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Newsclips - March 1, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - March 1, 2024

Texas battles historic wildfires as snow covers scorched land in the Panhandle

A dusting of snow covered a desolate landscape of scorched prairie, dead cattle and burned out homes in the Texas Panhandle on Thursday, giving firefighters brief relief in their desperate efforts to corral a blaze that has grown into the largest in state history. The Smokehouse Creek fire grew to nearly 1,700 square miles (4,400 square kilometers). It merged with another fire and is just 3% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. Gray skies loomed over huge scars of blackened earth in a rural area dotted with scrub brush, ranchland, rocky canyons and oil rigs. In Stinnett, a town of about 1,600, someone propped up an American flag outside a destroyed home. Dylan Phillips, 24, said he hardly recognized his Stinnett neighborhood, which was littered with melted street signs and the charred frames of cars and trucks. His family’s home survived, but at least a half a dozen others were smoking rubble.

“It was brutal,” Phillips said. “The street lights were out. It was nothing but embers and flames.” The Smokehouse Creek fire’s explosive growth slowed Thursday as snow fell and winds and temperatures dipped, but it was still untamed and threatening. The largest of several major fires burning in the rural Panhandle section of the state, it has also crossed into Oklahoma. Firefighter Lee Jones was helping douse the smoldering wreckage of homes in Stinnett to keep them from reigniting when temperatures and winds increase Friday and into the weekend. “The snow helps,” said Jones, who was among a dozen firefighters called in from Lubbock to help. “We’re just hitting all the hot spots around town, the houses that have already burned.” Authorities have not said what ignited the fires, but strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fed the blazes. “The rain and the snow is beneficial right now, we’re using it to our advantage,” Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Juan Rodriguez said of the Smokehouse Creek fire. “When the fire isn’t blowing up and moving very fast, firefighters are able to actually catch up and get to those parts of the fire.”

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Austin American-Statesman - March 1, 2024

Joe Biden, Donald Trump clashing visits thrust border fight further into spotlight

The long-anticipated standoff between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump finally happened Thursday, not on a debate stage but on two vastly different sections of the U.S.-Mexico border. The political rivals, who are expected to face off in a rematch in the November election, staged separate visits to the southern border in Texas to draw attention to immigration and border security, now the leading issue for voters. The visits amounted to a duel in optics, if not specifics. Biden called on Trump to join him in asking Congress to pass wide-ranging border security legislation negotiated by a team of Democratic and Republican senators, which the House GOP rejected at Trump’s urging. “Instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done?” Biden said from Brownsville, in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

Trump, speaking roughly the same time 325 miles away in Eagle Pass, showed no interest in working with Biden, or the Democrats for that matter. He hurled insults at his successor, charging that Biden is solely responsible for the immigration crisis and unable to deal with it effectively. "This is a Joe Biden invasion," Trump said from Shelby Park, which sits on the Rio Grande and has become the epicenter of the national immigration debate. "This is a Biden invasion over the past three years. ... He's a terrible president, worst president our country's ever had probably, the most incompetent president we've ever had." The competing stops by Biden and Trump come just eight months before the November election and as polls show Americans are deeply concerned about the situation along the border. A Gallup Poll released this week showed that, for the first time since the last decade, Americans now believe immigration to be the most important issue facing the United States. A separate survey earlier in February by the Pew Research Center survey showed 80% of Americans believe the government is doing a bad job dealing with the large number of migrants at the border. Yet another poll in February by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas showed that a majority of Texans want to see more border enforcement and support Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's border security initiatives, such as building border barriers and installing razor wire along the Rio Grande.

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Dallas Morning News - March 1, 2024

Judge blocks Texas law giving state a role in arresting, deporting migrants

Ruling against Texas efforts to take control of immigration enforcement, a federal judge on Thursday blocked a state law that would have empowered local law officers to arrest, and state judges to deport, migrants along the southern border. Lawyers for Texas argued the law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in December and set to take effect March 5, was a valid response to an “invasion” of unauthorized migrants and criminal cartels. U.S. District Judge David Ezra disagreed, ruling that the law known as Senate Bill 4 violated the U.S. Constitution and prior Supreme Court rulings that put the federal government in charge of enforcing immigration laws and restrictions. Ezra also rejected Texas arguments that surging immigration constituted an invasion within the meaning of the Constitution, noting that Texas is not “engaging in war by enforcing SB 4.”

“To allow Texas to permanently supersede federal directives on the basis of an invasion would amount to nullification of federal law and authority — a notion that is antithetical to the Constitution and has been unequivocally rejected by federal courts since the Civil War,” Ezra wrote in his order. Within hours, Texas asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Ezra’s ruling, making it the third immigration-related case involving Texas awaiting a decision by the New Orleans-based court. Abbott said he was not worried about Ezra’s decision, saying it was “fully expected” and would not be the final word on the issue, which is likely destined for the U.S. Supreme Court. “Texas has solid legal grounds to defend against an invasion,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “We will not back down in our fight to protect our state — and our nation — from President Biden’s border crisis,” Abbott added. Attorney General Ken Paxton defended the law in a statement criticizing Ezra’s “incorrect decision.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - March 1, 2024

Texas US Senator John Cornyn to run for Republican leader

U.S. Sen John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, is running to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell as Republican leader. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, announced Wednesday he was stepping down from the post in November. “I am asking my Republican colleagues to give me the opportunity to succeed Leader McConnell,” Cornyn said in a Thursday statement, outlining his work in the Senate and leadership experience. “Throughout my time I’ve built a track record of listening to colleagues and seeking consensus, while leading the fight to stop bad policies that are harmful to our nation and the conservative cause,” Cornyn said.

There’s been speculation that Cornyn would eventually run for the leadership role. On Wednesday, following McConnell’s announcement, Cornyn said, “I’ve made no secret of my intention,” according to The Texas Tribune. Cornyn was elected to the Senate in 2002. He previously served as Republican Whip from 2013 to 2019. He is on the Senate Finance, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. Before heading to Washington, Cornyn was a district judge, a Texas Supreme Court Justice and Texas Attorney General. Cornyn was not available for an interview Thursday. Cornyn in his Thursday statement said he believes “the Senate is broken.” “The good news is that it can be fixed, and I intend to play a major role in fixing it,” Cornyn said. “From experience, I have learned what works in the Senate and what does not, and I am confident Senate Republicans can restore our institution to the essential role it serves in our constitutional republic.” He promised to “improve communication, increase transparency, and ensure inclusion of every Member’s expertise and opinion.”

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State Stories

CBS News - March 1, 2024

Convicted murderer Ivan Cantù executed in Texas

Convicted murderer Ivan Cantù has been executed in Huntsville, despite protests from a number of people who believed he was innocent. He was pronounced dead at 6:47 p.m. Ivan Cantù spent his final day seeking a stay of execution. His mother was among those who told CBS News Texas Wednesday evening. "...nothing else could be done," said Sylvia Cantù, Ivan Cantù's mother. "Our Last Hope is Abbott." The governor took no action and Ivan Cantù was put to death by lethal injection in Huntsville, 24 years after the brutal, execution-style murders of his cousin and the victim's fiancée.

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Texas Public Radio - March 1, 2024

Court records show thousands of serious incidents at unregulated Texas foster placements

Two children squared off to fight each other in a hallway at a Houston hotel and other children gathered to watch. It was 11:36 pm. As punches and slaps reigned down on a state employee, Claudia Riggins, called 911 for help. One boy fled the fight and came back with a razor. Then he dropped it and came out with a high heel. Another worker, Amy Woodward-Davis, grabbed the heel. The kid then grabbed the fire extinguisher and sprayed it. “Commotion was heard,” read a report about the serious incident. Punches and kicks. One of the combatants lay on the ground and was kicked and punched more. One child started recording video on a phone. Fifteen minutes after the fight began, staff was finally able to stop it, and the beaten youth vomited blood. One child was taken to the hospital. The other fled the scene before police arrived.

This short and redacted scene was in June 2021. It was just one of more than 2,100 serious incidents that took place across Texas in state offices, hotel rooms and state-leased homes that make up the state’s Child Without Placement crisis (CWOP) from 2021 to 2023. The Department of Family and Protective Services was barred from placing youth in state offices in September 2021. Hundreds of pages of serious incident reports involving children in CWOP were published on the federal court records system PACER Tuesday as part of the 12-year old litigation against the state’s child welfare system. The incident reports date back to early 2021, and they illustrated how ill-prepared the department was and continues to be when directly caring for youth. It also highlighted what impact the lack of placement options for kids has had. The process of needing a place to keep a foster child transitioning from one placement to another has been common for more than a decade in Texas. But what was intended as a stopgap for a few hours or even a few nights swelled to weeks and months. CWOP exploded in 2021 with as many as 400 youth a night in need of a place to stay. In November 2023, the number was down to 116 unique children. They showed a wide range of trouble befalling youth — at a rate of about 60 a month, or two a day. The incidents often involved injured staff, injured youth and police response. In a January hearing, Paul Yetter — attorney for the youth in 13 year litigation against the state’s foster care system — referenced these not yet public documents and said this was not anecdotal, but instead a feature of the state's CWOP strategy.

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Dallas Morning News - March 1, 2024

Paxton sues 3 more North Texas school districts claiming they violated election law

The Texas attorney general’s office is suing three North Texas districts — Frisco, Denison and Castleberry — alleging that they violated election law when officials suggested voting for candidates who oppose vouchers. On Wednesday and Thursday, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed lawsuits against the districts saying their officials urged people to vote in favor of a certain policy or expressed their support or opposition for political candidates. It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits Paxton’s office has filed against public schools ahead of the March 5 primary elections. “I am extremely troubled by this pattern of government officials engaged in illegal electioneering. These are government employees charged with the education of our children. They must respect our laws,” Paxton said in a statement. Denison and Castleberry school officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Frisco ISD officials said they do not comment on pending litigation. The lawsuit against Frisco alleges its Government Affairs office posted on social media to encourage people to vote for candidates who are against school vouchers and to influence them to vote “in a particular party primary,” according to the filing.

The lawsuit alleges that such actions directly violate the Texas Election Code’s ban against the use of “state or local funds or other resources of the district to electioneer for or against any candidate, measure, or political party,” according to the attorney general’s office. Denison ISD, which is about 75 miles north of Dallas, is accused of voicing its support for Texas Rep. Reggie Smith, R-Sherman, on its website in February, according to the lawsuit against that district. A post referenced in the filing claims the district campaigned against school vouchers and the candidates who vote in favor of such policy. Gov. Greg Abbott made passing voucherlike education savings accounts a priority last year. However, the effort to funnel public dollars to private schools was thwarted when some GOP House members joined Democrats in opposing the measures. “Our Grayson County Texas House of Representatives member Reggie Smith stood firm in his support of Texas public schools in each of the recent special sessions. For that, we say ‘thank you’!” the district’s post reads.

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Dallas Morning News - March 1, 2024

Who is Jeff Yass, the TikTok billionaire pumping millions into the Texas voucher fight?

Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvania billionaire who’s become a major player in Texas politics, has donated over $209 million in the last decade to federal and state candidates and groups to promote school choice. He’s given $6.25 million to Gov. Greg Abbott ahead of the March 5 primary to help Abbott try to unseat Republicans who blocked his voucher-like plan in the Texas House. Many of the same incumbents are under attack by two PACs Yass supports. He’s donated $4 million since last fall to one PAC affiliated with the American Federation for Children, and $15 million since 2021 to another called the School Freedom Fund, linked to the anti-tax group Club for Growth. Nationally, Yass has given $46 million in the 2024 elections — more than anyone else so far, according to campaign watchdog Open Secrets.

Who is Jeff Yass? The cofounder of Susquehanna International Group in suburban Philadelphia, one of Wall Street’s biggest trading firms, grew up in Queens, N.Y. A paper he wrote for a course at SUNY Binghamton, “An Econometric Analysis of Horse Racing,” was published in a gambling magazine. He used the insights to collect huge jackpots at the track after a stint playing poker professionally. He became a billionaire thanks to an early investment in ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the video-sharing app TikTok. Why focus on school choice? Yass has said little to explain why so much of his political largesse centers on school choice. In rare public comments, he’s bashed public school teachers as overpaid and accused their unions, a core Democratic constituency, of stymying education reforms in order to protect jobs. In his home state of Pennsylvania, Yass has put $62 million into a group he co-founded called Students First PAC, which backs candidates in both parties that seek alternatives to public schools. Among his beneficiaries is state Sen. Anthony Williams, a Democrat who promoted tax credits for company donations to private and charter schools — a provision used extensively by Yass’ trading firm.

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Dallas Morning News - March 1, 2024

Laura Becerra: How predatory loans are damaging local economies in Texas

(Laura Becerra is Austin campaign manager of Workers Defense Project.) There comes a time in many Texans’ lives when they find themselves a little strapped for cash. Maybe they just brought a new baby home from the hospital, or the AC went out in the middle of July. When the savings are depleted, the money has to come from somewhere. Enter the predatory lender, typically these are payday loans or car title loans. Similar to sharks circling in the ocean, predatory lending is ready and waiting to prey on vulnerable Texans by charging extravagant interest rates, tacking on hidden fees, and purposely pushing for applicants to borrow as much as possible. One of these companies is Oportun, which was subject to scrutiny by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune in 2020. Oportun specifically focuses on lending to Hispanic communities, and especially Hispanic immigrant communities, so naturally Texas is a big market for the company. According to Oportun’s website, it operates 40 locations across the state.

Texas law limits what banks can charge, capping interest at 10%. Still, these laws don’t apply to these lenders because those types of financial institutions act as brokers deemed as “credit access businesses” instead of lenders. The Credit Services Organization Act requires CABs to acquire licenses, but the state does not cap the fees these companies can charge. For instance, Oportun has been known to charge borrowers more than 60% APR, as reported by The Texas Tribune. Payday lenders and title loan establishments do not have a limit on how many times a borrower can refinance a loan, with few regulations on how high the loan payments can get or how long it takes to pay back the loan. There’s also no limit on how many loans a customer can be issued back-to-back. Why? Lobbyists for the payday and title loan companies have worked hard to keep the Texas Legislature from passing any laws against them. Cities, including San Antonio and Dallas, have had to rely on local ordinances to keep predatory lending under control, but companies are donating thousands at the state level in an attempt to protect their own interests. A recent bill, House Bill 2127, or the Regulatory Consistency Act, also known as the “Death Star Bill,” would have gone even further, banning local municipalities from enforcing ordinances and rules that go further than what’s already allowed under state law, thus deeming predatory loan ordinances inapplicable. The bill was declared unconstitutional in August.

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KUT - March 1, 2024

Ken Paxton impeachment records reveal fights over witness testimony and alleged bullying

Witnesses subpoenaed before Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial last year accused him of bullying them during the proceedings and argued they shouldn’t have to answer questions under oath, newly-released records show. The Texas Newsroom filed a public records request for all documents files with the Court of Impeachment. In response, the Texas Senate released hundreds of pages of previously-unreleased documents that pull back the curtain on the proceedings, revealing behind-the-scenes fights between Paxton’s defense team and the prosecution. They also show more about who was made to testify under oath — and who wasn’t. To ensure a full and transparent public record of the historic impeachment trial, the first to take place in Texas in nearly half a century, The Texas Newsroom is publishing the document trove in its entirety. The records are in batches in the order they were received with no redactions or other additional alterations made.

Many of the records were requests from potential witnesses, including the woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair, not to produce documents or answer questions under oath. It is unclear how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who served as judge, ruled on many of their requests. When asked for an explanation, Patrick’s spokesman, Steven Aranyi, said they were handled properly. “The matters were addressed by order of the court, agreement between the parties, withdrawal by the filing party, or not broached because the matter was moot,” Aranyi told The Texas Newsroom. Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s defense attorneys, said he was happy with Paxton’s win and was now focusing on future cases — not looking back to impeachment. He is also defending Paxton in a felony fraud case that goes to trial in April. “I have neither the time nor the inclination to continue to argue about the DNA of any breadcrumbs that remain,” Cogdell told The Texas Newsroom. “[She] has done nothing wrong:” Laura Olson did not want to testify One of the articles of impeachment accused Paul of getting favorable treatment from Paxton after he hired Laura Olson, a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair. The newly-released records show Olson pushed back against demands that she testify or produce phone records about their alleged romantic relationship. “Ms. Olson is not a party to these proceedings and has done nothing wrong. This intrusion into her personal life cannot be justified,” Olson’s lawyer wrote in a motion filed Sept. 5. A week later, more than halfway through the trial, she filed another motion stating Olson would tap her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if ordered to the stand. She also expressed confusion over why her client was being called to appear at the court because she had been assured Olson would not have to testify at all, the records show.

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KUT - March 1, 2024

Construction boomed in Austin and rents went down. Now, some builders are dismantling the cranes.

Ben Schwertner won't pay next month's rent. The 28-year-old from Lubbock isn't forgoing payment out of protest or because he can't afford it. He's not paying because he doesn’t have to. When Schwertner signed a lease for a one-bedroom apartment near the Austin airport earlier this year, the management company extended him a sweet deal: one month rent free. It’s a tactic used by companies to fill apartments when they sit empty.

“I get to live in a space that felt previously out of my reach,” Schwertner, who works at the University of Texas, said. He pays $1,470 a month for an apartment with a bathtub separate from the shower, a luxury he never imagined he could afford. With March rent waived, he will pay closer to $1,350 a month over his year-long lease. Austin has something it hasn’t had for years: a glut of new apartments. Fueled by a surge in migration to the city and low interest rates at the start of the pandemic, builders began turning soil on a dizzying number of new rental homes. But two years into the construction boom, building costs have ballooned. Interest rates have more than doubled. And while thousands of new apartments have brought rent prices down and provided some financial relief for people like Schwertner, developers can no longer make the same kind of cash. So, they're tapping the brakes on new buildings. “I’ve talked to a number of people who’ve said we've kind of hit the pause button,” Charles Heimsath, president of Capitol Market Research, said. The realities of the real estate market are now up against an ever-growing refrain from politicians and policymakers in Austin to build more. As more homes go up, prices go down — a phenomenon supported by troves of research. But once prices go down and the cost of building goes up there’s less money to be made and less incentive to keep building.

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MyRGV - March 1, 2024

Texas Bar fines Starr County DA for indicting woman with murder over abortion

The State Bar of Texas’ Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel has fined and imposed a probated suspension against Starr County District Attorney Gocha A. Ramirez for indicting a woman who sought an abortion in 2022 on a charge of murder. Claire Reynolds, public affairs counsel for the bar, confirmed Thursday morning that ruling against Ramirez was over the indictment of Lizelle Herrera, who on Aug. 8, 2022, was arrested on a charge of murder because she sought a “self-induced abortion.” On April 10, 2022, Ramirez issued a press release saying that the charge against Herrera would be dismissed.

“In reviewing applicable Texas law, it is clear that Ms. Herrera cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her,” the release stated. The case set off a firestorm across the United States as media outlets and advocacy groups learned of the charges against Herrera, which were first reported by The Monitor. Attempts to reach Herrera at the time were not successful. The judgment against Ramirez followed an investigative hearing that happened on March 1, 2023 and Dec. 6, 2023. The committee found that assistant district attorneys under Ramirez’s supervision pursued criminal homicide charges against Herrera for acts that were “clearly not criminal.” “Respondent failed to refrain from prosecuting a charge that was known not to be supported by probable cause,” the order states. It further said that an assistant district attorney consulted with Ramirez prior to presenting the case against Herrera to a grand jury.

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Houston Chronicle - March 1, 2024

Kim Ogg slams Sean Teare for accepting Soros PAC money as DA primary race heats up

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is slamming opponent Sean Teare for accepting major funding from billionaire George Soros' Texas Justice and Public Safety PAC in his Democratic primary bid to unseat her. The Texas Justice and Public Safety PAC contributed nearly $700,000 to Teare between Jan. 26 and Feb. 24, fueling the campaign's TV advertising blitz. Soros previously supported Ogg, including a $500,000 ad buy during the 2016 general election. The Ogg campaign put out a press release Thursday quoting Douglas Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union. "I am very concerned with the funding of Sean Teare’s campaign by a PAC funded by George Soros," Griffith said in a statement. "Teare claimed to be a friend to police, but sadly appears to side with George Soros. Other big-city DAs funded by Soros have been a disaster for the communities they represent. I am fearful that we could be the next LA or Chicago!"

In response, the Teare campaign fired back, accusing Ogg of using tactics outside the bounds of the Democratic Party. "Kim Ogg's desperate and hypocritical attack exposes her true colors," Teare spokesperson Rocky Saligram said in a statement. "She aligns herself with GOP rhetoric, funding, and endorsements." Soros, a Jewish investor and philanthropist, has been a popular target of Republican conspiracy theories for years. "Attacks like these have long been buoyed by anti-Semitic extremists in our society," Saligram added. "It's wrong, and thankfully, voters are taking notice." Ogg, a second term incumbent, is now fighting off her well-funded challenger with support from Houston business groups, which helped her raise $287,000 during the latest reporting period. In a recent TV ad, Teare lays out his case: While "Kim Ogg changed" and doesn't reflect the party's values, Teare is a "real Democrat." A Teare supporter says, "I can't vote for Kim Ogg again." Teare also received a $35,000 donation from philanthropist Liz Simons and a $200,000 contribution from the Texas Organizing Project, a progressive political advocacy group that assisted the campaign with canvassing and consulting.

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Dallas Voice - March 1, 2024

New rule will restrict access to gender affirming care for some in Texas

On Friday, March 1, Texas Health and Human Services will implement a new rule restricting access to gender affirming care for adults enrolled in the Texas Medicaid program. Under the new rule, Medicaid will not cover the cost of “Hormone Therapy Agents” for anyone who has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria within the past 730 days. This decision appears to have been implemented with no public hearing and no opportunity for public input, which is usually required. The outcome of this rule shows this was another deliberate attack on Trans Texans and their access to health care. Most trans Texans will not be impacted by this rule change. Health care for trans adults in Texas remains legal.

“This is not surprising,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas. “We’ve been sounding the alarms for years. Haven’t you seen? The lives of trans Texans have been under constant attack and surveillance. Right now, we’re living through a time of prolifically accepted transphobia. “This new rule from HHS is another method of hate and discrimination directed at the trans community. This is the canary in the coalmine for their end goal – a full ban on our access to health care and terminating our ability for us to exist in the public square. “Cruelty is the point. Cruelty has always been the point. No matter what they do, the facts don’t change. We have always existed, all people deserve access to health care. That is simple humanity. People’s lives should never be “up for debate.” Trans Texans will continue to live in our truth in the place we call home. We’re organizing just as our trans and queer elders before us, and we’re not scared.”

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Dallas Voice - March 1, 2024

PFLAG sues after Paxton demands info on trans kids

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office has issued a statement in response to PFLAG’s lawsuit filed yesterday, in a bid to characterize the lawsuit as a “bid to hide documents” in Paxton’s “investigation that will likely demonstrate that entities throughout Texas are committing fraud or otherwise violating” the recently-enacted Texas law prohibiting gender-affirming health care for transgender minors in Texas. He claims PFLAG’s documents are “highly relevant” in his “investigations into whether medical providers are committing insurance fraud in order to circumvent” the health care ban.

Paxton has repeatedly tried to force health care clinics outside the state of Texas to turn over private healthcare information regarding Texas minors who families take them out of state for the health care — designated as necessary by their physicians — they can’t get in Texas. Paxton’s press release also attempts to diminish PFLAG’s long-standing role and a support and advocacy organization for LGBTQ people and their families by calling PFLAG “A ‘transgender’ advocacy group,” with the word transgender in quotes, as if it were a made-up and invalid term.

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Dallas Morning News - March 1, 2024

Sharon Grigsby: As March Madness reignites debate on Texas gambling ban, these questions deserve answers

Mega sporting events like college basketball’s March Madness, which is just around the corner, tend to turn up the heat on talk of legalizing gambling in Texas. It’s no longer a question of “if” but “when” our state comes to the table. Even many of the most ardent foes of gambling concede the legalization of casinos and sports betting is near. A lot of Texas residents are impatient to vote yes. While fans in other states gear up to place their March Madness bets, folks here are locked out of the fun. (Thank goodness the office bracket pool endures.) A survey last year by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs found widespread backing for legislation to end Texas’ long-standing ban. Support crossed demographic and partisan lines and included strong approval from people who identify as born-again Christians.

Even though my first experience with gaming was a mesmerizing midnight in the Monte Carlo Casino — too bad 27-year-old Sharon didn’t have a column in which to share that wild time — I’ve never been much of a gambler. I also have just enough libertarianism in my bones to not suggest to the rest of you how to spend your money. I’ll offer just one caution: Let’s make sure we don’t get stampeded before important questions are answered. The people who want to bring gambling to Texas aren’t going anywhere. They know our state is the crown jewel, the location everyone is delirious to crack. We hold the high cards in this discussion and we need to play them correctly so, when gambling does become legal in Texas, it serves everyone’s best interests not just those of the politicians and out-of-state operators. As the gambling industry’s odds improve here, we increasingly hear elected leaders, with stars — and dollar signs — in their eyes, gush, “Oh, look at all this fabulous extra money we are going to get.” Not so fast. We heard the same refrain when the Texas Lottery rode into town. As my former colleague Robert Garrett reported in January, despite what the public believes, the 32-year-old lottery has never paid much of the tab for the state’s public schools. Garrett’s research showed lottery proceeds cover only about five days of a typical 180-day school year. Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, who as state comptroller ran the lottery when it began, had the best line: “When it comes to financing the state budget, the lottery “isn’t [even] a pimple on a rat’s behind.”

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City Stories

KERA - March 1, 2024

Dallas City Council approves $2.5M settlement in Tony Timpa's wrongful death lawsuit

Dallas City Council members on Wednesday approved a $2.5 million partial settlement for the family of Anthony “Tony” Timpa, who died in Dallas police custody in 2016. Last September, a Dallas County jury awarded Timpa’s teenage son $1 million in damages in his family’s federal wrongful death lawsuit and nothing to Timpa’s parents or estate. In a statement ahead of Wednesday's meeting, a city spokesperson said the partial settlement was reached with three of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Timpa’s son, but did not specify exactly who would receive the settlement money or how it would be divided. “This settlement allows the jury’s verdict to be fulfilled, and the litigation to be finally concluded as to these plaintiffs,” the statement reads.

Timpa, a 32-year-old trucking executive from Rockwall, had called the police outside a sex store in Dallas and explained over the phone he was dealing with schizophrenia and anxiety and was off his medication. After Timpa crossed the road in a panic, two security guards handcuffed him to the ground. The lawsuit alleged Dallas Police Officer Dustin Dillard violated Timpa’s Fourth Amendment rights by kneeling on his back for about 14 minutes while he was handcuffed — excessive force the lawsuit says led him to stop breathing. The suit also alleged Officers Raymond Dominguez and Danny Vasquez and Sgt. Kevin Mansell were liable for Timpa’s death for failing to intervene. Dominguez and Vasquez can be heard in body camera footage during the arrest joking and pretending to try to wake Timpa for school. Attorneys for the city argued Timpa's preexisting health conditions led to his death and the officers followed all protocol in his arrest.

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National Stories

Bloomberg - March 1, 2024

Biden is too old but Trump is dangerous, swing-state poll shows

Swing-state voters across every major demographic group describe President Joe Biden as too old, a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll has found, showing that concerns about his age have permeated even the most reliable constituencies of the Democratic party. Overall, eight in 10 voters in crucial states said Biden was too old, when asked to think about the frontrunners in the 2024 election. The survey was taken after a special prosecutor’s report that cast the 81-year-old president as an “elderly man with a poor memory.” In contrast, less than half of respondents said his almost-certain rival, 77-year-old Donald Trump, was too old. Still, Trump faces his own vulnerabilities with swing-state voters, with a majority saying the former president is dangerous.

