September 22, 2023

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2023

Trailing Houston mayoral candidates deploy multiple tactics to break through political noise

A parody of the National Anthem may not be what voters attending Thursday’s mayoral forum expected to hear, but it’s what mayoral candidate David Lowy delivered as his opening statement. Instead of “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air,” the candidate – dressed in a leopard print jacket and gold-rimmed sunglasses – promised to “bring fun to this town” and “make a smile from a frown.” By the time Lowy finished his song, audience members were either applauding or staring in disbelief. Regardless, it was a performance they would never forget. While Lowy’s tactics are somewhat unconventional, he is running in a crowded mayoral race, where he needs to distinguish himself not just from front-runners U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Sen. John Whitmire, but from the 15 other candidates vying for the top job.

And with weeks until Election Day, Lowy and his fellow candidates trailing in the polls have to be willing to be “provocative” if they hope to distinguish themselves, said Bill McGowan, founder and CEO of Clarity Media Group, a political communications firm. “You have to cut through the noise and the clutter,” he added, in order to make a lasting impression on potential voters. Being provocative isn’t the only way for trailing candidates to set themselves apart. Annie Garcia, a lawyer running for mayor, is staking her campaign on public backlash over the state takeover of the Houston Independent School District (HISD). “On November 7, use your first vote to send a message,” Garcia said in her closing statement at Thursday’s forum. “Vote for Mama G, and we’re going to get Greg Abbott the hell out of HISD.” Even if she does not win, she hopes her campaign will send a message to the next mayor that the issue cannot be overlooked. The mayor, however, has limited powers when it comes to education. Still, focusing on a single issue – particularly one animating voters – can be essential to drawing attention to a struggling candidate’s campaign, said Juliana Silva, communications specialist at Clarity Media Group. “When someone's that far behind… they need to appeal to the emotions of people,” said Silva. After all, she added, people vote “more based on how they feel about someone rather than ‘What’s that laundry list of things they want to accomplish?’” Kathy Lee Tatum, another mayoral candidate in attendance, played directly to the emotions of the room, noting her own struggle navigating Houston with a disability.

Baptist Standard - September 21, 2023

Baptist Standard Editorial: Religious freedom calls for rejecting Abbott’s ‘ask’

Baptists have a long history of championing religious freedom. To ensure that freedom, we also have a history of championing the separation of church and state. See Baptist historian Carol Crawford Holcomb’s recent article clearly recounting this history. Our historic stance is being tested. As clearly seen in our 400-year history, Baptists do not see separation of church and state as meaning church and state will not be in dialogue. Baptists are not opposed to religion and government relating to each other and even influencing each other. What many Baptists are opposed to is the church seeking to govern through the state and the state seeking to govern through the church. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Sept. 19 tele-townhall with Texas pastors suggests an example of the latter. Dave Welch—who founded the Houston Pastor Council, Texas Pastor Council and U.S. Pastor Council—hosted the call. It was not clear if the call was at the initiative of the Texas Pastor Council or Abbott’s office. During the call, Abbott appealed to a pastors’ desire “to shape more than just any particular church … but to shape our entire community.” He called those listening “to come together and unite and achieve a better state for all families across the entire state” by advocating for “school choice.”

Abbott noted polls in support of “school choice” and said he would call a special session in October for the purpose of passing “school choice” legislation. “School choice” is a euphemism for using public funds to pay for private education through such things as education savings accounts. He expects legislators to fall in line and claimed “votes seem to be lining up.” If they don’t line up in the upcoming special session, Abbott will call another special session for the same purpose. And if that doesn’t work, Abbott threatened to “have everything teed up in a way where we will be giving voters in a primary a choice. They can choose someone who supports school choice, or they can support someone who is against school choice.” “There’s an easy way to get it done and a hard way to get it done,” Abbott continued. The easy way is to approve Abbott’s agenda in this upcoming special session. The hard way is to call Abbott’s bluff and face being voted out of office. And Abbott wants pastors to be a mouthpiece for this bully tactic. A Sept. 19 press release from the governor’s office designated Sunday, Oct. 15, as School Choice Sunday. Clearly, this is a play at the thousands, if not millions, of people Abbott hopes will hear his message through their pastors’ mouths. Abbott asked those listening to speak, and to encourage other pastors to speak, “on Sunday, October the 15th … to your congregations about the issue of parental rights, parental involvement and school choice.” He urged the pastors listening to “go to the pulpit, speak from the pulpit to your congregation, and let them know how important this issue is to the fabric of the future of Texas.” It’s one thing for a national denomination such as the Southern Baptist Convention to designate specific Sundays for specific causes and to encourage churches to teach and preach on those topics on those days. I don’t like it, but at least it’s coming from within the denomination.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2023

Texas student loan borrowers targeted by AI robocall scam

Through the first eight months of 2023, Texans received nearly 270,000 student loan-related robocalls, robocall data expert Jim Tyrrell says. Americans nationwide received an excess of 5 million of these types of robocalls during the same period, said Tyrell, vice president of Transaction Network Services, which analyzes over 1.3 billion daily call events across hundreds of carrier networks to identify current robocall trends and scams. Student loan scams target individuals and families with outstanding student loans or who are seeking financial assistance for education. These scams can take various forms and are designed to exploit vulnerable individuals by asking victims for upfront fees, faking loan forgiveness or through phishing scams.

Student loan robocall scams have surged over the past two weeks because Americans are dealing with several major developments at the same time. First, interest on student loans started accruing again on Sept. 1 for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. In October, students must start making federal student loan payments for the first time since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, more than 4 million people have already enrolled in President Joe Biden’s new student loan repayment plan, SAVE and Republicans in Congress introduced a bill to block the SAVE plan. “Students and families are trying to digest all of these confusing and at times seemingly contradictory developments on who must pay the loans and when — which is music to the ears of scammers who will exploit this chaos, confusion and fear through robocalls and robotexts,” Tyrrell says. The start of the school year coincided with the spike in robocalls. Americans received nearly as many student loan robocalls, 350,000, in the first two weeks that school started as they did in the prior three months combined.

Baptist News Global - September 21, 2023

Rodney Kennedy: Ken and Angela Paxton do a little sidestep — while quoting Bible verses

The Texas Senate voted Sept. 16 to acquit Attorney General Ken Paxton of all charges in his impeachment trial. Thus, the most controversial of all Texas politicians has returned to his position in state government with barely a slap on the wrist for the accusations of misconduct it took Texas House leaders two weeks to lay out in the Senate trial. North Texas Sen. Kelly Hancock — a Southern Baptist who also serves as a trustee of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission — was one of only two Republicans who voted to convict Paxton in the Senate trial, even though House Republicans had voted to impeach their own attorney general.

Somewhere in all this Texas-sized political shootout, there were assumptions that require additional challenge — on the nature of biblical womanhood, the battle between truth and power, and the changing nature of defending those accused. One of the intriguing issues here is the defense mounted by Angela Paxton, wife of the attorney general and a Republican member of the Texas Senate. While she was required to attend the trial, she was not allowed to speak. This, of course, did not stop her from influencing the trial through daily tweets. Angela Paxton moved “stand by your man” to a whole new stratosphere. She involved God and the Bible as co-defendants. An article by Texas Monthly reporter Sandi Villarreal, “The Biblical Womanhood of Angela Paxton,” concentrates on the theology known as “complementarianism.” According to this notion, the attorney general’s wife was being a faithful biblical woman. Yet complementarianism hides a primal male hierarchy that uses the Bible to justify a severe form of male control. In truth, few if any doctrines have been further from being “complementary,” and the application of a male hierarchy to society would more accurately be termed antisocial Darwinism. Newt Gingrich, the fire-eating architect of toxic politics, expresses the primate understanding of male hierarchy: “The male lion procreates, protects the pride and takes the best portion. It’s the opposite of every American feminist vision of the world — but it’s a fact!” “Complementarianism” seems a better fit for our primate ancestors than for humans. Angela Paxton defended her husband with daily tweets, each containing a photo of her in a red dress, hands folded at her mouth in prayer, and Bible verses. She insisted on her husband’s innocence even against the overwhelming public evidence of his guilt.

Spectrum News - September 21, 2023

Funding for AIDS relief initiative at risk due to abortion politics

For Dr. John Carlo, CEO of Prism Health North Texas, the effort to provide health care to marginalized communities is a personal one. “Many of my friends and family have suffered from HIV and AIDS over the years, but what’s really exciting for me is the work that we can do today with the treatment and how successful we can be in terms of really changing the course of people’s lives,” he told Spectrum News. Carlo says that although there is still work to do to address the rise in HIV cases in certain communities across Texas, he is proud that 20 years ago the U.S. took its efforts to combat HIV and AIDS to more than 55 countries. That was done under the President’s Emergency Plan For Aids Relief, or PEPFAR. “This is even important for us in America, even if those services are abroad,” Carlo said. “What happens all around us, it will impact us eventually, and so I think the big thing about PEPFAR is what it has done has really kept the world safe in many ways, particularly around in places where there was really no health care infrastructure at all.”

PEPFAR is perhaps former President George W. Bush’s signature foreign policy achievement. In his 2003 State of the Union address announcing its launch, Bush said, “Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.” It is often regarded as one of the country’s most successful global health initiatives. For 20 years, it has been routinely reauthorized with broad bipartisan support, but as Congress wades into a bitter budget battle this September, it is suddenly at risk. Today, some House Republicans and conservative groups claim that under the Biden administration, PEPFAR’s dollars are flowing to abortion providers, which public health experts deny. Last week, Bush published a Washington Post editorial, writing: “The reauthorization is stalled because of questions about whether PEPFAR’s implementation under the current administration is sufficiently pro-life. But there is no program more pro-life than one that has saved more than 25 million lives.” Some activists recently staged a sit-in at House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office, demanding that Congress pass a full rather than partial reauthorization. Among those demonstrators was CEO of Housing Works and Texas native Charles King.

September 21, 2023

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2023

Ken Paxton bashes Texas House Speaker, Sen. John Cornyn in interview with Tucker Carlson

In his first interview since acquittal, Attorney General Ken Paxton said, without proof, that his impeachment was a collusion between Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, Democratic state lawmakers and the Biden administration to have him removed from office. He also teased that he could run for the U.S. Senate in 2026 for the seat held by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who he attacked as a “puppet of the Bush” family. “Everything is on the table for me,” Paxton said in the 45-minute interview that streamed on social media. “I think it’s time for somebody to step up and run against this guy.” Cornyn’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night when the attorney general’s interview with Tucker Carlson was released.

His sit-down interview with the former Fox News host who was fired in April was the first time Paxton addressed his historic impeachment trial in depth. He was absent Saturday — and for much of the trial — when Senators voted not to remove him from office. The Senate acquitted Paxton of all 16 impeachment articles Saturday, the latest example of his resiliency in a political career plagued by scandals. Four other articles were dismissed. The House accused the state’s top cop of sweeping corruption, abuse of office, bribery and obstruction of justice by interfering in an FBI investigation into real estate investor Nate Paul. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. Paxton spoke openly with Carlson about an impeachment process that he said was secret and flawed from the beginning. The attorney general, however, lashed out at other state officials. He criticized Comptroller Glenn Hegar for ruling that Paxton could not be paid while he was suspended from duties. He attacked the gag order Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick placed on all parties during the impeachment trial.

Politico - September 21, 2023

Trump riles both sides with abortion talk

In just the last week, Donald Trump called Florida’s six-week abortion ban “terrible,” refused to endorse national restrictions, blamed abortion opponents for Republicans’ 2022 election disappointments and pledged to compromise with Democrats on the issue if elected. Anti-abortion groups can’t agree on what to do about it. As his GOP opponents have seized on the comments, hoping to close a wide polling gap by attacking Trump as a fair-weather conservative, the anti-abortion movement finds itself at a crossroads — afraid of alienating the presumptive nominee but loath to let his remarks go unchallenged. “Are pro-lifers going to allow themselves to be a cheap date?” said Patrick Brown, a fellow with the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Life and Family Initiative. “Are they going to sit back and take it when candidates are denigrating the cause they dedicated their life to?”

Trump’s attempt to have it both ways on the fraught issue — calling himself “the most pro-life president ever” and taking credit for the fall of Roe v. Wade while also shunning the priorities of the anti-abortion groups that helped elect him in 2016 — has exposed those groups’ struggle for relevance in a lopsided primary and highlighted ongoing divisions inside the movement. Some groups say they will give the frontrunner more time to clarify his position and expect he will eventually support a national abortion ban. Other groups, anxious about Trump watering down his abortion stance, are mulling various tactics, including making a primary endorsement, protesting outside his upcoming events, and redirecting their campaign budget to down ballot races. “He won’t feel pressure until it’s applied, and we’re willing to apply it,” said Kristi Hamrick, the chief policy strategist with Students for Life of America. “You cannot ignore the human rights issue of our time and still get our vote.” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America confirmed to POLITICO that it is moving ahead with plans to spend more than the $78 million it shelled out on the 2022 election cycle to turn out anti-abortion rights voters in 2024. But a leader within the organization acknowledged the posture of the GOP’s runaway contender makes their work harder.

Market Watch - September 20, 2023

Mexico has either just overtaken China as leading exporter to U.S. -- or it's had title all year

Bloomberg is running a story saying Mexico has just eclipsed China as the largest exporter to the U.S. The rival news service is using a complicated formula, using the 12-month rolling average of the share of U.S. imports. But really, America’s southern neighbor has held the title for all of 2023. Here at MarketWatch, we like simpler calculations. Drawing on a quarterly series measuring trade on a balance of payments basis, Mexico took the lead in the third quarter of 2022. The two series are not wildly different from one another. The data Bloomberg uses is the more timely data, based on documents collected by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The balance of payments data meanwhile is adjusted to be consistent with gross domestic product calculations, and it’s produced quarterly as opposed to monthly. A few differences: the BOP data counts as imports the purchases of goods abroad by the U.S. military or the fuel purchases made in foreign ports by U.S. air and ocean carriers; there are a few subtractions as well. The narrative is basically the same whichever report is used. The U.S.-China trade relationship is deteriorating, and Mexico has been a beneficiary as companies look to countries with friendlier governments. There’s a financial element to this narrative as well: one of the hottest currency pairs this year has been the Mexican peso vs. the Japanese yen which has surged 28% this year. The dollar meanwhile has climbed 5% vs. the offshore Chinese yuan.

Austin American-Statesman - September 21, 2023

Sen. Sarah Eckhardt slams Lt. Gov. Patrick's performance in Ken Paxton impeachment trial

In a scathing post-mortem of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's impeachment trial, Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin, said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lacked the skill and neutrality to preside over the proceedings and that those legal inquiries should be overseen by an experienced judge. "I recommend that, like almost every other impeachment trial in U.S. history, any future Impeachment tribunal select an experienced jurist with a strong reputation for neutrality to preside," Eckhardt said. Eckhardt's remarks came in a written debriefing to the Senate Journal that she titled a "message in a bottle" to future impeachment courts. Her letter, obtained by the American-Statesman and expected to be made public this week, presents an unsparing evaluation of Patrick, who as the Senate's presiding officer has unmatched power over legislation and committee assignments and, as such, is rarely challenged publicly by members of the 31-person chamber.

Her criticism builds upon her concerns from this summer when Eckhardt was among just three senators who voted against the rules the Senate proposed for the trial, citing Patrick's outsized influence on the proceedings. "Patrick is not a lawyer," Eckhardt wrote in the recent letter. "This was evident in his inconsistent and often legally indefensible rulings on motions and objections. Also, he does not have a reputation for neutrality. This was evident in his fundraising immediately prior to the trial and his statements of extreme bias from the bench immediately after the verdict was returned." Patrick's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. The Senate rules allowed for Patrick to recuse himself and hand the trial's management to a senator or to a jurist who is not up for reelection next year. Instead, he hired a judge to assist him — Lana Myers, a retired Republican appeals court justice from Dallas. From the bench Saturday, Patrick unloaded on the Texas House for advancing the impeachment to the Senate in what he called a rushed process that did not afford Paxton or his lawyers an opportunity to challenge evidence before trial. Patrick said he will look to pass legislation to allow for a defense counsel to examine witnesses before the House takes an impeachment vote. He also called for an accounting of all taxpayer money spent on the impeachment proceedings, which he followed through on this week in a formal request to the state's auditor.

State Stories

KXAN - September 21, 2023

Whistleblowers beg Abbott to ‘take action’ over Medicaid errors, food assistance delays

Whistleblowers reached out directly to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week, escalating their continued concerns about denials and delays in getting Texans critical medical support and food assistance. The anonymous Texas Health and Human Services employees sent the letter to the governor on Tuesday — marking their third outcry about issues with the agency’s systems, staffing and leadership which, they say, contributed to tens of thousands of people erroneously losing Medicaid coverage earlier this year. “Regrettably, it appears that the full extent of these challenges may not have been adequately conveyed by our leadership, hence our decision to provide you with this comprehensive overview,” the whistleblowers stated in the letter to the governor. KXAN reached out to the governor’s office for comment and is waiting to hear back. Whistleblowers first flagged these concerns in an internal email to leadership in July.

At the time, the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) confirmed technical issues occurred while the agency reviewed the eligibility of its roughly six million Medicaid enrollees, in order to come into compliance with new federal guidelines. At the time, a spokesperson for the agency called the year-long process a “massive undertaking” and acknowledged the internal issues resulted in improper denials, including “several thousand” pregnant and elderly people being kicked off coverage. The spokesperson also said it was working to restore coverage to those erroneously removed “as soon as possible.” By August, the agency reported all but a couple thousand people out of the nearly 100,000 affected, had their coverage restored. In their latest letter, the whistleblowers expressed concerns about the transparency and accuracy of some of the agency’s public responses on these issues. They also criticized the agency’s approach and timing of these the coverage redeterminations, claiming they were “directed to follow the quickest path, even at the expense of potentially jeopardizing the well-being of innocent individuals by depriving them of necessary medical services.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 21, 2023

Democrats force vote on San Antonio native as Joint Chiefs chairman after senator's blockade

Democrats in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday broke through a months-long political blockade and made San Antonio native and Air Force Gen. Charles “C.Q.” Brown the highest-ranking military officer in the nation. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer used a procedural maneuver to confirm Brown as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making him the first native Texan ever to hold the position. The Senate voted overwhelming to confirm Brown's appointment. A key committee of the U.S. Senate had already approved Brown, but the appointment was blocked by U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, who was using a rare tactic to hold up more than 300 military appointments.

Brown has led the Air Force since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump nominated him for the position. Brown’s family has deep military ties in San Antonio. His grandfather, Robert E. Brown Jr., served in an all-Black unit in the Pacific during World War II. His parents, retired Army Col. Charles Brown and Kay Tanner Brown, lived on the West Side. The younger Brown was born at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio. After attending high school in Newport News, Va., he returned to Texas and graduated in 1984 from Texas Tech University. Tuberville had held up his appointment and others to protest a Pentagon policy that allows for travel reimbursements for soldiers and their families who travel to get an abortion. But his tactics were beginning to wear on Republicans in Congress, some of whom said the blockade was hurting the nation’s military chain of command. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, said there were other ways to challenge the reimbursement policy rather than disrupting the career advancement of non-political members of the military. “This is paralyzing the Department of Defense,” McCaul said in a television interview last week.

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

Ron DeSantis swings through Texas to refuel White House campaign

Back in Texas, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is trying to refuel his campaign for the White House as he prepares for a critical two-month stretch in which he will need to gain serious ground on his main GOP challenger, former President Donald Trump. DeSantis spent Wednesday morning telling oil producers in Midland that he’s committed to the oil and gas industry and he accused President Joe Biden of weakening it since he took office in 2021. "We know that Joe Biden has waged war on domestic energy production," DeSantis said, surrounded by oil workers. "As president, I will restore America's energy independence.” But DeSantis’s comments come at a time when the state's oil and gas industry is doing well. As gas prices have climbed over the last year, so too have industry wages and jobs, according to the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

When Biden took office, Texas had 161 oil rigs in operation in the state, according to Baker Hughes. Now, there are more than 300. DeSantis promised to do more and to fight green energy policies that he said are hurting U.S. energy independence. He told workers he would replace the word “climate change” with “energy dominance” in national security and foreign policy documents. While his focus was on energy policy in Midland, the Florida governor's next three days in Texas are really about raising money for a campaign that has struggled to build momentum in early-voting states like Iowa. DeSantis has fundraisers planned for Houston, San Antonio, Waco, Tyler and Dallas through Friday. Texas donors have already been huge contributors to the DeSantis campaign. An aggressive fundraising push through the state in June helped DeSantis raise over $2 million in just the few weeks after he announced his candidacy. Public polls in Iowa show DeSantis is far behind Trump in the first-in-the-nation primary, set for Jan. 15. But DeSantis’s campaign has promised a deep investment in Iowa over the next 30 days to build momentum, much in the same way U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz did in 2016 when he won the Iowa Caucus over Trump. The New York Times reported last month that DeSantis political strategist Jeff Roe, who worked on Cruz’s campaign, told donors they are in a critical stretch where they need big money over 60 days to beat Trump and separate from other rivals.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Texas officials, local leaders ‘agree to disagree’ in contentious Fairfield Lake meeting

The Freestone County courthouse became a battleground for park lovers and property rights advocates Wednesday as the drama surrounding Fairfield Lake State Park came to a head once again. Texas Parks and Wildlife officials were in town for Commissioners Court, which attracted a crowd of about 60 people and necessitated that the meeting be moved to a larger room. Shawn Todd, CEO and founder of Dallas-based development firm Todd Interests, also attended. His company bought the 5,000-acre property — about 80 miles southeast of Dallas — from privately owned Vistra Corp. on June 1 for more than $100 million, prompting the park to close and leading the state to begin the process of eminent domain. Before the sale, Vistra, an energy company, leased the state park property to Texas at no cost for nearly 50 years.

Todd plans to build a luxury neighborhood with multimillion-dollar homes, a golf course and a country club. Texas filed a petition to condemn the land earlier this month. Now a district judge will assign a three-person commission of county residents to determine the value of the land. If one or both parties object to the value, the issue will go to court. Todd did not speak during the meeting but had side conversations with multiple residents at times. After the meeting, Todd, his business partner and son Patrick Todd, TPWD director David Yoskowitz, director of state parks Rodney Franklin and department attorney James Murphy went into a private room. Raised voices could be heard from the hallway outside. Todd and TPWD officials declined to comment on what they discussed in the room, but Todd later told a reporter the conversation was professional. More than half a dozen TPWD employees attended the meeting after being invited by the county commissioners. Yoskowitz, Franklin and Murphy sat on the side of the room to be able to face commissioners and residents. More than 30 residents spoke on whether they believe the TPWD should use eminent domain to reclaim the now-closed park, the accompanying lake and additional acreage.

KBTX - September 21, 2023

Blinn College District to open new location in Waller

The Blinn College District is opening a new location in Waller this fall that will bring its nationally recognized, highly transferable courses to college students in the greater Waller and Harris County region. Blinn will begin offering classes on Monday, Oct. 23, at Waller ISD’s W.C. Schultz Junior High School, formerly known as Waller High School, located at 20950 Field Store Road in Waller. This expansion will provide greater accessibility for college students in Waller, Harris County, and the surrounding region. At this new site, Blinn will offer an array of highly transferable academic core courses, providing members of the community with an affordable pathway to their college degree. Blinn already partners with Waller ISD to provide high school dual-credit courses at the high school.

“We are excited to bring the educational excellence that has defined Blinn College to this vibrant region,” said Dr. Mary Hensley, Chancellor of the Blinn College District. “We look forward to bringing the same exceptional instruction, innovation, and commitment to student success that has made Blinn the state’s academic transfer rate leader and allowed us to guide thousands of students each year to the state’s leading university programs.” The new Waller location demonstrates Blinn’s commitment to student growth and achievement and its responsiveness to the evolving educational landscape. Blinn will begin by offering academic core courses during the fall second 8-week term, including English, government, history, math, philosophy, and speech. In addition to Blinn’s highly transferable classes, students attending Blinn’s Waller location will have access to Blinn’s online academic resources, including tutoring and library services.

KUT - September 20, 2023

Meet Vincent, by far the youngest reporter who covered Ken Paxton's impeachment trial

It’s a bit after 8:30 a.m. last Thursday, and Vincent Mazzara strides into the gallery of the Texas Senate, eyeing a spot in the third row. Wearing an orange and blue shirt, and black slacks, the 13-year-old slides into the empty row and sits. He opens his notebook and gets ready to take notes of the eighth day of the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton, the state’s then-embattled attorney general. “It’s Texas history and you want to be part of that,” Vincent told The Texas Newsroom. Vincent hasn’t missed a single day of the trial. So, how can a teenager be in the Capitol every day for two weeks during the school year? Well, Vincent is homeschooled, and his dad is Joseph Mazzara, one of the lawyers on Paxton’s legal team. But Vincent Mazzara isn’t just here for homework or because he has to be. He’s here because he has a responsibility to the readers of the newspaper he created: the Grand Enclave Bugle.

“Not a lot of people know about it and it doesn’t have an official website,” Vincent said. “It’s just a fun thing I do.” It all began about a year ago, Vincent said. “I was reading a book about a kid who had started his own newspaper,” he said. “So, I decided to start a newspaper for my neighborhood.” Since its inception, Vincent has created each issue of the Grand Enclave Bugle on a typewriter his dad got him. While that may be surprising to hear from a teen, he prefers it. “That’s what they did in the old days, it's more old fashioned,” Vincent said. “I like that.” After doing some copyediting to make sure he didn’t make any mistakes, he creates copies for his readers. Currently, the Grand Enclave Bugle has about 20 loyal fans. “Some old ladies, some friends of mine, some friends of my parents, a couple of other people, a couple of my relatives,” Vincent said. All of them live in the same neighborhood in Houston where he lived until recently. His friend, 12, acts as distributor and helps find more potential readers. The newspaper is free right now, although that could change in the future. “If I end up getting more people it might be like one nickel,” he said. The last time an elected official was impeached in Texas was in 1975. Before that, Gov. James Ferguson, a Democrat, was impeached in 1917. So, Paxton’s impeachment trial is only the third ever in Texas’ history — possibly a once in a generation event. Vincent calls the trial “rather interesting,” and said he was learning a lot from the legal luminaries involved. “The charges, some of the lawyers like Rusty Hardin, Tony Buzbee, Mitch Little,” he says, briefly forgetting his dad. “Yeah, my dad,” Vincent said, laughing after being reminded. Despite the complex, and sometimes wonky, legal back and forth, he said observing the trial has only increased his motivation to become a lawyer someday. But he might also consider doing journalism when he grows up. “It’s a lot of fun to play reporter,” Vincent said, before quickly correcting himself. “I am one, I’m not playing. I’m actually doing it.”

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2023

Texas DPS resumes enhanced vehicle inspection at Mexican border in El Paso, Eagle Pass

The Texas Department of Public Safety renewed the enhanced vehicle inspections this week at two border points of entry, the first time since last year that state police have relaunched the increased efforts. The inspections are taking place at the Ysleta-Zaragoza bridge in El Paso and the Camino Real bridge in Eagle Pass, DPS spokesman Travis Considine said. Both began this week and have not taken place since December 2022. Asked what prompted the inspections, Considine said the agency is committed to enforcing compliance with safety standards and ensuring that roads are safe. “Cartels do not care about the condition of the vehicles they send into Texas any more than they do about the human lives they cram into tractor trailers,” Considine said in an email. “Our hope is that frequent enhanced commercial vehicle safety inspections will help deter cartel smuggling activity along the border while increasing the safety of our roadways.”

The inspections were a point of frustration from business leaders in the past. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Rep. Eddie Morales, D-Eagle Pass, said in a text message that he has received “MANY” complaints over the renewed inspections because of the long wait times for commercial lanes for the bridge. Wait times for both bridges for commercial vehicles are currently several hours, according to Custom and Border Protection’s website that lists how long it takes to cross. As of midafternoon, the Ysleta bridge in El Paso had a six-hour delay with four lanes open. In Eagle Pass, one lane was open and had a three-hour delay for the bridge where inspections are taking place. On Tuesday, Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas, Jr., issued an emergency declaration due to a “severe undocumented immigrant surge,” according to a city press release. The state of disaster will last for seven days. Salinas said in a press conference Tuesday that the influx of migrants has taken a toll on local resources and that the emergency declaration would allow for the city to receive state aid to offset the strain.

Texas Monthly - September 21, 2023

Anti-science views are literally killing us, Peter Hotez warns

When three Texans—a business magnate, a podcaster, and a vaccine scientist—got into a Twitter kerfuffle in June, it was the sort of stranger-than-fiction news story to which Americans have grown accustomed in recent years. But Dr. Peter Hotez, the vaccine scientist in question—as well as a professor and dean at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston—argues that it was much more than that. The precipitating event was the appearance of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the Democratic presidential candidate and longtime vaccine critic, on Joe Rogan’s show, the most popular podcast in the country. Kennedy suggested, among other unfounded views, that vaccines cause autism. Hotez, who has a daughter with autism, had been on Rogan’s podcast twice and had come to like the controversial host, but he couldn’t abide debunked claims going out unquestioned to Rogan’s millions of listeners. Vaccine misinformation is not “just some random junk that appears out of nowhere on the internet, or on social media,” Hotez told Texas Monthly. “It’s organized, it’s deliberate, it’s well-financed, and it’s politically motivated.”

After Hotez criticized the episode on Twitter, Rogan challenged the physician-scientist to debate Kennedy on his show. At this point, the world’s richest man felt the urge to weigh in. “He’s afraid of a public debate, because he knows he’s wrong,” Elon Musk tweeted about Hotez. To their combined 166 million followers, Musk and Rogan had impugned a world-renowned expert in vaccine science. Hotez was subsequently subjected to threats and harassment, both online and in person, including one man who stalked him outside his home. With former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Anthony Fauci retired from his government post at the end of last year, Hotez thinks he’s become a bigger target. “The faux-outrage machine stoked by Fox News and the far right needs a new monster,” he says. “So I’m Fauci-light.” Hotez ultimately declined to debate Kennedy. He’d already discussed the topic at length with the aspiring politician years before, and he feared a debate would lend credibility to thoroughly disproven ideas. But that hardly meant Hotez had nothing more to say on the subject. As it happened, when this dispute arose, he had just finished writing a passionate plea for help amid what he considers a “national emergency.” That book, The Deadly Rise of Anti-Science: A Scientist’s Warning, is out today from Johns Hopkins University Press. Anti-science propaganda is “killing Americans in unprecedented numbers,” Hotez says. “Forty thousand Texans needlessly perished because they refused the COVID vaccine, and two hundred thousand Americans overall.” Deadly Rise traces the evolution of this movement from its “health freedom” origins, which, as Hotez writes, came into its fullest form in Texas, to the tragic deaths of those who succumbed to the coronavirus even after vaccines were widely available.

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2023

Just when you want to write off the Rangers, they pull you back in

From the press box way up in the rafters at Globe Life Field, you can just make out the top of the Titan before its terrifying 255-foot descent into a 540-degree spiral and certain doom. A real stomach-turner. But the Six Flags attraction has nothing on its neighbors to the southwest. One minute, the Rangers are in freefall. The next, they’re up in the front car. Probably best, then, not to make any proclamations even after Wednesday’s 15-5 beatdown of Boston before 28,519, as tempting as it might seem. Because we’ve been there, done that, right? Better to let these last 10 games – seven against one of the teams with which they’re in a death match in the AL West – play out. Gotta ride the roller coaster, right, Bruce Bochy? “Yeah, it’s been a heck of a ride,” he said, smiling. “I mean, some steep, steep hills, up and down. It’s not like any I’ve seen, to be honest. It’s been a wild ride and that’s why we’ve tried to stay even keel through this.

“You ride those emotions up and down every day, it’ll wear you out.” Just the same, Bochy’s no different from any longtime Rangers fan still suffering withdrawals from Game 6. In the first two games of the Red Sox series, his keel wasn’t so even. First he lost it in the dugout Monday during a 4-2 loss after watching Will Smith throw a fastball he shouldn’t have. Then he got himself ejected Tuesday before the Rangers pulled it out late. So it was nice Wednesday to sit back and enjoy a no-doubter. Not that that’s how the ride started. Down: After striking out lead-off hitter Ceddanne Rafaela and getting Rafael Devers to pop up to short, Jon Gray lost Justin Turner on a full count, then gave up an infield single to Alex Verdugo and a three-run, second-deck shot to left by Adam Duvall. After a lead-off homer by Bobby Dalbec in the second, the Red Sox led 4-0, what would have been an insurmountable lead during the Rangers’ recent four-game losing streak. Except that’s not how it played out Wednesday. Up: In a six-run second inning, Jonah Heim walloped a three-run homer, Mitch Garver made it back-to-back and Marcus Semien drove in two of his three runs for the day. From that point forward, the Rangers simply piled on. A lineup deepened by the return of two All-Stars, Josh Jung and Adolis Garcia, looked like old times. High times.

Fort Worth Report - September 20, 2023

On course: Texas Wesleyan’s new president charts the next chapter for east Fort Worth university — and herself

Emily Messer ran into a small problem on the first day of classes at Texas Wesleyan University: She couldn’t help a student. The student asked Messer, the new president of the private college in east Fort Worth, where a specific room was. Messer had some help ensuring the student found their way. However, the incident reminded her why she works in higher education. “It’s working for the students and making a difference in their lives, and it all starts when classes start,” Messer said. “I told them I’m new as well. We’re all in this together, trying to figure it out.” Higher education has always been a focus in Messer’s life. Her parents encouraged her to become the first in her family to graduate from college. Now, she is working to ensure Texas Wesleyan students — who are predominantly first-generation as well — persist and earn a degree.

Messer, who is in her third month of leading Texas Wesleyan, is still forming a vision for the new era of the university. Her plans include fundraising, improving student retention and charting the next chapter of the Rosedale Renaissance, a neighborhood revitalization effort. She plans to develop her priorities hand-in-hand with students, staff and the surrounding community. Messer, 40, succeeded former President Fred Slabach, who left Texas Wesleyan after 12 years to become the dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law, his alma mater. “We are very pleased with our selection,” said Glenn Lewis, chairman of the Texas Wesleyan board of trustees. Messer grew up in a one-stoplight town in Alabama. Her family, as she describes it, was very blue collar. No one in the family had attended college. Her parents wanted to change that. They wanted to provide their daughter the opportunity to seek higher education. “They did whatever it took to make sure I had that opportunity,” Messer said. Messer earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Jacksonville State University in Alabama. She didn’t stop there. Messer also earned a master’s degree from Jacksonville State and a doctorate from the University of Alabama.

Bloomberg - September 20, 2023

Liam Denning: DeSantis' $2 gasoline dream should terrify Texas

(Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy and commodities. A former investment banker, he was editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street column and a reporter for the Financial Times’ Lex column.) It is the fate of any occupant of the White House to be blamed for pump prices that are, to a large degree, beyond their control. Which makes it interesting that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to lash himself to them before he is even the Republican presidential nominee or, for that matter, the front runner. Interesting but, in policy terms, risible. DeSantis delivered a speech Wednesday in Midland, America’s unofficial shale capital, pledging a number of energy related policies and goals. These include rolling back President Joe Biden’s efforts aimed at lowering tailpipe emissions and boosting electric vehicles, promoting drilling on federal lands and — the headline — achieving $2 gasoline prices in his putative first year in office, or “$2 in 2025.” Newt Gingrich once pledged $2.50 gas during his failed 2012 campaign for the nomination, so at least DeSantis’ ambition can’t be doubted. Unfortunately, it collides with some basic number thingies. First, the U.S. has only seen average $2 pump prices on a nominal basis three times in the past 15 years. None of them will be remembered fondly by the U.S. oil industry, and two of them by no-one at all.

In real terms, we haven’t had $2 gas since 2004. U.S. crude oil production has more than doubled since then, to almost 13 million barrels a day, making the U.S. the largest producer in the world and a small net exporter for the first time since World War II. How did that happen? Oil prices surged for most of the decade after 2004, hitting an all-time peak in 2008, catalyzing the shale boom. A lot of investor dollars got burned in the process — even as consumers eventually benefited when oil prices crashed in 2014 — and the past five years have witnessed a shift toward a more sustainable business model for frackers. Production is rising but not at the balance sheet-shredding pace of a decade ago. With this in mind, the superficially beguiling logic of DeSantis’ plan to unleash U.S. production and thereby slash pump prices rather evaporates. Assuming a DeSantis administration also managed to follow through on his pledge to remove federal surtaxes on fuel — the Highway Trust Fund is structurally deficient as it is, but anyway — $2 gasoline equates to a crude oil price of about $45 to $55 a barrel. Unsurprisingly, crude oil has only dabbled with those levels during the same three disasters of the past 15 years. In case it needs spelling out, those were not boomtimes in places like Midland. In other words, the boom in U.S. production DeSantis envisions, supposedly delivering $2 gasoline, would be destroyed by that same $2 gasoline. Production growth would halt and the industry would see big job losses. While potential donors in Texas may enjoy the anti-ESG message DeSantis touts, the industry has been down this path before and the economic consequences ought to give them some pause. DeSantis' plan to promote drilling on federal lands wouldn’t make much of a dent since onshore federal production accounts for less than 10% of U.S. oil output and offshore production, while bigger at about 14%, requires higher oil prices to encourage the upfront spending needed for greenfield projects.

