May 26, 2024

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 26, 2024

Tornado kills 5, injures others, destroys homes late Saturday, Cooke County sheriff says

A tornado that swept across the Cooke-Denton county line late Saturday killed at least five people, injured many more and obliterated homes in Valley View and surrounding areas, the Cooke County sheriff said early Sunday. The storm system slammed into a community of mobile homes and manufactured houses south of Valley View and west of Interstate 35, Sappington said in an update aired on the Weather Channel. “We do have five confirmed deaths at this time, and sadly, I think that number will rise,” Sappington said. Sappington told The Associated Press that the victims included three family members who were found in one home near Valley View, a town of under 1,000 people.

“There’s nothing left of this house,” he told the AP. “It’s just a trail of debris left. The devastation is pretty severe.” Officials said multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in Denton, AP reported. Sappington declined to provide an estimate of the number of people hospitalized. Authorities said FRF Estates, a mobile home and trailer park in Valley View was hit. . “We have a lot of crews, a lot of assets back over here in that area, making their way through it,” Sappington said just before 3 a.m. “We pray for those lost, but also that we can still find the injured.” Sappington said the neighborhood of roughly 50-75 residences took “heavy damage.” The total path of destruction was about “3-4 miles from west to east” in the southern part of the Cooke County, near the Denton County border.

Dallas Morning News - May 26, 2024

Texas Republican convention approves closed primary, selects new leader

Texas Republicans chose a new leader Friday and approved policies designed to reshape the GOP electoral process by closing the party’s primary contests to non-Republican voters. Abraham George, the former Collin County GOP chairman, was elected party chair in a six-candidate race — a vote that is expected to keep the party on its rightward path and make it difficult on incumbents who aren’t in lockstep with the party’s agenda. Amid a power struggle exemplified by primary challenges to a group of incumbents who ran afoul of party leaders, delegates and officials called for a united front to elect former President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November.

“The mood here is very optimistic and upbeat,” said Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hara shortly before Friday’s general session convened. “Republicans are ready to win the White House with Donald Trump and make sure Ted Cruz remains our senator. They are ready to stop the lunacy that the left is pushing on our country.” Friction was evident, particularly with hotly contested Republican primary runoffs Tuesday that will go a long way toward determining the makeup of the Texas House — and its leadership. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, heavily criticized at the convention by some statewide leaders and delegates who questioned his conservative credentials, is fighting for political survival against former Orange County GOP Chairman David Covey. “Iron sharpens iron,” O’Hara said. “I don’t mind telling you I’ll be glad when Tuesday’s over, and then we can then all come together and go beat the Democrats.” Along with picking a new leader, Republicans voted to close their primaries and ban candidates and incumbents who have been censured by the state party from running for office. Most analysts say closing primaries would require legislative approval, though some delegates insist the process could be achieved without it. George, who in March lost a Texas House primary race to state Rep. Candy Noble, R-Lucas, was endorsed by Attorney General Ken Paxton and outgoing Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi. After hours of voting, George finished first and advanced to a floor vote with Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Dana Myers and San Antonio businessman Wes Martinez. George finished ahead of the field in an initial floor vote, then beat Myers in a runoff.

Texas Public Radio - May 26, 2024

Two years later, under-resourced Uvalde grapples with the aftermath of a school shooting

Friday, May 24, 2024, marked two years since a teenage gunman burst into adjacent classrooms at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde and began shooting. The gunman killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers in one of the worst school shootings in the United States. Two years later, the small Texas city is still recovering. Caitlyne Gonzalez was only 10 years old when the shooting took place. One of the children killed was her best friend, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares. “I met her at school, and I would always just talk to her. She was always so nice to everybody,” Caitlyne said. In the weeks following the shooting, Caitlyne and her mom, Gladys Gonzalez, began attending rallies to help advocate for gun control legislation.

The Gonzalez and Cazares families knew each other before the shooting. In the days before the two-year mark, Jackie’s mom, Gloria Cazares, and her 19-year-old daughter, Jazmin, cleaned Jackie’s grave. Since the shooting, they pushed for gun reforms in Texas, including efforts to raise the minimum gun purchase age to 21 — efforts that have failed. But Jazmin Cazares said two years later, many here have lost interest in seeking accountability for the botched police response. Some, she said, even started seeing the more activist-oriented families as “troublemakers.” “Slowly after that, when we started getting into like firearm safety and gun violence prevention, is where the divide really happened, and even more divide than there was before the shooting,” Cazares added. Many in this majority-Latino community carry the weight of trying to help their children process their trauma, while also trying to put food on the table. And there’s limited access to mental health and other support resources. Caitlyne and her mother said they’ve cycled through multiple therapists. “I had a counselor. Counselors! We’re counselor-hoppers. I had one, she was virtual, but it was only for like 20 minutes,” Caitlyne said. A recent settlement between families of the victims and the city and county of Uvalde included pledges to increase mental health services. The combined $4 million agreement also included training and other reforms to the Uvalde Police Department.

Texas Monthly - May 26, 2024

Inside the Texas Pardons Board’s unusual role in freeing racist murderer Daniel Perry

The murder victim’s mother was desperate for answers on Wednesday, May 15, when she logged on to a Zoom meeting with the prosecutor whose office convinced a jury to convict her son’s killer. Travis County district attorney José Garza had promised Sheila Foster an update on the clemency request for Daniel Perry, the former Army sergeant and Uber driver who shot her son Garrett Foster. In 2020, Perry had run a red light and driven into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, when Foster, an Air Force veteran who was in legal possession of a rifle, approached his car. Perry then shot him five times. No witnesses testified that Foster raised his gun at Perry, and, when questioned by the authorities following the shooting, Perry also indicated that Foster never aimed at him. A jury determined Perry was not acting in self-defense and convicted him of murder. But Governor Greg Abbott disagreed, and promised to pardon him. For months, Garza had been hopeful the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, a state agency that must recommend clemency before the governor can grant it, would not make that recommendation.

The board’s pardon recommendation came as a shock to many familiar with the Perry case. All seven members of the board, appointed by Abbott, were respected by pardons lawyers in the state. “We entered this process believing that the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles were people of integrity who would put the law above politics,” Garza told Texas Monthly. “We were wrong.” Almost from the start, Perry’s case proceeded through the board in an unusual manner. A day after the guilty verdict, in April 2023, Abbott publicly called for Perry’s clemency and announced that he had instructed the board to expedite the review process, even though Texas law states that a full pardon will not be considered for anyone currently in prison except under “exceptional circumstances.” (Unlike full pardons, commutations can be considered without “exceptional circumstances” for those serving prison sentences.) Typically, exceptions apply to cases in which new evidence of innocence is presented. Here, however, what appears to have been exceptional was the pressure from Abbott. Although the governor has the legal authority to request a pardon, Abbott had never done so in his then eight-plus years in office. “The board hasn’t voiced or identified any [exceptional circumstances], so the only thing that comes to mind is the special intrusion of a craven politician in the pardon process,” said Gary Cohen, a parole attorney who has been practicing for more than thirty years and who has consulted with the board on its parole system.

Politico - May 26, 2024

Hill GOP urges Trump to consider an establishment running mate — maybe even Haley

Donald Trump is getting clear advice from a sizable number of Hill Republicans, even some MAGA loyalists: Pick a running mate who can attract more wary GOP voters on the center-right. Some of them even want him to consider a rival he’s publicly ruled out, Nikki Haley — who recently revealed she’d be voting for him. And if Haley can’t make an improbable comeback, many Republican lawmakers want to see Trump pick one of two other former opponents with the same outside-of-MAGA allure: Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) or Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “People in these primaries are still voting for Nikki Haley. I think that we need to be focused on that group of people. I hope we get a vice president that will appeal to that group,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said. “Then those folks will start coming home.”

The fact that Hill Republicans are even mentioning Haley, whom Trump has already vowed to exclude from his options, signals that many in the GOP still see party unity problems despite the former president’s rosy recent poll numbers, according to interviews with roughly two dozen Republicans in both chambers. Haley continues to attract votes in Republican primaries long after dropping out, and given how baked-in public opinions are about both Trump and President Joe Biden, the VP pick is one of few remaining unknowns in the race. Republicans’ push for a running mate who might balance out Trump’s bombastic style of politics isn’t universal: Some GOP lawmakers are nudging Trump to select a fighter in the mold of Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy or even Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But Haley’s name keeps cropping up as a possible unity pick in Trump’s divided GOP, much like Mike Pence’s did in 2016.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 26, 2024

Texas Republican platform calls for teaching Bible in schools, blocking abortion drugs

Delegates to the Texas Republican Party convention voted on a party platform Saturday that proposes dozens of policy goals, including requiring the Bible to be taught at public schools and restricting access to abortion medication. Other platform planks called for refusing to issue birth certificates for children born to undocumented parents in Texas, banning transgender teachers in public schools and abolishing property taxes. Convention delegates are often drawn from the ranks of party activists who tend to be strongly conservative, and the platform reflected that on major political battlegrounds involving education, immigration and health care. “This is a conservative activist wish list more than it is a real legislative agenda,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, adding that while some policy goals might seem far-fetched, they have the potential to become law.

Convention delegates voted on each individual platform plank Saturday afternoon as the Republican Party of Texas’ biennial convention drew to a close. Votes were being tabulated, with the official platform expected to be released Wednesday. Once routinely ignored after the party convention gaveled to a close, the GOP platform has been used in recent years to pressure lawmakers and punish those who fail to conform during the primaries. “I don’t think you can count on all these things becoming law anytime soon, but certainly some of them will with enough time,” Rottinghaus said. The platform contains almost 250 planks, or policy goals. Delegates debated the contents of the 50-page document late into Friday after a protracted election for party leadership delayed business. The proposed platform seeks a more prominent role for Christianity in public schools by requiring “instruction on the Bible, servant leadership, and Christian self-governance.” It would also ban transgender people from teaching in public schools. The party has become more focused on LGBTQ issues in recent years, including a requirement that public school athletes compete in sports aligned with their “biological sex.” The party also passed a law intended to prohibit drag shows in front of children that was ruled unconstitutional in federal court. On immigration, the platform proposed eliminating public education for undocumented immigrants and creating a state border patrol.

Houston Chronicle - May 26, 2024

Ted Cruz warns Texas Republicans of tough matchup with Colin Allred

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Saturday warned Texas Republicans that his matchup with U.S. Rep. Colin Allred could be a repeat of his near-loss to Beto O’Rourke in 2018. Cruz told delegates at the state party’s convention in San Antonio that Democrats in D.C. have “put a bullseye on the state of Texas” and plan to spend heavily to oust him. Cruz is seen as one of the few vulnerable Republicans in the Senate this election cycle. “Our biggest challenge, frankly, is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say, ‘Look, it’s Texas, you’re a Republican, it’s a reelect. This is easy, this is a layup.’" “I think that’s objectively false,” Cruz said. “My last reelect, y’all remember: 2018, Beto O’Rourke. … That was a victory due to the men and women here, but it also underscores how big this threat is.”

Cruz’s warning at the convention came as his campaign has sounded the alarms to donors that he’s already tied with Allred and is bracing for a tougher 2024 reelection campaign than GOP voters might expect. In 2018, O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of defeating Cruz — the closest margin for a statewide Republican that year. A Democrat hasn’t won a statewide election in Texas in more than three decades. Allred, a civil rights attorney and former NFL player, is pitching himself as a more moderate and agreeable alternative to Cruz, who has earned a reputation during his time in Washington as a hard-right rabble-rouser. But this year, Cruz is trying to rebrand himself as a bipartisan politician who can work with Democrats when needed. After Allred secured the Democratic nomination in March, the senator launched a “Democrats for Cruz” group that intends to court liberals who are fed up with the Biden administration, especially on border issues.

Dallas Morning News - May 26, 2024

Sen. Ted Cruz predicts tense primary season will not impede Republicans

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Saturday he expects Republicans to emerge from a tense primary season united and ready to beat Democrats in November. “Primaries are healthy, and I’m particularly glad with this round of primaries that we saw over and over again strong champions for school choice prevailing,” Cruz told The Dallas Morning News before addressing delegates at the Texas Republican Party convention. “I consider school choice the civil rights issue of the 21st century, and I think we are going to see in the next legislative session big, bold education reforms that protect the rights of every child, and that every child has access to an excellent education, regardless of their race or ethnicity or wealth or ZIP code,” he said.

Cruz’s appearance at the Texas GOP convention came days before primary runoffs Tuesday that include races where the state’s top elected Republicans are backing challengers over House incumbents. Gov. Greg Abbott has targeted incumbents who oppose spending state money on private schools, and Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking revenge on House Republicans who last year voted to impeach him. “We’re facing a battle for the direction of the country, the direction of the state,” Cruz said. “What we’re doing in Texas is working.” Throughout the convention, delegates and GOP leaders said this year’s top goals for Republicans are electing Donald Trump as president and keeping Cruz in the Senate. Cruz is opposed by U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat who earlier this month began running television ads to introduce himself to general election voters. Cruz said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York and the Democratic Senate leader, and liberal donor George Soros were pouring money and resources into beating him.

Dallas Morning News - May 26, 2024

American Airlines replaces legal team after blaming child for being filmed in bathroom

American Airlines has replaced its legal team defending a Texas lawsuit after a filing this week blamed a 9-year-old Texas girl for allegedly being secretly recorded while using an aircraft bathroom. In an email to The Dallas Morning News, attorneys for the plaintiffs at Lewis & Llewellyn LLP said it was notified on Friday that Kelly Hart & Hallman, LLP would be representing the Fort Worth-based airline in the case. “As a result of the intense media and public backlash surrounding the outrageous allegation, we are not surprised to learn that American Airlines fired its law firm,” said Paul Llewellyn, an attorney representing the young girl and her family. “With the benefit of this new legal representation, we hope that American Airlines will now take a fresh look at the case and finally take some measure of responsibility for what happened to our client. Otherwise, we are very confident that a Texas jury will do the right thing and hold American Airlines responsible.”

Fort Worth Report - May 26, 2024

Local union leadership excluded from negotiations between Teamsters, Molson Coors

As an agreement between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Molson Coors was being discussed, union leaders of Local 997, the Fort Worth-based chapter, were excluded from the negotiations. According to a letter obtained by the Fort Worth Report, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters reached out to Local 997 members on May 15. The letter informed them of a panel where they could address whether an emergency trusteeship should be continued on their chapter. The trusteeship began April 28, according to the letter sent to Local 997 members. The message also was published on the local chapter’s website.

The letter was signed by IBT General President Sean M. O’Brien. “During the course of the local’s dispute with the company, the International became aware of significant representational concerns and financial improprieties, and therefore initiated emergency trusteeship — to take needed action to restore proper representation,” said Kara Deniz, the Assistant Director of the IBT’s Strategic Initiatives Department, in a statement sent to the Report. Former Local 997 board members did not respond to multiple requests for comment. An agreement between the Molson Coors Teamsters chapter and the Fort Worth company was announced by the IBT on May 22. But, by May 24, the press release announcing the strike’s end had been removed from the organization’s website. Social media posts on Instagram, Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter, were also removed.

ESG Dive - May 26, 2024

Anti-ESG laws hurting Texas economically, unpopular with voters: research

New research from Unlocking America’s Future, a pro-ESG 501(c)4, revealed that Texas’ anti-ESG laws — which include bans on working with financial firms the state believes boycott guns or the oil and gas industry — have been both economically costly and unpopular with the state’s voters. UAF released a research report and accompanying poll on Thursday, compiling the tolls the state’s laws have had on the business in the state, as well as on voter sentiment. The report said the state’s shift toward the far right — with other laws looking to chip away at abortion and reproductive rights and rights for the LGBTQ+ community — are leading the state to lose out on jobs and raising borrowing costs. UAF spokesperson Kyle Herrig told ESG Dive that the state’s lawmakers are hurting Texas’ reputation as being “good for business.”

Data Center Dynamics - May 26, 2024

Microsoft signs 446MW wind PPAs in Texas

Microsoft has signed two Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to procure wind energy in Texas. The company has signed two 15-year PPAs with RWE to purchase electricity from two new onshore wind farms in Texas. The two onshore wind projects – Peyton Creek II and the Lane City project – have a combined capacity of 446MW. Andrew Flanagan, CEO of RWE Clean Energy, said: “As RWE, we are excited to be working with Microsoft to provide the clean electricity they need to achieve their sustainability goals. Together, we’re united in our efforts to deliver a clean energy future. As a growing green business, we are committed to driving our renewable targets, supporting local communities grow sustainably.”

Lufkin Daily News - May 26, 2024

Trent Ashby: Breaking down House Committee work

Following each legislative session, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House assign interim charges for corresponding committees to study topics and develop strategic plans to guide future policymaking in the Texas Legislature. Recently, the Texas House received interim charges, and committees will soon begin holding hearings to monitor the implementation of legislation passed during recent sessions, gather input from interested parties and citizens and make policy recommendations for the next session. Given the recent release of interim charges, I thought it would be informative to dedicate a portion of my subsequent columns to a brief examination of each House Committee and the work they’ll be doing over the interim leading up to next session. With that, our first two committees will be the House Committee on Business & Industry and the House Committee on Land & Resource Management.

In B&I, over the interim, members of this committee will study the impact of increased housing prices and rent caused by private companies purchasing residential properties and examine the rising number of fraudulent property deeds. Additionally, the committee will monitor the implementation of House Bill 4, the Texas Data Privacy and Security Act, which strengthens the right to privacy protections against data and technology companies. HB 4 also requires companies with access to personal data to provide an opt-out provision for users and further requires companies to delete any individual data they retain. In L&RM, over the interim, members of this Committee will study factors affecting the availability and affordability of housing in Texas. As part of their study, they will examine state and local laws impacting supply and demand for housing, barriers to construction resulting from zoning practices and the availability and costs of housing inputs.

KUT - May 26, 2024

Austin is sued over vote to redevelop former Statesman offices

A local organization has sued the City of Austin and council members over their handling of a plan to allow developers to build hotels, housing and restaurants along Lady Bird Lake. The development has been referred to as the Statesman PUD, in part because the 19-acre plot is home to the former offices of the Austin American-Statesman. In December 2022, council members voted to approve a planned unit development for the site, meaning developers could build much more than allowed under current zoning rules. Endeavor Real Estate Group planned to build nearly 1,400 apartments, 1.5 million square feet of office space and a 275-room hotel. A small fraction of the proposed housing could be set aside for people earning low incomes, although the council asked Endeavor to pay at least $23 million instead of building affordable housing on the property. The developer had also agreed to set aside land for parks and for a future light-rail station.

Austin American-Statesman - May 26, 2024

At their convention, Texas Democrats will target same issues GOP did. But not in same way

When the Texas Democratic Party assembles in El Paso for its three-day state convention, which will start June 6, its members will be in the all-too-familiar position of underdogs. But they'll be hoping an external force will provide them a measure of optimism heading into the final six months of the 2024 election cycle. And the external force they are looking for will come from Republicans. Whereas Texas Republicans at their own gathering last week in San Antonio leaned into their legislative and Supreme Court victories on issues such as the near-total statewide ban on a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy and the expansion of gun rights even in the face of deadly mass shooting after deadly mass shooting, Democrats see their own setbacks on those fronts as the battle plan for future success.

The focus on gun violence will probably have added resonance at the El Paso convention. Nearly five years ago, the city was the site of a mass shooting at a shopping complex where a gunman specifically targeted people who appeared to be Hispanic. The Aug. 2, 2019, shooting left 23 people dead and dozens more injured. Polling on both the gun and abortion issues offers a mixed bag for both parties. A Texas Politics Project poll in February showed that a plurality of Texans want fewer restrictions on abortion and nearly three-fourth of Texans think the minimum age for legally purchasing firearms should be 21, not 18. On its face, it would seem Democrats would be wise to contrast their approach to both issues against the GOP's takes. But the same poll showed that only 4% of voters consider them the most important issues this cycle. Much higher on the list of priorities were border security and immigration.

MySA - May 26, 2024

Texans react to mailer for Trump, call it voter intimidation

A political mailer sent to residents of multiple cities across the Lone Star State is going viral for alleged voter intimidation. The mailer includes an ominous threat to notify former President Donald Trump if registered Republicans don't vote. “Your voting record is public… Your neighbors are watching and will know if you miss this critical runoff election. We will notify President Trump if you don’t vote. You can’t afford to have that on your record,” reads one side of the mailer. On the other side, the mailer states, “Please don’t make us report you to President Trump” and that “President Trump will be VERY DISAPPOINTED.” The political piece of mail has been delivered to separate ends of the state and has been met with shock and outrage from viewers alleging voter intimidation. Redditors report receiving it in Victoria and Denton — southeast of San Antonio and the northern part of Dallas-Fort Worth, respectively — showing a wide geographic distribution of the letter.

MySA reached out to the office of the Secretary of State but did not receive a response. The Texas Ethics Commission's general counsel, James Tinley, told MySA in an email, "the TEC is generally prohibited from commenting on or even confirming or denying whether a complaint has been filed," and does not have jurisdiction over claims of voter intimidation. A logo for the "America First Conservatives Election Dept" is seen on one side of the mailer, but a search for the organization was unable to tie the letter to a specific organization. A presorted postage marker can be seen in one of the images floating around and includes a permit number. MySA reached out the United States Postal Service in hopes of identifying a sender. A USPS representative was unable to provide an immediate answer. The sender is likely safe from criminal prosecution from the state, as the Texas election code says retaliation against a voter, the state's legal term for intimidation, requires a person to knowingly harm or threaten to harm the voter by an unlawful act. The threat to notify Trump is too vague to qualify.

Border Report - May 26, 2024

Drought, lack of water from Mexico shrinking Rio Grande in Zapata, Texas

Rocks and debris that would normally be beneath the Rio Grande jut out from what are now wide, green banks on both sides of this international river between Mexico and this rural part of South Texas. As the water levels in the river drop daily, the banks grow wider and the town of Zapata worries it could soon run out of drinking water. Worse, they only have stored a day and a half of emergency water supplies. Old tires, PVC pipes and other objects that used to be below the water’s surface now line a shore that a few months ago didn’t exist, points out Ralph Treviño, Zapata’s water district manager.

Houston Public Media - May 26, 2024

Why have Texas’ electric bills gotten more expensive and volatile?

Electricity prices in the Houston area are up nearly 16% from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And in 2022, Texans paid twice as much for electricity compared to pre-pandemic prices, according to a recent analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Prices since then have stayed volatile, despite the low cost of the natural gas that powers much of the grid and reduced electricity prices in other parts of the country. Ed Hirs, who teaches energy economics at the University of Houston, said that volatility is tied to how power plants in Texas get paid. "When those power plants are putting electricity into the grid is the only time they make money," he said. And, he added, plants make more money when electricity is tight.

Other grids are operated with more caution. They pay for capacity, which is essentially how much energy they might use. Paying for capacity means there is more of a cushion if there's a cold snap or heat wave. Hirs compared it to funding the fire department. "Nobody likes paying for extra capacity," Hirs said. "But, think about it. We don’t use fire departments all day long, and we pay to keep them around." But Texas takes a deregulated approach, which means when demand for electricity suddenly jumps, prices go up 10, 20, 60-fold. That volatility is bad for consumers during extreme weather — but in previous years, this leaner approach has meant cheaper bills. "Texas did experience very low prices for quite a while," said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant and author of the Texas Energy and Power Newsletter. But when the deadly freeze of 2021 knocked out electricity across the state, it was a wakeup call. Now, Lewin said, more money is being spent on capacity to create a greater cushion, as in other parts of the country. But that’s happening in an ad hoc manner — with no reform of the deregulated structure of the state’s energy market. "That sort of leads to the worst of both worlds, frankly," Lewin said.

County Stories

KUT - May 26, 2024

Judge refuses to grant judgment without a trial in lawsuit arguing Central Health misused funds

A Travis County district judge has denied a request for judgment without a trial in a lawsuit accusing Central Health of improperly using taxpayer money. Central Health, Travis County's public hospital district, is charged with providing medical care to low-income residents. It is funded by taxpayers. Rebecca Birch, Richard Franklin III and Esther Govea sued Central Health in 2017, alleging it acted improperly by giving Dell Medical School money that was used for things like education, research and administrative costs. Their lawyers argued that under Texas’ rules for public hospital districts, Central Health's funding should be used only on medical costs for poor residents in Travis County. Central Health makes an annual $35 million payment to Dell Medical School.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 26, 2024

Service worker union president visits Houston as local janitors continue contract negotiations

As Houston janitors work to get higher pay and better benefits, the newly elected president of the Service Employees International Union visited to show support and reinforce the organization's goal of increasing its presence in the south. April Verertt was elected leader of the union this week in Philadelphia at the union's convention, with Houston being her first trip serving as president. The union agreed at the convention to a 10-year goal to gain 1 million new members with special attention focused on growing membership in the South. Her visit also comes as Houston janitors are engaged in contract negotiations with their current deal set to end May 31.

“At our convention, we made this commitment to each other and our union to do this organizing in the American South centering people of color, centering immigrants,” Vetrett said Friday in downtown Houston. “Texas is where all of those things come together.” Houston janitors want to see their hours increase from five to six per day, which would make them full-time workers with full-time benefits. They’re also asking for a pay increase from $11.75 to $15 per hour. City-contracted janitors make $15 an hour, according to SEIU. Houston janitors have gone on strike two times previously in 2006 and 2012.

National Stories

Associated Press - May 26, 2024

Prosecutors seek to bar Trump from statements endangering law enforcement in classified records case

Federal prosecutors on Friday asked the judge overseeing the classified documents case against Donald Trump to bar the former president from public statements that “pose a significant, imminent, and foreseeable danger to law enforcement agents” participating in the prosecution. The request to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon follows a distorted claim by Trump earlier this week that the FBI agents who searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in August 2022 were “authorized to shoot me” and were “locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger.” The presumptive Republican presidential nominee was referring to the disclosure in a court document that the FBI, during the search, followed a standard use-of-force policy that prohibits the use of deadly force except when the officer conducting the search has a reasonable belief that the “subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

The Justice Department policy is routine and meant to limit, rather than encourage, the use of force during searches. Prosecutors noted that the search of the Florida property was intentionally conducted when Trump and his family were out of state and was coordinated in advance with the U.S. Secret Service. No force was used. Prosecutors on special counsel Jack Smith’s team said in court papers late Friday that Trump’s statements falsely suggesting that federal agents “were complicit in a plot to assassinate him” expose law enforcement — some of whom prosecutors noted will be called as witnesses at his trial — “to the risk of threats, violence, and harassment.” “Trump’s repeated mischaracterization of these facts in widely distributed messages as an attempt to kill him, his family, and Secret Service agents has endangered law enforcement officers involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case and threatened the integrity of these proceedings,” prosecutors told Cannon, who was nominated to the bench by Trump.

Reuters - May 26, 2024

Trump booed and heckled by raucous crowd at Libertarian convention

Presidential candidate Donald Trump was booed and heckled by many in a raucous audience at the Libertarian National Convention on Saturday night, a marked change from the adulation he receives at rallies from his fervently loyal supporters. Libertarians, who believe in limited government and individual freedom, blame Trump, a Republican, for rushing through the creation of a COVID-19 vaccine when he was president and for not doing more to stop public health restrictions on the unvaccinated during the pandemic. When Trump took to the stage in Washington, there were loud boos and jeers. A smaller section of the crowd, Trump supporters, cheered him.

Shortly before he appeared, one Libertarian Party member shouted: "Donald Trump should have taken a bullet!" Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the hostile reception. Trump, who was president between 2017 and 2021, immediately mentioned the total 88 felony charges he faces in four federal and state prosecutions. "If I wasn't a libertarian I am now," he said. He denounced the administration of President Joe Biden, his challenger in the Nov. 5 election rematch, and Biden's fellow Democrats as being part of a "rise in left-wing fascism". Trump was trying to appeal to libertarians, who have more in common with Republican policy positions than Democrats on issues including taxes and the size of government, in what is expected to be a closely fought election. He added: "We should not be fighting each other." He asked libertarians to work with him to defeat Biden, an appeal which was greeted by many boos, although the vast majority in the crowd were fiercely opposed to Biden and his administration.

New York Times - May 26, 2024

In twilight of Senate career, McConnell sees 2024 races as last hurrah

As the 2022 elections approached with some Republican Senate candidates on the ropes, Senator Mitch McConnell was already looking ahead to 2024. He saw opportunity in the person of Jim Justice, the popular Republican governor of West Virginia whose term would — fortuitously for Mr. McConnell — end in 2024. “Here we had a guy who was term-limited and who everybody assumed was going to just go off into the sunset,” recounted Mr. McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader. “But he had to-die-for numbers.” Mr. McConnell secretly flew to West Virginia on Oct. 19, 2022. Over lunch at Governor Justice’s home, he tried to interest him in running for Senate. In April 2023, Mr. Justice announced he would seek the seat held by Senator Joe Manchin III, probably the only Democrat with any chance of winning in super-red West Virginia.

Though Mr. McConnell is stepping down from his leadership post in 2025 and is widely expected to retire when his term ends in 2027, he is determined to leave his successor with a majority in the Senate after heading his party in both the minority and the majority over almost 18 years. His personal effort to recruit Governor Justice was a central element of his plan. Another piece was some more recent prodding aimed at helping to persuade Larry Hogan, the popular former two-term governor of Maryland, to run for that state’s Senate seat, forcing Democrats into a competitive race to defend their foothold in the solidly blue state for the first time in four decades. While McConnell said his own lobbying of Mr. Hogan was limited, his wife, the former cabinet secretary Elaine Chao, met with Yumi Hogan, Mr. Hogan’s wife and a friend of hers, to make the case for the upsides of life in the Senate. Mr. McConnell said he had discovered firsthand from election-year disappointments when Republicans fell short of the majority in 2010, 2012 and again in 2022 that it was a mistake to put forward Senate contenders able to prevail in a primary only to lose in the general election.

Politico - May 26, 2024

We’re all living in Mexico now. Politically speaking.

Early on almost every weekday over the past six years a master class in modern political messaging and manipulation is put on in the Mexican presidential palace. “Good morning!” yells out President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, walking across the stage up to the lectern. The audience — all journalists, on paper at least — yells a few good mornings back and stays seated for the Mexican head of state. It’s not like the White House press room on the rare times the president ventures out. Things are tamer here. It’s 7:17 a.m. Coffee isn’t provided. This is the mañanera: a talk and variety program formally called a presidential press conference that runs over two or three hours and sets the daily tone for political life in America’s southern neighbor. It’s a big reason why Mexico’s president is arguably the world’s most successful politician — if one were to judge by his high approval ratings in the 60s and up and unchallenged dominance weeks before his constitutionally mandated single term winds down after elections on June 2.

