March 26, 2019

Lead Stories

Washington Post - March 26, 2019

Dispute erupts over Mueller’s findings on Trump, Russia and obstruction of justice

During a briefing at the Justice Department about three weeks ago, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III made a revelation that those supervising his work were not expecting, a person familiar with the matter said: He would not offer a conclusion on whether he believed President Trump sought to obstruct justice.

The decision — which a Justice Department official on Monday said the special counsel’s office came to "entirely” on its own — left a gap ripe for political exploitation. A day after Barr revealed Mueller’s principal conclusions — namely, that the special counsel did not establish any coordination between Trump and Russia on election interference, and found a mixed bag on the question of obstruction — Democrats attacked the attorney general and issued an April 2 deadline for him to turn over a copy of the report, while Republicans said Trump should be given an apology.

Dallas Morning News - March 25, 2019

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick teases multiple special sessions unless Texas enacts 'substantial' tax relief

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says state lawmakers must enact "substantial" tax relief even if it means working overtime. On Sunday, Patrick sent his supporters an email urging the Texas Legislature to convene a special session if it does not pass one of several property tax relief bills before it's supposed to gavel out on May 27.

Patrick mentioned two tax bills, both priorities in the Senate, as paths to real tax relief. Senate Bill 2 would require voters to approve local tax revenue growth in excess of 2.5 percent, and Senate Bill 5 would increase the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $35,000. A committee passed Senate Bill 2 more than a month ago, but it has yet to get a vote before the full chamber.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who authored the bill, said he's holding it back until members get more details about the Senate's priority school funding bill, which will have property tax implications. Asked if he had the necessary amount of votes to advance the bill out of the Senate, he said, "I think we could have the votes, for sure, in a special session." But House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said he believes lawmakers can get their jobs done without a special session.

Houston Chronicle - March 25, 2019

Senate expected to vote on Green New Deal this week

Senators are expected to vote this week on a resolution regarding the Green New Deal, a Democratic proposal to tackle climate change through an unprecedented uptick in government spending on clean energy.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is looking to use the vote as an opportunity to highlight many Democrats' unwilling to commit to such a large undertaking, which was proposed by upstart freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY). According to Politico, Democrats are planning to vote "present," not yes or no, "much like a previous effort over single-payer health care — which they also derided as a gimmick."

The move by McConnell has drawn cheers from Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who have railed against the Green New Deal as "socialism." He has also drawn fire from environmental groups, led by the League of Conservation Voters, who accused of him of engaging in "cynical political stunts." "The climate crisis is a problem of epic proportions that requires a level of ambition just as big. This is an all hands-on-deck moment, and now is the time to challenge ourselves as never before," the groups wrote in a letter to McConnell.

Dallas Morning News - March 25, 2019

Beto O'Rourke, Julián Castro trail several Democratic contenders in new Iowa 2020 poll

Beto O'Rourke lags several Democratic contenders for president in a fresh survey of Iowa caucus-goers, providing an early reminder that the El Paso Democrat will face a tough battle to secure his party's nomination.

An Emerson College poll released on Sunday shows the ex-congressman with the backing of just five percent of Democratic caucus voters in the critical battleground state. That result puts O'Rourke behind the likes of former Vice President Joe Biden (25 percent), Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (24 percent) and Pete Buttigieg, an Indiana mayor (11 percent), though it does put him in front of fellow Texan, former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro (1 percent).

The poll, while just one data point, is a bit of a reality check on Beto-mania 2.0. O'Rourke outpaced the field by raising $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his candidacy. He's drawn large crowds in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. He's grabbed the attention of the media, along with rivals on all sides of the political spectrum. But the El Pasoan has to turn that enthusiasm into real support if he wants to win the right to take on President Donald Trump.

Axios - March 25, 2019

Lindsey Graham urged McCain to give Trump-Russia dossier to FBI

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham told CNN on Monday that when Sen. John McCain was presented with the controversial Steele dossier alleging a Trump-Russia campaign conspiracy in December 2016, Graham urged him to hand it off to the FBI.

President Trump last week renewed his attacks on McCain, claiming that the senator was responsible for pushing the dossier’s narrative into the public eye. Graham, now a Trump loyalist, said that he was "very direct" with the president about McCain's involvement while they were golfing this past week.

"I understand that, clearly people are in the McCain world that did some things inappropriate but it was not John McCain," Graham said. "John McCain did not give it to anybody in the press."

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 25, 2019

Deer Park fire underscores why good companies plan for disasters

As a cloud of toxic darkness hovered above, spokeswoman Alice Richardson was asked if the Intercontinental Terminals Co. would apologize to all of the residents of Deer Park for the petrochemical fire that raged for almost four days, releasing a seemingly endless plume of noxious smoke that would stretch hundreds of miles in the sky.

Of course ITC would apologize to all of them, Richardson said Tuesday as tears welled up in her eyes and her voice cracked. The company is very sorry, she insisted. “This isn’t an event we wanted or planned,” she said. “Many of my employees work in the city of Deer Park. They’re out there fighting this fire the best they can.”

Houston Chronicle - March 25, 2019

Anita Hill says Kavanaugh hearing was a setback in lecture at Rice, but ‘progress is never linear’

Though 2017 was marked with the rumblings of the #MeToo movement and troubling accusations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood and beyond, nothing could prepare Anita Hill for 2018.

The attorney and Brandeis University professor, widely known for her 1991 congressional testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, said Monday that last year she was taken aback by the reaction to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony critical of-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. In congressional testimony, Ford alleged last September he had sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school.

"I say that because we were really thinking we were making progress," said Hill, but Kavanaugh, like Thomas, was confirmed to the court. "I had no idea that we would be jolted back to the past that we felt we had grown beyond (that)," she told a sold-out lecture at Rice University’s Baker Institute. Hill, who will appear Tuesday at University of Houston Law Center, called the Kavanaugh hearing a "setback." But like her own experience, she said, there is still work to be done. "Progress is never linear," she said.

Houston Chronicle - March 25, 2019

Cleanup continues at ITC site as Ship Channel nears re-opening

Crews continued to remove chemicals from several fire-damaged storage tanks at the Intercontinental Terminals Co.’s Deer Park site Monday as the U.S. Coast Guard worked to re-open the Houston Ship Channel.

Eight days after a fire began at the Deer Park facility and damaged 11 80,000-gallon tanks filled with flammable petroleum products, ITC Incident Commander Brent Weber said crews had drained five tanks completely and were working to empty another three. Two tanks that had contained pyrolysis gasoline have been emptied and secured, Weber said, while two others containing pyrolysis gasoline and toluene should be emptied later Monday.

Moving the chemicals that contain benzene, a known carcinogen, continues to be a top priority, Weber said. The ship channel was opened to daylight traffic at 2:21 p.m. The San Jacinto River had been partially reopened between 9 a.m. and noon. Coast Guard Captain Kevin Oditt said a tanker ship was permitted to leave the Ship Channel Sunday, and Coast Guard members observed no oil on the vessel’s hull, a key criterion for reopening the channel. Oditt said the Coast Guard would allow an inbound tanker on Monday, and watch for signs of contaminants on that vessel.

Houston Chronicle - March 26, 2019

Houston Ship Channel closure could cost $1 billion

The closure of a portion of the Houston Ship Channel in the aftermath of the days-long Deer Park chemical fire could cost the petroleum and petrochemical sectors an estimated $1 billion in direct and indirect costs and lost revenues, experts said.

Shutting down a major chunk of the Port of Houston for a few days means cutting off access to the biggest port in the nation in terms of foreign tonnage, shipping out petroleum, chemicals, plastics and countless other products in container terminals while receiving large volumes of crude oil and massive container cargo ships.

A few days of closures typically equates to about $500 million in direct costs in delayed shipments and lost supply chain materials for thousands of impacted companies, said Maria Burns, director of the University of Houston's logistics and transportation program. Another $500 million is estimated to be incurred in indirect expenses from rerouted and canceled shipments and vessel traffic worldwide, she said.

Dallas Morning News - March 25, 2019

Who did Dallas' Perot family just put in charge of the family fortune?

Dallas' billionaire Perot family has hired a new investment chief who will manage the family's fortune, according to The Wall Street Journal. Veteran hedge fund trader Boaz Sidikaro, 44, will take on managing the family's wealth after having been a part of Perot Investments since March. Sidikaro worked at New York hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group for more than 20 years.

Sidikaro will take over for the family's longtime investment officer Steve Blasnik, who held the position for more than 30 years. Blasnik told The Journal he was stepping back from daily investment operations after having held onto a "lot of responsibility" for three decades. Blasnik said he will continue to advise Sidikaro.

Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, where Sidikaro was one of the earliest employees, has been beset with controversy for some time over an alleged bribery scheme and other investment troubles. A former European executive with the company was recently indicted on fraud charges. The family is famous for building technology companies that were later sold to General Motors and Dell and for real estate development in Texas and elsewhere. In Forbes' richest Americans ranking in October, Ross Perot Sr. had an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion while Ross Perot Jr.'s fortune totaled $2.3 billion.

Dallas Morning News - March 25, 2019

Four female Texas Democrats skipped a House hearing on an abortion bill. Here's why.

Four House Democrats boycotted a committee hearing Monday, temporarily blocking debate on a bill that could result in fines of doctors who fail to provide "appropriate medical treatment" in the event that a fetus lives through an attempted abortion.

The four absences and a late arrival by Republican Dallas Rep. Morgan Meyer wound up denying the nine-member panel a quorum. That frustrated Plano GOP Rep. Jeff Leach, chairman of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee and the bill's author. The absentees, though, blasted the bill as hostile to women. The absentees, though, blasted the bill as hostile to women. In a joint statement, committee vice chairwoman Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, and Dallas-area Reps. Yvonne Davis, Julie Johnson and Victoria Neave noted that Republicans "enjoy a majority" and could conduct business without them.

Although Leach said Meyer, a third-term Republican, was on a plane to Austin that was late, Meyer later issued a statement saying he'd been on "Dad" duty. "My morning routine often includes dropping my kindergartner off at school and ensuring my 5th and 7th graders get out the door in time for carpool, and with my wife out of town today, I notified Chairman Leach that this would create a slight delay in my arrival," he explained. It's all part of having "a citizen Legislature," Meyer said, prodding the committee's Democrats to "rise above their political differences" and join him at the afternoon session.

Dallas Morning News - March 26, 2019

LGBT Texans, faith groups turn out for emotional debate on religious exemptions bill

Texas lawmakers waded back into the subject of LGBT rights on Monday, debating a bill they said would protect freedom of religion and gay rights groups likened to a state-sanctioned discrimination.

Senate Bill 17 by Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would prohibit the state's occupational licensing boards from enacting rules or regulations that "burdens an applicant's or license holder's free exercise of religion," free speech "regarding a sincerely held religious belief" or membership in a religious organization. It would also give anyone licensed by the state, including lawyers and therapists, legal cover in the event their license is threatened because they refused service to someone based on their faith.

After more than three hours of testimony, the vast majority of it from members of the public opposed to the bill, it passed the Senate State Affairs Committee by a vote of 7-1 and now heads to the full Senate for more debate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, was the lone dissenting vote while Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio Sr., voted in favor.

Austin American-Statesman - March 25, 2019

House considers expanding voting eligibility to felons on parole

Texas would grant felons who on parole or under supervision the right to vote if an effort by Democratic state representatives becomes law.

The state’s election code currently allows convicted felons to vote only after they complete their entire sentence, including any parole or supervision, but the House Elections Committee heard public testimony Monday on House Bill 1419, which would be the state’s first law since 1997 to address felony disenfranchisement.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who introduced the bill for Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, noted that felons on parole work and pay taxes. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported that more than 84,000 felons were on parole as of Aug. 31, 2018. Reginald Smith, a policy analyst for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said felons contribute millions of dollars in taxes, yet the current law prevents them from voting for local, state and federal offices sometimes years after they have rejoined society. He was previously convicted of a felony but has now completed his sentence.

Austin American-Statesman - March 25, 2019

Texas Senate advances teacher pension bill

The Texas Senate on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would shore up the state’s teacher pension system as well as give retired teachers a one-time payment of up to $500. Senate Bill 12, which now heads to the Texas House, where a similar bill has been proposed, would cost $555.1 million over the next two years, which the Senate has indicated would be paid for by the state’s rainy day fund.

About 420,000 retirees received on average $2,078 a month in 2018, according to the Teacher Retirement System. About a third received less than $1,000 per month, Huffman said. The last time retired teachers received a one-time payment was in 2007; they also received a permanent cost-of-living increase in 2013. That increase, however, only affected teachers who retired before Sept. 1, 2004, so teachers who retired after that date have never seen a pension check increase.

SB 12 brings retirees closer to a permanent payment increase because it infuses enough dollars to make the pension system actuarially sound, which means the system’s liabilities could be paid off within a 31-year period; currently, the fund is within 87 years of paying off liabilities. To give any sort of cost of living increase, the system must be considered actuarially sound under state law.

Austin American-Statesman - March 25, 2019

Founder of Austin’s Bumble testifies in favor of digital sexual harassment bill

Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Austin-based Bumble, urged a panel of lawmakers Monday to support a measure that would criminalize the sending of unsolicited nude or sexual photos.

Executives of Bumble, which launched as a female-focused dating app in 2014, worked with Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, to file House Bill 2789 earlier this month. The effort marked the company’s first time lobbying for legislation at the statewide level, a Bumble spokeswoman said.

The measure would make it a Class C misdemeanor — punishable by a fine up to $500 — to send a lewd photo without the consent of the recipient. The bill includes content sent via text message, social media or online dating applications. The Bumble founder was the only person to testify on the bill Monday, and it was left pending in committee. Input from companies like Bumble highlighted the growing problem of aggressive and unsolicited sexual communication online, Meyer said when he filed the bill earlier this month.

Austin American-Statesman - March 25, 2019

Austin gun rights activist sues ATF over bump stock ban

Austin gun rights activist Michael Cargill on Monday walked into a federal building in Northwest Austin and surrendered two bump stocks on the eve of federal authorities’ deadline to divest of the weapon attachments. But Cargill said he hopes to get them back.

Cargill is suing the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in response to the Trump administration’s ban on "all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns," arguing that the question of whether to ban bump stocks should be up to Congress. The rule went into effect last year.

The bump stock — the attachment used by the killer in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre to make his weapons fire rapidly like machine guns — becomes illegal Tuesday. Unlike the decadelong assault weapons ban, the government isn’t allowing current owners to keep their bump stocks. Cargill said his lawsuit is really not about the bump stocks. "It’s about how the federal government has said they’re banned, and they’re not going to reimburse you for it," he said. "An enforcement agency — which is what the ATF is — is creating laws, and this must stop. We have a Constitution here. If we allow an agency within our government to create laws, that means they can do whatever they want, and the people will have no recourse."

San Antonio Express-News - March 25, 2019

Climate change expert says Texas must brace for change

A leading climate scientist warned a local audience Sunday that Texas and the world are approaching a turning point in the planet’s environmental future.

His predictions about the future, under a scenario of greenhouse gas emissions remaining high, were at times ominous: a seven-degree Fahrenheit rise in the average global temperature by 2100; cities such as Miami, perhaps Houston, ravaged by hurricanes and sea level rise; families and businesses struggling to pay higher utility bills; and intense flooding turning neighborhoods into blighted areas.

But if local, state and federal governments work to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature rise can remain limited to a few degrees, minimizing the other impacts, he said. Dessler, co-author of “The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate,” explained that natural factors such as changes in the earth’s orbit, increased solar output, volcanic activity or atmospheric oscillation patterns, have been all but completely ruled out as causes of global warming that has already been documented.

San Antonio Express-News - March 26, 2019

Texas manufacturers report continued growth but slowing demand

Texas factories continued turning out more products in March even as some managers worried about slowing sales and the scarcity of workers, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ monthly survey of manufacturers.

The survey, conducted March 12-20, used responses from 121 manufacturers to measure indicators such as production, new orders, hours worked and prices received for finished goods. While manufacturers remained optimistic about general business conditions in March, they were less so than in February.

The production index, a key measure of manufacturing output, held fairly steady with February’s. Labor market measures pointed to continued employment growth and longer workweeks in March. About 22 percent of companies said they had brought on more workers, compared with 9 percent reporting layoffs. Several employers said the shortage of job candidates was slowing them down. Monday's report came as Dallas Fed economists said continued tariffs and policy changes under the updated North American Free Trade Agreement could crimp Texas' standing as the nation's top exporter.

San Antonio Express-News - March 25, 2019

Texas needs to ensure better care for medically fragile children, audit says

Texas pays $3.3 billion a year to companies that manage health care for medically fragile children, but the state isn’t taking necessary steps to ensure the contractors are meeting the children’s needs, according to a new audit.

Since the start of the Medicaid managed care program known as STAR Kids in late 2016, there has been a drop in critical services, such as speech and physical therapy, being provided to the children, according to the audit by the state’s Legislative Budget Board staff. For example, the number of children receiving occupational and physical therapy declined by 13 percent in the months after the switch, the auditors found. The program covers roughly 160,000 children.

Some contractors hired by the state may not have adequate networks of medical providers, the report found. By July 2018, the report said, nine of the 10 managed care companies were on corrective action plans to improve their networks. Other contractors aren’t meeting state requirements to visit the most vulnerable children at least four times a year, the report said. Meanwhile, last fall the state’s health department was still developing performance standards for the companies that are paid to administer STAR Kids, even though children began transitioning into the program two years ago.

Star-Telegram - March 25, 2019

Round 2: Are Texas lawmakers ready to renew feral hog fight from two years ago?

Is it deja vu? Two years ago Republican state Rep. Jonathan Stickland ruffled feathers by filing a proposal to cut funding for a program geared to whittle down the feral hog population in Texas, and called it a waste of money.

In turn, state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, proposed cutting road and highway funding from Stickland’s hometown of Bedford, something many House members supported. The two squared off in a heated exchange on the Texas House floor, until colleagues separated them. Eventually, Stickland withdrew his proposal to avoid losing transportation funding in his district.

Now, as the House prepares to debate the proposed state budget on Wednesday, Stickland has filed seven amendments. One, again, proposes cutting funding for the state’s Feral Hog Abatement Program. “It’s budget week & looks like we’ll have feral hog round 2,” Springer tweeted to Stickland and others. “Rather than roads what suggestion for redirecting tax savings in HEB do you have?” Stickland tweeted back. “The people of HD 92 are sick of paying to manage your land for you. We will restore personal responsibility and fully defund this wasteful pork program! #onward #txlege”

Construction Citizen - March 7, 2019

Study: Immigrants paid more than $9 billion in federal taxes, $3.5 billion in state and local taxes in 2016 in Houston alone

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday told a group of business leaders and others gathered at Rice University that he’s proud to lead a city that’s fighting the Texas Legislature’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants under last session’s Senate Bill 4.

As the summit got underway, new numbers were released by the New American Economy showing that of the 6.8 million people living in the Houston area, 1.6 million are immigrants who paid $9.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.5 billion in state and local taxes. Of the Houston region’s nearly $479 billion GDP in 2016, $124 billion of that was contributed by foreign-born residents, per the study.

The researchers said immigrants helped to “create or preserve” nearly 73,000 local manufacturing jobs “that otherwise would have vanished or moved elsewhere.” Also, immigrant entrepreneurs tend to own businesses in construction, professional services, general services, and other industries, they said. The Center for Houston’s Future simultaneously released this in-depth report. As for the impact on the economy, the center's research looked at three scenarios: A 30 percent increase in immigration by the year 2036, a 30 percent decrease in immigration for the same timeframe, and deportation of all undocumented workers.

Texas Public Radio - March 25, 2019

Some El Pasoans are skeptical Of UT Regents' sole candidate For UTEP President

The longtime president of the University of Texas at El Paso, Diana Natalicio, is stepping down after more than 30 years on the job. But some are concerned about the UT System Board of Regents' choice as the sole finalist to replace Natalicio as UTEP president, Heather Wilson.

Wilson is a former secretary of the Air Force, former president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and served as a Republican member of Congress from New Mexico, for over 10 years. Guillermina Gina Núñez-Mchiri, vice president of UTEP's Faculty Senate and director of the university's Women and Gender Studies program, says the regents' candidate search was an opaque process.

She characterizes Wilson’s Congressional voting record as "anti-LGBT." She also says Wilson has voted against Pell grants – the federal financial-aid program that gives money to college students who come from families with limited incomes. Wilson was appointed by President Trump as Air Force secretary – a background that could put her at odds with El Paso’s political culture.

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - March 26, 2019

Bexar County looks to buy voting machines with a paper trail

Looking to prevent hackers from tampering with election results, Bexar County officials are moving toward the purchase of a new $12 million voting system that will create a paper trail for every ballot cast. They hope to have the system in place in time for the 2020 presidential election.

Bexar County commissioners could take a first step as early as Tuesday to acquire the new voting equipment and supplies. Commissioners will consider whether to authorize county staff to negotiate a contract with Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the county’s current vendor, or Hart Intercivic, the other system certified by the state. Either company could provide voting machines with paper documentation.

County Judge Nelson Wolff said the county is likely to go forward with the acquisition. A contract could be approved by the Commissioners Court as early as next month. The new machines could be available for hands-on demonstration for voters during the May 4 municipal election. Bexar County became one of the first in the nation to fully convert to touch-screen voting when it invested $8 million in a new ES&S system in 2003. But the county’s voting machines are now considered outdated, Wolff said.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 26, 2019

State conservator orders halt to HISD to superintendent search

A state-appointed official ordered Houston ISD trustees to suspend their search for a permanent superintendent on Monday, an unprecedented intervention that comes one day before school board members were expected to choose the lone finalist for the job.

The order issued by conservator Doris Delaney, who has been monitoring HISD since September 2016, coincided with the expansion of a Texas Education Agency special accreditation investigation into possible procurement-related issues in the district, multiple HISD trustees said. State investigators also have been reviewing allegations of Texas Open Meetings Act violations by five trustees since January, with no timeline for completing their inquiry.

Delaney ordered HISD trustees to suspend the superintendent search until the investigation is complete. HISD has been without a permanent superintendent since March 2018. Delaney’s move, authorized under state law, represents yet another potentially ominous sign for the HISD school board’s ability to maintain local control over the district.

Houston Chronicle - March 24, 2019

Three years after his death, El Franco Lee’s war chest still holds millions

The politician with the largest campaign account in Houston and Harris County — excluding self-funded mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee — has $3.6 million on hand. That exceeds the combined sums of Houston’s incumbent mayor and the Harris County judge, and all but ensures this official would be better-funded than any challenger. He has little use for it, however, because he has been dead for three years.

When 66-year-old Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee had a fatal heart attack in January 2016, his campaign account had $3.8 million. Since then, the cash has been managed by Ethel Kaye Lee, the late commissioner’s widow and campaign treasurer. Lee has invested much of the sum in securities, growing the fund at times to more than $4 million. Under Texas law, she has until 2022 to close the account.

Incumbent politicians often leave unspent campaign funds when they lose elections or die in office, but the size of Lee’s account three years after his passing presents a peculiar case. That Ethel Kaye Lee has the sole discretion to spend the fund potentially makes her one of the most powerful donors in Texas heading into the 2020 general election, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said. “A few hundred thousand dollars could mean the difference between a Democrat winning and losing,” Rottinghaus said. “She is in a position to exert tremendous political authority and to potentially sway a half-dozen seats all across the state.”

Dallas Morning News - March 25, 2019

‘You let this man back out on the streets’: Protests at Dallas City Hall as Deep Ellum assault victim speaks out

L'daijohnique Lee said she's been so fearful since she was beaten last week in Deep Ellum, she has had to sleep in hotels. Lee spoke out Monday as outrage continued to swell over the brutal attack captured on a viral video. She said she's still recovering.

On Monday, civil rights activists, domestic violence survivors, clergy and protesters rushed to her side, calling on officials to upgrade the charges against her alleged attacker, Austin Shuffield. Lee and the protesters say they're upset that Shuffield, a former bartender at High & Tight, is now out of jail after posting a $2,000 bond.

Efforts to reach Shuffield on Monday were unsuccessful. Protesters who showed up Monday at Dallas City Hall said they felt Shuffield received lesser charges because he’s white. The protest occurred at the end of the Public Safety & Criminal Justice committee meeting after chairman Adam McGough asked officials to stay to listen to the concerns from black clergy and activists.

Dallas Morning News - March 25, 2019

Autonomous-car pilot program ends in Frisco, but rolls on in another North Texas suburb

For about eight months, a fleet of bright orange self-driving vans have been rolling around Frisco. The autonomous vehicles — and the pilot run by Silicon Valley-based — will be permanently parked on Friday.

The city of Frisco announced today that the autonomous vehicle pilot is ending. When it launched in late July, it became the first self-driving car service on public roads in Texas. The approximately 10,000 people who work in Hall Park, a large office campus in the suburb, could request a free ride in an app.

The vans drove them a short distance to nearby shops and restaurants. Nearly 5,000 unique riders used the service during the pilot program, according to the city of Frisco. continues to operate another autonomous vehicle pilot in Arlington. The free service, which is available Monday to Friday, is open to the general public and available in the city's entertainment district.

San Antonio Express-News - March 25, 2019

SAISD trustees approve nonprofit management for 18 schools

After hours of public discussion, San Antonio Independent School District trustees Monday unanimously approved partnerships with five nonprofit organizations to manage 18 schools.

All the schools will be run “in collaboration with” SAISD, according to the management agreements. The meeting was packed with teachers, parents and administrators who supported the partnerships, and other teachers and community members who opposed them.

The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, the union representing teachers and nonadministrative district employees, asked for the vote to be postponed so parents and community members could have more time to review the management agreements, which were posted Friday afternoon to SAISD’s website. Superintendent Pedro Martinez began the meeting by stressing the schools that enter partnerships will remain SAISD schools and teachers will retain SAISD contracts. He said principals will not change as a result of the partnerships, but students will gain resources.

National Stories

Associated Press - March 26, 2019

Gaza tense after Israel, Hamas exchange heavy fire overnight

The Gaza border region was quiet but tense on Tuesday morning after a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed targets across the Gaza Strip and Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel in what threatened to escalate into a major conflict, just two weeks before the Israeli election.

Schools in southern Israel were cancelled for the day and the military massed forces on the Gaza border and imposed restrictions on civilian public gatherings, after dozens of rockets were fired toward communities in the area, including one that struck a house in the town of Sderot. The Israeli air force pounded militant sites of Gaza’s Hamas rulers and the smaller Islamic Jihad group.

The targets included a multistory building in Gaza City that Israel said had served as a Hamas military intelligence headquarters and the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Gaza’s Health Ministry said seven Palestinians were wounded in the airstrikes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to return from Washington later in the day and head directly to military headquarters in Tel Aviv for consultations on the next steps. He has come under heavy criticism from both allies and opponents for what they say has been an ineffective policy of containing Gaza militants.

Associated Press - March 26, 2019

Victory lap and accolades: Trump has, perhaps, best day ever

He kept up a fist-pumping victory lap over the end of the Mueller probe. Basked in gushy accolades from a foreign leader. Saw a former nemesis humiliated by the feds. To most of America, it was just another Monday. For President Donald Trump, it was, perhaps, his best day ever.

By any measure it was a good day for Trump. But the president’s hot streak was all the more noticeable given just how many tough days he has had. Since taking office, he’s been dogged by investigations and staff turnover. He has clashed repeatedly with Congress, governed over a deeply divided country and seen huge pushback against his presidency in the midterm elections.

On Monday, though, everything was coming up Trump. As is his habit, the president woke early and turned to feeding his Twitter account just after 6 a.m. There was no venting or heckling on this particular morning. Instead, he was eager to celebrate on the day after his attorney general issued a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that found Trump’s campaign did not collude with Russia to swing the 2016 presidential campaign in his favor.

CNBC - March 25, 2019

Stormy Daniels’ ex-lawyer Michael Avenatti arrested for alleged $20 million extortion scheme

Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti was arrested Monday in New York City on charges of trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to publicize claims that company employees authorized payments to the families of top high school basketball players.

Avenatti also was separately charged in a second federal case in Los Angeles with embezzling a client’s money “in order to pay his own expenses and debts” and those of his law firm and coffee company, and of “defrauding a bank in Mississippi,” prosecutors said.

The famously aggressive litigator gained widespread notoriety in the past year for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen related to a nondisclosure agreement she signed on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump in exchange for a $130,000 payment. Last year, Avenatti announced that he was considering running for president.

CNBC - March 25, 2019

‘Yes he did’: Trump says Mueller ‘acted honorably’

President Donald Trump on Monday accused unidentified opponents of doing “treasonous things against our country” and responded affirmatively to a question from reporters about whether Robert Mueller “acted honorably” in his investigation.

The report found no evidence that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election but did not make a determination as to whether Trump obstructed justice. “Do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?” a reporter could be heard asking Trump during a White House event Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Yes, he did,” Trump replied.

The apparent about face comes after nearly two years of consistent attacks by the president on the special counsel. During the joint appearance with Netanyahu, Trump answered another question about Mueller in the Oval Office. Asked whether the Mueller probe turned out to “not be a witch hunt after all,” Trump replied, “It lasted a long time, we’re glad that it’s over, and it was 100 percent the way it should’ve been. I wish it could’ve gotten done a lot sooner, a lot quicker.”

Dallas Morning News - March 26, 2019

Mark Davis: Trump's challenges won't end with Mueller report

As everyone dives to dictionaries to see if "vindication" and "exoneration" are properly attached to the completion of the Mueller report, rest assured that like most things these days, the reactions will be filtered through the lens of opinion about President Donald Trump.

The president and his supporters are justified in identifying what we have learned about the report as a confirmation of their assertions of the last two years — that this probe would find no evidence of collusion with Russia, a charge so empty that the entire investigation was ill-conceived. But it is also true that the report is not an exoneration on the issue of obstruction of justice, a charge that can be so broad as to contain a wide range of words and actions.

As such, the Mueller report is not willing to declare that no obstruction happened, only that its efforts did not uncover evidence of it. Such are the technicalities of law and logic. In the day-to-day world, the bottom line is that this specific cloud that darkened over the head of the Trump administration is now largely dissipated. But that does not mean the decks are cleared and we now move to a good, old-fashioned focus on jobs, borders and social issues. Democrats will call for a complete release of the Mueller report and all underlying documents, which they know will never happen.