Inside Higher Ed - September 21, 2023

A new report makes Texas A&M reconsider ex-president's plans

Former president Kathy Banks implemented major changes at Texas A&M University under a plan she called the Path Forward. But Banks retired abruptly in July amid a sprawling hiring scandal, and now the institution’s new leaders appear poised to walk back some of those changes. A report released Tuesday—based on 100-plus meetings with faculty and staff—notes that many employees are displeased with the changes Banks introduced. That’s nothing new; tensions over her stewardship have lingered since late 2021. But the report, titled the “Quick-Look Assessment of the Path Forward Implementation” distills employee concerns into 32 pages, providing a kind of blueprint for leaders to use as they weigh a retreat from the Banks plan. Key findings from the report indicate that the Path Forward created confusion across campus, lacked collaboration and transparency, and prompted widespread discord.

“The speed and scope of changes in structures and systems, as well as the lack of communication and transparency, placed our employees in difficult situations and limited their success, creating numerous occasions where processes were slowed or stopped, and where points of contact were unknown,” a team of Texas A&M administrators wrote in the assessment. Now the changes that came out of those efforts are likely to be scaled back in some ways. Among other things, the new assessment recommends the university conduct an analysis to deal with space challenges related to classrooms and offices, restore the provost as the chief academic officer, move the bachelor of science in biomedical science out of the College of Arts and Sciences and back to the veterinary school, and centralize advising service. The report also criticizes “top-down” decision-making. “Academic program decisions, especially curricular choices, need to return to the faculty with less top-down directed solutions. This includes department and degree names, what programs should be proposed, and how academic units and programs must be structured,” the authors wrote in the “General Observations” part of report. The assessment acknowledges that some concerns raised by faculty and staff—over the centralization of finance, human resources, information technology and marketing and communications, for instance, or the business struggles of the new School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts—do not have clear solutions and will need further study before recommendations are issued.

Solar Industry - September 20, 2023

Engie supplies Microsoft Texas centers via renewable energy matching program

Engie Energy Marketing, a developer and owner of renewable power capacity, has agreed to provide renewable energy to cover the consumption of select Microsoft data centers in Texas. By utilizing existing renewable energy contracts between the two companies, this collaboration will accelerate Microsoft’s mission to transition to 100% carbon-free energy on an hourly basis by 2030. This customized agreement will allow Microsoft, one of the world’s largest purchasers of renewable energy, to match ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) data center load with clean power. Engie will source the energy from its portfolio of wind, solar and battery projects in Texas.

Microsoft is recognized as a forerunner in the industry with the 100/100/0 goal, which aims to have 100% of electricity consumption 100% of the time, matched by carbon-free energy purchases by 2030. With this deal in Texas, Engie is providing direct support of Microsoft’s goal to drive grid decarbonization. Engie is well-positioned to deliver on Microsoft’s ambition through its integrated approach – from building and operating renewable energy generation and storage assets to sourcing power through its global energy management activities. “Microsoft continues to be a leader in the market for corporate renewable energy procurement and a key alliance for Engie in the net-zero energy transition,” says Ken Robinson, Engie Energy Marketing president and CEO. “We are proud to help them achieve their ambitions, where many other companies continue to struggle. Our goal is to grow our 24×7 hourly carbon-free matching program in key markets with electricity generated from zero carbon energy sources including wind and solar.”

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

TCU athletic director urges Congress to step in as NIL deals upend college sports

A boom in Name, Image and Likeness deals is happening without appropriate guardrails, and Congress must step in to guide colleges and protect student athletes from unscrupulous people, Texas Christian University’s athletic director told lawmakers Wednesday. “We now find ourselves in a wild wild west environment across college athletics with little accountability,” Jeremiah Donati testified. “Sadly, there are countless stories of student athletes and their families being exploited, deceived and harmed for others’ personal gain in these NIL pursuits.” Donati and other witnesses at a House Small Business Committee hearing called for Congress to impose some order on the free-for-all that followed the 2021 Supreme Court decision allowing college players to profit from their own name, image and likeness. Donati said students have benefitted from that ability.

More than half of TCU’s student athletes have reported NIL deals, Donati said, and many are using that money to support their families. But the lack of national rules has created unsustainable confusion, he said. Congress could bring uniformity and transparency to NIL by taking steps such as requiring agent oversight, creating standardized contracts, establishing a national registry and eliminating “pay for play” inducements to players, while providing enforcement tools, he said. Proponents of such actions describe a shifting, complex and often contradictory mosaic of state-level laws, IRS regulations and court cases that are impossible for organizations such as the NCAA to manage. Still, significant disagreement remains about the appropriate federal role and more than two years into the NIL era no legislation has passed. Donati said he hopes to see fresh momentum from Wednesday’s hearing, called by chairman Rep. Roger Williams, R-Willow Park. A former standout baseball player for TCU, Williams recalled the $10 monthly stipend he and other players received on top of their scholarships more than half a century ago. What they called their ‘laundry money’ was a far cry from the millions involved in today’s NIL deals. Williams doesn’t begrudge today’s athletes these opportunities, but said without transparency it’s difficult to know who is working in their best interest. He cited horror stories of athletes being coerced into signing deals with massive commissions and complex fee structures designed to confuse the signer. “It is important to bring attention to this side of the issue to show that there is real damage being done to these kids when promises are being made but not kept,” Williams said.

WFAA - September 20, 2023

A growing number of Texas school districts are suing the TEA. Here's why.

A growing number of school districts in Texas are joining a lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency. Tuesday night, Plano and Fort Worth ISD boards voted to join Dallas, Red Oak, Crowley, Frisco, Prosper and Richardson ISDs, among several others, in the suit against TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. Morath was at a public education event in Dallas after the boards voted. As the keynote speaker of the State of Public Education event, Morath told the crowd of educators, "my charge by the State of Texas is to think of how to make it better for five and a half million souls in Texas public schools." But not all the educators in attendance believe Morath is making things better. The suit against the TEA centers around how the state assigns accountability grades to districts and their campuses. Each year the TEA gives a district a letter grade ranging from an A to an F. Those ratings consider standardized test results, annual academic growth, graduation rates and college, career and military readiness.

Now, though, the TEA is changing some of the methodology of how it grades. "The A-F accountability system is also being refreshed this year, with some changes to cut points and some changes to indicator methodology," the TEA's website explains. The districts' lawsuit alleges the changes are unfair because the new methods "were not provided to districts in the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year as required by state statute." The new method, they argue, "will lower performance ratings for many school districts and campuses even though their performance improved." Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde spoke at the event after Morath, and did not shy away from addressing him. "I would ask all of us, including the commissioner, do the grades correlate to student improvement, or do the grades contradict student performance?" she asked the crowd. "Parents look at these letter grades to decide where to live," Elizalde later told WFAA. "So, this could have an impact on property values, it could have an impact on student enrollment...and every time you talk about enrollment, you're talking about dollars." Morath left the event before WFAA was able to try to speak with him, but in February he told a Texas House committee, "We do in fact need to continue to set higher goals for our students. This is the reason you have an accountablity system."

KXAN - September 21, 2023

American Airlines cancels nonstop route from Austin airport

American Airlines has canceled a nonstop route between Austin and St. Louis as part of network evaluations. The airline last operated flights on the seasonal route in May, but a spokesperson confirmed to KXAN it would not be resuming flights after the seasonal break. “As part of a continuous evaluation of our network, American has made the difficult decision to end service between Austin and St. Louis,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to offer robust service from Austin to more than 30 destinations.”

American has reached out to impacted customers to offer alternate travel arrangements. The cancellation is American’s second in two years from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was canceled in November 2022 after the airline said the route was not meeting performance expectations. Rival Southwest Airlines plans to launch nonstop AUS-San Juan flights in March. Meanwhile, American has added five new nonstop flights from AUS so far this year with another scheduled next month. American is the second-largest airline operating at AUS in terms of passenger traffic, behind only Southwest. More than 3.1 million passengers flew on an American Airlines flight between January and July, compared to almost 4.9 million on Southwest.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Dallas County juvenile director chastises commissioners for withholding raises

Dallas County Juvenile Director Darryl Beatty on Tuesday blamed county commissioners and the media for eroding trust and interfering in his department’s operations in the face of allegations that children are being isolated in detention center cells for up to 23 hours a day and other accusations of neglect. Commissioners have in recent months called for more transparency, unsuccessfully sought detailed records from the detention center and approved last-minute budget changes that withheld raises for top juvenile employees while awarding increases to all other county employees as they seek more information about the allegations of neglect. “Your actions and retaliatory tactics since you and the public began to request restricted juvenile detention records have destroyed morale of the Dallas County juvenile probation employees, hurt our ability to hire qualified people because of the negative press that has been generated and cost Dallas County a significant amount of money to defend against unprecedented and unlawful requests for said records,” Beatty told commissioners at their regular meeting on Tuesday.

As Beatty spoke, dozens of juvenile department employees stood behind him. Some nodded along while others were more vocal in their support, murmuring and saying “yes.” In late June, The Dallas Morning News published accounts from families and current and former employees alleging children were being isolated in their cells for long periods at the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center. Children also complained to their parents of unsanitary conditions and inadequate or poor quality food. The News has obtained results of an inspection conducted days later, on July 7, by Texas Juvenile Justice Department officials. This Compliance Performance Rating Profile, completed on Sept. 13, details results of an inspection, and it appears to confirm many of the families’ allegations. The report documents the state’s findings, but the county still has to respond with a state-approved improvement plan. The report determined the county facility had violated 15 state juvenile standards — including that children had been isolated for as long as five days. The juvenile department sought the state inspection. The state is still investigating other, specific allegations of neglect at the detention center. The juvenile detention center is where children wait for a judge to determine whether they will be released, placed on probation or serve more time in the county or state system.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Dallas approves $4.6 billion budget despite calls to drastically cut tax rate further

The Dallas City Council passed its largest budget ever Wednesday — $4.6 billion — after the majority of the group voting down a last ditch effort to drastically lower the property tax rate that would have meant cuts to several dozen city services. The council voted 10-5 to approve the roughly 2% increase from last year’s $4.5 billion adopted spending plan with Mayor Eric Johnson, council members Kathy Stewart, Cara Mendelsohn , Gay Donnell Willis and Paul Ridley rejecting the budget largely because the rate wasn’t approved to budge past 73.57 cents per $100 valuation. The rate marks the eighth year in a row Dallas has decreased the property tax rate, and it is lower than the 73.93 cents initially proposed by City Manager T.C. Broadnax in August. Several elected officials warned it wouldn’t be enough to decrease most residents’ tax bills because of raising property values and feared the city’s ballooning annual budget isn’t sustainable in the long run.

“Telling people you voted for a tax rate reduction and sending them a higher bill is misleading to the residents,” said Mendelsohn, Far North Dallas’ council representative who made the failed motion Wednesday to try to lower the property tax rate to 68.38 cents per $100 valuation. “They’re smart enough to understand their values’ (have) gone way up, the rate needs to go way down or they’re going to pay a lot more.” She said she believed the burden would extend beyond homeowners as landlords would likely pass costs onto tenants. The majority of residents in Dallas are renters. But Council members like Carolyn King Arnold and Jaynie Schultz said the budget is rising because Dallas is investing more in residents and employees than in the past. “We can’t say we’re going to cut staff, cut services and then expect a better city,” said Schultz, who represents North Dallas. “We also can’t cut and cut in order to give people a flat tax rate and expect their home values to go up because things will not get better as a city. Their home values will go down and we will be actually hurting our residents if we do those cuts.” Arnold, the Council’s deputy mayor pro tem, noted the city has launched several initiatives to promote equity and finally address the concerns of long-neglected communities largely made up of residents of color.

Fort Worth Report - September 21, 2023

Arts Fort Worth recognizes Ginger Head Gearheart with the Heart of Gold

The long list of Ginger Head Gearheart’s accolades grew even longer on Sept. 20, when she was honored with the Heart of Gold Award from Arts Fort Worth. A lifelong arts lover and proponent of education, she worked with cultural leaders on a John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts initiative to develop programming that would later be replicated across the country. “When we started, it was called Imagination Celebration,” Head Gearheart said in a prerecorded video. “We defined it as a special celebration for deaf students to come and learn about the arts.” Her husband, Joe Gearheart, quipped that the idea was so good that the Kennedy Center ran with it and replicated the program across the country.“She’s an out-of-the-box thinker, and she has ideas that other people don’t have or are afraid to have,” he told the Report ahead of the award ceremony.

“And she gets the job done.”That programming has reached more than 4 million students, master of ceremonies Bob Ray Sanders said. For several of the children who participated, it was their first time connecting with other kids like them.In the video presentation, her husband described a situation where a teacher asked why a kid was crying. The boy gave a surprising answer. “He said I live in a small town where I’m the only deaf person. I’ve never met a deaf adult,” he recalled. “I thought we all died.”Head Gearheart was unable to attend the ceremony, so her son, Robert Head, accepted the award on her behalf. “This is truly an honor for her and for our family that you’re celebrating her in this building,” he said. “She spent hours and hours and days in this building throughout her career. It was really like a second home, so it’s a really fitting place for this honor to take place.” His mom didn’t make the distinction between friends and family, he said. After expressing his gratitude, he ended his speech with the words he thought she would share.“I know she would say, ‘I love you all.’”

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - September 21, 2023

Wall Street Journal Editorial: Why is Donald Trump afraid to debate?

Donald Trump has a big lead in the polls for the GOP presidential nomination, but he’s acting as if he has already won. After skipping the first GOP debate, he is also planning to blow off the second one, scheduled for next week at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. Instead Mr. Trump will give a speech to union workers in Detroit. Why is Mr. Trump afraid to confront other Republicans without the aid of a teleprompter? Is he worried he’d look his age at 77 next to younger candidates? To state the obvious, Mr. Trump is running to be President and leader of the free world. Voters deserve to hear him defend his record and his platform. Abortion. Mr. Trump said this weekend that Gov. Ron DeSantis made a “terrible mistake” by signing Florida’s six-week abortion ban. Yet Mr. Trump refuses to explain where in pregnancy he’d draw the line, saying vaguely that “we’ll come up with a number.”

How? By spinning a giant wheel, like on a TV game show, except marked with “10 weeks,” “15 weeks,” and so forth? The public takes the abortion question seriously, and Mr. Trump owes a serious answer. Covid-19. Whose pandemic policies worked? Mr. Trump has exchanged barbs with Mr. DeSantis, and a recent Trump advertisement intones that “Lockdown Ron” failed Florida. But Florida was one of the earliest states to reopen, and it became a mecca for many Americans fleeing the locked-down blue states. Covid was a classic example of an unexpected crisis that Presidents have to face, and Mr. Trump’s record deserves a public vetting. Trade and tariffs. Mr. Trump wants to impose a 10% tariff on all U.S. imports, which would cost Americans something like $300 billion a year, while inviting retaliation and alienating friends and allies. Foreign policy. Mr. Trump believes so much in the art of the deal that he has pledged to have the Ukraine war “solved in 24 hours.” Maybe his fans take this seriously and not literally, but he ought to explain what he means.

Semafor - September 21, 2023

Nikki Haley is riding a charming, focused, and consistent campaign to third place

No other candidate in this race has executed an underdog strategy so effectively, with so little deviation from her original plan. Haley has managed to nail her core message — that she’s a fresher, more electable, less erratic alternative to Trump. At the same time, she appears to have topped out in the high single-digits among Republican voters nationally and in Iowa, and it’s not clear how much more of a constituency is left for her approach. Haley ran a thrifty campaign, focused on breaking out at the first debate, then did so. She took risky positions with the base — funding Ukraine’s defense against Russia, punting on abortion limits by saying Congress wouldn’t pass them — early on, making them old news while the campaign press was focused on other candidates.

Haley’s proposal for “mandatory mental competency tests” for elderly politicians, mentioned nearly every day, was part of her campaign announcement; her promise to put China “on the ash heap of history” has run through most of her policy roll-outs. Unlike Mike Pence, she isn’t hunted by MAGA hecklers; unlike Ron DeSantis, her anecdotes and family stories are concise, and delivered consistently. Tim Scott, whose entry into the race complicated her path, increasingly gets asked why he’s single; Haley’s crowds listen raptly as she tells personal stories about her family. “I’m the wife of a combat veteran,” Haley told Faith and Freedom Coalition president Ralph Reed at an Iowa gala on Saturday night. “Two months ago, I dropped my husband Michael off at 4 a.m. for another year long deployment. I watched him and 230 soldiers pick up their two duffel bags of belongings to go to a country they’ve never been — all in the name of protecting America.” She had said that nearly word-for-word at the debate in Milwaukee, and in Des Moines, she was saying it to disagree with Reed on a burning issue — Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s refusal to allow votes on military promotions until the Biden administration abandons a new abortion policy. But in the room, the answer got no protests. No candidate is attacking a rival who, in the strongest phase of her campaign so far, is still losing her home state to Trump. And with other candidates picking up the burden of attacking Trump, Republicans are inclined to think the best of her.

CNN - September 21, 2023

Takeaways from the combative House Judiciary Committee hearing with Attorney General Merrick Garland

House Republicans and Attorney General Merrick Garland clashed Wednesday at a testy hearing that offered a preview of the coming Republican impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden focused on allegations surrounding his son, Hunter Biden. Judiciary Committee Republicans peppered Garland with questions about the Justice Department investigation into Hunter Biden, charging that Garland and the special counsel investigating the case, David Weiss, were doing the bidding of the Bidens by offering Hunter Biden a plea deal that fell apart amid scrutiny from a judge. Garland forcefully pushed back against the criticisms, saying he did not interfere in the investigation and that Weiss was given all the resources he asked for in the probe. He repeatedly declined to engage on specifics of the probe, however, frustrating the Republicans. He also didn’t engage in GOP attacks against special counsel Jack Smith’s investigations into former President Donald Trump.

Republicans grilled Garland over the Hunter Biden probe, criticisms that offered a preview of their impeachment inquiry focused on Hunter Biden’s business dealings – and Republicans’ efforts to tie them to the president. Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, one of the three committee chairs spearheading the impeachment inquiry, accused the Justice Department of not prosecuting Hunter Biden over the tax years when Hunter Biden was on the board of Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Jordan claimed that Hunter’s work on Burisma was related to Joe Biden and the then-vice president’s demand that Ukraine fire its prosecutor general – even though Biden was carrying out bipartisan US policy that the prosecutor was not doing enough to prosecute corruption, including at Ukrainian companies like Burisma. “The fix is in,” Jordan said. “The fix is in. Even with the face-saving indictment last week of Hunter Biden, everyone knows the fix is in.” “I’m not going to get into the internal deliberations of the department,” Garland said, adding that he “made clear that if (Weiss) wanted to bring a case in any jurisdiction, he would be able to do that.” Garland also said claims that the process to charge Hunter Biden in a different district were cumbersome were “not true.” “All I have to do” is sign an order, Garland said. “He had the authority because I promised he would have the authority.” Over and over, Garland relied on the same refrain: Weiss had been appointed by Trump, and he left Weiss in charge after taking office. “I promised the Senate when I came before it for confirmation that I would leave Mr. Weiss in place and that I would not interfere with his investigation,” Garland said. Weiss was appointed by Trump as the US attorney for Delaware, and began the investigation into Hunter Biden in 2018. When Biden took office, he left Weiss in place so that the investigation could continue.

Associated Press - September 21, 2023

Behind all the speechmaking at the UN lies a basic, unspoken question: Is the world governable?

Work together. Go it alone. The apocalypse is at hand. But the future can be bright. The squabbles never cease, yet here are human beings from all across the world — hashing out conflicts with words and processes, convening under one roof, trying to write the next chapter of a common dream. At the United Nations, “multilateralism” is always the goal. Yet so is the quest for a coherent storyline that unites all 193 member states and their ideas. Those two holy grails often find themselves at odds when leaders gather each September at the United Nations — a construct whose very name can be a two-word contradiction. You hear a lot about “the narrative” these days in politics (and everywhere else). It’s a way to punch through the static and make sure people are absorbing your message — and, ultimately, doing what you want them to do. But how to establish a coherent storyline when the very notion of many nations with many voices is baked into the pie to begin with?

Which raises the bigger question, the one that sits beneath it all at this assembling of people trying to figure out how to run their patches of the planet and be part of an increasingly interconnected civilization: With the 21st century unfolding in all of its unimaginable complexities and conundrums, with fracture and fragmentation everywhere, can the world even be governed? “Yes, it can, but only in the sense that the world has ever been governed, including in this highly institutionalized and regulated world — that is, minimally,” Jeffrey Martinson, an associate professor of political science at Meredith College in North Carolina, said in an email. That truth becomes evident listening to the first two days of leaders’ speeches at the U.N. General Assembly this week. They are, to put it mildly, a global festival of competing wants and needs and complaints and demands — with climate and war and public health and inequality at the center of it all, but fragmentation and chaos ever-present. “The world,” said Wavel Ramkalawan, president of the island nation of Seychelles, “stands at the brink.” His sentiment embodies the main challenge that surfaces each year since shortly after World War II when leaders have gathered at the United Nations: how exactly to balance hope and cold reality.

CNN - September 21, 2023

Elena Sheppard: Why I changed my mind about the US Senate’s relaxed dress code

(Elena Sheppard is a culture writer who focuses on books, fashion, theater and history. Her first book, “The Eternal Forest: A Memoir of the Cuban Diaspora” is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press. The views expressed here are her own.) Over the weekend we learned that the US Senate’s 100 members will no longer need to adhere to their business casual dress code. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that, “There has been an informal dress code that was enforced.” He added that now, “Senators are able to choose what they wear on the Senate floor. I will continue to wear a suit.” Initially, I pearl clutched a bit. The thought of no dress code in the Senate sent me into a spiral on the idea of decorum. I imagined a Senate floor littered with people in sweatpants and cut-offs, which I just knew would undermine the seriousness of their work. I imagined elected officials milling around in cargo shorts and Carhartt sweatshirts — aka what Sen. John Fetterman calls “Western PA business casual” — or wearing their pajamas to a vote. I thought about how this green light to dress down would devalue the importance of this legislative body and their responsibility to American citizens.

And then I realized my worries made no sense. Style is ever-changing, politics are ever-evolving and attire getting more casual is an age-old complaint. When we think about a choice like the change to a dress code it’s important to see it in its larger context. Over the years, other dress code changes have occurred in the Senate without disaster. In 1993 female senators were—at last—permitted to wear pants on the Senate floor. In 2019 the Senate finally stopped enforcing a rule that prohibited female senators from baring their shoulders. That dress codes have been used to feminize, and disempower, women throughout history is news to no one. A look at images of the Senate over the years shows the evolving fashion for male senators too — from waistcoats and tails in the early 19th century to suits and ties in the early 21st. There are recent instances we can point to when senators have cast votes in far more casual attire than that. Sen. Ted Cruz once cast a vote in basketball shorts and sneakers, former Sen. Richard Burr was famous for never wearing socks. And then of course there’s Sen. Krysten Sinema, whose loud sense of style has launched many an article.These choices are political as much as they are sartorial. Sinema, for instance, transmits through her clothes that she is an individual and independent, which also reflects her party affiliation: Independent. Fetterman, in his Carhartt and shorts, evokes his truth as a man of the people.

CNBC - September 21, 2023

Hollywood studios, writers near agreement to end strike, hope to finalize deal Thursday, sources say

Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild walk the picket line outside of Fox Studios in Los Angeles, California, on August 9, 2023. Film and TV production ground to a halt 100 days ago when writers downed their pens, only to be joined on the picket lines in mid-July by actors. Writers and producers are near an agreement to end the Writers Guild of America strike after meeting face to face on Wednesday, people close to the negotiations told CNBC. The two sides met and hope to finalize a deal Thursday, the sources said. While optimistic, the people noted, however, that if a deal is not reached the strike could last through the end of the year. On Wednesday evening, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers released a joint statement that the two groups met for bargaining and would meet again on Thursday.

WGA members have been on strike for more than 100 days — with actors joining the picket line in July — leaving Hollywood production of TV shows and movies at a standstill. Production has been halted for several high profile shows and films, including Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” Disney and Marvel’s “Blade” and Paramount’s “Evil.” Earlier in the week, the writers’ union said it would resume negotiations with the studios. This appears to be the closest the two sides have come to a resolution since the more than 11,000 film and TV writers went on strike beginning May 2. They have argued their compensation doesn’t match the revenue that’s been generated during the streaming era. Beyond higher compensation, the WGA has been pushing for new rules that would require studios to staff TV shows with a certain number of writers for a certain period. The writers are also seeking compensation throughout the process of preproduction, production and postproduction. As of now, writers are often expected to provide revisions or come up with new material without being paid. In late August, the AMPTP went public with their latest proposal to the WGA at the time and tensions between the two groups appeared to remain high.

Associated Press - September 21, 2023

Under pressure over border, Biden administration to protect hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans

The Biden administration said Wednesday that it was granting temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are already in the country — quickly making them eligible to work — as it grapples with growing numbers of people fleeing the South American country and elsewhere to arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico. The move — along with promises to accelerate work permits for many migrants — may appease Democratic leaders who have pressured the White House to do more to aid asylum seekers, while also providing grist for Republicans who say the president has been too lax on immigration. The Homeland Security Department plans to grant Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 472,000 Venezuelans who arrived in the country as of July 31, 2023, making it easier for them to get authorization to work in the U.S. That’s been a key demand of Democratic mayors and governors who are struggling to care for an increased number of migrants in their care. That’s in addition to about 242,700 Venezuelans who already qualified for temporary status before Wednesday’s announcement.

The protections for Venezuelans are significant because they account for such a large number of the migrants who have been arriving in the country in recent years. Venezuela plunged into a political, economic and humanitarian crisis over the last decade, pushing at least 7.3 million people to migrate and making food and other necessities unaffordable for those who remain. The vast majority who fled settled in neighboring countries in Latin America, but many began coming to the United States in the last three years through the notoriously dangerous Darien Gap, a stretch of jungle in Panama. Venezuelans who arrive in the U.S. after July 31 of this year will not be eligible for the protection. Those who are now eligible have to apply to get it. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas granted the expansion and an 18-month extension for those who already have temporary status due to “Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions,” the department said in a statement. The administration said it would accelerate work authorizations for people who have arrived in the country since January through a mobile app for appointments at land crossings with Mexico, called CBP One, or through parole granted to Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who have financial sponsors and arrive at an airport. It will aim to give them work permits within 30 days, compared with about 90 days currently.

September 20, 2023

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

Inside the deliberations that led to Ken Paxton’s impeachment acquittal

Mitch Little knew it was over after the first vote. Texas senators still had 15 articles of impeachment to consider Saturday morning. But only 14 lawmakers had voted against his client, Attorney General Ken Paxton, on the first — and Little told his colleagues they’d just won the “trial of the century.” None of the other articles reached even a simple majority, much less the 21 needed to oust Paxton. Since the acquittal, GOP senators who rallied behind the attorney general have called out House prosecutors, saying they failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Paxton misused the powers of his agency and deserved to be booted from office. Most have declined to further explain their votes and have avoided addressing the accusations head-on.

It was always going to be a heavy lift to convict Paxton in the GOP-led Senate, political insiders say. He is a fierce opponent of the Biden administration who has been resilient in the face of eight years of scandal — and his political allies, including former President Donald Trump, raised the stakes when they began urging conservatives on social media to lobby senators in favor of acquittal. People familiar with the Senate’s deliberations told Hearst Newspapers that lawmakers were closer to removing Paxton than the final margin suggests. At least five Republican senators — including Sens. Joan Huffman of Houston, Mayes Middleton of Galveston and Drew Springer of Muenster — were seriously considering conviction, said five people familiar with the deliberations, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. Only two of those senators, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, actually voted to do so Saturday. Hancock told the Dallas Morning News earlier this week that “a lot of people’s opinions changed overnight” from Friday to Saturday. Asked why, he told the paper: “You will have to ask them. I can’t tell you.” Springer and Huffman denied they had switched their votes. “The characterization that I ‘changed my mind’ during deliberations is completely false,” Huffman said in an emailed statement. “No one could have known my final decision until I voted on the Senate floor, as votes were never taken during the deliberation process.”

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Texas Gov. Abbott threatens special sessions, even primary battles, to pass school choice

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday ratcheted up pressure on the Texas House to pass a school choice plan by year’s end. Confirming he’ll call a special session on the topic next month, Abbott said if House lawmakers again refuse to approve legislation to use public funds to help families afford private-school tuition, he’ll follow up one 30-day special session with another. “And if we don’t win that time, I think it’s time to send this to the voters themselves to vote in the primary,” Abbott said in a tele-town hall with Christian clergy. Teacher groups immediately denounced what they called a thinly veiled threat by the Republican governor against House members in his own party. Bolstered by a coalition of rural Republicans and urban Democrats, the House has long batted back any voucherlike proposal.

“Vouchers would be bad for Texas taxpayers and Texas’ underfunded public schools,” said Clay Robison of the Texas State Teachers Association. He said Abbott was trying to “muscle” lawmakers. “If some people want to send their children to private, religious schools, that is their business,” Robison said. “But they also need to pay for those schools out of their own pockets, not from other taxpayers.” Monty Exter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators said school districts and public charter campuses already overlap, creating inefficiencies. “The last thing we need is to layer on a third taxpayer-funded system, especially one with little to no accountability back to the taxpayer,” he said. Abbott bore down on lawmakers during the tele-hall. The “easy way” would be to pass school choice quickly, in the first special session, he said. “We’re happy to take the hard way also,” he said. House refusal to pass school choice this fall would mean “we will have everything teed up” for the March primary elections, Abbott said. “We will take it either way — in a special session or after an election,” Abbott said. During this year’s regular legislative session, House members opposed a proposal to give families at least $7,500 in education savings accounts to spend on private school tuition.

KIIITV - September 20, 2023

Andrews Distributing co-owner Barry Andrews dies

Andrews Distributing co-founder Barry Andrews died Tuesday. He was 77. Along with his wife Lana, Andrews founded what began as a humble 5,000 sq. ft. operation with a handful of employees on Agnes Street in 1976, growing it into a prototype for what is now the industry standard -- the “multi-branded beer distributor” -- one company with the rights to numerous beer brands at its disposal. “Barry Andrews was a true lion of the beer industry with the spirit of a lamb,” said National Beer Wholesalers Association CEO Craig Purser said in a news release. The 29-year-old Carroll High School graduate got his start with a business loan, buying the local Miller distributing company in 1976. From there he began acquiring rights to brands such as Corona and Modelo.

He eventually expanded the business into Dallas, moving the company’s headquarters there in 1994, and picking up the rights to brands such as Heineken, Guinness, Shiner, Coors, Pabst and Tecate throughout Corpus Christi and Dallas. After 47 years in business, what started off as a small outfit now employs almost 2,000 people with five warehouses -- one located on Junior Beck Drive in Corpus Christi. In a D Magazine interview in 2012, he explained the secret to his success, both personally and professionally. “Treat people the way you want to be treated,” he said. “It’s amazing how it works. There’s no reason to try to make rocket science out of it.” From that philosophy came the phrase he is credited with coining, “People make it happen.” It’s a sentiment that he lived, according to Purser’s release, as he was known to stroll the halls of his company’s headquarters several times a day. “During these walks, he never failed to remember team members’ names, ask and recall stories about their families, and always showed genuine commitment and care,” Purser said. He was a well-known supporter of the Cattle Baron’s Ball, having hosted the event at his Papalote ranch.

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

'Don't cross her': How DA Kim Ogg has repeatedly aimed her power at Harris County officials

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has launched criminal investigations against county officials she was publicly feuding with at least four times since she took office in 2017, the Chronicle has found. Taxpayers have covered nearly $1 million in legal bills for public employees who were pulled into the investigations but never charged with crimes. Ogg’s actions against the county officials and their staffers, with whom she’s also clashed on issues like bail reform and budget requests, are especially striking because they're with members of her own party. Ogg, a Democrat, is facing a tough re-election fight next year against a well-financed opponent. She declined to be interviewed for this story. In two instances, Ogg secured criminal charges. Last year, three former aides of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo were indicted for allegedly steering an $11 million contract to one vendor. They have denied the charges and no trial date has been set. Darrell Jordan, a county court-at-law judge who presides over misdemeanor cases, was also indicted last year for wrongfully jailing someone who disrupted his court, but that case was dismissed days later.

At a county meeting in March 2022, Ogg accused the budget team of acting like a “thief in the night” with her office’s funds, which the budget team denied. She said they’d seized and mishandled almost $5 million. Given the grand jury investigations she had launched against their colleagues by that point, county officials took her words seriously. “We are seeing the use of prosecutorial powers for political, policy and financial gain, which is incredibly concerning,” said Berry, who resigned in April. He added that he believes “the targets are political adversaries and county staff the DA disagrees with.” In June, Hidalgo accused Ogg of “harassing” and “bullying” county officials and their staff. She said Ogg’s office had also taken actions to intimidate employees working on a new violence prevention program that Ogg has questioned. Ogg's spokesman called Berry’s claims “unverified accusations without proof.” Her office denied threatening anyone working on violence prevention efforts. JoAnne Musick, a former senior prosecutor in Ogg’s office, said in an interview that it’s not uncommon for local prosecutors in Texas to investigate other local elected leaders. All of Ogg’s investigations into county officials, Musick said, were “brought by other entities … or it was a public outcry to investigate something.” Musick, who worked for Ogg from 2017 to 2022, also said she believes there was no intent to threaten county budget officials, who track expenses in every department. She said they were demanding copious amounts of information from the District Attorney’s office about its spending. “They wanted every penny and nickel and dime accounted for that was spent,” Musick said. “It was a tremendous undertaking … I spent hours every week, which we didn’t have, compiling data for them.” In July, Hidalgo told the Chronicle in an interview that Ogg's investigations have made it harder for the county to function at a time when the Houston region is facing profound challenges, including an overcrowded jail where more than a dozen inmates have died this year.

State Stories

Border Report - September 20, 2023

Cuellar’s sister to run in Democratic primary for Texas House

Congressman Henry Cuellar’s sister plans to run for an open seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Border Report confirmed on Friday that Rosie Cuellar, a municipal court judge, intends to run in the Democratic primary to represent District 80, which includes Uvalde and part of Laredo. On Thursday, she told the Texas Tribune that her life has been about community service and public service. “It’s something that our parents taught us,” she told the Tribune. “Go get an education, work hard, but always give back to the community.” District 80 includes the town of Uvalde, where 19 children and two adults were killed on May 24, 2022, in the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin, a Republican, also plans to run in the primary for that party’s nomination for District 80. At least two other candidates are running for the Democratic nomination: Carlos Lopez, chairman of the Uvalde County Democratic Party; and Cecilia Castellano, of Atascosa County, according to the Texas Tribune. Rosie Cuellar is a former Webb County tax assessor and former Laredo municipal judge currently is serving as a municipal judge for Rio Bravo, a small town southeast of Laredo. She was sworn in Feb. 1 as the town’s first municipal court judge. Laredo is the Cuellars’ hometown. Their brother, Martin Cuellar, is sheriff of Webb County, which includes Laredo. Henry Cuellar represents Texas’ 28th Congressional District, which includes the border counties of Webb, Zapata and Starr. Current Uvalde state Rep. Tracy King is not seeking re-election.

MySA - September 20, 2023

Texas Youth Summit drops U.S. Rep. Boebert after 'Beetlejuice' incident

Just days after announcing she would be speaking at a conservative youth summit, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) was nixed from the Texas conference. Boebert was pulled from the speakers list for the Texas Youth Summit on Monday, September 18, according to an article published by TMZ. The youth summit is held outside of Houston and is aimed at countering “the effects of the Left” and “winning back the hearts and minds of our nation’s most precious resource,” according to the event website. The announcement from TMZ comes just a day after Business Insider reported the congresswoman would be making an appearance at the youth conference on September 29 at The Woodlands Marriot as a guest speaker.

However, the Business Insider article noted Boebert had been escorted out of a showing of Beetlejuice in Denver. “In an incident report shared with the Denver Post on Tuesday afternoon, officials with Denver Arts & Venues wrote that two patrons were asked to leave the city-owned Buell Theatre during the performance of the touring Broadway show,” the Denver Post reported September 12. “They previously were issued a warning during the intermission regarding behavior that prompted three complaints from other theatergoers, the report says.” While the Denver Post said the venue’s report didn’t name Boebert, her campaign office confirmed she was escorted from the Buell Theatre while trying to dispute accusations made against her that she was vaping, singing, recording, groping her partner, being groped by her partner, and “causing a disturbance,” according to the Denver outlet.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Texas middle school teacher fired after ‘concerns’ of assigned Anne Frank adaptation

A southeast Texas middle school teacher was fired Wednesday after assigning a graphic adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary to her eighth-grade reading class, officials said. Hamshire-Fannett Independent School District, about 250 miles southeast of downtown Dallas, told KFDM-TV the teacher was sent home following “the presentation of an unapproved and graphic version of Anne Frank’s diary to her class.” Mike Canizales, a district spokesman, told the news station that the version of the diary was not approved by the district. He did not share the name of the school or the part of the book that drew concerns, citing an ongoing investigation. In a statement sent to parents in the class, the district said a substitute teacher has taken over since Wednesday and that it is in the process of posting the job to hire a new full-time teacher as quickly as possible.

