September 27, 2022

Lead Stories

New York Times - September 26, 2022

The megastate G.O.P. rivalry between Abbott and DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida wanted to irritate a set of wealthy, liberal elites when he flew migrants to Martha’s Vineyard from Texas, delivering them a slice of the humanitarian crisis simmering along the nation’s southern border. But Mr. DeSantis’s stunt also annoyed an entirely different group — fellow Republicans in Austin, including some of the allies and aides of Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas. Publicly, Mr. Abbott has not criticized Mr. DeSantis’s migrant flights from his state. “Every state that wants to help, I’m happy for it,” said Dave Carney, Mr. Abbott’s top campaign strategist. But privately, the Florida governor’s gambit stung Mr. Abbott’s team. No one in the Texas governor’s office was given a heads-up that Mr. DeSantis planned to round up migrants in San Antonio, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Abbott had spent months — and millions of state tax dollars — methodically orchestrating a relocation program that, since April, had bused 11,000 migrants to Washington, New York and Chicago. Mr. DeSantis’s adaptation was considerably smaller.

But it immediately put the national spotlight on Mr. DeSantis, garnering headlines and earning him praise from Republicans and condemnation from Democrats. It also led to an investigation by the sheriff in San Antonio and a lawsuit from migrants who said they had been lured onto the planes under false pretenses. Mr. DeSantis grabbed the attention of right-wing America, using Mr. Abbott’s tactic, on Mr. Abbott’s turf, to bigger and more dramatic effect. Mr. DeSantis’s instinct for political theater has helped him quickly turn into Republicans’ leading alternative to former President Donald J. Trump. Even Texas Republicans tell pollsters that they prefer Mr. DeSantis over Mr. Abbott for president in 2024. The two Republican governors have been locked in an increasingly high-stakes contest of one-upmanship, wielding their own unique brands of conservatism and pushing boundaries by using desperate migrants for political gain. In Florida, Mr. DeSantis mused to donors last year about Mr. Abbott’s good political fortune to share 1,254 miles of border with Mexico and complained that he didn’t have the same to use as a backdrop, according to one person familiar with the conversation. For all the bluster, the war between Austin and Tallahassee is decidedly more cold than hot. Yet, the two governors’ policy moves antagonizing the Biden administration and the Democratic Party as a whole have been unfolding as an interstate call and response, with national repercussions.

KXAN - September 26, 2022

Texas governor’s race: Abbott, O’Rourke dig in on issues ahead of 1st debate

Texas has not elected a Democratic governor in 31 years, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke hopes pressing issues such as abortion, education and gun control can help him unseat Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in November. Abbott, however, leads O’Rourke in most pre-election polls and has centered his campaign around illegal immigration, a hot-button issue nationally and especially in Texas. The two candidates, who have not minced words about one another this election cycle, will debate live on KXAN and other Nexstar stations in South Texas Sept. 30 in a showing that could swing the tight race to the favor of one candidate over the other.

Abbott declared Mexican cartels to be terrorist organizations this week and O’Rourke has increased his rhetoric about the number of mass shootings that have occurred in Texas under Abbott’s watch, as both candidates appear to be playing their hits ahead of the debate. But the question now, however, is which issue will play better with Texans? “Greg Abbott feels the wind is at his back when it comes to the border, both with sending migrants to Chicago and New York, and then Ron DeSantis sending them to Martha’s Vineyard, has brought the border debate up into the very top issue for a lot of voters,” NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said. “Republicans are trusted by voters to deal with border and immigration issues by more than a 2 to 1 margin.” Vittert said it appears O’Rourke is trying to mobilize suburban and rural mothers to the polls by harkening on the issue of gun safety at schools during his campaign.

Reuters - September 27, 2022

Rideshare, retailers brace for tough U.S. independent contractor rule

After weeks of lobbying the White House on how gig workers should be treated, the rideshare, delivery and retail industries are bracing for a new rule that is likely to make it easier to classify them as employees, multiple sources say. A proposed rule from the Department of Labor, aimed at defining whether gig workers for companies including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and retailers such as Amazon.com Inc are misidentified as independent contractors, is under review at the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and is expected to be released in coming weeks. While the details of the new rule are not known, the department could model it on legal guidance that says people economically dependent on a company are employees, or go even further to expand the pool of workers who should receive benefits, legal experts said.

Groups representing employers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The National Association of Home Builders, The National Retail Federation and the Associated Builders and Contractors have met with officials at the White House's Office of Management and Budget, according to White House records and sources. Some of the groups have been trying, and failing, to convince the White House that any broad rule would hurt workers who want to remain independent and have flexibility, people familiar with the discussion said. More than one-third of U.S. workers, or nearly 60 million people, performed some sort of freelance work in the past 12 months, a December 2021 survey by freelancing marketplace Upwork showed. Broadly defining independent contractors as employees would also force companies to pay benefits, such as overtime pay and health benefits, that would hurt their bottom line. Employers can save about 30 percent by skipping payroll taxes and unemployment and benefit costs, workers' groups estimate. The meetings at the White House were one-sided, with officials at OIRA letting groups speak and not participating or asking follow-up questions, several employer sources said. They are interpreting that as a sign the Biden administration's mind is made up.

Bloomberg Law - September 27, 2022

Texas AG Ken Paxton ducked subpoena in abortion rights case, according to affidavit

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home with his wife on Monday to avoid being served a subpoena in a legal battle over funding for abortions, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. A process server was attempting to serve Paxton with a subpoena for a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Austin. Several abortion rights organizations are seeking a court order barring state officials from pursuing criminal charges against their employees should they resume funding out-of-state abortions for Texas residents. Lawyers in Paxton’s office representing Texas in the case didn’t immediately respond outside regular business hours to a request for comment. But Paxton responded on Twitter after The Texas Tribune first reported the incident late Monday night. Paxton said reporters are trying “to drum up another controversy” about him, calling it “a ridiculous waste of time.” He also raised reports of conservatives being attacked and how he was concerned for his family’s safety.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, who was tapped to deliver the subpoena, said in the affidavit that he arrived at the Paxton residence in McKinney in Collin County just outside Dallas at 8:28 a.m. on Monday. A woman who identified herself as Angela Paxton answered the door and informed him that her husband was on the phone inside, but was in a “hurry to leave.” Herrera returned to his car outside to wait, and more than an hour later he saw the garage door open and Paxton exiting his home. Herrera walked up the driveway to approach the state’s top attorney, and called his name. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN (sic) back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” he said in the affidavit. Minutes later, Herrera said, Angela Paxton exited the house and climbed inside of a black Chevrolet truck parked in the driveway. She opened the back passenger door before starting the truck and shortly thereafter Paxton himself exited the house and headed for the truck, ignoring Herrera who had begin to call his name. The document states that the process server loudly announced that he was serving Paxton legal documents, and placed them in a visible location on the ground. Both Angela and Ken Paxton remained inside the truck and drove away, leaving the documents behind.

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 27, 2022

Tarrant County sheriff won’t investigate voter fraud claim

The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office will not investigate voter fraud claims made in body camera footage about Democratic County Judge candidate Deborah Peoples, according to a press release Monday evening. Because Peoples is at the center of the claims and Sheriff Bill Waybourn has endorsed candidates on the ballot, the release states that Waybourn believes it would be “inappropriate” for the sheriff’s office to investigate. The statement reads that the sheriff’s office will pass on information to the attorney general’s office. Waybourn has endorsed Republican Tim O’Hare in the race for Tarrant County judge, as well as other Republican candidates on the ballot. Representatives for Waybourn didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The body camera footage was addressed by the Tarrant County GOP last week after it was pushed out by a conservative news website called Gateway Pundit along with a story. The website claims it shows a man experiencing homelessness who was arrested in 2016 for voter fraud and served 10 days in jail being questioned by a Fort Worth police officer. The man in the video, dated January 3, 2020, tells a police officer he was paid by county judge candidate Deborah Peoples to harvest ballots. The Fort Worth Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a records request for the body camera footage. The Tarrant County GOP has been vocal in speaking out about the claim, though party chair Rick Barnes didn’t answer questions about how the party vetted the claims against Peoples. Peoples said last week that the Republicans were “disrespecting voters by leaning on false information from an outlet famous for spreading lies to serve an extreme agenda.”

Texas Newsroom - September 26, 2022

Border sheriffs coalition says 'time will tell' if Abbott’s terrorist designation bears fruit

When Gov. Greg Abbott in early 2021 announced Operation Lone Star, a state-funded, multi-billion-dollar effort to secure the state’s southern border, he warned of the dangers Mexican cartels posed to Texas. “The Operation integrates [Texas Department of Public Safety] with the Texas National Guard and deploys air, ground, marine, and tactical border security assets to high threat areas to deny Mexican Cartels and other smugglers the ability to move drugs and people into Texas,” a statement from his office released that month says. Abbott followed that up the next month by imploring President Biden to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist organizations, an act he said would further aid the federal government in its fight against the criminal enterprises. Nothing came of that request and last week Abbott went on his own, declaring Mexican cartels that produce and traffic fentanyl as terrorist organizations under his official power as governor.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that has led to countless fatal overdoses in recent years, including more than 1,600 deaths from the drug in Texas in 2021. Abbott’s declaration establishes a Mexican Cartel Division within the Texas Fusion Center at the Texas Department of Public Safety, which his office said will conduct “multi-jurisdictional investigations with local law enforcement and other states” When asked by The Texas Newsroom why he didn’t make the designation sooner however, his office only repeated that the Biden administration was doing nothing and cited the statistics from 2021. “Since President Biden refuses to secure the border and protect Americans from this national crisis, Texas is stepping up to stop Mexican drug cartels from targeting innocent Americans with counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl and ‘rainbow fentanyl’ pills,” said press secretary Renae Eze. “Governor Abbott issued 7 orders for DPS to increase their efforts, including establishing a Mexican Cartel Division within the Texas Fusion Center [at DPS], conducting multi-jurisdictional investigations with local law enforcement and other states, and enhancing southbound criminal interdiction operations.”

Houston Chronicle - September 27, 2022

After woman sat in Harris Co. jail booking for 4 days, state found dozens of delays

A defendant who spent four days stuck in the Harris County Jail processing area following her arrest on misdemeanor charges is at the center of a complaint that led state inspectors to finding dozens of other inmates like her who had been held in booking for too long, according to records. Police arrested 34-year-old Helen Sebuka on criminal trespassing and criminal mischief charges — both misdemeanors — on the afternoon of Aug. 13 following a report that she entered a Memorial-area apartment complex lobby, where she did not live, and damaged a potted tree when she refused to leave, court records show. She remained in jail processing for the next 99 hours — more than double the state-mandated maximum of 48 hours, according to a recent Texas Commission on Jail Standards review. “99 hours is ridiculous,” said Curtis Barton, a member of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office who represented Sebuka.

He was unaware of a complaint aimed at Sebuka’s elongated time in jail or that she had been held for so long when she accepted a plea deal — 18 days in the Harris County Jail with six days credit for time served. “That’s the kind of injustice that I would have wanted the court to know about,” Barton said. Sebuka could not be reached for comment. Bail paperwork spanning multiple misdemeanor cases did not contain contact, employment or housing information for her. Officials with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office received the non-compliance notice on Sept. 7 following an inspection of records prompted by the complaint centered around her time in jail. The notice, which requires highlighted the agency’s growing struggle to alleviate the rising jail population, which on Sunday surpassed 10,000 defendants. The jail population, which ticked upward in December and has continued to climb, has consistently recorded 10,000 or more people in the county lockup for most of the past two months, according to county records. The inspection notes violations under new construction, personal hygiene and admission that Sebuka and 63 other defendants, who are identified in the report, were “kept in holding for longer than 48 hours.” The holding area extends to the booking area and holding cells, according to the report.

Dallas Morning News - September 26, 2022

Dallas County Judge Jenkins says he and Gov. Abbott haven’t spoken in over 2 years

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and Gov. Greg Abbott haven’t spoken since the early days of COVID-19, Jenkins said over the weekend, adding the lack of communication negatively impacted the county’s residents in the middle of the pandemic. Jenkins made the comment while speaking at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church on Sunday, where he discussed the importance of voting and stumped for Abbott’s Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke. “It hasn’t always been in emergencies that everything we try to do to keep you safe, we have a governor trying to mess it up,” Jenkins said. “I don’t even have this governor’s phone number. He doesn’t answer his emails. I haven’t talked to him in two years.” A spokesperson for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

But political disagreement hasn’t prevented communication between Abbott and other local elected officials. The governor and Mayor Eric Johnson, a Democrat, appeared side-by-side at a press conference in the wake of last month’s damaging thunderstorms, where Abbott issued an emergency declaration for several counties that were damaged. “I want to say thank you for being here,” Johnson told Abbott during the press conference. “You know, it’s one thing to send your well wishes. It’s another thing to physically be present. I’ve learned that, as mayor, being there is important and I appreciate you always being willing to show up for us at times like this one.” Tristan Hallman, a spokesman for Johnson, said in a statement the mayor “serves in a nonpartisan office, and he takes that role seriously.” “Accordingly, since becoming mayor, he has eschewed partisan political campaigns and has instead committed to working closely and in good faith with officeholders from both political parties to get things done for the City of Dallas.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 26, 2022

KXAS meteorologist David Finfrock says he’s stepping back

David Finfrock, the long-time KXAS/Channel 5 meteorologist who semi-retired in 2018, announced Sunday that the late newscast was his last regularly scheduled weekend shift but he would still fill in for vacations and holidays no more than 20 to 30 days a year. He was the second chief meteorologist for the station in its 75 years on the air. He was hired by the original chief meteorologist, Harold Taft, in 1975 and took over the role when Taft died in 1991. Finfrock stepped back in 2018 when Rick Mitchell became chief meteorologist, but he continued to appear on air about 100 days out of the year.

Fans took to Facebook to comment on Finfrock’s announcement. “Some people just make things feel ‘right with the world and you are one of them,” one woman wrote. “I watched you as a kid, moved all around the world, came back and found you on my familiar NBC5. You are a true Texas legend!” another person posted. Finfrock came to at KXAS after a stint as a field researcher for the Juneau Icefield Research Program in Alaska, according his online bio. It is the only station he has worked at. Finfrock’s bio describes him as an “avid nature conservationist.” He told the Star-Telegram in 2018 that he has gone on archaeological surveys in Mongolia and on Easter Island. He also volunteers at the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks. In September 2020 he was bitten by a rattlesnake while pulling ragweed at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in Cedar Hill.

Texas Newsroom - September 26, 2022

Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion launches website highlighting mental health resources

Megan Thee Stallion is using her rising profile to address mental health issues and provide resources for those who may be experiencing anxiety, depression and other forms of emotional distress. The 27-year-old Houston rapper, in conjunction with her recently released album called "Traumazine," has launched a website that includes a therapist locator as well as a collection of links and phone numbers for mental health organizations and hotlines. The site, taken from a line of her song “Anxiety,” focuses on resources for the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities.

"It's huge," said Nicole Milton, a training manager for Mental Health America of Greater Houston, a nonprofit that also provides awareness, education and resources for mental health issues. "One of our fights is to make sure we're reducing the stigma of mental health and seeking support. So here you have someone who is internationally known saying, ‘Hey, it's OK to not be OK and to ask for help. I also don't have days where I feel my best.’" Megan Thee Stallion, a Pearland High School and Texas Southern University graduate whose real name is Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, addresses her own mental health challenges and the death of both of her parents in "Traumazine," her second studio album. Featured prominently on the new website is an animated video for "Anxiety," which shows a woman who resembles the rapper underwater and falling further below the surface. The chorus for "Anxiety" includes the line, "All I really want to hear is it'll be OK." The mental health website lists resources under four categories: Free Therapy Organizations, Mental Health Hotlines, Resource Directories and LGBTQIA+ Community Resources. Among the organizations and hotlines listed are the Black Mental Health Alliance, the National Crisis Text Line and the LGBT National Youth Talkline.

Washington Post - September 26, 2022

He came out as trans. Then Texas had him investigate parents of trans kids.

The day after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to “conduct a prompt and thorough investigation” of families with transgender children, the first case came up, and Morgan Davis’s name was on it. Davis was one of four investigators on a Travis County unit tasked with reviewing claims of child abuse. Usually, he and his colleagues took cases on a rotation. Davis was next in line. That evening, a Wednesday in late February, his supervisor called and relayed the basic facts. A mandated reporter — by law, any licensed professional who works directly with children — had turned in a family outside of Austin because they’d allowed their teenager to live as a girl. Under the governor’s order, someone had to investigate the family for child abuse.

Davis’s supervisor told him she knew working the case might feel difficult. Nine months earlier, Davis had come out as a transgender man. He was 52, born in a generation when calling yourself “tomboy” felt daring enough, but after five decades, he’d decided he was finally ready to live as himself. On the phone, the supervisor said she was prepared to offer Davis something she never had before. “If you want to recuse yourself,” she said, “you can.” Davis had taken the investigator job because he hoped to advocate for children in a way he felt no one had advocated for him when he was young. Usually, he believed in the department’s mission of removing children from abusive situations. But if he took this case, he thought, he’d be carrying out what many in his department had been calling a political stunt.

Dallas Morning News - September 26, 2022

Southwest Airlines President Mike Van De Ven stepping down at end of 2022

Southwest Airlines’ No. 2 executive is stepping down at the end of the year and giving up his role as president and chief operating officer. Mike Van de Ven, who became president a year ago and helped guide the company through a leadership transition, will take on an advisory role in 2023. A 29-year Southwest veteran, Van de Ven has been at the center of many of the company’s pandemic recovery efforts since last September and even before that as chief operating officer. The company has struggled with uneven operating performance for a year and a half, landing only 73.1% of flights on time in 2022 through July.

“I’ve had the privilege to work in a variety of roles during my tenure at Southwest, but for nearly the last 17 years, I have been focused on supporting our operation,” the 61-year-old Van de Ven said in a memo to employees. “I imagine my feelings about this work have been similar to what many of you feel on any given day: exhilarating, rewarding, incredibly fun … and sometimes exhausting.” Southwest is also in heated labor battles with unions for pilots, customer service workers, flight attendants, dispatchers and others as a staffing crunch has given more power to workers. “Mike has led with heart while playing a critical role in transforming our operational capabilities to enable our growth and prosperity,” CEO Bob Jordan said in a statement. “He, alongside his teams, has laid the foundation to modernize many areas of our complex business and his guidance has kept us moving forward — momentum we can build upon for generations.” Andrew Watterson, who has moved from the company’s network and scheduling leader to chief commercial officer, will take over as chief operating officer this month. Van de Ven’s departure only increases the leadership turnover that started last summer when CEO Gary Kelly announced he was retiring and was replaced by Jordan, who was executive vice president of corporate services at the time. President Tom Nealon announced his retirement shortly after, making way for Van de Ven, who had years of experience running operations.

Dallas Morning News - September 26, 2022

Texas approves social studies tweaks to comply with anti-critical race theory law

Texas educators now have a slight roadmap on how to teach students history lessons that align with the “anti-critical race theory” law signed last year. The State Board of Education approved minor changes Monday that included, for example, expanding on students’ skills so they can discern credible information. Doing so will allow them to “evaluate a variety of historical and contemporary sources for validity, credibility, bias and accuracy” and ways to “use voting as a method for group decision making,” according to state outlines. The tweaks were an incremental step in Texas’ rewrite of state social studies standards that’s been derailed by political fighting. The minor adjustments were needed now to help schools comply with the new law that was touted as a tougher ban on critical race theory, though it was filled with vague language and did not use those three words.

Because of that, misunderstandings about what is critical race theory, often referred to as CRT, dotted Monday’s meeting. “People have talked about critical race theory without understanding what it is,” board member Rebecca Bell-Metereau, D-San Marcos, said. “The definition has become that this is teaching children to not like each other on the basis of race, which is not a correct definition of critical race theory.” One speaker, for example, decried CRT to the board members, saying it has to do with getting rid of Abraham Lincoln. Chair Keven Ellis, R-Lufkin, said the changes are intended to give students a better understanding of civics. “We’re working right now mainly on skills – specific skills – how to balance things, fact and opinion, that sort of stuff,” member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said. Those skills include how to actively listen and engage in civil discourse, including discourse with those who have different viewpoints. Texas Education Agency staff presented an outline to state board members showing how existing lessons factor into the new law’s rules and making minor tweaks to standards. Democratic board members unsuccessfully tried to include amendments Monday that would have added more women and diverse historical figures into the revised state standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

Dallas Morning News - September 26, 2022

Former DEA agent used drug cartel intimidation tactics against witnesses, prosecutors say

As a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Alan Steuart knew the fear and apprehension that haunts government witnesses in big drug trafficking cases. He also knew the government lined up witnesses to spill all against his former stepson, a Dallas businessman accused of leading a large marijuana growing and trafficking conspiracy. What Steuart did with that knowledge shocked veteran lawyers practicing in federal court. Steuart, 65, set about tracking down the witnesses and in the process publicly exposed them in an area known for Mexican drug cartel activity and related violence, court records show. The veteran private investigator flew to a small Northern California city in October 2021 and hung posters in public areas near where the witnesses and their families lived and worked, asking for information about “DEA informants.”

The flyers included the witnesses’ names and photographs taken from their driver’s licenses. He got the information from evidence the government turned over to defense attorneys for his stepson, Justin Magnuson. Steuart, who resigned from the DEA more than two decades ago under vague circumstances, was sentenced in July to a year in federal prison for obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty in March and faced up to a decade in prison. Prosecutors dropped a witness tampering count, and Steuart agreed to relinquish his private investigation and security license as part of the deal. Defense lawyers portrayed Steuart’s actions as typical vetting of government witnesses in a criminal case. “He was obviously acting as the investigator for his stepson,” his attorney, Ronald Goranson, said in court. “And the defense has a right to investigate who the witnesses are.”

KXAN - September 26, 2022

Former GOP candidate endorses Democrat in Texas railroad commissioner race

The Democrat running to unseat the Republican chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas announced an endorsement Monday from the incumbent’s former primary challenger. Sarah Stogner, the oil and gas attorney who lost a GOP runoff in May to incumbent Wayne Christian, said she’s now supporting Luke Warford, a former staffer for the Texas Democratic Party, in the race for railroad commissioner. Stogner gained attention during the Republican primary after releasing a campaign ad showing her riding a pump-jack while semi-nude. A video posted on social media sharing the endorsement news ended with Warford about to climb onto the equipment.

In a statement shared by Warford’s campaign Monday, Stogner said, “I’m a lifelong Republican, but Wayne Christian has done such a poor job that I’m crossing the aisle to support Democrat Luke Warford for Railroad Commission.” She described Warford as someone who “isn’t your typical Democrat,” while she called Christian a “criminal, full stop.” Christian’s campaign released a statement Monday afternoon criticizing Stogner for crossing party lines to endorse the Republican’s general election opponent. “For months, Sarah Stogner lied to voters about her party affiliation and political beliefs,” Christian’s campaign said. “Now that Republicans have rejected her radical agenda, it is no surprise she would go back to her original team and support her party’s nominee.” The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Despite the name, it does not indeed regulate railroads in Texas.

Houston Chronicle - September 27, 2022

Harris County's tax rate fight and $2B budget could stay fresh on voters' minds in November

The law of unintended consequences could prove plenty consequential for Harris County leaders up for reelection this year. A procedural move to shift the beginning of the county’s fiscal year from March to October to better align the budget and setting of the county’s property tax rate has put the two issues in voters’ minds just weeks before they head to the polls for county elections. That the $2 billion budget could loom larger in elections has not been lost on incumbents or their challengers, as both sides attempt to use it and a pending vote on the tax rate to attack their opponents. The Republicans on the court have put Democrats on defense against accusations of defunding the police, a political strategy that has been difficult for Democrats around the country to maneuver around, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston.

"This is orchestrated but effective political theater," Rottinghaus said the two Republicans’ decision to skip a Commissioners Court meeting two weeks ago, which forced the Democrats to adopt a lower budget than they had planned. "Democrats are fighting Cagle and Ramsey on the specifics, but they're fighting perception more broadly." The tax and budget showdown is unfolding as the balance of the court is at stake – all three incumbents up for re-election this year are navigating competitive races. Hidalgo faces Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer. Cagle is running against opponent Lesley Briones in a precinct redrawn to favor Democrats. Garcia is in a rematch with Jack Morman, the former commissioner he beat four years ago. The result could be a 4-1 Democratic powerhouse, the same 3-2 divide or a surprise shift back to a Republican-dominated court. Commissioners Court will consider the property tax rate again Tuesday in what could be an ongoing battle of wills if Republicans Tom Ramsey of Precinct 3 and Jack Cagle of Precinct 4 decide to skip meetings until the deadline for approving a tax rate passes at the end of October. State law requires four members of the court be present to set the property tax rate. By skipping the Sept. 13 meeting, Ramsey and Cagle compelled Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis to adopt a budget based on what is known as the no new revenue rate, a levy that brings in the same amount of tax revenue as last year from existing property, along with an additional $44.7 million from property added to the tax rolls this year.

Houston Chronicle - September 27, 2022

Brian Smith: Sorry, Texans. Fall belongs to Astros in Houston.

The Texans’ season is already over, and it is time to tank. You said that, not me. Which quarterback are the Texans selecting in the next draft: C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young? Those were your mean (but honest and fair) tweets, not mine, after Chicago won 23-20 on Sunday, despite Bears QB Justin Fields completing just eight passes for 107 yards and throwing two interceptions. How do you lose that game? The Texans go out of their way to find a way to lose that game. It’s getting dark early for the 2022 version of the Kirby Drive Rebuild. Nick Caserio’s current roster is 0-2-1 and good at only one thing through three maddening games: completely disappearing in the fourth quarter.

So I will say this in late September, with a winnable home game against the Chargers up next on the schedule — Los Angeles star QB Justin Herbert and his entire team are hurting, remember — and the big, bad Jacksonville Jaguars standing tall as the elite of the AFC South. Sorry, Texans. But in Week 4, it’s already time for 24/7 Astros in Houston. The best team in the American League. Serious world championship contenders. Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Framber Valdez, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers Jr., Jeremy Peña and Co. You know: a Houston team that actually wins games, keeps winning more games, makes its big city proud daily, and unites all of us in honor of the greater good. While the Texans were busy remaining winless and Davis Mills kept insisting on throwing the ball to Rex Burkhead, Houston’s MLB team won its 100th game of the 2022 campaign, then celebrated that near-annual accomplishment by capturing victory No. 101 in 11 innings Sunday on the road against a good Baltimore team.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 26, 2022

Mac Engel: DFW radio market adding a “Freak,” and legend Mike Rhyner

DFW will soon return to its previous status as a three sports-talk station region. The man who brought us the first will soon bring us the third. Mike Rhyner, the man is given the credit for helping start the popular Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket, is coming out of retirement to lend his talents to 97.1 The Freak. “I can neither confirm nor deny this,” Rhyner wrote via text. Rhyner, sometimes known as The Old Grey Wolf, retired from The Ticket in Jan. of 2020. He’s still been active on social media, and with his local band, “Petty Theft.” Multiple sources confirmed that 97.1 The Eagle is planning to change its name to The Freak, and flip its format to sports talk. That will give us 1310 The Ticket, 105.3 The Fan, and 97.1 The Freak.

Long time DFW sports reporter Richie Whitt first reported this on SI.com. It sounds as if The Freak will be a Ticket 2.0, as many of the personalities that were established on 1310 are expected to join Rhyner. 97.1 The Eagle is the current home of the popular long-time local sports radio personalities Ben Rogers and Jeff “Skin” Wade, “The Ben and Skin Show,” which airs in the afternoons. “Ben and Skin” previously hosted its show on 105.3 The Fan before leaving for The Eagle. Wade is also a long time member of the Dallas Mavericks television broadcast team. In September of last year, the Mavericks announced it would end its 20-year relationship with 103.3 ESPN and have its games broadcast on 97.1. As far as the lineup at The Freak, expect people you have heard before at other stations in town. Sources said former 105.3 The Fan personality Jeff Cavanaugh is in the mix to join The Freak, as are former Ticket personalities Julie Dobbs and Mike Sirois. Ex-Ticket personality Danny Balis, who left the station in May, is another name on the table for The Freak.

Dallas Morning News - September 27, 2022

Texas fights to keep law banning young adults from carrying handguns in public

The state is fighting to uphold a law that bars many young adults from carrying handguns in public. Last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety appealed a decision by a federal judge that declared the law unconstitutional. The ongoing legal battle could test the limits of a new U.S. Supreme Court decision that says people have a right to carry firearms publicly for self defense. And it comes as Texas legislators face pressure to tighten gun laws following the Uvalde school shooting, including some calls to raise the purchase age for long guns. Right now, Texas law prohibits most 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns in public unless they’re in the military or have a protective order.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, a California-based gun rights group, challenged the state law last year on behalf of two Texans from Fannin and Parker counties. District Judge Mark Pittman sided with the group in August, determining the age-based restriction violates the Second Amendment. “The plain text of the Second Amendment, as informed by Founding-Era history and tradition, covers the proposed course of conduct and permits law-abiding 18-to-20-year-olds to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” he wrote. In appealing the decision, the state did not offer any arguments. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which is representing the Department of Public Safety, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for DPS said the agency “does not discuss pending litigation.” Texas lawmakers have steadily loosened gun laws in recent years, most notably doing away with the need to have a license and training to carry a handgun in public.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 26, 2022

Fort Worth dad dies after COVID illness as pandemic continues

Every Saturday afternoon, Devra and Joe Woodfin would go out to lunch together. The location changed. Sometimes they would get Vietnamese food, so Joe could get pho, his favorite dish. The couple didn’t do a date night, Devra said. Instead, they had their Saturday lunches. Usually, they talked about their future together, and their kids’ futures. As time passed, the conversations changed. When Devra was pregnant, they talked about their children. Lately, they had talked about retirement, and buying some land. They talked about the next decade of their lives together — their 40s — and what it would hold. But on Saturday, Devra and her children spent the afternoon at Joe’s funeral. Joe, 40, died Sept. 14, 11 days after he tested positive for COVID-19, Devra said.

Joe leaves behind his wife and their four children, who range in age from 6 to 16. A plumber by trade, Joe was constantly working, his wife said. “He sacrificed so many things for himself,” Devra said. “I don’t even think he had a good pair of jeans, because the kids always come first.” Woodfin is one of thousands of American parents and caregivers who have died after a COVID-19 infection. Researchers with Imperial College London estimate that more than 211,00 children in America have lost one or both parents to COVID-associated death throughout the pandemic. At The WARM Place, a Fort Worth-based grief support nonprofit, at least 130 families have reached out for peer support after a COVID-related loss, according to the group’s executive director, Shelley Bettis. More than two years into the pandemic, the rate of new COVID infections has slowed and hospitals aren’t as full as they were during previous surges of the virus. But COVID-19 remains a leading cause of death in the U.S. Throughout summer 2022, an average of 428 people died from COVID-19 each day, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Texas, an average of 22 people died daily between June 21 and Sept. 22, according to CDC data.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 26, 2022

Fort Worth to vote on budget adding cops and raising taxes

The Fort Worth City Council will vote Tuesday on a proposed $2.3 billion budget that increases taxes and provides more funding for public safety, street maintenance and more workers in the development services department. The city is proposing a 2-cent decrease in the property tax rate, but the average homeowner will pay 10.13% more in property taxes, according to city estimates because of increased property values. The median home price in Fort Worth jumped 25.5% in 2022, according to the Greater Fort Worth Association of Realtors. All but District 4 council member Alan Blaylock have voiced support for the 71.25 cents per $100 of value tax rate, arguing it helps the city address the impacts of its explosive growth. Blaylock, however, made it a centerpiece of his campaign to only vote for the “no-new-revenue” tax rate, which would generate the same revenue in 2023 from properties that were on the tax rolls in 2022.

The budget adds funding for 47 new police officers and 20 civilian employees in the department. City manager David Cooke said in August his three priorities with this budget were improving public safety, growth, and cleanliness. The budget includes a $1 increase on the environmental fee on monthly water bills. This money will be used to purchase 10 street sweepers and increase the number of litter crews. The city is also adding $3.08 million to the Transportation and Public Works Department budget to improve street light replacement. Right now, it takes Fort Worth’s 60 days to replace a burned out street light. The city wants to cut that time in half by adding three repair crews and increasing the amount of money it spends on outside contractors for repairs. The city is also adding 57 positions to its development services department, which it says will improve the department’s ability to process building permits and get new housing and commercial projects off the ground. The council will vote on the budget and tax rate at 10 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

San Antonio Express-News - September 27, 2022

‘Resign IMMEDIATELY’: Twitter erupts as S.A. politicians react to Mario Bravo, Ana Sandoval incident

People shared reactions on social media throughout the weekend to District 1 City Councilman Mario Bravo’s recent verbal tirade against District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, which led to his suspension Friday from his council committee assignments. An independent investigation has been launched into the incident, and Bravo has issued written apologies for what happened. Bravo lit into Sandoval, his former romantic partner, before the start of the Sept. 15 City Council meeting because she ultimately declined to support his plan to devote most of a $75 million CPS Energy surplus to weatherization, resiliency centers and an expansion of the city’s tree canopy. He said her vote illustrated why they broke up and why he didn’t want to have children with her, leaving Sandoval in tears.

“She put the knives in my back!” Bravo shouted at one point, according to an account given by one eyewitness. Reaction on social media was swift and pointed. “Glad the mayor has removed Bravo from all committees,” San Antonio civil rights and political activist Rosie Castro posted on Twitter. “Signed the petition last night to have him resign. What an immature abusive childish response to losing on a vote. Que Mal educado.” Castro is the mother of Congressman Joaquin Castro and former San Antonio mayor and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro. U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican from San Antonio, also weighed in. “Councilman Bravo needs to resign IMMEDIATELY,” Gonzales posted on Twitter. “His behavior crossed the line and a half hearted I’m sorry email won’t fix it.” Another tweeter countered that Bravo’s behavior didn’t rise to the level of abuse. “No, telling someone they’re essentially a sellout snake to their purported values and that’s why you don’t like them anymore is not abuse,” Julio Valle posted on Twitter in response to Rosie Castro’s comments. “It’s unprofessional for sure. But Sandoval wants to be mayor and is typical rubberstamp, neoliberal handouts to big biz politician.” District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez also shared his reaction on Twitter without using Bravo’s or Sandoval’s names. “I’m committed to being an ally, and that means showing up in the way that I’m needed,” McKee-Rodriguez wrote. “There is very real pain caused by harmful behavior and that is more important to me than proving how superior one’s politics might be to another’s.”

KUT - September 26, 2022

Years ago, Austin set affordable housing goals. The city is far from accomplishing them.

Austin is nowhere near achieving goals it set to build thousands of homes affordable to people earning low incomes, according to a new report. In 2017, Austin adopted its first-ever housing plan, which included a set of aggressive targets: build 135,000 new housing units over the next decade, with about half of these affordable for families earning roughly $60,000 a year. This includes both income-restricted housing, which is often built and managed by nonprofits and public agencies, and market-rate homes. These homes should be built throughout the city, council members and staff agreed, particularly in West Austin where little new development occurs — especially the development of housing people with low incomes can afford.

Five years after the plan was adopted, that is not happening. According to a report published by the City of Austin and the nonprofit HousingWorks Austin, builders have created roughly 8,000 affordable homes, less than a quarter of the city’s overall goal. “It’s going to take a massive amount of building to catch up,” Nora Linares-Moeller, executive director of HousingWorks Austin, said. One goal the city is on track to meet, however, is its goal of building middle-income housing, or housing people earning at or above the median income can afford. (This year, the median income for a family of four in Travis County hit $110,300.) While builders are starting a lot of new homes in the Austin area, a large demand for housing has kept prices high. Without government intervention, many of these new homes will not be affordable to people earning low incomes. Austin is also failing to encourage developers to build affordable housing in parts of the city that historically haven’t had it. When council members approved this plan years ago, they said Districts 6, 8 and 10 should carry the burden of new affordable housing; residents in these districts, which lie mostly west of MoPac, have some of the highest incomes in the city.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 27, 2022

Grapevine-Colleyville school trustees spar over ethics concerns

Longtime Grapevine-Colleyville schools trustee Becky St. John said she was the target of a witch hunt after facing accusations that she cursed at another board member and publicly criticized a district policy after she questioned why she did not get an explanation on why she was listed on Monday’s meeting agenda. St. John asked board president Casey Ford to explain why she was listed as a topic of discussion during executive session, and asked that the discussion take place in public rather than behind closed doors. “Obviously, I don’t know why this item was on the agenda,” St. John said. “I was trying to be respectful to you behind closed doors where we could speak as a legal body,” Ford said.

St. John asked whether the accusations against her discussed in executive session met legal requirements and wanted advice from the district’s attorney. Trustees then went behind closed doors. When they reconvened, St. John asked for the discussion to be held in public. Ford said that he didn’t like airing another person’s dirty laundry, but said that St. John cursed at another board member during a recent meeting and criticized a school district policy. Ford explained that St. John and the other trustees signed an ethics pledge. St. John denied calling board member Kathy Spradley a name, saying she did not see any evidence of that in the many videos that were emailed to her over the weekend. Ford said St. John called another trustee the “B” word followed by the “F” word, which violates the board’s ethics standards. “OK, we are now acting like our middle schoolers,” St. John said. St. John denied the accusation, but Spradley said she saw St. John mouth the words. “The email accusations are patently false. I did not call Kathy anything,” she said. Ford also said St. John called a district policy “trash” but St. John said she was referring to a policy from April and said it required more than 40 pages of legal interpretation.

Texas Public Radio - September 27, 2022

SA City council meetings will consider airport parking issues and financial aid for local artists

The San Antonio City Council this week will discuss parking issues at the international airport and federal COVID relief dollars for struggling artists. The council first takes up airport parking at its first meeting of the week on Wednesday. In an effort to better optimize the airport's 9,000 short-term, long-term, and economy parking capacities, outside contractors are expected to be brought in to take over parking management. City officials said it has become standard practice for medium and large hub airports across the country to privatize parking operations. The city said it expects the chosen contractors to offer continued employment to the 61 city workers who oversee parking matters at the airport with similar pay levels and benefits.

City officials said air travel has made a strong recovery since the beginning of the pandemic. The short-term parking garage has reached capacity close to 60 times this year, and the economy lots reached capacity twice this spring, something that normally occurs only during the peak travel periods around Christmas and Thanksgiving. The council during its Thursday meeting will consider approving a list of local artists and arts organizations it deems eligible to receive federal COVID-19 funds. If approved by the council, 136 individual artists would share $1 million in recovery funds, while 46 non-profit organizations will divide $5 million among themselves. The city council has also allocated $5 million from the American Rescue Plan to help the arts get back to work. City officials said nearly one out of every five local professional artists have lost their jobs during the pandemic. In other recent business, the city has announced plans to place solar panels at 80 city-owned facilities to directly generate renewable energy back into them. City officials also said they seek qualified solar developers for the next couple of months that will later install panels on rooftops and parking facilities at city buildings across the city. The buildings selected were chosen for their technical feasibility and likely cost-effectiveness, including police and fire facilities, some libraries and community centers, the City Tower, the Alamodome, the airport and Market Square. City officials said solar power is a good energy option since San Antonio sees around 250 sunny days a year.

