April 23, 2024

Lead Stories

AFP - April 23, 2024

Silent and brooding, Trump endures courtroom ordeal

Donald Trump sat in a New York courtroom Monday watching history unfold, a glum witness to his own turn as the first US president to face criminal prosecution. Most court proceedings are deliberate, scripted and glacial -- tedious for any observer to sit through, let alone a brash real estate mogul used to getting what he wants, when he wants. But the 45th president vying for another go in the nation's highest office is set to spend the next month or two forced to sit in a drafty 15th-floor courtroom with peeling paint and fluorescent lights, speaking only when spoken to. In their opening statements, prosecutors detailed how Trump allegedly falsified business records as part of a scheme to pay off adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a bid to protect his 2016 presidential aspirations.

The former president slouched and stared straight ahead as Matthew Colangelo laid out details of Team Trump's collusion with the boss of the media group specializing in celebrity tabloids, who prosecutors say worked with the Republican to conceal damaging stories. Colangelo took care to smoothly quote the vulgar words that Trump uttered when caught on an infamous tape bragging about grabbing female genitalia without consent. It was then that Trump flinched, shaking his head as he heard his own transcript read aloud to a packed courtroom, the audio amplified into an overflow room seating dozens more journalists. But as his defense lawyer Todd Blanche delivered his opening statement, Trump turned toward the jurors, poised somewhere between intimidation and ingratiation. "Trying to influence an election" is simply "democracy" Blanche said, noting that the rich and famous routinely use non-disclosure agreements. "The 34 counts," Blanche said, referring to the business record falsification charges Trump faces, "are really just pieces of paper."

USA Today - April 23, 2024

Advocacy groups say Texas inmates are 'being cooked to death' in state prisons without air conditioning

A coalition of advocates has joined one of Texas' most famous inmates to sue the state over extreme temperatures in prison cells, arguing in federal court that inmates are "being cooked to death" and staff members are suffering heat-related injuries without air conditioning. Bernhardt Tiede II — a former funeral director whose murder of a wealthy 81-year-old widow is chronicled in Richard Linklater's film "Bernie" — first filed the lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in August 2023 after suffering an acute medical crisis in a cell that staff members had recorded reaching 112 degrees just days earlier. Tiede, 65, was transferred to an air-conditioned cell after a judge for the Western District of Texas granted two temporary restraining orders and one extension last year but has no guarantee that he will be housed in a cell with climate control again.

Monday's amended complaint, which expands the lawsuit to apply to inmates beyond Tiede, asks the U.S. District Court to declare the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's prison policy unconstitutional and order that Texas state prisons maintain temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees. Texas jails have been required to house prisoners at those temperatures since 1994, and federal prisons also strictly regulate temperatures. "Let's ensure that no one else — inmates or corrections officers — suffers these inhumane conditions," Linklater said Monday at a news conference in support of the lawsuit. According to the filing, almost 70% of TDCJ prisons lack air conditioning and units routinely reach 100 degrees or higher. A 2022 study by the JAMA Network found that "approximately 13% of deaths in Texas prisons during warm months between 2001 and 2019 may be attributable to extreme heat days." The complaint described inmates resorting to extreme measures to stay cool in sweltering conditions, including flooding their cells with toilet water and lying in it. The Texas Legislature in 2023 allocated $85 million for TDCJ to install more air conditioning, but that money will not cover climate control in all prisons. Several bills aiming to mandate that TDCJ maintain its cells at a safe temperature range in recent years have failed.

The Hill - April 23, 2024

Greene faces uphill battle to oust Johnson

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is escalating her threat to remove Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) from power, but she faces a steep climb if she hopes to achieve that goal. Not only has the Speaker recently received a glowing review from former President Trump, the GOP’s presumed presidential nominee, but Democrats remain ready to rescue Johnson from a conservative coup. On top of that, many of the conservatives most frustrated with Johnson’s leadership style are opposing a motion to vacate, leaving Greene with only the barest GOP support for her removal resolution. “My judgment and estimation is that this is not the time to do that,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), head of the far-right Freedom Caucus. Not that Johnson is out of the woods.

Yet Greene’s position is a lonely one in the House GOP. While her vacate resolution won the support last week from two other Republicans — Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) — the prevailing sentiment among conservatives is that Johnson should remain in place despite their frustrations with his bipartisan deal-making. Those voices include Freedom Caucus leaders like Good, who supported McCarthy’s removal but are quick to point out that, for Republicans, the political environment has changed in the six months since then. Not only has the GOP’s House majority shrunk — the result of the expulsion of former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) and the resignation of five other Republicans, including McCarthy — but there’s no obvious successor to Johnson, and the calendar is now inching closer to November. Many Republicans simply aren’t eager to repeat the weeks of chaos that followed McCarthy’s expulsion, when GOP lawmakers scrambled to locate a viable replacement.

Washington Post - April 23, 2024

The pandemic cost 7 million lives, but talks to prevent a repeat stall

In late 2021, as the world reeled from the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, representatives of almost 200 countries met — some online, some in-person in Geneva — hoping to forestall a future worldwide outbreak by developing the first-ever global pandemic accord. The deadline for a deal? May 2024. The costs of not reaching one? Incalculable, experts say. An unknown future pathogen could have far more devastating consequences than SARS-CoV-2, which cost some 7 million lives and trillions of dollars in economic losses. But even as negotiators pack in extra hours, the goal of clinching a legally binding pact by next month is far from certain — despite a new draft document being delivered in recent days. The main sticking point involves access to vital information about new threats that may emerge — and to the vaccines and medicines that could contain that threat.

“It’s the most momentous time in global health security since 1948,” when the World Health Organization was established, said Lawrence O. Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. The backdrop to today’s negotiations is starkly different from the years after World War II when countries united around principles guaranteeing universal human rights and protecting public health. The unifying fear of covid has been replaced by worries about repeating the injustices that tainted the response to the pandemic, deepening rifts between the Global North and the Global South. “The trauma of the covid-19 pandemic has seeped into the negotiations,” said Ellen 't Hoen, a lawyer and public health advocate who specializes in intellectual property policies. Representatives of the WHO’s 194 member countries, she said, are looking backward rather than forward. The reasons are clear. A paper published in October 2022 in the journal Nature showed that by the end of 2021, nearly 50 percent of the global population had received two doses of coronavirus vaccine but that huge disparities existed between high-income countries, where coverage was close to 75 percent, and many low-income countries, where less than 2 percent of the population had received two doses. At the same time, South Africa, where the omicron variant was identified, felt punished by travel bans instead of being praised for its scientists’ epidemiological acumen and openness.

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 23, 2024

Texas future weather hotter with deadly fires, study says

A new report on the future of extreme weather in Texas says the state is in store for hotter temperatures, increased severity of droughts and growing wildfire risks. The report from John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist at Texas A&M University, is an updated 2024 version from his original 2021 report titled, “Assessment of Historic and Future Trends of Extreme Weather in Texas, 1900-2036.” Nielsen-Gammon crafted the report in collaboration with Texas 2036, a non-partisan nonprofit focusing on the future of the state. In 2036, Texas will turn 200 and the group aims to provide long-term, data-driven strategies for the state to prosper for another few centuries.

“These trends represent climatological expectations,” Nielsen-Gammon said in the report. “The actual weather from year to year and decade to decade will be heavily influenced by natural variability which at this point is largely unpredictable.” The extreme weather report takes aim at everything from hotter temperatures, to increased wildfire risks. These are climate factors that Texans dread — combining unbearable heat with sparking deadly fires. An earlier study even found that Texas is on track to see 125-degree days within 30 years. In 2022, MedStar reported a 115.6% increase in emergency calls because of the heat compared to the previous year. Since Texas cities placed protections on workers during extremely hot days, instances of heat illnesses have dropped across the stare. The average annual surface temperature in Texas by 2036 is expected to be several degrees warmer than in years past. Temperatures in 2036 are expected to be 3 degrees warmer than the average from 1950-1999, and 1.6 degrees warmer than the average from 1991-2020. “This would make a typical year around 2036 warmer than all but the absolute warmest year experienced in Texas during 1895-2020,” Nielsen-Gammon wrote. Average temperatures themselves don’t amount to weather or climate extremes.

Houston Public Media - April 23, 2024

New METRO board member Alex Mealer criticizes bike lane project on Houston’s 11th Street

A new board member for the Houston region's mass transit provider took to social media over the weekend to criticize a recent transportation infrastructure project in the Heights neighborhood that aims to expand mobility options and make one of its major thoroughfares safer for a variety of users. The sentiments expressed by Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who in March was appointed as a board member for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO), in turn drew the ire of multimodal transportation advocates and a local elected official who has championed the expansion of bicycle lanes across a historically car-centric region.

In response to a Saturday morning video posted on X by Heights resident and cycling advocate Emmanuel Núñez, who showed people walking and riding on the Heights Hike and Bike Trail, Mealer posted a 30-second, fast-forwarded video taken from a vehicle traveling east on 11th Street. Mealer's video showed that no one was using one of the new bike lanes along 11th at about midday Saturday between North Shepherd Drive and Studewood Street, which is roughly a 30-block stretch, and her video included the captions, "No bikers to be seen," and, "But plenty of congestion." The 1998 song "Never There" by Cake served as the audio track for the video, and Mealer introduced it by writing, "Funny, when it comes to major roadway arteries where lanes have been reduced for bikes, they are never there ..." That stretch of 11th Street underwent a $2.4 million redesign by the City of Houston last year to reduce the number of vehicle lanes while adding bike lanes and pedestrian crossings to improve safety, complement the aforementioned trail as well as nearby METRO bus stops and to further expand the city's cycling infrastructure as part of the Houston Bike Plan passed by city council in 2017. But the work, despite being recently awarded by the American Public Works Association, has been opposed by some neighborhood residents and is among multiple road redesigns being reviewed for effectiveness by new Mayor John Whitmire.

Houston Chronicle - April 23, 2024

Harris County, Texas Southern University-led coalition win part of $7 billion federal solar fund

Harris County will receive part of a $7 billion federal grant toward installing solar panels and battery systems in low-income and disadvantaged communities across Texas, part of President Joe Biden's plan to expand access to solar energy nationwide. The administration announced Monday that 60 applicants had been selected for its Solar for All program, with more than 900,000 American households expected to get rooftop solar systems or access to community solar farms. “Today we’re delivering on President Biden’s promise that no community is left behind,” Administrator Michael Regan of the Environmental Protection Agency said. Harris County is leading a coalition of Texas municipalities — including Dallas County and the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Waco — that represent 11 million low-income Texans, with plans to install solar panels and battery storage systems on homes and other buildings across the state.

Baptist News Global - April 23, 2024

Seminary asks court to dismiss Greenway’s defamation suit

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary filed a motion in U.S. District Court April 18 asking for the lawsuit brought against it by Adam Greenway to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. On March 20, the seminary’s former president filed suit against the school and former trustee Chairman Danny Roberts, seeking unspecified compensation for defamation of character that has left him unemployable. He has demanded a jury trial to recoup “past and future economic loss including lost wages” plus attorney fees. Now, the seminary has responded with a legal filing saying secular courts may not intervene in such employment matters with churches and church-related institutions, appealing to a legal precedent known as the ecclesial abstention doctrine.

Baptist News Global - April 23, 2024

Florida joins Texas in adopting school ‘chaplain’ option denounced by chaplains

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his supporters celebrated his recent signing of a new law allowing untrained and unlicensed chaplains to volunteer in public schools. “At a time when much of the country is facing a mental health crisis, having volunteer chaplains for K-12 schools is a common-sense solution. We are selling our kids short if we only focus on meeting their intellectual needs but fail to make provision for their spiritual and emotional needs,” said state Rep. Stan McClain, the Republican who sponsored the school chaplaincy legislation DeSantis signed April 18. But religious and civil rights groups warned the program poses threats to religious liberty and to the spiritual and mental well-being of students and their families.

“As a minister, I know that chaplains can play an appropriate and important role in the lives of many families, but their place is absolutely not in our public schools,” Interfaith Alliance President Paul Raushenbush said. “The legislation Gov. DeSantis just signed opens students up to potential religious coercion and creates a serious risk that those in need of support from trained counselors will not receive it.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida denounced the program, which takes effect July 1, as a menace to the Constitutional rights of public school students. “Allowing public schools to establish paid or voluntary positions for chaplains will inevitably lead to evangelizing and religious coercion of students. This violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which, along with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, safeguards the constitutional right to religious liberty,” the ACLU statement added. “Courts have repeatedly ruled that it is unconstitutional for public schools to invite religious leaders to engage in religious activities with students or to promote religious doctrine to them.” Allowing the volunteers to serve without the training and certifications required of professional school counselors signals the legislation’s true purpose, the ACLU said. “Exempting chaplains from the same professional requirements as other school staff makes clear that installing them in public schools is not about helping students but is yet another effort to subject children to unconstitutional government sponsored religious indoctrination.”

Agriculture Dive - April 23, 2024

Cattle rancher sues utilities firms for alleged role in devastating Texas wildfires

A Texas cattle rancher is suing three utilities companies for their alleged role in starting one of the state’s largest wildfires in history, which devastated pastures and livestock operations across the Panhandle region earlier this year. Donnie Parker, who owns a ranch in Skellytown, filed a class action suit in a federal Texas court on Thursday, asserting Xcel Energy, Southwestern Public Service Company and Osmose Utilities Services were negligent in failing to maintain and repair a damaged electrical line pole that crashed to the ground and sparked the Smokehouse Creek Fire. Xcel had conducted its own review of the situation and acknowledged last month that “its facilities appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire.” Parker’s lawsuit aims to “recover the billions of dollars in losses” for ranchers.

Border Report - April 23, 2024

$2M in cocaine seized in Operation Lone Star traffic stop in South Texas

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers seized over 200 pounds of cocaine during a truck traffic stop in South Texas as part of the state’s Operation Lone Star border security initiative, the agency said Friday. The seizure of 98 kilos, or 216 pounds of cocaine, occurred Tuesday in the border town of Weslaco. DPS says troopers stopped a tractor-trailer “and discovered 90 cellophane-wrapped bundles of cocaine concealed inside a pallet of dried goods in the cargo area,” DPS said Friday. The drugs have an estimated street value of $2 million, the agency said. Agents from the DPS Criminal Investigations Division then went to a residence in McAllen, where they said they found three AR-15 rifles and an AK-47.

MySA - April 23, 2024

Canyon Lake hits lowest water levels since opening in the 1960s

To say the drought has affected popular swim spots is an understatement. From Jacob's Well to Medina Lake, countless swim spots in the Texas Hill Country have been devastated by the lack of rainfall. Now a popular lake has reached a water level low that it hasn't experience since the 1960s, when the lake first opened. Canyon Lake is now 59% full with a mean water level of 886.77 feet, according to Water Data for Texas. In one year the Texas Hill County lake dropped from 76.4% full on April 22, 2023. "We are still in a severe drought, as we have been for well over a year," said Comal County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jen Crownover in an email to MySA. "We need rain. When we do get rain, and the lake levels come back up, that’s when the ramps can re-open."

El Paso Times - April 23, 2024

'Animal lover' state Rep. Claudia Ordaz recognized for work in Texas Legislature

Self-proclaimed "animal lover" state Rep. Claudia Ordaz is being recognized for her work to protect animals through her work as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Ordaz, D-El Paso, was presented the Humane Hero Award by the political nonprofit Texas Humane Legislation Network during its Animal Advocacy Day event April 13 at Baylor School of Law in Waco, an opportunity for the group to educate animal welfare advocates on the legislative process. Ordaz was recognized alongside state Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Killeen. “As a lifelong animal lover, and adoptive mom to two fur babies, I was honored to receive the Humane Hero Award from my friends at the Texas Humane Legislative Network," Ordaz wrote in an email. "Receiving this award from passionate advocates like THLN who dedicate their lives to this work is incredibly special to me."

KUT - April 23, 2024

Why is someone suing to get Travis County DA José Garza out of office — and what comes next?

A Travis County resident is trying to remove District Attorney José Garza from office. Betsy Dupuis filed a lawsuit Friday under House Bill 17, which allows anyone in a county to try to remove that county's top prosecutor. Her complaint is similar to a previous one filed against the DA. Dupuis also told KXAN that Garza's office mishandled a case after she accused someone of sexual assault. HB 17, which took effect in September, has yet to be used in court. Supporters of the law argue that some district attorneys in the state have gone “rogue" by, in their estimation, not enforcing laws, allowing folks to get out of jail more easily or dropping cases altogether. Garza's office isn’t prioritizing low-level offenses like marijuana possession, opting to dismiss some cases rather than locking up residents. Garza has also said he will not investigate cases involving abortion access. In her petition, Dupuis cites Garza's marijuana and abortion policies as reasons to remove him — as well as his prosecution of police officers accused of misconduct.

Opponents say the law undermines the will of voters, who elect district attorneys, and that it’s a way for the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature to meddle in Democratic counties, like Travis County. Garza cruised to a primary victory this spring and faces Republican Daniel Betts in the November general election. The traditionally blue county typically elects Democrats. At a news conference with congressional Democrats on Monday, an attorney representing two Texans being prosecuted for getting abortion-related care said HB 17 uses an enforcement mechanism similar to the state’s abortion ban. "What HB 17 did was deputize every single person in Texas to go after every single prosecutor in Texas. It makes no sense," Austin Kaplan said. "There are 254 counties. There are untold numbers of prosecutors ... and all of them now are subject to attack from [anyone] across Texas for their decisions." There have been a couple attempts to remove elected officials since HB 17 took effect. A petition in Hays County to remove District Attorney Kyle Higgins was dropped, and an earlier attempt to get Garza removed failed because the petitioner was being prosecuted by his office for drug possession.

ABC 13 - April 23, 2024

Texas Gov. Abbott proposes ban on gender-nonconforming behavior in public school classrooms

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott championed conservative policies at a convention in Dallas over the weekend, including his push for school vouchers. His comments took aim at transgender people, which may run afoul of the Constitution. Steven Monacelli with The Observer attended the Young Conservatives of Texas Convention. He recorded audio of the governor referencing the suspension of a male teacher in Lewisville, Texas, who showed up to work in a dress. "This person, a man dressing as a woman in a public high school in the state of Texas, they're trying to normalize the concept that this type of behavior is OK. This type of behavior is not OK. This is the type of behavior we want to make sure we end in the state of Texas," the governor said in the recording. The governor added that the example illustrates why Texas parents need school choice. It's important to note that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. So, a ban on gender-nonconforming teachers in public school classrooms would be unconstitutional. However, that hasn't stopped other conservatives from endorsing Abbott's idea on social media, like State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi. The governor's office didn't respond to an inquiry from Eyewitness News asking for clarification on his plan or policy to "end" what he called "this type of behavior."

Dallas Morning News - April 23, 2024

All in a financial storm: Why the Dallas Cowboys have been so inactive in free agency

In January, the Cowboys became the first NFL franchise to win at least 12 games in three straight regular seasons without reaching a conference championship game. An organization with a generation-long knack for unraveling, going winless in seven consecutive divisional-round games since 1996, found a new form of insufficient success. The first-round playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers exploited personnel shortcomings, including in the run game and run defense. Amid team owner Jerry Jones’ hot-button mention of being “all in” two weeks later, the offseason begged for change. There was just one problem. The Cowboys have little change to spare.

No team has been more frugal in free agency since the league year started March 13 than the breakthrough-starved Cowboys. As of today, they have signed two players who weren’t on their roster for the Jan. 14 embarrassment at AT&T Stadium and lost several veterans who were. Of the two additions, only linebacker Eric Kendricks is sure to make the 2024 team. Given the paradox of losing veteran talent at a time when they logically should be adding, the state of the Cowboys’ finances and how they got here warrant close inspection. The forthcoming primer on the team’s books focuses on the major factors and decisions, both past and future, that shape the landscape today. This exercise is meant to explain, not excuse, the headwind that has inspired recent inactivity. The study reveals a franchise handicapped by a confluence of forces, including double-edged contract restructures that added cap space in recent seasons and potential blockbuster extensions to come. What constitutes being “all in” is a subjective and ultimately tired conversation.

National Stories

CNN - April 23, 2024

Hearing over gag order comes amid Donald Trump-Michael Cohen feud

Judge Juan Merchan will consider whether to fine Donald Trump for repeatedly violating the gag order barring the former president from publicly discussing witnesses or jurors in the criminal hush money case. Merchan is holding a hearing at 9:30 a.m. ET Tuesday after the Manhattan district attorney’s office filed a motion accusing Trump of repeatedly violating the gag order by posting on social media about his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, as well as about the jury in his case. Prosecutors want Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 per violation and to remind him that “future violations of this Court’s restrictions on his extrajudicial statements can be punished not only with additional fines but also with a term of incarceration of up to thirty days.”

“We think that it is important for the court to remind Mr. Trump that he is a criminal defendant,” prosecutor Chris Conroy said last week. “And like all criminal defendants he’s subject to court supervision.” Trump has continued to feud with Cohen, his former attorney and a key witness for the prosecution in the case, and complained that Cohen has been posting about him and he’s not allowed to respond. Trump nevertheless went after Cohen in remarks on camera after leaving court on Monday. “The things he got in trouble for were things that had nothing to do with me. He got in trouble. He went to jail. This has nothing to do with me. This had to do with the taxicab company that he owned, which is just something he owned – and medallions and borrowing money and a lot of things – but it had nothing to do with me,” Trump said of Cohen. Cohen responded on Twitter, saying, “Hey Von ShitzInPantz … your attacks of me stink of desperation. We are all hoping that you take the stand in your defense.”

CNN - April 23, 2024

Columbia University extends hybrid classes through end of semester as tense protests prompt safety concerns

Columbia goes to hybrid classes amid turmoil: As some students have expressed safety concerns, Columbia said almost all classes on its main campus will be hybrid — technology permitting — until the end of the semester. “Safety is our highest priority as we strive to support our students’ learning and all the required academic operations,” the university said in an announcement Monday night. Organizers of the student protests have said their demonstrations — including a large encampment on one of the school’s lawns – have been peaceful and distanced themselves from non-student protesters who have gathered outside the campus, calling them “inflammatory individuals who do not represent us.”

NYU students and faculty arrested as protests proliferate: New York University students and faculty members were arrested during protests on the school’s campus Monday night, police said. The protest was one of several pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have emerged at major US colleges and universities in solidarity with Columbia’s protests, including at Yale, MIT, Harvard and Boston University. • Jewish students on heightened alert: As the major Jewish holiday of Passover began Monday, Columbia’s Jewish student organizations said they have increased security around their gatherings due to safety concerns, including having a police presence at the campus Jewish cultural center. Before Passover began, a rabbi linked to the university urged students to return home because he believes authorities “cannot guarantee Jewish students’ safety.”

NBC News - April 23, 2024

Elon Musk accuses Australia of censorship after court bans violent video

Tech billionaire Elon Musk accused Australia of censorship after an Australian judge ruled that his social media platform X must block users worldwide from accessing video of a bishop being stabbed in a Sydney church. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded Tuesday by describing Musk as an “arrogant billionaire” who considered himself above the law and was out of touch with the public. X Corp., the tech company rebranded in 2023 by Musk after he bought Twitter, announced last week it would fight in court Australian orders to take down posts relating to a knife attack on Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel in an Assyrian Orthodox church as a service was being streamed online on April 15. The material was geoblocked from Australia but available elsewhere.

NBC News - April 23, 2024

Trump says RFK Jr. will hurt Biden. In private, he’s not so sure.

Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he’s confident that independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will pull more votes away from President Joe Biden than from him — a net win for the Republican’s candidacy. “He is Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, not mine,” Trump wrote on Truth Social late last month. “I love that he is running!” Behind closed doors, however, Trump is less sure. A Republican who was in the room with Trump this year as he reviewed polling said Trump was unsure how Kennedy would affect the race, asking the other people on hand whether or not Kennedy was actually good for his candidacy. And after having mostly ignored Kennedy early in his campaign, Trump has stepped up his efforts to brand him as left-wing and make him Biden’s problem, suggesting that he and allies are concerned about Kennedy’s ability to attract Republican voters.

In the post in which he said Kennedy was Biden’s political opponent, Trump called Kennedy “the most Radical Left Candidate in the race, by far,” someone who was “a big fan of the Green New Scam” and “other economy killing disasters.” In a video monologue he posted to his social media page this month, Trump described Kennedy as being to Biden’s left but said Kennedy has “got some nice things about him” and “I happen to like him.” “If I were a Democrat, I’d vote for RFK Jr. every single time over Biden because he’s frankly more in line with Democrats,” Trump said, adding: “I do believe that RFK Jr. will do very well. And I do believe he’s going to take a lot of votes away from crooked Joe Biden.” Democrats have increased their attention on third-party contenders, standing up super PACs and other anti-spoiler efforts meant to kneecap independent challengers who could pull from Biden and reduce the vote share Trump needs to get over the top this fall. And in defiance of earlier conventional wisdom about the 2024 race, new polling shows that right now Trump might have the most to lose with Kennedy on the ballot.

Washington Post - April 23, 2024

House Republican infighting getting worse after foreign aid vote

The House came together Saturday to pass a sweeping $95 billion foreign aid package, a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation in the closely divided chamber. But the move only intensified infighting among House Republicans, who split sharply on the strategy to deliver assistance to foreign allies including Ukraine and Israel. In social media posts and TV interviews afterward, House Republicans took aim at one another — in unusually sharp terms — over the events that led up to the vote. Ultimately, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) had to rely on a majority of Democrats to push through the most controversial piece of the package — $60 billion in aid to Ukraine for its war against Russia — in a gamble that could cost him his speakership. “It’s my absolute honor to be in Congress, but I serve with some real scumbags,” Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” calling out two GOP colleagues — Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and Bob Good (Va.) — who have broken with Johnson and voted against other legislation proposed by the GOP majority.

Gaetz and Good have also endorsed Gonzales’s primary challenger, something Johnson has warned members against doing. Gonzales’s CNN comments prompted a third hard-line GOP colleague, Rep. Elijah Crane (Ariz.), to announce his support for Gonzales’s opponent, Brandon Herrera, a gun enthusiast with a large YouTube following. Most House Republicans have grown weary of colleagues who consistently vote against legislation that must be addressed rather than work to seek compromise within the party. Since eight Republicans voted with all Democrats to oust then-speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), more pragmatic Republicans have become irate at the “no” bloc of the conference and encouraged GOP leadership to punish those members. Hard-liners argue that as the majority party Republicans should push for ideological purity and take a firm stand in negotiations to exert concessions from a Democratic-led Senate and White House. But in voting against conservative measures they do not believe go far enough, other Republicans say, hard-liners are weakening Johnson’s hand in negotiations because the conference is not united around a set of demands.

Mediaite - April 23, 2024

Ben Shapiro is on the warpath to purge the conspiratorial cranks from the right

Last month, conspiratorial right-wing commentator Candace Owens was fired by The Daily Wire, the conservative media company Shapiro founded nearly a decade ago. Her ouster followed a months-long cold war with Shapiro largely fueled by her descent into overt, proud anti-Semitism. “I think her behavior during this has been disgraceful,” said Shapiro last fall, referring to Owens’ analysis of the war in Gaza and propagation of misinformation about Israel. It took awhile after Shapiro sounded the alarm, but Owens was eventually dismissed for her indulgence of bigotry. And yet, his enemy’s defeat has not compelled Shapiro to lay down his sword. While Owens has been expelled out from under his own roof, Shapiro has turned his sights on other cranks on the Right and grown increasingly strident in his denunciations of them.

Tucker Carlson, in particular, has become a regular target of Shapiro’s. Hostilities between the two conservative media giants broke out even before the Shapiro-Owens spat, when Shapiro knocked Carlson for “downplaying” the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel just days after it happened. Shortly after that, Shapiro put the former Fox News host on blast again over another conversation he had with anti-Israel commentator Douglas Macgregor. “Peace through strength has been a conservative position for as long as I’ve been alive, certainly. This idea that you are heightening the chances of a world war if America actually flexes its muscles sometimes, it’s a bizarre one when what we know is precisely the opposite,” submitted Shapiro. Carlson’s first attempt clap back came about a month later, when he hosted Owens for a conversation about the drama at The Daily Wire. From there, his attacks got more explicit, culminating in a stunning declaration that Shapiro’s concern for Israel in the wake of October 7 revealed that he “obviously” doesn’t “care about America.” Shapiro responded to the personal attacks. But much more notably, he’s also continued to forensically pick apart Carlson’s positions as well as his form more generally. On Monday, for example, Shapiro devoted more than 20 minutes to torching Carlson over his recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience. “‘Just asking questions’ doesn’t make you a critical thinker,” argued Shapiro, who posited that Carlson’s rampant conspiracy theorizing — about 9/11, aliens, and much more on Rogan’s show, for example — is little more than a business strategy.

Washington Post - April 23, 2024

Pennsylvania race previews Democrats’ plan to focus campaign on democracy

Democratic congressional candidate Mike O’Brien had been knocking on doors in a leafy suburban neighborhood here for only about 20 minutes when he came upon a house with a sign featuring his opponent’s face in the window. He smiled. “WANTED for crimes against the CONSTITUTION,” the sign read. “Scott Perry for Prison. Traitor. Insurrectionist. Criminal.” “That’s one of the reasons why I’m running,” O’Brien, one of six Democrats vying to unseat Perry, a GOP congressman, told the couple who answered the door. “You can’t let Trump and Perry overthrow democracy under the guise of patriotism anymore.” It’s a message that Democrats, including President Biden, hope will resonate in places like Camp Hill, a middle-class suburb outside Pennsylvania’s capital, Harrisburg. The area was once a Republican stronghold but has become more politically independent in recent years due to population growth and moderate Republicans alienated by Donald Trump’s norm-busting behavior.