Anne Frank’s diary, originally published in 1947, has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into more than 70 languages. Her diary, written while the Jewish teenager was hiding from Nazis, has been used widely to teach people about the Holocaust and the horrors of the genocide. There are different versions of the diary, some of which omit passages where she wrote about exploring her sexuality. The book read in the middle school was the 2018 graphic novel, Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. The novel, adapted by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky, stays true to the original text in a tightly packed format. According to KFDM, parents shared concerns about a passage in the novel where the teenaged Frank explores her understanding of male and female genitalia. The news station said the district claims the adaptation of the diary was never approved, but it was on a reading list sent to parents at the start of the school year. The station also reported that the teacher let go has retained an attorney. The diary adaptation has come under scrutiny by other schools in the state. Last year, Keller ISD officials instructed campuses to pull 41 books from school shelves, including the graphic novel of Anne Frank’s diary. The school district returned the book to library shelves after several Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, condemned the removal, according to The Times of Israel.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2023

Convicted North Texas killer Billy Chemirmir dies in prison

Convicted killer Billy Chemirmir, who was serving a life sentence without parole, was killed in a Texas prison Tuesday morning. No specific information has been released about how Chemirmir, 50, died. But his cellmate, who also was sentenced on a murder charge, is accused of killing him, officials said. Hannah Haney, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said in an email that Chemirmir was found deceased in his cell early Tuesday morning. He had been imprisoned at the Coffield Unit in Tennessee Colony, about two hours southeast of Dallas, since May 2022, she said.

“The victim’s cellmate, who is serving a sentence for murder out of Harris County, was identified as the assailant. The Office of Inspector General is investigating,’ Haney said in an email to the Star-Telegram. The cellmate was not identified. Chemirmir’s attorney Phillip Hayes said in a statement to WFAA-TV that, “Despite how you feel about him, no one deserves to be murdered in prison.” Chemirmir was charged with killing 22 women in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He had been convicted in two of the cases and was sentenced to life without parole. He was found guilty in April 2022 of capital murder for smothering 81-year-old Lu Thi Harris and he was also convicted in October for killing Mary Brooks, who was 87. Investigators have said that he preyed on women who were older — many of whom lived in senior apartment communities in Dallas and Collin counties — and stole their jewelry after killing them.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Gov. Greg Abbott helped Jerry Jones pitch AT&T Stadium as FIFA World Cup final destination

The Jerry Jones contingent of prominent local figures pushing for AT&T Stadium to host the 2026 World Cup final apparently included Texas governor Greg Abbott, the Cowboys owner said Tuesday. “The governor of the state of Texas was there and he was basically helping me emphasize just how important that game, the big game, the last game, would be to get to have it at the stadium,” Jones said during his weekly segment on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. “What we could do with that, why Texas, why this area is where that World Cup final would flourish the best. [It] would show the youth of the world, if you will, what we’ve got here in the U.S. And no place to say it any better than the stadium here [in Arlington] and for Texas to do it.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino was at AT&T Stadium on Sunday to watch the Dallas Cowboys defeat the New York Jets after accepting an invitation from Jones. “When I think about how big soccer is around the world, and you’re sitting there with the people that kind of have the controls in their hands, relative to the game itself, it was mind boggling,” Jones said. AT&T Stadium is under consideration as the host venue for the 2026 World Cup final, along with MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and SoFi Stadium in California. FIFA is expected to announce the venues for key World Cup matches next month. Jones has mentioned on several occasions he is hopeful that FIFA will choose AT&T Stadium to host the World Cup final. Before Sunday’s win, Jones stopped Cowboys star defensive player Micah Parsons from going into the locker room so he could meet the FIFA president before he headed up to the owner’s suite to sit beside Jones and Abbott. “We both were all aware of just how football around the world is so followed,” Jones said. “It’s a privilege, though, to get to do it and sit there and think my goodness ... we get to possibly talk about having the single greatest game that you can have in a sport that billions and billions of people follow around the world.”

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

After panic over directive to slash school budgets, HISD leaders call the order 'an error'

Houston ISD leaders pledged Tuesday not to slash individual school budgets this year, after mistakenly telling some principals to return hundreds of thousands of dollars from their current budgets. Principals at non-NES schools across the district began receiving notices last week that they would have to return money to the district due to lower-than-expected attendance. Those directives appeared to fly in the face of the $2.2 billion budget passed by the Board of Managers earlier this summer, when Superintendent Mike Miles promised that schools would be "held harmless" this year, continuing a pandemic-era policy that eliminated student attendance as a factor in school funding. HISD Chief Financial Officer Jim Terry sent a letter to division superintendents Tuesday to be distributed to principals, in which the district's budget head walked back those directives but did not offer details about why the incorrect instructions had been sent out in the first place.

A district spokesman said neither Terry nor Miles would be available for further comment. "Please disregard previous guidance you received about the budget reconciliation process. It was sent to you in error," Terry wrote in a letter addressed to "Principals of Non-NES/NES-Aligned Campuses." "As the Superintendent indicated during the budget approval process, campus budgets will be held harmless for lost enrollment this academic year. There is no need for additional budget adjustments and we will allow budgets to remain as they were forecasted," Terry wrote. The mistaken budget guidance immediately sparked anxiety and confusion among many school leaders, some of whom were left scrambling to figure out how to account for six-figure reductions in their budgets just weeks into the school year. The statement did not bring clarity, however, with some administrators questioning why Terry used the term "enrollment" in place of "attendance." Principals typically meet for budget conferences much later in the semester after the state releases enrollment and attendance snapshots in October. One principal said she was caught off guard by a budget meeting this week, during which district officials said her school would lose a chunk of its budget because of its attendance rate from last year.

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

HISD parents, advocates frustrated by lack of details from Miles on fixing special education program

For more than six years, Shana Halvorsen has been fighting an uphill battle against the special education system in Houston ISD, which she said would not provide adequate services for her daughter and ultimately placed the 15-year-old in a private school away from her neighborhood peers. The mother has watched superintendents and special education directors come and go during those years, each of them making promises to fix a system with well-documented and long-standing problems. Now, following state intervention in the district that was in part prompted by these failures, Superintendent Mike Miles and his team are charged with bringing the system into compliance with state and federal laws. While some families were eager to see the district held accountable through a state takeover, parents and advocates for special education students in HISD say they remain skeptical of the new administration and its ability to turn around the broken system.

Some parents said they believe Miles has so far neglected to prioritize the monumental task or articulate in public a clear plan for improvement. Instead, some say, he has implemented a standardized curriculum and instructional practices that lack clear protections for the special education population. “I’ve heard a lot of talk from the last four superintendents. Everyone makes these statements, but nothing changes,” Halvorsen said. “It’s just the same story coming from a different leader.” Improving special education is among the goals in Miles’ 11-point plan for the district called Destination 2035, which aims to close the achievement gap and prepare kids for a successful future in a rapidly changing workplace. Miles has not yet publicly shared a Special Education Action Plan that he had originally intended to create by the beginning of September. Instead, he said he plans to share more details at the October board meeting. However, a draft of his Destination 2035 concept paper — labeled confidential and obtained by the Chronicle through an open records request — outlines several goals for special education. These include standardizing service implementation throughout the district, addressing the backlog of services, taking away from principals the ability to deny placement of children with disabilities on their campuses, adding specialists to help special education teachers with paperwork and compliance, providing professional development and insisting on a high-quality instructional model for all students.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Texas DPS resumes enhanced vehicle inspection at Mexican border in El Paso, Eagle Pass

The Texas Department of Public Safety renewed the enhanced vehicle inspections this week at two border points of entry, the first time since last year that state police have relaunched the increased efforts. The inspections are taking place at the Ysleta-Zaragoza bridge in El Paso and the Camino Real bridge in Eagle Pass, DPS spokesman Travis Considine said. Both began this week and have not taken place since December 2022. Asked what prompted the inspections, Considine said the agency is committed to enforcing compliance with safety standards and ensuring that roads are safe. “Cartels do not care about the condition of the vehicles they send into Texas any more than they do about the human lives they cram into tractor trailers,” Considine said in an email. “Our hope is that frequent enhanced commercial vehicle safety inspections will help deter cartel smuggling activity along the border while increasing the safety of our roadways.”

The inspections were a point of frustration from business leaders in the past. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Rep. Eddie Morales, D-Eagle Pass, said in a text message that he has received “MANY” complaints over the renewed inspections because of the long wait times for commercial lanes for the bridge. Wait times for both bridges for commercial vehicles are currently several hours, according to Custom and Border Protection’s website that lists how long it takes to cross. As of midafternoon, the Ysleta bridge in El Paso had a six-hour delay with four lanes open. In Eagle Pass, one lane was open and had a three-hour delay for the bridge where inspections are taking place. On Tuesday, Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas, Jr., issued an emergency declaration due to a “severe undocumented immigrant surge,” according to a city press release. The state of disaster will last for seven days. Salinas said in a press conference Tuesday that the influx of migrants has taken a toll on local resources and that the emergency declaration would allow for the city to receive state aid to offset the strain.

Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2023

Bridget Grumet: Year after Uvalde shooting, DPS Director Steve McCraw's $45,000 raise doesn't add up

Certain numbers come to mind when I think of Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw. The 21 people — 19 kids and two teachers — killed last year in Uvalde, in the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. The 77 minutes that dozens of DPS troopers and other officers stood around, failing to stop that massacre. The singular pledge that McCraw made to resign if the DPS had “any culpability” for that horribly delayed response — and then his refusal last fall to step down, even as outraged family members and several elected officials urged him to. After all of that, a surprising new figure is attached to McCraw: A $45,437 raise. That 15% raise, recently approved by the state’s Public Safety Commission, brings McCraw’s annual salary to $345,250 — making him one of the highest paid department heads for the state of Texas.

“We are truly fortunate to have somebody of the caliber of Steve McCraw as director of the Department of Public Safety, and we cannot pay you enough to do this important job,” Public Safety Commission chair Steven P. Mach said Aug. 24, as the board raised McCraw’s pay. “So thank you for what you're doing.” The sizable raise is stunning by any measure. It’s more than the standard raise that rank-and-file troopers and other state employees are receiving (5% or $3,000, whichever is higher, both this year and the next). Plus, this boost to McCraw’s pay comes only a year after the 2022 shooting in Uvalde, a tragedy defined by “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making,” according to a House report released last year. The raise comes as the American-Statesman and other media outlets continue to fight in court for the DPS records that would provide the full picture of the agency’s response that day, information Texans deserve. Maybe see how that shakes out before showering a raise on the chief? Moreover, the Public Safety Commission — all appointees of Gov. Greg Abbott — went straight to the maximum salary figure allowed. McCraw previously earned $299,813. A provision on Page 878 in the Legislature’s 1,030-page General Appropriations Act made the DPS director eligible for a salary of up to $345,250 — but nothing required commissioners to go to the max. They chose to.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Louis A. Bedford IV: Brain drain in Texas is real and it can endanger our prosperity

(Louis A. Bedford IV is a civil rights attorney in Dallas who practices in the areas of election and voting rights law.) When I was in law school, I was a part of a small group of public interest students. We didn’t have dreams of working in large corporate law firms (otherwise known as “big law”), but rather we wanted to work in areas of the law where we felt we would do the most good. We’ve since built our careers around issues like voting rights, immigration reform and reproductive justice. We love what we do, just not always in Texas— and we’re not the only ones to feel this way, which brings us to our problem. Our state is undergoing a tectonic shift in talent retention. If we don’t act, this shift will pose an existential threat to Texas’ overall sustainability. Now, I fully understand how this thought may fly in the face of Texas’ population growth. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas gained almost 4 million residents between 2012 and 2022, making it one of the fastest-growing states in the nation.

However, this population growth masks a hidden trend: An increasing number of young, educated professionals are either not considering coming to our state or are leaving the state in search of better opportunities and more inclusive environments. As it relates to health care, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, states with similar abortion bans to what we have in Texas saw the number of medical students applying to OB-GYN residencies decrease by 10.5%, twice the nationwide average. In a survey of current and future physicians conducted by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 76% of respondents said they wouldn’t even bother to apply in a state with an abortion ban like the one we have now. This doesn’t just impact reproductive health care access in Texas; when physicians are rightfully concerned about the slippery slope of our restrictive abortion laws, it drastically impacts health care for everyone. When it comes to education, Texas’ record on book bans and restrictive curriculums is not only deterring new talent from coming to our state but driving away the backbone of our education system — our teachers. According to a survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors and the Texas Faculty Association, more than 60% of surveyed faculty members said they would not recommend a position in Texas to their out-of-state colleagues, and 57% cited the state’s political climate as their top reason for wanting to leave the state.

San Antonio Express-News - September 20, 2023

'Hard and unfair fight': Matthew McConaughey discusses political aspirations on podcast

Matthew McConaughey may not be busy on a movie set because of the actors strike, but the star is keeping busy. The University of Texas at Austin alumni recently dropped a children's book, "Just Because," aiming to teach life lessons. The book is McConaughey's first picture book and the latest after his 2020 memoir, "Greenlights." McConaughey is also working on bipartisan school safety measures through his project, the Greenlights Grant Initiative. While promoting the book in a new episode of the podcast "Smartless" on Monday hosted by actors Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes, the Oscar-winning actor was asked about his political aspirations, specifically if he would ever run for Texas governor or president of the United States. McConaughey weighed a challenge against Gov. Greg Abbott in 2021 before ultimately deciding not to run.

"It's not something I want to visit now because of what I said earlier," McConaughey said. McConaughey spent a good chunk of the interview discussing what fatherhood meant to him and the lessons he's learned from being a dad. "I'm raising three children right now, and it's a great adventure doing it," the actor said. "I want to see that through. My only thing I ever knew I wanted to be was a dad, since I was 8 years old. I want to see that through." "I have to measure; as I have given great measurement to it, where can I be the most useful?," McConaughey continues. "I want to enjoy myself. Hard work doesn't scare, but man, I'm an artist, I'm a storyteller, I'm a folk singer. Are those parts of me what could be useful in a political position of leadership, to be CEO of a state or a country? Maybe." McConaughey said that raising his kids is his priority and a "hard but fair fight." "Going into politics right now is a hard and unfair fight," McConaughey says.

Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2023

Texas among states being audited by federal CMS for Medicaid terminations. What we know.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is being audited by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, part of a continuing oversight of certain states, the centers and the commission has announced. CMS said it is looking at the monthly data reported by states to CMS and it will conduct "targeted audits of eligibility termination determinations, as appropriate, to ensure state compliance with all federal requirements," said CMS spokesperson Sara Lonardo. CMS would not elaborate on how many states were being audited. In Texas, CMS is looking at the people who were denied Medicaid coverage Aug. 1-Aug. 31, a whistleblower group of staff members at the state commission said. CMS has previously worked with the Texas health commission to ensure technical problems were fixed. This summer, more than 90,000 people in Texas had their coverage reinstated after being improperly disenrolled, Lonardo said.

Why is the audit of particular interest now? Medicaid is medical insurance available for pregnant women, children and people with disabilities who make below a certain income. For a family of four in Texas, their income must be less than $3,083 a month. For a pregnant woman with a family of four, it is less than $4,579 a month. During the pandemic health emergency, the number of people enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program in Texas increased by almost 50%, Young said. They were given continuous coverage, meaning they didn't have to verify income annually. Beginning in April, all states have had to reverify recipients who had continuous coverage during the pandemic because the pandemic health emergency has ended. Medicaid recipients must supply information like current income to maintain coverage. What are the areas of concern? The new data show a backlog of applications that have not been processed, said Texans Care for Children and other advocates. “When kids are eligible for health insurance and their families have jumped through every hoop the state puts in front of them, our state leaders need to make sure those applications are processed on time so kids can go to the doctor or get their medications," said Diana Forester, director of Health Policy at Texans Care for Children. “When children get kicked off for procedural reasons, they are not referred to other affordable health care options, like CHIP or HealthCare.Gov," said Graciela Camarena, child health outreach program director at Children’s Defense Fund-Texas.

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

‘Crisis’: Dallas has more than 3,400 vacancies on city staff

The city of Dallas is facing a staffing crisis, with 20% of its jobs unfilled -- more than 3,400 vacancies -- even as peer cities in Texas are having some success filling open positions after the COVID-19 pandemic. “Current staff vacancy rates appear to be the new normal post-pandemic,” Dallas Human Resources Director Nina Arias said in a statement. “The long-term impact of the current vacancy crisis is unclear. However, it is clear businesses and organizations like the City of Dallas need to find creative ways to attract and retain qualified workers,” Arias said in a statement. Meanwhile, other Texas cities, most of which have markedly lower vacancy rates than Dallas, according to data provided to The Dallas Morning News, said they expect staffing levels to improve. In Austin, the city is missing 14% of its staff. In San Antonio, that number is about 10%. And in nearby Plano and Arlington, the staff vacancy rates are 6.5%. and 9.0%, respectively.

Of the state’s largest cities, only Houston has a staff vacancy rate higher than Dallas, at 22%. “Despite challenging times, we are seeing our vacancy rate move toward pre-pandemic levels,” said Brandis Davis, a spokesman for San Antonio’s human resources department. Arias couldn’t say the same for Dallas’s more than 17,088 total positions, of which 13,617 are filled as of July 31. Despite HR doing “everything” it can to attract and retain workers – such as fighting for higher wages, increasing benefits, and even launching campaigns to boost the public’s perception of city jobs – the new staffing shortages are the new status quo, Arias said. The city blamed the staffing deficit on a slew of obstacles:fewer applicants, outdated onboarding software, a lack of candidates with technical skill and a burgeoning private sector. “When you get to a figure as high as 20%, you have significant inefficiency,” said Lee Adler, a professor at Cornell University’s school of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2023

TEA faces lawsuit from Fort Worth ISD, others on accountability ratings

The Fort Worth school district is joining several other districts across the state in a lawsuit that claims the pending changes to the state’s A-F accountability rating system will harm districts and schools, even if performance has improved. The school board voted 8-1 to join the suit, with board member Kevin Lynch dissenting, during a special meeting on Tuesday. Fort Worth ISD’s decision follows neighboring Dallas ISD, which joined the lawsuit on Thursday, along with other North Texas districts such as Proper ISD and Red Oak ISD. Crowley ISD was among the original seven districts that filed the suit. Fort Worth Superintendent Angélica Ramsey told reporters after the meeting that a “transparent and fair” process is needed when the Texas Education Agency implements its accountability system.

“We appreciate the fact that (the school board is) willing… to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with school districts across the state saying, ‘We want to be held accountable, but we want to know how we’re going to be held accountable before the students take the (STAAR) test,’” Ramsey said. The suit filed on Aug. 23 in Travis County against Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath argues that Morath “cannot change the goalposts on school districts by creating new measures, methods, and procedures throughout the school year and then decide to apply them retroactively… Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Commissioner is attempting to do for the 2022–2023 school year.” The TEA doesn’t comment on pending litigation, agency spokesperson Melissa Holmes told the Star-Telegram. Districts are asking for an injunction to stop the TEA from issuing the A-F grades that are based on three categories: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. There are multiple indicators within these categories, but the focus has been on the potential changes of how student growth is calculated on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness test, known as STAAR. The standardized test weighs heavily on a district’s and school’s accountability rating.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

Harris County libraries are now 'book sanctuaries' for banned books across Texas

As book bans and challenges occur across the state and nation, Harris County libraries have joined a movement dedicated to preserving people's right to decide for themselves what they want to read. Harris County Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution for the Harris County Public Library system to become a Book Sanctuary, joining a network of 2,828 book sanctuaries across the United States. According to the resolution, "The freedom to read is under threat across the nation, and nowhere more so than in the state of Texas which challenged 2,349 books, of which at least 511 were removed from school libraries and classrooms in 2022, and is on pace to once again lead the nation in challenging and removing books in 2023." The Katy Independent School District was the latest district to ban books, finding 14 books, including titles by Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle and Judy Blume, to be inappropriate for children for reasons the district would not make public.

A report earlier this year found most titles banned in Texas and across the nation deal with issues such as race or racism, as well as sexuality, gender and LGBTQ+ issues. Texas House Bill 900, called the Restricting Explicit and Adult-Designated Educational Resources (READER) Act, went into effect on Sept. 1 regulating library materials sold to or included in public school libraries. The law requires book vendors to assign ratings to books based on their depictions or references to sex, and school libraries containing books with "sexually explicit" ratings will be removed from bookshelves. Three different state offices are currently being sued over the law. The complaint alleged the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Chicago established the nation's first Book Sanctuary in September 2022 during Banned Books Week and set up a website inviting other institutions to follow suit. "A Book Sanctuary is a physical or digital space that actively protects the freedom to read. It provides shelter and access to endangered books, and can be created by anyone and can exist anywhere — in a library, a classroom, a coffee shop corner, a community center, public park, your bedroom bookshelf, or even on social media," according to the Book Sanctuary toolkit.

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2023

Harris County approves lower tax rate for fifth year in a row, $2.4B budget for 2024

Harris County leaders on Tuesday voted for a tax rate decrease for the fifth year in a row, as well as a $2.4 billion budget for 2024. Commissioners Court approved an overall tax rate of 53.03 cents per $100 of assessed value. While that's down from 53.06 cents last year, taxpayers could still end up with a higher bill depending on increases in their appraised property values. Commissioners also approved the county's operating budget for the upcoming year. Nearly two-thirds of the $2.4 billion budget is dedicated to justice and safety, a spending plan that includes the sheriff's office, the district attorney's office and a large court system. The allocation reflects that public safety "continues to be a top priority," according to Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Garcia also said in a statement the county was able to decrease the tax rate without "sacrificing our ability to rebuild our aging infrastructure, create a workforce for jobs today and into the future, and combat the climate crisis with clean energy." Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a Democrat, said the budget makes the most of limited resources. "It represents a set of investments in a more just legal system, expanded access to health care, housing, and jobs, and the advancement of fair and free elections," Ellis said in a statement. Ellis is temporarily presiding over Commissioners Court while County Judge Lina Hidalgo is on an extended medical leave. Hidalgo is expected to return to work full time on Oct. 2. The meeting was notably amiable, particularly compared to last year's partisan budget showdown over allegations that the Democrat-controlled court was "defunding" law enforcement. On Tuesday, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, the lone Republican on the court, struck a conciliatory tone, praising the budget office, law enforcement allocations and even his colleagues on the court.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2023

Dallas officers apologize for jokes, say they thought Tony Timpa was asleep — not dying

Two Dallas police officers addressed Tony Timpa’s family Tuesday for the first time since his death and apologized for the jokes they made at his expense. But even as they told a federal civil jury the comments they made were unprofessional and stupid, Officers Danny Vasquez and Raymond Dominguez didn’t take responsibility for his death. They said they thought Timpa, a 32-year-old in a mental health crisis, was asleep. “I don’t think my apology will ever be enough, but that’s all I have to offer,” said Dominguez, who paused and choked up as discussed how he’s changed since Timpa’s death seven years ago. Timpa died Aug. 10, 2016, after he called 911 from the parking lot of a porn store on Mockingbird Lane and said he was afraid and unarmed, adding he was off his prescription medication for anxiety and schizophrenia.

Body-camera footage shows he was handcuffed behind his back and pinned face down by officers as he yelled for help. He was dead within the hour. Vasquez and Dominguez are among four Dallas officers in federal court this week to face the Timpa family’s lawsuit alleging excessive force against Officer Dustin Dillard and failures to intervene against the three others. The city of Dallas is representing Dillard, who knelt on Timpa’s back for nearly 14 minutes, Kevin Mansell, Dominguez and Vasquez. Dillard argues his actions were necessary to gain control, while the other officers say they had no duty or opportunity to intervene because they didn’t think the force was unreasonable, according to court records. Mansell, Dominguez and Vasquez sat on the other side of the courtroom from the jury Tuesday at an L-shaped desk. Dillard, seated next to them, faced the judge next to their attorneys. Vasquez said he wouldn’t change his actions the night Timpa died, but has watched the body-camera footage “countless times.” He remained stoic throughout much of his testimony, and said he didn’t see urgency for medical treatment as Timpa struggled beneath Dillard’s knee on his back.

National Stories

The Hill - September 20, 2023

GOP senators alarmed by chaos over House spending bills

Republican senators are growing increasingly alarmed at Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) inability to pass spending legislation over the staunch opposition of a small group of conservative rebels, and fear a government shutdown may be days away. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who’s had to deal with the political fallout of government shutdowns in 1995-96, 2013 and 2018-19, warned Republican lawmakers on the other side of the Capitol on Tuesday that shutdowns are “a loser for Republicans, politically.” McConnell made his comments after House Republican leaders canceled a key procedural vote on a stopgap funding measure that was scheduled for 2:30 pm Tuesday amid opposition from disgruntled conservatives.

The scrapped vote raised fresh concerns among Republican senators over whether McCarthy will be able to pass any bill to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. “We’re waiting to see what the House is going to do on a continuing resolution. I think all of you know I’m not a fan of government shutdowns. I’ve seen a few of them over the years, they never have produced a policy change and they’ve always been a loser for Republicans, politically,” McConnell told reporters at the start of his weekly press conference. Hours later, McCarthy suffered another major setback when a handful of House conservatives voted with Democrats to defeat a procedural measure to advance the Defense appropriations bill. It is exceedingly rare for such a procedural vote to fail on the House floor, and to have it happen on a bill that usually enjoys strong GOP support has Republican senators even more concerned. Some GOP senators and aides now fear a government shutdown is likely. “This may be a situation where you’ve got to break glass to make sure that we can get some kind of a deal. I don’t know what that looks like,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said of emergency steps that may have to be taken to avoid a shutdown.

The Hill - September 20, 2023

Democrats face big decision on McCarthy

Hard-line Republican threats to force a vote on ousting Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from his post could soon thrust Democrats into a difficult decision: Do they save the Speaker who opened an impeachment inquiry into their president or join Republicans in booting him? Top Democrats say they have not formulated a strategy for handling such a vote, dismissing questions as hypothetical and insisting that they are focused on funding the government and averting a shutdown ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. But Democrats’ votes could save — or end — McCarthy’s Speakership, which he clinched after a marathon 15 rounds of voting in January. “It would be a big question,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, told The Hill on Tuesday. That question, however, is of high interest, and Democrats may have to answer it sooner rather than later.

McCarthy hasn’t been able to unite his fractious conference around a plan to fund the government, threats to oust him are growing louder, and internal GOP sniping is spilling into public view. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of McCarthy’s top adversaries, put the Speaker on notice last week, announcing in a floor speech that he would force a vote on booting him if he does not meet a list of demands on spending and legislation. On Tuesday, a reporter found what appeared to be a House resolution drafted by Gaetz in a Capitol bathroom that said “the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives is hereby declared to be vacant.” The Hill could not independently confirm the authenticity of the document. McCarthy, for his part, has brushed aside the idea that his gavel is in jeopardy. Asked on Monday if he thinks he will need support from the other side of the aisle to salvage his Speakership, McCarthy responded “I’m not worried about that.” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) over the weekend said the Democratic caucus “haven’t given it any thought one way or the other” when asked about a potential vote on ousting McCarthy, adding that the group will “cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Associated Press - September 20, 2023

Virginia is the next big battleground for abortion rights and may send a signal for 2024

Democrat Russet Perry has knocked on thousands of doors in a swing district outside the nation’s capital as she campaigns for a seat that could decide control of the Virginia state Senate in November. The issue that comes up the most — particularly among women and even from some Republicans and independents, she says — is protecting abortion rights. The topic has motivated voters and upended traditional political wisdom in election after election since a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the federal right to the procedure last year. But it may be especially front of mind in Virginia, the only state in the South that has not imposed new abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade fell. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin — whose push to ban the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy was blocked by the Democratic-controlled Senate — has pledged to try again if the GOP wins full control in the state.

“I see this fight and this race as being pivotal to what happens to many, many, many people, not just here, but across the entire South,” said Perry, a former prosecutor and ex-CIA officer who noted that women from throughout the region have sought abortions in Virginia since Roe was overturned. For those on either side of the debate, Virginia — where all state House and Senate seats are up for election and early voting begins Friday — is among the biggest fights this year over abortion rights. The Commonwealth’s odd-year elections are often an indicator of the national mood heading into major election years and offer both parties a chance to test campaign strategies, messaging and policy ahead of 2024 contests for president, Congress and other offices. Democrats are banking on abortion rights to be a winning issue, just as it was in the 2022 midterms and in earlier contests this year in Virginia and elsewhere. They hope it will lift candidates in a place that Democrat Joe Biden won in 2020 but where voters a year later backed Youngkin, who is still mentioned as a possible late 2024 entry for president.

Newsweek - September 20, 2023

Home building collapses as market struggles

New home construction in the U.S. plunged in August to a three-year low, according to data released on Tuesday, as high mortgage rates, increased cost of labor and the price of building homes took a toll on the industry. Housing starts, which are homes that builders would build, dropped by more than 11 percent to 1.28 million compared to last month and were down nearly 15 percent from the same time in 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said. A decrease in multifamily homes construction was a big factor in the decline as they slumped by more than one-quarter. But single-family homes also experienced a downturn, falling by more than 4 percent, pointing to an overall slowdown of the sector.

"High mortgage rates above 7 percent combined with low resale inventory and higher home prices are slowing housing production, as many first-time home buyers and younger households are struggling to purchase an affordable home," Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), said in a statement. The NAHB blamed the decline on ballooning mortgage rates despite high demand for new homes, making the industry pessimistic about the future as rates are unlikely to fall anytime soon. "Unfortunately, we expect mortgage rates to remain at higher levels as the Federal Reserve is likely to increase rates one more time later this quarter," said Danushka Nanayakkara-Skillington, NAHB's assistant vice president for forecasting and analysis. The numbers revealed on Tuesday provided little encouragement. The entire nation is feeling the pinch as home building was down across the country. The NAHB pointed out that compared to last year, single-family and multifamily starts were down nearly 23 percent in the Northeast, about 14 percent in the Midwest, nearly 9 percent in the South and about 16.5 percent in the West.

Bolts - September 20, 2023

Different futures for Pennsylvania elections collide in November’s Supreme Court race

In a decision that landed days before the 2022 midterms, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered elections officials not to count any mail ballots on which a voter had forgotten to include a date or scribbled an incorrect one, even if those ballots arrived on time. It was a victory for Republicans who had challenged the state’s mail voting procedures, and voting rights advocates found thousands of Pennsylvanians whose ballots were tossed as a result. The court was one vote short of ruling that rejecting these ballots would violate federal protections, and thus should be counted; it split evenly on that question, 3 to 3. The tie-breaking vote would have come from Max Baer, the court’s Democratic chief justice, but he had died just weeks before. His death weakened a court majority keen to protect voting rights, and his seat has remained vacant ever since. Pennsylvanians in November will finally fill Baer’s seat, just one year before the 2024 presidential race.

The result could substantially affect the future of election law in this key swing state, with new cases likely looming over mail voting, redistricting, and election certification. “There are a large number of open questions about Pennsylvania’s elections that are almost assuredly heading to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2024” Victoria Bassetti, senior counsel at States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan group that advocates for ballot access, told Bolts. “The experience of the last three years proves that every single one of those issues is hard-fought in the supreme court.” “Whoever is elected to this seat will have a critical voice in those decisions—and maybe even the deciding voice,” Bassetti said. The candidates in the Nov. 8 race have signaled they’d take election law in different directions, in the state that saw more election lawsuits in 2020 than any other. Democrats have a 4-2 majority on the court, down from 5-2 before Baer’s death, so they are sure to keep their edge this fall no matter the result of November’s election. But decisions from this court don’t always fall on party lines, as illustrated by the 2022 mail voting case. Plus, the terms of three sitting Democratic justices end in 2025. If the GOP narrows its deficit this year, it would set Republicans up to only need to flip one of those seats to regain a majority later this decade.

Bloomberg - September 20, 2023

How Detroit automakers misread the UAW’s fiery leader, ‘Hurricane Fain’

Detroit automakers survived a pandemic and semiconductor shortage. They were embracing a historic transition to the electric-vehicle era, underwritten by billions in subsidies from the Biden administration. Profits were rolling in. Then came Hurricane Fain. The six-day walkout led by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain at three General Motors, Ford and Stellantis factories is no ordinary labor-vs.-industry clash. The 54-year-old former Chrysler electrician is pushing for a dramatic reset of the wage scales and working conditions that would meaningfully change the economics of car manufacturing. He’s taken aback executives with eye-watering demands for 40% pay raises over the next four years and a 32-hour workweek – unheard of in American manufacturing. Just as jarring is Fain’s unconventional negotiating style. Instead of following decades of precedent and targeting one company at a time, Fain took on all three companies employing 146,000 union members at once.

He’s inflicting significant damage by disrupting truck and sport utility vehicle output, while taking pains not to burn through too much of the UAW’s strike fund. He’s left himself the option to bring down even more lucrative pickup plants – giving the automakers until noon Friday for “serious progress” on a contract before calling on more workers to strike. Even before the strike deadline, Fain stood up auto industry royalty, failing to show up for a bargaining session with Bill Ford, the great-grandson of Henry. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Ford Chief Executive Officer Jim Farley. The UAW’s aggressiveness in many ways reflects the more assertive mood of the American worker, who’s anxious about job security in the age of artificial intelligence and angry about an ever-growing wealth gap. In this summer of strikes that’s seen Hollywood writers and actors walk off their jobs, and workers at companies as varied as Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft all vote to unionize in the last two years, the UAW drama has taken on broader significance. Fain’s combative stance is risky. If workers sacrifice for months, throwing their lives and others’ into disarray, only to end up having to accept something much closer to what the companies have been offering, they could serve as just the sort of cautionary tale managers use to try to dissuade workers from unionizing in the first place.

Washington Post - September 20, 2023

Zelensky opens U.S. visit with a warning: ‘Evil cannot be trusted’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday delivered an impassioned speech to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, pushing for sustained support for his embattled nation’s fight against Russia as he embarked on a delicate mission to bolster his cause globally and in Washington, Ukraine’s most important partner. Zelensky’s rare visit across the Atlantic came at an urgent moment in his efforts to maintain robust aid for Ukraine’s fight, amid increasing concern among leaders of the Global South and Republicans in Congress who say the war is consuming too many resources and drawing away from other priorities. Over 3½ days of meetings and speeches, the Ukrainian leader is charged with finding ways to solidify support as portions of the world seek to move on.

Even as he embarked on his mission to confront skeptical voices, Zelensky received a warm welcome inside the grand U.N. chamber. But in a possible sign of the challenges he faces, he delivered his address to a half-full house, with many delegations declining to appear and listen to what he had to say. “Mass destruction is gaining momentum,” Zelensky said. “The aggressor is weaponizing many other things and those things are used not only against our country, but against all of yours as well, fellow leaders.” And after more than a year and a half of war, leaders from some developing nations are increasingly frustrated that the effort to support Ukraine is taking away, they say, from their own struggles to drum up enough money to adapt to a warming world, confront poverty and ensure a more secure life for their citizens. In Washington, meanwhile, a growing faction of the Republican Party is rebelling against further spending on military aid for Ukraine, following former president Donald Trump’s lead in questioning whether it should be an American priority. Although most Democrats and a significant portion of Republicans remain staunchly behind Kyiv, the blowback among House Republicans may be enough to derail an effort to approve a supplemental package of aid for Kyiv.

Associated Press - September 20, 2023

Democrats retain narrow control of Pennsylvania House after special election

Democrats will retain their one-vote majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after voters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday elected former congressional aide Lindsay Powell. Powell’s victory gives Democrats a 102-101 majority in the House. Republicans have a 28-22 majority in the Senate, creating a divided Legislature that has kept Democrats from passing priorities such as broadened protections for LGBTQ+ people and gun control measures and Republicans from wins on issues including school vouchers. The divided Legislature has also meant Republican senators have been unable to take to voters proposed constitutional amendments limiting the governor’s power and implementing voter ID. Most recently the division has mired the state in a two-month budget stalemate after negotiations soured over education funding, in part because of the voucher debate.

Powell identified affordable and dignified housing, a strong local economy and community assets such as robust recreation centers, libraries and strong infrastructure as top issues. Housing, she said, was a particular concern. People feel displaced by rising costs and seniors want to stay in their homes. “I’m grateful. As someone who’s been a lifelong public servant, this is the highest honor of my life, and I am so excited to be able to work on behalf of every single one of us,” she said in an interview Tuesday night. Powell, 32, is the director of workforce strategies for InnovatePGH, a public-private partnership aimed at making the city a leading tech hub. She previously worked in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. “I joke, but truly I’ve had the honor of holding every job in government except this one,” she said previously. Powell will fill the vacancy left by progressive Democrat Sara Innamorato, who resigned in July to pursue local office in Allegheny County. She defeated Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith in the heavily Democratic district.

September 19, 2023

Lead Stories

Gainesville Register - September 19, 2023

Sen. Springer said House didn’t make strong enough case; expects FBI to pick up where Senate trial left off

State Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and 15 other Republican senators voted against each of the 20 articles of impeachment presented. Springer said the House managers failed to convince any of those senators that Paxton was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any of the articles. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not set a clear standard as to whether senators should use civil court standards - which don't require the reasonable doubt line to vote for conviction - or the criminal court standards that do require reasonable doubt. Springer claimed the fact that neither Paxton, Laura Olsson or Nate Paul was compelled to testify led his GOP colleagues to assume a criminal court standard, rather than a civil standard, which does not rely on the reasonable doubt requirement. “It probably is the hardest vote we've ever had to cast. The most challenging thing to do is what you're asked to do as a juror, which is only take into consideration the evidence that is presented,” Springer said.

“Having known Ken for at least a decade, having read stories — especially over the last three years — and a whole lot of things that came up this calendar year even, even prior to the impeachment, it’s tough to say, ‘OK, what was presented and what was not?’ I think that there was some issues with how the articles were written that easily let a several of them be dismissed.” However, Springer said several of the bloc of 16 were close to voting for conviction on a few of those articles. “Trust me, there was at least, I would say, half of them (who) were really close … if it was a civil court standard, I'm sure he would've been convicted on this versus, you know, beyond a reasonable doubt the death penalty standard,” Springer said. The Muenster Republican said he wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI looks into Paxton’s dealings and come up with a stronger case that the one presented to the Texas Senate. He added that he didn’t endorse Paxton’s reelection run in 2022 and wouldn’t consider endorsing him for any future office either.