Associated Press - March 26, 2019

Democrats ask for Mueller files; GOP exclaims 'Move on'

House Democrats pressed the Justice Department Monday to provide the full report from special counsel Robert Mueller even as Republicans gleefully called for them to "move on" from the Russia investigation. President Donald Trump accused those responsible for launching Mueller's probe of "treasonous things against our country" and said they "certainly will be looked into."

Trump said the release of Mueller's full report "wouldn't bother me at all," and Democrats quickly put that statement to the test, demanding that his administration hand over the entire document and not just Sunday's four-page summary from Attorney General William Barr.

Six House Democratic committee chairmen wrote to Barr that his summary is "not sufficient" and asked to be given Mueller's full report by April 2. They also want to begin receiving the underlying evidence the same day. The information is "urgently needed by our committees to perform their duties under the Constitution," they wrote, implying that the information would be subpoenaed if it is not turned over by the deadline. Barr said in his letter to Congress that Mueller did not find that Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election — knocking down arguments from Democrats who have long claimed there was evidence of such collusion.

Axios - March 26, 2019

DHS data shows growing surge of migrants at the border

The number of immigrants arrested or turned away at the southern border has continued to climb to levels not seen for years, according to new Department of Homeland Security data obtained by Axios.

The surge has been driven by an influx of migrant families and unaccompanied children, according to a DHS official. "At the moment, we have the closest thing to an open border that we've had," said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney and member of a Homeland Security advisory committee formed by DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen several months ago.

Detention centers are overcrowded, and immigration officials often aren't able to deport immigrants as quickly through expedited removal procedures. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection have even begun releasing migrant families into the U.S. almost immediately instead of holding them in detention, Mark Morgan, former chief of Customs and Border Protection under President Obama, told Axios. He said this could create an additional incentive for migrants. The latest data comes at a time when the Trump administration is trying to make the case that there is a true emergency at the border, in the face of skepticism in Congress and pushback over his national emergency intended to fund a border wall.

New York Times - March 25, 2019

NASA cancels first all-female spacewalk over spacesuit sizes

It had not been planned as a historic mission, yet it would have represented a moment of sorts: the first all-female spacewalk. But that moment will have to wait, NASA said Monday, because of a somewhat basic issue — spacesuit sizes.

The two astronauts who were scheduled to walk together in space Friday, Anne C. McClain and Christina H. Koch, would both need to wear a medium-size torso component. But only one is readily available at the International Space Station.

The mission itself is unchanged. On Friday, two astronauts will venture outside the space station on a six-hour mission to install massive lithium-ion batteries that will help power the research laboratory. Koch is still scheduled to participate, along with fellow astronaut Nick Hague; McClain did her first spacewalk last week. But the first women-only venture outside of the confines of the space station will have to happen on another day. "After consulting with McClain and Hague following the first spacewalk, mission managers decided to adjust the assignments, due in part to spacesuit availability on the station," NASA said in a statement.

Washington Post - March 26, 2019

Obama cautions freshman House Democrats about the price tag of liberal policies

Former President Barack Obama gently warned a group of freshman House Democrats Monday evening about the costs associated with some liberal ideas popular in their ranks, encouraging members to look at price tags, according to people in the room.

Obama didn't name specific policies. And to be sure, he encouraged the lawmakers - about half-dozen of whom worked in his own administration - to continue to pursue "bold" ideas as they shaped legislation during their first year in the House. But some people in the room took his words as a cautionary note about Medicare-for-all and the ambitious Green New Deal, two liberal ideas popularized by a few of the more famous House freshmen, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

While the more liberal freshmen have garnered much of the attention in Washington, many first-year Democrats hail from swing- or even red-districts and have struggled with how to respond to the emboldened far-left. Obama's words - rare advice from a beloved leader who has shunned the spotlight since leaving office - come as the Democratic Party grapples with questions of how far left to lean in the run-up to 2020. Most Democratic candidates seeking the presidential nomination have embraced a single-payer health-care system and the Green New Deal, an ambitious plan to make the U.S. economy energy efficient in a decade.

March 25, 2019

Lead Stories

CNBC - March 24, 2019

Fed’s Charles Evans says US economy is slowing but downplays recession

Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans says the U.S. economy has slowed, but he downplayed chances of a recession. Concerns about an inverted yield curve — an important recession indicator — spooked U.S. financial markets on Friday. An inverted yield curve occurs when short-term rates surpass their longer-term counterparts.

Evans told a panel at the conference that the world’s largest economy remains robust. "I look at the nature of the U.S economy, I look at the labor market, it’s strong, the consumer continues to be strong," he said. The Fed held interest rates steady in a unanimous decision last week, and indicated that no more increases will be coming this year. It was a sharp dovish turn from its policy projections in December.

Evans said sees economic growth of between 1.75 percent to 2 percent this year. "But it is decelerating from stronger growth,” he said following last year’s 3.1 percent figure." Still, he said he wasn’t very worried about inflationary pressures or recession — and models he’s seen indicate that the probability of a recession is no more than 25 percent.

New York Times - March 24, 2019

With Mueller report conclusion, a cloud over Trump’s Presidency is lifted

For President Trump, it may have been the best day of his tenure so far. The darkest, most ominous cloud hanging over his presidency was all but lifted on Sunday with the release of the special counsel’s conclusions, which undercut the threat of impeachment and provided him with a powerful boost for the final 22 months of his term.

There are still other clouds overhead and no one outside the Justice Department has actually read the report by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, which may yet disclose damning information if made public. But the end of the investigation without findings of collusion with Russia fortified the president for the battles to come, including his campaign for re-election.

While critics will still argue about whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice, the president quickly claimed vindication and Republican allies pounced on their Democratic colleagues for what they called an unrelenting partisan campaign against him. Even as his own party’s congressional leaders called on the country to move on, however, the president indicated that he may not be ready to, denouncing the very existence of Mr. Mueller’s investigation as “an illegal takedown that failed” and calling for a counterinvestigation into how it got started.

Star-Telegram - March 23, 2019

Bud Kennedy: As Kamala Harris draws crowds, some ask: Can only Beto turn Texas blue?

California Democrat Kamala Harris is in Texas this weekend winning some Democrats’ hearts. But in a state where no Democratic candidate for president has won in nearly half a century, the party’s success might still rely on El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s volunteer force and money.

In 2016, the last time Democrats didn’t have O’Rourke on the statewide ballot, presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost by 9 points. Yet when O’Rourke spent $80 million in 2018, Democrats flipped more than a dozen seats in federal and state offices. National candidates might say the 2020 election won’t be about wealth, money or privilege. With two Texans in the race — the other is San Antonio Democrat Julián Castro — Democrats are faced with choosing between fellow Texans or from intriguing potential candidates such as Harris. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, a former college student and law professor in Houston and Austin.

With nearly a year before the Texas primary, Democrats are quickly firming up sides behind Castro, Harris, O’Rourke or Sanders. In particular, Harris has a strong lineup of former Clinton supporters and party officials, including former Gov. Ann Richards’ granddaughter, Harris communications director Lily Adams. Fort Worth lawyer Jason Smith was a Clinton delegate in 2008 and 2016. He backs Harris and attended a private fundraiser for her Saturday in Dallas.

Texas Observer - March 24, 2019

How Silicon Valley lobbyists secretly pushed Texas regulators to rewrite the rules of the gig economy

In December, seemingly out of nowhere, the Texas Workforce Commission tentatively approved a new rule that looked like a favor to giant on-demand companies such as Uber. Labor advocates suspected that some shadowy Silicon Valley behemoth was pulling the strings.

But the agency, which oversees all state workplace regulations, denied any backroom deals. That was not true. As early as December 2017, lobbyists for Handy, an app-based cleaning and maintenance company, were secretly working with Texas Workforce Commission Chair Ruth Hughs to draft a new "marketplace contractor" rule. The new directive would make it clear that workers for “marketplace platforms” like Handy aren’t employees, exempting those companies from having to pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

After successfully pushing to enact similar legislation in several other states, Handy seems to have opted for a stealth strategy in Texas, one that avoids the spotlight and the costly lobbying that comes with the legislative process. The Observer obtained a trove of emails that provide an inside look at how the company’s lobbyists got Hughs, a Governor Greg Abbott appointee who is charged with representing employers on the commission, to advance a regulation highly favorable to Silicon Valley, all while keeping Handy’s fingerprints off the rule.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 24, 2019

Nuclear power woes extend to Texas

By the standards of the U.S. nuclear energy industry, Texas’s two nuclear plants are fairly new. Neither one is more than three decades old, while many nuclear sites across the country are nearing the five-decade mark.

But as the economics of nuclear power in this country continue to slide, even the futures of the South Texas Project, near Bay City, and Comanche Peak, located 60 miles southwest of Dallas, are far from certain. When Manan Ahuja, senior director of North American power at the research arm of credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, recently updated his firm’s list of nuclear plants at risk of closing, he listed both Texas plants at "moderate" risk of closing as early as 2030 - despite the fact that NRG Energy recently renewed its operating license for the South Texas Project for another 20 years.

Ahuja explained that while the plants were “of a much more recent vintage,” low power prices in Texas and state regulators’ policy of not paying plants for their ability to ease power shortages at times of high demand or for generating carbon-free energy - like other states have done - left the two facilities vulnerable. Both NRG and Vistra Energy, which operates Comanche Peak, maintain the plants are economic and have no plans to close them.

Dallas Morning News - March 24, 2019

Worried you'll be scammed by a roofer? Tarrant County lawmaker proposes bill to protect homeowners

Whenever a natural disaster hits North Texas, ravaging homes and causing other damage, the phones at Southlake Rep. Giovanni Capriglione’s office start ringing.

Many of those calls are from homeowners who have paid thousands of dollars to have their damaged roofs repaired only to see contractors take off with their money after leaving repairs incomplete or poorly finished. The Republican has filed a bill to help protect consumers from this predatory practice by requiring all roofers in Texas to register with the state.

This year, with many Texans still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and Capriglione pushing a less burdensome type of regulation — registration rather than licensing — his bill could pick up momentum. Under the proposal, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation would create and maintain a database of registered roofers that would include names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and any complaints filed against the businesses. Roofers would be required to disclose their state registration number in any advertisement or contract so a customer could search for them in the database.

Dallas Morning News - March 24, 2019

What are Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke and other Texans saying about the Mueller report?

Republicans and Democrats from Texas and beyond quickly responded Sunday after a summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report did not find President Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election.

Republicans view it as a political win heading into the 2020 election, but Democrats are calling for the release of the full report. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would determine whether to impeach the president, said Attorney General William P. Barr should testify before his panel. Texans from both parties also diverge on their views.

"Release the full Mueller report to the American people and their representatives. There must be transparency and accountability," tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. "A politically appointed Attorney General shouldn’t decide how much of the Special Counsel report Congress can read. The full report should be released and Robert Mueller should testify to its findings," tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro. “The Mueller report... was going to be the salvation for the Democrats... now, you can already see the Democrats pivoting away saying, okay, we need to do other investigations.," said Sen. Ted Cruz.

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2019

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher confronts Green New Deal, border security, Mueller at first town hall

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, continued to chart a moderate course on the Democratic Party’s top issues Saturday at her first town hall as a member of Congress, staying firm in her position that the Affordable Care Act should be built upon, not scrapped, and that the Green New Deal should not be “the only part of the conversation.”

The wide-ranging town hall at Frostwood Elementary School in Spring Branch touched on a host of topics that gave Fletcher ample opportunity to tour her bipartisan bona fides, though a contingent of Republicans in the room did not mistake Fletcher for one of their own, heckling the new congresswoman over her opposition to a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Flanked on the other side by her party’s progressive wing, Fletcher declined to bite when a constituent attempted to appeal to her fiscally moderate side. So far, Fletcher said she has observed a disconnect between what she hears from energy-minded people in her 7th Congressional District, which runs from some of Houston’s most affluent neighborhoods out to the suburbs of Harris County, and from folks in Washington, D.C.

McAllen Monitor - March 22, 2019

Landowners make outcry: Congressman faces concerns from wall-fearing residents fighting for property rights

What was scheduled to be a brief media availability session with a local congressman and members of the media on Friday turned contentious as local landowners and those against the wall voiced their discontent with his record on voting for border walls in the area.

Standing in front of the historic La Lomita chapel, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who was flanked by Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, and Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, attempted to engage with border wall protestors and landowners from both Hidalgo and Starr counties who said they felt ignored by the congressman in the latest negotiations on border security in the region. Father Roy Snipes of the Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Mission also attended the brief event.

Cuellar, who made time to speak with the media Friday, stopped at the historic chapel as part of visits to four Rio Grande Valley locations: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, the National Butterfly Center and Santa Ana National Refuge. These habitats, all located in Hidalgo County, are temporarily protected by a spending bill related to border security. But the congressman was met with some criticism as members of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club also attempted to hold Cuellar accountable for playing “both sides.”

Houston Public Media - March 24, 2019

Why leaders in the construction industry say immigration reform could solve Houston’s workforce woes

Over the past few decades, Chief Operating Officer for Marek Brothers Mike Holland has seen the construction industry change. He said that as baby boomers retire, it’s harder to find legal skilled labor to take their place.

At the same time, Houston has a huge demand for new houses, hospitals and schools, intensifying the critical need for workers in construction. And the industry relies heavily on immigrant labor: Nearly a third of the city’s 300,000 construction workers are undocumented.

Austin American-Statesman - March 24, 2019

Texas House and Senate diverge on budget

As state lawmakers convene this week to refine proposals to fund the state government for the next two years, the marquee issues of the legislative session remain unresolved: how much money to direct to schools and how to structure property tax relief.

Even as budget writers in both chambers are like-minded on any number of items — on border security, for example, they differ by less than $10 million — they remain separated by billions of dollars on schools. The House budget proposal, approved by the House Appropriations Committee last week and due to hit the House floor for debate Wednesday, calls for $9 billion in spending on schools, with about one-third devoted to property tax reduction and two-thirds for Texas classrooms.

Proposals by the Senate include $3.7 billion earmarked for teacher pay — a $5,000 increase for every full-time teacher and librarian — and $2.3 billion for property tax relief. The Senate budget proposal will get a hearing in the Finance Committee at the end of the week. House members have proposed increasing kindergarten through 12th grade public education spending 15.6 percent over the next two years; their counterparts in the Senate proposed a 10.3 percent increase. But both proposals hinge on capping property tax increases.

Tyler Morning Telegraph - March 24, 2019

Rep. Matt Schaefer tells East Texas crowd proposed Texas budget too high touting TPPF view

An East Texas lawmaker says he does not support a spending bill moving through the Texas Legislature because it costs taxpayers too much money. Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) was the sole vote this past week in the House Appropriations Committee against the committee’s proposed annual spending bill for running state government.

Schaefer said the upcoming budget should not increase over the previous budget by more than 8 percent, a view shared by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. The proposed budget, H.B. 1, provides funding for two fiscal years, from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2021. A companion bill, C.S.S.B. 500, includes additional spending for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. There are varying analyses on both bills.

The Legislative Budget Board estimates that the budget will grow by 6.5 percent when all funds — federal, state and local — are taken into account. The Texas Public Policy Foundation estimates that spending will increase by 13.8 percent when taking into account all funds. The Legislative Budget Board is jointly chaired by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the house, includes members from the Senate and the House of Representatives, and has a staff of analysts. The board’s job is to provide budget analysis.

KENS 5 - March 23, 2019

Ted Cruz criticizes vote to exclude Chick-Fil-A from SA Airport plans

The vote by San Antonio City Council this week to exclude Chick-Fil-A from a list of planned retail and restaurant additions to the city airport has drawn the attention – and ire – of a top-tier Texas politician.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz took to Twitter multiple times to provide his thoughts on the vote, which City Councilman Robert Treviño said was rooted in the company's "legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior," including previous donations that were described as anti-LGBTQ in nature.

On Friday afternoon, Cruz tweeted a local news story of the vote with a simple one-word response. "Ridiculous," he tweeted. The senator tweeted again Saturday evening, going even more in-depth on his thoughts, saying the movie was "not Texas" and using the hashtag #LeftistIntolerance. Another restaurant is expected to take the spot that was previously reserved for Chick-Fil-A in Terminal A.

Star-Telegram - March 25, 2019

Why Kamala Harris’ visit shows Tarrant County is key in 2020 presidential race

When the Democratic presidential primary rolls around in 2020, there’s one place many people will be watching: This large urban county in North Texas that has long been considered a Republican stronghold. "We think Tarrant County is key to winning in 2020," said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Democratic Party in Tarrant County.

So Peoples is inviting all Democrats who are running for president to come to Tarrant County and talk to supporters. The first to accept: Kamala Harris, a California senator, who showed up Friday night at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Grapevine. She drew cheers and a standing ovation when she said how she plans on beating Republican President Donald Trump in 2020. Political observers note that Harris may be the first — but likely not the last — 2020 presidential candidate to head to Tarrant County.

KUT - March 25, 2019

Lawsuits over Roundup's health effects could impact Texas Agriculture

In 2016, a groundskeeper from California named Edwin Hardeman filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, an agribusiness company that's since been acquired by Bayer. Hardeman had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and he claimed that using the popular weed killer called Roundup for the past two decades partly led to him contracting cancer. Earlier this week, a jury agreed with his claim.

Hardeman is not the only person to make these claims against Roundup; there are currently thousands of similar cases making their way through courts across the country. Scott Nolte, an assistant professor and state weed specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service says the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was developed in the 1970s as a weed killer. He says that the chemistry of glyphosate is such that it should, in theory, only be toxic to plants, not animals or humans. Nolte, who used to work for Monsanto, says litigation has already led to restrictions on the use of Roundup, and changes to warning labels.

Roundup is used widely in agriculture, Nolte says. "Its use has probably increased since the mid-90s, with the introduction of glyphosate-tolerant crops," Nolte says. "Genetic engineering has allowed traits to be inserted into crops like soybean, corn [and] cotton, and it has allowed growers and producers to use this fairly inexpensive herbicide to control a very wide range of weed species." Nolte says restricting the use of glyphosate would affect both agricultural users and consumers who use Roundup to remove weeds.

Fort Worth Business Press - March 23, 2019

Texas Brew: State changes could benefit distillers, brewers

Todd Gregory doesn’t mince words when it comes to challenges of operating a craft spirits distillery. "It takes a long time and a lot of money to get a distillery to the point that it is self-sustaining," said Gregory, co-owner of BlackEyed Distilling Co., which produces award-winning BLK EYE Vodka and a whiskey.

But time and money are only a part of the uphill battle that Gregory and others in the Texas craft spirits industry face. Then there is heavy regulation that the state imposes on alcoholic beverages that critics see as antiquated and harmful to growth of the burgeoning craft distilling industry. So distillers like Gregory have joined craft brewers in the battle to change laws and lift detrimental restrictions during this session of the Texas Legislature.

More than 100 alcoholic-beverage bills have been filed this session, according to one industry trade group. How far some advance remains to be seen. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild, with more than 250 members, could prevail in removing obstacles to selling beer to-go from breweries. The guild has reached an agreement with Beer Alliance of Texas, a lobby group representing beer distributors, which could allow brewers to sell up to two cases per person per day in some places. The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, a powerful lobby group also representing beer distributors, has not signed onto the proposed agreement.

San Antonio Express-News - March 24, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Lege should let master plan do its work

Micromanagement. That is what proposed legislation that would prevent moving the Cenotaph from its present Alamo Plaza location amounts to. Here’s why.

The Alamo master plan that contemplates moving the Centoph — to a site 500 feet south — was accomplished through collaboration by the city, the private Alamo Endowment and the state. The state was ably represented by the General Land Office. The plan underwent review in myriad and intensive public comment sessions — 50 public and 200 stakeholder meetings, according to a recent Express-News article by Staff Writer Scott Huddleston.

Nonetheless, Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, alleges this master plan was arrived at in a bubble. No, the bubble is the Legislature — where the mantra is limited government, though legislators seemingly can’t find an issue on which they shouldn’t Bigfoot local governments, from local discrimination ordinances and property taxes to, now, the Alamo. Biedermann’s bill is among nine dealing with the Alamo. There is even a proposal to prevent a Cenotaph move by imposing eminent domain to take the plaza from the city, which is leasing the land to the state to manage as a reimagined Alamo that would close the plaza to traffic, make it an open interpretive area and create a world-class Alamo museum.

Associated Press - March 25, 2019

O'Rourke says owning, using guns taught him responsible use

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke said Sunday that his personal use and ownership of firearms taught him the responsibility of having guns and can help bridge politically fraught discussions about gun control in the U.S.

The former Texas congressman told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday in Las Vegas that he inherited guns belonging to his great uncle, who had taught him how to shoot and handle a firearm responsibly. He says he and his wife, Amy, who grew up on a New Mexico ranch and used guns, made sure their children also knew how to safely handle guns.

O'Rourke, speaking at a coffee shop 5 miles away from the site of a 2017 mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, said he'd like to use his personal experience and the traditions of gun ownership in his home state of Texas to "lead the country on sensible gun safety policy" that reduces violence. He has called for universal background checks, a federal assault weapons ban, the closing of loopholes that allow someone to purchase a gun before their background check is completed and a ban on bump stocks, the device used by the Las Vegas shooter to mimic a fully automatic weapon.

County Stories

Houston Public Media - March 22, 2019

Houston advocates release action plan to improve how immigrants survive disasters

Advocates rolled out an action plan Friday to make disaster response in Houston more inclusive of immigrants. The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, and other community partners, released the action plan.

The plan included 34 recommendations, which were put together after studying the experiences of service providers at 40 immigrant-serving organizations. They found many immigrants faced additional barriers during and after Harvey.

Recommendations include providing better explanations on how to apply for FEMA assistance and making disaster preparedness information more accessible. She also said some aspects of the action plan apply directly to the emergency response to the ITC tank fire.

McAllen Monitor - March 23, 2019

SpaceX cleared for more testing

The Federal Aviation Administration is restricting airspace around the SpaceX launch site early next week. The FAA is restricting aircraft within an approximate 1.25-mile radius of the site Monday through Wednesday to provide a safe environment for space activity.

The restricted airspace is from the surface up to and including 1,000 feet, according to the FAA notice. The notice was posted yesterday as SpaceX entered its second day of testing its Starship prototype. The airspace restrictions are scheduled to be in effect from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said yesterday afternoon he signed an order at SpaceX’s request extending the closures of a portion of State Highway 4 to Boca Chica Beach so SpaceX can continue testing. In the first order Treviño signed on March 19, the county authorized the closure of the area last Wednesday and granted authorization for Thursday or Friday closures if SpaceX didn’t utilize that March 20 date. SpaceX did not utilize that closure date and instead the county closed the area last Thursday.

Houston Public Media - March 20, 2019

Higher rates of worker abuse reported in Sharpstown, Gulfton and Spring Branch

Houston’s community organization Faith and Justice Worker Center mapped 768 abuse claims reported through their office in the 12-month period ending February 2019. Zip codes in Sharpstown, Gulfton and Spring Branch had the largest concentration of claims, according to Faith and Justice Worker Center Director Marianela Acuña Arreaza.

Sharpstown alone had 41 separate labor abuse complaints, according to Faith and Justice Worker Center data. Although some areas saw many abuse claims, complaints were widespread across the metro area. “We have 130 zip codes that have people who have reported some kind of labor abuse,” said Acuña Arreaza. “The most frequent abuse that people call us about is wage theft.”

In the last year, $1.2 million were stolen from Houston workers, according to claims reported to the group. Other complaints included threats made in the workplace, discrimination, health and safety violations and sexual abuse. Claims were in fields like construction, domestic labor, food service and manufacturing. Wage theft and worker exploitation is a common problem, especially within the immigrant population, according to lawyers and community members.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Elgin poised to de-annex some properties it absorbed in 2015

The Elgin City Council on Tuesday paved the way to de-annex about half the properties it annexed in 2015 after endorsing a recommendation by city staff to keep properties along FM 1704 in the city and cutting out those east of the train tracks to Texas 95.

In 2015, Elgin annexed two areas southeast of the city — Area 2 and Area 3 — about 212 acres in total. The annexation was done primarily to keep Bastrop from expanding its city limits northward and because growth and development was expected soon in the area, Mattis has said. Area 2, which is generally bounded by FM 1704 to the west and the railroad tracks to the east, was annexed in December 2015 and consists of about 20-25 different property owners. The city is proposing to keep Area 2 in the city limits.

Area 3, which is generally bounded by the railroad tracks to the west and Texas 95 to the east, was annexed in August 2015 and has about 40 different landowners that don’t have existing development agreements with the city. The city is proposing to de-annex Area 3 if the property owners consent to a development agreement that stipulates that the properties will not be subdivided or otherwise developed, all development regulations and planning authority of the city would remain applicable (like properties in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction), the properties would only be used for single-family residential zoning uses, no refund of property taxes or any other fees previously paid to the city would be sought, and any failure to abide by these conditions would constitute a petition for voluntary annexation.

San Antonio Express-News - March 21, 2019

San Antonio devises ways to cut ozone levels, asks for community’s help

More telecommuting. Flexible work schedules. Retiring older, diesel-burning school buses. Using more electric vehicles. Those are among the proposed changes to cut San Antonio’s ozone levels. City officials believe voluntary efforts and cash from a Volkswagen air-pollution legal settlement could help lower ozone to meet air-quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Colleen Bridger, an interim assistant city manager, laid out a plan to the City Council on Wednesday that she and other city executives are confident will meet the EPA threshold. Ozone — a combination of nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, plus heat and sunlight — peaks in the summer. It is especially harmful to people with lung diseases, such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as children and the elderly.

Bridger said City Manager Erik Walsh could authorize more telecommuting for employees whose work doesn’t require them to be in city offices, and flexible work schedules, where some employees might work 40 hours in four days instead of five, reducing commuting. The plan also would call on the council to revisit the city’s anti-idling ordinance, which limits how long the largest vehicles in San Antonio — delivery trucks and larger — can run their engines, perhaps by reducing some of the dozen or so exemptions to the local law.

D Magazine - March 22, 2019

Jason Villalba—or a staffer—doesn’t give a rat’s back end what you think, snowflake

It’s beautiful spring day in Dallas. But in the mayor’s race, we have our first “snowflake” reference. In some since-deleted Facebook activity, former state Rep. Jason Villalba got into it with a couple commenters who took issue with the tone of his rhetoric.

"With great respect, I don’t give a rats ass about what you think about the way I speak," he wrote. "If you don’t like me or what I represent, vote for one off [sic] the 17625 options." The comments were under a post on Villalba’s campaign Facebook page about the City Council’s decision to take down the Confederate monument in Pioneer Cemetery. The original post was put up at about 8 p.m. "I don’t give a whit about what a snowflake like you thinks about my language," Villalba responded. "You don’t like it, vote for someone else. Griggs I suspect."

He has since deleted both of the comments. He took some of the more excitable language out of the original post, mamby pamby included. In an email on Friday, Villalba blamed the Thursday night activity on other people who have access to his Facebook: "I was made aware of this situation this morning. Suffice it to say, neither the text of the original posts nor the comments were my voice. Lots of staffers and folks have access to my campaign and personal passwords. Clearly, I need to change them."

National Stories

New York Times - March 24, 2019

Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy, but stops short of exonerating President on obstruction

The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s key findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr.

Mr. Mueller, who spent nearly two years investigating Moscow’s determined effort to sabotage the last presidential election, found no conspiracy “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” Mr. Barr wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Mr. Mueller’s team drew no conclusions about whether Mr. Trump illegally obstructed justice, Mr. Barr said, so he made his own decision. The attorney general and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, determined that the special counsel’s investigators had insufficient evidence to establish that the president committed that offense. He cautioned, however, that Mr. Mueller’s report states that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” on the obstruction of justice issue.

New York Times - March 24, 2019

Eager to court Jews (and fracture Democrats), Republicans push bills on anti-Semitism

Democrats hoped to put their wrenching intraparty debate over anti-Semitism to rest when they passed a catchall antibigotry resolution in the House this month, but Senate Republicans, eager to court American Jews outraged by the rise of anti-Semitism, have other plans.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is backing two new bills timed to be trumpeted at this week’s annual meeting in Washington of the largest pro-Israel advocacy group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mr. McConnell has already passed a measure this year giving local and state governments the authority to break ties with companies that boycott or divest from Israel.

The actions are part of a larger political strategy aimed, in part, at showing that Republicans are more willing to directly tackle anti-Semitic hate speech and anti-Israel language than divided Democrats in the lower chamber, Republican aides and operatives said. But hate speech has hardly been a longtime cause célèbre for the Republican Party, whose members have opposed efforts to expand similar protections to victims of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

Washington Post - March 24, 2019

How much of the Mueller report will the public see — and when?

What will the public see, and when will it see it? Those became the key questions Sunday after Attorney General William P. Barr released to members of Congress a brief summary of the conclusions of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The answers, based on Barr’s letter to lawmakers, are cloudy. The public will see something, but how much and when is unknown. Barr said in his letter that being "mindful of the public interest," his “goal and intent is to release as much” of the report as he can, consistent with the law. That means scrubbing the report of any information that could compromise the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, as well as any material that could affect other ongoing investigations or prosecutions.

Washington Post - March 25, 2019

Supreme Court again considers partisan gerrymandering, but voters are not waiting

Gerrymandering is an issue that has vexed the Supreme Court, and it returns to the justices this week in cases from North Carolina and Maryland. The court has never found that a state’s redistricting plan was so skewed by politics that it violated the constitutional rights of voters, and again last term it passed up the opportunity.

Referendums in 2018 showed that voters are tired of waiting. Groups are making democracy issues such as gerrymandering and voting rights, well, if not sexy, at least wonkishly attractive. An anti-gerrymandering documentary, “Slay the Dragon,” will make its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival next month. A 12-minute tutorial on the subject by RepresentUs is “crushing” social media, Silver said.

The court sidestepped the issue last term, finding that those challenging a Wisconsin plan drawn by Republicans did not have the legal standing to bring the case and that the Maryland plan drawn by Democrats was not yet ripe for a challenge. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. worried during arguments in those cases that having to referee such partisan fights would put the Supreme Court in an untenable position.