The competitive Democratic primary here Tuesday offers a preview of how Democrats intend to make democracy a central issue in competitive races for seats such as Perry’s, which could help determine control of the narrowly divided U.S. House. Most of the Democrats vying to take on Perry have made his efforts to undermine the 2020 election results a part of their campaigns, but only O’Brien has made it his central pitch. The race also provides a glimpse of the case Biden will make in battleground states like Pennsylvania. Biden has said his reelection is above all else about preserving democracy, which he warns is under threat if Trump wins a second term. In his first campaign speech of 2024, on the day before the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Biden stood less than 100 miles from here in Valley Forge. “Whether democracy is still America’s sacred cause is the most urgent question of our time, and it’s what the 2024 election is all about,” he said. It remains unclear whether voters will see it that way. Beyond the defense of democracy, Americans will be asked to weigh more tangible issues, including inflation, immigration and abortion. The age of the candidates — Biden is 81 and Trump is 77 — will also loom large in a presidential rematch that polls show many Americans didn’t want.

April 22, 2024

Lead Stories

The Hill - April 22, 2024

How Texas unleashed a geothermal boom

With its nation-leading renewables fleet and oil and gas industry, Texas is poised to dominate what boosters hope will be America’s next great energy boom: a push to tap the heat of the subterranean earth for electricity and industry. That technology, known as geothermal energy, has demonstrated the rare ability to unite the state’s warring political camps — and is fueling a boom in startups that seek to take it national. While other forms of renewable energy lost ground during Texas’s 2021 and 2023 legislative sessions before a Legislature that combined a hard-right political bent with a focus on building more “dispatchable” power, the geothermal industry advanced. State lawmakers passed four key bills in 2023 that helped lay the foundation for a new generation of drilling — with just one vote against. In the 2023 session, “we didn’t get put into the renewable bucket, we didn’t really get put into the oil and gas bucket,” said Barry Smitherman, former Republican head of the state Railroad Commission and head of the Texas Geothermal Energy Alliance.

Instead, “we became this hybrid that was acceptable to people on both sides of the aisle.”? The regulatory clarity established by those bills has laid the groundwork for a new generation of startups powered by the state’s urgent need for reliable electricity in the face of increasingly extreme weather, as well as a growing trickle of oil and gas veterans leaving an industry they see as plagued by boom-and-bust cycles. As of last year, Texas had 11 of the 27 total geothermal startups in the U.S. On Wednesday, startup Bedrock Energy unveiled a new geothermal-powered heating and cooling system at a commercial real estate complex in Austin. Earlier this month, next-generation drilling company Quaise — which uses high-powered radio waves to drill through hard rock — filed a permit with the state energy regulator to begin field testing its drills, years ahead of what industry insiders had thought was possible. Houston-based Fervo is building a 400-megawatt project in Utah. Military bases across the state are looking into geothermal as a potential source of secure electricity in an era of price spikes and cyberattacks. And later this year, Sage Geosystems, a company founded by three former Shell executives, will begin using a fracked well as a means of storing renewable energy — which CEO Cindy Taff said will get the company most of the way toward the ultimate goal of commercially viable geothermal electricity.

NBC News - April 22, 2024

Poll: Election interest hits new low in tight Biden-Trump race

The share of voters who say they have high interest in the 2024 election has hit a nearly 20-year low at this point in a presidential race, according to the latest national NBC News poll, with majorities holding negative views of both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. The poll also shows Biden trimming Trump’s previous lead to just 2 points in a head-to-head contest, an improvement within the margin of error compared to the previous survey, as Biden bests Trump on the issues of abortion and uniting the country, while Trump is ahead on competency and dealing with inflation. And it finds inflation and immigration topping the list of most important issues facing the country, as just one-third of voters give Biden credit for an improving economy.

But what also stands out in the survey is how the low voter interest and the independent candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could scramble what has been a stable presidential contest with more than six months until Election Day. While Trump holds a 2-point edge over Biden head to head, Biden leads Trump by 2 points in a five-way ballot test including Kennedy and other third-party candidates. “I don’t think Biden has done much as a president. And if Trump gets elected, I just feel like it’s going to be the same thing as it was before Biden got elected,” said poll respondent Devin Fletcher, 37, of Wayne, Michigan, a Democrat who said he’s still voting for Biden. “I just don’t feel like I have a candidate that I’m excited to vote for,” Fletcher added. Another poll respondent from New Jersey, who declined to provide her name and voted for Biden in 2020, said she wouldn’t be voting in November. “Our candidates are horrible. I have no interest in voting for Biden. He did nothing. And I absolutely will not vote for Trump,” she said.

Dallas Morning News - April 22, 2024

Supreme Court to weigh whether camping ban violates rights of homeless people

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday on a case that could determine whether local laws banning homeless people from sleeping outdoors violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. U.S. cities and states, including Texas, have passed laws in recent years that make it illegal for people to camp outdoors in public spaces in an effort to curb visible or unsheltered homelessness. The city of Dallas and lead agency Housing Forward have prioritized closing encampments throughout the city with a process that leads to housing and support options. But residents who report camps to the city’s 311 hotline say homeless residents often pop up nearby the following day with few permanent changes to their situation. Unsheltered homelessness has skyrocketed over the years in the northern Dallas neighborhood of Hillcrest Forest, where Bruce Wilke lives.

His neighborhood association’s 700 members shared concerns in an annual survey indicating growing reports of encampments over the decades. “Homeless people in and near our neighborhood have gone from zero to the second-greatest concern,” Wilke said. “Crime and personal security has always been No 1.” But advocates for people experiencing homelessness have argued that camping bans in public spaces are punitive measures that are not only ineffective at addressing root causes but are unconstitutional measures that hurt homeless people’s health. The Supreme Court could decide the case by June 30, the end of the court’s term. The city of Grants Pass, Ore., started citing people sleeping outdoors with $295 tickets to deter homeless people from camping in public spaces, according to court documents. The class-action suit going to the Supreme Court was originally filed in 2018 by a group of homeless individuals who pushed back against the city, arguing the law criminalized their state of homelessness. The courts decided in that case it is cruel and unusual punishment to fine or arrest people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere else to go.

CNN - April 22, 2024

Opening statements to show the stark personal and political stakes of Trump’s first criminal trial

Donald Trump was once, and may soon be again, the most powerful man in the world. But on Monday, his diminished reality as a criminal defendant will become clear in humbling fashion during opening statements in his first criminal trial. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has long chafed at the constraints of the law, the Constitution and general decorum as he’s presented himself as an omnipotent force throughout his business and political career. But with jury selection now complete in his hush money trial in Manhattan, Trump’s fate is in the hands of prosecutors, his attorneys, a judge and 12 people, who, according to bedrock principles of the legal system, are regarded as peers of the ex-president. Nothing is more antithetical to Trump’s lifelong operating assumption that because of who he is, he is immune from such accountability. Just over six months from the election that could see him restored to the White House, Trump has little ability to dictate action in proceedings in which his liberty may be at stake.

His normal weapons of histrionics, obfuscation and intimidation have no currency inside a courtroom. The fact that he is compelled to be in court four days a week for multiple weeks is also a serious inconvenience to the Republican candidate. This constraint was exacerbated on Saturday, one of the few windows to get out on the campaign trial, when his rally in North Carolina – a swing state that President Joe Biden is trying to flip – was canceled owing to a dangerous storm. Regardless of its outcome, this trial – and the way it’s affecting Trump’s schedule and demeanor – is underscoring how the presumptive GOP nominee is like no other presidential candidate in history. Whether or not he’s a convicted felon by Election Day, voters will be reminded of questions around his character and his many legal entanglements – with three more criminal cases looming, all in which he’s pleaded not guilty. And while Trump has used a narrative of victimhood to great success in GOP primaries, it remains to be seen how that argument lands with a broader electorate. Trump’s unaccustomed loss of his capacity to control events may be one reason why he insists he will testify in the trial even though it might be injurious to his case. He’s already seeking to devalue the prosecution in the minds of voters who will be charged in November with deciding whether they want him again as their president.

State Stories

Houston Landing - April 22, 2024

Politics, suspicion infiltrate nonpartisan races for Harris County appraisal board

County appraisal board elections were set for a Saturday in early May as a way to insulate the newly created elected positions from partisan rancor. In Harris County, politics and suspicion are creeping into the three races anyway. The county Democratic and Republican parties have endorsed and are campaigning for candidates in each of the three races. Accusations of nefarious intentions on the part of conservatives are being leveled by local Democrats jaded by years of state meddling in Houston and Harris County’s governments.

“The appraisal process has worked well. There was no demonstrated need for this,” Harris County Democratic Party Chair Mike Doyle said. “I don’t buy the argument this was simply intended to give the public more input.” At issue are the elections for three positions on the Harris County Appraisal District’s nine-member board of directors, the governing body of the agency that determines annual property values used by local taxing entities to set their property tax rates and budgets. The elected positions were created as part of a sweeping constitutional amendment aimed at lowering property taxes approved by voters statewide in November. The last sentence of the November measure created four-year terms for three appraisal board positions in the state’s 50 counties with a population larger than 75,000. Until now, all members have been appointed by the local taxing entities represented by the district. The change to appraisal boards in the Houston region also apply to Liberty, Montgomery, Galveston, Brazoria and Fort Bend counties, although Galveston County has canceled its election because not enough candidates filed to run for the posts.

Houston Chronicle - April 22, 2024

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We endorse Jarvis Johnson for Senate District 15 special election

The crowded Democratic race to replace current Mayor John Whitmire in the Texas Senate has narrowed to two candidates with starkly different backgrounds and philosophies of governance and who will face each other in back-to-back elections. First, voters will have to decide who will fill the rest of Whitmire’s current term with a special election on May 4. Then, candidates face off again to see who gets the seat for the next term in the runoff election on May 28. We recommend Rep. Jarvis Johnson, 52, because of his lawmaking experience, but we also see the effectiveness of emergency room nurse and tireless organizer Molly Cook, 32, who has already successfully made waves without an official title. In a debate Wednesday, Johnson leaned into his experience again: “The Senate is not a place to learn politics.”

Cook isn't entirely a newcomer. She’s driven two high-profile local movements; one opposing the Interstate 45 rebuild that has helped produce some community wins and another to renegotiate the balance of power in the region’s council of governments; that issue is still shaking out. And she has a knack for finding the levers of power. She also brings personal and professional knowledge to the role. Cook has talked openly about her own experience having an abortion years ago and regularly references the lessons she’s learned in the emergency room. Cook summarized her philosophy: “Half of the work is going to be in the Capitol and half of the work is going to be outside the Capitol.” She would, with her emphasis on health care and transportation, no doubt make an impact in the Senate and has shown her ability to reach people well beyond the halls of power. But Johnson’s experience isn’t just a good talking point for an editorial board that does believe in sparing taxpayers startup costs when possible. From his time as a City Council member to his years in the Texas Legislature, he takes a practical approach that we think will serve him well in the Senate. His priorities are strong: defending public education, reforming the criminal justice system, Medicaid expansion and environmental protections. As we noted in our primary endorsement, Johnson has tried to take on concrete batch plants that threaten Houston's air and residents' health, and he would've created a sickle cell anemia registry had it not been for a vengeful veto by Gov. Greg Abbott, who struck down a litany of passed bills as revenge against school voucher opponents.

Dallas Morning News - April 22, 2024

Texas Rangers’ not-so-smooth win in Atlanta epitomized a bumpy start to their season

Sometimes it’s about the grind. It’s the best way to sum up both the Rangers’ 6-4 win at Atlanta Sunday and the start to this season. It has not been smooth, certainly not as smooth as that magical World Series run eight months ago. They lost their third baseman to a fractured thumb on the season’s fourth day, had to replace a closer two weeks in and are navigating around a thin starting rotation already impacted by injury. And those are only the ones that really stick out. Corey Seager is getting by with a swing still in spring training; the twin rookie phenoms are merely surviving.

And, yet, after a 17-game stretch without a day off, they can take a breath just above .500. They went 5-5 on a 10-game road trip that will equal the longest of the season. Sometimes, surviving is thriving. It certainly beats stumbling like, oh, let’s see here, the defending AL West champs. At 12-11, the Rangers already hold a five-game edge on their rivals, the Houston Astros. It’s never too early to build a lead. “This was an important game to make you feel good about the stretch we’ve been through,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’ve been through a lot. And this stretch is as important as any we’ll have this season. We’ve got a lot of baseball to play, obviously. April doesn’t determine the season, but you don’t want to start out in a hole.” On Sunday, it was all about the grind and overcoming obstacles. Starter Michael Lorenzen gave up a three-run homer in the first, but stuck in his conviction of attacking Atlanta with what he called “the best stuff I’ve had in years.” Which is kind of a lot to say when you threw a no-hitter barely nine months ago. Outfielder Evan Carter, with half of his hometown of Elizabethton, Tenn., on hand homered and made a diving catch, which was cool for friends and family to record on their iPhones. But he also got his first-ever regular-season hit against a lefty after going 0 for 20 (and even being pinch-hit for a night earlier). It came on a weak ground ball to the right side that he beat out with hustle. Became that much more significant when Adolis García, the one Ranger who had started the season like a lightning bolt followed with what was ultimately a game-deciding homer.

Dallas Morning News - April 22, 2024

These 3 runoff races will affect the North Texas political landscape

The May 28 runoff elections are highlighted by House Speaker Dade Phelan’s fight for political survival in a race that could change the face of Texas legislative politics, but there’s a lot more at stake for voters. Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, is trying to fend off a challenge from David Covey, the former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party. Covey won the first round by a 46% to 43% margin. A candidate must win at least 50% of the vote to win a primary outright. Money won’t be a problem for either candidate, so the race hinges on who can mobilize their supporters in what’s expected to be a low-turnout race. While the Phelan-Covey contest is the most important on the May 28 ballot, other contests will affect the local political landscape. Let’s take a look at three impactful races in North Texas.

Incumbent Justin Holland of Rockwall is one of five House Republicans representing Collin County whom Attorney General Ken Paxton targeted for defeat in the primary after they voted to impeach him last year. The Senate cleared him on charges of corruption and abuse of power on a mostly party-line vote in September. Holland, one of the Republicans who blocked a plan similar to private school vouchers sought by Gov. Greg Abbott, caught a break in the March 5 primary when the governor was neutral in his race against Katrina Pierson, the national spokesperson for then-candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 White House campaign. Abbott stepped in soon after the primary, endorsing Pierson and holding a rally for her in Rockwall. Holland now has Paxton and Abbott working against him. Abbott spent about $6 million on his slate of candidates for the primary. When Lupe Valdez resigned as Dallas County sheriff in late 2017 to run for governor against Abbott, she backed Marian Brown — her third in command — as her successor. After being appointed interim sheriff, Brown won the 2018 sheriff’s race and was reelected in 2020 to a four-year term. She is the first Black woman to lead the department. Now Valdez wants her old job back and is staging a serious challenge against her former ally. State Rep. Craig Goldman had a 44% to 26% lead over construction company owner John O’Shea in the March primary to replace longtime U.S. Rep. Kay Granger in Fort Worth-anchored District 12. A top lieutenant of the House speaker, Goldman has the backing of most of the Tarrant County GOP establishment, as well as Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry. O’Shea, who is running an America First campaign, is endorsed by Paxton. The race is a test of whether establishment Republicans in Tarrant County can win a district that includes hotbeds of the hard-right conservatism. Historically, establishment politicians from both parties have thrived in the district.

KUT - April 22, 2024

For disabled guests, the Texas Eclipse Festival was a weekend of broken promises

About 40,000 people attended the Texas Eclipse Festival in Burnet, only to have it shut down a day before it was supposed to. Organizers asked folks to evacuate right after totality — around 1:30 p.m. last Monday afternoon — because of concerns about severe weather in the forecast. The cancellation, and rumors of mismanagement on social media, have spurred calls for refunds and even investigations. But for festival goers with disabilities, the problems were obvious from the start. Tanya Valencia has a lot of experience going to music festivals in her wheelchair. She said from the moment she arrived at the festival on Friday, she knew it was not set up with disabled patrons in mind. When they drove up to the site on a private ranch about 90 minutes northwest of Austin, Valencia said she and her husband waited in what they already knew was the wrong line of cars for over an hour, only to find out there wasn’t accessible parking.

With little help from staff, they finally made it to the campsite for disabled guests so they could catch a shuttle to the proper festival entrance. But, Valencia said the problems kept piling up. “And at that point, me and my husband decided that it legitimately was not safe for me personally, as a disabled person, moving forward,” she said. “We decided to go back to our car and just not even try to enter the festival.” The Texas Standard spoke to five disabled patrons who all said they dealt with a lack of transportation, difficult terrain and poor communication between event staff and those hired specifically to assist disabled patrons. Festival organizers also had not erected the promised viewing platforms for disabled attendees on time, making it a struggle to see many of the acts. Sal Bonaccorso ran into this issue attending the festival with his 78-year-old mother, Rosy. “There was like this dirt mound where there was a lake that was fenced off and there were no guardrails or anything,” he said. “It was like a drop-off dirt cliff, almost. And I put my mom up there with her walker.”

KUT - April 22, 2024

As drought grinds on, task force members slam 'meager' Austin Water conservation plan

Members of a City of Austin water planning task force will hold a specially called meeting Thursday to address concerns that new Austin Water conservation plans are “not ambitious." The utility's proposed conservation and drought response policies came under criticism when they were released April 15, just weeks before Austin Water hoped to get the plans approved by City Council. The plans set rules for how the city manages its limited water supply stored in Highland Lakes reservoirs. Under state law, the plans must be updated every five years. The conservation plan sets year-round goals and policies for reducing water consumption and waste, regardless of weather conditions. The drought contingency plan goes into effect in times of drought. It sets “triggers” for when Austin declares different stages of emergency and lays out restrictions to water use depending on what stage the city is in.

Both proposals came under scrutiny at the April 15 meeting of Austin’s Integrated Water Resource Planning Community Task Force. The task force is made up of a group of volunteers, many with expertise on water issues, appointed by City Council to advise on water policy. Austin residents have used, on average, 64 gallons of water a day per person over the last five years. The utility’s new conservation plan aims to reduce that average water use by 2 gallons to 62 gallons daily, per person, by 2029. Factoring in industrial and business uses, Autinites average 127 gallons of water use per capita daily. Under the new conservation plan, Austin Water aims to reduce that by 4 gallons daily to 123 gallons per day by 2029. Beyond residential and business uses, Austin loses an estimated 21 gallons of water per person daily through leaks in water treatment and distribution systems. The new plan has a goal of reducing those leaks to 19 gallons per person daily by 2029. Utility officials say these water savings can be achieved through increasing water reuse, plugging more leaks in the system and encouraging conservation year-round through education and incentive programs. But the conservation goals quickly came under fire from task force members who pointed out that Austin Water’s new plan sets less ambitious conservation goals than it currently has on the books.

Texas Monthly - April 22, 2024

What is Alex Jones doing in this tiny far West Texas town?

On the edge of Big Bend National Park, in the remote far West Texas town of approximately 150, Terlingua residents have coined a lot of sayings. There’s one about dating in the town: “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.” There’s one about the brand of eccentrics who choose to live there: “Everyone in Terlingua is running from something,” said Stephanie Neckar, a local real estate agent. Another resident recently told me: “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” I was talking to these folks about a new interloper who ought to fit right in: the excitable alt-right radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones, along with his Austin-based company, Free Speech Systems, was ordered to pay $1.5 billion in damages to the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims in 2022, after he promoted false conspiracy theories suggesting that the massacre was a hoax and that the deceased children were actually actors. Shortly after that verdict, Jones and Free Speech Systems filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. “I’m officially out of money, personally,” Jones said in his Infowars podcast. “It’s all going to be filed. It’s all going to be public. And you will see that Alex Jones has almost no cash.”

Nevertheless, property records show that in June 2023, his wife, Erika Wulff Jones, purchased twenty acres—appraised at $20,000, according to property records—in Terlingua Ranch, a sparsely populated swath of desert north of town. If Terlingua is offbeat, the ranch is even weirder. It’s where David Kaczynski, brother of Ted Kaczynski—the Unabomber—retreated to connect with nature and escape the media throngs that wanted to know more about his infamous sibling. And it’s where a woman named Judith Broughton kept her dead mother buried in a blue tarp beneath her kitchen floor while she collected the woman’s Social Security benefits. Terlingua and the ranch have also long been places of refuge. As Texas Monthly writer at large Robert Draper wrote in 1996, “Terlingua is the state’s last outpost for outcasts, for those maligned American loners who fashion their own crude American dream in the anonymity of the desert.” A Terlingua resident, who owns land neighboring the plot Wulff Jones bought, spoke with me on the condition that I withhold his name. (Terlingua is an intimate hamlet, he noted, and “anything I say is going to piss off half of the community.”) He told me that Terlingua was the first place he’d ever felt a sense of belonging. “And I’m not the strangest person in town,” he said, “only maybe the third strangest.” Terlingua residents first took notice of Jones and his wife last year, when they were seen on a couple of occasions dining at High Sierra, one of the few watering holes in the area. “I heard that he partied pretty hard,” said Neckar, who also expressed some surprise that the Joneses bought property where they did.

San Antonio Report - April 22, 2024

San Antonio's CFO has a plan to end CPS Energy revenue fights

San Antonio’s chief financial officer has a plan to reinvest CPS Energy profits back into the utility to help stave off future rate increases. For a variety of reasons, the city-owned energy utility has brought in unusually high profits over the past two years. At the same time, its leaders have continued asking to raise the rates of its customers, who should theoretically be benefiting from the company’s success. While that dynamic has rankled everyone from conservatives in the state Legislature to the city’s prospective mayoral hopefuls, it has so far proven difficult to solve. CPS Energy shares 14% of its revenue with the city — the equivalent of a private company sharing its profits with its shareholders — which accounts for roughly a quarter of the city budget.

But unexpectedly high profits in the past two years generated about $135 million beyond what was needed for the city budget. During the 2024 budget much of that year’s surplus was chopped up for pet projects at the 11th hour, even as council members knew rate hikes were coming down the pipeline. A similar situation involving Austin Energy last year drew warning shots from members of the Texas Legislature, one of whom filed Senate Bill 1110, which would have ended cities’ ability to transfer profits from municipally owned utilities to their budgets if the utility is seeking a rate increase. Locally, the optics of divvying up CPS Energy’s windfall led Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) to compare his colleagues to the children’s game Hungry Hungry Hippos and Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) to propose a drastic cut in the city’s share of the revenue. In an interview Thursday, Ben Gorzell, the chief financial officer, said using windfall money to stop rate increases is more complicated than it sounds. Specifically, it involves meshing an inconsistent revenue source with a business that needs to plan for the long term.

Dallas Morning News - April 22, 2024

Texas Women’s Foundation names new president, CEO

Texas Women’s Foundation, an investment and advocacy organization for girls and women, has named marketing and communications professional Karen Hughes White to lead the organization as president and CEO after an extensive search. White has led nonprofit organizations focused on the needs of women, girls and children for the past 20 years, with stints at Susan G. Komen, Tri Delta sorority and St. Jude’s.

White begins her position on April 29 and will give short remarks at the Texas Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Forum & Awards Celebration event taking place at the Omni Dallas Hotel on April 30. “From the fierce breast cancer survivors at Susan G. Komen, to the courageous patients and families of St. Jude, and the brave, bold and kind members and volunteers of Tri Delta, I’ve been humbled and inspired by the women I’ve served with and for throughout my career,” White said.

Dallas Morning News - April 22, 2024

WNBA’s Dallas Wings poised to relocate to downtown Dallas arena in proposed deal with city

Dallas officials are poised to approve a 15-year deal designed to bring the WNBA’s Dallas Wings to the downtown convention center arena, three city officials told The Dallas Morning News. The City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a resident use and incentive agreement for the Dallas Memorial Auditorium, part of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center downtown. The auditorium is planned to be renovated by 2026 as part of a larger redevelopment project. The Wings aren’t named in City Council agenda documents, but the proposed deal is described as relocation of an existing team that would use the arena at least 70 days a year between April 15 and Nov. 1. The WNBA season typically runs from the beginning of training camp in April to the league finals in October. No other professional sports league that plays in arenas has a similar schedule.

National Stories

Politico - April 22, 2024

Tax breaks to hire local journalists approved in New York, a national first

— The decadeslong struggle of local media is getting a lifeline in New York. The state budget, set to be finalized Saturday, includes the nation’s first payroll tax credit for local news organizations in a bid to encourage new hiring amid the ongoing struggles of journalism outlets to cover their communities. Lawmakers and independent media companies praised the tax break, which will designate $30 million a year to the program, called the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. “A thriving local news industry is vital to the health of our democracy,” bill sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a statement. “It’s our responsibility to help ensure New Yorkers have access to independent and community-focused journalism.”

New York spends more than $8 billion a year on tax incentives and grants to attract and retain businesses in the high-tax state, and advocates of the measure have for years sought to extend the largesse to the newspaper and local TV industry. The late addition to the $237 billion budget allows eligible outlets to receive a 50 percent refundable credit for the first $50,000 of a journalist’s salary, up to a total of $300,000 per outlet. The money is largely focused on independently owned publications, but also can cover hiring journalists in print media outlets that “demonstrate a reduction in circulation or in the number of full-time equivalent employees of at least 20 percent over the previous five years.” The aid will be split between companies with 100 or fewer employees and larger ones.

Reuters - April 22, 2024

Tesla cuts prices in China, Germany and around globe after US cuts

Tesla has cut prices in a number of its major markets, including China and Germany, following price cuts in the United States, as it grapples with falling sales and an intensifying price war for electric vehicles (EVs), especially against Chinese EVs. The price cuts come after Tesla, led by its billionaire CEO Elon Musk, reported this month that its global vehicle deliveries in the first quarter fell for the first time in nearly four years. "Tesla prices must change frequently in order to match production with demand," Musk posted on X on Sunday. Tesla shares slipped 2.7% in pre-market trading on Monday. They have fallen 40.8% so far this year.

Wall Street Journal - April 22, 2024

Company bosses draw a red line on office activists

Business leaders are sending a warning to staff: Dissent that disrupts the workplace won’t be tolerated. Google’s decision to fire 28 workers involved in sit-in protests against the tech giant’s cloud-computing contract with the Israeli government is the most recent and starkest example of companies’ stricter stance. Rifts with employees have spilled into public view at National Public Radio, the New York Times and other workplaces. Bosses are losing patience with staff eager to be the conscience of their companies, especially as employees pressure them on charged issues such as politics and the war in Gaza, executives, board members and C-suite advisers say. The moves are a correction to the last several years, when corporate leaders often brooked dissent and encouraged staff to voice their personal convictions.

On issues such as immigration policy and racial justice, many chief executives publicly expressed corporate solidarity. Google, in particular, has long prided itself on an open work culture that fostered internal debate, much like a college campus. It is an open question as to what rights workers really have to speak out on the job. “None of this is settled,” said Genevieve Lakier, a law professor at the University of Chicago. Workers in the private sector aren’t protected by the First Amendment’s guarantees of free speech, and “there is still a lot of uncertainty about how much free expression by workers is consistent with the operations of the workplace,” she said. Numerous workers reported being fired from companies after writing contentious social-media posts about the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel or the war in Gaza. At Google, leaders said the protesting workers violated company policy by taking over office spaces and disrupting work. While preserving the company’s open culture is important, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote to staff afterward, “we also need to be more focused in how we work, collaborate, discuss and even disagree.”

Associated Press - April 22, 2024

The House votes for possible TikTok ban in the US, but don't expect the app to go away anytime soon

The House passed legislation Saturday that would ban TikTok in the United States if the popular social media platform’s China-based owner doesn’t sell its stake within a year, but don’t expect the app to go away anytime soon. The decision by House Republicans to include TikTok as part of a larger foreign aid package, a priority for President Joe Biden with broad congressional support for Ukraine and Israel, fast-tracked the ban after an earlier version had stalled in the Senate. A standalone bill with a shorter, six-month selling deadline passed the House in March by an overwhelming bipartisan vote as both Democrats and Republicans voiced national security concerns about the app’s owner, the Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd. The modified measure, passed by a 360-58 vote, now goes to the Senate after negotiations that lengthened the timeline for the company to sell to nine months, with a possible additional three months if a sale is in progress.

Legal challenges could extend that timeline even further. The company has indicated that it would likely go to court to try and block the law if it passes, arguing it would deprive the app’s millions of users of their First Amendment rights. TikTok has lobbied hard against the legislation, pushing the app’s 170 million U.S. users — many of whom are young — to call Congress and voice opposition. But the ferocity of the pushback angered lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where there is broad concern about Chinese threats to the U.S. and where few members use the platform themselves. “We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a video that was posted on the platform last month and directed toward the app’s users. “We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.” The bill’s quick path through Congress is extraordinary because it targets one company and because Congress has taken a hands-off approach to tech regulation for decades. Lawmakers had failed to act despite efforts to protect children online, safeguard users’ privacy and make companies more liable for content posted on their platforms, among other measures. But the TikTok ban reflects widespread concerns from lawmakers about China.

Politico - April 22, 2024

‘National security suicide’: Alaska senator slams Biden admin’s move to restrict drilling and mining

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) criticized the Biden administration’s decision to put millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness outside the reach of oil drilling and critical mineral mining, likening the moves to “national security suicide.” “Well, it’s lawless. He doesn’t have the authority to do it. ... It’s, as I say, national security suicide,” Sullivan said Sunday during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Alaska has long been at odds with the federal government over the use and protection of its enormous natural resources, particularly when a Democrat is in the White House. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management on Friday officially recommended against building the Ambler Road — a proposed 211 mile-long roadway that would have expanded mining operations into an undeveloped part of the state — a recommendation that effectively kills the project and puts zinc and copper deposits out of reach.

