officials and allegations of improper collection of fines and security fees. Vela, 46, is facing one count of aggravated perjury and two counts of tampering or fabricating evidence, both third-degree felonies. She is also charged with three counts of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor.

Former Precinct 2 Captain Marc Duane Garcia, 40, who worked under Vela, was also indicted Thursday on one count of aggravated perjury and three counts of official oppression. Vela and Garcia turned themselves in Thursday afternoon at the Bexar County Courthouse. With their hands and ankles in shackles, they appeared before a judge, who set Vela’s bail at $25,000. She posted bond shortly thereafter and was released. Vela told reporters that county officials orchestrated the charges against her because they want to keep Sheriff Javier Salazar in office — an official Vela has clashed with in the past. “I’m his biggest threat of all the candidates,” Vela said.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Hays County puts $2M toward Texas 21 study to improve safety, accommodate growth

After more than three dozen traffic fatalities in two years along a stretch of Texas 21 in Hays County, commissioners this week committed to spend $2 million on a transportation study that will examine how to improve safety on the highway and accommodate the influx of new growth in the region south of Austin.

The study, approved unanimously by commissioners Tuesday, will look specifically at a 17-mile stretch of the highway between Texas 80 in San Marcos and U.S. 183 in the eastern part of Hays County. Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said the county has quickly outgrown that portion of the highway, which is currently two lanes in both directions in most places. “We just see much more traffic and unfortunately there’s been numerous fatalities,” she said. “We need to ensure we are planning for the growth that we continue to see in our county.”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Low-level marijuana possession no longer enforced in Austin

The Austin City Council voted Thursday to end the enforcement of low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession. The move effectively ends criminal action against individuals with small amounts of marijuana while also prohibiting Austin police from pursuing new testing methods to distinguish narcotic marijuana from legal hemp.

“It’s time to do the right thing,” said Council Member Greg Casar, who led the effort to end low-level marijuana enforcement. “It’s the right thing for criminal justice reform. It’s the right thing from a common sense perspective, and it’s the right thing for racial equity.” Police still may issue citations and detain individuals for marijuana possession, as provided under state law. However, police no longer would issue any fines or require court dates for people suspected of low-level marijuana possession, which is fewer than 4 ounces of pot or amounts considered to be for personal use. The vote was unanimous with Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Jimmy Flannigan absent. Flannigan, who was not at the meeting because of an illness, was a co-sponsor of the action.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 23, 2020

Austin to study impact of litter, scooter dumping in waterways

Hundreds of scooters are being dumped in Austin’s waterways. City staff is hoping to embark on a comprehensive study to gauge the effects of the rented, dockless vehicles, and other litter, on creeks, lakes and rivers throughout Austin.

Austin Watershed officials told City Council members Thursday the study could cost approximately $500,000 and take up to a year to complete — a price tag and timeline that surprised some council members before their unanimous vote of approval. Council Member Paige Ellis, who sponsored a resolution calling for the study along with Council Members Natasha Harper-Madison and Greg Casar and Mayor Steve Adler, initially hoped the study could be completed by June. But with no funding identified in the 2020 budget, that goal was quickly dashed. Instead, the council approved an amended resolution calling for the city manager to outline the cost and parameters of the study by late February, and whether partial funding could be allocated from the 2020 budget.

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Houston Chronicle - January 23, 2020

Houston man gets probation in $1 million Dr Pepper rebate scam

A Shell station owner in Bakersfield, Calif. complained to no avail when he didn’t get a promised $75 rebate after replacing Tropicana Fruit Punch in his dispensers with Diet Dr Pepper. The Shell owner took his complaint up the chain to Dr Pepper. The Houston rebate company contracted by Dr Pepper ultimately came through with the money, but the 2014 episode shed light on a scam its owner had been running for five years, documenting rebates in fake spreadsheets and invoices but ultimately pocketing the money owed to vendors and customers.

Joseph A. Isaac, the 54-year-old entrepreneur behind the soda pop scheme, called himself a “cautionary tale” Wednesday at his federal sentencing, saying he was humbled, embarrassed and ashamed by the harm he’d inflicted when he kept more than $1 million in rebate money. He apologized to the judge as well as to customers and employees and Dr Pepper Snapple Group for perpetrating the scheme from 2011 to 2015. His lawyer, Jonathan Landers, said with the exception of this “serious fraud,” Isaac had led an exemplary life, rising up from a “horrendous” and “troubling” childhood to run successful businesses and tend to his wife, daughters and grandson. This case had been an aberration, and eventually set his client on the path to redemption in the eyes of his colleagues and customers, Landers said.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Alameda promises to create new memories for new generations of San Antonians

For many of us, the Alameda wasn’t just a theater. The magnificent physical space on West Houston Street was a palace and the source of grand stories and memories for many San Antonians who enjoyed the movies, star appearances and live performances rooted in the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. Those stories have been passed down like treasured heirlooms.

Work begins later this month on the theater’s $23 million historic restoration. When completed, San Antonians will end up not only with another cultural landmark and entertainment venue but with the promise of new generations of memories. My Alameda memories revolve around my maternal grandmother, Catarina. She was born in northern Mexico in the late 1880s. When I was about 6, she was in her 70s. Her long gray hair was held up in a bun by an horquilla, a long hair pin that alone did all the work. Her eyes were blue, and I’m told her hair was blond as a child. She never had much of a childhood, though. She came to the United States as an orphan, walking across a border where there was none, and soon became a child bride. My mother was the youngest of her 10 children, but there were other pregnancies that left my grandmother bereft.

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 23, 2020

Doomsday Clock is 100 seconds to midnight, the symbolic hour of the apocalypse

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the Doomsday Clock up to 100 seconds to midnight - a metaphor for the end of the world - in a recognition of growing threats from nuclear war, climate change and disinformation. It is the first time the clock has passed the two-minute mark in more than 70 years of existence, a testament to the need for urgent action, the Bulletin said Thursday, as the nonprofit's leader warned of influential leaders who "denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats."

"The challenge is what do we do about it?" President Rachel Bronson told The Washington Post. In the clock's grimmest moment ever, she believes years of dire warnings have begun to break through. "People are starting to get it," Bronson said, pointing to the movement ignited by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. "But we need our leaders to be responding." Jerry Brown, the former California governor who serves as executive chair for the Bulletin, had a darker message after the clock was unveiled. The longtime Democratic politician said he sees "a world of vast, deep and pervasive complacency" toward the Doomsday Clock's message across the political spectrum.

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Wall Street Journal - January 24, 2020

Wall Street Journal Editorial: California runs off the road

Nancy Pelosi famously proclaimed that Democrats had to pass ObamaCare to find out what was in it. On the other hand, Democrats in California last year passed legislation outlawing many freelance and independent contracting jobs knowing the disruption it would cause—and voters are now discovering the damage. Ride-hailing app Uber this week rolled out changes for drivers and riders in California in an effort to duck the state’s new labor law AB5. That law reclassified a large swath of independent contractors from freelance journalists to Uber drivers as employees who are owed rest breaks, workers compensation, health benefits and paid leave.

Under the law, independent contractors must be “free from control and direction”; perform work “outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business”; and be “customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business.” Few contractors pass this test, so Democrats exempted dozens of professions. Now workers and businesses that didn’t win carve-outs are trying to navigate around the law. Uber is dropping up-front pricing in California, so riders won’t know their fare until after their trip ends. Drivers will also be able to reject trips based on their destination, which means passengers may find it difficult to hail rides to rough neighborhoods. Uber is also letting drivers in some areas set their own fares, though some economists predict this will result in lower worker pay. Companies are also going to court. Uber and Postmates contend the law violates equal protection by unfairly discriminating against app-based companies, but their lawsuit is a long-shot since the law sweeps broadly.

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New York Times - January 23, 2020

Marianne Williamson says she’ll support Andrew Yang in Iowa

Marianne Williamson, the self-help author and spiritual adviser who exited the Democratic presidential race this month, said Thursday that she would support a fellow political outsider, Andrew Yang, in the upcoming Iowa caucuses to try to help him stay in the race beyond February. In a three-part Instagram announcement in which she shared her opinions about the candidates still in the race, Ms. Williamson — who delivered a campaign message centered around healing — praised Mr. Yang for the “breadth of his intellect and the expansiveness of his heart.”