López Obrador shares many traits with other populist leaders. He’s a nationalist and a bruiser in the mold of India’s Narendra Modi, Hungary’s Viktor Orban or Donald Trump — here some call the GOP standard-bearer “America’s AMLO.” He attacks the media, nurses grievances that are deeply local yet feel familiar to an outsider, picks at institutional foundations like independent courts, and constantly pits “the people” against the “corrupt” establishment. He’s pragmatic on policy, like them too, and plays up his “wins,” sometimes facts be damned. Unlike them, López Obrador is a “man of the left,” which brings home that style and performance on stage — rather than ideological consistency or actual job performance — are the keys to success in our age of politics as spectacle. He hasn’t gotten as much attention outside his country as his predecessors or other major leaders do, and doesn’t seek it. But in important ways, the Mexican president’s approach is revealing of what works in 21st century politics. Yes, he is a familiar Latin American type. A line goes from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chávez to him: TV cameras liked them all, and they claimed to have a genuine connection with the forgotten men and women of their country — in López Obrador’s case, with the legitimacy of a landslide election win and massive support. That qualifier is important. American politics resemble Mexico’s not because we’re both becoming banana republics, but because López Obrador is good at what matters now, as is Donald Trump.

Washington Post - May 26, 2024

Wife of Justice Alito called upside-down flag ‘signal of distress’

The wife of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. told a Washington Post reporter in January 2021 that an upside-down American flag recently flown on their flagpole was “an international signal of distress” and indicated that it had been raised in response to a neighborhood dispute. Martha-Ann Alito made the comments when the reporter went to the couple’s Fairfax County, Va., home to follow up on a tip about the flag, which was no longer flying when he arrived. The incident documented by reporter Robert Barnes, who covered the Supreme Court for The Post for 17 years and retired last year, offers fresh details about the raising of the flag and the first account of comments about it by the justice’s wife.

The Post decided not to report on the episode at the time because the flag-raising appeared to be the work of Martha-Ann Alito, rather than the justice, and connected to a dispute with her neighbors, a Post spokeswoman said. It was not clear then that the argument was rooted in politics, the spokeswoman said. The upside-down flag has long been a sign of distress for the military and protest by various political factions. In the fraught weeks before and after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, it had also been adopted by supporters of the “Stop the Steal” movement, which embraced Donald Trump’s false claims that Joe Biden stole the election from him. Some of the rioters who participated in the attack had carried upside-down American flags with them. The display of the politically charged symbol outside the Alitos’ home became a public controversy last week after the New York Times reported on it, raising new ethics questions for the Supreme Court as it prepares to issue pivotal rulings in two cases related to efforts by Trump and his supporters to block Biden’s 2020 election victory. Alito said in a statement to the Times that he had no involvement in the flag being flown at his home, which he said was briefly raised by his wife in response to a neighbor’s use of “objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

NBC News - May 26, 2024

Louisiana governor signs bill classifying abortion pills as controlled dangerous substances

The policy drew support from anti-abortion advocates and alarm from medical professionals and abortion-rights activists in a state where both medication and surgical abortion are illegal, except in very limited circumstances. President Joe Biden said in a statement Thursday that the bill was “outrageous” and that this was “a direct result of Trump overturning Roe v. Wade.” “This is a scary time for women across America,” Biden said, adding that if Trump were re-elected he would “try to make what is happening in states like Louisiana a reality nationwide.” Medical professionals have spoken out against the measure, saying the medications have critical uses outside of abortion care, including aiding in labor and delivery, treating miscarriage and preventing gastrointestinal ulcers.

The law also criminalizes “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud,” prohibiting someone from knowingly using the medications to cause or attempt to cause an abortion without the consent of the pregnant person. That would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, or up to 20 years if the person is three months or more into a pregnancy. Categorizing the medications as controlled and dangerous was an amendment to the bill after it passed the state Senate the first time. Republican state Sen. Thomas Pressly said during a debate Thursday that he brought the bill forward after the estranged husband of his sister, Catherine Herring, put abortion medication in her drinks without her consent while she was pregnant with the couple’s third child.

NBC News - May 26, 2024

Florida to allow doctors to perform C-sections outside hospitals

Florida has become the first state to allow doctors to perform cesarean sections outside of hospitals, siding with a private equity-owned physicians group that says the change will lower costs and give pregnant women the homier birthing atmosphere that many desire. But the hospital industry and the nation’s leading obstetricians’ association say that even though some Florida hospitals have closed their maternity wards in recent years, performing C-sections in doctor-run clinics will increase the risks for women and babies when complications arise. “A pregnant patient that is considered low-risk in one moment can suddenly need lifesaving care in the next,” Cole Greves, an Orlando perinatologist who chairs the Florida chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in an email to KFF Health News. The new birth clinics, “even with increased regulation, cannot guarantee the level of safety patients would receive within a hospital.”

The Florida Legislature this spring passed a law allowing “advanced birth centers,” where physicians can deliver babies vaginally or by C-section to women deemed at low risk of complications. Women would be able to stay overnight at the clinics. Women’s Care Enterprises, a private equity-owned physicians group with locations mostly in Florida along with California and Kentucky, lobbied the state legislature to make the change. BC Partners, a London-based investment firm, bought Women’s Care in 2020. “We have patients who don’t want to deliver in a hospital, and that breaks our heart,” said Stephen Snow, who recently retired as an OB-GYN with Women’s Care and testified before the Florida Legislature advocating for the change in 2018. Brittany Miller, vice president of strategic initiatives with Women’s Care, said the group would not comment on the issue. Health experts are leery.

May 24, 2024

Lead Stories

Reuters - May 24, 2024

Texas power demand to break May record in heat wave on Friday

Power use in Texas was on track to break the record for the month of May on Friday for a second time this week and could top that again over the Memorial Day weekend as homes and businesses crank up air conditioners to escape a heat wave. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates most of the state's power grid for 27 million customers, said the system was currently operating normally with enough supply available to meet expected demand all week. ERCOT projected power demand would peak at 75,296 megawatts (MW) on May 24 and 75,952 MW on May 26, which would top the current record for the month of May of 72,261 MW on May 20. The grid's all-time peak was 85,508 MW on Aug. 10, 2023.

Analysts expect ERCOT electric use will top that all-time high this summer with economic and population growth in Texas and demand for power from data centers, artificial intelligence (AI) and cryptocurrency mining rising fast. One megawatt can usually power about 800 homes on a normal day but as few as 250 on a hot summer day in Texas. High temperatures in Houston, the biggest city in Texas, were forecast to rise from 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33.3 Celsius) on Thursday to 99 F on May 27, according to meteorologists at AccuWeather. The normal high in Houston at this time of year is 88 F. Over the next week, ERCOT projected supplies would exceed demand by as much as 42,500 MW during the morning of May 26 when the sun starts to energize solar panels and by as little as 6,600 MW in the evening of May 24 after the sun goes down and solar panels stop working.

Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2024

At Texas GOP convention, Dan Patrick promotes Trump, criticizes House speaker

Fresh off two days alongside former President Donald Trump at his trial in New York, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick addressed a glowing crowd Thursday at the Republican Party of Texas convention. Patrick promoted Trump as much as he criticized House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose name triggered boos from the hundreds of delegates gathered in San Antonio for this week’s biennial state convention. Despite openly campaigning against Phelan and donating campaign money to his primary runoff opponent, David Covey, Patrick addressed what he called “the Republican elephant in the room.” “I do not want to run the House,” said Patrick, who presides over the Senate, “but I want a conservative Republican to be speaker who will run the House.”

Patrick was among a group of Republican lawmakers and officials who attended the former president’s hush money trial this week in New York. Patrick compared Trump’s criminal trial to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment, saying it “never should have been brought by the House.” “There was no crime, there was no evidence,” Patrick said, repeating the phrase to describe Trump’s criminal case and the impeachment trial over which he presided. Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said Patrick’s speech exemplified the extremism within the state GOP. “Dan Patrick is putting on a pretty good audition for Trump’s #1 Bootlicker,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “His address to the Texas Republican Convention regurgitated language from what could only be described as a Truth Social homepage copy-and-paste job. It’s clear that MAGA extremism fuels the Republican Party of Texas.” Patrick has remained close with Trump since acting as a campaign surrogate in Texas in his first presidential campaign in 2016. In turn, Trump has endorsed and promoted many of Patrick’s preferred candidates in down-ballot races.

Houston Landing - May 24, 2024

Texas schools illegally suspended thousands of homeless students — and nobody stopped them

Channelview High School senior Danielle Stephen trudged out of the assistant principal’s office, defeated and desperate. In the fall of 2021, an administrator at the east Harris County campus had just suspended Stephen, sending her home for breaking a rule requiring students to carry backpacks made of see-through material. But Stephen, who had lived on the streets for much of the past three years, didn’t have a home to go to. The 100-liter camouflage hiking backpack that got her kicked off campus held all her possessions. And she would now miss lunch at school, the place she relied on for hot meals. “That was my way of showering,” Stephen said. “That was my way of eating.” Stephen was one of thousands of homeless students banned from school despite the passage of a 2019 state law that made it illegal for school administrators to kick Texas’ most vulnerable children off campus for most offenses, a Houston Landing investigation shows.

School employees in hundreds of districts have illegally suspended students over the past five years, according to data obtained from the Texas Education Agency, denying students access to the food, shelter and education often found only on campus. Texas lawmakers took those concerns into account when they crafted the bipartisan 2019 law, which bans schools from issuing out-of-school suspensions to homeless students, except for when they commit infractions that include violence, weapons, drugs or alcohol. The law passed with over 95 percent support in the Texas Legislature and the backing of Gov. Greg Abbott. But a Landing analysis of public records and five years’ worth of suspension data found: The illegal suspensions have continued largely because school leaders have failed to ensure their campus administrators follow the law. Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, has acknowledged breaking the law on hundreds of occasions in its annual reports on school discipline. Texas legislators did not give the 2019 law teeth, such as punishment for school employees or districts that violate it, or dedicate any money toward enforcement. Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency has not taken an active role in enforcing the law, largely arguing it doesn’t have the legal authority to investigate and punish districts. The agency also has held few training sessions that inform school employees about the rules. A quirk in Texas’ data tracking of homeless students and suspensions makes it impossible to measure the exact number of illegal suspensions and pinpoint which districts are the worst offenders.

Houston Chronicle - May 24, 2024

When will HISD teachers get renewal contracts? District officals say June 1

Houston ISD expects to finish sending teacher contracts by June 1, leaving educators waiting until almost the last day of school to know whether they can return next academic year. The district has offered roughly 2,000 teachers contracts as of Wednesday, it said in a statement. HISD employs more than 11,000 teachers. The delay in contract renewals comes as some teachers are terminated over the district's view of their performance, leading to parents protesting by schools. It is unclear at this time how many teachers are being removed for what the district deems as performance issues.

The lack of contracts led some teachers and parents to wonder whether teachers at NES schools were receiving contracts first, or vice versa, but the district said in its Wednesday statement, "There is no specific process for the order in which contracts are issued." Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson said she is not personally aware of any teacher who has received a contract. Teachers usually receive contracts by mid-May. By now, teachers would have signed their contracts, she said. "'Am I going to get one?' Because there's so much confusion around these spot scores, how you have to be evaluated proficient, what is going on. No one has a contract," Anderson said. "They don't know if they're going to even get one. And that is very concerning, because people don't know if they're going to have a job or not."

State Stories

MyRGV - May 24, 2024

$11B for Operation Lone Star mostly spent on low-level arrests, ACLU says

Since its inception in 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star (OLS) immigration enforcement program has spent $11.2 billion arresting people mostly for misdemeanors, while the prosecution rate is much higher for U.S. citizens and nationals than migrants, according to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and ACLU Analytics. “Operation Lone Star: Misinformation in Texas Border Enforcement” was published Wednesday. It analyzes arrest data from the Texas Department of Public Safety and court data from the Office of Court Administration of the Texas Judicial System between 2021 and 2023, and information obtained through open records requests. According to the state, OLS was established to “detect and repel illegal crossings, arrest human smugglers and cartel gang members, and stop the flow of deadly drugs like fentanyl into our nation.”

Among the ACLU report’s key findings, however, is that the vast majority of people arrested under OLS were accused of low-level offenses such as trespassing as opposed to drug-related offenses, human smuggling or weapons charges. Nearly 70% of court appearances involved only misdemeanor charges, according to the report. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens and nationals, rather than migrants, accounted for approximately 75% of all court proceedings for weapons charges, human smuggling and drug-related offenses, the report found. Although OLS was created to prevent migrants “from allegedly bringing drugs and crime into Texas from across the border,” the state’s own data shows a different result, ACLU said. “As the report shows, the unconstitutional operation is primarily racially profiling and arresting people who pose no threat to public safety, then forcing them into a separate and unequal criminal legal system,” according to the report.

Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2024

Tarrant County sheriff reinstates, suspends jail employees fired after in-custody death

Two Tarrant County jail employees were reinstated Thursday and suspended with pay, a lawyer said, after they were fired for their role in the in-custody death of 31-year-old Anthony Johnson Jr. Rafael Moreno and Moreno’s supervisor, Lt. Joel Garcia, were fired last because of their actions April 21, Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said last week. Moreno was seen on a cellphone video shared by the sheriff’s office kneeling on Johnson’s back as about a half-dozen jailers tried to restrain him. Randall Moore, an attorney representing the lieutenant, confirmed Garcia had been reinstated, saying civil service rules needed to be followed in the discipline of an employee. He is not representing Moreno, but told The Dallas Morning News it was his understanding both jailers had their terminations reversed.

Jane Bishkin, a Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas attorney who previously raised issue with Moreno’s firing, also did not respond Thursday to a text or phone call requesting comment. In the videos, Moreno can be seen kneeling on Johnson for about 90 seconds. After Moreno shifted his weight onto Johnson, Johnson can be heard saying he can’t breathe. Johnson was placed in handcuffs after jail employees struggled for almost three minutes to restrain him. Following the altercation, Johnson was unresponsive. The former Marine was later pronounced dead. The sheriff’s office initially said the death was the result of a “medical emergency” after a fight between jailers and Johnson during a “routine cell check.” Garcia, as the supervisor, recorded the encounter. Waybourn said Garcia was fired because he did not properly respond to the “urgency of the situation” and made missteps in seeking medical attention for Johnson. Moreno was fired because he should not have used his knee to pin Johnson once he was already handcuffed, Waybourn said.

Houston Landing - May 24, 2024

Judge OKs $1.5 billion Houston firefighter deal that still faces City Council vote

A state district court judge has signed off on a settlement between the city of Houston and the firefighter union, clearing one obstacle for a $1.5 billion deal that remained a work in progress on Thursday. With little fanfare, 234th District Court Judge Lauren Reeder on Tuesday signed a final judgment approving the settlement – and potentially bringing to a close the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association’s seven-year legal battle with the city. If all goes well, the fire union hopes to have raises for firefighters kick in July 1. By the end of that month, members would receive back pay settlements that could amount to tens of thousands of dollars. The settlement still must win approval from City Council and survive a legal challenge from Houston Fire Department command staff who were left out of the settlement, however. Meanwhile, there also are a “handful” of provisions in the union’s proposed five-year contract that have yet to be finalized, according to City Attorney Arturo Michel.

The settlement still has skeptics on Council, as a Thursday budget hearing made clear. The settlement’s practical effect on department operations also remains uncertain, with Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña acknowledging that the back pay could have the unintended consequence of sparking a short-term exodus. Reeder’s 43-page judgment includes a recitation of the twists and turns in the litigation between the fire union and former Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration. For the better part of a decade, the two sides were unable or unwilling to come to terms on a new union contract and back pay for the years the firefighters worked without one. In March, however, new Mayor John Whitmire announced he had reached a pact with the fire union settling both back pay and pay raises over the next five years. The total cost: $1.5 billion, including interest and fees on a bond to cover the back-pay settlement. Whitmire wants to dip into the city’s fund balance to pay for the settlement in next year’s budget, but he has acknowledged that future years will require new revenue, potentially in the form of property taxes or garbage fees.

Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2024

Dallas school trustees pass budget that cuts hundreds of staff positions

The Dallas school board approved a roughly $1.9 billion budget Thursday that cuts hundreds of central staff and campus-based positions, while still providing a pay bump for teachers. The district contended with many of the same challenges as others in North Texas: declining enrollment, relatively stagnant state funding formulas, the end of federal pandemic relief dollars and the impact of inflation. “We are in a much better place in Dallas ISD than most other school districts, but financial management is only going to get us so far,” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said at a budget briefing this month. “If the Legislature does not find a way to come together and support public ed, we have one more year of financial stability.” District leaders still expect a $187 million budget shortfall, which will be covered by the district’s fund balance. That will leave roughly $552 million in the reserves.

Next year’s budget cuts about 170 full-time central positions – more than initially projected, officials said. It will also cut 55 assistant principal positions and more than 600 campus-based positions. Some of the cuts will be absorbed through retirements and annual attrition. The district is working to slot impacted people into other roles. Trustee Ben Mackey said he’s glad DISD isn’t in a place where it’s forced to close schools, like other North Texas districts, though he acknowledged that any cuts are painful. “There are no cuts in school districts that don’t have a negative impact on somebody, somewhere, but the reality is we don’t have unlimited money,” Mackey said. Some trustees said they wanted more information – sooner – from the administration about what the impact will look like in their schools. “I’m going to support the budget,” trustee Maxie Johnson said. “But I will be very vocal if resources are snatched from my kids.” The budget reflects a nearly 5% decrease in administrative costs. At the same time, the district is choosing to invest in other priorities. Trustees approved nearly 90 additional campus librarian positions and 40 high school counseling positions. DISD will sustain funding for about 70 more positions to its district police force, a step toward complying with a state law that requires an armed guard on every campus.

Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2024

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson asks council group to mull denial of T.C. Broadnax’s severance

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson wants a City Council committee to meet as soon as possible to consider opposing severance pay for former city manager T.C. Broadnax. Johnson in a memo Thursday to Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins asked for the ad hoc committee on administrative affairs to discuss a possible resolution against the payout. Atkins is the chair of the five-member committee. “I would like for the Ad Hoc Committee on Administrative Affairs to convene immediately to consider a resolution denying any severance payment to former Dallas city manager T.C. Broadnax,” Johnson wrote in the brief memo to Atkins. “Should you have any questions, please contact my office.” Atkins said he wasn’t aware of the memo until he was contacted by The Dallas Morning News late Thursday. After a reporter read him the memo, he said he wasn’t sure yet what the next steps would be.

“I’ve been in meetings about the police and fire pension all day, so my mind has been on that all day long,” Atkins said. “I have questions. He said to call him if I have questions. So I’ll have to give him a call and see what this is all about.” Johnson’s office didn’t immediately respond to email and text requests for comment Thursday. It’s not yet clear what impact the resolution would have if it were to be approved. Typically, City Council resolutions are non-binding. The mayor is the only City Council member who has publicly spoken out against severance pay to Broadnax, who is now Austin’s city manager. Broadnax’s Dallas contact said the city owed him a lump-sum payment equal to his $423,246 annual salary if his employment ended due to an “involuntary separation.” That includes if Broadnax resigns at the suggestion of the majority of the 15-member Dallas City Council, according to the contract. Broadnax’s resignation was announced Feb. 21 and a news release from several city council members said he was leaving at the suggestion of the majority of the group. Broadnax also sent a memo to City Attorney Tammy Palomino in April listing the dates and times eight council members suggested he resign.

San Antonio Express-News - May 24, 2024

Texans’ support for marijuana legalization, decriminalization is at an all-time high, poll shows

Public support for cannabis in the Lone Star State is at an all-time high — 73% of Texas adults support either full legalization or decriminalization of of it here, according to a 2024 poll from the Texas Lyceum Association. The news comes as Texans “have seen limited harm in legalization in other states, and think, ‘What can be the harm in legalizing it here?’ ” said Ty Schepis, a Texas State University professor of clinical psychology with a specialization in substance use. On top of that, Texans are beginning to recognize the benefits of using cannabis to treat certain medical conditions, like symptoms from cancer treatment, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms. “Texas’ evolving attitude speaks to a nationwide shift in favor of decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis,” Schepis said.

Marijuana certainly doesn’t come without risks. Smoking it can damage your lungs. And according to Newport Academy, which offers teens mental health and addiction treatment, marijuana “has also been shown to increase the likelihood that adolescents will develop schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, particularly if they have other risk factors.” Nevertheless, people “perceive cannabis to be either a very low-risk or no-risk substance,” Schepis said, particularly when compared with substances like opioids, which carry a myriad of health risks. Indeed, people all over the nation have shifted their daily habits. An analysis by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health that looked at 1979 through 2022 showed that self-reported daily cannabis use has surpassed daily alcohol consumption in the United States. In 2022, the median drinker said they had imbibed on four or five days in the past month, according to the analysis. For marijuana users, it was 15 or 16 days. “Far more people drink, but high-frequency drinking is less common,” according to the report.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 24, 2024

Son of successful Texas car dealer charged with murder

The son of former North Texas car dealer Robert Hudiburg has been arrested and charged in the Tuesday stabbing death of his wife, Cathy Jones-Hudiburg, according to police in Colleyville. Jason Phillip Hudiburg, 57, is charged with murder in Jones-Hudiburg’s death. Tarrant County Jail records show he is in the jail’s custody but note has has posted $200,000 bond. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined Jones-Hudiburg, also 57, died due to a stab wound to the back. Her death has been ruled a homicide. Officers were sent to the 6700 block of St. Moritz Parkway around 4 p.m. Tuesday to find Jones-Hudiburg on the floor, unconcious with stab wounds, police wrote in a news release. Officers were responding to a call about a domestic disturbance. Robert Hudiburg, who died in 2020, owned Hudiburg Chevrolet in North Richland Hills until 2002, when he sold the company to AutoTrader. He continued to run Hudiburg Management LTD in Hurst after selling his car dealership.

Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2024

School vouchers winning issue in Texas? How GOP primary challengers are using political ads

In the weeks leading up to the Republican primary runoffs Tuesday, Texas House incumbents in key races have gone on the defensive against their challengers who have raised questions about the lawmakers' conservative voting records. The attacks against the incumbents have focused on almost everything but school vouchers — a program that proposes using public money to pay for private school tuition. Gov. Greg Abbott expended great political capital last year advocating for such a "school choice" program, but the measure died in the House after 21 Republicans, many from rural areas, joined Democrats to cut the voucher proposal from a comprehensive public education funding bill out of concern it would drain public schools of much needed cash. The bill's author then withdrew the legislation from consideration since Abbott had said he would not approve increases to public education funding unless school choice was passed.

Those 21 Republicans who opposed the voucher plan drew the ire of the governor for helping derail his signature issue. Abbott, a three-term Republican, promised to take the fight to the ballot box. In the month leading up to the March 5 primaries, Abbott spent $6 million to bolster advertising for candidates who support school vouchers, including those challenging GOP incumbents who voted against the proposal. Ahead of March 5 and in the run-up to Tuesday's runoffs, the pro-school choice GOP challengers spent millions on ads, many of which portrayed the Republican incumbents as liberal. “What’s the point of voting for a Republican candidate if he supports the liberal agenda?” questions the announcer in an ad for Alan Schoolcraft, who is challenging Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin. Kuempel, who called himself "a fiscal conservative" in a video on school vouchers, said he doesn't "believe that the voucher plan makes good fiscal sense.” In the past month, Rep. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, who also voted against the school voucher proposal, has posted video clips, 30-40 seconds long, explaining his stances on everything from property taxes to border control. He’s being challenged by Katrina Pierson, who has Abbott's backing.

Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2024

Overdose, fentanyl deaths increase again in Travis County for 2023. Here's what we know.

For the third year in a row, overdoses were the leading cause of accidental deaths in Travis County for 2023 — a trend that's largely been driven by fentanyl's increase in the local drug supply. These findings come from the 2023 Travis County medical examiner's report, which found overdose deaths increased by about 16% in 2023 compared to the previous year — marking a four-year trend of overdose deaths increasing each year. In that time, overdose deaths have spiked nearly 173%, from 178 in 2019 to 486 last year. The medical examiner's report was presented to the Travis County Commissioners Court on Thursday. The medical examiner's office generally performs autopsies on unnatural deaths that occur in the county.

For the first time in four years, the proportion of fentanyl-related overdose deaths out of all overdose deaths slightly decreased in Travis County. However, the total number of fentanyl-related deaths still increased to 279 last year. Travis County by far has the highest rate of fentanyl-related deaths in the state compared to other metro counties, with no clear reason as to why. Experts cited Austin's party scene, a lack of treatment options and the county's demographics as some possible reasons. "This is just horrible," Commissioner Brigid Shea said on Thursday of the medical examiner's report, particularly regarding the increase in fentanyl deaths in the county. Travis County's increase in overdose deaths also bucks a national trend seen in 2023, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that the United States saw a 3% decrease in overdose deaths last year, the first time since 2018. Despite accounting for 9% of the county's population, Black people are disproportionately more likely to die of an overdose, accounting for almost a fifth of overdoses last year. Most overdose deaths in the county involve multiple drugs, with 5% of the 279 fentanyl-related deaths last year involving only fentanyl. Meanwhile, in more than half of fentanyl-related deaths, the person also tested positive for methamphetamine.

Texas Monthly - May 24, 2024

Does Dallas’s banking boom portend another eighties-style crash?

Some two thousand members of the North Texas business elite once gathered for a black-tie gala to celebrate the grand opening of a banking giant’s new headquarters. InterFirst Corporation was moving to the newly built InterFirst Plaza, a seventy-two–story skyscraper that remains the tallest building in Dallas nearly forty years later. As partygoers feasted on shrimp high above downtown, a city councilwoman flipped on a set of lights that bathed the outline of the building in neon green. That September 1985 event demonstrated the heights that the city’s finance industry had scaled over the previous few decades. Area bankers had grown prosperous by lending to the oil and gas and real estate industries, and Dallas was home to three of the country’s twenty-five largest financial institutions. The city’s financiers even had the ears of then-vice president George H.W. Bush and Treasury Secretary James Baker, both Texans who had developed close ties with the banking industry before assuming roles in Washington.

Yet a few months after the gala, the glow at InterFirst Plaza had faded. The building’s developers noticed gaps in the skyscraper’s neon outline and turned off the lights altogether. The embarrassment portended a far greater calamity for the bankers working inside. The price for a barrel of U.S. crude oil slipped to around $10 in April 1986, down by more than half from a few months earlier, when Saudi Arabia doubled its production. Oil companies and real estate developers, suffering from oversupply after the energy sector’s struggles wiped out demand, defaulted on loans, shrinking area banks’ assets. In 1987, InterFirst merged with Republic, another banking giant based in Dallas, and the new entity crumbled a year later in what was then the largest single bank failure in American history. Other Texas banks shed employees and got absorbed by out-of-state institutions less inclined to lend to local businesses, stymying economic progress in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. “They say the Great Recession happened in 2008, 2010. Our Great Recession happened in Texas in the eighties. In fact, I would say we were in a depression,” said Jody Grant, who became CEO of Fort Worth’s Texas American Bank in April 1986 and led it until it failed in 1989. Grant, founder and chairman emeritus of Texas Capital Bank, told me stories about the eighties crash from his office on the fifth floor of an Uptown Dallas skyscraper adjacent to Klyde Warren Park. Beneath his window, a construction crew works on the foundation of a new Bank of America office. JPMorgan Chase’s offices sit in a building visible across the park, and down the street Goldman Sachs is building a new Dallas campus that will house roughly five thousand employees. Grant calls the area Financial Row. Combined with new or soon-to-be ready nationwide or regional headquarters for financial firms in suburbs such as Westlake (Fidelity and Charles Schwab) and Irving (Wells Fargo), it exemplifies a new boom era for the Dallas–Fort Worth area’s banking sector. In the last decade, North Texas has added about 100,000 banking jobs, roughly half of which have come since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. The metro area’s finance sector employment totals a little less than 370,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This recent growth spurt has vaulted DFW past Chicago and Los Angeles in this metric, making it the nation’s No. 2 financial capital.

KCENTV - May 24, 2024

Dozens of families lose homes in Temple after storm

The storm that hit parts of Central Texas late Wednesday afternoon caused extensive damage to dozens of homes, businesses and structures in Temple. A neighborhood on Parkfield Lane in West Temple received the brunt of the storm as at least 30 homes have roofs that were destroyed, downed powerlines, and fallen trees spread across their area. Abbie Rurup and Gavin Ethridge live on that street and said when the storm hit, it shook the floors, the walls, and the ceiling of her home. So they both decided to hide in their backroom closet until the storm was over. "Whenever I first walked out of the house, [a] whole side row of houses and their roofs were almost completely gone," Rurup explained. " I just broke down."

Religion News Service - May 24, 2024

Vatican overturns Texas bishop’s dismissal of Carmelite nun but backs his investigation

The Vatican has overturned a Texas bishop’s dismissal of a Carmelite nun from her order after she was accused of breaking her vow of chastity with a priest, weighing in on a power struggle and scandal that drew national attention. The Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life found in favor of Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, prioress of the the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity in Arlington, Texas, in her appeal to remain in her order after Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson dismissed her in June 2023. However, the dicastery upheld several of Olson’s other decisions, including his opening an investigation into the accusation that Gerlach had violated her chastity vow in her contacts with the Rev. Philip G. Johnson, a priest in the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. Olson also was deemed correct in placing Gerlach on a leave of absence and issuing a canonical warning to nuns in the monastery against impeding the investigation.

In April 2023, Olson began the investigation of Gerlach, a cloistered nun of Order of Discalced Carmelites who uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube. According to reporting by Texas Monthly, Gerlach had exchanged texts, phone calls and video chats with Johnson as they sought support from each other while both battled cancer. When Gerlach began to worry that they were too close and some of the exchanges had been inappropriate, she confided in her former spiritual counselor, the Rev. Jonathan Wallis, who reported her to Olson. Gerlach has said that she was struggling with seizures and heavily medicated while speaking with Johnson. She also claimed that one of her conversations with Olson occurred on the same day that she had been under general anesthesia and had taken fentanyl as part of a procedure to replace her feeding tube. The investigation led to a legal battle. Gerlach sued Olson and the diocese in civil court, accusing them of invading the nuns’ privacy and taking their personal property. Meanwhile, Olson reported the nuns to the local police on allegations of marijuana use.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2024

Dallas hires search firm to look for new city manager to replace T.C. Broadnax

The city of Dallas will pay a private search firm $134,375 to help find a new city manager after a vote Wednesday by the City Council. Council members approved a one-year contract with the search firm Baker Tilly US LLP. They picked the firm from among 15 proposals. The ad hoc committee on administrative affairs, chaired by council member Tennell Atkins led the selection of the search firm. No one from city staff was on the evaluation team or part of the execution of the contract, said Danielle Thompson, director of the office of procurement services. Baker Tilly is in the midst of looking for a city manager in El Paso. It also has been involved in candidate searches in Fulton County, Georgia, and the city of Minneapolis.

Fort Worth Report - May 24, 2024

Colleyville City Council member resigns after second arrest on suspicion of DWI

A Colleyville City Council member has resigned from his position after being arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence for a second time this year. George Bond, who was elected to office in 2022, was arrested May 23 by Colleyville Police for a suspected DUI, according to a city news release. He was arrested for the same reason Feb. 14, according to reporting by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Report was unable to reach Bond for comment prior to publication. His resignation comes at the request of Mayor Bobby Lindamood, according to the release. Lindamood said he was “saddened” by Bond’s arrest but thankful that his actions did not result in harm to himself or others. “It is my sincere hope that George is able to secure the help necessary to live a happy and healthy life,” Lindamood said in the release. “However, in my opinion, this event has called into question George’s ability to serve as an elected official for our great city.”