Interior also issued a final rule that will remove the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean, 11 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and nearly 3 million acres of federal waters off the Alaska coast from consideration for new oil and gas leasing. The decision by the Interior Department reaped praise from environmental and conservation groups, as well as some some native tribes — but not all, Sullivan said Sunday. “When this president on Friday with [Interior] Secretary [Deb] Haaland announced that they did this because the Alaska Native, the indigenous people on the North Slope of Alaska, asked them to, they wanted them to, the leaders of the North Slope of Alaska were unanimous in opposition to this,” Sullivan said. But other local tribes lauded the Biden administration’s decision and said the Trump administration did not consult with them before approving the project.

CNN - April 22, 2024

Tensions are so high at Columbia ahead of Passover that all classes will be virtual today

Officials at Columbia University, facing surging tensions on campus that have raised safety concerns, have announced all classes will be virtual on Monday as Passover begins. Columbia President Minouche Shafik said in a statement the decision was made to “deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps.” The move underscores how tense the situation has become at the Ivy League school and the enormous challenge facing Shafik to get the situation under control. Shafik has faced new calls for her resignation, and a rabbi linked to the university even urged Jewish students to stay home due to concerns about their safety. As pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus stretched into their fifth day, Columbia announced Sunday that students will have the option to attend classes virtually on Monday due to “campus activity.” Passover, a major Jewish holiday, is set to begin Monday evening.

The White House, New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams all weighed in over the weekend, denouncing calls for violence against Jews. Adams said he was “horrified and disgusted with the antisemitism spewed at and around” Columbia and said the New York Police Department “will not hesitate to arrest anyone” found to be breaking the law. The crisis at Columbia amounts to a massive test for Shafik, who took the helm of the university less than a year ago. Rep. Elise Stefanik, the New York Republican and frequent critic of Ivy League schools, called for Shafik to immediately step down. “It is crystal clear that Columbia University -previously a beacon of academic excellence founded by Alexander Hamilton - needs new leadership,” Stefanik said in a statement on Sunday. Following a disastrous hearing on campus antisemitism before Congress in December, the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania came under enormous pressure and both resigned.

April 21, 2024

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 21, 2024

'Rogue prosecutor' lawsuit to remove Travis County DA Jose´ Garza moves forward

A prosecuting attorney has been assigned to a case to remove Travis County District Attorney Jose´ Garza from office under Texas' "rogue prosecutor" statute. The petition was filed April 8 under Texas House Bill 17, which allows for the removal of a district attorney for "official misconduct" — including declining to prosecute certain criminal offenses. The Texas law took effect Sept. 1 and was part of a movement among state Republicans to rein in "rogue" progressive prosecutors. Dib Waldrip, presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region, will oversee the case. On Friday, he assigned Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols to be the prosecuting attorney. HB 17 specified that, in removal suits, a prosecuting attorney from another county must be assigned to the case. The case was filed by Mary Elizabeth Dupuis, a Travis County resident.

The petition argues that Garza has policies not to prosecute certain crimes, which amount to "incompetency and official misconduct." The filing alleges that the district attorney’s office has adopted a “blanket non-prosecution policy” for drug possession and cites Garza’s promise not to prosecute abortion crimes. The petition also points to Garza's approach to police use-of-force cases, which it describes as “discriminating” against law enforcement officials, as evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. The content of the petition is the same as one filed last November by Jason Salazar, but the case was complicated by Salazar's October arrest on suspicion of drug possession. Salazar's case was dismissed in January. The American-Statesman previously reported that the petition was written by Martin Harry, a former Republican candidate for district attorney. In 2020, Harry lost the general election for district attorney to Garza. Harry, who now resides in Florida, has posted on X, formerly Twitter, recruiting Travis County residents to file the petition. Harry’s website also contains a blank copy of the petition.

Washington Post - April 21, 2024

House passes foreign aid bill, sending help to Ukraine and Israel

The House passed a sweeping $95 billion package Saturday to aid foreign allies amid global threats, showcasing broad support for America’s role in the world in a risky push by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), whose far-right flank is threatening to oust him for the action. In the vote’s immediate aftermath, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — who had pledged to eject Johnson from the speakership if he advanced Ukraine aid — did not take action. She told reporters she hopes colleagues face backlash from constituents while they’re on recess this week and consider joining the effort to oust the speaker on their return to Washington. The Senate is expected to consider the foreign aid measures early next week, and President Biden is expected to sign the package. In a statement after Saturday’s votes, Biden credited the House for coming together “to answer history’s call, passing urgently needed national security legislation that I have fought for months to secure.”

With chants of “Ukraine!” and blue and yellow flags waving on the House floor, all Democrats present and a minority of Republicans broke a months-long legislative logjam and approved $60 billion in aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia. The vote was 311 to 112, with all those objecting coming from the most conservative wing of the GOP conference. The Ukraine funds come at a key juncture for the country in its war with Russia, as the Pentagon warns that without an infusion of help from the United States — the country’s biggest military benefactor — Ukraine would steadily cede more ground to Russian forces and face staggering casualties. It is also a major win for Johnson — despite the threats to his job — as he increasingly leads a coalition of more-mainstream House Republicans and Democrats in shepherding high-priority legislation to passage. During Democrats’ Saturday meeting, one member proudly shouted that the party effectively controls the majority given that Democratic support has allowed the government to be funded and enabled a reauthorization for U.S. spy agencies to surveil foreign threats. House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) came to the floor shortly before Saturday’s votes to herald the bipartisan cooperation, singling Johnson out by name. “House Democrats have risen to the occasion, President Biden has risen to the occasion, traditional conservatives led by Speaker Mike Johnson have risen to the occasion,” Jeffries declared.

Austin American-Statesman - April 21, 2024

Dan Patrick calls for a deep dive into the effects of serving in Operation Lone Star

A little-noticed, and therefore little-reported, item on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's topics for the Texas Senate to delve into before the 2025 legislative session is an examination of the effects that being deployed to Operation Lone Star has on members of the National Guard and troopers with the Department of Public Safety. Patrick deserves credit for elevating this matter. But it's troubling that the marching orders to the Senate Border Security Committee to study "the effect on personnel who have actively served or participated in Operation Lone Star and the impact of their service on their health and well-being" comes 3½ years after the mission's launch and that its announcement seemed to fall short of the center of the radar screen. For the past generation or so, the act of sending military service members into action on the public's behalf generally has ignited waves of patriotism and bumper-sticker sloganeering.

Then, after the waves crest, the waters tend to calm down. The troops, however, remain deployed. And when they come home, especially with injuries seen and unseen, too often the "we support our troops" mantra from the outset morphs into something like "we can't afford the cost of caring for them." Look no farther than the protracted effort to get government benefits for the thousands of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars made sick, often deathly sick, by round-the-clock exposure to giant toxic burn pits that incinerated military waste. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs' own calculations, nearly 8 of every 10 claims for burn pit-related disability benefits were denied between 2007 and 2020. Not until 2022, when Congress was essentially shamed into passing the historic PACT Act, did the country do right by the service members who sacrificed their health, and too often their lives, in service to the rest of us. It could be argued that if the death of President Joe Biden's son, Beau, had not been linked — at least anecdotally — to burn pit exposure, suffering veterans such as Texas' own Le Roy Torres would still be vainly patrolling the halls of the nation's Capitol to call attention to their cause. The fact is, Beau Biden, as the son of a nationally known political figure, was an outlier when it comes to those who carry the modern burden of military service; Le Roy Torres, a DPS trooper in civilian life, was not. The ranks of the armed forces, which include the National Guard, are filled 100% by volunteers. According to a 2020 report by the Council on Foreign Relations, 62% of military recruits came from households on the middle and low rungs of the nation's income ladder. Only 17% came from the top rungs.

Associated Press - April 21, 2024

ERs refused to treat pregnant women, leaving one to miscarry in a lobby restroom

One woman miscarried in the lobby restroom of a Texas emergency room as front desk staff refused to admit her. Another woman learned that her fetus had no heartbeat at a Florida hospital, the day after a security guard turned her away from the facility. And in North Carolina, a woman gave birth in a car after an emergency room couldn’t offer an ultrasound. The baby later died. Complaints that pregnant women were turned away from U.S. emergency rooms spiked in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, federal documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal. The cases raise alarms about the state of emergency pregnancy care in the U.S., especially in states that enacted strict abortion laws and sparked confusion around the treatment doctors can provide. “It is shocking, it’s absolutely shocking,” said Amelia Huntsberger, an OB/GYN in Oregon. “It is appalling that someone would show up to an emergency room and not receive care -- this is inconceivable.”

It’s happened despite federal mandates that the women be treated. Federal law requires emergency rooms to treat or stabilize patients who are in active labor and provide a medical transfer to another hospital if they don’t have the staff or resources to treat them. Medical facilities must comply with the law if they accept Medicare funding. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday that could weaken those protections. The Biden administration has sued Idaho over its abortion ban, even in medical emergencies, arguing it conflicts with the federal law. “No woman should be denied the care she needs,” Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, said in a statement. “All patients, including women who are experiencing pregnancy-related emergencies, should have access to emergency medical care required under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.” Pregnant patients have “become radioactive to emergency departments” in states with extreme abortion restrictions, said Sara Rosenbaum, a George Washington University health law and policy professor. “They are so scared of a pregnant patient, that the emergency medicine staff won’t even look. They just want these people gone,” Rosenbaum said. Consider what happened to a woman who was nine months pregnant and having contractions when she arrived at the Falls Community Hospital in Marlin, Texas, in July 2022, a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. The doctor on duty refused to see her.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 21, 2024

Dallas urges appeals court to block state law limiting local regulations

Dallas is urging a state appeals court to toss out as unconstitutional a recent Texas law that voided certain city and county regulations covering businesses, labor, property and other areas. A state district judge in Travis County blocked the law in August, siding with Houston, San Antonio and El Paso, which had challenged House Bill 2127 as unconstitutionally vague. Texas promptly appealed. Dallas joined the fray Wednesday with a legal brief to the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals arguing the law turns a city or county’s ability to govern itself “on its head.” “Home-rule cities need only look to state law for restrictions on their authority, not for permission to act,” Dallas City Attorney Tammy Palomino wrote in the 23-page filing.

The Republican-backed law banned local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances that exceed what is allowed under state laws regulating agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, local government, natural resources, occupations and property. Republican lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott said the law would foster economic growth by streamlining ordinances and protecting businesses from a patchwork of regulations that could change at city and county borders. State Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, previously said the law “keeps liberal blue cities from continuing their absurd, anti-business, job-killing ordinances.” Critics dubbed HB 2127 the Death Star law, calling it a power grab by the Legislature aimed at overturning progressive local policies. The law’s broad language also made it difficult to know which ordinances were illegal, critics said. The attorney general’s office, which is representing the state, asked the 3rd Court to throw out the cities’ lawsuit, arguing that HB 2127 is a valid exercise of state authority over local governments.

KERA - April 21, 2024

Racial disparities in health care persist in Texas, new study finds

According to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund, Texas has more severe racial and ethnic health disparities than other states in the Southwest. Black and Hispanic Texans are more likely to be uninsured, die from avoidable causes and not have access to health care than other racial groups. Sara Collins, the senior scholar of health care coverage and access with the Commonwealth Fund, said one reason for the disparities is a lack of health insurance. “Giving everybody access to health insurance coverage is really the first step in addressing a lot of the issues that we're seeing across the country,” she said. On average, Collins said states that have expanded Medicaid coverage to low-income adults had better outcomes and narrower disparities than states that haven’t. Texas is one of 10 states that has yet to expand Medicaid. “Cost is the big barrier to getting health care,” she said. “So, once you have that financial ability to access the health care system, that falls away.”

Another reason for the disparities between groups is racism and discrimination in the health care system. Patients of color experience worse care for issues like heart disease, pregnancy complications, and pain management, all linked to preventable conditions that lead to premature death. “There are deep seated issues in the health care system that do stem from racism and unequal access to good quality care,” Collins said. “It will take health system responsiveness and prioritization to address those kinds of issues that are that are manifesting in such wide disparities in health outcomes, preventable mortality in particular.” The report recommends lawmakers and policymakers address these disparities through better access to health insurance, diversifying the health care workforce, and investing in social services that help people manage their health over time.

Houston Chronicle - April 21, 2024

UT Austin DEI layoffs disproportionately affected women and Black staffers, records show

The dozens of employees laid off by the University of Texas at Austin this month when it closed a former diversity, equity and inclusion office were mostly women and people of color, some of whom had worked for decades at the school, according to newly released records. In all, the university says it let go of 49 staffers as part of a restructuring to comply with a new state law banning DEI. They include the head of the university’s women’s center, the director of the Office of the Vice President for Campus and Community Engagement and the director of the Fearless Leadership Institute, a program that provides resources and networking to Black women on campus.

Black staffers were disproportionately affected, making up nearly a third of the cuts while accounting for just 7% of the total university staff, excluding tenured faculty. Roughly three-fourths of the employees let go were women, though they make up just 55% of the total staff. The layoffs also affected staff across campus, including at Dell Medical School, McCombs School of Business and the LBJ School of Public Affairs, according to the records. The layoffs have roiled students and advocates, who argue that administrators are overreacting to the law and weakening the schools’ ability to recruit new talent. University President Jay Hartzell told faculty this week that the action was meant to reduce redundancies after the mandated DEI cuts and to head off future funding cuts from the GOP-led Legislature, which passed the ban last year. “We have to make choices to worry about the long-run future of the university,” Hartzell said in his first public remarks since the cuts. “It’s not just are we compliant with SB17 in the short run, but also what are the choices we make?”

Dallas Morning News - April 21, 2024

‘Sit there and be quiet’: Tarrant County judge controversy explained

Tarrant County’s top official sparked a firestorm this week when he scolded a female commissioner during a heated debate over a proposed contract. “I’m the one talking now, so you’ll sit there and be quiet and listen,” County Judge Tim O’Hare told Commissioner Alisa Simmons, the court’s only woman, at a meeting Tuesday. “Don’t tell me when and when not to talk,” Simmons shot back. “This is my court, too.” O’Hare’s comments prompted accusations of racism and misogyny from community and activist groups, including the NAACP. O’Hare is white, and Simmons is Black. At a news conference Thursday in downtown Fort Worth, about 20 representatives from the groups criticized O’Hare for his remarks.

“You can’t say that to a woman in 2024,” said Kennedy Jones, president of the Arlington NAACP chapter, according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report. Michael Bell, a Fort Worth pastor and member of Unity in the Community, accused O’Hare of “incessant bullying” as judge.” “This is not about political party or political affiliation,” said Michael Bell with Unity in the Community, the newspaper reported. “This is about a judge who chooses to disrespect, repeatedly, a colleague who happens to be African American and a woman.” After Tuesday’s exchange, Simmons, who represents Arlington, wrote on X: “I‘m humbled by the community support I’ve received since this outburst. We will all stand together to be heard.” In a statement posted to X, O’Hare accused Simmons of having a “history of alleging unfounded racism” and called the ordeal a “sideshow.” “The focus should be on important issues facing the people of Tarrant County,” O’Hare said. O’Hare, a Southlake attorney, was elected county judge in 2022 after beating former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price in a contentious Republican primary.

Houston Chronicle - April 21, 2024

Many Houston City Council members back police chief on HPD investigation – but tough questions are coming

As the initial investigation into the Houston Police Department’s suspended cases nears its end this month, many on City Council have made one thing clear: They stand behind Police Chief Troy Finner. In February, Finner revealed that the department had dropped 264,000 cases, citing “SL” — suspended for lack of police personnel. Those cases represent 10% of the 2.8 million reports filed since 2016, the year the code went into effect, and include about 100,000 property crime reports and over 4,000 special victims unit reports. The scandal has cast doubt about whether Finner, who has led the department since 2021, will remain in his top position. Thus far, Mayor John Whitmire has remained supportive of Finner, and council appears to be taking its cues from the new City Hall chief executive.

Finner “has been unwavering in his commitment to get to the bottom of this,” said Council Member Abbie Kamin, who used to chair the public safety committee. She added that the police chief has been open and transparent in serving the city he grew up in and proudly continues to serve. However, that support won’t stop council members from asking tough questions about how the police department allocates its resources — or if it needs additional ones — as the budget season begins in May. Each year, council works with the mayor on a budget for the next fiscal year. The police department, which currently takes up roughly one-third of the city’s operating budget, presents its requests during budget hearings after the mayor unveils his proposed budget to council. And yet, members say, despite the seeming personnel shortage, no one raised the matter during recent budget cycles. “The thought that went through my head was, why didn't they ask for more (funding)? Why didn't they tell us this was a problem?” Kamin said.

KXAN - April 21, 2024

All faiths come together to celebrate Muslim community at Texas Capitol

On Friday, people of all faiths came together to celebrate Austin’s Muslim community at the Texas Capitol. The third annual ‘Eid Celebration at the Capitol’ took place to mark Eid ul-Fitr (EED-al-FITTER)– the “feast of fast breaking” to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Austin) said in a news release. “We initiated this program at the Capitol so that we can celebrate with the broader Austin community. Everyone is invited,” said CAIR Operations Manager Shaimaa Zayan. “All of the activities are free and open to everyone, whatever their background, religion or culture.” The celebration featured different booths, where guests enjoyed free food, Islamic art, Henna design and Arabic calligraphy, all while learning about Islam and Ramadan.

Fort Worth Report - April 21, 2024

Anti-transgender event at Fort Worth community center canceled, sparking debate over free speech

An anti-transgender event organized by conservative political activists at a Fort Worth community center April 20 has been canceled after community members raised concerns that it would violate the city’s nondiscrimination policy. “Community Centers are dedicated to upholding a welcoming environment free from discrimination,” city spokesperson Reyne Telles wrote in a statement to the Fort Worth Report. While opponents of the event, titled “The Danger of Transgenderism,” praised the city for canceling the event reservation at the Victory Forest Community Center, organizers said the city’s actions represented a violation of their First Amendment rights. “We think it’s unacceptable and inappropriate that they are doing this,” Carlos Turcios, director of Texas Latinos United for Conservative Action, said. Texas Latinos United for Conservative Action was one of six organizations co-hosting the event. “That is a violation of the First Amendment. The city of Fort Worth, (which) is taxpayer funded, cannot dictate what opinions are allowed.”

Lynette Sharp is one of the people who raised concerns about the event. When Sharp first heard it’d be taking place at the Victory Forest Community Center, she was aghast. “It’s against the city’s own policy to host them,” she said. Sharp, a member of No Hate in Texas, was referencing the Fort Worth’s community center policy and procedures manual. The manual specifies that groups that practice or profess discrimination on the basis of sex and other identity markers aren’t allowed to use the community center for events. District 11 council member Jeanette Martinez, who represents the area around the community center, said staff didn’t have information about the nature of the event before it was booked. “I don’t believe it’s an event that should have been allowed, had the community center been aware of it,” Martinez said. “I don’t believe it would have been allowed.” Telles said while organizers paid the required security deposit for a reservation in March, they never returned a signed reservation form, which includes a link to the procedures manual. Upon further investigation, staff determined the event violated the nondiscrimination clause outlined in the manual. “City staff has notified the event organizer of the cancellation and will provide a full refund to the individual who booked the space,” Telles said in a statement.

Houston Landing - April 21, 2024

Arcola mayor spent taxpayer money on private investigator to spy on council member

Bypassing required City Council approval, Mayor Fred Burton spent $7,500 of public funds to hire a private investigator to verify the residency of council member Ebony Sanco in an effort to kick her off the council, according to documents obtained by the Houston Landing. The investigator went through her garbage and used “discreet means” to obtain school information about her children, city records show. Hiring the private investigator was the first in a series of attempts to oust Sanco that has created a rift on city council and led to a lawsuit against the city.

Under Arcola’s city code, the mayor can only make emergency purchases of less than $1,000 without city council approval. The council hasn’t voted on the $7,500 expenditure to investigate Sanco. “He used $7,500 of taxpayers money to harass me for a week,” Sanco said. “How stupid is that?” Burton did not respond to messages from the Landing. On Feb. 2, the mayor signed a contract to hire Fort Bend Investigations to “observe, and obtain conclusive evidence” that Sanco lived in Missouri City and not Arcola. Investigator David Weed surveilled Sanco and her children for five days in February, records show. Weed went to Fort Bend ISD and through “discreet investigative means” was able to find out which school her children went to. Weed spoke with an unnamed administrator at the school who confirmed that Sanco’s children were registered at an Arcola address, the investigative report shows. Sanco said that she was not notified by anyone at the school that her children’s information had been given out. Schools may disclose, without consent, “directory” information such as a student’s name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 21, 2024

Arlington Carmelite nuns reject decree from Vatican

The request by an association of Carmelite nuns to oversee a monastery in Arlington amounts to a “hostile takeover” and the Vatican allowed it without the knowledge or input from the sisters, the Arlington Carmel said Saturday. In a statement published on their website, the nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity said that the president of the National Association of Christ the King, Mother Marie of the Incarnation, and anyone associated with her and Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth are not welcome on the monastery property.

Their statement comes two days after the Vatican informed the nuns that the association would direct day to day operations of the monastery while Olson would oversee other matters, including the election of the leadership. His authority remains intact. In August 2023, the nuns rejected the bishop’s authority in a dispute over his investigation into reports their prioress, the Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, broke her chastity vow with a priest. The nuns wrote that accepting the “takeover” would endanger the integrity of the monastery, threaten the vocations of individual nuns and the liturgical and spiritual life as well as the material assets of the monastery. In response, the diocese said in a statement that the Holy See has acted toward healing the Arlington Carmel and the nuns in the community and not simply the former prioress and her former councilors.

Austin American-Statesman - April 21, 2024

Republican infighting, battle over Texas speakership results of national political trend

Republicans vying for a seat in the Texas House are looking to settle a political score during next month's primary runoff, but in the lead-up to the partisan showdown a game plan for revamping the chamber's procedures in favor of the GOP is already underway. Looking to advance their push to exclude Democrats from policy decisions and leadership positions, consolidate control of selecting the House's leader and topple the tenure of House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, two dozen conservative candidates, including a handful of incumbents, have signed a "Contract with Texas" to do just that. The fervor of far-right candidates in this election cycle — spurred by the House's vote last year to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton and its opposition to Gov. Greg Abbott's effort to establish a school voucher program — collided with a preexisting and broader effort by a select number of House Republicans seeking to discredit Phelan's conservative bona fides in hopes of pushing the chamber farther to the right.

While the Capitol is no stranger to playing host to hyperpartisan politics, the effort to unseat Phelan and alter a long-standing practice of affording the minority party several committee chairmanships could have an expanded impact on the chamber's ability to legislate. Dr. A´lvaro Corral, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said Phelan is walking a hard line in trying to keep a flame of bipartisan in the chamber alive while facing the political battle of his life amid a runoff election and a challenge to his speakership. "He's sort of trying to do some gymnastics here to sort of maintain this, this tradition," Corral said of the House's practice of having committees chaired by members of both parties. "For years Texas House Speakers have betrayed Republican voters by putting radical Democrats in charge and colluding with them to destroy liberty," Rep. Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, a mainstay of the House GOP's far-right wing, said in releasing the contract. "That insanity must end." In the past, Republicans have worked with Democrats in the House to pass legislation to alter the state's constitution, which requires a higher vote threshold, and to build coalitions when far-right members of the chamber disagreed with the politics of more moderate Republicans.

San Antonio Express-News - April 21, 2024

Texas car insurance premiums are soaring. Here's what's behind the spike — and what you can do

Tami Maldonado has been a loyal USAA customer for about 25 years. But if the San Antonio-based company raises her auto insurance premium again, she says she may start looking elsewhere. The monthly premiums to insure her Honda SUV and her daughter’s Chevrolet Malibu soared from $192 in September 2022 to $318 in March, she said — a jump of nearly 66% in a year and a half. She had expected a slight bump in rates after her daughter was in a wreck about two years ago, but when Maldonado spoke to a USAA representative she was told the March increase was just part of a bigger trend. “When I called, they said it’s nationwide, they’re expecting an increase in insurance all over the U.S.,” Maldonado said. “It wasn’t just my record or my daughter’s record in particular. I was basically told it was to be expected for everybody.”

In Texas, rates climbed an average 25.5% in 2023, according to the Texas Department of Insurance, the biggest annual increase in at least a decade — more than double average increases nationwide. Data on average premiums paid by Texas drivers in 2023 was not yet available, the department said. But financial services company Bankrate.com estimated the average annual premium in Texas is $2,620 this year, up from $2,019 in 2023 and $1,868 in 2022. Bankrate put the average annual premium at $2,576 in the San Antonio area and $2,543 nationwide. Across the U.S., rates jumped 11.2% in 2023 and are expected to surge another 12.6% this year, according to personal finance website ValuePenguin. It predicts a rate increase of at least 5% in every state this year except Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho and North Carolina. Several factors are driving the increases. Among them: Prices of new and used vehicles have spiked since the pandemic so insurers are having to write checks for larger amounts to replace totaled vehicles, said Stephen Crewdson, senior director of insurance business intelligence at consumer research company J.D. Power. The costs of labor and parts are rising, too, because of supply chain problems, inflation and more technology being built into cars. Some parts are taking longer than usual to arrive at dealerships and auto shops, which also means insurers are spending more to keep customers in rental cars than they typically would, Crewdson said. The volume of accidents — and severe collisions — is also increasing, pushing up medical costs. There were 15,299 serious injury crashes in Texas in 2022, up 18.5% from 2019, according to the most recent data available from the Texas Department of Transportation. The number of vehicle traffic fatalities increased 23.6%.

KERA - April 21, 2024

Should Dallas make a 'historic' $82 million housing investment? Voters will decide

Early voting for the May 4 election starts Monday and Dallas residents will have the chance to weigh in on a $1.25 billion bond package. It includes what would be a record investment in affordable housing in the city if voters approve it. Three of the 10 bond propositions include housing-related funds — Propositions G, H and I — that total about $82 million in housing-related funds, about 7% of the total bond package. “This gives us an opportunity to be innovative. This is very historic for our city,” said Council Member Adam Bazaldua. A coalition of businesses, nonprofits, faith leaders and activists spent months advocating for a far greater investment: $200 million for affordable housing and another $35 million for homeless housing and shelter. While the final bond package includes much less than that, Ashley Brundage, Executive Director of Housing Stability at the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas who helped lead the Dallas Housing Coalition, says that the bond funds will help.

“Housing affordability is impacting every single one of us, so by creating more units, creating more affordability, housing more people that are experiencing homelessness, it helps all of us,” Brundage said. “So I think it's really important to do that, to go out and vote yes.” Dallas has a shortage of more than 33,000 affordable rental units, according to a Child Poverty Action Lab study. That shortage could more than double by 2030, putting stress on more middle-income Dallasites. Homeownership has moved out of reach for many middle-class residents in a lot of the city as home prices spiked during the pandemic and stayed high. There are a lot of misconceptions of what affordable housing looks like and who it is for, Brundage said. These days, she said new subsidized housing is built into mixed-income developments that include market-rate units alongside subsidized, lower-cost ones. It takes the form of apartment complexes, duplexes and triplexes, condos, town homes and detached single family homes. “Affordability is not your rundown apartment complex that everybody pictures in their minds because that's what we see on movies,” she said.

National Stories

New York Times - April 21, 2024

Necessity gives rise to bipartisanship — for now

When Congress convened in 2023, an empowered far-right Republican faction in the House threatened to upend Washington and President Biden’s agenda. But the intransigence of that bloc instead forced Republicans and Democrats into an ad hoc coalition government that is now on the verge of delivering long-delayed foreign military aid and a victory to the Democratic president. The House approval on Saturday of money for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan over angry objections from the extreme right was the latest and perhaps most striking example of a bipartisan approach forged out of necessity. The coalition first sprang up last year to spare the government a catastrophic debt default, and has reassembled at key moments since then to keep federal agencies funded.

Unable to deliver legislation on their own because of a razor-thin majority and the refusal of those on the right to give ground, House Republicans had no choice but to break with their fringe members and join with Democrats if they wanted to accomplish much of anything, including bolstering Ukraine in its war against Russia. “Look at what MAGA extremism has got you: nothing,” Representative James P. McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, told Republicans on the House floor as lawmakers took their first steps toward approving the aid package. “Nothing. Not a damn thing. In fact, it has empowered Democrats. At every critical juncture in this Congress, it has been Democrats who have been the ones to stand up for our country and do the right thing for the American people.” The moments of bipartisan coming-together are hardly a template for a new paradigm of governing in polarized times. The grudging G.O.P. collaboration with Democrats has only come about on truly existential, must-pass legislation — and typically only at the last minute after Republicans have exhausted all other options, making the coalition unlikely to hold on less critical bills and the social policy issues that sharply divide the two parties.

New York Times - April 21, 2024

Will a mountain of evidence be enough to convict Trump?

In the official record, the case is known as the People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump, and, for now, the people have the stronger hand: They have insider witnesses, a favorable jury pool and a lurid set of facts about a presidential candidate, a payoff and a porn star. On Monday, the prosecutors will formally introduce the case to 12 all-important jurors, embarking on the first prosecution of an American president. The trial, which could brand Mr. Trump a felon as he mounts another White House run, will reverberate throughout the nation and test the durability of the justice system that Mr. Trump attacks as no other defendant could. Though the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has assembled a mountain of evidence, a conviction is hardly assured. Over the next six weeks, Mr. Trump’s lawyers will seize on three apparent weak points: a key witness’s credibility, a president’s culpability and the case’s legal complexity.

Prosecutors will seek to maneuver around those vulnerabilities, dazzling the jury with a tale that mixes politics and sex, as they confront a shrewd defendant with a decades-long track record of skirting legal consequences. They will also seek to bolster the credibility of that key witness, Michael D. Cohen, a former fixer to Mr. Trump who previously pleaded guilty to federal crimes for paying the porn star, Stormy Daniels. Daniel J. Horwitz, a veteran defense lawyer who previously worked in the Manhattan district attorney’s office prosecuting white-collar cases, said prosecutors can be expected to corroborate Mr. Cohen’s story wherever possible. “The prosecution has layers upon layers of evidence to back up what Michael Cohen says,” Mr. Horwitz said. Both sides will lay out their cases in opening statements on Monday, offering dueling interpretations of the evidence some six years after the payoff to Ms. Daniels entered the public consciousness and briefly imperiled Mr. Trump’s presidency. But in previewing the case for prospective jurors last week, Manhattan prosecutors emphasized neither the payoff that secured Ms. Daniels’s silence, nor the sex scandal that was buried in the process. One prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, instead distilled the trial’s stakes to a fundamental question: “This case is about the rule of law and whether or not Donald Trump broke it.”