“Andrew’s personality is like a tuning fork realigning us with something we need to retrieve, taking us back to a more innocent time, making us remember to chuckle,” she said. And while she noted that she was not “endorsing anyone,” she wrote: “I’m lending my support to Andrew in Iowa, hopefully to help him get past the early primaries & remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. We need that this year.” In a tweet later Thursday, Mr. Yang, who peppers his stump speech with jokes and has played basketball and crowd-surfed on the campaign trail, thanked Ms. Williamson and praised her approach. She is expected to appear with him and speak at a town hall event in Fairfield, Iowa, on Friday, his campaign said.

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New York Times - January 24, 2020

What to watch for in Trump’s impeachment trial on Friday

Entering their final day of formal arguments, House impeachment managers are poised to bring to a close the case against President Trump that they have been methodically assembling since Wednesday. There have been conspicuous signs that fatigue is growing among the senators, who have already heard nearly 16 hours of presentations. Some have looked restless, leaving their desks, whispering during session and even nodding off — all testing the limits of trial rules.

Republicans seemed largely unmoved on Thursday by calls from Democrats to introduce new witnesses, a move that could significantly lengthen the trial. Despite chatter about a potential “witness trade” deal in which each side could call a number of witnesses of interest, such a deal seemed unlikely. On the trial’s sidelines, senators have sporadically been making their stances known. Earlier Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said he was cautiously optimistic that enough Republicans would join him in voting to call witnesses like John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff. During a break Wednesday night, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters he would resist pressure from his colleagues to call the whistle-blower or members of the Biden family to testify.

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CNN - January 24, 2020

Trump to become first president to speak at annual anti-abortion March for Life event

President Donald Trump on Friday will become the first president to attend the March for Life when he speaks at the annual march and rally that gathers anti-abortion supporters from across the country in the nation's capital. The march aligns with the week of the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade this year, as per tradition, in an anti-abortion response to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.

The event was founded in 1974 by anti-abortion activist Nellie Gray, and typically attracts about 100,000 participants hailing from across the country. The plan is to continue the event until Roe is overturned, according to the march's organizers. Trump will be the first president to attend the march, according to March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, and a news release for the event said that Trump will speak at the event. Trump was also the first president to speak at the march via satellite feed when he addressed participants in the 2018 march. The administration has consistently worked to regulate or restrict abortion access since Trump assumed office. Trump has reinstated a ban on US government funding for international non-governmental organizations that perform or promote abortions, appointed anti-abortion judges and opposed abortions later in pregnancy.

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Newsclips - January 23, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

‘What about the third amigo?’ Democrats urge Senate to subpoena Rick Perry

House Democrats want the Senate to haul Rick Perry back from Texas for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, or at least force him to turn over documents he’s so far refused to share. The former Texas governor, who served as Trump’s secretary of energy until last month, has emerged as a key figure in the Ukraine scandal at the center of the impeachment effort. Perry was one of the so-called “three amigos” who Trump put in charge of dealing with Ukraine, witnesses — including U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, another of the “amigos” — told the House.

Now Perry’s a target in Democrats’ efforts to get the Senate to subpoena fresh documents and call in witnesses for Trump’s impeachment trial, which is underway. “What about the third amigo?” U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that oversaw the impeachment inquiry, said on the Senate floor during the first full day of the trial. “We know from amigo Sondland’s testimony that he was certainly in the loop, knew all about this scheme.” As much as Perry has tried to stay out of the scandal, denying all wrongdoing and saying the American people won’t “buy into” impeachment, he has remained a central figure. It can’t be the ending Perry envisioned for his long, strange trip with Trump, a former political opponent he trashed as unfit for office in 2015.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Texas women’s program lost funding for kicking out Planned Parenthood. The Trump administration just restored it.

The Trump administration Wednesday restored federal funding to the state’s health care program for low-income women. A previous version of the program had lost the money seven years ago after Texas officials excluded Planned Parenthood from the program. The $350 million boost to Healthy Texas Women will be distributed over the next five years. State officials had defended the move, saying public money shouldn’t go to abortion providers or affiliates. Planned Parenthood at the time was the largest provider of women’s health services in the program and did not provide abortions in the program.

The state has been using its own money to fund the program in the meantime. Gov. Greg Abbott celebrated the restoration of funding. “The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life,” Abbott said in a statement. “This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women.”

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Wall Street Journal - January 23, 2020

FICO changes could lower your credit score

Changes in how the most widely used credit score in the U.S. is calculated will likely make it harder for many Americans to get loans. Fair Isaac Corp., creator of FICO scores, will soon start scoring consumers with rising debt levels and those who fall behind on loan payments more harshly. It will also flag certain consumers who sign up for personal loans, a category of unsecured debt that has surged in recent years.

The changes will create a bigger gap between consumers deemed to be good and bad credit risks, the company says. Consumers with already-high FICO scores of about 680 or higher who continue to manage loans well will likely get a higher score than under previous FICO versions. Those with already-low scores below 600 who continue to miss payments or accumulate other black marks will experience bigger score declines than under previous models. The changes are an about-face from recent years, when FICO and credit-reporting companies made changes that helped increase scores for some consumers, such as removing some negative information, including civil judgments, from credit reports.

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Reuters - January 22, 2020

Let them speak: Most Americans want witnesses in Trump impeachment trial

A bipartisan majority of Americans want to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, and the public appears to be largely following the proceedings even after a bruising congressional inquiry that lasted several months, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling released Wednesday.

The poll, which ran from Jan. 17-22, also showed that U.S. public opinion has moved little since the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump in mid-December. About 44% of adults in the United States say Trump should be removed from office, another 15% say he should be reprimanded formally with a congressional censure, and 31% said the charges should be dismissed. Trump so far has blocked the Democrats' requests for documents related to the administration's activities in Ukraine last year. He has also urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 22, 2020

UT Health and UTSA agreement offers shorter path for in-demand medical career

The University of Texas at San Antonio and UT Health San Antonio are starting a fast-track degree program for future respiratory therapists — a job that’s increasingly in demand. The academic institutions announced a joint agreement to establish the Respiratory Care Early Acceptance Program, which will allow students to graduate with both a bachelor’s degree from UTSA and a master’s degree from the UT Health in five years, instead of six.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment for respiratory therapists is projected to grow 21 percent in the next decade, much faster than the average for most other occupations. Local employers’ demand for respiratory therapists in the near future could be greater than the supply, said David Henzi, associate dean in the School of Health Professions at UT Health San Antonio. Nationwide, about 27,900 new jobs will open up for respiratory therapists within the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Average salary for respiratory therapists in the U.S. is expected to reach $62,000 a year, Henzi said. Respiratory therapists need at least an associates degree, but some of the students trying to break into the field are earning bachelor’s or master’s degrees to improve their job prospects.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 22, 2020

Steven Leach: Abbott’s shortsighted decision to end refugee resettlement in Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott recently became the first governor to shut his state’s doors to refugees. Falsely conflating border migration with the refugee program, he echoed the Trump Administration’s lies about Texas being burdened by refugees. While President Donald Trump’s executive order giving states the right to block refugees has been halted, it’s an important development on how we welcome and value refugees. I am one of many people who believe there is a moral imperative to accept refugees into our country. But there are other reasons we should be demanding more refugees for the U.S. and for Texas. First, refugees have been instrumental to economic growth, and second, there are national security considerations. Abbott’s decision is economically shortsighted, ignorant of national security concerns and out of step with Texan values.

The current refugee program was signed into law in 1980. It has nothing to do with undocumented border crossings, and is a formal program that vets and admits refugees. The refugee admissions ceiling has varied with each sitting president, but hasn’t gone below 70,000 until recently. Only under the Trump administration has the U.S. abandoned its commitment to global leadership in accepting and caring for refugees, steadily lowering the ceiling each year until it has reached the current max of 18,000, less than 13 percent of the highest cap under President H. W. Bush and a mere 8 percent of the high under President Ronald Reagan. Utah, the only state to rival Texas in population growth last year, wants more refugees resettled there. Utah currently has more employers looking for refugee workers than it has refugees to fill jobs — its Republican governor and Republican legislature are eager to welcome refugees to job training programs. Abbott’s decision puts the Texas economy at a disadvantage at a time of sustained growth. In fact, the Trump Administration knows refugees are a net positive for the economy, because it suppressed a report that said so in 2017.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 23, 2020

Texas transportation leader in San Antonio to talk highway construction

Gov. Greg Abbott was a “great visionary” for approving $77 billion for a decade of new highway construction in Texas and $24 billion for road projects already underway, the official who oversees the Texas Department of Transportation told an audience here Wednesday.