San Antonio Express-News - May 24, 2024

Embattled attorney Martin Phipps accuses Councilman Marc Whyte of ethics violations in custody case

Embattled attorney Martin Phipps has filed an ethics complaint against City Council Member Marc Whyte alleging that the first-term council member abused his office when he intervened last month in a custody matter involving Phipps’ children. “Without any personal knowledge or good faith basis, Councilman Whyte made false, unsubstantiated accusations of child abuse against me to San Antonio Police and Bexar County Sheriff’s officers and dispatched them to my home,” Phipps said in the complaint, filed with the city’s Ethics Review Board on Tuesday. Phipps alleges that Whyte “used his authority as City Councilman and special access to law enforcement in an attempt” to remove one of Phipps’ minor children from his home April 26 during a court-ordered visitation.

“After speaking to me, my children, and my mother, SAPD found nothing wrong and no evidence of abuse,” Phipps said in the complaint. He’d noted his mother had been on hand for the children’s visit. City spokesman Brian Chasnoff confirmed that a review of the ethics complaint is underway. When someone files a complaint against a council member, the city hires an outside lawyer to review the complaint and determine whether it would constitute a violation of the ethics code, Chasnoff said. If so, the complaint goes to the Ethics Review Board, which reviews the facts of the case with the lawyer and could decide to hold a hearing. Whyte, 44, who was elected to represent District 10 on the Northeast Side last May, said he contacted Police Chief William McManus and Sheriff Javier Salazar about the incident but denied any wrongdoing or making abuse allegations against Phipps, 54. “If any child is in danger, I will always act as immediately as possible,” Whyte told the San Antonio Express-News. “I would do everything I did that night again.”

National Stories

Associated Press - May 24, 2024

Louisiana Legislature approves bill classifying abortion pills as controlled dangerous substances

Two abortion-inducing drugs could soon be reclassified as controlled and dangerous substances in Louisiana under a first-of-its-kind bill that received final legislative passage Thursday and is expected to be signed into law by the governor. Supporters of the reclassification of mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly known as “abortion pills,” say it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions, though they cited only one example of that happening, in the state of Texas. Numerous doctors, meanwhile, have said it will make it harder for them to prescribe the medicines, which they also use for other important reproductive health care needs. Passage of the bill comes as both abortion rights advocates and abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone. The justices did not appear ready to limit access to the drug on the day they heard arguments.

The GOP-dominated Legislature’s push to reclassify mifepristone and misoprostol could possibly open the door for other Republican states with abortion bans that are seeking tighter restrictions on the drugs. Louisiana currently has a near-total abortion ban in place, applying both to surgical and medical abortions. Current Louisiana law already requires a prescription for both drugs and makes it a crime to use them to induce an abortion, in most cases. The bill would make it harder to obtain the pills by placing them on the list of Schedule IV drugs under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law. The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, and the drugs would have to be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics. Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time. Language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant women who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption.

Inside Higher Ed - May 24, 2024

NCAA, major college leagues reach $2.7B settlement on player pay

The amateur era in big-time collegiate athletics, long in decline and increasingly dated, is officially dead. Or at least it will be if a federal judge, as expected, approves a multi-billion-dollar agreement to resolve antitrust lawsuits challenging limitations on compensation for athletes in the country’s most powerful sports leagues. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Board of Governors and the leaders of the five conferences—the Atlantic Coast (ACC), Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific-12 (Pac-12) and Southeastern (SEC)—agreed this week to pay more than $2.7 billion in damages to cover what is essentially “back pay” for use of athletes’ name, image and likeness since 2016. The NCAA will cover more than $1 billion of that total and the five conferences will pay the rest over 10 years, according to news reports.

Inside Higher Ed - May 24, 2024

Lawmakers sought to mandate readings. UNC passed a policy.

States have long imposed specific standards on what K-12 public schools must teach. During the Obama era, the Common Core movement even tried to establish nationwide standards for math and English at these grade levels. But legislators and other state officials generally haven’t told faculty members at public colleges and universities what they have to teach in their classrooms. “Higher ed has more explicit traditions of academic freedom than K-12,” said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association. “K-12 teachers are, in essence, told what to teach by the state, by the school board … nobody is supposed to tell a professor what to teach.” In North Carolina, however, Republican lawmakers have recently attempted to tell undergraduate students what they have to read. Last year, in a nearly party-line vote (one Republican voted nay, one Democrat yea), the state’s House of Representatives passed the Reclaiming College Education on America’s Constitutional Heritage (REACH) Act.

The bill, still pending before the majority-Republican state Senate, would require all students seeking bachelor’s or associate's degrees in North Carolina’s public universities and community colleges to complete “at least three credit hours of instruction in American history or American government that provides a comprehensive overview of the major events and turning points.” Requiring an American history course wouldn’t be unique to North Carolina. Texas does so. But the REACH Act would reach deeper than a course requirement by requiring students, as part of the course, to read “in their entirety” specific documents: the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s& Letter from Birmingham Jail. Students would also have to read at least five essays from the Federalist Papers, chosen by the instructor. The bill would also dictate final grade details. At least a fifth of students’ grades would come from an exam focusing on the documents’ “provisions and principles,” their authors’ perspectives and “the relevant historic contexts” when they were written. The bill said the boards overseeing the universities and community colleges could remove chancellors and presidents for failure to comply.

Stateline - May 24, 2024

Crime victims may get fewer services as federal aid drops. States weigh how to help.

Groups that assist crime victims across the United States are bracing for significant financial pain after the amount available from a major federal victim services fund plunged $700 million this year. Congress recently lowered spending to $1.2 billion from the fund, which provides grants to nonprofit and local programs across the country. This latest round of cuts has sparked widespread concern among district attorney’s offices, rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, child advocacy centers and law enforcement agencies that offer victim support services. Many of these organizations and agencies now expect to have to close locations, lay off staff and cut back on services. Meanwhile, the drop in dollars has many experts and advocates rethinking the current, uncertain system of helping crime victims.

How much federal money is available every year is determined by a complex three-year average of court fees, fines and penalties that have accumulated — a number that has plummeted by billions during the past six years. The fund does not receive any taxpayer dollars. Karrie Delaney, director of federal affairs for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said the slowdown of court cases during the COVID-19 pandemic and the last administration not prosecuting as many corporate cases has affected the fund more than usual. RAINN is the country’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization. It operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) alongside local organizations and runs the U.S. Defense Department’s Safe Helpline. It “also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice,” according to its website. “I think what’s important from RAINN’s perspective is the actual impact that those fluctuations have on the survivors that we support and organizations and service providers across the country,” Delaney said. When the federal cap decreases, she said, organizations that support crime victims often turn to state and local governments to make up the gap. And a lot of the times there isn’t enough money to do that.

Daily Beast - May 24, 2024

Biden campaign quietly meets with Haley supporters after Trump endorsement

A group of Nikki Haley supporters from Vermont to Arizona met with President Joe Biden’s campaign on Wednesday night almost immediately after she announced her plan to vote for Donald Trump, The Daily Beast has learned. In the previously unreported meeting, a Biden campaign representative listened to the concerns of top Haley supporters from various states as part of Bidenworld’s ongoing outreach to win over Haley voters. “The fact they actually sent someone last night to speak to a small group … I think that’s a good signal that they’re aware there are huge numbers of Haley voters out there,” Robert Schwartz, founder of the Haley Voters For Biden PAC, told The Daily Beast. Schwartz said the meeting was highly encouraging, and likened it to other listening sessions the Biden campaign has done with the pro-Palestinian uncommitted vote.

Ever since the GOP primary wrapped up, the Biden team has identified Haley voters as a key persuasion target with a unique set of key issues, particularly around Trump’s attacks on democracy and the general notion of restoring decency to the office. The Biden campaign has continued trying to refine their definition of a persuadable Haley voter over the past few months, focusing on paid media, Haley’s margins in key battleground precincts from the primary, and simply listening to their concerns. Notably, Haley made sure to point out in her remarks about planning to vote for Trump that she still wants to see his campaign work to court her supporters, something the Trump campaign has largely ignored since the end of the primary. Haley called Biden’s term in office “catastrophic,” but Schwartz said he’s still optimistic that Haley voters will ultimately shuffle over into the Biden column. “She has a very wide coalition of voters, including some from the center-left, the center, and conservatives. And I think among strong conservatives, there are a lot of disagreements about Biden’s policy,” Schwartz said. “While I respectfully disagree with her decision to support Trump, I would also respectfully disagree with her characterization of Biden being catastrophic.”

NBC News - May 24, 2024

Are Russia and North Korea planning an ‘October surprise’ that aids Trump?

The Biden administration is increasingly concerned that the intensifying military alliance between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could vastly expand Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities and increase tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, six senior U.S. officials told NBC News. U.S. officials are also bracing for North Korea to potentially take its most provocative military actions in a decade close to the U.S. presidential election, possibly at Putin’s urging, the officials said. The timing, they said, could be designed to create turmoil in yet another part of the world as Americans decide whether to send President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump back to the White House. “We have no doubt that North Korea will be provocative this year. It’s just a matter of how escalatory it is,” a U.S. intelligence official said.

U.S. intelligence officials accused Russia of interfering in the 2016 election to help elect Trump. The Biden administration had tense relations with Russia, which collapsed after it invaded Ukraine in 2022. With Putin expected to visit North Korea to meet with Kim in the coming weeks, U.S. officials expect them to solidify a new deal to expand transfers of military technology to Pyongyang. “2024 is not going to be a good year,” said Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster.” U.S. intelligence officials believe Putin is providing North Korea with nuclear submarine and ballistic missile technology in exchange for Pyongyang’s sending Russia large amount of munitions for its war in Ukraine, the senior U.S. officials said. North Korea provides Russia with more munitions than Europe provides to Ukraine, including millions of artillery shells. Officials are also concerned that Russia might help North Korea complete the final steps needed to field its first submarine able to launch a nuclear-armed missile. In September, North Korea unveiled a submarine, based on an old Soviet model, but U.S. officials said Pyongyang was most likely exaggerating its capabilities. They said the submarine still needed additional technology before it could deploy or launch a nuclear-armed missile.

Hollywood Reporter - May 24, 2024

What happened to $100m box office openers?

No one could blame the box office for needing an imaginary friend right now. For the first time in more than a decade — excluding the worst period of the COVID-19 crisis — no movie opening during the first six months of the year has come close to hitting the $100 million mark in its domestic launch. In 2023, for example, three films had accomplished this feat by the time Memorial Day rolled around, including The?Super Mario Bros. Movie, which debuted to $146.3 million in April on its way to earning $1.36 billion worldwide. To date, the top opening of the year belongs to March tentpole Dune: Part Two, which started off with $82.5 million, followed by $80 million for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. In fact, it’s nearing the one-year anniversary of the last film to open to $100 million or more — Barbie, which sunnily smiled its way to a $162 million debut in the latter half of July. It ultimately became the year’s top-grossing film, with $1.45 billion.

With the 2024 summer box office now nearly one month in, the vanishing $100 million opener is especially problematic because moviegoing begets moviegoing. There’s no more crucial season than the months when younger kids, teenagers and college students are sprung from school. This year, the high season started off with a groan of pain when Universal’s The Fall Guy opened on the low end of expectations despite headlining two of the stars who were part of the Barbenheimer phenomenon, Barbie’s Ryan Gosling — who enjoyed career-high attention and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Ken — and Oppenheimer’s Emily Blunt, also nominated for an Oscar. No one expected the action comedy to reach $100 million in its launch, but $27.7 million? It has currently grossed $65.8 million against a net budget of $130 million. The film’s disappointing results prompted Universal to to make the title available to rent in the home via premium video on-demand for $19.99 on May 21, a mere three weekends after it launched in theaters. Fall Guy will still play in cinemas, but the move underscores the movie’s failure to catch on in a significant way theatrically. Early PVOD has been a boon for Universal. The studio insists it doesn’t cannibalize theatrical, and that a movie hitting PVOD can actually improve box office grosses. Still, original plans were for a longer window, one exhibition source says, but Universal changed course. The studio has been a pioneer in the early PVOD space, which has become a moneymaker for all of the studios, although many wait at least 31 to 32 days, as does Universal if a film opens to $50 million or more.

Houston Chronicle - May 24, 2024

Can Congress come together on a farm bill? GOP and Dems say yes

Republicans and Democrats alike expressed confidence Thursday they could come together to pass a farm bill, even as the two sides clashed over $1.5 trillion draft legislation released by Republicans last week. With the election less than six months away, the time for Congress to pass a farm bill this year is shrinking fast, potentially delaying increases for crop support programs Texas farmers say are necessary to keep pace with rising agricultural costs. At a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., the top Democrat on the committee, said while he took issue with what Democrats describe as a $30 billion cut to the nation’s food stamp program, the draft legislation “begins our journey to passing a farm bill.” “We may not be there today, but we will get there for the sake of American agriculture, American farms and the American people,” he said.

The draft legislation released by House Agriculture Chairman Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., would increase crop insurance funding and subsidies for farms across the board. For instance, cotton farmers like those in West Texas would start receiving federal dollars once cotton prices fall below 42 cents per pound, compared to 37 cents now. And rice farmers along the Texas Gulf Coast would receive federal dollars when rice prices fall below 15 cents per pound, compared to 13 cents now. Those increases have drawn support from the Texas farmers, with Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening saying the legislation addresses “the severe challenges our farmers and ranchers are facing.” “Texas farmers and ranchers desperately need a new farm bill to help them continue feeding and clothing consumers worldwide,” he said. To pay for increases in crop support programs, Republicans are proposing taking $20 billion in funding for farm conservation programs created in the Inflation Reduction Act and reducing the degree to which food stamp benefits — the majority of farm bill spending — would increase in response to inflation.

May 23, 2024

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2024

Texas home insurance becoming pricier, more limited

As another violent storm swept the Houston region, blowing out office tower windows downtown and leaving houses straining under toppled trees, the state's property insurance sector is facing increasing questions about its sustainability. With extreme weather events increasing along with construction costs, insurance premiums continue to rise at a fast pace. Insurance companies are already warning property owners of another steep rate increase this year, even as homeowners opt for decreasing levels of coverage to try and keep their costs down. The extent of the damage from last week's storm is still being assessed by insurance companies, but Roger Newman, an assessor in Katy, said growing loopholes in home insurance policies would likely leave many homeowners far short of the money they need for repairs. "They'll starting getting those low-ball offers in a week or two, and our phones will start ringing," he said.

The dual challenge of extreme weather events linked to climate change and rising repair costs driven by inflation is putting the nation's property insurance sector under increasing strain, with Texas one of the states most impacted. Earlier this year S&P Global Market Intelligence reported double digit increases in many states' home insurance markets, with Texas seeing a more than 23% increase, the highest in the nation. "It all goes back to inflation, increased frequency of severe storms and the legal environment. All those things are contributing," said Richard Johnson, communications director for the Insurance Council of Texas, which represents insurance companies. "Companies were taking losses for a couple years. Rates are increasing to bring companies back to even and profitability." For property owners, keeping up with the increased rates is becoming increasingly difficult. Houston already has one of the highest rates of uninsured homes in the nation, with 10% of homeowners there opting to go without insurance, according to recent report from the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America. In South Texas, the nonprofit Come Dream Come Build, which constructs low-income housing, is weighing how much longer it can continue to build after seeing a 30% increase in property insurance premiums this year, with its carrier warning a similar increase was likely coming in 2025.

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2024

Attorney who prompted a controversial West Texas no-fly zone now finds herself in a new legal battle

The Railroad Commission of Texas filed a formal complaint against vocal critic Sarah Stogner after she flew her drone over a high-profile blowout in Crane County in violation of the commission’s controversial no-fly zone. The complaint, dated April 29, asks the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate and address violations of the no-fly zone that covered 3 nautical miles surrounding an old well. The commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, obtained the no-fly zone from the FAA after Stogner flew her drone “in close proximity” to crews working on the ground, it said the complaint. Stogner said in an interview that the flight restrictions were fraudulently obtained. She denied flying too close to crews and noted there was never a “gas leak,” which was why the Railroad Commission said it needed the FAA to restrict flights in the area of the blowout.

"During the period of the federal flight restrictions, Sarah Stogner posted on social media her intention to violate the no-fly zones with her drone; posted images obtained with the drone; and stated her intention to violate the no-fly zone in a column published in your newspaper," a commission spokesperson said in an email. "The Commission feels it is appropriate to report such willful violations of federal flight restrictions to the FAA by a person who is not only an attorney, but also an FAA licensed pilot." The no-fly zone, scheduled to end in June, is no longer active according to the FAA website. The blowout at the center of the no-fly zone controversy involved an uncontrolled explosion of toxic water that flowed for six weeks from an unplugged well in Crane County. The eruption, first reported Dec. 7, was the latest sign that water is running amok underground in aging oil fields just north of Fort Stockton. Water under pressure can travel underground — at times carrying radioactive elements, chemicals and other oil field waste — until it finds the path of least resistance, often an unplugged well that can allow it to burst to the surface.

Mediaite - May 23, 2024

Stunning lawsuit accuses Texas election officials of failing to protect ballot secrecy — and now the Texas GOP Chair’s ballot has been leaked

The eyes of Texas were upon the ballots cast by several high-profile Texas politicians on Wednesday, after documents were leaked related to a stunning lawsuit accusing state election officials of failing to properly protect ballot secrecy. The leak included the purported ballot for the chairman of the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) — catching him in a lie about how he voted in the presidential primary. The 77-page complaint was filed by an elections security researcher who lives in Williamson County, Texas and four other Texas voters, two of whom also live in Williamson County, one from Bell County, and one from Llano County. Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, Director of the Division of Elections Christina Adkins, and the county election administrators for Williamson, Bell, and Llano Counties are named as defendants, accused of “willful and systematic disregard of election laws” that put at risk the secrecy of potentially millions of ballots cast by Texans in recent elections.

The complaint describes the plaintiffs as all “consistent voters” who “voted in the most recent Texas elections in November 2023 and March 2024,” but either do not qualify to vote by mail under Texas law or prefer to vote in person. This is an issue, the complaint explains, because the state has an interest in “preventing, detecting, and punishing fraud and ensuring the integrity of Texas elections,” as enshrined in the Texas Constitution and Texas Election Code, but the way some counties treat in-person voters fails to protect ballot secrecy: Texans who vote by mail receive a consecutively-numbered paper ballot that preserves that secrecy. However, many Texans who vote in person, including Plaintiffs, have no choice but to use paper ballots that lack consecutive numbers. Instead, the paper ballots Plaintiffs have been required to utilize at the polls contain computer-generated randomly assigned unique identifier “ballot tracking” numbers, which do not comply with Texas law and, importantly, do not preserve the secrecy of Plaintiffs’ ballots, as described more fully herein. As a result, Plaintiffs are relegated to a class of in-person voters whose votes are neither assured secrecy nor protected from being undermined, diluted and debased by lawlessness and fraud.

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2024

Texas Republicans gather for convention amid struggle over party’s future

With the direction of their party at stake, Texas Republicans are gathering in San Antonio for a three-day convention with significant decisions to make and a bitter power struggle raging. Serving as a backdrop are next week’s primary runoff elections, in which the party’s top elected leaders have been working against a number of incumbents in hotly contested races for the Texas House. One key item on the convention agenda: Choose a new leader who will help determine whether the party focuses on maintaining ideological purity or concentrates on defeating Democrats at the polls and in policy debates.

Other questions revolve around closing the party’s primaries to non-Republican voters and blocking censured officials from running as a Republican. The convention opens Thursday. Things will heat up Friday — the same day early voting ends in the runoffs — when delegates will select a new chairman, adopt new rules and approve a party platform. Internal strife is top of mind as delegates handle convention business at the Henry B. González Convention Center. “What you’re seeing in the runoff elections is exactly what you’re going to see at the convention,” said Matthew Langston, a conservative political consultant who is observing the event. “There’s a definitive split within the party and a lot of friction about the direction and the path and the course of the party. This weekend there will be a live display of that split, followed up shortly by a display at the ballot box.” For the second straight convention, Gov. Greg Abbott will address delegates remotely rather than in person. He’s scheduled to campaign for House candidates throughout the week, including on Friday at a rally in Rockwall for Katrina Pierson, who’s challenging Rep. Justin Holland in the runoff.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2024

City of Uvalde to pay $2 million to settle claims over Robb Elementary mass shooting

The city of Uvalde will pay $2 million to settle claims by 19 families of victims killed or injured in the Robb Elementary School shooting. Their claims largely focused on the Uvalde Police Department's role in a disastrous law-enforcement response to the May 24, 2022, massacre that left 19 fourth-graders and two teachers dead. “For two long years, we have languished in pain and without any accountability from the law enforcement agencies and officers who allowed our families to be destroyed that day," said Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed. "This settlement reflects a first good faith effort by the City of Uvalde to begin rebuilding trust in the systems that failed to protect us.”

She spoke during a news conference announcing the out-of-court agreement here on Wednesday. Josh Koskoff of Connecticut, one of the families' lead attorneys, said another settlement — with Uvalde County and also for $2 million — is in the works. The amounts represent the maximum pay-outs from the city's and county's insurers, said Koskoff, who handled successful lawsuits against a gun manufacturer over the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-five Uvalde police officers and 16 Uvalde sheriff's deputies converged on Robb Elementary the day of the shooting, according to a Texas House report on the incident. In all, more than 360 officers from 23 local, state and federal agencies were on hand. Yet, 77 minutes elapsed before a tactical Border Patrol team confronted and killed the 18-year-old gunman, who was armed with a assault-style rifle.

San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2024

Zachry Industrial blames insolvency on feud over building costs for Golden Pass LNG export terminal

Bankruptcy isn’t how international engineering and construction powerhouse Zachry Holdings Inc. intended to mark its 100th year in business. A successor to H.B. Zachry Co., founded in Laredo in 1924 before relocating to San Antonio, Zachry Holdings and 20 of its subsidiaries are now in a fight for survival after costs to build a $10 billion liquefied natural gas export terminal in Southeast Texas allegedly went awry. One of those subsidiaries now mired in Chapter 11 — Zachry Industrial Inc., which had been the lead contractor for the LNG project — simultaneously filed a lawsuit in bankruptcy court accusing Golden Pass LNG Terminal LLC and its owners of refusing to “foot the bill for accelerating work” on the project. QatarEnergy owns 70% of Golden Pass and Exxon Mobil Corp. the other 30%.

Work started on the project in 2019 but by mid-2022 required an additional $2.4 billion to complete, Zachry Industrial says in its complaint. “Golden Pass and its owners, using their superior wealth and bargaining power and the economic duress caused by the situation, induced Zachry and other contractors to front the increased costs with promises that Golden Pass or its owners would reimburse those costs,” Zachry says. “Golden Pass and its owners induced Zachry to waive and release over $1 billion in change order claims with false promises that Zachry would be made whole once the Project was complete.” But in 2023, Golden Pass demanded that the contractor slow down construction and enter into a cost-reduction plan. That didn’t work, Zachry says, and it was unable to get caught up on the losses it incurred in prior years.

San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2024

Matthew McConaughey calls voters to boost Tony Gonzales’ election bid against ‘AK Guy’

Actor Matthew McConaughey is lending a voice to U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales as the San Antonio Republican faces a tough primary runoff against YouTuber and gun rights activist Brandon Herrera, known online as “AK Guy.” McConaughey recorded a robocall for Gonzales that started reaching households in the district on Sunday, the day before early voting began. The congressman announced the effort at a campaign event in San Antonio on Saturday.

“Hey there, this is Matthew McConaughey calling to encourage you to vote for Tony Gonzales in the upcoming runoff election,” the call starts. “Look, Tony is a true Texan. He served 20 years in the Navy. He shows up in the good times, but he also shows up in the tough times.” He ended the call with his signature, “Just keep livin’.” Early voting ends on Friday, and Election Day is May 28. McConaughey has flirted with politics and has floated the idea of running for Texas governor as a moderate, but he doesn’t usually intervene on behalf of individual candidates. Instead, McConaughey has been tangentially involved in political issues over the years, including most recently advocating for school safety and stricter gun laws after a teenage gunman murdered 19 fourth-graders and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, McConaughey’s hometown. Friday will mark two years since the tragedy.

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2024

Dallas seeks permission to offer tax breaks to attract more TV, film productions

Dallas is planning to ask the state to allow the city to offer tax breaks in the hopes of attracting more television and film productions. The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved asking the state to designate the entire city as a media production development zone that would let Dallas offer sales and use tax exemptions for two years to projects that involve the construction, expansion or renovation of a media production facility. The City Council also approved nominating the renovation of South Side Studios, a production studio in South Dallas, as the first project. The incentive program was approved by the state in 2009 and is overseen by the Texas Film Commission. The program is meant to encourage the development of more TV and film production sites as a way to help boost the state’s economy. The City Council approved both items Wednesday without discussion.

South Side Studios is a converted warehouse that sits on 11 acres along Botham Jean Boulevard. In the past, it’s been the main filming location for shows like the 2012 reboot of the TV soap opera “Dallas” and USA’s “Queen of the South”. The project costs include around $6.2 million in renovations and about $1.5 million in new equipment. The work includes a new roof, upgrades to the HVAC system, and creating multiple soundstages to allow work on more than one production at a time. Heather Lepeska, an assistant director in the city’s economic development, told council members during a May 6 committee meeting the city won’t be paying for the renovations. Talon Entertainment Finance announced plans to renovate the studio site last year after buying the property. If the state approves the city designation and the project, Dallas estimates giving up to $150,000 in sales tax money and the state would forgo another $456,000 in tax revenue.

Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2024

Texas ranchers push for ban on balloon releases after baby deer suffer cuts, gashes

Armed with baby bottles of warm milk, Hunter Meyer approached the deer pen on her family’s ranch Saturday night. Hours earlier, the deer were fine. Now, the fawns raced to the fence in panic, hearts pounding. When she looked more closely in the dark, Meyer saw bloody gashes on the animals’ brown spotted fur. The Texas family initially assumed the culprit was a bobcat or coyote, but they didn’t see any animal dig marks. David Meyer, her father, paced the pen and soon found the real predator: a string of eight inflated nylon balloons.

As the balloons floated into the pen, they likely spooked the 3- to 4-month-old animals — Rudy, Tootie and Tejas — causing them to thrash against the fence. The owners of 4 Generations Ranch in Crawford are now pushing for a statewide ban as they warn others about the dangers of balloon releases. The ranch’s post on Facebook about the incident has been shared more than 5,000 times. Photographs show the deer with cuts on their faces and bodies, and a string of pink, blue, orange and black balloons. “Balloons don’t go to heaven,” Meyer told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. “What goes up must come down.” Balloon launches have long been a ceremonial part of birthday parties, graduations and memorial services. But Meyer said she has long witnessed the threat of balloons on the family’s ranch, which is about 20 miles west of Waco. Livestock and other animals can ingest pieces and choke, or the animals can get tangled in balloon strings and be strangled. Frequently, balloons land in oceans and waterways, where they are 32 more times likely to kill seabirds than other types of plastic. At 4 Generations, this is the second time in the past eight months that balloons have landed near the animals. The last time, Meyer said, ranchers were outside and immediately removed balloons tangled in a fence.

KERA - May 23, 2024

Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare prioritizes business growth, jail population for next year in office

At his State of the County Address on Wednesday, Republican Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare explained where he wants to look for cost savings for the county and its residents next year — through economic development, a smaller jail population and more mental health services. In a packed banquet hall at the Sheraton Arlington Hotel, filled with elected officials and county staff, O’Hare laid out his priorities for county government. One plan is to get more involved in drawing new businesses to Tarrant County. The Tarrant County judge doesn’t preside over a courtroom. He’s the chief elected official in Tarrant County, and he runs the Commissioners Court, the governing body that controls the budgets for county departments like public health, the prosecutor’s office and the county jail.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m tired of reading that Frisco got this, and Plano got that, and Dallas got this, and Irving got this,” O’Hare said. Tarrant County’s tax base is overwhelmingly residential, O’Hare said. Drawing in more businesses would move some of the tax burden away from homeowners. Individual cities usually focus more on economic development, but the county could take the lead in unincorporated areas, O’Hare said. Those are areas that don’t belong to any city, and there’s still plenty of unincorporated land, even in a county as fast-growing as Tarrant. We want to get a splashy relocation,” he said. “We want to get something that everybody says, wow, that’s coming here, I’m excited about that.” Last year’s State of the County address, O’Hare’s first, focused on his successful push for property tax cuts. O’Hare is a lawyer who previously served as mayor of Farmers Branch and leader of the Tarrant County GOP. He swept into office in 2023 on a promise to make Tarrant County more conservative. O’Hare has positioned himself as a hardliner on spending. At Commissioners Court meetings, he often grills county staff about expenses like equipment purchases and employee travel.

Fort Worth Report - May 23, 2024

Workers and Molson Coors agree to terms after three-month strike

Union members and Molson Coors have agreed to a three-year contract, ending the over three-month-long workers’ strike at Molson Coors brewery in south Fort Worth. The new contract is the first negotiated contract between Teamsters Local 997 and Molson Coors since 2021. It includes provisions to increase wages, improve benefits and restore health care for retired members, according to a news release from the Teamsters national chapter. “Our members never gave up, they pushed back on this company until they got a fair contract that recognizes their contributions,” said Jeff Padellaro, the director of the Teamsters Brewery, Bakery, and Soft Drink Conference in the news release. “Teamsters don’t back down from a fight and we will always fight for what we deserve.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2024

Daryl R. Davis: Texas school districts slash budgets; it’s Gov. Abbott’s fault

(Daryl R. Davis II serves on the Crowley Independent School District board of trustees.) In Texas, our commitment to public education is being undermined by short-sighted policies that prioritize the few over the many. Across the state, school districts are facing budget cuts, layoffs and uncertainty, while state leaders fail to adequately support the needs of more than 5 million public school students. During last year’s legislative sessions, Gov. Greg Abbott championed a school voucher program that would disproportionately benefit a small number of private-school students. In an attempt to coerce public schools into compliance, increased funding for districts was dangled as a carrot. When the bills came up short, it left us with funding levels unchanged since before the pandemic. It’s worth noting that very little costs less in 2024 than it did in 2019, yet our public schools are expected to make do with pre-pandemic resources. As a matter of fact, inflation increased by almost 20% over that five-year period.

As legislators convened in Austin, Texas boasted a staggering $32.7 billion budget surplus. This surplus presented a golden opportunity to significantly bolster public education by increasing the basic allotment for student funding. However, even with several special sessions aimed at passing a voucher bill, Texas students bore the brunt of political posturing and self-serving agendas. Crowley ISD, like many other districts, is now facing difficult decisions due to Abbott’s political posturing and the Legislature’s inaction. The district is cutting personnel, eliminating spending and discontinuing some needed training and development. Entire campuses and departments are being restructured, eliminating jobs and forcing fewer teachers and staff to do more with fewer resources. This year, CISD is experiencing a budget shortfall of almost $16 million while the state retains billions in surplus. Despite districts’ best efforts to minimize the impact of budget cuts on instruction, there is no way to ensure that Texas students and families will not feel the consequences. Frankly, it’s time for action. Abbott should call a special session for the Legislature to pass a clean school funding bill. The 5 million public school students deserve the education they are entitled to, without their educational experience being sacrificed on the altar of vouchers benefiting a select few. This funding bill should include the common-sense adjustment to fund schools based on enrollment, not attendance. If Abbott and other lawmakers wish to pursue a voucher program, they should do so in a way that does not penalize the overwhelming majority of Texas students.