National Stories

CNBC - September 27, 2022

Nord Stream pipelines hit by suspicious leaks in possible sabotage; Russia says it has ‘a right’ to use nuclear weapons

Tuesday is the final day of voting in a series of referendums on joining Russia. The votes, widely seen as rigged and illegitimate, are likely to pave the way for Russia to announce it has annexed more of Ukraine by the end of the week, analysts say. The votes have been taking place in two pro-Russian, self-proclaimed “republics” in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and southern occupied regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

There have been multiple reports of votes being staged and coercion and aggression being used to force people living in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to vote in favor of joining Russia. Electoral officials have gone door to door with portable ballot boxes from last Friday until yesterday. Polling stations will only open today, Tuesday, with officials citing security reasons. In other news, Russia has again insisted it has a “right” to use nuclear weapons if its territory is threatened, and several suspicious leaks have hit the Nord Stream pipelines, with experts not ruling out sabotage.

HuffPost - September 27, 2022

'Shoot to kill': Trump ally Roger Stone calls For violence In chilling video

Roger Stone, a longtime ally of Donald Trump, told a documentary crew a day before the 2020 election that he was ready for violence. “Fuck the voting, let’s get right to the violence,” he’s heard saying in footage obtained by CNN from filmmakers Christoffer Guldbrandsen and Frederik Marbell. “Shoot to kill. See an antifa? Shoot to kill. F*** ’em. Done with this bullsh**.” Clips from the documentary, “A Storm Foretold,” are expected to be featured during this week’s hearing by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol carried out by Trump supporters. The film is set for release later this year.

The Washington Post said Stone followed up his call to violence with an “only kidding.” “We renounce violence completely,” he said. “We totally renounce violence. The left is the only ones who engage in violence.” The filmmakers told CNN’s Don Lemon they found Stone’s backtracking insincere and said it was done with “more of a wink and a nod.” Stone claimed to CNN that the footage had been “manipulated and selectively edited.” Stone was been sentenced to 40 months in prison in 2020 for multiple felonies, including witness tampering, lying to Congress and obstruction, but was pardoned by Trump in December 2020.

Texas Newsroom - September 26, 2022

Jan. 6 was just the beginning for the Proud Boys

Judged by most conventional metrics of political success, the Proud Boys — the far-right street gang whose yellow-and-black-clad members became fixtures of MAGA rallies during the Trump years — have been a colossal failure. Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, many of the group’s leaders are either in jail or facing federal charges for seditious conspiracy. Sporadic attempts by rank-and-file members to run for public office have mostly come to naught. At least one major U.S. ally — Canada — has officially designated the group as a terrorist entity, along with Al Qaeda and Boko Haram. But to evaluate the Proud Boys using these more traditional standards is to miss the subtler — yet more consequential — ways that the group has transformed the tenor and tone of American politics, argues Huffington Post senior editor and veteran extremism reporter Andy Campbell in his new book, “We are Proud Boys: How a Right-Wing Street Gang Ushered in a New Era of American Extremism.

Campbell, who has covered the Proud Boys since their formation in the early Trump years, instead judges the Proud Boys by the standards that they use to judge themselves — namely, their ability to convince the mainstream of the Republican Party that violence is, sometimes, the answer. By that metric, Campbell writes, the Proud Boys have been “the most successful extremist group in the digital age.” The success of the Proud Boys’ effort to normalize political violence is perhaps most evident in the Republican National Committee’s decision to classify the violence of Jan. 6 as “legitimate political discourse.” But it is also apparent in the near-constant threat of violent clashes that hangs over practically every political protest or rally that draws national media attention.

Associated Press - September 27, 2022

Vulnerable Tampa Bay braces for storm not seen in a century

It’s been more than a century since a major storm like Hurricane Ian has struck the Tampa Bay area, which blossomed from a few hundred thousand people in 1921 to more than 3 million today. Many of these people live in low-lying neighborhoods that are highly susceptible to storm surge and flooding they have rarely before experienced, which some experts say could be worsened by the effects of climate change. The problem confronting the region is that storms approaching from the south, as Hurricane Ian is on track to do, bulldoze huge volumes of water up into shallow Tampa Bay and are likely to inundate homes and businesses. The adjacent Gulf of Mexico is also shallow.

“Strong persistent winds will push a lot of water into the bay and there’s nowhere for it to go, so it just builds up,” said Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science. “Tampa Bay is very surge-prone because of its orientation.” The National Hurricane Center is predicting storm surge in Tampa Bay and surrounding waters of between 5 and 10 feet (1.5 and 3 meters) above normal tide conditions and rainfall of between 10 and 15 inches (12 and 25 centimeters) because of Hurricane Ian. “That’s a lot of rain. That’s not going to drain out quickly,” said Cathie Perkins, emergency management director in Pinellas County, where St. Petersburg and Clearwater are located. “This is no joke. This is life-threatening storm surge.” Officials in the area began issuing evacuation orders Monday for a wide swath of Tampa, with the St. Petersburg area soon to follow. The evacuations could affect 300,000 people or more in Hillsborough County alone. Gov. Ron DeSantis took note of the region’s vulnerability in a Monday afternoon news conference in Largo, Florida. “Clearly, when you look at the Tampa Bay area, one of the reasons why we fear storms is because of the sensitivity of this area and the fragility of this area,” DeSantis said. The last time Tampa Bay was hit by a major storm was Oct. 25, 1921. The hurricane had no official name but is known locally as the Tarpon Springs storm, for the seaside town famed for its sponge-diving docks and Greek heritage where it came ashore.

Politico - September 27, 2022

Freedom Caucus poised to pull its hardest McCarthy punch

As the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus plots how to exert its influence on next year’s likely GOP majority, its members are poised to holster a potent political weapon: Challenging Kevin McCarthy. With the California Republican still the uncontested frontrunner for speaker next year, his biggest potential threat — aside from a November collapse that leaves him with a threadbare majority — is a Freedom Caucus-backed rival. But interviews with more than a dozen members of the conservative group indicate they’re not moving to coalesce against the GOP leader as they have in the past. In short, the Freedom Caucus that blocked McCarthy’s path to the gavel seven years ago has evolved into a bloc that’s willing to use its leverage to secure procedural demands, but not to blow up the race for speaker.

“I hope … we’re not going to mount a challenge,” Freedom Caucus member Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) said in an interview. “This is the most organized we’ve ever been. So why would we change it?” The group does plan to push for modifications that would empower them in a future Republican majority, including the power to force a speaker eviction vote — what’s known as the “motion to vacate the chair.” And there’s still time to change their minds on a direct McCarthy challenge. Even so, should a Freedom Caucus lawmaker jump into the speaker race, some say the roughly 35-member group isn’t expected to rally behind whoever emerges — underscoring McCarthy’s strength within the conference. One big reason for the shift is that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), perhaps the group’s most powerful figure, is now among McCarthy’s closest allies. Once a rival who harnessed his sway with the conference’s right flank to challenge the Californian for minority leader in 2018, now Jordan is quick to say he’s excited for a McCarthy speakership.

Side Effects Public Media - September 26, 2022

Telemedicine abortions just got more complicated for health providers

Allison Case, a family medicine physician, spends much of her time working in a hospital where she delivers babies and provides reproductive health care services, including abortions. Case lives and works in Indiana, where a ban on most abortions took effect for a week in late September until a judge temporarily halted the ban — a stay the state is certain to appeal. Case is also licensed to practice in New Mexico, a state where abortion remains legal. Before Indiana's abortion ban took effect, Case would use her days off to provide reproductive health services, including abortion care, via telemedicine through a clinic that serves patients in New Mexico. Many of them travel from neighboring Texas, where abortion is banned.

Some travel solo, she says, and others have their children with them. "Some people are [staying in] hotels, others might have family or friends they can stay with, some are just sleeping in their cars," Case says. "It's really awful." In the U.S., more than a dozen states severely restrict access to abortion, and almost as many have such laws in the works. Across the country, since Roe v. Wade was overturned, clinics that do provide abortions have seen an increase in demand. Many clinics rely on help from physicians out of state, like Case, who are able to alleviate some of the pressure and keep wait times down by providing services via telemedicine. But as more states move to restrict abortion, these providers are finding themselves navigating an increasingly complicated legal landscape.

Associated Press - September 27, 2022

Biden’s student debt plan will cost $400 billion, Congressional Budget Office estimates

President Joe Biden’s plan for student debt cancellation will cost the federal government about $400 billion over the next 30 years, according to new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. The figures were released Monday in response to a request from Republican lawmakers who oppose Biden’s plan in large part because of its costs. They were quick to cite the estimates as evidence that the plan will “bury” taxpayers, passing along the costs to huge numbers of Americans who never went to college. The Biden administration previously estimated the plan would cost about $24 billion a year over the next 10 years — about $240 billion for the decade — while other estimates put the total cost at $500 billion or more over the decade. On Monday, the White House noted that the CBO’s estimated cost in the first year — $21 billion — is actually lower than the administration’s early estimate of $24 billion.

To reach the CBO’s $400 billion figure, officials looked at the immediate cost of cancellation along with the longer-term impact, including lower monthly repayments that would have been higher if not for the cancellation. The office separately estimated that Biden’s latest extension of a student loan pause will cost an additional $20 billion. Monthly payments on federal student loans have been frozen since the first weeks of the pandemic. Biden in August continued the pause through the end of the year, calling that the final extension. Biden has played down the cost of the cancellation plan, saying it would be offset by other measures to reduce the federal deficit, including his landmark Inflation Reduction Act. On Monday, the White House defended the plan, saying it will provide relief to struggling borrowers, allowing them to start businesses, buy homes or just pay their bills. “It’s a stark contrast to the Trump tax bill, which ballooned the deficit by nearly $2 trillion and provided the vast majority of benefits to big corporations and the wealthiest individuals,” White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said. The administration is expected to release its own detailed cost estimates in coming weeks.

September 26, 2022

Lead Stories

New York Times - September 26, 2022

Top state judges make a rare plea in a momentous Supreme Court election case

“It’s the biggest federalism issue in a long time,” Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court said on the phone the other day. “Maybe ever.” He was explaining why the Conference of Chief Justices, a group representing the top state judicial officers in the nation, had decided to file a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in a politically charged election-law case. The brief urged the court to reject a legal theory pressed by Republicans that would give state legislatures extraordinary power. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at Harvard, said the brief underscored how momentous the decision in the case could be. “It’s highly unusual for the Conference of Chief Justices to file an amicus brief in the Supreme Court,” he said. “It’s even rarer for the conference to do so in a controversial, ideologically charged case.” If the Supreme Court adopts the theory, it will radically reshape how federal elections are conducted by giving state lawmakers independent authority, not subject to review by state courts, to set election rules in conflict with state constitutions.

The conference’s brief, which was nominally filed in support of neither party, urged the Supreme Court to reject that approach, sometimes called the independent state legislature theory. The Constitution, the brief said, “does not oust state courts from their traditional role in reviewing election laws under state constitutions.” The case, Moore v. Harper, No. 21-1271, will be argued in the coming months. It concerns a congressional voting map drawn by the North Carolina Legislature favoring Republicans that was rejected as a partisan gerrymander by the state’s Supreme Court. Republican lawmakers seeking to restore the legislative map argued that the state court had been powerless to act. Four conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court have issued opinions indicating that they may be ready to endorse the independent state legislature theory. Professor Stephanopoulos said the conference’s decision to raise its voice was telling. “That the conference is willing to take a stand here highlights how extreme and dangerous the argument of the North Carolina legislators is,” he said. “That argument would undermine the authority of state courts to interpret state law — a bedrock principle of our system of federalism, and one that conservative justices historically championed, not questioned.” Empowering state legislatures at the expense of state courts would, these days at least, generally seem to help Republicans, who control more legislatures. But Chief Justice Hecht, who was elected as a Republican and has called for ending partisan elections for judges in his state, said the constitutional principles should remain constant. “Politics can shift,” he said. “You can say, ‘We want these people to make the call because they’re in the right party.’ But tomorrow they might not be in the right party — but they still get to make the call.” Evan Caminker, a law professor at the University of Michigan who represents the conference along with two prominent Supreme Court specialists, Carter G. Phillips and Virginia A. Seitz, said the filing was part of a useful dialogue.

Austin American-Statesman - September 26, 2022

What's on the line for Abbott, O'Rourke in Friday's debate?

Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic rival Beto O’Rourke are set to go head-to-head in their first, and most likely only, in-person debate Friday evening in Edinburg, scarcely more than five weeks before Election Day. The highly anticipated matchup, hosted by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and aired by Nexstar Media Group, poses potential risks and rewards for both candidates, an opportunity to trade barbs face to face after months of launching attacks on the campaign trail and through political ads. Based on recent polling, the race is headed for the closest margin a Texas gubernatorial election has seen in more than 20 years. But with Abbott consistently leading O’Rourke by 5 or more percentage points in multiple polls, the debate carries very different stakes for the two candidates.

But even if one candidate scores points or blunders, will voters notice? The debate takes place when many Texans will be sitting in the stands of their local high school football stadium. “The fact that the polling has been pretty consistent suggests that (the Abbott team) feels pretty comfortable where they are. Obviously, a 10-point lead is better than a 5-point lead, but I think that they're pretty happy with the fact that this has been stable,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor. In a state where Democrats have not won a statewide election in decades, Abbott is considered to hold a significant advantage in his bid to win a third term in the governor’s mansion. Abbott is further bolstered by his war chest of more than $45.7 million, based on the most recent campaign finance report covering February to June of this year, which has funded four statewide TV ads, and two Spanish language ads. According to an analysis by the election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight, Abbott is clearly favored to win the race. Out of 100 possible outcomes or scenarios the analysis simulated, Abbott won 94 out 100.

Associated Press - September 26, 2022

Texas Gov. Abbott's vow to 'eliminate all rapists' rings hollow at clinics

When Texas' new abortion law made no exceptions in cases of rape, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott defended it with an assurance: Texas would get to work eliminating rapes. One year later, Lindsey LeBlanc is busy as ever helping rape victims in a college town outside Houston. "The numbers have stayed consistently high," said LeBlanc, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Center in Bryan, near Texas A&M University. Despite hiring two additional counselors in the past six months, she still has a waitlist for victims. "We are struggling to keep up with demand," she said. The constant caseloads in Texas are another example of how Republicans have struggled to defend zero-exception abortion bans that are unpopular in public polling, have caused uproar in high-profile cases and are inviting political risk heading into November's midterm elections. A year since Texas' law went into effect in September 2021, at least a dozen states also have bans that make no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

The absence of exceptions has caused divisions among Republicans, including in West Virginia, where a new law signed this month allows a brief window for rape and incest victims to obtain abortions only if they report to law enforcement first. Recently, South Carolina Republicans scuttled a proposed ban after failing to get enough GOP support. "It really disgusts me," said Republican South Carolina state Sen. Katrina Shealy, ripping into her male colleagues on the floor of the state Senate. Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, also of South Carolina, allowed exceptions under the proposed national abortion ban he introduced last week. The proposal has virtually no chance of passing, with even GOP leaders not immediately backing it, reflecting how Republicans have broadly struggled to navigate the issue of abortion with voters since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer. Overwhelming majorities of voters think their state should generally allow abortion in specific cases, including rape, incest or if the health of the pregnant person is endangered. Even Republicans are seeing it as a line with some voters. "It's a very gray issue," said Claudia Alcazar, the GOP chairwoman in Starr County along the Texas-Mexico border that has become a new political battleground after Republicans made big gains with more conservative Hispanic voters in 2020. She said she knows those who are "hardcore, never have abortion for any reason, period. And then I have the other ones that are like, 'Well, you know, it depends.'"

Politico - September 26, 2022

Pollsters fear they’re blowing it again in 2022

Pollsters know they have a problem. But they aren’t sure they’ve fixed it in time for the November election. Since Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory, pre-election polls have consistently understated support for Republican candidates, compared to the votes ultimately cast. Once again, polls over the past two months are showing Democrats running stronger than once expected in a number of critical midterm races. It’s left some wondering whether the rosy results are setting the stage for another potential polling failure that dashes Democratic hopes of retaining control of Congress— and vindicates the GOP’s assertion that the polls are unfairly biased against them.

It’s not that pollsters haven’t tried to fix the issues that plagued them in recent elections. Whether they’re public firms conducting surveys for the media and academic instructions or private campaign consultants, they have spent the past two years tweaking their methods to avoid a 2020 repeat. But most of the changes they have made are small. Some pollsters are hoping that since Trump isn’t running in the midterms, the problems of underestimating Republicans’ vote share will disappear with him. But others worry that Trump’s ongoing dominance of the news cycle — from the FBI seizure of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago to litigation against his businesses in New York — effectively is making him the central political figure going into Election Day. “There’s no question that the polling errors in [20]16 and [20]20 worry the polling profession, worry me as a pollster,” said Charles Franklin, the director of the Marquette Law School Poll in Milwaukee and a longtime survey-taker in the battleground state of Wisconsin. “The troubling part is how much of that is unique to when Donald Trump is on the ballot, versus midterms when he is not on the ballot.” After 2016, pollsters said the problem was their samples included too few voters without college degrees. The polls were better for the 2018 midterms, though they were still too Democratic on balance.

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 25, 2022

Jon Taylor: End of Roe shifts election landscape in Texas

(Jon Taylor is a professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.) On Aug. 25, one of the most extreme abortion laws in the United States went into effect across Texas. As a result, the law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott and supported by 98 percent of his Republican allies in the Texas Legislature — but opposed by nearly 80 percent of Texans — now bans abortions beginning at conception. Despite voters’ antipathy toward the abortion ban, Abbott and Republican lawmakers chose to criminalize the procedure and punish doctors who perform abortions with life in prison and a civil penalty of at least $100,000. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and only an exception if the pregnant patient faces “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy.” While Abbott and his fellow conservatives in Texas and nationally claimed a victory on abortion, it could turn out to be a pyrrhic one.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — combined with overreach by anti-choice Republican hard-liners across the country who have pushed for no-exceptions legislation, proposed prohibitions on the sale of contraceptives and the use of in vitro fertilization, and advocated a federal ban on abortion — has effectively placed reproductive choice on the ballot for the 2022 midterm election. The Dobbs decision served as a wake-up call to those concerned about abortion access and reproductive choice. Judging from recent elections in New York, Kansas and Alaska — as well as spikes in voter registration since the Supreme Court’s ruling — concerns over abortion rights are playing a significant role in turnout and wins for pro-choice ballot initiatives and candidates. As a result, the likelihood of a significant Republican wave has diminished since June 24. Is it still possible? Of course. In normal midterm election years, the party in the White House usually suffers because it tends to be a referendum on presidential performance. But this is not a normal year. Until the Dobbs decision, Democrats faced an uphill battle with a relatively unpopular president and a spike in inflation that has adversely impacted millions of Americans. While inflation and the economy remain the top issues, the Uvalde massacre and other mass casualty gun incidents, passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s executive order forgiving student loan debts, a hemispheric heat wave and drought that has underscored concerns about climate change, and former President Donald Trump’s ever-present dramas have helped to shift the dialogue.

San Antonio Express-News - September 25, 2022

Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales files legislation to keep Spurs in San Antonio

What if it took an act of Congress to keep the Spurs in San Antonio? With the team playing two games in Austin this season and Austin billionaire Michael Dell buying a 10 percent share of the team last year, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales worries it might, even as the Spurs’ owners have sought to reassure fans and local officials that they have no plans to move. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there’s absolutely smoke,” the San Antonio Republican said. “Look what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics,” Gonzales said of the now-Oklahoma City Thunder; or the San Diego Chargers or St. Louis Rams, both of which now call Los Angeles home.

“No one would ever imagine the Spurs would leave San Antonio, but what if they do?” Gonzales said. “Sometimes when we say it takes an act of Congress, sometimes we have to take that seriously.” So Gonzales is filing legislation to stop any possible move up Interstate 35 for the Spurs, and to prevent other small market teams from ditching communities that have invested time, tears — and a whole lot of cash — in them. His bill, The Strengthening Public Undertakings for Retaining Sports Act — or SPURS Act for short — would set up strict requirements for teams to relocate. A franchise would have to lose money for five years in a row, plus prove that its stadium is inadequate or that local governments are flouting its agreements with the team. The legislation would require teams to give a year’s notice if they want to relocate, and it would allow local governments to veto the move. It would also force teams that do move to reimburse whatever financial assistance or incentives were provided to them, such as special tax incentives or arena financing. Local governments could sue teams for damages, as well.

Dallas Morning News - September 26, 2022

Dallas radio legend Mike Rhyner to unretire and compete against own dynasty, report says

Building a sports talk-radio dynasty may not have been enough for the iconic Mike Rhyner, a Dallas radio legend. He may have co-founded Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket in 1994, but now he could compete against it. Si.com’s Richie Whitt reported Sunday morning that Rhyner was unretiring to host 97.1 The Freak, a replacement for The Eagle. The Freak could debut as early as next week Friday, with Rhyner, Ben Rogers and Jeff “Skin” Wade from The Eagle, former 105.3 The Fan host Jeff Cavanaugh and former Ticket staples Mike Sirois and Julie Dobbs. DFW will have three different sports talk-radio options to choose from now with The Ticket, The Fan and now The Freak. Rhyner announced his original retirement from radio in January 2020. He left a 40-year radio resume, but retirement felt like the right move at the time.

“It just reached a point to where it really felt like the right thing to do,” Rhyner told The Dallas Morning News in 2020. “I started to think about it early in the fall and kept waiting for something to jar me out of that idea. And it never came. Before long I reached — it almost sounds crazy — an almost Zen-like state with it. I guess I hit such a point of acceptance nothing could shake me. And nothing has.” Now Rhyner just keeps hinting at his return. He was “jonesin to go on the air,” Friday, and left another subtle hint Saturday, asking where his freaks were at. Rhyner was set on keeping his retirement a secret. It wasn’t health related, nor related to his co-workers or management. It was just time. Now it might be time to come back, but he hasn’t completely confirmed that either. Not yet, at least.

Texas Monthly - September 25, 2022

Texas moms champion Beto with a giant roadside reminder of the Uvalde shooting

Texans driving westbound on U.S. 90 from San Antonio toward Uvalde will be reminded of the tragic May shooting at Robb Elementary that ended in the murders of nineteen children and two teachers. On that road, Mothers Against Greg Abbott, a women-led political action committee, has erected an anti-Abbott billboard encouraging voters to “Stop School Gun Violence” and “Vote Beto!” Featuring Greg Abbott’s now-infamous statement after the shooting—“It could have been worse”—alongside the image of a student entering Robb Elementary, the sign is one of several similar billboards across the state that have been installed by the PAC since August. The group is planning to raise one more identical billboard along U.S. 90 in the coming weeks, according to MAGA founder Nancy Thompson.

Mothers Against Greg Abbott first revealed its plan for the San Antonio–to–Uvalde signage on September 13, asking for $9,000 in donations to fund two billboards and raising that amount in less than a day. The organization collaborated with Fierce Madres, an activist group of Latina women formed in the aftermath of the shooting by Uvalde native and Robb Elementary alum Angela Villescaz. Though MAGA indicated the signs were requested by families of the Uvalde victims, the group says MAGA sought the families’ approval for the signage. Villescaz says that MAGA, working with Fierce Madres and its border connections, plans to erect more billboards along the border, from Brownsville to El Paso. In total, Mothers Against Greg Abbott has raised $75,000 to erect sixteen billboards advocating for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, the first five of which went up in August. The PAC says it will continue to fund-raise for signage and ads with various pro-Beto, anti-Abbott messaging in the lead-up to the election in November. Started as a response to Governor Greg Abbott’s COVID policy, Mothers Against Greg Abbott—with its ironic MAGA acronym—was founded in 2021 as a bipartisan effort to protect Texas families against policies they believe to be harmful, particularly to children. Likewise, Fierce Madres positions its interests as aligned with those of mothers, printing shirts bearing the phrase “Hispanic Moms United.”

Dallas Morning News - September 25, 2022

How Beto O’Rourke has evolved since saying ‘Hell, yes,’ he’d take your AR-15

At an April town hall meeting, Beto O’Rourke was asked about AR-15s, the popular semiautomatic rifle he pledged to confiscate in 2019 during his run for president. Grayson County retiree Jan Fletcher held her right hand on her chin and braced for the answer. “I like what he has to offer, but I’m still scared of what Republicans are going to do to him after his comment in the presidential debates,” she said. “I’m very terrified for him.” “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” has followed O’Rourke since he said it during a Democratic presidential debate, drawing applause from the Houston crowd and jeers from many gun owners throughout the Lone Star State. The comment came about a month after the mass shooting that killed 23 people and injured dozens more in El Paso, O’Rourke’s hometown. He told The Dallas Morning News the shooting rampage “just crushed me.”

It marked his evolution from a U.S. Senate candidate with somewhat moderate views to a progressive Democrat trying to carve out space in a crowded presidential field. In the 2018 race against Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, he called for a ban on the manufacture of assault-style weapons, but assured owners they could keep them. O’Rourke says he still doesn’t believe Americans should own military-style weapons, but in the race for Texas governor, he has abandoned talk of confiscating those rifles in favor of gun control proposals with broader support: universal background checks, red flag laws and raising the age to buy weapons like the AR-15 from 18 to 21. It hasn’t stopped Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott from using O’Rourke’s 2020 policy proposals against him. Abbott, whose lead slightly increased in recent polls, has been pounding O’Rourke for past comments on guns, police funding, the environment and immigration. His onslaught comes as O’Rourke has changed the way he campaigns, becoming a more disciplined candidate who learned lessons from the Senate race and his ill-fated presidential bid, political observers say. Not only does he avoid talking about issues that would hurt his crossover appeal, he sticks to a script to make his case to voters.

Dallas Morning News - September 25, 2022

Big Tex — our beloved Texas icon — returns to State Fair

Joe Kolanek couldn’t sleep Thursday night. The crane operator rarely gets anxious at work, even when handling a 240-ton piece of machinery most would find daunting. But Friday morning was different. His job: lift Big Tex in preparation for the State Fair of Texas, which begins Sept. 30. “My hands shake like this,” he said, demonstrating with his right hand. “I get nervous.” By late Friday morning, Kolanek’s job was winding down. Big Tex, State Fair ambassador and beloved Texas icon, stood upright, towering over the crowd. His lips curled upward in a slight grin.

The 55-foot-tall animatronic cowboy is wearing all new duds this year. A neatly pressed Western shirt is decorated with stars and fringe down the sleeves that sway in the wind. New blue jeans weigh roughly 150 pounds and require two people to carry them. Texas-based Dickies created both. A giant new belt buckle is courtesy of Shiner, and his old size 96 Lucchese cowboy boots still fit perfectly. Around Big Tex, school children squealed and families clapped for the cowboy’s return. Chad Lee snapped photos of his three sons, Isaiah, 9, and 5-year-old twins Zachary and Zane, all dressed in identical blue checkered shirts and bandanas. The Weatherford family attends Big Tex’s arrival every year to kick off the State Fair. “This feels like a reflection of a simpler time,” Lee said. “It’s about family and tradition.” Big Tex didn’t start out as a cowboy. Originally built in 1949 for a Christmas celebration in Kerens, Texas, the original statue served as the world’s tallest Santa Claus for two years. The city’s Chamber of Commerce then sold him to the State Fair of Texas for $750, and Dallas artist Jack Bridges performed an extreme makeover to transform him from Santa to Big Tex.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 25, 2022

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: UNT Health Science Center’s COVID contract was huge failure

In business, it’s always best to under-promise and over-deliver. The UNT Health Science Center somehow got it backward at one of the most crucial times, when Tarrant County residents needed efficient and effective delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. A Star-Telegram investigation reveals how disappointing the center’s performance was in distributing shots under an expensive county contract. The piece shows that the deal was a waste of money, thanks to misplaced priorities and excessive attention paid to petty details about communication and public credit. The deal, meant to be the county’s primary program to get shots to the hardest-to-reach residents, resulted in 23,000 shots administered for an eventual cost of $7.2 million. The goal was 265,000 shots. Even for government, that’s pathetic. The findings are important because we must address the many failures of the pandemic before the next emergency arises.

Lapses in public health, education and economic policy in the face of a global crisis are understandable. But all institutions must examine themselves rigorously and prepare to do better when the next challenge inevitably arrives. When Tarrant County signed up the Health Science Center to lead the way on vaccinations, center officials painted a vivid picture of a mass mobilization. Envision fresh-faced medical students striding into underserved neighborhoods to not just save lives from COVID, but to deal a blow to the legacy of health discrimination. What taxpayers got instead was largely a pass-through contract, with the Health Science Center hiring a private-sector firm to do the actual work. The county itself could have done that. After all, as governments struggled with the logistical challenges of vaccinations — setting priorities, reaching populations that struggled with healthcare access — the joke was that Amazon or Chick-fil-A would be ideal to handle the process.

Houston Chronicle - September 25, 2022

United Way of Greater Houston marks a century of service, helping families achieve a sustainable financial future

This year, the United Way of Greater Houston blew out 100 candles as it celebrated a century of service, helping Houstonians in a four-county region negotiate pathways to greater financial stability. As it marks its centennial milestone, the nonprofit has developed a new strategic plan for the future as it embarks on its 2022-23 annual community campaign, which kicked off Sept. 21 with a new campaign chair, Eric Tanzberger, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Service Corp. International.

With the campaign, United Way hopes to exceed the $57.05 million raised in 2021-22, a period that saw it support more than 2 million households in a wide-ranging array of partner services, including health care, child care and youth development, education, workforce and financial coaching, domestic violence services, tax preparation and family counseling. United Way’s local goals will play out this year against a backdrop of increasing need in the community, brought on by the ongoing pandemic and national inflation that has made it more difficult for families to make ends meet. According to United Way’s Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed report, 14 percent of Greater Houston’s households are living on incomes below the federal poverty level and another 33 percent of working households don’t earn enough to afford basic necessities.

Houston Chronicle - September 25, 2022

Meet Pat Mann Phillips, the first woman become Houston rodeo’s chairman of the board-elect

Pat Mann Phillips isn’t a native Houstonian, though she’s certainly made the city her home. Earlier this year, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo announced that Phillips is now the first woman to become chairman of the board-elect. She’s eligible for the big job, chairman of the board, in 2024, which means the next 18 or so months will be spent shadowing current chairman Brady Carruth. Phillips is ready to take the challenge by the horns. “It’s daunting but exciting. I feel well-supported,” Phillips says. “I am very honored and very humbled to be elected and assume this position. There are so many great predecessors and mentors who led the way, I just want to continue that tradition.” She has the heart and pedigree, too. Born in Cleburne, Phillips has lived in Texas all her life.

“Basically, my roots are in agriculture. My family owned and operated a full-service agriculture business. I grew up in 4-H showing cows, pigs and horses,” she says. “Then fast-forward to my career — if you work in oil and gas, you will eventually end up in Houston for some length of time.” Phillips graduated from Texas Tech University with a bachelor’s degrees in petroleum land management and finance. She now serves as managing director of energy services for Revenade. When work brought Phillips and her husband to Houston shortly before the millennium, the rodeo’s reputation preceded itself. “I knew all about it. It was always considered the Super Bowl of shows,” she shares. The following year, friends invited the Phillipses to the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, and the rest is history. The couple have been volunteers since 2001. She started on the directions and assistance committee, which helps parents find their lost children, a critical service. Then Phillips was assigned to a subcommittee that provided tours for school-age children; that spun off into managing buses, and eventually, Phillips was asked to become founding chairman of a then-newly formed tours committee.

KXAN - September 25, 2022

Matthew McConaughey teases future presidential run

One of Austin’s most famous residents is again hinting at a future political career. Matthew McConaughey talked about his presidential aspirations at a conference in San Francisco earlier this week, SFGATE reported. McConaughey was a featured speaker at Dreamforce, an annual tech conference by Salesforce. SFGATE wrote that the actor spoke to Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff while there, and though McConaughey didn’t make any specifications on the possibility of running for president, he did say he’d consider it in the future and he’d “be arrogant not to.”

This isn’t the first time he’s teased at a political career. Previously, however, it’s been on a smaller scale. McConaughey considered running for governor of Texas, but ultimately announced in November 2021 that he wouldn’t take the path of politics “at the moment.” He hasn’t been shy to make political commentary either. Over the summer, he visited Washington, D.C. to talk with lawmakers about gun legislation following the Robb Elementary School shooting that killed 19 children in his hometown of Uvalde. He also spoke with Kara Swisher in a 40-minute-long interview on “Sway”, a New York Times Opinion podcast, about Texas’ political landscape and his thoughts on pursuing a career in politics. McConaughey said at Dreamscape that if presidential candidacy is in his future, it would be because “it chose him,” according to SFGATE. “If that happened to me I would be pulled into it. If I’m living right, which I’m trying to, we get pulled into things… it’s inevitable. I didn’t choose it, it chose me,” McConaughey said according to SFGATE.

Houston Chronicle - September 25, 2022

Her son’s death at Harris County jail led to 11 firings. Years later, she still waits for justice.

After her son was killed in jail, after the Harris County Sheriff’s news conference to announce the firing of nearly a dozen jail guards and after interviews with local TV news stations, Larhonda Biggles felt alone. Everyone else around her – the press, the advocates, the police – seemed to be moving on from the death of her 23-year-old son, Jaquaree Simmons. She could not. Some nights when she tried to sleep, she heard his screams, imagining his final hours after guards at the Harris County Jail allegedly beat him during the February 2021 freeze before later finding him unresponsive. Almost two years after Simmons' death, Biggles still has not received accountability. While she does not know if she ever will, she knows she will never have her son back.

“I work from Monday to Saturday. I keep myself busy so that I won’t really think too hard,” Biggles said on a recent Saturday, which she had taken off after her boss at a lawn care company encouraged her to use paid time off she had earned but not used. On the walls of her apartment around her hung pictures of Simmons, as a boy and as a young man when she last saw him. “I’m in a place right now that I want answers. It’s been almost two years.” When Sheriff Ed Gonzalez fired 11 guards last May, he said he believed crimes had been committed but he did not want to elaborate because of a criminal probe by the Houston Police Department, a third-party agency in the death investigation. “There’s a lot of things I’d like to say. I simply can’t because I want to respect the integrity of the whole process,” he told reporters in May. “It would be unfair for me to delve into that side of it because there’s an ongoing criminal investigation.”

KXAN - September 25, 2022

Another Texas school district making students lock phones away during day

Another Texas school district is now requiring students to put their phones in locked pouches during the school day. The Richardson Independent School District, just north of Dallas, is testing it out at one of its campuses. Parents are more on edge recently as their kids go to school after the Uvalde elementary school shooting, so this move is concerning for some.

“The thing I don’t like about it like if something horrible happens in school, they won’t be able to get to the phone,” a parent said. The district’s superintendent, Tabitha Branum, said they’re trying to make up for lost time. Many students fell behind during the pandemic. “We’re still recovering in math and science, which are two very hands-on experiences for our students,” Branum said. Richardson ISD said cell phones are too distracting for students and makes things harder for teachers. “When we are distracted by social media or email or texting, we ignite a different part of the brain, the back of the brain, and it’s not conducive to deep focus,” Richardson ISD said. Another district, Thorndale ISD in Central Texas, decided to adopt this policy as well in July.

San Antonio Express-News - September 25, 2022

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Ahead of 2024, legislation offers a shield for democracy

Voting is our most precious right, and it must be protected with zeal and urgency. The outcomes of elections affect almost every facet of our lives. The U.S. House took a crucial step toward ensuring that protection last week when it voted to overhaul the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act, the law then-President Donald Trump exploited in an effort to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election. While we have seen the path to election reform littered with partisan roadblocks in the past, officials expressed optimism this bill will pass.

The vote, 229-203, went mainly along party lines, with only nine Republicans supporting the legislation. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, every Texas representative voted against the measure, an act of cowardice that placed politics above principle. “If your aim is to prevent future efforts to steal elections, I would respectfully suggest that conservatives should support this bill,” U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who co-sponsored the bill, said on the floor. “If, instead, your aim is to leave open the door for elections to be stolen in the future, you might decide not to support this or any other bill to address the Electoral Count Act.” The Presidential Election Reform Act would govern how Electoral College votes are submitted by states and then counted by Congress, and the new measure would make it harder for members of Congress to disrupt the process with frivolous objections, as some Republicans did in 2020. It would also clarify the the vice president holds a ministerial role in the process. The hope here, officials say, is this would eliminate the kind of intimidation and threats Vice President Mike Pence faced in 2020, when he defied Trump and certified the Electoral College votes .

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 26, 2022

Dallas commissioners hesitate over tax incentives to get 500 Nike jobs

Dallas County commissioners are hesitant to give Nike’s potential distribution center a 50% tax break after some of them challenged the company on its diversity. The commissioners’ leeriness could jeopardize the athletic shoe and clothing company’s plan to bring a $60-million-plus distribution center to Wilmer along with 500 jobs in 2025. The proposal would give Nike and its landlord, LPC Southport, a 10-year, 50% tax exemption, costing the county more than $68,000 a year in tax revenue. The promised 500 jobs would have an average salary of $37,000, about $7,000 more than most salaries in the inland port, Dallas County said. “Additionally, this project will increase the county’s tax base by at least $60 million,” the proposal said. In meetings this month, commissioners have questioned whether Nike’s tax break request should be granted, due to the company’s reported leadership diversity data.

In Nike’s most recent report on 2021 employee data and goals, women held 43% of leadership positions, and racial and ethnic minorities held just over 30% of positions as directors and higher. Commissioner John Wiley Price, one of the most vocal members of the court on this issue, and Commissioner Theresa Daniel told The Dallas Morning News that they are waiting on more information before making a decision. Commissioner Elba Garcia told KERA earlier this week that she was less inclined to support the tax break after reading Nike’s report. Commissioner J.J. Koch said on Sept. 6 that the county can afford to be selective in who moves into economically busy southern Dallas County. Tax reductions can be granted by a government for a wide range of reasons, including the promise of increased housing production or created jobs and the long-term impact to the tax base. He said there is a lot of work to be done before commissioners can justify to taxpayers a Nike tax break. “Definitely Nike can do more,” Koch said on the dais. “Looking at a lot of the stuff happening in South Dallas, we’re just not in a place to be desperate. We are just not. I don’t want to give off that message that we are just going to take whatever we can get.” Nike did not respond to requests for comment. Eric Geisler, president of Economic Incentive Services, a regional site and incentives consultant, represented Nike at the Sept. 6 Commissioners Court meeting. Geisler responded to Koch, saying that this site was “one of many they were looking at.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 25, 2022

Gilbert Garcia: Dark-money group targets Trish DeBerry with $259,000 in TV ad buys

A shadowy, mysterious force inserted itself into the race for Bexar County judge this past week. A dark-money group identifying itself as Friends of Bexar LLC has bought more than $259,000 worth of television advertising time in the San Antonio area for the purpose of attacking Republican nominee Trish DeBerry. The ads began running this past week on KSAT and KENS 5 and will continue to appear through the first week of October. KSAT is contracted to run the anti-DeBerry ad 208 times, while KENS will run it 98 times. It’s unusual to see TV advertising buys on that scale occur in a local race with no clear sense of who is bankrolling the ads or why they’re doing so. The Friends of Bexar ad is a 30-second diatribe against DeBerry, the veteran public-relations consultant and former county commissioner. It attempts to paint her as ruthlessly ambitious, unethical and extremist. “Trish DeBerry would crawl across steaming hot coals to be county judge, to keep serving herself,” the faceless narrator declares, over an image of orange flames.