Wall Street Journal - March 25, 2019

Global stocks drop on growth worries

Global stock markets fell at the start of the week on mounting concerns that weakening growth around the world could undermine this year’s rally.

Weak manufacturing data in the U.S. and Europe have added to investor concerns about a slowdown for global growth and fueled worries that it could unravel this year’s stock market upswing. Uncertainty about the outcome of trade talks between the U.S. and China and the outlook for Brexit have also hurt investor appetite for stocks and riskier assets.

Investors have instead sought safety in bonds, pushing the yield on 10-year Japanese government bonds to as low as negative 0.095 percent, their lowest point since August 2016. The German 10-year bund yield has also slipped into negative territory. U.S. Treasury yields were broadly stable Monday, trading at 2.463 percent from 2.459 percent Friday. Yields move inversely to prices.

Wall Street Journal - March 25, 2019

FHA clamps down on risky government-backed mortgages

The Federal Housing Administration told lenders this month it would begin flagging more loans as high risk. Those mortgages, many of which are extended to borrowers with low credit scores and high loan payments relative to their incomes, will now go through a more rigorous manual underwriting process, the FHA said.

The FHA tries to boost homeownership by insuring loans to borrowers with less-than-stellar credit, lessening the risk for lenders. The agency is worried that lenders are making loans to borrowers who can’t repay, leading to a spike in defaults that strains the agency’s reserves.

The FHA’s decision to tighten underwriting standards could mean fewer first-time home buyers are able to get mortgages. Roughly 40,000 to 50,000 loans a year likely would be affected, or about 4 percent to 5 percent of the FHA-insured mortgages originated annually in recent years, according to Keith Becker, the agency’s chief risk officer.

NPR - March 24, 2019

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces new pressure to quit as Brexit deadline looms

British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing new challenges to her leadership the day after protesters packed the streets of London to demand a second referendum on Britain's exit from the European Union.

A number of British parliamentarians, including senior members of May's own Conservative Party, have wanted her out for some time, NPR's Frank Langfitt tells Weekend Edition Sunday. British newspapers on Sunday reported that senior members of May's cabinet could resign to force her resignation.

If that were to happen, May would be replaced by an interim prime minister. But two cabinet ministers who were named by British media as possible replacements touted their support for May on Sunday. David Lidington, the prime minister's de facto deputy, who voted to remain in the EU, denied rumors of a plot to oust May, telling reporters that he was "100 percent behind" her.

The Hill - March 24, 2019

Omar controversies shadow Dems at AIPAC

Democratic divisions are on full display this year as the pro-Israel lobby begins its annual policy conference in Washington. The annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, which kicks off Sunday, will offer an opportunity for Democratic lawmakers to show their support for Israel amid a growing willingness on the left to criticize the top U.S. ally.

Democratic congressional leaders scheduled to speak at this week’s conference, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (NY), will face lingering tensions after spending recent weeks grappling with newcomers questioning the alliance and sparking accusations of anti-Semitism. The event comes in the aftermath of controversy stirred over comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) criticizing the pro-Israel lobby that were widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

Omar has been on the defensive since she referenced AIPAC in a tweet last month that suggested U.S. lawmakers defending Israel were motivated by money. Most recently, she has faced criticism for saying, "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." Omar's latest comments led to the House passing a resolution condemning hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. The resolution, which did not mention Omar by name, was originally intended to condemn anti-Semitism alone.

Matt Taibbi's Hate, Inc. - March 23, 2019

It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD

Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.

As has long been rumored, the former FBI chief’s independent probe will result in multiple indictments and convictions, but no "presidency-wrecking" conspiracy charges, or anything that would meet the layman’s definition of "collusion" with Russia. With the caveat that even this news might somehow turn out to be botched, the key detail in the many stories about the end of the Mueller investigation was best expressed by the New York Times: A senior Justice Department official said that Mr. Mueller would not recommend new indictments.

The Times tried to soften the emotional blow for the millions of Americans trained in these years to place hopes for the overturn of the Trump presidency in Mueller. Nobody even pretended it was supposed to be a fact-finding mission, instead of an act of faith. The Times story today tried to preserve Santa Mueller’s reputation, noting Trump’s Attorney General William Barr’s reaction was an "endorsement" of the fineness of Mueller’s work: "In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a 'witch hunt,' Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step."

March 24, 2019

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2019

Trump says Beto would be ‘dream’ 2020 rival

President Donald Trump said Friday it appears the media has chosen Beto O’Rourke as the favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and that he views the former El Paso congressman as a “dream” opponent.

“So who do you want to go up against in 2020?” Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo asked Trump in a 20-minute interview broadcast Friday morning. “So you have Beto. And Beto comes out and he says, `Let’s take down the wall,’” Trump said. “If you ever took down the wall, this country would be overrun.” Baritromo then asked if he wants to run against Beto.

“I wouldn’t mind. I mean, I’d love to have Biden. I’d love to have Bernie, I’d love to have Beto. I mean, Beto seems to be the one the press has chosen. The press seems to have chosen Beto,” Trump said. “And when I watch Beto, I say we could dream about that.” Recent polls have former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not yet announced whether he is running, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who ran in 2016 and is running again in 2020, as leading the large Democratic field, with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California and O’Rourke comprising the next tier of candidates.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2019

Has Dan Patrick loosened his conservative ties? Some of his staunchest supporters say yes

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick prides himself on being thought of as one of the most conservative leaders in Texas. He's certainly earned the title. Patrick has championed school vouchers. He’s proposed cutting college financial aid. And during the last legislative session, he led the push for a bathroom bill.

But now some of his allies are criticizing him for being too moderate. The lieutenant governor has abandoned some of his red-meat priorities, they allege, and supplanted them with middle-of-the-road proposals popular with more moderate and even liberal voters. While restricting abortion still tops Patrick's list, priorities like giving every teacher a pay bump and raising the smoking age have small-government types scratching their heads.

Patrick said these bills represent not only his wants, but also “the priorities of the majority of the Texas Senate and the conservative majority of Texas.” Is the criticism misplaced, or have his priorities truly shifted after a closer-than-expected election last fall? And could his conservative donors, who have kept his campaign coffers stocked, curtail their giving? “The lieutenant governor’s list of priorities is not quite what we've come to expect from Dan Patrick,” Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, told The Dallas Morning News. “And, yes, we are disappointed to see him moving to the middle of the road.”

New York Times - March 23, 2019

As Mueller report lands, prosecutorial focus moves to New York

Even as the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, submitted his confidential report to the Justice Department on Friday, federal and state prosecutors are pursuing about a dozen other investigations that largely grew out of his work, all but ensuring that a legal threat will continue to loom over the Trump presidency.

Most of the investigations focus on President Trump or his family business or a cadre of his advisers and associates, according to court records and interviews with people briefed on the investigations. They are being conducted by officials from Los Angeles to Brooklyn, with about half of them being run by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan. Unlike Mr. Mueller, whose mandate was largely focused on any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, the federal prosecutors in Manhattan take an expansive view of their jurisdiction.

That authority has enabled them, along with F.B.I. agents, to scrutinize a broader orbit around the president, including his family business. Some of those federal investigations in the Manhattan office, known as the Southern District of New York, grew out of its case against Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer. The inquiry into Mr. Cohen was turned over to the Manhattan federal prosecutors early last year after Mr. Mueller’s office spent months investigating him, court records unsealed this week show.

Texas Monthly - March 24, 2019

Border Patrol inland checkpoints shut down so agents can help process asylum seekers

The El Paso Border Patrol sector has temporarily closed its system of highway checkpoints as it struggles to cope with a record influx of families crossing the border and requesting asylum. The agents who usually staff the checkpoints will be redeployed to process and transport the asylum seekers, according to multiple sources who spoke to Texas Monthly on the condition they not be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about the change.

“We were told to go ahead and close down all the checkpoints,” one official said Saturday morning. Agents assigned to checkpoints were told they would be sent indefinitely to assist in efforts to process and transport hundreds of families and unaccompanied children crossing the border each day in El Paso, a surge that is overwhelming available resources.

At a checkpoint on U.S. Highway 62/180 about 30 miles east of El Paso in Hudspeth County, orange cones that usually are used to funnel motorists off the highway and into the checkpoint had been repositioned Saturday evening to block the entrance to the checkpoint. The situation was repeated at several other checkpoints on major roadways in Far West Texas and Southern New Mexico, officials said. It wasn’t clear Saturday if checkpoints in other Border Patrol sectors across the Southwest were impacted by efforts to redeploy resources to deal directly with arriving migrants.

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - March 23, 2019

New fire erupts at Deer Park plant as leaking toxins close Ship Channel

Friday brought a bout of deja vu to the Houston Ship Channel, where for the sixth consecutive day firefighters battled a massive chemical fire that has so far burned 11 storage tanks at Intercontinental Terminals Company.

A day ITC hoped would bring no surprises as the company carefully drained flammable compounds from exposed 80,000-barrel tanks devolved into a series of emergencies that exposed new dangers. Around noon, a wall surrounding the tank farm breached, increasing the risk that airborne and liquid toxins would be released and forcing a portion of the Ship Channel to close. Three hours later, the fire re-ignited in at least two locations, sending familiar smoke into the sky.

A beefed-up county probe coincided with a separate investigation announced by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, and a lawsuit by the Texas Attorney General, on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, alleging ITC violated the Texas Clean Air Act. ITC had little to say about Friday’s developments, rescheduling an afternoon news conference for Saturday morning. “It is still under investigation,” said an ITC spokeswoman who declined to be identified.

San Antonio Express-News - March 24, 2019

Texas AG Paxton sues company over chemical plant fire

The Texas Attorney General's office has sued the company that operates a Houston-area chemical plant where a fire burned for several days, leading to health and environmental concerns.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Friday that the state would hold Intercontinental Terminals Company "accountable for the damage it has done to our environment."

The lawsuit demands civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day for unauthorized air pollution, outdoor burning of chemicals and emissions of dark plumes that spread for miles. It was filed in state district court in Travis County. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

San Antonio Express-News - March 22, 2019

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: Lawmakers may need more time to pass major education, tax reforms

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick hinted Friday lawmakers could find themselves in overtime if they can’t come to an agreement on legislation that would ease the growth of skyrocketing property taxes and improve how schools are funded.

Patrick struck a bipartisan tone at the conference largely of lawyers and business leaders, saying lawmakers of both parties are coming together to find a way to address the complicated problems of slowing down the growth of property taxes while funding schools and attracting people to teaching. All are signature issues of this year’s Legislative session and are embraced by leaders of both parties.

Patrick added a fourth priority when speaking before the chamber: immigration. The lieutenant governor has advocated for President Donald Trump’s border wall and has repeatedly been consulted by the president. But Patrick signalled that there may not be enough time to come to an agreement on the major issues as lawmakers pass the mid-way point of their lawmaking session that began in January.

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Judith Norman: HB 89 and its effect on Texas lodgers

If you are a contractor for the state of Texas and you are traveling on state business —for instance, as a consultant for Alamo Community Colleges —and staying in an Airbnb property, the state of Texas will no longer compensate you for your lodging. The state will compensate you if you stay in a hotel or another home-sharing property. But not Airbnb.

Why? Because Airbnb does not accept listings from the occupied West Bank. Confused yet? You should be. Why should Texas punish a San Antonio homeowner who lists with Airbnb over Airbnb’s perfectly reasonable decision not to do business in disputed territory? It is because Texas, to its shame, has a law, HB 89, that requires people and businesses that contract with the state of Texas to agree not to boycott Israel, including, apparently, businesses that operate in the West Bank.

If you are a contractor with the state of Texas, you need to sign a document promising not to engage in a boycott or do business with companies that participate in a boycott against Israel. This is our law: HB 89. It is almost certainly unconstitutional. Let’s ask why our legislators voted for this. And let’s ask them to get rid of it.

San Antonio Express-News - March 22, 2019

Bob Jackson: Legislators can end surprise medical bills

At AARP Texas, our inbox is full of stories about Texans who have been hit with surprise medical bills, often because the health care providers they received help from during an emergency weren’t in their health insurance plans.

Unexpected medical bills top the list of health care costs that people are afraid they will not be able to afford. A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that two-thirds of Americans worry about surprise medical bills more than insurance deductibles, prescription drug costs or the staples of life: rent, food and gas.

Texans would avoid the pinch of surprise medical bills under landmark legislation filed by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio. Senate Bill 1264 and House Bill 3933 would take the consumer out of the payment dispute between doctors and insurers. The bills will stop out-of-network health providers from sending consumers surprise medical bills. Patients wouldn’t be charged more than they’d have to pay if the medical care was in network. Health care providers who think they’re underpaid by insurers could take their dispute to mediation.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2019

Anheuser-Busch distributor sells its Houston-area territory to investment firm

Houston-based Silver Eagle Distributors, the nation's largest independent distributor of Anheuser-Busch beverages, has sold its Houston-area assets to Redwood Capital Investments, the company announced Friday.

Its Houston territory includes Fort Bend County, Montgomery County and a significant portion of Harris County. Silver Eagle Distributors will keep its 13-county territory in the San Antonio area. "Redwood is the ideal group to acquire the Houston-area territory," John L. Nau III, chairman and chief executive of Silver Eagle Distributors, said in a news release.

Nau will continue as president and chief executive of Silver Eagle Distributors – San Antonio. Bob Boblitt, Silver Eagle's president, and John Johnson, its executive vice president for sales and marketing, will continue in leadership roles with the new company in the Houston region.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2019

Former AG Eric Holder meets with Houston activists as campaign against gerrymandering begins

Texas is “ground zero” in a national effort launching Saturday to ensure that every American’s vote counts in upcoming elections, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in Houston this week.

Holder, who led the Justice Department from 2009 to 2015 under President Barack Obama, is leading a project called “All on the Line,” ahead of the 2020 Census, focusing on a fight against gerrymandering expected with the redistricting process the following year. Texas “is ground zero for the work we are doing, which is why we are here now” ahead of the kickoff, he said.

Holder, the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said Obama is deeply involved in the campaign. Obama “has said that this is the chief political involvement of his post-presidency, this whole effort of the NDRC,” Holder said. The meeting in Houston was a small gathering that allowed for a dynamic conversation between Holder and leaders of organizations that helped to turn out voters in the midterm elections last year. Representatives of the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project, MOVE Texas, Texas Freedom Network, Houston in Action, and Battleground Texas were among those present.

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2019

Houston Ship Channel still closed as 9 toxins found in water near ITC

A portion of the Houston Ship Channel remained closed Saturday as the U.S. Coast Guard attempts to determine what amount of volatile chemicals have leaked from fire-damaged Intercontinental Terminals Co. tanks into the waterway that serves as an economic engine for the region.

Test results published by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Saturday afternoon confirmed what officials feared — that contaminants, including carcinogenic benzene, were found in hazardous concentrations in an ITC drainage ditch that flows into the ship channel. The Coast Guard has no timetable for when it plans to re-open the closed 7-mile stretch, home to the second-largest port in the United States, measured by tonnage. What began as a small storage-tank chemical fire a week ago now threatens to harm one of Houston’s largest industries.

Jim Kruse, director of the Center for Ports and Waterways at Texas A&M University, said vessels can anticipate bad weather and adjust schedules accordingly, butsudden port closures can quickly bring financial pain to shipping firms. A Texas A&M study of a four-day closure of the entire ship channel in 2014, due to a fuel spill, found outgoing vessels suffered $7.3 million in losses. “It’s a big mess and a serious problem,” Kruse said. “They have to pay extra when they’re sitting at the docks. If they don’t deliver on time, those penalties add up fast, to many thousands of dollars.”

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2019

Hundreds of concerned Deer Park residents turn out for legal advice

Gene Barton, 76, missed two days of work because of the Intercontinental Terminals Company fires. He would have gone, despite the shelter in place, if it was not for his wife’s protests. Barton was among some 300 people who showed up to a town-hall meeting Saturday to discuss the legal ramifications of the ITC fires that began Sunday afternoon.

He grew concerned when he started having symptoms that he worries may be caused by the chemicals. “I’ve been having headaches, extreme headaches and sore throat, coughing, and breathing,” he said “I don’t have asthma but I’ve had a hard time breathing.” Residents could receive free legal advice at the meeting, held at Chicago Title Southeast office in Deer Park. Lawyers reminded those in attendance that they are not doctors, and could not speak on behalf of the city or ITC.

Residents’ concerns ranged from questions about their health to concerns about how their home value would be affected. The lawyers advised residents to not sign any settlement-releases until seeking legal advice. He said reports that claims need to be made by June 25 are not correct. Ogden advised anyone who had been feeling sick to go to the doctor and get their symptoms documented.

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2019

Beto O'Rourke aims to satisfy the hunger for a bridge-building president, but it won't be easy

Beto O’Rourke has positioned himself as a voice of reason and healing in a time of rage and rancor. And among the students and local Democrats waiting to see him the other night at Keene State College in New Hampshire, hunger ran deep for precisely that sort of message.

“I don't want somebody who’s wishy-washy in the middle — la-la-la let's unite the country. But I want somebody who's not tearing us apart,” said Roshan Swope, 52, a kindergarten teacher from nearby Harrisville. “I'm looking for somebody whose personality and integrity can make some people in the middle, on either side, pause and give them a second glance.”

That is the niche that O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso, is striving to fill. In a large and growing Democratic field, he’s not the most hard-driving ideological champion, nor the wonkiest or most creative on policy. His pitch, to paraphrase, is that he’s a consensus-seeker. There’s hardly an issue that voters push him on for which the answer isn’t either that he agrees, he sees where they’re coming from, or he would welcome a conversation.

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2019

Texas lawmakers have promised teacher pay raises, leaving school staff to ask, ‘What about us?’

Rachel Melancon is one of the first faces students see when she greets them at the entrance of Spruce High School in Pleasant Grove. They call her “Coach” — not because she leads a team — but because of her reputation for doling out life advice and upbeat attitude.

Students might see Melancon substituting, helping other teachers instruct, supervising lunch hour or seeing students off at the end of the day. So Melancon is more than a little miffed that Texas lawmakers are prioritizing a teacher pay raise without giving that same level of consideration to support staff that help run the school.

"It brings down the morale when you are talking about giving teachers a $5,000 across-the-board raise. When that first came out, the rest of the staff asked, ‘Well, what about us?’” Melancon said. As lawmakers rally around plans to give Texas teachers raises, support staff like Melancon say they feel underappreciated and concerned about their paychecks. Teachers’ aides, counselors, nurses, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance staff often earn the lowest wages in schools and have less opportunity to boost their salaries because they can’t participate in local merit pay programs.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2019

Texas focused more on fighting lawsuit than fixing foster care, child welfare advocates say

Major improvements to a foster care system that a federal judge has said fails Texas kids aren't likely to happen anytime soon, according to child advocates. The state is fighting the judge's orders, they would cost tens of millions more per year and the Legislature is focused on school finance and property tax issues.

The class-action lawsuit, brought on behalf of about 12,000 children who are in the state's "permanent managing custody," was filed eight years ago. Far from cutting its losses and savoring recent victories, including a significant trim to the judge's proposed remedies, the state recently signaled it plans yet another appeal. Even if it loses that, Texas could go to the Supreme Court.

The legal stalemate frustrates some child welfare activists, who admit their hopes soared after the state's GOP leaders in December 2016 granted $12,000 raises to front-line CPS workers and let the agency hire up to 829 new employees. But while initial investigations into tips about possible child maltreatment are conducted far more quickly than three years ago — when The Dallas Morning News disclosed that tens of thousands of children weren't being checked on within legally prescribed time limits — the state still falters in shielding youngsters from abuse and neglect, advocates argue.

Spectrum News - March 22, 2019

More than 50 Texas business leaders urge state lawmakers to fund full-day Pre-K

More than 50 Texas business leaders are calling on the state to fund full-day pre-K. Leaders from several Chambers of Commerce, HEB and IBM, to name a few, sent lawmakers a letter Thursday urging them to take action.

Both the House and Senate school finance plans currently call for funding the program. But business leaders say they are stepping in to make sure lawmakers get the pre-K funding over the finish line. “We believe in this long term strategy,” said Priscilla Camacho with the Dallas Regional Chamber.

“We’ve been through this before. Since 1985, half-day pre-k programs have been funded by the state. However, in recent sessions, we’ve seen where we get funding for some full-day pre-K grant programs but not actually included in the formula," she said. Business leaders also said that studies show that in Texas, children who attend effective pre-k programs have already lowered rates of repeating grades and special education, saving the state an estimated $142 million each year.

D Magazine - March 19, 2019

Will physicians soon be allowed to dispense drugs in Texas?

Texas is just one of four states nationwide where physicians are not able to dispense medicine onsite, but a number of organizations are hoping to change that during 2019’s legislative session. Texas House Representative Tom Oliverson is an anesthesiologist from northwest of Houston, and authored House Bill 1622 that would allow physicians to distribute medicine at their office, urgent care clinics, or worksite clinics.

A statewide coalition of employers and healthcare providers called the Texas Employers for Affordable Medications (TEAM Rx) is working to change the law and give patients the option of filling certain common prescriptions right at their doctor’s office rather than their local pharmacy. The DFW Business Group on Health, Texas Business Group on Health, Texas Academy of Family Physicians, Fort Bend County, and others make up the coalition.

The measure would allow for physicians to counter retail pharmacies’ move to install clinics and providers onsite, allowing both prescribing and dispensing of drugs to happen in either place. Supporters of the bill say it would reduce cost and improve convenience, cutting out the extra step of finding a pharmacy. TEAM Rx says that missed prescriptions cost the country more than $330 billion each year in increased healthcare costs. Allowing physicians to dispense medicine, they say, will close the gap and make sure patients have the medication they need.

Community Impact Newspapers - March 22, 2019

Officials look to Texas Legislature to bridge gaps in financial aid funding

As tuition costs rise, officials are calling on state lawmakers to increase funding for the state’s signature college grant program. Initial state budget proposals for the 2020-21 biennium appropriated the same amount of money to the program—known as the Towards EXcellence, Access and Success, or TEXAS, grant program—as they did for the 2018-19 biennium.

However, officials with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board said more is needed to meet growing demand. The Legislature dedicated $786.5 million for TEXAS grants in the 85th session, which was distributed to academically prepared students in need of financial assistance to attend public universities or medical institutions.

That funding was enough to provide grants to about 70 percent of eligible students, said Raymund Paredes, who has served as the state’s commissioner of higher education since 2004 but plans to resign from the position effective Aug. 31. The THECB has requested to increase funding by $112.6 million for the next biennium, which Paredes said would help the agency continue to support about 70 percent of eligible students. Nearly $33 million of that amount would increase the size of each award given annually, which has not been done since 2012.

Austin Chronicle - March 22, 2019

What will it take to turn the former Texas State Lunatic Hospital into a world-class center of brain health?

While not the stuff of nightmares, today's Austin State Hospital is no longer a garden spot either. Mostly, the ASH campus is just worn out and has been for a long time as it has awaited whatever it was supposed to be in its next life.

While the plan – unveiled earlier this year with funding on the table at the state Legis­lature now – to reinvent ASH as a world-class center of brain health is new-ish in its particulars, the pressures to do something new and different with the 95-acre Central Austin campus and with the state's mental health system have been building for decades. If the "ASH Redesign" proves to be, as its proponents hope, a great step forward for Texas, that's partly because it's being taken from so far back.

Optimally, according to the ASH Redesign team led by UT's Dell Medical School, the one in five of us who need brain health care (only half of whom actually seek treatment) would have that need met without recourse to a hospital, because preventive and proactive care and consistent access help sustain health above the neck as well as below. This "idealized continuum" includes places like ASH to respond to moments of medical complexity and crisis, just as Austin has a Level I trauma center at Dell Seton and Texas has places like Hous­ton's M.D. Ander­son Cancer Center.

VICE - March 19, 2019

The underground marijuana doctors of Texas

In Marble Falls, Texas, a town of 7,000 about an hour west of Austin, a drug deal of sorts is going down. Underneath cover of a gray, foggy day, local buyers—average age: 80-plus—prepare their home for the meeting.

Inside, local ringleader Patricia is introducing a friend to Chad Moore, her Austin plug. Pat has arranged a dozen or so similar meetings with other friends and so everyone present, except the newcomer, understands how these deals proceed. Chad will sit and listen to whatever pains and ails Patricia’s friends before suggesting some illegal goods to help alleviate all that. No pamphlet or doctor around can match the type of resource Chad provides, though this prototypically Texan household is the only location locals can find him. (I have changed Chad’s and his wife’s names at their request because they are admitting to criminal acts.)

With his partner and wife Vicki, Chad supplies medical marijuana to about 200 patients around Austin through their homemade tinctures, edibles, bath salts, and more. “We’re no medical experts,” Vicki and Chad admit, they just happen to have more information about cannabis than most anyone else their patients meet. Medical marijuana patients themselves, they’ve also assumed roles as political advocates, petitioning state legislators to expand Texas’s severely restrictive cannabis regime.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 24, 2019

Why did Dallas’ DA kill a corruption probe of Cedar Hill? Town leaders were let off the hook, experts say

An investigation into whether Cedar Hill City Council members used their offices to try to enrich themselves ended this month just as concerned residents feared: With no consequences for Mayor Rob Franke, Chris Parvin and Jami McCain for creating a special tax zone around their own properties two years ago without disclosing their interests or abstaining from the decision.

And residents have lingering concerns about how thoroughly the Dallas County district attorney’s office investigated. “We waited by the phone for months for the investigator to interview us,’’ said Wes Pool, a former Cedar Hill plan commissioner and leader of the citizens group that was behind the formal complaint to the DA. “But he never called.’’

Problems plagued the investigation under current District Attorney John Creuzot and his predecessor, Faith Johnson. The probe sputtered through staff changes, a shortage of investigators and procedural blunders, The Dallas Morning News found. In the end, Creuzot made a sudden shift in interpreting Texas’ ethics law to come around to Cedar Hill’s legal stance. Legal experts say his move raises questions about whether the town intimidated him. Creuzot said he simply did the right thing after having one of his prosecutors take a fresh look at the issue.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - March 21, 2019

Former San Antonio City Manager Sculley’s controversial salary was in line with the market rate, analyst says

Former San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s hotly debated salary was in line with the market average for similar roles, a consultant told City Council’s governance committee Wednesday.

Linda Wishard of Segal Waters Consulting found that Sculley’s $475,000 salary was “right at market,” just 5 percent above the average of $453,345. That average was composed of nine “peer” cities the consultant identified, including Dallas and Phoenix, along with figures pulled from three published databases and nine organizations the city itself suggested had positions similar to the city manager’s role.

But when Sculley’s compensation was compared only with city managers in peer cities, her salary was about 55 percent above the $307,173 average. The next-highest salary for a city manager was $367,113 in Dallas, according to the report. Wishard said many of those cities — such as Virginia Beach, Virginia, and San Jose, California — are smaller than San Antonio, potentially skewing the result in the more narrow analysis. She said the larger number is more accurate, and the firm’s normal methodology is to seek input from the city in deciding which local entities to include.

San Antonio Express-News - March 23, 2019

Feds arrest an ex-business partner of San Antonio philanthropist Bill Greehey on tax-evasion charges

A former business partner of oil magnate and philanthropist Bill Greehey was arrested Thursday on federal charges of evading taxes on some of the $2 million he allegedly embezzled from the Quarry Golf Course.

Kyle Lynn Cole, 60, was part of a team that opened the golf course in December 1992, and in 2007 he went on to manage the course for a business partnership led by Greehey, the founding CEO and chairman of Valero Energy who later became chairman of NuStar Energy. Cole allegedly pocketed money he was not entitled to over seven years and was indicted by a Bexar County grand jury in 2015 on charges of money laundering and misappropriating funds. He avoided jail by striking a plea deal with the administration of former District Attorney Nico LaHood in November in which the money laundering charge was dismissed.

San Antonio Express-News - March 24, 2019

Is San Antonio Millennial City USA?

San Antonio has long been known as the sleepy “big city with a small-town feel,” a tourist draw with a downtown river, a famous fort and really good Mexican food. But lately, the seventh largest and fastest-growing city in the nation has become associated with a moniker that seemingly no one — outside the tech world that largely birthed it — saw coming: millennial magnet.

The city had the second fastest-growing population of millennials among the nation’s top 100 metro areas from 2010 to 2015, bested only by Colorado Springs, according to a study by the Brookings Institution. In that time, the millennial cohort grew 14.4 percent, compared to 11.8 percent for Austin. By 2017, these 20- and 30-somethings made up 24 percent of San Antonio's population. That’s more than 360,000 millennials.

San Antonio pales next to millennial powerhouses like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, or even Houston, Dallas or Austin. But the trend is significant, considering how this age group might affect public policy, economic growth and the city’s tone and texture in the decades to come. “The landscape is transforming dramatically because of the perspective of this younger generation coming into leadership roles,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “Policy is going to follow in their direction.” By that, he meant efforts to diversify transportation options, build more housing in or near downtown and create more green spaces.

San Antonio Express-News - March 21, 2019

Coming to San Antonio’s airport: Smoke Shack, Local Coffee and a Spurs store — but not Chick-fil-A and Gervin’s bar is out

Smoke Shack, Local Coffee and a Spurs shop are among the new vendors heading to the San Antonio International Airport under a plan approved Thursday by the City Council. But the city rejected Chick-fil-A.

Councilman Roberto Treviño said he couldn’t support Chick-fil-A’s inclusion because of its anti-LGBT reputation, a concern echoed by Councilman Manny Peláez. Treviño suggested the council approve the deal while directing city staff and its new vendor, Paradies Lagardère, to find a replacement for Chick-fil-A. “The heart of the LGBTQ community is in District 1, and that community has come together to voice its disapproval of this proposal because it includes a company with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior,” Treviño said.

The council ultimately adopted Treviño’s proposal 6-4-1 after hours of discussion about the Chick-fil-A issue and the process city staff used to pick the winner of the contract. Councilmen Greg Brockhouse, John Courage and Clayton Perry were among those opposed to Treviño’s motion, saying that replacing Chick-fil-A would materially change the city’s contract policy. Every company would then have to express its views on LGBT issues, Brockhouse said.