In a sign of how top-of-mind Biden’s age and acuity are for swing-state voters, more than 1,000 poll respondents mentioned those themes even before they were asked about them directly. They referenced them in reply to an open-ended question about what they had seen, read or heard about the candidate recently. Their responses underscore the depth and ubiquity of a voter concern that has sometimes overshadowed Biden’s policy achievements and proved difficult for his campaign to assuage. Biden continues to trail Trump in all seven states most likely to decide the election, with swing-state voters’ perceptions of an improving national economy failing to translate into a significant increase in support for the incumbent. The poll of 4,955 voters was conducted Feb. 12 to Feb. 20 and has a margin of error of 1 percentage point. Trump maintains his lead over Biden if other candidates — independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein of the Green Party and independent Cornel West — are included. When asked about the two likely major candidates in November’s presidential election, majorities of Black voters, young voters and women labeled Biden too old. Even among those who say they plan to vote for Biden, seven in 10 said he fit that description. Voters were more likely to describe Trump as being mentally fit or in good health.

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The Hill - March 1, 2024

House approves bipartisan bill aimed at bolstering nuclear energy

The House on Wednesday evening approved bipartisan legislation that aims to bolster nuclear energy. The vote was 365-36, with one additional lawmaker voting present. All of the “no” votes were Democrats and included several members of the Progressive Caucus. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) voted present. The legislation aims to bolster the U.S.’s nuclear energy production by speeding up environmental reviews for new nuclear reactors and reducing fees that applicants for advanced nuclear reactor licenses must pay. It would also extend a law that limits the industry’s legal liability for nuclear accidents by 40 years. In addition, the bill would also seek to bolster nuclear approvals by requiring “efficient, timely, and predictable reviews and proceeding” for licensing reactors.

The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). “The Atomic Energy Advancement Act restores American leadership in nuclear energy and technology which is critical to our economic and national security. I’m proud to lead the most significant update to nuclear energy policy in the United States in over a generation,” Duncan said in a written statement on its passage. While it has bipartisan support in the House, it’s unclear whether the bill will advance in its current form, as the Senate has its own nuclear energy bill. Both bills have bipartisan support and reports have indicated that both chambers have been in talks on how to reconcile the legislation.

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Oklahoma Voice - March 1, 2024

Oklahoma House passes bill to give Legislature a say on state Board of Education

If House and Senate lawmakers can agree on one thing, it might be this: They want more of a voice on the Oklahoma State Board of Education. Both chambers have advanced bills to add four more seats to the influential state board to include members chosen by the House speaker and Senate pro tem. Currently, the governor appoints six of the seven members of the board, with the final seat occupied by the elected state superintendent. “I am excited that we both are in agreement that something needs to be done,” said Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore. “The Senate and the House need to have an appointment on this board.” The Governor’s Office declined to comment on the pending legislation. The Oklahoma State Department of Education did not return a request for comment.

McBride said he co-wrote a bill to expand the board in hopes of seeing more members with experience in school administration, a background none of the sitting members have. McBride’s legislation, House Bill 2562, would require the House and Senate leaders to each appoint to the board a former superintendent from a district with fewer than 10,000 students. It also would direct each legislative leader to choose a “rural resident of the state.” The bill passed the full House on Wednesday in a 60-29 vote. It now heads to the Senate. Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, wrote a similar bill that passed this week in the Senate Education Committee, which he leads. Senate Bill 1395 also would have legislative leaders add four more members to the board, but there would be no requirements for the appointees’ credentials or residence. Pugh said the Legislature should have a say on the board that heads Oklahoma’s most expensive state department. With a budget of $3.9 billion, the Oklahoma State Department of Education receives more state funds than any other agency.

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CNBC - March 1, 2024

Congressional leaders strike partial budget deal, avert weekend government shutdown

Top congressional leaders on Capitol Hill struck a partial budget deal to temporarily avert a government shutdown on Wednesday. Leaders including House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., secured an agreement for six funding bills, four of which were to expire Friday. Those bills and their corresponding agencies, which included agriculture, veterans affairs and housing, will now remain funded through March 8. The rest of the government’s funding will be extended to March 22. “We are in agreement that Congress must work in a bipartisan manner to fund our government,” leaders said in a joint statement. The House is expected to vote on the deal as early as Thursday, with the Senate to follow and Biden to sign after that. The funding extensions are intended to give Congress “adequate time” to draft language for the agreed-upon bills, give congress members time to review the text and conduct other technical legislative processes, the joint statement said.

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Politico - March 1, 2024

In testy interview with GOP, Hunter Biden says father was not involved in business deals

Hunter Biden repeatedly told House investigators behind closed doors that his father was not involved in his business deals as part of an hours-long and, at times, contentious interview. Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees released the nearly 230-page transcript on Thursday, about 24 hours after they concluded their private deposition that is part of a sweeping impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Much of the GOP investigation has focused on the business deals of Joe Biden’s family members, as lawmakers have struggled to find a smoking gun linking official actions he took as president or vice president to those financial agreements. Hunter Biden — in a theme he previewed in a defiant opening statement on Wednesday morning — told lawmakers and congressional aides that his father had no involvement in his business arrangements as he fielded questions on years-old financial deals and his own well-publicized struggle with addiction. Republicans have said they now want to have a public hearing with Hunter Biden — something neither he nor his legal team has committed to this week, after pushing for one last year before they agreed to the private deposition.

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Wall Street Journal - March 1, 2024

Georgia case against Trump takes big hit as Fani Willis fights disqualification

Despite all the uncertainty in Donald Trump’s Georgia election-interference case, several legal experts said one thing has become clear: Fani Willis’s case has been damaged. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who brought the racketeering case against the former president and 18 others, might still beat the effort to disqualify her. But the ethics scandal that has hung over the case for two months has blunted momentum from notching early plea deals, experts say. It also has likely undermined her ability to obtain guilty pleas from the remaining defendants. “The cloud that’s hanging over this case—it’s a real concern and it’s certainly going to stay with Willis,” said Chris Timmons, a former racketeering prosecutor in Georgia who has closely followed the Trump case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee is overseeing closing arguments Friday on a motion to disqualify Willis, who several co-defendants in the case including Trump accused of financially benefiting from the case by hiring a romantic partner, Nathan Wade, to be her top deputy on the case. McAfee hasn’t tipped his hand, and he isn’t expected to issue a ruling from the bench Friday. The hearing is expected to be the backdrop for a tense closing salvo between defense lawyers and Willis’s prosecution team, who have clashed in written motions and court testimony since early January. After a long period of silence, Willis and Wade, a private-practice lawyer, acknowledged having a romantic relationship, but denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman for Willis declined to comment on the disqualification motion or the status of the case. There is a good chance Trump and his co-defendants will lose their bid to remove Willis, a Democrat, over her romantic relationship with Wade, some legal experts said. But the whole ordeal has enraged Republican lawmakers in the state, who have renewed efforts to form a commission that could sanction or remove prosecutors. They also formed a panel with subpoena power to probe the Willis-Wade misconduct allegations. Those efforts won’t go away even if the motion to disqualify her does. “Fani Willis and Nathan Wade both lost a lot of credibility,” said Timmons, now a civil litigator and an ABC News contributor.

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Newsclips - February 29, 2024

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - February 29, 2024

Smokehouse Creek fire, 2nd-largest Texas wildfire ever, has burned 850,000 acres

The Smokehouse Creek fire in the Texas Panhandle has grown extremely quickly over the past 36 hours and is now one of the largest wildfires ever to burn across the Lone Star State. The fire was first reported by the Texas A&M Forest Service around 2:20 p.m. Monday. The fire started near Stinnett in Hutchinson County and was first reported with a size of 40,000 acres.

Throughout the day Tuesday, very strong westerly winds allowed the fire to grow uncontrollably. Sustained winds were between 30 and 45 mph most of the day, and wind gusts rose to up to 60 mph at times. These winds were the reason why the Smokehouse Fire had grown to 250,000 acres by 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. A cold front blew through the Texas Panhandle on Tuesday evening, which allowed the fire to grow southward through the evening and overnight. Wednesday morning, it was estimated at half a million acres in size. As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the wildfire has grown to 850,000 acres, or more than 1,300 square miles. That is larger than the state of Rhode Island, which is 1,214 square miles. The fire is now 3% contained.

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Dallas Morning News - February 29, 2024

Joe Biden, Donald Trump in Texas today for separate campaign stops at border with Mexico

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are visiting Texas’ southern border for dueling campaign stops Thursday as immigration has emerged as a key issue in the 2024 presidential race. Biden will use his afternoon trip to Brownsville to push Congress to pass a bipartisan border proposal that recently stalled in the Senate. The Democrat also will receive a briefing on border security operations from officials at Customs and Border Protection and other immigration-related agencies, according to a White House official. It will be Biden’s second visit to the Texas-Mexico border as president. He visited El Paso in January 2023 for a four-hour stop during which he walked along the border wall that separates El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. During the trip, Gov. Greg Abbott also handed over a letter demanding that Biden enforce various laws to deal with “chaos” at the border.

Republican leaders have repeatedly ripped the president for how his administration has handled border security. Biden has countered by blaming GOP lawmakers for the death of a bipartisan border security bill in the U.S. Senate that included several Republican-demanded provisions, including an overhaul that would have raised the screening standard for asylum claims and sped up the removal of migrants whose asylum claims were denied. Trump, who has made illegal immigration a centerpiece of his campaign, is heading back to the border for an appearance in Eagle Pass, a border city of about 28,000 that has become a focal point in the political fight over immigration. Trump is expected to give afternoon remarks at Shelby Park, where Abbott has stationed Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and the Texas National Guard in a city park that lines about a mile of the Rio Grande bank. Trump will appear with Sean Hannity on his Fox News show Thursday night. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott are also expected to appear. Trump last visited the U.S.-Mexico border in November, picking up Abbott’s endorsement in Edinburg after promising to enact hard-line immigration policies that would make the governor’s “job much easier.” Trump’s visit to Eagle Pass will put him at the center of several fights between Texas and the federal government.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 29, 2024

ERCOT program cost Texas utilities an extra $90 million during January freeze, market monitor says

As Texans drove power demand to a wintertime record high during last month’s deep freeze, power companies paid $90 million in wholesale costs the grid operator’s independent monitor says could have been avoided — and that eventually could be passed along to their customers. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ controversial reserve program, which caused price spikes totaling $12.5 billion last summer, jacked up pricing again during the Jan. 15-17 cold snap, according to a new report from Potomac Economics, the independent monitor. The program is meant to keep more backup electricity supply in reserve during periods of peak demand for use in case of emergencies. By removing supply from the market, though, it also drives up wholesale prices and costs to utilities.

“Addressing these issues remains critical,” Potomac said in a presentation Monday to an ERCOT committee. “Discussion with ERCOT has begun.” The state grid operator declined Wednesday to elaborate on the status or focus of those talks. The “all-in” costs of electricity were up 88% in 2023 from the year before despite natural gas prices being 65% lower, grid expert Doug Lewin wrote in response to Potomac’s report. That’s in part because last summer’s extreme heat drove up demand, he said in a post in his Texas Energy and Power Newsletter, but also because ERCOT is likely procuring more reserves through the program than needed. Known as the ERCOT Contingency Reserve Service, the program was created to prevent blackouts like those that occurred during Winter Storm Uri in early 2021. But ERCOT’s independent market monitor began sounding the alarm last year, saying the reserve service is taking more power than necessary off the marketplace when demand rises. ERCOT has denied that, but also says the program will be improved with planned systems improvements. With its current systems, the reserve and regular markets don’t communicate and can’t adjust pricing for each other in real time. That means prices on the regular market are driven up when demand moves supply to the reserve market — where it’s not always needed.

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Dallas Morning News - February 29, 2024

Cowboys’ Jerry Jones will be required to take DNA test in paternity case, judge rules

A Dallas County judge upheld the decision Wednesday that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones must take a paternity test to determine whether he is the biological father of a 27-year-old woman who sued him in 2022, according to court documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News. The decision, made by Judge Sandra Jackson, was handed down after a roughly hourlong hearing Feb. 19 when attorneys for both Jones and the woman, Alexandra Davis, argued whether she had a presumed father, who is not Jones. The ruling is a “huge victory” for Davis and other families, her attorney Kris Hayes told The News. “Alex is in a position where she really no longer has to hide her truth or live under the thumb of fear and maybe she’s going to finally get some peace and we hope other families will have that same benefit from the judge following the law,” Hayes said.

An attorney representing Jones could not be reached Wednesday night. A lawsuit filed March 3, 2022, by Davis alleged that she was conceived when Jones and her mother had a relationship in the mid-1990s. According to court documents, Jones and Davis’ mother, Cynthia Davis, reached a settlement in which Jones agreed to financially support them so long as they didn’t publicly identify Jones as Alexandra Davis’ father. The lawsuit sought to have a court declare that Alexandra Davis wasn’t bound by that agreement, but she later dropped that lawsuit and instead sought testing to prove Jones is her father. A judge previously ruled Jones was subject to genetic testing in December 2022. His lawyers promptly appealed. At the hearing earlier this month, Jones’ attorneys — state Sen. Royce West, Levi McCathern and Charles “Chip” Babcock — argued the man who was married to Davis’ mother when she was born was her presumed father. Davis’ attorneys, Hayes and Andrew Bergman, said that wasn’t the case as evidenced by court documents from Arkansas saying in “plain and apparent words” that Davis’ mother’s now ex-husband was not her father. Hayes said because Davis therefore has no presumed father, Jones has only two options to move the case forward: Acknowledge paternity or agree to take the paternity test.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 29, 2024

Houston firefighters nearing resolution in pay dispute as Whitmire seeks more time for negotiations

The city of Houston and its firefighters are nearing an agreement to resolve their bitter, yearslong pay dispute, with specifics expected to take additional weeks or months to finalize, according to city and union officials. The city typically renegotiates contracts with the firefighters union every few years, but the two parties were unable to reach an agreement in 2017, leading to an ongoing legal battle and leaving the firefighters without a contract ever since. Mayor John Whitmire’s administration previously set an end-of-February deadline to resolve all aspects of the dispute and outline a plan to finance the substantial payments.

While both sides expressed satisfaction with the progress of the negotiations, Whitmire acknowledged the city is unlikely to meet this target. “The negotiations are complicated and ongoing,” Whitmire said. “We are taking additional time to gather the necessary information and reach a successful conclusion: the best outcome for the City of Houston and our firefighters.” Still, both City Attorney Arturo Michel and firefighters union president Marty Lancton told the Chronicle they are hopeful they can finalize basic terms in the coming days, possibly at their next meeting Thursday afternoon. These terms will cover the total back pay the city will pay to firefighters split into broad categories such as base pay, special pay and interest. They will also likely touch on their future contracts for the next three years, according to Michel. However, developing the agreement to the extent that firefighters of various classifications know their exact compensation may take two to three more months, he said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 29, 2024

Jim 'Mattress Mack' McIngvale makes $1 million bet on University of Houston to win national title

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale is at it again. To back a promotion at his Gallery Furniture stores, McIngvale has placed a $1 million bet on the University of Houston basketball team to win the national championship. McIngvale got 7.5-to-1 odds on the Cougars, according to Caesars Sportsbook, which posted on social media about McIngvale's bet with the casino Wednesday. That means McIngvale would win $7.5 million if the Cougars cut down the nets in Glendale, Arizona in April. Houston is off to a 25-3 start and moved up to No. 1 in this week's Associated Press poll. The only team with lower betting odds to win it all is UConn, which won last year's national title in Houston.

The bet will help cover McIngvale, who is running a Gallery Furniture promotion that will give customers their money back if they buy a Tempur-Pedic mattress/adjustable base priced at $4,000 or more and the Cougars win their first national title. McIngvale routinely makes these bets to cover similar promotions. Last year, he wagered a little more than $4 million that the Cougars would win it all. Instead, UH was upset by Miami in the Sweet 16. He also made several bets totaling $500,000 that the Texans would beat the Ravens in this year's NFL playoffs. McIngvale lost $7.9 million in different wagers he had placed on the Astros to win last year's World Series, but he did cash in a whopping $75 million when he had more than $10 million wagered on them to win the 2022 World Series. McIngvale also has a relationship with the Cougars basketball team, agreeing to a $1 million NIL deal with the program last year. The deal allows players to capitalize on their name, image and likeness.

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Houston Chronicle - February 29, 2024

Sexual assault survivors frustrated following suspension of thousands of Houston police cases

Before news erupted that more than 4,000 sex crime cases under his watch and prior administrations had been suspended without investigation, Police Chief Troy Finner called the Houston Area Women’s Center. Emilee Whitehurst, the center’s president, said Finner wanted her to hear about the closed cases from him first and that he was working to solve the problem. But she expressed frustration and outrage Wednesday and called on an oversight of this nature to never happen again. Instead of casting blame, she stood alongside four survivors of sexual assault as they recalled traversing the criminal justice system following their own sexual assaults. One woman said a judge tossed her abuser’s case decades earlier and another described how bringing her abuser to justice was an arduous process.

Sylvia Rodriguez, who said her complaint against her alleged abuser was dismissed years earlier, worried that the suspended cases may deepen the sentiment among sexual assault survivors that they have been minimized. She challenged others to prove her wrong. “This news tells me you don’t matter. Nobody cares,” Rodriguez said. The anecdotes about the police handling of their sexual assault cases comes as questions swirl about who knew about the Houston Police Department’s practice of closing more than 250,000 criminal cases, including sex crimes, without investigating and when. Since 2016, the department used a code to end the investigations by citing a lack of manpower. The code predates Finner’s administration but it continued to be used during his tenure and was written into official policies as recently as December.

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Houston Chronicle - February 29, 2024

Houston GOP activist Jared Woodfill puts firebrand approach to the test in Texas House race

Jared Woodfill has for years been a divisive but prominent figure in Harris County, opposing LGBTQ rights and helping to push Texas politics farther to the right. Now, the lawyer and former Harris County GOP chair has his sights set on a new goal: The Texas House. Woodfill, in his first bid for public office, is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Lacey Hull of Houston. Their race mirrors many of the GOP primary battles for Texas House playing out across the state this year, as Woodfill labels Hull a RINO, or a Republican in name only, and criticizes her vote last year to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton on corruption charges. But taking Hull’s west Houston seat isn’t Woodfill’s only objective. He’s also simultaneously mounting a long-shot bid for House speaker, a position currently held by Rep. Dade Phelan of Beaumont, who is similarly facing a primary challenge from his right over the Paxton impeachment vote.

“RINO Alert! Liberal Lacey Hull and her biggest supporter Dade Phelan want HD 138 voters to believe she is a conservative!” Woodfill posted on the social media platform X this week. “No matter how many mail pieces she sends, she can’t run from her liberal voting record and support for Democrats.” The race hinges on whether Woodfill — with his record of controversial advocacy work and his long-standing work relationship with conservative activist Steven Hotze — can convince enough GOP voters that he is a better choice than Hull, who is vying for a third term. Woodfill is a career bomb-thrower, often fighting members of his own party to advance a far-right agenda, while Hull has pitched herself as a lawmaker open to working with others to get legislation across the finish line. Neither candidate responded to requests for comment. Early voting has already begun, and Election Day is March 5. Hull is touting a list of conservative achievements while in office, including her votes to ban abortion, prevent transgender student-athletes from competing in women’s sports and cut property taxes. She has mostly ignored Woodfill’s attacks, instead flooding her social media with posts about her endorsements and pictures from the campaign trail.

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Dallas Morning News - February 29, 2024

Mitch McConnell to step down as Senate GOP leader, a position Texas’ John Cornyn has eyed

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he will step aside after November, opening the door for U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to pursue the top spot in Republican leadership. Cornyn, who was on the Senate floor when McConnell informed his colleagues and the world that he will not seek another term as leader, later told reporters he would not immediately announce a run for leader. He also reconfirmed his longstanding interest in the job. “I think today is about Mitch McConnell,” Cornyn said. “But I’ve made no secret of my intentions.”

McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history, announced his decision to step down in a speech from the Senate floor. McConnell, 82, plans to complete his term as a senator, which ends in January 2027. “I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon, however. I’ll complete my job my colleagues have given me until we select a new leader in November and they take the helm next January,” he said. Cornyn, 72, is a longtime, trusted lieutenant of McConnell and has been candid about his interest in succeeding him. Even while discussing a potential bid for the position in recent months, Cornyn has stood by McConnell and pushed back on suggestions he wasn’t up to the job after McConnell experienced a series of health scares last year. McConnell, who suffered a concussion after falling, froze up twice while on camera. Cornyn responded by saying it should be up to McConnell to decide when to leave the position. He decided that time is the end of this year. “Mitch has been one of a kind in terms of his leadership in the Senate, but as he said, there’s a season for everything,” Cornyn said Wednesday. “And so I wish him well and I’m glad he’s not going anywhere.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 29, 2024

Party-switching Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson touts Republican principles on Ted Cruz podcast

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says leaving his church would have caused less consternation than his switch last year from Democrat to Republican, a political conversion that rattled relatives, friends and former allies. “I had more panicked phone calls from people genuinely concerned about what I was doing and why, how I could do this, than I would have gotten if I’d said I just don’t think I’m into this Jesus thing anymore,” Johnson said Monday during a guest appearance on the podcast of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Johnson announced his switch in September with a Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he argued the country’s urban centers would be best served by the kind of law-and-order, fiscally conservative approach espoused by Republicans. Cruz has a large and devoted following on the right, so his podcast offered Johnson a megaphone to conservatives as he continues to build a profile within his new party.

During the hourlong conversation with Cruz, he highlighted his support from prominent Texas Republicans and alluded to a private lunch he had last year with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who made an unsuccessful 2024 White House bid. Johnson said he told Scott about his view that successful African Americans get ahead by working hard and following the rules, but often pretend that’s not the “winning formula” because they don’t want to appear out of touch. “We need to be more honest about what the winning formula is,” Johnson said. “And the winning formula ends up being exactly what the conservative ideology would tell you.” Johnson characterized his party switch as inevitable after long feeling uncomfortable in the Democratic Party. He described being born in a poor West Dallas neighborhood to working-class parents, spending much of his childhood in church and absorbing messages about the importance of personal responsibility and following the rules. In contrast, he said, Democrats have pushed a message that people succeed or fail based on circumstances outside of their control, such as their race.

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Border Report - February 29, 2024

Catholic bishops around country rally to El Paso’s Annunciation House

Catholic bishops from around the country are rallying and joining the chorus of support for El Paso’s Annunciation House, a long-standing migrant support and hospitality organization that is being sued by the State of Texas. “The Annunciation House has long been a symbol of welcome and hospitality for those seeking refuge, and the affirmation from my brother bishops strengthens our resolve to continue this vital mission of answering the Lord’s call to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry and to shelter the homeless. Our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to meet Him face to face in the most vulnerable whom we encounter,” El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz said. Last week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his office is suing Annunciation House, alleging it promotes illegal entry into the United States and acts as a de facto “stash house.” Paxton is seeking to revoke Annunciation House’s ability to conduct business in Texas and shut it down.

Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops: “The Texas bishops join Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso in expressing solidarity with ministry volunteers and people of faith who seek only to serve vulnerable migrants as our nation and state continue to pursue failed migration and border security policies. We recognize migrant ministry as an example of our Catholic commitment to the poor, the Christian call to love one’s neighbor, and stepping into the breach to take action where many will not. Our border ministries are intended to be a stabilizing presence that protects both citizens and migrants. The Catholic Church in Texas remains committed to praying and working for a secure border, to protect the vulnerable and for just immigration solutions to protect all human life.” The California Catholic Conference of Bishops Executive Committee: “The California Catholic Conference’s Executive Committee stands in solidarity with Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, Texas, as he defends the Church’s right to practice its faith and implement the corporal works of mercy. “It is shameful that the Texas Attorney General would file suit against Annunciation House in El Paso. For a country that was founded by immigrants from Europe seeking religious freedom and tolerance, we find the actions of the Texas AG abhorrent in attempting to curtail the work of people of faith. “The Annunciation House has accompanied migrants for nearly 50 years, partnering with local and federal law enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol. For the AG to claim the nonprofit is responsible for ‘worsening illegal immigration’ shows a lack of fundamental understanding of the gravity of immigration as a humanitarian concern and unjustly attacks a long-standing partner in relief efforts.

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Border Report - February 29, 2024

16 migrants found in ‘deplorable conditions’ in South Texas stash house

Border Patrol agents in Laredo found 16 undocumented migrants living in a stash house, the agency said. Border Patrol and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers raided a home on Friday in the South Texas border town after receiving a tip. Inside, agents said they found 16 migrants “being harbored in deplorable conditions,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said. All of the migrants were from Guatemala and have been processed according to their individual immigration status, the agency said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 29, 2024

Lockheed Martin lobbyist accused of stealing campaign sign

A high-ranking employee of Lockheed Martin has been accused of stealing a campaign sign in White Settlement, and police have referred the case to municipal court. Precinct 4 Constable Scott Bedford, a Republican who faces two challengers in the March 5 primary, said he saw the man taking a sign on Saturday afternoon that targeted Craig Goldman, a Republican who is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth. The sign pointed to Goldman’s signs outside of the White Settlement Library — an early voting location. It read “Voted to impeach Ken Paxton,” a reference to Goldman’s vote as a state representative. Goldman faces Anne Henley, John C. O’Shea, Shellie Gardner and Clint Dorris in the Republican primary for the District 12 seat, which covers much of Fort Worth and Parker County.

Bedford, who was off duty at the time, said he saw O’Shea supporters putting up the signs around the corner and told them what he saw. They showed him a photo of the Lockheed employee and asked if it was him. He said he was confident it was the same man he saw removing the sign. The employee did not respond to multiple calls asking for comment. “Nobody should be stealing campaign signs. I don’t care what your stature is,” Bedford said. Bedford said the supporters filed a police report. White Settlement police said the case was referred to municipal court as a Class C misdemeanor — theft less than $100. Police Chief Chris Cook said this is essentially a citation level offense. The police report did not name a suspect. Tarrant County GOP chair Bo French told the Star-Telegram in a statement that his understanding is that the Lockheed employee has not disputed the allegations. “Our party works best when elected officials listen to the grassroots rather than try to silence them,” he said.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 29, 2024

One Central Texas city is the nation's first to reach 100 degrees this year. Here's where.

Several cities in Texas had record-high temperatures on Monday. Dallas reached 94 degrees, besting their previous record for Feb. 26 of 90 degrees, set back in 1917. Abilene reached 94 degrees, too, which also broke the daily record for the city. A large part of Texas topped the 90-degree threshold. That includes areas from the Rio Grande Valley, northward into West and Central Texas. The 90-degree heat extended east along the dry line into Central and North Texas, too. But only one Texas city went above and beyond the rest, reaching the triple-digit mark for the first time this year. That city is Killeen, which is about 60 miles north of Austin along the Interstate 35 corridor. Fort Cavazos, formerly known as Fort Hood, which sits on the southwest side of Killeen, recorded a temperature of 100 degrees. This new record high temperature for Feb. 26 at Fort Cavazos smashed the old daily record, 89 degrees set in 1954, by a whopping 11 degrees.