ESG Dive - May 23, 2024

House Democrats probe Texas, Florida over financial impact of anti-ESG laws

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are inquiring about the financial impact Texas and Florida’s anti-ESG laws have on their taxpayers and retirees, according to letters committee members sent to state officials Monday. Committee ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Lou Correa (D-C.A.) — who serves as ranking member on the Administrative State, Regulatory Reform, and Antitrust subcommittee — asked the attorneys general and chief financial officials of Texas and Florida to provide detailed information on the effects of their restrictive policies against “responsible investment.” Both letters pointed to recent evidence showing that such anti-ESG policies “threaten public employees’ retirement savings and leave taxpayers on the hook for higher fees and increased borrowing costs.” Nadler and Correa asked the two states to respond to their inquiry by June 3.

Inside Higher Ed - May 23, 2024

UNT professor: Hispanic Serving Institutions “do more with less”

A new report, published Wednesday by the center-left think tank Third Way, asserts that Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) “do more with less,” often producing positive outcomes for students with less funding than other institutions. The report was authored by Stephanie Aguilar-Smith, assistant professor of counseling and higher education at the University of North Texas, and is the latest installment in Third Way’s ACADEMIX series, research-driven papers to make academic findings more accessible to federal policymakers. It notes that HSIs tend to receive less federal and state funding than other institutions and get approximately 68 cents per every federal dollar non-HSIs receive, which can lead to “severe resource gaps.”

But HSIs deliver major benefits for students, according to the report. Third Way measures colleges’ price-to-earnings premium, based on the average time it takes a student to recoup what they paid to attend a certain college, and HSIs made up almost half of the colleges where students recouped losses in less than a year. Among all HSIs represented in the data, 77 percent enabled students to recoup their tuition losses within five years. Among other accomplishments, HSIs also offer routes to STEM careers for low-income students and students of color, the report noted. The majority of Latino community college STEM students, 81 percent, attend an HSI or emerging HSI. Four-year HSIs serve 60 percent of Latino STEM students, according to the report. Meanwhile, 37 percent of STEM students at two-year HSIs and 44 percent of STEM students at four-year HSIs come from the lowest income quartile. The report includes a series of recommendations to support HSIs, including increasing funding for federal HSI grant programs and tracking which institutions are applying for and receiving grant funding to better understand which campuses are “under-benefitting” and need targeted assistance accessing those funds.

Border Report - May 23, 2024

‘Water bank’ sought to maintain flow to South Texas cities in drought

The head of a South Texas planning group is proposing that a “water bank” be formed so smaller cities can get water from larger cities with surplus supplies and keep it flowing in South Texas. Jim Darling is chairman of the Region M Water Planning Group for the Texas Water Development Board, and a former mayor of McAllen, one of the largest cities in the Rio Grande Valley. He was in Austin on Wednesday speaking with officials from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to pitch this idea and to talk to them about solutions to the ongoing drought, and lack of water payments from Mexico, he told Border Report. “I’m trying to get three or four cities to be the lead on that, larger cities, and actually organize it through the Council of Governments,” Darling said.

Mexico and the United States have an international treaty that obligates both nations to make certain amounts of water payments across the border during a 5-year cycle. The current cycle ends in October 2025, but Mexico has paid barely one year’s worth of water that it owes the Rio Grande, so far this cycle. And that has officials on the border worried as triple-digit temperature days are forecast and little rain is in sight. Many agriculture growers already have lost water supplies but municipalities have not. Without the volume of water from agriculture pushing the municipal water through the open canal system, Darling says he worries there won’t be enough water flow to get the water to treatment plants. “I’m really worried about that. Where are you gonna get that push water from? Some water is available in the river, but you have to buy it from ag. It’d be expensive and how’s all that going to work? So we’re asking the water masters office to come up with a bank, if you will. So, at least if your water district is out of water right now, they can’t, they’re not going to pump. So you can get the water from the river up your canal,” Darling said.

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2024

Houston ISD names 28 community members to advisory committee for multi-billion dollar school bond

Houston ISD announced the 28 members of the Community Advisory Committee Thursday, which will host five public meetings on the upcoming multi billion-dollar school bond in the next two weeks. HISD plans to pursue a bond of at least $4 billion that will focus on security, replacing portable classrooms with real buildings, and improving heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, although the district hasn’t formally announced the specific details of its proposal. The bond, if passed, would not raise taxes, according to the district media release. The district said the new committee — which includes elected trustees, educators, community advocates and parents — will hold four in-person community meetings before the end of the academic year to discuss the state of HISD facilities and gather feedback about the district’s proposed priorities for the bond.

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2024

Hydrogen-powered jets from Houston in 2035? IAH is about to become an experimental 'hydrogen hub.'

The world’s lightest gas could soon be critical to lifting off from George Bush International Airport, as Airbus, Houston officials and the Center for Houston’s Future team up to study hydrogen fueling at the airport. Airbus on Tuesday announced Houston was one of five locations in North America where it is proceeding with plans for a “hydrogen hub” as it plans for alternative-fueled passenger jets. The European aircraft builder has set a goal of having hydrogen-powered planes operational and carrying passengers by 2035. The first step in Houston – along with Atlanta, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – is helping identify “opportunities for and barriers to hydrogen supply, infrastructure development, and usage at the airport,” Airbus officials said in a release.

Officials said the analysis is scheduled to take until March next year. Airbus, Houston and the Center for Houston’s Future have signed an agreement to cooperate for the report, sharing their current and previous research. “As we continue to expand and modernize our facilities, participating in this sustainability study is crucial,” said Jim Szczesniak, the aviation director for the City of Houston. “Continuing to build a sustainable airport system will ensure a healthy future for Houston, attract top talent and businesses and demonstrate our commitment to being a responsible global citizen.” Though the announcement is only for further study, officials called the decision significant, especially as Houston transitions economically away from petrochemicals and toward cleaner power and fuel sources while maintaining its role as an energy leader. “We see this as a large opportunity,” said Brett Perlman, CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. “Our groundbreaking report on Houston as a global clean hydrogen leader demonstrates that clean hydrogen in mobility could be as significant a decarbonization opportunity as cleaning up emissions from industrial plants.”

National Stories

The Hill - May 23, 2024

Haley says she will vote for Trump over Biden

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that she’ll vote for former President Trump over President Biden this fall. “As a voter, I put my priorities on a president who’s going to have the backs of our allies and hold our enemies to account, who would secure the border, no more excuses,” Haley, the former president’s ex-rival in the Republican presidential race, said at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank. “A president who would support capitalism and freedom, a president who understands we need less debt not more debt.” “Trump has not been perfect on these policies. I’ve made that clear, many, many times. But Biden has been a catastrophe. So, I will be voting for Trump,” she said.

Haley was the last major candidate standing between Trump and the Republican nomination when she dropped out of the contest in March. “Having said that, I stand by what I said in my suspension speech. Trump would be smart to reach out to the millions of people who voted for me and continue to support me, and not assume that they’re just going to be with him,” Haley added. “And I genuinely hope he does that.” Haley’s remarks at the institute come as she continues to be a significant presence in Republican presidential primary results, despite her exit from the race, as some in the GOP voice their frustration with Trump through protest votes. Haley picked up 20 percent of the vote in Maryland’s GOP primary last week, and 18 percent in Nebraska. The week before that, Haley won nearly 22 percent of the vote in Indiana’s Republican primary. Earlier this year, she also received over 100,000 votes in each of the two key battleground states of Arizona and Pennsylvania.

The Hill - May 23, 2024

Schumer shifts Senate into campaign mode

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is shifting to campaign mode as he’s planning a series of message votes on border security, access to contraception and other hot-button issues. The shift reflects a broad acknowledgement within the Senate that there’s little chance of passing substantive legislation between now and Election Day as lawmakers hunker down for a grueling campaign. Schumer has largely avoided so-called “show votes” on bills that have little chance of passing because for most of this Congress — and for Democrats’ first two years in the Senate majority in 2021 and 2022 — he wanted to focus on legislation that actually could become law.

But senators don’t expect much more to get done before the election, other than the confirmation of judges and executive branch nominees, now that Congress has safely passed $61 billion in funding for Ukraine, the annual appropriations bills for fiscal year 2024 and a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “We’re getting closer to the election,” said one Democratic senator who requested anonymity to explain Schumer’s new focus on messaging votes. “The question is what can we done the rest of the year?” the lawmaker asked, noting that the top priorities — Ukraine funding, government funding, the reauthorization of FISA warrantless surveillance and the FAA — are already done. Democrats are feeling increasingly nervous about losing their Senate majority as new polling out last week showed President Biden trailing in five battleground states, including Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, which are also hosting Senate races.

Politico - May 23, 2024

House GOP to grill college leaders for negotiating with protesters

A pair of university presidents testifying Thursday on Capitol Hill managed to quell their campus protests without calling in the police — only to make themselves a target for House Republicans who are lambasting their tactics as defeats. Once praised in some circles for finding less chaotic ways of diffusing tensions over the Israel-Gaza war, Northwestern University and Rutgers University presidents are now facing GOP backlash for making deals with students to disband their pro-Palestinian encampments. The hearing about campus antisemitism is the latest in a litany of conservative reprimands for the way colleges balance free speech and public safety. It also serves as another political flare as Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), House Education Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and other Republicans look to squeeze more attention out of campus strife and cement the idea that their party stands for restoring order ahead of the November election.

Thursday’s hearing serves to warn other institutions against hashing out deals with protesters and prod them to impose their policies around campus protests. House Republicans argue that the presidents sidelined the concerns of Jewish students and caved to small groups of students. “Enforce your rules that say no camping on campus, no threatening students, no harassing students, no occupying buildings,” Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Calif.), a GOP member of the House education committee, said in an interview. “What you shouldn’t do is negotiate with people who are breaking the law.” Foxx has called those leaders “spineless” and referred to their agreements as “shocking concessions to the unlawful antisemitic encampments on their campuses.” To disband the encampment on his campus, Northwestern President Michael Schill agreed to cover the tuition and other costs for five Palestinian undergraduates to attend the school and allowed students to continue protests through the end of the quarter, among other deals. At Rutgers University, President Jonathan Holloway agreed not to retaliate against pro-Palestinian protesters, and announced the school would discuss divestment requests with protesters, explore creating an Arab cultural center and support displaced Palestinian students so they can finish their studies at the school.

New York Times - May 23, 2024

Another provocative flag was flown at another Alito home

Last summer, two years after an upside-down American flag was flown outside the Virginia home of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., another provocative symbol was displayed at his vacation house in New Jersey, according to interviews and photographs. This time, it was the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which, like the inverted U.S. flag, was carried by rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Also known as the Pine Tree flag, it dates back to the Revolutionary War, but largely fell into obscurity until recent years and is now a symbol of support for former President Donald J. Trump, for a religious strand of the “Stop the Steal” campaign and for a push to remake American government in Christian terms. Three photographs obtained by The New York Times, along with accounts from a half-dozen neighbors and passers-by, show that the Appeal to Heaven flag was aloft at the Alito home on Long Beach Island in July and September of 2023. A Google street view image from late August also shows the flag.

The photographs, each taken independently, are from four different dates. It is not clear whether the flag was displayed continuously during those months or how long it was flown overall. Justice Alito declined to respond to questions about the beach house flag, including what it was intended to convey and how it comported with his obligations as a justice. The court also declined to respond. In commenting for the Times report last week about the upside-down American flag at his Virginia home in 2021, Justice Alito said that it had been raised by his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, during a clash with a neighbor. The revelation about that flag prompted concerns from legal scholars and ethicists, and calls from dozens of Democratic lawmakers that the justice recuse himself from cases related to Jan. 6. The news also drew criticism from some conservative politicians, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who said that displaying the inverted flag was “not good judgment.” During the period the Appeal to Heaven flag was seen flying at the justice’s New Jersey house, a key Jan. 6 case arrived at the Supreme Court, challenging whether those who stormed the Capitol could be prosecuted for obstruction. In coming weeks, the justices will rule on that case, which could scuttle some of the charges against Mr. Trump, as well as on whether he is immune from prosecution for actions he took while president. Their decisions will shape how accountable he can be held for trying to overturn the last presidential election and his chances at regaining the White House in the next one.

Reuters - May 23, 2024

SpaceX launches first satellites for new US spy constellation

SpaceX on Wednesday launched an inaugural batch of operational spy satellites it built as part of a new U.S. intelligence network designed to significantly upgrade the country's space-based surveillance powers, the first deployment of several more planned this year. The spy network was revealed in a pair of Reuters reports earlier this year showing SpaceX is building hundreds of satellites for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, an intelligence agency, for a vast system in orbit capable of rapidly spotting ground targets almost anywhere in the world. Northrop Grumman, a longtime space and defense contractor, is also involved in the project. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in Southern California at 4 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, carrying into space what the NRO said was the "first launch of the NRO's proliferated systems featuring responsive collection and rapid data delivery."

AFP - May 23, 2024

Companies put record amount in shareholders' pockets: report

Companies paid out a record amount of money in dividends to shareholders in the first quarter of 2024 as Alibaba and Meta made the their first-ever payments, a report said Thursday. Asset manager Janus Henderson tracks dividend payments by 1,200 of the largest publicly traded companies in the world and found that together they paid a record $339.2 billion in dividends in the January through March period. That represents an increase of 2.4 percent from the same period in 2023. The first quarter "saw broad strength across the different sectors, with most making steady, single-digit progress," said the report. Janus Henderson said the banking sector drove the growth with a 12 percent gain, accounting for a quarter of the overall increase. The first ever dividend payments by Alibaba ($2.6 billion) and Meta ($1.1 billion) accounted for half of the first quarter growth. The report noted that the dividend payment accounted for just 20 percent of the profits that Meta returned to shareholders via stock buybacks.

Washington Post - May 23, 2024

Trump electors in key states want to serve again, despite criminal charges

Republican activists in at least three states where Donald Trump tried to reverse his defeat in 2020 — nearly all of them under criminal indictment for casting electoral votes for him despite his loss — are poised to reprise their roles as presidential electors this year. Six activists in Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico have made clear to GOP leaders in their states that the investigations into their 2020 activities have not deterred them from seeking the position again. If anything, their view that the prosecutions are bogus has motivated them to step up, according to party leaders. Their eagerness to serve — and encouragement to do so from their parties — reflects a widespread belief among Republicans that the electors did nothing wrong in 2020, raising the question of what they might do or say if Trump once again loses any of those states. Would they be willing to convene again and cast electoral votes for Trump? Would the Trump campaign try to organize such an effort? What might Trump ask of them? How far would they go to help him return to power?

“There is no hesitancy at all to be put in that same position again,” said Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. “They would be excited by the opportunity to do it.” The nation’s presidential electors, apportioned to the states according to their number of congressional seats, make up the electoral college, which is empowered by the Constitution to determine the outcome of presidential elections every four years. Typically only the electors of the winning candidate meet and cast votes in the weeks after the election, but in 2020, 84 Trump electors met in seven states that Democrat Joe Biden had won. In four of those states, 35 of the electors face criminal charges related to those votes. In Georgia, Nevada and Michigan, they have all pleaded not guilty. In Arizona, 9 of the 11 electors have pleaded not guilty, while two have not yet entered pleas. Hoekstra said three of Michigan’s 16 Trump electors from 2020 have approached him to say they’d like to do it again, although he did not provide their names. All 16 were indicted last year on charges that they submitted false documents claiming that Trump had won the state. The decision about this year’s slate of electors rests with delegates to the party’s state convention, which convenes in August, but Hoekstra said he has no problem with 2020 electors serving again.

May 22, 2024

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2024

Austin police officials drafted letter advocating for Daniel Perry's pardon

Days before Gov. Greg Abbott pardoned Daniel Perry for killing a Black Lives Matter protester, the Austin Police Department drafted a two-page letter to state officials advocating that Perry be freed. The document, on departmental letterhead, echoes the belief of the lead investigator in the case that the prosecution of Perry in the shooting death of Garrett Foster was based on “conjecture,” “innuendo” and a “character assassination” of Perry, who wrote racist and threatening social media posts. The draft, obtained by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV on Tuesday, bears the signatory of interim police chief Robin Henderson. The letter rejects the guilty verdict of a Travis County jury a year earlier and reiterates the department’s finding that the shooting was justified, adding “Mr. Perry should have never been charged.”

The department was poised to send the document to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles a day before Gov. Greg Abbott granted clemency to Perry last week. But Henderson said in a statement Tuesday to the Statesman that "ultimately the drafted letter was not submitted. After discussions with city leadership, as is standard in certain situations, I decided not to submit the letter." Still, the draft letter represents a highly unusual move by the department in a case marked by extraordinary developments. It offers a deeper insight, extending beyond that of the lead investigator in the case, into how the department more broadly views evidence in the shooting, which polarized much of the community and further splintered the relationship between police and prosecutors. It adds that although retired Detective David Fugitt, who has vigorously fought on Perry’s behalf, determined that the June 2020 shooting was justified, the department as an organization supports that finding as well. “As law enforcement officers, we are bestowed the honorable duty to investigate, collect and provide complete and honest unbiased facts to the citizens of this state,” the letter stated. “This unbiased collection and presentation of evidence must be conducted separate from political and emotional influence.

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2024

Challenges at Golden Pass LNG terminal lead S.A.'s Zachry Holdings, subsidiaries into bankruptcy

San Antonio’s Zachry Holdings Inc. — long an international force in the engineering and construction industry — sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for itself and 20 subsidiaries Tuesday, blaming difficulties related to construction of the Golden Pass LNG export terminal just south of Port Arthur. A Zachry Holdings subsidiary has been the lead contractor for the Southeast Texas liquefied natural gas plant, a $10 billion-plus venture launched five years ago for owners QatarEnergy and Exxon Mobil. In a statement, Zachry Holdings Chairman CEO John B. Zachry cited “significant challenges” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and “international geopolitical issues” that resulted in “significant financial strain while meeting targets and keeping the project appropriately staffed.”

“Because we have not been able to find a path forward, we have been forced to take action to protect our business,” he said. “The process we are starting today provides us mechanisms to initiate a structured exit from the (Golden Pass) project.” The bankruptcies were filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston. The project was announced in 2019 as a joint venture of Zachry Group, Houston’s McDermott International and Japan’s Chiyoda International. QatarEnergy holds a 70% stake in Golden Pass with the rest held by Exxon Mobil. When completed, the terminal is expected to generate revenue of billions of dollars a year. In a statement Tuesday, Golden Pass said McDermott and Chiyoda are continuing work with thousands of workers on site. “The project is already 75% progressed and we are committed to completing the project,” Golden Pass said. About a week ago, an undisclosed number of Zachry employees were furloughed, and the total still on the job Tuesday was unclear. Recent tallies put the project workforce at 6,000.

Wall Street Journal - May 22, 2024

The crypto industry is trying to elect political allies. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Crypto companies are fighting for survival after a regulatory crackdown. Their latest strategy: spending big on this year’s elections. The industry has amassed a formidable war chest and is working to elect politicians it sees as allies and defeat those who are critical. A trio of super political-action committees has together raised more than $85 million, one of the largest amounts among PACs engaged in the 2024 elections. Fairshake, along with two affiliated super PACs, raised the funds from an industry A-list, including crypto exchange Coinbase Global and Cathie Wood’s ARK Invest. The push is being powered by a surge in crypto prices. “This is the first time we’ve really had all the pieces in place,” said Kristin Smith, chief executive of the Blockchain Association, an industry group. Wealthy investors and big companies have long used campaign donations and lobbyists to win influence in Washington. What sets the crypto industry’s push apart this year is that its ability to keep operating in the U.S. is at stake. With regulators filing civil lawsuits alleging that the industry is running afoul of securities laws and prosecutors unsealing criminal indictments, some companies have been looking overseas for growth or relocating entirely.

Earlier this month, former President Donald Trump was asked what he would do if re-elected to stop crypto companies from leaving the U.S. “If we are going to embrace it, then we have to let them be here,” Trump said in support of the industry at Mar-a-Lago, his social club and part-time residence in Florida. Fairshake hasn’t yet weighed in on the presidential election. Previous attempts by crypto advocates to influence elections haven’t been as well-funded. In 2022, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried contributed to a PAC that ultimately raised $12 million. A federal judge sentenced Bankman-Fried to a quarter-century in prison on several counts of fraud earlier this year. This cycle is different. The industry has banded together after a string of lawsuits from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Crypto firms have brought on more lobbyists, working to convince lawmakers that Bankman-Fried’s FTX isn’t indicative of the industry.

NPR - May 22, 2024

Amid record homelessness, a Texas think tank tries to upend how states tackle it

In October, Florida will become the latest state to ban homeless camping. Starting in January, any city that does not enforce the ban can be sued, by the State Attorney General or by a local business or resident. "We're gonna have clean sidewalks. We're gonna have clean parks. We're gonna have safe streets," said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, when he signed the new law in March. If there are not enough beds available in homeless shelters, the law will also let cities designate their own temporary shelter sites, something former President Trump supports and has called "relocation camps." Florida is among a handful of states that has passed tougher laws on homelessness in recent years — including Kentucky and Texas — and lawmakers in about a dozen states have debated such legislation. Most all of them are taking guidance from the lobbying arm of a conservative Texas-based think tank, which aims to upend homelessness policies that have had bipartisan support for two decades.

The Cicero Institute was founded by billionaire tech entrepreneur Joe Lonsdale, whose data mining products have been used by the CIA, the U.S. immigration agency, and local police departments. He derides a "homeless industrial complex," accusing advocates of prolonging the problem so they can keep their jobs. "The foremost goal is not to punish," says Devon Kurtz, who oversees Cicero's homelessness policy and pitches its legislation to state lawmakers. But he says the common practice known as Housing First — which prioritizes getting people into permanent housing without requiring them to get sober — has made the problem worse. "There are situations where we just can't accept the status quo. It is too dangerous for everyone involved," he says. A documentary Cicero produced with the conservative content creator PragerU blames Housing First for streets littered with needles and other drug paraphernalia. Kurtz says with the opioid crisis, people are dying every day from drug overdose. Cicero's model bill calls for shifting money away from housing, and toward substance abuse and mental health treatment. Cicero's push is happening amid record high rates of homelessness. An annual federal count found some 650,000 unhoused people on a single night in 2023, with nearly half of them sleeping outside. At the same time, drug overdose deaths last year hit 112,000. Homelessness advocates say Cicero's approach to these problems is counter-productive. "They're taking us back a decade or two into a failed homelessness policy that we've tried as a country, and it didn't work," says Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. She says the main driver of homelessness is a severe shortage of housing, including an estimated 7.3 million unit deficit for the lowest income renters. Research shows that forced treatment is not the solution, she says, but permanent housing is.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2024

Texas health department appoints controversial anti-abortion OBGYN to maternal mortality committee

The Texas health department has appointed a vocal anti-abortion OBGYN who helped defend the state’s abortion laws to a state committee that investigates maternal deaths. The selection of Dr. Ingrid Skop comes amid warnings from patients and doctors that Texas’ strict abortion laws endanger women by cutting off access to comprehensive care. The now 23-member committee is currently reviewing pregnancy-related deaths in 2020 and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws in the coming years — including whether deaths have resulted from a lack of access to the procedure. Skop was one of seven new appointees announced late last week to the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths and makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes. The new appointments mean that Nakeenya Wilson, a nonprofit leader, will no longer serve in her role as a community advocate.

Wilson had been vocal after the previous health commissioner delayed the release of the committee's last report, which found that Black women continued to die from pregnancy-related causes at alarmingly high rates. “Discrimination is and has always been a threat to our health and well-being and I am imploring Texas legislators and the governor to prioritize the lives of all mothers,” Wilson, who is Black, said when the report was released in late 2022. Skop previously served on a maternal death task force in San Antonio and has worked as an OBGYN for more than three decades. She currently works as vice president and director of medical affairs for Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. In a statement to Hearst Newspapers, Skop said the state’s high rate of maternal death “deserves rigorous discourse.” “There are complex reasons for these statistics, including chronic illnesses, poverty, and difficulty obtaining prenatal care, and I have long been motivated to identify ways women’s care can be improved,” said Skop. “For over 30 years, I have advocated for both of my patients, a pregnant woman and her unborn child, just like the overwhelming majority of OB-GYNs who don’t perform elective abortions.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2024

Ben Fortson Jr., a founder of Kimbell Art Museum, dies at 91

Benjamin Fortson Jr. built his career in the oil business, but his life was devoted to creating a world-class art museum in the heart of his hometown of Fort Worth. Fortson died Sunday following a brief illness, the Kimbell Art Museum announced Tuesday. He was 91. He and his wife of 67 years, Kay, spent years helping to build and create the Kimbell, known as much for its architecture as for its permanent art collection. The Louis I. Kahn-designed building opened in 1972. Fortson also was a driving force in the addition of the Renzo Piano Pavilion, which opened in 2013. “We will forever remember Ben as a kind and wise leader whose impact on the Kimbell — especially through the building of the Piano Pavilion and his oversight of the Kimbell’s investments and finances for half a century — is incalculable,” said Eric Lee, director of the Kimbell.

Fortson served as executive vice president and chief investment officer of the Kimbell Art Foundation for more 50 years. Over the years, Fortson did not seek the spotlight for his role in founding the Kimbell. He preferred to give credit to his wife, Kay Kimbell Carter, whom he married in 1957. She was the niece of art collector Kay Kimbell and his wife, Velma, who had no children of their own. So the Fortsons inherited the vision to build a “museum of the first class” in Fort Worth. Fortson was born in Fort Worth on June 9, 1932. He spent two years at Choate School in Connecticut before graduating from Paschal High School and TCU, where he would later serve as a trustee. Fortson’s interest in the oil business began when he accompanied his father to a derrick when he was 4 years old. He established the Fortson Oil Co. in the early 1960s and drilled wells throughout the United States. His word was a handshake, as he felt that was as strong as a written contract. But art and his family were the highlights in his life. “Ben Fortson leaves an indelible mark on Fort Worth,” said Dee Kelly Jr., a partner of Fort Worth law firm Kelly Hart. “He was a pillar of the arts community, a successful businessman, and a friend to everyone.”

Newsweek - May 22, 2024

Texas announces SNAP benefits boost for storm victims

SNAP recipients in Texas are now eligible to collect replacement benefits following severe storms in the Lone Star State. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are issued monthly to low- and no-income households to help them buy groceries. Following a storms and tornadoes, eligible claimants in Texas can apply for replacement benefits up to the value of the goods purchased using their SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.

Severe storms hit Texas beginning on Thursday, May 16, causing damage to property, flooding and downed trees, while leaving thousands without power. Four people are confirmed to have died as a result. According to a report by Reuters, more than 100,000 households and businesses are still without power. "Due to recent severe weather and flooding that devastated communities across our state, impacted Texans will be able to apply for SNAP replacement benefits for food that was lost or destroyed during these devastating storms," said Governor Greg Abbott. "Eligible Texans can apply for these benefits by dialing 2-1-1. I thank the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for working with our federal partners to ensure Texans have the resources they need to recover and move forward from these storms."

Banking Dive - May 22, 2024

SouthState to acquire Independent Bank in $2B deal

Winter Haven, Florida-based SouthState Corp. has agreed to buy McKinney, Texas-based Independent Bank Group in an all-stock transaction valued at roughly $2 billion, the companies announced Monday. Following the acquisition, the combined company will have total assets of $65 billion, deposits of $55 billion, $48 billion in loans and a market capitalization of roughly $8.2 billion, SouthState said. The deal, expected to close by the first quarter of 2025, will expand SouthState’s footprint in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and Houston areas in Texas, and the Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins areas in Colorado.

Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2024

UT Faculty Council resolutions condemn April 2 former DEI terminations, response to protests

The University of Texas Faculty Council has formally condemned President Jay Hartzell's terminations and demotions last month of more than 60 former diversity, equity and inclusion employees as well as the closing of the Division of Campus and Community Engagement, and it called on the school's chief to reverse those decisions. "The faculty offer our strongest support to those individuals whose jobs and lives were disrupted by these events and urge the University to provide them with all possible support," the Faculty Council said in a resolution it approved Monday. On April 2, UT laid off dozens of employees who had served in DEI-related positions before Jan. 1, when Senate Bill 17, which bans DEI offices and initiatives at all Texas public universities and colleges, went into effect. Hartzell announced April 2 a reorganization to streamline services after SB 17 that would result in the closure of the Division of Campus and Community Engagement — formerly the Division of Diversity and Campus Engagement — and the elimination of a "small number" of staff positions.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2024

Former Southwestern Seminary professor indicted on false records

A former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor has been indicted on a falsifying records charge as part of a federal investigation that alleges he attempted to cover up a sexual abuse report, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. Matthew Queen, a former interim provost at the Fort Worth theological school, failed to inform the FBI of a conspiracy to destroy evidence in an investigation of sexual misconduct and, instead, produced falsified notes to investigators, according to the news release from the United States Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York. “Queen’s alleged actions deliberately violated a court order and delayed justice for the sexual abuse victims,” said James Smith, FBI assistant director in charge.

Since 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI have been investigating allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct related to national religious institutions, including Southwestern Baptist, according to the release. A grand jury subpoena required all documents in Southwestern Baptist’s possession related to sexual abuse allegations against anyone employed by or associated with the seminary in south Fort Worth. In November 2022, a Southwestern Baptist employee received a report alleging that a student committed sexual assault, according to the indictment. The employee immediately notified campus police, but no further action was taken by the institution at the time and the assault was not reported to prosecutors, the release says. In a statement posted Tuesday by Southwestern Baptist, staff says the school “facilitated the arrest” of the student and suspended him, who later withdrew from the college.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2024

Shahryar Rana: How to change the rural health care crisis: immigrant doctors

(Raised in Calgary, Alberta, Dr. Shahryar Rana attended medical school at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar and is a resident physician in pediatric neurology in Dallas.) The U.S. needs more doctors, and there is no getting around the fact that we are going to need many of them to be immigrants. The health care industry has doubled in total employees since 1990 and now accounts for 17.3% of our gross domestic product. However, we have not seen a corresponding increase in the number of physicians to meet the needs of a growing American population. When it comes to immigration, we often think of the brain drain in poorly developed countries, with highly skilled workers leaving for more developed countries. But the same thing is happening within the United States. Rural states and states with large rural areas, including much of northern Texas, have substantially reduced access to primary care physicians. As a young doctor, I understand why. The cost of tuition and years of additional tertiary education in the U.S. is well above its peers. Medical school is hard and expensive, and limited spots exist.