Bruce Bugg, an Abbott appointee and San Antonio resident who heads the Texas Transportation Commission, got robust applause addressng the Rotary Club of San Antonio by praising the ongoing widening of U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Comal County, along with other multibillion-dollar local projects: expanding Interstate 10 West and Loop 410 at Interstate 35, and taking Loop 1604 from two lanes to five in each direction.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 22, 2020

San Antonio firm with $106 million local contract at center of West Texas federal corruption case

A San Antonio-based communications company that holds a hard-won, multimillion-dollar contract with the city and Bexar County now is at the center of a federal corruption case in West Texas. Federal prosecutors have charged former San Angelo Police Chief Timothy Ray Vasquez, 49, with taking $134,000 in bribes to help Dailey & Wells Communications win contracts for first responder radio systems in San Angelo worth more than $11 million.

Dailey & Wells of San Antonio and two of its affiliates made several payments to Vasquez and his wedding band, Funky Munky, after winning the contracts in 2007 and 2015, a Jan. 8 indictment alleges. Two years ago, San Antonio City Council members awarded the same company a 15-year, $106 million contract to overhaul the city’s radio system for first responders, which also is in use by the Fire Department and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. The city hired Dailey & Wells to build the current radio system in 2004. The new system is expected to come online in December 2021.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Houston Republican Dan Crenshaw says conservatives can’t afford to ignore climate change

Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw said Wednesday that conservatives can’t afford to ignore the topic of climate change. “We can make fun of the left's sort of alarmist views on climate change — and we should, to an extent — but we can't ignore it completely,” Crenshaw said during a keynote Q-and-A at the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 2020 policy conference. “From a political standpoint, we cannot ignore it completely.”

The 35-year-old congressman, who has proven to be a leader within the party for rallying young conservatives, said most of the left's alarmism on climate change is unwarranted, but not all of it. “It’s not totally untrue. Their alarmism is often, almost always, completely untrue and not founded in facts or data. When they’re blaming storms and things on climate change, it’s usually nonsense,” Crenshaw said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t some effect on the climate from man-made emissions, and we can admit that.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

For Dems in affluent District 134, all that matters is who can beat Sarah Davis

The March primaries are weeks away, but the first question at a recent forum for the three Democrats running to unseat state Rep. Sarah Davis centered on November: “How do you plan to win this race if you are the nominee?” The answer has evaded Democrats since the 2010 tea party wave, when Davis flipped the highly affluent and educated House District 134. Widely viewed as the most moderate Republican in the Texas House, she comfortably has retained the seat in four subsequent elections, despite strong headwinds atop the ballot the last two cycles.

Those electoral results are on the minds of voters, and the candidates themselves, in the sleepy Democratic primary between educator Lanny Bose and attorneys Ann Johnson and Ruby Powers. With little evidence of public rancor between them, they instead are directing their attacks toward Davis’ record, each trying to convince voters of their ability to beat her in November. “My attitude is, we've got three folks who are applying to be team captain. I'm going to be a part of this race in the general whether or not my name is on the ballot,” Bose said. “This primary is about talking about our shared vision for what this seat and what Houston should look like.” For years, Democrats have argued Davis’ record is far less moderate than she portrays and, at times, framed her as being in lockstep with the Republican establishment. That case lost some of its potency in 2018, when Gov. Greg Abbott backed Davis’ primary opponent and spent lavishly on ads calling Davis a “liberal Democrat.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan: District to explore addition of metal detectors in wake of Bellaire shooting

Houston ISD officials are exploring the addition of metal detectors at the district’s middle and high schools in response to last week’s fatal on-campus shooting of a student, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said Tuesday. In a blog post, Lathan wrote that she will be meeting with students and community leaders to determine whether the district should increase security measures following the shooting of 19-year-old Cesar Cortes at Bellaire High School. Authorities have said they believe a 16-year-old classmate accidentally shot Cortes while showing off a semiautomatic pistol.

“These meetings, along with reconvening safety and security council committees on every campus, will be a catalyst for increased vigilance and preventative measures in our schools,” Lathan said. “Another measure the district is exploring includes assessing middle schools and high schools for metal detectors as a screening measure for entry onto campuses.” HISD does not regularly employ metal detectors or require clear backpacks at its campuses. Aldine and Spring ISDs are the only two large Houston-area districts that use metal detectors each school day. Cy-Fair ISD, the region’s second-largest district, issued a clear backpack mandate for students following the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 people dead.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Appeals court declines to revive lawsuit supporting 3D-printed guns

In the continuing fight over the legality of publishing schematics for making mostly plastic guns on 3D printers, a federal appeals court has rejected efforts to revive a lawsuit that sought to allow distribution of the do-it-yourself plans.

That lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 after the U.S. State Department, which enforces federal law on exporting military weaponry, ordered Austin-based Defense Distributed to remove from its website plans for building the Liberator, a 3D-printed, single-shot pistol. Defense Distributed dismissed its lawsuit in 2018 after the State Department, under President Donald Trump, agreed to let the plans be published. However, the company moved to revive that lawsuit after publication was again blocked — this time by a federal judge in Seattle. Responding to a lawsuit by Washington and 18 other states, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik issued a restraining order blocking the State Department agreement in 2018, then followed with a November 2019 ruling that voided the agreement.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Travis County GOP opposes ‘vulgar,’ ‘misogynist’ Robert Morrow for education board

The Travis County Republican Party has taken the unusual step of opposing the candidacy of a Republican candidate for State Board of Education. The party group voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a resolution that opposes Robert Morrow’s bid for a seat on the 15-member board, which sets public education policy statewide.

“Robert Morrow has a history of misogynist and vulgar language,” according the resolution. “Robert Morrow has made outrageous and slanderous allegations about President Trump, members of the Bush family, and Governor Rick Perry, among others.” Morrow faces two Republicans in the March 3 primary for District 5, based in Central and South Texas. Party leaders typically do not oppose or endorse candidates. Morrow often posts on social media pictures of women baring their chests as well as theories about notable Republicans claiming that they have killed others or engaged in sexual misconduct, including with minor girls. He said he is running for the education board to spread his views, which he calls truths, as well as to oppose the Trump presidency, he said.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

At TPPF policy orientation, two Texas Republicans explain why they aren’t afraid to call Trump out on Twitter

It’s no secret that U.S. Reps. Chip Roy, a Republican from Hays County, and Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, are staunch allies of President Donald Trump, but they also have cultivated reputations for speaking their minds, even in opposition to Trump. The pair spoke at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s annual Policy Orientation on Wednesday and answered questions afterward about their occasional criticisms of the president, which often come publicly on Twitter.

“I haven’t gotten any significant blowback by that because ultimately we’re all trying to march forward in the same direction and support the same policy,” Roy said. “I just think we need more of that open, honest dialogue instead of shirts and skins just getting in the corner and shooting at each other instead of engaging.” Roy and Crenshaw are likely to face tough reelections in November — both in districts targeted by the campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House. But they also have become two of the better-known freshman Republicans nationally. Roy has taken to cable news shows to criticize both Republicans and Democrats over what he has called inaction on border security, and Crenshaw first gained popularity when he responded to “Saturday Night Live’s” mocking of his eyepatch for his war wound.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 23, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: For once, Austin has a good idea. Fort Worth should follow its lead on marijuana cases.

Look up. Notice that the sky hasn’t fallen. Texas hasn’t suddenly become a more dangerous place to live, even though prosecutions for possessing small amounts of marijuana have been slashed more than in half since the state’s new law legalizing hemp has caused confusion for police departments and district attorneys. City Council members in Austin have noticed, and on Thursday, they’re considering a measure to formalize the halt to low-level marijuana cases.

“If there’s no intent to sell or distribute, we’re not going to mess with it,” Greg Casar, the proposal’s lead sponsor, told the Texas Tribune. Fort Worth should do the same. When the extent of the problem distinguishing marijuana from hemp became clear, we urged the city to experiment with de facto decriminalization. Now, it’s time to go a step further. Fort Worth police say they’ve been handling cases individually, as circumstances merit. But it’s clear that arrests for small amounts of pot are way down.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2020

Money is flowing in to this Fort Worth area House race some hope to flip. Here’s why.

The race for a key Tarrant County House seat is ramping up, as candidates shore up their war chests. Early reports show the battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Jonathan Stickland in Texas House District 92 — which has been represented by Republicans for decades — has drawn nearly $200,000 from donors. “This is a critical election year, and District 92 really shows what the stakes are statewide,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU.