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2019

Proposed change would take some Austin ethics complaints out of public view

Some of City Hall’s highest level executives will see future accusations of ethics violations against them handled out of public view, if Austin City Council members pass a proposal offered by Mayor Steve Adler.

The changes, outlined in an ordinance after Adler first proposed them in a message board post last week, would remove city employees from the Ethics Review Commission process unless they are the staff member of an elected official. Council members and their board or commission appointees would still go through the process.

Under the proposed new process, city employees who are neither represented by a union nor on the staff of a council member would have any ethics investigations performed by the city auditor go directly to the city manager. A final report on the investigation would be available publicly only after the city manager had taken action, or not, against the employee.

KUT - March 20, 2019

Nacona, north of DFW, is home to one of the last baseball glove factories in the country

About 100 miles northwest of Dallas-Fort Worth, past pastures of crops and cattle, sits Nocona, Texas, population 3,000, home to the Nokona baseball glove factory, one of the last baseball glove factories in the United States.

Inside, there are stacks of tanned and dyed kangaroo, buffalo and calfskins piled at one end of the 20,000-square-foot one-story shop. "We literally bring leather in through one door and magically, ball gloves come out the door at the very end," says Rob Storey, Nokona's executive vice president.

"That, and about 45 labor operations, and you've got a ball glove." Storey should know — this is the family business. To survive the Depression, his grandfather, Bob Storey, added baseball gloves to the family's line of leather goods in 1934. Since then, just about every U.S. competitor has moved production overseas. Rob Storey says that these days, being the nation's only baseball glove maker in continuous operation for 85 years gives Nokona a competitive advantage.

National Stories

New York Times - March 23, 2019

Boeing was ‘Go, Go, Go’ to beat Airbus with the 737 Max

Boeing faced an unthinkable defection in the spring of 2011. American Airlines, an exclusive Boeing customer for more than a decade, was ready to place an order for hundreds of new, fuel-efficient jets from the world’s other major aircraft manufacturer, Airbus.

The chief executive of American called Boeing’s leader, W. James McNerney Jr., to say a deal was close. If Boeing wanted the business, it would need to move aggressively, the airline executive, Gerard Arpey, told Mr. McNerney. To win over American, Boeing ditched the idea of developing a new passenger plane, which would take a decade. Instead, it decided to update its workhorse 737, promising the plane would be done in six years.

The 737 Max was born roughly three months later. The competitive pressure to build the jet — which permeated the entire design and development — now threatens the reputation and profits of Boeing, after two deadly crashes of the 737 Max in less than five months. Prosecutors and regulators are investigating whether the effort to design, produce and certify the Max was rushed, leading Boeing to miss crucial safety risks and to underplay the need for pilot training.

New York Times - March 23, 2019

AIPAC convenes in Washington amid fraying bipartisanship and rising tension

More than 18,000 activists will converge in Washington on Sunday for the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as Democrats wrestle with the left’s rising criticism of Israel and as President Trump seeks to divide his political rivals while bolstering Israel’s embattled leader.

In some respects, the three-day AIPAC conference will look much as it has in years past. American and Israeli luminaries will speak, including Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Netanyahu’s main challenger in Israel’s election next month, Benny Gantz. It will wrap up on Tuesday with a “lobbying day,” when thousands of activists will flock to Capitol Hill to press Aipac’s legislative agenda.

But this year’s confab is playing out in a changed and charged Washington political environment. Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans have spent weeks lobbing accusations of anti-Semitism at Democrats, although the party remains the home of the vast majority of American Jews. And Democrats are under mounting pressure from their left flank to distance themselves from AIPAC, which aligns itself closely with Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right policies.

Wall Street Journal - March 23, 2019

US budget deficit grew 39 percent in first five months of fiscal 2019

The U.S. budget gap widened 39 percent in the first five months of the fiscal year as tax revenues held steady and federal spending increased.

The government ran a $544 billion deficit from October through February, the Treasury Department said Friday, compared with $391 billion during the same period a year earlier. Federal outlays rose 9 percent, to $1.8 trillion, while revenues declined less than 1 percent, to $1.28 trillion. Part of the increase in the deficit was attributable to a shift in the timing of certain payments, which made the deficit appear larger. If not for those timing shifts, the deficit would have risen 25 percent from the same period in fiscal year 2018.

Wall Street Journal - March 23, 2019

Trump administration plans flood insurance overhaul

The Trump administration said Monday it plans to overhaul government-subsidized flood insurance, in a sweeping proposal that could raise rates on more expensive properties and those in higher-risk areas. The new system would affect policies for most homeowners who own property in flood-prone areas, where such coverage is required because few private companies offer flood insurance.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the National Flood Insurance Program, said the plan would start assessing properties individually according to several variables—including hurricane rainfall, coastal surges and the distance to a body of water—rather than applying one formula across an entire flood zone when assessing flood risk and contract cost.

The government also would factor in the replacement cost of the home, which could push up premiums for homeowners with higher-valued properties and decrease those with lower-cost homes. FEMA plans to announce the new rates on April 1, 2020, and implement them starting Oct. 1 that year. They could affect around 3.5 million single-family policyholders of public flood insurance.

Jacobin - March 22, 2019

Luke Savage: With Beto O'Rourke, there's no there there

The stakes are too high in 2020 for another charismatic, ideologically empty politician, standing for everything and nothing in particular, like Beto O'Rourke.

Why exactly does anyone want Beto O’Rourke to run for president? It’s certainly not because of his legislative record, which is quite limited. Throughout six years in the House of Representatives, he passed three bills — two related to veterans affairs, one to renaming a federal building and courthouse. Nor does it seem to have much to do with any particular agenda he’s hoping to implement. Despite taking the odd progressive position here and there, O’Rourke is assiduously vague and slippery on policy specifics.

A politician who wants things to get better. At long last. Given his general lack of legislative achievement, policy commitments, or distinct ideological edges of any kind, how exactly do we account for the Beto delirium that’s swept through certain quarters of the media and Democratic Party elite over the past few months (as well as the $6.1 million his campaign reportedly raised in its first twenty-four hours)?

Associated Press - March 22, 2019

Floods suggest national security threat from climate change

The Missouri River floodwater surging on to the air base housing the U.S. military’s Strategic Command overwhelmed round-the-clock sandbagging by airmen and others. They had to scramble to save sensitive equipment, munitions and dozens of aircraft.

Days into the flooding, muddy water was still lapping at almost 80 flooded buildings at Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base, some inundated by up to seven feet of water. Piles of waterlogged corn cobs, husks and stalks lay heaped everywhere that the water had receded, swept onto the base from surrounding fields.

Though the headquarters of Strategic Command, which plays a central role in detecting and striking at global threats, wasn’t damaged, the flooding provided a dramatic example of how climate change poses a national security threat, even as the Trump administration plays down the issue. It is also a reminder that the kind of weather extremes escalating with climate change aren’t limited to the coasts, said retired Rear Adm. David W. Titley, founder of both the Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change and the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University.

NPR - March 21, 2019

Judge restores Wisconsin Governor's powers, strikes down GOP laws

A judge has struck down the laws that Wisconsin Republicans passed in December's lame-duck session of the state's Legislature, restoring powers to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, if only temporarily.

A county judge ruled on Thursday that all of the laws and appointments passed by legislators were unlawful because they met in what's known as an "extraordinary session," which isn't explicitly allowed under the state's constitution. Evers seized on the decision almost immediately, calling on the Wisconsin Department of Justice, led by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, to withdraw the state from a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

"As the governor has requested, please take whatever steps are necessary to remove Wisconsin from Texas v. United States," wrote Evers' chief legal counsel, Ryan Nilsestuen, in an email to the Department of Justice shortly after the ruling was released. Evers and Kaul campaigned on leaving the case, but one of the lame-duck laws has prevented them from following through on their pledge. The ruling also temporarily struck down 82 appointments that former Republican Gov. Scott Walker made during the waning days of his administration, all of which were confirmed by Republican state senators in the lame-duck session.

CityLab - March 24, 2019

North Carolina's contentious bid to bridge the urban-rural divide

In Raleigh, North Carolina, these are boom times. The state capital cradles the Research Triangle, where Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University converge. Sixty miles east down Highway 64 is Rocky Mount, a city of 56,000 straddling Nash and Edgecombe counties that has a little less to cheer about. The city was gutted during the recession. Nash County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, at 5.2 percent.

North Carolina’s state DMV office headquarters has sat in an aging building in downtown Raleigh for decades. But last year, citing leaks, poor fire safety, and asbestos, the state General Assembly declared that the DMV and its more than 400 employees would have to vacate the property by October 2020.

Some saw this as a perfect opportunity to bridge North Carolina’s growing urban-rural divide. Of the state’s 100 counties, 80 are rural, 14 are regional cities or suburban, and only 6 are urban*. But—as in so many parts of the U.S.—it’s the urban centers that have seen most of the post-recession growth, enjoying an 11 percent employment boost from 2007 to 2017. Rural counties, meanwhile, have seen a 6 percent decline over that decade.

Washington Post - March 24, 2019

McConnell aims to use Green New Deal to divide Democrats, but party is unifying against his show vote

Senate Republicans are trying to elevate the ideas and personalities of House Democrats in a bid to divide the opposition into the rising liberal stars, the party’s presidential contenders and its more mainstream lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell believes the proposal, written by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY)and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA), embraced by several top Democratic presidential contenders but criticized by the AFL-CIO as unrealistic, would be politically divisive for a party that has made winning back Midwest battleground states a top priority for 2020.

March 22, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

Where New Hampshire voters heckled Rick Perry, Beto O'Rourke gets warm welcome

El Paso Democrat Beto O'Rourke started Day 8 of his presidential campaign at one of those iconic New Hampshire venues that has seen would-be presidents come and go: Popovers on the Square.

It was a much warmer welcome than the one that greeted another Texan back in August 2011. Rick Perry, now Secretary of Energy, was Texas governor at the time and the man of the hour in the GOP presidential field -- focus of more buzz than attends O'Rourke at the moment, and the El Paso Democrat has a decent amount of buzz. Perry had launched his 2012 campaign five days earlier.

But Portsmouth is a Democratic area. Protesters awaited. Hecklers drowned him out as he popped into the bakery to greet voters. The catcalls only made it harder to hear the pointed questions that nearly everyone on hand hit Perry with -- questions about the high number of uninsured Texans, and his refusal to acknowledge climate change. It wasn't ever clear why Perry's team thought going there was a good idea.

New York Times - March 21, 2019

EU approves Brexit extension, but chaotic departure still looms

European Union leaders on Thursday agreed to extend the deadline for Britain’s looming exit from the bloc in order to give Prime Minister Theresa May and the British Parliament more time to get their act together. Thursday’s agreement effectively averted the possibility of a disorderly and possibly chaotic departure by Britain on March 29. Yet that still remains a possibility just a few weeks later.

After hours of difficult and sometimes passionate talks, the leaders decided that Britain’s exit date will be pushed back to May 22 if next week Mrs. May can persuade lawmakers in Parliament to accept her plan for leaving the bloc, which they have already rejected overwhelmingly, not once but twice. If she cannot persuade lawmakers to accept her plan, Mrs. May will get a shorter delay in exiting the European Union — until April 12. But Britain could stay in the bloc longer if it decides it needs more time for a more fundamental rethink of Brexit, as the process is known.

For a longer extension, though, it would have to take part in elections to the European Parliament in May — something Mrs. May said early Friday would be an absurdity, three years after Britons voted in a referendum to leave the bloc. Speaking at a news conference after the extended deadlines were announced, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said that until April 12, “all options will remain open and the cliff-edge date will be delayed.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Sales tax expansion? A GOP legislator wants to start taxing a host of Texas goods and services now exempt

State Rep. Drew Springer wants to tax doughnuts. The Republican from Muenster is also pitching taxes on vet checkups, funeral services, automotive maintenance and repair, and personal coaching and more than a dozen other products and services that aren’t subject to the state sales tax.

Springer is calling for an end to a host of sales tax exemptions to allow the Legislature to cut property taxes for most Texans, not just slow property tax increases. Springer’s wide-ranging proposal would ratchet down a school district’s adopted maintenance and operations tax rate and ratchet up the homestead exemption from $25,000 of a property’s taxable value to as much as $149,000. He says the average Texas property tax bill would decrease by $1,400 a year.

Getting that savings, however, means taxing a lot of goods and services currently exempt from the state sales tax — such as baked goods and sports coaching services — to raise revenue to pay the state’s share of education spending for school operations. Springer’s House Bill 2915 also calls for taxing chips, coffee, tea, e-cigarettes, ibuprofen, accounting services, barber visits, dating services, hunting guide services, interior design services, massage therapy, packing services, construction labor and newspapers. He is also calling for a 6.25 percent gasoline sales tax — in addition to the current 20 cent gas tax. Overall, the property tax plan would cost $6.28 billion and the sales tax plan would raise $6.38 billion, according to Springer’s office.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2019

Twins Julián and Joaquin Castro step onto national political stage — together, as always

Rosie Castro, mother of fast-track Texas Democrats Julián and Joaquin Castro, saw the bond between her identical twins as she listened to their baby chatter. “Before they could even talk, they carried on their own babbling conversations with each other,” she said.

In the run-up to the 2020 elections, those ties between Julian and Joaquin Castro are becoming more of a national spectacle than ever. As Julián seeks the Democratic nomination for president, brother Joaquin plays a lead role in the story he tells of growing up modestly in west San Antonio. Joaquin is Julián’s campaign chairman and they appear together around the country — a two-for-one deal as Julián seeks a higher tier in the jammed Democratic field.

Julián is also part of Joaquin’s identity in Washington where, in recent days, Joaquin has been in the thick of consequential matters, including writing the resolution that led to a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s border emergency decree. If Joaquin makes the leap to challenge Sen. John Cornyn in 2020 — a pending decision — identical twins each seeking high office would offer an intriguing subplot to the national story of the 2020 elections.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Despite critical report, Timmerman re-appointed as LCRA chair

Months after a state report criticized the Central Texas water and electricity utility they oversee, citing a lack of transparency, the chairman and a couple of other board members were reappointed Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

In November, Sunset Advisory Commission staff investigators said the LCRA — which oversees water operations of the Colorado River and doles out water from Lakes Travis and Buchanan for the use of more than a million Central Texans — lacks transparency in its actions and should hire more women and people of color. As the LCRA seeks new water supplies to satisfy the thirst of a booming region, the Sunset Advisory Commission staff report said the river authority’s “approach to public engagement is inconsistent and often reactive,” frequently leading to mistrust around the already sensitive issue of regional water sharing.

While the Sunset staff report called the LCRA a “sophisticated, well-functioning organization,” it singled out efforts to pump groundwater from beneath Bastrop County as heavy-handed. After the report, which echoed complaints by landowners in counties east of Austin, the LCRA went into damage-control mode. The board, led by Chairman Tim Timmerman, one of the people Abbott reappointed Wednesday, voted to relax restrictions on public comment at board meetings. And the river authority took out a full-page advertisement in the American-Statesman that sought to offer context for its groundwater pumping designs in Bastrop County.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Texas lawmakers debate need for state incentives programs

The merits of taxpayer-funded business incentives –– described alternatively as either crucial tools for economic development or wasteful corporate giveaways –– took center stage Wednesday as a Texas House committee heard debate over key tax abatement programs used by local governments and school districts.

“I would much prefer that we didn’t need (tax) incentives, but we don’t live in an ivory tower,” Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said during a hearing over House Bill 2438, which would reauthorize the two types of tax abatements through 2032. He was one of many supporters of the abatements –– known as Chapter 312 and Chapter 313 agreements, after the sections of the tax code in which they appear –– who turned out to voice support for the programs.

A number of opponents also spoke, however, criticizing tax abatements as expensive handouts for the private sector and saying they’re often used to pay businesses for actions they were going to be take anyway. Corporations “are going to come to Texas with or without these tax breaks,” said Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, who was speaking about House Bill 2129, which also would extend Chapter 313 authorization through 2032. “Some of these (projects) might not have come, but most were going to come for the other good reasons” to do business in the state.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

A day after Texas Senate passes college free speech bill, Trump signs his own

President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order aimed at protecting free speech on college campuses, the day after the Texas Senate passed a bill to prohibit public universities from rejecting controversial speakers.

His order will require that colleges and universities that receive federal grants prove they have standards protecting students' First Amendment rights. Sens. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston, attended the ceremony, according to the Texas Senate Republican Caucus. Huffman authored the aforementioned Senate Bill 18, which would bar Texas public colleges and universities from considering "any anticipated controversy ... in determining whether to approve a speaker to speak on campus."

Many Texas colleges and universities already have student codes of conduct that include rules outlining students' free-speech rights and responsibilities. But Huffman's push to codify college free speech rules comes after several colleges have grappled in recent years with how to manage controversial speakers and regulate student organizations.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

'We're treating them like animals': Lawmakers debate bill to lower heat in Texas prisons

Torture. Intolerable. A death sentence. These are some of the words used to described the conditions inside state jails and prisons in the summer months, when the hot Texas sun can push temperatures past 130 degrees.

Lawmakers who heard the testimony Thursday — from guards, inmates' families and former prisoners — now have to decide whether to force the state to invest millions, and maybe more, to finally tackle the problem. "These people are not animals and we're treating them like animals," Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, told his peers on the House Committee on Corrections. "It's crazy. It's twisted. It's sad. And it's not who we are."

Canales' House Bill 936 would require the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to keep temperatures inside its state prisons and jails between 65 and 85 degrees. Currently, 75 of the state's 104 units do not have A/C installed in inmate housing areas, and just 29 are fully air conditioned. The department has thermometers installed at every unit, but does not take temperatures inside its facilities. According to public records obtained by The Dallas Morning News, the temperature outside the Hutchins State Jail in Dallas County topped 106 degrees in July. But the heat index, how hot it feels when humidity and wind are taken into account, was closer to 134 degrees, the records showed.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Pastor group drops lawsuit against Austin’s LGBT hiring protections

A conservative Christian organization has dropped a federal lawsuit that sought to overturn an Austin anti-discrimination ordinance that offers employment protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Dave Welch, head of the Houston-based U.S. Pastor Council, said the decision was based on the advice of the group’s lawyer but might not be the last word on the matter.

The council’s lawsuit, filed in October, argued that Austin’s ordinance is unconstitutional and invalid because it does not include a religious exemption for 25 member churches in Austin that refuse to hire gay or transgender people as employees or clergy. Austin asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin to dismiss the lawsuit last month, arguing that the city ordinance does not apply to a church’s hiring of clergy and that no church expressed a problem with the city’s employment protections.

In addition, the city argued, the lawsuit failed to list the 25 member churches or show how any of them had been harmed by the anti-discrimination protections. “There is no allegation the ordinance has been enforced, or is about to be enforced, against any of the unnamed Austin churches, and no allegation that any of them have in fact been restricted in their hiring decisions,” the motion to dismiss stated." City Austin spokesman Andy Tate welcomed the dismissal, saying city officials are proud of the protection the nondiscrimination ordinance provides.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2019

Solar companies flock to a Texas tax break with questionable payback

Although barely 25 miles from one of the country’s fastest growing cities, much of the land hugging this Austin bedroom community remains empty blackland prairie. Soon, though, if all goes according to plan, a Canadian company will begin installing a vast array of solar panels across 1,000 acres just a few miles outside of town.

But only under one condition: that it receives a multi-million-dollar tax break from the local school district. Property taxes represent the biggest operating expense for solar projects. So without the giant reduction of its tax bill, Recurrent Energy warned, its executives would be forced “to look to maximize their investment by building in California.” In exchange for the tax break, the company has promised to create exactly one full-time job.

The merits of Texas’s so-called Chapter 313 tax breaks have been debated ever since the program was created two decades ago. Intended to attract large building projects and new jobs to the state, it grants qualifying companies a decade of steep discounts on their school property tax bills. Last year they totaled $750 million. Promoters say it lures development to Texas. Critics worry that, especially in recent years, the program exacts too high a price from cash-starved schools for what it delivers, particularly as measured by jobs. Wind energy companies, which have used the program to build new facilities, often create only a handful of permanent positions.

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

Deer Park fire investigations begin amid anxiety over emissions, pollution

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Wednesday announced it would investigate the three-day chemical blaze at the International Terminals Co., hours after emissions of carcinogenic benzene spiked near the Deer Park plant, prompting city officials to order residents to shelter in place for most of the morning.

The independent federal agency, which also investigated the 2017 Arkema plant fire in Crosby, does not fine companies or issue violations. Instead, it conducts what is known as "root cause" investigations to determine how an incident occurred and make recommendations to the company, government regulators and other stakeholders on how to prevent it from happening again.

One CSB investigator already is in the area and two more will arrive next week once they can get access to the ITC site, according to CSB interim Executive Authority Kristen Kulinowski. In communities around the Houston Ship Channel, relief residents felt that the fire was out — and its miles-long dark plume of smoke dissipated — gave way to anxiety over the volatile compounds sitting in damaged tanks at the petroleum storage facility or streaming into nearby waterways.

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2019

Joe Straus: Now is the time for full-day, high-quality pre-K

There is much to like in the school finance legislation being considered at the Texas Capitol: significant new resources for schools, fewer local tax dollars taken away by the Robin Hood system and the reworking of outdated formulas. Each of these goals is commendable.

But there is one aspect of school finance legislation that is particularly critical to our children and our business climate, and that’s a sizable investment in pre-kindergarten for more children. Fortunately, the school finance bill filed in the Texas House takes a major step in that direction, but we are a long way from a final product.

As the Legislature completes its once-in-a-generation effort to overhaul the school finance system, all who understand that education is our greatest economic development tool have a responsibility to speak up and advocate for a robust investment in pre-K over the next couple of months. An investment in pre-K is like buying stock early in a high-tech start-up. Early investments can lead to the business’ future success and produce exponential returns. Texas grows twice as fast as the rest of the country, but our economic engine will sputter if we don’t have a large and diverse pool of well-educated workers.

ABC 13 - March 23, 2019

Texas to remove hemp from controlled substances list

Come April 5, hemp is being removed from the state of Texas list of controlled substances. The Texas Department of State Health Services announced the move on March 13, with the agency's commissioner signing an amendment to remove the controversial substance.

"The scheduling is consistent with federal law and the obligations of the commissioner," a letter from the department revealed. The state is currently looking at other bills making its way through the Texas Legislature regarding hemp.

Whatever the case, the move is expected to strengthen the defense of many CBD oil dealers in the state and whether what they sell is legal. CBD oil is derived from hemp. Still, on the same day the order was announced, a handful of CBD retailers in north Texas were raided, KTVT reports.

Texas Standard - March 20, 2019

LGBTQ+ advocates say equality remains 'stubbornly out of reach' In Texas

Sixty-four percent of Texans support laws protecting gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Yet a new report from Equality Texas details the many obstacles that still remain for nearly 1 million LGBTQ+ individuals living in Texas.

What can policy do to change the future of equality in the state? As the 86th Texas Legislature deliberates, a number of bills that have been filed aim to protect LGBTQ+ Texans, including SB 1250 filed by San Antonio-based State Senator José Menéndez, which focuses on nondiscrimination in employment.

At the same time, 14 religious exemption bills have been filed this session. Advocates are concerned that if passed, these bills and others could provide legal justification for discriminatory practices including allowing people and government agencies the ability to refuse medical care, employment benefits and other services because of a "sincerely held religious belief" or "moral conviction."

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - March 21, 2019

John Sharp: Texas A&M System calls on Texans to become teachers because many more will be needed

Kudos to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen for making teachers the top priority this legislative session. Teachers work hard every day to make a difference. They positively impact the future, and they deserve our support. Giving them all a raise is a good start.

I certainly hope it will encourage more young Texans to consider becoming teachers — and help keep more experienced teachers in the classroom — because Texas faces a teacher shortage. Data from the Texas Education Agency shows Texas faces an increasingly tight supply of teachers. Since 2009, K through 12 student enrollment is up by 14 percent, while the number of teachers has risen by less than 9 percent. Meanwhile, Texas has seen a 14 percent drop in the number of initial teacher certifications in the past decade.

We’re trying to turn those numbers around at The Texas A&M University System with We Teach Texas, a systemwide campaign to focus attention on our 11 education colleges across the state and encourage more Texans who care to become teachers. The 11 education colleges in The Texas A&M University System graduate more fully certified teachers than any other public university system in Texas. We’re also No. 1 in producing certified teachers in mathematics, as well as bilingual and special education.

San Antonio Express-News - March 21, 2019

Joseph Krier: Lone Star State exhibiting wind power leadership

They say everything is bigger in Texas: It’s a catchy mantra that manages to be both tongue-in-cheek and, at the same time, a decent encapsulation of the attitude that makes Texas unique. It’s also a wholly accurate description of Texas’ wind-power industry, which now ranks as — hands down — the most productive, economically impactful and biggest in the nation.

Texas consumes more energy than any other state. Meeting that demand with reliable, affordable power is essential to keeping our economy on a growth path. And while the Texas of the past may have been known for its oil and gas more than its renewable energy, in today’s Texas, wind is front and center in our efforts to keep the lights on, the air conditioner running, and business and industry booming.

Texas’ wind energy industry generates 23 gigawatts of clean, reliable, affordable energy every year — a quarter of the total wind energy output of the entire United States. In 2017, Texas wind power generated enough electricity to power more than 6.2 million homes. In fact, if Texas was a country, it would rank fifth in the world in installed wind capacity. This scale means that Texas is able to meet 15 percent of its total electricity demand through affordable, reliable wind power. The scale also has tremendous implications for our economy. Almost 25,000 Texans have good-paying jobs in wind, and the fastest-growing job in Texas is wind turbine technician.

KTRE - March 20, 2019

Bill requiring civics exam for high school graduation passes Texas House

A bill that will include a civics test in the graduation requirements for public high school students that passed in the Texas House Wednesday. The bill would require students to answer the same questions that are found on the civics test that people seeking to become naturalized citizens have to take.

The bill, which was co-authored by State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, has several other hurdles to clear before it becomes state law. If it gets out of a Texas Senate committee, it will then have to be passed by the state senate in the same form that it passed the Texas House. Then it will have to be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill would replace the existing U.S. history end-of-course exam with a civics test.

According to the analysis for the bill, HB 1244 would prohibit a student from receiving his or her high school diploma until the student has passed the civics test by answering at least 70 percent of the questions correctly. “HB 1244 requires the civics test to consist of all the questions on the civics test administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as part of the naturalization process under the federal Immigration and Nationality Act and requires the questions be presented in a multiple-choice format,” the analysis states.

Trib Talk - March 20, 2019

James Henson and Joshua Blank: Public expectations and the political realities of reducing property taxes

A February 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that many Texans are ready to see their property taxes go down. However, a closer look at those attitudes suggests that legislators should be cautious about the public expectations that will greet whatever action they manage to take.

The poll confirms both dissatisfaction with current levels of taxation, which is no surprise, but also finds inflated expectations of the centerpiece of the property tax reduction conversation, as well as skepticism about its potential consequences for local services. The legislative strategy thus far is designed to limit local government entities’ ability to increase property tax revenue, year-over-year, without voter approval if that growth exceeds 2.5 percent — the currently discussed threshold which is already a major point of negotiation.

While a majority of voters believe that the bill would “slow the growth in the amount of property taxes Texans pay in the future" (69 percent) — the clear intent of the approach — a majority also (erroneously) believes that the bill would “reduce the property taxes that Texans currently pay” (52 percent). This includes a statistically indistinguishable 53 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans. These results point to the potential hazards if elected officials get too far ahead of themselves in offering self-congratulations about finally “fixing” property taxes.

Gainesville Daily Register - March 6, 2019

Grace Chimene: Texas should encourage the right to vote, combat intimidation

The League of Women Voters strives to embody its mission of empowering voters and defending democracy. Registering voters is core to our work as a nonpartisan organization, and some of the most rewarding voter registration events are naturalization ceremonies.

Recently, state officials announced that a number of individuals voted in elections without the requisite citizenship, knowing the data was not yet reviewed or vetted. There is not a problem of non-citizens registering and voting in Texas — there is a data problem. Even worse, government officials purposely took advantage of that known data problem to plant doubt about the integrity of the voting system.

The League regrets that we have to remind our state officials that naturalized citizens have a right to vote and to fully participate in our democracy. We have joined a lawsuit against the Texas Secretary of State and have asked the Senate Democratic caucus to block the nomination of David Whitley to be secretary of state. The League took these unusual actions because Whitley’s actions are not only not in the best interest of voting citizens but also a form of voter intimidation.

Icons of Infrastructure - March 22, 2019

Lone Star leap: Texas pushes for greater infrastructure resiliency

Infrastructure resiliency could get more attention in the state of Texas this year before the destruction from Hurricane Harvey fades from memory. With a history of hurricanes — and drought and tornadoes — Texas is looking to establish a strong framework of resilient infrastructure. The concern is paramount for a state with 367 miles of coastline.

State legislators will need to decide this year how to pay for about $2.5 billion in shortfalls due to Harvey expenses. The Texas Legislature, which is currently in session, only meets for 140 days every other year. Although school finance reform is currently taking center stage, a number of bills and resolutions that could improve local infrastructure could come up for consideration; including HB 1800, which would create a statewide resiliency fund. Justin Till, chief of staff for the bill’s author, Rep. Greg Bonnen said that Hurricane Harvey was the impetus for creating a resiliency fund.

“While local governments are generally responsible for building and maintaining infrastructure, they often either choose not to for short-term cost-savings reasons; or, they can’t afford to build/maintain adequate infrastructure on their limited revenue streams,” Till said. “Further: the match required of local governments for FEMA or other federally funded projects is difficult to come up with post-disaster.” Till said the fund would incentivize planning and construction, as well as give relief to local communities after a disaster.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

Measles case in Tarrant County is the 4th in Dallas-Fort Worth and the 14th in Texas

A case of the measles has been confirmed in Tarrant County, health officials said Thursday. The case involves a Tarrant County resident who traveled internationally to an area where there has been an increase in measles cases, according to Vinny Taneja, director of the county's public health department. Health officials said it is unrelated to other local measles cases.