CNN - September 19, 2023

Trump, who paved way for Roe v. Wade reversal, says Republicans ‘speak very inarticulately’ about abortion

Former President Donald Trump, who paved the way for the undoing of federal abortion rights protections, said that some Republicans “speak very inarticulately” about the issue and have pursued “terrible” state-level restrictions that could alienate much of the country. While avoiding taking specific positions himself, Trump said in an NBC interview that if he is reelected he will try to broker compromises on how long into pregnancies abortion should be legal and whether those restrictions should be imposed on the federal or the state level. “I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something and we’ll end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years,” he said. The former president targeted GOP primary rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his criticism of how the Republican party has handled the issue, calling Florida’s six-week ban “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”

DeSantis’ camp hit back on Sunday, taking aim at the former president for saying he’d be willing to work with both parties on abortion. “We’ve already seen the disastrous results of Donald Trump compromising with Democrats: over $7 trillion in new debt, an unfinished border wall, and the jailbreak First Step Act letting violent criminals back on to the streets. Republicans across the country know that Ron DeSantis will never back down,” tweeted spokesperson Andrew Romeo. Trump also warned Republicans that the party would lose voters by advancing abortion restrictions without exceptions for cases of rape, incest or risks to the mother’s life. “Other than certain parts of the country, you can’t – you’re not going to win on this issue,” he said. Trump’s comments made plain the challenge for 2024 Republican presidential primary contenders: trying to balance the priorities of their conservative base, for whom the Supreme Court’s June 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade was a victory decades in the making, and those of the general electorate, which has consistently supported abortion rights – most recently in the 2022 midterms and the Wisconsin Supreme Court race this spring.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

Reports find investors, energy companies at odds as transition timeline extends

Inflation, high interest rates and supply chain snags are bogging down the energy transition, pushing ambitions to reach net zero emissions further out of reach, according to a new report from energy research firm Wood Mackenzie. Ambitious targets set by the Biden administration are more likely to be met in the 2040s rather than the 2030s as intended, the firm said during a media briefing last week. Roughly $1.9 trillion would be invested annually toward the energy transition if current progress holds, it found. The climate would still warm by another 2 degrees, pushing the planet beyond the threshold deemed critical for averting cascading climate impacts. “No major country is on track to meet their net zero goals,” David Brown, director of WoodMac’s energy transition practice, said during the briefing.

The transition from fossil fuels has become an inexorable force even amid disruptions such as the Ukraine war that have upended the energy market and sparked shortages that slowed the pace of change. But the global energy transition’s track and timeline remain unclear. Massive investments are needed. Even as the reality of the transition is expected to trail ambitions, WoodMac projected oil demand would peak by 2032 and demand for natural gas would peak by 2040. Electricity generated by solar and wind is expected to rush into the void, backed up by battery storage and stable power sources such as nuclear and low-carbon hydrogen. To successfully limit the planet’s warming to 1.5 degrees — the loftiest goal set by the Paris Climate Accords of 2015 — annual investments in the transition would need to jump to $2.7 trillion, consumer behavior would need to change dramatically, oil demand would peak sooner and plunge by 2050, and the rapid deployment of low-carbon hydrogen and carbon capture would be required, WoodMac found. Natural gas is likely to maintain an important role in the world’s energy mix for about 15 years while alternative technologies mature, Brown said. He expects nuclear capacity to double to 768 gigawatts by 2050. Technologies such as hydrogen remain in the development phase and aren’t yet profitable, raising questions about how quickly they can mature, said Dan Pickering, chief investment officer for Pickering Energy Partners.

San Antonio Report - September 19, 2023

Business bets big on Rep. Tony Gonzales' work visa plan

Powerful business groups that have long desired a legal pathway for more foreign workers believe they could finally have a serious opportunity in U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales’ (R-San Antonio) bill to reform the work visa program. Business groups make up some the largest funders of GOP causes nationwide, but their efforts to allow more legal pathways to hire foreign workers hit a wall when Donald Trump fueled a successful presidential campaign around stricter immigration policies in 2016. As labor shortages and inflation continue to frustrate consumers, however, leaders of those groups say they once again see an opening to push for changes that would make it easier to hire foreign workers for longer periods of time. Gonzales’ H-2 Improvements to Relieve Employers Act, known as the HIRE Act, aims to extend the amount of time foreign workers can stay in the U.S. on an H-2 visa from one year to three years, something business leaders say would allow them to plan for the future and train temporary workers for a broader array of jobs.

It also aims to streamline the work visa renewal process by allowing interviews to be conducted remotely instead in person. “Since the [COVID-19] pandemic, people really understand that we need a certain amount of workers that we simply don’t have in this country,” Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), said in an interview after a breakfast meeting Gonzales hosted with local officials and business owners at Southtown’s Casa Hernán on Monday. “From a chamber [of commerce] perspective, it’s time to take advantage of that,” Hamer said. TAB is among a long list of state and national business groups now tapping their connections to make the case for Gonzales’ proposal on Capitol Hill. The HIRE Act already has the support of a numerous agriculture associations, the LIBRE Initiative, which is affiliated with conservative billionaire Charles Koch, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Hamer, who previously led Arizona’s Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that he’s working with other state and local chambers to line up meetings with potential supporters. Meanwhile, Chelsie Kramer, an organizer with the American Immigration Council, said her group has been focused on selling it to some of the most conservative members of Congress. Those efforts are making headway, according to Gonzales.

State Stories

Fort Worth Report - September 19, 2023

Paxton supporters go on attack against Sen. Hancock for his vote

As one of only two Republican state senators who voted to support the unsuccessful impeachment effort to oust Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Tarrant County’s Kelly Hancock is under attack by those seeking retaliation for the historic weeks-long political drama that rocked the state capitol. “I received no less than 36 text messages asking me how to get Kelly out of office — and who we could run against him,” said Tarrant County activist Julie McCarty of Grapevine, CEO of True Texas Project, which was spawned by the tea party and claims legions of followers across North Texas. Paxton is returning to his position as a firebrand state attorney general who is often at war with the Biden Administration after the Texas Senate voted to acquit him of 16 articles of impeachment alleging corruption and abuse of office. It ended the state’s third impeachment in more than a century and the only one in which the targeted official wasn’t convicted.

“It was my constitutional obligation to seek the truth based on the facts made available through witness testimony and documents admitted into evidence, then vote accordingly,” Sen. Hancock said in a statement issued after his vote. “My vote on each article reflects that responsibility, and none was taken lightly.” Hancock was unavailable for comment on Monday. Hancock, of North Richland Hills, and Robert Nichols, of Jacksonville, broke with the rest of their party in the Senate as each voted for a total of 13 House-passed impeachment articles aimed at permanently removing the suspended attorney general, including dereliction of duty, abuse of public trust and unfitness for office, according to the Texas Tribune. But Paxton supporters vowed future repercussions against those who tried to bring him down and the two senators were facing threatening criticism across the social media landscape in the aftermath of Saturday’s vote. House Republicans who voted overwhelmingly to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate are also on the political hit list. The head of one of the state’s leading fundraising organizations aligned with Paxton forces told the Fort Worth Report that Hancock and Nichols were “voting against the will of their Republican voters” in casting their votes on Saturday. “Voters in their districts will be very disappointed and frustrated,” Luke Macias, director of the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, said in a telephone interview on Monday. “Sen. Hancock made his decision and aligned himself with the Democrat Party and their agenda and the liberals in the Texas House. And I think that he lost a lot of support from people who have supported him for a long time.”

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

ERCOT CEO talks Texas grid emergency, conservation requests and rising demand on the grid

An extraordinarily hot summer tested Texans and the power grid that was to keep them cool during the day and the lights on at night. As weeks of triple-digit temperatures settled over the state, demand on the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s power grid operator skyrocketed, setting 10 all-time demand records. As industry and people are increasingly drawn to the state, ERCOT has struggled to balance the explosion of demand on the grid with available supply, asking Texans to conserve electricity use on nearly a dozen days this summer. On Sept. 6, the state's grid briefly experienced its first emergency since the deadly 2021 blackouts. The emergency order came days after ERCOT, which controls the flow of electricity across 90% of Texas and acts as the trading floor for the wholesale electricity market, reshuffled its leadership ranks, promoting Woody Rickerson to the newly created position of senior vice president and chief operating officer from vice president of system planning and weatherization.

What grade would you give ERCOT’s performance this summer? "I think ERCOT and the electric market overall, because it's a team effort to deliver the electric services in Texas, did an outstanding job this summer. I'd give them a strong A. They were challenged, we've all been challenged with extreme heat. This has been an unprecedentedly hot summer, and being able to get through that with the support of all the market, with the support of Texans who responded really well during conservation calls, is really quite an accomplishment. I think we should feel good about how the summer went, given how challenging it was," he said. Sept. 6 was the first time Texas had a grid emergency since the 2021 blackouts. ERCOT is still in the process of investigating exactly what happened, but how close were we to rotating outages that night? "I think a lot of people equate being in emergency operations with proximity to controlled outages, and that's not necessarily the case. In this case, this is one where we went into emergency operations and right to the second level of it, to specifically to avail of some resources that we had only available in EEA 2. By being able to utilize that, it avoided the need to have any further risk on the system and to get into controlled outages. So, we never expected to get into controlled outages on Sept. 6," he said.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

Rice marching band mocks Houston ISD superintendent with Austin Powers-inspired halftime show

Rice University’s marching band mocked state-appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles during the halftime show at Saturday’s football game against Texas Southern University. The small band, known as The Mob, performed a brief “Austin Powers”-themed show characterizing Miles as Dr. Evil — the main antagonist of the popular movie series. The show criticizes Miles’ removal of librarians at around 85 HISD schools and his song-and-dance skit during the district’s annual convocation ceremony. “Ever since taking over the Houston school board, Dr. Evil has been working on his plan to brainwash his new army of mini-me's,” the student announcer says to begin the show. “Watch as he fires the teachers and principals to institute total control.”

HISD declined to comment on the performance. Over the weekend, Miles posted on Linkedin: "There is so much misinformation that it would be hard for even serious people to know what is going on in the Houston school district." Ethan Goore, a co-executive producer of the show, said The Mob aims to use their platform to try and address injustices in society through their performances. He said the band chose an “Austin Powers” theme partially because Miles’ name sounds similar to Mike Myers, the actor who plays Dr. Evil in the movie series. “We've been hearing a lot from teachers that we know and parents who have kids in the HISD system that they are not completely satisfied with what's going on currently, and that they wanted there to be more awareness about the issue,” said Goore, a junior at Rice. “That's really where we jump in, and the way that we do it is through our halftime shows.” The show, titled “Mob-stin Powers: The Superintendent Who Fired Me,” opens with students forming an “H” on the field and playing “Evil Ways.” One band member, playing Miles, lightly bonks another band member on the head with a screw-shaped sign saying “Fired” and the student falls on the field.

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2023

SAISD proposes 17 school closures for 2024-25 school year, 2 more in 25-26

The San Antonio Independent School District will recommend the closure of 17 schools before the 2024-25 school year, and two more the following year, in a plan to consolidate its overextended resources after decades of declining enrollment. The SAISD board heard the draft recommendation on “rightsizing” after a lengthy presentation Monday evening that followed more than dozens of public speakers. Three school mergers and the redesign of two campuses are included in the proposal. Two early childhood centers, Knox, Tynan and Nelson, would close next school year, along with 12 elementary schools: Lamar, Pershing, Gates, Miller, Douglass, Forbes, Collins Garden, Highland Park, Riverside Park, Ogden, Storm, Baskin and Huppertz, and the Beacon Hill Academy. Foster and Highland Park elementary schools would close as early as the following year. Lowell Middle School would merge with Kelly Elementary School next school year. Washington Elementary, currently a pre-k through sixth grade school, would top off at the fifth grade.

As a result of the changes, 23 schools would have more students. District officials have said they’ll provide opportunities for community input on the recommendation, and that it could be changed before the board votes on a final package of closures and consolidations on Nov. 13. More community meetings are planned in each of the district’s seven high school feeder regions. There’s no guarantee the proposal will pass. The process started in June, when the board voted 5-2 to support a study of the district’s school buildings, capacity and current use. Trustees Sarah Sorensen and Stephanie Torres said they were worried the district was moving too quickly toward changes that could disrupt school communities and lead to further enrollment declines. On Monday, Sorensen said she had serious concerns about the draft recommendation. “We need more time. And I think we need more information,” she said. Superintendent Jaime Aquino said the district has no real choice, even though “nobody wants to close schools.” The changes would help provide more equity in basic services, such as police protection and mental health support, he said.

KXAN - September 19, 2023

Report: UT Austin ranked 9th best public university in the nation

Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the University of Texas at Austin’s ranking among public universities across the country. U.S. News & World Report released its 2024 undergraduate rankings, with the Longhorns ranked the ninth-best public university in the country and No. 1 among public universities in Texas. Overall, UT ranks No. 32 among both public and private schools this year, climbing six places from its 2023 ranking. Within the university, the McCombs School of Business ranked No. 5 in the country, with 12 of its school specialties listed among U.S. News & World Report’s Top 10. Its accounting program retained its No. 1 listing. The Cockrell School of Engineering came in at No. 11 nationwide, with six of its specialties ranked among the Top 10. The computer science program landed at No. 11, with five specialties included within the Top 10.

“UT’s continued upward rankings trajectory is a reflection of the exceptional talent we continue to attract; our commitment to unmatched academic, research and campus experiences that are life-changing and affordable; and the opportunities that exist in Austin as an innovation and cultural hub,” UT Austin President Jay Hartzell said in the release. “Many of our top-ranked programs in computer science, artificial intelligence, engineering, design, business and psychology are major contributors to the U.S. economy and position our graduates for tremendous career opportunities, where they can have significant impact and change the world.” The U.S. News & World Report incorporates 19 measures and criteria into its undergraduate program rankings. Those include graduation rates and student outcomes, faculty resources, expert opinions, financial resources and student excellence, per the release.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

HISD's Miles says teachers must get approval for any time off, could fire those who go overboard

Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles released new directives on Friday requiring teachers to receive approval for any kind of absence, including sick days, and threatening to fire those who use more than the 10 days of leave allocated to them by the district and the state. Miles updated the district's regulations in an effort to encourage "strong staff attendance" and communication between teachers and principals, he said, noting that similar policies had been used at HISD in the past but rarely enforced. Among other changes coming are a crackdown on "docked days," in which employees request leave without pay after they've used their allocated days off. The Board of Managers already amended the district's policy in August to reduce the number of consecutive discretionary days a teacher can take to two from three, and reduce the number of consecutive sick days without a doctor's note to three from seven.

The Texas Education Code dictates that districts must provide employees at least five days of leave but does not otherwise specify whether employees must seek approval for non-discretionary absences such as sick days. In cases of discretionary leave, supervisors can consider how an absence might impact school operations but cannot reject an application for time off based on the reason for the absence, according to HISD policy. Miles distributed the new guidelines to principals on Friday but school leaders already began communicating the new emphasis on attendance to their staffs earlier this week, according to multiple teachers in the district. One high school teacher, who asked to remain anonymous to protect relationships at his school, said his principal informed their staff earlier this week that they had been told to fire anyone who uses all 10 of their leave days by February and that anyone who had used four days of leave by October would be on track for termination. The teacher, who has been with the district for three years, has already used two days off this year — one to take care of a dental issue and the other to look after his daughter. He fears what will happen if his asthma flares up and he has to sit out for one or two more days.

Associated Press - September 19, 2023

Rapper Travis Scott is questioned over deadly crowd surge at Texas festival in wave of lawsuits

Rap superstar Travis Scott was questioned for several hours on Monday in a civil deposition he gave in connection with hundreds of lawsuits that were filed against him and others over the deaths and injuries at the 2021 Astroworld festival. Scott was questioned in Houston during a deposition that lasted around eight hours, two people with knowledge about the litigation said. Lawyers and others connected to the civil lawsuits are under a gag order, preventing them from saying little beyond what happens during court hearings. “Travis Scott’s deposition is typical legal procedure. What is not typical is how the media continues to focus on him despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by extensive government investigations, including by the Houston Police Department," Ted Anastasiou, a spokesperson for Scott, said in a statement. “Travis is fully cooperating with the legal process while still remaining committed to his tour in support of his record-breaking album, ‘Utopia,’ and his charitable efforts to support at-risk communities.”

Following an investigation by Houston Police, no charges were filed against Scott after a grand jury in June declined to indict him and five other people on any criminal counts related to the deadly concert. Police Chief Troy Finner declined to say what the overall conclusion of his agency’s investigation was. In July, the police department made public its nearly 1,300-page investigative report in which festival workers highlighted problems and warned of possible deadly consequences. According to a summary in the investigative report of a police interview conducted two days after the concert, Scott told investigators that although he did see one person near the stage getting medical attention, overall the crowd seemed to be enjoying the show and he did not see any signs of serious problems. This was the first time Scott was questioned by attorneys for those who have filed lawsuits since a crowd surge at his Nov. 5, 2021, concert in Houston killed 10 festivalgoers. Those killed, who ranged in age from 9 to 27, died from compression asphyxia, which an expert likened to being crushed by a car. Similar crushes have happened all over the world, from a soccer stadium in England to the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to Halloween festivities in the South Korean capital. Most people who who die in crowd surges suffocate.

Texas Rural Reporter - September 19, 2023

Suzanne Bellsnyder: Lt Gov Dan Patrick ‘s bias influenced the outcome of Paxton's acquittal

(Suzanne Bellsnyder is former chief of staff to Sen. Florence Shapiro.) Lt Governor Dan Patrick, as leader of the Texas Senate, conducted a sham trial while claiming to be unbiased in the impeachment hearing of Ken Paxton and had us all fooled. Immediately following the vote to acquit Paxton on the 16 charges, and from the dais where he presided as the "impartial" Judge in the case, Dan Patrick revealed to Texans his bias immediately with an emboldened speech admonishing the House for their handling of the impeachment. But in fact, it was in the Senate where corruption was pervasive amongst Paxton, Patrick, and the like. No matter how perfect the case in the House had been, an acquittal was likely in the cards for Paxton. We can look at Patrick's calculated decisions and clearly see how impeachment was dead on arrival in the Senate.

Patrick could not be an unbiased judge and should have stepped aside. The Rules passed by the Senate allowed Patrick to appoint a jurist to serve as the Court's presiding officer. Paxton and Patrick have a long history as political allies, and most alarmingly, they are both funded by billionaires Tim Dunn and Wilkes Brothers through the Defend Liberty PAC. The PAC made a $3M combined contribution and forgivable loan to Patrick in June, leading up to the trial. Patrick is not an attorney and has no experience, and this was a critical decision, as Patrick's bias could not be overcome. Patrick veiled his intentions by claiming he would do his "duty", but he made several critical decisions in the trial, which provided an advantage for the defense. Patrick ruled on the first day that Paxton would not be compelled to testify nor required to attend the trial. This was the first signal of his intention to shield his friend, Paxton, from public scrutiny. A more obvious bias was his tolerance of the ridiculous and ongoing "hearsay" objections made by Paxton's attorney, Tony Buzbee, which contributed to confusion during the line of questioning around several vital witnesses. It was also revealed following the trial that Patrick had ruled in favor of the defense regarding the admission of critical testimony by Paxton's mistress. The bribery charges related to the mistress were at the heart of why Paxton was helping his friend Nate Paul, and there was no doubt the mistress's testimony would be damning to the defense. And, then, there are the seriously concerning conflicts of interest that were allowed to influence the trial. The impeachment charges were extraordinary in that three Senators and the Lt Governor himself had conflicts of interest related directly to the events involved in this case.

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2023

SMU raised $100 million in seven days following ACC announcement, school says

It’s safe to say the SMU community is ready for its much-anticipated move to a Power Five conference. The school announced at the beginning of the month that the Mustangs would be moving from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) starting in 2024-25. In the time since the conference shift, financial support for the SMU athletic program has boomed. The school said Monday it raised $100 million to support the Mustangs’ transition in the first seven days after the ACC announcement. “This is an unprecedented financial commitment from a core group of donors who have understood from the beginning that moving to the ACC will be transformational for our university on both athletic and academic levels,” said SMU president R. Gerald Turner in a statement.

“While there is still much work to be done, the ability to rally this kind of support in just one short week demonstrates that SMU and Dallas recognize the excellence of this opportunity and are stepping up to support it.” Money was a main selling point for SMU to ACC schools opposed to expansion. The Mustangs are expected to forgo nine years of television revenue from the conference, a person with knowledge of the information told The Dallas Morning News. A group of thirty donors have laid the groundwork for the school to help begin counteracting some of the financial sacrifices. “SMU is entering an exciting new era, made possible in large part by this small core group of donors,” said SMU athletic director Rick Hart. In addition to the $100 million in donations, the school said media coverage of the ACC move generated more than $163 million in advertising value in the first three days following the announcement. “To be able to raise this level of support in such a short period of time is astounding. It is an incredible start in our campaign to position SMU to compete for championships. I cannot express how grateful I am for the visionary leadership it demonstrates,” said David B. Miller, chair of the SMU Board of Trustees.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

Donald Trump says his ‘intervention’ saved AG Ken Paxton from ‘going down’ on impeachment charges

Former President Donald Trump says he’s the reason why Attorney General Ken Paxton survived a historic impeachment effort. On Monday, Trump said his eleventh-hour panning of the “shameful” proceedings helped swing the Senate to acquit Paxton on all 16 impeachment charges. “Yes, it is true that my intervention through TRUTH SOCIAL saved Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from going down at the hands of Democrats and some Republicans,” Trump posted on his social media platform, Truth Social.

There is no evidence Trump’s statement, which cast the trial as an attempt by “establishment RINOs” to undo Paxton’s reelection last year, played a decisive role in the senators’ decision. Only two of the chamber’s 19 Republicans found Paxton guilty on a dozen charges. The rest voted to acquit the third-term attorney general on all the impeachment articles. Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, the attorney general's wife, did not vote. Trump also asserted, without evidence, that former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan had been involved in the push to oust Paxton from office. “Ken has been a great A.G., and now he can go back to work for the wonderful people of Texas,” Trump wrote. “It was my honor to have helped correct this injustice!” Paxton is a close ally of the former president and waged an unsuccessful legal challenge to Trump’s loss in the 2020 presidential election. Trump endorsed Paxton in last year’s GOP primary and unsuccessfully urged House Republicans not to impeach Paxton just hours before the historic vote in May.

KUT - September 19, 2023

Huston-Tillotson University wants to improve maternal health outcomes by training more doulas

Huston-Tillotson University is launching a program that will train doulas, midwives and lactation consultants in an effort to combat Texas’ high maternal mortality rates, especially among Black women. The historically Black university announced the new partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas on Thursday. Known as Boldly B.L.U.E (birthing, learning, understanding and empowering), the program aims to bring more diverse and “culturally aligned” birth experts into the workforce. Chevalier DeShay, senior director of network management for BCBSTX and a Huston-Tillotson alum, said she and her colleagues became interested in exploring this partnership after being repeatedly confronted with dismaying data about pregnancy-related deaths in Texas. “[We had] heard one more troubling statistic about health outcomes for Texas moms and babies — especially those of color,” DeShay said.

In 2022, the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and Department of State Health Services released their most recent joint biennial report, which looked at data from 2019. It determined that at least 52 Texas women had died due to pregnancy-related causes that year. Ninety percent of these deaths were thought to be preventable. Furthermore, the number of Black women who experienced severe maternal morbidities — or health issues that come as a result of giving birth — sharply increased between 2018 and 2020, according to provisional data. As one solution for these outcomes, members of the committee lobbied for the state’s Legislature to extend Medicaid coverage from two months to a full year after childbirth; the measure passed. But the report laid out additional improvements needed to move the needle, including to engage Black communities in developing maternal health programs and to increase the capacity of the maternal health workforce. The new program at Huston-Tillotson aims to tackle both these goals. “We're going to increase and diversify the maternal health workforce in Central Texas so that birthing people can more easily access culturally aligned, continuous care,” said Amanda Masino, the university’s chair of Natural Sciences.

San Antonio Report - September 19, 2023

Marc LaHood will primary GOP state Rep. Steve Allison

San Antonio attorney Marc LaHood, who ran unsuccessfully for Bexar County District Attorney in 2022, will challenge state Rep. Steve Allison, who represents Texas’ 121st House District, in the Republican primary in March. “I ran for district attorney because I believed that the safety and prosperity of my family and our community was threatened by the dangerous policies and decisions being made by Democrat Joe Gonzales,” LaHood said in a statement Monday. “I am stepping up now because I believe our state and nation are at a crisis point, and it is time for bold, unapologetic conservative leadership in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said. LaHood’s tough-on-crime campaign for district attorney raised significant money and attention in 2022, but he lost to Gonzales 44% to 56%.

Texas’ 121st House District was represented by former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, who surprised local Republicans when he decided not to seek reelection in 2018. Allison, a business attorney and former Alamo Heights ISD president, emerged from a crowded Republican primary to succeed Straus and has held the seat easily since then, despite Democrats’ best efforts to put it in play. The district includes Alamo Heights, Olmos Park, Terrell Hills and portions of Hollywood Park. Under new maps drawn after the 2020 census it would have supported President Donald Trump by 2.3% in 2020, but includes many of the wealthy, suburban voters that GOP strategists say have been moving into the Democratic Party in recent years. Still, Allison was reelected with more than 55% of the vote in 2022. He enjoyed more than $500,000 in campaign help from Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, Associated Republicans of Texas and other GOP-aligned groups. Allison occasionally splits from his party on issues related to public education, including opposing school vouchers. On other social issues, he’s been largely in line with the party’s conservative wing.

KXAN - September 19, 2023

Georgetown ISD board unanimously approves resolution to accept chaplains as volunteers

The Georgetown Independent School District unanimously approved a resolution to accept chaplains as volunteers, with six trustees voting in favor of the resolution on Monday during a board meeting. Trustee Cody Hirt was absent. In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 763 into law, which permits school districts to use school safety funding to hire chaplains or allow them to volunteer in public schools. After the vote, GISD board member Anthony Blankenship made a comment, saying when people from the community reach out, their voice and concerns are heard. “I just want to reiterate that my vote for this in no way is voting to remove counselors, replace counselors, [or] play any sort of political or religious favoritism within our public schools,” he said. “I understand the importance of keeping these things separate. We already have this system in place. I just want to make sure that those who are in the community who are gracious enough to volunteer their time and their effort and their energy to our precious, loved children, still have the avenue to do so.”

SB 763 does not require chaplains to have any certification, unlike school counselors, who are required to hold a certification from the State Board for Educator Certification. The law went into effect on Sept. 1. School districts and the governing bodies of open-enrollment charter schools are required to, before March 2024, hold a vote on if they will authorize school chaplains. More than 100 Texas chaplains issued a letter in August urging school board members in the state to keep chaplains out of public schools. The chaplains who signed the letter said the chaplaincy programs are an “affront to the religious freedom rights of students and parents as well as church-state separation, and the programs would take funding away from trained mental health professionals who are better equipped to serve students.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 19, 2023

Fort Worth ISD eyes joining suit over new Texas school ratings

The Fort Worth Independent School District could be joining the growing list of districts across the state that are suing Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath over the Texas Education Agency’s accountability ratings system, which is changing this year. The school board has called for a special meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday to consider joining the lawsuit, according to district spokesperson Cesar Padilla. The lawsuit revolves around a new criteria for grading schools that districts say will harm their performance ratings, even if performance improved, by way of “retroactively changing the rules,” the lawsuit filed on Aug. 23 reads.

TEA doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters, agency spokesperson Melissa Holmes told the Star-Telegram on Friday. The A-F ratings for districts and schools are based on standardized test results, annual academic growth, graduation rates and more. Adjustments within the academic growth category are being made this year, as districts saw a big jump within the category in 2022 after students returning to the classroom following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Texas Tribune. TEA wanted to account for test scores rebounding to pre-pandemic levels and predicted steep declines in ratings if those factors weren’t addressed. The agency announced this week that it would be delaying the release of the ratings, originally scheduled for Sept. 28, by about a month. The agency said “further re-examination of the baseline data” was required “to ensure ratings reflect the most appropriate goals for students.”

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2023

Dallas County sheriff announces run for reelection

Sheriff Marian Brown announced Monday that she’s in the race to keep her seat as the top law enforcement officer in Dallas County. Brown will face off against her former boss, Lupe Valdez, and newcomer Rodney Thomas in next year’s Democratic primary in the race to remain the top elected official overseeing the sheriff’s department and county jail. Brown was first appointed to the position in 2017 after Valdez resigned to run for governor. Brown is the first Black woman to hold the position, winning elections in 2018 and 2020. Valdez is running for her fifth term as sheriff. Thomas’ experience includes 24 years in federal law enforcement. Thomas said this is his first run for office.

Brown steered the county’s law enforcement branch during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under her oversight, the county jail passed its state inspection this year, after previously failing in 2021 and 2022. “I am proud of the work we have done, especially during the difficult days of COVID-19. We are daily focused on our jail operations, and we are doing all we can to make Dallas County safer,” Brown said in a statement. “I am honored to have strong support from those who know my work and commitment to serve.” The jail has struggled with staffing shortages, leading to $230 million in overtime last year. Some officials worry that an aging jail guard population could lead to large-scale vacancies within the next decade. Brown previously told The Dallas Morning News that her department is looking to attract more high school graduates for jobs. “We have to step up our game to reach out to those young people,” Brown said in May. “And we do that by piquing their curiosity, bringing them in.” The jail has also been a focal point of countywide technical plagues this year. Sheriff’s department employees were the first to voice concerns about countywide payroll software changes that left them with inaccurate pay and time off. Some filed complaints with the federal government, sparking an investigation.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

Sheriff's office reports 13th Harris County Jail death of 2023

A 66-year-old inmate died Saturday afternoon after suffering a medical emergency at the Harris County Jail, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. Alfred Rios, 66, was rushed to a hospital after suffering the emergency in a dayroom in the jail's medical ward, according to the sheriff's office. He died at the hospital, the department said. He was the 13th person this year to die while in jail custody and the second this month. Rios had been an inmate at the jail since March 2021, when he was arrested on sexual assault charges, according to court documents. Court documents note the charges were dismissed, but it's unclear when or for what reason. Rios' defense attorney, Nathan Hennigan, wasn't immediately available for comment.

The sheriff's office said Rios didn't have any obvious physical injuries. The Texas Rangers and the Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs Division were investigating to determine if any laws or policies were broken in relation to Rios' death. Outside investigations are required after an in-custody death, and internal investigations are standard, according to the sheriff's office. All of the 13 people who have died at the jail this year have been men. According to medical records, five of the deaths were determined to be from natural causes, and a sixth was determined to be an accident due to the toxic effects of methamphetamine. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences hadn't declared a cause or manner of death in seven other cases, including Rios', as of Monday. The sheriff's office blamed five of the pending cases on unspecified medical emergencies, one on suicide and called one a possible drug overdose. There were 27 jail deaths in 2022 and another 21 in 2021. The Harris County Jail was declared out of compliance with state jail standards in August 2022 and was cited three more times after that. State inspections criticized the jail's ability to triage patients in non-emergency situations, its performance in providing inmates their prescribed medications on time and its ability to provide regular checks on inmates.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 19, 2023

What’s next for the Tarrant Appraisal District?

When the Tarrant Appraisal District board of directors met on Aug. 11, the board didn’t plan to gather again until mid-November. But within three weeks, the board was faced with a lengthy to-do list, ensuring members will see a lot more of each other than expected before the end of the year. Here’s what happened: The Star-Telegram exposed comments made by Cal Wood, who at the time was TAD’s head of information systems, suggesting TAD lie to the media about ongoing tech issues. The board attorney Matthew Tepper conducted an investigation into the comments. Wood was terminated. Aug. 25.

However, taxing entities frustrated with TAD’s lack of transparency wanted to see leadership changes at the top. Three days after the Tarrant County commissioners took a vote of no confidence in Chief Appraiser Jeff Law, he resigned. The board met Monday to chart a path forward, including choosing an interim leader while a permanent replacement is selected. After a two-and-a-half-hour closed session, the board voted to bring in a third party to determine whether the agency’s computer system was hacked. The agency’s website went down last fall. Law said it was related to planned security updates. But the planned updates weren’t communicated to the board beforehand. Less than a month later, on Nov. 8, 2022, the Dallas Central Appraisal District website was hacked. Former TAD employee Patricia Nolan told the Star-Telegram that TAD was hacked, and the hack was essentially an open secret among employees. In prior board meetings, Wood and Law were directly asked if TAD’s computers were hacked. Both said no. Moreover, the Star-Telegram asked Law multiple times if TAD was hacked. He repeatedly denied it.

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2023

Dallas County public defender arrested, accused of ‘personal relationship’ with inmate

A woman was arrested last week and accused of abusing her role as a public defender to gain access to Dallas County jail and records, authorities said. Ragan Sierra Moreno, who had been worked for Dallas County for about eight months, was arrested Thursday and charged with abusing her official capacity, according to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. A Dallas County jail employee saw Moreno “spending an inordinate amount of time” with an inmate who was not her client, the sheriff’s office said in a Monday news release. Investigators from the sheriff’s office determined that Moreno had a “personal relationship” with the inmate, the release stated. “She apparently used her Dallas County ID to gain access to the inmate and criminal records of another inmate,” the sheriff’s office said.

City Stories

San Antonio Report - September 19, 2023

Marc Whyte: Reproductive Justice Fund is outside the scope of city government

(San Antonio District 10 City Councilman Marc Whyte is practicing business attorney who has served on the Zoning Commission and the Texas Transportation Advisory Commission.) Much of the budget just passed by the City of San Antonio for fiscal year 2024 is good for our city. Over the past few months, my office fought to get the funding for the 100 additional police officers that will now be patrolling the streets of San Antonio. We also got the funding to provide the police with bulletproof glass for their vehicles so we can keep our brave men and women safe while on patrol. Further, we were able to secure an unprecedented amount of money in this budget for infrastructure for District 10 and the other districts. And regarding homeless encampments, the budget now gives the city money to meet its commitment to clean up all identified encampments within two weeks. Because of this, and up until 10 days ago, I was ready to vote “yes” on the budget. But at the 11th hour, several of my council colleagues proposed a budget amendment of $500,000 for what they named a Reproductive Justice Fund.

They suggested funding this through additional CPS revenue received by the city. The City of San Antonio has already dedicated more than $16 million towards women’s health in the coming year. That fact, combined with public comments made by various council members regarding which organizations should get a piece of the $500,000, made clear that the intent of the Reproductive Justice Fund is to give money to groups who will pay for San Antonians to travel to other states to have abortions. This is where I have a problem. Make no mistake about it, this is not about my feelings on the sensitive topic of abortion. Nor should it be about any of the other council members’ positions on the issue. This is about the role of city government. This is about what our city government should and should not be spending your tax dollars on. Ahead of the budget vote, I proposed an amendment that would allow the $500,000 to go towards women’s health care but restrict the funds from going to organizations that pay the travel and related expenses for those seeking an out-of-state abortion. My proposal was voted down by my council colleagues. I then requested that we have separate votes on the Reproductive Justice Fund and the remainder of the budget. After my council colleagues rejected that request, I chose to abstain from the final passage of the budget. This is not about culture wars or Republicans versus Democrats.

National Stories

Washington Post - September 19, 2023

Her students reported her for a lesson on race. Can she trust them again?

As gold sunlight filtered into her kitchen, English teacher Mary Wood shouldered a worn leather bag packed with first-day-of-school items: Three lesson-planning notebooks. Two peanut butter granola bars. An extra pair of socks, just in case. Everything was ready, but Wood didn’t leave. For the first time since she started teaching 14 years ago, she was scared to go back to school. Six months earlier, two of Wood’s Advanced Placement English Language and Composition students had reported her to the school board for teaching about race. Wood had assigned her all-White class readings from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” a book that dissects what it means to be Black in America. The students wrote in emails that the book — and accompanying videos that Wood, 47, played about systemic racism — made them ashamed to be White, violating a South Carolina proviso that forbids teachers from making students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race.

Reading Coates’s book felt like “reading hate propaganda towards white people,” one student wrote. At least two parents complained, too. Within days, school administrators ordered Wood to stop teaching the lesson. They placed a formal letter of reprimand in her file. It instructed her to keep teaching “without discussing this issue with your students.” Wood finished out the spring semester feeling defeated and betrayed — not only by her students, but by the school system that raised her. The high school Wood teaches at is the same one she attended. It had been a long summer since. Wood’s predicament, when it became public in a local newspaper, divided her town. At school board meetings, and in online Facebook groups, the citizens of wealthy, White and conservative Chapin debated whether Wood should be fired. Republican state representatives showed up to a June meeting to blast her as a lawbreaker. The next month, a county NAACP leader declared her an “advocate for the education of all students.” The county GOP party formally censured the school board chair for failing to discipline Wood. Wood’s case drew national, polarizing attention. Conservative outlets and commentators decried Wood’s “race-shaming against White people.” Left-leaning media declared her a martyr to “cancel culture,” the latest casualty of raging debates over how to teach race, racism and history that have engulfed the country since the coronavirus pandemic.

NPR - September 19, 2023

Zelenskyy is set to visit the U.S. as GOP opposition to Ukraine aid grows

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy travels to Washington this week to press for additional funding for the war with Russia. President Biden has Congress to approve $24 billion in new funding. When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returns to the U.S. this week to extend his hand in Washington, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be at the front of the line to grasp it. In recent weeks, the Kentucky Republican has been making a concerted public case for continued material and financial aid to Ukraine to support its fight against the Russian invasion.