Democrat Jeff Whitfield, an attorney, has the most money on hand — nearly $121,000, which includes a $15,000 personal loan — according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission that show fundraising tallies through the end of 2019. Fellow Democrat Steve Riddell, who narrowly lost to Stickland in 2018, lags behind with $19,000 in the bank. On the Republican side, former Bedford Mayor Jim Griffin has more than $54,000 in cash on hand, which includes a $50,000 personal loan. Fellow Republican Jeff Cason, a former Bedford city councilman, has around $1,300 in the bank after he loaned himself $5,000. And small business owner Taylor Gillig has $815 on hand.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Texas A&M chancellor roasts Harvard faculty for their criticism of a beef study

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp has a beef with Harvard — over a study about eating beef. Sharp sent Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow a searing letter Wednesday morning condemning Harvard faculty for aggressively questioning a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine last fall in which an A&M researcher declared that there’s “no need to cut down on red and processed meat for health reasons.”

Texas A&M received flack after the journal issued a correction in December disclosing that one of the researchers behind the study, Bradley Johnston, had failed to disclose his ties to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension agency, which gets part of its funding from the beef industry. Harvard faculty members, Dr. Walter Willett and Dr. Frank Hu, helped fuel the controversy by flooding the journal’s editor with emails, including some from bots, right before the publishing of the study, according to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week. This was “harmful” to Texas A&M and its faculty, Sharp said. He included a link to the journal article, which suggested the two Harvard professors are directors of a group with strong financial ties to food companies promoting plant-based alternatives to red meat.

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Fox 24 - January 22, 2020

State Senator Royce West: "I am interviewing for a job, the job of the United State Senate."

State Senator Royce West made a stop in Big Spring, Tuesday night, for a chance to speak with constituents at the Howard County Democratic Headquarters. As a Texas State Senator, this democratic politician has represented the 23rd Senatorial District on behalf of the citizens of Dallas County. He announced his bid for United States Senate in July 2019.

“I am interviewing for a job, the job of the United States Senate. I am bringing to you my resume of experience and also my references.” West is headed to D.C. with 26 years of expertise in the Texas Senate. Over the years, he has also grown as a businessman and a lawyer. He says the people currently in charge, President Trump as well as U.S. Senator John Cornyn, have turned their backs on issues that need immediate attention.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

He didn't want to give up his religion to serve. Now he's Houston's first Sikh deputy constable.

Amrit Singh always knew he wanted to work as a peace officer. He spent years in law enforcement explorer programs, five months in a police training academy, and many dozens of hours working out and studying. After all that work, the 21-year-old Sugar Land resident’s swearing in as one of the newest members of the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office took less than a minute.

The move made him the first Sikh deputy constable in Harris County and represented an important step forward in religious inclusion, local Sikhs said. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated in what is now India. Practicing Sikhs wear a turban and five articles of faith: uncut hair, a wooden comb, an iron bracelet, an iron dagger and a Kachera, or type of undergarment — requirements that would be prohibited by many law enforcement departments that operate as paramilitary organizations with strict uniform policies. Harris County made national headlines in 2015 after sheriff’s deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal fought for and won the rights to wear his turban and beard on duty.

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Fort Worth Business Press - January 22, 2020

2020 Tarrant County Commercial Real Estate Forecast: More growth, changes in retail

Booming population growth propelled 2019 into another year of economic prosperity marked by a strong showing in all segments of the commercial real estate market in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and particularly in Tarrant County.

The outlook for 2020 anticipates continuing those positive trends, particularly for in the industrial and multi-family sectors, according to local commercial real experts who recapped successes in market during 2019 and offered predicts for the year ahead at the 2020 Tarrant County Commercial Real Estate Forecast, the 31st annual program hosted by the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth. Efforts by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in concert with the city of Fort Worth’s department of Economic Development, Tarrant County and partners across six North Texas counties put 90 projects in play during 2019, up from 71 in 2018 and 51 in 2017.

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KUT - January 23, 2020

Rural counties In fast-growing Central Texas hustle to prevent being undercounted in Census

Bastrop County is among a slew of fast-growing rural counties in Central Texas struggling to make sure their residents are counted accurately during this year’s census, set to begin this spring. Every 10 years, per the U.S. Constitution, every person living in the U.S. has to be counted. The count helps the federal government decide how much money to give each state for various federal programs. It also determines how many seats individual states get in Congress.

Making sure the count is accurate is a big undertaking for any city or county. But it’s especially difficult for local governments that don’t have that many resources to begin with. “We will work with what we’ve got,” Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said. Unlike large swaths of rural America that have seen their populations plummet in the past few decades, Bastrop County has been steadily growing. And this rural county directly east of Austin is likely to keep growing.

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Dallas Morning News - January 23, 2020

As DART plans more work for Cotton Belt line, Far North Dallas residents continue pushback

The Dallas City Council meeting on Wednesday marked a small win for Far North Dallas neighborhood residents concerned about the new Cotton Belt rail line. An agreement between the city and Dallas Area Rapid Transit promises to ban freight service on a 3-mile segment of the east-west commuter rail line. But homeowners who have followed the rail project still fear what’s coming next.

Bolstered by a new council member, they plan to continue to fight the Cotton Belt plans as long as it takes, Maura Schreier-Fleming, president of the Highlands of McKamy IV & V Homeowners Association, said Wednesday. Homeowners have opposed the Cotton Belt line proposal for years. DART initially proposed the project in 2006 and acquired 5.3 miles of the Cotton Belt freight line in 2010. “DART gets to say what’s safe. DART gets to make decisions. Not fair, not right,” Schreier-Fleming said. “Somebody’s going to get killed.” In the next few months, DART will push forward with construction of the 26-mile, $1.2 billion east-west commuter Cotton Belt or “Silver” line — starting with embankments, bridge structures and retaining walls. Construction began in November.

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City Stories

Austin Chronicle - January 23, 2020

With $4 million in debt Trudy’s files for bankruptcy

A bankruptcy attorney for Trudy’s Texas Star, Inc. made several Chapter 11 filings this afternoon. Stephen Sather of Barron & Newburger, PC tells the Chronicle that the total sum of the debt surrounding the filing is around $4 million. “The goal is to get the business stabilized, pay the employees and win back the goodwill of the customers,” Sather wrote in an email.

As the Chronicle reported last week (“Trudy’s Employees Revolting Over Late Pay”), the Tex-Mex institution had been the subject of social media rumblings about missed paychecks and limited inventory at restaurants. The emergency motion notes that company founder Gary Truesdell has stepped aside, due to health concerns, and his son Stephen is now seeing the reorganization. It also lays out that the company’s financial problems began in 2011 with the opening of the enormous Trudy’s Four Star restaurant in Hays County. According to the filing, that restaurant lost nearly a million dollars a year until it closed last January.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 22, 2020

Why did only 9 Pease Elementary families choose an East Austin school?

When the Austin school board voted to close Pease Elementary School, district administrators designated Zavala Elementary, a school 2½ miles east of Pease, as the preferred new campus for Pease’s students. But two months after that vote, which also shuttered three other elementaries, only nine Pease families so far have chosen to enroll their children next year at Zavala, an underenrolled school that most recently received an overall rating of 80% on state standardized tests taken last year. The vast majority of Zavala’s students are Latino and come from poor families.

District administrators are allowing Pease students to transfer to any campus, even schools that are closed to new students because they are over their capacity. Most families chose schools where the majority of students come from white and more affluent families, and where the campuses’ test scores are higher. Critics says that if the district was attempting, even in a small way, to bridge the income and racial divide between areas east and west of Interstate 35, the effort failed. At Pease, 18% of students are considered economically disadvantaged, qualifying for free or reduced price breakfasts and lunches. At Zavala, the figure is 93%.

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

McKinney councilman files federal voting rights suit to halt recall effort

Two weeks after threatening legal action to keep his seat on the McKinney City Council, La’Shadion Shemwell has filed a federal voting rights suit seeking to halt an effort to recall him from office. The suit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. district court for the Eastern District of Texas, claims that McKinney’s city charter includes an unconstitutional policy for the recall of a sitting council member.

In the city, all residents are able to sign a recall petition and all residents are able to vote in a recall election. Shemwell, who was elected in 2017 to represent the city’s District 1, says that only residents of his district should be allowed to vote to remove him from office. The recall is set to be on the May 2 ballot for McKinney residents. Shemwell said Wednesday that he feels that the will of his district is being silenced by people who live elsewhere in McKinney. “The voice of the people is being stripped from them,” Shemwell said. “I believe wholeheartedly that the people should have a voice.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Houston SPCA: Spring home at center of major animal rescue one of most toxic sites ever encountered

Animals ranging from dogs and cats to chickens, pigs and exotic birds were seized Tuesday night from a home in Spring, according to officials with the Montgomery County Pct. 3 Constable's Office and the Houston SPCA.