This restricts the number of physicians graduating from medical school and returning to rural communities. Not enough new doctors are ready to fill the need. But that’s only part of the problem. We also have an immigration system that brings medical graduates from abroad and trains them in the U.S. but then does too little to incentivize keeping them in the communities that trained them. They instead must return to the country where they attended medical school, as most international physicians are on J-1 visas, which are intended for work-and-study exchange students (most international doctors train in the U.S. with a J-1 visa). The alternative is to go through a waiver program known as Conrad 30. It requires working in areas with too few doctors, often in rural medical deserts where physicians rarely serve. The premise for this program is a good one: On one hand, there is a need for physicians in rural communities, and on the other, international physicians, who often come to love the communities they trained in, want an avenue for long-term residence in the States. I am no different in that respect. I have come to love the community here in Dallas, and as a pediatrics trainee, I have helped teach kids here how to eat healthfully as well as participated in Dallas City Hall meetings to help understand and shape policy. Canada, by comparison, is much savvier about meeting its population’s needs with immigrants.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2024

Why Cowboys icon Emmitt Smith denounced University of Florida’s elimination of DEI program

About two months ago, Emmitt Smith took to social media to share his disappointment in an administrative move made by his alma mater. Due to a new law that was pushed forward by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the University of Florida had eliminated its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program. Smith, a Dallas Cowboys legend, was “utterly disgusted” by the development. In a recent interview with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, Smith revealed why he denounced the decision and said it was made out of “spite and sheer power.” “At the end of the day, this country was built on people fighting for what is right for everybody, not just a select few. And with that fight, and with the University of Florida being as visible as it is, it irked me,” Smith told Bell. “To the fullest. Because I remember the time when our president at the university would stand up and say, ‘Nah, we’re the University of Florida. We’re going to be here a lot longer than you, (Gov.) Ron DeSantis; a lot longer than you, Jeb Bush; we’re going to be here a lot longer than any other governor that tries to push something of this magnitude down the throats of so many Americans and so many Florida citizens.’ To me, that’s a problem.”

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2024

Jasmine Crockett embracing internet fame after confrontation with Marjorie Taylor Greene

U.S. Rep. Jasmine Crockett has witnessed plenty of partisan fireworks as a freshman member of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, but last week’s confrontation with Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene quickly reached new heights as an online sensation. “I’ve had things that have gone viral as I was sitting in committee,” Crockett said. “Nothing like this.” The committee was considering whether to hold U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for withholding audio recordings of President Joe Biden’s conversations with special counsel Robert Hur, but things veered off the rails after Greene told Crockett, “I think your fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading.” Democrats objected, but the panel’s Republican chairman, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, ruled Greene did not violate rules against personal attacks.

Crockett, D-Dallas, asked for clarification. “If someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach-blond, bad-built butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?” she said. Her phone quickly blew up with texts from folks back home, including a message from her pastor suggesting she provide a warning before deploying language so colorful it had him choking on his water. When Crockett showed up at a speaking engagement the next day, one woman there was wearing a dress bearing the phrase. The furor has raged online for days as people post parody remixes of the hearing room exchange or release their own songs incorporating what Crockett calls the “B6? phrase. Crockett’s campaign filed an application to trademark the six-word phrase, which she said was a spontaneous creation. Crockett has said Greene is a racist bully, reflected in the attack on her appearance that channeled common tropes about African American women and fake hair, nails or eyelashes. Crockett said she has been heartened by the support. “I think that people were just finally excited to see a bully cut down to size,” she said.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2024

With another loss, Texas Rangers hit low point of the Bruce Bochy era

They are losers. For the first time under Bruce Bochy, it’s not merely impassioned fan venting, but a fact about the Rangers. Everything else remained pretty much the same. Starting pitcher did a good job. Middle of bullpen collapsed. Offense remained in a fog. It all added up to yet another loss for the Rangers, this time 5-2 to Philadelphia. It was the Rangers’ third loss in four games, eighth in the last 10 and, most importantly, it dropped them to 24-25. It’s the first time they’ve had a losing record since the end of the forgettable 2022 season. Or put another way: Before Bochy.

The future Hall of Fame manager, out of the game for three years, took over the Rangers in October 2022 after the club posted its sixth consecutive losing season. He did not return to lose. The Rangers swept their first series under him to start the 2023 season — against these Phillies — and never looked back on the way to their first World Series win. It’s time we stopped talking about that World Series win, though. It’s the distant past now. The celebrations are over. The task at hand is chasing another playoff run. It’s what all the cool teams in town do these days, you know. Nearly a third of the way through the season, the Rangers do not resemble a playoff team. “Even with the adversity we’ve faced, the expectation is that we will come out and win,” general manager Chris Young said Tuesday afternoon. “My expectation is that we will start playing up to our capabilities. The last couple of weeks, I don’t think we’ve completely done that. This team is good enough for us to win.”

KERA - May 22, 2024

North Texas school districts face millions in budget cuts, closures & layoffs to fend off deficits

The school year’s almost over on a nearly perfect, breezy day in May as the temperature nears 80. Travis Fitzgerald picks up his 6-year-old kindergartner, Graham, for the five-minute walk home from Greenwood Hills Elementary. “How many days left, buddy?” he asks Graham. “Eleven,” Graham responds. “Eleven,” his dad repeats. “He knows more than I do, of course.” The clock’s not just ticking on Richardson ISD’s school year, but on four Richardson elementary schools themselves: Spring Valley, Thurgood Marshall, Springridge, and this campus, Greenwood Hills, will be consolidated into other schools. “I think everybody knows it’s going to close,” Fitzgerald said. “But we really haven’t thought about it. And we’re just kind of trying to celebrate all the kids who’ve gone through it. "I think everybody’s kind of shelved their emotions, at least for now."

to Fort Worth and Arlington, face shortfalls of $30 million or more, leaving school closures and layoffs as solutions. Two Irving elementary schools will close next year; Fort Worth ISD is also looking at closures amid falling enrollment. In fact, school statewide are suffering financially. A new survey from The Texas Association of School Business Officials found more than half the more than 300 districts it surveyed expect a deficit by the end of this year. Last year, less than a third reported a deficit. Clay Robison with the Texas State Teachers Association blames the governor. “The main reason they're struggling financially is because Greg Abbott refused to sign a public school funding bill last year without vouchers, even with a $33 billion budget surplus," Robison said. Abbott tried and failed in the legislative session and four special sessions last year to get a voucher like plan approved. Last week, when some Democratic lawmakers demanded Abbott call another special session to fund public education, he blamed school district deficits on the end of federal COVID dollars and falling enrollments. He added that if lawmakers had approved vouchers last year, districts would now have their money. Dallas Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde suspects that after recent elections, vouchers may finally pass next year. But, like others, she needs funding now: Her district faces a deficit approaching $200 million. “We did have to right-size based on loss of student enrollment. That's a reality," she said. "But we haven't had to do the severe deep, deep cuts that many of our neighboring school districts have had to do.”

County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2024

Tarrant leaders repeat calls for transparency from sheriff

Tarrant County commissioners discussed a media policy for the sheriff’s office on Tuesday, following calls for transparency after the death of an inmate. But only Sheriff Bill Waybourn can establish such a policy as he is the elected official in charge of his department. The proposed policy was put forth by Republican Commissioner Manny Ramirez, a former Fort Worth police officer, in response to the sheriff’s office handling of information related to the April 21 death Anthony Johnson Jr. Ramirez said the most recent critical incidents at the jail made it clear the sheriff’s office needed a policy on when and how information is released. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here we just need to implement something that provides a bridge of trust, Ramirez said. “We need to have clear, consistent policies so that the public can hold us accountable to those policies.”

Jennifer Gabbert, chief of staff for the Tarrant County sheriff’s office, acknowledged that the sheriff’s office has been “slow to catch up” but said that the department policy is dictated by Texas Government Code on how information is released during investigations. Gabbert also said the sheriff’s office just recently added a communications team and that was part of the reason there isn’t a clear policy in place. Democratic Commissioner Alisa Simmons spoke in support of the policy. “It is a common sense practice,” Simmons said. “I’m not sure it requires a tragedy the magnitude of Anthony Johnson Jr.’s death in our jail, eight years into Sheriff Waybourn’s term, to be considered, but we’re here now.” Simmons cited her 20 plus years of experience as a the spokesperson for the Tarrant County 911 District. She said a communications team is not necessary to start and follow a policy.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2024

Tarrant settles lawsuit with woman who gave birth in jail

Tarrant County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a record $1.2 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman whose 10-day-old baby died after she gave birth in the jail. The woman, Chasity Congious, was nonverbal at the time of the birth in May of 2020, according to the lawsuit. The previous largest settlement was $1 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit in September filed by the mother of a man died of a seizure disorder in the jail. Tarrant County jail cell floor for six hours before staff discovered his body.

She had been arrested on a probation violation in January 2020 after her family called Fort Worth police because she was mentally distressed. They wanted to have her involuntarily committed at John Peter Smith Hospital, according Jarrett Adams, a New York-based civil rights attorney who filed the lawsuit. The woman was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and had developmental disabilities that sometimes affected her ability to communicate, according to the lawsuit. Prosecutors filed a motion to drop the charges against the woman a month after she gave birth, and she was taken to JPS for inpatient care. Following the baby’s death, the sheriff’s office said Congious was seen several times by mental health professionals and that state-required checks had been conducted every 30 minutes.

City Stories

NBC News - May 22, 2024

706 people named Kyle got together in Texas, but it wasn’t enough for a world record

The crown is currently held by a town in Bosnia that got 2,325 people named Ivan together in 2017, according to Guinness World Records. It’s not the first time the Kyles have come gunning for the Ivans. Last year, the official count at what has become known as the Gathering of the Kyles clocked in at 1,490 in the fast-growing Texas city that is about 37 miles south of Austin, the state’s capital. Kyle is not a chart-topper among popular names in the U.S., according to the Social Security Administration, which annually tracks the names given to girls and boys in each state. The most recent data showed Kyle ranked 416th among male names in 2023. By comparison, Ivan ranked 153.

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2024

Here’s the Houston department that got the biggest budget cut in Whitmire’s new spending plan

Houston’s Planning and Development Department could see the largest percentage budget cut under Mayor John Whitmire’s $6.7 billion proposal for the fiscal year starting in July. Compared to its estimated spending for last fiscal year, the department could see a 31% decrease in its operating budget. The planning department oversees land development, sidewalk construction, historic preservation and transportation planning, among other responsibilities. It also helps manage the Houston Permitting Center. It was also one of the first departments to undergo leadership changes after Whitmire took office in January. Margaret Wallace Brown, appointed by former Mayor Sylvester Turner to lead the department in 2019, retired after nearly four decades of work for the city. She was replaced by her deputy Jennifer Ostlind.

The department has been allocated $17.8 million in the mayor’s proposed budget. Only $3.5 million – instead of the estimated $5 million for fiscal year 2024 – would come from the general fund, which is primarily supported by property and sales taxes and used for core city services. The rest of its funding would come mostly from a self-sustaining special revenue fund generated by permit review and other user fees. Earlier this year, Whitmire asked all departments, except police and fire, to identify ways to cut 5% of their spending to address Houston’s growing financial challenges. The mayor’s final proposal includes more modest savings of $11.7 million across all city departments, mostly from eliminating staff vacancies, according to Finance Director Melissa Dubowski. The reduced funding, however, should not significantly impact core department services. The decrease is due to the end of several one-time funding sources that supported projects including the expansion of Houston’s bike share program and a tracker for historic preservation applications, according to Ostlind. It is also because of the elimination of an internal accounting practice that previously transferred money between the general fund and the special revenue fund based on staffing needs.

National Stories

Newsweek - May 22, 2024

Tucker Carlson show aired by Russian State TV

The CEO of the Tucker Carlson Network has rejected claims in Russian state media that the former Fox News anchor had made a deal for his shows to appear on Russian television. The claims appear to have originated with the program Tucker, which is broadcast on Russia 24 but comprises old episodes of Carlson's shows taken from X, formerly Twitter, and YouTube, complete with a Russian voiceover. The first episode and other clips from previous months are now available online, Russian state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported. On the website Smotrim.ru, where programs shown on Russian state channels can be viewed, is an episode introduced by Carlson dated May 18 and dubbed into Russian. The website also hosts other clips from previous months of interviews that Carlson had conducted.

Independent news outlet Astra confirmed that the program features Russian-language dubbing of Carlson's American shows and is not original content for Russian viewers. In September 2023, Russia 24 aired a trailer for a show featuring Carlson without clarifying when it would be broadcast, the BBC reported. Carlson told The Financial Times that he knew nothing about it. Neil Patel, CEO of the Tucker Carlson Network, denied claims in Rossiyskaya Gazeta and Astra that the airing of the episodes was part of a "joint project." "The Tucker Carlson Network has not done any deals with state media in any country. Whoever is currently pretending to be the old Newsweek brand would know that if they had checked with us before printing like news companies are supposed to do," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Washington Post - May 22, 2024

Fani Willis and presiding judge in Trump Georgia case win elections

Two of the most prominent figures in the Georgia criminal case against former president Donald Trump easily won their respective elections Tuesday in their first appearance on the ballot since the inception of the high-profile election interference case. Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis defeated challenger Christian Wise Smith in Georgia’s Democratic primary as she seeks another four-year term as the Atlanta-area’s top prosecutor, according to an Associated Press projection. Meanwhile, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the election case, was elected to his first full term since being appointed to the court last year, defeating challenger Robert Patillo, according to the Associated Press.

McAfee, a former state and federal prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), was elected to a four-year term in the nonpartisan judicial race. That is Atlanta-area voters’ final word on that election. Willis now proceeds to November’s general election, where she will face Courtney Kramer, a Republican lawyer who interned in the Trump White House and was involved in Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 loss in Georgia. Kramer, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s primary, faces long odds of winning in heavily Democratic Fulton County, but her campaign is likely to amplify criticism of Willis and the Trump case at a time of mounting Republican attacks and investigations aimed at the incumbent district attorney and her handling of the case. Taking the stage at an election night party in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Willis celebrated what appeared to be a landslide victory in the primary. But she warned supporters not to be complacent. “The campaign does not end tonight. It begins tonight,” she said.

Associated Press - May 22, 2024

Palestinian state recognized by several European countries

Norway, Ireland and Spain have recognized a Palestinian state in a historic move. Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said on Wednesday it was coordinated with Spain and Norway, “an historic and important day for ... Palestine.” Several other European countries have in the past weeks indicated that they plan to recognize a Palestinian state, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region. The recognitions mark a significant accomplishment for the Palestinians, who believe it confers international legitimacy on their struggle, especially amid international outrage over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Hill - May 22, 2024

Giuliani, others plead not guilty to felony charges in Arizona election interference case

Rudy Giuliani pleaded not guilty Tuesday to nine charges he is facing in Arizona in relation to a case focused on efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state. Giuliani entered his not guilty plea remotely at an arraignment held in a courtroom in Phoenix. Numerous other individuals charged in the case, including former Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward, also entered not guilty pleas at their arraignments Tuesday. Giuliani’s trial is set to begin in October. It’s the second criminal indictment he is facing after being charged in the fall in Georgia in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’s probe into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in that state. He has pleaded not guilty to all those charges as well.

In Arizona, Giuliani was charged along with other close Trump allies last month with nine felony charges, including counts of conspiracy, fraud and forgery. All 18 defendants in the case are accused of promoting false claims of voter fraud to try to convince state officials to reject President Biden’s victory in Arizona. The other defendants in the case include the 11 individuals who signed documents asserting that they were the legitimate electors in the state and that Trump had won, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn and attorneys Jenna Ellis, John Eastman and Christina Bobb. Mike Roman, the director of Election Day operations for Trump’s 2020 campaign, was also charged. Arizona officials had struggled to track down Giuliani for weeks after the charges were filed to serve him the summons to appear, but he was eventually served Friday following his 80th birthday celebration.

Kaiser Health News - May 22, 2024

High price of popular diabetes drugs deprives low-income people of effective treatment

For the past year and a half, Tandra Cooper Harris and her husband, Marcus, who both have diabetes, have struggled to fill their prescriptions for the medications they need to control their blood sugar. Without Ozempic or a similar drug, Cooper Harris suffers blackouts, becomes too tired to watch her grandchildren and struggles to earn extra money braiding hair. Marcus Harris, who works as a Waffle House cook, needs Trulicity to keep his legs and feet from swelling and bruising. The couple’s doctor has tried prescribing similar drugs, which mimic a hormone that suppresses appetite and controls blood sugar by boosting insulin production. But those, too, are often out of stock. Other times, their insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace burdens the couple with a lengthy approval process or an out-of-pocket cost they can’t afford.

“It’s like, I’m having to jump through hoops to live,” said Cooper Harris, 46, a resident of Covington, Ga., east of Atlanta. Supply shortages and insurance hurdles for this powerful class of drugs, called GLP-1 agonists, have left many people who are suffering from diabetes and obesity without the medicines they need to stay healthy. One root of the problem is the very high prices set by drugmakers. About 54% of adults who had taken a GLP-1 drug, including those with insurance, said the cost was “difficult” to afford, according to KFF poll results released this month. But it is patients with the lowest disposable incomes who are being hit the hardest. These are people with few resources who struggle to see doctors and buy healthy foods. In the United States, Novo Nordisk charges about $1,000 for a month’s supply of Ozempic, and Eli Lilly charges a similar amount for Mounjaro. Prices for a month’s supply of different GLP-1 drugs range from $936 to $1,349 before insurance coverage, according to the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. Medicare spending for three popular diabetes and weight loss drugs — Ozempic, Rybelsus and Mounjaro — reached $5.7 billion in 2022, up from $57 million in 2018, according to research by KFF.

Associated Press - May 22, 2024

Trump says he is open to restrictions on contraception before backing away from the statement

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he was open to supporting regulations on contraception and that his campaign would release a policy on the issue “very shortly,” comments that he later said were misinterpreted. The comments, made during an interview with a Pittsburgh television station, suggested that a future Trump administration might consider imposing mandates or supporting state restrictions on such highly personal decisions as whether women can have access to birth control. During an interview with KDKA News, Trump was asked, “Do you support any restrictions on a person’s right to contraception?” “We’re looking at that and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly,” Trump responded, according to a video of the interview that was briefly posted online before it was supposed to air, then taken down.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee was pressed in a follow-up question if that meant he may want to support some restrictions on contraception. “Things really do have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others,” Trump responded, before repeating that he would be releasing “a very comprehensive policy” on the issue. This is the first time Trump has suggested he would have a policy on contraception since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a national right to abortion two years ago, touching off political battles about aspects of reproductive rights, including contraception and in vitro fertilization. Responding later to media reports of his interview, Trump said on his social media platform Truth Social that he “has never and will never” advocate for restricting birth control and other contraceptives. Even so, the Biden campaign was quick to seize on the interview. “Women across the country are already suffering from Donald Trump’s post-Roe nightmare, and if he wins a second term, it’s clear he wants to go even further by restricting access to birth control and emergency contraceptives,” Biden-Harris spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said in a statement.

May 21, 2024

Lead Stories

New York Times - May 21, 2024

Trump’s reported fund-raising tops Biden’s for first time

Former President Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party out-raised President Biden and the Democrats last month for the first time in this election cycle, according to campaign officials, as Mr. Biden’s pace of fund-raising slowed significantly from March. Mr. Trump’s advisers have said privately that his campaign, together with the Republican Party and all of their affiliated committees, raised $76.2 million in April. The Biden campaign said on Monday evening that it had raised $51 million in April with the Democratic National Committee — which was just over half as much as they raised in March, and also a touch less than they raised in February. In filings with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, Mr. Biden’s campaign committee reported taking in $24.2 million in April, compared with $43.8 million in March.

Mr. Trump’s campaign still lags far behind in total cash on hand, the April filings show. Mr. Biden’s campaign ended April with $84.5 million on hand, holding roughly steady from the preceding month, while Mr. Trump’s campaign had $48 million in net cash on hand, up from $45 million in March. Mr. Trump had been widely expected to close the fund-raising gap with Mr. Biden once he secured the Republican nomination, because he can now raise money in tandem with the Republican National Committee, collecting checks of more than $800,000 per donor. Mr. Biden has been gathering such large checks for months with his party, building an overall war chest with the Democratic National Committee and their shared accounts of $192 million. The Biden operation’s cash on hand was flat month over month as the campaign invested in a series of offices across the battlegrounds, as well as an early advertising blitz.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2024

Sen. Ted Cruz unveils IVF protection bill as Democrats continue attacks over issue

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz unveiled a bill Monday to protect in vitro fertilization amid attacks from Democrats who say the strong abortion restrictions he supports put IVF access at risk. Cruz, R-Texas, introduced the bill with U.S. Sen. Katie Britt, a Republican from Alabama, where the state Supreme Court ruled in February that frozen embryos created through IVF are legally children. “IVF has given miraculous hope to millions of Americans, and it has given families across the country the gift of children,” Cruz said in a news release. “I’m proud to partner with Sen. Katie Britt to ensure that couples in Texas and across the country have the opportunity to be loving parents, by ensuring that IVF is fully protected at the federal level.” The proposal allows states to “ensure appropriate health and safety standards” for IVF services, Cruz said, but Medicaid funding would be blocked for states that enact an outright ban on IVF access.

Cruz’s challenger in the November election, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, panned the proposal as an attempt to obfuscate the senator’s record on reproductive health, including his support for Texas’ near-total ban on abortions. “Let’s be clear, Ted Cruz’s long-standing support for an extreme ban on abortion which is now threatening IVF is why we are here,” Allred said in a statement. “Cruz brags about his long record of working to take away reproductive freedom, including supporting extreme personhood legislation and opposing exceptions for rape, incest and unviable pregnancies.” Allred pointed to a pending Texas court case in which a divorced couple is arguing over whether their frozen embryos should be considered people under Texas abortion laws. The case is being closely watched for its implications about the future of IVF in the state. “When I am in the Senate, I will fight for Texans’ freedom and against this extremist ban that has gone way too far,” Allred said.

Associated Press - May 21, 2024

Judge blocks Biden administration from enforcing new gun sales background check rule in Texas

A federal judge has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a new rule in Texas that would require firearms dealers to run background checks on buyers at gun shows or other places outside brick-and-mortar stores. The decision by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, came before the rule had been set to take effect Monday. The order also prevents the federal government from enforcing the rule against several gun-rights groups, including Gun Owners of America. It does not apply to Louisiana, Mississippi and Utah, which were also part of the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs understandably fear that these presumptions will trigger civil or criminal penalties for conduct deemed lawful just yesterday,” Kacsmaryk said in his ruling. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declined to comment. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twenty-six Republican attorneys general filed lawsuits in federal court in Arkansas, Florida and Texas aiming to block enforcement of the rule earlier this month. The plaintiffs argued that the rule violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, doesn’t have the authority to implement it. The new requirement is the Biden administration’s latest effort to curtail gun violence and aims to close a loophole that has allowed unlicensed dealers to sell tens of thousands of guns every year without checking that the potential buyer is not legally prohibited from having a firearm. Kacsmaryk wrote that the rule sets presumptions about when a person intends to make a profit and whether a seller is “engaged in the business.” He said this is “highly problematic” for multiple reasons, including that it forces the firearm seller to prove innocence rather than the government to prove guilt. “This ruling is a compelling rebuke of their tyrannical and unconstitutional actions that purposely misinterpreted federal law to ensure their preferred policy outcome,” Gun Owners of America senior vice president Erich Pratt said in a statement Monday.

Market Watch - May 21, 2024

Elon Musk’s Tesla pay package assailed by shareholder group

New York City’s investment chief and other key investors are urging Tesla Inc. shareholders to vote against Chief Executive Elon Musk’s $56 billion pay package and the reelection of board directors Kimbal Musk and James Murdoch. Musk’s pay, voided in a Delaware court in January, does not serve Tesla TSLA, -1.41% shareholders, the group said in an open letter Monday. “Shareholders should not pretend that this award has any kind of incentivizing effect — it does not,” the letter said. “What it does have is an excessiveness problem, which has been glaringly apparent from the start.” Tesla shareholders will vote on the CEO package as well as the company’s re-incorporation in Texas and the two board members’ reelection.

The meeting is scheduled for June 13, with the company taking the unusual step of launching a website to urge shareholders to vote for its proposals. On Monday, Tesla also released a video urging passage of its proposals. Signees of Monday’s letter include Amalgamated Bank, Danish pension fund AkademikerPension, Nordea Asset Management, and United Church Funds, an investment firm mostly serving United Church of Christ churches and ministries, as well as New York City Comptroller Brad Lander. The letter also slammed Tesla’s board, saying that its “failure to curtail” Musk jeopardizes the Tesla brand. “Over the past few years, Elon Musk has dominated the headlines with his public fights with regulators, acquisition of Twitter, controversial statements on X, and his legal and personal troubles,” the letter said. There are “indications that the steady stream of negative Musk-related press coverage has led to a decline in the company’s reputation among consumers, which in turn is having a negative effect on Tesla’s bottom line.”

State Stories

Border Report - May 21, 2024

Pope Francis: Efforts to shut down Annunciation House are ‘madness’

Pope Francis weighed in on the State of Texas’ bid to shut down El Paso’s Annunciation House and end the work it does to help migrants during an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” news magazine show on Sunday night, May 19. The pope was asked about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to revoke the El Paso nonprofit’s registration and shut down its operations.

“That is madness, sheer madness to close the border and leave them there. That is madness. The migrant has to be received. Thereafter, you see how you’re going to deal with them. Maybe after you send them back, I don’t know. But each case ought to be considered humanely, right?” Pope Francis said. In a lawsuit initially filed back in February, Paxton contends that Annunciation House has encouraged illegal entry into the United States and in effect operates as a stash house. Annunciation House is “a volunteer organization that offers hospitality to migrants, immigrants, and refugees in El Paso,” according to the group’s website. Elected leaders around the El Paso region and leaders in the Catholic Church around the country have rallied to Annunciation House and defended its work in the past few months since Paxton filed his initial suit.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2024

Donald Trump returning to Dallas for campaign fundraiser

Days after he addressed the National Rifle Association convention at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, former President Donald Trump is returning to Dallas for a campaign fundraiser Wednesday. Proceeds from the fundraiser will go to Trump’s presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee and 41 state GOP parties but not the Texas party, according to seven people with knowledge of the event. There will be 16 hosts, including Dallas businessman Ray Washburne and his wife, Heather. Washburne served as president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. under Trump from 2017-19 and as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board for Trump. Other hosts include Dallas businessman Kenny Troutt and his wife, Lisa. Troutt is also owner of the 2018 Triple Crown winning racehorse Justify. Dallas businessman Kelcy Warren, who in the past has hosted Trump events, is also a host.

Another host is Dallas investor and GOP donor Doug Deason, who last year supported the presidential primary campaign of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. According to an invitation obtained by The Dallas Morning News, “Trump 47? couples are asked to give up to $844,600. The next level, co-chairs, must give $250,000 per person. An “attendee” gets in for $100,000. Trump has made numerous visits to Texas before and after his presidency. He held his 2024 campaign kickoff in Waco last year. On Saturday he told NRA delegates he would one day move to the Lone Star State. “I want to move to Texas and I want to retire in Texas,” Trump said.

Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2024

Critics of proposed Texas emergency abortion rules say they won't help doctors or patients

The Texas Medical Board’s attempt to clarify when doctors can legally perform emergency abortions falls short and could make working under the state’s near-total ban even worse, dozens of doctors, lawyers and patients warned during a public hearing Monday. The proposed rules, which the board unveiled in March, do not lay out a list of conditions or situations that warrant an emergency abortion. Instead, they restate existing legal definitions and require doctors to document diagnostic tests and other checks to show the abortion was necessary. In Texas, the procedure is allowed only to save the pregnant person’s life or preserve a “major bodily function.”

“These requirements, if enacted, will worsen the problem and lead to additional unintended adverse consequences for patients,” said Dr. Richard Todd Ivey, an OB-GYN from Houston. “Treatment should not have to wait for consultation with other physicians who may or may not be available or for results of diagnostic imaging and additional steps to be completed.” The hearing comes after two Austin lobbyists petitioned the board to clarify when doctors can terminate pregnancies amid a series of lawsuits alleging the state’s abortion ban is so unclear and the penalties are so steep that physicians are reluctant to act even in emergencies. Elizabeth Weller, of northeast Houston, told the board she was denied an abortion after her water broke early because she did not show enough signs of infection. Eventually, Weller brought in a Ziploc bag of her vaginal discharge as proof of the severity of her situation, and she was able to get the abortion.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2024

ACL Fest 2023 pumped nearly half a billion dollars into Austin economy, report says

In a city dubbed “The Live Music Capital of The World,” few events garner more attention or interest than the iconic Austin City Limits Music Festival. Since 2002, the event has been a financial juggernaut that vendors, bars and restaurants have leaned on for an end-of-year boost in business. According to the latest data from C3 Presents, the entity behind the festival and an affiliate of international concert giant Live Nation, the 2023 iteration took the event to new heights as its economic impact reached never-before-seen numbers. From total economic impact to sizable charity donations, here’s everything to know about how important ACL Fest was for the Austin economy in 2023.

According to the report, produced by Angelou Economics, last year's ACL Fest once again proved how economically influential it is. The event contributed $499.9 million to the Austin economy — this is equivalent to 3,766 full-time jobs, according to the report. Since the festival began tracking its economic impact in 2006, ACL Fest has generated over $3.5 billion for the local economy. The report equated this to retaining 35,967 jobs for Austin employees. Moreover, C3 presents the festival — which shuts down Zilker Park for roughly a month each year — in conjunction with the nonprofit Austin Park Foundation. Last year's iteration of the event generated $8.1 million towards Austin park improvements, the largest contribution the festival has ever made to the foundation. According to the report, ACL-goers spent $111.5 million on food and beverages and $53.9 million on hotels. The festival paid $28.1 million to artists and performers.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2024

Austin region sees uptick in April home sales; median price holds steady, new report says

As the housing market continues to improve at a time of higher interest rates, the Austin region has registered the highest year-over-year increase in home sales this year. That's according to the latest monthly report the Austin Board of Realtors released Monday. The board said the median sold price held steady in April. Half the homes that changed hands across the Austin region sold for more than $469,998 and half for less, for a 1.1% increase in the median closing price. The five-county region extends from Georgetown to San Marcos, covering Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

Across the Austin region, sales were up 5.9%, with a total of 2,708. That's the highest monthly increase in homes sold this year compared with the same month a year ago, the board said. Like markets across the country, this area has seen its housing market cool substantially with the continued rise in mortgage interest rates since 2022. However, the latest data points to a "sense of confidence and optimism in the housing market among both homebuyers and sellers," board officials said in a news release. "Despite the higher rate environment, the uptick in affordable inventory in the $300,000 range is allowing more first-time buyers to achieve homeownership," said Clare Losey, the board's housing economist. "As we progress through the year, mortgage rates are expected to remain elevated with a slight possibility of a gradual decrease, which would result in an increase in buyers’ purchasing power.” As with the Central Texas region as a whole, both home sales and the median price for which those houses sold were up within Austin's city limits. Sales in Austin leaped by double digits — 33.2% with 992 sales— and the median price of those sales was up 6% from April 2023, to $593,500.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2024

Pricey toll fee means less cardiac rehab for Keller man

Shane Hardin quit going to necessary cardiac rehab because his tollway bills were piling up. Hardin, a 46-year-old construction manager and father of two teenage girls who lives in Keller, rushed into emergency quintuple bypass surgery on Nov. 17, 2021, after a routine angiogram revealed several arteries clogged by at least 70% and one by 90%. Once home, immediately after surgery, his routine included harried early morning drives on the TEXpress lanes to cardiac rehab in Euless three times a week. Then he had to head to work in Flower Mound.