It is the fourth case of measles confirmed in North Texas this year — there have been two in Collin County and one in Denton County — and the 14th in Texas. There were nine cases of measles in Texas in all of 2018. The last time measles was reported in Tarrant County was January 2015.

San Antonio Express-News - March 22, 2019

Lawsuit alleges San Antonio deputies organized “fight club” with county jail inmates

Everyone knows the first rule of Fight Club: You don’t talk about Fight Club. But there’s a former Bexar County Jail inmate who’s breaking that rule — legally. The one-time inmate who is now serving time in state prison has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging that several detention officers at the Bexar County Jail organized brawls between inmates and bet on the outcome, leaving some inmates bloodied in the aftermath.

Rodolfo Carrazco alleges he was subjected to the underground blood sport while he served a stint at the jail in April 2017 and was beaten seriously enough that he had to be hospitalized with injuries that included a broken jaw. He also lost the gold “grille” in his teeth. Carrazco, also identified as Rodolfo Carrasco in court and police records, is serving a 14-year sentence in the Texas prison system for charges that include burglary of a habitation. He was transferred there in November 2017 after being sentenced in Bexar County, records show. While awaiting trial and sentencing, Carrazco was held at the Bexar County Jail.

The lawsuit said deputies unlocked the cells of the housing unit where Carrazco was held and allowed other inmates to challenge him to a fight. The suit, filed Monday with Bexar County as the defendant, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for pain, mental anguish and the loss of Carrazco’s gold “grille.” According to Canfield, the fights occurred while supervisors were not around or in areas of the jail where surveillance cameras might not have recorded the incidents. Reluctant inmates were coerced to defend themselves, and talking about the fights was a no-no, according to Canfield.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

HISD considers changing meeting structure amid local, state criticism

Houston ISD’s monthly school board meeting clocked in 5 hours and 15 minutes Thursday. Moving forward, trustees want that to change.

A board proposal put forth Thursday called for shortening often-lengthy board meetings, focusing more on student outcomes and creating more meaningful — albeit potentially abridged — public engagement on meeting days. Trustees said the changes would improve board operations and perceptions about the much-maligned governing body, which has often been criticized due to public displays of acrimony and inattention to issues impacting students.

Trustees voted 7-1 to advance parts of the proposal through first reading, meaning that it will continue to receive consideration before heading to a second vote. Other sections of the proposal can be implemented by trustees without a vote. Trustee Anne Sung, who helped spearhead the proposal, said the changes could improve public engagement prior to votes on issues impacting the district. “We can hear what you have to say, consider it and really do our due diligence,” Sung said.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Longshoremen's union drops support for Turner, Buzbee asks others to follow suit

Houston trial attorney and mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee again called on all Houston unions Wednesday to disavow Mayor Sylvester Turner after a local district of the International Longshoremen's Association dropped its support for the mayor.

Buzbee, who made the same appeal after the Houston Federation of Teachers withdrew its support for Turner last month, said in a statement that Turner is "no friend" of union members, despite their widespread support for him when he was elected in 2015. The ILA's South Atlantic and Gulf Coast district President Alan A. Robb said in a separate statement that Turner's ongoing dispute with Houston firefighters over pay raises and a legal case related to collective bargaining played a role in the union's decision.

In an open letter earlier this month, Turner disputed the notion that he is "mounting a broadside attack, constitutional or otherwise," on the section of the local government code regulating fire and police employee relations. "In my 30 years of public service, I have supported collective bargaining," Turner wrote. "I fought for collective bargaining for firefighters in the Texas Legislature in 2005. To this day, I am committed to collective bargaining." At issue is a lawsuit playing out in Texas' 14th Court of Appeals in which Turner's administration has contended that a part of the code violates the Texas Constitution by granting a judge discretion over firefighter pay. A state district judge rejected that argument.

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

‘You don’t want to eliminate them completely’: Acevedo reveals new no-knock raid policy

Weeks after vowing to cut down drastically on the use of no-knock raids, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Thursday drilled down into some of the specifics of his new department policy, which requires more oversight and forbids narcotics officers from carrying out the high-risk busts.

Instead, effective last month, SWAT teams will execute all unannounced raids, but only after getting approval from top-ranking Houston police officials and a signature from a district court judge. “You don’t want to eliminate them completely,” Acevedo told a Houston City Council committee Thursday afternoon. “There are instances where the no-knock warrant tactic is probably the safest.”

The newly announced policy marks a sharp shift from past practices, when narcotics officers could routinely go to municipal court judges and county magistrates to get approval for drug raids - then carry them out without the back-up of experienced SWAT teams. The changes come in response to a Jan. 28 raid that turned into a shoot-out, leaving a Pecan Park couple dead and five narcotics officers injured. The botched bust has since morphed into a scandal officials are still struggling to contain amid ongoing questions about the justification for the raid.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Turner right to move ahead with HFD layoffs

How many firefighters does Houston need, and how many can it afford? Those are the questions that ought to be top of mind as on-again, off-again negotiations between Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Firefighter Association continue over how quickly to implement firefighter pay raises averaging 29 percent that were approved by voters in November.

The mayor keeps warning, as he did before the Prop. B vote, that Houston has hundreds more firefighters than it can afford. As a result, he had urged firefighters to accept a phased-in plan for Prop. B salaries over five years if they wanted to avoid 400 pink slips. Union officials, unsurprisingly, are screaming bloody murder. They say the pay raises — which they urged as a way to create pay parity between firefighters and police — are overdue since voters spoke in November.

With no deal, Turner finally announced Monday that the city will send out firefighters’ first Prop. B-adjusted paychecks in May — making layoffs likely. The Chronicle editorial board didn’t endorse Prop. B, largely because a cash-strapped city with a structural deficit caused by a voter-imposed revenue cap can’t afford raises costing $100 million in the first year. But now that it has passed, we can’t understand why the mayor and firefighters can’t reach a compromise on how to implement the raises. Turner is acting responsibly on behalf of the entire city — at great political risk, we might add.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

A year after Austin bomber stopped, city leaders honor victims, law enforcement

Austin police and city leaders gathered at City Hall on Thursday, a year to the day when authorities stopped a serial bomber who terrorized the community, to honor those affected by the attacks and the law enforcement agencies that helped bring him down.

The 19-day terror spree in the city came to an end last year on March 21 when the Austin bomber blew himself up along Interstate 35 in Round Rock as authorities closed in to arrest him. City leaders observed a moment of silence for those killed in the first two explosions, 17-year-old Draylen Mason and 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House, and those who survived two other blasts, including Esperanza “Hope” Herrera, who was critically injured hours after Mason was killed, and two men injured by a trip-wire bomb in Southwest Austin.

“Let today be a day of remembrance for those that were so personally touched by this incident or those lives that were lost,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, who led the investigation into the bombings as then-interim chief. At Manley’s side were representatives from the city, state and federal agencies that assisted in the response, investigation and takedown of the bomber.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Petition seeks to rename Dripping Springs to ‘Pound Town’ after founding family

Does the name Dripping Springs do Austin’s sweet, neighboring Hill Country city justice? There is at least one “coalition of residents and business owners in the area” that doesn’t think so. As was announced in a press release Wednesday, some Dripping Springs residents would rather call home “Pound Town,” after one of the city’s earliest residents Dr. Joseph M. Pound.

According to the rename coalition’s GoFundMe page, which has raised $170 of its $1,854 goal, “Donations will be used to fund a fun campaign that may or may not result in a ballot initiative, and at the very least we’ll donate a good portion of the proceeds to Friends of the Pound House for upkeep and education at the historic homestead.” The page claims that Pound was the first doctor in Hays County.

When asked by the Statesman if the campaign was serious or tongue-in-cheek, a Daniel McCarthy responded that the Pound Towners are “serious about history” saying, “As much as we like BBQ and carnival rides we also think that most people have lost sight of the true meaning of Founder’s Day. For that reason we’re hoping to honor the memory of Dr. Joseph Pound every day of the year by renaming the city.”

National Stories

NPR - March 22, 2019

Moderate Democrats under pressure as party's left flank grabs attention

For Democrats, one of the keys to winning control of the House of Representatives last year was convincing voters in formerly Republican districts that there's more than one way to be a Democrat.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., was one of dozens of new members who ousted Republicans, in part on a pledge to buck party leaders and work across the aisle. Spanberger spent her first three months in office following through on that promise — she voted against Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House and split from Democrats on a number of procedural votes.

But constituents in her ideologically diverse district are still asking if her independence will stand firm as other more nationally recognized Democrats, like her House colleague New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and several Senate Democrats running for president in 2020 try to pull the party to the left ahead of the election in 2020. Spanberger's bipartisan credentials were a central issue for voters at a town hall in the Nottoway High School auditorium in rural Crewe, Va, a more conservative corner of her district.

New York Times - March 21, 2019

25 states at risk of flooding this spring, US forecast states

Vast areas of the United States are at risk of flooding this spring, even as Nebraska and other Midwestern states are already reeling from record-breaking late-winter floods, federal scientists said on Thursday.

Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states will have an elevated risk of some flooding from now until May, and 25 states could experience “major or moderate flooding,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The major flooding this month in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and elsewhere is “a preview of what we expect throughout the rest of the spring,” she said.

Some 13 million people could be exposed to major flooding, making this a “potentially unprecedented” flood season, said Edward Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center. And much of the United States east of the Mississippi River, as well as parts of California and Nevada — in total, areas home to more than 200 million people — could see at least some flooding in the spring, the scientists said. The projections were part of NOAA’s annual “Spring Outlook,” though the language of the 2019 report carried greater urgency than usual.

National Review - March 21, 2019

Jim Geraghty: Republicans, don’t underestimate Beto O’Rourke

He’s a Texan, the son of a man prominent in state politics and an all-around success in life. The Texan grew up with alternating affection for and intermittent tension with his well-known, accomplished father, with the heavy question of how he would ever emerge from his father’s shadow.

He eventually tried his hand at entrepreneurship, swearing he never wanted to be a politician like his father. But when an opportunity in Texas politics appeared, he took it, out-hustling a Democratic incumbent who had been far too confident about the voters’ mood on Election Day. Then, surprisingly early in his political career, he chose to run for president. Despite having only been in a major office for six years, the Texan’s party saw great potential in him, and responded with a wave of donations. They were hungry for a winner.

The Texan pledged he could restore America’s sense of pride. On the stump, he rarely went deep into policy specifics. He preferred to emphasize that America was better than the flaws of its current president, and that honor and dignity could return to the Oval Office. He wasn’t always the most eloquent, and sometimes he mangled his message. That’s Beto O’Rourke. But that’s also George W. Bush. Fans of both men will probably scoff at the comparison and insist they’re nothing alike. But it’s a sign that Republicans probably shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of a laid-back, easygoing guy who can generate a mood of optimism in his stump speech.

CNN - March 21, 2019

Beto O'Rourke set to hire ex-Obama aide Jen O'Malley Dillon to run campaign

A week after launching his presidential bid, Beto O'Rourke is poised to hire veteran Democratic strategist Jen O'Malley Dillon to lead his campaign, officials familiar with the discussions told CNN, a move that puts a former top aide to President Barack Obama at the helm of the O'Rourke campaign.

O'Malley Dillon, a deputy campaign manager for Obama's re-election effort in 2012, met with O'Rourke earlier this month in Texas before he jumped into the race. Since then, the campaign raised more than $6 million on its first day and the former congressman from Texas embarked on a tour of a half-dozen states. O'Malley Dillon, who is seen as one of the party's sharpest data experts, had been planning to head a new data exchange operation for Democrats. The effort was designed to help the party overcome its deficit with Republicans on using voter data to identify supporters and drive turnout.

But she decided this week to work for the O'Rourke campaign instead, people familiar with the matter say, a fast-growing operation that is attracting the support and advice of several former Obama advisers. At the Charlotte airport en route to South Carolina, O'Rourke declined to comment Thursday night when asked about O'Malley Dillon becoming his campaign manager. O'Malley Dillon did not respond immediately to a request for comment. It is unusual for a high-profile campaign like O'Rourke's to launch without a manager already in place.

Vanity Fair - March 20, 2019

'Everyone thinks they’re going to sell': Hellfire at Fox as Hannity mulls leaving and Lachlan goes full Donna Brazile on Trump

Donald Trump’s alliance with Fox News has been one of the few constants throughout his shambolic presidency. But in recent days, that bond has shown signs of fraying. On Sunday morning, Trump criticized Fox after it suspended Judge Jeanine Pirro for delivering an offensive monologue questioning Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s patriotism.

Trump’s attacks on Fox have widened the chasm between the network’s opinion hosts and the news division, which have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016. Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Pirro. The outcome of that civil war will be decided by Fox Corporation chairman and C.E.O. Lachlan Murdoch.

Rupert’s oldest son took over the smaller media company that emerged out of the Murdochs’ $71 billion deal to sell their entertainment assets to Disney. Though Lachlan hired West Wing stalwart Hope Hicks, staffers believe he is likely to nudge the network away from its close marriage to Trump. Sources close to Lachlan pointed out that Lachlan is a libertarian conservative, not a MAGA diehard, who in private has expressed annoyance at Trump. “He doesn’t like Trump,” one person who has spoken with Lachlan told me. “There’s a lot of talk of the direction of the network changing under Lachlan,” the senior Fox staffer told me.

Washington Post - March 22, 2019

A police unit went after Stormy Daniels for ‘moral’ crimes. Now due to misconduct, it has disbanded.

Beset by the fallout of a high-profile scandal involving adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and allegations that an officer traded sex for releasing women he had arrested, an Ohio police department has taken the unprecedented action of disbanding a unit that was once in charge of pursuing “moral crimes.”

On Tuesday, Columbus Police Department interim chief Tom Quinlan announced he was abolishing the department’s 10-officer vice unit, a group overseeing crimes involving gambling, prostitution and drugs, due to the negative attention it received in recent months.

The announcement comes the same week that one former vice unit officer — Andrew K. Mitchell — appeared in federal court on Thursday to address charges he forced two women he had arrested to have sex with him in exchange for their release. The vice unit’s end also coincides with the recent release of results of an internal investigation into the July 2018 arrest of Daniels, the adult-film actress who alleged the incident was politically motivated and in retaliation to her claims of having sex with Donald Trump before he became president.

Associated Press - March 22, 2019

Trump policy of sending asylum seekers to Mexico faces judge

A U.S. judge in San Francisco will scrutinize the Trump administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico during a court hearing Friday to help him decide whether to block the practice.

Civil rights groups have asked Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco to put the asylum policy on hold while their lawsuit moves forward. Seeborg was not expected to rule immediately. The policy began in January at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, marking an unprecedented change to the U.S. asylum system. Families seeking asylum are typically released in the U.S. with notices to appear in immigration court.

The administration later expanded the policy to the Calexico port of entry, about 120 miles east of the San Ysidro crossing. The lawsuit on behalf of 11 asylum seekers from Central America and legal advocacy groups says the administration is violating U.S. law by failing to adequately evaluate the dangers that migrants face in Mexico. It also accuses Homeland Security and immigration officials of depriving migrants of their right to apply for asylum by making it difficult or impossible to do so.

March 21, 2019

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - March 21, 2019

Gas-tax hike: a rare big idea with bipartisan backing

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn’t exactly a hotbed of pro-tax sentiment. So when the chamber advocates for a tax increase, it’s worth sitting up to take notice. That’s what’s happening now.

Chamber President Thomas Donohue told Congress this month that the chamber advocates raising the federal tax on a gallon of gas, which stands at 18.4 cents, by 25 cents over the next five years to produce funds desperately needed to fix the nation’s transportation network, and perhaps kick-start a broader effort to upgrade America’s infrastructure. The gas tax has been the same since 1993, Mr. Donohue noted.

The chamber actually has been pushing a gas-tax increase since last year, but now it stands as a rare bird in today’s Washington: a big idea that has bipartisan support. More than that, it also represents a test case in whether a divided capital awash in trivial controversies and angry Twitter-fests can manage a serious debate on an important policy idea.

New York Times - March 1, 2019

Border Patrol facilities in Texas are overflowing, prompting mass releases in border cities

Border Patrol detention centers in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley have soared well past their capacity in recent days, prompting mass releases of migrants onto the streets as local leaders scramble to house and feed hundreds of new arrivals daily.

The primary migrant-services facility in the region, a former nursing home in McAllen now used by Catholic Charities as an immigrant respite center, is already reaching capacity, with nearly every inch of the low-slung red-brick building occupied. The air was thick with the smell of sweat Tuesday evening, with dozens of people waiting for assistance at the front of the building.

Two government buses pulled up outside to drop off even more: 54 in one bus and 57 in the second. On Wednesday, migrants slept on blue padded mats on the floors of small crowded rooms as they waited for rides to the downtown bus station. In El Paso, the sudden release of about 150 migrants on Tuesday set in motion a flurry to try to accommodate them. A network of shelters run by the nonprofit Annunciation House had no more space, so city officials converted a public park into a staging area, until space for the migrants was found at local hotels.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Fact check: No, the Texas Democratic Party did not give Beto O’Rourke $4.5 million

A tweet circulating from Democratic activist Xavier Perez in New York suggests that Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke was able to report such a high number because of a sizable contribution made to his campaign by the Texas Democratic Party. The tweet was shared widely and reposted many times on Facebook.

Perez, whose social media posts suggest he is backing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the Democratic nomination, said the alleged contribution from the Texas Democrats to O’Rourke was actually money O’Rourke had given to the party after his unsuccessful challenge last year to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, called Beto for Texas, transferred more than $4.5 million to the Texas Democratic Party over the course of his campaign against Cruz, according to campaign finance filings.

The bulk of the transfers were made in October 2018, one month before the election. One $815,000 transfer happened in September and one $450 transfer happened in November 2017. The money transferred from O’Rourke’s Senate campaign to the party was not leftover from his race, as suggested by Perez’s tweet. No money was transferred from Beto for Texas to the Texas Democrats after Election Day. Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, laughed when asked about the tweet and said any money transferred to the state party from O’Rourke went immediately into ongoing races across the state.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

John Cornyn, Joaquin Castro clash in preview of potential 2020 Senate contest

John Cornyn and Joaquin Castro clashed this week, giving Texas voters a preview of a potential 2020 match-up for Senate, a contest that could be one of the marquee match-ups in the country.

The sniping between the campaigns comes as Castro, a San Antonio congressman, is nearing an announcement about a potential challenge of Cornyn, the incumbent who is stockpiling cash and interacting with his base to prepare for Castro –– or any Democrat that may emerge as his rival. Earlier this week, Cornyn campaign manager John Jackson described Castro as a Democratic socialist who votes against the interests of Texans.

Castro was one of a few Texas Democrats that voted against two Harvey relief bills last year. Democrats were miffed that the legislation didn't include protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, among other things. Castro's campaign struck back, dubbing Cornyn "Washington John," and adding that the incumbent was distorting the congressman's record and afraid of a potential challenge to his re-election.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Deer Park company battling fire accused of intentionally polluting water during Harvey

The company responsible for this week’s black plume in Houston’s sky has been accused in a federal lawsuit of dumping hazardous waste in the water during Hurricane Harvey.

Intercontinental Terminal Co.’s former hazardous waste specialist in Deer Park sued the company in February, alleging it intentionally released more than a million gallons of hazardous waste into flood waters during Hurricane Harvey to save money. Releasing such waste would violate both state and federal law. In documents filed in the Southern District of Texas, ITC denied the allegations. ITC declined to comment on the pending litigation.

ITC, a liquid storage terminal owned by the Japanese behemoth Mitsui & Co., has stored petrochemicals for companies including Chevron, Phillips 66 and Exxon Chemical Company. It has been battling a chemical fire in Deer Park that raged from Sunday to Wednesday morning, filling the Houston skies with black smoke. But the allegations of past environmental violations undertaken as cost-saving measures have not previously been reported.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

114 years of waiting: Callers kept on hold by Texas state agencies

Texans calling state agencies in recent years waited on hold for a lifetime — literally. Callers were on hold for a total of one million hours — some 114 years — trying to get in touch with eight state agencies over a two-year period ending in August 2017, according to a new state audit.

The worst waits were at the driver license division, which has already come under fire from lawmakers for long lines at offices across the state. Callers waited on hold an average of 15-and-a-half minutes. One in five hung up before ever talking with a customer service representative, the report said.

The report names several possible fixes, from hiring more staff and using chat bots to creating a pilot program that would have inmates help answer calls. In New York, inmates at two correctional facilities answer roughly a million calls a year for the department of motor vehicles, the report said. The inmates are paid up to $1.14 per hour in a program that saves taxpayers $3.5 million a year, according to New York officials.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

House backs bill requiring cities, counties to disclose special event costs

Governments would no longer be able to keep secret the amount of taxpayer funds spent on concerts, parades and other entertainment events if a bill advancing in the Texas House is passed into law. House Bill 81, sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would require that information to be available to the public.

The bill, which cleared a key vote in the House on Wednesday, was prompted by the city of McAllen’s refusal to release records about how much it paid pop singer Enrique Iglesias for performing at a holiday concert. News reports later showed the city lost more than half a million dollars on the event.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Families: Feds not planning charges against alleged Santa Fe High shooter

Families of people killed in the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School were told in a private meeting with federal officials that it is unlikely federal charges will be filed against the alleged shooter, participants in the meeting said Wednesday.

During the meeting Tuesday in the FBI field office in Texas City, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick and FBI officials said they had enough evidence to charge the alleged shooter in connection with unexploded pipe bombs found at the school, the meeting participants said. But the officials reported that the Justice Department was unwilling to move forward on those charges for now.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, an 18-year-old former student at Santa Fe High School, has been charged by state prosecutors with capital murder and aggravated assault against a peace officer in the May 18 shooting rampage at the school that left 10 people dead and 13 wounded. If convicted, Pagourtzis faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Victims’ families hoped that a federal conviction for Pagourtzis, combined with a conviction in state court, would keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Crude oil prices boosted by oil inventories' plunge

Commercial crude oil stockpiles plunged by nearly 10 million barrels last week, creating more bullish news for oil prices that have risen to their highest levels since November.

Crude inventories fell by 9.6 million barrels and gasoline stocks dipped by 4.6 million barrels. Overall petroleum stocks declined by 12.6 million barrels for the week, according to weekly data Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Department.

U.S. crude production is at an estimated record high of 12.1 million barrels daily, but crude exports also were near record highs at 3.4 million barrels a day last week. The U.S. crude oil benchmark is sitting above $59 a barrel, the highest price since Nov. 12.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Colleges couldn't bar controversial speakers under bill passed by Texas Senate

The Texas Senate has passed a bill to prohibit schools from rejecting controversial speakers. Senate Bill 18 by Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would bar public colleges and universities from considering "any anticipated controversy ... in determining whether to approve a speaker to speak on campus." It would also require these schools to adopt policies "detailing students' rights and responsibilities regarding expressive activities."

Schools would have to allow anyone "to engage in expressive activities" in "common outdoor areas" unless the conduct is unlawful or "materially or substantially" disruptive and could not penalize student organizations for their political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoints "or of any expressive activities of the organization." Students, faculty and staff would be allowed to meet or distribute written material without permission from the university if the bill becomes law. The bill passed unanimously by a 31-0 vote. It now heads to the Texas House for more debate.

Many Texas colleges and universities already have student codes of conduct that include rules outlining students' free speech rights and responsibilities. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, lays out rules for "speech, expression and assembly" that prohibit defacing or damaging a student group's signage, blocking the view of participants at an event or preventing another student from being heard. But Huffman's push to codify college free speech rules comes after several colleges have grappled in recent years with how to manage controversial speakers and regulate student organizations.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Beto O'Rourke's $6.1 million came from 128,000 donors, averaging $48 each

Beto O'Rourke announced Wednesday that more than 128,000 donors contributed to his record-breaking first-day campaign haul of $6.1 million, an average of $48 per donation. The former three-term El Paso congressman jumped into the presidential race last Thursday, and detractors had alleged that high-dollar donors rather than a grassroots outpouring may have padded his tally.

Sen. Bernie Sanders brought in $5.9 million during his first 24 hours last month from 223,047 donors, an average of $27. Official fundraising tallies for them and their rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination have not been filed. But these one-day tallies provide bragging rights and, in O'Rourke's case, put to rest doubts about whether he could harness the nationwide support he received for his Senate bid in Texas.

The Texan said he received 128,000 "unique donations," which could mean that some individuals donated multiple times. Sanders is the only 2020 Democratic competitor who has come close to O'Rourke's torrid pace in the money chase. When O'Rourke eclipsed him, Sanders told his backers they should take comfort in the likelihood that he'd drawn support from more individuals.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

Chris Wallace: North Texas business leaders support legislative plan to boost school spending, cut property taxes

Gov. Greg Abbott identified back in January property tax reform and school finance reform as emergency items, thankfully. Members of the North Texas Commission hope to see legislators solve these problems by boosting the state's contribution for public education and pay for full-day prekindergarten while addressing rising property taxes. Our members support House Bill 3 to address these concerns.

The primary drivers of property tax increases are school property taxes. Many Texans are unaware that under the Robin Hood school funding formula, as local property values rise, the state's share of funding declines and the burden on local taxpayers increases. The state has actually spent more money on education each year, but state portion of the amount spent to educate the students in Texas has dropped from 47 percent in 2011 to 36 percent in 2019.

HB 3 smartly reduces property taxes through compression of school district tax rates while increasing the state's share of school funding. This bill also makes strategic investments in early childhood education and teacher pay that will enhance student achievement. Is the bill perfect? No, but it is a good start. This bill addresses the needs of our youngest Texans, while also curbing the rising property taxes without having to enforce an unnecessary 2.5 percent revenue cap on cities and counties, a move that would jeopardize core services of municipalities.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Scrap the Electoral College? Protect late-term abortion? Beto O'Rourke faces new litmus test issues

Less than a week into his presidential campaign, Beto O'Rourke has been forced to stake or defend positions on issues that went untouched or unnoticed in last year's Texas Senate campaign.

On Wednesday, for the third straight day, he faced questions about late-term abortion, which has become something of a litmus test in the 2020 primary race as candidates position themselves as the most ardent defenders of abortion rights. He's called for adding a half-dozen U.S. Supreme Court seats, drawing fire from the president. And he's echoed Sen. Elizabeth Warren in arguing for direct national elections, wiping away the Electoral College system in place for centuries.

Presidential campaigns have a way of smoking out candidates on topics they hadn't prepared white papers on, nor planned to emphasize. It's a minefield for candidates hoping to excite Democratic activists without coming off as polarizing. Republicans are already exploiting some of these issues to paint O'Rourke and others as radical. The late-term abortion issue cropped up first when O'Rourke was stumping Monday in Cleveland, his fifth day in the 2020 race.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Senate passes bills on Harvey recovery, disaster preparation

With three consecutive unanimous votes Wednesday, the Texas Senate approved a package of bills designed to help the recovery from Hurricane Harvey and improve the state response to future flooding. The bills, approved on 31-0 votes, next go to the House.

SB 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would direct the Texas Department of Emergency Management to create a response guide to help cities and counties manage future disasters. SB 7 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would tap the rainy day fund to help match federal money for Harvey rebuilding efforts. The bill also would establish the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund for statewide floodplain management and to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on flood-mitigation projects, Creighton said.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione's bill to strengthen open records law gets day in sun

In the 2017 legislative session, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione proposed a bill to restore the strength of the Texas Public Information Act, which guarantees citizens access to government records, after a pair of 2015 court rulings that transparency advocates say gutted the law.

On Wednesday, the State Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, heard testimony on House Bill 2189, which aims to close loopholes created by the two Texas Supreme Court decisions that allowed state agencies and local governments to keep secret basic details about their dealings with contractors and quasi-public corporations that receive taxpayer money.

The committee took testimony Wednesday on numerous transparency and good government bills, including House Bill 318 by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, which would expand the number of agencies that must broadcast their public meetings over the internet, and House Bill 1655 by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, which would prevent government employees’ dates of births from being redacted from public records requests.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Fort Hood could see $42.6 million in cuts for border wall

Fort Hood would stand to lose $42.6 million in funding for construction projects, among $265.1 million in military spending earmarked for Texas that the Trump administration is making available for border wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Defense Department has released a 20-page list of military construction projects that President Donald Trump could slash to pay for expanding the fencing and barriers already in place or under construction along the border. The Pentagon document listed hundreds of projects envisioned around the U.S. and world worth about $12.9 billion. Not all will be subject to cuts, the Defense Department wrote, making it difficult to determine exactly which would be vulnerable.

The two Fort Hood projects that could lose funds for border wall construction, according to a Pentagon fact sheet, are a vehicle maintenance shop ($33 million) and supply support activity ($9.6 million). A Fort Hood official referred questions seeking details about these projects to the Pentagon. A message left at the Pentagon was not returned. Other Texas military spending on the list, released Monday, includes Air Force training classrooms and a dining facility ($38 million) as well as an Air Force control tower ($10 million) at Joint Base San Antonio; a blood processing center ($8.3 million) at Fort Bliss; and a general purpose warehouse ($71.5 million) at Red River Army Depot.

San Antonio Express-News - March 20, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: No clear contenders for Joaquin Castro’s congressional seat

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, through his associates, signaled last week that he is “all but certain” to give up his House seat next year to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. With a Castro announcement looming, you would expect a stampede of Democratic hopefuls racing for the pole position in next year’s District 20 primary.

The latest news of a likely opening in District 20 has been met with a muted response from San Antonio Democrats. Part of it has to do with elected officials waiting for Castro to officially declare his intentions. Part of it has to do with the fact that the timing is a little funky for the people we would ordinarily see as the most likely contenders.

San Antonio Express-News - March 20, 2019

Texas school finance plan would refashion funding for low-income students

A Texas House panel this week advanced a school finance proposal that includes the biggest overhaul in 30 years of the way the state distributes money for most of its students, based on a system the San Antonio Independent School District uses to differentiate between levels of poverty.

Leaders of Bexar County’s largest school districts have expressed support for the bill, which includes property tax reforms and would add $9 billion to state public education funding in the next two years, $2.7 billion of it to replace existing property taxes.

House Bill 3 would raise the basic state allotment to $6,030 per student, a 17 percent increase, and would add weights — multipliers of the basic allotment — for students in bilingual and dual-language programs, a feature SAISD pushed for.