Washington Post - April 21, 2024

The evolution of Mike Johnson on Ukraine

When the House passed a $40 billion emergency funding bill for Ukraine in September 2022, support for Ukraine was largely still a bipartisan issue. But a little-known conservative congressman from Louisiana was one of the 57 Republicans to oppose it. Now, just six months later, after an unlikely elevation to speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-La.) has pushed through a $60 billion effort to bolster’s Ukraine arsenal along with funding for Israel and the Indo-Pacific. The move marks a major victory and dramatic turnabout for the speaker who is trying to gain control of a bitterly divided Republican conference. The far-right is fiercely against Ukraine aid — 112 Republicans, just over half of the conference, opposed it on the House floor Saturday and he had to rely on unanimous Democratic backing — and Johnson’s decision to greenlight a floor vote could come at great political cost. He could very well lose his job as speaker over it.

It is also a major rebuke to former president Donald Trump, who publicly backed Johnson at a recent Mar-a-Lago event but has long criticized Ukraine while repeatedly sympathizing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Johnson appears fully aware of the consequences of his decision to send money to Ukraine in its grinding war against Russia. He made the difficult decision despite threats from an angry and vocal minority of hard-right Republicans — ironically, the ones who helped catapult him into power — who are using their conservative bully pulpit to challenge Johnson and threaten his job. He seems to have accepted his fate. “Look, history judges us for what we do,” said an emotional Johnson, holding back tears and with a quivering lip at a news conference this week in response to a question from The Washington Post. “This is a critical time right now, critical time in the world stage. I could make a selfish decision and do something that’s different, but I’m doing here what I believe to be the right thing.” Johnson’s son will be headed to the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall. “To put it bluntly, I would rather send bullets to Ukraine, than American boys,” he said. “This is a live-fire exercise for me and for so many American families.”

NPR - April 21, 2024

Historical markers are everywhere in America. Some get history wrong

The stately Fendall Hall in Eufaula, Ala., has a historical marker that does not accurately portray how the home's original owners were cotton brokers and were part of the slave trade in the 1800s. The sound of the party filters across the mansion's lawn long before you see it: Dozens of guests spill out onto the front porch of the stately Fendall Hall in Eufaula, Alabama. It's an engagement party, and past the people drinking white wine in the main hall is one of the home's historians, Susan Campbell. She swings open the door to the expansive backyard. "They had, like, 5 acres or so," Campbell says of the former owners, the Young-Dent family. They built the house in the late 1850s. But you might already know this, because planted in the front yard of this historical home is a large, black-and-gold, square metal historical marker with the seal of the Alabama Historical Commission — and it says so.

Edward Brown Young was a "banker, merchant and entrepreneur," it says. He "organized the company which built the first bridge" in Eufaula, and his daughter married a Confederate captain in the "War Between the States." What the marker doesn't mention, however, is that Young was a cotton broker, one of the most powerful men in the slave trade. Nor does it mention that he owned nine slaves, according to the federal 1860 census. The historical marker that omits parts of the Young-Dent family's past is on the grounds of Fendall Hall in Eufaula. The back side of the marker says Edward Brown Young was a "banker, merchant and entrepreneur." The back side also says that he "organized the company which built the first bridge" in Eufaula and that his daughter married a Confederate captain in the "War Between the States." And while the sign claims the company he organized built the bridge, that bridge, spanning the Chattahoochee River, was actually designed, managed and built by a slave named Horace King, a renowned and gifted engineer, along with a large group of enslaved men. Campbell says she'd like to see more of this information included. "But that's because I'm a Northerner, not a Southerner," she says. She moved to the South 20 years ago from Michigan. She says most people she knows here wouldn't agree with her. "I mean, they know," she says, glancing over at the revelers on the porch. "They know it. But [they] don't necessarily want to be reminded." That's the difficult thing about the truth. It's just not as fun to throw parties in places where terrible things happened. How the U.S. tells its own story is a debate raging in schools, statehouses and public squares nationwide. It has led to social movements and angry protests. But for more than a century, historical markers have largely escaped that kind of scrutiny.

The Hill - April 21, 2024

‘I thought I could do this’: Anxiety rips through Trump hush money juror pool

Selecting the jury for the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president was never going to be an easy task. But several New Yorkers who could have served in the historic role indicated that even the possibility of sitting on former President Trump’s jury was too much to bear. “I have to be honest. I feel so nervous and anxious right now. I’m sorry,” one woman said, holding back tears with a tissue in hand. “I thought I could do this, but I wouldn’t want someone who feels this way to judge me either.” “This is so much more stressful than I thought it was going to be,” she added, before she was excused. Anxiety and fear tore through the pool of potential jurors in Trump’s hush money case throughout four days of jury selection this week. Some said the pressure of non-stop media coverage was too daunting, while others expressed a general unease about being one of 12 primary and six alternate jurors who will soon decide the former president’s fate in a case garnering global attention.

Then there was the politics of it all. More than half of the 192 New Yorkers screened immediately indicated they couldn’t be impartial in a case where one of the most divisive figures in the country was at the center of it all. There was also a matter of varying degrees of separation from Trump being that the case is being tried in the city where he made his name. For those who remained, many changed their minds as they went through the selection process. With Trump sitting about 15 feet away, some became flustered as they answered questions while others became emotional and asked to be excused. As one prospective juror left the courtroom, they quipped, “I just couldn’t do it.” Trump often looked over to the jury box while following along with a copy of the 42-question survey the New Yorkers were asked to fill out, putting some jurors on edge. “I’m not used to being on stage, I’m nervous,” said one prospective juror. “You’re doing great,” the judge assured him. Even a juror who made it through the entire selection process and was seated for the trial eventually changed tune. She expressed concerns about the intense press coverage, saying friends and family had questioned if she was a juror and that it began to affect her impartiality. It led the judge to admonish the media.

The Hill - April 21, 2024

GOP vice presidential hopefuls look for Trump’s golden ticket

Former President Trump may be handing a golden ticket to whomever he picks as his running mate for November, and the Republicans jockeying for his favor know it. If Trump wins a second term, his running mate could be best positioned to be the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2028. Instead of the usual eight-year wait a vice presidential pick would face, Trump’s selection this time would become an overnight favorite to be the GOP nominee in four years. “To the extent that whoever he picks as vice president could be the presumptive front-runner four years from now, it’s a bigger deal than normal,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign. The vice presidential pick could also be seen as the heir apparent for the MAGA movement, which has all but completely taken over the GOP under Trump.

Allies to the ex-president and Republican strategists say Trump is not focused on setting up an heir apparent. He’s instead looking for a vice presidential candidate who will be loyal — perhaps the most important factor to Trump in picking any help — and someone who will help him win defeat President Biden in November. But everyone involved in the jockeying knows the special importance of this year’s decision. “We’re seeing a lot of younger Republicans clamoring for the role because they see this as not only being as vice president but as positioning for 2028,” Conant said. One of the Republicans who is on Trump’s radar as a potential running mate is Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who pursued an unsuccessful White House bid before suspending it last November and becoming a prominent surrogate for the former president. Scott, who is 58 and the lone Black Republican in the Senate, long has been considered by GOP strategists as a candidate for higher office in part because of his strong fundraising numbers and compelling personal story. Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), another staunch Trump ally who has stoked VP speculation, is only 39 and is considered a potential future face of the party. Vance told Fox News earlier this month he has not spoken to Trump about the possibility of joining the ticket, but he would help “however I can.”

Wall Street Journal - April 21, 2024

Inside the White House’s frenetic scramble to avert a full-blown Middle East war

resident Biden and his national-security team watched with mounting alarm on April 13 as monitors in the White House Situation Room showed 30, then 60, then over 100 Iranian ballistic missiles streaking toward Israel. Iranian cruise missiles and a swarm of drones were already in the air, timed to arrive at the same time as the missiles—a massive barrage that Biden and his aides feared could overwhelm the strengthened defenses they and Israel had spent more than a week preparing. The scale of Tehran’s first-ever direct attack on Israel matched U.S. spy agencies’ worst-case scenarios, U.S. officials said later. It threatened not only a close U.S. ally, but Biden’s hopes of preventing a six-month Middle East crisis from widening into an all-out regional war. Assembling in the Situation Room at 5:15 p.m. that Saturday, Biden and his aides couldn’t be sure that Israel’s antimissile systems, reinforced by the U.S. military’s antimissile and counterdrone deployments in the previous 10 days, would block nearly 99% of Iran’s salvo.

The agonizing wait during the Iranian barrage was among the tense moments in a 19-day crisis for Biden and his national-security team, one where they often found themselves uninformed or uncertain about what both Israel and Iran were planning at critical times. It began with a go-it-alone attack in which the Israelis launched a bold strike at Iranian officers in Damascus without any consultation with the U.S. It ended after a coalition of U.S., European and Arab militaries helped blunt the Iranian attack and Israel appeared to heed the American calls for restraint. The crisis erupted on April 1, when Israeli weapons slammed into a building in Syria’s capital Damascus, killing senior Iranian military leaders, including Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi, an important figure who oversaw Iran’s paramilitary operations in Syria and Lebanon for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Just minutes before the strike, an Israeli official alerted his U.S. counterpart that it was under way. But the heads up didn’t include any information about who was being targeted or the location being struck, U.S. officials said. The White House soon learned of another unexpected Israeli attack that occurred the same day as the Damascus strike: An Israeli drone strike against an aid convoy in Gaza killed seven workers from celebrity chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen charity.

April 19, 2024

Lead Stories

Washington Post - April 19, 2024

Tumultuous Trump trial day ends with 12 jurors, 1 alternate selected

A 12-member jury was assembled for Donald Trump’s hush money trial on Thursday hours after two previously sworn-in jurors were removed, illustrating the intense scrutiny and potential public exposure that comes with sitting in judgment of the former president and likely 2024 Republican White House nominee. Seven men and five women have been picked, along with the first of what is expected to be a group of six alternates. Jury selection will resume Friday. While it is possible that additional sworn-in jurors will also drop out or be removed, requiring more to be screened and chosen, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said he expected opening statements on Monday. Some of the selected jurors said during questioning that they have personal views of Trump or his presidency but could remain impartial in the case.

One spoke favorably of him, saying she liked that he “speaks his mind.” Another told the court, “I don’t like his persona.” Overall, the jurors showed a range of knowledge about his court cases, with several saying they didn’t follow the news closely. Trump is the first former U.S. president to stand criminal trial. He faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with reimbursement of a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election. Prosecutors have accused Trump of classifying the reimbursement as a legal expense, rather than a campaign expense, and of authorizing the payment to Daniels to keep her from publicly accusing him just before the 2016 election of a tryst she alleged happened years earlier. It is one of four criminal indictments against Trump; the other three trials are delayed and may not happen before the election. In addition to picking a jury, lawyers have been sparring in the courtroom this week over whether Trump has repeatedly violated a gag order by making public comments and social media posts related to witnesses and others Merchan has said should be protected.

Dallas Morning News - April 19, 2024

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rules the Texas Senate. Now he seeks influence in the House

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wields vast power in the Texas Senate with a warm smile and a grandfatherly wit that belies the quietly relentless nature behind each gavel strike. Since taking office in 2015, the three-term, 74-year-old lieutenant governor has remade the Senate in his image, allowing his conservative agenda to fly through with little resistance. Patrick’s reign over the Senate puts him among the most powerful and successful policymakers in the history of Texas, but he isn’t stopping there. Breaking an unwritten rule against meddling in the affairs of another chamber in the Legislature, Patrick is vigorously campaigning against House Speaker Dade Phelan, who is in a fight for his political life in a primary runoff. If Phelan is defeated in the May 28 runoff against relative newcomer David Covey, Patrick would be rid of a rival he’s described as a failed Republican who ignores policies favored by conservatives.

Patrick also would be a key step closer to changing the makeup of the House, which has not been welcoming to his priorities on border security, tax cuts, election fraud, school choice and other issues. The Dallas Morning News spoke to nearly a dozen current and former lawmakers, lobbyists and political experts for this story. The lieutenant governor’s office and Patrick’s campaign did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment, but Patrick has said his effort to oust Phelan is “not personal.” Mark Davis, a conservative talk radio host, said the deep rift between Phelan and Patrick was the natural result of the House’s role as a backstop against some of the conservative legislation that has sailed through the Senate. “The Paxton impeachment merely brought to the surface some procedural frustrations that have bubbled for years,” Davis said. “Phelan’s rush to impeach, featuring obvious pressure on many Republicans to get on board despite voters’ objections, led to a Senate trial that provided exhibit A on the differences between how each house is run.” Patrick’s frustration bubbled over at the end of a special session in December when a chief conservative policy goal — taxpayer-subsidized private school tuition — failed in the House. In a lengthy news conference, he questioned the speaker’s leadership, saying Phelan should not be in power and was not fit to be in the Republican Party.

Houston Chronicle - April 19, 2024

Murder charge filed against man over deadly Brenham DPS semitruck crash

A Washington County man who last week was arrested after driving a truck into a DPS office has been charged with felony murder, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Clenard Parker, 42, of Chappell Hill, was charged with felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief, according to DPS.

Parker had already been charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily injury, one count of evading arrest or detention causing serious bodily injury, and one count of unauthorized use of a vehicle, according to DPS. Parker was arrested moments after a semitruck crashed into the front of a feeder-road DPS Office in Brenham, which contained both licensing and highway patrol offices. Parker was accused of stealing the truck, leading Washington County deputies on a chase and then intentionally driving into the building. According to authorities, Parker had been turned away from the licensing office the day before, when he had tried to renew his commercial drivers license. The crash killed 78-year-old Bobby Huff, according to DPS. Five other people were injured and taken transported to the hospital, according to DPS.

Wall Street Journal - April 19, 2024

Water facilities warned to improve cybersecurity as nation-state hackers pounce

The water sector is under pressure to improve cybersecurity protections as hacking threats grow. The Environmental Protection Agency and the White House met with governors last month and asked them to draw up plans by June 28 explaining how they plan to deal with major cybersecurity risks facing their state’s water and wastewater systems. Last week, Reps. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) and John Duarte (R., Cal.) proposed a bill that would create a governing body to develop cybersecurity mandates for water systems and work with the EPA to enforce new rules. Many water facilities need help securing their systems because they don’t have the budget for tools or cybersecurity staff, said Kevin Morley, manager for federal relations at the American Water Works Association. The trade group was part of a lawsuit that fought a previous attempt by the EPA to mandate cyber protections for water systems, saying the cost of complying with the requirements would be out of reach for many facilities.

Training on basic cybersecurity protections is lacking, he said. “We have the haves and the have nots,” Morley said. It can take several years and cost millions of dollars for utilities to upgrade old equipment, which is a big strain on many municipal systems, he said. Water and other critical infrastructure facilities use specialized technology for industrial processes that typically remain in use for decades and therefore lack modern cybersecurity protections. Frank Ury, president of the board of the Santa Margarita Water District in southern California, said a main concern is that hackers are lying dormant in water facilities’ systems but could eventually launch a coordinated attack that might affect multiple areas at once. The Santa Margarita facility doesn’t have a chief information security officer and spends around 15% of its technology budget on cybersecurity, he said. “Most agencies don’t know they’ve been compromised,” he said. Ury is also a senior client executive for CAI, a consulting firm that works with water utilities and other companies. Hackers, often including political activist groups that typically use low-level cyberattack techniques, are targeting water facilities more frequently and in many cases find them to be insufficiently protected, said Lior Frenkel, chief executive and founder of Waterfall Security Solutions, a cybersecurity company that focuses on critical infrastructure. Waterfall works with several hundred water facilities in the U.S.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 19, 2024

Kinder Morgan takes 10,800 acres near Houston Ship Channel for CO2 storage

Kinder Morgan said Wednesday that it had leased nearly 11,000 acres near the Houston Ship Channel that the Houston-based pipeline giant would use as underground pore space as it expands its carbon storage business. Kinder Morgan Energy Transitions Ventures agreed last week to lease the 10,800 acres from TGS Cedar Port Partners, a rail service operator that oversees a 15,000-acre industrial park near the channel, the company said. The lease gives Kinder Morgan access to underground caverns capable of storing more than 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Securing space along the channel paves the way for Kinder Morgan to offer solutions to nearby industrial facilities as they look for ways to capture and store carbon dioxide billowing from their smokestacks. It joins several big oil companies in a race to develop carbon storage projects in East Texas.

Houston Chronicle - April 19, 2024

Electricity demand from AI, data centers is skyrocketing in Texas. Can ERCOT keep up?

The rapid expansion of data centers, fueled by the rise of artificial intelligence platforms and the increasing digitization of the economy, is driving a surge in electricity demand in Texas and across the country that could soon be pushing the limits of what power grids can handle. Grid operators such as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas are rushing to adjust their demand forecasts amid projections by consulting firm McKinsey and the International Energy Agency that power load for data centers, which already consume 4% of the power on the U.S. grid, will double by the end of the decade.

In a recent podcast interview, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas said the rapid speed at which data centers such as the $800 million facility Meta is building in Temple were coming online was “unheard of in terms of grid planning time scales.” “Historically, you’ve always been able to have years to contemplate a massive manufacturing facility coming online,” he said on the Energy Capital podcast. “Now we’re seeing 500- and 700-megawatt data centers being built in a year.” ERCOT reported earlier this month that peak power loads on its system would rise 6% by 2030 to 94.3 gigawatts — with the caveat there was an additional 62 gigawatts of additional load asking to connect to the grid. It didn’t detail where those load requests were coming from, and ERCOT declined to make officials available for this story. But Doug Lewin, an energy consultant in Austin, said data centers, along with new manufacturing facilities such as the semiconductor plants being built around Austin, crypto currency mining operations and growth in oil production in West Texas, were responsible for much of the new load requests. “Some of (the 62 gigawatts) will come, some of it won’t,” he said. “But even if it’s just one third of that, in five to six years time that’s shocking.”

Houston Chronicle - April 19, 2024

Texas appeals court agrees to toss ‘scattershot’ bar complaint against Trump lawyer Sidney Powell

A Dallas appeals court on Thursday upheld a decision not to discipline Sidney Powell, former lawyer for Donald Trump, for her role in seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election, saying the complaint against her was riddled with errors. In a scathing 25-page opinion, a panel of three Democratic judges criticized the state bar for filing a complaint against Powell with mislabeled evidence. A Collin County judge had tossed the case in early 2023, citing the disorganization. “The Bar employed a ‘scattershot’ approach to the case, which left this court and the trial court ‘with the task of sorting through the argument to determine what issue ha(d) actually been raised,’” wrote Judge Dennise Garcia. The appeals court agreed that the bar had not met its burden of proof to show Powell knowingly made a false statement or used false evidence when she filed lawsuits to overturn the election results.

Austin American-Statesman - April 19, 2024

Ted Cruz granted extension on FEC personal finance statement; Democrats pounce

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, seeking a third term in the November election against well-financed Dallas Democratic U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, has been granted permission by the Federal Election Commission to extend his deadline to file his required personal financial statement from mid-May to Aug. 14. The extension, published on the FEC's website, comes as Cruz is attempting to fend off allegations that hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds from his podcast "Verdict with Ted Cruz" are being directed to a political action committee supporting his reelection. "Senator Cruz appears on Verdict three times a week for free,” the campaign told the American-Statesman in an email. Cruz does the podcast with co-host Ben Ferguson and according to its homepage offers a behind-the-scenes analysis "of the political debates that define our country."

The Senate Ethics Committee in February found that Cruz did not violate federal law in connection with his podcast and the political action committee. But last week, two campaign finance watchdog groups asked the FEC to investigate their allegations that Cruz had violated the Federal Election Campaign Act after iHeartMedia, a San Antonio media company that publishes "Verdict," made deposits to a super PAC connected to Cruz's reelection campaign. The payments were reported as "digital revenue" or "digital income" as opposed to campaign contributions. The Cruz campaign did not directly address a question from the Statesman about whether the delay in filing the personal financial statement was related to the podcast controversy. Cruz has received 10 extensions during his time in the Senate. Allred has received four since entering Congress in 2019. But a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party pounced on Cruz's latest delay, which means the details contained in the statement won't be available for public review until less than three months before the Nov. 5 election. “With his shady podcast scandal getting worse by the day, it’s no surprise that Ted Cruz wants to keep his finances out of Texans’ view for as long as possible," party spokesman Ryan Radulovacki said in an emailed statement. "Texans deserve answers, a full investigation, and a U.S. Senator — not a full-time podcaster — who’s committed to actually delivering for Texans."

Austin American-Statesman - April 19, 2024

Texas Education Agency must accommodate teachers during certification tests, DOJ says

The U.S. Department of Justice has reached a settlement with the Texas Education Agency over a 2022 complaint that accused the latter of not providing appropriate accommodations to a teacher taking a reading certification exam, the federal department announced Wednesday. The settlement requires the TEA to allow testers with dyslexia or dysgraphia to use alternative exam arrangements, such as text-to-speech technology, when taking a reading certification exam. The Justice Department opened the case after receiving a complaint alleging that the TEA had violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act in administering a Science of Teaching Reading exam, a regular test for issuing certain teaching certifications. The TEA didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

A 2019 law requires all Texas teacher candidates who teach students from prekindergarten through sixth grade to demonstrate proficiency in the Science of Teaching Reading program. In 2021, the TEA directed NCS Pearson Inc., which administers the exam, not to allow a reader for exam takers who weren’t blind on tests in which reading skills are measured, according to the settlement agreement. A reader in an exam will read out test materials for someone who needs accommodations. The TEA determined that such an accommodation “could fundamentally alter the accurate measurement of knowledge or skills intended to be measured by that exam,” according to the settlement. In 2022, a Science of Teaching Reading tester who had previously been diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia requested extra test time, a scribe and either someone to read the test or speech-to-text technology, according to the complaint. The TEA denied the tester’s request June 20, 2022, but the tester has received these same accommodations for at least three different teacher certification exams since then, according to the complaint.

Dallas Morning News - April 19, 2024

Texas Panhandle towns report cyberattacks that caused one water system to overflow

A hack that caused a small Texas town’s water system to overflow in January has been linked to a shadowy Russian hacktivist group, the latest case of a U.S. public utility becoming a target of foreign cyberattacks. The attack was one of three on small towns in the rural Texas Panhandle. Local officials said the public was not put in any danger and the attempts were reported to federal authorities. “There were 37,000 attempts in four days to log into our firewall,” said Mike Cypert, city manager of Hale Center, which is about 40 miles north of Lubbock and home to about 2,000 residents. The attempted hack failed as the city “unplugged” the system and operated it manually, he added.

In Muleshoe, about 60 miles to the west in Bailey County and with a population of about 5,000, hackers caused the water system to overflow before it was shut down and taken over manually by officials, City Manager Ramon Sanchez told CNN. He did not immediately respond to phone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. “The incident was quickly addressed and resolved,” Sanchez said in a statement, according to Lubbock-based ABC affiliate KAMC-TV. “The city’s water disinfectant system was not affected, and the public water system nor the public was in any danger.” At least one of the attacks was linked this week by Mandiant, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, to a shadowy Russian hacktivist group that it said could be working with or part of a Russian military hacking unit.

Dallas Morning News - April 19, 2024

‘Worse than COVID’: 41% fewer Texas students completed FAFSA this year

Texas saw one of the most dramatic drops in high schoolers completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid as the nation contends with a rocky rollout of the new FAFSA. In the Dallas area, schools experienced significant decreases – some of them as large as 30 percentage-point drops, according to an analysis of federal data by The Dallas Morning News. In Dallas ISD, for example, only about 35% of seniors completed the form by April 5 compared to over 60% last year, according to the federal data. The U.S. Department of Education estimates show that Texas had about 41% fewer seniors finish the application by April 5 compared to this time last year, according to The News’ analysis. Now many educators and advocates worry that the troubled FAFSA rollout will disrupt students’ journey to college more than the pandemic.

“This needs to be all hands on deck for states,” said Ellie Bruecker, interim director of research at The Institute for College Access and Success. “Students will fall out of the pipeline if we don’t get them to fill out the FAFSA.” These declines come as the U.S. Department of Education was tasked with redesigning FAFSA to be a simpler and more accessible form for students. However, the launch of the revamped application was marked by delays and technical difficulties, leaving millions of students confused and afraid they won’t get enough financial aid for the next academic year. Damian Salas, a senior at Uplift North Hills Preparatory in Irving, has been accepted to many Texas universities, including Texas Tech, as well as schools in Colorado and Oklahoma. He wants to study computer engineering. “I really like being hands-on with materials and building things. I like building PCs. I’ve always been fascinated by that,” he said. But he can’t decide where to attend and make plans for next year as he awaits news of financial aid. “It makes me stressed because I see him frustrated that he isn’t able to make a decision,” his mother Jessica Salas said. “He sees that dad and I are also stressed out because we’re not able to plan.”

Border Report - April 19, 2024

Texas county celebrates helping 100,000 migrants reach destination in US

El Paso County officials are celebrating a milestone when it comes to dealing with the years-long humanitarian migrant crisis. Their Migrant Support Services Center has now helped 100,000 asylum-seekers reach their destination of choice. “This achievement underscores the critical role the center has played in the lives of tens of thousands, highlighting its pivotal position in the ongoing effort to humanely welcome and support those in desperate need,” the county said in a statement Wednesday. The center opened in October 2022 when more than 2,000 migrants were coming across the border every day in the El Paso region. Its primary role was to swiftly assist asylum-seekers make travel arrangements after their release from federal immigration custody. This contributed to keeping the migrant population in the city manageable, taking stress off nonprofit shelters during surges and preventing people from having to stay on the streets.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 19, 2024

Vatican orders Arlington nuns to rescind statement rejecting Fort Worth bishop’s authority

An association of Carmelite nuns will now direct day to day operations of the Arlington monastery where nuns rejected the bishop’s authority last summer over his investigation into reports their leader broke her chastity vow, according to a decree Thursday from the Vatican. Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth will oversee other matters at the monastery, including the election of the leadership. His authority remains intact. The nuns of the Monastery of the Most Holy Trinity were also told to rescind their August 2023 statement that rejected the bishop’s authority. The decree was issued after the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and the Rev. Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach were in a dispute stemming from an investigation into a report that she violated her chastity vows with a priest. The nuns sued the diocese over invasion of privacy in May 2023, but the suit was dismissed in June after a judge ruled that the courts did not have jurisdiction over ecclesiastical matters.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 19, 2024

Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare’s comments called racist

Residents and members of local civil rights organizations gathered Thursday to denounce Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare’s recent treatment of Commissioner Alisa Simmons, which they described as racist, misogynistic, and publicly intimidating. The news conference sprang from an exchange between O’Hare and Simmons at a meeting of the Commissioners Court on Tuesday, during which O’Hare told Simmons, “I’m the one talking now, so you’ll sit there and be quiet and listen to me talk.” O’Hare is white; Simmons is Black. A news conference was held Thursday morning in front of the Tarrant County Administration Building in downtown Fort Worth with about 20 people in attendance, including representatives of the Fort Worth and Arlington chapters of the NAACP and United Fort Worth.

O’Hare did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Those in attendance said they want Tarrant County citizens to stand up against O’Hare’s disrespect of Simmons by speaking at the May 7 County Commissioners Court meeting. “In the wake of everything that’s been going on with the statement that he made, ‘Sit down and be quiet,’ You can’t say that to a woman in 2024,” Kennedy Jones, president of the Arlington NAACP chapter, said. Simmons approached the crowd at the end of the news conference. She said she didn’t expect such a response from residents but was appreciative that they recognized the inappropriateness of O’Hare’s behavior. “Because I was not going to be quiet does not mean that I’m out of order,” Simmons said. “I was speaking, I even attempted to answer his questions, and he didn’t like my question, so he didn’t answer so he would speak over me. I’m not tolerating that.” The exchange between O’Hare and Simmons came after Simmons voiced opposition to a five month, $5,000 contract with Noah Betz, the executive director of the Huffines Liberty Foundation, to work in O’Hare’s office. Speakers during the meeting criticized Betz’s conservative political record, calling it an ethical violation and misuse of taxpayer dollars for O’Hare to hire him. After Simmons shared her concerns about the contract, O’Hare questioned Simmons about whether her X (formerly Twitter) account is political in nature. At one point, as they were both talking, O’Hare told Simmons, “I’m the one talking now, so you’ll sit there and be quiet and listen to me talk.”

Houston Chronicle - April 19, 2024

Harris County guaranteed income program can move forward, judge rules

A district judge on Thursday ruled Harris County's new guaranteed income program can proceed, denying the Texas Attorney General Office's request for a temporary injunction. The state sued Harris County earlier this month, arguing the initiative to provide financial assistance to low-income residents violated a Texas statute prohibiting gifts of public funds. Harris County Commissioners Court approved the plan last June to send $500 monthly payments to around 1,900 low-income households over the course of 18 months. The $20.5 million Uplift Harris program is funded by federal pandemic recovery dollars.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis called the ruling a "victory for families struggling to make ends meet," while also acknowledging the legal battle likely isn't over. "We stand ready to take our fight all the way to the Texas Supreme Court to protect Uplift Harris," Ellis said in a statement. The Attorney General's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Though Uplift Harris has the support of Commissioners Court's four Democratic members, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey – the lone Republican serving on the court – has vocally opposed it.