“Insider DeBerry continued to seek multiple, major taxpayer-funded contracts for her own company, while serving on the Commissioners Court. She and (Gov.) Greg Abbott will take reproductive freedom from Bexar County women. Trish DeBerry means more contracts for Trish, more heartache for women.” The Abbott reference is an effort to link DeBerry to this state’s GOP leadership, which passed a 2021 trigger law banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest. DeBerry has not made abortion an issue in her race with Sakai, focusing instead on reducing property taxes, addressing public safety, improving conditions at the Bexar County jail and tackling the domestic-violence backlog in the county’s court system. DeBerry faced questions during her 2020 campaign for county commissioner over her firm’s contracts with San Antonio Water System and other public entities, and the potential for conflicts of interest. In response, she stepped down as CEO and said she would limit her involvement in the business to private-sector clients. DeBerry now says that as of July 4, she has completely divested herself from the firm, formerly known as the DeBerry Group, but now called talkStrategy.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 26, 2022

Elon Musk’s Boring Co. may pour millions more into San Antonio airport tunnel project

As behind-the-scenes talks toward a proposed airport-to-downtown tunnel continue, Elon Musk’s Boring Co. has increased by as much as $15 million the amount it’s willing to put up to get the transit project going. No agreements have been signed, but the bigger offer and continuing discussions indicate the project is moving forward. Michael Lynd Jr., chair of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, said this week that the agency’s private discussions with the Pflugerville-based tunneling company have so far split the project into two segments, while Secretary/Treasurer David Starr said the Boring Co. has proposed spending as much as $60 million on the first phase.

“That’s a lot of money that’s not coming from taxpayers to improve community transportation,” Lynd said Wednesday. “I don’t see anybody else coming and giving us $50 million that’s not funded by taxpayers in some way, shape or form.” It’s an increase from a range of $27 million to $45 million previously offered, Bexar County Engineer Renee Green said in an email response to questions this week. The Boring Co. has proposed building a loop of tunnels to ferry passengers in Tesla electric vehicles between San Antonio International Airport and downtown. The company said that the system, at an estimated cost of $247 million to $289 million, could carry as many as 112,000 passengers daily on a route along U.S. 281, producing annual revenue of up to $25 million for the RMA. The company based its projections on carrying 10 percent of visitors who land at the airport.

Houston Chronicle - September 26, 2022

Houston philanthropists Nancy & Rich Kinder give $100 million to expand Buffalo Bayou Park eastward

An ambitious plan to expand Buffalo Bayou Park eastward to East End and Fifth Ward neighborhoods gets its official launch Monday with the announcement of a $100 million catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation. Both the Houston City Council and Harris County Commissioners are expected to sign off on final documents this week. In 2019, Buffalo Bayou Partnership presented a 10-year master plan for Buffalo Bayou East that will create walking and biking trails, parks, ball fields, entertainment venues and even affordable housing for those neighborhoods, extending the Buffalo Bayou Park several miles to the east on land they've been quietly accumulating since 2004.

Funding for the $310 million plan includes the $100 million donation from Nancy and Rich Kinder’s philanthropic foundation, $37 million already raised by the partnership, $83.5 million from the City of Houston, $24 million from Harris County, $14 million in federal housing credits, plus more money still to be raised by the partnership. The Kinders, Buffalo Bayou Partnership officials, Mayor Sylvester Turner, city council member Tarsha Jackson and county commissioners Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis will announce the new plan at a Monday press conference at Tony Marron Park. Final approvals from the Harris County Commissioners Court and Houston City Council are expected to come Tuesday and Wednesday. The Kinders, who founded their Kinder Foundation in 1997, have vowed to give 95 percent of their wealth to charitable causes. Rich Kinder, a founder of Kinder Morgan — the largest pipeline company in the U.S. — is No. 128 on the 2021 Forbes 400 list and has a net worth of $7.1 billion. Nancy Kinder said she and Rich took note when the Buffalo Bayou Partnership made public the master plan for this eastern project, but at the time they were in the thick of work on the new tunnels and land bridge at Memorial Park, to which they donated $70 million. When the Kinders donate money to a project, they devote their own time as well as that of their staff, including Guy Hagstette, their senior vice president of parks and civic projects, and Sarah Newbery, their director of parks and greenspace.

McAllen Monitor - September 26, 2022

Head Start council representative survives removal vote

A member of Hidalgo County Head Start’s Policy Council almost saw himself voted off the board the same evening the council terminated former executive director Teresa Flores earlier this month. Chair Avelina Peña Segovia told Community Representative Abraham Padron at that meeting on Sept. 15 that the council would vote on removing him because of complaints she had received on his conduct. “There have been, since April, different complaints that have been reached out to me, under conduct in executive session,” Segovia said. “You have made people feel very uncomfortable, you have caused people to fear coming to the meetings.” Offended and indignant, Padron said he’d done nothing but speak his mind and retorted that Segovia had allowed the council to “run amok.”

“I haven’t been verbally abusive toward anybody,” he said. “I just tell you what it is: I think you’re wrong.” The council has been severely divided for the past two months, arguing heatedly about bylaws regarding elected council representative’s eligibility and Flores’ termination. The council is loosely split into two groups: Segovia appears to be the most talkative member of a fairly solid majority on the eleven-member body that successfully pushed for a looser understanding of eligibility requirements and Flores’ termination. Padron, the vice chair, vocally supported Flores and tighter eligibility requirements. For wider political context, Segovia is a La Joya Independent School District employee appointed to the council by Commissioner Ever Villarreal. Padron, who launched an unsuccessful election bid against State Rep. Sergio Munoz in 2020, is a Commissioner Eddie Cantu appointee. Raised voices, talking over other representatives, and animated hand motions are common with representatives, including Segovia and Padron. It’s not clear what specific executive session behavior Segovia was referring to, but she claimed Padron had called people a liar and had insulted her specifically with a comment about La Joya ISD. At one point during a meeting last month, commenting on the cost of an external audit Segovia wanted, Padron insisted that Head Start is “not La Joya ISD.” That remark was obviously interpreted as an insult to the corruption-riddled district.

National Stories

The Hill - September 26, 2022

Ian strengthens into hurricane as it approaches Florida

Tropical Storm Ian strengthened into a hurricane as it prepares to hit Cuba and Florida early this week. The National Hurricane Center said in a Monday morning advisory that Ian was forecast to be at major hurricane strength within hours, bringing heavy rainfall and flooding to Jamaica and western Cuba before making landfall on the west coast of Florida. “Life-threatening storm surge and hurricane-force winds are expected in portions fo western Cuba beginning late today, and Ian is forecast to be at major hurricane strength when it is near western Cuba,” the advisory states. “Efforts to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

The hurricane is forecast to continue traveling north within the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in Florida later this week. “Regardless of Ian’s exact track and intensity, there is a risk of a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall along the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle by the middle of this week,” the advisory states. The National Weather Service issued hurricane watches and warnings for areas along the Florida coast, including Sarasota and Tampa. Forecasters suggest Ian will eventually make its way north, crossing into Georgia as a tropical storm at the start of the weekend.

NPR - September 26, 2022

Provisional results show Italy set for first far-right government since World War II

The coalition led by far-right leader Giorgia Meloni won the most votes in elections held Sunday and appears set to form Italy's first far-right government since World War II, provisional results show. Near-final results showed the center-right coalition netting some 44% of the parliamentary vote, with Meloni's Brothers of Italy party getting 26%. Her coalition partners divided up the remainder, with the anti-immigrant League of Matteo Salvini winning nearly 9% and the more moderate Forza Italia of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi took around 8%. The center-left Democratic Party and its allies had around 26%, while the 5-Star Movement — which had been the biggest vote-getter in 2018 Parliamentary elections — saw its share of the vote halved to some 15% this time around. Turnout was a historic low 64%. Pollsters suggested voters stayed home in part in protest and also because they were disenchanted by the backroom deals that had created the three governments since the previous election.

In a late night victory speech on Sunday, Meloni thanked those Italians who didn't believe what she called "lies" about her and her party. She said the result shows that most Italians want her party to lead the government. She also said she regrets so many Italians did not vote. Turnout was 64%, the lowest for a general election in almost 50 years. "It's important to understand that if we're called to govern this nation, we will do so for all Italians," Meloni said, adding that "we will do so with the goal of uniting the people." Fratelli d'Italia has its origins in the Italian Social Movement, which was created by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the aftermath of World War II. Its leader, 45-year-old Meloni, is poised to become Italy's first female prime minister. She already has plans to form a coalition with two smaller right-wing parties: the hard-right, anti-immigrant Lega (League), led by former interior minister Matteo Salvini, and the center-right Forza Italia, led by three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The main center-left party, the Democratic Party (PD), conceded defeat and is set to be the largest opposition party. Meloni has cultivated an image of a strong everywoman who criticizes "Brussels bureaucrats" and identifies with the needs of ordinary people. But as a teenager, Meloni joined the youth chapter of the Italian Social Movement, which used fantasy novels like J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings to recast fascist ideas, says Guido Caldiron, an Italian journalist who covers fascism and the far right.

Dallas Morning News - September 23, 2022

Buyer’s remorse, agent bonuses take hold as higher interest rates change homebuying

Some of the nation’s largest homebuilders are lowering prices, providing discounts and pulling out of land deals as higher mortgage rates on top of already sky-high home prices continue to take a toll on buyer affordability. Miami-based Lennar Corp. and Los Angeles-based KB Home on Thursday both reported soaring year-over-year profits and revenue but declines in new orders and slowdowns in buyer traffic due to the higher rates. Lennar’s profit increased 4% to $1.47 billion, but its new orders nationally decreased 12% year over year to 4,366 homes. KB Home pocketed $255.3 million, 70% more than it did a year prior, while orders were down 30% year over year to 3,137 homes. Stuart Miller, executive chairman of Lennar Corp., said the housing market weakened as expected in response to the Fed’s rapid and aggressive reaction to inflation that came too late, adding that the Fed’s use of interest rates to curtail inflation had the desired effect on housing.

“The interest rate movements were very sudden and adjusted very quickly, and that suddenness has always led to a pullback in housing demand,” Miller said. “Part of the pullback is driven by simple affordability, and part of the pullback is driven by the psychology of the sudden and aggressive interest rate hike causing either monthly payment sticker shock or a sense of having missed the boat.” New orders for Lennar homes at its 217 active Texas communities fell from 3,203 in third-quarter 2021 to 2,577 last quarter. The builder categorized cities in three tiers based on their levels of current performance. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are among 23 markets in the second tier, which includes areas where the builder has had to adjust prices and incentives more than in others to regain momentum due to slower traffic and a rise in cancellations. “While inventory is limited in each of these markets, we’ve had to offer more aggressive financing programs, base price reductions and/or increased incentives to regain sales momentum,” said Richard Beckwitt, co-chief executive officer of Lennar. Lennar put Austin in the most severe category as one of seven markets that saw the most significant softening and correction. “As we bring prices down and incentives up, demand is still there,” Miller said. “Demand remains reasonably strong at adjusted prices as buyers still have jobs as well as down payments and have attractive credit scores and can qualify.”

Washington Post - September 26, 2022

Seniors are stuck home alone as health aides flee for higher-paying jobs

Racked with nausea and unable to leave the bathroom, Acey Hofflander muttered in confusion. Her husband tried to press a damp washcloth against her neck, his hands trembling and weak from Parkinson’s disease. “What’s happening? What’s going on?” Acey mumbled. Their roles had unexpectedly reversed. At 85, Acey is the healthy one, the organized, energetic caregiver for husband, Tom, 88. But when a grueling day of showering, dressing, feeding and transporting him to medical appointments pushed Acey beyond exhaustion in July, she wound up in the emergency room — a health crisis the Hofflanders blame in large part on a lack of professional, in-home care. Amid a national shortage of home-care workers that deepened during the covid-19 pandemic, the couple spent much of this year on a private agency list waiting to be assigned a professional home-care aide.

But over four months, from April to August, no aides were available, leaving Acey to carry the load on her own. Many nights — after an hour-long bedtime routine that included giving Tom his pills and pulling on his Depends before tucking him into his recliner — she lay sleepless in bed. “He needs a lot of care, and it’s wearing, not only physically but mentally,” Acey said in one of several interviews. “It makes you worried about what’s going to happen. How long can I do this?” The Hofflanders’ story is becoming increasingly common as the country’s shortage of home-care workers worsens, jeopardizing the independence of a generation of elderly Americans who had banked on aging in place rather than spending their twilight years in nursing homes. Polls say an overwhelming majority of people older than 50 want to remain in their homes as long as possible, and studies have shown aging in place can promote quality of life and self-esteem. But Acey Hofflander’s health scare — she stayed in the hospital overnight with a form of migraine — reveal the dangers when elderly people are forced to go it alone.

New York Times - September 26, 2022

Factory jobs are booming like it’s the 1970s

Ever since American manufacturing entered a long stretch of automation and outsourcing in the late 1970s, every recession has led to the loss of factory jobs that never returned. But the recovery from the pandemic recession has been different: American manufacturers have now added enough jobs to regain all that they shed — and then some. The resurgence has not been driven by companies bringing back factory jobs that had moved overseas, nor by the brawny industrial sectors and regions often evoked by President Biden, former President Donald J. Trump and other champions of manufacturing. Instead, the engines in this recovery include pharmaceutical plants, craft breweries and ice-cream makers. The newly created jobs are more likely to be located in the Mountain West and the Southeast than in the classic industrial strongholds of the Great Lakes.

American manufacturers cut roughly 1.36 million jobs from February to April of 2020, as Covid-19 shut down much of the economy. As of August this year, manufacturers had added back about 1.43 million jobs, a net gain of 67,000 workers above prepandemic levels. Data suggest that the rebound is largely a product of the unique circumstances of the pandemic recession and recovery. Covid-19 crimped global supply chains, making domestic manufacturing more attractive to some companies. Federal stimulus spending helped to power a shift in Americans’ buying habits away from services like travel and restaurants and toward goods like cars and sofas, helping domestic factory production — and with it, job growth — to bounce back much faster than it did in the previous two recessions. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said that the recovery of manufacturing jobs was a result of the unique nature of the recession, which was induced by the pandemic, and the robust federal response, including legislation like the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan of 2021.

September 25, 2022

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 25, 2022

Deal details are out and many rail workers plan to vote ‘no’

While the Biden-brokered agreement reached last week was hailed as a solution to the national railroad dispute, some rail workers are finally seeing the details of the deal, and, for many rank-and-file members, the matter is far from settled. They say it doesn’t address the most critical issue at hand: quality of life for railroad workers. SMART Transportation Division, one of the unions representing rail workers, released a draft of the agreement to members Thursday. The Star-Telegram obtained a copy of the document. As expected, the agreement contains a cumulative 24% raise over five years as well as a yearly $1,000 signing bonus. Health care premiums will increase by 2.4%; members will pay 15% of premiums. The agreement provides one additional personal leave day. It also allows members to attend three annual routine or preventive health care visits.

However, those appointments must be scheduled at least 30 days in advance, and must take place on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. “Note that this is the first time the Carriers have ever agreed to bargain over attendance policies on a national scale, and it opens the door for future negotiation over these issues!” the agreement read. For Jon Hauger, a conductor who works for BNSF out of Houser, Idaho, the deal’s attempt at providing medical leave is “a complete joke.” “You can’t plan out 30 days in advance,” he said. “It’s offensive.” The importance of medical leave for railroad workers is underscored in a Sept. 17 story by the Washington Post about a BNSF worker who put off a medical appointment and died of a heart attack weeks later on June 16. Out of fear of getting penalized by BNSF’s attendance policy, Aaron Hiles, 51, went to work when he was unexpectedly called in, causing him to miss his appointment. Now that he’s read the tentative agreement, Hauger feels the agreement was the result of behind-the-scenes political deal-making aimed at protecting Democrats ahead of the midterm elections. “This was 100% a way to avert a strike by an industry that is the very backbone of this nation’s economy prior to the midterms,” he said. “It would have been an absolute death knell for the Dems had we gone on strike.”

Texas Tribune - September 25, 2022

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan rules out raising the minimum age to buy a firearm

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan said the state Legislature will not pass meaningful gun safety legislation during its next session but signaled an openness to creating limited exceptions to the state’s abortion ban. Families of the Uvalde school shooting victims, along with House and Senate Democrats, have repeatedly called for a special session to raise the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21. “We at the House obviously want to be respectful and do all we can to be certain this never happens again,” Phelan said at the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival on Friday. “I think there’s a reason why the governor has not called a special session, and quite frankly, it’s because the votes aren’t there. The votes aren’t there to change that particular section of the law.”

Phelan, a Republican who represents Beaumont in Southeast Texas, said he would vote against increasing the minimum age. Gov. Greg Abbott has previously said that increasing the minimum age to buy assault-style weapons is “unconstitutional,” pointing to a federal judge’s ruling that struck down a Texas law limited adults under 21 from carrying handguns. U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, the GOP former governor of Florida, raised the legal purchasing age in his state after the Parkland school shooting. In a wide-ranging discussion with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, Phelan said the House might revise the law that criminalizes abortion. Phelan said he has heard from House members who are concerned the law has no exceptions for rape or incest. Physicians have also told Phelan the ban has complicated medical care for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, he said. Treatments for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are still legal under the state’s abortion ban, but confusion has led some providers to delay or deny care for patients in Texas. Phelan said he was unclear about how the House would vote on adding exceptions to the abortion ban.

Wall Street Journal - September 25, 2022

Fight over Joe Manchin’s permitting overhaul clouds stopgap funding bill outlook

Senate Democrats are expected to move forward next week on a short-term funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown but faces uncertain prospects because it contains a contentious proposal to speed up the permitting process for energy projects. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) took the first step to prevent the shutdown on Thursday by advancing a House bill that will be used as the vehicle for a short-term continuing resolution, known as a CR, that will extend current funding levels until mid-December. The government’s fiscal year expires on Friday. Senate lawmakers are expected to reconvene on Tuesday and could vote on advancing that resolution that evening. The Senate won’t meet Monday in observance of Rosh Hashana.

Senate negotiators are also discussing additional aid for Ukraine. The White House has asked for $13.7 billion to fortify the country’s military with new weapons and support the government in Kyiv as it fights off Russia’s invasion. Mr. Schumer has promised to attach a permitting overhaul bill from Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) to the government-funding resolution, a pledge that has drawn opposition from both parties. The funding measure requires 60 votes to advance. Mr. Schumer hasn’t said what he will do if he is unable to secure the votes needed to advance the resolution. The continuing resolution will also need support from House lawmakers. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said that lawmakers are in a position to act quickly on the funding bill. She declined to speculate whether enough House lawmakers would vote for passage if it contained the permitting overhaul.

Houston Chronicle - September 25, 2022

Abbott and O’Rourke both promise to cut property taxes, and have opposite plans for doing it

After a decade of skyrocketing property taxes in much of Texas, both Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke are making big promises to cut tax bills if they win in November. Abbott said with projections that Texas is going to have a $27 billion surplus next year, he’s going to use half of that money for property tax relief. That could mean refund checks or buying down local property taxes with state funding to reduce future tax bills. “Because this is your money, I want to return at least half of that money to you with the largest property tax cut ever in the history of Texas,” Abbott told a couple of hundred supporters during a speech in Collin County in the Dallas suburbs earlier this month.

But O’Rourke said during a speech in Del Rio just days later that the property tax increases over the last 7 years are rooted in bad budget decisions on schools and health care made by Abbott and Republicans in the Legislature. He said they are responsible for higher property taxes in part because they have short-changed public education by not putting enough state money into schools, which levy the bulk of the property taxes in Texas. That has left school districts having to raise property taxes to fund operations and growing expenses such as teacher pay increases, O'Rourke says. “When I’m governor, the state government will pay what it owes our families in school funding, meaning lower property taxes for all of us,” O’Rourke said. The former El Paso Congressman said he’ll also push to expand Medicaid, which would help pay for the cost of people without insurance who show up to emergency rooms for care. Now, counties and hospital districts pass those costs onto property tax payers in the form of higher rates.

State Stories

KXAN - September 25, 2022

Texas Secretary of State ensures voting systems can be trusted

Ahead of the General Election this November, Texas Secretary of State John Scott released a video about election administration to educate voters on how voting machines are certified, tested and deployed to keep votes secure. The video was released two days after voting activists questioned Scott about conspiracy theories related to voting integrity at a public testing of voting machines at the Hays County Government Center in San Marcos, according to reporting by the Texas Tribune. During the testing session, Scott spent around 20 minutes listening and responding to the concerns of the activists gathered at the event, according to the same reporting.

This line of questioning is not uncommon. Other counties around the country have seen similar doubts cast on their voting processes since former President Donald Trump raised concerns about whether election results could be trusted. “Each voting system had to undergo rigorous testing, certification and recertification by the (Election Assistance Commission) in order to be used by a U.S. election,” Scott said in the video. “In Texas, we have even higher standards for our voting systems,” he continued. “Here are a couple of key facts that you, as a Texas voter, should know when it comes to the Security of our voting systems: (1) voting machines in Texas are never connected to the internet; (2) only the software that our office certifies can be loaded on voting equipment; and (3) All voting machines in Texas are tested for logic and accuracy three times – twice before the election, and once immediately after the election,” Scott said. This video is the second of an educational series called SOS 101, where Scott explains various facets of the voting process in Texas. In the first one, Scott provided an overview of the voter registration process.

Houston Chronicle - September 25, 2022

Voting gets underway in Texas with military ballots sent out

Voting in the Texas governor's race is officially underway. While in-person early voting is still four weeks away, Texans on military bases around the U.S. and overseas are getting their ballots as part of a nationwide push to help give service members more time to get their ballots returned and counted. About 8,000 ballots already have been sent out statewide, with up to 30,000 potentially going out over the next few weeks if it follows the trends of past election cycles.

Nationwide, federal officials have been pushing states to move more quickly to get ballots out for deployed soldiers and overseas voters. Historically, those ballots get rejected at a much higher rate than other vote-by-mail ballots largely because many of them just don't make it back to Texas in time. The Department of Defense has put more effort into outreach to soldiers through voter assistance offices set up at military bases across the nation. Even ships at sea have a designated voting assistance officer onboard to help get ballots filled and sent back in time to count. That’s a big change from decades ago. In 2006, nationwide, 1 million ballots were sent out to people in the military and overseas, but just one-third of those ended up being counted. Congress responded in 2009 with new laws requiring all local election officials to get requested military ballots out to soldiers domestically and overseas 45 days before an election. This year, that meant ballots had to be out by Saturday. While voting is underway, there is still time to register to vote. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 11. The first day of in-person early voting is Oct. 24.

Texas Public Radio - September 25, 2022

State sent financial aid to 1.1 million unemployed Texans. Now it wants that money back.

Kathryn Tapia was laid off in March 2020 from her job at a daycare in Harlingen. So she applied for unemployment. She was one of the 2.5 million Texans who applied for unemployment in the first three months of the pandemic — or somewhere between 10 and 20 times the number in an average year. “I started receiving payments — everything was going fine. And then, all of a sudden, I want to say maybe around September or so, I started receiving letters of overpayment,” she explained. The Texas Workforce Commission said she wasn’t unemployed — that she had a Job. She had a job in North Carolina ... in South Carolina ... and one in Delaware. Tapia was not hopping on a plane from the Rio Grande Valley to Delaware, working a minimum wage job every morning, and then returning to her three kids the same night. Several years ago, her identity was stolen. She said she filed paperwork with multiple state agencies, including her sheriff's office and Texas Health and Human Services, but TWC failed to notice.

“I could never get in contact with anybody,” Tapia said. “I kept hearing, like, 'the lines are super busy,' because of COVID and all the stuff that's going on.” Tapia, like many others, was hit with bills from the agency that was supposed to help her at the moment she needed help in a vulnerable moment. The Texas unemployment system sent notices to 1.1 million people that it overpaid them in 2021, and it asked for that money back. But people like Tapia argued the state made a mistake. Advocates have taken the state to court for being overaggressive. The numbers, in some cases, were in the tens of thousands of dollars. In many cases, the state reassessed a person’s eligibility as much as a year later and then retroactively billed them. Tapia’s was far less, but it was still adding up.

Texas Monthly - September 25, 2022

During a summer of record heat, many prisoners in Texas struggled to make it through the day without AC

Nearly every morning this summer, Cory Tillotson woke up expecting a day of triple-digit heat and began a daily battle to avoid the kind of severe heat exhaustion that can cause organ damage and even death. Tillotson is serving a sentence for drug trafficking in Bradshaw State Jail, a private prison thirty miles east of Tyler that lacks air-conditioning in the housing units. During one of the hottest summers in Texas history, his typical day would go as follows. After waking, he would get in line for one of the three cold showers shared by the sixty or so men in his dorm, a wait that could take two to three hours. Once he’d showered, he would skip drying off, opting instead to drape a soaked towel around his neck. Then he would try to get into the only air-conditioned room accessible to the seven hundred prisoners—a small respite area with a forty-inmate capacity that was regularly filled. If he couldn’t get in, he would rely on a shared water source to cool down—an oft-depleted ten-gallon cooler replenished with water at room temperature, and infrequently with ice. At night, he’d stay up as late as he could, waiting to sleep until the building temperature dropped to the mid- to low 90s.

Tillotson and the others in Bradshaw are far from alone. Texas is one of at least thirteen states without universal air-conditioning in state prisons. While 87 percent of U.S. households have air-conditioning, of Texas’s one hundred state prisons, seventy—with capacity to hold more than 75,000 Texans—do not in units where most prisoners are housed. Instead of AC, Tillotson’s four-thousand-square-foot dorm is equipped with two four-by-four-foot intake fans that blow in air heated by the building’s tin roof, two smaller three-foot exhaust fans, and four other 28-inch fans. In a July 2022 survey of incarcerated Texans conducted by Texas A&M University, 29 percent of participants said they were aware of at least one heat-related death that had occurred either in their prison or another. Tillotson says there have been days when his hands and feet have gone numb, his heartbeat has been abnormal, and he’s gotten shaky. Others report incarcerated Texans forgoing prescribed medications, such as psychiatric medicines, that interfere with the body’s natural ability to regulate temperature. Texas law does not require prisons to have air-conditioning, though there have been recent attempts to change that. The state agreed to air-condition the Wallace Pack Unit, a prison for elderly inmates and those with chronic medical conditions, after reaching a settlement with the unit’s prisoners, who sued, contending that the conditions in the facility violated the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Houston Chronicle - September 25, 2022

Life lessons: Communities in Schools of Houston provides social service network for students and their families

Having worked at Communities in Schools of Houston for nearly 30 years, Lourdes Jimenez has attended plenty of graduations, and she also finds herself pulled to other events, from celebratory to funereal. She frequently hears from kids and the families long after their connection to Spring Forest Middle School has ended. “What CIS is about,” she says, “is trying to make a connection. And in my case, I never really let go.” Jimenez — a CIS student support manager at Spring Forest — has worked for the organization so long that she has seen it grow from 12 Houston-area campuses to more than 170. “We’ve grown up a bit,” she says, laughing at her understatement.

CIS has been around 43 years, so its beginnings were even more humble than what Jimenez found when she joined. The goal of CIS sounds simple, though it contains multiple platforms that offer a variety of services. “The goal,” she says, “is to help students succeed academically … and also in life.” CIS works with a three-tier approach. There are schoolwide services that offer campuswide events for students and families; targeted programs that assist through small group activities; and individualized support that offers counseling and other services for individual students. The organization seeks to place in school settings adults who can work with students to ensure their experience is one of enrichment and safety. They help provide social service work, counseling and mental health support, clubs and meetings. The reach of CIS is wide, befitting a sprawling and diverse city. “Society has the tools to help students realize their potential beyond school,” says Lisa Descant, CEO of Communities in Schools of Houston. “We offer services designed for schoolwide participation. But we also want to think about helping students post graduation.”

Austin American-Statesman - September 25, 2022

Cedric Golden: How the Aggies pulled one of out the air to shock the Hogs

Momentum is one heck of a drug. Just ask the Texas A&M Aggies, who were about to be left for dead before 63,580 at AT&T Stadium on Saturday. When future generations recall their 23-21 win over No. 10 Arkansas, they'll verbally illustrate how Arkansas kicker Cam Little somehow found the top of the upright on a 42-yard kick that would have plunged the Aggies into a 2-2 nightmare after a summer spent mostly discussing championship aspirations. While that play all but decided the game, it wasn’t the one that turned everything around. The honest among us will all agree the Aggies were well on their way to becoming Metroplex roadkill after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter.

With an offense that’s been stuck in park for most of the season, the first eight minutes foreshadowed that rare occasion where the hog would actually be the one behind the wheel of the semi and avoid the fate of so many relatives who checked out on the highway shoulder. That is, until something amazing happened near the end of the first half. The Aggies had clawed their way back behind new quarterback Max Johnson, but were in real danger of falling behind 21-7 with the Hogs on the doorstep. Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson, a 6-foot-3, 242-pound tank, was just a couple of strides from a commanding halftime lead when his number was called on a quarterback draw. For some reason, this Hog thought he could be a bird but the wings weren’t operating at peak efficiency. Jefferson inexplicably dove from the 3-yard line, but a forest of A&M tacklers was waiting, including linebacker Chris Russell Jr., who popped the exposed ball into midair despite taking a Jefferson shoulder to the helmet. Teammate Tyreek Chappell snagged the pill and was off to the races, that is, before Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders confronted him at the 18-yard line. Aggies defensive back Demani Richardson was originally blocking for his teammate downfield, but circled back behind Chappell, somehow grabbed the ball and high-stepped the remaining 82 yards to paydirt. Aggies fans didn’t really bother to complain about the missed extra point because the defense had given the team some much needed oxygen.

Austin American-Statesman - September 25, 2022

Phyllis Snodgrass and Nicole Nabulsi Nosek: The once affordable, American dream of a Texan home

(Snodgrass is chief executive officer of Austin Habitat for Humanity and Nosek is chair of Texans for Reasonable Solutions.) The local saying goes: There are those who live in Austin, and those who wish they lived in Austin. However, Austin’s promise of prosperity slowly slips away as our housing policies limit our workforce’s ability to live even remotely close to our city centers. The people moving here and the dreams they chase are as diverse as they come: we’re home to the innovators at Dell Technologies, the students and professors at the University of Texas, the public servants who work in the State Capitol and dozens of state agencies, the crooner trying to make it big in the Live Music Capital of the World, the techies, the artists, the academics. For many decades, for all those who wished, Austin was a place you could live. But now, for too many, Austin is no longer in reach. From 2019 to 2022, Austin’s average home price increased by a whopping 70%.

An Austin family making the median family income of $110,300 can afford to buy a house just under $300,000, but Austin’s median home price was $640,000 as of May 2022. According to Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) data, in December 2021 only 86 homes in the entire metro Austin area sold for less than $250,000. And ABoR’s recent report emphasized that a lack of inventory is still a significant issue as Austin only has 3 months of housing inventory, short of the 6 to 6.5 months of inventory needed to be considered a healthy market. At Austin Habitat for Humanity, we are working to make the dream of owning a home a reality for Austinites at risk of being displaced and those who wish to live here. In 2021 we sold 57 affordable homes to Austinites making less than than 80% of the Median Family Income - which was $79,100 for a family of 4 in December 2021. But, building these middle-class homes for hard-working families is becoming more difficult in Austin and across Texas. On our current path, Texas will replicate San Francisco and California’s affordability crisis. To consider oneself financially comfortable in San Francisco, one must have a net worth of $1.7 million.

KXAN - September 25, 2022

State of Texas: Lawmaker aims to address ‘overload’ pushing Texas teachers to quit

A survey of more than 20,000 Texas teachers found “personal overload” was the number one issue cited by educators who recently quit or retired, according to the Texas Education Agency data released on Tuesday. Jean Streepey, a Highland Park middle school teacher and Texas Teacher Vacancy Task Force member, told lawmakers Tuesday additional expectations on teachers at the onset of the pandemic worsened the ongoing teacher shortage in the state. “What is new are the expectations to implement the technology, substitute for little or no pay, mentor new teachers, and take on additional tutoring,” Streepey said. “We are simply wearing out the people we want to keep.”

Two months before the school year started in 2021, the governor signed into law HB 4545 – giving school districts fewer than two months to figure out how to provide 30 hours of extra tutoring to more than a half million students in the state. Rep. Harold Dutton, who wrote the bill, said in an interview Monday he plans to fix the law this upcoming session, including reducing the number of hours required for each student and providing funding to help hire tutors and other resources. “I hear the problems. I kind of knew that when we passed this bill because we passed it under some rather strange circumstances. But I knew teachers being the kind of people they were, would take it and make it work.” Rep. Dutton, D-Houston, said the committee will re-examine the state’s recapture system, which requires the most property-rich school districts to pay back money to the state for it to be distributed to poorer districts in the state. Dutton said he will also look at state-mandated salary minimums for educators. “If we don’t make changes such that we get the salary schedule bumped up, moved up and started towards the place it ought to be just like before, we will lose more and more teachers, and the real victims in this is the students,” Dutton said. TEA Deputy Commissioner Kelvey Oeser told lawmakers during the hearing Tuesday they should consider ways to improve working conditions for teachers, including expanding support. “The documentation teachers go through in their classroom is unbelievable,” Texas State Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Bell County, said. “For everything we ask them to do, we need to take two things away.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 25, 2022

TCU grabs big early lead, beats SMU 42-34 in Iron Skillet rivalry game

While it took the crowd at SMU some time to try and fill the seats at Ford Stadium, TCU didn’t need much time to find the scoreboard early and often against the Mustangs. In TCU head coach Sonny Dykes’ first game back at SMU, the Horned Frogs jumped out on the Mustangs early as four of their first five possessions ended with a touchdown on its way to a 42-34 win on Saturday. The Horned Frogs were able to score in just about any fashion as SMU was on its heels early defensively. TCU built a 28-14 lead at the half and held on to snap its two-game losing streak to its crosstown rivals. “Every single win means the world. They’re hard to get,” Dykes said. “We kind of let them get back in the game, didn’t do a very good job of closing out like we should have. But man it’s hard to win. I’m glad it’s over and I’m hopeful now we can just go on and I can just coach my team and not have to deal with some of the stuff we’ve been dealing with.”

One of the key matchups highlighted before the game was which quarterback would be superior. The answer was Max Duggan. Emphatically. Thanks to a mixture of creative play calling from offensive coordinator from Garrett Riley and pass protection from the offensive line, Duggan threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. He finished 22 of 29 for 278 yards. Dykes was emotional talking about Duggan after the game. “He loses the job… and he never blinks. He never had a bad practice, never pouted. Never thought of himself one time. How many people can you say that about that you know in your life? You can say it about Max Duggan, that’s for sure,” Sonny Dykes said. His first was a beauty as he escaped pressure, rolled to his right and put nice touchdown on the ball for a 18-yard touchdown to Savion Williams on the opening drive of the game. Seven different players caught passes from Duggan as he once again showed how he can be effective as a distributor. “They’ve taught me a lot,” Duggan said of Dykes and Riley. “Just being confident and relying on the guys and not trying to do too much. I’ve got studs all around, I’ve got guys up front that can do their thing. I’ve got guys on the sideline that are going to put us in a successful spot. I just have to do my job and distribute the ball.”

Dallas Morning News - September 25, 2022

Democrat Rochelle Garza banks on anti-Paxton sentiment in Texas attorney general’s race

Rochelle Garza talks on the campaign trail about her experience as a civil rights lawyer in South Texas, about advocating for a brother with disabilities, about fighting the Trump administration for abortion rights. But what really gets the Democratic crowd revved is when Garza lights into her GOP opponent: Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Paxton has never seen a crime he doesn’t want to commit,” she said during a recent luncheon at the Arts District Mansion in Dallas, drawing a chorus of laughter. Yet what began with a joke ended with a dire warning as Garza ticked off the ways she said Paxton has failed Texans in the wake of last year’s deadly winter blackouts, the Uvalde school massacre and the state’s near-total ban on abortions.

“Unless we vote him out,” she said, pausing to look at the audience, “people will die.” Garza is banking on voters being turned off by Paxton’s mounting scandals to help propel her into the powerful office Democrats haven’t won since 1994. A sea change at the attorney general’s office would dramatically shift Texas politics by giving Democrats a check on Republican policies. Recent polls show Garza within striking distance, but analysts say peeling off the GOP and independent voters she needs to score an upset will be a tall task. Big-name Republicans who challenged Paxton in this year’s primary and a well-funded Democrat who ran in 2018 failed to get enough voters to turn on Paxton. The McKinney Republican has managed to hold his base despite 7-year-old felony securities fraud charges and a more recent FBI investigation into accusations of corruption made by top aides. Garza says Paxton is weaker than ever and the race offers Democrats their best chance to flip a statewide seat in nearly 30 years. “I want to remind folks,” she said, enunciating her words carefully: “We can win this race.” Democrats say no candidate is better positioned than Garza to motivate voters who disagree with the state’s abortion ban and the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs. Wade.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 25, 2022

Bud Kennedy: Confederate marker protest in Texas town draws week in jail

Almost exactly 160 years after the “Great Hanging” that killed 42 Confederate dissenters lynched or captured across three North Texas counties, the conflict continues around a Gainesville Confederate memorial desperately protected by local officials and militia allies. In a verdict that even the hometown newspaper criticized “in the strongest terms,” three young protest leaders were sentenced last month by an all-white Cooke County jury to a week in jail. They were also fined $2,000 for walking in the street briefly during an Aug. 30, 2020, courthouse memorial protest that was met with a larger, intimidating armed mob waving Confederate battle flags. The lawyer for the three protesters, residents of Gainesville and Denton, said she will appeal the Class B misdemeanor convictions — all for “obstructing a highway” — to the Fort Worth-based Second Court of Appeals.

“This town was taking very personally the idea that anyone would be against the Confederate monument,” said the defense attorney, Alison Grinter Allen of Dallas. “It wasn’t about slowing down any traffic.“ The Gainesville Daily Register wrote: “We at the Register concede that stepping onto California Street in between intersections is a misdemeanor. ... Does it really require a week in the county lockup and a $2,000 fine?” The Register urged readers to donate to appeals for the protest group, PRO Gainesville. The paper wrote that the convictions of Torrey Henderson, Amara Ridge and Justin Thompson ignored the influence of “gun-toting, Confederate battle-flag-waving counter-protesters led by some guy from Montague County screaming.” On Facebook, the Gainesville chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans openly calls for Texas to secede again from the U.S. A 2020 comment still posted Friday read: “Gainesville need 3 GOOD HANGIN’ ROPES to take care of these PRO GAINESVILLE WHITE TRASH.” The memorial protests had grown in 2020 after the death in Minnesota that May of Texan George Floyd.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 25, 2022

President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary resigns

The president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth has resigned. On Thursday, Southwestern’s executive committee of the board of trustees accepted President Adam Greenway’s resignation during its regularly scheduled meeting, the seminary announced on Friday. “These days are incredibly challenging in the life of our denomination,” Greenway said. “They are also challenging times for academic institutions, particularly theological seminaries.” Greenway was elected as the ninth president of Southwestern in February 2019, after graduating from the seminary himself in 2002. Greenway already has his next job lined up and has accepted a role with the International Mission Board.