"Helping Ukraine retake its territory means weakening — weakening — one of America's biggest strategic adversaries without firing a shot," he said in a recent floor speech. With Democrats in near lockstep behind President Biden in support for Ukraine funding, McConnell's message is clearly directed at members of his own party who are ready to cut off aid. Last month, President Biden asked Congress to approve an additional $24 billion as part of a broader $40 billion emergency spending package. The Ukraine money is now stuck in limbo as part of a complicated fight over spending that is pitting Republicans against one another and the House against the Senate. Congress has less than two weeks to avoid a shutdown at the end of the month, and McConnell wants to pass Ukraine aid on the same timeline, but there is little urgency among Republicans. "There's no national security interest for us in Ukraine, and even if there were, it would be trumped by the fact that we have no money," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. His long-held opposition to essentially all foreign intervention once made Paul a fringe thinker in the party, but the rise of Trumpian, American First ideology now aligns Paul with a super-majority of Republican voters. An August CNN poll showed that a majority of Americans, 55%, say Congress should not authorize more funding for Ukraine. The opposition is driven by a sharply polarized electorate, with 71% of Republicans opposing new funding, compared to 62% of Democrats who said they support additional funding.

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2023

GOP moves to block rules upgrading transformers amid supply chain concerns

An effort by the Biden administration to make power transformers more efficient is drawing pushback from power utilities, manufacturers and real estate developers, who maintain the new standards will exacerbate an existing shortage of the equipment threatening the flow of electricity across power grids in Texas and other states. House Republicans have introduced legislation blocking the Department of Energy from implementing new standards scheduled to go into effect in 2027 for five years in an effort to allow manufacturers to adjust their supply chains. “This new rulemaking would increase efficiency only a fraction of a percentage point but would significantly disrupt production of transformers, which utilities already have difficulty procuring,” Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Grid Security, said at a hearing last week. “Many of us on this committee have heard from utilities about the shortage of transformers that allow manufacturing and residential development to happen.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Energy said it was working with power utilities and others to “identify the underlying factors leading to this supply-demand imbalance for distribution transformers.” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in December that efficiency gains from the new standard would prevent 340 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next three decades and “enhance the resilience of our nation’s energy grid and make it possible to deliver affordable electrical power to consumers in every corner of America.” The effort to block the new regulations comes as homebuilders in Texas and other fast-growing parts of the country have had to delay construction as they await delivery of transformers that feed power service to new housing developments. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents power utilities, warned the administration earlier this year that wait times for transformers can now extend up to two years, compared to a few months in 2020, due to global supply chain disruptions and growing demand for electrical equipment worldwide. It said the new standard would exacerbate the delays, requiring the use of a type of steel that is not in wide production in the United States. “At the present time, most transformers do not use amorphous core steel and the shift that DOE expects to its production has not yet occurred, meaning that access currently — and in the next several years — to transformers that would comply with the proposed standards is constrained,” the institute wrote.

Hollywood Reporter - September 19, 2023

The 16-year saga to build the Fontainebleau, Las Vegas' hottest new hotel: "It could be a very good movie"

The cinematic quality of the long journey to open the doors of Fontainebleau Las Vegas is not lost on Jeff Soffer, the resort’s chairman and CEO. “It could be a very good book or movie,” Soffer says of the dramatic sequence of events surrounding one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of the hospitality business. Intended to be the sister property of the legendary Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel — the southeast stomping grounds of Rat Pack legends like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr, regarded as America’s first mega-resort — the Fontainebleau Las Vegas broke ground under Soffer’s direction in 2007. He acquired the land in 2000. The hotel tower topped off in 2008. By the following year, banks collapsed, funding dried up, lawsuits were filed and construction stopped.

What was planned as the tallest tower in the state of Nevada, at 67 stories, remained in limbo for 12 years, 70 percent complete. It stood as a costly reminder of the Great Recession, which hit Southern Nevada hard. The unfinished edifice was regarded as an eyesore by those who encountered it day in and day out. Many believed it would never be finished and eventually torn down. Several owners came and went before Soffer and Fontainebleau Development, in partnership with Koch Real Estate Investments, reacquired the property in 2021. Plans were unveiled, construction started up again and the 3,644-room resort will finally open December 13, 2023, ahead of Fontainebleau Miami’s 70th anniversary, in 2024. “You could be the best businessman in the world but if you don’t have good timing …” says Soffer of the project’s long dormancy. In the end, though, “everything just sort of lined up.” When Soffer found out Fontainebleau Las Vegas was back on, one of his first calls was to Miami-based hospitality entrepreneur and restaurateur David Grutman, who was moments away from signing a long-anticipated deal with another Las Vegas casino-resort. “He said, ‘do not sign this deal. I’m going to get the Fontainebleau Las Vegas back. I’m going to need you,” recounts Grutman, whose celebrity-favored venues in Miami include the Goodtime Hotel, the nightclub LIV, and restaurants Komodo, Papi Steak, Strawberry Moon, Swan, Gekk? and The Key Club.

The Hill - September 19, 2023

Howard Stern says being called ‘woke’ is a compliment: ‘I’m not for stupidity’

Howard Stern is embracing being called “woke,” saying he wants “to be awake.” “I kind of take that as a compliment, that I’m ‘woke,’” the SiriusXM host told listeners of his eponymous show Monday in response to a YouTube personality applying the term to him. “To me, the opposite of woke is being asleep,” Stern, 69, said. “And if woke means I can’t get behind [former President Trump], which is what I think it means, or that I support people who want to be transgender, or I’m for the vaccine — dude, call me woke as you f???ing want,” Stern exclaimed. “I’m not for stupidity,” he continued, saying he recently received the latest updated COVID-19 vaccine. “F???in’ science. This f???ing country is so great,” he said. “I am woke, motherf???er. And I love it.”

“I want to read legitimate news sources. Here’s how woke I am: I believe the election was not rigged,” Stern said of Trump’s unfounded claims of mass electoral fraud in the 2020 presidential race. “I’m woke. I think that’s a compliment,” added Stern, who frequently hosted Trump as a guest on his radio show before the New York real estate developer entered politics. In the past, the veteran broadcaster referred to Trump as a friend, but Stern grew increasingly critical of the 45th commander in chief during his presidency, slamming him for his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “These guys who I see on the internet who say they’re not woke, but they seem to be really angry, super against gay people — especially transgender,” Stern said. “Am I for kids being able to read about anything in school? Yeah, I am. I don’t give a s??? what kids read,” he said of book bans in Republican-led states. “Give me vaccines, man. I’m all for it,” the “Howard Stern Comes Again” author said. “I like being woke, if that’s what woke means,” he told listeners. “So I guess somewhere the rap is I used to be good, but now I’m woke,” Stern added, before concluding, “I think I always was awake.”

NPR - September 19, 2023

Debris has been located in search for the F-35 jet that went missing

A pilot ejected from an F-35B Lightning II near Charleston, S.C., prompting a search for the advanced fighter jet. The plane is from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501; an F-35 from the squadron is seen here at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, south of Charleston. Lance Cpl. Kyle Baskin/Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort A debris field has been identified as the remains of an F-35 fighter jet that went missing Sunday north of Charleston, S.C., officials said. In a statement issued Monday afternoon, personnel from Joint Base Charleston say the debris field was discovered roughly two hours northeast of the base. JB Charleston said in its statement that it is "transferring incident command" to the Marine Corps, as they will begin the recovery process.

The incident is currently under investigation, so officials say they are unable to provide any additional details while the investigation is underway. Those in the community have been cautioned to avoid the area. The unusual events took place Sunday north of Charleston, S.C., where a pilot from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 ejected from their jet — specifically, an F-35B Lightning II. In an earlier statement to NPR, the Marine Corps did not specify whether the jet's transponder was on, nor whether it was carrying any armaments. "The pilot ejected safely and was transferred to a local medical center in stable condition," said Joint Base Charleston, in a message sent on Sunday around 5:30 p.m. ET. Emergency teams started looking for the fighter jet on Sunday; they were aided by the Navy, the FAA and Civil Air Patrol, along with multiple local and state police agencies, the base said in an update on Monday. The fighter jet came from a squadron whose mission is to train pilots and support crews on the F-35. It also took part in airshow demonstrations.

The Hill - September 19, 2023

What to know about Pennsylvania’s special state House election

Voters in Allegheny County, Pa., will head to the polls Tuesday in a special election that will determine which party controls the Pennsylvania state House. Pennsylvanians in the state’s 21st House District are choosing between Republican Erin Connolly Autenreith and Democrat Lindsay Powell, who are both running to fill the remainder of former state Rep. Sara Innamorato’s (D) term after Innamorato stepped down to run for Allegheny County executive. Innamorato’s resignation evenly split control of the state House, 101 to 101. Though the 21st District is Democratically friendly, Tuesday’s special election will decide whether Democrats retain their narrow edge in the state House.

Autenreith, a real estate agent and the chair of the Shaler Township Republican Committee, is running against Powell, who is the director of workforce strategies at nonprofit InnovatePGH. Powell has previously worked for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Autenreith was at former President Trump’s rally Jan. 6, 2021, but left before the attack on the Capitol, according to PoliticsPA. Several prominent Democrats in the state have waded into the race to back Powell, including Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) — a former state representative herself who became the first Black woman to win a House seat in Pennsylvania last cycle — and Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.). The Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police has backed Autenreith, according to Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Campaign filings show Powell has had a clear fundraising advantage over Autenreith: Autenreith’s campaign raised just more than $6,000 between near the end of July and early September while Powell’s campaign has raised close to $53,000. The Tuesday election marks the third time in less than a year in which Pennsylvanians have voted in a special election that determined partisan control of the state House. While Democrats won the state House majority last November, several retirements and the death of a member prompted several special elections in February. Democrats prevailed in all three races.

September 18, 2023

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - September 18, 2023

WSJ: Why Ken Paxton Was Acquitted: Dan Patrick Saved Him

One-party dominance in a democracy means the main political debates occur in the ruling party, including personal political feuds. That explains the overwhelming decision by Republicans in the Texas state Senate on Saturday to acquit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on 16 articles of impeachment filed by the Republican Texas House. Mr. Paxton’s defenders are spinning that he was saved by a populist national conservative groundswell to put an end to the “Bush era” in Texas. What a joke. There is no longer a Bush era in Texas or anywhere else. George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son, lost to Mr. Paxton in the 2022 primary for AG. What really happened Saturday is that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the state Senate, chose to rescue Mr. Paxton in a rebuke to his rival, House Speaker Dade Phelan. All politics is very local here.

We wrote at the beginning of the Senate trial that Mr. Patrick looked like he might examine the evidence with an open mind. He had kept quiet during the House debate. But we were wrong. It’s now obvious the fix was in from the start and that Mr. Patrick lobbied his fellow GOP Senators to unite against the House articles of impeachment. Only two GOP Senators voted to convict Mr. Paxton, and one of them is 78-year-old Robert Nichols, an independent-minded committee chairman. Mr. Patrick’s bias was on display immediately after the Senate trial ended when he blamed it all in highly personal fashion on Mr. Phelan. “The Speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide-elected official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent,” Mr. Patrick said. He added that the impeachment should never have happened and that he would move to rewrite the state constitution so it doesn’t happen like this again. Mr. Patrick also went on the attack against Mr. Phelan, calling for “a full audit of all taxpayer money spent by the House from the beginning of their investigation in March to today.” It’s revealing that Mr. Patrick’s statement dealt entirely with the impeachment process, not with Mr. Paxton’s behavior. The Texas House impeachment did happen relatively fast, but it came after months of investigation and with compelling evidence. Mr. Paxton triggered the probe by seeking $3.3 million from the Legislature to settle a lawsuit brought by whistleblowers on his staff alarmed by Mr. Paxton’s dealings with real-estate developer and campaign donor Nate Paul. The House voted 121-23 in favor of impeachment, with 60 Republicans in the majority.

Dallas Morning News - September 18, 2023

Primed for ascendancy: With impeachment victory, Paxton’s political potential rises

Ken Paxton parried the strongest threat to his political career with his acquittal of articles of impeachment on Saturday. With the effort to remove him from office in the rearview mirror, the road ahead for Paxton is ripe with political potential. But even for the ascendant attorney general who has batted away allegations of abuse of power and corruption, looming criminal charges and a federal investigation threaten to upend his latest win. Paxton became the first Texas official to face an impeachment trial and beat the charges. The verdict was an undeniable victory for a man accused by fellow Republicans of abuse of office, bribery and obstruction of justice. The senators who decided his fate broke with their House colleagues, voting to protect the state’s top lawyer. Only two Republican senators crossed over to support any of the impeachment articles. Not only did the lawmakers clear Paxton, but they boosted both his power within the party and his bonafides with conservative primary voters. What will he do with this advantage?

Paxton seems giddy about his prospects. Just after this weekend’s vote, he boasted he will soon “address the nation and Texas” on former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s new show and told President Joe Biden, his favorite adversary, to “buckle up.” If his past actions are any guide, Paxton won’t avoid the impeachment saga. Instead, he’ll lean into it, using the verdict to further charm the conservative base. He may even use it as a springboard to higher office. “His choices are expanded,” said Bill Miller, a longtime friend of Paxton’s and co-founder of a powerful Austin lobbying firm. “He’s got the wind at his back. He’s sailing clear.” Paxton’s allies promise to use the impeachment verdict against those who launched the case. His “not guilty” verdict will undoubtedly be a cudgel in their hands, said Dick DeGuerin, one of the attorneys who prosecuted the impeachment case against Paxton. “He who strikes the king must kill him,” DeGeurin told The Dallas Morning News. “I shudder to think what Paxton will do now that he is reinstated.” Despite his impeachment win, Paxton’s most serious problems still may be ahead. He is facing pending criminal charges in state court, a legal ethics case, whistleblower lawsuit and an ongoing FBI investigation. No fewer than six attorneys general in Texas have ascended to higher office, including the two who preceded Paxton. In 2015, Greg Abbott moved from the AG’s headquarters at the Price Daniel Sr., building four blocks south to the Governor’s Mansion. Before Abbott, John Cornyn jumped from attorney general to the U.S. Senate, where he is now the chamber’s second-ranking Republican behind Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The Hill - September 18, 2023

Texas Gov praises Ken Paxton following his acquittal

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) praised state Attorney General Ken Paxton following his acquittal Saturday after a historic impeachment trial. “The jury has spoken. Attorney General Paxton received a fair trial as required by the Texas Constitution,” Abbott said in an official statement. “Attorney General Paxton has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially pushing back against the Biden Administration. I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.” Paxton was acquitted of all 16 articles of impeachment by the Texas state Senate following eight days of witness testimony and another for closing arguments. If Paxton was convicted of even one of the charges, he would have been ousted. Instead, he will return to his post. Paxton was impeached by the Texas state House of Representatives in May for interfering in federal investigations after being accused of engaging in inappropriate favors for donors and retaliating against whistleblowers.

Bloomberg - September 18, 2023

Monitor says new ERCOT rules raised costs by $8 billion

The latest effort by the operator of Texas’s electricity grid to ensure reliability has created an artificial scarcity of supply and likely raised wholesale costs by about $8 billion, according to a new analysis. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas in mid-June introduced a new pool of power reserves that could come online quickly to help keep the grid stable. The ERCOT Contingency Reserve Service, or ECRS, was designed to tap supplies that can come online within 10 minutes to help fill in for solar power dropping at sunset and to keep the grid’s frequency in check. ERCOT has been under intense pressure to avoid a repeat of the rolling blackouts that occurred during the deadly winter storm of February 2021. Demand has repeatedly threatened to exceed supply during the extreme heat and humidity experienced this summer.

Potomac Economics, a firm employed by the state as the independent monitor of the Texas power market, published its analysis of ECRS on Friday. It said that while the initial estimate for additional costs is $8 billion, the number is likely to increase. On Thursday, Bloomberg published an analysis that showed ECRS was responsible for 2,000 megawatts of relatively cheap power supply sitting idle on the afternoon of June 20, when real-time prices soared to more than $4,500 per megawatt-hour. The report from the monitor helps shed additional light on the effects of the ECRS. Some market participants said they had undertaken their own analyses to understand the cost, but the monitor is in a unique position because of its access to non-public ERCOT data. How ERCOT decides to procure reserves through products known as ancillary services “can substantially affect the market outcomes, precise and costs,” Carrie Bivens, the director of the independent market monitor for ERCOT, wrote in the report. “These effects have never been more apparent after ERCOT’s implementation of the ERCOT Contingency Reserve Service.”

State Stories

Austin Chronicle - September 18, 2023

Prisoners report going hungry amidst state lockdown

The heat crisis in Texas’ mostly un-air-conditioned prison system is finally abating, now that temperatures across the state have fallen below 100 degrees. But that crisis has been replaced by a new one. Prison advocates say that, with a recently instituted statewide prison lockdown entering its second week, inmates are being provided sack lunches with meager amounts of food, some of it inedible. While about 40 units have returned to normal operations after searches for drugs, more than 60 are still in lockdown, meaning prisoners leave their cells only three times a week for showers, and even more rarely for other reasons.

“Dozens upon dozens of family members have reached out to me, concerned about the poor quality and low quantity of food their loved ones are receiving,” said Marci Simmons, director of Lioness Justice Impacted Women's Alliance. “They are worried and confused about how long this might last.” The TDCJ did not respond to the Chronicle’s questions about those specific issues, but said via an emailed statement that prisoners get “three meals a day served at the appropriate times. At the beginning of the lockdown, there were some instances of food being delivered later than normal; these concerns have been addressed and resolved.” TDCJ Director Bryan Collier announced the lockdown on Sept. 6, stating that it was necessary to combat a rise in contraband drugs that prison officials blame for this year’s increase in inmate-on-inmate violence. Advocates asked why the lockdown couldn’t have been postponed, as temperatures were still very high when it was announced. When the prison system is locked down, mess halls are closed and inmates receive what are known as “Johnny sacks” – sack lunches often consisting of peanut butter sandwiches, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Prison advocates have criticized Johnny sacks for years as almost inedible and cite them as one of the primary challenges faced by inmates who are held in solitary confinement. In announcing the lockdown, Collier estimated it would take two weeks to search the state’s prison system for contraband. Simmons is doubtful. “Inmates say staff members are sending mixed messages about how long this will last,” she said. “Some report hearing it could be months.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 18, 2023

More Texans are choosing to live in RV as housing costs soar

Joy Anderson drove around for days — there was nowhere to go. Dating an oil rigger came with a life on the road, and the pair had decided that their life together would be spent in an RV because of its ease with work and travel. But in Tarrant County nine years ago, there were few parks and hardly any availability. As the couple searched for a spot, they kept hitting walls. Some RV parks had wait lists. Some didn’t have any room at all. Hope was almost lost as their final day in the area closed out and the couple began to head back to West Texas. Then Anderson saw a sign advertising Gallagher Acres RV Park. Back then, the park off FM 1187 wedged between Benbrook and Fort Worth had only 12 spots. But a woman at the office told Anderson she had one for her and her now-fiance. Anderson remembers replying: “We’ll be there tomorrow.”

Flash forward to today, and Gallagher Acres has more than 100 spots for RVs. And Anderson, now the park’s manager, still calls it home. More than 11.2 million people across the country own an RV, and 400,000 choose to live in them full time, according to the RV Industry Association. Those like Anderson have made an executive decision. They think establishing residence, and transience, for the long haul in an RV is the best way to go. Each person living long term at Gallagher Acres has a story and a reason for coming to stay. “I don’t have property taxes,” said Kelly Stewart, who “snowbirds” at the park with her husband and travels around to national parks in the other months. “I don’t have to worry about if I don’t like my neighbors, I can up and move. If I don’t like the weather, I can up and move. If I want to go somewhere because I have family that’s sick, I don’t have to worry about anybody taking care of my pets, because they’re coming with me.”

Dallas Morning News - September 18, 2023

Some Texas Republicans among those spoiling for spending fight as shutdown approaches

It might be time to reconsider fall travel plans if they involve visiting a national park or require a passport renewal. The likelihood of a government shutdown grew last week as internal differences forced House Republicans to at least temporarily abandon consideration of their defense spending bill, typically an area of unity for the party. Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus held a news conference to declare they have no interest in continuing to fund what they describe as an out-of-control Biden administration. Instead, they are pushing for sweeping policy changes and deep budget cuts. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, one of the group’s leading voices, recited a litany of GOP complaints about Biden policies: lax border security, woke social programs in the military, hyper-aggressive COVID-19 countermeasures, overly generous renewable energy incentives and a politicized Justice Department.

“Why would we fund that? That’s my question for the Republican leadership: Why will you fund that?” Roy said. “Let me be very clear: I will not continue to fund a government at war with the American people.” If lawmakers fail to enact their annual spending bills and don’t adopt a status quo extension known as a continuing resolution by the end of the month, parts of the government will shut down. Squabbling between conservative and moderate Republicans has prevented the House majority from moving forward on its own spending proposals, complicating any potential negotiations with the White House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats. Hanging over the fight is the threat from some GOP members that they could try to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. McCarthy responded in a closed-door caucus meeting on Thursday by defiantly and profanely daring his adversaries to bring it on. Republican leaders had scrapped a vote a day earlier on the defense bill when they couldn’t reach consensus, exasperating some members.

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2023

Houston neighborhood riddled with cancer angry after Union Pacific cites ‘no concerns’ in report

Residents of Lavender Street, which intersects with a rail yard in Houston’s Fifth Ward, say their block was once full of life. Women did hair out of garage shops, kids flocked to houses known for the best warm meals. Today the strip sees more funerals than parties, and a slew of cancers still menaces the community. The southern spur of Lavender sits atop a plume of creosote, a cancer-linked wood preservative used until 1984 to treat rail ties nearby, that now impregnates the area’s groundwater. Neighbors there have become more dejected with each piece of news, from monthly cancer deaths that included community pillar Barbara Beal in August, to rail yard owner Union Pacific’s contested claim that the state of Texas had found “no cancer concerns” linked to surface soil chemicals.

Union Pacific’s decision to highlight, some officials say misrepresent, a state review of city data muddied a debate over the significance of testing done so far, the amount of harm the creosote operation did in the past and the threat it presents to current and future residents. The company’s choice angered neighbors and frustrated local officials just as it began its own testing process this fall, which will be used “to determine if cleanup action is needed to protect residents,” federal regulators said. Union Pacific does not deny the spread of creosote under houses adjacent to the treatment plant formerly operated by Southern Pacific Railroad, which it acquired in the late 1990s. It built a cap for contaminated soil on the site and has been monitoring the plume through wells, including several in front of the Lavender Street home where Beal lived. Company spokespeople have said in the past that chemicals from the creosoting operation did not cause the rampant illnesses nearby, but residents who grew up next door have for years said they knew it was making them sick. “It’s been a journey,” murmured cancer survivor Mary Hutchins, 60, as she sat behind a pot of bright plastic flowers on her sturdy, weathered porch a stone’s throw from the tracks. The company’s latest statements shook her confidence in its next task, to test residents' properties for cancer-causing chemicals. “The only thing we can do now is hope that they get the correct numbers. Because if it doesn’t show any signs, then it’s like y’all are not responsible for nothing, y’all can just walk away,” Hutchins said.

San Antonio Express-News - September 18, 2023

New Census data shows San Antonio incomes lags behind Texas

San Antonio households have high rates of poverty and median incomes that lag behind many similarly sized U.S. metros, according to new Census data released this week. The metro area’s median income trails behind both Texas and national levels and is the lowest among metro areas with a population between 2.3 million and 3 million individuals. San Antonio’s poverty rates also outpaced both the national and state rates. Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau administers the American Community Survey to collect up-to-date statistics on important topics that impact communities across the country. Among the information collected yearly are data on poverty rates and median incomes for U.S. households. Poverty rates for San Antonio are also the highest among similarly sized metros, according to the Express-News’s analysis.

Poverty rates measure the percentage of the population living below the poverty line. In 2022, households with two adults and two children were considered living in poverty if they had a collective income of $29,678 or less. For a family of one, the threshold was $14,880. San Antonio had an overall poverty rate of about 14% in 2022. Additionally, San Antonio’s childhood poverty rate — which looks only at individuals under 18 years old — was 20.1% in 2022, about 4 percentage points above the national rate. By comparison, Denver, which had the lowest rate among metros similarly sized to San Antonio, had a childhood poverty rate of 8.3% and overall poverty rate of 11.2%. San Antonio was also one of only two similarly sized metros to see increases in the overall poverty rate between 2021 and 2022. The metro went from 13.4% of residents in poverty in 2021 to 14.2% in 2022. In contrast, poverty rates among some major Texas metros decreased last year. Austin’s overall poverty rate fell from 10.3% in 2021 to 9.4% in 2022, and the rate in Dallas dropped from 11% to 10.3%. However, the Houston metro’s poverty rate increased from 14.1% in 2021 to 14.3% in 2022. The overall poverty rate in Texas decreased only slightly from 14.2% in 2021 to 14% in 2022.

Dallas Morning News - September 18, 2023

Gay dads face hate in a small Texas town, but then help uncover major embezzlement scheme

There are many ways for a small North Texas town to tell married gay dads who adopted a young boy and who live and work in their midst that they are unwanted. But there’s a downside for any bigots who try this. They may feel the wrath of the fathers in ways unexpected. The alleged mastermind of this poisonous attempt to ruin one family is Toni Lynn Wheeler, the former town administrator for Aurora. She apparently called the shots to drive the family out of town. But Karma hit her hard. Earlier this year, Wheeler, 50, testified under oath that she’s now homeless, living in a city park in Colorado and hitchhiking because she has no car. She was charged in Texas for filing false child abuse reports, money laundering and the theft of at least $767,000 from the town’s financial accounts. Where’s the evidence? Much of it burned in a suspicious 2021 fire that destroyed Aurora City Hall. An arson investigation continues.

Notably, it’s the second such fire, following one in 2007, according to a story in the Wise County Messenger archives. This story sounds like the makings of a TV miniseries about corruption, bigotry and two dads who learned how to fight back. Even the setting is appropriate. If you’ve heard about the Wise County town of Aurora, it’s most likely because of the famed “Aurora Spaceman,” who in 1897 crashed in the town, supposedly, and is buried in a local cemetery. Aurora, northwest of Fort Worth, has been living off the spaceman story for more than a century. This battle royale started when the two dads, Gary Garcia and Chad Pritchett, who were married 15 years ago in California, decided to open an outdoor restaurant. They chose to rent one of several stores in a strip center called Area 114. The owner and landlord of the project was city administrator Wheeler. The development is named Area 114 because it’s off Texas 114 and satirizes Area 51. The dads’ Atomic Taco was a hit, best known for its hatch green chili. But there was a major problem with the facilities. The septic system beneath the restaurants didn’t work. Sewage seeped out, and the smell was a real appetite killer. Garcia and Pritchett complained, but Wheeler didn’t get it fixed. So the two dads filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. When Wheeler’s business was visited and then issued a state citation, it was game on. According to court papers in two civil lawsuits filed by the fathers, Wheeler sent a city health inspector to find deficiencies at Atomic Taco. She and other city employees allegedly used derogatory gay terms about the fathers, court documents charge.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 18, 2023

Nicole Russell: Ken Paxton acquittal shows Texas GOP lost conservative values

During closing arguments in Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial Friday, Rep. Andrew Murr, who led the House investigation of the attorney general, closed with a compelling Sam Houston quote, apropos given that Houston’s Bible had been used for oath-taking at the start of the trial: “ ‘Do right and risk the consequences.’ Now is your time to do right.” Too bad most Senate Republicans didn’t. Seventeen of them chose to do otherwise. Just two had the courage to vote for conviction repeatedly: Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville. The Senate found Paxton not guilty of 16 articles of impeachment, thanks to an abundance of Republican politicians who act like they are lost — but in truth are heading in the wrong direction entirely. The Texas GOP has become a miniature version of the national MAGA party, choosing fealty to a person over principle, a politician over the party’s traditional values. Instead of Donald Trump, it’s Ken Paxton.

The 17 Republican Senators who voted to acquit deserve no praise for standing up to a “witch hunt” or a “sham” impeachment. They deserve scorn and fury: They no longer represent conservatism or the values that they suggest they do. Ken Paxton is now more powerful than ever; the clear message is that he and those like him can do practically anything and still retain favor and their positions if backed by the right people. Paxton is backed by the most spineless of people who refuse to stand up to MAGA delusions And the worst of it? They believe themselves full of virtue and righteous indignation. According to them, they showed courage against those other Republicans who attempted a coup d’etat. You know, the deep state kind. There was no grand conspiracy against Paxton. There were no back-room meetings of disgruntled employees, masking as Cool Kids, conspiring to overthrow an arrogant, mean boss. There was no FBI that hoped to get to Paxton by way of whistleblowers Ryan Bangert, David Maxwell, Blake Brickman and Jeff Mateer. There is just a cocky AG who isn’t upright enough to do his job with integrity and honor but isn’t sloppy enough to get caught red-handed. Lucky for him.

Houston Public Media - September 18, 2023

TEA-appointed Houston ISD board allows teachers to be terminated if schools close, seeks exemption from state laws

The state-appointed Board of Managers for Houston ISD continued to unanimously approve requests from Superintendent Mike Miles on Thursday, paving the way for exemptions from multiple state laws and for the termination of staffers from schools that are closed in the future. Miles has previously said that school closures are likely, as Houston ISD faces declining enrollment and increased costs from his reform program. The board approved two policy changes — one creates an "excess pool" for staffers from schools that are closed, while the other makes placement in the "excess pool" good cause for their contracts to be non-renewed. "It’s to ensure that those teachers don’t continue to be employed when the (enrollment) numbers don’t go back up," Miles said in a press conference after the vote. "They still have contracts to the end of the year, but it does allow us to remove them at the end of the year. And we would have to make a determination on whether or not we have a growing-enrollment district or declining-enrollment district."

The board also greenlit the formation of a planning group to seek a "District of Innovation" status. Miles has said he wants the designation so he can lengthen the school year by about two weeks, but it could allow a slew of other changes — like increasing class sizes, removing planning periods for teachers and hiring non-certified educators. Jasmine Colvin, from the reform-minded education nonprofit Good Reason Houston, read a prepared statement in favor of the "innovation" status but declined to answer any questions from Houston Public Media. "Of the 25 school districts in Harris County, HISD is one of only two that are not (districts of innovation)," Colvin told the board. "It is time for HISD to join surrounding districts and take the necessary steps to offer an educational experience that meets the unique needs of students and communities." The planning group includes attorney Edgardo Colon, entrepreneur Lauren Fontaine, TEA-appointed board member Janette Garza Lindner, education consultant Bill Horwath, HISD Central Office staffer Jessica Morffi, Texas Southern University pharmaceutical professor Uche Ndefo and emergency physician Theresa Tran. After the group creates a plan, it will need to be approved by the District Advisory Committee, which consists of educators elected by other educators and community members appointed by the board and superintendent. The District Advisory Committee was the primary roadblock to a previous push for an "innovation" designation in 2021.

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2023

HISD teachers forced to commit to NES model or switch jobs: 'We are not going back'

A top Houston ISD leader last week scolded teachers at two campuses for failing to embrace and fully implement the New Education System and is now moving to terminate at least one teacher who spoke out with concerns about the model. Luz Martinez, the Central Division superintendent in HISD, called a last-minute, after-school meeting Friday with teachers from Cage Elementary and Project Chrysalis Middle School, two NES-aligned schools that share the same facility and administration. Martinez delivered a stern lecture, telling teachers that they must commit to implementing the NES model in their classrooms or they will be reassigned to a non-NES campus, according to a recording of the event shared with the Chronicle. "You're going to have to think this weekend if this is what you want to do. If you're one of the teachers who is refusing to do the will not be here in this campus," Martinez said. "I will reassign you to another place, because we are not going to be fighting this battle all year long."

Principal Mary Lou Walter followed up with calls and emails over the weekend, asking teachers to tell her whether they are fully on board with the new model. Cage and Project Chrysalis had a leadership shakeup in the first week of classes when the district reassigned Principal Maria Castillo and replaced her with Walter, saying the campus needed "fresh ideas and new leadership." The schools, which are located in the East End and serve mostly Hispanic students, most recently received A ratings from the Texas Education Agency, with several top distinctions from the state. Project Chrysalis is a double National Blue Ribbon award winner, meaning it has been among the top schools in the nation. Martinez said she recognized that the former principal may have failed to properly train teachers on implementing the new model, but said she planned to give teachers support and place more personnel and resources on the campus moving forward. "We are not going back. We are not compromising — we will be NES-aligned," Martinez said. "So all this noise that is going on about this campus being NES-aligned — or should it be, should it not be — that's in the past. We're moving forward. We are NES-aligned." Martinez said a dozen NES schools in her division have been implementing the model with success and that it is "amazing for the teachers and for the kids."

KHOU - September 18, 2023

2 Texas counties implement ordinances to deter 'abortion trafficking'

It has been illegal to get an abortion in Texas for more than a year, but since the law was passed, pregnant women from across the state still found ways to get the procedure done by traveling out of state. In response, some Texas counties and cities created ordinances in hopes that they would stop pregnant women from traveling through their areas. Two Texas counties have already passed ordinances prohibiting what the counties are calling "abortion trafficking." The first ordinance was passed in Mitchell County in July. Another was passed in Goliad County just weeks ago.

"It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly transport any individual for the purpose of providing or obtaining an elective abortion, regardless of where the elective abortion will occur. This section shall apply only if the transportation of such individual begins, ends or passes through the unincorporated area of Goliad County," the Goliad County ordinance said. It means that if a person drives a pregnant woman through Goliad County with the purpose of getting an out-of-state abortion, the driver can be sued, not by the county, but by another citizen. "They permit you to sue anyone who aids and abets someone crossing state lines in order to procure an abortion," University of Houston Professor of Law Seth Chandler said. Chandler said there's one problem with the ordinances: interstate travel is a constitutional right. "I suppose the sponsors of this ordinance feel that that is constitutional. They’re gravely mistaken. It is not constitutional to restrict interstate travel that way, nor is it constitutional to give anyone in the world the right to sue," Chandler said. If someone is accused of breaking the ordinance, they could be sued and the unconstitutionality of it would be worked out in the courts.

Austin Chronicle - September 18, 2023

Jake Wegman: Minimum lot size reform is gaining traction in Texas cities. That’s a good thing.

Would you like to build your own family-sized house in the 78757 ZIP code in Austin? It'll cost you, of course. In addition to hiring an architect and builder, did you know that the city government has a law that requires you to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the land the house will sit on? In fact, the city will force you to pay more just for the dirt under and around your new house than you would have paid for the median house (dirt included) in the 78757 as recently as 2010. If that sounds odd, let me explain. Certainly it is true that the city of Austin doesn't actually have a municipal ordinance that dictates a dollar amount you must pay to buy land for your new house.

But it might as well have such a law. Right now, buildable land parcels in the 78757 are selling for roughly $2 million to $3 million per acre. Since most of the privately owned land in the 78757 is zoned SF-3, and since SF-3 requires a minimum lot size of 5,750 square feet, that means that at the lower end of the price range you're looking at paying $264,000 for the smallest possible parcel you could build on. Zoning and other laws that regulate what you can build and where are intended to safeguard, in the words of Texas law, "public health, safety, morals, or general welfare." Which of those are being protected by a 5,750-square-foot minimum lot size – or by making someone buy $264,000 worth of land to build a house? Certainly not public health and safety. Houston reduced its minimum lot size from 5,000 to 1,400 square feet starting in the late 1990s, and unless I am missing something, there is no crisis in public health or safety afflicting the tens of thousands of people who now live in small-lot modern townhouses in the Bayou City. I don't mean to pick on Austin – I just happen to know the 78757 because I live there. Even in more middle-income suburbs, like Round Rock and Pflugerville near Austin and Frisco near Dallas, George Mason University researchers Nolan Gray and Salim Furth found strong evidence that minimum lot sizes are leading homebuilders to build on bigger lots than their customers would otherwise choose.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 18, 2023

Jerry Jones says he has tried to help get minority NFL owners

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones again denied racist comments attributed to him in a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the NFL by former NFL Network employee Jim Trotter. Trotter, who currently writes for The Athletic, filed a 53-page complaint in federal court in Manhattan last Tuesday. As a part of that complaint, Trotter mentioned what he felt were racist comments by Jones that he felt weren’t properly addressed by NFL Network officials. Trotter claims that in August 2020, when he asked Jones about the lack of Black employees in decision-making positions at the NFL, the Cowboys owner gave an incendiary response.

“If Blacks feel some kind of way, they should buy their own team and hire who they want to hire,” said Jones according to the complaint. Jones said the comments attributed to him were not accurate in a statement released by team officials last week and reiterated that stance following Sunday’s 30-10 victory against the New York Jets. He added that he has worked hard to get minority owners in the NFL. “Some of the representation is not accurate. Just not accurate,” Jones said. “But I do and want to and have worked very hard to get minority ownership in the NFL. Spent a lot of time, and I’m all for that, of course. Jim’s a friend, and I think a lot of him. I hate that we’ve got some litigation and hopefully we will address all of that, but the overall concern I would say is just not accurate.” The NFL has no Black majority owners among its 32 teams and only three Black head coaches, while roughly 60% of the league’s players are Black.