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D Magazine - February 29, 2024

AG Ken Paxton Has Sued the State Fair of Texas

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit against the State Fair of Texas last week, alleging that the organization violated a law that allows police officers to carry their firearms inside the fairgrounds even if they are not on duty. The suit, which was filed on February 23 in Dallas County district court, accuses the State Fair of denying at least two off-duty officers entry with their weapons after they displayed their credentials. When reached for comment, State Fair spokesperson Karissa Condoianis said that the suit had “just been brought to our attention,” and they were unaware of the details of the alleged incidents. “The State Fair of Texas takes seriously its legal obligations to allow peace officers to lawfully carry their weapon at the fairgrounds,” she said. “To that end, the State Fair requires at least one Dallas Police Officer to be posted at each admission gate to check credentials and ensure compliance. This policy allows peace officers to deal face-to-face with fellow peace officers to ensure compliance and safety for all our guests.”

Condoianis said that the organization would now look into the incidents to see how they unfolded. According to the State Fair’s website, only people who are licensed to carry a gun are allowed to bring their weapon to the fairgrounds, and it must be concealed. The law Paxton cites in the suit says that armed, licensed peace officers are allowed entry to a variety of establishments—restaurants, bars, retail establishments, sports and entertainment venues—”regardless of whether the peace officer is engaged in the actual discharge of the officer’s duties while carrying the weapon.” The suit says that on October 8, 2022, Abilene Police Department Lt. Michael Perry was not allowed to carry his gun into the fair as he tried to enter Gate 1. In February 2023, Paxton’s office sent a letter to the city of Dallas, which then sent it to the State Fair. By the end of the month, both the city and the fair had responded to Paxton’s office, saying that they would comply with the law. But on September 30, 2023, an Ector County Hospital District Police captain, Tommy Jones, also tried to enter the fair with his weapon to attend the State Fair Classic game. Paxton says Jones was also not allowed to bring his weapon in. It is unclear how Paxton was alerted to the incidents, but there is a link to a report form on the Attorney General’s website. The fairgrounds at Fair Park are owned by the city and operated by Fair Park First. The State Fair of Texas is the nonprofit entity that operates the event for three weeks each fall by leasing the fairgrounds. The suit only names the fair.

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National Stories

Baptist News Global - February 29, 2024

Defying DeSantis, most Florida parents support public education

Parents in Florida are overwhelmingly supportive of public education despite claims by conservatives that the system is damaged beyond repair, according to a new poll commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The survey released earlier this month found more than 83% of respondents consider public education to be a right and say its funding should be increased. The research also showed 92% of parents and 90% of the general adult population believe curriculum should be developed by education professionals.

“In Florida, far-right groups supported by a handful of vocal political activists have created a false narrative that our public education system is broken,” said SPLC President Margaret Huang. “But this could not be further from the truth. Public education remains a cornerstone of our democracy, and Florida parents and residents strongly support public schools and believe in the power of public education to ensure all children can thrive in the classroom and their future.” The survey was conducted in December by the polling and research firm Ipsos. Topics ranged from parent involvement in schools to policies regarding curricula and library books. The project measured attitudes about public education at a time of sustained right-wing attacks against public education nationally and in Florida, including efforts to ban books, to intimidate educators and to eradicate LGBTQ, gender and racial equality.

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Wall Street Journal - February 29, 2024

Lawmakers reach deal to avert partial government shutdown this weekend

Top congressional leaders unveiled a deal Wednesday to keep the federal government fully operating beyond Friday, when funding is scheduled to lapse for some agencies. Leaders said they will hold votes on a stopgap bill this week to avoid any lapse in government funding, followed by votes next month on full-year spending bills. “We are in agreement that Congress must work in a bipartisan manner to fund our government,” said a statement signed by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), and the leaders of the appropriations committees in both the House and Senate. Congressional leaders have spent months trying to complete the 12 bills that split up funding among U.S. agencies, which need to pass in both chambers and secure a signature from President Biden.

On Wednesday, congressional leaders said negotiators had come to an agreement in principle on the contents of six bills that fund the departments of Agriculture, Justice, Interior, Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies, with a new deadline to vote on those bills by March 8. The leaders said the fiscal year 2024 spending levels in those bills would adhere to the bipartisan agreement reached last year, tied to a deal raising the federal government’s debt ceiling. A second deadline to finalize six bills to fund the remaining federal agencies, including Defense, Labor and Homeland Security, would be moved until March 22. The leaders said the House and Senate will vote this week to pass a short-term stopgap bill to give lawmakers “adequate time” to execute the deal in principle, including drafting and other technical matters, and to allow members 72 hours to review any legislative text. The bipartisan deal marks progress toward averting a shutdown, but uncertainty remains. Both the House and the Senate will need to pass first the stopgap measure before Saturday, and then pass all 12 spending bills by later next month. Johnson, a Louisiana conservative who has been speaker for about four months, now will have to sell the deal to his rebellious Republican conference. Many House Republicans have taken a hard line on spending, complicating efforts to pass a full-year budget plan and requiring repeated rounds of short-term patches. Some members have objected to the use of short-term bills, called continuing resolutions, to defer hard decisions.

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Politico - February 29, 2024

Biden’s physical finds him ‘healthy, active, robust,’ says White House doctor

President Joe Biden’s physician declared him to be “a healthy, active, robust 81-year-old male, who remains fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency,” according to a six-page report released Wednesday afternoon following a three-hour examination earlier in the day. White House physician Kevin O’Connor found “no new concerns” during his exam. In his report, he wrote Biden is being treated for a number of ailments consistent with his age: “sleep apnea, a-fib with normal ventricular response, hyperlipidemia, gastroesophageal reflux, seasonal allergies, spinal arthritis and sensory peripheral neuropathy of the feet.” The president’s gait, O’Connor noted, “remains stiff, but has not worsened since last year.”

On Wednesday morning, Biden took an unannounced trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to get his annual physical. Biden, whose public schedule was bare when the White House first distributed it Tuesday night, left for the check-up just before 9 a.m., informing reporters of his destination as he headed for Marine One. This is the third straight year Biden has received a physical exam in the first quarter of the year. The secrecy around the annual visit to Walter Reed was not unusual, but it underscored anew the heightened sensitivities around the subject of Biden’s age and health, a concern for many voters as the 81-year-old seeks another four years in office this November. Recent polls have shown that Biden’s age and fitness for office are his biggest liability, with 76 percent of voters expressing concern in a recent NBC News poll earlier this month. And a Quinnipiac University survey last week showed that just 34 percent of Americans believe Biden has “the mental fitness to serve a second term.”

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Hollywood Reporter - February 29, 2024

Shane Smith and the final collapse of Vice News

Just weeks after the company he founded entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy last May, Shane Smith jetted to the French Riviera. But this wasn’t a vacation for the 54-year-old flamboyant former Vice CEO to drown his sorrows. Smith landed in Cannes on a mission to save the media company that he had started as a scrappy punk music magazine in Montreal three decades ago from the financial scrap heap. Smith, the brash face of Vice, had been quietly operating behind the scenes since stepping aside as CEO in 2018. In his new capacity as executive chairman, he worked the phones and hustled for deals as only he knew how. Now, accompanied by his chief of staff, Alon Soran, he was at Cannes Lions, the annual advertising confab that attracts the monied set looking to do business, desperate to ensure the company he had built didn’t disappear into liquidation and irrelevancy. In a series of previously unreported meetings with Fortress Investment Group’s managing director, Brian Stewart, Smith convinced Stewart that Vice would have another life, two people familiar with the matter tell The Hollywood Reporter.

It was the final play by the master dealmaker on his quest to get the company, now run by CEO Bruce Dixon, to financial stability. And it worked. On June 23, an announcement went out that a bankruptcy court had approved a $350?million sale of Vice to one of its prior investors, hedge fund Fortress, which led a consortium of buyers in the deal. Smith had pulled off one last magic trick. “In the lore of Shane, this is what he does,” a person familiar with the Cannes meeting says. “Whether it’s on a yacht, or wherever it is, you have this living-large moment and everyone agrees, ‘We are going to do this.’ That’s how he gets the big deals.” Smith did not respond to a request for comment. For a company valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, it was a fire sale of a transaction. Disney CEO Bob Iger held talks with Shane Smith in 2015 and 2016 about buying the company for $3.4 billion, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions. (Disney did not respond to a request for comment.) But even that valuation turned out to be wildly inflated. Many current and former Vice employees argue that Smith knew the company was puffed up on air because he was the one puffing it up — and was well compensated for doing so. Smith is believed to be paid a multimillion-dollar annual salary and likely far more in commissions and bonuses under the terms of a multiyear deal that began in 2019 and is scheduled to finish at the end of 2024, a well-placed source says.

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Associated Press - February 29, 2024

The Supreme Court will decide whether Trump is immune from federal prosecution. Here’s what’s next

The Supreme Court’s decision to consider whether former President Donald Trump should be immune from prosecution in his federal 2020 election interference case could push a trial close to Election Day — or even beyond this year. The announcement Wednesday was a victory for Trump’s efforts to delay the criminal case charging him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, setting arguments for late April. The Supreme Court will decide a legally untested question: whether former presidents are immune from prosecution for official acts they take in office. The action injects immediate uncertainty into the legal and political calendar over the next several months. It could mean that the election this fall might happen without a jury ever being asked to decide whether Trump is criminally responsible for efforts to undo an election he lost in the weeks leading up to the violent Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Of the four criminal cases Trump faces, the only one with a trial date that seems poised to hold is a New York state prosecution charging him with falsifying business records in connection with hush-money payments to a porn star, slated to begin in late March. If the court rejects Trump’s immunity claim, the timing of the justices’ decision will be crucial in determining whether it’s possible for the case to go to jurors before November. The justices’ decision to fast-track the case means a trial could potentially start by late summer or early fall if the high court quickly rules Trump can face prosecution. But if the court waits weeks to issue its ruling, it’s unclear whether the case could be scheduled or completed before the election. The case has been on hold while Trump pursues his immunity appeals, meaning no pre-trial preparations have been taking place since mid-December. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan is expected to give prosecutors and defense attorneys at least three months to get ready for trial if the case returns to her court. And more pre-trial legal battles are certain even after the case resumes in her court. The trial is likely to take months, meaning it would likely threaten to run up against the election if it doesn’t begin by August. Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has said the government’s case should take no longer than four to six weeks, but that doesn’t include any defense Trump could put on. And jury selection alone could take weeks.

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NPR - February 29, 2024

ExxonMobil is suing investors who want faster climate action

ExxonMobil faces dozens of lawsuits from states and localities alleging the company lied for decades about its role in climate change and the dangers of burning fossil fuels. But now, ExxonMobil is going on the offensive with a lawsuit targeting investors who want the company to slash pollution that's raising global temperatures. Investors in publicly-traded companies like ExxonMobil try to shape corporate policies by filing shareholder proposals that are voted on at annual meetings. ExxonMobil says it's fed up with a pair of investor groups that it claims are abusing the system by filing similar proposals year after year in an effort to micromanage its business. ExxonMobil's lawsuit points to growing tensions between companies and activist investors calling for corporations to do more to shrink their climate impact and prepare for a hotter world.

Interest groups on both sides of the case say it could unleash a wave of corporate litigation against climate activists. It is happening at a time when global temperatures continue to rise, and corporate analysts say most companies aren't on track to meet targets they set to reduce their heat-trapping emissions. "Exxon is really upping the ante here in a big way by bringing this case," says Josh Zinner, chief executive of an investor coalition called the Interfaith Center on Corporate Accountability, whose members include a defendant in the ExxonMobil case. "Other companies could use this tactic not just to block resolutions," Zinner says, "but to intimidate their shareholders from even bringing these [climate] issues to the table." ExxonMobil said in an email that it is suing the investor groups Arjuna Capital and Follow This because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) isn't enforcing rules governing when investors can resubmit shareholder proposals. A court is the "the right place to get clarity on SEC rules," ExxonMobil said, adding that the case "is not about climate change." Other corporations are watching ExxonMobil's case, says Charles Crain, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents ExxonMobil and other industrial companies. "If companies are decreasingly able to get the SEC to allow them to exclude proposals that are obviously politically motivated, then the next question is, well, can the courts succeed where the SEC has failed — or, more accurately, not even tried?," Crain says.

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Newsclips - February 28, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - February 28, 2024

Out-of-control wildfires scorch Texas Panhandle and pause work at nuclear weapons facility

A series of wildfires swept across the Texas Panhandle early Wednesday, prompting evacuations, cutting off power to thousands, and forcing at least the temporary shutdown of a nuclear weapons facility as strong winds, dry grass and unseasonably warm temperatures fed the blazes. An unknown number of homes and other structures in Hutchinson County were damaged or destroyed, local emergency officials said. The main facility that disassembles America’s nuclear arsenal paused operations Tuesday night but said it would reopen for normal work on Wednesday. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 60 counties as the largest blaze, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, burned nearly 470 square miles (1,200 square kilometers), according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. That is more than twice its size since the fire sparked Monday.

Authorities have not said what might have caused the blaze, which tore through sparsely populated counties surrounded by rolling plains. The weather forecast provided some hope for firefighters — cooler temperatures, less wind and possibly rain on Thursday. But for now, the situation was dire in some areas. “Texans are urged to limit activities that could create sparks and take precautions to keep their loved ones safe,” Abbott said. The Pantex plant, northeast of Amarillo, evacuated non-essential staff from the site on Tuesday night out of an “abundance of caution,” Laef Pendergraft, a spokesperson for National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office at Pantex, said during a news conference, adding that firefighters remained in case of an emergency. The plant, long the main U.S. site for both assembling and disassembling atomic bombs, completed its last new bomb in 1991 and has dismantled thousands since. Early Wednesday, Pantex tweeted that the facility “is open for normal day shift operations” and that all personnel were to report for duty according to their assigned schedule. In Borger, a community of about 13,000 north of Pantex, Hutchinson County emergency management services personnel planned a convoy to take evacuees from one shelter to another ahead of expected power outages and overnight temperatures well below freezing. As the evacuation orders mounted, county and city officials live-streamed on Facebook and tried to answer questions from panicked residents. Officials implored them to turn on their cellphones’ emergency alerts and be ready to evacuate immediately. They described some roads as having fire on both sides and said resources were being stretched to their limit.

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Associated Press - February 28, 2024

Trump and Biden won Michigan. But ‘uncommitted’ votes demanded attention

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump won the Michigan primaries on Tuesday, further solidifying the all-but-certain rematch between the two men — yet early results from the state were highlighting some of their biggest political vulnerabilities ahead of the November general election. A vigorous “uncommitted” campaign organized by activists disillusioned with Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza was making headway. It had already far surpassed the 10,000-vote margin by which Trump won Michigan in 2016, a goal set by organizers of this year’s protest effort. As for Trump, he has now swept the first five states on the Republican primary calendar. But there were early signs that Trump was continuing to struggle with some influential voter blocs who have favored former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in previous contests. Haley’s strongest performance Tuesday night came in areas with college towns like Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, and suburbs around Detroit and Grand Rapids.

For Biden, the notable percentage of “uncommitted” voters could signal weakness with parts of the Democratic base in a state he can hardly afford to lose in November. Trump, meanwhile, has underperformed with suburban voters and people with college degrees, and faces a faction within his own party that believes he broke the law in one or more of the criminal cases against him. Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation. More than 310,000 residents are of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry. Nearly half of the Detroit suburb of Dearborn’s roughly 110,000 residents claim Arab ancestry. Both the White House and Biden campaign officials have made trips to Michigan in recent weeks to talk with community leaders about the Israel-Hamas war and how Biden has approached the conflict, but those leaders have been unpersuaded. A robust grassroots effort began just a few weeks ago to encourage voters to select “uncommitted” as a way to register objections to the death toll caused by Israel’s offensive. Nearly 30,000 people have died in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinian health officials. That push has been backed by officials such as Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman in Congress, and former Rep. Andy Levin. “Uncommitted” votes were hovering around the 15% mark needed to qualify for delegates statewide. It was too soon to say whether the campaign would collect delegates locally.

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Houston Chronicle - February 28, 2024

Gov. Greg Abbott pushes for a legacy-defining win on school vouchers in March 5 primary

For the last two months, Gov. Greg Abbott has embarked on a statewide revenge tour, stopping at barbecue restaurants, breweries, country clubs, churches, car dealerships and museums. Through stump speeches, online attacks and millions in spending this year, the Republican governor has targeted about a dozen GOP state lawmakers who scuttled his plan last fall to provide families with taxpayer dollars for private education. If he can oust enough of them, Abbott will all but ensure that private school vouchers pass the Legislature next year, breaking a blockade that has lasted decades and changing the face of public education in the state. The political stakes are high for the third-term governor, and March 5 could bring the greatest political triumph of his career — or the biggest disappointment.

“If the governor wants the party to be modeled in his image, he’s got to get some signature wins,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “If he can’t deliver these votes it’ll split the party, it’ll make him look weak and it’ll hurt his credibility going into the next session.” A hard-fought policy win on school vouchers would give Abbott’s resume a one-up on past Govs. Rick Perry and George Bush, and it would match that of other Republican governors across the country who have recently expanded voucher programs in their states. It would also come at a time when polls show Abbott is surging in popularity and as his national profile is on the rise because of his divisive border crackdown and busing of migrants to Democratic-led cities. Abbott is targeting at least 14 key GOP primaries that feature either an anti-voucher lawmaker or an open contest, spending more than $5 million this year to support those candidates, plus an additional $1.3 million to support existing voucher allies. His campaign declined to make him available for an interview.

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Houston Chronicle - February 28, 2024

ERCOT CEO questions economics of connecting Texas grid to rest of the country

Two weeks after Democrats in Congress introduced a bill requiring the Texas power grid to connect to the national grids, CEO Pablo Vegas of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said such discussions need to consider if more outside connections is the most economically worthwhile way to keep the lights on. “We’re not debating that there could be reliability or resiliency benefits by having interconnections. The question is, is it the best way to spend the dollars?” Vegas said Tuesday at ERCOT’s board of directors meeting. The alternative is to invest in additional in-state transmission lines that deliver electricity across long distances, as well as in other resources, he said.

ERCOT operates the power grid that delivers electricity across 90% of Texas; its job is to ensure supply and demand are always balanced. In February 2021, it initiated blackouts that left millions without power for days during freezing temperatures as it sought to prevent demand from overtaking supply, narrowly averting a total blackout that could have left parts of Texas in the dark for weeks. Texas is unique in largely having its own power grid with limited connections to the other large U.S. systems. That leaves the state with little ability to import power in times of scarcity on the grid. During the 2021 freeze, each additional gigawatt of transmission ties between ERCOT and the Southeastern U.S. could’ve saved nearly $1 billion while keeping the heat on for hundreds of thousands for Texans, according to a 2021 study by Grid Strategies, a consulting firm. Politicians and energy companies in Texas have long opposed more substantial connection to other grids for fear it would bring increased federal regulation. The newly proposed bill, introduced by Reps. Greg Casar, D-Austin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, seeks to bring the ERCOT grid under federal oversight. A direct current line that would connect ERCOT to grids in the Southeast is in the works, and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates ERCOT, is surveying the power industry on possibly building more.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 28, 2024

Dallas City Council picks Kimberly Bizor Tolbert as interim city manager

The Dallas City Council voted Tuesday to appoint Deputy City Manager Kimberly Bizor Tolbert as the temporary successor to City Manager T.C. Broadnax when he resigns in June. The council voted 12-2 to approve Tolbert, Broadnax’s former chief of staff, as interim city manager saying they believed she is the best choice for stability as Dallas looks for a new permanent top executive. Tolbert was the only person named by council members as a candidate for the job, and several Black and Hispanic business, trade and faith-based organizations urged the council to select her for the position. Tolbert’s appointment comes six days after Broadnax’s resignation, which goes into effect June 3. The approval came amid concerns from members of the public and council members Cara Mendelsohn and Paul Ridley, who said they believed the appointment was occurring too quickly and too much out of the public eye. Mendelsohn and Ridley voted against Tolbert’s appointment. The final vote came after the City Council spent two hours in closed session.

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Dallas Morning News - February 28, 2024

Raul Reyes Jr., community leader in West Dallas, dies at 50

Raul Reyes Jr., a community leader in West Dallas and an advocate for fair housing, died on Tuesday. He was 50. Reyes’ family declined to comment to The News, citing the need to process their loss. “Raul Reyes represents the heart of West Dallas. His advocacy, his ability to advocate in a way that brought attention and solutions to the needs of the residents of West Dallas, was unmatched,” said James Armstrong III, 37, president of Builders of Hope.

Armstrong said his relationship with Reyes goes back 15 years and that they were like brothers, always joking, but that he also got encouragement and support from Reyes Jr. Reyes was born and raised in the Los Altos neighborhood of West Dallas. His father, Raul Reyes, and his mother, Juanita, immigrated to Dallas from Mexico in the 1960s. Over the years, Reyes became a respected active voice and a leader in the community, joining organizations such as the Los Altos Neighborhood Association, La Bajada and later becoming president of West Dallas 1, a coalition of neighbors and neighborhood associations working to ensure equitable and safe neighborhoods and provide opportunities for residents. Reyes was appointed to several boards and commissions in the City of Dallas over the years. In 2023, he was appointed by Council Member Omar Narvaez to represent District 6 on the Dallas Public Facility Corporation. Housing rights, gentrification, environmental racism, food insecurity, education and drug abuse prevention were some of the issues Reyes was passionate about.

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Dallas Morning News - February 28, 2024

Jeremy Mazur: The next ‘Texas miracle’ is coming

(Jeremy Mazur is a senior policy adviser at Texas 2036.) We stand on the brink of a new “Texas miracle”: a robust and resilient economy; roads filled with cleaner vehicles; and more than 40 million Texans all thriving on abundant and affordable energy. This bright future of shared prosperity is possible — but not inevitable. The decisions we make today will determine whether we are ultimately able to enjoy it. If our state’s economy had a heartbeat, it would be the energy sector — a colossal engine driving more than one-third of our economy and generating more than 12% of the nation’s total electric production. From the Spindletop oil well in 1901 to the wind farms that now provide 40,000 megawatts of installed capacity, Texas has been a national leader in energy production for over a century. Over the past year, we’ve been analyzing data and developing projections to understand what Texas’ energy future will look like. And the resulting Future of Texas Energy dashboard tells us that a path to shared prosperity is unfolding before us, but we must act now to see that future become a reality.

We looked at four viable, practicable future energy pathways for our state. These included a scenario based on current rates of development of energy technologies, a stronger emphasis on oil and gas production, accelerated renewable generation, and a mix of everything under an “all-of-the-above” future, as discussed in a recent Dallas Morning News editorial. Development of these four pathways involved more than a year of work, integrating more than 20 unique data sources and creating realistic forecasts for the future, with each presenting unique challenges. By 2050, Texas’ energy output could surge by as much as 59%, propelled by both hydrocarbon and renewable sources. This expanded production would generate 4 million new jobs here in Texas, creating opportunities for more Texas families to share in this economic growth. At the same time, our electricity demand will double, underscoring the urgent need for strategic planning to ensure energy remains reliable and affordable while seeking ways to be cleaner and more water-efficient — something many of our elected officials have highlighted in recent years. Producing jobs and supporting a growing economy while remaining vigilant about our environmental impact requires embracing innovation and adaptability. Just as advances in geology and engineering vaulted Texas to the top of American energy production, emerging technologies like battery storage, hydrogen and carbon capture are forming the foundation for the sustainable energy industries of the future.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 28, 2024

Sex ed: Fort Worth school board OKs abstinence-based lessons

The Fort Worth Independent School District will implement an abstinence-based sex education curriculum after about two hours of debate from proponents and opponents of the approach that emphasizes chastity to middle and high schoolers. The Board of Education voted unanimously to purchase the Choosing the Best curriculum on Tuesday night after a recommendation put forward by the district’s Student Health Advisory Council, which analyzed various curriculums for months. Although the curriculum aligns with state law, which requires districts to encourage students to delay having sex until marriage, experts and studies favor comprehensive sex education that encompasses “safer sex practices including contraception and condoms as effective ways to reduce unintended pregnancy and STIs” alongside information about abstinence. School board member Anne Darr said she does not favor an abstinence-only curriculum, as it “does not provide adequate information for kids,” but she voted in favor of it because of the advisory council’s recommendation and because it was the top pick from a group of 42 district health teachers.

Darr also noted that when she was a middle school teacher, a student thought she was pregnant because her parents told her she would become pregnant if she kissed a boy while wearing a bathing suit. Additionally, the district discovered in January 2023 that staff had not followed the legally-required process outlined in Texas state law for adopting a sex education curriculum when the previous curriculum, HealthSmart, had been chosen, Darr said. “HealthSmart was not and still is not a viable option for sex education curriculum in Fort Worth ISD. My sincere apologies to the students who were in a Fort Worth ISD health education class during the 2022-2023 school year who did not have access to a sex education curriculum. You deserve better,” Darr said. “(Choosing the Best curriculum) is the only curriculum legally available for use in Fort Worth ISD.” The Choosing the Best curriculum will be used in the sixth-grade Moving to Wellness health course and the high school Health 1 course at a price tag of about $72,200, but it’s unclear how soon the curriculum will be implemented. It will replace HealthSmart, which drew criticism from parents for its inclusion of topics about sexual orientation and gender identity.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 28, 2024

How did John Smlotz respond to Rangers fans’ criticisms?

Texas Rangers fans voiced their displeasure with FOX broadcaster John Smoltz throughout the 2023 playoffs, accusing him of rooting against the team during their World Series title run. On Tuesday, Smoltz was on “Shan and RJ,” on 105.3 The Fan, and addressed the controversy. “It’s the most ridiculous claim in the history of baseball,” said Smoltz, “People are so used to their local broadcast that they have no conceptual idea that we come in neutral.” Smoltz said he received advice from current ESPN broadcaster Joe Buck who told him not to concern himself with fans who felt he was rooting against their teams from the broadcast booth.

The Atlanta Braves legend said he received similar criticism when calling the World Series between the Houston Astros and his former team. “Atlanta in the World Series against Houston, I got more criticism from the Atlanta fans that I wasn’t a homer, and that I wasn’t rooting for the Atlanta Braves,” said Smoltz. Smoltz said he did praise the Rangers throughout their World Series run though he joked Rangers fans must not have heard him, but said he paid no attention to the feedback from Rangers fans during the playoff run. “I don’t pay attention and I could care less,” said Smotlz, “It has no relevancy whatsoever, and so I don’t have any social media, and my job is to call the game neutral.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 28, 2024

Harris County leaders want to get to root cause of ongoing problems at jail

Amid ongoing complaints about poor jail conditions, Harris County officials on Tuesday emphasized the need for a deeper understanding of the county’s jail population – currently around 9,200 – in order to tackle persistent overcrowding and comply with Texas regulations. Earlier this month, inspectors from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found Harris County Jail to be non-compliant with state standards, highlighting insufficient staff to serve those in custody. The county also found itself the target of another lawsuit this week, with a woman alleging she suffered a miscarriage following abuse from a detention officer. During Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, officials from the Office of County Administration and the Sheriff’s Office presented their latest updates on the jail system and vowed to help the court “pull every possible lever to address the challenges in our jail.”

The county is on track to complete an initiative to equip detention officers with radios for better communication by June, officials said during the presentation. The county has also collaborated with the Sheriff’s Office to revamp the jail’s intake process, ensuring all detainees are medically assessed and housed within 48 hours as required by state regulations. Staffing remains a key focus for the county jail, with an 11% average vacancy rate for detention officers last year and 190 positions currently vacant. The jail operates with 522 full-time equivalent employees, 26% of whom are contract labor, the presentation shows. Commissioners Court has been receiving regular updates on the state of the jail since October 2023 at County Judge Lina Hidalgo's request. Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, however, said Tuesday that these updates have not adequately addressed many ongoing issues such as overcrowding, the large number of pretrial detainees and a rising jail population.