Speaking to Greenway’s resignation, Southwestern committee chairman Danny Roberts expressed appreciation on his more than three-and-a-half year’s of service. “[Greenway] came to Southwestern Seminary during a difficult time of transition and has worked tirelessly to lead the institution to serve well the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Roberts said. Southwestern’s executive committee voted to extend an invitation to Southern Baptist leader O.S. Hawkins to serve as the new president. Further details about Hawkins’ appointment will be announced next week. Hawkins is no stranger to Southwestern, graduating from the seminary twice with master of divinity and doctor of philosophy degrees. Currently, Hawkins serves as president-emeritus of Guidestone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Southwestern’s board of trustees is expected to name a presidential search committee at its next meeting on Oct. 17.

Dallas Morning News - September 25, 2022

Texas A&M shows good fortune still works vs. Arkansas, even with a sputtering offense

On a funky Bring Back the Southwest Conference Day, Texas Tech upset Texas in overtime; TCU won the Sonny Bowl against SMU; Houston beat Rice; and, in the main event, Texas A&M beat Arkansas, 23-21, in a wild, wacky game further complicated by the occasional image of some fan throwing Horns down on the drive-in picture show hanging high in JerryWorld. Nothing brings together old enemies like a mutual hatred of Texas, I suppose. The nicest thing you could say about the Aggies and Razorbacks was that at least the 63,580 on hand were entertained, if occasionally baffled, by what transpired in front of them. Not often, for instance, do you see a football hit the top of the right goalpost and bounce straight up, as did Cam Little’s 42-yard field goal attempt with 1:35 left in the game.

The football hung in the air for a second, maybe two, then fell back on the wrong side of the crossbar, at least from the Razorbacks’ perspective. On one hand, the 24th-ranked Aggies can gloat that, since their abominable loss to Appalachian State, they’ve knocked off the Nos. 12 and 10 teams in consecutive weeks. On the other, Middle Tennessee State took a little of the buzz off the Aggies’ 17-9 upset last week by hanging nearly half a hundred on Miami in Coral Gables. And Jimbo Fisher’s offense remains, well, offensive. “We’ve gotta get all these things cleaned up,” Jimbo said. “I’ll be mad all week, I promise.” Against the worst pass defense in the nation, statistically speaking, Max Johnson, Jimbo’s second choice at quarterback, finished 11 of 21 for 151 yards and a touchdown, freshman Evan Stewart’s first. Johnson was sacked three times, hit another four, missed one receiver running wide open down the middle of the field and occasionally had trouble just flagging down snaps.

Associated Press - September 25, 2022

California governor travels to Texas amid feud with GOP

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will travel to Texas on Saturday, venturing into the territory of one of his chief political foils while seeking to boost his own profile amid a noncompetitive reelection campaign back home. Newsom is on his way to an easy victory for a second term as governor of the nation’s most populous state, facing a little known and underfunded Republican challenger one year after defeating a recall attempt. With little pressure at home, Newsom has been looking elsewhere to spend some of the $23 million he has in his campaign account. So far, he has bought TV ads in Florida urging people to move to California, newspaper ads in Texas decrying the state’s lax gun laws, and billboards in seven conservative states — including Texas — urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.

Newsom’s actions come after he blamed his own political party for being too soft, urging them to stand up more firmly in light of recent conservative victories at the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned federal abortion protections and loosened restrictions on guns. “Our donors are asking for more of that,” Newsom told reporters last week when asked if his attention on other states signaled he wasn’t taking his reelection campaign seriously. “The people in the state of California are asking for more leadership in this space.” Newsom spent most of this week in New York City, speaking at various climate change conferences while taking time to poke conservative governors he says are “doubling down on stupid.” He specifically called out Texas republican Gov. Greg Abbot on Tuesday during a brief interview at the Clinton Global Initiative, saying he and other Republican governors are “as dumb as they want to (be).” Last week, Newsom asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Abbot and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for transporting migrants to other states, something Newsom called “disgraceful.” DeSantis dismissed Newsom’s request at a news conference, saying Newsom’s “hair gel is interfering with his brain function.”

Austin American-Statesman - September 25, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Austin Energy shouldn't raise rates on those who conserve

Over the past decade or so, Karen Hadden used Austin Energy rebates to add solar panels, install a more efficient air-conditioning system and better insulate the attic of her South Austin home. Those investments helped Hadden reduce her energy use and her electric bill. But now our city-owned utility is saying homes like Hadden's are contributing to a different problem — Austin Energy's revenue shortfalls — and people like her need to pay more. “As a customer, I feel a bit slapped around,” said Hadden, who serves on the city’s Electric Utility Commission, an advisory group reviewing Austin Energy’s request for a rate hike. "It seems like the same people who did those (utility-sponsored efficiency) measures are now getting penalized,” she added. As I noted last week, Austin Energy is in the midst of requesting a major overhaul of our utility rates, arguing the current rates don’t cover the day-to-day costs of delivering electricity.

But we’re not talking about an across-the-board rate hike. Austin Energy’s proposal, slated to come before the City Council in November, would deliver the steepest increases to frugal energy users, while actually giving a break to more extravagant consumers. Under the utility’s initial proposal, the typical homeowner would pay an additional $184 a year, an increase of 18%. Someone using half as much energy as the typical homeowner would see their bill go up 50%. Someone using three times as much energy as the typical homeowner would see their bill decrease 18%. It all sounds upside-down to me. But this exercise is about much more than adjusting rates. It’s about choosing a philosophy. Should a public utility serve the common good by designing prices that promote conservation and a healthier planet? Or should a public utility serve the fiscal interests of ratepayers by ensuring each customer pays fees closely aligned to the cost of serving them?

Dallas Morning News - September 25, 2022

Joey McGuire, Texas Tech ensure Texas’ possible last trip to Lubbock was one to remember

Texas Tech fans had been waiting 14 years for this moment, to celebrate a home win over rival Texas. The sellout crowd of 60,975 definitely did not waste the moment. The moment after Trey Wolff’s 20-yard field goal split the uprights in overtime for a 37-34 Tech victory, a sea of red descended on Jones AT&T Stadium, engulfing the Tech players and pretty much everything else. Down came both goalposts. Yes, the fans had rushed the field after Tech’s Week 2 win over Houston but this was far more emotional, driven by a longstanding dislike and Texas’ impending move to the SEC. If this was No. 22 Texas’ last trip in the foreseeable future to the South Plains, then it’s a game that will be retold and remembered fondly in Lubbock. “I think a lot of people, 60,000 people will remember where they were Sept. 24 and will remember how hard the Red Raiders fought to get the win,” McGuire said. “I think it’s definitely something to build off of. …

“It was a big deal.” Back in 2008, Tech had a swashbuckling coach with a fondness for all things pirates in Mike Leach and a dynamite pass-catch combination in Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree that collaborated on the winning touchdown. No one knows if first-year Tech coach Joey McGuire, the former Cedar Hill High School coach and Baylor assistant, knows Edward Teach from Captain Kidd but he showed an audacity than even Leach could appreciate. Tech (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) rallied from 14 points down in the second half, largely because of a commitment to fourth-down gambles. The Red Raiders finished 6 of 8 on fourth down, converting on each of their touchdown drives in the second half and helping Tech to a 100-60 edge in total plays. “At any point they could have given up and they didn’t. What’s really fun is these guys believe and whenever you have results, it fires that belief even more,” McGuire said. No. 22 Texas (2-2, 0-1) now has two losses by a combined four points in Steve Sarkisian’s second season. “I’m disappointed on our end because we didn’t play a brand of football we’ve grown accustomed to,” Sarkisian said.

County Stories

KHOU - September 25, 2022

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez proposes new Harris County jail

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said it’s time to take a serious look at investing in corrections infrastructure in one of the nation’s largest counties, including a new jail in one of the most rapidly growing areas in Texas. Law enforcement experts say the nation is experiencing a crime wave and Harris County is not exempt. “We definitely haven’t been immune to that, we’ve seen increases in homicides, we’ve seen increases in aggravated assaults,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez claimed judges are also contributing to the crime wave in Harris County by releasing violent criminals on bond. “The court backlogs have had a huge impact as well on our crime rate," Gonzalez said. "When there are more people out on bond, it definitely isn’t a good thing when sometimes we’re waiting two, three, four years to return to court...there’s no accountability."

Gonzalez commands the state’s largest sheriff’s department whose jail is out of compliance with the state and is experiencing an inmate boom. “It’s the first time that we’ve had over 10,000 inmates in more than a decade,” Gonzalez said. In Austin, while at the Texas Tribune Festival, Gonzalez said a solution in part is investing in public safety infrastructure, including a new jail, to keep from sending inmates hundreds of miles away or across state lines to be housed. “I do believe that it’s worth seriously considering it. I think our population’s grown, the buildings are outdated, the facilities are very limited in terms of programming that we can offer,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez wants a complex that will be able to house any future criminal justice disruptions, provide rehabilitation services, job training and adult education. Gonzalez said 75% of those in Harris County’s custody right now are considered violent offenders, he says that number should be closer to 25%. Gonzalez added that despite outside narratives, Harris County has not defunded police. “So I think there’s a lot of analysis that needs to be done so it’s not just a throwing a random number out there but being thoughtful, seeing what would that look like,” he said.

City Stories

WFAA - September 25, 2022

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD superintendent the latest to step down from leadership role in North Texas

Another North Texas superintendent is stepping down from their role, adding to the growing list of shifts in leadership across the area. Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Robin Ryan announced Friday that he will retire after 38 years in the Texas public education system. Ryan served 13 years as superintendent for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. His last day will be Jan. 1, 2023, and he will remain an employee until Aug. 31, 2023, pending the approval of the school board. “I am making this announcement now so that the Board of Trustees can have time to begin the selection process for the new superintendent,” Ryan said in a press release. “The incredible level of community and district support we have experienced in GCISD has been a hallmark of our success.”

The school board highlighted achievements that occurred under Ryan’s leadership, including developing an online school, growing programs in STEM learning and for gifted students, and career and technical education. “On behalf of the board, we highly value the progress made in our school system under Superintendent Ryan’s leadership,” Grapevine-Colleyville Board President Casey Ford said. “Dr. Ryan has been a tireless visionary for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD over the past 13 years.” Though, along with the district’s accomplishments, has come criticism from parents and students. In August, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD faced both backlash and praise after its board banned the teaching of critical race theory, implementing a strict review of library books and not requiring or encouraging the use of pronouns that are not aligned with the gender assigned at birth. Following the school board’s vote, Grapevine High School students held a protest. One student said, “These rules are taking away our rights to feel safe and to express ourselves and to be honest about who we are.” The school district also cut ties with the Scholastic Book Fair because the company didn’t provide a full list of every book it would sell at the fair. Despite the backlash in recent months, Ryan's said in today's release that the school district’s staff, including teachers and board trustees, “deserve all of the credit for working together as a team for the success of our students.” School board trustee Coley Canter told WFAA Ryan will leave behind a legacy of academic success. "I respected his leadership so much," Canter said. "Dr. Ryan continually and consistently decided to say yes to a lot of things: a stem academy, a gifted academy, a collegiate academy, an opportunity our iUniversity (virtual) prep."

Texas Public Radio - September 23, 2022

San Antonio Councilman Mario Bravo suspended after verbally attacking Councilwoman Ana Sandoval

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg stripped District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo from all committee assignments and external appointments on Friday until an investigation into his verbal attack on District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval is completed. Bravo lashed out at Sandoval last week after she did not back his proposal over the distribution of the CPS Energy surplus revenue. The pair previously dated. Bravo publicly said at the council meeting that her actions illustrated why their relationship ended and why he did not want to have children with her. Sandoval cried in response. Bravo later apologized to all parties.

The mayor's office also released the following statement from Nirenberg on Friday afternoon: “Maintaining decorum is essential for City Council to do its work. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and professionally but elected officials should hold themselves to the highest standard. It is every organization’s responsibility to provide a secure professional work environment. The City of San Antonio and my office take this responsibility seriously.” It was not immediately clear when that investigation would be completed or if Bravo would face further official sanctions from the city.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 25, 2022

Jacqueline Craig,whose 2016 arrest went viral, settles with city

The city of Fort Worth has reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit with Jacqueline Craig, a Black woman whose 2016 arrest went viral, sparking outcries over police bias. Craig was wrestled to the ground by Fort Worth police after she called them during a dispute with a neighbor. The city agreed to pay Craig $150,000 pending City Council approval. Craig sued the city in 2017. The city admits no other fault as part of the settlement and there are no other requirements, a city spokesperson wrote in a text.

Body camera video showed Fort Worth police Officer William Martin arguing with Craig before he wrestled her to the ground. Craig and her daughter Brea Hymond were initially charged with assaulting a police officer, but the charges were dropped after body camera footage was leaked. Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement the settlement provides closure for the Craig family and the Fort Worth community. “As a city, we will remain committed to fostering greater communication and understanding and continuing the progress we’ve made in addressing the needs of Fort Worth,” the statement read. Mayor Pro Tem Gyna Bivens said she’s happy the city and the Craig family could come to an agreement to put the matter behind them. “This put a big weight on her. It put a big weight on the city, and I hope the settlement is enough for everyone to feel refreshed and ready to move forward,” Bivens said.

National Stories

Washington Post - September 25, 2022

Trump and DeSantis: Once allies, now in simmering rivalry with 2024 nearing

Donald Trump put his full force behind Ron DeSantis in 2018, rallying with the GOP gubernatorial candidate in his home state of Florida. “My great friend,” Trump said. “A tough, brilliant cookie.” Four years later, Trump has yet to endorse DeSantis as he seeks a second term and is unlikely to campaign for him, according to Trump advisers with knowledge of the former president’s intentions. The two men once spoke regularly, a close Trump adviser said, but, “those days are gone.” The two haven’t talked since early in the summer, people familiar with the matter said, and DeSantis has not asked Trump to campaign for him. A favorite to win reelection, DeSantis is trying to assert his national influence, appealing to Trump’s supporters and touring swing states to headline rallies for other Republicans on the ballot this fall, as he subtly distances himself from Trump in speeches, while not explicitly criticizing the ex-president.

Although neither has announced any firm decisions, Trump and DeSantis are widely seen in the Republican Party as potential rivals for the 2024 presidential nomination. The public contrasts and behind-the-scenes tensions reflect how formidable an emerging adversary the Florida governor has become to Trump, even as the 45th president polls far ahead of the pack in a hypothetical primary match-up. At a recent gathering DeSantis had with a few dozen donors in Arizona, “everyone asked him about 2024,” according to Don Tapia, a donor who attended and who served as an ambassador in the Trump administration. DeSantis, Tapia said, “is building a base with the Trump people,” but, “right now the Republican base is Donald Trump’s base.” In recently flying migrants from Texas to a liberal enclave, Martha’s Vineyard, DeSantis took a polarizing step that Trump considered as president but eventually scuttled. It drew attention and outrage from Democrats and human rights advocates and delighted the conservative base on an issue core to Trump’s political identity: immigration.

NPR - September 25, 2022

From mass graves to Martha's Vineyard, the American dream is fraught for migrants

In a cramped shelter with a tin roof and rows of tents lined up side-to-side, Jesús Ariel puts on his shoes to start the day while his seven-year-old son blows bubbles and tries to keep them afloat. "We left our home to try to realize that dream," he says. The pair is staying at Movimiento Juventud 2000 — one of about 20 migrant shelters in Tijuana — while they wait for their chance to enter the U.S. to ask for asylum. They fled here from Honduras after Jesús Ariel was attacked by gang members. "Honestly, things are very dangerous there. But thank God, I am here," he says. "We came with the dream to accomplish something, at least have a little house."

The shelter they currently call home is in Tijuana's Zona Norte red light district — a section of the city where prostitution is legal and cartels are known to operate. Still, Jesús Ariel says he feels comfortable here because he and his son sleep together in their own tent. While they've only been at this shelter for a few days, they have been in Mexico for more than a year. This is not unusual, says Rafael Fernández de Castro, the director at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at UC San Diego. "In the past, shelters were for migrants to stay three or four or five days and then come across to the U.S.," he says. "Now it's different. In the shelters, migrants are staying months, even years." The reasons are varied. Some people are waiting on legal appointments, while others have applied for asylum in the U.S. and that process can now drag out for months. Tijuana has become one of the main hubs for migrants to wait. Many have already tried to cross the border but have been turned back because of Title 42. The pandemic public health order invoked under President Trump — and still in place under President Biden — prevents migrants from asking for asylum at the border, and instead allows border agents to swiftly expel them from the U.S. without hearing their claim. There were nearly 1.8 million expulsions of migrants during the first two years of the policy. The recidivism rate of those trying to cross increased from 7% in 2019 to 27% in 2021.

Associated Press - September 25, 2022

A stark gender divide emerges over abortion in some Republican-led legislatures

Outside the chambers of the West Virginia Legislature, the marble foyer was packed with young women in T-shirts, ripped jeans, and gym shorts holding signs with uteruses drawn in colored marker. “Bans off our bodies,” the signs said. “Abortion is essential.” Inside, a group of lawmakers, almost all of them men, sat at desks in pressed suits, doing their best to talk over protesters’ chants carrying through the heavy wooden doors. A stark gender divide has emerged in debates unfolding in Republican-led states including West Virginia, Indiana and South Carolina following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to end constitutional protections for abortion. As male-dominated legislatures in Texas and elsewhere in recent years worked to advance bans, often with support of the few Republican women holding office, protesters were more likely to be women.

The contrast wasn’t lost on West Virginia Sen. Owens Brown, the only Black lawmaker in the Republican-dominated Senate, who asked lawmakers to look around before they passed a bill banning abortion at all stages of pregnancy last week. “When I look around the room, what do I see? A bunch of middle-aged and some elderly men. Also, middle-income men,” the Democrat said during a final Senate debate in which only men shared opinions. “Look out in the hallway. What do you see? You see young women, and we’re here making a decision for all these young women because you’re never going to have to ever face this issue yourself.” In West Virginia, Indiana and South Carolina, lawmakers fighting against abortion bans have pointed to the gender divide, insisting that men shouldn’t get to dictate medical decisions for women. Ban supporters say abortion affects not only women, but also children, and all of society. “I am incredibly grateful to the men in my caucus, who were not afraid to stand up for life,” said Republican Del. Kayla Kessinger, one of the West Virginia ban’s biggest supporters. “They have just as much of a right to have an opinion on this as anyone else.

Dallas Morning News - September 25, 2022

Tracked: How colleges use AI to monitor student protests

T he pitch was attractive and simple. For a few thousand dollars a year, Social Sentinel offered schools across the country sophisticated technology to scan social media posts from students at risk of harming themselves or others. Used correctly, the tool could help save lives, the company said. For some colleges that bought the service, it also served a different purpose — allowing campus police to surveil student protests. During demonstrations over a Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill, a Social Sentinel employee entered keywords into the company’s monitoring tool to find posts related to the protests. At Kennesaw State University in Georgia five years ago, authorities used the service to track protesters at a town hall with a U.S. senator, records show. And at North Carolina A&T, a campus official told a Social Sentinel employee to enter keywords to find posts related to a cheerleader’s allegation that the school mishandled her rape complaint.

An investigation by The Dallas Morning News and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism reveals for the first time that as more students have embraced social media as a digital town square to express opinions and organize demonstrations, many college police departments have been using taxpayer dollars to pay for Social Sentinel’s services to monitor what they say. At least 37 colleges, including four in North Texas, collectively educating hundreds of thousands of students, have used Social Sentinel since 2015. The true number of colleges that used the tool could be far higher. In an email to a UT Dallas police lieutenant, the company’s co-founder, Gary Margolis, said it was used by “hundreds of colleges and universities in 36 states.” Margolis declined to comment on this story. The News examined thousands of pages of emails, contracts and marketing material from colleges around the country, and spoke to school officials, campus police, activists and experts. The investigation shows that, despite publicly saying its service was not a surveillance tool, Social Sentinel representatives promoted the tool to universities for “mitigating” and “forestalling” protests. The documents also show the company has been moving in a new and potentially more invasive direction — allowing schools to monitor student emails on university accounts.

Associated Press - September 25, 2022

Georgia voting equipment breach at center of tangled tale

The tale of breached voting equipment in one of the country’s most important political battleground states involves a bail bondsman, a prominent attorney tied to former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and a cast of characters from a rural county that rarely draws notice from outsiders. How they all came together and what it could mean for the security of voting in the upcoming midterm elections are questions tangled up in a lawsuit and state investigations that have prompted calls to ditch the machines altogether. Details of the unauthorized access of sensitive voting equipment in Coffee County, Georgia, became public last month when documents and emails revealed the involvement of high-profile Trump supporters. That’s also when it caught the attention of an Atlanta-based prosecutor who is leading a separate investigation of Trump’s efforts to undo his loss in the state.

Since then, revelations about what happened in the county of 43,000 people have raised questions about whether the Dominion Voting Systems machines used in Georgia have been compromised. The public disclosure of the breach began with a rambling phone call from an Atlanta-area bail bondsman to the head of an election security advocacy group involved in a long-running lawsuit targeting the state’s voting machines. According to a recording filed in court earlier this year, the bail bondsman said he’d chartered a jet and was with a computer forensics team at the Coffee County elections office when they “imaged every hard drive of every piece of equipment.” That happened on Jan. 7, 2021, a day after the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and two days after a runoff election in which Democrats swept both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats. The trip to Coffee County, about 200 miles south of Atlanta, to copy data and software from elections equipment was directed by attorney Sidney Powell and other Trump allies, according to deposition testimony and documents produced in response to subpoenas.

NPR - September 25, 2022

Stocks and bonds both get clobbered this time. Here's what's behind the double whammy

Deborah McDaniel is a retiree who has her life savings in a mix of both stocks and bonds, which she thought was a responsible, safe approach. But her portfolio got "hammered," she says. "Down about...25% over the last 18 months." McDaniel's not alone. So far this year, the S&P 500 stock index is down 23%. When stocks fall, bonds usually hold their value or even see it rise. But not this time. Bond market index funds are down about 15% over the past year. All that's brought the value of McDaniel's retirement account down to around $400,000 from upwards of $500,000. "Maybe I need to find a job again," McDaniels says she finds herself thinking. Which at 69 years old is, "not something I relish doing." The culprit behind stocks and bonds falling at the same time: inflation. It turns out, inflation is not just just hurting you through higher prices at the grocery store and your electric bills, if you own bonds it's tanking their value too.

Owning both stocks and bonds is a basic concept of investing. Stocks tend to make you the most money over long periods of time. But they're risky and can be volatile. Bonds are more like the slow steady turtle paying you a fixed predictable rate of return. In normal times, when worries about a recession pushes down stocks, the Federal Reserve would cut interest rates to boost the economy. That also has the effect of pushing up bond prices. But that's not happening now. "This is one of those rare years when both bonds and stocks work against the investor," says David Kotok, chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisors. "This time, the Federal Reserve has a different problem," Kotok says. The worst inflation in 40 years is threatening to become embedded in the fabric of the economy. So instead of cutting interest rates, the Fed is trying to fight inflation by raising interest rates a lot to slow the economy. That's basically what's pushing down bond prices. "The reason that bonds drop in value is that interest rates rise," says Rick Miller, an economist who runs the advisory firm Sensible Financial near Boston.

September 23, 2022

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 23, 2022

Viral video shows man’s arrest on UNT campus in Denton

Some students at the University of North Texas in Denton are calling for transparency after video of a man’s arrest on campus circulated widely on social media Thursday. The video posted on Twitter amassed more than 200,000 views and thousands of retweets, likes and comments after a student posted it Wednesday afternoon. University police replied to the tweet with a statement saying police were called because the man was causing a disturbance at an event inside the UNT union building. “Officers talked to the individual and asked him to leave the event,” the university police department’s statement said. “The individual continued to create a disturbance and was arrested related to this. No force was used related to this arrest.”

Police haven’t released his name. In the video, which starts outside the building, the student filming asks the officers repeatedly why the man is under arrest. Police do not respond. The man, who is handcuffed, tells the student that he gave officers his student ID and that he is registered, but they were not listening to him. “I am a student, they keep trying to tell me I’m not a student,” the man says in the video as police search his pockets. In the video, the man says he was trying to attend a job fair inside the UNT union building, and the event organizers confirmed to police that he was a student. “I asked you to talk to the president of my school,” he says to an officer. “I said I was going to talk to my president, and you told me I can’t. You didn’t even talk to the people who registered the event.” The man says in the video he took classes last semester and is still registered as a student but has not taken classes this semester. After several minutes, police escort the man to the back of a police car. The university confirmed to the Star-Telegram the man was enrolled in classes in fall 2021 but isn’t in 2022. A university spokesman said the man was arrested and booked into the Denton County Jail on suspicion of criminal trespass and disrupting a meeting. The case will be filed soon with the Denton County DA’s Office, the spokesman said.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

UT-Austin sets enrollment records, sees increases in underrepresented populations

The University of Texas at Austin set record enrollment with 52,384 students for the fall 2022 semester, welcoming the most ever first-year undergraduates and counting its highest overall student population. The flagship’s growth also comes with gains in its historically underrepresented student populations: More Black and Hispanic students enrolled than last year. And more than 10 years after launching a goal to drastically increase four-year graduation rates, 73.5 percent of students in 2022 succeeded in the effort, up from 52.2 percent in 2012, according to figures released by the university Thursday.

“Year after year, increasingly more of the most outstanding students from across Texas and beyond want to enroll at our world-class university,” UT-Austin President Jay Hartzell said Thursday. “Improved graduation rates reduce students’ expenses and allow them to generate income sooner, while also expanding opportunities for incoming students who seek the rigorous education and vibrant college experience that UT offers.” UT-Austin this fall enrolled 9,109 first-time, first-year undergraduates, up from 9,060 the previous year, according to data collected on the 12th class day. Enrollment also set a new high with 52,384 students, up from 52,261 in 2002. Black, Hispanic, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students now make up 33.6 percent of the undergraduate population and 30.3 percent of the entire university population, according to the data.

Laredo Morning Times - September 22, 2022

Texas among worst states for voting access, new study says

Texas was just ranked one of the worst states in the U.S. for voting access. Ahead of this year's election season, nonpartisan academic publication Cost of Voting Index ranked each of the 50 states based on how difficult it is for its residents to register to vote and access ballots. Texas landed at No. 46, just ahead of Wisconsin, Arkansas, Mississippi and New Hampshire, in order. To compile the ranking, the study measured 10 different election-related categories, including ease of registration, voting inconvenience and poll hours, voting by mail, absentee voting, length of early voting periods and number of voting sites.

The Lone Star State's low ranking can likely be attributed to recent voter restriction laws passed by the Texas Legislature after Gov. Greg Abbott listed “election integrity” as one of his emergency items for the 2021 legislative session, the Texas Tribune reported. However, no evidence of widespread voter fraud claims heard after the 2020 election were found, according to AP News. Senate Bill 1 was one of the significant pieces of legislation signed into law last September which, among other restrictions, now limits counties’ ability to expand voting options, bans overnight early voting hours and drive-thru voting, and makes it a state jail felony for local election officials to distribute applications for mail-in ballots, even if they are providing them to voters who automatically qualify to vote by mail or groups helping get out the vote. States ranked at or near the top of the list for voting access include Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Hawaii, in order. These states' high ranking is attributed to universal vote-by-mail processes, online or same-day voter registration and voting, and no strict ID requirements, the report said. As the 2022 midterm elections approach, the deadline to register to vote in person or by mail in Texas is Oct. 11, according to the Secretary of State's Office. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 28.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2022

Estonian startup picks Fort Worth for U.S. headquarters

When Hillwood Chairman Ross Perot Jr. told a crowd at Alliance Airport “Fort Worth is like Estonia,” his comparison wasn’t immediately obvious. What does the former Soviet republic one-fifteenth the size of Texas have in common with Cowtown? Both places are looking forward. The seemingly unlikely bedfellows cemented their relationship Thursday with the announcement that Fort Worth will be home to the North American headquarters of Clevon, an Estonian startup that manufactures self-driving delivery vehicles. The event attracted Estonian dignitaries including President Alar Karis.

Its product Clevon 1 provides last-mile delivery services, meaning it carries items on the final leg of the delivery journey to customers’ homes. The vehicle is already being tested in Europe. The company — which is expected to grow almost five times to $57 billion in the next six years — is the latest addition to the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone, a burgeoning hub for autonomous truck technology. Eventually, the company plans to manufacture its products in Fort Worth. With Estonia’s far-reaching technological advances and Fort Worth’s rapid growth and ravenous market, the match makes sense. In just a few years, residents of Fort Worth’s dense urbanized communities could start receiving their groceries and takeout orders from a colorful little truck, known as Clevon 1. At five feet tall, eight feet long and nearly four feet wide, Clevon 1 looks like a cartoonish miniature freight truck. It runs on electricity and can travel up to 31 mph. Some versions of the prototype feature a flatbed. Others carry what looks like an Amazon locker where customers can enter a code to retrieve their delivery.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2022

UNT settles former adjunct instructor’s lawsuit for $165K

In a settlement to conclude a lawsuit, the University of North Texas paid $165,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees in the case of a former adjunct instructor who alleged his First Amendment rights were violated when the institution effectively fired him after he wrote a criticism of a flier that explained microaggressions. The settlement agreement in the case of the adjunct, Nathaniel Hiers, was filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. It is a victory for free speech on public university campuses, Hiers’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale, Arizona-headquartered organization, said. “The First Amendment guarantees Dr. Hiers — and every other American — the right to express his viewpoint without government punishment,” Michael Ross, the organization’s legal counsel, wrote in a statement.

A university spokesperson said the settlement, in which the lawsuit is dismissed, avoids continued legal quarrel. “As a university that prepares its students for success in a global economy, it is vitally important that our faculty understand perspectives and experiences different from their own,” according to a university statement. “Our settlement allows the university to return our focus where it belongs with the students who have chosen to invest their resources in pursuing an excellent education as part of our UNT family. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our faculty members’ rights to free expression and to our students’ rights to an inclusive, nondiscriminatory educational environment, and we are fully committed to ensuring that both can — and will — coexist at the University of North Texas.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 23, 2022

Bexar County sheriff receives hate mail, calls after announcing investigation into migrant flights

Hate mail and calls are rushing into the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office after Sheriff Javier Salazar announced an investigation into how 48 South American migrants were “lured” onto a flight to Martha’s Vineyard. A sheriff’s office spokesman said the agency received an influx of calls to both the dispatch and administrative offices, along with hateful emails. He said precautionary measures will be taken for the safety of all personnel, as is done in any instance when the office receives “threats.” On Monday, the sheriff said its organized crime division is working to determine what crimes were committed — possibly human trafficking — in Bexar County by a person who was paid a fee to recruit 50 migrants on Sept. 14 from the city’s Migrant Resource Center, 7000 San Pedro Ave.

Salazar said the migrants, many Venezuelan asylum-seekers, were preyed upon by someone from out of the state and offered jobs and a stay at a hotel in Massachusetts. Instead, they were shuttled onto two chartered jets for what was ultimately a photo opportunity, which the sheriff said was wrongdoing from a human rights perspective. In the days since, his comments have made national headlines, garnering public criticism by Attorney General Ken Paxton and a jest during a segment by “Late Night” talk show host Stephen Colbert.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

Fabricated tweet reports made-up O’Rourke quote about fighting Abbott

CLAIM: An image shows the Houston Chronicle reported and tweeted that Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke challenged his political opponent, Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, to a fight. AP’S ASSESSMENT: Altered photo. The Chronicle did not publish that tweet or post a story reporting as much, the news organization confirmed. THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing a manipulated image meant to look like a screenshot of a Chronicle tweet posted Sept. 20. The made-up tweet reads: “Beto O’Rourke: ‘if you don’t want to debate me then fight me. I’ll whoop your ass at the Whataburger off of Guadalupe in Austin. It’s only a walking distance from your house. F— forgot you can’t walk.’ He said at a rally in Round Rock this Saturday.”

The image also shows what appears to be a preview for a Chronicle story headlined, “Beto O’Rourke challenges Greg Abbott to a fight at ‘the Whataburger off of Guadalupe in Austin.’” But there is no record of the Chronicle’s official Twitter account posting that tweet. “This is a complete fabrication; we have never written that story,” the Chronicle’s managing editor, Jennifer Chang, said in an email to The Associated Press. Chang pointed out that the organization has published and tweeted actual news stories that used the photo of O’Rourke seen in the manipulated image. For example, the Houston Chronicle posted a Sept. 20 tweet that linked to a story headlined, “Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke spend $8 million in battle for Spanish speaking voters.” That tweet’s story preview uses the same photo of O’Rourke standing and holding a microphone, supporters around him, with his right arm stretched outward. O’Rourke and Abbott are scheduled to debate on Sept. 30.

San Antonio Express-News - September 22, 2022

$5K reward offered for ID of 'Perla,' who helped DeSantis send Texas migrants to Martha's Vineyard

Any information related to the identity of a certain San Antonio woman is now considered valuable. On Saturday, officials with the League of United Latin American Citizens offered a $5,000 cash reward for any information leading to the identification of "Perla," who is the woman who reportedly helped Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis send 50 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha's Vineyard last week. Perla allegedly lured those migrants on two Massachusetts-bound flights with false promises. Among the promises made to those immigrants were work opportunities, schooling for children and immigration assistance in Massachusetts. False promises may have also included free housing and three months of work, according to the Cape Cod Times.

Until they landed, the immigrants did not know they were going to Martha's Vineyard, a small community of 20,000. LULAC officials said the immigrants were instead told they were bound for Boston. According to Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, the flights could be considered human trafficking. He opened an investigation into the incident on Tuesday. Officials with LULAC, the oldest and largest civil rights organization for Latin Americans in the U.S., told Texas Public Radio that their goal was to file charges with the Bexar County District Attorney's Office and BCSO. On Sept. 17 and 18, LULAC representatives were in San Antonio canvassing the city looking for the woman and putting up wanted posters in areas where she has been reported as working. Perla has been described as a tall, blond woman speaking to migrants in broken Spanish at a McDonald's parking lot near the Migrant Resource Center at 7000 San Pedro Ave., according to the Boston Globe.

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

David Balat and Alec Mendoza: Medicaid reform in Texas can help more than 400,000 children get coverage

(David Balat is the director of Right on Healthcare for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Alec Mendoza is senior policy associate for health for Texans Care for Children.) Despite what seems like an unrelenting flow of disagreements on political and public policy issues, it is important we come together to solve important problems — especially when it involves the most vulnerable among the next generation. While our organizations, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texans Care for Children, do not always agree on every policy issue, we do strive to collaborate on policy solutions where we can. In this case, we agree that the Texas Legislature has a unique opportunity to fix unintended bureaucratic barriers in Medicaid that are hurting the children for whom much of the program was intended. In 2019, approximately 400,000 Texas children were eligible for Medicaid but were not covered. We believe it’s because the eligibility system itself is to blame. It’s understaffed, it’s difficult to navigate, and there are unintended bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult for parents to sign up their children.

There are in-person barriers. Applications or renewals are inaccessible for many working parents because field offices are not open on weekends or evenings, or were permanently closed during the pandemic. There are online barriers. For example, if you forget your password for the YourTexasBenefits.com website (and who doesn’t?), you can’t retrieve it or reset it online. You have to call 2-1-1 — during business hours. Oh, and that’s a problem too. Wait times on hold with 2-1-1 are typically 45 minutes — and often more than an hour — which is longer than the standard lunch break. This leads to parents having to hang up when their lunch break is over, often the only time they can call during the day. Even when parents do get connected, their call is dropped altogether. Even when families overcome these barriers, there are system problems that can get their application delayed or dropped. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has lost about 1,000 eligibility workers, contributing to long delays in processing applications. There needs to be more urgency from the Texas Legislature in helping eligible children. What can be done? First, the Legislature needs to revitalize the state’s health coverage education, outreach and application assistance efforts, including state funding for community-based organizations, such as food banks or local health centers, to conduct outreach and provide application assistance to families with eligible children.

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

Republicans cheering Texas’ surprise buses demand alerts to states when feds move migrants

Scores of House Republicans, including a dozen from Texas, have co-sponsored a proposal requiring federal agencies to provide a week’s notice to state and local officials before sending migrants into their jurisdictions. Many of those same lawmakers, however, are now cheering governors in Texas and Florida as they surprise Democratic mayors in Washington, D.C., New York and other cities with unannounced buses and planes loaded with migrants. The apparent disconnect has prompted suggestions of hypocrisy that came up when Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving, appeared this week on CNN. “If you think it should be law that the federal government notifies the states, why shouldn’t the states be required to notify cities that they’re sending migrants?” the interviewer asked Van Duyne. “Is it politically just convenient to be against the Democratic administration and not require that of Republican governors?” Van Duyne pushed back on the idea she’s trying to have it both ways, saying border security and immigration enforcement are the federal government’s responsibilities and Democrats are in denial about the situation.

“You can’t complain that you got people coming in and not being notified, at the same time arguing that your borders are closed,” Van Duyne said. “They’re not. We do have open borders and every city now is seeing those results.” Democrats have strongly denounced the migrant bus gambit – led most prominently by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – as political theater featuring the migrants themselves as human pawns. After migrants from Texas were dropped off earlier this month outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre highlighted the lack of notice involved as evidence of the plan’s callousness. “The fact that Fox News — and not the Department of Homeland Security, the city, or local [nongovernmental organizations] — were alerted about a plan to leave migrants, including children, on the side of a busy D.C. street makes clear that this is just a cruel, premeditated political stunt,” she said.

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff endorses Democrat Mike Collier over Dan Patrick

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff endorsed Democrat Mike Collier over GOP incumbent Dan Patrick Thursday, adding another prominent cross-party supporter to his coalition of support. Ratliff is the most prominent Republican yet to throw his support behind Collier, whose campaign in recent weeks has emphasized his past as a former Republican. Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, have also endorsed Collier. “When I ran for office, I had support from both sides of the aisle because the people of East Texas voted for the man, not the party,” Ratliff said in a news release from Collier’s campaign. “As a former elected Republican, I’m putting partisanship aside and joining the growing number of Republicans voting for the man we think is best for Texas, and that’s Mike Collier.”

Ratliff served in the Legislature as a senator from 1999 until he was elected by the Senate in 2000 to finish the term of Rick Perry as lieutenant governor. Perry succeeded George W. Bush as governor after Bush was elected president. Ratliff did not run for a full term as lieutenant governor in 2022 and retired from the Senate in 2004. During his time in the Legislature, Ratliff was a well-known moderate Republican who sided with Democrats during a bitter redistricting battle that contributed to his eventual retirement from public office. In recent weeks, Collier has been making a play for moderate Republicans and independents as his campaign heads into the home stretch of campaigning. It has been a stark about face after he fended off challengers in the Democratic primary and runoff that questioned his progressive bonafides. “We are building a coalition across the state and across the aisle, and I could not be more proud to have Governor Ratliff’s support,” Collier said in the announcement. Patrick’s campaign manager Allen Blakemore called Ratliff’s endorsement a “Dinosaur parade.” “I haven’t heard his name in nearly 20 years,” Blakemore said in a text message. “As I said earlier, the post Labor Day Dinosaur parade has begun.” Patrick has also picked up an across-the-aisle endorsement from Brownsville Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio.