Dallas Voice - September 17, 2023

The road to advocacy

Liz Dyer wrote and taught Bible classes at her evangelical church, conveying her conservative church’s values. Then her son came out as gay. And, “It rocked my family’s and my church’s world,” the Fort Worth resident recalled. When her son came out, she admitted, “I didn’t have a positive thing to say about being gay. My reaction was not supportive.” She was, instead, afraid and confused. “I was afraid what this meant for us and him. I didn’t understand sexual orientation. I just knew something had to go wrong just to be gay, not be born that way. But I just wanted to be a good mother and support him,” she said. Dyer said what she wanted was some biblical justification for feeling this way. So, she sought it. But, she said, “It didn’t take long to realize there’s nothing in the Bible about my son’s situation. There’s nothing in the Scripture addressing it.”

That revelation led her to down a road that included founding a Facebook group in 2014 for Mama Bears for parents with LGBTQ children. They got their name because female bears are defensive of their cubs. The journey to building an organization of 38,000 supporters — who have testified at the Capitol, rallied for children and provided resources to each other — took a while. Dyer said her “aha” moment came when, while scrolling the Internet, she found a post “about being nice to gay people.” “I remember reading the comments. One gay commenter said, ‘I don’t want people to be nice to me. If you don’t think I’m good or can’t accept my relationship, then just get out of my life,” — sprinkled with a few expletives,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I was gay that would be my attitude. That’s the kind of person I am,’” she realized. “I told myself, that commenter was a better Christian than I am, and that I would be more open going forward.” With research and conviction on her side, Dyer decided she would not only support her son, she would help other mothers support their LGBTQ kids, too. But that “aha” moment was not Dyer’s first time taking a stand for something she believed. “I’ve always sought justice,” she said. “I grew up in a tiny Louisiana town where racism was rampant. I can remember as a young girl feeling sick about it and knowing it wasn’t right.”

County Stories

Houston Landing - September 18, 2023

Harris County proposes employee raises, increases to law enforcement in $2.4 billion budget

Despite the extension of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mental health leave of absence, Commissioners Court is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a new budget and tax rate ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. County budget officials have proposed a general fund operating budget of $2.4 billion — an increase from last year’s $2.13 billion spending plan — and a Harris County Flood Control District operating budget of $128 million. Budget officials have proposed a property tax rate of 53.03 cents per $100 of assessed value, slightly lower than last year’s rate of 53.06 cents. If passed, Harris County residents would see a sixth consecutive year of tax rate decreases, according to budget documents. Due to rising property values and new development, however, the proposed tax rate is projected to bring in $300 million more in fiscal 2024 than the current fiscal year.

Under the new rate, the owner of a $280,000 home with a standard 20 percent homestead exemption would pay about 67 cents less than this year, if their home value remained the same. Even with an increase in estimated tax revenue, county budget officials offer a cautious look at the year ahead. “State-mandated revenue caps combined with state mandated minimum spending on law enforcement, growing healthcare costs, inflation, a backlogged justice system resulting in a jail population exceeding capacity and past underinvestment in core business operations have created a troubling baseline picture for the next fiscal year,” the budget reads. Included in the proposed budget is the largest cost of living adjustment for civilian employees in the last 5 years, a $21.4 million expansion of the public defender’s office and a 14 percent increase in funding for individual commissioners’ offices. Also included in the proposal is the addition of three new district criminal courts to help reduce the county’s court backlog, a $15.2 million increase in the district attorney’s office budget and an $80 million increase for the sheriff’s office. Each constable’s office also would see an increase under the current budget proposal.

National Stories

CNN - September 18, 2023

Hunter Biden sues the IRS, alleging agents illegally released his tax information

Hunter Biden has sued the Internal Revenue Service, alleging its agents illegally released his tax information and that the agency failed to protect his private records. President Joe Biden’s son alleges the IRS unlawfully disclosed his tax return information and did not establish safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of his records. He is seeking, among other things, all documents involving the disclosure of the tax information, $1,000 for each unauthorized disclosure and attorneys fees. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Washington, DC, does not name the two IRS agents turned whistleblowers as defendants. But the lawsuit is centered on disclosures made by the agents, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, and their lawyers in public statements, congressional testimony, and interviews.

CNN has reached out to Empower Oversight, the group aiding the whistleblowers, Shapley’s lawyer and the IRS for comment. “The lawsuit is about the decision by IRS employees, their representatives, and others to disregard their obligations and repeatedly and intentionally publicly disclose and disseminate Mr. Biden’s protected tax return information outside the exceptions for making disclosures in the law,” the lawsuit alleges. The suit adds: “These agents’ putative ‘whistleblower’ status cannot and does not shield them from their wrongful conduct in making unauthorized public disclosures that are not permitted by the whistleblower process. In fact, a ‘whistleblower’ is supposed to uncover government misconduct, not the details of that employee’s opinion about the alleged wrongdoing of a private person.” The lawsuit alleges Shapley and Ziegler went beyond confirming the investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes and provided specific allegations, the amount of deductions taken and liabilities owed for tax years.

NBC News - September 18, 2023

Republicans who objected to a Biden impeachment inquiry now say they're fine with it

Before House Speaker Kevin McCarthy unilaterally launched an impeachment inquiry, center-right Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., urged his party not to go down that road, saying it was “too early” given the lack of evidence against President Joe Biden. But two days after McCarthy made that decision last week, Bacon, who represents an Omaha-based district that voted for Biden in 2020, shifted his tone and said he wasn't taking issue with it. “If there’s a high crime or misdemeanor, well, let’s get the facts,” Bacon told NBC News, adding that he had been “hesitant” about it earlier — but now it's done, and he stands by McCarthy, R-Calif. “I don’t think it’s healthy or good for our country. So I wanted to set a high bar. I want to do it carefully. I want to do it conscientiously, do it meticulously," Bacon said. "But it’s been done. So, at this point, we’ll see what the facts are.”

His remarks represent a trend: McCarthy’s decision to proceed with the impeachment inquiry has faced scant public pushback from House Republicans, even though many of them objected to taking that momentous step. The softening of stances is the latest example of swing-district and center-right Republicans standing by their leadership team, even as it bends to pressure from far-right lawmakers to take actions that could backfire politically on these more centrist members and endanger their competitive seats. If those same far-right lawmakers try to overthrow McCarthy for failing to meet their demands on other issues, like spending, Bacon made it clear he and others would protect McCarthy. “There’s 200 of us or so, maybe more, that will stick by the speaker,” Bacon said. In the 2024 election cycle, Democrats will be targeting the seats of the 18 Republicans who represent districts Biden won, with the hope of recapturing control of the House. The man in charge of protecting the GOP majority, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said he supports the inquiry but hasn’t seen enough evidence to actually impeach the president.

Vox - September 18, 2023

What happened to the family doctor?

Today, primary care is being squeezed from all sides. Long-standing patient-doctor relationships, once the foundation of medical treatment, are becoming less common: The number of Americans who say their source of medical care is a personal physician has been steadily declining. That is especially true for younger patients: As of 2018, nearly half of adults under 30 said they did not have a primary care doctor. Many opt instead for the convenience offered by urgent care clinics, clinics in retail stores, and even their local emergency room. The once-dominant model of an independent practitioner who ran their own practice, an entrepreneur as much as a physician, is less and less feasible. The overhead is prohibitive. Hospital systems and other corporate entities have absorbed the majority of America’s primary care workforce. The field is becoming less attractive to aspiring doctors, who can make more money in another specialty.

Patients are paying the price for America’s failure to invest in primary care. Clinical evidence indicates that when patients have a steady primary care relationship, they tend to be healthier and live longer. But it is too hard for too many Americans to find and keep a primary care doc. By one recent estimate, 100 million Americans face some kind of barrier (physical or financial) to accessing primary care. One in four Americans doesn’t have a regular source of health care, a share that has been steadily growing since 2000. In the face of those headwinds, some primary care practices are trying to recapture what has been lost, to re-engage their patients and communities so that they might enjoy the benefits of having a long-term relationship with one physician. Some of these experiments rely on new technologies (such as for virtual visits) and on new business models (such as direct primary care practices and concierge-style clinics). In one sense, primary care is trying to find a modern version of the kind of more personal medicine the elder Drs. Weigel practiced. Doctors say they are doing more home visits, holding later office hours, and setting up clinics in schools and workplaces. They are trying anything to meet their patients where they are, to salvage that core tenet of medical care Weigel and others fear is disappearing.

CNN - September 18, 2023

Five Americans detained in Iran expected to be freed Monday, Iranian foreign ministry says

Five Americans who have been imprisoned in Iran are expected to be released Monday as part of a wider US-Iran deal, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman has said. The US government has designated all five Americans as being wrongfully detained. Speaking at a press conference which was shown on state-affiliated Press TV on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the release “will hopefully be completed” alongside the other elements of the deal. The detainees are being transported to a Qatari jet, which is on standby in Iran to bring the five Americans to Doha, a source briefed on details of the matter told CNN on Monday afternoon local time.

Under the agreement between the US and Iran, $6 billion in Iranian funds that had been held in restricted accounts in South Korea would be transferred to restricted accounts in banks in Qatar. Iranian and US officials have been notified by Qatar that the money has been transferred from Switzerland to bank accounts in Qatar, according to a source briefed on details of the matter. Sources told CNN the funds came from oil sales that were allowed and placed into accounts set up under the Trump administration. Biden administration officials have stressed that the funds that have been transferred to the accounts in Qatar will only be able to be used by Iran for humanitarian purchases and each transaction will be monitored by the US Treasury Department. The agreement also involves the release of five Iranians in US custody. The release of the Americans would represent a significant diplomatic breakthrough after years of complicated indirect negotiations between Washington and Tehran.

Wall Street Journal - September 18, 2023

Ties between Joe Biden and Merrick Garland deteriorate from distant to frigid

The already frosty relationship between President Biden and his attorney general, Merrick Garland, is now in a deep freeze. Respect and admiration among White House aides for Garland, a longtime federal appeals-court judge chosen to underscore the independence of the Justice Department, has shifted for some into resignation and distrust. They point to Garland having appointed not just a special counsel to investigate former President Donald Trump, but two others as well: one looking into Biden and another probing his son, Hunter Biden. On Thursday, the latter indicted the younger Biden on gun charges.

Some Biden aides have said they see Garland’s handling of the inquiries into the Biden family as driven less by a dispassionate pursuit of justice than by a punctilious desire to give the appearance that sensitive investigations are walled off from political pressure, people familiar with the matter say. Those aides point out, for example, that prosecutors closed within months an inquiry into classified documents found at former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home, but assigned a special counsel—with wider latitude and more independence—to examine similar issues for Biden, also a former vice president. That probe remains open. As for the Hunter Biden case, a lawyer for him said the decisions to appoint a special counsel and indict the president’s son after he had agreed to a plea deal reflected “partisan interference in this process.” A spokeswoman for Garland declined to comment. White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton said Biden appointed Garland “because of his decades of fidelity to the rule of law consistent with his commitment when he ran for president to restore the independence of the Justice Department, free from political interference.”

Fox News - September 18, 2023

Senate to no longer enforce dress code for senators

The U.S. Senate will no longer enforce a dress code for members of the upper house elected by those they serve. "However, others entering the chamber must comply with the dress code. Coats/ties for men. Business attire for women," tweeted Chad Pergram, Fox News senior congressional correspondent. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., quietly sent the directive to the Senate's sergeant at arms, news website Axios reported. The change allows Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., to continue to wear his trademark hooded sweatshirts and gym shorts while working for Americans.

Fetterman was previously praised for "turning heads" and "redefining fashion in the stuffy Senate" during his recovery after a six-week stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was treated for "clinical depression" and "fitted for hearing aids for hearing loss that had made it harder for him to communicate," according to an AP story from May. The senator even found a workaround to the legislative body's dress code rules by voting from the doorway of the Democrat cloakroom or the side entrance, making sure his vote is recorded before ducking out, per the AP report. "He’s setting a new dress code," Democrat Vermont Sen. Peter Welch joked to AP in May. "He was struggling. And now he’s a joyful person to be around." Fetterman faced some backlash against his casual dress code, even from his own staff, according to AP, who "had originally asked him to always wear suits, which he famously hates."

Washington Post - September 18, 2023

The scorched-earth activist trying to take down Hunter Biden

When Lunden Roberts needed an expert to help prove that Hunter Biden had the money to keep making substantial child support payments for their 4-year-old daughter, her legal team turned to Garrett Ziegler. Ziegler doesn’t have a degree in personal finance. He doesn’t personally know the president’s son. But Ziegler, whose first job out of college was working as a low-level aide in the Trump White House, has fashioned himself into a Hunter Biden specialist, compiling personal and financial records from anywhere he can get them. Then, his nonprofit posts them online. Ziegler claims this cache offers the fullest accounting of Hunter Biden’s life, from his battles with drug addiction to his sexual escapades to his business dealings. “In the Western world, I’m confident that nobody has dug into the American first family more than us,” he said recently on YouTube. “I’ve just become obsessed with studying the family.”

Ziegler, 27, enjoys a following of tens of thousands on social media and the attention of conservative media. He has made himself a chief antagonist of the younger Biden, prompting lawsuits, an Internal Revenue Service complaint and other legal pushback from Hunter Biden’s circle. Ziegler is at the vanguard of a sprawling network of Biden antagonists, from right-wing media organizations to congressional leaders to MAGA activists, that is focused intensely on the president’s son. They see Hunter Biden’s activities as his father’s biggest political vulnerability, a conclusion reflected in the House GOP’s recent decision to launch an impeachment inquiry. On Wednesday, Hunter Biden sued Ziegler in federal court in California, alleging that the activist had violated privacy laws and calling him “a zealot who has waged a sustained, unhinged and obsessed campaign against [Hunter Biden] and the entire Biden family for more than two years.” After Ziegler, who served as a staffer for Trump aide Peter Navarro, a MAGA hard-liner and election denier, left the White House in early 2021, he began focusing his attention on President Biden’s son, turning his formidable energy to unearthing every detail he could. Ziegler received some of Hunter Biden’s financial records, saying he got them from someone who worked at Biden’s bank. He has delved into Hunter Biden’s business dealings. He even acquired a copy of the diary of Ashley Biden, Hunter’s sister.

Associated Press - September 18, 2023

California lawsuit says oil giants deceived public on climate, seeks funds for storm damage

The state of California filed a lawsuit against some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, claiming they deceived the public about the risks of fossil fuels now faulted for climate change-related storms and wildfires that caused billions of dollars in damage, officials said Saturday. The civil lawsuit filed in state Superior Court in San Francisco also seeks creation of a fund — financed by the companies — to pay for recovery efforts following devastating storms and fires. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement the companies named in the lawsuit — Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP — should be held accountable. “For more than 50 years, Big Oil has been lying to us — covering up the fact that they’ve long known how dangerous the fossil fuels they produce are for our planet,” Newsom said. “California taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for billions of dollars in damages — wildfires wiping out entire communities, toxic smoke clogging our air, deadly heat waves, record-breaking droughts parching our wells."

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group also named in the lawsuit, said climate policy should be debated in Congress, not the courtroom. “This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” institute senior vice president Ryan Meyers said in a statement. That was echoed in a statement from Shell, which said the courtroom is not the proper venue to address global warming. “Addressing climate change requires a collaborative, society-wide approach,” the energy giant said. “We agree that action is needed now on climate change, and we fully support the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future.” California's legal action joins similar lawsuits filed by states and municipalities in recent years. “California’s suit adds to the growing momentum to hold Big Oil accountable for its decades of deception, and secure access to justice for people and communities suffering from fossil-fueled extreme weather and slow onset disasters such as sea level rise," Kathy Mulvey of the Union of Concerned Scientists said in an email.

September 17, 2023

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2023

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton acquitted, setting stage for 2024 election showdown

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s acquittal on impeachment charges has reignited a political rumble that could impact the 2024 Texas legislative races. Insurgent Republicans loyal to Paxton have vowed to retaliate against House lawmakers responsible for his impeachment. In turn, legislators backing Paxton’s impeachment — including five Collin County Republicans — will likely be defended by House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and other allies. Though the Senate jury decided Paxton’s immediate fate, Texas voters will be the final arbiters of the impeachment saga, which will now play out at the ballot box. Paxton is not expected to sit on the sidelines. He’s likely to use his substantial campaign war chest to settle political scores. “He’s been raising millions of dollars ever since the impeachment and some of that money will now be directed at some of his tormentors,” Dallas-based conservative radio talk show host Mark Davis said after the verdict.

At a Collin County pre-Labor Day GOP picnic, Paxton urged supporters to “clean house,” a thinly veiled rally cry against House members who impeached him in May. “Even if he is not successful in toppling a high percentage of those who came after him, he will still earn points for drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘I’m going to make you pay for what you tried to do to me,’” Davis said. Paxton is now the conduit for a political fight that’s been raging for years in the Republican Party. Backed by campaign dollars from West Texas oil baron brothers Dan and Farris Wilks and businessman Tim Dunn, insurgent candidates have challenged GOP lawmakers, and even Gov. Greg Abbott, in past primaries. Established Republicans have won most of the battles, though GOP elected officials are wary of primary contests. “Nobody wants to go against that West Texas money,” said former state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who lost a 2014 primary to Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood. The Paxton trial has exacerbated relationships between the House and Senate, as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Phelan have feuded over the merits of the House investigation and decision to impeach Paxton. From the bench after Saturday’s verdict, Patrick said the impeachment “should not have happened and hopefully never again.”

The Hill - September 17, 2023

Karl Rove: GOP will ‘shoot themselves in the foot’ with shutdown

Veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove warned House Republicans that they will only hurt themselves if they allow the government to shut down this fall amid budget battles within their conference and with the Senate and White House. “Republicans are going to shoot themselves in the foot in the run-up to the 2024 election if they continue to think that shutdowns are a great way to put themselves in front of the American people,” Rove said in a Fox News interview on Sunday. Without a new deal, the government will shut down on Oct. 1. It’s seen as increasingly likely, despite a debt-ceiling deal earlier this year that actually set spending ceilings for the fiscal year. A number of House Republicans are unhappy with that agreement and are now pushing for deeper cuts. But they have limited leverage given a Senate with a Democratic majority and President Joe Biden in the White House.

Democrats, who have generally benefitted politically from shutdowns driven by GOP demands for spending cuts, are already beginning to blame Republicans for the possibility of a shutdown. And Rove signaled he believes there is real danger for the GOP. He said that Republicans usually seem to be blamed for government shutdown because “Republicans are responsible for the shutdowns.” “They seem to eagerly want them,” he added. House Republicans have already struggled to pass rules votes related to appropriations, including over a defense spending bill this week. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Republicans will get no help from his caucus. “Extreme MAGA Republicans temporarily hold the gavels; the extreme MAGA Republicans are responsible for passing the rule,” Jeffries said Thursday. Rule votes are generally party-line, and the GOP majority would normally be expected to approve its own rules, without help from the minority. This would also be true of a Democratic majority.

Washington Post - September 17, 2023

Speaker McCarthy steps into the breach as his conference toils

After a drawn-out fight to attain the speakership in early January, lawmakers predicted that the September funding battle would be the real test of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s staying power. With less than two weeks to avoid a government shutdown, McCarthy (R-Calif.) is staring down an open revolt among the hard right in his conference, some who are threatening to remove him from power and throw the House into further turmoil ahead of a pivotal election year. And across the Capitol, most Senate Republicans have joined hands with Democrats in calls for higher spending levels — as the speaker originally agreed to in the spring — and also want tens of billions of dollars in additional defense spending that is opposed by the House’s hard-right faction. How McCarthy handles the next two weeks will dictate whether the California Republican can effectively unite his disparate conference and lead it into what will be bruising budget negotiations with the Senate, or whether the loudest voices from a small pocket of rabble-rousers can effectively rule by fiat.

“I don’t walk away from a battle,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday, after lacing into his detractors in an expletive-laden outburst during a closed-door conference meeting. “I knew change in Washington would not be easy. I knew people would fight or try to hold leverage for other things. I’m going to continue to just focus on what’s the right thing to do for the American people, and you know what, if it takes a fight, I’ll have a fight.” When the House returns Monday evening, they will have seven working days to agree to a short-term funding agreement, pass it and possibly negotiate a compromise with their Senate counterparts before the government runs out of funding on Sept. 30. And right in the middle is McCarthy, who thus far has not been able to find consensus in his conference. “I think Speaker McCarthy has a path to choose,” said Rep. Bob Good (Va.), one of the hard-line Republicans who opposed McCarthy on the first 14 ballots for speaker in January. “Does he pass Republican legislation that advances our policies and cuts spending with Republican majority, Republican votes, or does he pass legislation with Democrat votes that lets down the American people?” His close allies think McCarthy, known for his personal touch without very firm red lines on policy matters, has the right mix to thread this treacherous gantlet.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2023

Texas school districts obtain this designation to bypass teacher certification and calendar laws

Texas state law requires school districts to start the school year on the fourth Monday in August, but Houston ISD and Cypress-Fairbanks ISD are among only a handful of districts that did so this year. In an effort to improve student outcomes, state lawmakers passed a law in 2015 establishing a “District of Innovation” designation, which allows school districts to exempt themselves from dozens of education-related state laws regulating topics like class sizes, educator contracts, and other issues if they have a passing accountability rating from the Texas Education Agency. Nearly every school district in Texas has obtained the designation since 2015, but many aren’t using it to gain exemptions to dozens of state laws or “innovate” as the bill author says he intended. Instead, almost all districts have obtained the designation to exempt themselves from two specific state laws regulating the school calendar start date and mandating all teachers to be certified.

More than 94% of 1,018 traditional school districts in Texas have decided they are exempt from following a law requiring them to start the school year on the fourth Monday in August. About 91% have exempted themselves from a law requiring all teachers and administrators to be certified. Duncan Klussmann, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Houston, said the intent of the legislation was to provide traditional school systems some of the same freedoms that charter schools have, but the most common use for districts is to move up the school start date time. “My belief is that's not really what the intent of the bill was for,” Klussmann said. “I don't think necessarily changing your start date is an innovation. I think the intent was that if you needed to change your start date to implement an innovation, or you need(ed) to restructure the school day to implement an innovation, then it would give you the freedom to do that.” Hundreds of school districts have justified the exception to the start date law by saying in their innovation plans that moving up the beginning of the school year has allowed for a more balanced fall and spring semester, flexibility in scheduling holidays and more days for instructional and teacher planning time.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2023

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan trade barbs after Paxton acquittal

Following the Senate’s historic acquittal of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Saturday turned a flamethrower on the House and its leaders for what he called a rushed impeachment process. Patrick, who presides over the Senate, scolded the lower chamber for wasting taxpayer money in the first impeachment of a statewide elected official in more than a century. His comments highlighted the ongoing feud between the two and could signal trouble for an upcoming special legislative session to deal with school choice. “The speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide elected official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent,” Patrick said after the Senate voted down all of the charges against Paxton.

The Legislature must amend the constitution to require that witnesses in impeachment investigations be placed under oath and that the accused must be present and allowed to cross-examine the witnesses, Patrick said. Also, House members must have at least two weeks to consider impeachment, not hurry it through as they did in May, Patrick said. “Had they done these two things in May, this trial may never have happened,” Patrick said. House Speaker Dade Phelan fired back, saying Patrick in his “tirade” was disrespecting the process set out by “the founders of this great state.” Phelan said Patrick was “confessing his bias and placing his contempt for the people’s House on full display.” “Today’s outcome appears to have been orchestrated from the start, cheating the people of Texas of justice,” the speaker said. Patrick hadn’t made any substantive comments on whether the House’s charges had merit until Saturday. The three-term lieutenant governor, 73, noted that he wanted his thoughts on the trial preserved on the record for posterity. Two political scientists who closely track the Legislature said the acquittal, followed by Patrick’s harsh criticism of the House, could jeopardize Gov. Greg Abbott’s desire to push a school choice bill into law in a special session this fall. Bolstered by a coalition of rural Republicans and urban Democrats, the House has opposed using taxpayer funds to help families pay private school tuition — a longtime goal of Patrick’s.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Mattress Mack video sparks confusion about his endorsement for Houston mayor

Former Councilmember Jack Christie's mayoral campaign boasted an endorsement from Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale on Thursday night, but the Gallery Furniture owner said he still plans to vote for state Sen. John Whitmire. Christie's camp posted a since-deleted video on Facebook in which someone asks the furniture mogul whether Christie would make a good mayor. "Absolutely, lots of experience and a very hard-working, good-looking guy," McIngvale responds. The campaign posted the video out with siren emojis and an all-capital letters bulletin, "MATTRESS MACK ENDORSES JACK CHRISTIE FOR MAYOR." They also made it the first blurb on his campaign website.

McIngvale was one of Whitmire's early and prominent supporters, serving as a sponsor for the state senator’s first campaign kick-off event at the Post Oak Hotel. McIngvale released a statement Thursday night saying his comments were not intended to be an endorsement. "While I think Jack Christie would be a good mayor if he was elected, I am not endorsing him as has been reported by the Christie campaign," McIngvale said. "My vote will be for John Whitmire in November.” That was news to Christie on Friday morning. He said the staffer who took the video explicitly asked McIngvale afterward if the campaign could construe the comments as an endorsement, and he said yes. Still, Christie said his campaign removed the endorsement language from its posts after he learned of McIngvale’s clarification. McIngvale has been a reliable donor for Republican candidates, contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars last year to Alexandra del Moral Mealer's unsuccessful challenge against Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. He attended an initial hearing in a lawsuit seeking to overturn last November's elections, and launched a website in hopes of collecting evidence of voter suppression. He also has sued to get election records from the county.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2023

Bud Kennedy: Ken Paxton verdict: acquitted, due to politics, poor evidence

He got away. Prosecutors couldn’t show where Ken Paxton got money, or gifts, or even a granite kitchen countertop. So, despite a laser-focused closing argument detailing various mismanagement by Attorney General Ken Paxton, House lawyers were unable to convince the Texas Senate that he orchestrated a fortuitous series of events in favor of his very good friend, Austin developer Nate Paul. In one telling moment of testimony during the week, an associate deputy attorney general said he works for Paxton, not for the people of Texas. Austin Kinghorn had described the state’s civil litigators as Paxton’s “law firm.” That was the gist of both the prosecution and the defense: that (1) Paxton ran the state’s law firm for his own benefit or Paul’s, or (2) Paxton was elected with 4.3 million votes and constitutionally can run the office as he pleases.

The Senate, 31 elected officials who also often argue that their authority comes from the voters, chose (2). Theatrical defense attorney Tony Buzbee, a Houston character straight out of a made-for-TV movie, pointed and pivoted in his closing statement as he drawled that Texas’ first impeachment trial of a statewide official in 96 years was “about nothing” and a “political witch hunt” in which “there ain’t no evidence.” Buzbee once again repeated an old claim that Paxton got blamed over new granite kitchen countertops that were never installed at his then-home. A witness actually only testified about hearing that Paul might help arrange new countertops. But too much of the case rested only on what witnesses heard, not what Paxton gained. The evidence sounded powerful in May, in a Texas House vote where 60 Republicans agreed to send the case to the Senate. But over the summer, impeachments and trials of Republican officials became a partisan win-at-all-costs issue. Ken Paxton, little known and mostly disliked as recently as a year ago — 57% of Republicans chose someone else in the first 2022 primary — became a national poster child for legislative overreach.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2023

Michelle Smith: School vouchers have failed; time for lawmakers to expel them

(Michelle Smith is executive director of Raise Your Hand Texas.) School is back in session, and our Texas Legislature soon will be, too. State leaders face monumental questions and issues when it comes to public schools, but they must remain focused on investing in our future and improving student outcomes across the state. The public school system in Texas includes more than 1,200 school districts and public charter schools, totaling just under 9,000 school campuses. Our schools employ more than 700,000 people — approximately half of whom are teachers — to educate 5.4 million Texas students. Texas students need our support now more than ever. That’s because while we are among the largest and most diverse collection of public schools in the country, we are also one of the lowest funded. Texas ranks in the bottom 10 nationwide for per-student funding, around $4,000 per student under the national average.

And even with a historic budget surplus of $33 billion, teacher pay and school funding were lost amid school voucher battles during the 88th session. Our kids and their teachers deserve better. Texas lawmakers passed what they’re calling historic property tax relief, but it doesn’t provide the critical funding our schools, teachers and students need. Just because the state share of school funding increases due to property tax relief does not mean the state is increasing per-student funding for public schools. Funding is stagnant unless school funding formulas are increased. To increase per-student funding, the state must increase something called the basic allotment, which is the foundation for funding our public schools. Instead, far too much time is being spent on political issues that do not serve our students and teachers well and won’t generate the educated workforce Texans so rightfully deserve. It’s time to focus on kids, not politics. It’s time for state leaders to cast aside the notion that school vouchers are an effective, transparent, accountable way to improve our public education system and provide parental choice — because they’re not. Vouchers, or education savings accounts, direct public funds to private schools or vendors with little to no state accountability for the education of their students.

Dallas Voice - September 17, 2023

Baylor exempt from protecting students?

Baylor University is in the hot seat after the Department of Education in July granted the Baptist university in Waco a religious exemption from a Title IX sexual harassment complaint filed by a former student who is LGBTQ. Baylor asked the DOE to dismiss this complaint and others because, university officials said, the claims were inconsistent with the university’s religious tenets. Veronica Bonifacio Penales filed a complaint in 2021 accusing Baylor of failing to investigate anti-LGBTQ harassment, according to the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, which defends the rights of LGBTQ students and other marginalized students at conservative colleges, including on Title IX, the federal rule protecting against discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities in federally funded schools.

In her complaint, Bonifacio Penales said that while she was a student at the Waco school, she found sticky notes with homophobic slurs on her dorm room door and had homophobic language posted on her social media pages. She filed the complaint with the DOE after, she said, Baylor failed to address the harassment. According to REAP, two other LGBTQ Baylor alumni also have active Title IX complaints currently under federal investigation. Baylor officials, however, were not only responding to Penales’ case but a slate of others as well, including denying official recognition of the LGBTQ-friendly Gamma Alpha Upsilon, LGBTQ-based harassment and pressuring student media to not report on LGBTQ protests on campus. Last month, Baylor President Linda Livingstone sent a schoolwide email pushing back against allegations it will discriminate against LGBTQ students in sexual harassment cases: “There will be NO CHANGES to Baylor’s current practices or policies related to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual and interpersonal conduct resulting from this assertion of our existing religious exemptions. Our Office of Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX will continue to investigate sexual harassment allegations or related complaints and investigate these thoroughly and fairly,” she wrote and calling the decision “a narrow, yet complicated legal matter that has implications for all religious-based universities, not just Baylor.”

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Acquitted AG Paxton got off and Texas politics is Dunn for

The rains came to a parched Austin late last week. The punishing heat wave finally broke its hold. A new day, a new season had dawned. In the heart of the city on a Saturday morning, inside the august Capitol chambers of the Texas Senate, a group of senators were facing, as they were frequently reminded, the most momentous vote of their lives. They dared contemplate a new day, an aurora of possibility. Perhaps not surprisingly, they blinked. At least, all but two Senate Republicans did. In a historic vote, they acquitted the most corrupt attorney general in Texas history on 16 charges of bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of office. In doing so, they signaled that, in effect, pretty much anything goes in Texas politics. And you can be sure it will.

A latter-day Bo Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks on the Senate floor would feel right at home (particularly since Ken Paxton as attorney general has done everything he can to neuter the Texas Ethics Commission). Paxton's accusers in the House, Republicans and Democrats, had set the stage earlier in the summer, when the grass was still green and the nights, at least, were still bearable. For only the third time in Texas history, they impeached a statewide official, a thrice-elected attorney general whose disdain for the public good and for the responsibilities of his office had finally become unbearable to most of them. By a vote of 121 to 23, they decided that Attorney General Warren Kenneth Paxton, Jr., no longer deserved to hold public office. On Saturday, the tenth day of Paxton’s trial, Senate Republicans decided, usually by the same 14-16 margin on each article of impeachment, that it really didn’t matter that the AG’s relationship of mutual benefit with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul was an outrage, an outrage so serious that senior aides in the office, conservative Republicans all, reported their boss to the FBI. Paxton settled with the whistleblowers to the tune of $3.3 million. His effort to get the taxpayers to foot the bill for his indiscretions is what triggered the House impeachment.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

U.S. Senator John Cornyn discusses fentanyl prevention efforts at Texas Children’s panel

Researchers and those who have been impacted by fentanyl overdoses gathered Friday to discuss the dangers of the powerful drug, days after the unveiling of a new measure to expand access to medications that reverse overdoses. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, discussed the Safe Testing and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act as well as the HEAL Act, which would aid efforts to prevent opioid overdoses by making medications to reverse them more accessible. The senator introduced the Halting the Epidemic of Addiction and Loss in September to help expend access to opioid reversal agents beyond naloxone, which can be used in emergency overdose situations. The STOP Act would ensure that fentanyl testing strips are not considered drug paraphernalia under federal law.

The synthetic opioid has led to accidental overdoses among thousands of knowing and unknowing users, experts say. The easy access to fentanyl has made taking other drugs more dangerous because sometimes these other drugs are spiked with the powerful, cheap and potentially lethal narcotic. “Many of our victims have no idea that they're taking fentanyl, and right now we have no easy way of detecting fentanyl if it's been added to an illicit drug," said Lara Shekerdemian, pediatrician-in-chief at the Texas Children’s Hospital. "So, the ability to test and to rapidly have that answer could be a game changer.” Fentanyl can also be used legally, and is commonly prescribed to late-stage cancer patients and those with chronic pain, Shekerdemian said. The drug is incredibly powerful and cheap to produce because it does not have to be grown, like marijuana or cocaine. Fentanyl is considered the most deadly drug that “our nation has ever encountered” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and last year more than 70,000 people died from synthetic opioid overdoses, according to Chronicle reporting. Preliminary state data from the summer showed that Harris County is leading the state in fentanyl-related deaths.

Inside Climate News - September 17, 2023

Texas bets on undersea carbon capture, despite concerns

Over the last century, the state of Texas has reaped billions of dollars by allowing companies to burrow into the floor of the Gulf of Mexico to extract oil and gas. Now, the General Land Office—the state agency tasked with protecting the vulnerable Texas shoreline and other natural resources—is eyeing carbon sequestration as the next industry to develop in the Gulf. Angling for a share of $12 billion in federal funding for such projects under the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, companies are competing to build carbon capture plants next to onshore oil wells, gas wells and other polluting facilities along the coast. At the same time, they are applying for offshore leases that will allow them to store that heat-trapping carbon dioxide deep beneath the seafloor. Crucial to the effort are a stream of U.S. government grants, followed by generous tax credits for every ton of carbon stored.

In September 2021, Texas’s General Land Office, or GLO, awarded its first lease for carbon sequestration on 40,000 acres of state-owned land near Port Arthur to Talos Energy, a Houston-based oil and gas company. The oil giant Chevron has a 50 percent stake in the project, known as Bayou Bend, which if completed could be the nation’s first offshore carbon storage site. Last month the GLO announced that it had awarded six more leases for offshore carbon storage that would generate $130 million in bonus payments for the state’s school fund. And in February, the Port of Corpus Christi, the nation’s largest port and an economic engine for Texas, said it had received $16.4 million in federal funding to conduct a feasibility study for both onshore and offshore carbon storage projects. The research will be conducted with Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, Talos and Howard Energy Partners, a San Antonio gas company. The GLO declined to provide details about the six offshore leases granted last month, from the location or size of the storage sites to the identities of the companies involved. Despite its August announcement that the projects had been greenlighted, the agency said the leases had not yet been formally “executed.”

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2023

Dallas Morning News Editorial: How the drug cartels drive the border crisis and corrupt Latin America

As far as clandestine meeting places go, the Champs Elysées restaurant in Mexico City was not an obvious choice. The elegant French eatery occupied a multistory building in Paseo de la Reforma, a tree-lined avenue that traverses Mexico City’s historic and financial districts. Champs Elysées sat across from the American Embassy, where it drew a high-end clientele who sipped fine wines and dined on escargot, duck confit and crème brûlée. With its Old World cachet and its prime views of El Ángel de la Independencia — Mexico City’s goddess of victory statue, its most famous monument — Champs Elysées was the kind of place where you went to be seen. It’s also the place where Genaro García Luna, once Mexico’s top law enforcement officer, agreed in 2006 to meet a lawyer for the Sinaloa Cartel to accept $3 million in bribes, delivered to him in a briefcase and a duffel bag.

The revelations of the trial were also an embarrassment for the United States. Here was our main partner in a $3.3 billion bilateral security initiative — a man who had met and been photographed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — convicted of sabotaging the war on the cartels that he was supposed to lead. Right across from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. Right under our noses. García Luna’s case embodies Mexico’s existential crisis: the brazen corruption of the government by the country’s drug traffickers, a pollution so thorough that it poisons seemingly every public function, from the interactions of everyday citizens with cops and paper-pushers to U.S. diplomatic relationships with Mexico’s elite. Mexico remains, by far, the No. 1 source of migrants trying to cross the border illegally, with almost half a million U.S. Border Patrol encounters along the southern border this fiscal year. Now the cartels have exported their bloody turf wars to Ecuador, sending the once relatively peaceful South American nation into a tailspin of violence and political chaos. The number of Ecuadorians caught crossing the U.S. southern border illegally more than tripled, from 24,000 last fiscal year to more than 85,000 this year.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Fort Bend ISD unveils plans for Sugar Land 95 memorial with outdoor learning area, memorial cemetery

Fort Bend Independent School District has unveiled the next phase of the Sugar Land 95 Memorial, which includes an outdoor learning area and a memorial cemetery and is expected to be ready by 2025. More than five years have passed since the remains of the Sugar Land 95, 94 men and one woman, were found at the construction site of the James C. Reese Career and Technical Center. The 95 African American individuals discovered in 2018 died in brutal, state-sanctioned forced labor camps in the late 1800s, during Sugar Land’s era as a network of sugar cane plantations. After originally going to court with the question of where to rebury the remains, Fort Bend ISD in November 2019 returned the remains to the site where they were originally found and launched initiatives to educate the community about the history of the convict-leasing program.