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San Antonio Current - February 28, 2024

H-E-B's chairman throws $1 million behind candidates Gov. Greg Abbott wants to unseat

The chairman of San Antonio-based grocery giant H-E-B has funneled more than $1 million into the campaigns of anti-school voucher Republicans that Gov. Greg Abbott is working to unseat, Hearst Texas government reporter Jasper Scherer found in a new analysis. Between Jan. 26 and Feb. 24, the Charles Butt Public Education PAC flowed a total of $1.3 million into the campaigns of nine Texas GOP candidates, seven of whom opposed Abbott's voucher plan, according to Scherer's number crunching. H-E-B honcho Charles Butt is the PAC's founder and sole donor, according to TransparencyUSA. Butt's move pits the head of one of Texas' deepest-pocketed corporations against Abbott, a Republican who's made his pro-business credentials a key part of his brand.

Abbott last fall publicly stated he would bankroll primary challenges to any House Republican who voted to strip vouchers from a $7 billion omnibus education bill that passed last last fall. All 21 Republicans who voted alongside Democrats to kill Abbott's prized voucher proposal now face pro-voucher primary opponents this election cycle. Texas House District 121 Rep. Steve Allison, whose district includes Alamo Heights and part of Northeast San Antonio, received $340,608.82 from Butt's PAC — more than any other House GOP candidate, according to Scherer's analysis. Allison, who voted to remove vouchers from the education bill, is being challenged by Abbott-backed pro-voucher candidate Marc LaHood. Abbott has so far spent more than $6 million and considerable face time campaigning against GOP candidates who helped derail vouchers, his key priority during the 2023 legislative session. The governor will be back in San Antonio Thursday to attend yet another LaHood rally, the third time he's done so this cycle.

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Baptist News Global - February 28, 2024

Rodney Kennedy: Three cheers for Baylor honoring Brittney Griner, but the game is not yet won

Brittney Griner’s story continues to transcend women’s basketball. It is a morality play for our times. The good news is that on Sunday, Feb. 18, Baylor University retired Griner’s No. 42 jersey. She was present for the ceremony in Waco, the first time she has attended a Bears home game since her senior season 11 years ago. The two-time AP National Player of the Year and career blocks leader has a complex relationship with her alma mater, to put it nicely. Having written two previous articles supporting Griner during her Russian imprisonment, I am not an unbiased observer of Baylor retiring Griner’s No. 42 at the recent Texas Tech – Baylor women’s basketball game. I support LGBTQ rights, my most recent church is a welcoming and affirming Baptist church, and we were among those demanding Griner’s release from a Russian prison.

Two years ago, during her unjust imprisonment in Russia on questionable and likely trumped-up charges, Baylor officials were conspicuously silent about her plight. That’s likely because the charges included possession of a small amount of an illegal but commonly used drug — and because Griner is a lesbian who is married to another woman. The big Baptist school on the Brazos hasn’t come to terms with its LGBTQ community. That background made it all the more remarkable to see Griner back at Baylor, wearing a letterman jacket as she walked back on the court to loud cheers from the crowd. And to see her holding her hands over her mouth as a banner featuring her number was revealed, then tapping her chest and sending a kiss to the crowd as fans clapped for her. Fans in attendance were all given yellow shirts with the number 42 and a silhouette of Griner emblazoned on the front. Within the walls of Foster Pavilion that Sunday night, no type of bitterness appeared to be present. Griner generated rousing, appreciative cheers before, during and after the game. Thousands of fans proudly wore their No. 42 shirts. They serenaded her with loud and proud applause when the banner with her number was unveiled.

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Border Report - February 28, 2024

In first-of-its-kind collaboration, Mexican firefighters will train across border in South Texas

The South Texas city of McAllen is offering to train Mexican firefighters in what the mayor calls the first such binational collaboration among fire departments. “This is the first in the country where you have a Mexican fire department coming and training in the United States. So we’re really proud of what we’re doing,” McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos said Monday afternoon. Villalobos and Carlos Víctor Peña Ortiz, the mayor of the northern Mexican border town of Reynosa, signed a memorandum of understanding at McAllen City Hall, which will allow Reynosa firefighters to train in a new 10,000-square-foot fire training facility that the City of McAllen is building. “It is truly a historic moment what we’re doing today. It is something that has not been done in all the United States,” Villalobos said. McAllen and Reynosa have been sister cities since 1992 and both leaders say they share more than the Rio Grande.

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KUT - February 28, 2024

Austin’s budget shortfall could put rental assistance programs in jeopardy

Austin city leaders might have to make some tough decisions about spending as projections show an upcoming budget deficit just five months into the fiscal year. In August, the city adopted a $5.5 billion budget expecting to generate enough money from sales and property taxes to cover the year’s expenses. Ed Van Eenoo, chief financial officer for the city, said officials had projected a 3.5% growth for sales tax revenue, but sales have fallen flat, putting the city behind its financial projections. “We have continued to see really flat sales tax revenues over the last few months,” Van Eenoo said. “The good news is that flat is better than down, but the bad news is that flat is not good enough." There are about seven months before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, and by then, Van Eenoo said the city will have a budget deficit.

On top of that, Van Eenoo said the city’s COVID relief funding is nearly gone, putting programs like tenant stabilization in jeopardy. Property taxes make up nearly half the budget. The city expects to fall behind in those revenues because of protests and refunds processed after the adoption of the budget, according to city documents. The potential shortfall does mean the city will have to go back and re-evaluate some of the programs it had intended to fund. The four areas officials want to try and fulfill the initial funding for include tenant stabilization, permanent supportive housing voucher programs and wrap-around services, and the city’s child care assistance program. Kerri Lang, the city's budget officer, said there's enough funding for the permanent housing and child care assistance programs. However, the city will likely have to scale back its commitment to tenant stabilization.

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Chron - February 28, 2024

Texas town warns residents of tourist invasion for incoming eclipse

A Hill Country town is advising its residents to stock up on food and other supplies ahead of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse as it prepares for an influx of tourists to the area. Following a recent meeting, the city of Llano issued a statement on Facebook on Monday warning residents about crowds of eclipse watchers expected in the area. Located 72 miles northwest of Austin, Llano is in the stretch of land in which the Moon's shadow will travel through and will experience approximately 4 minutes and 22.4 seconds of totality. "The eclipse is going to be the last eclipse for a long time, we will have eclipse watchers flocking to our area," the post read. "We don't know for sure how many will be here, but we have prepared as best we can as a city to meet the challenge."

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Border Report - February 28, 2024

City fails to extend migrant emergency ordinance by 1 vote

The El Paso City Council failed to extend its monthly emergency migrant ordinance that allows greater assistance for Borderland non-governmental organizations and humanitarian groups to address the influx of migrants across the border, the City announced in a news release. The vote came during the City Council’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 26. The ordinance requires a unanimous vote by the mayor and the City Council to extend it for another 30 days. It will now expire on Thursday, Feb. 29. City Rep. Josh Acevedo was the sole city representative to vote against the extension. Acevedo recently took office after winning a special election to succeed Alexsandra Annello who is running for state House District 77.

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Houston Public Media - February 28, 2024

Texas court rejects the latest appeal of Ivan Cantu, who’s scheduled to be executed Wednesday

A Texas court has once again denied an appeal by a man scheduled to be executed Wednesday. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday rejected Ivan Cantu's latest appeal. That court filing offered alleged evidence of further false statements from witnesses in his 2001 trial and claims that his court-appointed attorneys were ineffective. Cantu was convicted of murdering his cousin and his cousin's fiancée in a north Dallas suburb in 2000 but has maintained his innocence ever since. In recent years, a private investigator who created a true crime podcast unearthed proof that a key witness in Cantu's trial had lied in her testimony. Later, another key witness came forward to admit he'd also lied. Those revelations — and other developments that cast doubt on the forensic evidence used to convict Cantu — have led former jurors in the case to come forward expressing concerns. Jeff Calhoun, the former jury foreman in the trial, wrote an opinion piece in the Austin American-Statesman this week titled "I helped put Ivan Cantu on death row. Now I feel like I was fooled.“

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KERA - February 28, 2024

Texas lawmaker undergoing IVF calls on Gov. Greg Abbott to protect fertility treatment access

A Texas lawmaker who is undergoing fertility treatments is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to protect access to invitro fertilization after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children. Representative Mihaela Plesa (D-Plano) said she became concerned about the status of IVF in Texas after the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling. She's urging Texans to sign her petition to encourage lawmakers to protect and improve access to fertility treatments. Plesa said access to IVF is a reproductive right — and one that is very important to her personally as she tries to start family. “My mother is my hero,” Plesa said. “She's the strongest woman I know, and I just hope to be able to be… a strong mother like her one day.”

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled last week that frozen embryos have the same rights as children under state law. The ruling was prompted by a wrongful death suit where three Alabama couples undergoing fertility treatment sued after their frozen embryos were destroyed. “We really have to be careful when the judiciary essentially is now coming into your doctor's office, because these are not medical professionals,” she said. Abbott was asked about the Alabama court’s decision on CNN. He praised IVF as a method to help more people become parents. But the governor didn’t indicate if he’d urge the legislature to file bills next session that would protect the fertility treatment’s legality in Texas, saying it was a complicated issue. “No one really knows what the potential answers are,” Abbott said. “And I think you're gonna see states across the entire country coming together and grappling with these issues and coming up with solutions.” The largest hospital in Alabama stopped providing IVF treatment as a result of the ruling. Plesa said she wants to prevent something like that happening in Texas.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 28, 2024

Harris County appoints Commissioners Briones, Garcia to serve on H-GAC board

Harris County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to appoint two representatives to serve on the Houston-Galveston Area Council: Precinct 4 Commissioner Lesley Briones and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. Another two members of the court – Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis – were appointed to act as their alternates.

The commissioners replace Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and fill a vacant seat on the board. The 13-county regional planning body makes decisions allocating billions of federal and state funding to local government members, including the city of Houston and Harris County. Houston voters in November passed a ballot measure that could require the city to leave H-GAC after advocates argued the Houston area is severely underrepresented on the board and does not receive its fair share of funding. The vote to appoint Briones and Garcia came a day after the Houston Landing reported Hidalgo had missed more than 50 consecutive H-GAC meetings while serving on the board, and the court could vote to replace her with another county representative.

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National Stories

Wall Street Journal - February 28, 2024

Republicans confront political damage from Alabama IVF ruling

Republicans are working to minimize the political fallout from an Alabama court ruling upholding the legal rights of embryos by reassuring voters they will protect access to in vitro fertilization treatments. There are signs the damage will be difficult to undo. Democrats are stepping up their offensive on the issue, asserting that GOP lawmakers defending in vitro fertilization can’t be trusted because many have also backed early abortion bans or legislation stating that life begins at fertilization. In Florida, legislation stalled that would let parents recover financial damages for the wrongful death of an unborn child after a Republican state lawmaker on Monday asked that the bill be postponed. Abortion rights groups had said it could lead to restrictions on fertility services.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R, S.C.) drafted a nonbinding legislative proposal expressing support for continued access to fertility care and assisted reproductive technology. She said she wants Republicans to be vocal about protecting infertility treatments. In Alabama, GOP state lawmakers working to preserve access to the treatment following the court’s ruling have prepared proposals that would say a fertilized egg is a potential life rather than a human one if outside the uterus. Former President Donald Trump has urged state lawmakers to find a solution that preserves access to the procedure. Republicans’ enthusiasm for protecting in vitro fertilization underscores the risks to the party in November elections if Democrats are successful in portraying GOP lawmakers as extremists who could endanger contraception, fertility services and other reproductive rights. Polling shows strong support for in vitro fertilization, with an estimated 2% of births in the U.S. occurring with the aid of fertility services. The question now is whether the damage has already been done. “To some degree it has,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican congressional aide. “It has reawakened a lot of activism on the Democratic side.”

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Wall Street Journal - February 28, 2024

For world leaders, 70 is the new 50

It’s a golden age for politicians in their golden years—and not just in the U.S. A decade ago, just one of the world’s 10 most populous countries, India, had a leader who was 70 or older. Today, eight of them do, putting at least half the global population in the hands of people in their 70s and 80s. The two countries that don’t—Indonesia and Pakistan—are also poised to have septuagenarians at the helm after elections this month. The corridors of power looked significantly less gray in February 2014. Barack Obama, at the relatively spry age of 52, occupied the White House. China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were in their early 60s. Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico was a youthful 47. What’s behind the boom in boomer presidents and prime ministers? A multitude of reasons.

Autocrats have deepened their grip on power. Xi began a norm-breaking third term as Communist Party chief in 2022, when he was 69 years old. Putin, who rose to the pinnacle of authority in Russia when he was 47, remains there nearly 25 years later, sweeping away resistance to his rule. One of his staunchest challengers, Alexei Navalny, died in prison earlier this month at 47. Barriers to entry have also grown in democracies, where winning elections requires ever-larger pots of money, giving established politicians with well-oiled donor networks the upper hand. India’s Narendra Modi is widely expected to cruise to a third term this year at 73. Sheikh Hasina, 76, won an unprecedented fifth term as prime minister of Bangladesh in January and, after cracking down on the opposition, is in her 16th consecutive year in office. In mid-February, Indonesia catapulted a 72-year-old member of the entrenched political elite to the top job. He is set to succeed President Joko Widodo, the former furniture maker and small-city mayor whose landmark 2014 election, when he was 53, infused the world’s third-largest democracy with new hope. “Across the world there are many places that have high barriers to entry for new parties and for new politicians, whether they’re democratic or not,” said Ben Bland, director of the Asia-Pacific program at Chatham House, a U.K. think tank. “It’s pretty depressing seeing so few younger leaders and fresh ideas emerge everywhere given the scale of challenges we’re facing and the pace at which our world is changing.”

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Washington Post - February 28, 2024

‘Star witness’ testifies his claims about Fani Willis were only ‘speculation’

A lawyer billed as the “star witness” in the case to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) testified Tuesday that it was mere “speculation” when he told a defense attorney that Willis began a romantic relationship in 2019 with the outside lawyer she appointed to lead the case against Donald Trump, years earlier than Willis has publicly acknowledged. Terrence Bradley, a former law partner of special prosecutor Nathan Wade, repeatedly testified under oath that he did not know when the relationship between Willis and Wade started and could not remember the date of when he learned about it from Wade, frustrating defense attorneys who had claimed his testimony would “refute” claims by Willis and Wade that their romantic relationship began months after Wade was appointed to manage the Trump case. “I do not have knowledge of it starting or when it started,” Bradley testified Tuesday. “I never witnessed anything. So, you know, it was speculation.”

Bradley’s claims potentially undercut a defense effort to remove Willis and her office from the election interference case by using allegations of an improper personal relationship between Willis and Wade. But Bradley’s testimony also appeared to contradict numerous statements he had made about Willis and Wade in text messages to Ashleigh Merchant, an attorney for Trump co-defendant Mike Roman, who first accused the prosecutors of misconduct and relied on Bradley as a key source. As Merchant and others pointed back to those messages, Bradley repeatedly sought to distance himself from the claims he made to Merchant — either saying he did not remember the text exchanges or that his statements were based on speculation. That led Merchant and other defense attorneys to complain that Bradley was being deliberately evasive or outright dishonest in his testimony. At one point, Steve Sadow, an attorney for Trump, pointed to a January 2024 text exchange between Bradley and Merchant in which Bradley claimed Willis and Wade had been dating since they met at a judicial conference in late 2019. When Bradley again claimed it was speculation, Sadow accused Bradley of lying on the witness stand.

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NBC News - February 28, 2024

Congress nears a partial spending deal, but ticking clock raises fears of a shutdown

Congress is running out of time to keep the government open, with senators in both parties warning that they will likely need to pass another short-term funding bill to prevent a partial shutdown this weekend. “We’ve just had obstacles every step of the way,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Appropriations Committee, cautioning that House Republican demands for certain policy changes are “not realistic” and holding up the process. Shaheen said another stopgap bill is “part of the discussion” as funding legislation still has not been released and House GOP leaders have promised to wait 72 hours before a vote takes place to let members read it, leaving little time. The Senate will then need unanimous consent to pass it speedily — no sure thing.

Funding for the parts of the government including the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy is set to expire at the end of Friday. Other departments, including Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services, have a March 8 deadline and face more contentious funding battles. A White House meeting between President Joe Biden the top four congressional leaders Tuesday yielded some optimism that they were moving toward agreement on a funding package to keep open parts of the government facing the March 1 deadline. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., told reporters Tuesday that top negotiators were “working in good faith” and “quite literally around the clock” to resolve their differences. “We’re very optimistic,” he said. “We believe that we can get to agreement on these issues and prevent a government shutdown. And that’s our first responsibility.” Before a lunch meeting with Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “We can’t shut down the government,” and added that he conveyed to Johnson that a short-term funding bill, also known as a "CR" or continuing resolution, may be necessary.

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Reuters - February 28, 2024

Dog days of February: More summertime weather forecast across US

Millions of Americans across a wide swath of the U.S. Midwest, East Coast and South will enjoy a second day of weather more typical of June than February on Tuesday before a powerful cold front brings back winter with a vengeance. Summer-like temperatures ranging up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit above normal were forecast, setting the stage for a second record-breaking day in a row in some spots. In Texas, temperatures were expected to top 80 degrees F (27 degrees Celsius) after hovering at about 94 degrees F (34 C) in Dallas and other cities on Monday, the National Weather Service said. In Killeen, Texas - home to the U.S. Army's Fort Cavazos base, formerly known as Fort Hood, about 150 miles (241 km) south of Dallas - the high was expected to be 90 degrees F (32 C), after the city of 150,000 people saw a record-breaking 100 degrees F (38 C) on Monday.

"This is Texas, we're adapted to the heat," said a barista at Black Rifle Coffee shop in Killeen. "We have big doors that we opened wide to let the breeze in and people mostly ordered cold drinks." Accompanying the hot, arid weather, strong wind gusts will bring the potential for wildfires in the southern Plains. Local officials urged residents to avoid outdoor burning. Forecasters said it was difficult to link the remarkable weather pattern to human-induced climate change, but such extremes were becoming more frequent because of global warming, they say. Scientists say the seasonal El Nino weather pattern - in which the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean heat up - is also contributing to the unusual weather. In Cleveland and Philadelphia, where it is normally in the 40s, the highs were expected to reach well into the 60s on Tuesday. In Chicago, the high was forecast to reach 77 (25°C), a record for any day in February on record. Enjoy the mild weather while you can, forecasters say, forecasting a return of winter to the Central and Eastern U.S. on Wednesday, with temperatures near 0 degrees F (-18 C), heavy snows and gusty winds in many locales, including Chicago.

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Quartz - February 28, 2024

Elon Musk’s Las Vegas tunnel has workers wading through toxic mud

Elon Musk’s tunnels below the Las Vegas strip are not exactly going as planned. Since his Boring company first appeared about seven years ago, plans have been scaled back, promises have been broken and safety violations have piled up. Bloomberg Businessweek decided to take a deep dive into just what is going on inside Musk’s Boring company, and the results are about as ugly as the narrow tunnels themselves. Right now, workers are building a tunnel between two hotels, the Encore Las Vegas and the Westgate, that’ll connect them with the Las Vegas Convention Center. As it turns out, the working conditions are pretty dismal. Here’s what Bloomberg Businessweek found:

The muck pooling in the tunnel at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip had the consistency of a milkshake and, in some places, sat at least two feet deep. The tunnel-to-be, which would eventually stretch about half a mile, was part of a system intended to connect two hotels, the Encore Las Vegas and the Westgate, with the enormous Las Vegas Convention Center. Workers doing the digging later said they had to wade through the mud every day. It splashed up over their boots, hit their arms and faces and soaked through their clothes. At first, it merely felt damp. But in addition to the water, sand and silt—the natural byproducts of any dig—the workers understood that it was full of chemicals known as accelerants. The accelerants cure the grout that seals the tunnel’s concrete supports, helping the grout set properly and protecting the work against cracks and other deterioration. They also seriously burn exposed human skin. At the Encore dig site, such burns became almost routine, workers there told Nevada’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. An investigation by the state OSHA, which Bloomberg Businessweek has obtained via a freedom of information request, describes workers being scarred permanently on their arms and legs. According to the investigation, at least one employee took a direct hit to the face. In an interview with Businessweek, one of the tunnel workers recalls the feeling of exposure to the chemicals: “You’d be like, ‘Why am I on fire?’”

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Newsclips - February 27, 2024

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 27, 2024

Biden and Trump set for dueling Texas appearances on the border this week

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump plan to visit Texas border cities Thursday in a sign of how the 2024 rivals view illegal immigration as a key issue in the presidential race. Biden will travel Thursday to Brownsville, where he plans to meet with U.S. Border Patrol agents, law enforcement officials and local leaders, according to the White House. He will call on Congress to pass a bipartisan border proposal the White House has described as the toughest overhaul of border and immigration policy in decades. He also plans to call for Republicans to support funding for more Border Patrol agents, asylum officers and fentanyl detection technology.

Republicans have hammered Biden over the border since he took office, saying his reversal of Trump’s policies resulted in a spike in border crossings. The White House has cast its GOP critics as more interested in exploiting the crisis for political gain than working with the president to solve the problem. The recent death of the bipartisan border proposal is a chief exhibit in making that case. Republicans insisted last year that border proposals be included in a foreign aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. But after U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., negotiated a border deal as part of a foreign aid package, it was overwhelmingly rejected by his fellow Republicans as insufficient. Trump is expected to give remarks Thursday in Eagle Pass, the same day Biden will be in Brownsville, more than 300 miles away. Immigration enforcement is a core part of Trump’s campaign, and his criticism of the bipartisan proposal helped seal its fate. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the bipartisan proposal would have made the border more secure while treating people fairly and humanely.

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ABC 13 - February 27, 2024

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he supports IVF access, but calls topic 'very complicated'

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is voicing his support for in vitro fertilization. It comes after Alabama's state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are children -- halting IVF treatments at clinics in Alabama because it means discarding frozen embryos, which is a standard part of IVF treatment, could lead to criminal charges for wrongful death. While Abbott stopped short of calling for a new law to protect IVF, he did say Texans should have access to it. Abbott echoed former president Donald Trump, who said we should make it easier to have children and not harder, expressing his general support for IVF. He acknowledged he doesn't have many answers for the questions brought up by the recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling, adding he doesn't know how many frozen embryos there are in Texas.

Abbott said he has no doubt that the Texas legislature will take up the issue, which he called "very complex." In an interview with CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union" Sunday, he said Texas "is a pro-life state," and said "we want to ensure we promote life" and "empower parents." "The IVF process is a way of giving life to even more babies. So what I think the goal is, is to make sure that we can find a pathway to ensure that parents who otherwise may not have the opportunity to have a child will be able to have access to the IVF process and become parents and give life to babies," Abbott said. Alabama's biggest hospitals says it's putting all IVF treatment on hold after a recent ruling by the state's supreme court. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Alabama are now trying to draft legislation to protect access to the treatments. IVF offers a possible solution when someone has trouble getting pregnant. It involves retrieving eggs and combining them in a lab dish with sperm to create a fertilized embryo, which is then transferred into the uterus in an attempt to create a pregnancy. IVF is done in cycles and may take more than one to create a successful pregnancy, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The procedure can use a couple's eggs and sperm or those from a donor.

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

Suspended Houston police cases grow from 2,000 to 264,000 under Chief Finner's watch, union says

A review of sex crimes cases suspended with an internal code citing a lack of personnel has expanded department-wide to include more than 264,000 cases, Chief Troy Finner said Monday. The dropped cases makes up about 10% of the department’s 2.8 million filed since 2016, Finner said. About 100,000 of those are property crimes, he wrote. Doug Griffith, president of the Houston Police Officers Association, said he was concerned about the latest revelations. The union president said Monday at least three of the department's division Standard Operating Procedures included directives about when to use the code to close cases.

The divisions included auto theft, vehicular crimes and major assaults and family violence, Griffith said. The major assault guidelines were signed off on by Finner Dec. 1, 2023, Griffith said. Finner did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations as of Monday afternoon. "I am very concerned," Mayor John Whitmire said Monday, following Finner's announcement. "It is unacceptable and I have instructed Chief Finner to be transparent and continue his review as a top priority. Public safety continues to be my highest priority." Griffith said employees were instructed they could use the code on misdemeanor cases with little solvability. He said other cases could be suspended using that code, but those could be reopened if someone reaches out to the department seeking charges, Griffith said. "But that's incumbent on victims reaching out to authorities, which is a problem," Griffith said.

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NBC News - February 27, 2024

Supreme Court justices express free speech concerns about GOP-backed social media laws

The Supreme Court on Monday grappled with knotty free speech questions as it weighed laws in Florida and Texas that seek to impose restrictions on the ability of social media companies to moderate content. After almost four hours of oral arguments, a majority of the justices appeared skeptical that states can prohibit platforms from barring or limiting the reach of some problematic users without violating the free speech rights of the companies. But justices from across the ideological spectrum raised fears about the power and influence of big social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook and questioned whether the laws should be blocked entirely. Trade groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, known as CCIA, say that both laws infringe upon the free speech rights of companies under the Constitution’s First Amendment by restricting their ability to choose what content they wish to publish on their platforms.

First Amendment free speech protections apply to government actions, not those by private entities, including companies. "Why isn't that, you know, a classic First Amendment violation for the state to come in and say, 'We're not going to allow you to enforce those sorts of restrictions'?" asked liberal Justice Elena Kagan, in reference to the Florida law's content moderation provisions. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it, because the companies are not bound by the First Amendment, "they can discriminate against particular groups that they don't like." Some justices, however, suggested the laws might have some legitimate applications against other platforms or services, including messaging applications, which could mean the court stops short of striking them down. The eventual ruling could lead to further litigation in lower courts as to whether the laws should be blocked. Both are currently on hold. "Separating the wheat from the chaff here is pretty difficult," said conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch. Fellow conservatives Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito seemed most sympathetic to the states. Alito at one point appeared openly mocking of the concept of content moderation.

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State Stories

Utility Dive - February 27, 2024

ERCOT, CAISO offer best grid interconnection processes; PJM, ISO-NE the worst, report finds

The Texas and California grid operators’ generator interconnection processes are the best among U.S. regional transmission system operators, according to an interconnection scorecard released Monday by Advanced Energy United. The PJM Interconnection came in last with a D-minus followed by ISO New England at a D+, with both grid operators scoring especially poorly on their use of regional transmission planning and the usefulness of their interconnection alternatives, such as sharing or transferring existing interconnection points. The report’s results can be used as a baseline for assessing ongoing interconnection reform efforts across the country, according to AEU. “Strong implementation of [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s] recent reforms will be an important first step toward improving the interconnection process, and it’s also clear that additional reforms will be needed,” Caitlin Marquis, AEU managing director, said in a statement.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 27, 2024

Juan H. Flores: The partisan dishonesty behind Texas' health uninsured problem

(Flores is board chairperson of Latino Texas Policy Center.) Research evidence demonstrates that health insurance provides a gateway for basic access to regular preventive health care, health improvement and increased opportunity to achieve financial security. Unfortunately, for over a decade, Texas families needlessly suffered health and financial hardships because political leaders refused to address our state's uninsured rate – the highest in the country. Healthcare costs and lack of access to affordable health insurance are major concerns for Texans, but their calls for solutions and actions go unheeded. Health and financial hardships are compounded for Latinos, whose uninsured numbers exceed 3 million, overwhelmingly representing the highest percentage of the state's uninsured. Unlike the U.S. and other Medicaid expansion states, Texas has not realized a comparable decrease in the number and percentage of uninsured people.