San Antonio Express-News - March 16, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: West Texas higher ed plans impact all Texans

We all have a vested interest in the expansion of higher education programs in the Lone Star State even when it is taking place in remote regions many of us don’t frequent. After all, we live in one state and we’re all Texans.

But as Texas Tech System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell views it, his university system’s plan for a new veterinary school, dental school and expansion of other programs should be of great importance to those of us who don’t reside in West Texas. He is working hard to spread that message. He is quick to point out that although 87 percent of the almost 29 million people in Texas live east of Interstate 35, the other 13 percent, in West Texas, supply the bulk of the state’s meat, cotton and fuel.

This legislative session, the Texas Tech System is seeking $17.32 million for a veterinary school in Amarillo and $20 million for a dental school in El Paso. Both are scheduled to enroll their inaugural classes in fall 2021. It will be the state’s second veterinary school and its fourth dental school. The path to the veterinary school has not been easy. For decades, the creation of an additional veterinary school has met stiff resistance, despite the fact that admission to the existing one is highly competitive due to the limited number of slots each year.

WFAA - March 15, 2019

Lawmakers propose legislation for new power to suspend bad caretakers

Two Dallas area lawmakers have proposed legislation that would give state regulators new authority to suspend caretakers found to have abused, neglect or exploited their intellectually disabled clients.

The bills filed by State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, came as a result of a WFAA investigation that revealed state regulators lacked the authority to suspend a caretaker found to have abused, neglected or exploited their intellectually disabled client while they appeal that finding. The WFAA investigation highlighted the case of Paul Taylor, a severely autistic man who was stabbed more than 85 times while living in a state-funded host home this past July.

Our investigation revealed that police determined Paul had been left alone with two other disabled men. One of the men, attacked Paul with a screwdriver. The state maintains what’s known as an publicly accessible Employee Misconduct Registry. Under current state law, a caretaker isn’t placed into the registry and barred from taking care of the intellectually disabled while appealing a finding of abuse, neglect or exploitation. The bills filed by the two lawmakers would create a confidential “interim registry.” Caretakers found to have abused, neglected or exploited clients could be placed in the “interim registry.”

KUT - March 19, 2019

Rio Grande Valley landowners plan to fight border wall expansion

President Trump last week vetoed a congressional measure aimed at blocking his national emergency declaration. The next battle over that emergency declaration will likely be in the courts. Meanwhile, planning for extending the border wall is already happening in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

More than 570 landowners in two counties, Hidalgo and Starr, have received right-of-entry letters from the government asking to survey their land for possible border wall construction. Eloisa Tamez lives in El Calaboz, a small town outside of Brownsville, Texas. In 2007, she received a phone call that she describes as life-changing.

Efrén Olivares, director of the racial and economic justice program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said this time around it seems more people will be impacted, but is hopeful more residents now know their rights. Olivares said landowners in the Rio Grande Valley should know the courts can weigh in on the surveying and the compensation amounts. In this latest effort to extend the wall, Congress has required the federal government to meet with local officials to discuss design and alignment of the border barrier.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

DART chief urges Congress to pass infrastructure bill, citing coming work on Cotton Belt and D2 lines

Dallas Area Rapid Transit president Gary Thomas on Monday urged Congress to deliver a far-reaching infrastructure bill, joining other public transit leaders in stressing the importance of funding billions of dollars in improvements.

Speaking at news conference hosted by the American Public Transportation Association, Thomas said it was "imperative" to "supply the needs of the American people." He offered up a few upcoming DART projects to make his case: the Cotton Belt commuter rail line; platform extensions on the Red and Blue lines; rail replacement in downtown Dallas; and "D2," the long-awaited second rail alignment through the city center.

This is not the first time Thomas and other transit leaders have pressed lawmakers for action. The notion of an expansive infrastructure bill is a perennial favorite in Washington. Both Republicans and Democrats from all over the U.S. tend to like the idea, which would address the widely documented problem of America's overstressed roads, bridges and railways. But Congress has yet to act on the matter since President Donald Trump took office, in part because there is deep disagreement on how to pay for it all.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Bexar County reports 1st case of measles since 2007

Bexar County on Wednesday reported the first case of measles since 2007. This case is associated with a case of measles reported earlier this month in Guadalupe County, said officials with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

State health officials on Tuesday said there have been 12 confirmed cases of measles in Texas so far this year, more than the state saw in all of 2018. The Bexar County report may bring the total to 13. In recent years, Texas saw the most measles cases in 2013, when 27 people contracted the disease.

“The best way to prevent getting sick is to be immunized with two doses of the measles vaccine,” the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District said in a statement Wednesday. No measles cases have been reported in Travis County this year.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

John Nova Lomax: Lina Hidalgo and the politics of the Deer Park plume of doom

Two days ago, heading east out of Houston, my constant companion was the giant Black Plume of Doom coming from that inferno in Deer Park. I am thankful I was not trying desperately to evacuate Houston. Yes, the Doom Plume is scary. And it makes us all feel powerless.

Now, I’m at a Days Inn in Opelousas, La., and I’m reading a fair amount of stuff like this: “I’m commenting after watching her on the news looking like a deer in the headlights. She had no answers and threw in a few ‘like’ and ‘um’ words. She appeared totally uninformed and unprepared. I’m wishing we had the experience and the proven leadership that Judge Emmett was known for (nothing to do with politics).”

It has everything to do with politics. Maybe not party, but politics, nonetheless. The fact is, there is nothing that Judge Emmett could say or do to mitigate this problem. Another fact is, some people crave the leadership of what is sometimes called a “Great White Father” in times like these. If there was anything Emmett was good at, it was playing that role. The man had gravitas. I liked him. Buying in to his mystique, I crossed party lines to vote for him in the last election, and I don’t particularly regret doing so.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

2 Bell County jailers arrested on charges they beat up shackled inmate in his cell

Two corrections officers were arrested this week after being accused of beating an inmate in his Bell County Jail cell and violating his civil rights. Kevin Miller, 34, and Terrance Gardner, 28, turned themselves in Monday after an investigation by the Texas Rangers, the Temple Daily Telegram reports.

The investigation began after 23-year-old inmate Jvareus Aquer Pratt told his mother, Jeanette Cooper, that he had been beaten and kicked by several Bell County jailers while he was shackled and handcuffed. Pratt has been in Bell County Jail since late February on charges of assault of a family member and injury to a child, with bail set at $125,000.

After Cooper told Sheriff Eddy Lange and other agencies, the sheriff began an internal investigation that brought up "disturbing events" that warranted assistance from the Texas Rangers, sheriff's spokesman T.J. Cruz said. Miller and Gardner, both from Killeen, were released after posting $5,000 bond and are on unpaid administrative leave.

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

With Deer Park chemical blaze out, county moves to investigation

After fire crews extinguished the chemical blaze at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park early Wednesday, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office prepared to send investigators to the smoldering site as state and local officials pledged to closely monitor pollution from the accident.

At the site of the three-day blaze Wednesday afternoon, firefighters put out a flare-up that briefly hurled a fireball into the air. Crews will remain on the scene to ensure the fire does not re-ignite, the company said. The massive conflagration burned for more than 60 hours at the petroleum storage facility on the Houston Ship Channel before firefighters using flame retardant foam were able to put it out.

Christensen said several key questions remain unanswered, such as how and where the fire started, and precisely what volume of chemicals burned. Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said he would like to know why ITC only brought in an additional, specialized firefighting team from Baton Rouge, La. on Tuesday, the third day of the blaze. An ITC spokeswoman said that when the fire began, the company believed local firefighters could extinguish it. When the fire continued to grow Monday, ITC decided to hire additional personnel from US Fire Pump in Baton Rouge.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Hillary Clinton makes endorsement in Dallas mayoral race

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is wading into Dallas politics. On Wednesday, the campaign for Dallas lawyer Regina Montoya announced she has the endorsement of Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former U.S. Secretary of State and first lady.

While she is one of the biggest political names in the country, Clinton’s endorsement in the Dallas race isn’t much of a surprise. Montoya worked on Bill Clinton’s White House staff as his assistant for intergovernmental affairs in the early 1990s.

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Supreme Court won't hear suit against Dallas-based Topgolf that called it a monopoly

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an antitrust case brought against Dallas-based Topgolf in which lower courts decided the company did not kill its competition by purchasing tech company ProTracer.

In the case, Sureshot Golf Ventures Inc. claimed that Topgolf's purchase of broadcast technology company ProTracer in May 2016 unfairly blocked competition from other companies in the golf entertainment industry. ProTracer, a Swedish company, is known for developing the leading software for tracking a golf ball's trajectory. It's widely used now in sports broadcasting.

When Topgolf bought ProTracer, it said the acquisition furthered the entertainment company's mission to provide tech-driven, engaging games to its customers. SureShot claims it was building a golf entertainment center based on ProTracer's technology that would have competed with Topgolf. SureShot alleged that Topgolf planned to deny it access to the ProTracer technology, which its business relies on, when the company's license lapsed.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

AT&T peels off layer of political spending secrecy — thanks to pushy investors and the Michael Cohen fiasco

AT&T is bowing to activist shareholders calling for more transparency about the company's political spending, agreeing to disclose millions of dollars in previously untraceable contributions after last year's embarrassment over payments to President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen.

For the first time, AT&T is divulging some contributions to outside groups that keep their donors secret, providing a fuller, if still incomplete, picture of the Dallas-based telecom giant's vast spending on state and federal politics. A new report released by the company details payments totaling about $4.2 million to industry groups and think tanks that was used for lobbying during a portion of last year.

But even with the additional information, the public still would not have known about AT&T's relationship with Cohen — Trump's longtime fixer — who was paid $600,000 by the company to advise on various matters, including its then-pending mega-merger with Time Warner. AT&T said Cohen did no lobbying on its behalf. The disclosure is the product of a years-long shareholder campaign and allows AT&T to avoid a proxy fight at its April 26 annual shareholder meeting. For the past five years, AT&T had advised investors to vote against nonbinding proposals asking for a report on lobby payments to outside groups.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

China's embattled Huawei insists it only wants a fair fight, not fear and politics

Chinese tech company Huawei can meet U.S. standards for cybersecurity, but it wants fair rules rather than a ban based on fear and politics, says Andy Purdy, chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA.

Huawei, which has its U.S. headquarters in Plano, makes equipment that spans the world of technology, from antennas and network equipment to mobile phones, laptops and smart watches. It sold more smartphones than Apple last year. Yet until recently, its name drew blank stares from many Americans.

Huawei’s newfound fame is encased in suspicion and scorn as a result of its high-profile dispute with U.S. lawmakers and the Trump administration. American officials have sought to ban the use of Huawei’s telecommunications equipment in the buildout of 5G, a next-generation wireless network expected to bring faster mobile phone service, support a growing number of connected devices and enable emerging technology like self-driving cars. They say Huawei could jeopardize the security of the network and use it to spy for the Chinese government.

Associated Press - March 20, 2019

Liberal or centrist? Beto O'Rourke drives in both lanes

In a primary that has so far been defined by progressive energy, Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman with a scant political resume is trying to avoid definition. He left a distinctly moderate record behind in Congress and, in the early days of his presidential campaign, has vowed to work with Republicans and woo voters who backed Donald Trump in 2016.

The architects of his campaign insist he's not interested in adhering to a particular ideological lane, and O'Rourke himself shuns party labels. But trying to have it both ways could leave Democratic voters with the impression that O'Rourke is a candidate with a split political personality. Backers say O'Rourke can and should toggle between liberal and moderate positions depending on the topic.

As a presidential candidate, O'Rourke has moved more to the center than he did last fall, when he nearly upset incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. O'Rourke had called for impeaching Trump but has since backtracked. He once endorsed Sanders' "Medicare for All," but now backs a more moderate House plan known as "Medicare for America."

Associated Press - March 20, 2019

'Whack job': Trump escalates feud with Conway's husband

Kellyanne Conway's spouse is a "husband from hell!" President Donald Trump declared Wednesday, escalating his awkward public fight with the husband of one of his closest advisers. A "whack job," he added later.

Trump's feud with George Conway played out with ever more heated rhetoric on social media. Conway, an attorney who has questioned Trump's mental health, fired back after Trump's latest tweet, saying the president seems "determined to prove my point." The caustic exchanges also drew a response from Kellyanne Conway, the longtime Republican pollster who served as Trump's third campaign manager before joining the administration as a counselor to the president.

Speaking to reporters later as he left the White House for a trip to Ohio, Trump called George Conway a "whack job" and said he's doing a "tremendous disservice" to his wife and family. George Conway has repeatedly questioned the president's mental state, tweeting that "Americans should be thinking seriously now about Trump's mental condition and psychological state." On Wednesday, after Trump's latest tweet, George Conway, posted a link to the diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality order, and wrote in response to Trump's latest missive: "You. Are. Nuts."

Other Words - March 14, 2019

Jim Hightower: Silicon Valley's next target is America's farmers

Angus is a robot, toiling away on an indoor hydroponic farm that’s soilless as well as soulless. Programmed by a multimillion-dollar Silicon Valley start-up named Iron Ox, Angus’ homestead is an 8,000-square-foot concrete warehouse in a San Francisco suburb.

Started by a Google engineer, Iron Ox hopes to install duplicates of its faux farm in metro areas across the country. “If we can feed people using robots,” he says, “what could be more impactful than that?” How about this: Reconnecting our food system to nature, a democratic economy, and humans? The roboticists brag that local warehouses can provide fresher lettuce than the mega farms ship from thousands of miles away.

Governing - March 20, 2019

After GAO abortion report, states dispute findings and defend violations

Last month, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 14 states and the District of Columbia were in violation of federal Medicaid law as it pertains to abortion coverage. While some of those states dispute the GAO's report, others are defending their practices, and a couple are working to comply with the law.

Federal money is generally prohibited from funding abortion services because of the 1976 Hyde Amendment. But in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, Medicaid –– the nation's health insurance for the poor –– is supposed to cover any abortion services, including abortion pills. According to the GAO, 14 states have denied coverage in these cases for the abortion pill, which is used until 10 weeks of pregnancy. One state –– South Dakota –– has been out of compliance with that law for more than 20 years, the GAO said.

CNN - March 20, 2019

Assault rifles to be banned in New Zealand in aftermath of massacre, Prime Minister announces

All military-style semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines will be banned in New Zealand following the mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques that killed 50 people, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

The announcement came after the country's cabinet agreed to overhaul the law and ban military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles 72 hours after the Christchurch attacks. An estimated 1.2 million guns are in circulation in the country, according to New Zealand Police -- one for every three people. Ardern said the buyback scheme could cost between $100 million to $200 million.

Later on Thursday, New Zealand Police announced all 50 bodies from the shootings had been identified. "This means that all victims are now able to be released to their families," Police Commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement. Arden said a "nationwide reflection" for the dead would be held on Friday –– one week after the attack.

USA Today - March 21, 2019

How did President Donald Trump's feud with John McCain begin?

President Donald Trump's feud with the late Sen. John McCain dates way back, to long before the real estate magnate launched a campaign for president.

Trump, who occasionally re-airs his grievances with the late Arizona Republican, launched a new line of attack during an address in Ohio Wednesday, suggesting the McCain family never thanked him for "the kind of funeral that he wanted." Trump's role in the services were limited to allowing McCain's body to fly on planes used as Air Force Two. How did this feud develop?

On Jan. 11, 2000, Trump, considering a run for president, criticized McCain's war service as he sized up other potential candidates in an interview on CBS. “He was captured,” Trump said, in remarks he would echo years later. “Does being captured make you a hero? I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

Reuters - March 20, 2019

Fed sees no rate hikes in 2019, sets end to asset runoff

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday brought its three-year drive to tighten monetary policy to an abrupt end, abandoning projections for any interest rate hikes this year amid signs of an economic slowdown, and saying it would halt the steady decline of its balance sheet in September.

The measures, announced following the end of a two-day policy meeting, mean the Fed’s gradual and sometimes fitful efforts to return monetary policy to a more normal footing will stop well short of what was foreseen in late 2015 when the central bank first moved rates from the near-zero level adopted in response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.

Having downgraded their U.S. growth, unemployment and inflation forecasts, policymakers said the Fed’s benchmark overnight interest rate, or fed funds rate, was likely to remain at the current level of between 2.25 percent and 2.50 percent at least through this year, a wholesale shift of their outlook.

Washington Post - March 21, 2019

Charles Kushner: Here’s the truth about my family and our business

Over the past two years, the news media have told a story about my family and our business with little regard for nuance, logic or even facts. A familiar story line suggested that Kushner Companies was on the brink of collapse, about to be brought down by an over-leveraged building. Though I am a private person and prefer to keep the details of my family’s business as private as possible, I want to set the record straight.

n 2007, the Kushner Companies bought 666 Fifth Ave. in New York City for a then-record $1.8 billion. The thesis of the purchase: The parts of the 1.5?million-square-foot building were worth more than the whole, and splitting it into retail and office components would create value of more than $2.5 billion. But then came the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Amid the global recession that followed, the New York real estate market soured. The projected office rents for 666 Fifth Ave. were cut in half.

That was a setback, but we had structured our debt in a way that enabled us to sell off half of the building’s Fifth Avenue retail component to pay down debt; the 2008 sale brought in $525 million. First, 666 Fifth Ave. was not a big financial loser. Even before we recouped most of the initial investment, the property represented a small portion of the company’s overall holdings; the Kushner Companies’ health was fine. Second, trophy assets in New York often appeal to foreign investors — that’s a legal and appropriate stream of funding.

New York Times - March 21, 2019

How companies learned to stop fearing Trump’s Twitter wrath

Two years ago, some of America’s largest corporations were tearing up their business plans to accommodate President Trump, fearful that he could send their shareholders and customers fleeing with a tweet. Now they have a new strategy: Ignore him.

When Mr. Trump was running for president, he promised to personally stop American companies from shutting down factories and moving plants abroad, warning that he would punish them with public backlash and higher taxes. Many companies scrambled to respond to his Twitter attacks, announcing jobs and investments in the United States — several of which never materialized. But despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to compel companies to build and hire, they appear to be increasingly prioritizing their balance sheets over political backlash.

More recently that influence has waned. The president’s scattershot attention span has diminished his power to persuade the business world to bend to his will, corporate communications experts say, as once fearsome tweet storms have devolved into ephemeral annoyances.

March 20, 2019

Lead Stories

New York Times - March 14, 2019

Why Texas is nearing battleground status (it’s not just about Beto)

The dream of a “Blue Texas” has captured the imagination of Democrats for nearly a decade, and Beto O’Rourke has come closer than anyone to making a statewide victory a reality. His strengths as a candidate in his narrow loss in a 2018 Senate race against Ted Cruz — by 2.6 percentage points — led his supporters to push him to run for president, and he obliged them Thursday morning.

But his performance may have demonstrated something else: Texas is on the doorstep of emerging as a battleground state, and any number of Democrats might stand a chance to compete there in 2020 for the presidency or the Senate. His relatively close loss is promising for the party because he did not take full advantage of the longer-term trends that might put it over the top sooner than later. His strength came almost exclusively from white voters, not from the growing Hispanic population in the state.

None of this is to take away from his accomplishment. He did better than every Democrat running statewide in Texas in the 2018 midterms. It seems unlikely that many Democrats would have fared as well as he did, and you could argue it bodes well for his chances in a presidential race. But on balance his success was a reflection of deeper trends. Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020.

Associated Press - March 20, 2019

Shifting hopes as Republicans and Democrats await Mueller

It's a witch hunt, a vendetta, the worst presidential harassment in history. That's what President Donald Trump has shouted for two years about the special counsel's Russia probe. Now, barring an eleventh-hour surprise, Trump and his allies are starting to see it as something potentially very different: a political opportunity.

With Robert Mueller's findings expected any day, the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he insisted all along: no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign. And Trump and his advisers are considering how to weaponize those possible findings for the 2020 race, according to current and former White House officials and presidential confidants who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

A change is underway as well among congressional Democrats, who have long believed the report would offer damning evidence against the president. The Democrats are busy building new avenues for evidence to come out, opening a broad array of investigations of Trump's White House and businesses that go far beyond Mueller's focus on Russian interference to help Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton. It's a striking role reversal.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Timetable for Deer Park chemical blaze indefinite as fire grows

The stubborn blaze at the International Terminals Co. in Deer Park grew in size as it churned through chemical storage tanks for a third day on Tuesday as city, county and state leaders sought to assure anxious residents the fire posed no immediate health risk.

The officials pledged to commit all available local resources to assist in firefighting and protect residents from pollution, though they were unable to estimate when the fire may be put out and conceded that extinguishing the blaze is the responsibility of ITC. Fire crews working for ITC said they finally were able to fight the fire offensively after a two-day stalemate, with the help of foam retardant and additional personnel. The company shut off pipelines and equipment near the blaze to reduce the risk of explosion.

The fire has forced Houston-area residents to grapple with the consequences of living so close to the heart of the nation’s petrochemical industry in ways previous accidents had not. Unlike invisible benzene discharges in east Houston or a gasoline leak into Buffalo Bayou after Hurricane Harvey, the Deer Park conflagration has sent a foreboding plume of dark smoke over Harris County, visible more than 30 miles away. A Bryan TV station reported the fire has caused a haze in the skies over Brazos, Grimes, Montgomery, Walker and Waller counties.

Washington Post - March 20, 2019

Is Trump changing his tune on Fox News?

Fox News, normally the object of presidential praise on Twitter, was subjected to an unusual tweet-lashing over the weekend when the president went after three of its anchors. He called out Leland Vittert and Arthel Neville, lesser-known faces on Fox News’s weekend programming, and Shepard Smith, a more-prominent journalist who has previously fact-checked President Trump on air.

The president also seemed to want to play network programmer on Sunday, urging Fox News to stand by hosts Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson, both of whom are under fire for controversial comments. Fox has supported Carlson but suspended Pirro for suggesting that Rep. Ilhan Omar’s hijab was, by definition, anti-American. All told, Trump’s barrage suggested that daylight exists between certain sectors of Fox News and Trump, who has showered Fox personalities with interviews and benefited from favorable commentary from its opinion hosts.

The spat comes as Fox’s parent company is undergoing a generational change — one that produced another, perhaps more subtle sign of independence from the president. On Tuesday, Fox Corp. began public trading as the new parent of Fox News, Fox Entertainment and Fox Sports; the company is the result of 21st Century Fox’s sale of its film and television assets to Disney Corp. The new company is headed by Lachlan Murdoch, the eldest son of Rupert Murdoch, who co-founded Fox News with Roger Ailes and remains a controlling shareholder in Fox.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Native American inmates win right to long hair in Texas prison

Three Native American inmates bested the Texas prison system in a lawsuit over religious liberties, winning the right to let their hair grow long despite arguments from state attorneys that it would pose a security risk and make it easier for inmates to escape from an understaffed facility.

The trio of long-time prisoners at the McConnell Unit sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in federal court, arguing that their Native American spiritual beliefs regard hair as an extension of the soul, something to be cut only when in mourning. The prison system’s rules requiring men to keep short hair or face disciplinary consequences, the inmates and their attorneys argued, were an unfair violation of religious freedom.

Even though female prisoners are allowed to have long hair, attorneys for the state claimed that letting men do the same would cost too much money to police, that prisoners would get too hot in uncooled facilities, that it would make identifying inmates harder and that it could increase the number of inmate suicides. But after a three-day bench trial last year, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi rejected those arguments.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Get-out-the-vote groups urge Texas to allow Election-Day registration

Despite holding the most expensive and closely-watched U.S. Senate election in the nation last year, Texas still ranked among the ten worst states for voter turnout in 2018, according to a new report on voting trends.

About 46 percent of eligible Texas voters cast a ballot in the November election, up from 29 percent four years earlier, according to “America Goes to the Polls 2018,” a report from Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project. While the number of voters jumped, the turnout places Texas 41st in the country for voter turnout — up from 50th in the 2014 election.

The national report blames Texas’ poor ranking on a deadline that cuts off voter registration four weeks before Election Day. Most states in the bottom 15 for voter turnout require people to register to vote at least a month before the election. Most states with the highest turnout allow for same-day voter registration, according to the report. The League of Women Voters of Texas argues it’s time that the state “joins the modern age” and allows for same-day voter registration, according to an email Tuesday from the group representing more than 8,000 voters who encourage participation in government.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

San Antonio GOP Rep. Will Hurd’s profile rises in Democrat-controlled House

With Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd lost his platform to delve into sexy topics like artificial intelligence and promote tech legislation, like his new bill aimed at securing the government’s Smart TVs and connected devices from hackers.

Hurd’s new reality became clear when Democrats abolished the House Oversight IT panel he chaired, his perch for scolding bureaucrats for sloppy computer practices and wasteful spending on outmoded equipment. But while many Republicans have faded from view since the Democratic takeover of the House, Hurd’s profile has expanded, fueled by his criticism of the Trump administration and recent defections from the GOP on guns and border policy.

After surviving a Democratic Party onslaught last year to win his third term by fewer than 1,000 votes, Hurd is charting a course increasingly independent from his party while seeking to cooperate with Democrats on legislation. But he’s not so independent as to abandon President Donald Trump on election day. Responding to a question last week, Hurd said he would support Trump over Beto O’Rourke - a fellow Texan with whom he traveled from San Antonio to Washington by car last year - “unless Beto O'Rourke decides to run as a Republican, which I don't think he's planning on doing.”

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Lack of affordable housing hurting health of Texas children

A majority of poor children in Texas live in families where more than half of the household income goes to housing, straining budgets and creating a ripple effect that ultimately damages their health, a new national study found.

This often unseen poverty has far-reaching and interconnected consequences as families become unable to buy nutritious food, seek medical care, fill prescriptions or secure reliable transportation. It also can determine where and how often children go to school, which can jeopardize future achievement, researchers and public health experts said.

In Harris County, for instance, 23 percent of the county’s children live in poverty — more than triple the rate of Denton County, which has one of the best overall health rankings in the state, the study shows. The overall child poverty rate in Texas is 21 percent. The study also found that one in five households in Harris County face “severe housing problems,” which could include high costs, overcrowding or even a lack of working plumbing or functional kitchen. Compare that to nearby Fort Bend County, which reported that 14 percent of households experienced such housing issues.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Elena Craft: Deer Park fire reignites crisis of confidence in TCEQ

Not again. That was my first thought Sunday after a large fire at a petrochemical storage facility sent a thick plume of black smoke over Houston. It started less than 24 hours after a blaze at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery.

Sadly, this March madness is a never-ending story here. The Houston Chronicle in 2016 reported that the region has a chemical fire or explosion every six weeks on average. I am sure someone will dismiss this as the unavoidable byproduct of being the nation’s petrochemical capital. That is simply not true. Chemical fires and explosions are largely preventable. So why do they continue to happen?

It is because the state agency responsible for ensuring chemical plant safety is missing in action — unable or unwilling to protect the health and well-being of Texas families. We saw it as Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc across Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was slow to respond to the millions of pounds of excess pollution released into the air by oil refineries and chemical plants because of shutdowns, restarts and storm-related damage.

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Bills would exert more state control over the Alamo

The fight over moving the Cenotaph to another spot on Alamo Plaza has moved to the Legislature, where lawmakers will consider measures that could block the relocation. Three of nine legislative measures related to the Alamo, all filed by Republicans, focus on the 1930s Cenotaph, a monument to the 189 known defenders who died in the storied battle of March 6, 1836.

Other Alamo-related measures deal with oversight, expense reporting or historical interpretation at the Alamo. Matching joint resolutions propose a constitutional amendment, to be voted on statewide Nov. 5, that would give the Legislature authority to approve the content of Alamo exhibits.

The longest measure, the five-page HB 3517, filed by Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, seeks to put the Alamo in the care of the Texas Historical Commission, with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas managing the site. Bush terminated the DRT’s Alamo management contract in 2015. The Alamo Trust, a subsidiary of the Alamo Endowment, now runs the site.

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Deer Park plant fire may have been sparked by overheated storage tank, worker says

A worker who said he was at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. when the fire first erupted Sunday morning first noticed smoke rising from a chemical storage tank. He left the terminal within a half-hour and by then, "It was roaring up."

The man, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions, said speculation among his colleagues is that parts of the tank may have overheated. The tanks overheat from time to time, he said, but normally have a safety mechanism that can shut them off. For whatever reason, that safety mechanism may not have been enough to prevent the fire, he said. "Everyone thinks a tank overheated," he said.

Video of the initial incident on Sunday showed flames on the ground between several tanks. ITC officials have not said what started the massive blaze. The cause remains under investigation. The fire ignited around 10:30 a.m. and first spread to a tank containing naphtha on the industrial grounds about two miles north of Texas 225 near the Battleship Texas State Historic Site and Buffalo Bayou. The blaze churned through the terminal, engulfing as many as eight units at one point and sending a massive plume of black smoke drifting across the Houston area and stretching northwest of the city.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

Senators seek creation of new crime after assault victim testimony

After hearing anguished testimony from people who had no viable legal options after being groped or sexually touched against their will, a Texas Senate committee voted Tuesday to support the creation of a new crime — indecent assault — that includes jail time for offenders. Current Texas law makes groping and similar acts a fine-only offense, similar to many traffic tickets, with a maximum penalty of $500.

The low-level punishment makes offenders difficult to prosecute, gives police little incentive to investigate and does not carry the possibility of jail time, even for repeat offenders, said Katherine Strandberg, a policy analyst for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Senate Bill 194 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would make indecent assault a Class A misdemeanor with the possibility of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Texas is one of only six states without a similar law, Strandberg said. During Tuesday’s hearing on Perry’s bill before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Tiffany Russell of Austin recounted a June 2016 assault in which she said a man slapped her genitals while she jogged past him on the sidewalk. In other testimony Tuesday, a male victim said he was groped while in a dentist chair. A woman told of a male barber who she said repeatedly rubbed against her during a haircut. Both said they froze, unsure how to respond.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

Texas lawmakers push for child care safety improvements

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers on Tuesday announced a coordinated effort to pass a package of bills aimed at improving child care safety and oversight.