“In addition to beautifying the landscape and transforming the environment for educational purposes, the vision overall is to create a site of honor and dignity for the individuals who are interred in the cemetery, and also to provide a reflective and contemplative area for students, the community and even descendants once confirmed,” said Chassidy Olainu-Alade, the district’s community and civic engagement coordinator. Olainu-Alade made her comments during a brief presentation to the school board, outlining the progress made and future plans for the memorial. The site currently under development will include a poet's corner called Griot’s Grove, conversation pods, a pavilion and a commitment area. The primary focus of the site is the burial ground, which aims to provide a dignified final resting place for the 95 individuals. Currently enclosed by a perimeter fence, the burial ground will be accessible after construction, allowing visitors to engage with the cemetery, read markers, pay respects and navigate the grounds.

Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2023

No. 4 Texas pulls away from Wyoming in fourth quarter of final non-conference football game

For the first time since 2012, the Texas football team is 3-0. Not that keeping that unblemished record intact was easy. Texas had to outlast an unexpected challenge from Wyoming in a 31-10 win at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. The Longhorns entered this game as a heavy favorite, but needed a fourth-quarter scoring spree to break a tie with Wyoming (2-1) and secure the victory. Texas opens Big 12 play next week at Baylor (1-2). Wyoming struck first on Saturday night as Harrison Waylee capped the game's first possession with a 62-yard touchdown run. Texas, though, scored 10 unanswered points and entered halftime with a slim lead.

The touchdown scored by Texas in the first half? A 1-yard catch by Byron Murphy II, who's listed as a 308-pound defensive lineman on the UT roster. Murphy's touchdown catch capped a 17-play scoring drive for Texas. Wyoming recorded a 17-play drive of its own in the third quarter that concluded with John Hoyland's 36-yard field goal, and the two teams entered the final quarter locked in a 10-10 tie. Forty-eight seconds into the fourth quarter, Texas put the ball in the hands of its top playmaker. Quarterback Quinn Ewers threw a quick pass to Xavier Worthy, who had a cornerback playing nearly 10 yards off of him on first down. Worthy immediately eluded a tackle from Wyoming's Tyrecus Davis and scooted down the field for a 44-yard score. The touchdown was Worthy's second of the season. Last week at Alabama, he caught a 44-yard bomb thrown by Ewers. Texas later added to its score on a 5-yard touchdown run by Ewers with 9:01 left. Fifteen seconds later, Jerrin Thompson returned an interception 27 yards for UT's first defensive touchdown of the season.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2023

Fentanyl victims’ families applaud Abbott’s efforts, but many want a broader approach

As the fentanyl crisis gripped Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott ramped up border security, signed laws toughening criminal penalties for drug dealers and tied the problem to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies. In his third term as governor, Abbott has been as aggressive as any politician in responding to calls to do something to stop people from dying from the illicit drug. “Texas is on the front lines of dealing with the fentanyl crisis caused by Biden’s open border policies,” Abbott said in August during a speech in Dallas. “Just Texas law enforcement alone has seized more than enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman and child in the entire United States of America,” he said. “The number of Americans who would have lost their lives, if it were not for what Texas is doing, is completely incalculable.”

Abbott’s effort to fight fentanyl has centered around his marquee initiative, Operation Lone Star, a nearly $10 billion effort to secure the border. In that August speech, Abbott said that Biden should send him an oversized “thank you” card for his efforts. Since March 2021 Texas has spent over $4.5 billion on Operation Lone Star, and $5 billion more was allocated this year. But according to U.S. border authorities, about 90% of illicit fentanyl is seized at official crossings, and the drugs are rarely carried by migrants or asylum-seekers sneaking into the U.S. In 2021, U.S. citizens made up 86.3% of convicted fentanyl traffickers, or 10 times greater than the number of illegal immigrants convicted of the same offense, according to the Cato Institute, citing U.S. Sentencing Commission data. In 2018, U.S. citizens comprised 80% of convicted fentanyl traffickers, according to the commission. The Texas Department of Public Safety, however, says state law enforcement has seized 426 million lethal doses of fentanyl in areas not actively patrolled by the federal government.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Katy ISD bans 14 more books, including Dr. Seuss title, after putting $93K in books in storage

Katy Independent School District has remained silent on the reasons 14 additional books were removed from shelves and how the district's book review policy is being implemented, despite a public pledge of transparency on book banning. Of the seven Katy ISD board members, only Rebecca Fox would discuss her opinion on the move, saying the new policy may need to be revisited if exhaustive book reviews continue. In August and September, an internal committee found 14 books, including titles by Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle and Judy Blume, to be inappropriate for children for reasons the district would not make public. In June, the board had directed $93,000 in new books ordered for campuses to be put in storage until they could be reviewed.

Prior to enacting the new policy, Katy ISD removed four books in 2022, eight in 2021 and four in the first seven months of 2023. This year the district expanded the terms under which a book could be pulled for review, adding "nudity" in the definition of inappropriate material. For the first time, six elementary school books have been removed. The book “No, David!” — winner of the Caldecott Honor Book and several other national awards — is one of them. The cartoon David takes every opportunity to misbehave but is always reminded that his parents love him anyway, according to the book's publisher, Scholastic Inc. At one point in the story, a David jumps out of the tub and and is pictured running off without clothes on. Drew Daywalt’s “The Day the Crayons Quit" was one of 44 books flagged for review in August that was later retained. An illustration depicts a beige crayon that has lost its wrapper, becoming “naked.” Fox, who voted in favor of the book review policy, said it's an example of how implementation has deviated from the policy's intent. “Nudity was added to the policy, but a book about a crayon with a wrapper is not nudity. That’s not what was intended by the policy,” she said. “If this continues, we may have to revisit the definitions of the policy.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2023

Tarrant County judge blames ‘corrupt media’ for Paxton trial

Tarrant County Judge Tim O’Hare is calling the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton an “unbelievable waste of taxpayer dollars.” In a post on the social media site X, shortly after Paxton was acquitted of all impeachment articles by the Texas Senate, O’Hare appeared to blame “corrupt media sources” for the impeachment saga, which has expose divisions within the state GOP party. “Here are two important lessons for Republicans,” wrote O’Hare, a Republican serving his first term as Tarrant County’s top official. “Republicans should NEVER, EVER buy, read, watch or consume anything from corrupt media sources. We all know who they are.” He continued with, “Republicans should NEVER, EVER repeat anything published by the corrupt media. They are simply untrustworthy.”

A commenter responded that Paxton, who was accused of corruption and abuse of office by the Texas House in May, “is an enormous embarrassment” and called Senate Republicans “cowards for putting politics over responsibility. ... There was a time when Republicans were willing to do what was right, sadly those days are gone.” O’Hare responded, “We’re pretty busy trying to stop leftists from telling little girls and boys they can change their sex, putting porn in school libraries and teaching kids that America is a terrible place.” The commenter reacted with, “Absolutely none of that is happening. You and your ilk are spending all your time building enormous mountains out of nothing to scare weak minded people into giving you money and power. Your only goal is power and how you get it is unimportant to you.” To which O’Hare wrote, “Now you’re simply being dishonest.”

Texas Observer - September 17, 2023

Short-term rentals cause a long-term mess

Gunfire jolted Zoey Sanchez awake that night in February, not something she heard often in her usually tranquil neighborhood in Plano, north of Dallas. Then she heard screeching tires. After a few minutes, Sanchez peeked out a window to see police officers detaining a young woman. Sanchez eventually went back to sleep. Then it was sunrise, and her husband was jostling her awake. You need to get up, he said. There’s drama. She grabbed a bathrobe and walked out of the front door—and into chaos. Outside, news crews and upset neighbors had descended on remnants of an active crime scene. And everyone seemed to be looking at her house—specifically, at a window in her young daughter’s playroom. She learned that a party at the short-term rental house across the street had turned into a gunfight, and one bullet had ricocheted around her daughter Luna’s playroom, crossing the nook where Luna likes to read. Thankfully, Luna had been asleep in her bedroom, tucked away from windows facing the street.

The two-story brick rental house had become a frequent source of trouble for the neighborhood Sanchez loved. An outsider had bought it, sunk a lot of money into it, tried to sell it, and then turned it into a bed-and-breakfast. For months, loud tenants and their guests had disrupted the street. Neighbors had seen partygoers peeing in the yard, hanging out of windows, and screaming. Their cars filled the block. To neighbors, police had seemed unable, and the owner unwilling, to address the stream of complaints. Now the partying had escalated to violence that could easily have killed Sanchez’s daughter. Shootings, with horrific consequences, have become almost commonplace at Texas schools, houses of worship, restaurants, shopping malls, and concerts. This time, Sanchez feared she’d have to explain to Luna that she might not even be safe from gunfire in her own home. “As a mom, you don’t care about yourself. But your biggest thing is, you want to have your kids safe,” said Sanchez, an occupational therapist. “So when your house is not safe anymore, you’re like, ‘Well, that sucks. I failed.’” When Sanchez began researching the situation, she found that the problems at B&Bs in other neighborhoods were equally serious. The previous fall, police busted a sex trafficking ring operating a brothel out of a short-term rental three miles away. In nearby Wylie, a woman allegedly used an Airbnb in fall 2021 for sex trafficking her 8-year-old daughter. In northwest Dallas, according to news reports, an Airbnb unit owner fired his management company after neighbors complained about visitors and armed security guards. What had once been a way for visitors to find charming, off-the-beaten-path lodgings—and a way for local property owners to make extra money with little neighborhood disruption—has become a global business dominated by corporate investors that in many places threaten the safety and character of residential neighborhoods. How short-term rentals (or STRs) fit into the local landscape varies, but it’s becoming universally accepted that, left uncontrolled, their impact can be immense. In some places, they are making rental housing so lucrative as tourist lodging that it is becoming unavailable and unaffordable to local workers, students, and other residents.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2023

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Paxton is acquitted, and Texans and good government are the losers

Ken Paxton, who has made escaping or stalling accountability for alleged misconduct something of an art form, has been acquitted of all impeachment charges alleging bribery, corruption and misuse of public office. This may please his defenders — and there were enough Republican senators in the Capitol on Saturday to acquit Paxton in a vote largely along party lines — but this is no time to celebrate the sorry state of politics in Texas. Paxton has beaten the rap, but his trial and acquittal laid bare the sordid details of his leadership in the attorney general’s office. Paxton and a majority of Senate Republicans were winners Saturday. Texans and good government were the losers, for we expect an attorney general to be above reproach as the state’s top legal and law enforcement officer, someone whose integrity is unquestioned.

Instead, the evidence presented at Paxton’s impeachment trial demonstrated that one can misuse the office for personal benefit and to help a key political ally, and most of your fellow party members will tolerate it. The Senate’s decision Saturday to clear Paxton of wrongdoing sends a hostile and crippling message to whistleblowers and anyone who is brave enough to call out concerning behavior by a top elected official. The whistleblowers in Paxton’s office who courageously reported what they viewed as unlawful behavior suffered harsh consequences. Some lost their jobs. Several of Paxton's former top staffers testified about their concerns that Paxton helped donor Nate Paul and hired an inexperienced outside attorney to benefit Paul. The whistleblowers testified that they went to work in the attorney general’s office because they were true believers in conservative values, and they idolized Paxton as a beacon for conservative causes. Instead, what they said they observed was a man misusing his power.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

An eviction court as a resource hub? Judges in Harris County win grant to hire eviction diversion facilitators

At a downtown courtroom, tenants, property managers and lawyers were quietly awaiting their eviction cases when a constable stood up and addressed the room. Before Judge Steve Duble would hear their cases, he explained, there was something they needed to do. One by one, he introduced representatives from a series of nonprofits. Lone Star Legal Aid was there to provide qualifying tenants with free legal representation. Civic Heart could connect people in the room with occupational training and free food. The Alliance could talk about the emergency rental assistance program. He asked all tenants to go to the lobby outside to speak with the resource providers.

Since the pandemic, Harris County justices of the peace have wrestled with the question of how to handle a growing number of eviction filings. For example, Judge Wanda Adams has Civic Heart offer qualifying tenants free training in fields including forklift operations, welding and logistics. Many have welcomed free legal aid into their courtrooms so that lawyers can connect with those who show up without representation. The University of Houston Law Center's grant to provide free legal aid in Judge Dolores Lozano's court recently ran out, but her courtroom also has a representative from the Alliance help with rent relief applications, and she passes out a sheet of resources. Now, a grant for nearly $300,000 will allow Duble and Lozano to create new staff positions they hope will further aid people who come to court during difficult times in their lives: eviction diversion facilitators. The National Center for State Courts grant will allow both courts to hire an eviction diversion facilitator for a year and a half, with a possibility of extending funding. After the grant, the judges hope to make the position part of their normal budgets. The facilitators, whom they hope to have in place by early October, will be tasked with providing tenants with resources.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Houston City Council candidates spar at forum over Union Pacific, Fifth Ward cancer cluster

The contaminated Union Pacific rail yard was a point of contention at a Thursday City Council candidate forum as a Fifth Ward activist criticized the District B incumbent for partnerships with the railroad. Fifth Ward activist Kendra London, one of five candidates running for the District B seat in the November election, did not single out City Council member Tarsha Jackson by name during the forum, but she but alluded to some of the incumbent's work with the railroad. Jackson has partnered with Union Pacific through the BeSuccessful Community Capacity Building Initiative, and through an effort that also included Sister 2 Sistah to take Fifth Ward kids to a Houston Astros game. “We have family members that have died. That does not suffice for a baseball game,” London said at Carl Walker Jr. Multipurpose Center.

Jackson said she and other elected officials are working to hold Union Pacific accountable for the contamination; Houston leaders threatened to sue the railroad over the site, and Jackson said she pushed for air monitors in District B neighborhoods. However, Jackson said she also believes she should work with Union Pacific on initiatives that can benefit residents. “Our kids deserve to go to a baseball game. Union Pacific deserves to pay for our kids to go to a baseball game,” Jackson said. Moderators on several occasions asked candidates, which included those vying to be controller, to refrain from criticizing their opponents, noting that the event was a forum rather than a debate. Fellow District B candidate Tyrone Willis also weighed in on the rail yard, saying there needs to be continuous testing for contaminants. Southern Pacific Railroad mixed creosote, a likely carcinogen, with hazardous industrial waste to treat wooden railroad ties at the rail yard from 1911 to 1984. Union Pacific merged with Southern Pacific and acquired the property in 1997. Four overlapping cancer clusters have been identified around the site. Mayor Sylvester Turner in July announced a “strike force” to relocate residents directly affected by the longtime contamination.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Half of Houston renters struggle to pay for housing. Will the next mayor take notice?

It seems “the rent is too damn high” may not just be a campaign slogan fitting for a New York mayoral campaign. A quarter of Houston renters spend over half their income on housing, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey shows. This places them in the “severely rent burdened” category, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Yet most mayoral candidates have not adequately prioritized housing affordability in their campaign platforms, experts say. Housing is considered “affordable” if it comprises less than 30% of a household's income. The latest census data, released Thursday, reveals half of Houston renters pay above that threshold.

A recent Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research survey found that most Houstonians are worried about rising housing costs. Three-quarters of them want the next mayor to focus on affordable housing. However, only 44% of likely city voters, who are typically older and whiter than the average resident, share this sentiment, according to a University of Houston poll. For the electorate, crime and flooding are more pressing concerns, the poll results revealed. “If I'm a candidate, there is the question of what will get me in office,” said Daniel Potter, senior director of research at the Kinder Institute who co-authored the survey. “Our voter base just isn’t thinking about affordable housing to the same degree as our general residents.” While Houston has often touted its reasonable housing costs, its rents have soared alongside those of other major metros. From 2012 to 2022, census data shows the city's median rent rose from $823 to $1,246 – a double-digit percentage increase even after accounting for inflation.

WFAA - September 17, 2023

Jacqueline Craig, who settled with City of Fort Worth for $150k after viral arrest, dies at 53

Jacqueline Craig, whose viral arrest led to a $150,000 settlement with the City of the Fort Worth, has died at 53. Craig's attorney, Lee Merritt, confirmed to WFAA that Craig died Friday due to pancreatic cancer. Merritt said more details on her death would be released Sunday and details on a memorial service would be released soon as well. The arrest first occurred nearly six years ago, with video of the arrest going viral, gaining more than 5 million views and causing protests in the city calling for the arresting officer, William Martin, and former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald to be fired. The lawsuit accused Martin of using excessive force and alleged Fort Worth policymakers — specifically Fitzgerald, Mayor Betsy Price and the Fort Worth City Council — in general, failed to supervise or discipline officers who used excessive force and failed to try to identify those officers.

Martin had responded to Craig's call for police assistance in December 2016. Craig had called 911 to report that her son had been choked by a neighbor. That's when Martin was caught on video questioning Craig's parenting. The lawsuit describes how she and the officer became involved in a heated exchange that ended up with Craig and her 15-year-old daughter being forced to the ground and placed in handcuffs, all while a Taser was pointed at them. Fitzgerald was fired in May 2019 after serving as police chief for three-and-a-half years. Martin received a 10-day suspension following the incident. Merritt said the incident led to the Fort Worth community being empowered to have a voice in city policy. "So many members of the community are now regular attendees to city council meetings," he said at the time. "But not only that, we’ve seen commissions that have been put together in Jacqueline Craig’s honor, that have been put together to discuss ways that the expansive Fort Worth Police Department can be reformed. And we’ve seen some reforms implemented that I think will make the community a safer place.”

Austin Chronicle - September 17, 2023

Consultants given lucrative city contracts without council approval

How would you like a job that pays roughly $30,000 a month and requires no documented work output? That's the kind of gig two longtime associates of Interim City Manager Jesús Garza and Mayor Kirk Watson landed this year, without competition from other candidates. From February to July, each was paid roughly $150,000 in taxpayer dollars to provide vaguely defined consulting services through subcontracts that were not approved by City Council – even though that amount of money usually requires Council authorization. The two consultants – Laura Huffman and Joe Canales – are on track to end the year as two of the highest-paid workers at City Hall (though as outside consultants, they don't get benefits offered to full-time employees, such as health care).

At the rate the pair has been billing, each could make more than $420,000 by year's end – an annualized rate that exceeds that paid to Garza ($350,000) and approaches that paid to Austin Energy General Manager Robert Kahn ($475,009), the city's two highest-paid full-time workers. It is not surprising that people with prior City Hall experience and long histories with the two men currently ruling the second and third floors of that building were brought back into the fold during a tumultuous time for the city of Austin's bureaucratic machine. In a statement, Garza said as much. "The Mayor and Council brought me on board to be a change agent," he said. "To be effective in providing results, I did bring in people I know, including Laura and Joe, because of the breadth of experience and knowledge they both have, not just about city government, but the City of Austin specifically." Bringing them on board through subcontracts rather than initiating new contracts, which would have required Council approval, "afforded us with the mechanism for bringing Laura and Joe on to assist me in acting quickly and decisively," Garza continued. "The results we've achieved in a number of areas already, including legislative analysis, compensation structure evaluation and labor negotiations, speak for themselves."

National Stories

New York Times - September 17, 2023

Top Democrats’ bullishness on Biden 2024 collides with voters’ worries

As President Biden shifts his re-election campaign into higher gear, the strength of his candidacy is being tested by a striking divide between Democratic leaders, who are overwhelmingly unified behind his bid, and rank-and-file voters in the party who harbor persistent doubts about whether he is their best option. From the highest levels of the party on down, Democratic politicians and party officials have long dismissed the idea that Mr. Biden should have any credible primary challenger. Yet despite their efforts — and the president’s lack of a serious opponent within his party — they have been unable to dispel Democratic concerns about him that center largely on his age and vitality. The discord between the party’s elite and its voters leaves Democrats confronting a level of disunity over a president running for re-election not seen for decades.

Interviews with more than a dozen strategists, elected officials and voters this past week, conversations with Democrats since Mr. Biden’s campaign began in April, and months of public polling data show that this disconnect has emerged as a defining obstacle for his candidacy, worrying Democrats from liberal enclaves to swing states to the halls of power in Washington. Mr. Biden’s campaign and his allies argue that much of the intraparty dissent will fade away next year, once the election becomes a clear choice between the president and former President Donald J. Trump, the dominant leader in the Republican primary field. But their assurances have not tamped down worries about Mr. Biden from some top Democratic strategists and many of the party’s voters, who approve of his performance but worry that Mr. Biden, who will be 82 on Inauguration Day, may simply not be up for another four years — or even the exhausting slog of another election.

Politico - September 17, 2023

‘Fictitious’ facts and ‘imagined’ history: GOP Rep. Ken Buck slams Biden impeachment effort

GOP Rep. Ken Buck, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, slammed his caucus and party’s efforts to impeach President Joe Biden as “relying on an imagined history.” “Trump’s impeachment in 2019 was a disgrace to the Constitution and a disservice to Americans. The GOP’s reprise in 2023 is no better,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) wrote in an op-ed published Friday. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced the impeachment inquiry into Biden this week in an attempt to placate his conservative critics. Buck’s positioning as an impeachment skeptic is something of an anomaly among hardline conservatives in the the far-right caucus responsible for McCarthy’s many headaches.

In an interview last Sunday, Buck suggested that “there is not a strong connection at this point between the evidence on Hunter Biden and any evidence connecting the president.” He seemed to have changed his mind Tuesday, when he called the inquiry a “good move.” But, on Thursday in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, he reverted to his previous stance: “I want to make sure we don’t ruin this institution over a tit-for-tat impeachment. If the evidence is there, Jake, I will absolutely vote for impeachment. I don’t see the evidence at this point.” Buck’s Washington Post op-ed doubled down on that argument, laying out his understanding of the evidence against Hunter Biden and his father. Republicans are “relying on an imagined history,” he claimed, calling the facts cited by Republicans “fictitious” and emphasizing the gravity of an impeachment inquiry.

Washington Post - September 17, 2023

Nikki Haley is betting on an electability message to win in 2024

Frank Williams brought a homemade sign to Nikki Haley’s campaign event this month featuring her and President Biden’s results in a hypothetical matchup, scrawled in red marker: “Nikki 49%, Biden 43%.” The sign — based on a CNN poll released the same day that found Haley was the only Republican presidential candidate with a clear lead over Biden — underscored the electability argument that has been central to Haley’s campaign and has helped win over independent and unaffiliated voters like Williams, who said he likes Donald Trump’s policies but fears he can’t win in November 2024. “Frankly, I want to support him just because of the way they’re treating Trump; I want to vote for him just because to me, it’s political prosecution, political persecution,” said Williams, referencing the 91 state and federal charges the former president faces. “But I think Nikki’s a better candidate.”

“Because of some of the positions she’s taken, she’s going to be better accepted in a general election. The primary problem, of course, is, can she win a primary,” Williams fretted while waiting at a brewery for the former U.N. ambassador and governor of South Carolina. That is a glaring question confronting Haley, who has picked up steam since a well-received debate performance last month, drawing big crowds on the trail and making gains in recent polls but still running well behind Trump with the next debate less than two weeks away. At her event here, Haley hit on the themes she has emphasized for months, telling attendees that “Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president; that’s nothing to be proud of” and that voters should not “complain about what happens in a general election if you don’t play in this primary.” She echoed her past argument that Republicans, not just Democrats, are at fault for the national debt. Haley has found an audience as she leans hard into the general election message and tries to seize on the momentum from her debate performance. She and her allies argue that she is the challenger Democrats fear the most, and that her stance on issues like abortion and Ukraine will help her win over constituencies like disaffected Republicans and suburban women. But in a party dominated by Trump, in which a sizable number of primary voters still believe the false narrative that he won in 2020, the electability argument may go only so far.

New York Times - September 17, 2023

In risky hunt for secrets, U.S. and China expand global spy operations

As China’s spy balloon drifted across the continental United States in February, American intelligence agencies learned that President Xi Jinping of China had become enraged with senior Chinese military generals. The spy agencies had been trying to understand what Mr. Xi knew and what actions he would take as the balloon, originally aimed at U.S. military bases in Guam and Hawaii, was blown off course. Mr. Xi was not opposed to risky spying operations against the United States, but American intelligence agencies concluded that the People’s Liberation Army had kept Mr. Xi in the dark until the balloon was over the United States. American officials would not discuss how spy agencies gleaned this information. But in details reported here for the first time, they discovered that when Mr. Xi learned of the balloon’s trajectory and realized it was derailing planned talks with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, he berated senior generals for failing to tell him that the balloon had gone astray, according to American officials briefed on the intelligence.

The episode threw a spotlight on the expanding and highly secretive spy-versus-spy contest between the United States and China. The balloon crisis, a small part of a much larger Chinese espionage effort, reflects a brazen new aggressiveness by Beijing in gathering intelligence on the United States as well as Washington’s growing capabilities to collect its own information on China. For Washington, the espionage efforts are a critical part of President Biden’s strategy to constrain the military and technological rise of China, in line with his thinking that the country poses the greatest long-term challenge to American power. For Beijing, the new tolerance for bold action among Chinese spy agencies is driven by Mr. Xi, who has led his military to engage in aggressive moves along the nation’s borders and pushed his foreign intelligence agency to become more active in farther-flung locales. The main efforts on both sides are aimed at answering the two most difficult questions: What are the intentions of leaders in the rival nation, and what military and technological capabilities do they command? American officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss espionage, have stressed in interviews throughout the year the magnitude of the challenge. The C.I.A. is focusing on Mr. Xi himself, and in particular his intentions regarding Taiwan.

Associated Press - September 17, 2023

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signs law restricting release of her travel, security records

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law Thursday restricting release of her travel and security records after the Legislature wrapped up a special session marked by a fight to more broadly scale back the state Freedom of Information Act. The law, which took effect immediately, allows the state to wall off details about the security provided the GOP governor and other constitutional officers, including who travels on the State Police airplane and the cost of individual trips. Proposed changes to the 1967 law protecting the public’s access to government records were among several items Sanders had placed on the agenda for a session that met this week.

“We protected the police officers who protect our constitutional officers and my family in keeping their security information and tactics exempt from Freedom of Information Act disclosure,” Sanders said before signing the measure, about two hours after lawmakers gave it final it approval. Sanders and Republicans in the Legislature had initially pushed for more widespread exemptions to the open-records law, but backed off after facing growing criticism that it would erode government transparency. Some of the opponents of the broader exemptions for other state agencies that had been proposed initially endorsed the legislation after it was pared down to the security measures. But it still faces criticism that it will keep the public in the dark about how taxpayer dollars are being spent. Democratic Rep. Andrew Collins said protecting the governor and her family is a good reason to exempt some records from release, but it should only be done as narrowly as possible. “But I don’t think this is drawn as narrowly as possible,” Collins, who voted against the bill, said. Sanders sought the security exemptions as the State Police was sued by an attorney and blogger who accused the agency of illegally withholding records about the governor’s travel and security. But Matthew Campbell, who runs the Blue Hog Report website, asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit after Campbell said he tested positive for COVID-19 and would be unable to attend a hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday. Campbell posted on X, formerly Twitter, that he may refile the suit.

ABC Action News - September 17, 2023

With Republican support, Miami Dade Committee moves forward with heat standard to protect workers

Another step forward for new measures to protect people who work outside in the heat. On Monday, the Miami-Dade County Health Committee decided to pass a heat standard for outdoor workers. It still has to pass a County Board Meeting in October before it's fully adopted. Yet, outdoor workers left hopeful Monday, as commissioners will now continue to tweak an ordinance that would give breaks for water, the bathroom, and rest. It also asks for more shade and mandatory safety training. It’s all to ensure those who work in the extreme Miami-Dade heat are protected.

Back in July, while on the job, Efrain Lopez Garcia said he didn’t feel well. The farm worker was found, minutes later, dead. His brother shared his thoughts during a press conference, saying in Spanish, “Like all those who come over here for a better future, they work day to day in the heat, but unfortunately, he died. And so did his dream.” Fast forward to September, the Miami Dade Community Health Committee is tasked with choosing to adopt their own heat standards, named ‘Que Calor!’ It is something many community members felt passionate about, and dozens vocalized their concerns at a Monday afternoon committee meeting. After much discussion, the board decided to move this item forward to a full board meeting in October, where it will be tweaked further and potentially meet final approval. It is something the Farm Workers Association has been spending years working towards. While they are grateful for the step in the right direction, they said there’s still work to be done.

CityLab - September 17, 2023

High-speed train linking Orlando and Miami gets long-awaited start

Orlando transit riders will finally get the chance to zip over to Miami or West Palm Beach on a high-speed train next week. After a delay driven by last year’s turmoil in the bond market, Fortress Investment Group-backed Brightline will kick off its service to Orlando International Airport on Sept. 22. The service will allow connections between Orlando and South Florida destinations, including Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, the not-yet-profitable rail operator announced Wednesday. Florida’s boom in economic activity and influx of wealth has led to an increase in commuter and corporate ridership, even as other transit systems across the US struggle to bring riders back to pre-pandemic levels. South Florida now houses soccer star Lionel Messi after his move to play for Inter Miami, as well as Citadel following the hedge fund’s relocation to Miami from Chicago.

Elliott Investment Management made a similar switch, moving to West Palm Beach from Manhattan, as the state benefits from a migration south from higher tax states. The Sunshine State’s growth has helped to boost the carrier’s ridership, with passengers surging 71% year-to-date through July, compared to the prior year period. Still, the five-year-old carrier hasn’t turned an annual profit, losing $260 million last year. That’s not stopping Brightline’s expansion plans as it targets extending the line west to Tampa with a projected completion in 2028. The operator is also working on a 235-mile-long line connecting Southern California and Las Vegas. “Opening Orlando fulfills our ultimate business model,” Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline said in a press release. “We have seen incredible enthusiasm from the business and tourism industries eager to travel between Central and South Florida.” The firm didn’t respond to a request for comment on profitability. One-way tickets for the three and a half hour trip from Miami to Orlando will cost $79 for regular adult seats and start at $149 for premium, according to a press release. The trains are expected to reach maximum speeds of 125 miles-per-hour.

Fox News - September 17, 2023

To avoid blackouts, California Legislature approves plan to buy more wind energy

The California Legislature voted Thursday to give Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration permission to buy massive amounts of electricity, a move aimed at avoiding blackouts by shoring up the state's power supply while jumpstarting the West Coast's fledgling offshore wind industry. Five companies paid roughly $750 million last year to lease areas off the California coast to build wind turbines. Collectively, those projects could generate enough electricity to power 3.5 million homes, helping the state avoid blackouts during extreme heat waves that have routinely strained the electrical grid of the nation's most populous state. But so far, the state's largest utility companies have not been willing to commit to buying power from projects like those because it would cost too much money and take too long to build.

In addition to building the wind turbines, the projects will require improvements at the state's ports and new power lines to transport the energy from the ocean to the land. "This is a major, generational series of investments that need to happen, and there’s a real risk it won’t if we can’t provide more certainty," said Alex Jackson, director of American Clean Power Association, which represents the companies trying to build the wind projects. The bill would let the state buy the power. The money would come from a surcharge imposed on Californians' electricity bills. State regulators would decide how much this charge would be. Consumers would not pay it until the wind projects are up and running, likely several years from now. California already has among the highest electricity rates in the country. "This legislation ... means that every single ratepayer in California, no matter where you live, is going to pay for this," said Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, who opposes the bill. Supporters argue the bill will save people money in the long run on their electric bills. California has a law requiring all of its electricity to come from renewable or non-carbon sources by 2045. To do that, supporters say the state will have to invest in offshore wind projects, which typically generate the most power at night when solar energy is not as abundant.

September 15, 2023

Lead Stories

D Magazine - September 15, 2023

The state hasn’t addressed school funding. Some districts say they’re done waiting.

The Texas Legislature failed to pass school funding reform in the regular session last May, and the issue has reached a boiling point. A handful of districts are now considering withholding their “recapture” payments to the state. Trustees in the Houston-adjacent district of Spring Branch were the first to make that decision, and Keller ISD’s board followed with an affirmative vote this week. A discussion about recapture is on the agenda for Carroll ISD’s September meeting, and Grapevine-Colleyville board president Shannon Braun confirmed Tuesday that its trustees will also vote on whether to withhold the district’s payment this month. Recapture is a way the state distributes the part of property tax bills that is collected by local school districts. In simple terms, property-rich schools that collect more in property taxes pay a portion of their tax revenue to the state, where it is placed in the general fund to be redistributed to property-poor schools. That’s why you’ll frequently see it referred to by the sobriquet “Robin Hood.”

When a district’s property values per student exceed the threshold set by the state legislature, it is required to “equalize” its wealth by either purchasing attendance credits, or shedding property. The latter is unattractive, so most districts opt to purchase attendance credits, payments that require one-time approval by voters. Since its inception in the early 1990s, the number of districts required to pay recapture dollars has increased exponentially. In 1994, the first year, $127 million was collected from 34 districts. In 2021, the state collected more than $3 billion from over 170 districts. Dallas ISD became subject to recapture in 2009. In a slate of property tax reform bills passed during July’s special session, school property taxes were compressed to reduce districts’ maintenance and operations property tax rate by 10.7 cents per $100 valuation. That M&O rate pays for things like teacher salaries and maintaining school property. (The entire property tax relief package goes to voters this November.) Braun said that several more districts may join the fray, but that remains to be seen. Coppell ISD spokesperson Amanda Simpson said trustees in her district have “no plans” to consider withholding payments. Highland Park ISD deputy superintendent Shorr Heathcote said the district does not have plans to withhold any recapture payments, but will “continue to monitor any developments from across the state.” He said that the district has budgeted roughly $107 million for recapture, but anticipates it will drop to $89 million after voters weigh in on the property tax reform changes in November.

ABC News - September 15, 2023

Visibly irritated McCarthy dares Republican hard-liners to try to oust him in closed-door meeting

During a closed-door meeting with his conference, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday dared Republican hard-liners to try to oust him as speaker, according to multiple sources in the room. A defiant McCarthy said he's not afraid of a motion to vacate, sources said, telling his colleagues: "Move the f------ motion." Some in the room described McCarthy as visibly irritated. Tensions between McCarthy and the House Freedom Caucus are at a high level amid a spending showdown on Capitol Hill. McCarthy on Thursday warned Republicans they would lose the shutdown fight if they don't start passing bills soon, according to sources. He said the House will stay in session if the government is not funded.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and members of the House Freedom Caucus are opposed to a continuing resolution to keep the government open after the Sept. 30 deadline that doesn't include their policy demands, such as language on border security and "weaponization of the DOJ." Gaetz has repeatedly threatened that he could bring the motion to vacate to the floor any day now despite McCarthy ordering an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden -- a move widely seen as an attempt to appease the far-right flank. "I rise today to serve notice," Gaetz said in a floor speech on Tuesday shortly after McCarthy's impeachment announcement. "Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role. The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you in to immediate total compliance or remove you, pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair." The motion to vacate was a key element of McCarthy's deal with the House Freedom Caucus, a group of 35 or so conservative hard-liners, to become speaker of the House. Under their agreement, a rule change was made to allow just a single member to launch a vote on his removal. If it did come to the full floor, it would need just a simple majority to pass.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2023

Texas PUC questions ERCOT over last week's power emergency

ERCOT came under questioning from the Public Utility Commission of Texas on Thursday, a week after the system delivering electricity to 90% of the state entered emergency operations for the first time since the deadly 2021 winter freeze. An official with the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, told commissioners that in addition to sudden decline in frequency on the grid, critical to maintaining operations, its power reserves were likely lower than thought when it declared an emergency last week. The comments came a day after ERCOT filed an 11-page report with the commission offering the most detailed explanation yet of what happened to cause the Texas power grid to get the closest it has to blackouts since 2021. “The operations team had a balancing act they had to do. They had to protect system equipment to keep it from being overloaded, which required decreasing generation,” Woody Rickerson, ERCOT’s newly appointed chief operating officer, told commissioners.

In response, Commissioner Jimmy Glotfelty said, “(We’re) not determining whether this was good, bad or ugly. It happened, it saved the system, fine. Is that the appropriate action to take going forward if we see these similar conditions?” Glotfelty asked Rickerson why ERCOT’s report did not mention natural gas and coal plant outages in North Texas, even though he said a conversation he had with Rickerson and others at ERCOT indicated these outages were one of the reasons why a South Texas transmission line was at risk of being overloaded. Rickerson said more information about which natural gas and coal plants suffered outages — and for how long — would be in ERCOT’s next report, along with an analysis of how batteries contributed to the grid. On Sept. 6, before the level two emergency was declared, electricity generators reported 2,104 megawatts were available for the grid operator’s backup stores of power, Rickerson told commissioners. This reserve, known as the physical responsive capability, or PRC, represents the grid operator’s resources available when sudden changes such as an unexpected outage of a large electricity generator require a quick response. That amount of operating reserves shouldn’t have caused the sudden decline in the power grid’s frequency to 59.77 hertz that day, Rickerson said. One of ERCOT’s most important tasks is to balance supply and demand of electricity so the power grid stays right around 60 hertz — if frequency dips too low, widespread power plant outages and equipment failures could follow.