For example, our state’s uninsured rate decreased from 24% (5.9 million) in 2010 to 18% (5.3 million) in 2022. While the number of uninsured in the U.S. has decreased by 43%, Texas has only decreased by 10%. Texas’ political and policy opposition to the ACA is the reason for this mediocre performance. Former Governor Rick Perry stated, “I oppose both the expansion of Medicaid as provided in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the creation of a so-called state insurance exchange because both represent brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state. I look forward to implementing healthcare solutions that are right for the people of Texas.” As the state’s attorney general in 2010, Governor Abbott sued to eliminate the ACA. As Governor, he and Attorney General Paxon led a group of states to overturn the law – all failed. Sadly, our state’s history with the Medicaid program has a documented history of creating barriers to enrollment, demonstrated by the most stringent eligibility rules in the country, ongoing bureaucratic eligibility and enrollment missteps, and lack of outreach support to eligible children and adults.

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Dallas Morning News - February 27, 2024

AG Ken Paxton sues, saying porn sites are not following new Texas law on age verification

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the owner of Pornhub and other adult websites Monday, saying they are not following a new state law requiring users to verify their age. The attorney general’s office is seeking an injunction to force Pornhub’s parent company, Aylo USA Inc., to implement an age-verification system in compliance with a law passed last year by the Texas Legislature requiring pornography sites to verify that users are at least 18 years old and display public health warnings about the potential harm in viewing pornography. “The age verification methods used by the Defendants on their websites cannot be said to verify anything at all, and wholly fail to comply with the requirements of” state law, said the lawsuit , filed in Travis County District Court.

The legal action is the first taken to enforce House Bill 1181, authored by Plano Republican Rep. Matt Shaheen. Websites in violation can be fined up to $10,000 for each day in violation. The Texas lawsuit also asked the court to impose fines against Aylo, which did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. HB 1181 requires ages to be verified using a government ID or appropriate digital identification. In November, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling that blocked enforcement of the law, which had been challenged by pornography distributors. “Texas has a right to protect its children from the detrimental effects of pornographic content,” Paxton said in a news release. “I look forward to holding any company accountable that violates our age verification laws intended to prevent minors from being exposed to harmful, obscene material on the internet.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 27, 2024

Dallas Cothrum: Does Eric Johnson even want to be Dallas mayor?

(Dallas Cothrum is president of Masterplan, a Milrose company, the largest planning and permitting firm in Texas. He is a member of Tyler Basketball Officials Hall of Fame and the Texas Association of Sports Officials Hall of Honor.) The cold war waged by recently toppled City Manager T.C. Broadnax and Mayor Eric Johnson leaves the city without direction and leadership. Their bitter power struggle resulted in mutually assured destruction for each of them. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the mayor to provide direction for the city, using the city manager to fulfill that vision. Johnson has failed because his primary vision was to advance his own career — not lead the city. The mayor’s attendance record shows he does not like performing the duties of the office of mayor. He has been able to hide from the general public behind the failings of Broadnax. The city manager made an easy target, but the mayor shares in the blame. For most of his tenure, Johnson’s weekly emails and social media campaigns assuaged the masses. Moreover, when only 8% of people vote in elections, there are not many eyes on City Hall.

I believe he’s been shopping for his next job since first winning election as mayor. Changing parties was a foolish plan, allowing the spotlight to show on his spotty record as mayor. In a city that firmly believes local elections should not be partisan, Johnson politicized his office. He should have spent more time attending and conducting meetings. As former Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said, “The best ability is availability.” Attending and presiding at meetings are among the mayor’s chief responsibilities. He doesn’t make himself available often. A recent study in this paper revealed he missed 22 of 32 meetings between January 2021 and December 2023 of the DFW Airport board — almost 70%. A KERA study shows since 2019 he has missed 130 hours of council meetings, more than anyone else. Paula Blackmon, also elected first in 2019, had only missed 15 hours over the same period. It is not uncommon that Johnson starts the public-hearing portions of meetings later than scheduled. It’s not the council members’ fault. I feel bad for them when they send notices for public hearings that specify 1 p.m. and then they make their guests wait. The council does not run the meeting. It’s the responsibility of the mayor. The current mayor often leaves as soon as the public hearings for zoning start. That’s like the head coach leaving at halftime.

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Dallas Morning News - February 27, 2024

Dallas County civil judge disciplined by state commission for untimely rulings

A Dallas County civil judge was sanctioned by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct earlier this month for failing to make timely rulings. State District Judge Gena Slaughter let motions sit pending for months and was twice compelled to rule on the outstanding matters by an appeals court, according to the public reprimand issued Feb. 7. The commission also ruled that Slaughter failed to cooperate with its investigation by repeatedly not responding to its inquiries or replying to the complaints lodged against her.

“Judge Slaughter’s failure in these respects constitutes a willful and persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of her duties and cast public discredit upon the judiciary and administration of justice,” the public notice says. Slaughter, who presides over the 191st civil district court, did not immediately respond to a request for comment through her office. The commission held that Slaughter failed to rule on seven motions left pending for between six months to more than two years in a 2018 civil suit. A Dallas appeals court in 2020 directed the judge to rule on the motions, which she then did, according to the public notice. Get the latest breaking news from North Texas and beyond. In 2022, the appeals court intervened again in the same case and instructed Slaughter to rule on six motions that were two to more than 10 months old. The appeals court said the delinquent rulings impacted whether the case could go to trial, the public notice says. In a partial response to the commission, Slaughter conceded that she did not sign the orders in a timely fashion but said “most of the rulings had been made and communicated to the parties.” The judge said the delays “did not however delay the final disposition of this case.”

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Canary Media - February 27, 2024

Texas will add more grid batteries than any other state in 2024

California and Texas have a new clean-energy superlative to compete over: who’s got the most grid batteries. Last year, Texas overtook California in large-scale solar power capacity. When huge amounts of solar power rush onto the grid, batteries tend to follow. Now, Texas is building more grid batteries than California, the longtime undisputed leader in clean energy storage. Developers are expected to complete 6.4 gigawatts of new grid battery capacity in Texas this year, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. That’s more than double the 5.6 gigawatts of battery capacity it ended 2023 with. It’s also as much battery capacity as the entire United States built last year, which was a record year for the energy storage industry. The projection outpaces the 5.2 gigawatts set to come online in California.

The surge of batteries in these states underscores the fact that energy storage is an increasingly major part of the country’s transitioning electricity system. The U.S. is slated to add 14.3 gigawatts of battery storage overall this year; that represents 23% of all new power plant capacity. Climate analysts have long called for massive storage expansion to facilitate a shift to low-carbon energy — now it’s finally starting to happen. California is still forecast to end the year with more battery capacity than Texas, but if the current pace continues, Texas could surpass the Golden State as soon as next year. That would be a remarkable upset for California’s leadership in deploying clean energy. It’s yet more evidence that Texas has become a leader in building clean power plants, not due to enthusiastic climate policy, but because the technologies compete so well in the state’s energy marketplace. California built up its nation-leading battery fleet through years of diligent policies and subsidies designed to jump-start the adoption of this pivotal clean energy technology. The state finalized a mandate in 2013 for its utilities to start acquiring energy storage and allocated funding for households and businesses that wanted to buy small-scale batteries.

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

Katy ISD board rejects measure that would allow schools to employ chaplains as counselors

The Katy ISD board of trustees on Monday rejected a divisive motion that would have enabled the district to hire chaplains as counselors or to allow them to volunteer in a religious capacity. The board voted 5-2 against a measure provided by Texas' Senate Bill 763, which allows school districts to hire chaplains to provide student support services or to volunteer in schools for similar purposes. The bill does not mandate that chaplains have any certification, training or licensing, and it does not establish limitations on what chaplains may teach children.

Board President Victor Perez, Rebecca Fox, Dawn Champagne, Mary Ellen Cuzela and Lance Redmon voted not to allow chaplains to volunteer as de facto counselors, saying such a rule would infringe on the separation of church and state and could open the door to religious zealots in schools. They also noted that chaplains may still volunteer as mentors in schools. Amy Thieme and Morgan Calhoun voted in favor of the action, arguing that children and staff would benefit from spiritual guidance. Thieme said she once performed the role of chaplain to students in her time as a math teacher, listening to their needs when they wanted to talk to her. “I had to become a chaplain for them,” Thieme said. “I did do a lot of listening, I did do a lot of tailoring my lessons to something that they were dealing with or familiar with, so that it would gain their interest.”

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

Texans owner Janice McNair's son drops guardianship case against her, securing NFL team's future

The court saga surrounding the guardianship case over Texans' owner Janice McNair has come to an end. Cary McNair, the eldest son of Janice McNair, who filed a lawsuit for guardianship over her and her estate last November in Harris County probate court, agreed to drop the lawsuit against her, according a court filing obtained by the Houston Chronicle. All parties involved filed jointly to drop the case, including Janice McNair, sons Cary and Cal, grandsons Thomas and Holt, the Texans and other companies they represent.

It ends a monthslong court case among of one of the city's wealthiest families, which also potentially threatened the future ownership of the Texans. Cary McNair's decision to drop the bid for guardianship succeeded a judge’s decision to not grant his request to have his mother be evaluated by an independent medical examiner earlier this month. His attorneys argued that her cognitive health had declined since suffering a stroke in January 2022. But the judge ruled in favor of Janice McNair to not force her to have an independent medical exam, delivering a blow to the case. The decision to drop the lawsuit is a win for Janice McNair, 87, whose attorneys, along with her youngest son, Cal McNair, argued that she did not need a guardian and did not want someone to examine her after two family doctors determined she was in good health.

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

Jerome Solomon: Time is ripe for Texans to overtake Cowboys in the eyes of Texas

When the Texans came into the NFL, Sports Illustrated described what was supposed to be a great NFL rivalry as the “War for Texas.” Well, the war has never really materialized. There have been a few skirmishes at best. In fact, those little fights ruined arguably the best tailgate scene in the NFL when 20,000 people without game tickets showed up to tailgate before the 2010 Texans-Cowboys game at NRG Stadium. Can the Texans ever be Texas’ team? The short answer is yes. Not as many mamas are letting their babies grow up to be Cowboys fans these days. The Texans just haven’t taken advantage of the open window.

Now might be their time. If the Texans get to a Super Bowl anytime soon, they will own the state. Everyone knows the Cowboys are the world’s most valuable sports franchise. I assume you missed this story in The Times Of India, but the Cowboys are also considered to be the NFL’s largest global brand. And, of course, we know Jerry Jones’ franchise is the self-proclaimed America’s Team. Still, the Kansas City Chiefs Swiftly passed by the Cowboys in popularity this season because, well, the Chiefs win and the Cowboys don’t (and Taylor’s boyfriend wears the red, white, and gold). Ten years ago, the Chiefs were just 25th in popularity according to a Harris poll (just ahead of the Texans at No. 27), while the Broncos jumped the Cowboys for No. 1. Why? Because the Broncos were winning.

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

Air Force serviceman based in San Antonio sets self on fire and dies outside Israeli embassy

An Air Force serviceman stationed in San Antonio killed himself Sunday by setting himself on fire in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C, to protest Israel's war against Hamas. Senior Airman Aaron James Bushnell, 25, of Whitman, Mass., was a cyber-defense operations specialist at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland and had been on active duty since May 2020. A video, apparently made by Bushnell using a smartphone, depicted his last three minutes before he doused himself with a flammable liquid and set himself ablaze around 1 p.m. Sunday in northwest Washington. The video of the gruesome scene was posted to social media by a user who said they had his family's permission to do so.

"My name is Aaron Bushnell," the airman said as he prepared to immolate himself. "I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I’m about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.” Bushnell's LinkedIn profile said he went through Air Force basic and technical training in San Antonio starting in 2020 and graduated "top of flight and top of class." At the time of his death, he was serving with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Lackland, part of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing based at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

A prison guard put a Texas man in a coma. When he woke up, it was too late to file a complaint.

Like many prison confrontations, the one between inmate Candelario Hernandez, Jr. and corrections Officer Aaron Kloesel was brief and brutal. On Nov. 4, 2019, Kloesel was manning the infirmary door at the Stevenson Unit, a state prison outside of Victoria. Hernandez had arrived early to a medical appointment to treat an arm injury and demanded to go in. Kloesel said Hernandez yelled at him, although witnesses recalled Kloesel raising his voice first. When Hernandez moved to put his foot into the infirmary door, Kloesel wrapped his arms around the prisoner, picked him up and drove him onto the concrete floor. For Kloesel’s bosses at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the altercation would be the final straw. It was the latest of several policy violations by the officer, including one that may have contributed to a prisoner’s death, court documents show. Following the Hernandez altercation, TDCJ recommended he be terminated.

While accounts conflicted as to how the incident began, its ending was meticulously documented. As Kloesel began handcuffing an unconscious Hernandez, the inmate had a seizure. He was airlifted to Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio. To relieve pressure from the blood pooling in his head, doctors cut out a piece of his skull. Court documents show Hernandez “remained completely unresponsive” for the next two weeks. In Texas prisons, two weeks also happens to be the period of time inmates have to lodge an official grievance – a hard deadline that has launched Hernandez’s family on a frustrating and, at times, baffling journey through the catch-22 world of prisoner justice. Months after Hernandez was hospitalized, they filed a federal lawsuit alleging Kloesel’s excessive use of force had caused Hernandez serious and permanent injuries. He remains paralyzed on one side of his body and still suffers memory and vision impairment, his family said. But a controversial 30-year-old federal law designed to limit prisoner lawsuits prohibits inmates from filing one unless they’ve first gone through the grievance process. And as the state’s lawyers pointed out, Hernandez had blown that deadline – no matter that it was because an officer found to have violated policy had put him into a coma. Without the grievance, Hernandez’s lawsuit was summarily tossed by a U.S. district judge, who noted the law left him with little choice.

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Houston Chronicle - February 27, 2024

FAA finds 17 corrective actions following SpaceX Starship test flight that exploded in South Texas

Federal regulators investigating what went wrong with the second Starship flight that exploded over South Texas in November identified 17 corrective actions the company must make before launching again. They include hardware redesigns, operational changes and additional fire protection. The findings do not mean the company has approval to fly again. SpaceX must fix the issues with its Super Heavy rocket and Starship spacecraft, and it needs to receive a modified launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can plan a third flight of the world's most powerful rocket. During the launch on Nov. 18 that sparked the review, all 33 of the Super Heavy rocket engines ignited and burned for their full duration. Then the rocket separated from the Starship spacecraft using a new hot-stage technique that fired Starship's engines while it was still attached to the rocket.

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CNN - February 27, 2024

Texas attorney, a key figure in fake electors plot,concealed posts on secret X account from investigators

Kenneth Chesebro, the right-wing attorney who helped devise the Trump campaign’s fake electors plot in 2020, concealed a secret Twitter account from Michigan prosecutors, hiding dozens of damning posts that undercut his statements to investigators about his role in the election subversion scheme, a CNN KFile investigation has found. Chesebro denied using Twitter, now known as the platform X, or having any “alternate IDs” when directly asked by Michigan investigators last year during his cooperation session, according to recordings of his interview obtained by CNN. But CNN linked Chesebro to the secret account based on numerous matching details — including biographical information regarding his work, family, travels and investments.

The anonymous account, BadgerPundit, also showed a keen interest in the Electoral College process and lined up with Chesebro’s private activities at the time. The Twitter posts reveal that even before the 2020 election, and then just two days after polls closed, Chesebro promoted a far more aggressive election subversion strategy than he later let on in his Michigan interview. Chesebro’s lawyers confirmed to CNN that the BadgerPundit account belonged to Chesebro, describing it as his “random stream of consciousness” where he was “spitballing” theories about the election – but insisted that it was separate from his legal work for Trump’s campaign. “When he was doing volunteer work for the campaign, he was very specific and hunkered-down into being the lawyer that he is, and gave specific kinds of legal advice based on things that he thought were legitimate legal challenges, versus BadgerPundit, who is this other guy over there, just being a goof,” said Robert Langford, an attorney for Chesebro.

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National Stories

CNN - February 27, 2024

What to watch for in the Michigan presidential primaries

Just how committed are Michigan Democrats to Biden? Tuesday will tell. Israel has been blitzing Gaza for nearly five months in response to Hamas’ deadly raid into Israel on October 7, which the Israeli government says killed about 1,200 people. Israel’s ongoing military campaign, which has killed roughly 30,000 Palestinians, which includes thousands of children, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, has been met with harsh rebukes from some Western nations and the United Nations – but not the United States government. Biden has been steadfast in his support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, rarely making any public criticisms of its tactics, even as White House officials tell reporters the president has become frustrated with Netanyahu. To activists demanding an immediate ceasefire, Biden’s unwillingness to do the same – layered on top of the horrendous images coming out of Gaza every day – is creating a political impasse that now threatens his reelection prospects.

As Listen to Michigan advocates note, the state could be decided by the narrowest of margins in November and the president’s Israel policy could cost him thousands of votes. Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, a Democrat, wrote last week in The New York Times that he believes Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and accused Biden and the US government of ignoring Americans’ desire for a stronger peace push. “Until just a few months ago, I firmly believed that Joe Biden was one of the most consequential and transformative presidents that our nation had seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” Hammoud wrote. “But no amount of landmark legislation can outweigh the more than 100,000 people killed, wounded or missing in Gaza. The scales of justice will not allow it.” Movement leaders have been careful to stress they are not supporting Trump, but are intent on using what leverage they have with Biden – whose success in office is largely based in his unique ability to unify Democrats – to highlight the domestic downside of his current approach.

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Politico - February 27, 2024

Michael Whatley officially announces for RNC Chair

North Carolina GOP Chair Michael Whatley announced his candidacy to lead the Republican National Committee on Monday. In a letter to the RNC’s 168 members, which was obtained by POLITICO, Whatley highlighted the endorsement he had received for the post from former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP nomination. “I have been truly honored to receive President Trump’s endorsement for this position and I hope to earn your vote as we undertake the crucial work of winning up and down the ballot in 2024,” Whatley wrote. The announcement comes just hours after the sitting RNC Chair, Ronna McDaniel, announced that she would be stepping down from the post early next month.

Trump has moved to put in place new leadership at the committee ahead of the general election. He is supporting Whatley as chair, his daughter-in-law Lara Trump as co-chair, and his senior campaign adviser Chris LaCivita as RNC’s chief operating officer. Whatley must win a majority of support from the RNC’s members to become chair, which he is expected to easily do given Trump’s widespread backing among the members. The election is set to take place March 8 in Houston. Whatley laid out his vision for the committee in the letter, saying the RNC needed to be “laser-focused on registering new voters, pushing voters to the polls, and taking advantage of every opportunity to run up our margin in key states across the country.”

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CNN - February 27, 2024

House Speaker Mike Johnson faces a defining dilemma on Ukraine

House Speaker Mike Johnson has the fate of a democracy and a people in his hands. It’s not the United States, which will survive – even if the coming general election results in another existential test for the constitutional system. The country Johnson has the power to save is Ukraine, two years after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded, decreeing that it didn’t have the right to exist. Ukraine’s soldiers – trapped in a World War I-style hellscape of trench warfare – are running out of bullets. There are signs that Russia may be about to break a stalemate and tip the war its way. Soldiers carry the coffin of Ukrainian poet and serviceman Maksym Kryvtsov who was killed in action fighting against Russia's attack on Ukraine, during his funeral ceremony at St. Michael's Monastery in Kyiv, January 11, 2024.

Johnson, a backbencher who was the last-ditch choice to lead the mutinous House GOP majority last year, could relieve Ukraine’s agony and help ensure its survival as an independent nation in the coming days. He could allow a vote on a bill that includes $60 billion in aid that the Pentagon says is needed to allow Kyiv to continue to effectively fight. It would likely pass with a comfortable bipartisan majority. The Louisiana Republican’s reluctance to do so is a commentary on the growing power of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, the sharp turn of his party away from its globalist pro-democracy heritage and perhaps even his own ambition since borrowing Democratic votes to finance Ukraine’s defense could cost him the speakership. The speaker is coming under extreme pressure on multiple fronts, at home and abroad, as coinciding crises that he’s postponed over his young speakership come to the boil at once. Most immediately, without a budget deal with the Democratic Senate, the government could hurtle into a partial shutdown by the weekend. His predicament will be highlighted at a meeting of the top four congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday called by President Joe Biden.

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CNBC - February 27, 2024

Bitcoin surpasses $56,000 benchmark, uplifts crypto market in latest rally

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency by market cap, extended a rally in Asia trading on Tuesday, reaching a two-year high of over $56,000 and uplifting the broader crypto market amid positive market developments and buying from crypto bulls. The price of bitcoin increased over 10% within two days, according to data from CoinMarketCap, after crypto investing and software firm MicroStrategy disclosed a purchase of about 3,000 bitcoins for $155 million on Monday. MicroStrategy, based in Virginia, is currently the largest publicly traded owner of bitcoin. The company reported a holding of about 190,000 of the cryptocurrency tokens earlier this month, which would be worth over $10.5 billion today. According to Greta Yuan, head of research at digital asset platform VDX, the market was “encouraged by crypto bulls such as MicroStrategy” as well as a “new record of Bitcoin ETF inflows.”

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Associated Press - February 27, 2024

Republicans say Georgia student's killing shows Biden's migration policies have failed

Students at two Georgia colleges grappled Monday with the killing of a nursing student killed in a violent act that Republicans including former President Donald Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp blamed on the immigration policies of President Joe Biden. The killing of 22-year-old Laken Riley revived a theme — migrants committing violent crimes — that is animating the 2024 elections as Trump seeks a return to the White House. Trump famously launched his 2016 presidential bid with these words about Mexicans: “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” The focus now is on migrants who have arrived in the country during the Biden administration, with Republicans blaming Biden for migrant flows even as Democrats attack Republicans for sinking proposed legislation that could have toughened border enforcement. That conflict is only likely to escalate this week with Biden and Trump planning dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday.

The man charged with murder in Riley’s beating death, Jose Ibarra, is a Venezuelan citizen who immigration authorities say unlawfully crossed into the U.S. in September 2022. Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University’s Athens campus, after starting her college career at the much larger Athens campus of the University of Georgia. She was found dead Thursday after a roommate reported she didn’t return from a morning run in a wooded area of the University of Georgia campus near its intramural fields. Hundreds of students and faculty members gathered Monday afternoon for a vigil for Riley organized by her sorority sisters at the University of Georgia campus. Many people cried and members of Alpha Chi Omega held carnations, a symbol of the sorority. “Laken showed devotion with every aspect of her life,” said Chloe Mullis, president of the University of Georgia chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. “Doing things halfway just wasn’t an option. We lost one of the brightest lights that has ever been.” Dabney Duncan, president of the University of Georgia Panhellenic Council, urged people to speak up about possible dangers to prevent further losses, referring to Georgia’s bulldog mascot. “We all carry that responsibility now to ensure that there is not one more dawg.”

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CBS News - February 27, 2024

Biden says he hopes for Israel-Hamas cease-fire by Monday

President Biden said Monday that a deal between Israel and Hamas for a cease-fire in Gaza is close. "My national security adviser tells me that we're close, we're close, it's not done yet. And my hope is that by next Monday we'll have a cease-fire," Mr. Biden told reporters during a stop in New York City. Mr. Biden said earlier this month that the U.S. was working to negotiate a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas that would pause fighting in Gaza for at least six weeks. He said the deal would "bring an immediate and sustained period of calm to Gaza for at least six weeks, which we could then take the time to build something more enduring."

In an appearance that aired early Tuesday on NBC's "Late Night With Seth Meyers," the president said Israel would be willing to pause its assault during Ramadan if a deal is reached. The Muslim holy month begins around March 10. "Ramadan's coming up and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out," Mr. Biden said. Mr. Biden, who has supported Israel's right to respond to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, has increasingly sharpened his criticism of Israel, calling its military operations in Gaza "over the top." In early February, as Israel prepared for a ground operation in Rafah, a city near Egypt's border where more than one million displaced Palestinians are estimated to have taken refuge after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza, Mr. Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to proceed without a "credible" plan for ensuring the safety of the people sheltering there.

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Politico - February 27, 2024

Authorities investigate suspicious substance sent to Donald Trump Jr.’s Florida home

Authorities on Monday responded to Donald Trump Jr.’s Florida home after the former president’s son opened an envelope with a suspicious white powder in it. The news, first reported by the Daily Beast, was confirmed by a person familiar with what transpired. Hazmat vehicles and fire trucks were spotted outside Trump Jr.’s Jupiter, Florida, home, which he shares with his fiancée, former Fox News personality Kimberly Guilfoyle. The initial test results on the substance were inconclusive, the person said, though authorities don’t believe the powder is deadly. The person added that Trump Jr.’s life is not in jeopardy.

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Newsclips - February 26, 2024

Lead Stories

USA Today - February 26, 2024

How a Texas social media law before the Supreme Court could upend the Internet

A half-century after the Supreme Court said no government can dictate what newspapers may publish, the high court will consider whether Texas and Florida can tell social media giants how to operate. On Monday, the Supreme Court will debate the fate of laws passed by those states to limit the ability of social media giants such as Facebook, YouTube and X to moderate content. Republican lawmakers in Texas and Florida argue that social media companies have been too quick to throttle conservative viewpoints. The trade groups representing the nation's social media companies, as well as the Justice Department, say the Supreme Court should strike down the state laws because they are an infringement on the companies' First Amendment right to free speech, consistent with the court's 1974 ruling that Florida couldn’t require a newspaper to publish replies to editorials. “Just as the government may not tell the Miami Herald which editorials to publish or MSNBC which interviews to broadcast, the government may not tell Facebook or YouTube which third-party speech to disseminate or how to disseminate it,” lawyers for the trade associations NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association wrote in a filing.

But Florida and Texas say social media platforms are less like newspapers and more like telephone and telegraph operators who are transmitting content generated by customers, not creating it themselves. “The telephone company, internet service provider, and delivery company can all be prevented from squelching or discriminating against the speech they carry,” Florida’s lawyers have told the court. “And so can the platforms.” A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit blocked enforcement of most of Florida's law in 2022. But the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the similar Texas law. That created a split in how appeals courts are interpreting the laws. At the moment, neither the Florida nor the Texas law are in effect while the high court reviews them. The case is just one of three the justices will decide in the next few months with potentially enormous consequences for the way Americans interact on the internet. The justices will hear arguments next month about whether officials in the White House and federal agencies violated the First Amendment when they leaned on social media companies to suppress what they considered misinformation about the election and COVID-19.

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KHOU - February 26, 2024

Victim advocates hope Audrii Cunningham's death will enact change in Texas law

Victim advocates are calling for change after 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham, of Livingston, was found dead in the Trinity River under US-59 nearly six days after she was reported missing. The man charged with capital murder in connection with her death, Don Steven McDougal, is friends with the family and lived in a camper behind the home where Audrii lived with several of her family members McDougal is an ex-con with a rap sheet that dates back to 2001. He's been arrested in Harris, Montgomery and Liberty counties numerous times over the last two decades. In 2007, McDougal was convicted of enticing a child with intent out of Brazoria County. This is an offense the state of Texas doesn't require those convicted to register as a sex offender.