The cost of the rehab trips on Interstate 35W to Interstate 820 to State Highway 121 North varied, depending on how congested the free lanes were, Hardin recalled. But he wanted to make it to rehab and still make it to work on time. He admits he was confused by the changing costs on signs ? sometimes they seemed to flip from one moment to the next. After several months of rehab trips from late November to April, he reviewed his credit card statement and was shocked. He calculated that he had been charged $750 in tolls. That meant his cardiac visits shot up to more than $3,500, including tolls, rehab and doctor appointments. “Oh my God, that’s like $40 to $50 a day on tolls,” he said. Hardin counts himself fortunate that he paid his tolls with a credit card. Had his toll tag been connected to his family’s checking account, it might have wiped them out.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2024

Dallas’ poverty-fighting CitySquare out of funding and will close at year’s end

Dallas nonprofit CitySquare — for decades a leader in the battle against poverty and homelessness — has run out of money to do its work and will go out of business at year’s end. In an interview Friday with its leaders, I learned CitySquare will devote the rest of 2024 to transferring its many programs, which serve 27,000 people annually, to other neighborhood providers. CitySquare also expects to turn over its Opportunity Center campus, across Interstate 30 from downtown, to another operator as a hub for poverty-fighting organizations. “We didn’t have the time we needed to really right the ship,” said CEO Annam Manthiram, who arrived in late August in hopes of creating a new identity for CitySquare. “We kept thinking fundraising would come back early this year and thought the brand was stronger than it was.”

CitySquare’s long-time visionary was Larry James, a champion of the poor who in 1994 became head of the fledgling Central Dallas Ministries, as the nonprofit was originally known. James grew the operation into a powerhouse responsible for many good works in Dallas — permanent and temporary housing, food resources, health care and job creation. He also educated policymakers and led anti-poverty efforts at the behest of elected officials. CitySquare was synonymous with James, perhaps too much so. Once he moved from his CEO job to a board seat in 2021, community members who long supported his work also began to move on. Ongoing cuts in operating costs, staff and programming in the last year or so haven’t kept up with the “millions of dollars decline” in giving, said board chair Lewis Weinger. Weinger and Manthiram told me CitySquare’s prospects were further hurt by a lack of financial transparency to the board and donors after James’ retirement and by “culture-workplace issues.” They said they could not provide details of those issues because of HR considerations. This month, the leadership team and board decided the best outcome for the neighbors who rely on CitySquare’s services was to go public with plans to cease operations and enlist partners to take over the work at year’s end.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2024

Following T.C. Broadnax, two top Dallas city officials to take roles with city of Austin

Two of Dallas' top-level city executives will soon be working at Austin City Hall with their former boss, T.C. Broadnax, the former city manager of Dallas who recently took on the same role in Austin. Jon Fortune, the deputy city manager of Dallas, will be the deputy city manager of Austin starting on June 10, according to a memo sent from Broadnax to Austin Mayor Kirk Watson and the Austin City Council on Monday. Genesis D. Gavino, the chief of staff for the city manager of Dallas, will begin as a special assistant to the Austin city manager on June 3. The deputy city manager role was created by interim City Manager Jesu´s Garza but remained vacant during his tenure, and the special assistant position is a newly created role, Michele Gonzalez, a city of Austin spokesperson, told the Statesman.

Fortune, according to Broadnax's memo which was obtained by the Statesman, has served as both the deputy city manager and assistant city manager overseeing public safety in Dallas. Before that he was an assistant city manager for the city of Denton for 17 years. "As Deputy City Manager, Jon Fortune will serve and function as the Chief Operating Officer, assuming critical responsibilities in the absence of the City Manager and will oversee the management and direction of city departments and organization-wide initiatives to help ensure the necessary alignment," Broadnax wrote in his memo. Gavino most recently worked as the chief of staff to the city manager in Dallas and as the city's resilience officer, according to Broadnax's memo. Before that, Gavino was the assistant to the city manager and chief of staff, according to her city of Dallas profile. She also worked for the city of Tacoma, Washington, as a system analyst. Prior to his joining Dallas as city manager, Broadnax was the city manager of Tacoma.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2024

Ken Paxton for U.S. attorney general? Here's what Donald Trump said about the idea

Former President Donald Trump reaffirmed his bond with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in Dallas on Saturday, floating the idea of the state's top attorney being a possible candidate for U.S. attorney general if Trump wins another term in the White House. During a one-on-one interview with Dallas Fox affiliate KFDW, Trump said he "would actually" consider Paxton for the cabinet position if he defeats President Joe Biden in the November general election. "He's very, very talented," Trump said of Paxton. "I mean, we have a lot of people that want that one and will be very good at it. But he's a very talented guy."

The comments came during the National Rifle Association's annual convention, which featured remarks from Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who campaigned for the former president's return to office. Trump and Paxton's relationship dates back several years, as Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have been some of the former president's staunchest allies in the Lone Star State. In discussing the potential for Paxton's future and possible transition to a federal government post, Trump referred to his effort in pushing against Paxton's impeachment last year after the Texas House overwhelmingly voted to remove him from office. In the lead-up to a Senate impeachment trial on 20 charges, including abuse of office and bribery, Paxton maintained his innocence while Trump took to social media to voice disdain for the proceeding, which he called a political witch hunt. After the Senate, largely along party lines, acquitted Paxton of all charges in September, Trump took credit for the outcome as a result of his social media intervention. "I fought for him when he had the difficulty, and we won," Trump said during the interview before taking the NRA convention stage. "He had some people really after him, and I thought it was very unfair. He's been a very good attorney general."

Washington Post - May 21, 2024

Mosquitoes are swarming around Houston. The future could bring even more.

Standing in his neatly manicured front yard in this Houston suburb, Mitch Varley stopped for a moment and slapped his right arm. Did he get the mosquito in time before it bit? Not that it matters, really, because there will be another. “If you open the car door to go somewhere, you’ve got 10 mosquitoes inside,” said Varley. The native Texan has lived north of Houston, in Montgomery County, since 2015 and said he’s never seen mosquitoes this bad. “I’d like to get rid of them, but with all this rain that we’ve had, what are you going to do?” he said. After flood-inducing rain pummeled much of Texas over the past few weeks, another sort of inundation is now swamping the Houston region: Mosquitoes. Lots of them. More than many longtime residents can ever remember.

On Thursday, another powerful storm swept through the area, downing trees and power lines, and leaving more than 900,000 residents without power at one point. Mosquitoes have always thrived around Houston. Because the area’s landscape is relatively flat, many streets are lined with ditches to capture and drain stormwater into a network of bayous or slow-moving rivers that feed into Galveston Bay. Along those routes, there are plenty of nooks and crannies that make for ideal mosquito breeding grounds. But “as it gets warmer earlier, we see a larger amount of mosquitoes earlier,” said Max Vigilant, director of mosquito and vector control in Harris County, where Houston is located. “We are getting hotter temperatures earlier.” As the world gets warmer and — in many areas — wetter, scientists worry that human-caused climate change may turn more places into perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Higher temperatures often make the pests hungrier for human blood and allow them to expand their territory. Increased rainfall gives them more pools of standing water in which to procreate. Many types of mosquitoes wait for just this moment to spring to life.

Baptist News Global - May 21, 2024

T-shirts send a message about gun violence

Churches across Texas are participating in a campaign to raise awareness about gun violence and build coalitions focused on its prevention. Texas Impact designed its Vidas Robadas — Spanish for “Taken Lives” — project to connect university and church-based advocates through the installation of memorials featuring hundreds of colorful T-shirts emblazoned with the names of gun violence victims and crisis hotline numbers. The project already is under way in some congregations and will continue in others until a final installation in front of the Texas statehouse during the next legislative session early next year. The initiative included a May 18 T-shirt installation and demonstration outside Dallas City Hall to coincide with the National Rifle Association’s annual convention held nearby in Downtown Dallas over the weekend. Ministers and members of First United Methodist Church of Dallas, Lakewood United Methodist Church, Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, Northaven United Methodist Church and Wilshire Baptist Church brought portions of their Vidas Robadas displays to the center to memorialize gun violence victims and advocate for meaningful gun safety policies.

The demonstration, which included Moms Demand Action and Giffords Gun Owners for Safety, was intended “to hold the NRA accountable and to focus especially on youth gun violence,” said Bobby Watson, Texas Impact policy advocate. “We have extreme gun proliferation in the U.S., and these guns aren’t going to go anywhere, but we know there are a lot of Texans who support reasonable reforms,” he said. “We want to help re-instill the idea of responsible gun ownership and safe storage to reduce accidental shootings and teen suicides and to reduce gun thefts from cars.” “We’re not coming after your guns,” Heather Mustain, associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church, said about the downtown demonstration and the overall message of Vidas Robadas. “This is a conversation and an experiential opportunity to connect our hearts with what we see going on with gun violence. It humanizes these issues and enables us to talk about reforms that can make a difference.” While some Texas churches already have hosted and taken down their displays, others are ongoing, Wilshire members were invited on a recent Sunday to stay after Sunday morning worship to make the T-shirts that will be installed May 26 to June 10 in a place visible from a major street outside the church.

Baptist News Global - May 21, 2024

Baylor updates its motto after 173 years

Baylor University has updated the school motto that has not been changed since 1851. Regents of the Waco, Texas, university with Baptist roots voted last week to add two words to the Latin motto that is inscribed on the official Baylor seal, on class rings and on the medallion worn by the president during commencement exercises. Not to mention embedded in the floor of the main administrative building in terrazzo. For 173 years, the Baylor motto has been Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana, Latin for “For Church, For Texas.” Now the motto will carry an additional Latin phrase, Pro Mundo, meaning “For the World.”

“Now that Baylor has risen to a Christian Research 1 university, we have an opportunity to shine God’s light around the world and serve others in even more significant ways,” said Baylor President Linda Livingstone. “Our world is becoming increasingly complex and challenging, and we must lead in emerging fields and remain competitive in academics and athletics. Baylor brings an important Christian perspective to help solve grand challenges, particularly at the intersection of health and engineering. Our students will always remain our top priority, and we must prepare them to lead now and into the future in an ever-changing global environment.” Regents also heard reports on the school’s Give Light fundraising campaign that has surpassed its initial goal of $1.1 billion and will conclude with more than $1.5 billion raised. The university’s $2.1 billion endowment now ranks among the top 5% of all U.S. endowments.

City Stories

Smart Cities Dive - May 21, 2024

How cool pavement, heat risk data are helping a Texas city prep for summer

To target its heat mitigation efforts, San Antonio plans to use the findings from heat-related research projects it launched last year and shared in a May 9 news release. The city partnered with the University of Texas at San Antonio to measure neighborhoods’ urban heat vulnerability, a measure that combines heat, income and race factors. The city will use the data to inform its ongoing heat response strategy. Other research projects tested the effects of three different cool pavement treatments deployed on city streets. Cities are becoming increasingly concerned about the public health impacts of extreme heat as climate change turns up the thermostat in communities worldwide.

With San Antonio’s summers getting hotter and heat-related illness on the rise, “it’s critical that we direct resources to those most in need of relief,” San Antonio Chief Sustainability Officer Doug Melnick said in a statement. The heat vulnerability study results are shown on an online heat map, allowing residents to explore the data for their neighborhoods. Its separate findings on the effects of cool pavement provide concrete evidence of the product’s effectiveness in reducing surface temperatures, the city said. San Antonio says it was the first Texas city to use the water-based asphalt treatment, which reflects more sunlight and absorbs less heat than untreated pavement. From its initial effort in 2021, it has since expanded the effort to treat sections of roadway in all 10 city council districts. SealMaster’s SolarPave, the product that most reduced surface temperatures, resulted in an average reduction of 3.58 degrees Fahrenheit, the city said. The largest reduction in surface temperature compared with fresh asphalt was 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The other products tested were Pave Tech’s PlusTi and GAF Streetbond’s Durashield.

National Stories

NBC News - May 21, 2024

Senate Democrats revive bipartisan border security bill as GOP vows to block it again

Senate Democrats plan to force a vote Thursday on the bipartisan border security package that Republicans blocked this year, an attempt to flip the script on immigration politics, a major vulnerability for President Joe Biden. The legislation, negotiated by Republican and Democratic senators, is designed to reduce border crossings, raise the bar for migrants to qualify for asylum and quickly turn away those who fail to meet it. It empowers the president to shut down the border if certain triggers are met. If it becomes law, it would be the most sweeping set of migration restrictions in decades. Biden has endorsed the bill. But former President Donald Trump helped kill the legislation earlier this year and Republicans say they will block it again.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., notified members on the floor about the Thursday vote, calling it "the strongest, most comprehensive border security bill we've seen in a generation." “This week, Republicans will get another chance to do the right thing,” Schumer said Monday. “Most people agree the status quo cannot continue. Our southern border is in desperate need of more resources, and our immigration system is in serious need of repair.” “All those who say we need to act on the border will get a chance this week to show they’re serious — serious — about fixing the border,” Schumer added. “We’re going to need bipartisan support if there’s any hope of getting this bill done.” It will require 60 votes to advance and is expected to fail because of overwhelming Republican opposition.

CNBC - May 21, 2024

Trump Media reports $770,500 revenue for first quarter, net loss of $327.6 million

Trump Media & Technology Group, the parent company of Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform, disclosed a net loss of $327.6 million in the first quarter of the year, with total revenue at $770,500, according to its earnings report, filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The report is one of the first measures of the company’s true financial health since it debuted as a public company on the Nasdaq Stock Market in March after completing a merger with a shell company, Digital World Acquisition Corp. DJT shares were relatively flat in post-market trading following the release of the earnings report, which had not been highly publicized prior. The stock was down 5% at market close, with a share price of $48.

Since going public, the DJT stock has whipsawed on what experts say is a meme stock trajectory, sometimes rising or falling dramatically, without any significant news to account for the swing. TMTG CEO Devin Nunes said the company is exploring “a wide array of initiatives and innovations to build out the Truth Social platform including potential mergers and acquisitions activities” in a statement on Monday. “We are particularly excited to move forward with live TV streaming by developing our own content delivery network, which we believe will be a major enhancement of the platform,” Nunes added. In April, the company announced that Truth Social would launch a TV streaming platform in three phases, the first for Android, iOS, and Web. The second would roll out as stand-alone apps for phones, tablets and other devices. The last phase would launch for home television.

CNN - May 21, 2024

Trump’s new trade war would cost middle-class families at least $1,700 a year, report warns

Former President Donald Trump’s trade agenda amounts to a tripling-down of the trade war he waged during his first term in office. Not only has Trump called for a 60% tariff on all Chinese goods, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee has said he would impose a tariff of at least a 10% on all $3 trillion worth of US imports. While Trump has championed aggressive tariffs as a way to protect working-class Americans, new research suggests they would do the opposite. Trump’s unprecedented trade proposals would inflict “significant collateral damage on the US economy,” costing consumers at least $500 billion a year, or 1.8% of gross domestic product (GDP), according to a paper published Monday by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

That’s nearly five times the total cost as a share of GDP from the 2018-2019 US-China trade war. Trump’s tariff proposals would cost the typical middle-income household at least $1,700 a year, the researchers found. “These policies are more likely to hurt than help the lower- and middle-income Americans they purport to benefit,” authors Kimberly Clausing and Mary Lovely, senior fellows at the Peterson Institute, wrote in the paper, titled “Why Trump’s Tariff Proposals Would Harm Working Americans.” The paper stresses that the $1,700 hit to the typical family is just the minimum impact, as the estimate does not include damage from foreign retaliation, slower economic growth and lost competitiveness. The authors warn the actual impact could be twice as high.

Wall Street Journal - May 21, 2024

FDIC Chairman Martin Gruenberg to resign following report detailing sexual harassment at agency

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Martin Gruenberg bowed to pressure to resign from the bank regulator after an external investigation found widespread sexual harassment at the agency and lawmakers of both parties berated his leadership. In an email to staff Monday, Gruenberg said he would resign once a successor had been confirmed, avoiding a scenario that would leave FDIC Vice Chairman Travis Hill, a Republican, as the agency’s acting chairman. “It has been my honor to serve at the FDIC as Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Director since August of 2005,” Gruenberg wrote to staff, according to an email reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “In light of recent events, I am prepared to step down from my responsibilities once a successor is confirmed.” He said he would continue to fulfill his responsibilities in the meantime, “including the transformation of the FDIC’s workplace culture.”

Vox - May 21, 2024

What the death of Iran’s president could mean for its future

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi died Sunday in a helicopter crash, a shocking turn of events that immediately raised questions about the Islamic Republic’s future. In the short term, Raisi’s passing is unlikely to alter the direction of Iran’s politics. But it does remove one possible successor to 85-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In the long term, Raisi’s unexpected death may prove more consequential. The question of Khamenei’s succession is increasingly urgent because of his advanced age. Though Iran’s president can be influential in setting policy, the Supreme Leader is the real seat of power, controlling the judiciary, foreign policy, and elections.

Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian’s helicopter made a hard landing sometime on Sunday in Iran’s mountainous northwest, where weather conditions made travel difficult and dangerous. Iranian state media announced the deaths of the two politicians and six others onboard, including three crew members, on Monday after rescue teams finally reached the crash site. The deaths of both Raisi and Amirabdollahian come at a time of internal and external challenges for the Iranian regime. A harsh crackdown after the widespread protests of 2022 and significant economic problems domestically have eroded the regime’s credibility with the Iranian people. Internationally, Iran is embroiled in a bitter regional conflict with Israel as well as a protracted fight with the US over its nuclear program. In the near term, the first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, will be the acting president as the country prepares to hold elections within the next 50 days as dictated by its constitution. (The Iranian government includes vice presidencies overseeing different government agencies, similar to US Cabinet-level secretaries; the first vice president is roughly equivalent to the US vice president.)

New York Times - May 21, 2024

U.S. seeks to join forces With Europe to combat excess Chinese goods

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Tuesday that the United States and Europe needed to work together to push back against China’s excess industrial capacity, warning that a wave of cheap Chinese exports represents a grave threat to the global economy. Ms. Yellen’s remarks, delivered during a speech in Germany, highlighted what is expected to be a central topic of discussion when the Group of 7 finance ministers meet in Italy this week. “China’s industrial policy may seem remote as we sit here in this room, but if we do not respond strategically and in a united way, the viability of businesses in both our countries and around the world could be at risk,” Ms. Yellen said at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, where she received an honorary doctoral degree.

China’s excessive production of green energy technology has become a pressing trans-Atlantic concern in recent months. Officials in President Biden’s administration have grown increasingly worried that his efforts to finance domestic manufacturing of clean energy and other next-generation technologies will be undercut by China, which is churning out steel, electric cars and solar panels at a rapid clip. The Biden administration is now looking to Europe to help the developed world prevent the kind of China shock of the early 2000s, which helped decimate manufacturing in exchange for cheap goods. Last week, Mr. Biden increased tariffs on some Chinese imports, including levying a 100 percent tax on electric vehicles. He also formally left in place levies on more than $300 billion worth of Chinese goods that President Donald J. Trump had imposed. The United States hopes that a united front will convince China that its largest trading partners are prepared to erect trade barriers that will prevent Chinese electric vehicles, batteries and panels from dominating Western markets.

Politico - May 21, 2024

Prosecutors rest their case in Trump’s hush money trial

Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial rested their case against the former president Monday, bringing an end to more than four weeks of testimony from witnesses they’ve called in their attempt to convince the jury that he orchestrated a scheme to cover up a payment to a porn star. The conclusion of the case from the Manhattan district attorney’s office moves the trial one step closer to determining whether Trump will become a convicted felon as he runs for president as the presumptive Republican nominee. Though Trump is indicted in three other criminal cases, the chances that any of those will go to trial before the November election have dwindled in recent weeks. In the Manhattan case, Trump’s team will now have a chance to call their own witnesses and introduce their own evidence. Trump is not obligated to call any witnesses, and the extent of his defense remains unclear.

His lawyers have signaled they may call at least one expert witness on campaign finance laws, but the judge sharply limited what that expert can testify about. And they have left open the possibility that Trump himself might testify — a significant risk for a defendant with questionable credibility and a history of doing himself no favors on the witness stand. Prosecutors rested their case at the conclusion of their final witness, Trump’s former “fixer,” Michael Cohen, who testified for four days. Cohen told the jury about what he described as Trump’s direct approval of and involvement in falsifying business records to mask a $130,000 payment Cohen made on Trump’s behalf to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election. The hush money silenced Daniels’ claim that she had sex with Trump a decade earlier. During the prosecution’s case, jurors also heard from Daniels herself, as well as from several other key witnesses. David Pecker, the former CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, testified that he struck a deal with Trump in August 2015 to help Trump’s presidential campaign by publishing flattering stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents, and by executing a “catch and kill” operation to suppress potentially damaging stories about Trump.

Boston Globe - May 21, 2024

State parties play a critical role in elections — are Democrats or Republicans best positioned in 2024?

As both political parties look for every advantage they can find in the lead up to the high-stakes November election, Democrats appear to be gaining on less-noticed turf: state party organization. Republican state parties in several critical battleground states are dealing with waves of inner turmoil, ranging from leadership turnover to financial struggles. Meanwhile, Democrats are confident their state parties are all rowing in the same direction after making a point in recent years of prioritizing them after electoral losses that left Republicans in control of many state legislatures. In interviews with more than a dozen political observers and players — including several state party chairs in key swing states — a striking contrast emerged in the way state parties have reacted since Donald Trump rose to power. And in an election year that is likely going to be decided on the margins, the ground game those state parties are responsible for overseeing could be one of the deciding factors.

“[State parties are] the essential building blocks to victory,” said Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “In this moment, Democratic state parties, especially in battleground states, are vibrant, energized and focused, and we’re watching Republican state parties fall apart.” That’s evident in the highest ranks of these state parties: In Florida, a red state, the former GOP party chair was ousted in January after he was accused of sexual assault; he denied wrongdoing and ultimately didn’t face criminal charges. In Arizona, a swing state, the former party chair resigned and accused Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake of giving him an “ultimatum” that led him to do so; Lake’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. In Nevada, another swing state, several Republicans involved in the state party, including the party chair, have been charged in a fake electors case related to the 2020 election results. They have pleaded not guilty and will not stand trial until next year. But the difference between Democrats’ and Republicans’ state parties is also playing out in their finances. A Globe review of Federal Election Commission records showed that as of March 31, Democratic state parties in Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and Nevada — key battleground states — are outraising Republicans; in Florida, Republicans are outraising Democrats. Most of those Democratic state parties also had more cash on hand during the same period. Those federal records don’t capture the entire picture of the state parties’ finances, but they provide insight into which parties are best positioned to spend in the months before Election Day.

May 20, 2024

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2024

Amy and Steve Bresnen: Clarify abortion rules

(The Bresnens are Austin lobbyists.) When we petitioned the Texas Medical Board for rules to protect pregnant women who would suffer death or major bodily harm in the absence of an abortion, we expected the agency to give physicians the guidance they, legislators and the Texas Supreme Court have called for. Instead, the board’s proposed rules published April 5 will make things worse for patients and doctors. And they will deprive women of the right guaranteed by the Legislature to make their own informed decisions about critical health care issues. The only exception to Texas abortion ban allows an abortion when, in a physician’s “reasonable medical judgment,” a pregnant female’s condition threatens her life or major bodily functions. No one disputes the board’s legal authority to adopt rules to clarify this broad legislative language. Physicians have denied critical care to many patients because the current exception is vague and imposes 99 years in prison, $100,000 in fines, loss of medical licenses and endless litigation if someone claims after-the-fact that a doctor got it wrong.

Even folks who do not share our views on abortion have stated publicly that physicians are genuinely fearful and denying care as a result. While we believe the law was working for women and their doctors before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision repealed abortion rights, the agency rules we requested would not restore Roe vs. Wade. We had faith the board would do the right thing, believing the least Texas would do is value women enough to clearly allow an abortion if their lives depend on it. Charitably, the board’s proposed rules simply repeat current statutes and require certain documentation if an abortion is performed, giving little or no guidance to doctors before an abortion. One board proposal indicates a physician may transfer a patient to another provider without her consent to avoid an abortion, even if her doctor has diagnosed a condition that could kill her or rob her of a major bodily function, including her fertility. This proposed rule is contrary to the law. It will delay critical care as patients’ conditions worsen, unnecessarily push abortions later into pregnancy and cause patients to be dumped on other providers, leaving them to face the legal risks of making decisions. The proposal puts doctors in an adverse relationship with their patients, clearly not the Legislature’s intention. The board should make absolutely clear that at the moment a doctor’s diagnosis finds her life or bodily functions are threatened, the patient has the right to consent to an abortion or such other care she deems in her best interest. She may decide to delay her decision or go somewhere else, but the choice is hers.

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2024

Cy-Fair, Spring Branch ISDs to keep schools closed Monday, HISD closes 54 campuses

Hundreds of thousands of people remained without power Sunday afternoon, the fourth day after Thursday's storm that left at least seven dead. Hot weather blankets the region as the City of Houston opens cooling centers for those without air-conditioning, while residents await updates on how outages and storm damage will affect school and business operations in the week ahead.

Approximately 240,000 customers remained without power as of late Sunday evening, according to CenterPoint Energy. That’s about 25% of those who experienced outages after Thursday's severe storm. CenterPoint said it hopes to restore an additional 10% of those affected by storm-related outages by Monday evening. The utility has made “significant progress” towards its goal of fully restoring power by Wednesday evening for customers whose own equipment isn’t damaged, according to its 9:30 p.m. Sunday statement. Houston ISD released its final list of schools that will be closed Monday following last week's devastating storm. Fifty-four schools will be closed due to a lack of power, air conditioning or food service, the district announced around 10 p.m. Sunday. The other 220 HISD campuses have "adequate power, working air conditioning, and the necessary food service to serve students on Monday" and will be open. Some schools that HISD previously planned to open are no longer able to offer those necessities and will have to close, the district said.

Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2024

Travis County has the highest rate of fentanyl deaths in Texas. Why is Austin a hot spot?

Lisa Wheeler struggled to sleep. She tossed and turned and finally woke up at about 8 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2022. Following her normal routine, she went upstairs to wake her 17-year-old son, Spencer. She opened the door and saw him lying in bed, his mouth and eyes open. She leaped on top of him and cried out: “Spencer! Spencer! Spencer! Wake up!” He didn’t. She rushed downstairs. Snatched her phone. Grabbed Narcan. Then called 911 and dashed back upstairs. Following the paramedics' instructions, she heaved Spencer off the bed to start performing CPR. Then she administered Narcan, a life-saving medicine that, if taken soon enough, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. But it was too late. Spencer died that day. The cause of death: a pill laced with fentanyl.

Spencer is one of hundreds of Travis County residents who died of a fentanyl-related overdose in 2022 — a year that state data show the county had a significantly higher rate of such deaths than other Texas metro counties and began what appears to be a potentially disturbing local yearslong trend. For instance, Dallas County’s rate of these deaths that year was 7.26 per 100,000 people. Travis County’s was double at 14.56, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Preliminary state data for 2023 doesn’t indicate a substantial change in Travis County's rate of fentanyl deaths. The Travis County medical examiner’s office will likely present its data for 2023, which will include accidental drug deaths, to the Travis County Commissioners Court in the coming weeks. So far, 2024 isn’t showing too many signs of improvement either, as Travis County just saw the deadliest overdose outbreak in a decade with 79 overdoses in three days including nine deaths possibly caused by fentanyl. The American-Statesman spent months investigating why the county’s rate of fentanyl deaths is higher than that of other major counties in Texas, examining the issue with dozens of government leaders, advocates and family members who lost a loved one to fentanyl. Through dozens of interviews, the publication found no single cause of why the county’s fentanyl death rate is higher than other Texas counties. Experts cited the city’s party scene, county demographics and a lack of treatment resources as some of the reasons.

The Hill - May 20, 2024

Alarmed Democrats flee Biden’s ailing brand in battleground states

from President Biden’s ailing brand after polls show him trailing former President Trump in several battleground states. Democrats in tough races are breaking with Biden over border security, liquified natural gas exports, the Israel-Hamas war, and tariffs on Chinese goods. They’re staying competitive in the polls despite Biden’s low approval ratings and lagging position relative to Trump, but they are worried the president’s political brand will start weighing them down as Election Day nears. “If you go out there and do a focus group, the focus groups all say, ‘He’s 200 years old. You got to be kidding me.’ And the worst part about it is for unaffiliated voters or people that haven’t made up their mind, they look at this and say: ‘You have to be kidding us. These are our choices?’ And they indict us for not taking it seriously,” said a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to discuss the alarm sparked by Biden’s weak poll numbers in battleground states.

Polls have shown that 40 percent of registered voters in battleground states were not too satisfied or not at all satisfied with the candidates in the presidential election. The senator said Democratic colleagues “know this is a problem” but also realize it’s too late to do anything about it and that “this is the ticket we have to get behind and we have to win with this ticket.” “We’ll see how much gravity we can defy,” the lawmaker said of senators in tough races who are polling better than Biden. A second Democratic senator when asked about Biden’s poll numbers said that the president’s age is a persistent concern among voters. “Biden’s showing his age in ways weirdly more than Trump,” said the senator, who noted that Trump, who is 77, is only four years younger than Biden, 81. “People keep saying, ‘Why didn’t he take a pass he’s just so tired?’” the senator said of constituents who are baffled over Biden’s decision to run for a second term. “That is such a prevalent feeling.” Biden sometimes appears to walk stiffly or with a shuffling gait, which Republican-aligned critics love to point out in social media posts.

State Stories

KUT - May 20, 2024

Decades ago, UT Austin students camped out to save dozens of trees. Then police were called in.

Dozens of people protested on the UT Austin campus. Some of them slept there overnight. State and local police were called in to drag protesters away. There was a standoff. Twenty-seven people were arrested. “Arrest all the people you have to,” said the guy in charge. The confrontation didn’t happen in 2024, but 55 years ago. A huge construction project had been approved that would include building what’s now Bellmont Hall (along with a new upper deck at Memorial Stadium) and change the alignment of San Jacinto Boulevard as it passes the stadium. Many students first learned about the project in The Daily Texan, where a front-page headline on Oct. 8, 1969, read: “Pact OK’d For Stadium Enlargement.”