KXAN - April 19, 2024

Texas small business owner goes to DC, speaks against potential TikTok ban

The debate around a potential TikTok ban hits close to home for some small businesses in Central Texas. The House passed a bill in March that could force the Chinese-based owner, ByteDance, to sell the app or lead to a nationwide ban. Some lawmakers are concerned TikTok shares user data with the Chinese government or that Chinese authorities have tinkered with the company’s algorithm, which influences what Americans see. To date, the U.S. government has not provided evidence showing that. On Wednesday, House Republican leaders included it in a package of bills that would send aid to Ukraine and Israel. The bill could be law as soon as next week if Congress moves quickly. Not only does it have bipartisan support in the House, but President Joe Biden said he would sign the legislation if it reaches his desk.

A Leander business owner hopes that doesn’t happen. She took her frustrations to Washington, DC. Jordan Smith is the owner of The Elevated Closet. “I own a clothing brand, specifically for tall women,” Smith said. “It’s really difficult for us to find pants long enough, dresses long enough. I’m here to provide that for other tall women.” Smith said she constantly tries to grow her customer-base. A tool that helps her? TikTok. Through the app, Smith said her customers can shop. “They see me talking in the video, moving in the video,” Smith said. “They see the clothes on live, and they can immediately click a button and the product is purchased and it will be heading their direction.” At the same time she’s making a profit, Smith said she’s also spreading the word about her business to thousands per post. “It would really devastate me if this platform went away, just because it has been so helpful,” Smith said. “It’s been such a positive community builder for tall women all across the country.”

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 19, 2024

City Council OKs new utility plant at Austin airport; more steps in expansion to come

The Austin City Council on Thursday passed the first of many steps to address the "deficient" elements of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport this year, kicking off a spate of votes in the coming months to increase capacity at the overcrowded airport. The unanimous decision, the first of at least nine expansion-related votes planned this year, approves a $162 million construction contract to build a new utility plant for the city-run airport. Built in 1997, the existing plant powers the airport's heating and cooling and has reached its peak cooling capacity, meaning it could not accommodate further growth, according to airport officials. In addition to expanding the ceiling for the airport's growth, current plans for the new plant aim to cut down on the carbon footprint.

National Stories

ABC News - April 19, 2024

Israel retaliates against Iran, US official says

Israel, early Friday morning local time, launched a retaliatory strike against Iran, a senior U.S. official told ABC News. The strike follow Iran's attack last Saturday, where the country sent a volley of more than 300 uncrewed drones and missiles toward targets throughout the country, Israeli military officials previously said. All but a few were intercepted by Israel and its allies, including the United States, officials said. Iran's attack came more than six months after Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on Oct. 7, after which the Israeli military began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country's war cabinet have met several times since the Iran strikes, and as ABC News previously reported, at least two strikes were previously aborted.

Gadget Insiders - April 19, 2024

Elon Musk’s Boring Company’s Vegas tunnel project fails due to monorail safety concerns

Las Vegas, a city famed for its vibrant nightlife and sprawling casinos, recently encountered an unexpected disruption. The Boring Company, spearheaded by visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk, faced significant setbacks as it continued its ambitious effort to revolutionize urban transportation with an underground tunnel network. Recent incidents involving the Las Vegas Monorail have cast a spotlight on the challenges and safety concerns associated with such innovative projects. In a bid to extend its tunnel system, which aims to alleviate surface traffic and provide a novel transit solution, The Boring Company inadvertently compromised the structural integrity of the Las Vegas Monorail. Reports from Fortune indicate that during the expansion work, the company’s excavation activities exposed the bases of several monorail pillars, triggering immediate safety concerns. This misstep led to a temporary halt of the monorail service, affecting the daily commute of numerous residents and tourists along the Vegas Strip.

Source NM - April 19, 2024

NM governor to call special session focused on crime

New Mexico lawmakers will be called up to Santa Fe this summer to consider bills related to criminal competency, gun charges and panhandling, a high-ranking lawmaker said. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will call the New Mexico Legislature into a special session on Thursday, July 18, her office announced in a news release on Wednesday morning. Lujan Grisham said she will call the special session “to allow lawmakers to finish what they started” during the regular session that ended in February. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) said in a news release on Wednesday afternoon talks between Lujan Grisham and legislative leadership have so far focused on bills that didn’t pass during the 30-day session. Wirth said failed proposals related to gun safety and pre-trial detention will not be heard until the 2025 Legislature, which meets for 60 days.

He said debate in July will focus on legislation that required more legal review, “namely: criminal competency, felon in possession of a firearm and panhandling.” “In the next several months, we will also focus on finding ways to expand the critical safety net of mental health and treatment services that are vital to the success of the legislation that will be considered,” Wirth said. While details on the proposals remain short for now, Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham, said the goal of the competency proposal is to address a shortfall in mental health treatment. “We’re committed to reforming mental health laws and services for criminal and civil competency,” McGinnis Porter said. The special session is expected to last several days, Lujan Grisham said, based on her discussions with leadership in the House and Senate. While lawmakers made some progress on criminal legal policy during the 30-day session, “we agree that we must do more,” she said.

NBC News - April 19, 2024

Could pharmacists in states with abortion bans go to prison for prescribing a legal drug?

Alarm bells ring in Matt Murray’s head when a prescription for misoprostol comes through his independent pharmacy in Boise, Idaho. “Are there directions on the prescription that show what it’s being used for?” said Murray, a pharmacist and director of operations for Customedica Pharmacy. “If not, then we would probably need to call the [doctor’s] office and confirm why it’s being prescribed.” The medication is legal — approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent stomach ulcers — but it can also be used for abortions, which became illegal in Idaho with few exceptions when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. When that happened, misoprostol went from “something that wasn’t on the radar but now sends up an alert in the pharmacy,” Murray said.

Misoprostol, which works by contracting the uterus, is also commonly used ahead of gynecologic procedures, such as the insertion of intrauterine devices for birth control, or after miscarriages, when pregnancies end on their own. The drug helps speed up the time it takes for a woman's body to expel the failed pregnancy. Murray’s hesitation in dispensing misoprostol isn’t based on personal feelings about abortion. It’s the fear of legal action or jail time. Idaho’s “Defense of Life Act” says any person who performs or assists in an abortion could face felony criminal charges and up to five years in prison. Exceptions include to save the life of the woman and in cases of rape or incest. Does that mean pharmacists could be liable for dispensing a drug that could be used in an abortion — even if it’s not? Pharmacists like Murray in Idaho aren’t sure. “The law isn’t clear whether a pharmacist is committing a felony for dispensing the medication,” he said. “What level of due diligence are we expected to perform?”

NBC News - April 19, 2024

A sheriff, a felon and a conspiracy theorist walk into a hotel. They’re there for the same conference.

A conference for a far-right sheriffs group this week drew a parade of felons, disgraced politicians, election deniers, conspiracy theorists and, in the end, a few sheriffs. The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or CSPOA, met in Las Vegas’ Ahern Luxury Boutique Hotel conference center to publicly counter reports of extremism within the group and set a course for the coming election — one that involves sheriffs’ investigating what they claim, despite a lack of evidence, is rampant voter fraud. The group sees sheriffs as the highest authority in the U.S., more powerful than the federal government, and it wants these county officers to form posses to patrol polling places, seize voting machines and investigate the Democrats and foreign nations behind what they claim is a criminal effort to rig the vote by flooding the country with immigrants who vote illegally.

Critics of the group — including voting rights advocates and extremism researchers — fear the CSPOA’s new focus will amount to interference and legitimize disinformation about U.S. elections. But the event Wednesday, which starred MAGA celebrities speaking to a half-empty audience made up of few actual sheriffs, pointed to just how fringe the group’s ideas are — and how what once seemed like a movement on its way into the mainstream has lost political pull. The conference opened a little behind schedule; the Pledge of Allegiance was delayed when organizers couldn’t find a flag. After he searched the conference center’s rooms, Tom Hamner, a Colorado man who served over two years in prison for the felony “interfering with law enforcement” on Jan. 6, 2021, came forward with the scarf from his wife’s neck. It wasn’t exactly a flag, but it was emblazoned with stars and stripes. “That’ll work!” emcee Alex Newman, an Epoch Times contributor, said before he led the crowd of dozens in the pledge. A smooth jazz rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” followed, sung by a Las Vegas man awaiting trial on multiple felony charges who is accused of fraudulently posing as a certified firearms instructor.

NPR - April 19, 2024

House foreign aid bills advance with Democrats' help; Johnson may still be in peril

The House Rules Committee has voted 9-3 to advance a package of bills providing aid to Israel, Ukraine, and other allies, after Democrats took the rare step of supporting a procedural vote for Republican bills. Republican Reps. Chip Roy, Thomas Massie and Ralph Norman voted against the rule, out of anger that assistance to Ukraine was not paired with conservative border security provisions, as House Speaker Mike Johnson had previously pushed to do. Thursday night's vote enables the full House to vote on the rule and begin debate on the foreign aid bills. Various pieces of the package are expected to pass with bipartisan coalitions this weekend. Ahead of the vote, Democratic leaders had not committed to supporting the rule, as text was not yet available. But they said they were open to the possibility and they were committed to getting foreign aid passed.

"We're going to do what's necessary to make sure that the national security bill gets over the finish line," House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Thursday morning. Minority support of a majority rule virtually never happens. As a result, Johnson and his predecessor, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have seen several rules fail on the floor, largely over objections from the right flank of the party. The rule does not raise the threshold to bring a motion to oust the speaker, which several members of the Republican conference had called for. Currently, it only takes one member to file such a motion. Johnson was reportedly considering the change Thursday morning, but he wrote on social media that the House "will continue to govern under the existing rules." Reps. Massie and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., have co-sponsored a motion to vacate the speakership, but so far have not brought it to the floor for a vote. Rep. Mike Lawler, a moderate Republican from a New York swing district, said Thursday morning the threshold should be changed "immediately." "However it needs to get done, it should get done," Lawler said. "If Mike Johnson is removed simply because he put aid to our allies on the floor, No. 1, it'll cause another prolonged amount of chaos. And No. 2, it will make it that much harder for the next speaker to do the right thing at the right time."

April 18, 2024

Lead Stories

Austin Business Journal - April 18, 2024

Miriam Adelson and the Texas Sands PAC are ones to watch

Miriam Adelson poured $4.1 million into a political action committee in Texas ahead of March's primary elections — signaling her increased interest in Lone Star State politics amid efforts to legalize gambling. Adelson, part of the new majority ownership group of the Dallas Mavericks and head of the family that controls Las Vegas Sands Corp., made the contribution to the Texas Sands PAC on Feb. 6, according to a Feb. 26 campaign finance report. Her contribution came two months after her family finalized its purchase of a majority stake in the Mavericks from longtime owner Mark Cuban on Dec. 27. Dallas Business Journal dove into the February campaign finance reports to examine the influence of Adelson and her family heading into next year's legislative session.

Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS), a casino company that generated more than $10 billion in revenue in 2023, also contributed $9,000 to the PAC between December and February. The company launched the PAC in January 2022 with $2.3 million of initial funding from Adelson. The campaign finance report shows Texas Sands PAC spent $1.9 million supporting 35 candidates in primary races this year — an average of nearly $56,000 each. A spokesperson for Las Vegas Sands could not immediately be reached for comment. House Speaker Dade Phelan received the largest contribution at $200,000 in his heated state representative primary race. Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, came in second to David Covey in the primary and the two are headed to a May runoff. Phalen has feuded with the far right wing of the GOP and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who backs Covey. Phelan supported the House's impeachment of Paxton last year. In North Texas, where it's common for Texans to go to Oklahoma to gamble, politicians whose campaigns received funding from the PAC included Rep. Frederick Frazier with $79,000, Rep. Justin Holland with $79,000, Rep. Charlie Geren with $60,000, Rep. Venton Jones with $54,000, Rep. Angie Chen Button with $29,000, Rep. Ben Bumgarner with $29,000, Rep. Morgan Meyer with $29,000 and Rep. Jeff Leach with $15,000.

Pechanga - April 18, 2024

Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas announces plans for new casino resort in Polk County

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has unveiled plans to construct a brand-new casino resort on its tribal lands in Polk County, a move expected to drive the tribe's economy and boost tourism. Announced on Monday, the plans for the new casino resort were met with enthusiasm from Tribal Council chairman, Ricky Sylestine, who expressed excitement about the project's potential impact. "We are incredibly excited to embark on this new chapter," said Sylestine. "This new casino resort will not only provide significant economic benefits for those living and working in the region, but it will also become a vibrant destination for visitors."

While specific details about the resort are still in the works, the property is expected to feature a state-of-the-art casino floor, hotel accommodations, and a diverse array of dining and entertainment options. To bring their vision to life, the tribe has enlisted architectural firm FFKR to design the new resort. In addition to the construction of the new casino resort, the tribe has also outlined plans for an extensive remodel of its existing Ischoopa/One Stop Convenience Store and Truck Stop. This renovation project will include the incorporation of electronic bingo machines. As the project progresses, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas has assured the public that they will continue to provide updates and news related to the new resort, as well as any additional developments that may arise in the coming months. The tribe also owns and operates Naskila Casino at 540 State Park Rd 56, Livingston, Texas.

Houston Chronicle - April 18, 2024

Candidates clash in race to succeed Whitmire in Texas Senate

If Houstonians found recent political debates to be largely uneventful events, then they were in for a big surprise Wednesday night, when state Rep. Jarvis Johnson and emergency room nurse Molly Cook took to the stage. The two candidates, running to succeed Mayor John Whitmire in the Texas Senate, repeatedly clashed over their backgrounds and records ahead of back-to-back elections. The District 15 seat became vacant for the first time since 1983 when Whitmire left the Legislature to serve as Houston's mayor. During the Democratic primary in March, Johnson and Cook received 36% and 21% of the ballots cast, respectively, eliminating four other candidates from the race. Since neither candidate received a majority of the vote, they are now set to compete against each other in a primary runoff on May 28.

Due to Whitmire’s early resignation, the two will also face off in a special election on May 4 to decide who will complete the remainder of Whitmire’s term this year. Early voting for the special election starts Monday. During a debate Wednesday evening, organized by the Bayou Blue Democrats, Johnson took aim at Cook for her lack of experience serving in elected office. Cook, striving to close a 15-percentage-point gap behind her opponent, in turn leveled sharp attacks against Johnson for the state representative’s voting and donation records. The district has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, encompassing several of Houston's most prominent neighborhoods, such as Montrose and the Heights. The winning Democrat in the runoff will face local businessman Joseph Trahan, the sole Republican to enter the race for the seat, in November. Johnson’s attendance rate was not the only issue Cook raised on Wednesday. She cited several legislative actions that she argued demonstrate Johnson’s records are out of step with Democratic values. She criticized Johnson for supporting a Republican-backed bill that she said made it more difficult for individuals with pre-existing conditions to secure equitable health insurance coverage. The vote was particularly disturbing to her as a health care professional who “see(s) people day in and day out with fear in their eyes, disease in their bodies,” she said. Johnson said he supported the bill only after the Democrats had successfully added a favorable amendment to improve transparency in the process. Voting against the bill after securing the amendment, he said, would have jeopardized relationships with the Republican majority.

Politico - April 18, 2024

Trump campaign asks for cut of candidates’ fundraising when they use his name and likeness

By asking Republican candidates to break off a chunk of their proceeds, the Trump campaign would enlarge its bank account. | Jamie Kelter Davis for POLITICO By ALEX ISENSTADT 04/17/2024 02:57 PM EDT Former President Donald Trump’s campaign has found a new way to press for badly needed cash. In a letter received by Republican digital vendors this week, the Trump campaign is asking for down-ballot candidates who use his name, image and likeness in fundraising appeals to give at least 5 percent of the proceeds to the campaign. “Beginning tomorrow, we ask that all candidates and committees who choose to use President Trump’s name, image, and likeness split a minimum of 5% of all fundraising solicitations to Trump National Committee JFC. This includes but is not limited to sending to the house file, prospecting vendors, and advertising,” Trump co-campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita wrote in the letter, which is dated April 15.

They add: “Any split that is higher than 5% will be seen favorably by the RNC and President Trump’s campaign and is routinely reported to the highest levels of leadership within both organizations.” Trump officials insisted that the purpose of the 5 percent request was not to raise money for themselves but rather to dissuade “scammers” from using Trump’s brand without his permission and diluting his ability to raise cash. The letter comes as Trump is struggling to close a fundraising gap with President Joe Biden. Biden’s campaign has said that it has raised over $190 million, more than double what Trump has taken in. Trump’s campaign has acknowledged that it will be outraised by Biden, though it has been looking to make up ground, with large and small donors alike. By asking Republican candidates to break off a chunk of their proceeds, the Trump campaign would enlarge its bank account. The letter was sent the same week Trump’s hush-money trial began in New York. The trial is expected to last at least six weeks and will greatly hinder the former president’s ability to hit the campaign trail with just seven months left before the November election.

State Stories

Border Report - April 18, 2024

County judge calls on Texas to process, jail its own migrants

Citing a lack of resources, El Paso County officials are asking Texas to use its own judges and jail space to hold migrants arrested at the border wall on state charges. The plea comes after the Texas Department of Public Safety on Friday arrested another 200 migrants on rioting charges after some cut razor wire the state had placed along the Rio Grande, and tried to make their way to the Border Patrol on the other side. “It looks like we’ll be able to process 140 to 145 (by) today. […] We’re trying to process 20-30 at a time,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told KTSM on Tuesday. “We can handle this one, but if tomorrow we have a number this size… no more (jail) space and the District Attorney would not have the resources to process them.”

Migrants arrested at the border, either by the state or federal agents, are taken to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility. If they face local charges, they’re transferred to the jails. The Downtown County Jail normally can house up to 1,010 inmates but is undergoing construction that robs it of 300 to 350 beds a day. The Far East El Paso Jail Annex can hold another 1,800. County officials said Tuesday that the Jail Annex was at 94 percent capacity, while the Downtown facility was at capacity given the missing beds. Additionally, the county loses money when the state brings in inmates and the county has to turn down federal prisoners. State inmates cost the county $110 a day, while federal inmates bring in $85 to $87 a day. Samaniego suggests DPS take the migrants to the Rogelio Sanchez State Jail in El Paso or other state-run facilities.

ESG Dive - April 18, 2024

Texas schools fund adopts ‘ESG skeptical’ proxy voting stance

The Texas Permanent School Fund is adopting an “ESG skeptical” proxy voting matrix which pushes back on ESG resolutions put forward during annual shareholder meetings, the fund announced Monday. The new matrix — offered through Institutional Shareholder Services, the fund’s external proxy voting manager — will take effect immediately and be used to cast votes on behalf of the fund during the first half of the year, according to Texas PSF. The matrix was established “in response to widespread criticism” that ISS’s voting policies supported too many ESG shareholder resolutions, the fund said in the release. Texas PSF, which manages over $53 billion in assets and distributes nearly $2.2 billion to Texas K-12 schools annually, said it was among the first to adopt the matrix, which provides specific proxy voting guidance. The new strategy is now poised to impact the 40,000-50,000 proxy votes the fund casts every year.

Austin American-Statesman - April 18, 2024

A Texas mayoral candidate's brother indicted in NBA multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme

The estranged brother of an El Paso mayoral candidate was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme by falsely claiming to be an NBA promoter. Timothy France Johnson, 61, was indicted March 20 on seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity, federal court records show. Johnson is the brother of El Paso mayoral candidate Renard Johnson, who has not been implicated in playing any role in the alleged crime. "Like the rest of the public, I learned recently that my estranged brother has been indicted," Renard Johnson said in a statement. "I have not seen or spoken to him in many years. I have full confidence that our judicial system will resolve these allegations."

Timothy Johnson allegedly claimed to be a third-party promoter of NBA pre-season games and "convinced unwary investors to invest money with him to sponsor said pre-season games," officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas said. Timothy Johnson allegedly conducted the fraud through his companies, BOLO Entertainment LLC, BOLO Sports LLC and Shoot N’2 Sports LLC, the indictment states. The Ponzi scheme robbed investors of more than $3 million between Feb. 9, 2009, to May 14, 2020, a federal indictment states. There were at least 30 investors defrauded in the scheme. Timothy Johnson claimed to be a third-party promoter of NBA pre-season games and asked investors to invest money to help promote the pre-season games, the indictment states. He never used any of the investments to promote any NBA pre-season games, officials said. About $1 million of the $3 million taken from investors was used to pay fake investment profits to previous investors, the indictment states. Timothy Johnson allegedly used the rest of the funds for personal use.

Austin American-Statesman - April 18, 2024

'Generosity lived in his heart': Daughter reflects on father's life, killer's conviction

Miguel Rivera was a loving, caring and humble man — helping those in need get their lives back on track — but one of his last acts of generosity ended in his death. Rivera, 64, was fatally shot by a ranch hand, Eduardo Garza Santillana, in the 23100 block of Alameda Avenue in Tornillo, just south of El Paso, on July 25, 2018. Rivera was trying to help Garza fight his drug addiction, Marlene Rivera, Rivera's daughter, said. "My dad was a very, very honorable man," Marlene Rivera said. "Very caring. A very, very generous man. He was all about his family. He loved his family. He was always there to help everyone he met. That was the amazing man he was."

Nearly six years after the fatal shooting, Rivera's family finally received justice April 4, after a jury convicted Garza of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison. Garza was also sentenced to 40 years on one count of aggravated robbery. The sentences will be served concurrently. While the Rivera family got justice for their father, nothing can ever take away the pain they suffer everyday without him. With Garza spending the rest of his life in prison, the healing process can start, a Rivera family member said. "My dad did get the justice that he deserved," Marlene Rivera said. "We got justice as well. There will really never be closure because my dad is no longer here. But I guess now we start the healing process again. With him (Garza) being convicted and sentenced, now we start the healing process again from scratch. "It's never going to be easy. My dad was, well is, a big part of our family. It's very difficult. Unfortunately, we have to move on, but of course our father's memory is always with us. There's not a day that passes that we don't think of him." Miguel Rivera's other ranch hand, Abelardo Moreno, was also shot by Garza. He survived his injuries. El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks hopes the guilty verdict will bring peace to the Rivera family.

Wall Street Journal - April 18, 2024

Karl Rove: Disinformation from Russia and China is evolving and has even spread to Capitol Hill.

As Speaker Mike Johnson maneuvered last week to bring Ukraine aid up for a vote, two respected House committee chairmen made a disturbing acknowledgment: Russian disinformation has helped undermine support for Ukraine among some Republicans. Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul admitted that “Russian propaganda has made its way into the United States” and “infected a good chunk of my party’s base.” Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner said “anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages” have been “uttered on the House floor.” To get a sense of the magnitude of the problem, consider one truly ludicrous fiction that GOP lawmakers parroted: that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky diverted U.S. aid to purchase two super yachts.

The accusation surfaced in DC Weekly, a Russian website masquerading as a U.S. media organization. It’s one of many sites aimed at Americans tied to the media network of Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin went down in a private jet crash last August, but his troll farm appears alive and well. Though the Soviet Union is long gone, America still seems to be crawling with useful idiots, Westerners who aid Moscow out of ignorance or naiveté. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R., Ohio) were among those who repeated the super-yacht charge. Neither has set the record straight or admitted being hoodwinked. Thanks to social media, false information spreads quicker and further. An anonymous Twitter user claimed earlier this month that large numbers of people had registered to vote in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Texas without a photo ID, suggesting they could be illegal aliens. Arizona and Texas election officials quickly denounced this as false, but were too late to keep Ms. Greene, Donald Trump and Elon Musk from drawing attention to the inaccurate posting. It has 64 million views and counting.

The Leader - April 18, 2024

Communities In Schools of Houston celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month, supports students’ mental health

Communities In Schools of Houston (CIS), a Heights-based educational nonprofit, celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month in May, part of a national campaign by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), centered around the campaign theme “Take the Moment.” NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. In May, CIS team members will be raising awareness across campuses about the importance of good mental health, including coordinated activities. For the past 45 years, supporting students' mental health and well-being has been at the core of what CIS does. CIS of Houston, which celebrates 13 years since the launch of its Mental Health Initiative (MHI), is the largest provider of mental health services for schools in the Harris County area.

Fort Worth Report - April 18, 2024

Newly released documentary alleges former Keller ISD trustee ‘begged’ crew to not air interview

After two months of anticipation among Keller ISD parents and staff, parts of an episode shot at Central High School were recently featured on an international TV show called “God, Jesus, Trump!” A film crew hired by a Netherlands-based broadcasting channel called Evangelische Omroep — or EO for short — visited the school in February to film an interview for an episode titled “Texas – War on Woke” with Sandi Walker, a Keller ISD trustee who later resigned. Show host Tijs van den Brink said during the April 14 episode that the aftermath of the visit had “traumatized” Walker and that the show had decided not to broadcast her interview per her request. Legal tensions remain between the district and EO over the footage that aired in the episode. A Keller ISD spokesperson told the Fort Worth Report that the district demanded the unauthorized footage be destroyed or returned to them. The district also said it was disappointed to see the release of the footage, which was “taken without proper approval.”

Keller ISD had about six minutes of airtime in the episode. Van den Brink said he and the film crew initially interviewed Walker about books banned from the school. In “Texas – War on Woke,” the film crew is shown entering the administration building where three Central High School staff members greet them. The crew is checked in, receives visitor stickers and heads to the library to speak with Walker. As part of the episode, van den Brink alleges he received a “desperate text” from Walker an hour after the interview and that Walker “begged” him and the crew to not air her segment. The episode includes local news segments initially covering the film crew’s visit as well as parent’s strong opposition of the visit on TV and school board meetings. In an EO article about the Texas episode, van den Brink wrote that he spoke with Walker in a Zoom call after their initial interview at Central High School. During the hour-long call, van den Brink describes Walker being concerned about how the interview would pose a risk to her husband’s job and kids. She asked him again to not broadcast her interview on the show, van den Brink wrote. “She begs us crying not to broadcast the images of the interview with herself either,” van den Brink wrote.

Texas Observer - April 18, 2024

In Travis County, a fight over bail hearings has big stakes for criminal defendants

In Travis County, the magistration process—the initial bail hearing after someone is arrested—isn’t cinematic. Arrestees are either led to a small room within the jail’s central booking area, or a Travis County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) employee might bring a computer to their holding cell. At the end of a short conversation, during which the arrestee can either remain silent or try to plead their case to get released on a personal bond instead of cash or surety bail, a magistrate—a judge who handles pre-trial hearings—determines the conditions of release. These routine hearings can have huge implications beyond determining how long someone will spend in jail (and the potential collateral damages like job loss) or how much they’ll have to pay to a bail bonds firm. If an arrestee chooses to plead their case at magistration, anything they say can be used against them in court. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that people have the right to an attorney at the magistration, also known as arraignment, stage. Yet most Texas counties don’t guarantee free attorneys at these early hearings for people who can’t pay.

“There is a constitutional right to counsel at a critical stage in a criminal case,” said ACLU of Texas staff attorney Savannah Kumar. “Unfortunately, constitutional rights are not always realized for people, even when those rights are firmly established.” In a bid to change this status quo, the Texas ACLU sued Travis County last week, alleging the county’s practices during magistration are unconstitutional. The federal suit, filed alongside the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, stems from the fact that, in Travis County, arrestees who can’t afford private attorneys are sent before magistrate judges without first speaking to a court-appointed lawyer. These hearings often result in high bail amounts that mean they’ll stay in jail until their trial—or until a lawyer can convince a judge to let them out. The suit asks the court to hold that Travis County’s practice is improper, which would force the county to take immediate action. “The lack of counsel at magistration fatally undermines the fairness of criminal proceedings in Travis County,” states the lawsuit. The question of whether lawyers are guaranteed at magistration is particularly critical amid Texas’ ongoing efforts to implement Senate Bill 4, currently blocked by the courts. The law, if it takes effect, could allow magistrates to effectively order the removal of undocumented arrestees as early as their magistration hearing.

Texas Observer - April 18, 2024

Saving Lone Star Literary Life

Out in West Texas, a pair of aspiring novelists and enterprising small-town newspaper owners, Barbara Brannon and Kay Ellington, were dismayed by the number of publications that were dropping book sections, cutting critics, and otherwise decimating literary coverage, especially in the Lone Star State. By the 2010s, “93 percent of the state’s newspapers offer no regular books coverage of any kind,” they told the Writers’ League of Texas. Both newswomen worried that Texas authors in particular just weren’t getting enough attention—though plenty deserved it. Out of that gaping hole emerged, fittingly on Groundhog’s Day 2015, a new literary venture: Lone Star Literary Life, an online newsletter aimed at Texas readers, writers, and librarians. “Texas is second only in population to California, Florida is third and New York is fourth. We should be the 800-pound gorilla of literature,” Ellington said of their effort in a 2017 panel discussion.

Initially, it was only a side project for Brannon and Ellington, a dynamic duo who have now published several novels (a series all about The Paragraph Ranch) while still stubbornly championing small-town papers too. (Their company, Paragraph Ranch LLC, now owns three around Lubbock: the Texas Spur, in Spur; the Caprock Courier in Silverton; and the Floyd County Hesperian-Beacon.) Over the next nine years, Lone Star Literary Life grew, creating a network of 6,000 loyal subscribers, including Texas librarians, indie booksellers, publicists, and authors. In 2018, school librarian Kristine Hall took over and Lone Star Lit coasted through the pandemic when many Texans were home reading—and writing. But the upstart venture nearly died in April 2024, a victim perhaps of its own business model of providing substantive but low-cost (or free) services to readers and authors across Texas. It had become popular but not profitable enough to sustain a team of employees large enough to support it without burning out. Here’s the saga of how independent women business owners and book lovers in Texas founded that small company, expanded it, and now aim to save it.