Lawmakers and activists say its unfortunate we have to keep naming laws in honor of children killed, to protect other kids, but they are hopeful Audrii's case will enact much needed change. Andy Kahan, director of victim services and advocacy for Crime Stoppers of Houston, is actively pushing for change on this matter. "I've already been in touch with several state senators and state representatives who, like everyone else, was just horrified and dumbfounded that this wasn't already an offense that you had to register," he said. More than 25 pieces of legislation have been passed, backed by Kahan. Legislation drafted in the case of Cunningham should receive bipartisan support, with right language. "Enticing a child encompasses a variety of different actions. So, the language that we're going to have to specifically focus is where there is a conviction of enticing a child, where there's obviously a sexual notation to the offense, which was obvious in this particular case," Kahan said. In the meantime, Kahan encourages everybody to reach out to their local state representatives and state senators.

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NBC News - February 26, 2024

Democratic operative admits to commissioning fake Biden robocall that used AI

Steve Kramer, a veteran political consultant working for a rival candidate, acknowledged Sunday that he commissioned the robocall that impersonated President Joe Biden using artificial intelligence, confirming an NBC News report that he was behind the call. In a statement and interview with NBC News, Kramer expressed no remorse for creating the deepfake, in which an imitation of the president’s voice discouraged participation in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary. The call launched several law enforcement investigations and provoked outcry from election officials and watchdogs. “I’m not afraid to testify, I know why I did everything,” he said an interview late Sunday, his first since coming forward. “If a House oversight committee wants me to testify, I’m going to demand they put it on TV because I know more than them.”

Kramer said he has received a subpoena from the Federal Communications Commission, suspected he might get sued by a half dozen people and said he could even face jail time, but that he would keep working in politics. NBC News has reached out to the FCC for comment. Kramer claimed he planned the fake robocall from the start as an act of civil disobedience to call attention to the dangers of AI in politics. He compared himself to American Revolutionary heroes Paul Revere and Thomas Paine. He said more enforcement is necessary to stop people like him from doing what he did. “This is a way for me to make a difference, and I have,” he said in the interview. “For $500, I got about $5 million worth of action, whether that be media attention or regulatory action.” Kramer said he came up with the idea for the hoax entirely on his own and that it had nothing to do with his client, Biden's long-shot primary challenger, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. Phillips had paid Kramer over $250,000 around the time the robocall went out in January, according to his campaign finance reports. Phillips and his campaign have denounced the robocall, saying they had no knowledge of Kramer’s involvement and would have immediately terminated him if they had known. Phillips’ press secretary Katie Dolan said in response to Kramer’s statement Sunday, “Our campaign repeats its condemnation of these calls and any efforts to suppress the vote.”

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CNBC - February 26, 2024

Billionaire-backed Koch network halts Nikki Haley campaign funding after South Carolina loss

Americans for Prosperity Action, the network backed by billionaire Charles Koch, is pausing its financial support of GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s campaign a day after she lost to former President Donald Trump in her home-state primary in South Carolina. AFP Action said it still endorses Haley for president but now its support will only come in the form of words — not cash. “Given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory,” AFP Action CEO Emily Seidel wrote in an email to staff, first reported by Politico. “And so while we will continue to endorse her, we will focus our resources where we can make the difference.”

AFP Action declined to provide further comment beyond the staff memo. AFP Action closing its wallet is the next nail in the coffin for the former South Carolina governor who has taken a series of hits since the start of the election year. Along with AFP Action, billionaire Reid Hoffman has also stopped funding Haley’s presidential bid. Despite the setbacks, Haley has pledged to stay in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5. Her campaign said that AFP Action pulling funding has not changed that calculus and that it still has the resources to stay afloat. “AFP is a great organization and ally in the fight for freedom and conservative government. We thank them for their tremendous help in this race,” Haley’s campaign said in a statement on Sunday. “Our fight continues, and with more than $1 million coming in from grassroots conservatives in just the last 24 hours, we have plenty of fuel to keep going. We have a country to save.” AFP Action will instead channel its resources to finance Republican campaigns on the congressional level. It has so far endorsed five candidates running for Senate and 19 candidates running for House seats.

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State Stories

NBC News - February 26, 2024

First responders in a Texas town are struggling to cope with the trauma of recovering bodies from the Rio Grande

The crisis unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border since last year has spilled over into the fire engines and ambulances of a small Texas town. First responders in Eagle Pass say they are overwhelmed and increasingly traumatized by what they see: parents drowned or dying, their children barely holding onto life after attempting to cross the Rio Grande. The emotional strain on firefighters and EMTs has grown so great that city officials have applied for a state grant that would bring in additional mental health resources for front-line workers. “It’s an unprecedented crisis,” said Eagle Pass Fire Chief Manuel Mello. “It’s nothing close to what I experienced while I was on the line. It’s a whole different monster.” Firefighters say the first calls for help usually blare through the three stations in Eagle Pass while crews are still sipping their morning coffee, bracing themselves for what the day will bring.

Parents with young children might be near drowning or trapped on islands somewhere between the United States and Mexico, surrounded by the fierce currents of the Rio Grande. On some shifts, firefighters with the Eagle Pass Fire Department can spend three to five hours in the water, helping rescue migrants crossing the river or recovering their drowned bodies. “It’s something we’ve never gone through,” said Eagle Pass native Marcos Kypuros, who has been a firefighter and EMT for two decades. “It’s been hard having to keep up with that on top of everything else we take care of.” Eagle Pass has become ground zero in recent months for an unrelenting border crisis that is equal parts political and humanitarian. With hundreds of thousands of people attempting to cross the border illegally each year near Eagle Pass, city emergency personnel have increasingly been called upon to perform difficult and often dangerous rescues or to retrieve dead bodies, they said. They do this while juggling other emergencies in the city of 28,000 and throughout sparsely populated Maverick County.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 26, 2024

After heart attack, Ron Oliveira learns how to change his life at St. David's cardiac rehab

After a week of fun in Alaska, Ron Oliveira and his wife, Nelleen, were waiting to disembark from their cruise ship, but something didn't feel right to Oliveira. The former news anchor at KVUE had a lot of things on his mind: getting the rental car, crossing the border from Vancouver into Washington state and making the flight home. Then he threw up violently, he said, first thinking he was suffering from food poisoning. The chest pains kicked in as Olivera neared the United States border. Oliveira, 68, was having a heart attack. He survived, and the episode changed how Oliveira approaches eating and exercise. It started with intensive cardiac rehab at St. David's Medical Center once he returned to Austin.

That morning, Sept. 27, Oliveira and his wife drove to a hospital in Bellingham, Washington. The EKG confirmed he had a heart attack, and doctors needed to open up his blocked artery and insert a stent in an area just above where a previous stent was placed in 2012. Oliveira said he comes from a long line of family members who died early from heart disease. Growing up in Brownsville, his family dined on traditional Mexican food like rice, beans, enchiladas and tacos, and traditional American foods like Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. "It was good eating, but it was fatty," he said. And a lot of processed food. Because of his family history, Oliveira has been seeing a cardiologist since he turned 40 to monitor his heart and keep his blood pressure and cholesterol in check. He had tried to eat more healthfully, but it wasn't enough. St. David's main campus in Austin and its Georgetown hospital both adopted the Pritikin program, created by inventor Nathan Pritikin after having his own heart disease in the 1950s. St. David's began the program in August at these two locations and expects to roll the plan out to its cardiac rehab centers at its other hospitals soon. Often patients are fearful when they first come to rehab, said Laura Raymond, director of cardiovascular services at St. David's Medical Center, but rehab is designed to get them stronger physically as well as provide education on nutrition, exercise, medical treatments to reduce their cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as working with a psychologist on a healthy mindset. The plan is individualized to the patient.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 26, 2024

Austin office market has a glut of space, but experts predict it will eventually fill up

Every office market in the country now has way more office space than it needs. So pronounced Austin-area real estate expert Eldon Rude, as part of his 21st annual forecast event last week sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Austin. Just over 27% of office space in the Austin market was vacant at the end of last year, up from 21.8% at the end of 2022, Rude told about 700 industry professionals last week. Rude said Austin "has a huge amount of sublease space" (a sign of a slowing market). Rude said 5.5 million square feet of space was available for sublease by tenants who want to give it back to the market, up 41% from the last quarter of 2022. In Austin, one of the most notable examples is the more than 600,000 square feet of space that Facebook is seeking to sublease in a new 66-story tower at Sixth and Guadalupe streets, currently the tallest building on Austin's skyline.

In addition, Internet search giant Google delayed moving into a 35-story building it has leased downtown, the sail-shaped building overlooking Lady Bird Lake. "There will be issues with office," Rude said. "Tech companies are going to have to find creative ways to get people to the office." But he added: "At some point, these buildings will fill up." Rude said he thinks that, ultimately, not as many people will be going back to work in their office cubicles, and will spend more time in suburban locations. And that, he said, "is a positive for those providing suburban housing." In its latest market report, for the fourth quarter, HPI Real Estate Services & Investments, an Austin-based commercial real estate services firm, said that despite layoffs in the tech sector, three of the largest lease transactions of the quarter were signed by tech companies.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 26, 2024

Alamo observing 188th anniversary of the siege, battle amid construction chaos

The Alamo is surrounded by scaffolding, temporary fencing and heavy machinery — signs of a complete makeover of the mission and battle site that’s well underway after a decade of planning. But despite the chaos, construction workers silenced their equipment and listened with reverence Friday, along with hundreds of spectators, as Alamo officials observed the start of a 13-day siege and battle that began 188 years ago. “As you can see, there is much construction underway,” Alamo Trust executive director Kate Rogers told the crowd, explaining the activity was all part of “the ambitious $550 million Alamo plan” being executed through a public-private partnership involving the state and city of San Antonio. The project seeks to tell the entire 300-year history of the site, dating to 1724, when flooding from a hurricane forced the Mission San Antonio de Valero to move to its third and final location. Tejano, Native American and African American perspectives will be included in museum exhibits.

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Houston Public Media - February 26, 2024

Houston Mayor John Whitmire says he wants to meet with Food Not Bombs amid lawsuits, ticketing

Houston Mayor John Whitmire wants to meet with representatives of Food Not Bombs in hopes of reaching an agreement on feeding unhoused people. Food Not Bombs is an organization that provides free meals to unhoused people. The organization has been active in Houston since 1994 and started operating outside of Houston Central Library in 2005. In 2012 the city introduced an ordinance that prevents the distribution of free food to more than five people on any property without permission. The law had never impacted Food Not Bombs' operations until last year. During that time, under former Mayor Sylvester Turner, the city issued a large number of citations to volunteers working with the program. At-Large Council Member Julian Ramirez commented on the law's effectiveness.

"One person convicted under that ordinance in 12 years is not an effective ordinance," Ramirez said. During Wednesday’s Houston City Council meeting, Whitmire said a legal position is needed to address the issue, "but I think we need to work with the advocates and see if we can accommodate their interest in feeding the homeless.” Last month, the organization filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the enforcement of the 2012 ordinance was a violation of their First Amendment rights. A U.S. District judge ruled in Food Not Bombs' favor, requiring the city to stop issuing tickets to the group. Ramirez disagreed with the city's retaliation against Food Not Bombs. "The city intends to go forward with the trial in this case," Ramirez said. "I come down on the side of not criminalizing acts of charity like feeding the homeless." The city has designated a charitable feeding location at 61 Riesner Street, a police station, not far from the library. Mayor Whitmire said Food Not Bombs' operations have prevented residents from visiting the library. "I'll walk over to the library with you right now," Mayor Whitmire said. "It has deterred families from using the library. And city employees." Mayor Whitmire did not comment on when he plans on meeting with Food Not Bombs.

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NBC News - February 26, 2024

Texas man allegedly made $1.76 million from insider trading by eavesdropping on wife's work calls

A Texas man allegedly made $1.76 million from insider trading by eavesdropping on several of his wife’s work-from-home calls about a merger, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Tyler Loudon of Houston overheard his wife, a BP mergers and acquisitions manager, discuss the company’s acquisition of TravelCenters of America Inc. and bought 46,450 shares of the latter’s stocks ahead of the announcement on Feb. 16, 2023, the SEC said in a news release. Loudon’s wife wasn’t aware that her husband bought the stocks. Loudon, 42, sold his shares following the announcement, which led to a nearly 71% rise in TravelCenters’ stock, making him a profit of $1.76 million. “We allege that Mr. Loudon took advantage of his remote working conditions and his wife’s trust to profit from information he knew was confidential,” said Eric Werner, regional director of the SEC’s Fort Worth office.

The SEC filed a complaint against Loudon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas accusing him of “violating the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws.” Loudon did not deny the allegations against him and agreed to the entry of a partial judgment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas also announced criminal charges against Loudon, according to a news release. Loudon pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to forfeit the $1.76 million to authorities, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. He will be sentenced on May 17 and faces up to five years in federal prison, as well as a $250,000 maximum fine.

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Bloomberg - February 26, 2024

Texas Bitcoin miners sue Energy Department over data usage survey

The Texas Blockchain Council, an industry association for Bitcoin miners including Riot Platforms Inc., is suing the U.S. Department of Energy’s statistics unit over a mandatory survey on their power consumption. The inquiry by the Energy Information Administration is “an unprecedented and illegal data collection demand” against the industry, the group said in a statement dated Feb. 22. Riot, one of the largest Bitcoin miners in the state, made $71 million last year, in part from prepurchasing electricity for its operations and selling some of it back to the grid for a premium amid power shortages. In a response to the lawsuit, the EIA said in a court filing that it won’t enforce a requirement for the survey to be completed and will sequester data already collected.

Bitcoin miners accounted for as much as 2.3% of the nation’s total power demand in 2023, and even the 0.6% low end of its range represents the same amount of electricity usage for Utah, EIA estimated in a Feb. 1 report. The agency earlier said it aimed to better evaluate power consumption of the industry with the poll. While Bitcoin mining began in the US a decade ago, the country saw an influx of mining companies from the world’s previous mining hub China after the Chinese government banned the practice in 2021. A slew of mining companies went public in the U.S. and set up large-scale operations in energy-rich states such as Texas and Georgia. Collecting data from Bitcoin miners for their energy consumption has been difficult since some of the data, including locations of the sites and electricity rates, could be considered as proprietary by the miners. “The TBC, alongside industry partners, views this as a direct assault on private businesses under the guise of an emergency, lacking legitimate grounds and demonstrating clear political bias,” TBC said in the statement.

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Dallas Morning News - February 26, 2024

Republican grudge match could unsettle Dallas-area politics

The March 5 Republican primaries for the Texas House are defined by the pursuit of vengeance and vindication. Last week I wrote about how Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are backing slates of House candidates in dueling revenge tours. Paxton has endorsed the primary opponents of 20 Republican House incumbents who voted last May to impeach him. Abbott, who is backing candidates who support his school choice proposal, is backing at least 17 incumbents on Paxton’s target list. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is endorsing a GOP primary challenger to incumbent Rep. Morgan Meyer, a University Park Republican who leads the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He is also chairs the Sustainable Property Tax Relief Select Study Committee.

What’s Patrick’s beef? He blames Meyer for not immediately compromising with the Senate on how to implement the largest property tax cut in Texas history. Last year, Meyer and House members pushed a plan that would achieve the $18 billion tax cut by replacing local tax revenue with state money, a strategy known as rate compression that was also embraced by Abbott. The Senate plan used rate compression but also featured raising the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, letting property owners reduce more of the taxable value of their principal residence. In July during the second special session, the House and Senate sent a compromise bill to Abbott that included rate compression and the higher homestead exemption. Abbott signed it into law, and Texas voters gave their approval in November. Patrick is miffed that the legislative process took so long, so he’s backing Dallas lawyer Barry Wernick against Meyer. The lieutenant governor rarely gets involved in House races, but this cycle he announced that he’s joining Abbott in supporting 11 House incumbents. Patrick is also backing challengers to incumbents. He’s running digital ads against Meyer on behalf of Wernick, and he’s supporting Republican David Covey against House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont.

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Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

Anthony Graves: A bad DA nearly cost me my life. Vote for a good one.

(Anthony Graves is the 138th exonerated death row inmate in America. He is a criminal justice expert, the author of “Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul.” He is also a motivational speaker.) I survived 18½ years in prison — 16 of those years in solitary confinement and 12 years on death row — for a crime I did not commit. It was all because a district attorney cared more about seeing me convicted than seeking the truth. My journey to hell and back began in August 1992. I was a few weeks shy of my 27th birthday when the police knocked on my door in Brenham, my hometown, and arrested me for a gruesome murder. I had an alibi witness, no connection to the crime, no motive and I maintained my innocence from the start. The person who actually committed the crime fingered me as his accomplice before recanting his lie — but the district attorney didn’t care about innocence or guilt. He just wanted to find some way to convict me. His zealousness was matched only by his reckless disregard for the truth. He built a case against me despite my innocence, and I was convicted and sentenced to death.

Because of a district attorney, my death was scheduled twice. Because of a district attorney, as I’ve written before, I will forever be known not only as Anthony Graves, grandfather, father and son, but as United States Death Row Exoneree 138. Voters in Harris County like me will begin the process of choosing our next district attorney during the March 5 primary election and the Nov. 4 general election. Incumbent Kim Ogg faces candidate Sean Teare in the Democratic primary. The winner will take on Republican Dan Simons, who is running unopposed, in the fall. Since my exoneration, I’ve become an advocate for criminal justice reform to prevent similar abuses of power. Here’s what a DA can do to make our communities stronger and safer. We need a district attorney committed to ending the damage that mass incarceration has done to communities, keeping families together and restoring stability to individuals. You shouldn’t be locked up — lose your job and be kept from your family — because you smoked a joint or missed a court date for a minor offense. To prevent wrongful convictions, the district attorney must ensure their office’s conviction integrity unit is well-resourced, staffed by seasoned attorneys and that it is truly independent. It should report directly to the district attorney.

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Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

Robert Slater to suspend congressional campaign, endorse Sheila Jackson Lee

Robert Slater, the longshot candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in the upcoming March primary, said he will suspend his campaign Sunday and endorse the incumbent congresswoman. Slater, a Houston chef and businessman, faced long odds in the Democratic primary dominated by Jackson Lee, who has represented Texas' 18th Congressional District since 1995, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards. Jackson Lee led Edwards by a 43% to 38% margin among likely voters in a recently published University of Houston poll, while Slater garnered just 3% support. "I don't have the benefit of having 28 years of an incumbency and name ID," he told potential voters in a video posted to social media Saturday.

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KERA - February 26, 2024

People worry about housing costs and they want solutions. Why don’t politicians talk about it more?

Housing prices are up. Polls say Americans are worried and want elected officials to do something about it. And few politicians seem to be hitting the campaign trail with a pitch to be Congress’s housing problem-solver, at least in North Texas. Katherine Levine Einstein, a political science professor who studies housing at Boston University, said housing may first appear like a good issue — it’s broadly salient, several policy solutions have bipartisan support, and it’s a real issue affecting people’s lives. But there are challenges that make it less-than-ideal campaign fodder. “I can think of a number of compelling reasons why, if I were running for congressional seat, I might not choose to talk about housing,” Einstein said.

There are 33 candidates running for Texas’ three open Congressional seats this year. A review of their campaign websites shows just a handful mention housing among the issues they’re concerned about. That’s also true for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and the top Democrats vying to replace him. Some of the candidates don’t list any priorities, but most do. Where housing affordability shows up, it’s often in passing or as a general issue of concern. A few Democrats vying to replace Rep. Colin Allred, who is running for Senate, raise housing. The Democratic-leaning 32nd Congressional District covers much of northeast Dallas County and bits of Collin and Denton Counties. Most prominent is Brian Williams, an ER doctor, who calls for investing in affordable housing and fighting housing discrimination. Chris Ponayiotou says he’d “pressure [the] Federal Reserve” to drop interest rates, and use antitrust laws to prevent investors from “buying up large swaths of the housing market.” Zachariah Manning says he’d “ensure that our veterans and military have the healthcare, housing and funding needed.” Allred, in his bid for the Senate, says he wants to expand Medicaid to cover senior assisted living and to expand housing for homeless veterans. One of this opponents, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, notes the high cost of buying a home, but doesn’t offer specific solutions beyond “building an economy that works for everyone.” Brandon Gill, a Republican running the 26th Congressional District, opines that “housing is unaffordable,” but doesn’t include specific policy solutions. The district, which covers much of Denton County, all of Cooke County and some of Wise County, is heavily Republican and is represented by Michael Burgess, who is retiring.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

Houston Community College ends nursing associate's as statewide shortage looms

Houston Community College has shuttered its associate degree program for students training to be registered nurses, according to state licensure documents. The Texas Board of Nursing listed the closure as voluntary, effective Dec. 31. The Associate Degree Nursing program, or ADN, had been operating with “conditional” approval as of last April — a designation that means it didn’t meet state standards for three years. “HCC takes pride in the ADN program’s legacy,” college officials said in a statement. “This challenging decision to close the program reflects our adherence to the highest nursing education standards.”

Officials confirmed the closure in the statement, which was attributed to HCC. The decision came after 57 students who were required to take a licensure exam were not able to because “there were no available testing sites in Houston and the surrounding areas,” they said. The program, which has been operating since 1979, will now focus on graduating those 57 students and secure them a testing location, according to the statement. “In collaboration with the Texas Board of Nursing, this decision marks our proactive stance in adapting to healthcare education’s evolving needs, with a commitment to innovative nursing education solutions,” the statement reads. Licensure passage rates had plummeted in HCC’s associate’s program since 2018, according to board data. Almost 94% of students passed the RN exam that year, but by 2022, only 49% passed.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 26, 2024

UH education professor suspends course in protest of HISD's rigid lessons

A University of Houston education professor stopped teaching his course last week in protest of his student teachers' placements in Houston ISD schools, where he said the "scripted curriculum" used in HISD classes made it impossible for them to complete their assignments. Alberto Rodriguez, a distinguished professor of science education at the University of Houston College of Education, informed students in his "Science in the Elementary School II" course of the decision in a Feb. 14 email.

"I regret to inform you that I am suspending my teaching of this course in protest of the impossible school placements to which some of you have been assigned," Rodriguez wrote. "I feel it is unethical and unprofessional for me to continue teaching this course when you have been placed in school settings that make it very challenging for you to complete field-based assignments as expected in the effective preparation of teachers." University of Houston spokeswoman Shawn Lindsey said the college immediately assigned another faculty member, who teaches the other section of the course, to Rodriguez's class, ensuring the course continued uninterrupted. Lindsey declined to say whether Rodriguez, who is tenured at the university, would face any disciplinary action, saying they do not comment on personnel matters. "As districts across the state and nation have moved to varying degrees of curriculum autonomy, our teacher education program works to ensure our student-teachers gain valuable, authentic classroom experiences," Lindsey said. "We teach our student-teachers to work within a district’s curriculum guidelines just as they would in the real world, and our student-teachers remain able to practice skills a successful teacher needs — such as keeping students engaged, checking for understanding and adapting as needed."

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National Stories

Politico - February 26, 2024

Hidden in Trump’s big South Carolina win: A not-so-small problem for him in November

Donald Trump’s trouncing of Nikki Haley on her home turf Saturday put on full display his dominance across the demographic spectrum of the GOP. It also put to rest whatever lingering beliefs there were that this primary may still have some drama left in it. Here was Haley, the first candidate to get Trump in a head-to-head matchup, and she could not deliver, neither in moderate New Hampshire nor her home state. But Trump’s effortless win in the Palmetto State — he visited just three times in recent weeks, four if you count a fundraiser — was as much of a demonstration of his total control of the party as it was South Carolinians’ repudiation of Haley. “It’s a testament to how red South Carolina is as a state,” said former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. “It’s a testament to people being squeezed at lower socio-economic levels … and wanting something different.” And Haley, he said, “probably didn’t mind the home fires as full as she should have.”

It’s hard to find a GOP demographic that doesn’t love Trump. If you really need more evidence of Trump’s dominance over the Republican Party — well, South Carolina had it in spades. A majority of every age demographic picked Trump over Haley. Men and women both backed Trump. Voters across all income ranges backed him, and he only narrowly lost college graduates while dominating among those without a college degree. Trump has a weak spot. It’s GOP primary voters who believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the 2020 election — which he did — or who think Trump would not be fit for the presidency if convicted of a crime. A large majority of those voters were with Haley. Her problem is that they were just over a third of the overall electorate in both questions.

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Politico - February 26, 2024

A shutdown is approaching. Biden and Johnson’s lack of relationship isn’t helping.

President Joe Biden and House Speaker Mike Johnson have virtually no relationship. The two men holding the most powerful elected positions in the country have rarely talked. They don’t know each other. They are decades apart in age and miles apart in political philosophy. Their lack of a meaningful relationship — let alone any relationship at all — has contributed to political friction and standstills over the past few months. But it’s putting an additional strain on the nation’s government this week, as both Biden and Johnson barrel toward another government funding deadline on Friday and into a third year of war in Ukraine as the underfunded country fights off Russia. The White House has not taken Johnson up on his request for a one-on-one meeting but the two are likely to square off Tuesday when the four congressional leaders meet at the White House where the president plans to discuss both the supplemental and government funding.

In the lead up to the meeting, there have been few signs of affinity developing between the two. For Ukraine funding, the Biden administration is engaged in a public pressure campaign to effectively shame Johnson into allowing a vote on the floor. For government funding, the White House is working with Democratic allies who control the Senate ahead of a potential standoff with the GOP House. “It does matter that there’s not a more robust relationship,” said longtime appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). The administration, he argues, got used to the Democratic-controlled House often quickly approving its priorities in 2021 and 2022. Now, Cole said, “that’s not going to happen. And that’s a mistake and they need to get past that… We’ve gotta get to the point where they can talk to one another.” The theory that Washington D.C. best works on interpersonal relations is a bit of a glamorized and outdated view of politics. One doesn’t need to have tight friendships with lawmakers in order to win their votes.

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Washington Post - February 26, 2024

Russia looms over yet another Trump presidential campaign

In February alone, Donald Trump encouraged Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to the military alliance. He refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny, 47, a Kremlin critic who died suddenly on Feb. 16 in a Russian penal colony — instead likening himself to Navalny, arguing they were both political prisoners. And in a Fox News town hall Tuesday evening, he praised Russia for being “a war machine.” “They defeated Hitler,” Trump declared, apparently referring to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II. Since announcing his first presidential campaign in 2015, Russia has followed Trump like an unshakable thunder cloud. The former president has repeatedly expressed a fascination with Russia, lavished praise on Putin and refused to stand up to the Russian president on a range of issues — from interfering in the 2016 presidential election to invading Ukraine almost exactly two years ago.

Trump’s reticence to forcefully confront Russia and his regular adulation of Putin have long raised the question: With Trump, why do “all roads lead to Putin?” as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) memorably asked in 2019 during a contentious Cabinet Room meeting. His latest round of pro-Russian cheerleading raises the same query — but now against a dramatically changed backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war is entering its third year, with no signs of abating. Putin critics are calling the death of Navalny — who had survived a previous Russian attempt to poison him — a murder. And under Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party has drifted in a remarkably isolationist direction on foreign policy, with House Republicans currently holding up much-needed aid to Ukraine. “His buddy-buddy — whatever it happens to be — affection with Putin is dangerous — to our transatlantic alliance, to NATO, to our support of people fighting for democracy in Ukraine,” Pelosi said. “The Navalny assassination is something that is so startling and so blatant, and to see the former president’s comment about it just continues us on the path of: What is his connection to Russia?” Pelosi added. Both Russia experts and some Trump confidants say the answer is far more straightforward than some of the existing theories, including the theory that the Russians have damaging material — known as kompromat — on Trump and are using it to blackmail him.