The project meant cutting down 39 trees along Waller Creek, which ran alongside San Jacinto. That’s where the trouble began. You could argue the stakes were lower then, but the response from university administrators was the same. “Unthinking support of one’s country's policies — whether right or wrong — is not patriotic,” UT government professor David Edwards told the attendees, according to the Daily Texan. All in all, it went peacefully. It was in that atmosphere that a group of students decided to stop the university from cutting down three-dozen trees to make way for an expanded stadium. On Oct. 20, the students stood along Waller Creek with signs that read, “Save our trees!” They blocked workers from getting to the trees for about an hour, until police showed up to shoo them away. Eight big trees were taken down. Still, the students came back the next day and again blocked construction workers from reaching the trees. The next day, a group of about 85 students gathered at the University Union to discuss their plans. Time was running out; the construction company was in a hurry to cut down all the trees so it could stay on schedule. With the help of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the students filed for a restraining order to stop construction, but it would take time. “We want as many as can be down on the creek tomorrow but be prepared to be arrested, suspended from the University and maybe even get your head busted if police are called to the scene,” the Daily Texan quoted one protester as saying at the meeting.

KXAN - May 20, 2024

RRISD police chief leaves, says district ‘delayed’ investigations

Round Rock ISD Chief of Police Dennis Weiner said in a letter to the district’s superintendent that he was leaving due to “delayed” investigations, including an alleged student sexual assault that happened last month. In his letter to the RRISD superintendent, Weiner began with the latest investigation involving a 5-year-old who was allegedly sexually assaulted on one of the district’s school buses on April 12. He said that while the bus driver witnessed the assault, they did not report it to police. Weiner said campus leadership reviewed the video, but police were still not notified. He said due to police not knowing about the incident, the victim was “subjected to additional trauma” by having to ride the bus to school on Monday morning.

KXAN - May 20, 2024

Two arrested at a pro-Palestinian demonstration, according to groups

Two people were arrested at a pro-Palestinian demonstration Sunday afternoon, according to groups who organized the event. Hundreds from all over Texas flooded Austin’s downtown to protest the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as the dozens of arrests that happened at pro-Palestinian demonstrations at UT Austin. Event organizers said the event was held Sunday to also commemorate the al-Nakba, or “the Catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 were displaced from what is now the Israeli state, according to the Associated Press. “We are here making a statement of mass support for Palestinians who are facing an ongoing genocide,” said Niveen Abtelwhed, with the Palestinian Youth Movement.

Dozens of Austin Police officers and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers lined the streets as protesters walked and chanted. Abtelwhed told KXAN they hoped to host the event on the Capitol Lawn but were unable to get a permit. Instead, people walked from the Texas State Capitol, down Congress Ave., through Austin’s downtown and back to the capitol. The walk was peaceful until the group passed the Texas Governor’s Mansion. There, dozens of DPS Troopers wearing protective gear formed a blockade around the building. Ultimately, two protesters were arrested. After the arrests, a group of people headed to the Travis County Jail to sit and chant. “We’ve been on the streets since October 7,” said Tori Ramirez, a protester from San Antonio who claims her boyfriend was one of those arrested. She said her boyfriend has attempted to de-escalate a conflict when he was detained by officers.

San Antonio Report - May 20, 2024

Incoming NEISD board to grapple with budget shortfall, book bans

Five trustees, including four new faces, were sworn into office for the North East Independent School District Board of Trustees this week — a changing of the guard for the seven-member panel, which conservative education groups targeted in all five electoral races earlier this month but were shut out. The politics of the district were on full display just one day earlier, as outgoing trustees heard from dozens of parents and community members about hot-button issues like inappropriate content in school libraries and a sex education curriculum that is still being edited. Outgoing trustee Steve Hilliard, who lost his seat in the election, requested both of those topics to be placed on the agenda for discussion during the first regular board meeting held by the new trustees.

Hilliard and the other outgoing trustees also agreed to give board-appointed members of the School Health Advisory Council until the end of June to complete a review and edit of the eighth-grade sexual education curriculum, which has been in the process since last year. Parents, community members and losing candidates spoke during public comment about the library books, which have been discussed on and off over the years as the board removed books for review in the past and refined a process for parents to challenge books for review or restrict certain books from being checked out by their children. The next day, David Beyer — the sole incumbent to be reelected — was selected as the new board president in a unanimous vote by the new board, taking the reins of a district that has seen its share of controversy in recent years, a trend that shows few signs of abating.

KERA - May 20, 2024

The NRA's convention offered everything from ‘cancel-proof banking’ to Texas-branded pistols

Crowds showed up en masse to the National Rifle Association's 2024 annual convention, undeterred by controversies surrounding the gun-rights group. Row after row, booth after booth of everything from high powered sniper rifles to “Cancel Proof” banking options were offered to NRA members. And on Sunday, the last day of scheduled events, the crowds flocked to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center to walk the over 14 acres of exhibitors. Old Glory Bank asks potential clients to “give America’s [2nd Amendment] bank a shot.” The group highlights its bank as one “that will never cancel you for exercising your constitutional rights.” Armed Citizens’ Educational Foundation volunteers handed out “What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know About Self-Defense Law” pamphlets — free of charge.

Among its chapters: "The High Cost of Self Defense", "The Affirmative Defense of Self Defense" and "When is Deadly Force Justified?" — which offers a creed to gun owners to consider that, if memorized and followed closely, "you should never be found guilty of a crime involving use of deadly force." And close by a company offers people walking past the chance to try a new virtual reality shooting system. Families with kids roamed the venue. One child laid down on a pile of ammo casings at a booth selling equipment to quickly — and efficiently — clean up spent rounds. Uniformed Dallas Police Department officers occasionally stopped to pick up a pistol or rifle. On one day of the event, crowds squeezed in around the Daniel Defense booth for a chance to win one of several guns in a prize drawing. The company sells high powered rifles, handguns and weapons accessories. Hopeful attendees on Sunday, gathered near the two-story Silencer Co. convention display where a sales rep shouted into a bullhorn, announcing the beginning of a weapons giveaway. Sig Sauer, a company originally founded as a wagon factory in Switzerland in 1751 and later turned weapons manufacturer, touted hunting rifles, shotguns, and special branded pistols.

Politico - May 20, 2024

Jasmine Crockett backs claim calling Marjorie Taylor Greene ‘racist’

Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) on Sunday defended her claim that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) comments toward her during a House committee meeting were “racist.” Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Crockett explained her remarks in response to Greene saying, “I think your fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading” during a committee hearing on Thursday. “MAGA has historically been on social media doing the things where they’re saying, ‘Oh, she’s Black with lashes and nails and hair, and so she’s ghetto,’” Crockett told host Jake Tapper. “It is buying into a racist trope.” Women of all colors wear false eyelashes, Crockett said, but the issue was with Greene specifically targeting her. Crockett said that although she signed up to be a member of Congress, it didn’t mean she had to walk into a position where she was “disrespected.”

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2024

Mayor Whitmire applauds Houston's unity as it continues through post-storm recovery

Days after a severe storm swept through the region, causing widespread damage and at least seven deaths, Mayor John Whitmire took time at a Sunday news conference at Houston Emergency Center to applaud how Houstonians worked together amid the crisis. “Once again Houston demonstrated how special we are in terms of coming together,” Whitmire said. As the city moves through its recovery mode, Houston is still under a local disaster declaration, Whitmire said. The majority of the damage occurred in Northwest Houston, as well as in areas like the Heights and the central business district, he added.

The city’s main priority as it continues moving through recovery is energy. Whitmire said at the height of the storm, there were over 900,000 residents without power. That number has since fallen to under 300,000, and CenterPoint currently has thousands of employees working around the clock, Whitmire said. CenterPoint hopes to fully restore power throughout the city by Wednesday. While Houston ISD still has 56 schools without power, classes will be in session Monday, Whitmire said, and schools without power will be provided with food. Whitmire also encouraged residents with debris from the storm to place it curbside so city sanitation workers can start picking it up in the morning. Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department will conduct its Friday routes starting tomorrow.

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2024

Powerful Houston storm likely to lead to massive insurance claims — but estimates could take months

The deadly storm that hammered Houston on Thursday evening with hurricane-strength winds will likely leave insurance companies paying massive claims, though it’s too early to estimate of how much damage the storm caused. As of Friday afternoon, city and county officials had confirmed five deaths as a result of the storm, and roughly one-third of Harris County residents were still without power. In addition, many Houston-area residents were confronting serious damage to their homes, vehicles and other properties as a result of downed trees and flying debris. Storm survey teams from the National Weather Service said that downtown Houston was buffeted by winds of about 100 miles per hour, and it determined that in Cypress, the storm was a tornado. The Texas Department of Insurance says that totting up the damage will take months rather than weeks or days.

“TDI does not make damage estimates after weather events. We’ll have actual data of insured losses based on what insurance companies report to us, but that information is not available until about six months after an event,” Ben Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the agency, said. Further, he added, the reports from insurance companies will necessarily be incomplete: “That information will only address insured losses from claims. There may be many more times the amount of damage in uninsured or self-insured damage.” Previous storms have shown that to be the case: A 2011 impact report on September 2008's Hurricane Ike, prepared by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service put the total cost of that storm at $29 billion, with the total insured damages landing at about $12 billion, according to the Insurance Council of Texas. This week’s storm came as many Houstonians have been startled by sharp increases in their home or auto insurance premiums, partly as a result of the region’s exposure to such events.

Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2024

Bridget Grumet: Disabled advocates held a 44-hour vigil to speak to Gov. Abbott. He wouldn't meet

The block around the Governor’s Mansion was deserted around 9:30 p.m., apart from the half-dozen protesters who peeled off from the rest of the group at Lavaca Street. A few had flashlights. Three were in wheelchairs. Everyone assumed Gov. Greg Abbott was home for the night, tucked behind the white brick walls and black iron gates. So the question on the flyers that protesters posted Tuesday night — on walls, benches and sidewalks — was really a statement, an assertion that members of the disabled community felt abandoned by the state leader who should have the greatest empathy for their plight: “Where’s Gov. Abbott?” The flyers showed Abbott’s face with “Where’s Waldo?” attire. Red-and-white striped shirt. White knit cap. “You’ve got to have some fun,” said Cathy Cranston, a caregiver and one of the protest organizers, her focus never straying far from the difficulties facing hundreds of thousands of disabled Texans. “It’s so heavy.”

For eight years, members of the disability rights group ADAPT of Texas and their sister organization, the Personal Attendant Coalition of Texas, have been trying to get a meeting with Abbott, who uses a wheelchair. Their chief concern is the pitifully low pay for caregivers, which leaves some disabled Texans without the in-home care they need to prepare meals, use the bathroom, shower and handle other daily tasks so they can safely live at home. Danny Saenz, who gets a few hours of caregiver help on weekdays in his South Austin home, told me he sometimes sleeps in his wheelchair, especially during holidays or storms, when help might not reach him for a while. He also keeps protein bars and trail mix by his bed. “I have a phobia of being stuck in bed,” said Saenz, who has cerebral palsy. “I’m afraid no one will come get me up.” He and other protesters have been hoping for years that Abbott would hear them out. Undeterred, about 25 protesters from Austin and El Paso held a 44-hour vigil this past week across the street from the Governor’s Mansion. They stayed on the sidewalk, careful not to block it. They were out there from 1 p.m. Tuesday to about 9 a.m. Thursday. Even with staggered breaks, most folks got less than 2 hours of sleep each night, said Josue Rodriguez, an organizer with the Desert ADAPT group from El Paso. “We’ve waited a couple of years” for the governor’s response, he said. “What’s a couple of hours? It’s nothing.” Nearby, Austin ADAPT organizer Bob Kafka had a bright green poster taped to his wheelchair: “Gov. AbbottCome on outWe won’t bite”

KUT - May 20, 2024

Texas has the most uninsured kids in the U.S. A small Austin clinic wants to serve them.

When Jesus Jimenez brought his family into Lirios Pediatrics in April, it was just like any run-of-the-mill checkup. His 11-year-old son squinted at an eye chart, while his 12-year-old daughter stood straight and still as a nurse recorded her height. By the time they left, they’d also received standard school vaccines. The appointment was hard to come by. The Jimenez family is uninsured, and out-of-pocket costs for medical care can be prohibitive. But the kids needed vaccines for school. A neighbor told Jimenez that Lirios serves uninsured kids for free, so he made an appointment. “I don’t have the resources to pay for vaccines right now,” he said in Spanish. “Without them, they won’t let my kids learn.” Lirios is the passion project of Dr. Claire Hebner and Monica Simmons, a pediatric nurse. The two women opened the clinic in 2022 with a goal of serving children who “fall through the cracks” of Texas’ health care system. They believe it's the only free clinic in the state that exclusively serves uninsured children.

Simmons, who also serves as executive director of Lirios, said many of the families who end up at Lirios are motivated by school vaccine requirements, like the Jimenezes. Others want a prescription for a sick child. Whatever brings them through the door, Lirios budgets 45 minutes for an appointment that includes a standard physical exam. “Just like any pediatrician’s office, we're going to do their heights, their weights, their vital signs," Simmons said. "Make sure that they're growing, developing appropriately, that they can see, they can hear." What sets Lirios apart is the staff’s attention to other needs that might present. Some patients struggle to get enough food, so they’re sent home with a week’s supply and connected with a food bank. There’s a closet with bags of clothes and hygiene kits. Lirios also has donated drugs on hand so folks don’t need to make a trip to the pharmacy. A mental health counselor is available, too. “We try to give them some resources that will help them be OK today,” Simmons said. Around 854,000 Texas children were uninsured as of 2022, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families. These accounted for 22% of uninsured children in the United States. Since opening its doors in December 2022, Lirios has served more than 1,000 of those kids. “When we first started, there were several people that said, ‘Why are you doing this? It’s not needed. Kids have health care,’” Simmons said. “There’s a lack of awareness about the children that are falling through that gap.” Children from low-income families in Texas do often qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Travis County residents can also apply for the Medical Access Program, a benefit offered by the public hospital district Central Health that's intended for people who are low-income but don’t qualify for Medicaid.

Daily Mail - May 20, 2024

GOP Rep. Beth Van Duyne breaks her silence on love affair with married Georgia Republican Rich McCormick

Glamorous GOP Rep. Beth Van Duyne broke her silence on love affair with married Georgia Republican Rich McCormick, confirming that they are 'happily engaged in a relationship.' DailyMail.com exclusively revealed the pair had developed a particularly cozy relationship just as McCormick and his wife have filed for divorce. Footage from the March 7 State of the Union address shows McCormick stroking Van Duyne's arm, and sources say this is commonplace for the seemingly smitten pair. They've been caught arriving at and leaving late night events together, and multiple eyewitnesses have seen the pair holding hands just off the House floor. Van Duyne told DailyMail.com Friday that Rich and his wife are both 'incredible people' and his marriage has been 'over for quite some time.' 'His marriage has been over for quite some time as I understand it, he's filed for divorce.' 'I'm single. We're both parents of adult children and empty nesters. We are happily engaged in a relationship and beyond that it's a personal issue.'

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 20, 2024

Billionaires loom large in North Texas House Republican races

Two Texas billionaires are looming large in North Texas elections, even if you aren’t seeing them. West Texas oilmen Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, both major Republican donors, have waded into a number of North Texas legislative races, including ones that are in primary runoffs May 28 (early voting is May 20-24). Together they’ve spent at least $7.8 million to help elect their lawmakers of choice. Their involvement, direct or indirect, is drawing ire from Republican candidates on the receiving end of the criticism. The candidates say Wilks and Dunn, through groups they support, are flooding voters with false information about their conservative credentials. “I’m not going to be bought like that, and I think they want candidates that they can control so they can control the Legislature,” said DeWayne Burns, a Cleburne Republican who is seeking reelection.

A complex web of groups and candidates are backed by Dunn and Wilks. At the top of the list, perhaps, are Defend Texas Liberty PAC and Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC, which have spent upwards of $3.7 million this election cycle. “They’ve got the money and they’ve got the ear of many conservative Republicans,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor. “That’s a recipe for success in primaries that tend to have a small number of very active and partisan constituents.” Over the past decade the two billionaires have helped push Texas to the right by backing lawmakers who have advocated bills on guns, transgender issues and school vouchers. Their influence can be both overstated and understated, said Jim Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor. Concerns over border security, fight over school vouchers, the influence of Donald Trump and recent scandals around Attorney General Ken Paxton add layers to what has been a heated primary season. “There are a whole bunch of dynamics working together in Republican Party politics in Texas, and one of them of course is the contributions of Dunn and others,” Riddlesperger said. “But there are many other factors as well.” Republicans have held every statewide office since 1998.

KXAN - May 19, 2024

Texas Memorial Museum debuts new name, renovations this fall

After a year’s worth of renovations, the Texas Memorial Museum is set to reopen to the public in stages beginning this fall — as well as debut a new name. The Texas Memorial Museum has changed its name to the Texas Science and Natural History Museum. After announcing “extensive renovation” work last November, the facility is slated to reopen to the public in September. Some of the improvements to the museum include building upgrades like “roof repairs, revitalization of foundational exhibits, installation of new exhibitions and features, and improvements that will allow for hosted events,” per the museum’s website. Amid announcements of the planned upgrades last fall, the University of Texas at Austin called it “the most extensive renovation in decades.” The historic museum, located off Trinity Street, was originally built in the 1930s and allows visitors to learn more about the natural world along with scientific discoveries made in Texas.

County Stories

KUT - May 20, 2024

Travis County will turn family's ranch into 1,500 acres of public parkland

Travis County commissioners plan to add about 1,500 acres to the county’s wilderness parklands, protecting the pristine land from development and setting it up as a future destination for hikers and bicyclists. The $90 million deal to purchase a privately-owned ranch in southwest Travis County was made possible by voters passing a bond proposition last November and landowners willing to sell at a discounted price. Travis County Commissioner Ann Howard said the undeveloped land, located between State Highway 71 and Hamilton Pool Preserve, is like the “gateway to the Hill Country." The land has creeks running through it and is filled to the brim with cedar and oak trees, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush and local wildlife.

KXAN - May 20, 2024

Williamson County years away from getting medical examiner, county looking at other options

Booths filled the Williamson County Exposition Center as job seekers looked for opportunities. On a Saturday in April, businesses came together at the job expo and business fair. Among the crowd three of the four Williamson County Justice of the Peace judges could be heard talking about health, court and deaths.

“I do more than just marry people,” Judge Rhonda Redden, Williamson County Justice of the Peace in Precinct 4, said. “We do small claims, evictions, truancy, we handle criminal cases.” The judges explained it was a chance to connect with those they serve and share not only ways to stay healthy due to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes but also talk more about their roles on the bench and outside the courtroom. “If somebody dies in Williamson County we are the ones that determine cause and manner of death and then sign the death certificates,” said Judge Evelyn McLean, Williamson County Justice of the Peace in Precinct 3 to a couple who had stopped by to say hello. The county doesn’t have a medical examiner, so the four Justice of the Peace judges handle deaths under Texas law. “It’s the population that has just gotten so big. And there’s a lot of deaths that are happening,” McLean said to KXAN investigators.

City Stories

KUT - May 20, 2024

Austin cuts minimum lot size by more than a third, requiring less land to build a home

More homes, less lawn. This was the pitch made by Austin City Council members Friday when, for the first time in 80 years, they voted to lower the amount of land needed to build one house. The change allows property owners to build a home on as little as 1,800 square feet of land. This is a far cry from Austin's long-held minimum lot size, which required at least 5,750 square feet of land per single-family house. "Creating giant, giant lots where everybody sprawls out ... we're all trying to solve that problem," Council Member Paige Ellis said before the vote. The change, led by Mayor Pro Tem Leslie Pool, was dubbed HOME (Housing for Mobility and Equity) Phase 2. Supporters of reducing minimum lot size hope it can entice property owners to build additional homes on their lots or carve up and sell off land. It has been marketed as both a way to build more homes in central neighborhoods and for current homeowners to create additional income.

National Stories

Associated Press - May 20, 2024

Many remember solid economy under Trump, but his record also full of tax cut hype, debt and disease

It was a time of fear and chaos four years ago. The death count was mounting as COVID-19 spread. Financial markets were panicked. Oil prices briefly went negative. The Federal Reserve slashed its benchmark interest rates to combat the sudden recession. And the U.S. government went on a historic borrowing spree — adding trillions to the national debt — to keep families and businesses afloat. But as Donald Trump recalled that moment at a recent rally, the former president exuded pride. “We had the greatest economy in history,” the Republican told his Wisconsin audience. “The 30-year mortgage rate was at a record low, the lowest ever recorded ... 2.65%, that’s what your mortgage rates were.” The question of who can best steer the U.S. economy could be a deciding factor in who wins November’s presidential election. While an April Gallup poll found that Americans were most likely to say that immigration is the country’s top problem, the economy in general and inflation were also high on the list.

Trump may have an edge over President Joe Biden on key economic concerns, according to an April poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. The survey found that Americans were more likely to say that as president, Trump helped the country with job creation and cost of living. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said that Biden’s presidency hurt the country on the cost of living. But the economic numbers expose a far more complicated reality during Trump’s time in the White House. His tax cuts never delivered the promised growth. His budget deficits surged and then stayed relatively high under Biden. His tariffs and trade deals never brought back all of the lost factory jobs. And there was the pandemic, an event that caused historic job losses for which Trump accepts no responsibility as well as low inflation — for which Trump takes full credit. If anything, the economy during Trump’s presidency never lived up to his own hype. Trump assured the public in 2017 that the U.S. economy with his tax cuts would grow at “3%,” but he added, “I think it could go to 4, 5, and maybe even 6%, ultimately.” If the 2020 pandemic is excluded, growth after inflation averaged 2.67% under Trump, according to figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Include the pandemic-induced recession and that average drops to an anemic 1.45%.

Politico - May 20, 2024

Trump claims he wants to testify at his trial. No one else thinks he should.

On the eve of his criminal trial, Donald Trump told reporters in Florida that he would take the stand and testify if necessary. “All I can do is tell the truth,” Trump proclaimed. That boast is about to be put to the test, as Trump and his defense team decide in the coming days whether to present him as a witness. But among legal experts and even Trump’s political allies, there’s already a unanimous verdict: He would be a fool to testify. His Republican backers say the New York trial is a sham and prosecutors haven’t proven their case — so why bother? Former prosecutors say he would open himself up to all sorts of damaging questions, from whether he had sex with porn star Stormy Daniels to alleged fraudulent business practices and inquiries about his honesty that could be political and legal landmines.

And several pointed to the simple fact that he’s Donald Trump. “He’s somebody who’s not controlled, who is going to be all over the place,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst. As Trump’s historic criminal trial winds down, with closing arguments delivered as soon as next week, one of the biggest questions remaining (besides the jury’s verdict) is whether the former president will take the stand in his own defense. While there may be some political benefits to Trump testifying, including boasting to his supporters that he wasn’t afraid to tell his side of the story, the legal risks, many say, are too high. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a former attorney and close Trump ally who attended the trial last week, said, speaking generally, that it’s tough “especially if you have a loquacious client.” “They want to respond to everything and that’s not always the best thing,” he said. “Quite frankly, there are times where you look at it and say, ‘There is no benefit to a client testifying.’”

Washington Post - May 20, 2024

Judge Merchan faces critical decisions as Trump’s trial nears its end

It’s almost time for the judge to instruct the jury. New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan is approaching a critical juncture in Donald Trump’s hush money trial, one that has tripped up more than a few judges over the years and provided an avenue for defendants to successfully appeal a conviction: the jury charge. His instructions, given after closing arguments that could come by Tuesday, will be a critical part of the jury’s effort to understand the logic of the prosecution’s case — that falsifying business records constituted felony election interference. In the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president, it is up to Merchan, a judge for 18 years, to decide how to clearly lay out the legal questions the jury must resolve.

Both sides will supply proposed instructions. Some will come from standardized language devised by the New York courts, but others will be specifically worded to define exactly what the jury must find to convict Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee in this year’s presidential election. It will fall to Merchan to adopt a suggestion from either side for each instruction, use a standardized version, or write one himself if necessary. “Jury instructions do have an outsized impact on a trial,” said Renato Mariotti, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor in Chicago who has been closely following the trial. “Because the jury is going to look at the evidence, and then they’re going to map that evidence to the instructions. Trials are won and lost in the word of specific jury instructions.” Merchan, 61, has shown an easy confidence in making quick, decisive rulings, even as Trump and his supporters have publicly questioned his impartiality and tried to draw him deeper into the type of political maelstrom that judges typically work hard to avoid.

NBC News - May 20, 2024

Michael Cohen returns to witness stand as decision on Trump testimony in hush money trial looms

Michael Cohen will return to the witness stand in a New York courtroom for a third day of cross-examination by Donald Trump's lawyers Monday in what could be the final day of testimony in the first criminal trial of a former president. One possibility that could lengthen the trial would be Trump's taking the stand in his own defense. Trump said before the trial began that he would "absolutely" testify. He has softened that position since then, and his attorney Todd Blanche told the judge when they were last in court Thursday that he didn't know yet whether Trump would take the stand. Court wasn't in session Friday so Trump could attend his son's high school graduation. Blanche questioned Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, all day Thursday and part of Tuesday, pressing him about inconsistencies in some of his past claims about Trump and his admitted falsehoods on Trump's behalf over the years.

"That's a lie!" Blanche barked at Cohen at one point, after he challenged him about his account of having spoken to Trump on the phone at a specific time about the hush money agreement he'd struck with adult film actor Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the 2016 election. Cohen had testified earlier that he'd gotten ahold of Trump through Keith Schiller, his bodyguard, at 8:02 p.m. Oct. 24, 2016, to “discuss the Stormy Daniels matter and the resolution of it.” Blanche confronted Cohen with a text message he'd sent Schiller at 7:48 saying, "Who can I speak to regarding phone calls to my cell and office, the dope forgot to block one of them." Schiller responded with a text saying "call me" at 8:02, which Cohen did immediately. Blanche noted that the call lasted 96 seconds and that at 8:04 p.m., Cohen texted Schiller the phone number of a 14-year-old he’d complained had been prank calling him. Blanche suggested the actual purpose of the conversation was to talk about the teenager. "You were actually talking to Mr. Schiller about the fact that you were getting harassing phone calls from a 14-year-old, correct?" Blanche asked. "Part of it was the 14-year-old, but I know that Keith was with Mr. Trump at the time and there was more than potentially just this. That's what I recall based upon the documents that I reviewed," Cohen replied, adding he believed he "was telling the truth" about the timing.

NBC News - May 20, 2024

Iranian President Raisi is confirmed dead in helicopter crash

The Iranian flag was flying at half mast at the Islamic Republic’s embassy in central London on Monday, hours after President Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash was confirmed. Things were quiet around the embassy, with virtually no police presence as tourists milled about across the road in London’s iconic Hyde Park on a warm, sunny morning. Leaders from around the Arab world including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have offered their condolences to Iran. Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad said Raisi's death in a helicopter crash made him “a martyr in the redemption of duty.” Lebanon, home to Iran-backed militant group, Hezbollah, declared an official mourning period of three days. First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 68, has been named interim president until new elections are held within 50 days.

NBC News - May 20, 2024

America's largest LGBTQ rights group plans $15 million swing state blitz to re-elect Biden

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ rights group in the United States, is launching a $15 million commitment to help Democratic President Joe Biden defeat Republican Donald Trump in the 2024 election. The spending blitz, shared first with NBC News, will cover the six key battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. The group says it will include paid ads, staff hires, field campaigns and events in those states, which are poised to decide who wins the presidency and Congress. And after crunching the numbers, the organization sees warning signs in the form of soft support for Biden in the 2024 electorate.

HRC estimates that this year there will be 75 million “equality voters” — who vote based on support for LGBTQ rights — up from 62 million in 2020 and 52 million in 2016. But the group says one-third of them aren’t a lock for Biden. In the six key swing states, hundreds of thousands are “at risk of not voting,” and another group of hundreds of thousands of voters are what HRC refers to as “double doubters” who will likely defect to a third party, according to data HRC shared with NBC News. HRC President Kelley Robinson said those uncertain voters could make or break Biden’s re-election bid. “This group of voters, when you break them down by state, can actually make the difference. In a state like Arizona, where President Biden won it by about 10,000 votes, you got 1.4 million equality voters,” Robinson said in an interview. “This is a powerful constituency, a powerful community. It’s our job to make sure that they have the tools that they need to show out to the polls. So we’re going to be knocking on doors, making phone calls, engaging every member that we’ve got to make sure that our people turn out.”

Wall Street Journal - May 20, 2024

U.S. Education Department wasn’t equipped to manage FAFSA system overhaul, leaving contractors scrambling

The Education Department was already more than a year behind schedule on rolling out the new Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Then, last October, staffers were alerted to a major oversight: The formula for determining aid didn’t account for inflation. The system had to go live in December. But the inflation adjustment was mandated by law, and the Education Department was facing mounting criticism that students could lose out on crucial financial aid. By early December, the Education Department began planning to make the update, but work still didn’t begin in earnest for a few more weeks.

The delay, which hasn’t been previously reported, exemplifies the troubled effort to overhaul the Fafsa, which serves as a gateway to billions of dollars in college scholarships, grants and loans. Chaos reigned in the months leading up to the launch, and the system was plagued with glitches and data errors once it went live. The impact has been devastating, delaying the timeline for students to commit to colleges and deterring some from applying for scholarships at all. The Education Department has received more than 9.7 million forms so far, down 13% from a year ago. The problems were plentiful, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. Among the largest failings: The government opted against hiring an outside manager to coordinate the sprawling project, after underestimating how tough it would be to revamp the Fafsa system. More than a dozen times, the Education Department issued memos fixing its own prior instructions to contractors.

May 19, 2024

Lead Stories

CBS News - May 19, 2024

Garrett Foster's family speaks out on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to pardon Daniel Perry

Garrett Foster's family is speaking out about the Gov. Abbott's decision to pardon Daniel Perry, who was convicted of murder after a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Austin. "I think they're using my dead child to make a political statement," said Garrett's mother, Sheila Foster. Her heart still aches nearly four years after losing her son. Garrett was a 28-year-old Air Force veteran when he joined Black Lives Matter protesters in Downtown Austin in the summer of 2020, along with his fiancé Tiffany. Daniel Perry was an Army sergeant who had posted on social media that, "I might have to kill a few people on my way to work, they are rioting outside my apartment complex."

Perry made the post shortly before he ran a red light and drove into the crowd of protestors. Foster, who had an assault rifle strapped over his shoulder, was shot and killed when he approached the car driven by Perry, who also had a gun. A Travis County jury found Perry guilty of murder and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. On Thursday, Gov. Abbott approved a full pardon of Perry recommended by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles saying, "Texas has one of the strongest 'Stand Your Ground' laws of self-defense and cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive district attorney...I will use my constitutional authority to override his leftist policies when needed." Perry was immediately released from prison and Foster's mother received a phone call at her home in rural Collin County.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2024

Texas has added 306,000 jobs since last April, new estimates show

Texas employers have added 306,000 jobs over the last year. The state’s year-over-year 2.2% growth rate outpaces the national rate by 0.4 percentage points. April marked Texas’ 37th consecutive month of positive annual job growth, according to new estimates from the Texas Workforce Commission. That includes 42,600 nonfarm jobs added across the state in April.

“Texas continues to set economic records as employers add jobs across industries,” said TWC Chairman Bryan Daniel. “TWC is working to improve programs and services to support our state’s ongoing success.” Texas’ seasonally adjusted civilian labor force grew by 37,000 people, reaching a new high of 15,226,800. It included adding 32,500 employed Texans in April. The jobless rate dropped across all of the state’s metropolitan statistical areas, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Midland area saw a 0.4 percentage point drop in unemployment, positioning it as the area with the lowest unemployment rate at a not seasonally adjusted rate of 2.2% in April.