D Magazine - April 18, 2024

Love and loss in a small Texas town

If you were asked to draw a picture of a cowboy, you’d end up drawing Buck Uptmor. Short and bandy-legged, with the permanently ruddy complexion of a man who spent much of his 45 years in a saddle, he looked exactly like a guy named Buck should look. It runs in the family. His younger brother, Brian, is short, too, but built like a fire hydrant. People call Brian “Peanut.” The Uptmors grew up in and around the tiny town of West, Texas, about an hour south of Dallas. Buck stayed in West and ran his own fencing and welding company. Brian left shortly after high school to fight fires. For a month shy of 11 years, Brian was a firefighter-paramedic in Killeen, near Fort Hood. “Firefighter, it’s the greatest job in the world—if you’re single,” he says. He’d work 24 hours, then have 48 off. He’d finish his shift, go have breakfast with his crew, go to the gym, sleep, return to the gym, then get cleaned up and go out drinking with his fellow firefighters.

Then he got married, had a couple of daughters, and it wasn’t the best job to have anymore. His mother was going to sell a piece of his grandfather’s land in Tours, a tiny town that hugs the east side of West, so Brian bought it to keep it in the family, built a house in 2007, retired from the fire department, and moved his wife and daughters there. He took a job selling cars at a Ford dealership in West. But when there is a pasture fire, or maybe someone is hurt, Brian still gets calls. He has all his certifications, even if he doesn’t do it for a living anymore. On Wednesday, April 17, about 7:30 in the evening, Brian got one of those calls. He was picking up his girls from St. Martin Parish in Tours. They were at their CCE class, the weekly catechism course most Catholic kids attend. His phone rang, but he figured he could call back whoever it was after he’d delivered his daughters safely home. The phone rang again, so he pulled into a parking lot to see who it was. The first call had come from Ted Uptmore Jr. There are many people with that surname in West; some spell it with an “e,” and some don’t. Uptmore’s father is the general manager at West Fertilizer Co., where he has worked for five decades. Now Ted’s wife, Sherry, was on the phone: “Brian, fertilizer plant’s on fire! Ted wants you up here.” West Fertilizer Co. opened in 1962 on a sprawling site hard by the railroad tracks on what was then the northernmost edge of town. It only employed a dozen or so people, but in a farming community like West, it was an important business, if only for the sake of convenience. It saved the farmers from having to make a trip to Waco or Hillsboro. The core of the facility was a 13,000-square-foot wooden building that stored solid fertilizer, such as ammonium nitrate, and two 12,000-gallon metal tanks that held anhydrous ammonia. A fleet of tanker trucks was generally parked outside, and a railroad spur led to the main tracks so that railcars could be loaded and unloaded. When it was built, the plant was surrounded by empty fields, some of which were used as pasture for horses and cattle.

D Magazine - April 18, 2024

As the Suburbs Add More People, Dallas Watches Its Influence Over DART Wane

You don’t need a demographer to see that Dallas isn’t sharing in the rapid growth of its northern suburbs. This reality is beginning to settle in at City Hall, where, in discussions around land use and other policy decisions, planners wrestle with how to encourage more people to move, and afford to stay, in the region’s largest city. The trend affects transportation decisions, too. Dallas is now staring at a future where it no longer controls a majority of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board, whose seats are appointed based on the population share of Dallas and the transportation agency’s 12 suburban partners. DART and the City Council’s transportation and infrastructure committee held a dual meeting on Monday to explore the region’s changing demographics. The population trends show the board makeup flipping as soon as 2025, the next time apportionment gets reviewed, and almost certainly by 2030. (The makeup of board seats is adjusted every five years based on how many people are living in DART’s service area.)

Why is this important? The state statute that created DART tipped the scales to allow the region’s largest city to have a critical eighth seat on the body that sets policy. But since 2010, Dallas’ population has increased by only 9 percent while the surrounding service area has jumped by 40 percent. By 2030, projections show that most of DART’s service population will live outside the city of Dallas for the first time in the agency’s existence. “I’ve been on the board, at the pleasure of the City Council, for almost three and a half years,” said Trustee Rodney Schlosser, a Dallas appointee who put the report together. “In those three and a half years, I have picked up on what I think is obvious for any of us who are watchful of what’s going on in the region, which is there are differences of opinion between what someone in Dallas might consider to be a priority and what someone in a suburb might consider to be a priority.” This change is more of an existential threat than one that immediately dooms Dallas’ ability to direct its public transportation partner. After all, Dallas presently shares one of its seats with Glenn Heights and Cockrell Hill, and there is often a lack of consensus among the city’s appointees, anyway. They represent different neighborhoods that have different priorities, some of which may even align with those of the suburbs.

Dallas Morning News - April 18, 2024

Money, sports and politics catapult 3 Texans onto Time 100 Most Influential People list

Texas has gained some worldwide recognition thanks to some of the state’s biggest names joining Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential of 2024. Dallas entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks minority owner Mark Cuban, Texas governor Greg Abbott and Tyler native Patrick Mahomes made the list this year. The New York-based magazine has been conducting a 100 most influential list since 2004 and chooses individuals based on how much influence they had on the most important stories of last year. The list takes a crew of more than 100 people from the magazine months to put together.

Houston Chronicle - April 18, 2024

Senate kills Mayorkas impeachment over calls for full trial from Cruz, Cornyn

Democrats put a swift end to the historic impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, dismissing both articles against him in a matter of hours over objections from Texas Republicans who called for a full trial. The House impeachment managers — a group of Republicans including U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, whose district stretches from Austin to Katy — never got to lay out their case to senators that Mayorkas “willfully and systematically” refused to enforce immigration laws as border crossings set records under his watch. Democrats dismissed the allegations as policy differences and said they fell short of the high crimes and misdemeanors necessary to remove a Cabinet member. The Senate voted along party lines to declare the two articles against Mayorkas unconstitutional after shooting down a series of efforts by Republicans to delay the votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the brief impeachment proceedings “the least legitimate, least substantive and most politicized impeachment trial ever in the history of the United States.” “To validate this gross abuse by the House would be a grave mistake and could set a dangerous precedent for the future,” Schumer said. “For the sake of the Senate’s integrity and to protect impeachment for those rare cases we truly need it, senators should dismiss today’s charges.” Texas’ Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn both pushed for a full trial. Cornyn said Mayorkas was impeached for “serious offenses” and dismissing the case without a trial would be a “dangerous precedent to set.” “This would be the first time in our nation’s history that the Senate failed to do its duty to consider evidence, hear witnesses and allow senators to vote guilty or not guilty,” Cornyn said in a recent speech on the Senate floor. “Impeachment is one of the most solemn features in our democracy, and the majority leader must not brush these articles under the rug.”

National Stories

Reuters - April 18, 2024

Foreign holdings of US Treasuries hit record high; Japan holdings rise, data shows

Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasuries surged to a record in February, its fifth straight monthly rise, Treasury Department data released on Wednesday showed. Holdings totaled $7.965 trillion, up from a revised $7.945 trillion in January. Treasuries owned by foreigners rose 8.7% from a year earlier. Holdings of Treasuries grew the most in Belgium, by $27 billion, to hit $320 billion. Japan, the largest non-U.S. holder of Treasuries, increased its U.S. government debt to $1.167 trillion, the largest since August 2022 when the country's holdings were at $1.196 trillion. Investors have been alert to the threat of Japanese intervention in the currency market to boost the yen, which plunged to a 34-year low of 154.79 per dollar on Tuesday.

The Bank of Japan intervened three times in 2022, selling the dollar to buy yen, first in September and again in October as the yen slid toward a 32-year low of 152 to the dollar. In September and October 2022, Japan's Treasury holdings declined $131.6 billion from $1.196 trillion in August. China's pile of Treasuries also fell in February to $775 billion, data showed. The monthly decline of $22.7 billion was the second biggest among the 20 major countries on the Treasury's list. Holdings of Treasuries by China, the world's second largest economy, have been declining, reaching $763.5 billion in February, the lowest since March 2009. Britain listed its Treasury holdings at $700.8 billion, up about $9 billion from January.

Wall Street Journal - April 18, 2024

Mike Johnson defies GOP critics, setting up Ukraine-Israel aid showdown

House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday he would plunge ahead with a high-stakes vote to move long-stalled funding for Ukraine, Israel and other overseas allies, elbowing aside criticism from his conservative flank. The move sets up an unpredictable weekend showdown that could determine both the fate of the foreign-aid package—which appears closer than ever to actually becoming law—and Johnson’s political career after navigating months of bitter infighting in the Republican conference. Democrats were expected to line up firmly behind the aid effort, with President Biden issuing a strong endorsement. But many GOP lawmakers, angered by the lack of border provisions and critical of more aid for Ukraine, planned to oppose the measure, a familiar conundrum for House Republican leaders.

“We can’t play politics on this; we have to do the right thing,” Johnson said of the aid package. Asked if he was risking his job, he said: “Let the chips fall where they may—if I operated out of fear over a motion to vacate, I would never be able to do my job.” Johnson indicated he expected to need Democratic votes to pass the rule tied to the legislation, a once-routine procedural step that has repeatedly been blocked by GOP holdouts in this Congress. He said he wasn’t seeking Democratic protection to keep his job. “The time has come for the House of Representatives to act, and act decisively, in America’s national security interests,” said Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.), adding that his conference was still reviewing the legislation. Johnson’s plan comprises four bills—one each for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, along with one containing many Republican priorities, including a ban or forced sale of TikTok in the U.S. Leaders posted the text of three of the four bills on Wednesday afternoon, laying out a $95 billion aid package that largely matches the price tag and contours of a measure that passed the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this year. The text of the fourth bill was released Wednesday night.

Politico - April 18, 2024

Combatting cannibalism and jailing librarians: Idaho Democrats see opportunity in extreme GOP agenda

Democrat Loree Peery knows she’s a long-shot candidate for the Idaho Legislature. But when her state House representative introduced a bill in February expanding an anti-cannibalism law — action prompted by a prank video — Peery decided she had to try to oust the far-right incumbent, Heather Scott. “You can’t win if you don’t run,” Peery said, adding that Scott’s focus on irrelevant issues like cannibalism shows she isn’t a serious lawmaker. “It forces the Republicans to work, it forces [Scott] to get out there and talk to people so they can see what she’s about. It forces Republicans to spend more resources on the races.” Peery, a retired nurse, is one of dozens of Idaho Democrats seeking an office in Boise for the first time.

Under new leadership, the Idaho Democratic Party has deployed a grassroots recruitment strategy to put a record number of candidates on the ballot. In fact, there’s a Democrat running in every district for the first time in at least 30 years. Democrats feel emboldened by the GOP supermajority’s obsession with culture war issues like enacting a strict abortion ban, attacking LGBTQ+ rights and proposing jailing librarians over violating book bans. They also see bitter infighting between the conservative and moderate flanks of the GOP as an opportunity to present voters with a different vision for the future of the state. Idaho was thrust into the national culture war debate again this week when the Supreme Court allowed state officials to temporarily enforce a ban on gender-affirming care, reinvigorating opposition to the law that was passed last year. It’s also not just Idaho. More Democrats than usual are running in states with GOP-dominated legislatures like Tennessee, Iowa and North Carolina. Democrats have made gains in recent years in state legislative races — flipping chambers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Michigan — after more than a decade of nationwide GOP dominance. But Republicans still control 55 percent of state legislative seats, compared to 44 percent for Democrats.

Washington Post - April 18, 2024

‘We’re a dead ship’: Hundreds of cargo ships lost propulsion in U.S. waters in recent years

Less than two weeks after Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was destroyed by an out-of-control cargo ship, another huge container ship passed beneath a busy bridge connecting New York and New Jersey and then suddenly decelerated in a narrow artery of one of the nation’s largest ports. “We’re a dead ship,” said a voice over the maritime radio a short time later, invoking an industry term that often refers to a ship that is unable to move on it own. Three tug boats helped shepherd the APL Qingdao — a vessel more than 1,100 feet long and flying under the flag of Malta — from where it lost propulsion near the Bayonne Bridge to a safe location, authorities said. The ship dropped anchor just upstream from the even busier Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, which carries about 200,000 vehicles per day.

The April 5 incident is one of hundreds in which massive cargo ships lost propulsion, many near bridges and ports, according to a Washington Post analysis of Coast Guard records. The findings indicate that the kind of failure that preceded the March 26 Baltimore bridge collapse — the 984-foot Dali is believed to have lost the ability to propel itself forward as it suffered a more widespread power outage — was far from a one-off among the increasingly large cargo ships that routinely sail close to critical infrastructure. Around Baltimore alone, ships lost propulsion nearly two dozen times in the three years before the tragedy last month, the Post review found — including a November 2021 incident in which a 981-foot container ship lost propulsion for 15 minutes soon after it passed under the Key Bridge. In 2020, a ship the same size as the Dali lost propulsion “in the vicinity of the Bay Bridge” near Annapolis, records show. Adding to the danger, experts say, is a lack of consistent rules on when cargo ships should be escorted by tug boats that can keep them on course even if engines turn off. While tugboats escorted the Qingdao, as was called for under local guidelines in the New York area, those attending to the Dali departed before it struck the bridge in Baltimore, where such decisions are left to ship captains and local pilots, the specially trained sailors who guide ships in and out of ports.

NBC News - April 18, 2024

Kari Lake suggests supporters 'strap on a Glock' to be ready for 2024

Arizona GOP Senate hopeful Kari Lake told supporters they can "strap on a Glock" to be prepared for the intensity of the 2024 campaign and urged military and law enforcement veterans to be "ready," as her race heats up in a key battleground state. “We need to send people to Washington, D.C., that the swamp does not want there,” Lake said toward the end of a Sunday speech to a crowd of Arizonans in Mohave County. “And I can think of a couple people they don’t want there. First on that list is Donald J. Trump; second is Kari Lake.” She described standing up to the “swamp” in Washington, saying: “They can’t bribe me, they can't blackmail me. That’s why they don’t want me in Washington, D.C. And that’s exactly what President Trump wants me there fighting with him.”

“He’s willing to sacrifice everything I am. That’s why they’re coming after us with lawfare, they’re going to come after us with everything. That’s why the next six months is going to be intense. And we need to strap on our — let’s see. What do we want to strap on?” Lake asked as some in the crowd chuckled. “We’re going to strap on our, our seat belt. We’re going to put on our helmet or your Kari Lake ball cap. We are going to put on the armor of God. And maybe strap on a Glock on the side of us just in case.” “We’re not going to be the victims of crime,” Lake continued. “We’re not going to have our Second Amendment taken away. We’re certainly not going to have our First Amendment taken away by these tyrants.” Earlier in the roughly 30-minute remarks, Lake gave another warning about the period between now and Election Day.

The Nation - April 18, 2024

Fearing legal threats, doctors are performing C-sections in lieu of abortions

When news that Lizelle Gonzalez was suing the local prosecutor’s office for more than $1 million in damages, after being falsely imprisoned for murder over an attempted self-managed abortion in 2022, reproductive rights advocates cheered the move as a pathway to justice for the wrongfully charged southern Texas woman. However, a revelation in the lawsuit gave them pause: At the same hospital that reported her self-induced abortion to authorities, Gonzalez underwent a “classical C-section” for the delivery of her stillborn child, instead of abortion care. Major invasive surgery, Cesarean sections carry much higher risk for health complications, like hemorrhaging, compared with D&E abortion, and can jeopardize subsequent pregnancies. Nancy Cárdenas Peña, a longtime Rio Grande Valley reproductive justice advocate and campaign director for Abortion On Our Own Terms, which works to expand access to self-managed abortion, says that detail is new—and “disturbing”—information to the Texas activist groups that quickly mobilized following her arrest to advocate for her release from jail.

“It’s really alarming and something I’m still trying to wrap my head around,” Cárdenas Peña tells The Nation. “While the medical details are sealed so we don’t know exactly why this was performed, a C-section is not necessary for any sort of abortion management. A C-section carries a lot of risk, and it’s not something that should be happening. I’m still a bit in shock.” As the threat of criminal prosecution looms over doctors and hospitals in the 15 states where abortion is illegal, medical professionals, erring on the side of extreme caution because of vaguely worded laws and few meaningful exceptions, are resisting abortion care, even in life-threatening circumstances. Fear of lawsuits, loss of medical licenses, hefty fines, and considerable jail time have driven doctors to jeopardize patient care, either by delaying or denying pregnancy termination. And as we now know, this also has meant performing medical procedures that imperil patients, including substituting C-sections for abortion care, an emerging pattern researchers and abortion providers say will only increase over time. “I cannot imagine that Lizelle is the only person who has experienced this. There are surely other people in not just Texas but other abortion-hostile states,” says Cárdenas Peña, who has been working on behalf of people who have abortions for over a decade. “Her story is likely the tip of the iceberg.” Indeed, Texas physicians reported in a June 2022 New England Journal of Medicine study that their colleagues have “resorted” to using hysterotomy—a surgical incision in the uterus—because it “might not be construed as an abortion.”

Inside Higher Ed - April 18, 2024

In House hearing, Columbia president’s performance impresses

Despite some tense moments, experts agree that Columbia University President Minouche Shafik gave a better performance addressing campus antisemitism before the House of Representatives’ Education and Workforce Committee than the presidents of MIT, Harvard and University of Pennsylvania did in December. Unlike her peers, Shafik and her fellow witnesses—Board of Trustees co-chairs David Greenwald and Claire Shipman, along with David Schizer, the law professor leading Columbia's antisemitism task force—quickly and definitively agreed that calling for the genocide of Jewish people would violate the university’s code of conduct.

“Columbia beat UPenn and Harvard,” said Karl Schonberg, a professor of government at St. Lawrence University, quoting what Florida Republican Aaron Bean said during the hearing. Schonberg has argued that Sally Kornbluth of MIT, Claudine Gay of Harvard and Liz Magill of University of Pennsylvania spoke without “moral clarity” at their hearing. He noted that witnessing their interrogation—and the subsequent backlash to their tepid answers—probably helped Shafik, as did the presence of her board members and Schizer. “The soundbites might be the moments when she was a little flustered or didn’t answer a question directly, and I don’t think you’re going to avoid that in that setting,“ he said. “[But] by the standards of the first hearing, which is setting the bar pretty low, I thought it was good.” Hollis Robbins, dean of humanities at the University of Utah, echoed that sentiment in text messages to Inside Higher Ed, saying that Shafik exhibited “poise” in the face of questions that ranged from serious inquiries to attempted “gotchas.” Overall, she said, Shafik’s testimony was especially effective at communicating to the committee the complexity of running a university and balancing the varied interests of campus constituents.

April 17, 2024

Lead Stories

CNN - April 17, 2024

Russia-linked hacking group suspected of carrying out cyberattack on Texas water facility, cybersecurity firm says

A hacking group with ties to the Russian government is suspected of carrying out a cyberattack in January that caused a tank at a Texas water facility to overflow, experts from US cybersecurity firm Mandiant said Wednesday. The hack in the small town of Muleshoe, in north Texas, coincided with at least two other towns in north Texas taking precautionary defensive measures after detecting suspicious cyber activity on their networks, town officials told CNN. The FBI has been investigating the hacking activity, one of the officials said. The attack was a rare example of hackers using access to sensitive industrial equipment to disrupt regular operations at a US water facility, following a separate cyberattack last November on a Pennsylvania water plant that US officials blamed on Iran.

The cyber incidents in Texas also help explain a rare public appeal that US national security adviser Jake Sullivan made last month to state officials and water authorities to shore up their cyber defenses. Cyberattacks are hitting water and wastewater systems “throughout the United States” and state governments and water facilities must improve their defenses against the threat, Sullivan said in a joint letter with the Environmental Protection Agency chief to state officials. US officials have been concerned that many of the country’s 150,000 public water systems have struggled to find the cash and personnel to deal with persistent hacking threats from criminal and state actors. The Texas hacking incidents gained little national attention when they occurred as questions lingered about who was behind the activity. But on Wednesday, Mandiant publicly linked the channel on Telegram, a social media platform, where hackers claimed responsibility for the Muleshoe attack with previous hacking activity carried out by a notorious unit of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.

Dallas Morning News - April 17, 2024

‘Now’s the time’: Amtrak leader urges momentum on Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail

Booming demand, Texas’s rapidly expanding population and growing political will have converged to create the right environment to move high-speed rail ahead, Amtrak leadership said Tuesday. Andy Byford, Amtrak’s senior vice president of high-speed rail development, told participants of the 20th annual Southwestern Rail Conference in Hurst that the Dallas-to-Houston corridor “ticks all the boxes” for a high-speed rail project. It would connect two large population centers, it has straightforward topography and “suboptimal alternatives” for travel, pointing to congestion on Interstate 45 and area airports. “If you put together all those characteristics, and then you figure out okay, which route would you build? There’s one that really stands out, and that is Dallas to Houston,” Byford said.

The proposed train would shuttle passengers from Dallas to Houston in about 90 minutes compared to the three-and-a-half-hour car trip on Interstate 45. Texas Central Partners, developers of the project, plan to model the bullet train after partner Japan Central Railways’ Shinkansen system. Amtrak announced last fall that it would explore a partnership with Texas Central to move the project forward, and it was awarded $500,000 for planning and development from the federal Corridor Identification and Development Program. The grant is a sliver of the estimated tens of billions needed to complete the project. The U.S. Department of Transportation and Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism welcomed Amtrak leadership of the rail project following a State Dinner between President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida last week. Byford was not present at the meeting but said there is “huge interest” in the project among Japanese and American leadership. “I did have a meeting with Secretary Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation, and he said he himself is very committed to the project, that the president himself is very committed to the project,” Byford said.

Washington Post - April 17, 2024

Seven jurors picked in Trump’s N.Y. trial as judge presses ahead

The judge overseeing former president Donald Trump’s criminal trial said opening statements could begin as soon as Monday, as the jury selection process sped up and Trump got an earful from the people who might soon decide his fate. Lawyers for Trump on Tuesday repeatedly argued that old social media posts by many of the prospective jurors or their friends showed that they were not being forthcoming about their animosity toward him, while prosecutors argued that old dumb jokes on the internet were not a cause to dismiss someone from the panel. Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president in the November election, spent hours listening as potential jurors offered their opinions of him — some blunt, some guarded and some just funny. By the end of the day, seven people had been sworn in as jurors — more than a third of the total number of people that will be needed to hold a trial with a full jury and six alternates.

If New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan can stick to that pace, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president will be fully underway in less than a week — a potential turning point for Trump’s campaign to return to the White House. Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg says Trump orchestrated a scheme before the 2016 election to pay off an adult-film actress to keep her quiet about a sexual liaison with him years earlier, and then created a false paper trail to hide the true purpose and source of the payment. The court will need to find 11 more panelists to sit in judgment of Trump, which will mean more chances for potential jurors to opine on the pugilistic politician. Merchan has ordered that the names of the prospective jurors remain confidential, although the prosecutors and defense lawyers are made aware of their names. Trump “stirs the pot; he speaks his mind,” said one potential juror, a woman who works at a senior care facility. “You can’t judge him because he speaks his mind.” Pressed by Trump lawyer Todd Blanche on what she thought of Trump’s outspoken nature, she laughed and said, “Come on, what can you say about that? If I told you all the time what I thought about people — I want to say some things to people, but my mama said be nice.”

CNN - April 17, 2024

Senate set for showdown over Mayorkas impeachment articles

The Senate is set for a showdown over the articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as Democrats are expected to move quickly to dismiss the articles, while Republicans insist there must be a full trial. The House transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Tuesday and senators are expected to be sworn in as jurors Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has not specified exactly how he plans to handle the trial procedurally. But Democratic senators — as well as some Republicans — have suggested they expect the Senate will move to dismiss the case before a full trial. Democrats could pass a motion to dismiss or table the articles on a simple majority vote as early as Wednesday.

Whatever happens, it is highly doubtful that the chamber would vote to convict, which would require a two-thirds majority vote – an exceedingly high bar to clear. Senate Republicans are seeking to reach a time agreement with Democrats that would allow floor debate and for GOP senators to have votes on procedural motions. If a time agreement is not reached, it’s unclear clear how long the process will take as Republicans could attempt any number of procedural delays, although at some point the presiding officer could rule those efforts dilatory and cut them off. Mayorkas is the first Cabinet secretary to be impeached in almost 150 years. House Republicans voted to impeach Mayorkas in February over his handling of the southern border by a narrow margin after failing to do so on their first try. Democrats have slammed the impeachment as a political stunt, saying that Republicans had no valid basis for the move and that policy disagreements are not a justification for the rarely used constitutional impeachment of a Cabinet official.

State Stories

KUT - April 17, 2024

UT Austin president says 49 former DEI employees lost jobs, contradicting previous estimates

UT Austin President Jay Hartzell said 49 employees are losing their jobs as a result of changes the university has made to comply with a Texas law that bans diversity, equity and inclusion offices and programs at public higher education institutions. "As the flagship university in this state, we are subject to more scrutiny than others," he said Monday during a meeting with the UT Faculty Council. Hartzell said the employees will be paid through July 5. Many of the affected employees worked for the Division of Campus and Community Engagement that UT Austin is closing. The division was formerly called the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. Hartzell announced the layoffs in an April 2 email but did not say how many positions were affected.

"For the record, because I've seen different numbers floated out, let me be as clear and careful as I can: On that day that we had the announcement there were 49 people whose positions were eliminated," Hartzell said. "Plus, eight associate or assistant deans who are going to return to their full faculty positions." But Brian Evans, president-elect of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors (Texas AAUP), said that figure does not align with the terminations his group has counted. He said 62 employees, who previously worked on DEI programs and policies before Senate Bill 17 took effect Jan. 1, told Texas AAUP they found out this month they were losing their jobs. "So there's a difference in what we have documented in Texas AAUP from the staff themselves who were receiving these termination notices versus the count given at the Faculty Council meeting," he said. "So we'd like to know why these others aren't being counted." KUT previously reported that the Texas NAACP had verified the names of 66 people who had received termination notices.

KUT - April 17, 2024

After fatal crash, Hays CISD needs to spend $8.9M for seat belts on all its buses

The Hays CISD’s Board of Trustees has created a plan to ensure all school buses are equipped with seat belts following a fatal Hays CISD bus crash last month. A Tom Green Elementary School bus was returning pre-K students from a field trip to a zoo in Bastrop County when a concrete truck hit the front of the bus, resulting in two deaths. Hays CISD began buying school buses with seat belts after a state law passed in 2017 requiring them in new buses, but the bus involved in the incident was an older model and didn’t have seat belts. The district plans to have 100% of its bus fleet equipped with seat belts as soon as possible, according to a plan it published on its website Friday. But the turnaround time for school bus purchases is about a year long. This means it could be a while before Hays CISD meets its goal.

Hays CISD has two types of buses: route buses and support buses. Route buses transport students to and from school each day and are also the first option for field trips. Support buses are the extra supply and are primarily used for athletics, but can also be pulled into rotation when needed. About 86% of route buses have seat belts, but only about 19% of support buses have them. The district plans to purchase new buses and retrofit older models with seat belts to fill in these gaps. Hays CISD has already received 21 new buses that will join the fleet in the next few weeks. The district says by April 30, all route buses and six more support buses will have seat belts. In total, Hays CISD would need to spend about $8.9 million to cover the cost of this proposed plan. The district is looking to retrofit 2017 and 2016 buses for $468,000, which would come from either bond interest money or surplus bond funds.

KUT - April 17, 2024

Austin's airport is getting a new concourse and 20 more gates, but not until the 2030s

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) is gearing up to add at least 20 new gates, expanding capacity at the overcrowded airport as it struggles to serve millions more passengers each year than it was designed to handle. The planned gates will be located inside a newly constructed building — temporarily dubbed Concourse B — linked to the main Barbara Jordan Terminal by an underground pedestrian tunnel equipped with moving walkways.

The new concourse isn't expected to welcome the public until 2030 at the earliest. Over the longer term, the concourse could be further extended to accommodate up to 40 gates, more than doubling ABIA's current capacity of 34 gates. Concourse B has been in the planning stages for years, developed as part of a long-term strategy approved by the city council in 2018. That "ABIA 2040 Master Plan" plotted a trajectory for the airport to accommodate 30 million passengers a year by 2037. Those projections were underestimated by a decade. ABIA is already serving more than 22 million passengers per year and expects to reach 30 million by 2027. Since the last major expansion — the addition of nine gates on the east end of the Barbara Jordan Terminal in 2019 — ABIA has only been equipped to handle 15 million passengers annually.

Border Report - April 17, 2024

1st segment of Texas-funded border wall in Zapata County is going up

A segment of state-funded border wall is going up in rural Zapata County, the first to be built in this part of South Texas. Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell on Monday confirmed to Border Report that the segment is on private land in the ranching county of 14,000 residents east of the more populous border city of Laredo. Zapata County officials for years fought off the federal border wall from going through their land and a popular birding sanctuary in the remote hamlet of San Ygnacio. But Rathmell says they can’t do anything about state-funded border wall being built on private property. Rathmell said construction started within the past month. He says he has reached out to the International Boundary and Water Commission, a federal agency that oversees the Rio Grande, and was told they were unaware of the construction. “The county, we weren’t notified or advised of anything, so we were not involved in it. And the Boundary Commission folks, they also didn’t know anything about it. So I guess it’s a private landowner who is requesting that,” Rathmell said. “If it’s on private property — some landowners want that type of protection — so I don’t know there’s much we can do.”

Border Report - April 17, 2024

Texas DPS shifting resources at southern border, sources say

Law enforcement along the southern border are sounding the alarm, as sources confirm more than 150,000 “gotaways” have been recorded since Oct. 1. A sheriff in one of the busiest immigration sectors says he’s seeing more crossings and noticeably fewer resources. Terrell County Sheriff Thaddeus Cleveland says his officers are feeling the absence of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star between El Paso and Del Rio as resources are being shifted to the El Paso sector to respond to an increase in migrant crossings. “Texas decided to send more personnel out El Paso to help bolster that portion of the border,” said Cleveland. “And a lot of that personnel came from Sanderson and Terrell County. And that’s had an effect on us because now we’re starting to pick up again, and we just don’t have the resources here to assist Border Patrol.”