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

The Watchdog: Texas DPS doesn’t provide your data anymore — except to 2,400 entities

If you’re interested in protecting your privacy, here’s an update on the new year-old state law called the Texas Consumer Privacy Act. This is an important step for privacy protection because for the first time, the state has made it illegal to sell your personal data to outside marketing companies. Fines for violators who resell the data to marketing companies can now be as high as $100,000. And companies that purchase the data must put up a $1 million performance bond. That should help keep scammers away. Ever get calls for extended car warranties? Of course you do. Who hasn’t? The new law specifically prohibits those spam calls. The Watchdog previously reported that various parts of state government have sold your personal information for average annual earnings of $90 million, which goes into state coffers. I’ve been following this story for seven years since I first discovered what a cash cow this setup is.

I’ve also reported that the Texas Department of Public Safety has sold the most data for the most money. Now I advance my reporting here by telling you that an open records request I made shows that as of July, DPS had contracts with 2,400 different entities. DPS data sold includes your name, address, date of birth and other information found on your driver’s license and also your driving record, as known by the state. DPS spokesperson Ericka Miller tells me, “The majority of entities who have a driver record agreement with DPS use the information obtained to verify driver record status. These entities include employers, insurers, insurance support organizations, employer support organizations or companies that self-insure their motor vehicles to monitor the records of drivers.” The law’s sponsor, Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, says he will introduce the second part of his privacy plan in the 2023 Texas Legislature. Nichols has told me that when he learned that DPS earned $67 million in one year selling our data to 1,200 entities, “I feel like I hit pay dirt.” With my 2,400 entities on DPS’ sales records, I guess I hit double pay dirt.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

FEMA responded faster, spent more on Harvey victims than Maria victims in Puerto Rico, report says

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to Hurricanes Harvey was far more extensive than its aid to Maria in 2017, according to a report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Wednesday. The independent commission's report examined how FEMA's response efforts differed between Harvey, which killed at least 68 people in Texas, and Maria, which killed 2,975 in Puerto Rico. The response in Texas was on a "larger scale" and faster than the response in Puerto Rico. The slow pace from federal agencies significantly affected the recovery of Maria survivors, according to the report. FEMA already having supplies and personnel available in Texas in preparation for Harvey is a reason aid was quicker, the commission found. The scarcity of Spanish-speaking FEMA staff members also affected the agency's response in Puerto Rico.

Relief funding was disproportionately distributed by FEMA which approved $141.8 million for individual assistance to Harvey victims and $6.2 million for Maria survivors, according to the report. In the immediate aftermath of Maria, FEMA received over 1.1 million applications for individual housing assistance in Puerto Rico and denied 60% of them. The study found that survivors in Texas received $1.28 billion in aid within two months after Harvey made landfall, while it took four months for Maria survivors to receive $1 billion in aid after landfall. FEMA was the "first responder in the early response efforts in Puerto Rico,” and provided services “typically provided by territorial or local governments," the agency wrote in its 2017 Hurricane Season After-Action Report. After both storms, the application and appeals process for survivors was challenging, according to the report. In a survey of Harvey survivors, more than half of the respondents weren't receiving the assistance they needed to get back on their feet, and those who were denied help weren't told the reason for their denials or given information on how to re-apply.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

Bayou Bucket: Why Rice, Houston want to keep rivalry alive

There is a trophy up for grabs, Rice coach Mike Bloomgren tells the crowd, and that means something “no matter what it looks like.” At the front of a dais Wednesday, the Bayou Bucket served as the guest of honor. A brass bucket mounted on a wooden ornate base and standing about 3 feet tall, the Bayou Bucket goes to the winner of the crosstown football rivalry between Rice and the University of Houston. It was purchased in the early 1970s for $179.20 and has dents. It's been dropped more times than organizers can count. And it's been called "ugly," even after undergoing a makeover a few years ago. There are other, more unique rivalry trophies in college football: Indiana and Michigan State play for the Old Brass Spittoon. Ole Miss and Mississippi State square off for a golden egg. SMU and TCU have the Iron Skillet. The Minnesota-Wisconsin winner gets Paul Bunyan’s Axe. To the victor of Iowa-Minnesota goes the Floyd of Rosedale, a 98-pound bronze pig.

But nowhere among the top tier of college football is there a closer rivalry than the one between the Owls and Cougars. “Proximity is what’s so cool about it,” Bloomgren said. “I’ve seen different things. Is it 4.2 or 4.8 miles between the two campuses?” “4.6,” a voice says from the back of a room inside UH’s Athletics-Alumni Center. “That makes it really cool,” Bloomgren added. As UH (Big 12) and Rice (American Athletic Conference) prepare to make transitions to new conferences next year, the future of the Bayou Bucket remains in doubt. Not to worry, though. Sources on both sides said both schools want to continue the rivalry game beyond 2023, presently the only remaining game left on the current contract. Chris Pezman, UH’s vice president for athletics, told a small gathering for the Bayou Bucket luncheon that “some details need to be worked out” but that the close proximity between the schools “makes too much sense” not to play on an annual basis.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

Texas Medical Center's new 500-acre biomanufacturing center to bring 100,000 jobs to Houston

The Texas Medical Center plans to build a 500-acre biomanufacturing and medical supplies distribution center in Houston, a project that represents the latest push to establish the city as a premier hub for life sciences. The new campus, called TMC BioPort, is still in the early stages of development. But once it's completed, it’s expected to double the overall size of the medical center and create 100,000 jobs for Greater Houston residents, TMC President and CEO Bill McKeon said. The medical center has been focused on expanding its presence in the life sciences ecosystem in recent years through projects such as TMC Innovation and TMC Helix Park. McKeon sees TMC BioPort as a natural evolution of that strategy; the campus could be home to manufacturing and distribution for cell and gene therapies, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

“We really think that this is the last missing piece to this largest life science ecosystem in the country,” McKeon said in an interview Wednesday. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the risk of depending on manufacturing from overseas, as many hospitals struggled to secure personal protective equipment and other critical supplies. Having manufacturing and distribution in Houston would help the region, as well as other areas of the country, avoid similar problems in the future, McKeon said. “We need to have these things in the U.S., and being the largest medical city in the world, we are the largest utilizer of supplies,” McKeon said. “It becomes even more of a critical thing for us to solve.” Having an easily obtainable stock of medical supplies nearby would be a significant benefit to hospitals that struggled to source them during the pandemic, said Dr. Paul Klotman, the president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

Rick Perry says John Kerry must 'be an idiot’ to think fossil fuels are dying.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the energy secretary under President Donald Trump, said Thursday fossil fuels will power the future, taking aim at the White House for its approach to the oil and gas industry. He took aim, specifically, at the Biden administration's climate czar, John Kerry. “You’ve got to be an idiot, Secretary Kerry, to think that the fossil fuel industry is at the end of its road,” Perry told hundreds of energy professionals at the Gulf Coast Industry Forum in Pasadena. “It’s not.” His comments come in the heat of the midterm election cycle. The Ukraine war is making clear how climate policies can go wrong, he said, pointing to the “cold and dark” winter ahead in Europe as it faces an energy crisis.

In his own speech at the conference, Gov. Greg Abbott said the Texas oil and gas industry is proving its worth to the world as Europe leans on it in its time of need. "If you're following at all, what's going on in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, the oil and gas that’s produced in Texas and shipped out of Texas is more essential globally now than ever before in the history of the world," Abbott said. Republicans will do well this November, Perry predicted. “Both the House and the Senate I think will be back in Republican hands,” he said, “and I think the fossil fuel industry will get the respect it deserves.” Despite a tense relationship with industry, Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, has acknowledged the role the industry must play in the path ahead if the world is to address climate change. "No government in the world has enough money to implement this transition," Kerry said during CERAweek in March, noting "we absolutely need the industry at the table." The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Perry urged forum attendees to “push back” on the hypocrisy of those who say they are worried about climate change while “flying around on your family’s private jet,” taking another jab at Kerry.

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

Houston Rep. Dan Crenshaw gunning for Homeland Security gavel

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw is running for the top spot on the Homeland Security Committee, a post that would give the Houston Republican significant influence over issues including border security and disaster relief if the GOP takes control of the House in November. The party is looking for a new leader for the committee because U.S. Rep. John Katko of New York, the top Republican on the panel, retires at the end of the year. Chairmanships are often decided by seniority, but Crenshaw, who has been in Congress for only two terms, is seen as a front-runner for the role.

Crenshaw is a former Navy SEAL and so far the only Republican from a border state in the race. He is from a district that knows well the importance of the Federal Emergency Management Administration with residents still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and other storms. The Houston Republican is also among the biggest fundraisers in his party and a regular presence on cable news networks. "I am uniquely positioned to lead the Homeland Security Committee," Crenshaw wrote in a letter to colleagues that touts his border state bona fides, experience in identifying terrorist threats from his time in the military, and his ability to "persuasively communicate our positions with the public," pointing to appearances not only on Fox News, but on shows with more liberal audiences like "The Daily Show" and "The View." Crenshaw is especially leaning on the border in his pitch to colleagues, which he is also making in a one-minute video packed with clips of him in TV hits and in committee hearings, along with scenes from the border. The video shows footage of Crenshaw climbing into a helicopter and talking to border patrol agents. "This isn’t even a money problem or a spending problem, it’s a policy problem, it’s an enforcement problem," Crenshaw says in the clip. An unidentified speaker says: "We need a Texas congressman, and we’ve got one." Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee is the only other Republican eyeing the post after three others have dropped out of the race, according to Politico, which first reported Crenshaw's interest in the position.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2022

Harris County Pct. 5 constable assistant chief arrested in Montgomery County prostitution bust

An assistant chief of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office has been arrested in a prostitution sting conducted by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, the latter agency said. Brian Harris, who had been the assistant chief for the Precinct 5 Constable's Office since 2017, was among 14 people arrested Wednesday in the undercover operation. He is in the Montgomery County Jail charged with solicitation of prostitution, a state jail felony. No attorney was listed for Harris, according to court documents. Harris, 57, was relieved of duty and terminated immediately after the arrest, Precinct Constable Ted Heap said Thursday in a news release. Heap said he was notified of Harris's arrest and said "we hold our deputies to the highest standard."

Harris joined Precinct 5 after retiring from the Houston Police Department, where he was a homicide detective for more than 20 years. The sheriff's office organized crime unit, in cooperation with Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, conducted the undercover sting operation at a local hotel, according to a news release from the alliance. The alliance, a multi-agency task force comprising federal, state and local law enforcement, said that it was sending a message that "we're not going to tolerate" individuals who promote human trafficking and prostitution in the community. "We will arrest and charge those who engage in this illicit act. We will also continue to identify those who have been forced into trafficking by rescuing them from their situations and connecting them with services to help with their recovery."

Brownsville Herald - September 22, 2022

Cameron County sheriff decries lack of funding

Cameron County Sheriff Eric Garza took Commissioners Court and County Judge Eddie Trevino to task Thursday for reducing the number of deputies assigned to courthouse security and freezing jailer salaries, saying the moves amount to “de-funding the sheriff’s office.” “Our detention officers and deputies are some of the most underpaid in the country and Commissioners Court refuses to give them a pay raise,” Garza said at a morning news conference. “The lack of a livable wage is causing our jail to be critically understaffed, even with our efforts to keep the inmate population down.”

The sheriff said Hidalgo County is paying detention officers from $35,000 to $37,000 annually and Bexar County in San Antonio $40,000, in addition to stipends for experience and having a degree, resulting in Cameron County being unable to retain jailers. “We’re paying $30,000. You go to Bexar County, they’re paying $40,000 and $42,000, and giving $2,000 bonuses to have our people come and apply to be deputies in their county in San Antonio,” Garza said. “We can’t compete.” Garza said the Texas Commission on Jail Standards requires the county to maintain a required ratio of jailers to inmates to protect both populations. Due to the lack of jailers, he said he had no choice but to stop housing federal inmates to stay in compliance and avoid being shut down. He said Commissioners Court had reduced sheriff’s office staffing by 55 positions and cut the number of detention officers assigned to courthouse security from 15 to seven. The sheriff’s department has been at the forefront of efforts to balance the county budget after Commissioners Court learned the department had dished out $1 million in overtime pay in addition to $1.9 million to feed inmates housed in the county’s jail facilities.

Houston Chronicle - September 23, 2022

Harris County Pct. 5 constable assistant chief arrested in Montgomery County prostitution bust

An assistant chief of the Harris County Precinct 5 Constable's Office has been arrested in a prostitution sting conducted by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office, the latter agency said. Brian Harris, who had been the assistant chief for the Precinct 5 Constable's Office since 2017, was among 14 people arrested Wednesday in the undercover operation. He was booked into the Montgomery County Jail and charged with solicitation of prostitution, a state jail felony. Harris was released from the jail on Thursday afternoon. No attorney was listed for Harris, according to court documents.

Harris, 57, was relieved of duty and terminated immediately after the arrest, Precinct Constable Ted Heap said Thursday in a news release. Heap said he was notified of Harris's arrest and said "we hold our deputies to the highest standard." Harris joined Precinct 5 after retiring from the Houston Police Department, where he was a homicide detective for more than 20 years. The sheriff's office organized crime unit, in cooperation with Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, conducted the undercover sting operation at a local hotel, according to a news release from the alliance. The alliance, a multi-agency task force comprising federal, state and local law enforcement, said that it was sending a message that "we're not going to tolerate" individuals who promote human trafficking and prostitution in the community. "We will arrest and charge those who engage in this illicit act. We will also continue to identify those who have been forced into trafficking by rescuing them from their situations and connecting them with services to help with their recovery."

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

Dallas nonprofit launches relief fund to combat economic consequences of monkeypox

Local health organizers are trying to raise at least $50,000 for a fund that aims to help Dallas residents struggling to meet their basic needs because of monkeypox infections. The Monkeypox Relief Assistance Fund, launched by Dallas health nonprofit Abounding Prosperity, Inc., will combat the economic implications of the monkeypox virus. An infection can last anywhere from two to four weeks, forcing people to take significant time off work. The virus has disproportionately impacted Black, Latino and LGBT communities, with more than 34% of Dallas County’s 689 total cases occurring in Black individuals and nearly 20% occurring in Latino individuals. A majority of cases have been reported in men who have sex with men, although the virus can spread to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

“Solidarity efforts are not enough. The health and economic burden among Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities in Dallas County and beyond is distressing,” said Kirk Myers-Hill, founder and CEO of Abounding Prosperity. So far, the fund has raised just over $1,600 of its goal on a GoFundMe page. Dallas-based natural gas distribution company Atmos Energy will also contribute $2,500 to the fund. New monkeypox cases in Dallas County have been declining since a peak of 25 new cases on Aug. 10, according to health department data. Still, for individuals who contract monkeypox, the virus can be devastating. A monkeypox infection is typically accompanied by flu-like symptoms, followed by lesions that can spread throughout the body or stay confined to only a few locations. The lesions go through several stages, including becoming raised and liquid filled, before scabbing over and falling off. They can be incredibly painful, although monkeypox is rarely fatal. “A lot of folks don’t realize that they do not have… the backing of their employer in order to be gone that long, because this isn’t COVID,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez said at the press conference announcing the relief fund.

National Stories

NBC News - September 22, 2022

Some of Trump's fake electors could determine election outcomes in midterm swing states

They were part of an effort across battleground states to upend the 2020 presidential election results, signing documents asserting they were their states’ rightful electors and Donald Trump — not Joe Biden — was the victor. Today, the U.S. Justice Department is circling these “fake electors.” The FBI has visited many of their homes delivering grand jury subpoenas and, in at least one case, seizing a cellphone, a source familiar with the investigation confirmed to NBC News. And the Jan. 6 Select Committee has compelled many of them to testify, arguing they were an integral part of a broader scheme cooked up by some of Trump’s closest confidants to overturn the election. Law enforcement activity has not pushed these false electors from their political perches. Instead, with just two months until the midterms, more than two dozen of the individuals who served as phony electors still hold some of the highest-ranking political posts in their state parties.

They’re also interwoven into the GOP infrastructure across seven battleground states that will determine the balance of Congress in November and the next presidential race two years later, according to a review by NBC News. At issue is the attempt by Republicans in seven battleground states that Biden won in 2020 — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — to offer phony slates of 84 Republicans most of whom signed certificates declaring themselves the “duly elected electors” from their states. The problem: There were official, state-certified electors for Biden whose votes were sent to Congress to be counted as part of the verification of presidential election results. The Trump effort, which even his own White House counsel said was not “legally sound,” according to Jan. 6 committee testimony, was ultimately unsuccessful. But the committee has presented testimony that members of Trump’s team plotted the scenario in advance of what ultimately led to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. A Trump spokesman declined to comment. Now, at least four false electors are running for public office and have already won their Republican primaries this year, including for lieutenant governor in Georgia. Two others are serving as paid campaign staffers for major Republicans like Arizona U.S. Senate nominee Blake Masters and Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.

Politico - September 22, 2022

Schumer 2.0: How a surprise same-sex marriage decision explains the Senate leader

Chuck Schumer concedes that forcing the GOP to vote on same-sex marriage protections before the election would have been the “easy thing.” Instead he took the path that defied his reputation as the Senate’s campaigner-in-chief. By punting what loomed as a difficult vote for Republicans until after the election, the Senate majority leader surprised both his critics and his allies. Inside Schumer’s caucus, some Democrats counseled a more confrontational approach in the hopes of pinning down Republicans. Yet Schumer’s decision to delay the same-sex marriage vote followed the guidance of the bill’s bipartisan negotiators: Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and three Republicans. It also cut publicly against his image in Washington as an operator more interested in an attack ad than crafting a legislative deal.

Schumer promises same-sex marriage vote 'in the coming weeks' SharePlay Video “On this one issue I have to give him credit for playing it in a non-political way,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who’s clashed with Schumer repeatedly after his attempts to defeat her in 2020. “He listened closely to our analysis, and didn’t want to play politics with it.” After two cycles atop Democrats’ campaign arm, then a role as the party’s top message man who pressed Republicans into rejecting poll-tested bills, Schumer is hitting his stride as party leader — tempering his pugnacity with a deliberative instinct shaped by running U.S. history’s longest 50-50 Senate. While Republicans see his patient approach on same-sex marriage and guns as exceptions to the rule, the past two years have made it more difficult to argue Schumer’s singular focus is making Republicans look bad. That’s not to say Schumer won’t throw a partisan haymaker. But as he leads his 50-member caucus into the midterms, his record as majority leader is coming into sharper relief after four years leading a Democratic minority whose main aim was foiling former President Donald Trump. Sen. Susan Collins speaks to reporters. CONGRESS

Washington Post - September 22, 2022

Putin faces fury in Russia over military mobilization and prisoner swap

Russian families bade tearful farewells on Thursday to thousands of sons and husbands abruptly summoned for military duty as part of President Vladimir Putin’s new mobilization, while pro-war Russian nationalists raged over the release of Ukrainian commanders in a secretive prisoner exchange. As women hugged their husbands and young men boarded buses to leave for 15 days of training before potentially being deployed to Russia’s stumbling war effort in Ukraine, there were signs of mounting public anger. More than 1,300 people were arrested at anti-mobilization protests in cities and towns across Russia on Wednesday and Thursday, in the largest public protests since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed reports of booked-out flights and queues to leave Russia as “false.” “The information about a certain feverish situation in airports is very much exaggerated,” Peskov insisted during his daily conference call with reporters on Thursday.

But there were other signs of increased public pushback against Putin and his war, despite the Kremlin’s harsh crackdown on dissent. In the city of Togliatti, a local military recruitment office was set on fire, one of dozens of similar attacks across Russia in recent months. Russia’s war hawks on the far right, meanwhile, had a different cause for fury: a prisoner exchange that freed commanders from Ukraine’s controversial Azov Regiment, long branded by Russia as “Nazis.” They were swapped for dozens of prisoners held in Ukraine, including Viktor Medvedchuk, reputed to be Putin’s closest Ukrainian friend and the leader of the country’s main pro-Kremlin political party. The dual backlash over mobilization and the prisoner exchange showed Putin facing his most acute crisis since he launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Not only is his country grappling with punishing economic sanctions imposed by the West, but his military has suffered dramatic setbacks, including an embarrassing retreat from the northeastern Kharkiv region.

NBC News - September 23, 2022

Here's how seriously the West should take Putin's latest nuclear threats

Is it all a bluff? Russian President Vladimir Putin’s renewed nuclear threats have raised fears that his plans for escalation in Ukraine may not be limited to mobilizing more troops. While he has issued apocalyptic threats against the West before, Putin’s thinly veiled warnings in a rare national address Wednesday signaled that he was willing to raise the risk of nuclear conflict to avoid an embarrassing military defeat. The Russian leader accused the United States and its allies of “nuclear blackmail” and said without elaborating that high-ranking officials from NATO states had made statements about the possibility of “using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.” Then he delivered a notable reminder: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said, an apparent reference to Moscow’s sizable nuclear arsenal.

Whether Kyiv and its allies should now be more concerned about the threat was up for debate, analysts said. “I think it signals that he wants people to think he would risk nuclear war,” Phillips O’Brien, a professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “I don’t think it means he is any more likely to do it than he was yesterday.” In his speech in February announcing the start of what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine, Putin warned that anyone who dared to intervene would face the full force of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. This time, however, he faces a different reality: His army has experienced humiliating setbacks, his troops are demoralized and depleted, and he’s facing rare criticism at home. Desperate for a victory, the Russian leader allied his nuclear threats and call-up of reservists to a plan to annex occupied territory in Ukraine’s east and south. “He is doubling down politically because he is losing militarily,” said Michael Clarke, professor of war studies at King’s College London. “Creating more ‘Russian’ territory is an attempt to scare the West because Russian nuclear doctrine has always maintained that nuclear weapons would only be used in defense of Russia directly. He says, ‘This is not a bluff,’ which shows that it is.”

September 22, 2022

Lead Stories

CNBC - September 21, 2022

New York sues Donald Trump, company and family members over widespread fraud claims, seeks at least $250 million in penalties

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday sued former President Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, three of his adult children and others for allegedly widespread fraud involving years’ worth of false financial statements related to the company’s business. The 220-page civil lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court seeks at least $250 million in damages. It also seeks to permanently bar Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump from serving as an officer of a company in New York, and permanently prohibit the Trump companies named in the suit from doing business in New York state.

James said she has asked federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the IRS to investigate Trump for possible federal crimes. She said that evidence obtained during her three-year civil probe of Trump indicated possible crimes of bank fraud and making false statements to financial institutions. James said Trump massively overstated the values of his assets in statements to banks, insurance companies and the IRS to obtain more favorable loan and insurance terms for his company, as well as to lower its tax obligations. “Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars,” James said at a news conference, where she announced she will seek to bar Trump and his company from acquiring any New York real estate for five years, and bar them from applying for loans from banks charted in the state for the same period of time. The suit alleges that “the number of grossly inflated asset values is staggering, affecting most if not all of the real estate holdings in any given year.” “All told, Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization, and the other Defendants, as part of a repeated pattern and common scheme, derived more than 200 false and misleading valuations of assets included in the 11 Statements covering 2011 through 2021,” the complaint says.

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Energy projects waiting 10 years for environmental review could complete in 2 years with Manchin deal

Federal agencies would need to move much faster in reviewing proposed transmission lines, natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure projects under legislation introduced Wednesday by Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat. Under the measure, projects that now can take 10 years to receive federal permits would have their environmental reviews completed within two years, with all permits issued no more than six months later. Part of a deal struck with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this summer to win Manchin's vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, the bill seeks to end a backlog of energy infrastructure projects that has drawn complaints from oil companies and renewable-energy developers alike.

"No matter what you want to build, whether it's transmission pipelines or hydropower dams, more often than not, it takes too long and drives up costs," Manchin said on the senate floor Wednesday. "You can double your cost within a five- to six-, seven-year period from what the original cost may have been. Look here at the energy prices, look what the people in America are facing right now." The 91-page bill would also limit state environmental reviews allowed under the Clean Water Act to matters of water quality, prohibiting states from using the law to challenge a project based on its greenhouse gas emissions, as some Democrat-led states have done in the past. The bill also aims to speed the legal challenges that can bog down a project in court by requiring lawsuits to be filed within five months of a project submitting its application and only allowing federal agencies six months to fix any problems a court finds in their permitting. And it requires agencies to issue all necessary permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project, which would transport natural gas 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia and has been held up at agencies for years.

San Antonio Express-News - September 21, 2022

Texas Republicans unanimously oppose House electoral reform bill co-authored by Rep. Liz Cheney

The U.S. House on Wednesday passed a slate of electoral reforms aimed at preventing presidents from overturning election results and making it harder for members of Congress to object to those results, as most Texas Republicans did after the election of President Joe Biden. The legislation — co-authored by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who is among the most vocal critics of former President Donald Trump — was a direct response to Trump’s attempts to prevent Biden from taking office after he won the 2020 election, an effort in which Texas Republicans played key roles.

"This bill is a very important and crucial bill to ensure that what happened on Jan. 6 never happens again," Cheney said, castigating her fellow GOP members — all but nine of whom opposed the legislation — for "defending the indefensible." "If your aim is to prevent future efforts to steal elections, I would respectfully suggest that conservatives should support this bill," she said. "If instead your aim is to leave open the door for elections to be stolen in the future, you might decide not to." The bill passed on a 229-203 vote. All Texas Democrats supported the bill, and every Texas Republican opposed it. Republicans argued they were not consulted in the drafting of the bill, which they said would federalize elections. They argued that the Electoral Count Act, which the bill would reform, has been in place for more than a century and worked as it should on Jan. 6, when Biden's election was certified over the objections of GOP members. “The Democrats’ ongoing fixation to inject the federal government into elections threatens the preservation of liberty, and it is just another excuse to obsess about President Trump and the January 6th Committee,” said U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican. “We must protect the integrity of our elections, but this bill does nothing to accomplish that key objective. At a time we should be addressing inflation, the runaway spending that is fueling it, and the assault on domestic energy, not to mention the invasion along our southern border, House Democrats chose to put on yet another partisan sideshow."

Austin American-Statesman - September 22, 2022

Abuse, neglect and death: How Texas fails thousands of disabled residents

The harder Kristi Michelle Norris struggled to break free of the thick, striped belts that secured her to the high-backed wheelchair, the tighter they squeezed her neck and chest. She couldn’t scream for help; the 36-year-old with cerebral palsy couldn’t speak. Alone for nearly two hours in her pastel-colored room, the petite brunette thrashed desperately until finally the belts cut off her breath, government records show. When Norris’ caregivers at the Fort Worth group home finally found her unconscious with a belt lashed around her throat, they immediately set about concealing her cause of death. They untied Norris’ lifeless body, dragged her onto the beige shag carpet and stuffed the bloodstained belts at the back of her closet. When one caregiver dialed 911, 12 minutes later, she wailed hysterically, saying that Norris had been crushed by a wooden dresser. “I wonder how long Kristi suffered,” Joann Pierson, Norris’ mother, said tearfully. “Was she in pain during those moments? What was she thinking in (those) moments? And my mind wanders to why. Why would she ever have to die this way?”

Norris’ death is one of thousands of abuse and neglect cases that state investigators verified in the last two decades in Texas’ beleaguered Medicaid waiver system for individuals with disabilities, according to state data. The horrific incident and her family’s arduous journey to find justice expose deep and perilous failures in how the state and private companies manage the care of some of Texas’ most vulnerable residents. Norris was one of over 100,000 disabled Texans who receive Medicaid-funded care at home or in residential settings through a system established three decades ago as an alternative to hospitals, nursing homes and state-run institutions. The “waiver system” was supposed to allow them to flourish through personalized services in small settings that better suit their complex needs. During a yearlong investigation, the American-Statesman found that the system is disastrously underfunded, resulting in an underpaid, overworked and often unqualified workforce that is charged with caring for some of the most defenseless and voiceless disabled Texans. Government records and court documents obtained during the investigation also show the deeply complicated, sometimes secretive, system is severely lacking in oversight from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Even as companies struggle to find workers, abuse and neglect complaints climb, and some companies reportedly threaten staff who try to report violations, the state is encouraging care providers to expand to meet the skyrocketing need for care for disabled people.

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 21, 2022

Record surge of Venezuelan asylum seekers strains Texas border

A surge of Venezuelan asylum seekers heading to Texas crossed into the United States last month continuing a record surge of migration that has resulted in U.S. border officials encountering more than 2 million people in less than a year. Just in August, more than 25,000 Venezuelans were stopped crossing the U.S. border with Mexico with more than 18,000 of those coming between Del Rio and Eagle Pass. It’s made the Del Rio sector along the Texas border — typically one of the least crossed sectors along the entire U.S. border — now one of the most crossed sectors, forcing federal border patrol officials to surge agents and resources to counter the shifting patterns along the border.

For each of the last three months Del Rio has seen more border encounters with people of all nationalities than any other sector along the U.S. border between Texas and California. In August, federal officials reported a record 52,364 border encounters in the Del Rio sector — nearly twice as many as any other sector along the U.S. border. Since last October, more than 428,000 migrants have been encountered in the last 11 months along the same stretch of the border, almost twice as many as the previous year. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says the inflow of migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and other South American nations has forced a big strategy shift along the border. “What we are seeing is something very very different than what preceded over the last ‘x’ number of years,” he said last month in an interview with the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News.

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Democrats and GOP race to recruit disengaged young Texas voters as midterms approach

On a hot September day at the University of Houston, the field outside the campus library was set for romance — and voter registration. Purple tablecloths covered three tables set gingerly on the grass, as SZA crooned “The Weekend” from a nearby speaker. Each was adorned with roses, chocolates, candles and a list of prompts that Cougars backup quarterback Ike Ogbogu could ask students as he helped lead a “speed dating for democracy” event on campus. Among them: What do you think are the main issues or concerns for young people today? Describe your relationship with politics in one word. How hot for democracy are you? It was National Voter Registration Day, and NextGen America had enlisted Ogbogu to help encourage students to register to vote. It was one of dozens of similar registration drives hosted across Texas colleges and universities on Tuesday — though potentially the most creative — as advocacy groups recruited young people to head to the polls this fall.

Though there are an estimated 2.8 million 18- to 24-year-olds in Texas, young people are a notoriously low-turnout group in a state that already has one of the smallest turnout rates in the country. But organizations like NextGen and MOVE Texas are on a mission to change that — and they say Texas’ newest voters could help turn the state blue this fall. “As a group, we're not as engaged as we should be, just because we're young and we feel like either our voice doesn't carry weight, or we just have no idea how to get out and get registered and vote,” said Ogbogu, a 23-year-old senior from California. “We don't know the whole process. So, I think it's important for me to help put out NextGen America, which is helping students actually get out and vote.” It was the first time NextGen had a presence in Texas on National Voter Registration Day, as they pursue a hefty goal of 40,000 registrations by Oct. 11, the deadline to submit an application. They offered an array of snacks, stickers and branded merchandise to students who filled out the forms or pledged to cast a ballot. Some stopped by just for the goodies, while others asked for help updating their address or figuring out who is on the ballot.

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Texas pays attendants for disabled people $8.11 per hour, among the worst in the US

Nancy Crowther worries every time her personal care attendant leaves the house. She worries that her attendant will see the Dairy Queen banner boasting $16 an hour flapping in the wind on her drive to the grocery store and be tempted to apply. Worries that the taco place down the street promising $17 an hour will catch her eye. Worries that she’ll find something better than the $11 an hour she’s paid to keep Nancy alive. Nancy, 64, has a progressive neuromuscular disease that is slowly eating away at her muscles. It started with her legs, which have largely been rendered useless since childhood. It’s spread to her arms, which are no longer strong enough to hold a pan or reach a light switch without assistance. Without her attendant’s help, Nancy would have to give up her home and live in a nursing facility. “I’m really scared about it,” Nancy said. “If I had to give up my home because I didn’t have attendant services … There’s no reason to go on.”

Nancy is one of more than 300,000 Texans who receive help with tasks such as bathing, dressing and toileting from attendants through long-term services and support programs in the state. This help allows them to continue to live and remain active in the community. Many of these individuals receive care through one of the state’s six Medicaid waiver programs for people who have disabilities, which use state and federal funds to get people care in the community instead of in an institution. A Houston Chronicle investigation published in July found that there are nearly 200,000 Texans waiting for one of these waivers — and some have waited for nearly 20 years. Others receive attendant services through non-Medicaid services such as the Consumer Managed Personal Attendant Services program. But even after getting that funding, getting the actual care can be a difficult task. Personal attendants in Texas are paid a base hourly wage of $8.11, an amount that has left the state with a crisis-level shortage of attendants — especially as the number of Texans needing them is expected to grow by nearly 95,000 by 2028, according to a report published this year by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities.

Texas Monthly - September 21, 2022

Biden’s new Border Patrol leader in the RGV promoted Trump’s family separation policy

When the Biden administration announced earlier this month that veteran Border Patrol chief patrol agent Gloria Chavez would move from her post in El Paso to take over as head of enforcement efforts in the Rio Grande Valley, it was the clearest sign yet that the RGV has become a focal point for the agency. Illicit border crossings there have reached record highs during the Biden era. The administration seems to have recognized that local agents need support, because in Chavez it is sending its best. Born in Dallas and raised in the Valley, Chavez is one of the most experienced agents in the Border Patrol. She has a master’s degree in security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and studied at Harvard as an executive fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Since joining the Border Patrol in 1995, Chavez has served in the country’s northern and southern border zones, from Spokane to Tucson, San Diego to El Paso. Last year, when Vice President Kamala Harris made a trip to the border, she made the conspicuous choice to visit El Paso, where Chavez was serving as the sector’s first female patrol chief. “It is here in El Paso that the previous administration’s child-separation policy was unveiled,” Harris reminded reporters, before posing for pictures with Chavez.

But Harris’s visit and Chavez’s promotion highlight an awkward fact: the new RGV sector chief played an important role in implementing that policy, which forced thousands of children, including infants, out of their parents’ arms in an effort to deter illegal immigration. Chavez’s appointment underscores that even after Donald Trump cleared out his desk in the White House, many of the middle managers who carried out the policies remain in place. The pilot program to which Harris referred during her visit to El Paso began as a local initiative in 2017, with Border Patrol agents testing an idea that had been floated at high-level meetings during Donald Trump’s first month in office: what if, instead of detaining and paroling families together, the agency detained and prosecuted the parents separately? The policy would have two supposed benefits. First, it would let the agency keep the parents in jail for longer periods. (Federal statutes limit the amount of time children can be kept in jail, so most families are paroled before three weeks.) Second, the policy could serve as a powerful deterrent to families considering crossing the border, by making clear that they risked the trauma of a forced separation. It’s not clear if anyone in Customs and Border Protection’s upper command authorized El Paso agents to begin the program, but it was started by Jeff Self, who preceded Chavez as the Border Patrol chief in El Paso, without the knowledge of much of the Department of Homeland Security leadership in Washington.

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Houston Baptist University changes name to Houston Christian University

Houston Baptist University has changed its name to Houston Christian University as it launches a campaign to more than double its student enrollment. President Robert B. Sloan announced the renaming Wednesday during an open forum with faculty, staff, past and present trustees, and students. “Houston Christian University more accurately epitomizes our student body and reflects the faculty, staff, alumni, and community we serve,” Sloan said. “We are committed to being a distinctively Christian university that welcomes all Christians to benefit from our excellent academic programs. This historic university appeals to people all across the spectrum of Christian denominational life, and this new name clarifies who we are.”

The shift coincides with the university’s effort to grow its residential campus to 4,200 students and its online campus to 5,800 students. Spring 2021 combined enrollment was 3,801, according to university data. This is the second name change for the private university, located in Sharpstown. The institution was created in 1960 as Houston Baptist College and became Houston Baptist University in 1973. Sloan said the university has considered a new name multiple times over the past 16 years and arrived at Houston Christian after two years of consideration. The school’s board of trustees approved the switch May 17. The university’s core commitments remain the same, Sloan said. The mission statement is “to provide a learning experience that instills in students a passion for academic, spiritual and professional excellence as a result of our central confession, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’” “By changing to Houston Christian University, we are striving to be even clearer about our convictions,” he said. “We are committed to Jesus Christ. We are committed to the scriptures. We are committed to the gospel and its power to draw all people to Christ. And we are committed to being ‘salt and light’ in the world.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2022

How much will Fort Worth school’s next superintendent make?

Angélica Ramsey will officially start in the role of Fort Worth superintendent of schools Wednesday after signing a contract Tuesday night that trustees have been working on during special meetings over the last several weeks. The new leader will make a base salary of $335,000 according to the 22-page contract, with opportunities to make an additional $25,000 per year for meeting goals set by the board. Ramsey had a similar contract in the Midland school district, which had ousted its previous leader for failing to meet goals, and gave her a raise from from $275,000 to $310,000 in July for improving the district’s academic standing.

The contract runs through Aug. 31, 2025. Former Superintendent Kent Scribner was supposed to serve until 2024 under his 2020 contract extension and Ramsey was slated to serve until 2025 in Midland before bowing out to take the Fort Worth job. Scribner was making a base salary of $330,000 in his 2020 contract. Bryan Murry, Midland board president, said he anticipates she will be staying put in Fort Worth, however. “I’m not sure that would be a problem for someone in Fort Worth to think that she’s going to jump from there just because we only got her for 18 months in Midland,” he told the Star-Telegram. The new leader is entering the role as Fort Worth schools continues to grapple with achievement gaps and recovery from pandemic-era learning loss, as well as a steady onslaught of criticism from a vocal group of parents already calling for her to step down. She is asking for parents and the community to give her a chance.

Religion News Service - September 21, 2022

Bekah McNeel: For the lockdown generation, prayer is merely code for inaction

(Bekah McNeel is a journalist, wife and mother of two. She is the author of “Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down.”) My kids didn’t learn about the Uvalde shooting until Sept. 6, the first day Uvalde students went back to school after a gunman entered Robb Elementary and murdered 19 fourth graders and two teachers. Even though I’d spent the summer reporting, driving the 90 miles back and forth for interviews, protests and church services, I had not yet covered that difficult ground with my own elementary schoolers. How did that happen? I knew they would ask, and for that I had answers: failed locks, failed police, failed systems. I was more nervous about whether they would ask “why” it happened. I cannot explain that part. Schools around Texas, most of which had been back in session for weeks, wore maroon T-shirts on Sept. 6 to show their support as kids in Uvalde went back to campuses fortified with more cameras, higher fences and heavy police presence. My kids asked about “maroon shirt day,” and I knew the day we’d been putting off for months had come.

As I prepared, I thought back to the evening of May 24, as my husband and I looked at our sleeping children, ages 5 and 8. “We’re going to have to tell them eventually,” I said. At that point we didn’t even know yet the full list of victims in the Uvalde massacre. On May 25 we dropped them off at their San Antonio elementary school, trusting that if the news came up at school, the teachers and staff had been briefed on how to handle it. We hadn’t wanted the kids to start their school day processing the news — news we ourselves had barely digested. As they slammed the door shut and bounced away from the car, I cursed the air. It was the only available force, it seemed, to blame. Gun violence is in the air Americans breathe, and like air, I knew Texas’ response to what happened in Uvalde would be neither solid nor substantial. I drove into Uvalde a week later as a reporter, as a mother and as a person of wavering faith. I’ve given up on theodicy — trying to explain how God could let bad things happen — and instead tried to communicate God’s love and justice to a hurting world. I don’t know why bad things happen, but I know it’s our job, as people who claim to follow Jesus, to pursue shalom, to try to make things right. Part of responding to bad things is making sure we prevent them from happening again. We want to both alleviate pain and prevent it when we can. On the drive, I would lament the world we’ve created, the suffering left unaddressed, and wonder how I’d eventually explain it to my children.