Washington Post - May 19, 2024

Austin and San Francisco bar facial recognition tech. Police still found ways to access it.

As cities and states push to restrict the use of facial recognition technologies, some police departments have quietly found a way to keep using the controversial tools: asking for help from other law enforcement agencies that still have access. Officers in Austin and San Francisco — two of the largest cities where police are banned from using the technology — have repeatedly asked police in neighboring towns to run photos of criminal suspects through their facial recognition programs, according to a Washington Post review of police documents. In San Francisco, the workaround didn’t appear to help. Since the city’s ban took effect in 2019, the San Francisco Police Department has asked outside agencies to conduct at least five facial recognition searches, but no matches were returned, according to a summary of those incidents submitted by the department to the county’s board of supervisors last year.

SFPD spokesman Evan Sernoffsky said these requests violated the city ordinance and were not authorized by the department, but the agency faced no consequences from the city. He declined to say whether any officers were disciplined because those would be personnel matters. Austin police officers have received the results of at least 13 face searches from a neighboring police department since the city’s 2020 ban — and have appeared to get hits on some of them, according to documents obtained by The Post through public records requests and sources who shared them on the condition of anonymity. “That’s him! Thank you very much,” one Austin police officer wrote in response to an array of photos sent to him by an officer in Leander, Tex., who ran a facial recognition search, documents show. The man displayed in the pictures, John Curry Jr., was later charged with aggravated assault for allegedly charging toward someone with a knife, and is currently in jail awaiting trial. Curry’s attorney declined to comment. But at least one man who was ensnared by the searches argued that police should be held to the same standards as ordinary citizens.

Stateline - May 19, 2024

Housing boom in most of the US could ease shortage, but cost is still a problem

The United States has added almost 5 million housing units since 2020, most heavily in the South and most of them single-family homes, making a housing shortage look conquerable in much of the nation. Still, even more homes need to be built — especially single-family homes, experts say — and continuing high interest rates are hurting potential homebuyers. Almost half of the housing increase from April 2020 to July 2023 came in six states: Texas, Florida, California, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, according to a Stateline analysis of U.S. Census Bureau estimates to be released Thursday. That mirrors America’s post-pandemic moving patterns to plentiful suburban housing in Texas and Florida, but also California’s persistent push for more apartments in resistant areas across the state.

Housing experts caution that the supply has still not caught up with demand even after another good year for home construction in 2023. Last year produced the most housing units since 2007. “One Good Year Does Not Solve America’s Housing Shortage” was the title of a Moody’s Analytics report in January, which found single-family homes in particular remain in short supply. Moody’s estimated a shortfall of about 1.2 million single-family homes and 800,000 other units, noting that home sales had slowed since reaching all-time-high prices in 2022 as interest rates climbed and made purchases even more unaffordable. The National Association of Realtors, in a February report, offered a higher housing shortage estimate of about 2.5 million units, mostly single-family homes. Most of the new housing units in recent years have been single-family homes, according to a separate U.S. Census Bureau construction survey through the end of 2023. Production of new single-family homes reached more than 1 million annually in 2022 and 2023 for the first time since the housing bubble burst in 2007, according to the survey.

San Antonio Express-News - May 19, 2024

Money crunch: San Antonio school districts scramble to pay teachers as state funding stagnates

Nearly a year after approving the highest starting teacher salary in Bexar County, trustees for the Judson Independent School District were looking for ways to slash a record projected deficit, a daunting roadblock to even modest pay raises. They realized at a recent budget workshop that they had no good options. Among the bad ones: asking voters to approve a property tax rate increase. “We’d have to move quickly,” Superintendent Milton Fields said in raising the possibility. “If that’s not something the board is interested in, I won’t bring it up again.” Nobody closed the door on it. Trustee Monica Ryan predicted that such an election would fail but noted that “everything is on the table.”

School districts across Texas have been forced to consider similarly unpleasant cost-cutting or revenue-boosting measures to deal with stagnant state funding, ongoing competition for teachers, inflation and the rapid evaporation of federal pandemic and Medicaid reimbursement dollars. Trapped between the need to tighten belts and the need to spend enough to address staffing shortages and comply with new state mandates, San Antonio-area school systems are drafting and debating high-deficit budgets. Northside ISD, the area’s largest school system, with over 100,000 students, is considering a 2% raise for employees that would hike its expected deficit to nearly $99.5 million in the coming fiscal year. Higher operating costs have forced districts to dig deeper into their reserve funds, including Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, which has seen a nearly 260% increase in the cost of substitute teachers since 2019. Spokesperson Ed Suarez said the district had difficulty retaining substitutes when campuses reopened after the pandemic and had to contract with ESS, an education staffing company, to fill those gaps.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2024

Death toll from devastating Houston-area storms rises to 7

Paul Garza wanted to see for himself where his sister-in-law was killed. From the street in the 7100 block of Avenue O, he could see the toppled tree that fell on Christin Martinez’s vehicle. The hatch was still open showing a stroller for her months-old baby. The mother of four rushed outside during the storm to move their only vehicle, often used to ferry the children, he said. “She was a good mom,” Garza cried. “She was just being considerate. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Martinez is one of seven people who died across Houston on Thursday evening that police were investigating in connection with the sudden and severe storm that tore through the region. Two came when trees fell on vehicles, a third when a crane fell on top of a cement truck and a fourth with an undetermined cause of death, according to Christopher Hassig, commander of the Houston Police Department's homicide division. Representatives of the sheriff's office on Friday provided details on three deaths they're investigating that might also be connected to the storms. Martinez’s husband heard the tree crack amid the high winds but it was too late to save her. “The tree was on the truck,” Garza said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 19, 2024

Donald Horton, founder of nation’s largest home builder, dies

Donald R. Horton, who built his first home in 1978 in Fort Worth and grew his company into the nation’s largest homebuilder, died Thursday, Arlington-based D.R. Horton announced Friday. He was 74. David V. Auld, the company’s executive vice chairman, has been appointed by the board to serve as executive chairman, effective immediately, the company said in a statement. “It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my friend and our Company’s iconic founder and Chairman, Don (“DR”) Horton,” Auld said in the statement. “Throughout the Company’s 46-year existence, he worked tirelessly to build a national homebuilding operation with a strong company culture, and the impact of his personal involvement with our team of operators across the United States has contributed immeasurable value to our company and people.”

Over the years, Horton maintained a “decentralized strategy” for operational decisions, allowing local leadership teams to make business decisions including product offerings, price points and home features, according to the company’s statement. He traveled extensively to visit D.R. Horton’s operations where he made it a point to meet everyone in the sales offices. Horton founded a summer camp for employees’ children for them to spend time outdoors and he also formed the D.R. Horton Foundation to help employees impacted by natural disasters. Diane Nix Kessler, president of the Greater Fort Worth Builders Association, recalled meeting Horton in the late 1980s. “I feel like a piece of my family is gone,” she said. Nix Kessler said Horton was a true pioneer and “lived” his dream of creating a national homebuilding company. She described how Horton organized seminars and training opportunities for his employees, which contributed to his success.

Dallas Observer - May 19, 2024

Rowlett kills its DEI commission

Rowlett’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Commission is officially dead after a vote by the city’s council last week. Previously, there was talk about merely changing the name of the commission because some felt DEI was too divisive. Instead, the council decided to do away with the commission. The item on the agenda that led to the action was a resolution to adopt the amended city of Rowlett Boards and Commissions Handbook. Cty Council member Debra Shinder moved to delete the DEI Commission from the handbook altogether. “The vote on this amendment is not about supporting or not supporting the ideas and the ideals of diversity and inclusion,” Shinder said at the May 7 meeting.

“It's not about whether the city should serve the members of its diverse population equally. Of course, we should and we must. It's not about whether we should make all of our citizens feel included in all of our city programs and events. Of course, we should and we will. It's not about whether we should issue proclamations recognizing different groups, or not hold events celebrating our unique cultures and ethnicities and identities. It's about how we go about doing that as we move forward.” She said diversity and inclusion are fundamental elements of human decency that should motivate the city and provide guiding principles for all of its boards and commissions and not be the special purview of just one body.

Hyperallergic - May 19, 2024

The complex legacy and uncertain future of Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum

Texas is often derided as an ultra-conservative state. This is undeniably true, but it is also an oversimplification. Because of its location in the South and along the United States-Mexico border, Texas is the second most diverse state in the nation. Despite its political leanings and history of violent policies against immigrants and people of color, or perhaps because of these things, the state has a long history of activism and community organizing. Within the arts, this translates to artists of color creating venues to support artists, arts professionals, and communities of color. Culturally specific art galleries and museums emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, with institutions such as New York’s El Museo del Barrio spurred on by the energy of the Civil Rights movement. In Texas, the Mexic-Arte Museum is the longest-standing institution dedicated to Mexican, Latinx, and Latin American art.

Established in Austin in 1984 by artists Sylvia Orozco, Sam Coronado, and Pio Pulido, Mexic-Arte has been an incubator for hundreds of Latinx artists and cultural workers. Though the past four decades have shown why spaces like Mexic-Arte are essential, the organization has faced hardships that bring into sharp focus the other side of the coin concerning culturally specific institutions. Compared to predominantly White institutions, they are often underfunded, under-resourced, and over-scrutinized. And despite its legacy, Mexic-Arte has been housed in a dilapidated building for decades and, more recently, has faced allegations of discrimination. Orozco met Coronado while studying at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) in the 1970s. As one of few students of color in the art department, Orozco found that her professors pushed students to make abstract works rather than murals, figurative paintings, and other forms of art that explicitly addressed social and political issues. UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies was founded in 1970 and student organizations like the League of United Chicano Artists (LUChA), Mujeres Artistas del Suroeste (MAS), and Chicano Art Student Association (CASA) were prevalent, and Orozco and Coronado were among the students demanding more Chicano literature and art courses.

Construction Dive - May 19, 2024

Fluor-led JV breaks ground on $700M Interstate 35 expansion in Texas

While private-led projects struggle with lingering headwinds, shovels on public projects are still able to turn dirt. That rings especially true on the I-35 corridor, one of the most traveled interstates in Texas. Lone Star Constructors, a joint venture between Fluor and Austin Bridge & Road, a Coppell, Texas-based road construction company, broke ground Thursday on phase one of its I-35 Northeast Expansion South project in San Antonio, Texas, according to Fluor. “Phase one of the I-35 NEX South project builds on Fluor’s more than two decades of work helping the Texas DOT improve safety and vehicular mobility across the state,” said Shawn West, president of Fluor’s infrastructure business. “This project reinforces Fluor’s commitment to delivery quality infrastructure and supports economic development and commerce in Texas.”

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2024

Can indicted South Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar survive corruption charges?

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas insists he has no intention of stepping down since being indicted on federal charges accusing him of taking nearly $600,000 in bribes. “No, no, no, no, no,” Cuellar told reporters asking if he was contemplating resignation after the indictment was announced May 3. “Everybody’s innocent until proven otherwise and we are going to continue doing our job.” He stood by that position last week after it was revealed federal prosecutors have secured guilty pleas from three people in connection with the case against him. He and his wife, Imelda Cuellar, are accused of participating in schemes involving bribery, illegal foreign influence and money laundering. Cuellar denies the allegations.

The federal indictment alleges the Democrat from Laredo accepted almost $600,000 in bribes to advance the interests of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan and a bank in Mexico. The most serious charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. Former top Cuellar aide Colin Strother and political consultant Florencio Rendon are cooperating with the federal investigation, according to plea agreements filed in March. Strother’s attorney declined comment. Rendon’s attorney said he could not immediately comment. The Associated Press reported last week that a third person pleaded guilty May 1 in Houston federal court to acting as an agent for Azerbaijan without registering with federal officials. CNN confronted Cuellar on Capitol Hill about the guilty pleas, but the Texan said he isn’t going anywhere. “We’re not afraid of the truth,” said Cuellar, who is on the November ballot as he seeks an 11th two-year term. Other politicians have won reelection with pending indictments, including Ken Paxton, Texas’ Republican attorney general.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2024

Damascus James: Texas prisons are hell on Earth

(Damascus James is publisher of texasletters.org.) I have friends in hell. They send me pain-soaked letters every month that feel like a punch to the gut. They are some of the rawest and truest letters in the world because they come from a place devoid of hope. This veritable inferno is solitary confinement in Texas — bathroom-sized cells of isolation where the condemned spend 22 to 24 hours a day. More people spend three years or longer in solitary in Texas than in every other state and the federal prison system combined, according to a 2022 report from the Correctional Leaders Association and the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law at Yale Law School. More than 500 people have endured this torture for a decade or longer in the Lone Star State, despite the fact that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture has called for an end to the practice worldwide, and that many European countries are moving away from it.

In Norway, solitary confinement is almost never used, or else tightly restricted to eight hours. Unsurprisingly, violence is rare. The dehumanizing impact of such treatment has long been known stateside, dating back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s tour of a New York prison that practiced an early experiment in isolation. The French statesman and author remarked, “this absolute solitude, if nothing interrupts it, is beyond the strength of man. ... It does not reform, it kills.” Solitary confinement has never been shown to decrease prison violence, and researchers have found that it leads to higher recidivism rates while also being the setting for a disproportionate number of prison suicides. But Texas takes pride in being tough on crime. As the state with the largest prison system in America (the most incarcerated country in the world) and the capital of death row where executions have far outnumbered every other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, it’s a place that perpetuates the belief that prisons are a bulwark of public safety and perhaps justice. Having now written to, visited and befriended dozens of people in solitary confinement for nearly half a decade, including those on death row, long-held assumptions about public safety and supposed justice have been actively dismantled for me, unhinged from the braggadocious brand of muscular authoritarian government which Texas runs red hot on.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2024

Republicans in Fort Worth-area congressional runoff clash over who is a true conservative

Fort Worth businessman John O’Shea and state Rep. Craig Goldman identify many of the same conservative goals: secure the country’s borders, cut federal spending, reduce government regulations and protect the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. But they differ sharply on who has demonstrated dedication to the cause as they compete in the May 28 primary runoff for the 12th Congressional District, which includes western Tarrant County and most of Parker County. O’Shea criticizes Goldman for votes he has taken in the Texas House, including his support for impeaching Attorney General Ken Paxton. “The impeachment of our attorney general was in coordination with the Democrats,” O’Shea said during a debate last month. “There was not a single Republican voter I know of who was calling for the ouster of our attorney general. In fact, he was our ‘America first’ fighter who was pushing back on this unconstitutional government that was infringing upon and encroaching on our rights.”

Goldman expressed no regrets about his vote to impeach Paxton and stood by what he describes as a strong conservative voting record. He has attacked O’Shea for missing many elections since 2000. “He didn’t even take the time to show up to vote when it mattered most,” Goldman said. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, has represented the district since 1997 but did not seek reelection. Goldman and O’Shea were the top two finishers in the March Republican primary, with Goldman receiving 44% and O’Shea 26% of the vote. Early voting for the runoff is May 20-24. The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Trey Hunt, a homeless housing coordinator, in November. Political handicappers view the district as likely to remain in Republican control. Goldman has a significant financial advantage, raising just shy of $1.9 million through the end of March, when he had more than $600,000 in the bank. O’Shea had raised about $300,000 and had $29,000 in the bank.

Fort Worth Report - May 19, 2024

Fort Worth jumps to No. 12 in population, poised to overtake Austin

Fort Worth’s growth propelled it to become the 12th largest city in the country, according to new census numbers, indicating Cowtown will overtake Austin within the next year. The newly released U.S. Census numbers show the city had the second-largest population gain nationwide in 2023, with over 21,000 new residents. Only San Antonio’s growth outnumbered Fort Worth with almost 22,000 new residents in the Alamo City. This addition of new people who now call Cowtown home has inched the city closer to the 1 million population mark. Census numbers show Fort Worth behind Austin by about 2,000 residents.

Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer and director of the Texas Demographic Center, said while there are many factors behind this growth, a lot of it can be pointed to economic development efforts. “There’s jobs being created in Fort Worth, and there still is a fair amount of land within the city limits that can be developed as residential,” Potter said. “It really has to do with economic opportunity, but also with the availability of housing and the price of housing as well. I think probably other elements that kind of drive growth is quality of life and quality of schools.” While Fort Worth and San Antonio saw large population gains last year, Denton also placed in the top 15 cities with the greatest gains. Almost 8,000 people moved to Denton in the past year. In comparison, large urban hubs like Dallas and Austin did not rank on the list of growing cities. Potter says numbers actually show a downward trend in population for both cities.

Fort Worth Report - May 19, 2024

Texas House District 97 Democratic runoff election to be decided May 28

Two candidates in southwest Fort Worth face off in a May 28 runoff election to determine the Democratic Party nominee in the race for Texas House District 97. The runoff pits Carlos Walker, director of the Fort Worth ISD Family Action Center, against photographer and former presiding election judge Diane Symons. Walker and Symons are both first-time candidates. In the initial race, Symons garnered 44.1% of the vote in the three-way race against Walker, who earned 34.6%. Arlington high school teacher William Thorburn finished third with 21.3%. The race pits two anti-voucher candidates, who are both advocates for abortion rights, against each other in an attempt to keep pro-voucher candidates from being sworn into the Texas House, both Walker and Symons said.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently urged voters to make the final push during runoff elections to bring a pro-school voucher majority to the Texas House. On March 20, at an annual conservative policy conference in Austin, Abbott said the House is close to passing the school choice bill, which would allow Texas students to use public money to offset the cost of private-school tuition. In the 150-member House, 76 votes are needed to move a bill forward — there are currently 74 votes in favor of school choice in the House, Abbott said. Both candidates in the Republican primary election for District 97 support vouchers and school choice. While Walker is a first-time candidate, he’s received an endorsement from the Texas American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and raised $4,333 in political contributions.

San Antonio Express-News - May 19, 2024

Trump, Abbott tout their records on gun rights at NRA meeting in Dallas

Through all of the National Rifle Association's and Donald Trump’s trials and tribulations, they still have each other. On Saturday, Trump, on a break from his trial in New York, was in Dallas to accept an endorsement from the embattled NRA, which just months earlier had its former top executives on trial for corruption, also in New York.

“Our enemies want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom,” Trump said at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center. “They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you.” The Republican said the legal actions against him are “a form of rigging” the 2024 election because he is doing so well in the polls and they can’t beat him any other way. “They want to put me in jail,” Trump said. “Can you believe they want to put me in jail?” Trump and the NRA have some of the same legal foes these days. New York Attorney General Letitia James, who won a corruption suit this year against NRA top executives, also won a $355 million judgment against Trump this year for lying about his wealth on financial statements to make deals as he built his real estate empire.

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2024

Fewer than 80 HISD schools still without power as district aims for Monday reopening

Fewer than 80 Houston ISD campuses were still without power Saturday night following Thursday's devastating storm, but Superintendent Mike Miles said he hopes the district can make enough progress in its recovery to reopen the majority of its 274 schools for classes Monday. HISD is assessing its options for schools that were still without power, Miles said, and families will be notified about their school's status for Monday on Sunday afternoon. In cases where the district determines it's feasible, students at schools without power may be moved to another HISD campus for the day. Otherwise, the school will likely be closed. "We don't have a lot of schools with that much space. We have some schools with space, and if that's the case, then we can do that, but most likely if a school doesn't have power, then it will remain closed," Miles said.

Miles said that while dozens of schools were affected by the storm, only four sustained significant structural damage. Miles said he believed three of those schools — Pugh Elementary, Paige Elementary and Robinson Elementary — would be ready to take in students on Monday, assuming power could be restored. At least 100 students at the fourth school, Sinclair Elementary in Timbergrove, however, would likely have to be bused to a nearby campus after trees crashed through the roofs of several of the school's auxiliary buildings, which house second and fifth grade classes. Miles toured Sinclair, which he described as the hardest-hit campus in HISD, on Saturday morning, side-stepping uprooted trees and various other debris strewn across the northwest Houston elementary school's grounds. Behind the main building, a towering loblolly pine had toppled through the ceiling of a nearby auxiliary building, its thick trunk suspended a few feet above the ground by the thin corrugated metal of a covered walkway.

KXAN - May 19, 2024

Plea for education funding special session rejected by Gov. Abbott

Texas Democrats urged Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session Monday, citing “the urgent need to address school finance and improve funding for all of our school districts.” Some of Texas’ largest school districts face significant budget deficits, forcing some to cut teachers and staff for next school year. Democrats blame the cash crunch on the legislature’s failure to increase per-student funding for the public school system in the last legislative session. “We have the resources available to better fund our schools, so we should act,” wrote State. Rep. John Rosenthal, D-Cypress, in the letter. Texas lawmakers had a record $33 billion budget surplus to allocate last year, but no money went towards increasing schools’ basic allotment – the uniform per-student funding that makes up the foundation of Texas’ school funding. Abbott tied school funding increases to his plan for state-subsidized private school tuition vouchers, which did not pass.

City Stories

Wichita Falls Times Record News - May 19, 2024

Museum of North Texas History names new director

The Museum of North Texas History has a new executive director. He is Jeremy Davis, who comes to Wichita Falls from Norman, Oklahoma. "My family and I are excited to join the Wichita Falls community," Davis said in a news release. "Being someone who can trace their roots back to the city, it is an honor to lead the team at the Museum of North Texas History and share the stories of this wonderful region," he said. Davis begins duties on May 21. Davis replaces Nadine McGown, who died in December 2023. Becky Trammel has served as interim director.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2024

New Dallas convention center has developers scrambling

Behind closed doors and in lightly attended meetings at City Hall, plans are being laid for the future of downtown Dallas, plans that will shape its physical character and economic viability for the next 50 years and beyond. This may sound conspiratorial, but it is nonetheless true. With billions of dollars in public and private money at stake, a handful of private developers and institutions are eyeing the landscape and angling to promote their interests. Managing these interests would be challenging in ordinary circumstances. But this jockeying comes with the city being led by an interim city manager and a mayor who seems more interested in partisan politics than local governance, as The Dallas Morning News editorial board noted.

The project driving these machinations is the remaking of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, a multibillion-dollar endeavor that will dramatically alter the southwestern portion of downtown. The prospect of that transformation has already attracted the WNBA’s Dallas Wings, who have agreed to move from Arlington to the upgraded convention center arena in 2026. “I think that part of the city has been overlooked and it has been held back, which is a real opportunity,” says Jack Matthews, who leads Inspire Dallas, the consortium developing the convention center. “I think this could be the piece that creates the development going on all around it in every direction.” That process has already begun. Projects that are either proposed or in the works include: the remaking of the old Dallas Morning News headquarters into a mixed-use development; a $5 billion plan by Hunt Realty Investments to develop the 20-acre Reunion site adjacent to Union Station; a $66.8 million tower and garage on the former WFAA Plaza site along Young Street; a high-speed rail station in the Cedars; Phase II of the bond-funded Dallas College building program, which entails a rethinking of the school’s sprawling downtown campus; and the sale and potential remaking of the historic Greyhound bus terminal.

San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2024

After public spat, council talks privately about firefighter contract negotiations

Five City Council members who pressed for a closed-door meeting to discuss contract negotiations with the firefighters' union got their wish Thursday — albeit a week late and after calling for a new city attorney. Council got an eight-minute briefing on the state of the contract talks, and then members and city staffers shuffled off to a closed-door executive session presumably to parse what they'd heard in open session. They talked for more than two hours. It was an unexpectedly quiet end to seven days of rancor, which featured a war of words between the self-named "Bloc of Five" and City Attorney Andy Segovia and behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

As bargaining between the city and the union hit a wall over sharply divergent pay proposals, council members have been clamoring to give city staff their two cents about the labor agreement in the making. Several council members asked to recess into a closed-door meeting on May 8 to talk candidly about the contract negotiations, but Mayor Ron Nirenberg said they could get individual updates from Segovia and City Manager Erik Walsh. Five members tried forcing a meeting, but when Segovia denied their request, the group questioned his suitability and demanded to meet with Walsh about Segovia. Segovia responded by issuing a statement that seemed to suggest a council member had leaked information from a previous executive session. But one thing about Segovia's comment was clear: he lacked faith that council could keep private conversations to themselves.

National Stories

New York Times - May 19, 2024

‘We’ll see you at your house:’ How fear and menace are transforming politics

One Friday last month, Jamie Raskin, a Democratic congressman from Maryland, spent a chunk of his day in court securing a protective order. It was not his first. Mr. Raskin, who played a leading role in Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment hearing, said he received about 50 menacing calls, emails and letters every month that are turned over to the Capitol Police. His latest court visit was prompted by a man who showed up at his house and screamed in his face about the Covid-19 vaccine, Mr. Trump’s impeachment and gender-related surgeries. Nearly two years earlier, the same man, with his 3-year-old son in his arms, had yelled profanities at Mr. Raskin at a July 4 parade, according to a police report. “I told the judge I don’t care about him getting jail time. He just needs some parenting lessons,” Mr. Raskin said.

Mr. Raskin was far from the only government official staring down the uglier side of public service in America in recent weeks. Since late March, bomb threats closed libraries in Durham, N.C.; Reading, Mass.; and Lancaster, Pa., and suspended operations at a courthouse in Franklin County, Pa. In Bakersfield, Calif., an activist protesting the war in Gaza was arrested after telling City Council members: “We’ll see you at your house. We’ll murder you.” A Florida man was sentenced to 14 months in prison for leaving a voice mail message promising to “come kill” Chief Justice John Roberts. And Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, refused to rule out violence if he were to lose in November. “It always depends on the fairness of the election,” he said in an interview late last month. This was just a typical month in American public life, where a steady undercurrent of violence and physical risk has become a new normal. From City Hall to Congress, public officials increasingly describe threats and harassment as a routine part of their jobs. Often masked by online anonymity and propelled by extreme political views, the barrage of menace has changed how public officials do their work, terrified their families and driven some from public life altogether.

New York Post - May 19, 2024

Rudy Giuliani’s birthday bash ends in chaos as guests scream and cry when he’s served papers for AZ ‘fake electors case’

Rudy Giuliani got more than cake and presents for his 80th birthday bash – he was also served justice. The former New York City mayor was tripping the light fantastic with pals in Palm Springs Friday night when he was intercepted outside the party at the home of top GOP consultant Caroline Wren by two officials from Democratic Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes’ office, sources told The Post. The pair served Giuliani with a legal notice of his Arizona indictment for allegedly being involved in a plot to overturn the 2020 election in favor of ex-President Donald Trump. Most of the 200 guests were gone by the time the duo showed up around 11 p.m., but some of the stragglers began screaming – including one woman who cried as Giuliani was handed the papers, according to sources.

Washington Post - May 19, 2024

Americans are down on the economy (again), with inflation topping election concerns

After a spurt of optimism, Americans are feeling a little more glum about the economy — again. Consumer sentiment, a gauge of Americans’ economic perceptions, is at a six-month low, according to a closely watched index by the University of Michigan. The measure notched its biggest drop since 2021, reflecting the persistent tug of inflation on household budgets and fueling fears that rising prices, unemployment and interest rates could all worsen in the coming months. That pessimism is altering consumers’ spending habits. McDonald’s, Home Depot, Under Armour and Starbucks all recently reported disappointing earnings, as people cut back on fast food, kitchen renovations, sneakers and afternoon lattes. Retail sales were flat in April after decent pickups in February and March. Meanwhile, Walmart reported a strong first quarter this week, nudged upward by high-income shoppers, executives said.

And gas prices, while easing in recent weeks, are up overall for the year, just ahead of the busy summer season. “For the last couple of years, the economy has been driven by household spending and now people are starting to say, ‘Let’s retrench here,’” said Jeffrey Roach, chief economist for LPL Financial. “The pressure from inflation has finally started to hit even upper-income households.” The economy, while still remarkably strong, has slowed in recent months as the Federal Reserve tries to get inflation under control. Employers are adding fewer jobs, wage growth has decelerated, and Americans are holding off on big purchases like homes, cars and washing machines. It could cast a pall over this fall’s presidential election and add new complications for the Biden campaign, which has already struggled to convince Americans that the president’s policies have improved their financial fortunes. Polls consistently show that Americans favor former president Donald Trump over Biden on economic issues. In April, some 36 percent of Americans said the economy is the country’s top issue, up from 30 percent in February and March, Gallup polls show. More people also cited inflation and high cost of living as larger concerns than they did the previous month.

NBC News - May 19, 2024

Missouri judge allows former 'honorary' member of KKK to remain on state's GOP primary ballot

A Missouri judge on Friday ruled that a self-avowed former “honorary” member of the Ku Klux Klan can remain on the state’s Republican primary ballot for governor, despite Missouri Republicans seeking to keep him off the ballot. “The Plaintiff did not present to the Court any evidence that having McClanahan on a primary election ballot would cause it any injury,” wrote circuit court Judge Cotton Walker in a ruling. “McClanahan’s presence on the primary election ballot is not necessarily an endorsement of the candidate by the party.” The state’s GOP said in February that it was working to remove long-shot candidate Darrell Leon McClanahan III from the Republican primary for governor after the Anti-Defamation League in 2022 published an article detailing McClanahan’s extremist history. The article also included photos showing the candidate apparently doing a Nazi salute in front of a burning cross and standing next to KKK members.

NBC News - May 19, 2024

Biden to deliver Morehouse graduation speech amid concerns from faculty and students

President Joe Biden will deliver the commencement address at Morehouse College on Sunday morning, his most direct engagement with college students since the start of the Israel-Hamas war and a key opportunity for him to engage with a group of voters that data suggests is softening on him: young, Black men. A White House source familiar with the planning for Biden’s commencement address told NBC News that the president plans to use his remarks to “focus on the students” and “address their concerns.” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed that sentiment on Friday, telling reporters Biden sees his speech as “an opportunity to lift up and to give an important message to our future leaders.”

“He’s been working on these remarks for the past couple days, I can assure you, with his senior advisers. He’s taking this incredibly seriously,” Jean-Pierre said. “It will meet the moment. And I think you will hear directly from the president on how he sees obviously the future of this country, and also the community that they represent.” Biden previewed the tone of his remarks during a speech Thursday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. “Morehouse was founded after our nation’s Civil War to help prepare Black Americans who were formerly enslaved to enter the ministry, earn an education and usher them from slavery to freedom,” Biden said before announcing $16 billion in new investments for historically Black colleges and universities. “The founders of Morehouse understood something fundamental. Education is linked to freedom. Because to be free means to have something that no one can ever take away from you.”

Washington Post - May 19, 2024

Johnson says personal attacks at committee meeting ‘not a good look’

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) chided lawmakers Friday for a meeting the night before that devolved into a partisan shouting match between committee members and included personal attacks about intelligence and appearance. Johnson told reporters that the incident was “not a good look for Congress” and that members need to treat one another with “dignity and respect” despite their political differences. The House Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday was supposed to be focused on a resolution over whether to recommend holding Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. Tensions escalated when Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Tex.) questioned why Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was airing assertions about the political motivations of a judge overseeing a criminal case involving former president Donald Trump.