Washington Post - September 15, 2023

Double blow of inquiry and son’s indictment create tough stretch for Biden

In just over 48 hours this week, President Biden faced a double-barreled onslaught of political and personal setbacks, as his son’s business dealings and personal struggles created new turbulence at a time when his advisers wanted to focus attention on the problems of former president Donald Trump and House Republicans. On Thursday, Biden’s son Hunter was indicted on charges of making false statements and illegally possessing a handgun, paving the way for a criminal trial that could unfold as Biden pursues reelection. That came two days after House Republicans opened a formal impeachment inquiry centered on whether the president benefited from his son’s business dealings, although they have produced little, if any, evidence to that effect. Neither the inquiry nor the indictment was unexpected, but the back-to-back developments underscored the challenges Biden faces as he runs for a second term.

He faces no serious competition for the Democratic nomination, but some Democrats are growing increasingly concerned about his vulnerabilities, including his age, as polls show a tight race between him and Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination. The legal and political clouds hanging over Hunter Biden now add to those troubles. “It’s always a concern,” former senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a Biden ally, said of Hunter Biden’s indictment. “It’s weighing on him and the entire family. The fact of the matter is, this president has made a point of letting the Justice Department do its work and not interfere. The chips will fall where they are going to fall.” Trump’s criminal trials stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his alleged mishandling of classified documents have largely overshadowed Biden’s challenges to this point. But an impeachment inquiry and the indictment of an immediate family member, especially in such rapid succession, represent a striking pair of setbacks for a president, a reality that may become more evident with the formal launch of proceedings in the courtroom and the Capitol. Jones said he thinks the court case will end up with a favorable resolution for Hunter Biden. In the meantime, he predicted, the president will stay focused on selling his record to voters.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2023

What to expect as closing arguments get underway in Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial

House managers prosecuting and lawyers defending Ken Paxton will have their final chance to argue why the attorney general should or should not remain in office this morning. Closing arguments in Paxton’s impeachment trial begin at 9 a.m. in the Texas Senate. Their final pitches to the senator jurors come after a two-week trial revolving around allegations that Paxton’s dealings with Austin real estate investor Nate Paul were corrupt. Each side will have one hour to make its case before handing Paxton’s fate over to senators. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial, said that once deliberations begin, senators will meet every day until they reach a verdict.

Senators have remained under a gag order during the trial, leaving little insight as to how the final vote might turn out. The only hint came at the outset of the proceedings, when senators voted on numerous motions to dismiss the articles of impeachment. Possibly most telling was a 24-6 vote against dismissing every article of impeachment under review. Twenty-one senators – a two-thirds majority – are required to convict Paxton, meaning the attorney general may need to convince four senators to win acquittal. Sen. Angela Paxton, the attorney general’s wife, is barred from deliberations and voting. However, because her recusal does not count against the total number of votes, it is essentially a “not guilty” vote. Paxton, a third-term Republican who pleaded not guilty and has denied all wrongdoing, has not attended the trial and did not testify.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2023

Paxton defense calls parade of AG staffers who say they saw no wrongdoing

Lawyers for Attorney General Ken Paxton mounted their defense Thursday, calling a string of current employees who testified that they had not witnessed their boss commit any crimes and were proud to serve him. Their testimony in the final days of Paxton’s impeachment trial marked the first time that state senators have heard directly from witnesses brought to defend the now-suspended attorney general. It also came as former President Donald Trump rallied to Paxton’s side on social media, slamming the trial as a “shameful” attempt to undo Paxton’s reelection last year. The defense rested late Thursday afternoon, several hours before their allotted time was set to run out. The GOP-controlled Senate could vote as early as Friday on whether to remove Paxton from office, and then, separately if he’s convicted, on whether to bar the third-term Republican from running again.

House prosecutors on Thursday withdrew a last-minute attempt to combine the votes into one. The prosecutors, who rested their case Wednesday night, have alleged that Paxton was indebted to real estate tycoon Nate Paul for personal and financial favors and used the powers of the attorney general’s office to help him fight an FBI investigation and avoid foreclosures on several valuable properties. About half of the prosecutors’ witnesses were Paxton’s former senior aides who reported the attorney general to law enforcement in the fall of 2020. Their accounts of Paxton’s alleged misconduct have formed the backbone of the prosecution’s case, which also accuses Paxton of retaliating against the employees for making the report by firing some of them. In contrast, the defense argued Thursday that the whistleblowers were terminated because of “egregious violations” of the agency’s workplace policies and that Paxton was within his legal right to direct employees to intervene in matters affecting Paul. Notably, several employees of the attorney general’s office led Paxton’s defense on Thursday, meaning they were questioning their own colleagues under oath. The employees took leave from the state agency over the summer to join the defense team. Henry De La Garza, the human resources director for the attorney general’s office, testified that Paxton and his top aides never indicated the whistleblowers needed to be fired because they made a report to law enforcement.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2023

HISD board forms District of Innovation panel, lowers tax rate at meeting marked by teacher's removal

The Houston ISD board unanimously voted Thursday to lower the tax rate and move forward with Superintendent Mike Miles’ plan to turn HISD into a District of Innovation, following public comments from dozens of speakers concerned that the move would exempt the district from certain state laws. The board also named an eight-member planning committee to put together designs for what Houston’s District of Innovation might look like. Those members are Edgardo Colon, Lauren Fontaine, Janette Garza Lindner, Bill Horwath, Jessica Morffi, Uche Ndefo and Theresa Tran, all of whom were also appointed by board members to HISD's District Advisory Committee. Speakers at a public hearing on the issue, and the monthly board meeting that followed it, openly doubted the superintendent’s true intentions, expressing fear that he would waive teacher certification requirements, increase class sizes and remove other protections mandated by the Texas Education Code.

“I ask that you please listen to the community. There are many reservations right now regarding the DOI application,” said HISD parent Kendra Camarena. “Accountability is really important to us … I ask that you be considerate of the checks and balances that are provided under state law and are extremely important, and that you don’t venture toward a District of Innovation.” Miles has argued that the move is necessary if the district is to lengthen its school year and increase instructional time, but otherwise declined to specify which exemptions the district will seek, saying he doesn't want to get ahead of the planning committee. Two speakers, including elected District VIII Trustee Judith Cruz, expressed support for his plan at Thursday’s meetings, arguing that a longer school year is necessary to make up learning loss. “We don’t need to waste another school year. Do the right thing for our students,” Cruz said. The board unanimously approved the plan to form a District of Innovation Planning Committee after withdrawing to a closed session, without discussing the matter publicly. More than 965 of Texas’ 1,000 traditional school districts have already signed up as Districts of Innovation since the Texas Legislature authorized the distinction under the same 2015 law that led to the state takeover of HISD earlier this year. Districts are eligible to be a District of Innovation if they receive a C rating or higher from the state.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2023

New Texas law tightens leash on service animal impersonators

A new Texas law is working to tighten the leash on service animal impersonators through fines of up to $1,000 and 30 hours of community service. House Bill 4146 went into effect Sept.1, and targets those who represent their pets at service animals, or a "canine that is specifically trained to help a person with a disability," as defined by the law. The law comes after an increase in reports of people purposefully misrepresenting their dogs to get around breed restrictions or pet deposit fees at apartments or bring their animals inside restaurants, according to the bill's statement of intent.

Service dogs can perform a variety of tasks, including alerting someone with diabetes that their blood sugar gets too high or too low. Others may detect the onset of a seizure and help keep the owner safe, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Emotional support animals are different from service animals and don't offer the same rights or privileges to their owners. Business owners will be required to provide a written notice to customers if they offer items for pets or emotional support animals. Emotional support animals may provide comfort, but that does not qualify them as service animals under the ADA. Some local or state governments still allow emotional animals into public places. "Business owners and employees have become increasingly distrustful that an animal represented as a service dog is, in fact, a legitimate service animal. Consequently, people with disabilities who legitimately need a service animal have been aggressively questioned or kicked out of establishments by employees and business owners," legislators wrote.

El Paso Matters - September 15, 2023

Former state lawmaker drops efforts to regain his law license after serving prison sentence

Luther Jones, the former El Paso political leader who served a federal prison sentence on corruption charges, has dropped his lawsuit seeking to reclaim his law license. Jones, now 77 and living in Houston, had filed a lawsuit in Harris County District Court in July against the State Bar of Texas, seeking to regain the law license that was stripped when he was disbarred in 2013. His attorney, Marc Zito, filed a “notice of nonsuit” on Monday, which ends the lawsuit. The motion doesn’t specify a reason for the action. Jones said he didn’t want to speak again with El Paso Matters after a Sept. 6 story about his efforts to regain his law license. He did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

He said earlier that he wanted to regain his law license “because if I stop working, I start dying.” Even if he won his lawsuit against the State Bar – which opposed the reinstatement petition – Jones would have needed to pass the bar exam to regain his license. Among those supporting Jones’ efforts to regain his law license were two former colleagues from his days in Texas House in the 1970s – state Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. Whitmire currently is one of the leading candidates in the November election for Houston mayor. District Judge Ursula Hall set a Sept. 30, 2024, trial date for Jones, which seemed to catch him by surprise. “My attorney met personally with Judge and secured October 27th (2023) setting,” Jones said in a text message to El Paso Matters before saying he was ending further communication. He was referring to a hearing in the case planned for that date. Jones served El Paso as a state legislator, county attorney and county judge in the 1970s and 1980s. After losing his re-election bid for county judge in 1990, he worked as an attorney and a political power broker. He was among more than 30 people convicted following a sprawling FBI investigation into public corruption in El Paso that exploded into public view during a 2006 raid of the County Courthouse.

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2023

From bourbon to bankruptcy: Why an award-winning Texas distiller is handing off the baton

Les Beasley stands behind a slab of polished wood resting atop three evenly spaced barrels — a mock-up tasting counter — inside his unfinished, 60,000-square-foot warehouse in Muenster. He’s a master distiller and founder of the award-winning Valley View-based Whiskey Hollow craft distillery that expanded to this warehouse in 2018 after a successful four years in an old bank building. Beasley likes to say he’s “half Texan, half Missouri hillbilly.” He’s also part mechanic, engineer and scientist, and he’s always had moonshine on his mind. In the 1970s, he drove a muscle car designed for bootlegging that ran quietly above 120 mph, took corners at high speeds and was fitted with interior roll bars. In 1981, he built his first legal still as a thesis project for his master’s degree in applied sciences and technology.

“Pick up your glass to take the smell in, OK?” he tells a Dallas Morning News reporter and photographer, raising a shot of Whiskey Hollow bourbon to his nose. “Now your senses are alive. … If you understand bourbon, you start saying, ‘This is the guy’s life experiences to get it to this stage.’” Beasley lives by an old moonshiner’s creed, which to him means he earned his stripes by building his own still, creating his own recipes and only assuming the title “master distiller’' when another master bestowed it on him. To get this far was a dream come true. But this tasting session is one of Beasley’s last runs producing spirits with the stills he built. In March, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy — one of many commercial business failures in a year that’s seen an 18% surge in filings. Beasley’s limited liability corporation listed assets and liabilities that both totaled between $1 million and $10 million. As a result, Whiskey Hollow, and all of its property, are for sale — victims of an unforgiving business in an uncertain time. Owing thousands to investors, contractors and the county, Beasley estimates he could lose up to two-thirds of his life savings as he hands off his dream to a buyer and begins his retirement.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2023

Ryan Rusak: Low-turnout local elections pose threat to democracy, too

One of the problems with our democracy is this: There’s too much to it. Our cherished system faces more imminent threats, and no democracy will crumble because there are too many elections. But the breadth of what we ask voters to decide and the frequency with which we expect them to do it distorts results, allows vested interests to dominate and invites citizens to tune out. We elect too many offices, including some that require specialized knowledge and experience. We vote on too many questions directly, asking voters to evaluate complicated financial proposals, such as bonds, and arcane legal questions. And we vote too often. Between primaries, local elections and runoffs, a citizen might be asked to go to the polls six times in certain years. That doesn’t even include the occasional special election. The result, and the reason it poses a threat, is incredibly low voter turnout. Beyond presidential elections and midterms, when a lot of state offices are on the line, a tiny number of voters participate in so many local elections.

The sad irony is, those are the offices — city council, school boards — closest to them that can affect their lives the most. In the race for Fort Worth mayor in May, a little over 42,000 people cast ballots, in a city rapidly approaching 1 million residents. It was one of dozens of local governments with important races on the ballot, but overall county turnout clocked in at a little under 9% of eligible voters. Some might chalk that up to a lack of competitive marquee races or even voters signaling their pleasure with the status quo. Perhaps, but consider Chicago. It had a competitive runoff at a time of rising crime and economic concern and still drew just 40% turnout. More than half the states vote on supreme court judges. We elect officials to oversee water supply. Voters choose officials to regulate industries such as agriculture and insurance and, in many cases, their main effect is to add a layer over the bureaucrats who really do the work. Solutions are hard to come by. In many states, constitutional amendments would be required to make elected offices into appointed ones — and those amendments would, of course, trigger another low-turnout election. The portion of the electorate that voted devoutly would understandably be reluctant to give itself less control. One promising idea is ranked-choice voting, which eliminates runoffs by having voters express their preferences for second, third and even fourth-place candidates. Votes are reallocated based on those choices, until a winner achieves an outright majority. The political class likes runoffs — consultants make more money, and the smaller electorate allows the most ferocious partisans to prevail. It’s one reason someone as ethically and professionally challenged as Ken Paxton keeps getting elected in Texas. When a summertime primary runoff rolls around, only the most staunch conservatives show up.

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2023

Do Texas prison lockdowns limit inmates’ food, water? Families, officials disagree

A statewide prison lockdown the Texas Department of Criminal Justice attributed to recent homicides and contraband behind bars, has also meant those incarcerated haven’t had enough food or water, dozens of people with loved ones behind bars told The Dallas Morning News. Family members say they are worried about rising tensions and increased dangers in Texas’ 78 prisons. They say inmates, who still have access to phones and tablets, told them they don’t get enough calories and have less access to water at facilities that don’t have air conditioning. Prison officials said inmates get three meals a day, along with ice, water and fans to deal with the heat. The systemwide lockdown, which included Texas jails and prisons, was a rare but necessary step to crack down on contraband and drug-related homicides, a spokesperson with the prison system said. Seventeen people died in TDCJ facilities since the lockdown started for the population of about 129,800, a prison spokeswoman said.

The manner of death is still pending for three. None were homicides and 10 were “natural deaths,” said spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez. Four people died by suicide. Before the Sept. 6 lockdown, five inmates were killed between Aug. 30 and Sept. 5, Hernandez said. This year, at least 16 homicides have been reported at TDCJ facilities, up from seven in 2022, Hernandez said. Some Texas prisons are back up and running but most remain on lockdown. The killings behind bars are “extremely troubling,” said Michele Deitch, director of the Prison and Jail Innovation Lab at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT Austin. ”Yes, the agency has to get a hold of that,” Deitch said. “The question is whether they are using a hammer rather than a scalpel to deal with it.” Without being a part of TDCJ or knowing the full circumstances, Deitch said she didn’t want to second-guess the decision, but said the lockdown raises questions about whether the department could have addressed each facility differently based on its security needs. A lockdown is a “very extreme measure” that can stop some problems while creating new ones, Deitch said. Typically in a lockdown, prisoners can’t leave their cells for meals, recreation, showers, work and other activities. They don’t have access to programs or family visits. “You can imagine that, the stress and the tension and the anxiety,” Deitch said. “Not to mention, the lack of preparation through programming. All of that is very, very problematic.”

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2023

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo extends medical leave, will return Oct. 2

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced on Thursday she is expecting to return to work on Oct. 2, extending the temporary leave of absence she's taken while receiving treatment for clinical depression. She checked into the facility in late July and was estimated to return to work in early September. Her office confirmed in August that Hidalgo would remain in communication with staff and would be available in the event of an emergency. Hidalgo will be discharged on Sept. 16 to begin outpatient care, her office confirmed. Hidalgo shared on Thursday that her condition has improved.

"After my time in a fantastic inpatient facility, I am feeling a lot better," she said in a statement. "My initial treatment plan had me returning to my regular schedule in September, but my discharge date was moved back, which moves back to the re-acclimatization period. The way my doctors explained re-acclimatization to me is that you would not go from heart surgery straight to running a marathon, in the same way that they do not want me to go straight back to my usual schedule." Her former Republican opponent, Alexandra del Moral Mealer, published an op-ed in the Chronicle Wednesday saying Hidalgo "must return or should resign." Mealer argued Hidalgo needs to be present at the upcoming Sept. 19 Commissioners Court meeting, when the county is scheduled to approve a tax rate and budget for the upcoming fiscal year. She blasted the judge for missing discussions in which officials are making "critical decisions regarding the allocation of limited funds."

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2023

Texas argues EPA overstepped in pushing EVs

The Texas Attorney General’s Office, part of a coalition of Republican states and oil refiners, appeared before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Thursday to challenge the Biden administration’s efforts to shift Americans to electric vehicles. They argued the Environmental Protection Agency’s new emissions standard for light duty vehicles and trucks amounted to an electric vehicle mandate that exceeds its authority under federal law, despite EPA claims that gasoline and diesel burning vehicles could also meet the standard. “The EPA has said on a number of occasions this rule will necessitate a transition,” said Lanora Pettit, principal deputy solicitor general at the Texas Attorney General’s Office. “Whether they did it by accident or on purpose, they have mandated the transition.” The case comes amid increasing questions about federal authority to force industry to shift to clean energy in an effort to combat climate change.

Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Obama administration had overstepped in attempting to force power plants to shift to wind and solar power — a rule that was delayed by legal challenge and ultimately done away with by the Trump administration. In court Thursday, an attorney representing oil refiners said the EPA was attempting to do the same to auto manufacturers amid a deadlock in Congress over climate change. “If they’re right here, they can drive the transition fully from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles,” said Jeffrey Wall, an attorney representing San Antonio-based Valero. “Congress hasn’t given the agency the power to affect this sort of transition.” The three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit repeatedly questioned that argument, asking state and industry attorneys whether EPA wasn’t doing what it had always done in steadily requiring vehicles to reduce tailpipe emissions. “Your problem seems to be with the level (of regulation),” Judge Florence Pan said to Pettit. “Should they hold back to avoid electrification?” The Biden administration has set the target of getting the United States to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, a level scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Texas Monthly - September 15, 2023

Racism persists in health care. This Houston bioethicist aims to change that.

Keisha Ray was 21 years old when she learned she had hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure. Her doctor prescribed Norvasc, a medication frequently used for the condition. But after a month, her blood pressure remained above normal. When Ray sought another treatment, her doctor insisted on keeping her on the drug simply because health care guidelines suggested it was especially effective for Black patients like her, adding, “Plus it’s cheap, so it’s good for poor Black people.” Ray felt shocked by her doctor’s seeming assumption that because she was Black, she must be poor. Then a senior majoring in philosophy at Baylor University, in Waco, she knew her family wasn’t poor and that her mother, who worked as a nurse and had hypertension herself, could pay for whatever medication she needed. Ray left the appointment strangely wondering whether she should have done something differently—dressed nicer, or even worn her Baylor sweatshirt, to signal that she was educated, middle class, and deserving of the highest level of care.

Seventeen years later, Ray has her hypertension under control—although she still sees a cardiologist annually—and she works as an associate professor of bioethics at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at UTHealth Houston. In the years since her diagnosis, she has spent much of her time studying the health of Black people, and she’s come to realize that this experience with her original doctor was not unusual, but representative of common biases. The incident is just one example that she describes in her book Black Health: The Social, Political, and Cultural Determinants of Black People’s Health. Published earlier this year, it explores the reasons why Black Americans often have worse health outcomes than white Americans. The pandemic brought this reality into stark relief. According to a 2021 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black Americans experienced almost three times the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations and almost two times the rate of deaths as their white counterparts. They are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease at a younger age and have higher rates of mortality from the disease compared to white Americans, according to studies by the Heart Foundation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to die during or up to one 42 days after childbirth, according to a 2021 study by the CDC. In Texas, which has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the U.S., the likelihood that Black pregnant women will suffer from obstetric hemorrhage—that is, pregnancy-related blood loss—rose nearly 10 percent between the years 2016 and 2020, despite the rate falling among all women statewide, according to a 2022 report by the Texas Department of State Health Services. In Black Health, Ray aims to dispel any notion that Black people are biologically predisposed to worse health than those of other races. According to one estimate, the health of any individual is only 20 percent based on medical care, compared with the 80 percent determined by environmental, political, and social factors.

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2023

GM Arlington’s 5,000 workers will keep working as UAW targets three Midwest plants

The more than 5,000 workers at General Motors’ highly profitable Arlington assembly plant won’t be among the initial UAW members expected to walk off the job Friday as their union targets three other locations to protest stalled contract talks with Detroit’s Big 3 automakers. The United Auto Workers’ targeted strike is an 88-year first for the union as it tries to inflict economic pain on GM, Ford and Stellantis by selecting the automakers’ key plants. Its initial strike targets are an GM assembly plant in Missouri, a Ford assembly plant in Michigan and a Stellantis assembly plant in Ohio, UAW president Shawn Fain announced Thursday night, just hours before the existing union contract was to expire. Fain said other UAW members will continue working under an expired contract, though they could be asked to strike in coming days or weeks.

In previous strikes, the UAW would select a single company and call for a work stoppage at all of that automaker’s plants, similar to what happened in 2019 when GM was targeted in a 40-day walkout. “If there is ever a time to stand up and fight, it’s now,” said Keith Crowell, president of UAW Local 276, which represents the Arlington workers. “We need to do this. So much is on the line for ourselves, our families and our jobs.” A prolonged strike that eventually leads to work stoppages at other plants could send shock waves through the automotive supply chain and raise car prices in a U.S. economy already under strain. Anderson Economic Group estimated that a 10-day strike would cost $5.6 billion in lost output and push swing-state Michigan into recession. On Thursday, the powerful Teamsters union said its truck drivers will support the UAW by not making vehicle deliveries to GM, Ford or Stellantis-owned Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat. President Joe Biden, who describes himself as the most pro-union president in American history, spoke with UAW president Shawn Fain and auto executives. The contentious labor negotiations have placed Biden in a difficult situation politically. Biden has avoided work stoppages in other industries, including securing a deal for freight-rail workers and seeing an agreement between dockworkers and terminal operators for West Coast ports. The auto industry negotiations pose a new test of his pro-union credentials.

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2023

Dallas ISD will join lawsuit seeking to block new A-F school scores

Dallas ISD plans to join the lawsuit seeking to block the release of new A-F school accountability scores. A handful of other Texas school boards sued Education Commissioner Mike Morath last month in Travis County court. Dallas ISD will be the largest district to jump into the legal fight and push for a temporary injunction. Ahead of their unanimous vote, the DISD trustees said the state’s new accountability formula was not made transparently and that districts didn’t have enough notice of the changes. “Dallas ISD has always prided itself on holding ourselves accountable,” DISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said. “That being said, we also think that when we are evaluating students or teachers or any members of our team, that they should always know what exactly they’re being evaluated on, prior to the completion or conclusion of their evaluation.”

The suit was originally filed by seven smaller districts, including Kingsville, Canutillo and Crowley ISDs. In the weeks since, several other school boards have voted to join. Elizalde has been an outspoken critic of the state’s new system for grading schools. She worries DISD could earn the largest number of D and F ratings in the district’s history because of the revised formula. Morath has repeatedly said that the changes to the system are part of a five-year cycle. Updates are needed, he said, to ensure schools continually work to improve outcomes for students and set Texas up as a national education leader. His office declined to provide additional comment Thursday, instead referring back to what Morath has previously said about the legal action. “We think the lawsuit is without merit, but you go to court, judges opine,” Morath told reporters earlier this week. Texas’ A-F school accountability system evaluates every district across the state, giving families a feel for how their local campuses are performing. The ratings are a major factor in how the community perceives local schools. The scores can influence where people buy homes — and whether they decide to enroll in the public school system at all. The grades are largely based on standardized test scores, factoring in how well a school grows academic achievement and closes gaps between student groups. The formula has remained largely static since lawmakers created it in 2017, but widespread changes will be factored in when the Texas Education Agency releases the new scores later this fall.

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2023

Hays County district clerk seeks to remove district attorney from office with lawsuit

The Hays County district clerk has filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of the county's district attorney, alleging that the DA has declined to prosecute certain types of felony drug possession cases. According to the suit, filed by District Clerk Avrey Anderson, District Attorney Kelly Higgins has also said he will not prosecute doctors illegally treating transgender people or doctors illegally performing abortions. Under a new Texas law that took effect on Sept. 1, a district attorney can be removed from office for official misconduct if the district attorney adopts or enforces a policy of refusing to prosecute a class or type of criminal offense, according to the lawsuit. Higgins said Thursday he couldn't comment on pending litigation. He said, however, he could make a comment about how cases are handled at his office. "The Hays County District Attorney’s Office does not have, and has never had, any policy regarding the prosecution of any class or type of crime," Higgins said in an email.

"We review every case individually, on a case-by-case basis, and always have. There is no policy in writing, and no policy has ever been spoken in this regard." Anderson said on Thursday that Higgins campaigned on not prosecuting the crimes mentioned in the lawsuit. Those crimes include simple drug and cannabis possession offenses, according to the lawsuit. They also include "illegal procedures committed by a licensed physician in the case that they are illegally treating transgenders" or "performing unlawful abortions (technically murder) under the law," the suit said. Anderson said he estimates that the district attorney's office "has most likely declined over 1,200 possession offenses for various 'reasons.'" The district clerk's office receives notifications of every offense that Higgins declines to prosecute, Anderson said. "I did not bring these issues to Kelly Higgins' attention as he very well seems to have intended to not prosecute these crime," Anderson said in a text message. Anderson said that he doesn't think that the district attorney's office has had any cases submitted to it about a transgender person receiving medical care. The felony drug possession cases that Higgins has declined to prosecute involve cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine, the lawsuit said. "I fully support a woman's right to bodily autonomy, as well as a transgender person's right to bodily autonomy," Anderson said in a text. "I also agree that the prosecutions of minor drug offenses have negatively impacted the justice system and the fairness thereof. This doesn't mean that I or any other elected official can personally undermine the laws that we swore to uphold or in the case of the District Attorney to enforce."

KXAN - September 15, 2023

Magnitude 4.0 earthquake reported in South Texas

A magnitude 4.0 earthquake hit South Texas Thursday afternoon, according to the United States Geological Survey. USGS reported the earthquake was northeast of Falls City, which is southeast of San Antonio. According to USGS, this is the fifth earthquake registered in the U.S. over the past day. USGS data shows more than 2,800 earthquakes have been reported in the Lone Star State since 1900. The vast majority of those are small quakes, but around 60 have been magnitude 4 or greater. Five earthquakes have been greater than magnitude 5. Texas’ strongest earthquake in history struck around 5:40 a.m. on Aug. 16, 1931. The magnitude 5.8 earthquake was centered about 7.5 miles southwest of Valentine, a small community in Presidio County, between El Paso and Big Bend.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2023

New details released in Fort Worth I-35 crash that killed 4

New details have emerged about what caused Monday night’s crash on Interstate 35W that killed four people and injured five, according to a report from KXAS-TV. Fort Worth police told KXAS Thursday that a black Chrysler 200 was headed northbound on I-35W when the car started to spin and veered to the left, crashing into the median about 9 p.m. People in several other vehicles stopped to try to help the driver of the Chrysler. The vehicles that pulled over included a pickup truck, a semi cab and two Hyundai cars, police said. It is not yet clear whether all the vehicles stopped on the far left shoulder, as initially reported.

A police spokesperson said Monday that two drivers pulled over on the left shoulder and another driver stopped to help and partially blocked the left lane. Police determined an 18-wheeler then collided with the stopped vehicles before a second 18-wheeler crashed into the first. It’s unclear whether the 18-wheeler driver will be cited in connection with the accident. Signs in that area of the interstate alert truck drivers not to use the far left lane. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office identified those who died at the crash scene as 31-year-old Susana Longoria; 23-year-old Kiara Barker, of Bastrop, Louisiana; and 25-year-old Chase Mapes, of Yukon, Oklahoma. Jasmine Jones, 21, died at a hospital. A woman and four men had injuries and were transported to hospitals, according to MedStar.

KUT - September 15, 2023

Proposed new fee on Austin hotel rooms could help city pay for critical needs

People who visit Austin could soon be paying to help the city address some of its thorniest issues. On Thursday, the Austin City Council agreed to partner with local hotels in a deal that would generate millions of dollars for the city. If the plan gets approved, the city would create a tourism public improvement district, which would allow hotels with 100 rooms or more to impose a 2% fee on nightly room rates. There are 159 hotels within the city limits that have 100 rooms or more. At least 39 more are expected to open by 2027, according to data from the Austin Convention Center. Nightly room rates averaged around $184 across the city and $256 downtown. That comes out to a few extra dollars per night for people who book rooms, industry experts said.

The proposed 10-year deal would generate more than $390 million — a slice of which would go to the city. Hotels would be required to use the additional money on efforts to increase tourism. Austin is expected to get at least $78 million over that 10 years. The agreement guarantees 20% of the revenue will go to the city for major event expenses and promotion. Proponents of the district say this money will be needed while the Austin Convention Center is closed for redevelopment starting in 2025. The downtown area is expected to see a significant drop in revenue during the closure, which should last about four years. Council Member Ryan Alter, who helped negotiate the terms, said this is a win-win for residents and hotels. The money will be spent on additional marketing that will increase hotel stays and boost the local economy.

National Stories

Deadline - September 15, 2023

WGA & AMPTP set to restart talks next week

The writers and the studios are set to get back around the negotiating table. The AMPTP revealed Thursday that the two parties are “working to schedule a meeting next week.” “On Wednesday, September 13, the WGA reached out to the AMPTP and asked for a meeting to move negotiations forward. We have agreed and are working to schedule a meeting next week. Every member company of the AMPTP is committed and eager to reach a fair deal, and to working together with the WGA to end the strike,” the studio alliance said this afternoon.

No longer afterwards, the scribes offered their own no-frills statement on further bargaining. “The WGA and AMPTP are in the process of scheduling a time to get back in the room,” said a self-titled “Negotiations Update” email sent out to members from the Ellen Stutzman, David Goodman and Chris Keyser-led negotiating committee. With the WGA continually expressing a desire over the past four months for substantial talks with the AMPTP, this latest attempt at getting negotiations back on track comes amid tales of internal friction among the top studio and streamer CEOs. It also comes a day after SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher at a solidarity rally tore into the “greedy” bosses and their recently hired crisis PR firm the Levinson Group — words that landed hard in the C-suites, we hear.

NPR - September 15, 2023

Can't win if you don't run: Montana Democrats look to contest more local races

Democrats in rural Montana recognize they may be considered a bit of a dying breed. But in August, a group of 50 gathered under the shadow of the Beartooth Mountains for a kickoff party of the newly revived Stillwater County Democratic Central Committee. "When we were preparing for this, people would ask me, 'isn't this type of event kind of preaching to the choir?'" said Tommy Flanagan, a political organizer who co-chairs the committee. "There is no choir to preach to." Stillwater County isn't exactly a place where you would think Democrats would be optimistic about making political inroads. In 2020, former President Donald Trump won the county with 78% of the vote. Kathleen Ralph, a board member for county's library who has long been politically active in the community, remembers when Democrats organized more heavily in rural Montana and would consistently put forth candidates for local offices.

"But over the years, it's sort of like it's almost become impossible unless you have an 'R' after your name. We've had Democrats change to Republicans because they knew they'd never get elected," Ralph said. Democrats in the county found renewed momentum when Flanagan ran for the state House of Representatives last year. Flanagan, whose family has ranched in the area for generations, said he was motivated to join the race in order to prevent the Republican incumbent, Fiona Nave, from being unchallenged — again. "It was like, we can have another unopposed race, or we can say not in Stillwater County, right? We're going to give people a choice on the ballot, and that's what I hope I did with my campaign," Flanagan said. Flanagan got more than 1,200 votes, running on a centrist message focused on agricultural issues and access to public education. Democrats in the area call that a success for a new and openly gay candidate in a conservative district. "I had people tell me, 'I've never voted for a Democrat ever before in my life, and I voted for you,'" Flanagan recalled. He ultimately lost the race by 46 points.

NBC News - September 15, 2023

Hunter Biden indicted on federal gun charges

Federal prosecutors have indicted Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, on gun charges, court documents show. Biden was indicted Thursday in federal court in Delaware on three counts tied to possession of a gun while using narcotics. Two counts accuse Biden of having completed a form indicating he was not using illegal drugs when he bought a Colt Cobra revolver in October 2018. The third count alleges he possessed a firearm while using a narcotic. The indictment says Biden certified on a federally mandated form "that he was not an unlawful user of, and addicted to, any stimulant, narcotic drug, and any other controlled substance, when in fact, as he knew, that statement was false and fictitious.”

Two of the counts carry maximum prison sentences of 10 years, while the third has a maximum of five years. Each count also carries a maximum fine of $250,000. The historic indictment of the son of a sitting president comes after a plea deal that might have ended a yearslong probe into Hunter Biden fell apart and just as House Republicans have launched an impeachment inquiry to seek bank records and other documents from the president and his son. The case is being overseen by special counsel David Weiss, who also headed the investigation. Weiss is a Trump appointee who was kept on as the U.S. attorney for Delaware because of the sensitive and unique nature of the investigation into a president's son by the Justice Department, a part of the executive branch headed by the president. Attorney General Merrick Garland named Weiss special counsel last month as negotiations over the tax and gun charges collapsed.

CNN - September 15, 2023

New York attorney general trial against Trump is in limbo

A New York state appellate court judge has put the civil fraud trial involving the New York attorney general’s office and former President Donald Trump on temporary hold, raising questions about whether the trial will begin next month as planned, according to three people familiar with the court ruling. The appellate judge agreed to an emergency request by lawyers for Trump, his eldest sons, and the Trump Organization, who asked the appeals court to slow down the litigation until Judge Arthur Engoron, the lower court judge overseeing the case, rules on a key issue, the people with direct knowledge of the litigation said. The appellate court judge ordered all briefs be submitted by September 25 – just one week before the $250 million fraud lawsuit is set to go to trial on October 2.

The start of trial could potentially be delayed depending on when the appellate court rules. If the lower court issue is resolved sooner, and the appeals court agrees, the trial could start on time. “We are confident in our case and will be ready for trial,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. In June, a New York state appellate panel ruled in favor of Trump that the statute of limitations on some of the transactions had run out if they were completed by a certain date and another date for the defendants had tolling agreements. The panel ordered Engoron to “determine, if necessary, the full range of defendants bound by the tolling agreement.” The appeals court dismissed Ivanka Trump from the lawsuit. Engoron has not made that determination involving the statute of limitations. Lawyers for Trump and James have each asked Engoron to rule in their favor in pretrial motions. James’ office asked the judge to find that Trump’s financial statements were false and misleading. Trump’s lawyers asked the judge to dismiss the case, relying in large part on the statute of limitations argument. Oral arguments on those motions are scheduled for September 22.

Associated Press - September 15, 2023

Wisconsin Senate votes to override Evers' 400-year veto and his gutting of tax increase

Republicans who control the Wisconsin Senate voted Thursday to override three of Gov. Tony Evers’ vetoes, including one that attempted to enshrine school funding increases for 400 years. Republicans had the necessary two-thirds majority to override the vetoes in the Senate and did so in a series of 22-11 votes along party lines, but they don’t have enough votes in the Assembly. Vetoes must be overridden in both chambers in order to undo them.

Two of the votes Thursday attempted to undo partial vetoes Evers made in July to the state budget passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature. One Evers veto undid nearly all of a $3.5 billion income tax cut. Another attempted to lock in a school funding increase for 400 years. Evers’ creative use of his partial veto authority in that case drew widespread attention and criticism. The Senate also voted to override Evers’ veto of a bill that would prohibit state and local governments from restricting utility service based on the energy source, such as natural gas. Republican proponents and other backers, including the state chamber of commerce and energy companies, said the measure was needed to prevent any type of ban in Wisconsin like those discussed in other states. But environmentalists said the bill was in search of a problem as no community or the state was contemplating such a ban.

Wall Street Journal - September 15, 2023

New England and Canada are expected to feel brunt of storm surge and waves

Hurricane Lee is expected to make landfall Saturday near the U.S.-Canada border, but its effects are being felt from Florida to Maine as it hammers coastal communities with storm surges, big waves and deadly riptides “Hurricanes come with a package of hazards, and this one is no different,” said John Cangialosi, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Lee, at one point a Category 5 storm, is diminishing in strength as it moves north at 14 miles an hour. As of Thursday, it was a Category 1 storm, with winds topping 85 miles an hour. It is expected to dump between 1 and 4 inches of rain across parts of New England this weekend and could lead to localized inland flooding, while striking parts of Canada’s Maritime Provinces with 20 to 30 foot waves, according to the National Weather Service.

Along the New England coast, Lee’s winds are expected to push a surge of seawater inland, with 2 to 4 feet of storm surge forecast for Cape Cod and Nantucket, Mass. Boston Harbor is expected to receive 1 to 3 feet of surge, according to forecasters. Along the entire coast of Long Island, 1 to 3 feet of flooding is expected. In the U.S., the Northeast will feel the brunt of Hurricane Lee, although forecasters warn that deadly rip currents are expected from Florida to New England. They are cautioning beachgoers to stay out of the water this weekend, even if it appears calm and sunny outside. In 2019, eight people in the U.S. died from rough surf conditions whipped up during Hurricane Lorenzo, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. During that storm, two fishermen died while falling into rough surf in Rhode Island and North Carolina in separate incidents, while a pair of teenagers died at Rockaway Beach, N.Y., after being swept away by a rip current. These deaths occurred as Lorenzo was hundreds of miles away in the eastern Atlantic, closer to Europe than the continental U.S.