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Prairie View A&M joins small group of HBCUs to offer African American Studies degree program

Prairie View A&M University on Wednesday announced a new bachelor’s degree in African American Studies, making it one of a handful of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to offer a major in the subject. The program launched this fall through a $1 million initiative called Enhancing the Humanities at PVAMU, according to the university. Its creation also fulfills a long-held vision of President Ruth J. Simmons, who announced her retirement earlier this year.

“A part of the HBCU experience for many students is a journey to self-identification, Blackness, and trying to understand the Black experience better,” said Jeanelle Hope, program director and associate professor of African American Studies. “[African American Studies] provides students with the language to understand the world around them and an opportunity to engage key theories, concepts and methods that seek to make sense of the Black experience and amplify our narratives.” Students can also minor in the field of study. The program was funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an anonymous contribution and matching grant, university officials said.

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Former Texas Southern University law school dean sues school over loss of tenure

Texas Southern University’s former law school dean sued her ex-employer in federal court Wednesday, alleging that she was stripped of her position and tenure without cause. Joan R. M. Bullock has also accused the university of breaching her contract and retaliating for bringing to the president and provost “matters of public concern” — including ones that she said could potentially affect the school’s ability to remain accredited. “This affects me in a dramatic way,” Bullock said. “I believe in (Texas Southern’s) mission and its goals, and now it is putting me in an awkward position in looking for other employment. I think it is highly unfair what they have done.”

University spokesman Tracy Clemons declined to comment, adding that the institution does not speak publicly on personnel or litigation matters. Faculty tenure is a highly protected status that provides educators job security and safeguards freedom to teach and conduct research as they choose. The status comes with a periodic evaluation process and can only be revoked if the university has “good cause,” defined as “serious professional or personal misconduct.” A faculty member can be immediately dismissed if they have been convicted for an offense that falls under the definition of good cause, or if the faculty member admits to the allegations in writing, according to Texas Southern's most recently posted faculty manual. Bullock arrived in 2019 at the Historically Black University as the law school's first female dean. At the time, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law was working to repair its academic standing and reputation following a public censure for reports of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, as well as compliance issues related to low bar scores.

San Antonio Express-News - September 21, 2022

Sheriff Salazar says he welcomes a Texas Rangers investigation of the Anaqua Springs shooting deaths

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he welcomes the Texas Rangers to look at the shooting deaths of San Antonio hairstylist Nichol Olsen and her two daughters in the Anaqua Springs Ranch community. During a radio interview, Salazar said he’s been talking to the Texas Rangers “since last week” to gauge whether the state law enforcement agency is willing to examine the case, which the sheriff’s office has kept open for nearly four years. “The state of Texas is welcome to come take a look at this case,” the sheriff said. “If the Rangers or the FBI or any other law enforcement agency wants to come help us out with this case, absolutely. The more, the merrier.”

Salazar also told KTSA Morning News with Trey Ware that his detectives haven’t found anything so far to refute the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s conclusions that Olsen’s death was a suicide and her daughters’ deaths were homicides. Olsen, 37, was found dead with her daughters, Alexa Denice Montez, 16, and London Sophia Bribiescas, 10, on Jan. 10, 2019, in a home they shared with Olsen’s boyfriend, Charles Edward Wheeler. Autopsies found that Olsen and Montez each had been shot once in the head, while Bribiescas suffered a gunshot wound to her head and neck. A handgun was found near Olsen’s body. Wheeler, now 35 and living in Austin, told investigators he had left the residence before the shootings following an argument with Olsen and spent the night at a relative’s house. He returned home the next morning to find the bodies and called 911 to report the deaths. He later sold the house where the crime occurred. Soon after the deaths, Salazar labeled Wheeler a “person of interest” — but not a suspect — in the case. Wheeler was never charged with any wrongdoing, but the sheriff hasn’t yet publicly cleared his name.

San Antonio Express-News - September 21, 2022

Historically segregated school to be national park site in Marfa

Out west, in Marfa, one of the last remaining Mexican-American segregated schools will become one of the first national park sites dedicated to modern Latino history. The Blackwell School National Historic Site Act passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, which now goes to President Biden’s desk for final approval, officially establishes a space for Mexican American stories and history and ensures that the experiences from the historic Blackwell School will not be forgotten. Mario Rivera is a Blackwell School alumnus and a founding board member of the Blackwell School Alliance.

“With the Blackwell School National Historic Site, we can commemorate how far we have come, while also remembering some of the wrongs that happened here in Marfa,” Rivera said in a statement. “The lessons taught here can help us understand discrimination and racism, and better equip us to fight back against those forces in the present.” In 2020, former Texas Congressmen Will Hurd, a Republican, and Filemon Vela, a Democrat, introduced the legislation. Then last year, Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Democratic California Sen. Alex Padilla and Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales — who represents District 23 just outside San Antonio — continued to carry the bill. The Blackwell School, also known as the Mexican School, operated as a segregated school for children of Mexican descent in Marfa from 1909 to 1965, when the schools integrated. Children were told to speak only English and forget their culture and heritage. The goal was to force them to assimilate into the white Anglo community. Several hundred Hispanic children went through the school. Eventually, the adobe one-room building came to be known as the Blackwell School after a longtime principal, Jesse Blackwell.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2022

UNT Health Science Center fell short in COVID vaccine effort

When the UNT Health Science Center took a lead role in Tarrant County’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the center’s president saw it as a “swing-for-the-fence moment” that could pay up to $25 million and raise the center’s public image. At a county commissioners meeting in January 2021, then-center president Dr. Michael Williams and then-executive vice president Sylvia Trent-Adams laid out a plan that Trent-Adams said would involve “every sector of society.” It was the early days of a vaccine rollout that aimed to protect the county’s 2.1 million residents from the deadly virus, and Tarrant County found itself ill equipped for the scale and complexity of the job. Williams and Trent-Adams presented the Health Science Center as a crucial partner. “It’s not rocket science,” Williams said at the commissioners meeting. “It’s actually pretty simple: Start with the patients in mind.”

When the partnership between the county and the Health Science Center ended prematurely in July 2021, the formal paperwork said it was an amicable split. Leaders from both sides declared the partnership a success — and they continue to do so today. But are those portrayals accurate? More than 4,000 pages of presentations, reports and emails — obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram through seven requests under the state public documents law — detail a partnership that was riddled with communication issues and power struggles. Ultimately, the Health Science Center failed to fully achieve multiple parts of its mission, a Star-Telegram investigation shows. Most notably, the center’s efforts resulted in just 23,265 vaccinations — less than 10% of the original vision of about 265,000 shots. When the partnership ended, the Health Science Center’s efforts were responsible for only 3% of the vaccinations administered by the county and its partners. This is despite public marketing campaigns that positioned the center as “Leading Tarrant County’s COVID-19 response.”

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

Judicial case backlog stokes Dallas County commissioner race between two attorneys

The judicial case backlog has become a political cornerstone for the Dallas County District 2 commissioner race, as two attorneys stand off on the November ballot. Commissioner J.J. Koch, a former prosecutor and civil litigation attorney, faces Democratic personal injury attorney Andrew Sommerman as he fights for a second term in a newly redistricted map. This district will be more blue than when Koch won in 2018 and went on to become the sole Republican on the commissioners’ dais. In the last few months, one of Koch’s biggest pushes has been to address the pending felony case backlog, which he and Commissioner John Wiley Price say is the biggest reason for the ballooning jail population. As of Wednesday, the county jail inmate population has reached more than 6,100. Koch, 43, and Price have said some district criminal judges aren’t working enough to address cases in a timely manner. They wanted salary reductions for some district judges.

Sommerman, 62, disagrees with Koch’s stance, saying that the commissioners court needs to work with the judges to find a solution to the backlog, rather than digging into their salaries. He wants all parties involved in the criminal justice system — including court clerks and attorneys — to be a part of the discussion. “I disagree with defunding the judiciary,” he said Wednesday during an editorial meeting with The Dallas Morning News. The two commissioners and the district judges have disagreed over the data used to determine the judges’ success. The Office of Courts Administration tracks data from courts across the state, including both the number of pending cases and the number of cases disposed of. The Commissioners Court is concerned about the growing pending felony cases. In June, the state reported a Dallas County logjam of 20,767 active and pending felony cases. But the district judges are focused on their disposition rates, a number used to determine the amount of state funds granted to county courts. Dallas County’s clearance rate from March 1, 2020, to March 31, 2022, was 94%, while the state average was 87%, according to OCA.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2022

Fort Bend county judge calls out racist, xenophobic attacks that are flooding his office

Fort Bend County Judge KP George is speaking out after receiving a flurry of racist and xenophobic messages less than two months before he’s up for re-election on Nov. 8. His office confirmed he had received more than 100 hateful emails, Facebook comments and other notes over the past few weeks attacking his identity as a South Asian immigrant. Among the problematic messages were several comments saying that George should go back to India, his country of origin. One person incorrectly called him a Muslim "scammer" from Pakistan, while someone else referred to the elected official and other South Asian immigrants in the county as “carpetbaggers.”

George, a Democrat running against Republican former constable Trever Nehls, said that although he’s been receiving attacks on his identity since being elected, the hate speech escalated during the pandemic, prompting him to increase his personal security. George said he blamed the the racist and xenophobic messages he received at the height of the pandemic, in large part, on former President Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric. He thinks the marked uptick in hateful messages is due to the upcoming election. George decided to go public about the messages to raise awareness about how some county residents experience xenophobia. “I want people to know what’s going on because the more people know about it, the more people will come out and denounce it,” he said. George said a third of Fort Bend County residents are immigrants, like him. "If it can happen to me, it can happen to them," he said.

San Antonio Express-News - September 21, 2022

Up for re-election, Hays commissioner gets 9 months probation

Hays County Commissioner Walt Smith has signed a plea agreement to have a driving while intoxicated charge from last year dismissed. In November, voters will decide whether to re-elect him. Smith was charged with a Class B misdemeanor for the April 28, 2021, incident. He crashed into another vehicle about 3 a.m. in Austin, according to a police affidavit. He had a strong odor of alcohol, his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, and he was swaying and wobbling from time to time. He told an officer that he had two cocktails with vodka and that he was a two on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the most intoxicated he had ever been and zero being not at all intoxicated.

In a separate incident, in December, a camera captured Smith at a Dripping Springs bar appearing to have trouble walking, then later urinating behind the open door of a parked truck before driving away. The Republican commissioner, who represents Precinct 4, told Fox 7 in February that he was not drunk but rather affected by medication he was taking. On Friday, Smith pleaded no contest to a charge of obstruction of a roadway related to the first incident, according to court records . He received a sentenced of nine months of deferred adjudication probation, during which he will have to take a drunken driving class and receive counseling or treatment that a supervision officer designates. Smith also must install an ignition interlock system on his vehicle for five months. He’ll have to provide breath samples for analysis for alcohol before his vehicle will start. Smith and his attorneys did not respond to requests for comment. Smith refused blood and breath sobriety tests during the Austin incident, according to the affidavit. Driver’s licenses are suspended if a person refuses such tests, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety . But Smith received an occupational driver’s license in September 2021, court records show.

City Stories

KUT - September 21, 2022

Cedar Park, Leander residents under strict water restrictions as repairs begin on pipeline

Thousands of water customers in Cedar Park and Leander are under strict water restrictions as crews begin repairs on a leak in the underwater Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority Pipeline. The 36-inch pipeline pulls water from Lake Travis into the BCRUA water treatment facility, which serves as Leander's primary source for treated drinking water. The facility also supplies Cedar Park with 20% of residents' treated drinking water. The pipeline and facility will be shut down during the estimated 14-day repair process, which began Wednesday. The cities will have to rely on other water treatment facilities during that time.

The Sandy Creek Water Treatment Plant will be the sole supplier of treated drinking water to Leander during the repairs. However, the plant can treat only 9 million gallons of water per day — less than half of the city's usual water demand during this time of year. As a result, water customers in Leander are temporarily prohibited from all outdoor watering. "Our community must continue to do everything we can to keep water usage low," the city says on its website. "If water demand is too high at any point during the repair, we risk losing water service throughout the entire city." Water customers caught violating the restrictions could face a $1,000 fine and possible disconnection for second and subsequent offenses. Leander Mayor Christine DeLisle said she believes the stiff penalty is appropriate, given the gravity of the situation. "For the most part, we have residents looking out for each other. ... They're concerned about their neighbors, they're concerned about having clean water and just getting through this repair the next couple of weeks," DeLisle told KUT. "But if we have to turn off some people or fine them $1,000 in order to keep clean drinking water in every household in Leander, then we have that tool in our toolbox now."

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

Dallas officials approve more budget adjustments ahead of final vote

The Dallas City Council approved a series of amendments Wednesday for its latest proposed budget that shifted more money for housing, homelessness and fire department services as well as other initiatives. The majority of the money came from $14 million that City Manager T.C. Broadnax suggested be set aside for future expenses related to the city’s police and fire, and employee pensions. After Wednesday, that fund was whittled down to less than $3 million due to amendments also made on Sept. 7. “This is just a slush fund that’s sitting to the side,” said council member Cara Mendelsohn, who was one of several members of the City Council who proposed shifting the funds in favor of other plans. Broadnax said he wouldn’t have recommended spending any of the $14 million fund, but noted the adjustments would be made. “It is not a slush fund,” Broadnax said.

The City Council was originally scheduled to vote to approve the planned $4.5 billion budget Wednesday, but the final decision has been delayed to next Wednesday because the city didn’t properly advertise a public hearing for it. Public hearings on the budget and proposed new tax rate are required by state law before they are adopted. Both will happen next Wednesday along with the votes setting the overall budget and tax rate. The new city funding plan goes into effect Oct. 1. The current property tax rate is 77.33 cents per $100 of the appraised value of a home. It’s being proposed to be lowered to 74.58 cents. Some of the money shifted from the pension fund will go to setting aside up to $3 million to develop a leasing program to support housing homeless people. Master leasing is a process where the city or a nonprofit rents apartments and then subleases them to tenants. It could for example allow instances where accepting housing vouchers would be required. Another nearly $2.9 million would go toward repairs and renovations for Dallas Fire-Rescue buildings and new equipment. The City Attorney’s Office plans to add a general counsel attorney and an outreach coordinator for the community prosecution division with an extra almost $140,000. And $100,000 will go toward a housing repair program aimed at senior homeowners.

National Stories

CNN - September 22, 2022

Fed goes big again with third-straight three-quarter-point rate hike

The Federal Reserve made history on Wednesday, approving a third consecutive 75-basis-point hike in an aggressive move to tackle the white-hot inflation that has been plaguing the US economy. The supersized hike, which was unfathomable by markets just months ago, takes the central bank's benchmark lending rate to a new target range of 3%-3.25%. That's the highest the fed funds rate has been since the global financial crisis in 2008. Wednesday's decision marks the Fed's toughest policy move since the 1980s to fight inflation. It will also likely cause economic pain for millions of American businesses and households by pushing up the cost of borrowing for things like homes, cars, and credit cards.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell acknowledged the economic pain this rapid tightening regime may cause. "No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be," Powell said Wednesday afternoon in a press conference following the central bank's policy announcement, which came after a two-day monetary policymaking meeting. The Fed's updated Summary of Economic Projections, released Wednesday, reflects that pain: The quarterly report showed a less optimistic outlook for economic growth and the labor market, with the median unemployment rate inching up to 4.4% in 2023, higher than the 3.9% Fed officials projected in June and substantially higher than the current rate of 3.7%. US gross domestic product, the main measure of economic output, was revised down to 0.2% from 1.7% in June. That's well below analysts' estimates: Bank of America economists had estimated that GDP would be revised to 0.7%.

Associated Press - September 22, 2022

Trump docs probe: Court lifts hold on Mar-a-Lago records

In a stark repudiation of Donald Trump’s legal arguments, a federal appeals court on Wednesday permitted the Justice Department to resume its use of classified records seized from the former president’s Florida estate as part of its ongoing criminal investigation. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit amounts to an overwhelming victory for the Justice Department, clearing the way for investigators to continue scrutinizing the documents as they consider whether to bring criminal charges over the storage of of top-secret records at Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House. In lifting a hold on a core aspect of the department’s probe, the court removed an obstacle that could have delayed the investigation by weeks. The appeals court also pointedly noted that Trump had presented no evidence that he had declassified the sensitive records, as he maintained as recently as Wednesday, and rejected the possibility that Trump could have an “individual interest in or need for” the roughly 100 documents with classification markings that were seized by the FBI in its Aug. 8 search of the Palm Beach property.

The government had argued that its investigation had been impeded, and national security concerns swept aside, by an order from U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon that temporarily barred investigators from continuing to use the documents in its inquiry. Cannon, a Trump appointee, had said the hold would remain in place pending a separate review by an independent arbiter she had appointed at the Trump team’s request to review the records. The appeals panel agreed with the Justice Department’s concerns. “It is self-evident that the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the storage of the classified records did not result in ‘exceptionally grave damage to the national security,’” they wrote. “Ascertaining that,” they added, “necessarily involves reviewing the documents, determining who had access to them and when, and deciding which (if any) sources or methods are compromised.” An injunction that delayed or prevented the criminal investigation “from using classified materials risks imposing real and significant harm on the United States and the public,” they wrote. Two of the three judges who issued Wednesday’s ruling — Britt Grant and Andrew Brasher — were nominated to the 11th Circuit by Trump. Judge Robin Rosenbaum was nominated by former President Barack Obama. Lawyers for Trump did not return an email seeking comment on whether they would appeal the ruling. The Justice Department did not have an immediate comment.

Wall Street Journal - September 22, 2022

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, under pressure over Ukraine war, turns to familiar escalation playbook

Confronted by serious battlefield losses in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin did what he has often done before when facing setbacks: doubled down. In a nationally televised speech early Wednesday, an angry-sounding Mr. Putin said he would call up 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort and hinted he would consider a nuclear strike, saying he would use “all the instruments at his disposal” to prevail. In recent weeks, invading Russian forces—retreating in the face of a determined Ukrainian advance—have been forced to abandon thousands of square miles of hard-won occupied territory, leaving behind large amounts of heavy weaponry. The result: Mr. Putin is facing what is arguably the biggest test of his political life in a struggle that he has sought to define as existential for Russia’s future. He has reacted, as he has throughout his 22-year rule of Russia, by depicting himself as a risk-taker who beats opponents by upping the ante in confrontations.

“Escalation is the norm in our system,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a Russian political consultant who formerly advised the Kremlin. “The Kremlin doesn’t know what’s coming either. They improvised and are now waiting for a reaction.” Mr. Putin’s setbacks haven’t been limited to the battlefield. His economic campaign against Europe—aimed at undermining support for Kyiv by reducing natural-gas supplies—hasn’t caused the fissures he had hoped. Instead, international opposition to his moves is growing. Last week, Mr. Putin publicly acknowledged that China, which declared before the war that its partnership with Moscow had “no limits,” now had questions and concerns about the conflict. The prime minister of India, a country long friendly with Russia, told Mr. Putin: “Today’s era is not one for war.” Mr. Putin’s mobilization order, Moscow’s first since World War II, is a measure of the damage inflicted on Russia’s military in the course of a seven-month campaign that Russian officials expected to be over in days. Even before the recent lightning advance that recaptured the Kharkiv region for Ukraine, strikes targeting military installations on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula caused beachgoers to scatter and prompted questions from staunch pro-Kremlin commentators.

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2022

Herschel Walker rebounds in key Senate race as the Georgia Republican lowers expectations

After weeks of slipping in the polls and struggling to raise money, retired football star and now rookie Republican political candidate Herschel Walker — a friend of Donald Trump and Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones — is on the rise in a key U.S. Senate race in Georgia. A new poll of likely voters released Tuesday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed the race virtually deadlocked with Walker at 46% and Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock at 44%. That’s within the poll’s margin of error. An additional 3% of voters indicated they’ll back Libertarian Chase Oliver, while 7% are undecided. The closeness of the Nov. 8 election underscores the possibility that it could go into overtime, because under Georgia election law, a candidate must top 50% to win without a runoff, even in a general election. Other recent polls found that Warnock had taken a lead of up to 6 percentage points and indicated the Democrat was within striking distance of victory without a runoff.

It also reflects ongoing concerns from some in the state’s Republican base over Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia who has a history of violent behavior and a propensity toward gaffes, lies and exaggerations on the campaign trail. Meanwhile, Warnock’s approval rating hasn’t budged amid a torrent of spending from his campaign promoting his maverick streak and GOP outside groups seeking to paint him as a Biden lackey. His approval has held at 47% since the AJC’s July poll. “The way that Warnock has run, I disagree with the spending that he and all the Democrats have done,” said Cal Roach, a Georgia agricultural consultant who said he’s supporting the GOP ticket because of the “ridiculous” financial policies of the Democrats. “They’ve just opened up the floodgates.” That concern, amplified by rising interest rates and inflation, is reflected in the finding that just 37% approve of President Joe Biden’s performance in office, statistically unchanged since the last AJC poll in July. While Biden’s approval rating is rebounding in some other battleground states, he remains underwater in Georgia. The poll was conducted Sept. 5-16 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. It’s one of the first public polls in Georgia since Biden signed a federal tax and health care measure and announced his plan to forgive student college debt. It’s also the first poll released since Walker made a strategy shift to lower voter expectations in his performance as the first-time candidate prepares for an Oct. 14 debate with Warnock.

McClatchy - September 22, 2022

BNSF says it can’t be sued by Amtrak crash victims

Victims of a deadly Amtrak crash in rural Missouri cannot sue for damages because they checked a required box acknowledging a lengthy set of terms and conditions when buying tickets, BNSF Railway contends. The Fort Worth, Texas-based freight railroad filed a lawsuit in federal court on Tuesday against some of the passengers who were injured and heirs of those who died in a June 27 crash at a rural railroad crossing near Mendon, Missouri. BNSF seeks a preliminary injunction forcing the victims to arbitrate with the railroad rather than proceed with their lawsuits in court. The railroad is also asking a federal judge to halt lawsuits pending in Missouri state courts. Surviving passengers and heirs of those who died began filing lawsuits shortly after the crash, which killed three passengers, all from the Kansas City area, and injured dozens more.

The train was traveling between Los Angeles and Chicago on the Southwest Chief route when it hit a dump truck obstructing the track at Chariton County’s Porche Prairie Avenue crossing that lacked cross arms, bells or lights. The truck driver was also killed. The Amtrak train was traveling on rails owned and operated by BNSF, which had been warned for years about the danger present at the steep crossing. The lawsuit alleges that passengers who purchase Amtrak tickets must click a box agreeing to the company’s terms and conditions. The full terms are more than 20,000 words long and include a binding arbitration agreement that requires passengers to resolve disputes with the railroad through arbitration rather than the courts. BNSF argues that those terms also apply to the freight railroad. “BNSF is a host railroad to which Amtrak owes indemnity, and, therefore, BNSF is expressly entitled to enforce the Arbitration Agreement,” the railroad argued in its lawsuit. In support of their legal arguments, lawyers for BNSF included as an exhibit a photographic example of the agreement, containing the two-sentence statement referencing — in the same breath — the “binding arbitration agreement and rules regarding COVID travel.”

CNN - September 21, 2022

Arizona GOP governor warns against 'bullies' in his party

Outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona offered an implicit rebuke of the direction that former President Donald Trump has taken the GOP during a Tuesday speech at the Reagan Library, warning against leaders in his party who have morphed into "bullies" as well as candidates who are "more defined by their attitudes than the policies they propose." Ducey, who is finishing his second term as governor while serving as co-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, was the subject of a barrage of attacks from Trump after he rebuffed the former President's entreaties to overturn Joe Biden's narrow victory in Arizona. Without mentioning Trump's name Tuesday night, the governor described the GOP as struggling for "direction and purpose" at this juncture when Trump still maintains a vise-like grip over the loyalty of the base and has hand-selected far-right candidates in many marquee midterm races -- including in Arizona, where Ducey has seemed to come around to some of those same Trump picks.

The Arizona governor, who repeatedly declined national Republicans' efforts to recruit him to run for Senate, predicted that the GOP would do well in November, but only because of what he described as Democrats' "incompetence. " Some Republicans have raised concerns that their nominees' extreme positions on abortion and embrace of Trump's election lies could jeopardize the party's chances of taking control of the House and the Senate in November. Ducey seemed to take particular aim at Trump's attempts to stay in power after losing in 2020. "It's worth reminding ourselves, the point of winning elections isn't just to win elections. It's to govern with conservative ideals that preserve the American Dream and improve the lives of regular Americans," he said in his speech. He argued that a "dangerous strain of big government activism has taken hold" in his party and that a "good many small government conservatives have morphed into bullies -- people who are very comfortable using government power to tell companies and people how to lead their lives," which he noted is a departure from the more traditional Republican embrace of less intrusive government.

September 21, 2022

Lead Stories

Washington Post - September 21, 2022

GOP attorneys general, led by Paxton, file amicus brief over Trump Mar-a-Lago documents

Texas’s Ken Paxton and 10 other GOP state attorneys general came to the defense of former president Donald Trump on Tuesday in his legal fight over documents the FBI seized last month, filing an amicus brief in a federal appellate court that argued the Biden administration could not be trusted. In a 21-page document that repeated numerous right-wing talking points but that experts said advanced little new legal ground, the officials accused the Biden administration of “ransacking” Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of the former president, during an Aug. 8 court-authorized FBI raid and of politicizing the Justice Department. The search, which stemmed from an investigation into whether Trump and his associates improperly took and held on to secret government papers, resulted in the discovery of numerous sensitive documents.

Trump’s attorneys then asked for a special master to examine some 100 documents and exclude those that may be covered by attorney-client or executive privilege. U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon agreed to the request and barred criminal investigators from using the material until the review is completed. The Justice Department contested parts of Cannon’s decision and asked the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to override her. The amicus brief urges the appellate court to deny the appeal. “Given Biden’s track record, combined with his rhetoric demonizing anyone he disagrees with, the courts must be on high alert to the ways in which [the Justice Department] may abuse its power to punish President Donald Trump,” Paxton, whose office led the effort, said in a statement Tuesday. The Utah Attorney General’s Office confirmed that the state had joined the amicus brief but declined to comment further. Representatives for the other attorneys general did not respond to requests for comment. Officials at the Department of Justice could not be immediately reached late Tuesday. Amicus briefs are documents filed by parties not directly involved in a legal contest to inform judges of additional, relevant information. But the one filed by the attorneys general reads more like a political document than a legal brief, legal experts said.

Austin American-Statesman - September 21, 2022

Texas sees nearly 1 million new registered voters so far this year with three weeks to go

Almost a million Texans registered to vote so far this year with three weeks to go before the Oct. 11 deadline for the November election, putting the number of people eligible to cast ballots to more than 17.5 million and counting. The raw new-registration numbers are significantly higher than they were during the midterm election cycles of 2014 and 2018. But the percentage of people of voting age who are registered has increased only marginally over the past few years, according to records maintained by the Texas Secretary of State's Office. Put simply, the addition of new voters is largely offset by the number of people who have left the registration rolls, usually because they have died or left the state. In a series of recent tweets heading into Tuesday's National Voter Registration Day, the head of a national Democratic-aligned number-crunching firm said younger and more progressive Texans are fueling this year's uptick as a backlash against the Supreme Court's decision in June to overturn the Roe v. Wade landmark abortion ruling.

"It's not just that younger voters are surging in TX since Dobbs," tweeted Tom Bonier, CEO of the firm, TargetSmart, in a reference to the high court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling on June 24. "It's clear that those younger voters who are registering now (men and women) are far more Democratic." Derek Ryan, a Texas Republican researcher and consultant, expressed skepticism about the conclusion. Using Texas Secretary of State's Office data over the three most recent midterm cycles, including this year, Ryan said the demographic characteristics of new registrants are remarkably consistent. For instance, in 2014 when Texas Republicans swept every statewide election in a landslide and won 97 of the 150 Texas House districts, 56% of the newly registered voters were women and 43% were 29 or younger. Four years later, when Democrats gained 12 House seats and came tantalizingly close in at least three statewide elections, the demographic data was nearly identical. And with the 2022 voter registration deadline coming on Oct. 11, the demographic data so far this year is also nearly identical. "The raw numbers of new voters are up, but the makeup within those numbers is pretty much consistent between this cycle and 2014 and 2018," Ryan said.

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2022

U.S. says it’ll reject new requests for temporary worker visas, as cap is exceeded

Jackie Eubanks and her Dallas staffing agency won the lottery – sort of. When she couldn’t find enough workers in the U.S. to fill available jobs two years ago, she turned to the government’s temporary visa program. Her company spent more than $50,000 to apply for 50 H-2B visas, which allow workers from other countries to earn a living in the U.S. for up to three years. That year, her agency got the green light for 34. The following year when Eubanks applied for 50 more housekeeping positions, her application was denied. But when additional slots came open earlier this year, she was able to hire 113 housekeepers and 22 front-desk workers. Now, the government is telling employers it will reject most new requests for H-2B visas filed after Sept. 12. That’s because a 66,000 cap established in 1990 has already been exceeded for foreign workers looking to start seasonal work before April 2023.

Eubanks, president of Enterprise Staffing Agency, said she could have hired more than 300 workers that she wanted permits for in order to fill hotel needs. “With our work crisis, we’re needing more workers and can’t get workers,” Eubanks said. “We can’t get the visas that bring them over here to go to work.” The H-2 visa program allows employers to temporarily hire immigrant workers after they prove they can’t find U.S. workers to do the job. Landscaping, construction and amusement parks are some of the largest sectors using these work permits, alongside janitorial services, hospitality and forestry. While H-2B visas technically operate on a random lottery system, the drawing closes when the quota is hit. The work permits are divided into two batches by Congress based on business employment start dates. If there were to be any leftover visas from the first half of the fiscal year, they could roll over to the second half, but not from one fiscal year to another. Offering supplemental visas like the ones Eubanks received is intended to offer a temporary cushion to growing labor demands. But since 2017, they’ve become routine.

Associated Press - September 20, 2022

Migrants sue Florida governor DeSantis over Martha’s Vineyard flights

Venezuelan migrants flown to the upscale Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his transportation secretary Tuesday for engaging in a “fraudulent and discriminatory scheme” to relocate them. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, alleges that the migrants were told they were going to Boston or Washington, “which was completely false,” and were induced with perks such as $10 McDonald’s gift certificates. “No human being should be used as a political pawn,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which is seeking class-action status in the lawsuit filed on behalf of several migrants who were aboard last week’s flights and Alianza Americas, a network of advocacy groups. DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, which also names Secretary of Transportation Jared W. Perdue as a defendant.

The lawsuit alleges that migrants were induced to cross state lines under false pretenses, a line that some Democratic officials are using to urge a federal investigation. On Monday, Javier Salazar, the sheriff of Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, opened an investigation into the flights, but the elected Democrat did not say what laws may have been broken. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, whose district includes San Antonio, have asked the Justice Department to begin a probe. Guesswork was rampant among government officials, advocates and journalists Tuesday about DeSantis’ next move, consistent with the element of surprise that he and another Republican governor, Greg Abbott of Texas, have sought to achieve by busing and flying migrants across the country to Democratic strongholds with little or no notice. Asked Tuesday about speculation that DeSantis may send migrants to his home state of Delaware, President Joe Biden said: “He should come visit. We have a beautiful shoreline.” DeSantis declined to confirm speculation, based on flight-tracking software, that more migrants were on the move. He again defended his decision to fly about 50 Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard, saying their decisions were completely voluntary and, without evidence, that they were in awful condition when Florida got involved.

State Stories

WFAA - September 20, 2022

How the Texas GOP tried to get Libertarian candidates removed from your November ballot

After several Republicans tried to kick several Libertarians off the November ballot, there is no hiding the bad blood between the two parties. The chair of the Libertarian Party of Texas claims Republicans started targeting them once their brand started growing and more voters began recognizing the party. “So, once that happened, the Republicans specifically started trying to figure out how to eliminate us in whatever way they can,” Whitney Bilyeu said on Y’all-itics. Back in August, Republican officials and even some elected candidates, including Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and eight members of Congress, asked the Texas Supreme Court to remove nearly two dozen Libertarian candidates from the ballot. The Republicans argued that the Libertarians didn’t meet eligibility requirements, specifically failing to pay filing fees. The chair of the Libertarian Party of Texas, however, says Republicans are just scared.

“This time they went after 23 candidates. Looking at the list right now, the vast majority, if not all of them, are in two way races, which means if we were to be kicked off in that particular race, the Republican would be running against no-one, which has happened for far too long in far too many races in Texas,” Bilyeu told us. The Texas Supreme Court refused to remove the Libertarian candidates, ruling that the Republicans waited too long to challenge in the first place. This isn’t the first time the Texas GOP tried to remove Libertarians from the ballot. They did the same, and lost, in 2020, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled they waited until after the deadline to challenge a candidate’s eligibility. The thinking is that Libertarians steal votes from Republicans. Democrats feel the same way about Green Party candidates. As for those filing fees, the Libertarian Party is challenging them in federal court. The party argues the fees are a deliberate GOP roadblock for third-party candidates. State law requires the fees and the amount depends on the office. Libertarian candidate Kevin Hale, who’s running for the 5th Congressional District in Texas, says he paid the fee, but with a catch. “I wanted to make sure that I was a thorn in the side of my incumbent, so I paid the filing fee, but I paid it in one dollar bills,” Hale told us. “I delivered $3,125 in one-dollar bills to the Secretary of State.” Hale says it took them an hour and 10 minutes to count the bills.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Texas lawmakers want to fix teacher shortages, workforce ‘once and for all’

Texas must fix its leaky teacher pipeline that’s leaving many students without enough high-quality educators in the classroom, lawmakers and advocates said. Thousands of teachers are quitting the profession as many report mounting stress amid the ongoing pandemic, political pressures and a burgeoning workload. “I don’t know of anything that could be more serious in terms of how Texas is going to look in the future than solving the problems that teachers are facing,” Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said before kicking off a legislative hearing on Tuesday. “We will, hopefully, develop legislation that will get at this problem once and for all.”

Solutions could include expanding teacher mentorship programs, boosting year-long paid educator residencies and restructuring school schedules to allow for more planning time, speakers told lawmakers in Austin during the hearing. “We know that teachers are the single-most important in-school factor impacting students’ outcomes,” said Dallas ISD teacher Josue Tamarez Torres. “It is imperative that we don’t have one single student … in Texas sitting in a classroom without a teacher of record, without a well-prepared teacher.” Torres chairs the state’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force, which expects to have its recommendations finalized by February. Texas employed 376,086 classroom teachers in the 2021-22 school year, according to the Texas Education Agency. Nearly 12% of them left the profession that same year, up from about 10% in recent years. The state had more than 8,600 teachers retire in 2021 — about 1,000 more than the year before.

Texas Newsroom - September 20, 2022

'Don't mess with our kids': Uvalde families get political after lawmakers refuse to tackle gun laws

Up until recently, Javier Cazares was not interested in politics. “I come from a small town, and you know, it had issues — bad roads, we were always the last to get anything,” Cazares said. “I always said when I grow up, I want to change things. Then afterwards, never thought about it.” But that was before May 24. That day changed everything for the 43-year-old. When an 18-year-old shooter went into Robb Elementary School that day and opened fire inside, one of the kids killed was his 9-year-old daughter Jacklyn. “She was the light of our lives. She was full of life, loved to sing, dance,” Cazares said. “We miss her tons. It’s hard to be here at home without her.” Cazares said Jacklyn was fearless. He promised her he’d be the same, and fight for her and her friends. Cazares is now one of many parents in Uvalde who have gotten political after they said lawmakers ignored their pleas for change.

He is now running for a seat on the Uvalde County Commissioners Court. In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting, families of victims asked Gov. Greg Abbott to call for a special session on gun violence. They wanted him to direct the Texas Legislature to increase the minimum age for purchasing a semi-automatic weapon to 21. But Abbott refused. Talking to reporters last month, Abbott said making the change would be unconstitutional. “There have been three court rulings since May that have made it clear that it is unconstitutional to ban someone between the ages of 18 and 20 from being able to buy an AR,” Abbott said. Abbott’s comments angered the families in Uvalde, who are still grieving. They have also motivated many in the town, like Cazares, to get political, and even run for office. “To me, it doesn’t seem like he cares,” Cazares said. “We are demanding accountability, and he’s just not doing anything.” Cazares' candidacy is being fueled, in part, by Fierce Madres — an organization made up of women and mothers in Uvalde. Angela Villescaz, the founder of the group, said members have been attending every single City Council and school board meeting in Uvalde after the shooting. They have pressed officials for accountability, transparency and change.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Judge tosses Texas bar disciplinary suit against Paxton aide for 2020 election challenge

A Texas district judge has dismissed a state bar push to sanction Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top aide, clouding prospects for a similar effort to discipline Paxton for trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. A disciplinary commission of the State Bar of Texas sued First Assistant Brent Webster earlier this year, alleging he acted unethically by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate election results in four key swing states. Last week, Judge John Youngblood sided with the attorney general’s office in determining the suit interfered with the separation of powers. The one-page ruling did not address the suit’s central allegations, but found the court lacks jurisdiction to hear it. “To find in the Commission’s favor would stand for a limitation of the Attorney General’s power to file lawsuits on the State’s behalf,” wrote Youngblood, a Republican.

Paxton, a Republican up for a third term in November, applauded the decision. “I am glad that the Court dismissed these utterly meritless charges against my First Assistant and sent the clear message that I work for Texas, not for unelected bureaucrats at the State Bar,” he said Tuesday in a statement. A spokesman for the bar declined to comment. It’s not clear whether the commission will appeal Youngblood’s order. A separate disciplinary suit against Paxton is still active in Kaufman County. But the ruling in favor of Webster is significant because Paxton’s legal team made similar arguments in his case, stating disciplining him would be an unconstitutional attempt to control the office’s work and could have a chilling effect on future attorneys general. The commission has argued that all lawyers should be subject to the same rules of professional conduct, no matter their position. The judge in Paxton’s case, Casey Blair, has yet to make a decision on whether the suit against him can proceed. Jim Harrington, one of several lawyers who filed an amicus brief in support of the State Bar, called Youngblood’s order a “legal charade” and called on the bar to appeal.

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2022

A lawsuit alleges A&M affirmative action is 'reverse discrimination.' Here's what the data shows.

A lawsuit that accuses Texas A&M University of discriminating against white and Asian men with its diverse faculty hiring fellowship comes amid a desperate need in American higher education to employ professors who reflect student enrollment and a possible upheaval of race-related policies for universities. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear on Oct. 31 two cases concerning Harvard University and University of North Carolina’s ability to consider race in student admissions, and scholars say a potential decision overturning federal protections on affirmative action could have a trickle-down effect on other diversity programs at colleges and universities.