Approximately 191 animals were removed from inside and outside the home located at 2700 block of Leichester Drive in the Fox Run subdivision, including geese, turkeys and one iguana, authorities said. Many of the animals were found running loose in rooms filled with dirt, feces and urine and required immediate medical attention, according to the Houston SPCA.

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KUT - January 22, 2020

The last man On Rainey Street vowed to stay. Now he's glad he left.

The house at 71 Rainey St. leans. It bows to the left, toward Javelina, the bar next door where you can order a Psycho Chicken, a mezcal drink with honey and habanero. The house crouches beneath an awning of trees and a 30-story condo building across the street where luxury is “uncompromising.” The owner of 71 Rainey was also “uncompromising” – until last year when being the last man on Rainey became too much.

“It was my time to get out of there,” said John Contreras, who moved in September. "I'm glad I got out of there." Through dozens of voicemails in 2018 and 2019, Contreras had described to KUT what it was like to live on a rapidly gentrifying street – and to be the lone holdout. Drunk people wandered into his yard, ignoring the “private property” sign he’d put on the white wooden house. Through it all, Contreras had been determined to stay. “Living here, it’s not easy," he told KUT back in September 2018. "Never has been. But I guess it’s a self-determination thing.” But last summer he put his home up for sale and by the fall, Contreras, 66, was the last of the original homeowners on Rainey Street to sell. He never describes leaving as a choice; he calls it inevitable, he calls it “progress.” But he also says he’s happy he did.

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National Stories

The Hill - January 23, 2020

Union membership falls to record low of 10.3 percent

The percentage of salaried workers in labor unions fell 0.2 points in 2019 to a record low of 10.3 percent, almost half the 20.3 percent rate in 1983 and a 2-point drop from a decade earlier, according to data the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released Wednesday.

Membership in unions, a key base of support for Democrats, remained significantly higher in the public sector, where local unions for police, teachers and firefighters helped push rates up to 33.6 percent, compared with just 6.2 percent in the private sector. With $1,095 in median weekly earnings, union workers out-earned nonunion workers' median $892 salaries by 22.7 percent. Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, said the decline followed naturally from anti-labor policies in the Trump administration.

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The Hill - January 23, 2020

Gabbard suing Clinton for defamation over 'Russian asset' comments

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is suing Hillary Clinton for defamation over the former secretary of State's remarks on a podcast characterizing the Democratic presidential candidate as a Russian asset. Gabbard filed the defamation lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Tulsi Gabbard is a loyal American civil servant who has also dedicated her life to protecting the safety of all Americans,” Gabbard’s lawyer Brian Dunne said in a statement. “Rep. Gabbard’s presidential campaign continues to gain momentum, but she has seen her political and personal reputation smeared and her candidacy intentionally damaged by Clinton’s malicious and demonstrably false remarks.” Gabbard’s campaign referred all questions on the lawsuit to Dunne.

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Reuters - January 23, 2020

Democrats launch first salvo at Trump impeachment trial, say U.S global standing at stake

Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected and warned that America's global prestige would suffer if the U.S. Senate acquits him. The Republican Trump sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland the Democrats did not have enough evidence to find him guilty and remove him from office.

In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year. "To implement this corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump's 2020 presidential campaign," Schiff said.

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Roll Call - January 23, 2020

Schiff, Nadler impeachment tension spills out during trial

The first question at Wednesday’s news conference with House impeachment managers was directed at Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat whose Senate presentation helped prompt a rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and a flood of criticism from Republican senators.

Nadler appeared to take a half step toward the podium as Rep. Adam B. Schiff cut off the CNN reporter. “I’m going to respond to the questions,” the California Democrat and lead impeachment manager said, then turned to call on another reporter for a question on a different topic. Nadler was silent. The exchange was one of a few moments that hint at some internal discord among House managers about the best way to present their case for impeaching President Donald Trump to the Senate as well as the American people — and how to stay on that message.

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Newsclips - January 22, 2020

Lead Stories

Washington Post - January 22, 2020

Collins and Romney hold the keys in the impeachment trial. Here’s what they signaled on Day One.

Eyes will be glued to the Senate floor over the next two weeks as the Senate formally conducts its impeachment trial of President Trump. The process got off the ground Tuesday as the two sides debated the rules. But in actuality, much of it is window-dressing. The most significant stuff is what’s happening off the Senate floor — particularly when it comes to potential GOP swing votes such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah). They hold the keys to new evidence that could actually change hardened views of Trump’s actions with regard to Ukraine, and their words and actions are what matter most.

And a couple of significant things happened Tuesday. One was a change to the rules that were initially proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The change brought the rules more in line with how they were during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, and they were reportedly changed at the urging of Collins and others. One rule change made it so evidence compiled by the House would automatically be included in the record, subject to objections by Trump’s legal team, whereas before, the Senate had to approve that. The other is that the 24 hours of opening arguments that have been allotted to each side will take place over three days each, rather than two each. Both of these are changes that Democrats wanted, and they apparently got some Republicans to side with them — enough to force McConnell to preemptively change the rules, just as the proceedings were beginning.

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El Paso Times - January 22, 2020

Elizabeth Warren gets endorsement of El Paso lawmakers in presidential bid

With Texans Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke out of the race, Elizabeth Warren now has the backing of several El Paso lawmakers in her presidential bid. The Democratic presidential candidate's campaign on Tuesday announced the endorsements of four members of the El Paso delegation of the Texas Legislature: Reps. Mary González, Joe Moody and Art Fierro, as well as Sen. José Rodríguez.

The four state lawmakers previously endorsed Castro, who exited the race 2020 race on Jan. 2. Rodríguez, Moody and Fierro previously backed O'Rourke for president before endorsing Castro in November. "I'm grateful to have earned the support of Representatives González, Moody and Fierro, and Senator Rodríguez in this campaign for big, structural change for everyone,” Warren said in a statement. “They have fought for working families in El Paso and across Texas — together, we’ll build a movement to make our country and our economy work for everyone.” Warren's team has been building out her campaign in Texas, including opening a office in Houston on Jan. 17. The campaign has also opened offices in San Antonio and Austin and hired Texas State Director Jenn Longoria. Warren has also garnered the endorsement of Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, and his twin brother Congressman Joaquin Castro, among other Texas endorsements.

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Halliburton CEO: U.S. shale industry facing biggest test since 2015 downtown

The capital-intensive U.S. shale industry is facing its biggest challenge since a 2015 downturn that resulted in dozens of companies filing for bankruptcies, billions of dollars in losses and tens of thousands of layoffs as oil prices sputter, producers cut back and Wall Street investors become unwilling to float the bill, the CEO of the Houston oil field services company Halliburton said.

A decade of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing made the United States an energy powerhouse again, but crude oil prices stuck in the $50-to-$60 per barrel range over the past year have made shale unprofitable for most companies, resulting in substantial cuts to drilling and fracking activity in shale plays from Texas to Pennsylvania and North Dakota. That situation has placed tremendous pressure on oilfield service companies to slash prices for their products and services.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2020

CBS' early exit shows decisions networks face on impeachment

CBS was the first major network to break away from President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate on Tuesday, allowing its viewers to watch their regular afternoon fare instead of a debate over a proposed amendment to subpoena White House documents. The decision illustrated the on-the-fly judgments television executives will face every day of the trial, juggling concerns over millions of dollars in advertising revenue, news purists cognizant of the weight of history and angry soap opera fans.

Uncertainty over the Senate's schedule from hour to hour, much less day to day, complicates things even further. The decisions were easier when ABC, CBS and NBC dominated the landscape and were very cognizant of their public service responsibility. Now viewers have options — cable networks from CNN to C-SPAN and streaming services — if they want to follow the trial. While Tuesday's session was historic, opening the third impeachment trial ever in the United States, it will still a while before the meat of the case was examined. Yet it was noticed when CBS cut off the trial around 3:15 p.m. ET, while rivals ABC and NBC stuck with it.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

'It is not OK for 699 people to die': Texas bristles at federal highway death 'goal'

As state and local agencies take steps to reduce roadway deaths in the Houston area, officials are bristling at a federally-required assessment that sets a goal of 728 deaths around the region this year — up from a goal of 699 in 2019. “It is not OK for 699 people to die,” Jeff Weatherford, deputy director of Houston Public Works, told other members of a Houston-Galveston Area Council committee on Jan. 17. “I am going to keep on hammering that… Fundamentally, our process is flawed.”