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Washington Post - February 26, 2024

How Libs of TikTok became a powerful presence in Oklahoma schools

Far-right activist Chaya Raichik splits her time between California, where she’s registered to vote, and Florida, where she often travels. But the place where she arguably is having the biggest impact these days is Oklahoma, a state she’s visited only once. Raichik, who operates the social media account Libs of TikTok, has amassed an audience of millions on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, largely by targeting LGBTQ+ people. Last month, Raichik was appointed to the Oklahoma Library Media Advisory Committee by Republican schools superintendent Ryan Walters, a former history teacher who has been called “the state’s top culture warrior” for his opposition to teachers unions and other conservative targets, including LGBTQ+ students’ rights. Since her appointment, Raichik has sought to pull books depicting gay and transgender people, as well as sex education, from public school libraries, saying she has found “porn” in various districts.

But her growing role in the state has drawn greater attention since Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary student, collapsed and died the day after a Feb. 7 fight in a girls’ bathroom at Owasso High School in suburban Tulsa. Family members said Benedict had been bullied for months for being openly nonbinary. Owasso Police Lt. Nick Boatman said Friday that Benedict did not die as a result of physical trauma, according to preliminary information from the medical examiner, and that the department is awaiting the results of toxicology testing to determine the cause of death. Benedict’s parents have questioned that conclusion. Meanwhile, gay rights supporters in Oklahoma and elsewhere have continued to blame the fight for Benedict’s death and to accuse Raichik of bearing some responsibility for the fight. On Thursday, Oklahoma City Councilor Sean Cummings (D) lambasted Raichik for stoking anti-LGBTQ+ hatred in the state, saying she has “blood on her hands.” And Matt Bernstein, a 25-year-old LGBTQ+ content creator in New York who has been targeted by Raichik, said: “I’m just hearing constantly how Chaya Raichik specifically has caused a rift in the experience of being a queer high-schooler in America.” As Libs of TikTok, Raichik has been blamed for sparking bomb threats, property damage, shooting threats, written and verbal harassment and other forms of violence against individuals, hospitals and schools across the country — including in Oklahoma, according to GLAAD, a nonprofit LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

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VOA - February 26, 2024

Consumers pushing back against price increases — and winning

Inflation has changed the way many Americans shop. Now, those changes in consumer habits are helping bring down inflation. Fed up with prices that remain about 19%, on average, above where they were before the pandemic, consumers are fighting back. In grocery stores, they're shifting away from name brands to store-brand items, switching to discount stores or simply buying fewer items like snacks or gourmet foods. More Americans are buying used cars, too, rather than new, forcing some dealers to provide discounts on new cars again. But the growing consumer pushback to what critics condemn as price-gouging has been most evident with food as well as with consumer goods like paper towels and napkins. In recent months, consumer resistance has led large food companies to respond by sharply slowing their price increases from the peaks of the past three years.

This doesn't mean grocery prices will fall back to their levels of a few years ago, though with some items, including eggs, apples and milk, prices are below their peaks. But the milder increases in food prices should help further cool overall inflation, which is down sharply from a peak of 9.1% in 2022 to 3.1%. Public frustration with prices has become a central issue in President Joe Biden’s bid for re-election. Polls show that despite the dramatic decline in inflation, many consumers are unhappy that prices remain so much higher than they were before inflation began accelerating in 2021. Biden has echoed the criticism of many left-leaning economists that corporations jacked up their prices more than was needed to cover their own higher costs, allowing themselves to boost their profits. The White House has also attacked “shrinkflation,” whereby a company, rather than raising the price of a product, instead shrinks the amount inside the package. In a video released on Super Bowl Sunday, Biden denounced shrinkflation as a “rip-off.”

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Alaska Beacon - February 25, 2024

With bipartisan action, Alaska House votes to increase public school funding formula

The Alaska House of Representatives ended days of deadlock with an unusual bipartisan triumph late Thursday, voting 38-2 to authorize a major increase in the state’s funding formula for public schools. “I’ve been around for a few years, and tonight really is a historical night. We have flipped the script of a major omnibus bill by doing it early in the session,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham and a House member since 2007. “We came together: Republicans, Democrats, independents, nonpartisans, and we got something done,” said Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok. The $680 increase to the state’s base student allocation, contained in the version of Senate Bill 140 that passed the House on Thursday night, is the largest nominal bump in state history. It’s also somewhat of a disappointment for education advocates, because it’s less than half of the $1,413 increase needed to make up for inflation since 2015.

“Six hundred eighty dollars is the bare minimum. It should be much higher. But it’s remarkable to see,” said Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage. In Juneau, where the local school district has been facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, the increase likely isn’t enough to forestall school closures, said Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. “In the best-case scenario, we close only a couple schools,” she said. Schools are also likely to close in Fairbanks, said Rep. Ashley Carrick, D-Fairbanks. The bill contains some, but not all, of the education provisions sought by Republicans and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which disappointed Republican members of the House, but not enough for most of them to vote “no.” Reps. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, and Mike Prax, R-North Pole, were the lone votes against the final bill.

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Georgia Recorder - February 25, 2024

GOP lawmakers ready to ease limits on hospital construction, set aside Medicaid expansion for now

A long-awaited health care proposal from House leaders would ease health care business regulations in some cases, but the measure is just as notable for what it does not do: expand Medicaid. Instead, the bill calls for a new commission that would be tasked with advising the governor, lawmakers and the state agency that administers Georgia’s Medicaid program on issues related to the access and quality of health care available for the state’s high number of uninsured residents. It also raises the cap on the state’s rural hospital tax credit program to $100 million a year, up from $75 million. But mostly, the measure focuses on the state’s certificate-of-need rules. It would, for example, allow a new acute care facility to open in a rural county if they meet certain requirements, such as agreeing to serve as a teaching hospital and serve as a trauma center. Easing the program’s rules for rural hospitals was a sticking point last year.

New or expanded psychiatric or substance abuse inpatient programs would also be allowed to sidestep the restrictions, so long as they have an agreement with a nearby hospital. That proposed change is a nod to the state’s continued push to improve access to mental health treatment. “It’s like working a Rubik’s Cube. When you figure one part of it, there’s another part of it that’s got to be worked,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Swainsboro Republican Rep. Butch Parrish. “But I really think this is a great step forward in trying to move health care in this state ahead and provide better health care all across the state to folks so we have better access to quality health care for everybody, no matter what your ZIP Code is.” The proposal, though, was seen as a sign that this would not be the year that Georgia expands Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This year’s legislative session had started with chatter after GOP leaders showed interest in an Arkansas-style model of expansion, which uses federal funds to purchase private plans for its low-income residents. Any proposal was expected to be tied in some way to changes to the certificate-of-need rules, similar to a deal passed in North Carolina last year.

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Newsclips - February 25, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - February 25, 2024

Trump wins South Carolina, easily beating Haley in her home state and closing in on GOP nomination

Donald Trump won South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, easily beating former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in her home state and further consolidating his path to a third straight GOP nomination. Trump has now swept every contest that counted for Republican delegates, adding to previous wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Haley is facing growing pressure to leave the race but says she’s not going anywhere despite losing the state where she was governor from 2011 to 2017. A 2020 rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden is becoming increasingly inevitable. Haley has vowed to stay in the race through at least the batch of primaries on March 5, known as Super Tuesday, but was unable to dent Trump’s momentum in her home state despite holding far more campaign events and arguing that the indictments against Trump will hamstring him against Biden.

The Associated Press declared Trump the winner as polls closed statewide at 7 p.m. That race call was based on an analysis of AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of Republican South Carolina primary voters. The survey confirmed the findings of pre-Election Day polls showing Trump far outpacing Haley statewide. “I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now,” Trump declared, taking the stage for his victory speech mere moments after polls closed. He added, “You can celebrate for about 15 minutes, but then we have to get back to work.” South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary has historically been a reliable bellwether for Republicans. In all but one primary since 1980, the Republican winner in South Carolina has gone on to be the party’s nominee. The lone exception was Newt Gingrich in 2012. Trump was dominant across the state, even leading in Lexington County, which Haley represented in the state Legislature. Many Trump-backing South Carolinians, even some who previously supported Haley during her time as governor, weren’t willing to give her a home-state bump. “She’s done some good things,” Davis Paul, 36, said about Haley as he waited for Trump at a recent rally in Conway. “But I just don’t think she’s ready to tackle a candidate like Trump. I don’t think many people can.”

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2024

Here's why young voters in Texas have a quieter voice than older ones in elections

When it comes to elections, older residents have more power in deciding the outcomes of races up and down the ballot. At least that's what a snapshot analysis by a leading Texas political number cruncher shows of the first few days of early voting for the March 5 primaries. Let's take a look at the recent findings from Derek Ryan, an Austin political consultant who for the past several election cycles has taken a deep dive into the numbers behind the numbers on who actually votes. He breaks down the data by separating voters into sundry buckets, such as first-time voters, recidivist voters, voters who always vote in one primary or another, voters who toggle between the primaries depending on who's running for what, and so forth. But the age buckets are perhaps the most eye-catching thus far for the first 2024 contests. The biggest bucket on the Republican side, according to the early trend, is filled with voters who have already reached their 70th birthday. In fact, just a whisker under 47% of the earliest of the early voters were 70-plus. Next come voters 50 and up, and that bucket had almost 40% of the voters.

In layman's terms, just about 87% of the early GOP primary voters qualify for just about every discount and perk available through AARP. If we round up slightly, about nine out of 10 of those voters were alive when Richard Nixon was president. A cynic might say: "There's no surprise there. Republicans have had a lock on the gray-haired vote since forever." Perhaps, perhaps not. So what about voters on the Democrat side? Spoiler alert: That age bucket is not exactly made up of the Gen Z and millennial demographics. In fact, the blue side of the ledger pretty much tracks that of the red. Voters north of 70 years old actually accounted for a slightly larger share of the earliest Democratic early vote, with nearly 48%. The number for those 50 and older was 36%. The 30-49 age bucket for the Democrats was 12%, which was just fraction above for Republicans. And both parties were scarcely, if at all, raking in votes from people in their 20s or younger. For Democrats, it was 4%; Republicans managed a paltry 2.3%. So let's boil it all down to the basics. For voters in their 20s or 30s, and perhaps even their 40s, the same people who have made all the rules — from the time those younger voters left the maternity ward to when they trotted off to college, or the military, or the full-time job market or down the aisle — are still the ones driving much of the rule-making for what those voters' grownup options are out here in the real world.

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Wall Street Journal - February 25, 2024

A Christian oil billionaire upended Texas politics—and is coming for Washington next

Drilling for oil made Tim Dunn, a self-described activist Christian, into a billionaire. His second act has been pumping money to Texas Republicans intent on pushing their party to the right. His third act, he hopes, will be pulling off something similar on a national level—preferably during a second Trump administration. Brooke Rollins, a former Trump domestic policy adviser, pitched Dunn in 2021 on a new think tank, America First Policy Institute, with a mission to perpetuate Trump-era policies for generations to come. The West Texas oilman, whose efforts in his home state have been both successful and polarizing, responded with both enthusiasm and money. “He’s a visionary,” said Rollins, who previously worked with Dunn building a political think tank in Texas. “His ability to build organizations and structure and culture is so incredible. I’ve relied on him more for that than his funding.”

Conservative operatives regard the new group as one of several organizations attempting to assemble an “administration in waiting.” Rollins’s group boasts an in-house roster of Trump loyalists—including Larry Kudlow, Kevin Hassett and Keith Kellogg—available to fill key administration positions. Dunn is one of many wealthy Republicans jockeying to influence a second Trump administration in accordance with their own political agendas. Besides giving directly to the candidate—Dunn donated about $5 million to Trump’s political-action committee late last year—some of them have funded a handful of new pro-Trump think tanks dedicated to that task. In addition to America First, Dunn has provided funding to the Center for Renewing America, run by former Trump budget director Russell Vought, and America First Legal, led by former Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller. As nonprofits, none of the three groups are required to disclose who is donating to them, and how much. As Dunn sets his sights on Washington, he will be armed with an even bigger bankroll. In December, he agreed to sell the oil company he runs, Midland-based CrownRock, to Occidental Petroleum in a $10.8 billion deal. Dunn owns about 20%. Dunn has said he believes America was founded as a Christian nation. He likes to cite Scripture and has worked for a decade to construct an exact replica of Moses’ Tabernacle in West Texas, using materials imported from the Middle East. Allies say his faith informs his politics, but he is not a theocrat. Dunn calls himself a proponent of self-governance. In addition to property-tax reductions, he supports securing the Texas border and changing the way incentives are provided to solar and wind power companies.

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NBC News - February 25, 2024

Fewer grievances, more policy: Trump aides and allies push for a post-South Carolina 'pivot'

A growing chorus of top advisers to Donald Trump is urging him to fixate less on personal grievances and instead focus on hitting President Joe Biden and unifying the Republican Party. The attempt to turn to broader themes comes as the campaign looks ahead to Super Tuesday and the general election, according to nine top Trump aides and allies who spoke to NBC News. Trump’s commanding win in South Carolina over Nikki Haley is yet another illustration of an undeniable political reality: Trump will be the GOP nominee. “There is no question that after Saturday there will be a pivot, because there needs to be,” said a top adviser to the former president. “There is a mindset from our perspective that she [Haley] can do whatever she wants. She can do whatever, we don’t care.”

The adviser said the goal is to focus on bringing the Republican Party together after a fractious primary, but the person conceded that flashes of Trump’s trademark pugilistic style and tendency to go off-script, especially when discussing his growing legal woes, will stick around. “We are not going to totally be able to move away from what is going on in his personal life,” the adviser said. “It’s going to be happening every day, and he is a fighter and will talk about it. Everyone understands that.” While Trump retains a commanding lead in polling for the Republican race, a potential general election matchup with Biden — where voters may be less interested in his personal grievances — remains tight, according to NBC News polling. That attempted pivot was evident in Trump’s South Carolina victory speech, which did not mention Haley once, took shots at Biden and openly touted a GOP unity message. Trump is notoriously hard to wrangle, and he rarely sticks to the script. It’s unclear whether he will be willing, or able, to carry out a reset. But two people involved in conversations around the potential pivot said the topic has been under discussion in internal campaign deliberations. One of those people, who doubts Trump has the discipline to execute on it, said the idea is to make the campaign “more about issues and less about personality.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Texas county declares state of emergency ahead of solar eclipse

A small Texas county issued a state of emergency this week as it prepares for a surge in tourism ahead of the total solar eclipse in April. Bell County officials say they expect severe traffic congestion, fuel shortages and strains on first responders, hospitals, food, grocery stores and the cellular network beginning days before the April 8 eclipse. Officials predict the county’s population of 400,000 to double — or even triple — as people flock to Texas to glimpse the rare phenomenon. County Judge David Blackburn said at a press conference Wednesday the emergency declaration will help the county plan, prepare for and respond to the eclipse and coordinate with the state if needed.

“In order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of both residents and visitors, Bell County has determined that extraordinary measures must be taken in the form of a local disaster declaration,” the county said in a news release. As part of the declaration, property owners are required to register with the Bell County Emergency Management Office if they plan to host parties with more than 50 people. Owners must provide the county a site layout and ensure guests have adequate bathrooms, waste disposal and wastewater solutions. Registration will provide public safety officials and first responders with information when roads and highways are congested, the county said. The eclipse will carve a path of totality through Texas, plunging many cities into total darkness for several minutes when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. Millions of Americans will travel to witness the event, with many coming to Texas, according to Great American Eclipse.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Texas commercial property foreclosure filings are soaring

Commercial property foreclosure filings in Texas have more than doubled in the last year. Texas had 463 commercial foreclosure filings in the 12 months ending with January, according to a new report by Attom Data Solutions. Texas ranked third nationally for commercial foreclosures with 56 filings last month — a 143% year-over-year increase in the number of properties red-flagged for foreclosure by lenders in January. Nationwide, commercial foreclosure filings were up 97%.

“This uptick signifies not just a return to pre-pandemic activity levels but also underscores the ongoing adjustments within the commercial real estate sector as it navigates through a landscape transformed by evolving business practices and consumer behaviors,” Attom Data CEO Rob Barber said in a statement. California, New York and Texas lead the country in January commercial property foreclosure postings, according to Attom Data. The number of commercial property foreclosure filings in Texas is at the highest level in Attom Data’s decade of tracking. Texas commercial foreclosure filings were at a low point in 2018 when only 120 properties were threatened with forced sale by lenders. Texas commercial foreclosure postings began growing during the pandemic and hit new highs in January.

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The Hill - February 25, 2024

O’Rourke supports campaign to vote ‘uncommitted’ in Michigan Democratic primary

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) is supporting a campaign asking Democratic voters to vote “uncommitted” in Michigan’s presidential primary, if they are unhappy with the way President Biden has handled the Israel-Hamas war. “I do think it makes sense for those who want to see this administration do more, or do a better job, to exert that political pressure and get the president’s attention and the attention of those on his campaign so that the United States does better,” O’Rourke said in an interview with the Michigan Advance. O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020 and later endorsed Biden, is visiting Michigan on Saturday as part of his book tour, the outlet noted.

Abdullah Hammond, the mayor of Dearborn, Mich., recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times arguing that his community has been “haunted” by the scenes from Gaza, where Israel has launched a counteroffensive against militant group Hamas after it killed more than 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostage. Israel’s counteroffensive has resulted in nearly 30,000 deaths in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hammond said he cannot support the genocide happening. “It is for that reason that I will be checking the box for ‘uncommitted’ on my presidential primary ballot next Tuesday,” he wrote. O’Rourke said he supports Hammond’s campaign, joining Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and former Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), the Michigan Advance reported. “I agree with the aims and the goals. We should have a ceasefire, there should be a return of each [and] every single one of those hostages [taken by Hamas], there should be an end to this war and there should be a negotiated solution to Palestinian statehood,” O’Rourke told the outlet. “All of that needs to happen, and I share the concern that the United States is not doing close to enough to bring those things to pass.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - February 25, 2024

Jennifer Danley Scott: Raise lawmaker pay to get more women to run for Texas Legislature

(Jennifer Danley-Scott is a faculty member in residence at the Center for Women in Government, part of the Jane Nelson Institute for Women’s Leadership at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.) In 2020 and 2022, talk of a “blue wave” in Texas pushed out discussion of gender parity in our government. This was disappointing. The share of women holding judgeships decreased to just under 40%, and in the Legislature, it’s 29.8% Our government is grappling with increasingly complex issues, and our laws are better when they’re informed by life experiences that vary across genders, cultures and backgrounds. Research in the hard sciences, social sciences, and humanities demonstrate the positive impact of diverse representation — it helps identify more problems and it scrutinizes proposals from more vantage points. We should see more women running for office and winning. Texas women are active politically. They vote. In the 2020 presidential election, 6.3 million Texas women voted, compared with 5.6 million men. Media attention on women candidates is generally plentiful and positive. Political parties are supporting women candidates.

People are rational when deciding to run for office, and pay and workload may be institutional barriers. Women responding to our survey were more likely than their male colleagues to identify the cost of running for office and the work of caring for family as impediments that initially kept them from running; women also identified missing work as a problem. These concerns in turn affect which offices attracted candidates. Women aspiring to higher office in our survey generally listed county office, judicial office or Congress; very few mentioned the Legislature, a natural step up from local office. In our survey, 50% of the women who marked caring for family as a barrier ultimately ran for and won city office, with 38% choosing county office and 12% choosing judicial office. The women concerned primarily about missing work similarly ran for county (51%), city (31.5%), and judicial (17%) offices. County and judicial positions are local campaigns where officeholders serve locally and receive professional pay. Why might these and other women avoid the Legislature? It’s rational. In Texas, we designed a Legislature with two disadvantages: We pay extremely little and expect a lot of work. This is not the case with other elected offices. The Texas Association of Counties shows full-time county officials are paid anywhere from $40,000 to $198,000 a year. They work in their home county without constant travel to the Capitol. Women are better represented in these offices, especially as clerks and treasurers.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2024

Texas says adios to El Niño. But what is La Niña and how will it affect our weather?

El Niño, the warming of tropical waters in the eastern Pacific that has brought wetter and cooler weather to Texas, appears to be losing its influence in the atmosphere. Forecasters think it will weaken more in the spring, and they give its counterpart, La Niña, a 55% chance of returning this summer. Texas summers are always brutal, but if La Niña — which tends to produce warmer and drier weather for us — persists strongly over fall and winter, like it did from 2020 to 2022, we could see summer-like heat linger into October, above-normal warmth in winter and little to no rain relief at the end of the year. What is La Nin~a exactly?

Don’t think of El Niño and La Niña, which are naturally occurring climate patterns, as storms or weather events that affect a specific area at a specific time. Instead, meteorologists say you should think of them as much broader phenomena, like the way road construction in one part of town can have ripple effects on traffic across a whole city. Because the world’s oceans make up nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that temperature shifts in the Pacific — the world’s largest ocean — can have an outsized influence on the planet’s weather.For La Niña to develop, for instance, sea surface temperatures off the Pacific coast of South America along the equator become cooler than normal, which then significantly alters tropical rainfall and disrupts atmospheric circulation patterns. The ripple effects end up redirecting the paths of mid-latitude jet streams. These circulating rivers of air not only steer storms across the United States but also keep cold air penned up north. When La Nin~a is strong, it tends to push the jet stream farther north away from Texas. As a result, polar air remains corralled up north and unable to encounter tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico. We typically depend on that confrontation of cold and warm air over Texas to produce storms and beneficial rain across the state.

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Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2024

Houston-area farmers are facing more extreme weather. Here's how they're adjusting to climate change

Charlie Sherrard worked carefully, tucking a straight row of miniature sprouted broccoli into the loose soil of a planter at Sunnyside's Hope Farms on a recent February afternoon. Sherrard, the urban farm's lead gardener, has labored with other farmers and gardeners for weeks to reset crops that struggled after January's multiday freeze followed by a swing to rainy warmth. Repurposing the miniature broccoli was one of their final acts of recovery. "It survived the freeze, but will not do well in the field right now because it's getting too warm," Sherrard said. "So instead of getting rid of the broccoli I'm allowing it to flower and to be an early pollinator, because a lot of the other flowering plants won't be blooming until March or so." After a recent uptick in freezes, hot droughts and floods, many Houston-area farmers have been forced to get creative. Small farms used to rotating their crops have shifted what they plant and how much they expect to lose as a changing climate keeps them on their toes.

While some of the Sunnyside farm's diverse fruits and veggies made it through the most recent cold snap that started Jan. 15, others struggled. "We're starting to see a rebound of the crops that work fine with cold," said Gracie Cavnar, founder and leader of Hope Farms. "It's always a challenge in Houston because you've still got warm season crops growing in the winter. And they're productive, and then all of a sudden, they're wiped out, so it takes your productivity down by like 50%." Cavnar said farmers can try to steel themselves against freeze damage, harvesting some crops early and covering others, but that labor does not always pay off. And this year, since her farmers expected the freeze to be shorter than it was, she said they "didn't get as aggressive with protection." Still, since Winter Storm Uri in 2021 kicked off far more frequent freezes than in past decades and the last two years swung from lengthy droughts during scorching summers to increased flooding fears, local farms have adjusted to the extremes.

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Austin American-Statesman - February 25, 2024

Will Texas State Board of Education bend farther to the right? Here are 3 races to watch.

Three Republican members of the State Board of Education are facing well-funded primary election challenges by opponents with ultraconservative ideologies, setting the stage for a possible tilt farther to the right for the 15-member state panel that sets education standards. The outcome of the March 5 primary races — and ultimately the general election in November — could place a hard-line conservative majority on the Republican-dominated board, which sets curriculum for schools in Texas. Of the seven state education board offices up for grabs, three have contested Republican primary races. The winners of these primaries will face the Democratic candidate in November. In District 10, which encompasses parts of the Hill Country, Williamson County and areas south of Dallas, incumbent Tom Maynard is being challenged by Round Rock school board member Mary Bone and Daniel “DC” Caldwell, who is running in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

In District 11, a small region in the Fort Worth area, 20-year board veteran and former teacher Pat Hardy is being challenged by Brandon Hall, who has worked in ministry services. In the North Texas-based District 12, incumbent and former textbook publisher Pam Little faces three Republican challengers: Chad Green, a McKinney school board member; Jamie Kohlmann, a real estate agent and former education analyst at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation; and Matt Rostami, an eye doctor. Aside from its primary responsibilities of setting curriculum standards and reviewing and adopting instructional materials, the state board approves charter schools, oversees the Texas Permanent School Fund, sets graduation requirements and reviews the rules to certify educators. In the coming years, the board is expected to roll out a new list of approved instructional materials and will revise the social studies and math standards, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Any major changes in the makeup of the state board would probably have an effect on its curriculum decisions for all Texas students, said Jacob Kirksey, a Texas Tech University education professor. The board next year will approve a new social studies curriculum — a process that in 2022 became so divisive over several issues, including adding information about the LGBTQ Pride movement and the history of racism in the U.S., that those decisions were punted to 2025. “There’s going to be a lot of opinions about what goes into those based on the partisan leaning,” Kirksey said.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Rep. Colin Allred invites Dallas doctor who fled state for abortion to State of the Union

Dallas obstetrician/gynecologist Austin Dennard, who had to travel out of state for an abortion after learning her fetus had a severe, lethal birth defect, will attend President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, invited her to the March 7 speech, joining Democrats across the country in putting abortion access at the heart of their 2024 campaign messaging. Dennard said Texas women are being denied basic rights under state laws so restrictive that providers are scared to utter the word “abortion,” even when discussing options for patients with medically complicated pregnancies. “It’s a disaster-relief situation now with providing standard medical care for women in pregnancy,” Dennard told The Dallas Morning News.

Another Dallas-area woman, Kate Cox, also will attend the speech as the guest of first lady Jill Biden. Cox unsuccessfully sued Texas for permission to end her pregnancy after receiving a lethal fetal diagnosis. Allred is the frontrunner in a crowded Democratic primary, with the winner to face Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November. Allred has touted his support of federal protections for abortion access and the right to interstate travel for health care. Allred praised Dennard’s willingness to speak out so other women aren’t forced to leave their states under similar circumstances. “I am so inspired by Dr. Dennard’s bravery and her resilience in the face of Texas’s cruel abortion ban,” Allred said in a statement. “No Texas woman should have to endure the hurdles that Dr. Dennard did to get the life-saving care she needed.” Cruz was asked about Cox’s invitation when it was announced last month and said the White House engages in “extreme and dishonest rhetoric” on abortion.

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KXAN - February 25, 2024

Is Texas’ medical billing transparency law working? KXAN investigates

Bernadette Moore remembers the frustrations. Bernadette Moore filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office after not being able to get an itemized bill last year. (Courtesy Bernadette Moore) All she needed was an itemized bill after a vein surgery last August in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “They just gave me the runaround. I mean, nothing. I got bounced around to seven different people at one point. I was on the phone weekly,” she explained. Moore said she is part of a health-sharing ministry where patients get reimbursed, but an itemized bill is required. “I remember crying to them on the phone — ‘I cannot get ahold of this.’ I’ve never had this much problem receiving an itemized bill,” Moore said. In November, she filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

“I have requested an itemized bill … at least 20 times. As of Sept, that is a TX state law, that businesses must give an itemized bill,” she wrote in her complaint. Through the Texas Public Information Act, KXAN obtained five itemized medical billing complaints sent to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office since September 2023. That’s when the law went into effect requiring hospitals and other health providers to give patients an itemized invoice before sending bills to collections. Senate Bill 490 also requires itemized bills be written in terms the patient understands and include medical codes and prices. The invoice can be issued electronically through a patient portal. “It’s important for consumers to have more transparency in health care,” said State Rep. Caroline Harris Davila, R-Round Rock. “It has become so convoluted, so complicated, and it really shouldn’t be because when it’s complicated, people may put off care. They may make poor decisions about their health care. ” Harris Davila knows every detail of the itemized billing law — she wrote the companion House bill. The legislation only applies to health care facilities and hospitals but does not apply to doctors or federally-qualified health centers. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is overseeing the rollout of the law and compliance. Since the law went into effect in September, the agency received two complaints that are pending investigation. These complaints are separate from what the Attorney General’s Office received. Late last year, HHSC posted draft rules online and gathered informal comments from two providers including clarification needed on language of the law and concerns about the costs of providing itemized bills. Harris Davila said her office would reach out to the providers with concerns.