Cleveland told NewsNation that they would normally have about 15 officers working day shifts but that is now down to about three to four people a day. Cleveland said he relies heavily on state and federal partners as he’s responsible for 2,300 square miles of border-area territory. At current staffing, his department is only able to intercept about 50% of individuals who have crossed the border into Terrell County. Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez said limited resources aren’t unique to Terrell County. “That’s what makes it very challenging with this whole border situation,” he said. “We’re trying to cover as much ground as we can in Texas. And of course, Texas is very large. We cover the majority of the border in Texas but trying to be in every single area and once really is impossible. But the fact is that we do have the majority of our resources dedicated to areas where we see increased activity.”

Houston Chronicle - April 17, 2024

Houston Rockets, the most improved team in NBA, show real signs of optimism for future

The good news is the Rockets were the most improved team in the NBA this season. The bad news is, well, there is no bad news. As disappointed as head coach Ime Udoka and his team were at falling short of a winning record and the play-in tournament, the Rockets’ 2023-24 season was a successful one. They may have left a little meat on the bone with their .500 record, but they ate in what might be the most improvement the team has ever shown from one year to the next. As reasonable as the in-house expectations of making the playoffs were, a 19-game improvement in wins from last year’s 22-60 season ties for the best in franchise history, matching the jumps the Rockets made from 1983-84 to ‘84-85 and from 1977-78 to ’78-79.

No disrespect to the key newcomers to this year’s squad, but none of them is Hakeem Olajuwon or Moses Malone. Olajuwon joining the team as a rookie was the main reason the Rockets went from last in the Western Conference to third in the mid-1980s. The first time the Rockets had a 19-game improvement was in 1978-79. That came off a year in which they lost Rudy Tomjanovich early in the season to “The Punch,” and then went 4-17 to close the season after Moses Malone was injured. The following season, Malone was the league MVP. There were no extraordinary circumstances leading to the Rockets being the worst in the NBA in recent years. They were bad because they were bad. An upgraded roster and desire to win made a difference. As did Udoka, who shined in his first season in Houston. Tim Nissalke and Bill Fitch each coached the poor season and the 19-game uptick.

Houston Chronicle - April 17, 2024

Man who died when a semi-truck crashed into a Texas DPS office has been identified. What we know.

A Chappell Hill man crashed a stolen 18-wheeler into the Texas Department of Public Safety building in Brenham on Friday, which authorities said resulted in over a dozen injuries. Authorities charged 42-year-old Clenard Parker in connection with the crash and he was being held in Washington County Jail. Bobby Huff, 78, was transported by medical helicopter to CHI St. Joseph Regional Hospital-Bryan, where he succumbed to his injuries on Friday, according to a news release by the agency. Huff's wife told ABC13 he was there to renew his driver's license. The crash caused significant damage to the office building including a large gaping hole in the entrance. What's more, authorities allege he ran into the building intentionally in response to recently being denied a commercial driver's license,

NBC DFW - April 17, 2024

CPR for mental health? Dallas nonprofit offering free youth mental health first aid classes

A new survey is highlighting the mental health crisis in youth right now. Politico surveyed 1,400 mental health professionals across the country and found more than half are not happy with the current resources available to address mental health issues in children and teens. A local nonprofit is working to change that by teaching the community how to become a resource. Just like people can get certified in CPR First Aid, Communities In Schools of the Dallas Region is offering free classes that teach people how to become certified in Mental Health First Aid for youth, which can be just as crucial in saving a life.

"I always talk about the fact that first aid is taught pretty widespread, right? We have all heard some kind of way about how to do chest compressions until 911 arrives. And so this course is designed similarly to teach people how to do the metaphor ‘chest compressions’ until they can get the youth connected to their next best step,” said Dr. Summer Rose, chief clinical officer for Communities In Schools of the Dallas Region. "That might look like plugging them into resources. That might look like doing some in the moment kind of interventions to help stabilize them until 911, a youth mental health provider, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a school counselor, or somebody can intervene." The Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent – between the ages of 12 and 18 – who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 17, 2024

‘You’ll sit there and be quiet,’ Tarrant judge tells commissioner

Tempers flared Tuesday between County Judge Tim O’Hare and commissioner Alisa Simmons over a contract between the judge and a political consultant. O’Hare said the $5,000 contract with political consultant Noah Betz would replace a soon to be vacated communications position in his office. Betz is the principal of Bluestone Creatives, a Metroplex-based political marketing, communications and design firm. He also serves as executive director of Huffines Liberty Foundation, a think-tank that describes itself as advancing liberty and prosperity across Texas.

Before leading the foundation and Bluestone, Betz worked as a campaign consultant for candidates and organizations. Betz served on Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s re-election team and oversaw marketing and communications for Republican state Sen. Don Huffines. The argument between O’Hare and Simmons came after six people spoke to oppose the contract. The speakers cited Betz’s conservative political record, calling it an ethical violation and misuse of taxpayer dollars. Simmons then shared her own concerns with the contract. That prompted Simmons and O’Hare to bicker about their X accounts being political. At the peak of the argument O’Hare lashed out at Simmons and said, “I’m the one talking now, so you’ll sit there and be quiet and listen to me talk.” “Don’t tell me when and when not to talk,” Simmons responded. “This is my court too.” The contract passed with a 3-2 vote along party lines, with Simmons and fellow Democrat Roy Brooks voting against the contract.

D Magazine - April 17, 2024

Texas lawmakers look to take zoning changes out of Dallas’ hands

Dallas’ update to its land use plan, which includes reexamining the city’s predominantly single-family zoning, has been met with significant pushback among vocal residents. But if some conservative state policymakers have their way, the debate could become moot. Lt. Dan Patrick has indicated a desire to at least discuss zoning as it relates to housing affordability in the next legislative session. Some conservative groups have also indicated their support for this legislation. ForwardDallas, the city’s not-yet-adopted plan, would only inform the city’s land use and zoning in the future. A great deal of concern around single-family neighborhoods centers on where and how to allow for more density—specifically middle or “gentle” density like triplexes, duplexes, and the like. In our April issue, Matt Goodman wrote about how Dallas needs density to survive, and about just how nasty the fight over density has become.

At a public information session at Samuell Grand Recreation Center recently, a mostly hostile audience took turns at the microphone, reiterating their distaste for the idea of eliminating what they felt protected “the character” of their neighborhoods: single-family zoning. There are very real questions about how and where to introduce middle density. But state Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, issued a warning before the discussion began: the harsh reality is that Dallas might not have the final say in its zoning updates. Bryant warned that there is an effort to change zoning “at the state level,” too. He couched this as another way Austin would wrest local control from cities and counties. “The Legislature passed over the vigorous opposition of myself and others in this last session a bill that began the process of limiting the ability of cities to deal with a large number of matters that relate to us as local citizens,” he said. Bryant was referring to House Bill 2127, the so-called “Death Star” bill that limits city’s abilities to create ordinances that are more strict than state law. While urbanists and historians have long pointed to the racist history of exclusionary zoning, removing lot size minimums has long been considered somewhat of a “liberal” idea. In fact, four years ago conservative policy analyst Stanley Kurtz warned in the National Review that then Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden planned to “abolish the suburbs” by eliminating single family zoning.

KXII - April 17, 2024

Texas Lieutenant Governor supports residents in opposition of proposed cement plant

Texas Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, was in attendance at a town hall meeting Monday night to listen to residents’ concerns. By the end of the meeting, he assured Grayson County residents, saying: “I will be sending a letter that this project should not move forward to the TCEQ,” supporting their opposition to Black Mountain’s proposed 600-acre cement plant and quarry in Dorchester. At Monday night’s town hall meeting, citizens, some of whom are landowners and own or work for surrounding businesses, took a stance to express their concerns over the potential impact on air and water quality.

This comes just three weeks after the last public meeting, where over 500 Grayson County residents, including elected officials and nearby cities, let it be known that they do not want this project to move forward. Lieutenant Governor Patrick said though Texas is pro-business, companies that could impact other companies, the economy, and the health of citizens involve public interest. “That’s where you have to balance the two. And for what I’ve studied and what I know and what I’ve been told, this does not appear to be in the best public interest of Sherman,” he said. So, he came out to Sherman to hear from the residents themselves. “I need to get up here and hear from the people so that when I go to check to try to get this stopped, that I can say I’ve been there. I visited the plants, I’ve toured the city, I’ve talked to the people so you have as much credibility as you can because this seems like a really bad idea. I don’t think it helps the economy, I don’t think it helps the air quality,” he said.

Associated Press - April 17, 2024

Dallas Rev. Frederick Haynes resigns from role in Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition

A Dallas pastor who took over leadership of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s longtime civil rights organization resigned Tuesday after less than three months on the job. The Rev. Frederick Haynes III told The Associated Press that he submitted a letter with his resignation as head of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, effective immediately. “After a time of prayer and consultation, I felt it was best to step down as president and CEO of Rainbow PUSH,” he said by phone from Texas. “I am forever honored that the Rev. Jackson graciously considered me worthy of following him as president of the organization that he founded.” Haynes, 63, said he felt it was “necessary” to move on in light of “challenges that continue to exist,” but declined to elaborate further.

Dallas Morning News - April 17, 2024

Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s resignation was in works a week before announcement

Outgoing Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax says City Council members began suggesting he resign one week before it was officially announced, according to a city memo obtained by The Dallas Morning News. In an April 8 memo to City Attorney Tammy Palomino, Broadnax identifies the names of the eight council members who suggested he resign as well as the dates and times, including three suggestions that came the day of the Feb. 21 announcement. Also in the memo, Broadnax says his resignation is now effective as of the end of May 2. He was announced as Austin’s next city manager on Apr. 4 and starts on May 6.

“I notified the City Council of my resignation from my position as City Manager on February 21, 2024 following suggestions that I resign by a majority of the City Council, to allow for a reset, refocus and transition to a new city manager to move the city forward,” Broadnax wrote. “For your awareness and in the interest of transparency, please find below the City Council members referred to above and the dates that the suggestion to resign was made.” According to Broadnax, council members Jaime Resendez and Jaynie Schultz first suggested he resign at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 14. Council members Adam Bazaldua and Gay Donnell Willis suggested he resign two days later at 10:30 a.m. Council member Carolyn King Arnold, the city’s deputy mayor pro tem, suggested Broadnax resign on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. Council members Paula Blackmon, Zarin Gracey and Chad West suggested the city manager resign on Feb. 21. Blackmon at 9:15 a.m., Gracey at 12:15 p.m. and West at 2 p.m.

Houston Chronicle - April 17, 2024

HISD scrapped its controversial principal screening after backlash. But teacher screenings remain.

Houston ISD teachers at about half of the district’s campuses will learn on May 6 whether they are eligible to keep their jobs under a proficiency screening process, even after the district reversed course on using a similar process for principals following community backlash. HISD introduced a proficiency screening this academic year to determine which teachers will be eligible to teach in the 130 schools designated as part of state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles’ New Education System program for the 2024-25 academic year. “Districts that are concerned about educational equity and who want to turn around academically struggling schools should place their most effective teachers with their least proficient students,” the district wrote in a document obtained by the Chronicle.

NES teachers must prove proficiency under the state evaluation system’s professionalism criteria and meet benchmarks on achievement and instruction on two screenings developed by HISD to be guaranteed to keep their jobs. If they don’t pass either screening, they will not be able to work at NES schools next year, and a small percentage will not be eligible for any job in the district. HISD notified teachers of the results of the first screening results on March 8 and required all current NES teachers who passed to sign contracts by March 29 or forfeit their positions, according to district documents. Teachers who participate in the second screening will either learn if their contract remains valid or if they obtained eligibility to work in the district in May. HISD still uses the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System as its official evaluation process for all teachers, which is a year-long review of teachers based on planning, instruction, learning environment and professionalism. The district states that the screening is separate from the evaluation process, as a teacher’s screening score may differ from T-TESS results.

D Magazine - April 16, 2024

As Mississippi nears Medicaid expansion, could Texas be next?

After a decade of resistance to expanding Medicaid in Mississippi, Medicaid expansion bills have passed both houses with two-thirds majorities, where Magnolia State Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature. While some wrangling about work requirements remains, the state is set to take advantage of $1 billion in federal funds and add coverage for 200,000 in the country’s poorest state. If there is a state with more conservative bonafides than Texas, it might be Mississippi. Yet, Republican lawmakers there have changed their tune on the legislation as more states take advantage of federal funds to help pay for mounting healthcare costs. Mississippi House Speaker Jason White told Mississippi Today that fiscal impact is responsible for the shift in opinion over the years. “My Republicans think that is the smart, common sense, business-minded thing to do. I’ll admit this. Most of my Republicans don’t get there because of compassion. They get there when they look at dollars and cents.”

Will Mississippi’s movement on Medicaid expansion impact Texas legislators when public opinion and research haven’t? A 2020 poll found that 69 percent of Texans support Medicaid expansion, which would include $5 billion in federal money to pick up 90 percent of the cost of providing insurance to 1.2 million Texas in a state with the highest uninsured rate in the country at 18 percent (the national average is around 8 percent). State leaders have resisted expansion on principle as part of Obama-era federal government expansion, and other thought leaders have argued that it would bust the state’s budget. However, Waco-based The Perryman Group research says that expanding Medicaid could save the state money. It would allow Texans to address their health issues before they become more expensive and require hospitalization. The study found that every $1 spent by the state to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would provide a $1.78 return in state government revenue over the first 10 years. An Episcopal Health Foundation report says the state would save $704 million yearly if the expansion occurred. The coverage gap worsened last year. As the public health emergency ended last year, Texas removed 1.7 million people from its Medicaid rolls.

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - April 17, 2024

Top deputy at Bexar County District Attorney's Office resigns

Christian Henricksen, the second in command at the Bexar County District Attorney's Office, announced Tuesday that he's resigning. Henricksen has played a key role in District Attorney Joe Gonzales' administration since the Democrat took office in 2019, first as chief of litigation and then as first assistant district attorney. Prior to that, Henricksen was Gonzales' law partner in private practice and served for eight years as a prosecutor. “Working with Joe Gonzales to serve the people of Bexar County has been the highlight of my career,”Henricksen said in a news release. “We’ve worked to highlight the issue of lower attorney salaries in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. It’s a critical issue." "I have an opportunity I cannot pass up and, as my children get closer and closer to college age, that becomes more and more important,” he said.

National Stories

Border Report - April 17, 2024

Democrats return favor, blame GOP for border crisis

Calling it a “wake-up call” for colleagues using migrants as election campaign props, House Democrats have filed a resolution blaming the ongoing border humanitarian crisis on Republican inaction on immigration reform. The resolution enumerates several immigration reform bills from 2007 through 2023 that Republicans in the House or Senate voted down. It also accuses GOP leaders of declaring as “dead on arrival” immigration bills that might help President Joe Biden politically. “It’s been almost 40 years since the last comprehensive immigration reforms were enacted. Forty-years,” U.S. Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Oregon, said in a call with reporters on Monday.

“We almost had something from the Senate that was put on the table in a bipartisan way. If it weren’t for (former President) Trump telling the House, then the Senate not to bring something forward because he wanted to use it as a political (electoral) weapon, we would be talking about a proposal right now.” She blames Trump for sinking the latest attempt to address the crisis through legislation and Republicans in Congress for “following him right off that cliff.” The Democratic resolution is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, D-New Mexico. It has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. “This broken immigration system that we have today has solutions if we can just work together,” Vasquez said during the call. “As we face urgent needs for additional resources at the border for Customs and Border Protection, for detention center oversight and modern border technology, we see a partisan block in Congress. We are here to find solutions, not play political games.”

Associated Press - April 17, 2024

Donald Trump brings his campaign to the courthouse as his criminal hush money trial begins

Former President Donald Trump began his day as a criminal defendant lashing out at the judge and prosecutors, casting himself as a victim and angrily posting on social media. In other words: a familiar routine. But inside the courtroom, which was closed to TV cameras, Trump was a different man — reserved and muted in a stark departure from his feisty approach to other legal troubles. The contrast spoke to the gravity of his situation. Trump is now the first former president ever to stand trial on criminal charges and faces the prospect, if he loses, of becoming the first major American presidential candidate in history to run as a convicted felon. Trump is accused in the case of falsifying business records to hide alleged hush money payments made to a porn star to keep her from going public during his 2016 campaign with allegations of an affair.

The trial is expected to last at least six weeks and Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is required to attend every day court is in session — a schedule that will dramatically alter his daily life and his ability to campaign in battleground states. before and after the day’s proceedings, which he again cast as nothing more than a politically motivated effort by his rivals to hinder his campaign. “This is political persecution,” he steamed after arriving with a phalanx of lawyers and several senior aides, but without his wife or other family members. “This is an assault on our country,” he went on. Trump is already well practiced in the art of campaigning from the courtroom. In addition to appearances related to his four criminal trials, Trump this year voluntarily attended most days of his civil fraud trial as well as a defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who had accused Trump of rape. Those two trials did not end well for Trump: The former president was found liable in both cases, and now owes over half a billion dollars, including interest. During those hearings, Trump was often admonished by the judges, who instructed him to be quiet or answer questions more succinctly. At one point, the judge in the Carroll suit threatened to kick Trump out of the courtroom for speaking loudly. Another day he stormed out. Trump also openly sparred with the judge in his civil fraud case, including from the witness stand.

Associated Press - April 17, 2024

Biden visits his Pennsylvania hometown to call for more taxes on the rich and cast Trump as elitist

President Joe Biden made a nostalgic return to the house where he grew up in working-class Scranton on Tuesday, kicking off three days of campaigning across Pennsylvania by calling for higher taxes on the rich and casting Donald Trump as an out-of-touch elitist. When the Democratic president wasn’t trying to blunt the populist appeal of his Republican predecessor’s comeback bid, he appeared to savor his trip down memory lane. He lingered longer than expected at his childhood home, where an American flag waved softly in the wind on the front porch and neighbors crowded the sidewalk under flowering trees and a pale blue sky. The president later posed for photos with children, some wearing school uniforms, in the backyard. Biden is looking to gain ground in a key battleground state while Trump spends much of the week in a New York City courtroom for his first criminal trial.

Biden heads to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Thursday, but he started his travels in Scranton, which has long played a starring role in his political autobiography. On Tuesday, the city of 75,000 provided a backdrop for Biden’s efforts to reframe the conversation around the economy, which has left many Americans feeling sour about their financial situations at a time of stubborn inflation and elevated interest rates despite low unemployment. The president said he wanted to make the tax code fairer, keeping more money in Americans’ pockets, while criticizing Trump, a billionaire himself, as a tool of wealthy interests. “When I look at the economy, I don’t look at it through the eyes of Mar-a-Lago. I look at it through the eyes of Scranton,” Biden said, contrasting his hometown with the Florida estate where Trump lives. Biden has proposed a 25% percent minimum tax rate for billionaires. He added that taxes are “how we invest in the country.”

Market Watch - April 17, 2024

Michigan Democrats win special elections, regain full control of state government

Democrats won back a majority in the Michigan House and restored their party’s full control of state government Tuesday thanks to victories in two special elections. Mai Xiong won the special election in the 13th District, which covers Warren and part of Detroit, while Peter Herzberg won in the 25th District, which contains the cities of Wayne and Westland. Both candidates were favorites in the heavily Democratic districts. The lower chamber has been tied 54-54 between Democratic and Republican lawmakers since November, when two Democratic representatives vacated their seats after winning mayoral races in their hometowns. Democrats flipped both chambers in the 2022 midterms while maintaining control of the governor’s office to win a trifecta for the first time in 40 years. They moved quickly to roll back decades of Republican measures and implement the party’s agenda in their first year, including overhauling the state’s gun laws.

Since the House deadlocked, Republicans have pushed to pass legislation they say is bipartisan, such as a government transparency package, which would open the Legislature and governor’s office up to public record requests. With each Democratic candidate winning Tuesday, the party will regain control through the end of the year, with every seat in the House up for reelection in November. Xiong is a Macomb County commissioner who was endorsed in the primary by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Herzberg is a Westland City Council member who defeated a Whitmer-endorsed candidate in the primary earlier this year. Lawmakers are now expected to turn their focus to a state budget with a self-imposed July 1 deadline. Whitmer in her annual State of the State speech in January called on lawmakers to pass a $80 billion budget that would provide free community college for all high school graduates and free preschool for 4-year-olds. In recent months, Democrats have also deliberated on expanding the state’s hate crime law and enacting a comprehensive school safety package of bills in the wake of the 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School.

CNN - April 17, 2024

New campaign filings highlight rivalries and divides on Capitol Hill

When Kevin McCarthy was ousted as House speaker last fall, Republican operatives were concerned that his successor, Mike Johnson, would not be able to replicate his fundraising prowess. So far, those concerns appear valid, new federal filings show. Johnson announced earlier this month that he had raised $20 million total in the first three months of the year, funds that will go toward his campaign, fellow Republican colleagues and party committees. By comparison, in the first quarter of 2022, McCarthy announced raising $31.5 million for Republicans, and in the first quarter of 2023, he raised even more, $35 million. The latest filings from the leaders’ joint fundraising committees – which were due Monday with the Federal Election Commission – further illustrate that disparity. In last year’s first quarter, McCarthy’s joint fundraising committee, Protect The House 2024, raised $28 million. In contrast, Johnson’s joint fundraising operation, Grow the Majority, raised $9 million between January and March of this year.

McCarthy, of course, had years to cultivate relationships with donors and distribute funds to allies, while Johnson took over as speaker less than six months ago and faces the challenge of building out his fundraising operation in an election year. Still, his inability to match McCarthy’s fundraising could add pressure to the already embattled speaker as he continues to face ouster threats from rebellious members of his caucus. In a statement about his fundraising, Johnson said that “in less than six months as Speaker, we have hit the ground running to ensure House Republicans will have the resources necessary to win in battlegrounds across America – and we cannot slow down now. While families suffer under increasing inflation, rising crime, and open borders, we will stay focused on our goal to grow the majority in November and deliver solutions for our nation.” Meanwhile, the latest filings show that McCarthy, who resigned from Congress at the end of December, still has $6.3 million banked in his personal campaign account, funds he could direct toward other campaign efforts. He did some of that in the first quarter, making $4,000 contributions to both Vince Fong, a former staffer and California assemblyman who is running to succeed him in his Central Valley seat, and to Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, a McCarthy ally whose seat became more Democratic under a new map that is currently being challenged.

Politico - April 17, 2024

Second Republican endorses push to fire Johnson as speaker

Speaker Mike Johnson’s strategy to pass long-stalled Ukraine aid has driven at least one Republican to join Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's bid to strip him of his gavel. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) on Tuesday became the second Republican to publicly back an attempt to end Johnson’s speakership, delivering the message directly to the Louisiana Republican during a closed-door GOP conference meeting. Massie is the first Republican to join Greene’s effort amid rising conservative frustration with the speaker’s proposed foreign aid package. It’s not clear when Greene plans to force the ouster vote, though she has vowed to do it eventually. If she does so after Friday, when Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) is retiring, Johnson would need to lean on Democrats to save his speakership. “The motion is going to get called, OK? Does anybody doubt that? The motion will get called. And then he's gonna lose more votes than Kevin McCarthy. And I have told him this in private, like weeks ago,” Massie said after the conference meeting.

The Kentucky Republican told Johnson, according to two lawmakers in the room, that “you’re not going to be the speaker much longer.” Massie also told reporters that he asked Johnson during the closed-door meeting to resign, but that the Louisiana Republican refused. Though Massie predicted there were more than two Republicans who would vote Johnson out, other critics of the speaker refused to say on Tuesday if they would support an effort to oust him. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) refused to talk about Johnson’s speakership, and instead dovetailed into a story about the Ohio state legislature. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who was the first member to warn of an attempt to oust Johnson earlier this year, said he’s “not going into that right now.” Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who like Davidson and Roy is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, kept the door open to supporting an effort oust Johnson if the supplemental passes by the end of the week. “I don’t think it helps,” Perry said, responding to a question on whether Johnson’s strategy on foreign aid is a threat to his speakership. He added that “there’s always an alternative” to Johnson within the GOP’s ranks. Massie’s decision was not well received during the meeting, according to several members in the room. And Republicans across the conference, including some members of the Freedom Caucus, quickly pushed back on the idea of booting Johnson, noting it would spark chaos without a clear successor — a repeat of the House’s nightmare in October.

Forbes - April 17, 2024

Cheap natural gas means lower electricity prices except in Texas

In 2023, Texans paid more for wholesale electricity and suffered more calls for conservation than residents served by any other grid across the nation. And there's no reason to expect that to change anytime soon. The great irony for the energy capital of the world is that the low price of natural gas drove down electricity prices everywhere but Texas, the nation’s largest natural gas producer. Texas also has more utility scale renewable electricity generation than any other state. The low and zero fuel prices cannot overcome the flawed market design used by ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The market design handicaps the capital investment required to produce inexpensive and reliable electricity supplies.

We predicted this outcome more than a decade ago. Let’s review. For eight of the 10 years prior to ERCOT’s failure in 2021, the average wholesale price received by generators was less than the cost of building and operating new generating plants—natural gas turbine units to be specific. Unable to recover their costs, investors refused to build new power plants and, in fact, cut back on maintaining existing coal and natural gas power plants, many of which had already been written off. During 2023, ERCOT frequently reported more unplanned outages for its generator portfolio than PJM, a much larger grid that serves all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia. At 1:38 a.m. February 15, 2021, the ERCOT grid suffered a cascading series of failures attributed to a lack of weatherization of key components of the electricity supply chain. Unprotected power plants froze. Natural gas deliveries dropped off. Coal piles froze. A pump for the cooling reservoir of a nuclear power plant froze and tripped off the reactor. ERCOT and the local utilities that distribute electricity failed to manage a process of rolling blackouts that could have preserved grid stability. Facing a demand call of more than 70,000 megawatts, ERCOT came up 52,000 megawatts short at the low point of the debacle. Extended blackouts across a customer base of 26 million people caused 246 deaths and cost the state more than $100 billion in property losses and economic losses. Hundreds of lawsuits for wrongful deaths and economic losses are pending.

April 16, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - April 16, 2024

Trump's historic hush money trial gets underway; 1st day ends without any jurors being picked

The historic hush money trial of Donald Trump got underway Monday with the arduous process of selecting a jury to hear the case charging the former president with falsifying business records in order to stifle stories about his sex life. The day ended without any jurors being chosen. The selection process was scheduled to resume Tuesday. The first criminal trial of any former U.S. president began as Trump vies to reclaim the White House, creating a remarkable split-screen spectacle of the presumptive Republican nominee spending his days as a criminal defendant while simultaneously campaigning for office. He's blended those roles over the last year by presenting himself to supporters, on the campaign trail and on social media, as a target of politically motivated prosecutions designed to derail his candidacy.

“It’s a scam. It’s a political witch hunt. It continues, and it continues forever,” Trump said after exiting the courtroom, where he sat at the defense table with his lawyers. After a norm-shattering presidency shadowed by years of investigations, the trial amounts to a reckoning for Trump, who faces four indictments charging him with crimes ranging from hoarding classified documents to plotting to overturn an election. Yet the political stakes are less clear because a conviction would not preclude him from becoming president and because the allegations in this case date back years and are seen as less grievous than the conduct behind the three other indictments. The day began with pretrial arguments — including over a potential fine for Trump — before moving in the afternoon into jury selection, where the parties will decide who might be picked to determine the legal fate of the former, and potentially future, American president. After the first members of the jury pool, 96 in all, were summoned into the courtroom, Trump craned his neck to look back at them, whispering to his lawyer as they entered the jury box.

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2024

Judge finds Texas agency in contempt for foster care problems, imposes $100,000-a-day fine

The head of the state’s sweeping health agency is in contempt of court for failing to address shortcomings in the Texas’ foster care system and faces fines of $100,000 a day until they are corrected, a federal judge ruled Monday. In a 427-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack said foster care system officials failed to address prior court orders requiring adequate and prompt investigations into allegations of abuse and neglect involving children in state custody. “Delays in completing investigations can create risk of harm for children because alleged perpetrators might remain free to continue causing harm to children until the investigation is finally completed,” Jack wrote in her order. It was the third time the state has been held in contempt since Jack ruled in 2015 that children in state custody faced an unconstitutional risk of harm.

Paul Yetter, lead attorney for the foster children in the lawsuit that began in 2011, said the state continues “running an unsafe foster care system.” “The judge’s ruling is measured but urgent, given the shocking evidence. Innocent children are suffering every day,” Yetter said in an emailed statement. “After all these years, when will state leadership get serious about fixing this disaster?” Jack ruled that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission failed to ensure allegations of serious abuse and neglect are properly investigated in a timely fashion “and conducted taking into account at all times the child’s safety needs.” Cecile Erwin Young, head of the commission, was held in contempt and faces $100,000 in fines to be assessed daily until her agency certifies that problems with investigations have been addressed, Jack ruled. The judge also set a June 26 hearing on requests for additional contempt findings related to high caseloads for caseworkers, the use of psychotropic medications, and methods for informing foster children about how to report abuse. Complaints also persist about the treatment of children housed in unlicensed settings, including leased homes or motel rooms, and supervised by caseworkers on overtime. Asked for comment, agency spokesman José Andrés Araiza said: “HHSC is reviewing the 427 page order and its attachments.”

Houston Chronicle - April 16, 2024

More than 2 million Texans lost Medicaid coverage in past year, at double the national rate

Texas continues to disenroll Medicaid recipients at one of the highest rates in the country, part of a broader trend that has seen state health departments across the nation move unqualified recipients off their rolls after a surge in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas has so far removed 2.1 million Medicaid recipients from its rolls, which works out to 49% of the cases it has reviewed, more than twice the national average and a higher proportion than all but six other states, according to analysis by the nonprofit KFF. With the disenrollment process still ongoing, Texas’ Medicaid rolls were down to 4.4 million in December, compared with 4.2 million in February 2020, before the pandemic began.