Texas A&M's fellowship plan, called ACES Plus, uses $2 million to provide a 50 percent match on base salary and benefits for new mid-career and senior tenure-track hires from underrepresented minority groups. While the program might not be indefensible, its creation this summer is ill-timed, said Theodore M. Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights at UNC’s School of Law. “I’m not surprised that they were sued at all,” Shaw said. “If anything, it may be more remarkable that this is a program that is newly created in this legal environment and with this Supreme Court.” Admissions and faculty hiring are legally separate issues. The U.S. Supreme Court has continually upheld rules allowing the use of race in admissions decisions. Many states, including Texas, prohibit employers from making hiring decisions based on issues involving race, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. But the undoing of affirmative action could signify coming changes to the way universities attain diverse faculty, said UCLA education professor Mitchell Chang, also the school’s associate vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Sen. John Cornyn announces over $2 million in funding for D-FW to reduce rape kit backlog

Three North Texas entities will receive over $2 million in grant money to help reduce the backlog in processing untested DNA and rape kits, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn announced Tuesday. “As long as rape kits sit untested, authorities are failing the victims and communities we’ve sworn to protect,” Cornyn said in the press release announcing the funding. “I am proud to have authored three laws to help drive down our national backlog, and I’ll continue to do everything I can to ensure survivors receive the closure they deserve and that justice is served.” A rape kit, sometimes also referred to as a sexual assault kit, is a medical kit used to collect and preserve evidence from the body and clothing of a victim of rape or sexual assault.

The evidence, including DNA from clothing, hair and bodily fluids, can help law enforcement identify and prosecute perpetrators. But, both nationally and in Texas, backlogs in testing these kits delay investigations and arrests, if not derail them entirely. The City of Fort Worth was awarded $777,735, Tarrant County $461,000, and Fort Worth’s University of North Texas Health Science Center $804,791 in grants through the Department of Justice as part of the Capacity Enhancement for Backlog Reduction Program. The program, which began doling out grants to state and local laboratories in 2005, provides funding to labs across the country to help them increase their capacity to process DNA samples and enter them into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s CODIS DNA system. Cornyn has shepherded three separate bills, now laws, aimed at reducing the national rape kit backlog through Congress. In January 2018, former President Donald Trump signed Cornyn’s Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting, or SAFER, Act into law. In a Dallas Morning News op-ed in 2021, Cornyn said the SAFER Act increased federal funding available for state and local law enforcement to audit their rape kit backlogs.

San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2022

Viral video shows men shooting, killing 23 feral hogs from a helicopter in Texas

Feral hogs are an expensive problem in Texas and face no regulations in terms of hunting, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. That lack of restrictions was evident in a viral video posted Monday to Reddit, which shows two men shooting feral hogs from the backseat of a helicopter. The video shows the two men shooting and killing 23 feral hogs in 2 minutes and 14 seconds. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, feral hogs are an exotic, invasive species that is "wreaking havoc" on Texas' native ecosystems.The state's feral hog population causes "extensive damage" to plants, animals, people and the state's economy. Texas is home to more feral hogs than any other state.

While hog attacks on humans are extremely rare, they still do happen. In 2019, a Texas woman was killed by a pack of feral hogs, the fifth documented fatal attack by feral hogs since 1825, according to the New York Times. The lack of predators, a generalist attitude toward habitat and diet, and a high reproductive rate have allowed feral hogs to spread throughout the state. The feral hog population, if left unchecked, could triple over the span of a year, TPWD warned. Due to this, any person in Texas, granted landowner consent, can hunt feral hogs without a license. "As a result, the next day, the feral hog population only doubled," another Reddit user joked in response to the viral video. Feral hogs can also be hunted year round without a closed season and there is no bag limit on the number of hogs a hunter can kill. Several companies offer a chance to hunt feral hogs from a helicopter, with names like HeliBacon. Prices for the hunting trip cost anywhere from $2,495 to $5,495 per person. It was not immediately clear where in Texas the video was filmed, but the viral video was taken from an earlier video posted by television personality Brian "Pigman" Quaca, who donates the meat to local food pantries and those in need in Houston.

San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2022

Jefferson High School locked down on false shooting alarm — then the parents showed up

Police and school officials found it hard to control the hundreds of parents who swarmed Jefferson High School on Tuesday after hearing reports — in some cases from their own kids — that shots had been fired there. One man in the crowd cut his arm trying to break a window to gain access to the locked-down campus. He will not face charges, San Antonio Independent School District officials said. It was a false alarm, but brought out a visceral reaction from families now alert to worst-case scenarios by the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde .

“We are overwhelmed with fear of the worst,” Pete Vela said about his emotions as he and his wife, Priscilla, waited outside the school for their 15-year-old son Nico Vela. “I definitely got over here quick. I left work and came quick,” Vela said. “Ultimately if there was somebody in there then I don’t blame the parents for wanting to get in, especially after what happened in Uvalde.” Parents and family members began gathering outside the school well before officials were ready to release the more than 1,700 students who attend Jefferson High. Emotions ran high and several altercations with police over lack of information and long waits broke out. Several in the crowd were detained. SAISD Police Chief Johnny Reyes said officers received a call of a possible shooting in the classroom at around 1 p.m.. The school was immediately placed in full lockdown , meaning all students and staff are locked in classrooms, offices and any secure area, and nobody other than police officers can access the building from the outside.

San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2022

Latest DeSantis migrant flight was to land in Biden’s home state, Delaware. It never left Texas.

It looked like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was hungry for a repeat performance of political theater . Early Tuesday morning, a chartered jet was scheduled to fly out of San Antonio’s Kelly Field — just like the two planes that flew 48 Venezuelan asylum seekers from Kelly to Martha’s Vineyard last week with stops in the Florida Panhandle. Like those earlier flights, Tuesday’s was scheduled to land briefly at Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview, Fla., according to FlightRadar24 , a global flight-tracking service. But its final destination wasn’t the Vineyard, a favorite vacation spot for the super-rich. Instead, the flight was to make a stop in President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware. After touching down there, it was scheduled to continue on to Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey, a few miles from Manhattan.

But Tuesday’s departure didn’t materialize — at least not from Kelly Field, on the city’s Southwest Side. It’s unclear why. Airfield employees declined to comment. With his delivery of Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard last week, DeSantis was borrowing a page from the playbook of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has bused thousands of migrants to New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. in recent months to call attention to what he calls Biden’s failed immigration policies. DeSantis defended his tactics on Sean Hannity’s Fox News talk show on Monday night, saying the immigrants had been rescued from destitution on the streets of San Antonio. “They all signed consent forms to go, and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that included a map of Martha’s Vineyard. It had the numbers for different services on Martha’s Vineyard, and it had numbers for the overall agencies in Massachusetts that handled things involving immigration and refugees,” said the Republican governor, who’s widely expected to seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. “So it was clearly voluntary, and the other nonsense you’re hearing is just not true.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2022

Keller tells library to remove social media banned books post

Some Keller residents were concerned Monday when they saw that the city asked the public library to remove a social media post promoting the national Banned Books Week. The library posted a tweet that said, ”National Banned Books Week is September 18-September 24. “Want to check out any of these titles for yourself? Your Keller Public Library card can help you with that!” Some of the books from the 10 most challenged of 2021 listed are “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews. The library’s post also listed reasons why the books were challenged or banned which included references to the LGBTQ community, sexually explicit content and derogatory terms.

Debbie Wolf, a Keller resident who spoke during Tuesday night’s council meeting, said she was concerned that the library was told to remove the post. “In February of this year, I asked the city council to publicly condemn racist, anti-Semitic material distributed within parts of the city by the Aryan Freedom Network,” she said. “No condemnation was forthcoming. Yesterday, the city removed a Facebook post from our public library about Banned Books Week, which included a list of the most challenged books this year, a list the library has shared many times in years past.” In a statement sent to the Star-Telegram via text message, the city of Keller said it told the library to take down the social media post out of concern that it could spark controversy in the community. “City leadership was concerned that residents would think we were trying to cause controversy, given recent debates about books in the school district, so we removed it as that was certainly not the intent,” the text message read. “We still invite our residents to celebrate Banned Books Week with us at the library this week, as we do every year.”

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Dallas police chief fires officer accused of using deadly force on hospitalized suspect

Dallas police Chief Eddie García fired two sergeants and suspended a third Tuesday after separate accusations of unnecessary force; unwelcome comments; and false testimony in a court proceeding. Sgt. James Bristo and Sgt. Carlos Valarezo were fired, while Sgt. Kung Seng received a three-day suspension, according to department spokesman Sgt. Warren Mitchell. All three can appeal the chief’s disciplinary decisions under civil-service rules. Their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment. García declined to comment. Bristo, who was assigned to the South Central Patrol Division, faced three allegations: using unnecessary force on Aug. 28, 2021 and failing to complete a “response to resistance report” after using the force, as well as engaging in adverse conduct when he was arrested on an official oppression charge months later, Mitchell said.

Bristo turned himself in March 3 on the misdemeanor charge after police said he choked an arrested man at a hospital with a type of hold reserved only for when deadly force is necessary. Mitchell declined to elaborate on the adverse conduct allegation. The week the official oppression arrest warrant was issued, Bristo wrote on Facebook “I can’t go into details, but today is turning out to be an exceptionally bad day. There [is] some major stuff going on that I need direction [and] peace with. My heart is hurting.” Bristo had been with Dallas police since 1988. He was also arrested in August 2020 on a charge of driving while intoxicated in Irving. The case was later dismissed after a judge found there was no reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. Valarezo, who was assigned to the auto-pound unit, was accused of making “offensive and unwelcome jokes or comments, demeaning language or gestures, or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that interferes with another employee’s working conditions” between January 2021 to August 2021, Mitchell said. He declined to provide additional details. Seng was suspended for three days stemming from an accusation that he gave false testimony during a court proceeding May 24, 2019, Mitchell said. Mitchell declined to provide any details about the court proceeding. Seng is assigned to the Northwest Patrol Division.

Austin American-Statesman - September 21, 2022

Texas has less to spend on voter outreach as election approaches under new rules

The Texas secretary of state's office is operating a statewide voter education campaign ahead of the November election with less money than in past years. The Legislature directed $3.5 million for the current two-year budget cycle under a program meant to educate voters on voter ID requirements. In previous two-year budgets, the Legislature allocated $4 million for the effort. The campaign operates ahead of the first November election under new election rules prescribed by Senate Bill 1, a state law that changed voting hours, rules for voter assistants, and mail-in ballot requirements. Some advocates say that, given voter confusion over some aspects of the new law during the spring primaries, the money dedicated to the outreach isn't enough. San Antonio-based GDC Marketing & Ideation is running the voter education campaign under a contract awarded through a competitive bid process, said Sam Taylor, assistant secretary of state for communications.

Education on vote-by-mail is a big concern ahead of November. Central Texas counties reported high rejection rates for March primary election mail ballots. State officials said in April that nearly 25,000 mail-in ballots were rejected statewide. More than 3 million Texans voted in the primary elections. Many of those ballots were rejected because voter identification numbers didn't match on ballots and voter registration cards. Taylor said the overall mail ballot rejection rate decreased from over 12% in the primaries to 4% in the May runoffs. The state spent $1.3 million for voter education for the primaries, leaving $2.2 million for the general election season. The "VoteReady" campaign will be seen at tables at events statewide, including county fairs and senior expos, Scott said. The campaign includes TV and social media ads, but it's elbowing for room with multimillion-dollar political races for ad space, Taylor said. The campaign's greatest expense will be for ads in TV, print, radio, digital, and billboard ads: $939,000 ahead for the primary and runoff election season and $1.59 million for the general election season. The state spent $30,000 for primary and runoff social media ads and $40,500 for general election season ads.

Austin American-Statesman - September 21, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Race for Travis County clerk draws one election denier, one defender

In a way, Susan Haynes can’t lose. Let’s say she prevails in the Nov. 8 election for Travis County clerk: Haynes, a nurse practitioner and conservative Republican, would take the helm of the agency that runs elections in Travis County. She vows to implement major changes in vogue among election conspiracy theorists, such as counting all ballots by hand and requiring voters to cast ballots from their designated neighborhood precinct, not any Travis County polling place that’s convenient for them. Or, let’s say Haynes gets trounced at the polls, which seems likely, given our county’s long history of electing Democrats: She can spin defeat as proof her campaign was right, that “there’s shenanigans going on in elections” and that results are somehow being manipulated.

“I don't think we know if Travis County is blue or red because we can't trust what's happening in the election process,” Haynes told the American-Statesman’s Editorial Board last week, repeatedly insinuating it’s possible someone could meddle with the ballot counts, though she offered no proof of such a thing actually happening here. Haynes struck a more accepting tone in a follow-up statement after this column went to print: "If I lose the election, I will accept it without rancor," she told me via email Tuesday evening. "It would be highly unlikely for me to mount a case against some type of election fraud. I know it exists and that it is going to happen, and I have a very relaxed mental attitude about it." Haynes’ opponent in the race for Travis County clerk is Dyana Limon-Mercado, former head of the Travis County Democratic Party and current executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. Travis County has an acting clerk, Rebecca Guerrero, since longtime clerk Dana DeBeauvoir retired earlier this year. Limon-Mercado is the heavily favored candidate in left-leaning Travis County. And in our Editorial Board panel with both candidates, Limon-Mercado’s responses to her opponent revealed her readiness to handle the election skeptics she would encounter as clerk.

San Antonio Report - September 18, 2022

O’Rourke blasts DeSantis, Abbott for ‘stunts’ involving migrants: ‘We are a state of immigrants’

Standing at the center of a cheering crowd in La Villita on Sunday evening, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke decried the recent immigration-related political stunts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as “cruel,” saying these actions are “not who we are in Texas.” O’Rourke was in San Antonio on Sunday as the final stop of a two-day campaign tour styled the “Juntos Se Puede” (“Together We Can”) Tour with civil rights leader Dolores Huerta. “We are a state of immigrants who have been made successful, strong, and — I would argue — safer and more secure by those who come here to do better for themselves and to do better for all of us,” O’Rourke said. “So let’s replace their stunts, their cruelty, with real solutions.”

With 35 days remaining before the start of early voting, most polls show O’Rourke trailing Abbott by at least 5 points. That was the two-term incumbent’s lead in a poll released last week by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. During the two-hour rally at a packed Villita Assembly Building, O’Rourke touched on a host of issues, including women’s rights, gun laws, the stability of Texas’ electrical grid and immigration reform. The latter has been a hot-button issue across the country this past week, following recent moves by DeSantis and Abbott that involved transporting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and cities such as Washington, D.C. Earlier this week, roughly 50 migrants were lured from outside San Antonio’s migrant resource center and unwittingly flown from Kelly Field to the Massachusetts resort island of Martha’s Vineyard without officials there expecting them. DeSantis took credit for the flights, telling media outlets it was part of his state’s program to relocate migrants to a “sanctuary destination.” The following day, Abbott announced the arrival of two buses full of migrants from Texas outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington. The buses dropped off over 100 migrants from Colombia, Cuba, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.

Bolts - September 15, 2022

Texas students are again battling the closure of a campus polling place

Like many young people, Kristina Samuel started voting during college. She was a freshman biology student at Texas A&M University during the 2020 primaries, casting her first ballot that year at the Memorial Student Center in the heart of the school’s sprawling 5,200 acre campus. Samuel left what she thought was enough time to vote on Election Day, planning to visit the student center between her biology lecture that afternoon and a lab later that evening. But when she got there, the line to vote wrapped around the building, which was the only polling place on campus. Samuel, who says she waited about three hours to vote, recalls being the only person in her friend group who waited to cast a ballot in the election. “I only stayed because I just knew how important it was, but I know so many people who are already on the fence about voting or who see it as a chore,” Samuel said. “They’re not going to wait in that three hour line.”

Samuel, president of her university chapter of the voting rights group MOVE Texas, and other student activists have asked for a second campus polling place to accommodate the largest student body in the state, and one of the largest in the nation. This summer, however, local officials took the opposite approach. The Brazos County Commissioners Court in July decided to eliminate the student center as a polling place during the two weeks of early voting for the 2022 midterms. Now there will be nowhere on campus for students to vote between Oct. 24 and Nov. 4. “I’m afraid the reality is that we’re going to have such lower student and young person turnout than we normally would in a very crucial election,” Samuel told Bolts. The student center will remain an Election Day polling place this year, but Samuel worries that eliminating the early voting there will lead to longer lines that deter students who try to vote on Nov. 8. Other TAMU students have denounced the majority-Republican commission for making this decision in early July, when most students were out of town for the summer. Ever since The Battalion, the university’s student newspaper, highlighted the exclusion in early August, they have asked officials to reinstate an early polling place on campus.

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2022

Foreclosures rising in Bexar County as housing market slows

San Antonio families facing foreclosure are finding it more difficult to sell their homes as a market that was red-hot during the coronavirus pandemic shows signs of slowing down. There were 373 foreclosure postings in Bexar County in August, up nearly 43 percent from July, according to McKinney-based firm Foreclosure Listing Service. That volume is approaching pre-pandemic levels; there were 390 postings in August 2019. At the September foreclosure sale, held on the first Tuesday of the month, the southwest lawn of the Bexar County Courthouse was full of bidders seeking deals. Curtis Roddy, chief operating officer at Foreclosure Listing Service, attributes the increase to eviction moratoriums ending and a housing market that is becoming less frenzied.

“It’s not as easy to sell your house,” Roddy said. “People are less desperate to buy a house.” At Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, a nonprofit that provides free legal services, lawyer Molly Rogers said anecdotally she has seen an increase in people seeking foreclosure assistance. Foreclosures involving traditional loans declined as a result of moratoriums and assistance programs earlier in the pandemic, but have since risen. Reverse mortgage foreclosures also seem to be increasing, Rogers said. “The economic strain that came with the pandemic is catching up with a lot of people who managed to keep their head above water for the last two and a half years,” she said. “Now things are coming to a head, and there’s fewer of those programs available.” There was ample demand for homes in San Antonio prior to the pandemic, but plunging mortgage rates and opportunities to work remotely sent sales soaring. The supply of available homes shrunk and prices spiked.

San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2022

15-year-old’s fatal fentanyl overdose rocks Hays County family

Janel Rodriguez wanted her son’s upcoming 16th birthday to be special. Noah had overdosed in May on a mixture of cocaine and benzodiazepine. He spent a week in the hospital — four days in intensive care. “You’re not going to survive another one,” Rodriguez warned her son. “Be smart.”

In the last two months, he and three other Hays Consolidated Independent School District students — two 17-year-olds and another 15-year-old — died of fentanyl poisoning, marking a grim trend. Illicit fentanyl is the top killer of Americans ages 18 to 45, according to a December report by advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl. The death toll in that age range increased 170 percent from 2020 to 2021. And in Texas, from 2015 to 2021, fentanyl deaths across the board increased 670 percent to 3,260, according to a report the group published in February . At Noah’s funeral, Rodriguez warned his friends to stop risking their lives. Some of them overdosed days later. But they survived. Local and federal authorities addressed the rise in fentanyl-related deaths in Hays County at a news conference Sept. 8. Kyle Police Department Chief Jeff Barnett said the department has investigated 25 fentanyl-related overdoses in 2022 — many of which involved minors, seven of which proved fatal. San Marcos investigated 45 related calls for service in the same time period. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Tyson Hodges said the agency would partner with local law enforcement to form an overdose task force to stop the distribution of counterfeit pills and to educate people through the One Pill Can Kill campaign. Hodges showed those in attendance pictures of two nearly identical pills — one legally produced and a fentanyl-laced counterfeit — emphasizing the danger the increasingly prevalent counterfeits pose.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2022

Social media posts fake, Tarrant commissioner candidate says

Tarrant County commissioner candidate Andy Nguyen called out his opponent for “crude and racist statements” on Tuesday, but Alisa Simmons said the social media messages attributed to her are fake. Nguyen, a Republican, and Simmons, a Democrat, are vying for outgoing commissioner Devon Allen’s Precinct 2 seat representing Arlington and Mansfield on the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. Early voting for the Nov. 8 election runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4. In a press release emailed to the Star-Telegram, Nguyen shared an image of messages that appear to be from Simmons’ Facebook page when she ran against Tony Tinderholt for a state House seat in 2020. Simmons said she was spoofed and did not make the comments attributed to her. Nguyen told the Star-Telegram that his campaign received the messages last week but did not know the source.

The exchange shared by Nguyen shows Simmons saying that she “didn’t give a damn” about a CPS case and that the woman involved deserved what she got for exposing confidential records. “She is lucky all her daughter got was sexually assaulted in foster care. She could turn up dead,” read the message attributed to Simmons. The message goes on to blame case supporters for ruining her campaign and then mentions Tinderholt. “Contact Tinderholt I bet his white ass won’t help her and her stupid ass daughter. Kids get taken every day.” Simmons, who also serves as Arlington’s NAACP president, told the Star-Telegram that the NAACP got involved in the referenced CPS case after the family came to the organization for help. Simmons said the NAACP doesn’t handle domestic cases and that the organization pointed the family to other resources. Simmons said the family initially understood, but that she started facing harassment from case advocates during her campaign for House District 94. The harassment led to involvement from the UT Arlington and Arlington police departments, as well as the national NAACP, Simmons said.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

John Wiley Price calls out Dallas County health chief for ‘unacceptable’ monkeypox poster

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price condemned the health department on Tuesday for using a picture of a Black man on a poster about a monkeypox vaccination effort. Posters in both English and Spanish on a free monkeypox pop-up clinic included an illustration of a Black man. Price called the poster “unacceptable” in the regular Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting. “This flyer was out there, and I wanna know why this was published by health and human services,” Price said. Dr. Philip Huang, director of the county’s Health and Human Services, agreed that the poster needed to be removed.

“It was an error and we replaced it as soon as it became apparent,” Huang told commissioners. “As soon as we became aware of it, we pulled it.” Marketing for the single clinic was done quickly – a day or two before – to publicize the event, Huang said. Price asked why the poster did not include a white man, and Huang responded by saying the team did not want people to assume the virus was affecting only the white population. “Then why didn’t you put a collective out there?” Price asked the health director. “I totally agree. I think they were looking at a space issue,” Huang said. Huang apologized and took responsibility for the poster. “I’m not buying it. I got complaints. I contacted you. You didn’t even know it was out there. You said you take responsibility,” Price said to Huang.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2022

Is Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field for sale? Baseball fans wonder.

What’s happening at LaGrave Field? If you drive past the abandoned minor league baseball park in Panther Island, it’s clear that it looks nothing like it did when it was home to the Fort Worth Cats. Graffiti covers the sides of the beige brick exterior adjacent to a field of high grass and growing weeds. Back in 2018, the Tarrant Regional Water District approved a land swap with the ballpark’s former owners, Houston-based Panther Acquisition Partners. At the time, some fans hoped the change in ownership would lead to a new full-time tenant for the park just north of downtown. The Cats played their last game in 2014, and in the years that followed, the ballpark slowly fell apart and was repeatedly vandalized. Now, “For Sale” signs on adjacent parcels have led some loyal baseball enthusiasts to suspect the former Fort Worth treasure is on the market, as part of the future Panther Island redevelopment.

Someone in a Facebook group called “Save LaGrave” posted an image of a LanCarte Commercial real estate sign on the grass lot just next to the stadium. Members of the group began to comment on their sadness and concerns. The Facebook group has nearly 1,500 followers, and its mission is to “Keep baseball in Cowtown.” In 2019, the water district approved a deal with Save LaGrave Foundation to revitalize the stadium, but it was terminated in September 2020. “Those who visited and watched games there have some great memories,” a Facebook user lamented. “I know I do. It was baseball as it was supposed to be. It’s a shame what greed did.” Another commented: “So sad!!! Such great memories taking my son to so many games and meeting old Cats players.” “There goes history,” said another. But is LaGrave Field really for sale? Multiple sources at the Tarrant Regional Water District affirmed those rumors are false.

National Stories

Religion News Service - September 20, 2022

Hasidic nonprofit brings shoes to greet asylum-seekers arriving in NYC from Texas

On any given day, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan is crammed with commuters and tourists off to the office or to Broadway’s “The Lion King.” But since August, the world’s largest bus station has also welcomed thousands of asylum-seekers arriving on unscheduled buses from Texas. “It’s like a little pop-up Ellis Island where people are meeting volunteers with clothes, shoes and socks and other items,” Alexander Rapaport, CEO of a Jewish nonprofit called Masbia (which in Hebrew means “to satiate”), told RNS in a phone call. “There are volunteers telling them where they can go, where bathrooms are, how they can get more help.” Just before dawn on Monday (Sept. 19), four Masbia volunteers with a truckload of donations arrived at the triage center, set up by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), the Port Authority and the governor’s office.

They joined a handful of other nonprofits to greet three busloads of migrants (most of whom came to the U.S. from Venezuela), handing them new shoes, deodorant and tote bags labeled “With Love from the Jewish Community.” Masbia, a Hasidic Jewish organization, is a New York City-based soup kitchen network whose relief team has been distributing shoes at the triage center since mid-August. Rapaport estimates they’ve donated 3,000 pairs of shoes worth tens of thousands of dollars and says many asylum-seekers arrive without shoes or in flip flops. “The people, some of them went through so much horror, they are so broken, all we want to do is give them their humanity back,” said Rapaport. Ruben Diaz, a chef who oversees the food distribution at Masbia, told RNS he’s given away shoes at the Port Authority roughly a dozen times. “After being in a bus for two days, without food, shower, you can see they are a little desperate,” he told RNS. “Today there was an older lady, maybe 60 years old, and it was tough seeing somebody at that age coming to find a new opportunity at this time of their life. After she left the Port Authority, what is she going to do? Where is she going to find a job? The language is a barrier. It’s hard that you can’t do much more for them.” Those arriving on the buses are coming from El Paso, Texas, where Mayor Oscar Leeser is filling buses with migrants, as well as from other Texas towns on buses sponsored by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Shaina Coronel, director of communications at MOIA, told RNS that the migrants are asylum-seekers who have a legal right to be in the United States. While some come to New York trying to connect with local friends or family, she said many were unaware of the buses’ destination and have family or court hearings in places like Miami or Chicago. Neither Leeser nor Abbott returned requests for comment in time for publication. Coronel said lawyers at the triage center can assist the migrants with changing the location for their hearings, while medical staff can intervene for those who’ve been stuck on a bus for 50-plus hours. “Last week, a 2-year-old child came severely dehydrated, and our EMTs were there to transport him to the hospital. We are seeing folks in dire need of medical attention.”

Associated Press - September 20, 2022

GOP AGs push Visa, Mastercard, AmEx not to track gun sales

A group of Republican attorneys general are pushing the major payment networks — Visa, Mastercard and American Express — to drop their plans to start tracking sales at gun stores, arguing the plans could infringe on consumer privacy and push legal gun sales out of the mainstream financial network. The letter comes more than a week after the payment networks said they would adopt the International Organization for Standardization's new merchant code for sales at gun stores. The merchant code would categorize sales at gun stores not unlike how payment networks categorize sales at airlines, restaurants, and department stores. In their letter, the AGs threaten to use all legal tools at their disposal to stop the payment networks from tracking gun sales.

“Categorizing the constitutionally protected right to purchase firearms unfairly singles out law-abiding merchants and consumers alike,” the letter said. In recent weeks gun control advocates argued that separately categorizing gun store sales could potentially flag a surge of suspicious sales activity to public safety officials. They have used the example from the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, where the shooter purchased $26,000 worth of ammunition ahead of the massacre. But the Second Amendment lobby and its advocates have argued that the merchant code would do a poor job of tracking potential red flags and could unfairly flag legal gun purchases. A sale of a gun safe worth thousands of dollars would be categorized as a gun store sale just as much as someone buying thousands of dollars worth of ammunition, for example. The payment networks said when they adopted the policy that they are just following the guidance from ISO. It will be largely up to the banks who issue the credit and debit cards to decide whether they want to stop sales under certain merchant codes. The CEOs of the major banks will appear in front of Congress on Wednesday and Thursday this week, and they are almost certainly to be asked questions on the gun store sales tracking controversy.

Politico - September 21, 2022

The Fed is getting even tougher on inflation. Here’s what to watch first.

In August, central bankers and economic pundits from around the world descended on Jackson, Wyo., to hear the keynote speech at the Federal Reserve’s annual symposium. In the days afterward, the world’s smartest economic brains were all focused on trying to interpret the most important word from the speech: “pain.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell was sending one clear message to global money managers: The Fed is deadly serious about reducing inflation, the bank won’t back off and the results are going to hurt. Specifically, Powell promised that the Fed will continue to hike interest rates and keep them elevated until the bank has brought inflation down from over 8 percent, where it is now, to the Fed’s target of about 2 percent. This week, the Fed is expected to announce another large increase at its regular policy meeting. These steady increases will almost certainly mean higher unemployment and weaker economic growth until inflation is fully tamed, Powell emphasized. “These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation,” he continued. “But a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain.”

In case anyone didn’t get the message, Powell invoked the name of Paul Volcker, the legendary former Fed chair who doubled interest rates and killed inflation back in the late 1970s. Volcker is famous in central banking circles for doing the very hard thing that no one wants to do but that’s necessary to break an out-of-control inflation cycle. Volcker’s bitter medicine killed the economy, drove unemployment above 10 percent and ushered in the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression. But it also ended inflation after years of unsuccessful attempts by the federal government to do so using every tool from wage and price controls to public campaigns against spending. Powell is right about one thing: It is difficult to anticipate just how much pain will be unleashed by the coming waves of interest rate increases. But the Volcker comparison elides an important fact: Volcker had it easy, in many ways, compared to Powell. The American financial system today is far more fragile than the one Volcker inherited, mostly because of an economy the Fed has dramatically remade in recent decades.

Politico - September 21, 2022

Special master to Trump’s lawyers: ‘You can't have your cake and eat it’

The senior federal judge tasked with reviewing the materials seized by the FBI from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate sharply questioned the former president’s attorneys Tuesday during their first hearing in his courtroom. Judge Raymond Dearie repeatedly challenged Trump’s lawyers for refusing to back up the former president’s claim that he declassified the highly sensitive national security-related records discovered in his residence. “My view of it is: you can’t have your cake and eat it,” said Dearie, the “special master” picked by U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon to vet Trump’s effort to reclaim the materials taken by federal investigators. Trump has argued that the 11,000 documents taken from Mar-a-Lago by the FBI pursuant to a search warrant last month were rightfully in his possession, including about 100 bearing classification markings that suggest they contain some of the nation’s most closely guarded intelligence.

But Dearie bristled at the effort by Trump’s lawyers to resist his request for proof that Trump actually attempted to declassify any of the 100 documents that the Justice Department recovered from his estate. Without evidence from Trump, Dearie said his only basis to judge the classification level of the records was the fact that they all bear markings designating them as highly sensitive national security secrets — including some that indicate they contain intelligence derived from human sources and foreign intercepts. From the outset of the 40-minute hearing, Dearie signaled that he was determined that Trump’s “litigation strategy” would not interfere with the review Dearie has agreed to do. The judge appeared to be referring to vague assertions of declassification by Trump’s side, without so far any facts to back that up. “I can’t allow litigation strategy to dictate the outcome of my recommendations to Judge Cannon,” Dearie said. The judge, a veteran of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, expressed puzzlement about what his role would be if the government says certain documents are classified and Trump’s side disagrees but doesn’t offer proof to challenge that. ”What am I looking for?....As far as I am concerned, that’s the end of it,” Dearie said. “What business is it of the court?”

AFP - September 21, 2022

Under pressure, Trump revives QAnon cult -- around himself

Ensnared in legal probes as he mulls a second White House run in 2024, Donald Trump is injecting new life into the fading QAnon conspiracy cult -- whose members have embraced him as a new icon. While the anonymous founder of the conspiracy -- known only as "Q" -- has disappeared from view, a Trump rally last weekend in Ohio clearly showed that it remains a force, behind the former president. Trump's supporters solemnly thrust their index fingers into the sky as he ended his speech to the electronic strains of a song identified by Media Matters, a progressive research group, as "Where We Go One We Go All," or WWG1WGA -- the QAnon motto. The Republican ex-president used the same work in an August 9 video released right after the FBI raid on his Florida home. And he has played it elsewhere, with QAnon followers taking note online.

Meanwhile Trump has increasingly amplified QAnon postings on his Truth Social network. On September 13 he reposted a doctored picture of himself with a prominent "Q" on his lapel. QAnon's original followers subscribed to bizarre theories of a Democratic satanic child sex abuse network -- an outlandishness summed up by images of one of them invading the US Capitol in a shamanic headdress. But experts say the movement is now embracing more Trump-centric theories of election denialism and the notion of an unaccountable Washington "deep state" -- ideas central to Trump's "Make America Great Again" or MAGA movement. The overlap between QAnon and MAGA is now "hard to distinguish," said Rachel Goldwasser, who researches right-wing extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Trump is now "sort of the hero of the conspiracy theory," she said. The QAnon movement took root in 2017 with cryptic posts on the fringes of social media by the anonymous "Q". Followers, who by 2020 numbered hundreds of thousands, embraced the belief that the world was controlled by a secret cabal of the rich and powerful, and groundless conspiracy theories about Covid-19.

September 20, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Bexar County sheriff probes migrant flights from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida

The Bexar County sheriff launched a criminal investigation Monday into the transfer of migrants by plane from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida’s governor amid rising migration. Border Patrol arrest figures, released Monday, show numbers almost topped out at 2 million, on pace for an annual record with only one month remaining in the fiscal year. Border Patrol arrests at the southern border had previously hit 1.6 million for 2000 and 1.7 million last year. At the end of August that number was 1,977,769. Monday afternoon, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said he has opened up a criminal investigation against the individual or individuals who “lured under false pretenses” 48 newly arrived migrants in San Antonio to fly to Martha’s Vineyard last week. “Here we have 48 people who were already on hard times, and they were here legally in our country at that point ... and I believe they were preyed upon,” said Salazar in a news conference. “They were just made fools of and were subjected to a video op, a photo op.”

Salazar said they have the names of suspects, but he didn’t disclose them. The migrants have said they were promised jobs, housing and food. But Salazar said they were used “for nothing more than political posturing.” DeSantis’ communications director, Taryn Fenske, on Monday evening emailed a terse reply about the Bexar County sheriff’s investigation. She referenced the tragic smuggling accident in June in which several migrants died. “Immigrants have been more than willing to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless, and ‘left to fend for themselves.’ Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them, as we expected. Unless the MA national guard has abandoned these individuals, they have been provided accommodations, sustenance, clothing and more options to succeed following their unfair enticement into the United States, unlike the 53 immigrants who died in a truck found abandoned in Bexar County this June.” Separately, attorneys for the migrants, most of whom were believed to be Venezuelans, and others have called for a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ has not commented on the request.

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2022

Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke spend $8 million in battle for Spanish speaking voters

In the race for the governor’s mansion, Spanish speaking voters in Texas are hearing political ads in their language more than ever before, experts say. Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke are investing big in Spanish-language outreach as roughly a fourth of Texas’ eligible voters — some 4.4 million people — are Spanish speakers, according to new estimates from the census. Both candidates have spent millions of dollars on Spanish language political ads, running on Telemundo and Univision, Spanish radio stations and online. Abbott's Spanish-language ad spending has more than doubled compared to his two previous gubernatorial campaigns to roughly $5 million in broadcast and digital ads, according to Abbott political consultant Dave Carney.

He said the campaign is targeting South Texas voters of all cultural backgrounds. “We’re not leaving certain Spanish speaking, Hispanics off the table. We’re trying to be everywhere,” said Carney, who added that the campaign has also hired bilingual door knockers who can engage voters in both Spanish and English. The O’Rourke campaign has also made a major investment in Spanish-language outreach, spending $3 million on Spanish media ad buys and hiring the Spanish language firm Pescador. O'Rourke has also gained traction among bilingual youth using the social media platform TikTok, which appeals to a younger audience than traditional media. Though most of the campaign’s 300 TikTok videos are in English, a handful of Spanish-only videos have gone viral, including a particularly poignant clip during a town hall event where a community leader from a housing development on the border, or colonia, asked O’Roruke what he would do to help his neighbors get access to running water.

Associated Press - September 20, 2022

Texas judge holds gun ban for felony defendants unconstitutional

A U.S. law banning those under felony indictments from buying guns is unconstitutional, a federal judge in West Texas ruled Monday. U.S. District Judge David Counts, whom then-President Donald Trump appointed to the federal bench, dismissed a federal indictment against Jose Gomez Quiroz that had charged him under the federal ban. According to Counts’ ruling, Quiroz was under a state burglary indictment when he tried to buy a .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun and challenged the ensuing federal charge. In a 25-page opinion filed in Pecos, Texas, Counts acknowledged “this case’s real-world consequences — certainly valid public policy and safety concerns exist.” However, he said a Supreme Court ruling this summer in a challenge brought by the New York Rifle & Pistol Association “framed those concerns solely as a historical analysis.”

“Although not exhaustive, the Court’s historical survey finds little evidence that ... (the federal ban) — which prohibits those under felony indictment from obtaining a firearm — aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition.” Hence, he ruled the ban unconstitutional as the “Second Amendment is not a 'second class right,” as noted in a 2008 Supreme Court ruling. ”No longer can courts balance away a constitutional right," Counts wrote. After the New York case, "the Government must prove that laws regulating conduct covered by the Second Amendment’s plain text align with this Nation’s historical tradition. The Government does not meet that burden." In the New York case, the high court held by a 6-3 vote, with conservative justices forming the majority, that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. The June 23 ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, was seen then as likely to lead to more people being legally armed. A message to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Washington Post - September 20, 2022

A landmark Supreme Court fight over social media now looks likely

Conflicting lower court rulings about removing controversial material from social media platforms point toward a landmark Supreme Court decision on whether the First Amendment protects Big Tech’s editorial discretion or forbids its censorship of unpopular views. The stakes are high not just for government and the companies, but because of the increasingly dominant role platforms such as Twitter and Facebook play in American democracy and elections. Social media posts have the potential to amplify disinformation or hateful speech, but removal of controversial viewpoints can stifle public discourse about important political issues. Governments that say conservative voices are the ones most often eliminated by the decisions of tech companies scored a major victory Friday, when a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld a Texas law barring companies from removing posts based political ideology.

“Big Tech’s reign of endless censorship and their suppression of conservative viewpoints is coming to an end,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said after the decision. “These massive corporate entities cannot continue to go unchecked as they silence the voices of millions of Americans.” But a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit went the other way earlier this year, saying that a similar Florida law violated constitutional protections for tech companies that do not want to host views on their platforms that they find hateful, divisive or false. Judge Kevin Newsom criticized a depiction of social media platforms as “dumb pipes … reflexively transmitting data from point A to point B.” Instead, he wrote, their “content-moderation decisions constitute the same sort of editorial judgments” entitled to First Amendment protections when made by a newspaper. All of the appeals court judges considering the Florida and Texas laws have noted the difficulty of applying some Supreme Court precedents regarding legacy media. And all weighing in so far were nominated by Republican presidents, with Newsom and Judge Andrew Oldham, who wrote the conflicting opinion in the Texas case, both nominated by President Donald Trump, who was kicked off Twitter in the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

State Stories

Kaiser Health News - September 19, 2022

Centene agrees to pay Texas $166 million in Medicaid drug pricing settlement

Health insurance giant Centene Corp. has agreed to pay $165.6 million to Texas to resolve claims that it overcharged the state’s Medicaid program for pharmacy services. It’s the biggest known payout by the nation’s largest Medicaid insurer over its drug pricing practices. The deal was signed July 11 but hadn’t been publicly announced until Monday after Kaiser Health News obtained a copy of the settlement through a Texas public records request and began asking questions. The agreement makes Texas at least the 12th state to settle pharmacy billing claims with St. Louis-based Centene. Centene did not respond Monday to multiple requests for comment about the Texas settlement. But it has denied wrongdoing in several settlements, and Centene president and chief operating officer Brent Layton said last year that settlements in Ohio and Mississippi reflected the company’s “commitment to making the delivery of healthcare local, simple and transparent” and allow it to continue its “relentless focus on delivering high-quality outcomes to our members.”