Though more an issue of semantics, the concerns arise because local officials — notably Houston and the Texas Department of Transportation, where officials have signed pledges to end roadway fatalities — do not want to set a target that implies a number of deaths they consider acceptable. “No one is happy about this,” said Trent Epperson, assistant city manager in Pearland and chairman of H-GAC’s Technical Advisory Committee. The regional Transportation Policy Council is scheduled to discuss the safety target at its monthly meeting Friday. The Federal Highway Administration requires local planning agencies in Texas such as H-GAC to set safety and performance measures and turn them in to TxDOT, based on federally-set guidelines.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

Houston-based McDermott confirms oilfield service company will file for bankruptcy

McDermott International will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday, the struggling Houston oilfield service company confirmed. In a statement released early Tuesday morning, McDermott said it would will file a prepackaged restructuring plan at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston. The plan, which has the support of two-thirds of its creditors, would allow McDermott will receive more than $2.8 billion in financing and shed $4.6 billion of debt.

As part of the restructuring plan, McDermott has agreed to sell Lummus Technology to The Chatterjee Group and Rhône Group for $2.725 billion. However, the deal must be approved by a bankruptcy judge in an auction process that could go to a higher bidder. McDermott's announcement ends four months of speculation that the company would file for bankruptcy. Market rumors about the company using the services of a restructuring advisory firm sent McDermott's stock price plummeting in September. Shares of McDermott were trading $6 per share range in September but have plunged below $1 a share. The company received a delisting warning from the New York Stock Exchange to bring shares back above $1 per share threshold.

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Houston Chronicle - January 21, 2020

Hundreds of residents call for relief following cancer cluster identified near rail yard at town hall featuring Erin Brockovich

Residents living near a rail yard in Houston have had enough. Some still have cancer. Some have beat cancer. Many know someone who has died of cancer. “We are tired,” Sandra Edwards, a resident of the area and member of IMPACT, a community action group. “I want to know if it is safe for me to live in the neighborhood. We are not waiting no longer. We want it done now. We want results now.”

At a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), with consumer advocate Erin Brockovich as a guest speaker, hundreds of residents packed Wheatley High School’s auditorium in Houston’s Fifth Ward Tuesday night to call for relief for the community. But first, Brockovich acknowledged the problem. In one powerful moment during her remarks, Brockovich called on the crowd to stand if they, or someone they know, had cancer. Hundreds were brought to their feet. “This is not normal,” said Brockovich, who is best known for her work obtaining a multi-million dollar medical and environmental contamination settlement against Pacific Gas & Electric. “You are human. You know what you see, and that gives you a right to stand up and speak up.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Erica Grieder: Trump’s trade deals aren’t perfect, but they’re better than the alternative

On his recent trip to Texas this past weekend, President Donald Trump had something to crow about. It was Trump’s 14th visit to the state since being elected president, which some Democrats view as a measure of his vulnerability in a potential battleground state this fall. And certainly, Trump was more embattled than usual when he arrived in Texas to address the American Farm Bureau Federation’s convention on Sunday. It was the eve of his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, following his impeachment in December, on a mostly party-line vote, by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

It’s highly unlikely that the trial, which began on Tuesday, will result in Trump’s removal from office. And perhaps with that in mind, the proceedings looming in Washington didn’t seem to put too much of a damper on the president’s outlook as he addressed the farmers and ranchers gathered in Austin. Trump touted what he described as “stunning,” “groundbreaking,” and “tremendous” trade-related victories. Those successes have gotten relatively little attention, given their potentially sweeping impact. This is particularly true for states such as Texas, which leads the nation in exports, and cities such as Houston, with a globalized economy that has been exposed to some risk as a result of Trump’s generally protectionist instincts, among other things. “Houstonians shouldn’t assume that trade, foreign investment and immigration will grow at the same pace over the next 10 years,” the Greater Houston Partnership warned in a June 2019 report. “All three face headwinds.”

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Houston Chronicle - January 22, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Why can’t UT-Austin hire, keep Latino faculty?

In a message posted on the University of Texas at Austin website, President Gregory Fenves touts the institution’s commitment to diversity. “Our history of exclusion and segregation gives us a responsibility to stand as champions of the educational benefits of diversity,” the statement says. It is a worthy goal — one backed by research showing that all students benefit from a diverse learning environment. Unfortunately, UT’s pledge doesn’t always translate into reality. A recent 188-page “Hispanic Equity Report” found “gross disparities” and “discrimination” for Latino faculty at the state’s flagship university.

History professor Alberto Martinez, chair of the committee that produced the report, described the inequities to the editorial board in three words: Flabbergasting. Demoralizing. Heartbreaking. We’ll add another: Unacceptable. Consider these findings: Latino professors are paid less than their white peers, ranging from a difference of $10,000 for associate professors to $25,000 for full professors. The pay gap is even wider for Latinas. Latinos are virtually shut out of leadership positions. Among the 130 dean positions, only 7.7 percent are Latino and none are held by a Hispanic female. In Texas, Latinas are 20 percent of the population. Some departments, such as the 130-year-old history department, have never been chaired by a person of color.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

Cibolo City Council sounds death knell for toll road that might have eased I-35 congestion

A controversial Northeast Side toll road designed to provide relief for congested Interstate 35 is all but dead after the Cibolo City Council unanimously approved ending an agreement with the road’s developer. “The letter of termination … came about because the Cibolo Turnpike Corp. was not able to clearly demonstrate that they had achieved financial closing per the terms of the development agreement,” City Manager Robert Herrera said. The Schertz City Council and Guadalupe County already had rejected the Cibolo Parkway Project in no uncertain terms, saying it didn’t seem that the road could deliver what it promised.

At a meeting last week, the Cibolo City Council met in a lengthy executive session to discuss the letter of termination and the project, emerging from the session to cast a vote in support of ending the agreement with the corporation, which is headed by John Crew, majority owner and chairman of the board of directors. “We’ve been talking (with Crew) all the way through this, giving him every opportunity to fulfill their duties, and they fell short in every aspect,” Mayor Stosh Boyle said. “They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain.” In response to the city’s termination of the agreement, the corporation filed suit against the city. Crew and his attorneys have claimed that it’s the city that hasn’t met its obligations under the agreement.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: School lunch changes don’t serve the kids

Any parent can attest, it can be tough to sell kids on the merits of veggies and even some fruits. And on those days when the kale starts flying across the dinner table and the tears stream down cheeks, sometimes it’s just easier to serve a slice of pizza and go for the juice box. But this should be an exception to the rule, not the rule itself. And this brings us to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to lower federal nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch.

The proposal — announced with a visit to Castle Hills Elementary School by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, as well as U.S. Rep. Chip Roy and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, he of the “Jesus Shot” and liberator of cupcakes and deep fryers — is as unpalatable as a soggy French fry. The concern is there will be a lot more fries in our school cafeterias. Loosening nutrition standards is an invitation to childhood obesity and other associated health concerns. We are going backward here. The rationale for this proposal is it will cut back on food waste. The argument being as school meals have become healthier, kids have pushed back against whole grains, veggies and fresh fruit. It follows other administrative actions to chip away at Obama-era regulations. In the past, the USDA has reduced required servings of whole grains, slowed a reduction in sodium and allowed potatoes to replace fruit at breakfast. Under this proposal, pizza, hamburgers and fries potentially could be served daily as á la carte options.

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San Antonio Express-News - January 21, 2020

San Antonio suburb once again rejects attempt to house migrant children

A private government contractor that repeatedly has been thwarted in its efforts to open two shelters for migrant boys in the area lost another round Tuesday night in Universal City. The Universal City council followed the advice of its planning and zoning commission and unanimously rejected a rezoning request from the New Covenant Family Church to turn an old school building into a shelter for up to 60 migrant boys.

“I feel that the current zoning is correct, it protects the health … of that neighborhood,” council member Beverly Volle said. “We’ve worked long and hard to get where we are.” It was the sixth time officials in the San Antonio area have rejected shelters planned by government contractor VisionQuest, an Arizona company that operates migrant facilities around the country. “I have a mandate from God that is 40 years in the making to stand here at this time … to tell you it’s not about me, it’s not about VisionQuest, it’s not about this city,” Bishop Grady Morris Sr. of the Schertz-based church told a room of about 200 people. “It’s about the children that are languishing in these camps (near the border) and need to be placed in an environment where they can be cared for.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: How on earth did young Tarrant Republican think trolling with ‘OK’ hand symbol was smart?

Our political culture’s obsession with trolling has hit a new low. On Monday, at a Fort Worth parade to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a member of the Tarrant County Young Republicans apparently decided a group photo was the right moment to flash a hand symbol that’s been appropriated by white supremacists. The GOP group apologized and acknowledged it was an inappropriate gesture for the setting.