“The big question is, at the end of the unwinding, where will enrollment stand?” said Bradley Corallo, senior policy analyst at KFF. “Some states like Utah and Idaho are already below pre-pandemic levels. Texas is right on the cusp, with one more batch (of recipients) to review.” The Texas Department of Health and Human Services did not return a request for comment. State health departments suspended their regular process of reviewing Medicaid rolls during the pandemic in exchange for federal funding authorized by Congress. That arrangement ended in March 2023, setting off a state review process that has so far resulted in 20 million Americans losing Medicaid coverage, a national disenrollment rate of 21%. The highest rates of Medicaid recipients losing coverage are in Republican-controlled states such as Texas, many of which had relatively low participation rates to begin with because of their decision not to expand Medicaid coverage beyond children, pregnant women and those in extreme poverty under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

Bloomberg - April 16, 2024

Trump’s fundraising shows reliance on oil sector, wealthy donors

Donald Trump relied on a small cadre of donors to contribute a hefty portion of his March fundraising haul, showing the early success of his pivot to wealthy benefactors to finance his presidential bid. The $23.6 million from deep-pocketed donors accounted for a substantial part of the $65.6 million he and the Republican Party raised that month, the latest disclosures to the US Federal Election Commission show. While overall figures were known earlier, the filings released Monday were the first to detail donors and other information. Real estate and aerospace entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren and Linda McMahon, who was Trump’s pick to lead the Small Business Administration when he was president, were among those who gave more than $800,000 each to support him and the party, the disclosures showed.

Trump, whose criminal trial started Monday for falsifying business records related to hush money payments made in the 2016 election, is also raising money for Save America — the leadership PAC that’s been paying his legal fees. He’s been increasingly relying on the rich and the elite as his rallies fail to whip up enough small-dollar donations to fund his campaign. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has amassed a record war chest for this point in an election year. Outside groups supporting Biden, led by his main super political action committee, the Future Forward PAC, have now pledged $1 billion to support him. Billionaire John Paulson, former Renaissance Technologies co-president and co-CEO, Robert Mercer, as well as Harold Hamm of Continental Resources and Scott Bessent of Key Square Capital Management were among the donors writing big checks to the Trump 47 Committee, which the GOP nominee took over in mid-March. There were 73 donors in all, with some giving $1,000 or less.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2024

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson: State lawmakers should ban payouts for exiting city employees

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says he believes state lawmakers should prevent contract payout clauses for municipal government employees like the lump sum payment due to outgoing City Manager T.C. Broadnax. Johnson in his weekly email newsletter to residents on Sunday called a severance clause in Broadnax’s contract that mandates he be paid a year’s worth of his $423,246 annual salary if he resigns at the suggestion of the majority of the City Council a “golden parachute” and said it leaves taxpayers footing the bill. The mayor referred to the exit as “backroom maneuvering” between other council members and Broadnax, whose resignation was announced Feb. 21. He was selected as Austin’s next city manager six weeks later on Apr. 4. Other cities have paid large severances to city managers, Johnson said, “although not in this way — and not to someone who was already lining up a job somewhere else.”

“The Texas Legislature ought to take the step to protect taxpayers by forbidding these golden parachutes for city employees in any locality in the state,” Johnson said in the newsletter. “Until then, as the search for a new city manager continues, it’s time for the Dallas City Council to take a stand by definitively stating that there won’t be a golden parachute clause in the next city manager’s contract.” Broadnax’s city contract was approved by the City Council in Dec. 2016. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold is the only current council member who was elected at the time. Johnson is among a few of the 15-member City Council who has said publicly that they weren’t aware Broadnax was going to resign until it was announced. A city news release announced Broadnax’s resignation, as well as a joint news release from council members Adam Bazaldua, Zarin Gracey, Omar Narvaez, Jaime Resendez, Jaynie Schultz and Gay Donnell Willis saying the city manager was stepping down “at the suggestion of the majority of the Dallas City Council.” A key reason for the suggestion was that the working relationship between Johnson and Broadnax “has not been conducive to effective governance and the advancement of Dallas’ interests,” the February news release from the council members said. According to terms of Broadnax’s contract, the city must pay him a lump sum equal to 12 months of his base salary if there is an “involuntary separation” from his duties as city manager. He could also be in line to receive even more money in payouts tied to health care benefits and unused vacation days.

Bloomberg - April 16, 2024

Texas Agriculture Chief Sid Miller says bird flu concerns are ‘overhyped’

Concerns about avian influenza cases among dairy cows in Texas have been “a little bit overhyped” as its spread can be contained, according to the state’s top agriculture official. Texas hasn’t seen any further infections in almost three weeks, and new transmissions from migrating waterfowl are unlikely as birds have headed north, according to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. What’s more, contagion through contaminated milk can be easily avoided by disinfecting equipment used in barns, he added. “We’re over the hump,” Miller said in an interview Thursday. “We can take measures to stop that.”

The infection of cows by the same virus strain that emerged in Europe in 2020 — and has since caused an unprecedented number of deaths in wild birds and poultry globally — has raised concerns that the outbreak may hurt demand for dairy and beef and disrupt supplies. Miller said only 10% of milking cows in the state have been infected by bird flu, and that little milk has been thrown away so there is not a shortage of the staple. While no infected dairy has entered the food chain, consumption of pasteurized milk as well as cooked eggs is safe. “If you’re worried about it, cook your eggs and make sure you get your milk pasteurized,” Miller said.

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2024

Texas leaders, advocates build momentum on pre-K, child care ahead of Legislature

Statewide leaders and advocates want to build momentum on child care and early education conversations ahead of next year’s legislative session. Alfreda Norman, former senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said one of the most pressing challenges for families across the state continues to be finding affordable, high quality child care. The annual cost of infant care is comparable to that of a public university. Waitlists for child care scholarships are at an all-time high with more than 70,000 families currently hoping to receive such support, she said. Receive our in-depth coverage of education issues and stories that affect North Texans. “Too many children are missing out on an opportunity to receive a high-quality early education,” Norman said. The economy also takes a hit when parents can’t find options.

Texas loses about $9.4 billion annually because of child care issues, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker and Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Bryan Daniel in a panel spoke about the current landscape of early education in Texas. Kara Waddell, president and CEO of Child Care Associates, an advocacy nonprofit based in Fort Worth, moderated the discussion. The group noted how, in 2019, lawmakers attempted to expand pre-K options for Texas families by encouraging partnerships between school districts or charter networks and child care programs. However, only about 12 out of the state’s nearly 1,200 districts and charters figured out how to team up, Morath said. “From a school district perspective, it is actually quite logistically difficult to make these partnerships work,” Morath said. With districts already overburdened with other challenges, the Texas Education Agency recommends bringing in nonprofit organizations to act as intermediaries and simplify the process for school leaders, he suggested. Waddell noted how states can experience a greater return on investment by bolstering programs in the first three years of childrens’ lives. However, most of the country instead pours more funds into students in kindergarten through high school.

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2024

Students walk out of Wilmer-Hutchins High School days after on-campus shooting

Students at Wilmer-Hutchins High School staged a walkout Monday, saying they do not feel safe at school, days after a student shot and injured a classmate. The shooting happened Friday morning in a classroom and the victim was shot in the upper thigh, officials said at the time. The student suspected in the shooting was taken into custody but their identity has not been released to the public. No other injuries were reported. About 40 students could be seen in the parking lot of Wilmer-Hutchins High School on Monday morning, speaking to reporters, holding up signs and talking in small groups. Students said they had been outside for more than an hour when the walkout started to disperse.

Yanely Gamino, a student who participated in the walkout, said she felt like school leaders did not substantially address the shooting when they arrived at school Monday morning, instead telling students counseling services are available and sending them to do regular classwork. “It was like they brushed it over,” said Jose Morales, a fellow Wilmer-Hutchins student. Students said they had not planned the walkout in advance and instead discussed the possibility in first period. Other students said they heard about the possibility of a walkout from their teachers and decided to participate. Multiple students said the school’s metal detectors are not regularly used and the school does not consistently enforce its clear bag policies, both points of frustration. “We have whole metal detectors, we have wands, but now they want to finally use [them] after something bad happens,” Gamino said. Treasure Daniels, a student who walked out, also said school officials have been attempting to stop students from speaking to the media, something other students described as well.

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2024

2 Dallas crash victims sue Chiefs’ Rashee Rice, SMU’s ‘Teddy’ Knox seeking more than $1M

A six-vehicle accident Saturday in northeast Dallas left at least four injured. Police suspect the crash may have involved Kansas City Chiefs' Rashee Rice. A Dallas couple is suing Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice and SMU cornerback Theodore “Teddy” Knox in connection with a multivehicle crash last month that injured them and at least five others. Edvard Petrovskiy and Irina Gromova are seeking more than $1 million through the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Dallas County. Their attorney, Sanjay Mathur, told The Dallas Morning News on Monday they’re both “pretty upset about what occurred” and still undergoing treatment. He said they haven’t heard from Rice or Knox. “They felt that the accountability measures that need to be taking place — both for them, but also the public at large — would best be served by filing a lawsuit,” Mathur said.

Attorneys for Rice and Knox did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The lawsuit alleged the two football players challenged each other “to a high-speed race” despite knowing the road was “heavily trafficked with commuters.” Petrovskiy and Gromova were “severely injured,” the lawsuit said, noting brain trauma, lacerations to the face that required stitches, contusions, disfigurement and internal bleeding. The filing appeared to be the first lawsuit reported in connection with the March 30 crash. Rice and Knox also each face one criminal count of aggravated assault, a count of collision involving serious bodily injury and six counts of collision involving injury, Dallas police officials announced last week. Officials have said Rice admitted to driving one of two high-end sports cars that triggered the six-vehicle crash in the 6600 block of North Central Expressway. He and Knox turned themselves into Glenn Heights police last week. Mathur said there are limits in the criminal justice system for how much money can be issued as a fine, noting most felonies have a maximum of $10,000.

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2024

New vaping law lands hundreds of North Texas students in alternative school

Hundreds of North Texas students were sent to disciplinary alternative schools this school year because they were caught vaping — an offense that requires strict punishment under a new state law. More than one-fifth of students assigned to such campuses in eight Dallas County districts were there because of e-cigarettes, according to discipline records analyzed by The Dallas Morning News. The state mandate raises questions among education advocates — and even the legislator who pushed for the law addressing vaping. Some are worried that time spent in alternative school can derail students’ learning. Public health officials are concerned about the idea of disciplining children who likely need help. “You can’t punish your way out of an addiction issue,” said Charlie Gagen, the American Lung Association’s Director of Advocacy for Texas. “We’d really like to see more resources for youth education and cessation and leave the punishment aspect for those retailers” who sell products to minors.

The News requested data covering the first five months of the academic year that detailed how many students were sent to Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs, or DAEP, because of vaping. More than one in 10 Dallas ISD students sent to alternative schools as of Feb. 1 were removed from their home campuses because of e-cigarettes. The percentages are more striking in districts such as Duncanville and Mesquite, where around 40% of alternative school placements were for vaping. Students are generally sent to these alternative schools for serious offenses, such as making terroristic threats, selling drugs or assaulting an employee. Now schools across the state have information campaigns reminding students: VAPE = DAEP. Some DAEP campuses were pushed to capacity, which meant children were routed to in-school suspension instead. More than one in 10 high school students in Texas reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days in 2021, according to statewide survey data. Nearly 6% of middle schoolers did so. Dallas County reported its first vaping-related death — a teenager — in 2020.

Associated Press - April 16, 2024

Biden administration to give $6.4 billion to Samsung to make computer chips near Austin

The Biden administration has reached an agreement to provide up to $6.4 billion in direct funding for Samsung Electronics to develop a computer chip manufacturing and research cluster in Texas near Austin. The funding announced Monday by the Commerce Department is part of a total investment in the cluster that, with private money, is expected to exceed $40 billion. The government support comes from the CHIPS and Science Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2022 with the goal of reviving the production of advanced computer chips domestically. “The proposed project will propel Texas into a state of the art semiconductor ecosystem,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on a call with reporters. “It puts us on track to hit our goal of producing 20% of the world’s leading edge chips in the United States by the end of the decade.”

Raimondo said she expects the project will create at least 17,000 construction jobs and more than 4,500 manufacturing jobs. Samsung’s cluster in Taylor, a city of about 17,000 people some 35 miles northeast of Austin in Williamson County, would include two factories that would make four- and two-nanometer chips. Also, there would be a factory dedicated to research and development, as well as a facility for the packaging that surrounds chip components. The first factory is expected to be operational in 2026, with the second being operational in 2027, according to the government. The funding also would expand an existing Samsung facility in Austin. Lael Brainard, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Samsung will be able to manufacture chips in Austin directly for the Defense Department as a result. Access to advanced technology has become a major national security concern amid competition between the U.S. and China.

Chron - April 16, 2024

Study: Texas No.1 in fatal crashes involving construction zones

A new study identified Texas as the No.1 state for fatal automobile crashes occuring in the vicinity of road construction, according to the national law firm Schmidt & Clark. According to the law firm, Texas saw a staggering 582 fatal crashes involving construction zones of the total 17,549 crashes that occurred between 2017 and 2021. This means that 3.3 percent of all accidents during that five-year period involved work zones, which is more than double the national average of 1.3 percent. Schmidt & Clark examined data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on fatal motor vehicle crashes to determine which state has the most dangerous utility, construction, and maintenance work zones. The law firm said that construction zones and maintenance work zones are more accident-prone due to the higher probability of narrowed lanes, congested traffic and uneven pavement.

KERA - April 16, 2024

Racism in the health care system is killing Black pregnant Texans

A few months after Si'Mone Scott gave birth to her daughter, she knew something was off. This was her third pregnancy, and her toughest. The Dallas resident had been put on bed rest early on in her first trimester because she was at high risk of a miscarriage. “I've never experienced a miscarriage before and I didn't want to,” Scott said. “I was already going through a lot at home, and then to basically have to stop working, I couldn't even clean.” When Scott gave birth to her daughter via C-section, she started bleeding, losing more than 1,300 units of blood. Postpartum hemorrhage is categorized as losing more than 1,000 units of blood within 24 hours to 12 weeks after delivery, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “I basically almost died on the operating table,” Scott said.

The health issues Scott experienced are some of the most common reasons Texans die in pregnancy. Texas is among the worst states in the country for maternal mortality, and Black Texans die at higher rates than their white counterparts from pregnancy-related causes. Scott got connected with Delighted to Doula Birth Services, a Black-led organization in Dallas providing postpartum doula support to new parents. The organization's aim is to reduce maternal mortality rates. Scott said she felt calm and relaxed immediately after coming to the office and meeting her doula. “Everything just started coming out of me,” Scott said. “I was speaking for hours, uninterrupted. She just listened. She just listened. And I know I was going on and on and on. But it was just being heard.” Over the next few months, Scott said she came to Delighted to Doula every week as part of her “self-care routine.” She started to notice changes in her mood. She felt happier and had more energy to play with her daughters. “They never treated me like I was overstaying my welcome or anything, I was always welcomed,” Scott said. “That helped me to realize that I do matter and that all my feelings are valid.”

San Antonio Current - April 16, 2024

Express News, MySA staffers opt not to join union

The San Antonio News Guild announced Friday afternoon that staffers at the Hearst-owned Express-News and MySA voted 36-31 against unionizing as part of the Media Guild of the West. Guild officials told the Current in February that 68% of union-eligible staff at both publications signed authorization cards to be represented by the Guild. In a Friday social media post, organizers blamed the failed vote on “strong union-busting tactics from Hearst.” Express-News Publisher Mark Medici was unavailable for comment for the Current's article. “Independent of today’s vote, my focus is on the journalism we produce and, with the support of Hearst, providing the best workplace I can for our journalists and all of our employees,” Medici said in a statement supplied to the Express-News.

Fort Worth Report - April 16, 2024

Precinct chair deemed ineligible after win sues Tarrant County Republican Party

A Republican precinct chair who won his election, only to be declared ineligible after the fact, is suing the Tarrant County Republican Party. Chris Rector won a primary election to chair Tarrant County Precinct 4230 with 75% of the vote. A week later, Tarrant County Republican Party Chairman Bo French sent Rector a letter accusing him of pretending to be a Republican in order to dissolve the party and merge it with the Tarrant County Democratic Party. As a result, French wrote, he would not issue a certificate of election to Rector. The lawsuit, filed April 10, alleges French “concocted a bogus, fraudulent claim that Contestant was ineligible for the position to which he had been elected.”

Rector is asking a judge to declare him eligible and confirm his election as precinct chair. In the interim, he is asking for a temporary restraining order to ensure the Tarrant County Republican Party can’t appoint someone else as chair. No amount of money can compensate Rector for a lost political office, nor can it compensate the residents who voted for him, Rector’s lawyers argued in the suit. In a written statement, French said the party will defend itself against the lawsuit and win, “whatever it takes.” “This is a blatant assault on our First Amendment rights to freedom of association, engineered by Democrats bent on destroying our organization,” French wrote. The party chair said Rector’s lawsuit is a prime example of why Texas needs to close its primaries. Currently, Texas voters are not required to register as a Republican or Democrat before voting in either party’s primaries, a fact Republicans have lamented across the state. Julie McCarty, founder and CEO of the True Texas Project, joined French in calling for closed primaries following the lawsuit.

Associated Press - April 16, 2024

Pilots union at American Airlines says it's seeing more safety and maintenance issues

The pilots union at American Airlines says there has been “a significant spike” in safety issues at the airline, including fewer routine aircraft inspections and shorter test flights on planes returning from major maintenance work. The union also says it has seen incidents in which tools were left in wheel wells and items were left in the sterile area around planes parked at airport gates. A spokesman said Monday that union officials have raised their concerns with senior managers at the airline and were encouraged by the company's response. American, which is based in Fort Worth said it has an industry-leading safety management system. An airline spokesperson said American is in regular contact with regulators and unions “to further bolster our strong safety record and enhance our ever-evolving safety culture."

Dennis Tajer, a pilot and spokesman for the union, said the union spoke recently with senior management, “and management’s initial response to our request was encouraging. We fully intend to do everything we can to assure that American maintains strong margins of safety.” The Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment directly on the union's allegations or whether the agency has increased its oversight of American as a result. In a statement, an FAA spokesperson said airlines required to have systems for identifying potential hazards before they become serious problems. The safety committee of the Allied Pilots Association said in an email to members Saturday that the union “has been tracking a significant spike in safety- and maintenance-related problems in our operation.” The union said American has increased the time between routine inspections on planes. It also said American has ended overnight maintenance checks unless a plane is written up for special attention or due for scheduled maintenance and now does “abbreviated” test flights on planes returning to service after major maintenance checks or long-term storage. The union asked its members to report any safety or maintenance problems.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 16, 2024

Hidalgo says commissioners who stand in way of changing contract process are 'part of the problem'

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday called out the county's methods of awarding millions of dollars in contracts to companies building infrastructure like roads and parks, arguing that the county spends local tax dollars with far less transparency than when it is working with federal money. Hidalgo cited a recent report prepared by Harris County Auditor Michael Post's office that found the county doesn't produce a rigorous paper trail when choosing the winners of contracts. The engineering department, which oversees major infrastructure projects along with commissioners' offices, did not have consistent records available until as recently as July 2023. Now, Hidalgo is calling on her four colleagues on Harris County Commissioners Court to give up their control of these decisions and hand over the reins to the county's independent purchasing department.

"I'm not trying to point the finger with what I'm going to present," Hidalgo said at a news conference Monday. "But I am trying to say if you don't change this, and change it promptly, then you are part of the problem." Hidalgo said she will present her proposal at the upcoming April 23 meeting of Commissioners Court. Currently, companies are chosen by engineering department staff, as well as staff from the four commissioner's offices. There were no conflict of interest certifications on file for those employees and no written policies requiring staff to document their conflicts, according to the audit. The auditor report also surveyed that Harris County was the only county that procures professional services — such as engineering — independent of the purchasing office. Hidalgo has made repeated attempts to broach the topics of improving public trust and streamlining county services, even if that has sometimes meant going it alone. She has consistently refused contributions from county vendors since she ran for her first term in office in 2018, unlike her colleagues on court. At the March 26 meeting of Commissioners Court, Hidalgo argued the county's efforts to improve efficiency have a tendency to get left on the shelf when studies are completed but the results aren't released.

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 16, 2024

Biden raises oil and gas leasing costs on federal land

The Bureau of Land Management is raising bonding requirements and royalty rates for oil and gas companies operating on federal lands, the first major overhaul of leasing rules since the late 1980s. Under regulations finalized Friday, the minimum bond for oil and gas leases will be $150,000, up from $10,000, and minimum royalties on oil and gas production will increase to 16.7% from 12.5%, part of a Biden administration strategy to increase government revenues and deter oil companies from buying up oil leases and sitting on them as they wait for oil prices to rise. “These are the most significant reforms to the federal oil and gas leasing program in decades,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “They will cut wasteful speculation, increase returns for the public and protect taxpayers from being saddled with the costs of environmental cleanups.”

Minimum bids on oil leases will also increase to $10 per acre from $2. And rental rates paid on those leases will step up over time, reaching $15 an acre after eight years. The updated regulations have drawn pushback from oil and gas lobbyists, who maintain they will slow drilling on federal lands and shrink U.S. energy production. Federal lands accounted for 11% of U.S. oil production and 9% of natural gas production in 2022, according to BLM. “The regulatory environment has become so hostile to American oil and natural gas producers operating on federal land that it’s clear the Biden administration intends for 'multiple use' lands to only be used for conservation and recreation,” said Dan Naatz, chief operating officer of the trade group Independent Petroleum Association of America. The new oil and gas rules come as the Biden seeks to expand wind and solar energy generation on federal lands. BLM announced Thursday it was adjusting its rules to lower costs for renewable developers and speed up the permitting process, part of an effort to expand the more than 25 gigawatts of renewable projects already permitted.

Washington Post - April 16, 2024

Biden’s options for retaliating against Iran risk antagonizing China

President Biden’s aides are preparing to hit Iran with economic sanctions over Tehran’s attack on Israel, but experts say they face limited meaningful options for doing so without antagonizing China or risking a spike in the price of oil. In retaliation for a strike against its consulate, Iran over the weekend sent more than 300 drones and missiles toward Israel. The unprecedented aerial barrage did not cause major damage or injuries, as U.S.-led forces intercepted most of the projectiles. Still, U.S. officials and their European allies are discussing potential economic responses to Iran, as leading Western officials converged Monday on Washington for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Their options are limited because Iran is already one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world, with U.S. penalties in effect on its banking, manufacturing and energy sectors.

Among the most obvious remaining options is aggressively expanding sanctions on Chinese firms that have bought large quantities of Iranian crude oil exports, which have provided a financial lifeline for Tehran as it remains cut off from the West. The United States has over the last year imposed sanctions on some commercial links in the oil trade between China and Iran, but experts say the administration could go further by hitting many more Chinese refineries and banks with the restrictions. Doing so carries its own risks, however. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and other administration officials have tried stabilizing relations with China in recent months, and a sudden blow to energy production could infuriate Beijing. Additionally, cutting off sales of Iranian crude could cause oil prices to spike globally amid tighter supply, potentially leading to higher gas prices ahead of the 2024 presidential election. “There are not a lot of options that are game changers, because so much of Iran is already sanctioned,” said Rachel Ziemba, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a foreign policy think tank. “But if you really want to cut off oil revenue for Iran, you have to go through China and Chinese institutions.”

Washington Post - April 16, 2024

A tech-stock bubble and burst, all within three weeks

Distilled, the value proposition of buying public shares of the parent company of Truth Social is: Donald Trump will make you money. This is not an unusual value proposition for a stock, certainly; they are all predicated on someone making you money. In this case, though, the proposition is unusually centered in the moneymaking skills of one person, more so than perhaps any stock besides Tesla. This has been the value proposition of nearly everything Trump has ever done. Even his presidential campaigns are rooted to no small extent in the idea that Trump will make you richer; his 2024 campaign is certainly investing a lot of energy in the idea that he did or will present Americans with a financial windfall. The problem, of course, is that the most reliable beneficiary of Trump’s theories of enrichment is Donald Trump. In the case of Truth Social, even he isn’t doing terribly well at the moment.

It’s interesting to consider what Truth Social is presenting to potential investors without the Trump element. It’s a social network, like Twitter back when it was Twitter. There’s nothing technically exceptional about it; in fact, it’s simply a slightly modified instance of an out-of-the-box social-media-site tool kit called Mastodon. The only thing that makes it different from anything else is that Donald Trump owns it and posts on it and has pointed his huge base of support at it as a venue. And that was enough for a lot of people to jump in when the stock went public, including some people who bet their futures on it. What’s happened since the stock went public at the end of last month is not normal. Consider three other tech stocks, ones that put a bit more effort into the “tech” part. When Google and Twitter went public in 2004 and 2013, respectively, prices quickly jumped upward from their initial offer prices and then held fairly stable. Facebook’s stock, made public in 2012, stayed flat at the outset and then dropped over the next few weeks. Now let’s superimpose shares of Trump Media & Technology Group (ticker: DJT). It rose from the offer price, pushing Trump into Bloomberg’s list of the 500 richest billionaires in the world. And then it started steadily shedding value.

Wall Street Journal - April 16, 2024

Big Tech is downsizing workspace in another blow to office real estate

Big technology companies are cutting back on office space across major coastal cities, leaving some exposed landlords with empty buildings and steep losses. The pullback marks a sharp reversal after years when companies such as Amazon.com, Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Google parent Alphabet had been bolstering their office footprints by adding millions of square feet of space. Their expansion continued even after the pandemic erupted and many employees started working remotely. Tech companies have been the dominant tenant in West Coast cities like Seattle and San Francisco, and by 2021 these companies came to rival those in the finance industry as Manhattan’s biggest user of office space. Now, big tech companies are letting leases expire or looking to unload some offices. Amazon is ditching or not renewing some office leases and last year paused construction on its second headquarters in northern Virginia. Google has listed office space in Silicon Valley for sublease, according to data company CoStar. Meta has also dumped some office space and is leasing less than it did early on in the pandemic.

Salesforce, the cloud-based software company, said in a recent securities filing that it leased or owned about 900,000 square feet of San Francisco office space as of January. That is barely half the 1.6 million of office space it reported having in that city a year earlier. Tech giants looking to unload part of their workplace face a lot of competition. Office space listed for sublease in 30 cities with a lot of technology tenants has risen to the highest levels in at least a decade, according to brokerage CBRE. The 168.4 million square feet of office space for sublease in the first quarter was down slightly from the fourth-quarter 2023 peak but up almost threefold from early 2019. Even tech companies that are renewing or adding space want less than they did before. The amount of new office space tech companies leased fell by almost half in the fourth quarter of last year compared with 2019, CBRE said. Tech’s voracious appetite for office and other commercial real estate had been an economic boon for cities. The new workspace usually brought an influx of well-paid employees, boosted cities’ property-tax revenue and translated into more business for local retailers and shop owners.

NPR - April 16, 2024

The House plans to hold separate votes on aid for Israel and Ukraine after delays

House Speaker Mike Johnson has announced a path forward on aid to Ukraine and Israel after months of delay because of GOP divisions. Iran's unprecedent attack on Israel over the weekend increased pressure on Congress to act. Johnson plans to bring forward three separate bills on funding for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. A fourth national security bill would likely include a provision that could lead to a ban on TikTok in the U.S. Lawmakers say there's renewed urgency in passing the aid to Israel after Saturday's attack. "My phone melted over the weekend, you know, with all the members letting me know all their ideas," Johnson told reporters after the closed-door meeting with his members Monday evening. "It really was the will of my colleagues to vote on these measures independently and not have them all sandwiched together, as the Senate had done."

Top congressional Democrats, President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had called on the House to swiftly vote on the Senate-passed $95 billion foreign aid package that combines aid for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. But that has long been a no-go in the House, where various GOP members remain deeply opposed to further funding for Ukraine. "The Ukraine piece is — clearly on the Republican side — the most controversial one, the one that has the most difference of opinion," Johnson said Monday. Timing of the House vote remains to be seen. House GOP rules require 72 hours to review legislation, which Johnson said he would honor. "That probably means that if we get bill text sometime early tomorrow — that's the hope, that's the ambition — then that probably puts us into perhaps Friday evening [for votes]," he said. "We'll have to see how the clock works." The proposal drew early signs of support from members. "It's the right way in which the House should function," said Republican New York Rep. Marc Molinaro. "The speaker wants four votes, four measures. Everybody can vote their conscience, vote their constituency, and then defend their position." Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, who is the chair of the Republican Study Committee, told reporters he thinks Johnson is "doing the right thing."

Bloomberg - April 16, 2024

US regional banks dramatically step up loans to oil and gas

A group of US regional banks is ratcheting up lending to oil, gas and coal clients, grabbing market share as bigger European rivals back away. The list of banks includes Citizens Financial Group Inc., BOK Financial Corp. and Truist Securities Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The companies have climbed between 13 and 40 steps up the league table for fossil-fuel lenders since the end of 2021, placing them among the world’s top 35 banks by number of deals. Fifth Third Securities Inc. and US Bancorp, already in the top 30, both ascended 10 steps in the same period. Five regional US banks dramatically stepped up lending to fossil-fuel clients since the start of 2022.

Since the start of 2022, the combined number of fossil-fuel loans provided by Citizens Financial, BOK Financial, Truist Securities, Fifth Third and US Bancorp rose more than 70% on an average annualized basis, compared with the preceding six years, the Bloomberg data show. Spokespeople for Truist, Fifth Third and US Bancorp declined to comment. Rory Sheehan, a spokesperson for Citizens Financial, said the bank supports initiatives enabling the transition toward a lower-carbon future. He also said the bank recognizes the role of the oil and gas industry. The development offers a glimpse of how the US banking landscape is being altered against a backdrop of stricter climate regulations across the Atlantic. US regional lenders — shaken by the crisis that followed Silicon Valley Bank’s meltdown — are participating in more fossil-fuel loans as banks in Europe begin to pull away for fear of getting caught on the wrong side of environmental, social and governance regulations and climate litigation.