Many of the bills were inspired by “Unwatched,” a yearlong, 12-part investigative series the American-Statesman published in December that revealed that 88 children had died as a result of abuse or neglect at day care facilities over the previous decade, that another 450 were sexually abused and that the state’s efforts to crack down on unsafe day cares are often inadequate, allowing some facilities with more than 100 violations to remain open.

On any given day, there are about 1.1 million Texas children in child care centers and at-home day cares. The Statesman investigation found large gaps in state oversight for some of the most dangerous types of child care settings and scant resources for efforts that could help make safe day cares more affordable, placing a spotlight on a child safety issue long overshadowed by high-profile failures in Texas’ foster care system and Child Protective Services.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

Ken Herman: Rep. Greg Bonnen proposes bill filing shake-up

It would be, for some fans of less government, a Texas Capitol dream come true. No more House bills. No more Senate bills. Never, ever again. Gone. Kaput. His-to-ry. Oh, there’d still be good and bad ideas reduced to proposed legislation. But the it’s-always-been-that-way process of calling it a House bill or a Senate bill, which is the way every Texas law first saw the legislative light of day, would become extinct.

Instead of House bills and Senate bills, as in HB 1 and SB 1, there would be only Texas bills, as in TB 1, regardless of in which of the two chambers they originated. For answers, we must turn to a neurosurgeon. This is Dr. Greg Bonnen’s big idea. He’s also Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood. And he’s the Rep. Bonnen (not to be confused with Speaker Dennis Bonnen, his brother) who this week filed House Resolution 901. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?” was his first response when I asked him about it.

His intent is to reduce the inevitable House versus Senate tension that develops during most legislative sessions. When that tension boils over, sometimes there are senators looking to kill bills that started in the House and vice versa. “The purpose,” Bonnen told me, “is to keep everyone focused on good policy for the state. I think that’s what we’re sent here to do and what the people of the state want.” So, seeking further explanation, I asked Bonnen if he thinks that “when things get heated up and one chamber is mad at the other they start killing off bills just based on what the first letter” is on a proposed piece of legislation.

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

In Beto O'Rourke's shadow, Julián Castro brings long-shot presidential campaign to Dallas

Julián Castro is fighting to stay relevant in a presidential race that includes a large field of candidates and Texas' most popular Democrat.

On Tuesday, Texas' "other" Democratic Party candidate for president visited Dallas for a fundraiser and what was described as an opportunity for local party faithful to hear about his campaign. The event, at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin in Deep Ellum, had been advertised by the Dallas County Democratic Party and is sponsored by the Stanton law firm. It's the former San Antonio mayor and former Housing Secretary's second visit to Dallas since January, when he launched his presidential campaign.

Since then former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso has joined the contest, an addition that further obscures Castro's candidacy. O'Rourke has dominated the political news cycle and raised $6.1 million on the first day after his announcement. And just as O'Rourke gets rolling, former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to join the crowded field in the coming weeks. Undaunted, Castro has an active campaign schedule that included a Monday swing through New Hampshire, a critical early primary state.

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Texas House abandons plan to give teachers merit-based raises

A Texas House committee delivered a blow Tuesday to proponents of giving teachers raises based on merit. The author of the leading House bill to overhaul public school education across Texas struck a controversial plan to create a $140 million program that offered raises to only top-rated teachers.

Instead, that money will be funneled toward schools with the highest percentages of low-income students to give teachers incentives to work at the toughest campuses. Districts would be able to lure top teachers to the poorest schools with more money, under a program modeled after Dallas ISD's pilot. The merit pay language was stripped right before the House Public Education committee unanimously voted to send the bill to the full House for consideration.

The bill's author, Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, made the change to ensure districts retain local control after a raft of teacher groups spoke against the proposed statewide system that would have rewarded only some teachers with higher salaries. The groups demanded that all teachers be paid the national average before merit pay is put on the table, expressing preference for a Senate bill to give every teacher a $5,000 pay raise that senators unanimously supported. Huberty also said he was responding to teacher groups who were concerned the previous language in his bill about merit pay would drive districts to rely heavily on standardized testing scores as a metric for success.

San Antonio Current - March 19, 2019

Bills in the Texas Legislature would make it easier for businesses to sue people exercising free-speech rights

A pair of bills in the Texas Legislature would make it easier for businesses and deep-pocketed individuals to sue whistleblowers for exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and to harass them into silence.

Both House Bill 2730 and Senate Bill 2162 seek to gut the Texas Citizens Participation Act, a law protecting residents' right to engage in public debate and express their opinions. Free-speech proponents argue that the act — like similar measures on the book in nearly 30 U.S. states — protects ordinary people against frivolous lawsuits filed to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Star-Telegram - March 19, 2019

Rep. Matt Krause wants kids to be able to run lemonade stands — legally. Here’s what he did.

Chalk one up for Texas kids. On Tuesday, the Texas House took a key step toward finally making it legal for young Texans to run their own lemonade stands.

“Today is Lemonade Freedom Day,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who authored the lemonade stand bill. “It’s to ensure anyone under the age of 18 is free from any kind of fine, fee or regulation when they want to start those first businesses. The House gave early approval to Krause’s bill, which lets younger Texans legally run stands selling lemonade or any nonalcoholic beverage.

A final vote, which is generally just a formality, is required before House Bill 234 heads across the Capitol to the Senate for consideration. An amendment was added to the bill to allow lemonade stands on private property or in public parks. It also prevents property owner associations from adopting rules — or requiring permits or charging fees — to prevent children from running lemonade stands.

KPEL - March 20, 2019

Gov. Abbott travels to Louisiana, slams state's governor

Texas Governor Greg Abbott slammed Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for his handling of the state’s economy, going as far to say that Edwards has made his job easier when it comes to attracting jobs to the Longhorn state.

Abbott says Texas’ economy is growing, because of a business friendly environment, and wished the same for Louisiana, but "a roadblock to achieving that vision has been a governor who is raising taxes and cutting bullishness incentives.” The comments were made Monday in Baton Rouge at the Republican Governor’s Association round table that included GOP candidates for Governor, businessman Eddie Rispone and Congressman Ralph Abraham.

Abbott targeted the Edwards’ decision to reform a tax break known as the Industrial Tax Exemption, as an example of policies that have companies fleeing west out of the Bayou State. “Part of our success is businesses having second thoughts about Louisiana. As competitive as Texas likes to be, we don’t want to see Louisiana struggle.”

CBS 6 - March 19, 2019

Bail reform bills are gaining ground in Texas. But some worry reforms are wrong approach

Lawmakers are hopeful with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s support, two new bills looking to change the way bail bonds are determined in the Lone Star State will pass.

Texas lawmakers are narrowing down ways to reform bail. Efforts that have been in the works for years are now starting to take shape. Gov. Greg Abbott’s support has given lawmakers some momentum. This could be game changer for these bills, which is leaving some in the bail industry on edge.

Cheryl Gillem, the owner of UR Bondsman Bail Bond, said no cash bail will creates more work for Wichita County that she believes they don’t have the man power for. She said her service works with officials to make sure her clients make it to their court dates. She adds while lawmakers are attempting to solve one problem they are causing another. “More poor people end up taking more plea deals because they are stuck in jail” said Giliem.

KUT - March 20, 2019

Voters who make mistakes could wind up in jail under Sem. Bryan Hughes' sweeping voting bill, advocates say

A wide-ranging voting bill in the Texas Senate “would sharply escalate an ongoing campaign of voter suppression” in the state, voting rights advocates say.

In a letter sent today to the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, advocates said Senate Bill 9 would make “voting substantially harder for thousands of Texans … by spreading fear that people may be thrown in jail for honest mistakes while trying to vote.” SB 9 is one of 30 "priority bills" Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick flagged for the 2019 legislative session.

If passed, SB 9 would increase criminal penalties for anyone who makes an error on a voter registration form. Currently, providing false information on an application is a Class B misdemeanor. Under the bill, it would become “a state jail felony.” If someone who didn't know they couldn't vote tried to vote they would be subject to prosecution; it wouldn’t matter whether the ballot was counted. - March 19, 2019

Amarillo Matters to kickoff grassroot effort for Texas Tech Vet School

Amarillo Matters announced today a significant grassroots effort aimed at building support for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo.

“There is so much support for this project and we felt it was important to give all of the supporters a voice, a way for them to say we support this project and our state needs it,” Amarillo Matters President Jason Herrick said. The effort will include a robust digital and social media campaign with opportunities to stay engaged and share support for the Texas Tech veterinary school. Amarillo Matters is also working to assemble a broad coalition – as big as Texas and beyond – of supporters, communities, and organizations who believe in the vision of Texas Tech’s veterinary school.

Numerous agricultural organizations and businesses throughout Texas are supporting the establishment of Texas Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine. This statewide support includes chambers of commerce, regional communities, cattle feeders, dairymen and ranchers, along with rural veterinary practitioners. Texas Tech’s veterinary school has established partnerships with more than 20 rural veterinary practices throughout the state to support its innovative approach to veterinary education.

Wichita Falls Times-Record - March 20, 2019

Rep. Mac Thornberry: Military cuts 'will hurt the military,' affect Texas bases

During a luncheon meeting with a county Republican group, Rep. Mac Thornberry said he's seen the list of possible military cuts the president will use to fund the emergency declaration at the border.

Texas bases appear throughout the list, said the Republican congressman from Amarillo, whose district includes North Texas. The cuts would be substantial. "It's a long list, about $13 billion worth of construction. Now we don't know exactly which ones, but these are the list, the pool, that they will draw from." he said.

During the monthly meeting of the Wichita County Republican Women, Thornberry was asked a variety of questions, including such topics as cyber security, border security and health care. Prior to President Donald Trump announcing an emergency declaration at the country's southern border, Thornberry expressed concerns that funds could come from the military. According to an earlier USA Today breakdown of the $8 billion Trump may access to build the wall, $3.6 billion could come from money budgeted for military construction.

County Stories

Associated Press - March 19, 2019

Harris County Judge says air quality OK as wind carries smoke away from petrochemical plant fire

Authorities say a plume of pitch-black smoke from a fire at a Houston-area petrochemicals terminal is traveling thousands of feet into the atmosphere and lessening concerns about air quality in the region.

Harris County's top administrator, Judge Lina Hidalgo, said at a news conference Tuesday that the plume is moving at least 4,000 feet into the air and staying high enough so that the air quality is not cause for alarm. Officials say the fire that began Sunday at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, southeast of Houston, remains intense enough to create its own micro weather system, causing shifting winds in the area.

Harris County Health Authority Dr. Umair Shah says "there continues to be low risk to our community," but explains that vulnerable groups such as the elderly should be cautious. There have been no reports of injuries from the fire. Officials say it's unclear how long it will take to extinguish the large blaze, which is burning several storage tanks filled with gasoline components.

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Dallas County saw nation's highest increase for chlamydia and gonorrhea rates last year, study shows

Dallas County saw the highest percentage increase in the nation for cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea between 2016 and 2017, according to a Health Testing Centers analysis of the 2017 STD Surveillance Report by the Centers for Disease Control.

Along with the rest of the U.S., Dallas County has seen syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia infection rates go up in recent years. But last year, more than 2,500 prospective patients were turned away from the Dallas County STD clinic because of a lack of available appointments. Before he started his job as the county’s health director a few weeks ago, Dr. Philip Huang called Dallas County’s STD clinic appointment line as an experiment to see how long a person might have to wait to set up an appointment.

He was on hold for an hour and never got through, he said at Tuesday's county Commissioners Court meeting. Huang told commissioners of his plans to significantly expand the clinic's capacity to see patients. Between 200 and 400 people were turned away each month over the last two years, and “that's not even counting people calling in” as he did, Huang said.

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Alamo Colleges trustees raise hourly minimum wage to $15

The Alamo Colleges District board of trustees Tuesday night approved a living wage of $15 per hour for full-time workers and large raises for the lowest-paid part-time and work study employees, an act to further the district’s agenda of upward socioeconomic mobility in San Antonio — and help students who juggle paid jobs.

The $15 hourly wage represents a 30 percent increase over the current minimum in the district of five community colleges. The minimum hourly wage for part-time and temporary employees — including work-study and other student workers — went up to $12.50. That’s a 39 percent raise for work-study employees and a 25 percent increase for other part-time and temporary workers. All the raises take effect Sept. 1. New full-time employees will be hired at a minimum hourly rate of $14.70, so existing employees can keep the benefit of seniority.

Linda Boyer-Owens, associate vice chancellor of human resources, submitted the proposal to the board along with Chancellor Mike Flores and Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration. They said the raises, along with financial aid, could help the district’s lowest earners take classes that advance their careers and improve their economic situations long-term. Most qualify for full financial aid, but it’s common for them to work multiple jobs, Boyer-Owens said.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Protestors rally around immigrants hiding in Austin churches

In two Austin churches of different faiths, Alirio Gamez, Hilda Ramirez and her 12-year-old son, Ivan, are hiding from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The Central American immigrants were supposed to show up at the San Antonio ICE field office for an appointment that was likely to be their last before deportation. But two tall Austin ministers came in their stead: Rigby, and Chris Jimmerson of the First Unitarian Universalist Church. And along with them, some 100 advocates protesting their possible deportation.

The two churches are part of the Austin Sanctuary Network, a group of faith-based communities that agreed to provide protection and a shelter for immigrants. Born out the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, the group’s mission hinges on an ICE practice of avoiding arresting individuals in “sensitive locations” like schools or churches.

San Antonio Current - March 19, 2019

Trump's emergency declaration puts up to $77 million in San Antonio military spending on chopping block

There's now a price tag for how much local military spending is in jeopardy thanks to President Trump's emergency declaration. A new list supplied by the Defense Department lists the military construction projects whose funds could be slashed to help fund the president's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Add those up, and it looks like $76.7 million in projects at Joint Base San Antonio are now potentially on the chopping block. Another $188 million in construction is in jeopardy at bases in other parts of the state. At JBSA, the potentially mothballed projects include: An Air Force basic military training classrooms and dining facility, an air traffic control tower for Kelly Field, a new dining facility at Camp Bullis, a Department of Defense-wide energy aerospace operations facility and a vehicle maintenance shop at Camp Bullis.

“These projects are critical to the security of our nation and the well-being of our men and women in uniform and their families,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said in a press statement. “After failing to convince the Government of Mexico or U.S. Congress to pay for his ineffective wall, the President is trying to bypass constitutional authority and undermine the training, readiness, and quality of life of our military and their families in Texas.”

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Intellectually disabled man who murdered Dallas cop shouldn't be executed, DA says

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot announced Tuesday he no longer believes that a man sentenced to death for murdering a Dallas police officer in November 2005 should be executed for his crime. Juan Lizcano should instead spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, Creuzot said.

The change in position follows a Supreme Court ruling in February that stopped Texas from executing another intellectually disabled murderer, saying the state's judgment of such disabilities relies on inaccurate stereotypes. The DA's office had opposed a reduced sentence for Lizcano before Creuzot took office Jan. 1. Lizcano does not have a scheduled execution date.

Attorneys for Lizcano, now 42, argued in his November 2007 trial that he should not face the death penalty because of his intellectual disabilities. Lizcano's trial attorney, Brook Busbee, said Tuesday that she always thought her client would end up with a life sentence. She said there was never any evidence to show he wasn't mentally disabled. At Lizcano's trial, Busbee and attorney Juan Sanchez presented evidence that he grew up intellectually slow and extremely poor in a Mexican village. He also scored low on IQ tests. He was promoted to sixth grade at age 15 simply because he was too old to remain in elementary school.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Buzbee to give another $4 million to mayoral campaign

Houston trial attorney and mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee announced Tuesday he will contribute another $4 million to his campaign, bringing his personal investment to $6 million as he seeks to unseat Mayor Sylvester Turner in November.

Buzbee previously had donated $2 million of his own money to the campaign, and has pledged that he will entirely self-fund his mayoral bid to avoid the appearance that he is beholden to campaign donors, calling it "an investment in the city I love so much."

Through the end of 2018, Buzbee already had spent about $542,000 on his campaign. By the same point, Turner had $2.85 million cash on hand, according to his campaign finance report, and had raised $1.24 million in the second half of 2018. Bill King, a Houston businessman who also is running for mayor, reported about $108,000 cash on hand at the end of the year.

KUT - March 18, 2019

Nearly 434,000 scooter rides were taken during SXSW 2019

Dockless scooters were the headliner in their first year at SXSW. City data show the scooters outpaced rentable dockless bikes over the festival, accounting for nearly 434,000 rides over the 10 days of SXSW – 12.3 percent of the 3.5 million scooter rides since the scooters descended upon Austin last April.

Still, nearly 32,000 riders hopped on dockless bikes, accounting for nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the rides since the city began tracking ridership in April last year. It's important to keep in mind that city data don't measure rides under a 10th of a mile. It's also important to keep in mind that the city is still evaluating how exactly it plans on regulating the usage of dockless scooters. While bikes have set rules for the road, scooters don't.

The city did enforce a ban on riding scooters through the more populated areas of the festival. That gap in rules is set to close as soon as next Thursday, when the Austin City Council could amend the city's transportation code to include e-bikes and scooters.

National Stories

The Hill - March 19, 2019

Trump health chief backs needle exchanges in anti-HIV strategy

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday backed needle exchange programs as a way to reduce new HIV infections among people who inject illicit drugs.

Syringe services programs provide clean needles to people to inject drugs, in an effort to stop the spread of infections like HIV and Hepatitis C. Studies have shown that needle exchanges can prevent the spread of HIV. Such sites often provide substance abuse treatment, HIV and hepatitis testing and other services.

“Syringe services programs aren’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a Republican Health secretary, but we’re in a battle between sickness and health, between life and death,” Azar said during a speech at the National HIV Prevention Conference in Washington. “The public health evidence for targeted interventions here is strong, and supporting communities when they need to use these tools means fewer infections and healthier lives for our fellow Americans.”

The Hill - March 20, 2019

Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks

Senate Republicans are set to hit the gas on confirming hundreds of President Trump’s nominees by muscling through a rules change that would dramatically cut down on the amount of time required to confirm district court and executive nominations.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the change, hasn’t tipped his hand on when the proposal will come to the Senate floor. But members of his leadership team say it will be taken up after lawmakers return to Washington next week. “I think we have 51 Republicans who would rather do it with 60 [votes], most of us,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of leadership who helped spearhead the proposal along with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

Republicans say they want to change the rules by way of a standing order, which would require 60 votes and the support of Democrats, but recognize that they are unlikely to hit that mark since no Democrats are signaling support. The resolution would reduce the amount of debate time required for district judge picks and most executive nominations. The Senate allows for an additional 30 hours of debate on nominees even after it’s clear that they can defeat a filibuster and ultimately be confirmed. The Blunt-Lankford proposal would reduce that extra time to as few as two hours.

Washington Post - March 20, 2019

Candidates reach for the ticket to Democratic debates: 65,000 donors

The latest turn in the Democratic presidential race looks a bit like an infomercial for a food dehydrator or Ginsu knives. Former congressman John Delaney stands in front of a whiteboard in an online video, pitching voters on a new way to double their money. “It’s really simple, and it’s actually a pretty good deal,” the Maryland Democrat says. “ .?.?. You give one, I give two to a charity of your choice.”

You heard that right, folks. A candidate for president wants your donation so badly that he is willing to pay twice as much out of pocket. The reason has little to do with traditional campaign fundraising and a lot to do with the new criteria the Democratic Party has laid out for qualifying for the first debates — either earn at least 1 percent support in a series of public polls of Democratic voters or attract 65,000 individual donors.

Hitting 65,000 has become a magic ticket for many of the party’s presidential candidates, who are struggling to rank in public polls given a field that already has 15 contenders, with several more waiting in the wings. The new criteria have proved to be a boon to lesser-known candidates seeking a national stage this summer and could create challenges for more-established politicians seeking to break away from the pack — with unpredictable repercussions for the party.

New York Times - March 20, 2019

Wall Street is betting the Fed’s rate-raising days are done for now

Just three months ago, investors were in a panic over the idea that the Federal Reserve might push borrowing costs too high and tip the United States economy into a recession. Now, Wall Street is toying with the idea that the central bank could actually be cutting interest rates by the end of the year.

Those forecasts are evident in the market for interest rate futures, where the odds of another interest rate increase in 2019 have fallen to zero, from about 30 percent in December, while the chance of a decrease in rates has risen to more than one in five. One reason for the changing forecasts? The Fed’s own signal to be more patient as it evaluates whether or not to keep raising interest rates. Since the central bank’s chairman, Jerome H. Powell, first spoke about this newfound patience, stocks have soared more than 15 percent.

The Fed could add more fuel to this rally on Wednesday, when the central bank concludes its latest monetary policy meeting. It is expected leave interest rates untouched and further emphasize that it is in no hurry to lift them. The central bank isn’t the only reason that the market is up. Some analysts point toward rising hopes for a United States-China trade deal as helping to lift important technology and industrial shares.

NPR - March 20, 2019

Gorsuch provides decisive 5th vote in case interpreting treaty with Indian tribe

Every year, the Supreme Court hears around 150 cases, and while there will usually be a few blockbuster opinions, the majority garner little media attention. But these more obscure decisions can often illustrate something interesting, even unexpected, about one of the justices. And so it was on Tuesday with Justice Neil Gorsuch and a relatively obscure and underplayed Indian treaty case.

On this conservative court, Gorsuch has been one of the most conservative voices. But in cases involving Indian treaties and rights, he is most often counted among those sympathetic to Indian claims. On Tuesday, Gorsuch split from his conservative colleagues, siding with the court's more liberal members in a case involving the Yakama Tribe and its right under an 1855 treaty to travel the public roads without being taxed on the goods brought to the reservation.

Not only did he provide the decisive fifth vote in the case, he wrote an important concurring opinion for himself and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the leader of the court's liberal wing. For those familiar with Gorsuch's record, his vote was not a surprise. He is, after all, the only westerner on the Supreme Court; indeed, prior to his 2017 appointment to the court, he served for 11 years on the federal court of appeals based in Denver — a court that covers six states and encompasses 76 recognized Indian tribes.

Associated Press - March 20, 2019

Trump keeps a sharp focus on Ohio for the 2020 campaign

President Donald Trump is returning to the state that foretold his 2016 victory and serves as the linchpin of his re-election effort. Trump’s visit to Ohio on Wednesday marks his first trip to the state since last year’s midterm election campaign , when the state was a rare bright spot for Republicans in the upper Midwest.

But with Trump’s path to another four years in the White House relying on a victory in the state, his nascent campaign is mindful of warning signs that Ohio can hardly be taken for granted in 2020. Perhaps no state has better illustrated the re-aligning effects of Trump’s candidacy and presidency than Ohio, where traditionally Democratic-leaning working-class voters have swung heavily toward the GOP, and moderate Republicans in populous suburban counties have shifted away from Trump. It’s for that reason, administration officials said, that Trump keeps returning to Ohio — this week’s visit mark’s his 10th to the state since taking office.

The visit is part of a 2020 Trump strategy to appear in battleground states in his official White House capacity as much as possible this year, said a person with knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly. Trump is expected to make similar trips throughout the year as he seeks to boost enthusiasm to counter an energized Democratic base. It’s a strategy employed by previous presidents, both to leverage the prestige of office for political purposes and to offset the steep costs of presidential campaign travel with corresponding taxpayer-funded events.

Wall Street Journal - March 20, 2019

Biden tells supporters he plans a 2020 bid

Former Vice President Joe Biden told at least a half-dozen supporters Tuesday he intends to run for president and asked for their help in lining up contributions from major donors so he can quickly raise several million dollars, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Biden has expressed concern to these people that he wouldn’t be able to raise millions of dollars in online donations immediately the way some other Democratic candidates have, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, this person said. Mr. O’Rourke raised $6.1 million in the 24 hours after he launched his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, while Mr. Sanders collected $5.9 million in the same period.

Mr. Biden wants to announce a large fundraising number after his candidacy is official to better compete in what is often dubbed the “money primary” that kicks off a presidential season. Mr. Biden has indicated previously that he is close to entering the race, but he hasn’t yet reached a final decision, with people around him cautioning that he could change his mind. A spokesman for Mr. Biden declined to comment Tuesday.

March 19, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

Beto O'Rourke's record $6.1 million Day 1 haul has Bernie Sanders pleading with donors for help

Beto O'Rourke raised a record $6.1 million in his first 24 hours as a presidential candidate, his campaign announced Monday morning –– sending shudders across the Democratic primary field. The sum edges out the $5.9 million raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders in his first full day as a 2020 candidate, and eclipses the $1.5 million collected by Sen. Kamala Harris of California in her first 24 hours.

Within hours of O'Rourke's announcement, both were prodding their own supporters for more money, pointing to their Texas rival as a fund-raising juggernaut they'll have trouble keeping up with. The early haul puts to rest any questions about whether O'Rourke can transfer the sizzle of the Texas Senate race to the national stage.

Expectations on O'Rourke were high, because he raised a record-smashing $80 million in last year's bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas –– more than any Senate candidate in any state ever. So a disappointing early tally would have been a blow.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

Should Texas raise the smoking age from 18 to 21? Nation’s largest tobacco company agrees

A long-stalled push to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes in Texas has a puff of momentum, thanks to early hearings in both chambers, strong support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a surprising and quiet change of position by one of Big Tobacco's leading corporations.

GOP leaders of powerful committees in the House and Senate are again lead authors of proposals that would raise the legal age for buying cigarettes, other tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Since 2007, such proposals have failed to pass into law for lack of support from Republicans who control the Legislature. But there’s another new twist: Big Tobacco registering support for raising the legal age for buying smokes.

Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company, “supports raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to twenty-one," and encourages the Texas Legislature to enact the proposal “without delay," an Altria Client Services executive, Jennifer Hunter, said in written testimony submitted to the House Committee on Public Health this month. Hunter’s statement did not acknowledge that Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes and owns a stake in Juul, the leading maker of e-cigarettes, opposed a similar Texas proposal during the 2017 session. That year, an age-hiking measure offered by Republican Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond physician, died short of House consideration.

Star-Telegram - March 18, 2019

This is Sen. Cornyn’s attack plan if Joaquin Castro challenges him for Senate

Texas Sen. John Cornyn is readying fire for a potential race against Rep. Joaquin Castro, according to a game plan laid out to the Star-Telegram by Cornyn’s campaign Monday.

Though Cornyn already faces a handful of Democratic challengers in 2020, Castro is the candidate both parties’ operatives say could instantly thrust Texas into another high-profile Senate race. He’s the only candidate Cornyn’s team has prepared attacks for so far. Cornyn’s team plans to focus on votes Castro took against bills providing aid for Texans impacted by Hurricane Harvey — at times separating Castro from other Texas Democrats.

t also highlights places where the San Antonio Democrat, who hasn’t faced a Republican challenger since 2014, sided with the liberal wing of his party on issues such as immigration and the environment. Castro “is the most liberal member from Texas — even more than Beto,” said Cornyn’s campaign manager John Jackson, in reference to Democrats’ 2018 Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. “The more Texans learn about his record the less they’re going to like.”

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Deer Park plant on fire at Intercontinental Terminals Co. has history of environmental violations

Before it was engulfed in flame, a Deer Park chemical facility had a long history of violating state and federal environmental rules.

Intercontinental Terminals Company's (ITC) Deer Park facility violated clean air and clean water rules multiple times since 2009 and was cited for not following federal risk management regulations, records show. Federal, state and county regulators issued more than $65,000 in civil penalties to ITC during that time. The company, which stores petrochemicals for companies including Chevron, Phillips 66 and Exxon Chemical Company, says it strives to comply with the law.

But ITC has had repeated air and water violations. The company violated the federal Clean Water Act nine of the last 12 quarters, according to Environmental Protection Agency online data. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fined ITC $18,300 in July 2017 for releasing cyanide into the San Jacinto River basin. The amount released was more than 10 times the permitted levels. EPA documents and data show the company released more than three times the monthly limit for sulfide in 2016 and was over the limit for chlorine discharges in 2015.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Deer Park plant fire could last two more days; authorities monitoring air quality

An intense fire churned through massive chemical storage tanks Monday at a facility east of Houston, continuously pumping plumes of black smoke that drifted across the region as firefighters fought to contain the blaze for a second straight day.

Although the fire is expected to burn another day or two at the International Terminals Company in Deer Park, local health and emergency officials said early air quality tests indicate the fire has not posed a serious health risk to residents. No injuries were reported. By late Monday, the fire was believed contained within six storage tanks at the ITC site, where gasoline components and other chemicals are housed in 80,000-barrel tanks.

The plume of smoke rose up to 4,000 feet Monday afternoon, aided by relatively dry and clear conditions, allowing particles to dissipate above the ground. County officials said the plume could fall to a height of about 400 feet overnight — a distance still unlikely to impact residents' health — as the air cools and grows heavier. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2019

Troubled Texas nonprofit tries for more family planning money

When Texas health officials broke ties with the Heidi Group late last year, it seemed to be the end of a failed effort to turn the anti-abortion group into one of the state’s leading family planning providers. But the Heidi Group is not finished.

The Round Rock nonprofit, led by longtime anti-abortion activist Carol Everett, has quietly applied alongside two other Texas health providers for tens of millions of dollars in federal family planning funding, according to a copy of the group’s grant application obtained by the Chronicle. The collaboration would be overseen by a Catholic organization called the Obria Group, which is based in Southern California and is aggressively vying to become a national alternative to Planned Parenthood.

Obria has been denied federal funding in the past, but its prospects have improved since the program, known as Title X, came under leadership last year by the former head of a Christian organization that operates anti-abortion pregnancy centers. Last month, the Trump administration cut Title X funding to abortion affiliates in an effort to further starve out Planned Parenthood, which has already lost funding from several Republican-led states, including Texas. Planned Parenthood provides most of the non-abortion family planning services to low-income women nationally, including birth control, cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

UH asking legislature for $75 million for brand-new Katy campus

The University of Houston System is asking the legislature for an additional $75 million to construct a second 150,000-square-foot facility at the site of its Katy campus, where crews are already working round-the-clock.

An 80,000-square-foot campus is set to open in Katy on 46 acres of land near the intersection of Interstate-10 and the Grand Parkway this fall, but now UH wants to expand that by adding an additional facility, said Chris Stipes, UH director of media relations. The cost of the 80,000-square-foot facility, already under construction, was estimated at $33 million when the UH System broke ground last May.