In a tweet, it explained that Robert Coe thought “it’s funny how crazy leftists get over a fake symbol” and was not trying to send a white power message. We have no reason so far to doubt that, but it’s worth pausing to consider how our politics got to this point. Celebrations of King should be about unity. The holiday is a moment to honor America’s steps toward making our founding creed true for all, particularly those prompted by King’s civil-rights work. And it’s a time to redouble effort on all that remains to be done for his vision of true equality to be realized. What it’s not is a venue for political triumphalism or partisan gain.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - January 22, 2020

Group apologizes after Fort Worth Republican makes white power sign during MLK parade

The Tarrant County Young Republicans apologized after a member made a hand gesture associated with white supremacy in a photo at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Fort Worth. The Tarrant County Republican Party, which originally posted the photo, removed it from their Facebook page.

The photo showed a group of about 20 people posing with a Tarrant County Republican Party banner at Monday’s parade. In the background, a man is making the OK symbol, which the Anti-Defamation League recognizes as a hate symbol under certain circumstances. Robert Coe was identified as the man in the photo. He is the precinct chairman for precinct 1111 in Fort Worth, and Tarrant County Young Republicans named him “Young Republican of the Year” in December. Precinct chairs oversee voter registration and are elected every two years. When asked about the photo, Coe told the Star-Telegram “that situation has already been taken care of.” “There is no need to report on it,” he said. “The situation has been resolved.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Early voting begins in runoff election to replace Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in Texas House

Early voting began Tuesday in the special election to replace Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in the Texas House. Residents in District 100, which covers parts of east, west and southern Dallas, can cast early ballots through Friday for community advocate Lorraine Birabil or businessman James Armstrong III. The special election is Jan. 28. Like most special elections, there’s been little public drama and turnout is expected to be dismal.

But on Tuesday the candidates sparred over what type of experience is needed to lead the heavily Democratic district. Armstrong is the president and CEO of Builders of Hope Community Development Corporation, which develops single-family homes. “It’s a choice between a servant leader who has worked his entire life on issues of economic equality or a political staffer," Armstrong said. "The district needs a champion in Austin that’s willing to put in the work.”

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Texas’ new ballot requirements have Libertarians and Greens confused ahead of elections

As Republicans and Democrats prepare for their March primaries, some third-party candidates are struggling to navigate new requirements to get on the November ballot. A law passed in 2019 lowered the threshold of votes a party must win in any statewide election to reappear on the next ballot. Previously, parties had to receive at least 5% of votes in the previous statewide election to get automatic ballot access, but a law that went into effect Sept. 1 lowered that to 2% in any of the previous five general elections.

But it also added requirements for parties whose candidates are nominated in conventions instead of primaries, making them pay fees or obtain a certain number of signatures to secure their spot in the general election. Previously, only the major party candidates paid filing fees. Now, two pending lawsuits over the law have left Libertarian and Green party candidates confused about whether they will be on the ballot. On Tuesday, a House panel heard some of their grievances. “We appreciated the lowered threshold, but then we discovered that we had these fees to pay,” Bill Kelsey, a Libertarian candidate for Congressional District 25 told the Texas House Elections Committee. Kelsey said he did not pay fees because a Harris County district judge issued an injunction in a suit over the fees days before the candidate filing deadline in December. But another judge reinstated the fees in response to an appeal from the state.

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Madisonville Meteor - January 22, 2020

Rep. Ashby visits Madison County

State Representative Trent Ashby traveled across Texas House District 57 Friday to meet with constituents and made a number of stops along the way, including Madisonville CISD, Latexo ISD, the regional Texas A&M AgriLife meeting as well as a gathering for landowners in Crockett. “This is the part of the job I really enjoy, getting out and visiting with my constituents and hearing what is on the minds of those I am blessed to represent,” said Ashby after meeting with a number of students at Madisonville Elementary, the final stop of Friday’s tour.

Ashby, who has served the District since 2013, will be up for reelection again in November. He is currently the only Republican listed to run in the party’s primary, which will take place March 3. Jason Rogers is again running unopposed in the Democratic primary and will likely meet Ashby in the District’s general election in November. In 2018, Ashby defeated Rogers with 79 percent of the overall vote. The Representative elaborated on some of the main issues facing Madison County and District 57 with the election right around the corner. The first point that came to mind has been a hot button issues in the area for over two years. “The first issue, of course, is the proposed high speed rail bullet train,” said Ashby. “This is something I have been opposed to since day one. At the state level, I was very pleased that nothing happened during our last session that would help move that project along in any way. We will continue to monitor what is going on at the federal level, and (Congressman Kevin Brady) has been very active in fighting against it.”

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County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2020

Travis appraisal district restores in-person protest hearings

The Travis Central Appraisal District said Tuesday that it will resume face-to-face, informal settlement hearings with property owners who challenge their appraised values for 2020. Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler had faced criticism after doing away with the in-person hearings for the first time last year, part of an what the district says is an ongoing effort to move the informal process online.

The appraisal district’s board of directors voted to approve Crigler’s recommendation to provide property owners with the option to have an in-person informal conference meeting with a staff appraiser as part of this year’s process. The meetings will allow property owners to learn how a property’s market value was determined and present new information that could affect that value. “Travis County property owners who protest their property’s market value will have the option to sit down with a TCAD appraiser in 2020,” Crigler said in a written statement. “It’s clear that property owners value these meetings and want them to be part of the protest process.”

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2020

Shooting left grieving families and shocked a downtown San Antonio neighborhood

Alejandro Robles went to Ventura, a downtown bar known for hosting live local music, Sunday night with his wife to support a childhood friend who was performing. It was busy for a Sunday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The bar was putting on a hip-hop event called Living the Dream, pegged to Dream Week, memorializing the civil rights leader who preached nonviolence. By the end of the night, Robles, 25, and another bar patron, Robert Jay Martinez, 20, had been shot to death. A woman, 46, and four males ranging in age from 16 to 19 were also shot but were expected to survive.

Police said the gunman got into an altercation at the bar, fired multiple times and fled into the night. They arrested Kiernan Christopher Williams, 19, on two counts of capital murder Monday afternoon. He faces other charges, Police Chief William McManus said. A sense of shock reverberated through the trendy Museum Reach section of downtown where Ventura is situated. Nestled in a neighborhood of condominiums and apartment buildings filled with young professionals, the bar doesn’t have heavy security or uniformed guards, let alone a metal detector. It never seemed like a place that needed that, patrons said. Officers found bullet casings inside and outside the bar, McManus said. Investigators said at least one of the victims knew Williams. Robles grew up on the Northeast Side, where he still lived, and had a 5-year-old son, said his father, James Huff. He sometimes went to Starbucks and secretly paid for customers in line behind him, Huff said. “He would give his shirt off his back for anybody,” said Robles’ sister, Ivy Huff, 18. “He was all about family.”

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San Antonio Express-News - January 20, 2020

S.A. oilman Brian Alfaro’s $3M house heading for foreclosure

Indicted San Antonio oilman Brian Alfaro’s $3 million Shavano Park house is again heading for foreclosure, apparently contradicting statements he made to a federal judge Friday. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery held a bond revocation hearing at which he considered locking up Alfaro over concerns that he may have lied to federal officers about a credit application to lease a Mercedes-Benz.

The judge ultimately allowed Alfaro to remain free on a $50,000 unsecured bond pending his criminal trial next month but not before questioning him about his finances and the status of his mortgage loan with Karnes County National Bank of Karnes City. Alfaro, who was indicted on eight counts of mail fraud in connection with allegedly misusing investor money, told Biery that he was current on the mortgage loan with the bank. “So from this point you will make payments direct to Karnes County (National Bank)?” the judge asked. “I believe so,” Alfaro answered.

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Austin American-Statesman - January 21, 2020

Austin Council members say letting go of pot charges right thing to do

Four Austin City Council members on Tuesday said ending arrests and citations for low-level marijuana offenses is the right thing to do from a cultural, criminal and fiscal perspective. The council on Thursday will consider a resolution that would effectively end criminal action against individuals with small amounts of marijuana, while preventing the city from expending additional resources to developing new testing capabilities required to distinguish narcotic marijuana from legal hemp.

The resolution would not apply to felony-level trafficking offenses. State lawmakers during the last legislative session legalized the production of hemp, which can contain up to 0.3% THC, the intoxicating agent in marijuana. But since only a small number of labs are capable of testing marijuana for THC content, a slew of city and county attorneys offices, including Travis and Williamson counties, washed their hands of prosecuting such cases, saying such testing was too hefty of a financial burden. But many attorneys left open the possibility that cases mounting since the law went into effect last summer could return if new testing capabilities developed, a prospect the resolution’s main sponsor Council Member Greg Casar hopes to avoid.