Most states contract with private insurance companies such as Centene to cover people who have disabilities or earn low incomes in their state Medicaid programs, which are jointly paid for by state and federal taxpayers. In many of those states, the insurance company handles Medicaid prescription medications through what is called a pharmacy benefit manager, or PBM, to get lower prices. Such benefit managers act as middlemen between drug makers and health insurers and as intermediaries between health plans and pharmacies. Centene has provided both those services in multiple states. Medicaid has provided a big launching pad for Centene’s growth and revenue. The company is the largest Medicaid managed-care insurer in the country, providing health insurance benefits to 15.4 million enrollees nationwide. Multiple states have pursued allegations against Centene’s pharmacy manager business, alleging that it overbilled their Medicaid programs for prescription drugs and pharmacy services. The total number of states isn’t publicly known. Centene has settled with Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, and Washington for a total of $475 million, according to news releases and settlement documents from attorneys general in those states. Three other states and their settlement amounts have not been identified by Centene or the states themselves.

Texas Tribune - September 20, 2022

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, prominent Trump ally, weighing U.S. Senate run in 2026

U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Amarillo, recently launched Spanish-language TV ads in his reelection campaign — an unexpected use of campaign resources given that he is sitting in one of this election season’s safest congressional districts in the state. Jackson, best known as the doctor to former President Donald Trump, launched the TV spots last week in a bid to introduce himself to Latino voters. While his rural, Panhandle district is predominantly white, his campaign says it is an effort to grow his appeal with an ascendant voting bloc statewide. That could be because he’s interested in running for a higher office. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is not up for reelection until 2026, but Jackson is already considering running for the Senate seat, according to two people familiar with his thinking who were not authorized to speak on the record.

Jackson did not respond to a request for comment, and Cornyn’s campaign declined to comment. Cornyn has taken a hit with Republican voters in the state after he led GOP negotiations on the bipartisan gun restriction bill that Congress passed after the Uvalde school shooting in May. Since his election two years ago, Jackson has wasted little time making allies in the Texas congressional delegation, and his well-known association with former President Donald Trump has strengthened his stature. He has doled out endorsements, cut checks and hosted events in competitive races, lending a Trump-backed credibility to candidates eager to court the former president’s most loyal supporters. At the same time, Jackson has emerged as one of the top fundraisers in the delegation, collecting $3.8 million so far this election cycle — a hefty amount for a member in a safe seat.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

San Antonio Archbishop: Abbott’s busing of migrants to Democrat-led cities ‘offends God’

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said Sunday that transporting migrants from Texas to other states to score political points “offends God.” García-Siller took to Twitter to comment on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s practice of busing migrants to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., to protest what Abbott says is the Biden administration’s failure to secure the border. On Wednesday, another Republican governor, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, employed the same tactic, arranging for a pair of charter flights that carried some 50 migrants from San Antonio’s Kelly Field to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

“To use migrants and refugees as pawns offends God, destroys society and shows how low individuals can be for personal gains,” García-Siller tweeted Sunday morning to his 7,387 followers. “These tactics — buses — promote human trafficking. We pray for conversion of heart. God protect our sisters and brothers in need.” In a second tweet, he wrote that “Pope Francis invites us to be more human, to encounter one another with care and respect in order to let the divine shine for the well being of people. God, we trust in you!” Two days earlier, the archbishop sounded a similar theme, tweeting that “using migrants and refugees as pawns is a disgrace, a great offense to human dignity and a sinful action.” He added, “Let us pray for our public leaders. By some accounts, the migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard were Venezuelans lured from outside San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center with promises that shelter and jobs would be waiting for them in Boston.

Austin American-Statesman - September 19, 2022

GOP House candidate Gerdes waited too long to challenge Curtis candidacy, judge rules

A Travis County judge has rejected a Republican candidate's attempt to remove independent Linda Curtis from the November ballot in a Texas House district that includes Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Republican Stan Gerdes filed suit in mid-August, arguing that Curtis did not meet candidacy petition requirements and that Texas Secretary of State John Scott failed to disqualify Curtis as required by state law. But state District Judge Jessica Mangrum disagreed, ruling Friday that Gerdes, a former Smithville City Council member and senior adviser for the U.S. Energy Department during the Trump administration, waited too long to challenge Curtis' candidacy and did not explain his "delay and lack of diligence."

Bastrop County, for instance, had already sent its November ballots to the printer, and removing Curtis' name "would risk significant disruption in the election at this late stage," the judge wrote in her order. Curtis, who filed her election paperwork June 22, complained that Gerdes waited 55 days to file suit and another 13 days to serve her with that lawsuit, setting up a court hearing that took place 84 days after she submitted her candidacy petitions. In his lawsuit, Gerdes said 56 of Curtis' 88 petition pages lacked a complete and legally required statement informing registered voters that they could not sign if they had voted in the 2022 primary elections for the Republican or Democratic parties. If the 287 signatures on those pages were stricken, Curtis would have fallen short of the 500 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, Gerdes argued. The judge was not swayed, ruling that the information omitted from the statement — Curtis' name and the office she was seeking — was repeated directly above the statement. "No evidence was presented that the omission contributed to either voter confusion or the likelihood of election fraud, but rejecting Curtis' petition would undermine the purpose of the Election Code to promote voter access," Mangram wrote.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

Buc-ee’s doesn’t hold world records for biggest convenience store, car wash, Guinness says

A Texas passion for big Texas things is what feeds Buc-ee's. While the chain of colossal travel centers has for years touted that it is the largest convenience store in the world and hosts the longest car wash in the world, those titles are not recognized by Guinness World Records, the global authority on human achievements. Kylie Galloway, a spokeswoman for Guinness World Records, told the Express-News that the buck-tooth behemoth’s Katy location no longer holds its 2017 title for the world’s longest car wash station.

“There is no current record holder for this title,” Galloway said. “Since the competitive landscape of this record is continuously changing, the record is only valid for one calendar year and the title is further researched at that time.” As for the “largest convenience store” title, trumpeted by the company for the last decade, Galloway said Guinness does not monitor it. Neither does anyone else. Unlike the world’s tallest buildings, there is no authority that officially tracks the largest footprint. The general counsel for Buc-ee's, Jeff Nalado, says the company started bragging about its size when it built its “world record holder” travel center in New Braunfels on Interstate 35 in 2012. The title likely came from news organizations, Nalado said.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

'A true joy to watch': Popovich praises Becky Hammon after Las Vegas Aces win WNBA championship

When the Las Vegas Aces hired Becky Hammon in late December 2021, she returned to the WNBA for her first head coaching job after being passed over for a handful of NBA posts. "I sat in a lot of (NBA) head coaching interviews, and (there are) two things people always said, 'You've only been in San Antonio, and you've never been a head coach,' " Hammon told reporters eight months ago. In guiding the Aces to their first championship on Sunday, Hammon proved neither of those facts was a negative. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was quick to praise Hammon after she led the Aces to a title-clinching road win over the Connecticut Sun.

Chelsea Gray scored 20 points to lead the Aces to a 78-71 victory in Game 4, an outcome Hammon celebrated on the court with her sons Cayden, 7, and Samuel, 4. "We are all thrilled for coach Hammon," Popovich said in a statement the Spurs posted on Twitter. "Winning a championship is a remarkable achievement for a first-time head coach in her first year with a team. Yet I am not at all surprised by her success." The Spurs made Hammon the first female full-time, paid assistant in NBA history in 2014 after she completed a 16-season WNBA career that included eight years with the San Antonio Stars, who moved to Vegas in 2018. Hammon left the Spurs after last season to coach the Aces. She becomes the fourth member of Popovich's coaching tree to win a championship, joining the Golden State Warriors' Steve Kerr, the Milwaukee Bucks' Mike Budenholzer and Doc Rivers, who won a title with the Boston Celtics. She is also the first in WNBA history to win a title in her inaugural season as a head coach.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

‘He dropped the ball:’ Anaqua Springs shooting victims’ families blast Bexar County sheriff

The families of two children shot to death with their mother in the Anaqua Springs Ranch community in far Northwest Bexar County in 2019 expressed their frustration Monday with Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar’s silence on the investigation. The father and aunt of London Sophia Bribiescas, 10, and the grandparents of Alexa Montez, 16, spoke at a news conference of their pain and their need for answers. London’s aunt, Emma Bribiescas Mancha Sumners, sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday asking him to intervene in the case and to let the Texas Rangers conduct their own investigation into the deaths. The letter cited a lack of confidence in the sheriff’s office.

A spokesman for Paxton confirmed Monday that his office received the family’s letter, which he said has been referred “to our investigators for appropriate review and consideration.” He declined further comment. The two girls were were found dead with their mother, Nichol Olsen. The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office ruled Olsen’s death a suicide and both children’s deaths as homicides. A handgun was found near Olsen’s body. The sheriff’s office has kept its investigation open. Sumners said Salazar “likes the spotlight,” but she doesn’t expect him to talk to her family “because I think we’re a constant reminder of the fact that he made a lot of mistakes on this case. “He doesn’t like anything that shines a negative light upon him,” she said. Montez’s grandmother, Erma Montez of San Antonio, said she was “very disappointed” in the sheriff. “I feel like he dropped the ball on our case,” Montez said. She said when she reaches out to the sheriff’s office for updates on the investigation, her phone calls are not returned. “As a family, we’ve had our lives torn apart,” Montez said, fighting back tears. “And we have had no justice. So that alone is a heavy burden to carry. “And now we yearn for (Alexa) so much that we just have to go to her grave. And that’s where we get our peace.” Hector Bribiescas, the youngest child’s father, said he has grown weary and impatient with the wait for answers. “Not knowing is the hardest part,” he said. “It’s just very frustrating.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

Texans suffer more power outages than residents of any other state

Texans have experienced more major power outages in the past 20 years than residents of any other state, a new report shows, and the blackouts have become more frequent amid increasingly extreme weather in recent years. Environmental advocacy group Climate Central analyzed outage notices filed with the U.S. Department of Energy to calculate the most blackout-prone states. In addition to its rankings, it found there were 64 percent more major power outages across the U.S. from 2011 to 2021 than in the decade from 2000 to 2010. “As extreme weather events become more common and electrical infrastructure continues to age, the number of outages is only likely to increase,” the group said.

About 83 percent of all major outages — those impacting at least 50,000 customers — in the past 20 years were attributed to weather. Most of those were in the Southeast, followed by the Midwest and Northeast. It’s little surprise that Texas, the nation’s second-largest and second-most populated state, would see more power outages than most other states. But rounding out the top five by major outages since 2000 were Michigan, California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. And No. 3 California, the nation’s largest state, has struggled with increasing outages amid record heat and increasing wildfires in recent years. The group’s report didn’t look at individual utilities’ performance. But even after massive outages during Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, San Antonio’s electricity system was among the most reliable across large Texas cities that year. Among the 10 utilities in Texas that serve more than 250,000 customers, CPS Energy customers experienced the third-lowest amount of time without electricity in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration .

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

‘We embrace the hate’: Texas ready for harsh environment in Lubbock

No. 22 Texas is 2-1 as it heads into conference play next week. The Longhorns will make their first trip to Lubbock since 2020, and this one will be Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian’s first. Sarkisian said that Texas men’s basketball head coach Chris Beard reached out to him about Texas Tech’s game environment. “We’re the University of Texas. Nobody likes us. That’s okay. We embrace the hate,” Sarkisian also said. Beard led Texas Tech to its first-ever Final Four appearance in 2019, and its first-ever National Championship game appearance. Beard was hired at Texas in 2021 and most recently led the Longhorns to their first NCAA Tournament win since 2014.

Beard’s first game in Lubbock as Texas’ head coach was quite the scene, with Texas Tech fans even blocking the Texas bus from leaving practice at one point. If Beard’s warm welcome is any indication of how this Saturday will look for Texas football, then Sarkisian and his team are in for an eventful weekend. When asked about the current quarterback situation, Sarkisian said that all of them were in practice today. “They all practiced today, which is a positive. That, to me, is a really good sign. Last Monday, they didn’t all practice,” he said. Before last Saturday’s game, Quinn Ewers was seen on the field throwing passes to receivers. He did not see any playing time against UTSA, but was dressed in full uniform on the sidelines. Original reports indicated that Ewers may not be able to return until the Oklahoma game at the earliest, but he’s showing signs of quick progression. On Saturday, Sarkisian also said that Ewers could not lift his arms over his shoulders right after the Sept. 10 game against Alabama. It seems like Ewers is making great progress and could be back sooner than originally expected.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Sharon Grigsby: Dear Washington: Get us this answer now so Dallas can begin reducing fentanyl deaths

Forgive our impatience, Xavier Becerra. With all respect to your busy Washington schedule as the nation’s health and human services secretary, our city needs to hear from you ASAP. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson posed a question to you Friday and your answer will clear the way for a new tool to save lives being lost to fentanyl, the number one cause of drug deaths in the U.S. Judging by the number of personal stories readers sent me after my column on 23-year-old Martin Heitzman’s fentanyl poisoning, lots of folks will be interested in Becerra’s response. Each sorrowful anecdote amplified why Dallas needs common-sense law enforcement tools like overdose mapping — especially because Texas may never embrace harm-reduction measures to keep potential fentanyl victims safe. Johnson’s letter to Becerra asks for assurances that the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department can provide overdose information for this public safety effort without violating HIPAA privacy rules.

This seems like an easy “yes” given that the mapping tool is a federal DEA effort and the local High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area group has repeatedly urged Dallas to join the other North Texas cities already participating. The no-cost initiative collects and maps the location and date of each overdose and stipulates what drugs were involved in order for public health and law enforcement agencies to spot trends and know where to deploy resources. Among the local cities or police departments already signed up are Plano, Richardson, Irving, Grand Prairie, Coppell and Carrollton. Johnson wrote that Dallas, like other cities nationwide, is on the front line against drugs that “have cut short far too many lives, leaving behind shattered families and incomprehensible destruction to our society.” The mayor sent his letter — saying “we can’t manage what we can’t measure” — the same week that Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot and Lance Sumpter, director of the Texoma High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area group, briefed the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on OD mapping.

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2022

Cornyn leads Senate GOP push for special counsel in Hunter Biden probe

Sen. John Cornyn and 32 other Senate Republicans are demanding special counsel powers for the prosecutor investigating Hunter Biden, warning Attorney General Merrick Garland to take steps needed to avert political meddling on behalf of the president’s son. “There is no way of knowing the entire scope of the investigation, but evidence seems to be mounting that Hunter Biden committed numerous federal crimes, including, but not limited to, tax fraud, money laundering, and foreign-lobbying violations,” the senators, including both Texans, wrote in a letter released Monday by Cornyn’s office. Fox News, CNN and other major news outlets reported two months ago that the federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s business activities was at or near a “critical juncture,” with prosecutors weighing the possibility of charges.

The probe began during the Obama era as a tax inquiry, and widened in 2018 during the Trump administration. The inquiry is led by the U.S. attorney in Delaware, David Weiss, a Trump appointee – one of the few kept on by Biden, in part to avoid any appearance of political meddling. House Republicans have announced they will launch investigations into Hunter Biden if they win the majority in November’s elections, including whether his dealings with a Chinese energy company and other international businesses created conflicts for his father. “It is clear that Hunter Biden thrived off of a ‘pay to play’ culture of access to his father, then Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for financial compensation,” Cornyn and his colleagues wrote in the letter, which is dated Friday. No evidence has surfaced to indicate that President Biden benefited from his son’s dealings. “Given that the investigation involves the President’s son,” the letter from Cornyn says, “we believe it is important to provide U.S. Attorney Weiss with special counsel authorities and protections to allow him to investigate an appropriate scope of potentially criminal conduct, avoid the appearance of impropriety, and provide additional assurances to the American people that the Hunter Biden investigation is free from political influence.”

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2022

Texas leads nation in school book bans, new report shows

Texas has removed more books from school libraries than in any other state this year, according to a new report released at the start of Banned Books Week. More than 800 books — many centered on race, racism, sexuality and LGBTQ issues — were pulled between July 2021 and June 2022, targeting titles, according to PEN America, a nonprofit organization that advocates for free speech. At least 22 districts across Texas banned books in schools in some way. Heated fights over what students are reading in school have occurred across the state including in Keller, Grapevine-Colleyville and Frisco.

“This censorious movement is turning our public schools into political battlegrounds, driving wedges within communities, forcing teachers and librarians from their jobs, and casting a chill over the spirit of open inquiry and intellectual freedom that underpin a flourishing democracy,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. Some books — at least 174 titles — were banned more than once, including Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. On Sunday, the national group kicked off Banned Books Week, an annual event that “celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights current and historical attempts to censor books in libraries and schools.” American Library Association president Lessa Kanani?opua Pelayo-Lozada noted in a statement that the “unprecedented number of challenges we’re seeing already this year reflects coordinated, national efforts to silence marginalized or historically underrepresented voices and deprive all of us – young people, in particular – of the chance to explore a world beyond the confines of personal experience.” Efforts to enact more stringent policies around what students can read at school continue.

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2022

Dallas doctor accused of tampering with IV bags denied bond

A longtime North Texas doctor was denied bond Monday on federal charges related to allegedly compromising IV bags that caused almost a dozen patients to experience unexpected cardiac emergencies between May and August. Dr. Raynaldo Rivera Ortiz Jr., 59, was taken into custody in Plano on Wednesday and faces federal charges of tampering with a consumer product causing death and intentional drug adulteration. Magistrate Judge David L. Horan handed down the decision after just less than two hours of testimony from law enforcement and one of Ortiz’s former attorneys. Horan said there is no combination of conditions, such as house arrest, that would “reasonably ensure the safety” of the community if Ortiz was released on bond.

The prosecution cited multiple incidents they say show that Ortiz is a possible danger to the public, including a previously conviction of shooting his neighbor’s dog with a pellet gun and accusations that he yelled at and got in the faces of administrators at a different medical facility when asked to wear a face mask. Ortiz, an anesthesiologist, is part of an ongoing criminal investigation into serious cardiac complications suffered by patients at Baylor Scott & White Surgicare North Dallas and the death of 55-year-old Melanie Kaspar, another anesthesiologist at the facility. The Texas Medical Board was contacted by federal authorities about the criminal investigation earlier this month and suspended Ortiz’s medical license Sept. 9 after concluding he posed “imminent peril” to public health. If convicted, Ortiz faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

'This is our home': Black Texas farmers fight state's efforts to seize their ancestral land

To Texas transportation officials, expanding U.S. 183 is a chance to alleviate congestion south of Austin. But to the Alexander family, it’s a threat to the land they’ve vowed for generations to protect . Daniel Alexander was enslaved when he secured a promise in 1847 from his owners for 73.3 acres of land, which now sits west of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport , near an extinct subterranean volcano called Pilot Knob . Over the last 175 years, Alexander’s descendants have fulfilled a pledge to keep the land in the family. It hasn’t been easy. In 1968, the Texas Department of Transportation used eminent domain to seize part of their farmland and built U.S. 183 across the southeastern edge of their property. In 2015, the family cemetery was flooded — a result of changes in drainage from subdivisions that surround their land. TxDOT now is considering a project that would take more Alexander land to widen U.S. 183. The family worries that the expansion — across 400 feet of their property — would destroy two historic homes, one that may have been a Pony Express station, according to family lore.

Most dismaying, they say, would be the destruction of their ancestors’ marked and unmarked graves in the family cemetery. “We are a 175-year-old presence. That is our home,” said Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik, a fifth-generation descendant of Daniel Alexander who was born and raised on the farm. “Our lives, blood, dreams and aspirations are here. These acres first acquired by (our) great-great-grandfather and his mother are our identity and legacy as well as everything around us.” The Alexanders are some of the few Black farm operators remaining in the country. The numbers have rapidly decreased as a result of a history of encroachment, discriminatory practices and weak agricultural laws. Around the turn of the century, the U.S. Department of Agriculture admitted that many of its services were unavailable to Black farmers who wanted to expand over the last century and a half, forcing many to sell their land and shut down production. The census reported that Black farms decreased by 98 percent from 1929 to 1997, although disparities in data collected by the Census Bureau and the USDA prevent an accurate count of minority-operated farms over the last century.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2022

Joseph Fiorenza, Catholic archbishop emeritus of Galveston-Houston, dead at 91

Joseph Fiorenza, the son of immigrants who steered a rapidly changing southeast Texas through its evolution as a beacon for newcomers as its first home-grown Catholic archbishop, died Monday, church officials said. Fiorenza, bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston from 1985 until 2006, was 91. Well past turning 90, he remained a force for social change. In a statement, Fiorenza’s successor, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, praised him as a “champion of civil rights and a tireless worker in overcoming the presence of racism in our community.” Houston-area leaders praised Fiorenza's service, even when that service at times demanded they do more to protect society's most vulnerable, whether they were new immigrants, the homeless or the working poor struggling to survive.

“His strength of faith was evident in his work on behalf of many of the poorest and most defenseless among us," said Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle. "He was a true force locally for justice and civil rights. Personally, I will miss exchanging letters with him on the role of servants on Earth." Fiorenza was born in Beaumont in 1931, the son of Italian immigrants, Anthony and Grace Fiorenza. "By the time I was a senior in high school, I was pretty well sure that I wanted to study to be a priest," Fiorenza said in a 2021 interview. "It's just a feeling that grows within you, a desire to spend your time helping other people." He was ordained for the then-Diocese of Galveston-Houston in May 1954, and first was appointed to Queen of Peace Church in Houston. Stints as chaplain of St. Joseph Hospital, Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, St. Augustine Church, Benedict of the Abbot Church and Assumption Church followed.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2022

The top California donors in the Texas governor's race

Don't California my Texas? When it comes to the governor's race, that's off the table: Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke have won big money from donors in California. Even before attending a big-dollar fundraiser in Los Angeles last week, O’Rourke had already raised more than $4 million from Californians. But Abbott is no slouch on the West Coast himself. Since he filed for re-election, Abbott has raised almost $3 million from Californians.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Republican: $1.5 million: Ed Roski, Jr., president of real estate development company Majestic Realty and part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings; $100,000: Robert Olson, president of Newport Beach construction and development company, R.D. Olson Development. $100,000: David Pyle, founder of American Career College and executive chairman of the board of West Coast University, a private, for-profit college; Beto O'Rourke, Democrat: $75,000: Robert Friedman, Santa Monica real estate broker with The YF Group; $54,900: Richard K. Robbins, real estate developer; $50,000: Timothy Disney, movie director and chairman of the Board of Trustees at the California Institute of the Arts; Great nephew of Walt Disney; $25,000: Kevin Huvane, chairman of Creative Artists Agency, a top Hollywood talent agency.

County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2022

Tarrant expects faster election results after software update

A software bug that delayed Tarrant County election night results during the March primary is not expected to be a problem in November — an election with high-profile state and local races on that ballots that are likely to draw larger crowds than the earlier election. The March results were not available until early the next morning because of a malfunction related to a machine in a tabulation room used for unofficial results on election night. The unofficial results are typically released faster than their official counterpart, allowing for candidates and voters to see who won and who lost sooner. Tarrant County Election Administrator Heider Garcia explained at the time that each voting machine has two USB drives containing identical copies of election results. The results from one drive are sent to a machine via an internet server, allowing the public to get faster, unofficial results.

Election officials opted to transmit the official results stored in the other drive manually after the computer that receives the unofficial results malfunctioned. That procedure was repeated in May during the primary runoffs — a planned decision, Garcia said — after officials didn’t have time to test new software installed following the March malfunction. There’s still a final test to be done before the midterm election — likely in the coming week or so — but the plan is to go back to using the original method of disseminating election results come Nov. 8, Garcia said in a Monday interview. Preliminary testing has been successful, he said. This allows for people to get a quick view of what’s happening with results, he said. “Right now the expectation is we should be using the unofficial tool and ... have results early up on the website,” Garcia said in a Monday. “But if we find out this week or next week that bug was imperfectly fixed, we’re uncomfortable, then we want to set the right expectation and say, Look we thought it was solved but it wasn’t. It’s going to take a long time.” The office this week is testing various aspects of its voting equipment to make sure it is working and ballot selections properly recorded. There’s a possibility of issues arising again that delay the election night results, but “the odds of something new and different happening and causing a delay, I would say are extremely small.”

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2022

Fort Worth public libraries evacuated after bomb threats

Seventeen public libraries in Fort Worth were evacuated and closed about 2 1/2 hours early on Monday afternoon after a library employee received emails that threatened destruction via bomb, authorities said.

The internet protocol address that was used to send the emails originated from outside of the United States, Fort Worth police said. There is no evidence of an ongoing threat to the public, police said late Monday. Police evacuated all city public library branches and performed safety protocols, a police spokesperson said. A library administrator reported the threats to police about 4:45 p.m. City public library branches are to open on Tuesday at 10 a.m., but it was not clear late Monday whether the threats would change that schedule. Other cities in the area received similar emails, police said.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2022

Northside ISD is proposing new trustee districts after years of growth put them out of whack

Northside Independent School District will host the last of two meetings Tuesday to gather public feedback on its proposed new board member districts. The redistricting process doesn’t affect where children go to school, but school systems governed by boards elected from single-member districts, must redraw their boundaries every 10 years if the population differences between them exceed 10 percent. Northside ISD is the area’s largest school district with more than 101,000 students, and for years was the fastest-growing, with the greatest gains in the far West Side.

The difference between its most- and least-populated trustee district grew to exceed 77 percent, forcing the district to draw new lines this year. The proposed changes would bring that difference to 6.7 percent, officials said. “The process for developing the proposed map included efforts to preserve existing single member district boundaries where possible, utilize easily identifiable boundaries (such as major roadways), and maintain communities of interest,” the district’s announcement states. The changes do not affect the district’s feeder patterns for middle and high schools, officials emphasized. Northside ISD officials hosted the first of two town halls meetings last week. The public can comment on the proposal at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the cafeteria of Stinson Middle School, located at 13200 Skyhawk Drive. The single-member districts with the greatest changes are District 4, represented by trustee Robert Blount, Jr., and district seven, represented by trustee Karen Freeman. Under the proposal, District 4 would yield a portion of its northwest section to District 7, which would also lose a corner to the south to District 3, which is represented by trustee M'Lissa M. Chumbley.

Austin American-Statesman - September 19, 2022

Police arrest arson suspect accused of setting Crow Bar, commercial building on fire

Austin police arrested a man on Sunday accused of intentionally setting fires over the weekend that left one South Congress Avenue staple torched. Police arrested John Adam Henry, 42, on Sunday evening and booked him in the Travis County jail on two felony charges, one in connection to the fires, the Austin Fire Department said Monday. Henry is suspected of having started a fire in the 2000 block of South Congress Avenue, near the Habana Restaurant and Bar, as well as being involved in over a dozen grass, trash and dumpster fires from late Saturday into early Sunday morning, fire authorities said.

The ongoing investigation also includes two structure fires, one that left Crow Bar on South Congress Avenue with serious damage throughout the two-story bar and another in an abandoned commercial building about one mile south on South First Street. "We believe that a minimum of 15 incidents are connected to this suspect and expect to file additional charges as we work to complete our investigation," Austin fire spokeswoman Lisa Cortinas said in a statement. Henry was arrested late Sunday evening on an unrelated felony charge, according to fire authorities, who did not provide additional details about that case. Once in custody, arson charges were filed against him after video surveillance footage helped identify Henry as a suspect in the arson investigation, officials said. He remained in custody at the Travis County jail as of Monday evening. Austin police have referred inquiries about Henry's arrest to fire authorities. Arson investigators did not respond to additional questions on Monday.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2022

Dallas overhauls police presence, communication for homeless camp sweeps

Dallas is adjusting its approach to homeless encampments in response to resistance among activists to a sweep earlier this summer. Updated clean-up notices, the provision of cleaning supplies at some camps, and a new law enforcement strategy are all part of the mix. “We’re changing the way we’re doing cleanings because we realize that was an issue,” said Christine Crossley, director of homeless solutions. “We also realize that there are some people that might show up with guns, and I think we need to have a collective response.” The changes come after activists and volunteers, some of whom were armed, showed up to a scheduled camp cleaning in July on Coombs Street in South Dallas, cutting off city workers from the camp and prompting the city to delay the sweep. Activists and residents feared those who hadn’t moved from the camp would be forced to do so and their belongings thrown away that day.

The city subsequently said it had decided to take a more collaborative approach to the camp cleaning, though that was not what had been communicated. One way the city hopes to avoid such incidents is by providing clearer language on notices distributed to camp residents about upcoming sweeps, something officials are currently working on. Another is through taking that collaborative approach: helping residents at some camps keep their areas clean by providing them with cleaning supplies and equipment. In instances where activists do show resistance against city workers, a new security strategy that calls for different levels of law enforcement involvement will come into play. While better communication is welcomed, said Julia Paramo, who is a member of Sunrise Movement Dallas and often works with camp residents, rebuilding trust will take work.

National Stories

Associated Press - September 20, 2022

Congress eyes strongest response yet to Jan. 6 attack

House Democrats are voting this week on changes to a 19th century law for certifying presidential elections, their strongest legislative response yet to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat. The vote to overhaul the Electoral Count Act, expected Wednesday, comes as a bipartisan group of senators is moving forward with a similar bill. Lawmakers in both parties have said they want to change the arcane law before it is challenged again. Trump and his allies tried to exploit the law’s vague language in the weeks after the election as they strategized how they could keep Joe Biden out of office, including by lobbying Vice President Mike Pence to simply object to the certification of Biden’s victory when Congress counted the votes on Jan. 6.

Pence refused to do so, but it was clear afterward that there was no real legal framework, or recourse, to respond under the 1887 law if the vice president had tried to block the count. The House and Senate bills would better define the vice president’s ministerial role and make clear that he or she has no say in the final outcome. Both versions would also make it harder for lawmakers to object if they don’t like the results of an election, clarify laws that could allow a state’s vote to be delayed, and ensure that there is only one slate of legal electors from each state. One strategy by Trump and his allies was to create alternate slates of electors in key states Biden won, with the ultimately unsuccessful idea that they could be voted on during the congressional certification on Jan. 6 and result in throwing the election back to Trump. “We’ve got to make this more straightforward to respect the will of the people,” said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whose committee will hold a vote on the legislation bill next week. “We don’t want to risk Jan. 6 happening again,” she said.

MSNBC - September 20, 2022

Noah Rothman: Cocky Democrats may be counting their midterm votes before they're cast

In historical terms, the Democratic Party is beating the odds. The party in control of all the levers of power in Washington has closed a gap in generic congressional ballot polling that favored the GOP for most of Joe Biden’s presidency. Democratic candidates are winning special elections where they have no business even being competitive. Democratic aspirants for high office are outperforming their party’s unpopular president, who himself is enjoying a renaissance in his job approval ratings. It’s a heady experience for Democrats, who had all but resigned themselves to a brutal midterm election year, which helps explain why it’s all gone to their heads. Come November, Democrats are still likely to find themselves on the receiving end of the voters’ wrath. If they’re right and the red tide political forecasters long anticipated is receding because of former President Donald Trump’s sudden ubiquity on the national stage, Democratic fortunes are improving not as a result of the party’s actions but because of the designs of fate.

And what the gods provide they can just as capriciously repossess. Moreover, even despite the Democratic Party’s political recovery, Republican candidates remain competitive and the GOP is favored to benefit most from the current political environment. According to Real Clear Politics’ average of the generic ballot polling, which combines methodologies and smooths out individual polling’s margins of error, Americans favor Democrats by 0.5 percent. But that’s not the case at the level of the competitive districts that will decide which party secures a majority in the 118th Congress. A late August CBS News/YouGov “battleground tracker” poll of voters in swing districts found Republicans enjoy the same 2-point advantage over Democrats they enjoyed in that poll in late July, and with fewer undecided voters left to convince. In other words, the GOP’s polling has remained stable in battleground races despite the alleged change in the Democratic Party’s fortunes. The forecasters at Decision Desk HQ still give the GOP an 81% chance of retaking the lower chamber of Congress. Five Thirty Eight is marginally less sanguine and says the GOP wins control in 74 out of 100 simulated 2022 elections. The size of the Republican House margin varies by forecast, but it is as likely that the GOP will win a slim majority as it is likely that it will secure upward of 230 seats, a margin similar to the 235 seats Democrats won in 2018.

Reuters - September 20, 2022

Oath Keepers militia trial tests prosecutors in U.S. Capitol riot cases

The trial of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, is set to begin next week in what could be the biggest test for the U.S. Justice Department in its quest to hold former President Donald Trump's supporters accountable for their Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Rhodes and four other Oath Keepers associates are the first defendants in more than 10 years to face federal charges of seditious conspiracy under a Civil War-era statute that is rarely prosecuted in the United States and carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The Oath Keepers is an anti-government militia whose membership includes current and former U.S. military and law enforcement personnel. Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and Yale University-educated lawyer, founded the group in 2009.

The five on trial - Rhodes along with Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins and Kenneth Harrelson - are accused of plotting to use force to oppose the transfer of power from then-President Trump, a Republican, to his Democratic successor, Joe Biden. Seditious conspiracy is defined as two or more people plotting "to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States." Prosecutors have said the five defendants trained and planned for Jan. 6 and stockpiled weapons at a northern Virginia hotel outside the capital. As lawmakers met on Jan. 6 to certify Biden's election victory, some Oath Keepers stormed into the Capitol building, clad in paramilitary gear. They are not accused of carrying firearms onto Capitol grounds. Trump has made false claims that the election was "stolen" from him through widespread voting fraud.

Associated Press - September 20, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II mourned by Britain and world at funeral

The United Kingdom and the world bade farewell to Queen Elizabeth II on Monday with a state funeral that drew presidents and kings, princes and prime ministers — and crowds in the streets of London and at Windsor Castle — to honor a monarch whose 70-year reign defined an age. In a country known for pomp and pageantry, the first state funeral since Winston Churchill’s was filled with spectacle: Before the service, a bell tolled 96 times — once a minute for each year of Elizabeth’s life. Then, 142 Royal Navy sailors used ropes to draw the gun carriage carrying her flag-draped coffin to Westminster Abbey, where pallbearers carried it inside and about 2,000 people ranging from world leaders to health care workers gathered to mourn. The trappings of state and monarchy abounded: The coffin was draped with the Royal Standard and atop it was the Imperial State Crown, sparkling with almost 3,000 diamonds, and the sovereign’s orb and scepter.

But the personal was also present: The coffin was followed into the church by generations of Elizabeth’s descendants, including King Charles III, heir to the throne Prince William and 9-year-old George, who is second in line. On a wreath atop the coffin, a handwritten note read, “In loving and devoted memory,” and was signed Charles R — for Rex, or king. “Here, where Queen Elizabeth was married and crowned, we gather from across the nation, from the Commonwealth, and from the nations of the world, to mourn our loss, to remember her long life of selfless service, and in sure confidence to commit her to the mercy of God our maker and redeemer,” the dean of the medieval abbey, David Hoyle, told the mourners. The service ended with two minutes of silence observed across the United Kingdom, after which the attendees sang the national anthem, now titled “God Save the King.” The day began early when the doors of Parliament’s 900-year-old Westminster Hall were closed to mourners after hundreds of thousands had filed in front of her coffin. Monday was declared a public holiday in honor of Elizabeth, who died Sept. 8 — and hundreds of thousands of people descended on central London to witness history. They jammed sidewalks to watch the coffin wend its way through the streets of the capital after the service. As the procession passed Buckingham Palace, the queen’s official residence in the city, staff stood outside, some bowing and curtseying.

CNN - September 20, 2022

New footage confirms fake Trump elector spent hours inside Georgia elections office day it was breached

A Republican county official in Georgia and operatives working with an attorney for former President Donald Trump spent hours inside a restricted area of the local elections office on the day voting systems there were breached, newly obtained surveillance video shows. The video reveals for the first time what happened inside the Coffee County elections office on January 7, 2021, the same day its voting systems are known to have been compromised. Among those seen in the footage is Cathy Latham, a former GOP chairwoman of Coffee County who is under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020. CNN previously reported that Latham escorted operatives working with former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell through the front door of the elections office on January 7, 2021. The new footage appears to undercut previous claims by Latham that she was not "personally involved" in the breach.

The new video, obtained as part of a years-long civil lawsuit in Georgia related to the security of voting systems there, shows Latham remained in the office for hours as those same operatives set up computers near election equipment and appear to access voting data. The footage also features the two men Latham escorted into the building earlier that day, Scott Hall and Paul Maggio, both of whom have acknowledged they were part of a team that gained access to Coffee County's voting systems. Maggio did not respond to CNN's request for comment. The data firm he works for, SullivanStrickler, which court documents show was hired by Powell, previously said in a statement to CNN that it was "directed by attorneys to contact county election officials to obtain access to certain data" in Georgia and also "directed by attorneys to distribute that data to certain individuals." In an August 29, 2022 email, an attorney for SullivanStrickler acknowledges that Latham was the "primary point of contact" in coordinating the team's visit to Coffee County. The firm said it had no reason to believe these attorneys would ask or direct it to "do anything either improper or illegal." A lawyer representing Latham pushed back on the claim she was the primary point of contact for the SullivanStrickler team, telling CNN that the calls she can be seen in the video making are not with anyone from the firm.

CNN Business - September 20, 2022

Wall Street is on a knife's edge until Jay Powell speaks

Welcome back to the third week of September, or as we call it around the office, the night before the night before the Fed meeting. We're not the only ones fixated Wednesday's policy announcement. Financial markets are on a knife's edge, and have been for weeks, as they await word from the central bank on how much monetary tightening to expect. Stocks have fallen four out the past five weeks. On Monday, Wall Street vacillated between slight gains and losses, effectively in a holding pattern while investors awaited word from the Silver Fox himself, Mr. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Hayden Powell. Here's the deal: On Wednesday afternoon, the Fed will announce its next rate move, which will almost certainly amount to three-quarters of a point, aka 75 basis points, for the third time in a row.

But there's a not-insignificant chance that, given the stubbornness of inflation, the Fed goes HAM and jacks up rates by a full point — something the US central bank has never done. As of Monday, just 16% of investors were counting on a full-point hike, according to the CME FedWatch tool. What happens after that? It's anyone's guess. Wall Street is divided on whether the Fed will keep hiking rates aggressively in November, or if inflation pressures will cool enough to allow the central bank to slow the pace for a bit, my colleague Paul R. La Monica writes. Raise rates too much, we get a recession. Don't raise them enough, we get an inflation spiral (and also, ultimately, a recession). And, as Paul explains, stocks are in for a volatile ride one way or another. One person landing solidly in the optimistic camp is President Joe Biden. On Sunday, Biden focused on the positive, saying "we're going to get control of inflation," in an interview with CBS. He touted his administration's gains in the labor market, with 10 million new jobs added since he took office, and its investments in the semiconductor industry.