The UH System does not have a specific timeline for the new building, as it’s still in the early stages, he said. Once finalized, junior-, senior- and graduate level students from the University of Houston and the University of Houston-Victoria will attend the campus. Programs offered at the campus include subsea engineering and a traditional bachelor of science in nursing.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Houston’s KBR among four invited to bid on new refinery project in Mexico

Houston engineering and construction company KBR is among the companies invited to bid on a multibillion dollar project to build Mexico’s first new refinery in more than 40 years.

The refinery, estimated by the Mexican government to cost $8 billion, would process domestically produced crude oil to make gasoline and diesel at a time when Mexico is importing 80 percent of its fuel from the United States and other nations. Located on nearly 1,400 acres of coastal land owned the federal government in the state of Tabasco the new Dos Bocas Refinery would process 340,000 barrels of crude oil per day to make gasoline and diesel to be sold as gas stations across Mexico.

Looking to accelerate the timeline for construction, Nahle said the Mexican government is restricting participation in the bidding process to four bidders, which include KBR, TechnipFMC, which has headquarters in London, Paris and Houston, and two consortia. One consortium comprises Bechtel of Reston, Va. and an Argentinian firm, Techint. The other includes the Australian firm WorleyParsons and Dallas engineering firm Jacobs.

Houston Chronicle - March 15, 2019

Texas Folklife apprenticeships keep traditions alive

A master artist son of Ukrainian immigrants spends his weekends teaching his apprentice, a recent Mexican-American high school graduate, the art of Pysanky, or Ukrainian egg painting. It’s the sort of cross-cultural, intergenerational partnership the Texas Folklife nonprofit group hopes to expand in Houston and across Texas through its revamped apprenticeship program.

Begun in 1987 and modeled after other states’ programs, the Texas Folklife apprenticeship program financially supports pairs of master folk artists and apprentices in an effort to sustain Texan traditional arts which include everything from saddle making and accordion building to Afro-Cuban folkloric dance and the art of custom cowboy hats.

Each pair received up to $2,500 for equipment and travel costs as well as compensation for the master artist. The nonprofit hopes to establish a stronger presence in Houston in the coming years due to the city’s cultural diversity, Lockwood said.

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Janice Bezanson: Texas state parks should get the funding the Lege has already designated for them

Polls repeatedly affirm what many of us know to be true: Texans love the outdoors. And Texans love their state and local parks. In a 2014 poll conducted by Hill Research Consultants, 92 percent of people surveyed agreed that public parks are especially important to families needing an affordable recreational outlet. In good economic times and bad, the parks provide a much-needed source of recreation and activity for Texas families.

Unfortunately, the state park system wasn't designed to handle the pressure of our fast-growing population. Past funding cuts have left Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with $800 million in deferred maintenance: 61 percent of the restrooms need work, and 220 campgrounds need upgrading. And wonderful natural areas like the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park can't open until the department has the funding to finish planning and ensure that facilities are in place for the public to enjoy the park.

The great news is that there is a workable solution to this problem. In 1993, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that reserved a portion of the existing Sporting Goods Sales Tax for our state parks. An excellent idea and one with strong support, but one that unfortunately hasn't been implemented effectively. In the intervening 25 years, only 40 percent of the money reserved for state parks has actually been spent on them.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

$9 billion more for schools, raises for state workers in two-year Texas budget approved by House panel

A two-year spending blueprint that increases state funding of schools and grants a 2.8 percent annual cost of living adjustment to state workers is on its way to the Texas House following approval Monday by the chamber's budget writing committee. The vote was 25-1. Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, cast the only vote against.

The budget "responsibly funds items critical to all Texans, like public education and continuing investment in mental health, and is also responsive to more immediate needs like school safety and sexual assault prevention, education and training," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas, R-Richmond. The bill would spend an additional $9 billion on public schools and reduction of school property taxes in the two-year cycle that begins Sept. 1.

The panel also advanced, 24-0, a supplemental or emergency spending bill. It would patch holes in the current cycle's budget caused by Hurricane Harvey and a big Medicaid IOU from last session. The supplemental appropriations measure would grant retired teachers a "13th check" or cost-of-living adjustment and fill a $2.1 billion shortfall in the state-federal Medicaid program for the poor, aged and disabled. State health officials testified that without the money, they'll run out of cash with which to pay Medicaid managed care companies sometime in late May.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

As House budget proposal moves forward, Freedom Caucus member casts no vote

When the members of a key Texas House committee on Monday voted on the House budget proposal, they were all on the same page — except one. The budget proposal — the only bill that lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass into law — was passed out of the House Appropriations Committee by a vote of 25 to 1, with one member not present.

That sole nay vote belonged to state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, which says part of its mission is to “revitalize personal and economic freedoms in the state of Texas.” Viewed one way, the vote was the mark of what might be termed ideological purity; viewed another, it showed the isolation of the freedom caucus in a House that has grown more Democratic — even as it remains a majority Republican — since the 2018 midterm elections.

Schaefer, the only member of the freedom caucus on the appropriations committee, told the American-Statesman he voted against the bill because the overall amount of proposed spending exceeds what he thought was an acceptable percentage of spending growth compared to the previous budget. He said spending growth should be no greater than population growth plus inflation, a formula promoted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an anti-tax group. “State government should not grow beyond our ability to pay for it,” he said.

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2019

Abortion opponents at Capitol target Austin lease

Targeting Austin’s $1-a-year lease with a Planned Parenthood health center, a Texas Senate committee on Monday approved a bill to ban cities and counties from doing any type of business with an abortion provider or affiliated organizations.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said that while the Legislature prohibited the use of almost all state money for Planned Parenthood in 2011, her bill would crack down on local governments that continue to spend tax money on groups that promote or conduct abortions. Senate Bill 22, co-authored by all 20 Republican senators, was approved 7-0 by the committee and next goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The measure — the first abortion-related bill acted upon this session — would ban any “taxpayer resource transaction” between any government in Texas and an abortion provider or an affiliated organization. The bill also would give the state attorney general the power to file a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block such transactions. Opponents said the bill would impose a state-issued mandate on local leaders who have a far better understanding of an area’s needs.

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2019

Lawmakers consider death penalty procedures

Three bills filed in the Texas House would change how courts handle cases when the death penalty is on the table, clarifying sentencing rules and judicial procedures.

House Bill 1139, filed by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would require a judge to determine before the case is tried whether a defendant has an intellectual disability, a determination currently done after sentencing. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited the use of the death penalty for felons with an intellectual disability. That case and others since have shown it is necessary for Texas to legislate the issue, Thompson told the American-Statesman.

House Bill 1936, filed by Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, is similar to HB 1139 but applies to defendants with severe mental illness. It also has bipartisan support. House Bill 1030, filed by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would correct juror death penalty sentencing instructions to state that a death sentence must be unanimous. If the jury is not unanimous, the offender would be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The text of the current instructions falsely states that jurors must decide 10-2 to not sentence the offender to death, which the law later corrects, but not in the instructions given to the jury.

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Former state Sen. Carlos Uresti settles lawsuit with star witness in criminal trial

Convicted felon Carlos Uresti has settled a lawsuit brought by the prosecution’s star witness in his criminal fraud trial.

Uresti has agreed to pay $900,000 in damages to Harlingen’s Denise Cantu, with whom he had an alleged sexual relationship and traded steamy text messages, to resolve the civil litigation, according to a judgment filed last week in state district court in Bexar County. A judge has yet to approve the settlement, however.

The settlement essentially marks the end of the former Democratic state senator’s legal fights, which erupted after investors said they’d been defrauded by an oil field services company he was involved in before it went bankrupt in 2015. Uresti is losing most of his possessions — they’re being sold to pay off his victims — and he’s already lost his freedom. Uresti is serving a 12-year prison term at a low-security federal correctional facility in Beaumont after a jury convicted him last year.

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Gov. Abbott calls on Texas universities to examine admissions process, policies

In the wake of the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Gov. Greg Abbott has advised Texas public universities to closely examine their admissions policies and procedures to ensure that they are void of fraudulent activities.

Abbott reminded the boards that lawmakers have assigned them “important responsibilities … including setting campus standards” and that they must take necessary measures to prevent corruption in admissions. The letter comes nearly a week after University of Texas at Austin’s former tennis coach Michael Center was arrested and charged March 12 after allegedly accepting $100,000 in bribes in exchange for recruiting a student to the tennis team, which resulted in his admission. Center, released on a $50,000 bond, was fired from his position as coach.

He was among 50 people indicted and arrested in the nationwide college testing scheme that helped arrange bribes and cheating on major college entrance exams, and coordinated athletic recruitment scams in order to get students into prestigious universities around the country. UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves responded to the many criminal allegations against Center in a letter addressed to the college Wednesday, stating that he takes the issue seriously and that the university will be conducting an investigation into the alleged fraud.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2019

Beto takes Rust Belt tour as campaign leaves Iowa

Fresh off three days campaigning for president in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, Beto O’Rourke on Sunday embarked on a road trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire, traversing what might be called the Democratic Party’s boulevard of broken dreams — the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016, costing Hillary Clinton the White House.

Later, O’Rourke told Wisconsin reporters covering his visit to the Milwaukee headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, “I want Wisconsin to know that I am here, that I spent the fourth day of my campaign in Madison, in Johnson Creek and here in Milwaukee, that I am listening to those I wish to serve, learning from them and then coming back.” O’Rourke’s newborn presidential campaign is very much in the style and spirit of his 2016 campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

It may seem counterintuitive that a candidate who just lost a close election for the U.S. Senate is, essentially, touting his electability as a strength, but there is a logic to it. Before meeting with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers leaders in Milwaukee, he spoke with about 50 women who were in the basement of the headquarters building for their monthly training session by an organization, Emerge Wisconsin, that works to prepare women interested in running for office as Democrats in the state.

Associated Press - March 18, 2019

O'Rourke says nothing in his past will hinder 2020 run, promises to "clean up his act"

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke told supporters Sunday that he's never taken LSD and there's "nothing" he hasn't already revealed about his past that could come back to hurt his run for office. The former Texas congressman — who has become known for his propensity for using the "f-word" — also promised again to clean up his language, despite breaking such past vows.

O'Rourke grabbed much attention as he wrapped up his first week of campaigning, but his challengers could be found at events from the Upper Midwest to the South. And looming over them all is the shadow of one prominent Democrat not in but not out, former Vice President Joe Biden. He has yet to announce a decision. Speaking in front of a large map of Russia inside a coffee shop in Wisconsin's capital, O'Rourke promised to return often, addressing concerns Democrats raised in 2016 after Hillary Clinton never campaigned in the state after her party's primary and lost the state to Donald Trump by fewer than 23,000 votes.

O'Rourke, of course, has to secure the Democratic presidential nomination before he can worry about the general election. But then he's also already said he'd prefer to pick a woman as his running mate, should he make it that far. O'Rourke said Sunday that it was presumptuous to commit to that so early, but that doing so would make a "tremendous amount of sense" given the number of qualified women candidates.

Texas Observer - March 19, 2019

In Texas, three more measles cases and four new anti-vaccine bills

Since early March, Texas has confirmed three new measles cases amid an ongoing outbreak, and added several new anti-vaccine measures to the roster of bills filed this session. Texas has seen 11 cases of the disease so far this year, already surpassing the state total for any year since 2013. Across the country, there have been at least 228 cases in 12 states.

A bill filed by state Senator Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, would ban vaccines that haven’t met criteria that Hall — a retired business owner — has determined the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should be using for approval. The bill also requires the state health department to post online a “disclosure of any known injuries or diseases caused by the vaccine” and that the vaccine be “evaluated for [its] potential to: cause cancer, mutate genes, affect fertility or cause infertility, and cause autism spectrum disorder.”

Also of top concern for immunization advocates are proposals to make it even easier to opt out of vaccine requirements, even as “conscience” exemptions have skyrocketed in Texas from about 2,300 in 2003 to nearly 53,000 in 2017. A bill filed by House Freedom Caucus member Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, would allow nurses to sign off on exemption forms rather than just doctors. Another, from state Representative Tony Tinderholt, would prohibit doctors from refusing to see patients who aren’t vaccinated.

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - March 18, 2019

Former railroad commissioner calls for restructured disposal well regulations

Amid the myriad discussions about managing produced water and the increased risks disposal wells can bring, a consulting company seeks to add a new direction.

98th Meridian Foundation, founded by former railroad commissioner David Porter, has issued a white paper calling for increased regulatory scrutiny of high-volume disposal wells. In the paper, he calls for bifurcating the rules to create two well categories: high-volume/high-pressure wells and low-volume/low-pressure wells.

"The main reason I did the paper was I want to make sure there's a bifurcated method to getting to and permitting high-risk wells," Porter said in a phone interview from Houston where he was attending CERAWeek. In 2013-2014, while Porter was serving as a commissioner, the agency changed a number of regulations regarding disposal wells as concerns about induced seismicity mounted. As it stands, the procedure for getting a permit for a disposal well is the same, whether it's a 50-barrel-a-day well on a lease or a 30,000-barrel-a-day well at a commercial disposal site, he said.

CBS 11 - March 18, 2019

Proposed ban on red light cameras gaining traction in Texas Legislature

The more than two hundred red light cameras in North Texas may soon be coming down for good. Multiple bills addressing the controversial cameras have been filed in Austin this legislative session with the bill that would ban the cameras all together generating the most support among lawmakers.

So far more than a hundred lawmakers have signed on to support House Bill 1631 authored by Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R–Bedford. His bill would ban the use of the cameras statewide. “This has kind of hit a crescendo from the grassroots, left and right,” explained Stickland. “It’s not really Republican or Democrat. It’s about public safety and protecting people’s rights.”

In past years, attempts to ban red light cameras in Texas have failed but with widespread support from lawmakers along with Governor Greg Abbott’s public support for a ban, many in Austin say this year is different. Senator Pat Fallon, R- Prosper, has also filed a red light camera bill, Senate Bill 459, that would take the teeth out of red light camera citations. Fallon’s bill would prevent county tax assessor collectors from withholding vehicle registration because of an unpaid red light camera ticket. The bill would also prevent cities to turning over unpaid fines to a credit agency and would prevent cities from signing new contracts with red light camera vendors.

Rivard Report - March 18, 2019

Alamo Plaza attraction owner wants greater focus on entertainment district

Spring break is the busiest time of year for the attractions in Alamo Plaza, according to Davis Phillips, president and CEO of the company that owns and operates three of the main attractions located right across from the historic Alamo.

The school holiday provides 10 percent of the attractions’ annual revenue, Phillips said, so the estimated $350 million-$450 million plan to redevelop Alamo Plaza into a “world class” destination and move his businesses and others to a new entertainment district nearby has been on his mind for years. But he’s concerned that the fate of his and other businesses is taking a back seat to other processes involved in the complicated plan and that time is running out ahead of the 2024 unveiling of a completed Alamo Plaza. State and local officials, however, say there’s no cause for concern.

“I can appreciate that [Phillips] is anxious to get us to the next step, but we’re following our process,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said. Treviño serves as co-chair of both the Alamo Citizens and Managagment committees made up of City, Texas General Land Office (GLO), and Alamo Endowment representatives. Those three entities have agreed to work together on planning and funding the massive redevelopment. The bulk of the plan will likely be funded through private and philanthropic dollars raised by the Alamo Endowment, a private nonprofit.

County Stories

KERA - March 18, 2019

How national accreditation helped public health In Tarrant County

Public health departments have put together a voluntary national accreditation system to hold themselves accountable to the public. Formed by former and current members of the health community, the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) describes itself as “a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the continuous quality improvement of tribal, state, local, and territorial public health departments.”

The idea is “to check the performance of your health department against some national standards that are evidence-based and practice-focused,” says Vinny Taneja, director of Tarrant County Public Health, “and to bring standardization to public health so you can be assured they are providing the highest level of care.”

Taneja said the accreditation process pointed out the agency’s strengths, but also its weaknesses. Some needed simple fixes such as addiing a two-handled handset to a language line to better translate information for WIC applicants who don’t speak English. Others required more effort through partnerships, such as addressing a food desert by changing ordinances to allow push cart vendors and mobile vendors sell fresh produce in neighborhoods that had no grocery stores.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

Second measles case confirmed in Collin County after the contagious person visited Kroger in Prosper

A second measles case has been reported in Collin County, where the contagious person visited a grocery store, health officials said Monday. The contagious person spent a "limited amount of time" between 9 and 10 a.m. Friday at a Kroger on North Preston Road in Prosper, Collin County Health Care Services said.

The person did not report going to any other public locations, and the health department said it is working to contact people at private locations. It is unclear whether an effort was made to contact other Kroger customers. A Kroger spokeswoman said that the company is aware of the case but that she had no further information to share.

The other Collin County case involved an adult who had traveled internationally. The case is the third in North Texas this year — the first was in Denton County — and the 12th confirmed statewide, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2019

Houston supermarkets losing more jobs than any sector

Houston has been adding jobs at a frenetic pace over the last few years, but payrolls of the city’s supermarkets are steadily shrinking. Every major industry in Houston gained jobs in 2018 — more than 73,000 in total — except retail, which lost nearly 6,000 jobs, making it the worst-performing sector in the Houston economy last year.

Supermarkets accounted for a third of the job losses, the only time the city encountered negative retail job growth in a non-recession year, according to the data from the Texas Workforce Commission. The job losses at supermarkets continued a downward trend that began in December 2016, when the region’s grocers employed more than 58,000 people in Greater Houston. That number is now down 5 percent to 55,000 workers, according to the most recent figures from the Workforce Commission.

Labor Department data show that the number of workers at grocery stores nationally has remained flat for about three years, showing near zero employment growth. While the bulk of the job losses were tied to grocery stores, the rest of the lost retail jobs were scattered among clothing, hobby, furniture, sporting goods and other retail types. A big contributor to retail job losses in Houston was the closing of outlets of several national retailers last year, including Brookstone, Mattress Firm, Payless, Sears, Teavana and Toys R Us.

Houston Chronicle - March 16, 2019

Hillary Clinton to headline Democratic Party fundraiser in Houston

Former first lady and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will headline a fundraising lunch for the Harris County Democratic Party in May.

Clinton, who lost the presidential campaign in 2016 to President Donald Trump, will speak as part of the annual JJR fundraiser for the Harris County Democratic Party. The JJR dinner is named for former President Lyndon Johnson, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan and Governor Ann Richards. The event will be May 24 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Individual tickets go on sale April 24.

It is not the first time Clinton has been part of the event. Last year, Clinton called in and was on the speaker phone lauding the work of Harris County Democrats. While Clinton lost Texas in 2016, she carried Harris County with 160,000 more votes than President Barack Obama had won four years earlier in 2012. In 2018, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the keynote at the dinner.

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

To Deer Park residents, fire a reminder of 'like living on a fault line'

Jodie Thompson pulled over on Independence Parkway, less than a mile away from a petrochemical plant that was leaking plumes of black smoke into the sky. In her 34 years living in Deer Park, she'd seen flares before. But this was different.

The fire had raged at Intercontinental Terminals Company for more than 26 hours by the early afternoon and spread to eight holding tanks. Even after a shelter-in-place was lifted Monday morning, the fire was still expected to burn for two more days. The ordeal, in some ways, was part of life in Deer Park, an east Harris County city of more than 33,000 people. Residents said they were familiar with the risks that come with living by the refineries and chemical plants. At a certain point, you have to stop worrying, they said.

On Facebook, people responded to official updates with more questions. They wanted to know more about what exactly was happening and what the risks were to their health. Would the city of Deer Park be evacuated? Was it possible the plant would explode? The shelter-in-place had been in Deer Park, but what about people in the close-by city of Pasadena? And in La Porte? Some people wrote of alarm sirens that should have gone off but haven't worked for some time. Even with the shelter-in-place lifted, looking up at the sky, it was hard for many to believe air quality was fine. Some wrote of symptoms they were experiencing.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

Dallas family sues Atmos Energy for more than $1 million after gas explosion forced them to 'start over again'

David Lemus awoke early Feb. 21, 2018, as his home crumbled on top of him. His father, also named David Lemus, had gotten out of bed a few minutes earlier, woken by a popping sound. The 49-year-old man traced the noise to the HVAC unit in the attic, where he noticed the pilot light was out and the HVAC cover was on the floor. When he went to replace it, a fiery blast threw him backward, leaving him with burns on his face that took six months to heal. His home was destroyed, but he and his family escaped with their lives.

Now the Lemus family is suing Atmos, the natural-gas company they blame for the gas explosion that seriously injured the elder David Lemus and uprooted the family from the home where they had lived for 12 years. In their lawsuit filed last month in Dallas County, the family is seeking more than $1 million. Atmos declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying only that the company is continuing to work with the National Transportation Safety Board and the company’s safety regulators during the ongoing investigation.

In the weeks before the explosion, 20-year-old David Lemus said the family had filed multiple complaints with Atmos, reporting they smelled gas. Each time, someone from the company came to check the gas lines and said there was no problem, he said. But the last time before the explosion, Lemus said a worker told him simply to tape up a crack in the pipe.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

Trial date set for Amber Guyger in Botham Jean murder case

Former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger had a court date Monday but the only movement in the case happened outside the courtroom. Her murder trial was set Monday for Aug. 12 -- less than a year since Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment. She was off-duty but still in uniform when she shot Jean once in the chest.

Guyger told law enforcement she confused Jean's apartment with her own and thought he was a burglar. She said his door was unlocked and ajar, though Jean's family has questioned that account. Murder cases in Dallas County usually take more than a year to go to trial. It's also common for trials to be delayed.

Also on Monday, Kemp signed a subpoena requested by prosecutors for records related to any cruises Guyger took on Royal Caribbean between Sept. 23 to March 4. Even though nothing happened in the courtroom, Guyger is obligated to appear at the courthouse. That doesn't mean nothing is happening in the case. It just doesn't happen in public.

Austin Business Journal - March 15, 2019

Huge Cedar Park development takes shape with potential to rival Domain

A $1.5 billion mixed-use project is envisioned rising in Cedar Park, with the help of city incentives. Cedar Park City Council on March 14 approved a memorandum of understanding for the 155-acre Indigo Ridge project.

Plans for the massive development call for more than 5 million square feet of construction with offices, hotels, residences, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues at a site northwest of the intersection of Sam Bass Road and East Whitestone Boulevard.

Under an incentives deal still being negotiated, the U.S. Tennis Association would place its state headquarters at Indigo Ridge as an anchor tenant. Cedar Park officials hope that will draw athletes and fans, plus their families, from all over the country to the rapidly growing Williamson County suburb. White said it would help Cedar Park compete for office tenants with places such as The Domain in North Austin.

KHOU - March 19, 2019

Mayor Sylvester Turner to implement Prop B for Houston firefighters, warns of layoffs

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday announced he is finally giving Houston firefighters the raise they have been fighting for. Mayor Turner’s plans to implement Proposition B are a huge victory for HFD, but the mayor warns it will come at a huge cost for the City of Houston.

According to Mayor Turner’s plan, firefighters will see their 29-percent raise in their paychecks for the second week of May. Since there was no funding source In place when voters approved the raise last year, the money will come from the city’s fund balance, which is used to balance the city’s budget. This is expected to leave the city with a budget gap of $197 million.

Mayor Turner said he has no choice but to lay off between 400 to 500 firefighters and city employees. These employees will start getting notices in April.

National Stories

Associated Press - March 19, 2019

New Zealand leader vows to 'absolutely deny' mosque gunman a platform

The white supremacist accused of gunning down 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand has dismissed his lawyer and opted to represent himself at trial, prompting the prime minister to declare Tuesday that she would do everything in her power to deny him a platform for his racist views.

"I agree that it is absolutely something that we need to acknowledge, and do what we can to prevent the notoriety that this individual seeks," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. "He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack. Lifting his profile was one of them. And that's something that we can absolutely deny him." Asked if she would like the trial to occur behind closed doors, Ardern demurred, saying that was not her decision to make. "One thing I can assure you — you won't hear me speak his name," she said.

The gunman's desire for infamy was made clear by the fact that he left behind a convoluted 74-page manifesto before Friday's massacre and livestreamed footage of his attack on the Al Noor mosque. The video prompted widespread revulsion and condemnation by lawmakers and members of the public. Facebook said it removed 1.5 million videos of the shootings during the first 24 hours after the massacre. But on Tuesday, Ardern expressed frustration that the video remained available online, four days after the attack.

Associated Press - March 17, 2019

Veterans court may be collateral damage in immigration fight

Three decades ago, Lori Ann Bourgeois was guarding fighter jets at an air base. After her discharge, she fell into drug addiction. She wound up living on the streets and was arrested for possession of methamphetamine.

But on a recent day, the former Air Force Security Police member walked into a Veterans Treatment Court after completing a 90-day residential drug treatment program. Two dozen fellow vets sitting on the courtroom benches applauded. A judge handed Bourgeois a special coin marking the occasion, inscribed with the words “Change Attitude, Change Thinking, Change Behavior.” The program Bourgeois credits for pulling her out of the “black hole” of homelessness is among more than three dozen Oregon specialty courts caught in a standoff between the state and federal government over immigration enforcement.

The Trump administration in 2017 threatened to withhold law enforcement grants from 29 cities, counties or states it viewed as having “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. Today, all those jurisdictions have received or been cleared to get the money, except Oregon, which is battling for the funds in federal court. The Veterans Treatment Court in Eugene and 40 other specialty courts, including mental health and civilian drug programs, risk losing all or part of their budgets, said Michael Schmidt, executive director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, which administers the money.

New York Times - March 19, 2019

Two veterans groups, left and right, join forces against the forever wars

The relationship began in the most Washington way ever: on the set of C-Span. Will Fischer, then the director of government relations for VoteVets, the liberal political action committee, was tapped to face off with Dan Caldwell, the executive director of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America.

It was a continuation of a yearslong and contentious dialogue over veterans issues, including disputes over health care, which candidates care more about matters important to veterans, as well as their dueling views on the nefarious nature of the Republican or Democratic parties. But then the two found an unanticipated policy bridge, and have now gone on to work together to persuade Congress to finally revoke authorizations of military force passed after Sept. 11, 2001, which both believe have been bent and stretched to justify wars far beyond Congress’s intentions nearly two decades ago.

Both groups — who are wolf to the other’s sheepdog on nearly every other policy issue — intend to share a legislative agenda this year that presses for changes to war authorization measures and an end to the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. They plan to more strongly tie their substantial financial and news media support in 2020 to candidates’ views on foreign policy.

Reuters - March 19, 2019

Elon Musk never sought approval for a single Tesla tweet, SEC tells judge

Chief Executive Elon Musk has never sought pre-approval for a single tweet about Tesla Inc since striking a court-approved deal about how to communicate important information about the electric vehicle maker, the top U.S. securities regulator told a judge on Monday.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is doubling down on the government’s demand to find the Tesla CEO in contempt of a previous fraud settlement that required him to have the company pre-approve any tweets that could materially impact the automaker. The ongoing public battle between Tesla’s chief executive and the SEC piles pressure on Musk, the public face of Tesla, who is struggling to make the company profitable after cutting the price of its Model 3 sedan to $35,000.

The SEC said a Feb. 19 tweet that Musk sent to his more than 24 million Twitter followers claiming the electric vehicle-maker would build around 500,000 cars in 2019 was “a blatant violation” of the agreement. The SEC asked Tesla in late February whether any of Musk's tweets had been pre-approved since that policy was adopted, according to the filing in federal court in Manhattan.

NPR - March 19, 2019

Amy Klobuchar runs on a record of accomplishments — including with Republicans

Minnesotans like Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She was reelected in the purple state in 2018 by 24 points, and in January Morning Consult polling found her to be one of the most popular senators in the country.

She's hoping that strong support in her home state — which happens to be in the upper Midwest, neighboring states where Donald Trump carved his path to victory — can translate into support from primary voters looking for someone who can beat President Trump as they choose the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. But on the way, Klobuchar faces some obstacles: her moderate politics (at least, relative to many of her competitors for the nomination) may turn off some Democratic primary voters, as may some of the reports that she has mistreated her staff.

"Every American deserves affordable healthcare, and we have to move to universal health care. So, what I support is moving to universal health care as quickly as possible," she said. "I mean healthcare for everyone... and we may end up [with a single payer system] one day. But what's the fastest way we can expand health care more immediately? I would do cost-sharing and reinsurance. That's a bill that's out there right now to help with premiums."

Washington Post - March 19, 2019

George W. Bush: "May we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength"

Former president George W. Bush, making a rare public appearance on Monday, greeted new U.S. citizens and described immigration as “a blessing and a strength,” a message that sharply contrasts with President Trump’s rhetoric on the issue.

Bush made the remarks at a naturalization ceremony at the Bush Institute in Dallas. More than four dozen immigrants from 22 countries were sworn in during the ceremony, at which former first lady Laura Bush also delivered remarks. “America’s elected representatives have a duty to regulate who comes in and when,” the former president said. “In meeting this responsibility, it helps to remember that America’s immigrant history made us who we are. Amid all the complications of policy, may we never forget that immigration is a blessing and a strength.”

Bush, who left office in 2009, said that he regretted that his administration’s efforts at comprehensive immigration reform “came up short.” He urged policymakers in Washington to “dial down the rhetoric” and work toward modernizing the country’s immigration laws. Bush’s remarks come days after Trump vetoed a congressional resolution disapproving of his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

WMUR - March 19, 2019

In visit to NH, Castro says he believes he'll win primary

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro visited New Hampshire on Monday for the first time since mid-January. As he walked through Portsmouth, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary said he always liked to get out on the street to get a better sense of community issues when he was mayor of San Antonio.

Castro is no longer the only Texan in the race. His return visit to New Hampshire came a day before former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke was expected to arrive for his first campaign swing through the Granite State. When O'Rourke announced his candidacy last week, Castro released a long list of Texas endorsements, including one from a state representative in O'Rourke's hometown of El Paso.

Castro stopped by the business school at the University of New Hampshire, where adjunct instructor Alex Talcott said he believes winning a crowded and competitive New Hampshire primary in 2020 would be all about a candidate's ability to get out the vote. Castro said he's campaigning in all 50 states and hopes to build a slow but steady momentum.