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Dallas Morning News - January 21, 2020

For the first time in two decades, Allen will have a new mayor

For the first time in 23 years, Allen will be getting a new mayor. Longtime Mayor Steve Terrell, first elected to the seat in 1997, has said he’ll leave the position to run for the Collin County Commissioners Court.

At their next meeting on Jan. 28, the City Council is expected to formally announce the vacancy and potentially set a timeline to appoint an interim mayor. The departure wasn’t unexpected. In May, voters approved a term-limits measure that made Terrell ineligible to run again, and last month he officially filed for the Republican primary for the Precinct 3 seat on the Collin County Commissioners Court. “I’ll always have a big heart for Allen,” he said. “I want to take all my experience and knowledge in building [a city] to carry it on up to the next level of the county.”

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National Stories

Washington Post - January 21, 2020

Mike Bloomberg shifts presidential ad campaign to focus on impeachment

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg plans to shift his television ad message this week to directly call for President Trump’s removal from office, with a new spot that will run in states with Republican senators who face competitive reelection fights this year. The decision to spend money on impeachment ads in the states of vulnerable senators like Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) fits into a larger strategy by Bloomberg since he started running for the Democratic nomination for president.

He has tried to direct spending for his own long-shot presidential bid to also benefit other goals, like defeating Trump in November, even if he is not the nominee, and helping other Democrats down ballot. The 30-second spot will begin running Monday afternoon in 27 states and on the national cable networks MSNBC, ESPN and CNN, replacing other ads that are already in rotation. “It’s time for the Senate to act and remove Trump from office. And if they won’t do their jobs, this November, you and I will,” Bloomberg says in the ad. With a net worth over $50 billion, Bloomberg has spent more than $225 million on advertising since announcing his presidential campaign on Nov. 24, according to the tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

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Washington Post - January 21, 2020

Senate adopts ground rules for impeachment trial, delaying a decision on witnesses until after much of the proceedings

The first substantive day of President Trump’s impeachment trial opened Tuesday with unexpected internal GOP dissension over its structure, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was forced to revise his proposed rules at the last minute to accommodate a brewing rebellion in his ranks.

That abrupt reversal from Senate leadership began a deeply acrimonious day in the chamber, which dramatically escalated in its final hours when the House managers and the president’s attorneys engaged in language considered so toxic for the staid Senate that Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial, admonished both sides. In the end, the final parameters of the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president was approved on strictly partisan lines, but the measure passed only after revisions that allowed both sides more time to present their cases, and for findings from the House impeachment probe to be automatically entered into evidence as part of the trial.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2020

Washington man is 1st in US to catch new virus from China

The U.S. on Tuesday reported its first case of a new and potentially deadly virus circulating in China, saying a Washington state resident who returned last week from the outbreak's epicenter was hospitalized near Seattle. The man, identified as a Snohomish County resident is in his 30s, was in good condition and wasn't considered a threat to medical staff or the public, health officials said. U.S. officials stressed that they believe the virus' overall risk to the American public remained low. “This is not a moment of high anxiety,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

The newly discovered virus has infected about 440 people, all of whom had been in China, and killed nine. The virus can cause coughing, fever, breathing difficulty and pneumonia. The U.S. joins a growing list of places outside mainland China reporting cases, following Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Airports around the world have stepped up monitoring, checking passengers from China for signs of illness in hopes of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season. Late last week, U.S. health officials began screening passengers from Wuhan in central China, where the outbreak began. The screening had been underway at three U.S. airports — New York City's Kennedy airport and the Los Angeles and San Francisco airports. On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would add Chicago's O'Hare airport and Atlanta's airport to the mix later this week.

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Associated Press - January 21, 2020

Backatcha: Thunberg returns Trump’s climate jibe

Greta Thunberg isn’t easily intimidated. The 17-year-old Swedish activist wasted little time on Tuesday to push back against U.S. President Donald Trump’s description of climate campaigners as “the perennial prophets of doom” who predict the “apocalypse.”

Though Trump didn’t mention her directly in his speech at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos, it was clear he had his sights on Thunberg, who shot to fame a year ago by staging a regular strike at her school and sparked a global environmental movement. She then beat the U.S. president to receive Time Magazine’s award as the 2019 Person of the Year. “The facts are clear, but they are still too uncomfortable for you to address,” she told business and political leaders in Davos just after Trump’s speech, also without directly mentioning the president. “You just leave it because you think it’s too depressing and people will give up, but people will not give up. You are the ones who are giving up.”

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Market Watch - January 21, 2020

Tesla stock rally ‘extremely unusual,’ analyst says

Tesla Inc. stock skyrocketed Tuesday as one analyst said the shares’ ongoing rally is “extremely unusual” in the automobile and industrial sectors. Tesla shares TSLA, +4.90% rose more than 6% and traded as high as $545.90, on track for a record close. The stock fell in the three prior sessions.

Tesla stock has doubled in six months and gained 190% since its trough in June “baffling many investors,” said Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi in a note Tuesday. Sacconaghi, who rates Tesla stock the equivalent of neutral, said he looked back 40 years at instances where similar large-cap stock moves have occurred. Read more: Elon Musk stands to get even richer if Tesla’s market cap tops $100 billion While it is not unheard of in other sectors, the sharp gain “is extremely unusual in the autos and industrial sectors,” he said, pinpointing three examples before Tesla’s run: Ford Motor Co. and Daimler in the wake of the global financial crisis, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in 2017.

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Stateline - January 20, 2020

Seniors’ tax breaks have become a target

As Americans begin the challenge of filling out their tax returns this year, one taxpayer demographic generally pays less than others: senior citizens. Tax breaks for seniors cost states approximately $27 billion a year and will more than double in the next decade, according to a recent study from the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. That money could pay for schools, roads and other needs, critics argue.

Giving a break to seniors based on their age rather than their income or financial status dates from a time when people had shorter lives and fewer investments. But the financial situation of seniors has improved overall, leaving some experts to question whether the tax breaks make sense. “I think part of it is because there is sort of an image of seniors living on fixed incomes struggling to get by,” said Elizabeth McNichol, who wrote the study. “I think that’s stuck in peoples’ heads. The reality is the senior poverty rate is less than for other people and certainly less than for younger people and children.” In 1970, about a quarter of the over-65 population had below-poverty income, the report pointed out, citing the U.S. Census Bureau’s official poverty measure. Since then, retirement income, including Social Security, has expanded. Today, only 10% of those over 65 are poor, according to the same measure.

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CNN - January 22, 2020

John Roberts scolds legal teams after tense exchange: 'Those addressing the Senate should remember where they are'

Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, scolded both the Democratic House managers and the President's defense team early Wednesday morning after a contentious exchange on the Senate floor. "I think it is appropriate for me to admonish both the House managers and the President's counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world's greatest deliberative body," Roberts said. "One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse."

Roberts had just listened to the impeachment managers and Trump's legal team rip into each other after House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler made the case for issuing a subpoena for former national security adviser John Bolton's testimony. During that argument, Nadler accused Republican senators of "voting for a coverup" by killing amendments for documents and testimony of additional witnesses. "So far, I'm sad to say, I see a lot of senators voting for a coverup. Voting to deny witnesses and obviously a treacherous vote," Nadler said. "A vote against an honest consideration of the evidence against the President. A vote against an honest trial. A vote against the United States." That led to White House counsel Pat Cipollone firing back during his own remarks: "The only one who should be embarrassed, Mr. Nadler, is you. For the way you addressed this body. This is the United States Senate. You're not in charge here."

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Dallas Morning News - January 22, 2020

Sworn to silence, senators make their views on impeachment known with nods and tweets

As the rules that will govern the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump were argued in front of them, senators who are acting as jurors in the trial face the “pain of imprisonment” if they speak, but both of Texas’ senators still found ways to express themselves Tuesday. Materials were piled high on the desks of Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and both took occasional notes as the debate proceeded.

As the House impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers made their cases, Cornyn kept a stoic expression throughout much of the day. Cruz occasionally reacted to the arguments. When Trump’s deputy counsel, Patrick Philbin, responded to accusations that the Senate’s trial is “predetermined” by saying, “That’s exactly what happened in the House,” Cruz emphatically nodded his head. Cruz also expressed himself with an assist from his Twitter accounts. Senate staffers often have access to their boss’ social media accounts, something Cruz took full advantage of despite the ban on cell phones in the chamber during the trial.

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