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Texas Public Radio - February 25, 2024

Federal judge questions Texas 'hubris' over foster care

In a federal court hearing where the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was accused of among other things medical negligence and obscuring its own statistics on children in unsafe placements — Judge Janis Jack appeared insulted that the state had recently filed a motion to nullify substantive portions of the court’s oversight. “To have the hubris to file a motion for relief is just beyond me,” she said at the conclusion of the hearing. She will determine the fate of that motion in June. Lawyers for the state argued in the Feb. 13 filing that it has shown a good faith effort to comply with the federal court's orders — often showing more than 90% compliance in some areas. In a statement, the department said the state has spent $100 million, that its caseworkers were better trained with lower caseloads and that investigations occurred more rapidly.

“These improvements are clearly documented and have resulted in the state’s compliance with all remedial orders. We believe now is the right time to narrow the scope of this litigation by moving for relief on a subset of remedial orders the state feels strongly it has fully satisfied,” said Patrick Crimmins, a DFPS spokesperson. The court had already certified compliance in two of the 12 orders it sought to vacate. But Jack is currently weighing contempt fines over Texas' lack of compliance in numerous other areas. There are a total of more than 50 court orders upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018. And Friday's hearing saw new allegations from plaintiffs' attorneys and from Jack that the state was both hiding logs of serious incidents and manipulating its own statistics for children without placement (CWOP). These are youth who are housed in hotels or state-leased houses staffed by a rotating case of staff members, contractors and security guards, rather than foster homes or treatment centers.

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Valley Central - February 25, 2024

‘Great sadness’: Last sugar operation in Texas to permanently close

The last remaining sugar operation in Texas, located in the Rio Grande Valley, is set to permanently close after 51 years of business. Rio Grande Valley Sugar Growers Inc. announced that numerous water shortages in the area and lack of support from the U.S. State Department are forcing the decades-long business in Santa Rosa to close its doors. The recently completed harvest and milling season of growing and processing sugarcane into raw sugar will be RGVSG’s last. “For over 30 years, farmers in South Texas have been battling with Mexico’s failure to comply with the provisions of the 1944 Water Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico that governs water sharing between the two nations on the Colorado River and the Rio Grande Valley,” the company stated. “RGVSG Inc. has no choice but to close its doors.”

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Texas Monthly - February 25, 2024

What does religious freedom mean in Ken Paxton’s Texas?

The borders of Ken Paxton’s vision of religious freedom became a little clearer this week when the attorney general sued Annunciation House, an independent Catholic immigrant ministry in El Paso. Claiming suspicions of “alien harboring, human smuggling, and operating a stash house,” on February 7 Paxton demanded the respite center’s documents regarding the identities and services rendered to the immigrants. Annunciation House asked for more time to seek counsel on whether any of the documents could legally be withheld. Paxton refused, so the migrant-aid group sued Paxton; now Paxton is suing Annunciation House to revoke its state license. In describing Annunciation House, Paxton’s press releases use the term “nongovernmental organization” (NGO), the term used most commonly to describe international relief agencies such as those that partner with federal governments and the United Nations. This is a specific word choice. There’s no technical difference between an NGO and a nonprofit organization in the United States, but on the far right, where Paxton generates votes and campaign funds, there’s a big difference in connotation. NGOs are big, liberal, global actors.

Nonprofits are the do-gooders next door, and they are often religious. The irony, of course, is that it doesn’t get much more next-door or religious than Annunciation House. Its website reads like a testimony at a Wednesday night prayer service: “the Gospel calls us all to the poor and . . . the life and presence of Jesus in the Gospels is so completely in relation to the poor.” “From my perspective, it’s incredibly frustrating to see politicians who regularly justify their actions based on their faith to then persecute those who use the same rationale to do things they don’t like,” said Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest, a missions and advocacy group affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Reeves spent years as a lawyer with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, working to preserve the special place of religion in the United States. Paxton’s intentions are explicit, Reeves said, and instructive as to the kind of hostility religious organizations in Texas can expect if their expressions of religion aren’t in favor with the attorney general’s office. ??“It’s really trying to scare religious nonprofits into not following the dictates of their faith.” And if Paxton will go after a Catholic organization, there’s no reason to think he won’t also target one of the many Protestant border missions, many of which Fellowship Southwest supports, that have responded to a need in a way that they felt their faith demanded. “They feel very called by their faith—by what they understand Jesus telling them to do in the world—which is to serve migrants,” Reeves said. (Paxton’s office did not respond to an interview request by the time of publication.)

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Texas Monthly - February 25, 2024

Can a Texas Democrat get elected on gun control?

Given his often testy relationship with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the leader of the upper house of the Texas Legislature, it’s understandable that Roland Gutierrez, a Democratic state senator, felt especially uncomfortable when he couldn’t control his emotions in Patrick’s presence. Days after the May 2022 mass shooting in Uvalde, which falls within Gutierrez’s sprawling district, the state senator found himself in Patrick’s office, pleading for at least some small step toward gun control. Gutierrez had recently signed a nondisclosure agreement that allowed him to view police body cam footage of what he could only describe as kids being “mutilated.” One image in particular, of a little girl whose face was shot off, being dragged out of a classroom, was seared into Gutierrez’s brain. The Democrat felt hopeless—but he was also livid. He wanted big, sweeping reforms to curb future gun violence. But he told the lieutenant governor he’d settle for something much smaller: a proposal to raise the minimum age to purchase certain semiautomatic weapons from 18 to 21.

When Patrick flatly refused that request, Gutierrez realized that reminding his colleagues—at every opportunity—that the state had done little to prevent these children’s deaths was a futile act. Perhaps he could have more impact in Washington. “I am running for the Senate because we absolutely need an assault weapons ban in this nation,” Gutierrez recently told a group of about forty Democrats at a campaign event in Leander, north of Austin. “We are broken in this space and must demand real change on this issue.” Gutierrez is one of nine Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to challenge Republican senator Ted Cruz in the November general election. More than any of his opponents in the primary, he has made gun control a central tenet of his campaign. Even if he loses, he says, he will never stop pushing for the legislative reforms demanded by Uvalde parents. “I will advocate for those people for the rest of my lives,” he said. Making guns a central issue in a campaign wouldn’t be as big a risk for a national Democrat, but many in Texas have long believed it’s a toxic issue here. In 2014, Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator challenging Greg Abbott for governor, posed for a photo with a shotgun and announced she supported an “open carry” law—which would have allowed Texans with handgun licenses to wear pistols on their hips while in public. Davis believed that backing gun rights was necessary to win a statewide election in Texas. (She lost her race by twenty percentage points and later said she regretted the position she took on guns.)

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Texas Observer - February 25, 2024

‘It’s the South’: Harris County sends 15 times more Black men to Death Row than white

Of the 21 people from Harris County most recently sentenced to death, all but one was a person of color, according to a report released today by the nonprofit Texas Defender Service (TDS). The report found that 15 death sentences were handed down to Black men since December 2004—three of which have since been overturned. Four were given to Hispanic men, one to Ali Irsan, a Jordanian immigrant, and only one to a white man. The county’s imposition of the death penalty in the 21st century is dubbed both “arbitrary and capricious”, with staggering racial disparities in sentence severity, in a report by TDS, a nonprofit legal and advocacy group dedicated to stemming the flow of “mass incarceration and excessive punishment.” TDS released the report on the anniversary of the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the death penalty for Duane Buck, a Black Harris County man who was condemned to die after jurors heard racist testimony.

Texas’ largest county also remains the state’s deadliest when it comes to capital convictions. A quarter of all Texans sent to death row since 1973 came from Harris County, the report found. If the county were a state, it would rank only behind Texas in terms of funneling people onto death row. Since the death penalty was reinstated here in 1976, nearly three-quarters of the people Harris County courts sent to death row were persons of color—and more than half were Black. Today, nearly 44 percent percent of Harris County residents are Hispanic, 27 percent are white and only 20 percent are Black, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The bulk of the past 21 death sentences, the report found, were imposed between 2004 and 2018. (The report looked only at standing newly imposed death sentences, not at defendants who were resentenced after appeals). “As shown by our review of Harris County’s history and modern practices, racism continues to impact the criminal legal system in general—and the administration of the death penalty in particular—in Harris County. This is unacceptable,” the report states.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 25, 2024

An Austin lawyer pushed progressive reforms on DA Joe Gonzales. Here’s how he responded.

For five years, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales and his top deputy kept up a wide-ranging, private conversation with an Austin-based legal reform group over how to advance a controversial agenda to keep people accused of low-level, nonviolent crimes out of court and out of jail. In text and email exchanges that only recently became public, Gonzales, First Assistant DA Christian Henricksen and Jessica Brand, a Harvard-educated former public defender, explored ways to reduce bail and avoid formal prosecution of people arrested for trespassing, vandalism, car burglaries, marijuana possession and similar offenses. A review of more than 400 pages of personal emails obtained under the state’s public records laws, along with a smaller volume of text messages, shows that Brand sent Gonzales and Henricksen lengthy proposals for overhauling probation, doubling down on drug treatment and anti-violence efforts, and pushing alternatives to traditional policing, prosecution and incarceration.

Brand urged the DA to revamp and reenergize a unit that reviews old cases for wrongful convictions and prosecutorial misconduct. She recruited Gonzales to join other DAs in filing a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the execution of a Killeen man convicted for his role in the 1999 murders of two youth pastors. After Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that outlawed abortions and issued a directive restricting gender-affirming care for transgender youth, Brand helped write public statements for Gonzales opposing the governor's actions. Brand, founder of the Wren Collective, a progressive consulting firm whose stated goal is to "dramatically decrease the legal system’s footprint in this country" and reduce incarceration, also offered the DA advice on dealing with the media, sometimes drafting news releases and talking points and offering to call reporters on his behalf. It's unclear how much Brand's advice influenced Gonzales, a Democrat who ran for office on a reform platform and was already inclined to do much of what she proposed. But the relationship, which was first disclosed by KSAT last month, has become a potential political liability for Gonzales, now 13 months into his second term.

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San Antonio Express-News - February 25, 2024

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton takes aim at San Antonio bar The Lucky Duck over weapon law

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has set his sights on a San Antonio bar he says violated state law by prohibiting police officers from carrying a weapon into the establishment. Paxton this week sued Le Bajec Le LLC, which does business as The Lucky Duck at 810 N. Alamo St., asking a court to impose penalties and issue a ruling that prevents it from continuing to break the law. The River North-area bar “has shown a continued disregard for state law, which is prejudicial to the state’s interest in protecting the public from criminal activity and harm,” the suit says. Lucky Duck principal Michael Bajec denied the allegations.

“Unfortunately, we cannot comment because we have not been served or made aware of this lawsuit, other than to say we have never denied a peace officer due to them carrying gun,” he said Friday in an email. Since at least 2022 — the year Lucky Duck opened — until now, Paxton alleges it has restricted entry to “off duty peace officers” who are authorized to carry a weapon. The first time it happened was July 10, 2022, when San Antonio police officer Joel Zulaica was barred from carrying his weapon into the establishment, the suit alleges. Zulaica went so far as to show bar staff the section of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that says establishments serving the public may not prohibit a peace officer or special investigator from carrying an authorized weapon on the premises. That prompted Paxton’s office to write Bajec “to secure a commitment to comply with the law.”

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San Antonio Express-News - February 25, 2024

Woman suing Texas over abortion ban is moving her embryos out of state in wake of Alabama ruling

An Austin woman who is suing Texas over its abortion ban is moving her frozen embryos out of state, fearing the state could seek to ban in vitro fertilization in the wake of an Alabama ruling. Amanda Zurawski, 36, the lead plaintiff in the suit, said she was denied an abortion after she experienced pre-term heath issues because doctors could hear a faint heartbeat. She developed a life-threatening case of sepsis and it was then that doctors performed an emergency induction abortion. She spent three days in the ICU battling the infection, which caused one of her fallopian tubes to permanently close. Her doctors warned against carrying another pregnancy, so she decided to freeze her embryos and use a surrogate to start a family, she told NBC News.

Now she’s signed the papers to transport the embryos out of Texas, fearing the state could follow the lead of Alabama, where the state Supreme Court recently ruled that embryos are considered people under state law. The ruling holds that anyone who destroys an embryo could be held liable. Moving her two frozen embryos is costing her thousands of dollars in what is already an expensive and unpredictable fertility process, NBC reported. To protect her chances to start a family, she did not say where she is transferring her embryos. “I don’t want them in a state where a similar ruling could very likely take place,” she told NBC.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Report - February 25, 2024

Tarrant Health director addressed misconduct allegations in letter before resignation

Tarrant County Public Health Director Veerinder Taneja’s response to three allegations leveled against him by newly hired county administrator Chandler Merritt are revealed in public documents newly obtained by the Fort Worth Report. The county released a Feb. 2 termination notice Merritt sent to Taneja and Taneja’s written response dated Feb. 3. In the notice, Merritt laid out three issues he wrote “created an irreparable level of distrust in your ability to satisfactorily perform the duties of your position.” Merritt was appointed to the job following the retirement of 35-year administrator G.K. Maenius in September. Democrat Alisa Simmons was the sole vote against his appointment, citing her preference for another candidate.

Maenius’s resignation occurred after significant turnover on the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. County Judge Tim O’Hare and two other new commissioners joined the court last year following the retirement of longtime County Judge Glen Whitley. Both Whitley and Maenius were involved in Taneja’s 2014 hire. Neither responded to requests for comment about the new documents. Merritt’s allegations against Taneja pertained to HIV tracing policy revisions, COVID-19 testing contracts and staff complaints in an internal human resources report. He cited six violations of the civil service rules and placed Taneja on administrative leave pending a final decision. Taneja disputed the allegations and questioned why Merritt immediately jumped to possible termination when Taneja had never been subject to discipline before. “I’m thankful for the collaborative efforts that our community pulled together to address the challenges,” he said. “I’m honored that I got to lead a great team of passionate and dedicated public health professionals. We served our community with integrity, honesty and compassion. I will forever cherish the love, respect and friendship they bestowed upon me. I wish my team and the Tarrant County community the best in health as I look forward to the next chapter in my life.”

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 25, 2024

'Offensive' text message could tip scales in race for Harris County GOP chair

Harris County Republicans will decide March 5 whether to give incumbent party chair Cindy Siegel a second term or instead choose her challenger, businessman Bobby Orr. A text message from Orr shared widely on social media in late January is gathering some backlash. Orr calls the party establishment a “small click of mostly women who this is their life.” Orr goes on to say in the text that they “don’t do s--- other than get together at Magic Circle Republican Women, other women’s clubs and at HCRP gatherings.” Orr added that these party members will “crash” Harris County, then the whole state. “I have been around them,” Orr wrote in the text. “You would never recruit any of them to work with you.”

Some women in the local party are “ticked” by the texts, according to Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor who was first elected party chair in 2020. She likened Orr’s comments to Hillary Clinton’s remark in 2016 that maligned former President Donald Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” “I think he showed an arrogance and, quite frankly, a contempt for all the work of hardworking Republican men and women who are out there from all walks of life who believe in the party,” Siegel said. Orr said, his mission is to win elections. And if his methods offend people, so be it. “I’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelet,” Orr said. “I probably shouldn’t have said what I said, but there’s one thing I can tell you for sure — it probably will not be the last time I say something like that, so just fasten your seat belt.” Orr’s supporters in the party include conservative activist Steve Hotze, former Harris County Republican Party chair Gary Polland and the parent advocacy group Spring Branch Pipeline. But others were offended by the text, such as Rolando Garcia, a Siegel ally who represents Senate District 15 on the State Republican Executive Committee. “What an odious little man. What an embarrassment,” Garcia posted on the social media platform X. Siegel’s campaign has racked up numerous endorsements: the “C” Club, the Kingwood Tea Party and around a dozen current and former elected officials, including state Sens. Paul Bettencourt and Brandon Creighton and Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey.

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Dallas Morning News - February 25, 2024

Historic Inwood Theatre in Dallas is ‘temporarily closed’

The historic Inwood Theatre is “temporarily closed” after its landlord, Inwood Village, posted a lockout notice on the front door. The notice says the theater’s lease was terminated on Feb. 19 because of a default. A notice on the theater’s website and a call to the theater confirm the closure. “Thank you for calling Landmark’s Inwood Theatre. The Inwood Theatre is temporarily closed. Sorry for the inconvenience,” an automated message says. The Inwood opened in 1947, making it one of the oldest movie theaters in Dallas. Its art-deco exterior has remained largely unchanged even as the surrounding neighborhood has grown in the last 77 years. The theater lobby’s underwater-themed mural was painted by Dallas artist Perry Nichols.

The theater underwent extensive renovation in 2005, reviving its murals and recognizable marquee. The renovation brought in new screens, seats and carpeting. In 2008, the theater reimagined its first-floor auditorium as a screening lounge complete with couches, ottomans and loveseats, , according to the theater’s website. The upgrades came after movie chain Landmark Theatres took over the location in 2003, when Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment bought the company. The Inwood changed hands again in 2018 when the Cohen Media Group purchased Landmark. Since then, the company has closed several theaters across the country, including Houston’s historic River Oaks Theatre in 2021. The closures have come at a time of uncertainty for the movie theater industry, which was hit hard by the pandemic. The number of movie screens in the United States has decreased by around 3,000 since 2019, CNBC reported in February 2023.

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National Stories

NBC News - February 25, 2024

Nazis mingle openly at CPAC, spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories and finding allies

Nazis appeared to find a friendly reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year. Throughout the conference, racist extremists, some of whom had secured official CPAC badges, openly mingled with conference attendees and espoused antisemitic conspiracy theories. The presence of these individuals has been a persistent issue at CPAC. In previous years, conference organizers have ejected well-known Nazis and white supremacists such as Nick Fuentes. But this year, racist conspiracy theorists didn’t meet any perceptible resistance at the conference where Donald Trump has been the keynote speaker since 2017. At the Young Republican mixer Friday evening, a group of Nazis who openly identified as national socialists mingled with mainstream conservative personalities, including some from Turning Point USA, and discussed so-called “race science” and antisemitic conspiracy theories.

One member of the group, Greg Conte, who attended the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, said that his group showed up to talk to the media. He said that the group was prepared to be ejected if CPAC organizers were tipped off, but that never happened. Another, Ryan Sanchez, who was previously part of the Nazi “Rise Above Movement,” took photos and videos of himself at the conference with an official badge and touted associations with Fuentes. Other attendees in Sanchez’s company openly used the N-word. For several years, CPAC and its supporters have attempted to temper the most extreme fringes of the conservative movement, and have welcomed the continued debate between Trump and more moderate conservatives. This year, however, some attendees and former attendees have expressed frustration with the conference’s stronger association with Trump and his wing of the party. In one of the most viral moments from this year’s conference, conservative personality Jack Posobiec called for the end of democracy and a more explicitly Christian-focused government. While Posobiec later said his statements were partly satire, many CPAC attendees embraced his and others’ invocations of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

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Washington Post - February 25, 2024

As Trump continues to trounce Haley, she presses on as MAGA antagonist

She came in third in Iowa. She lost by double digits in New Hampshire. In Nevada — where Donald Trump’s name wasn’t on the primary ballot — Nikki Haley trailed “none of these candidates” by more than 30 points. On Saturday, Haley suffered another blow in the lopsided race for the Republican presidential nomination, losing to Trump by about 20 points in her home state of South Carolina. Yet she promised to press on. “In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” Haley said Saturday night. “They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.” As the last Republican candidate standing against Trump, Haley has drawn polarized reactions as she has become a vehicle for the deep discontent that some in the party feel about a Trump rematch with President Biden. More a symbolic reservoir for that sentiment than an obstacle on Trump’s path to the nomination, Haley has positioned herself as the leader of a vocal minority, saying Saturday that her roughly 40 percent showing “is not some tiny group,” but a sign that “huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries” still want a Trump alternative.

Her decision to push forward, at least through Super Tuesday on March 5, has antagonized Trump and his allies and baffled plenty of political observers, who point out that there is little evidence she has a path to victory in a single state, let alone the primary as a whole. Her latest loss in South Carolina — where Haley served as governor for six years — ramps up the pressure on her to get out in the name of party unity, especially as she escalates her criticism of Trump. Yet even as the indignities of the primary season pile up for Haley, some supporters are happy to see her continue as the voice of the old-guard conservative wing of the GOP that Trump has cast aside and done little to court or placate as he moves into general-election mode. “Those of us from the Reagan wing of the party want her to stay in because we want to remind people we are still here,” said Eric Levine, a Haley donor. “We’re not winning without the Reagan wing of the party, and Nikki Haley represents that wing.” Further head-to-head contests between Haley and Trump are likely to underscore how thoroughly the former president has reshaped the party and overpowered its traditionalists. Polls in numerous Super Tuesday states show Trump well ahead, and Trump’s team expects him to clinch the nomination by mid-March.

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Politico - February 25, 2024

Haley isn’t dropping out. But the end may be near.

Even Nikki Haley is hinting her road may be coming to an end. Haley persisted through loss after loss in Iowa and New Hampshire and, now, South Carolina. And at least for the next 10 days, she says she is refusing to back down from a primary fight that looks all but over. But on Saturday, Haley signaled a wind-down could be in sight, committing only to keep running through Super Tuesday. Not only was she defeated in her home state, but her path forward has never seemed less clear. Even if it isn’t the proximate cause of her impending departure from the race, Donald Trump’s humiliation campaign against Haley looms over the primary. His recent taunts that she should “switch parties” and is “essentially a Democrat” threaten to further alienate her from the Republican Party’s base.

In the coming days, Haley will travel across the country at a feverish pace, hitting at least seven states and Washington, D.C., in what could be the final stretch of her campaign. She’ll make two stops each in Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia, while also stumping in Minnesota, Colorado, Utah and Massachusetts, and the campaign is expected to announce events in more states. And Haley is continuing to aggressively raise money, planning to hold at least 10 fundraisers in those 10 days, according to a campaign official granted anonymity to speak freely. But it could all come to an end right after that. On Saturday, Haley suggested that she isn’t necessarily committed to remaining in the race beyond March 5. “We’re going to keep going all the way through Super Tuesday,” Haley told reporters after casting her vote on Kiawah Island, inside a private, gated community. “That’s as far as I’ve thought in terms of going forward.” The list of states where Haley could make a splash between now and Super Tuesday is small. Even if she wins the Michigan primary, Trump will likely get the majority of delegates, which will mostly be awarded at a state convention next weekend. And while there are some Super Tuesday states with histories of nominating moderate Republicans in primaries, polls even there show Trump with a big lead. In Vermont, which has open primaries and where moderate, Trump-opposing Gov. Phil Scott has been the GOP nominee in four straight elections, a poll this week showed Trump leading Haley by 30 points.

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NBC News - February 25, 2024

Welcome to the housing market’s ‘new normal’ — 7% mortgage rates and all

Mortgage rates are high and housing inventory is tight, but some experts see the market’s deep freeze starting to thaw this spring. Homebuying started to pick up during and after the holidays. Existing home sales increased 3.1% from December to January, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, the inventory of unsold existing homes rose 2% from December to January, totaling around 1 million at the end of last month, slightly expanding buyers’ options. “While home sales remain sizably lower than a couple of years ago, January’s monthly gain is the start of more supply and demand,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a news release Thursday.

“This might be the market’s first steps toward a ‘new normal’– a world where inventory remains rather scarce by pre-pandemic standards, but buyers are not exactly swarming the doorway of every open house like in 2021 and early 2022,” Zillow senior economist Jeff Tucker wrote in a blog post last week. “More revived supply should help meet the returning demand, and head off the risk of renewed overheating,” he said. For the last few years, limited housing inventory and low rates have put the housing market on ice. Many homeowners who’d otherwise be eager to sell have hesitated to shake off the so-called golden handcuffs of mortgage rates as low as 2% or 3%. That’s finally starting to change, experts say — even though rates are now much higher, climbing again past 7% in recent weeks. “Markets are just kind of recalibrating for the reality that the Fed is not going to cut interest rates right away,” said Greg McBride, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. For many buyers and sellers alike, it’s beginning to sink in that “we’re not going back to three and four percent mortgage rates” anytime soon, he said. In many cases, lifestyle factors — like empty-nesters looking to downsize or growing families hunting for more space — are pushing people to move, rather than wait around for sweeter deals.

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Associated Press - February 25, 2024

Man guilty of killing transgender woman in hate crime trial over gender identity

A South Carolina man was found guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman in the nation's first federal trial over a hate crime based on gender identity. After deliberating for roughly four hours, jurors convicted Daqua Lameek Ritter of a hate crime for the murder of Dime Doe in 2019. Ritter was also found guilty of using a firearm in connection with the fatal shooting and obstructing justice. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. Ritter faces a maximum of life imprisonment without parole. "This case stands as a testament to our committed effort to fight violence that is targeted against those who may identify as a member of the opposite sex, for their sexual orientation or for any other protected characteristics," Brook Andrews, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina, told reporters after the verdict. While federal officials have previously prosecuted hate crimes based on gender identity, the cases never reached trial. A Mississippi man received a 49-year prison sentence in 2017 as part of a plea deal after he admitted to killing a 17-year-old transgender woman.

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NPR - February 25, 2024

What could Biden's Israel-Gaza stance mean for his campaign? Michigan is an early test

Abbas Alawieh had planned to step away from politics this fall. He's a Democratic strategist who's worked with several progressive members of Congress. Then the Hamas attack on Israel happened that killed 1,200 people and took some 240 hostage, per the Israeli government. Israel's military response in Gaza has since killed nearly 30,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the ministry of health in Gaza. It may feel far away for some Americans, but Alawieh's city, Dearborn, has felt every death in Gaza deeply. It's home to one of the largest Arab American communities in the country. Alawieh started getting calls from cousins, friends and acquaintances in Michigan who'd barely expressed an interest in politics. "Those same people are reaching out to me right now saying, 'This is Biden's fault, what are we going to do to make sure Biden stops this?'" he said.

Just like that, Alawieh was pulled back into politics with an urgency he said he's never felt before. "Okay, so you have a community that is alienated, that Biden is alienating beyond what we can even capture in numbers," he said. So he and other progressive organizers in the Detroit metro area are trying to create those numbers. He's a spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan movement, the self-described "multiracial and multifaith, anti-war campaign" that's encouraging Democrats and Independents to show up to the polls for Tuesday's primary. But they're not getting out the vote for Biden, who Alawieh himself supported in 2020. They're urging voters to check the "uncommitted" box instead, as a way of protesting the Biden administration's handling of the Israel-Hamas war. "What we're saying is, first and foremost, we need a ceasefire, not some temporary thing," said Alawieh. "We're also saying, President Biden, you are losing people and have lost many people here in Michigan, key voters, where you need every vote you can get," he added. "And unless you take a different approach, you will be handing the presidency back to Donald Trump and his white supremacist buddies."

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Wall Street Journal - February 25, 2024

I read all 59 of Warren Buffett’s annual letters. These are the best parts.

Warren Buffett had an audience in mind for his latest letter to shareholders: his sister Bertie. Together with Buffett’s tribute to his late partner, Charlie Munger, the Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B 0.50%increase; green up pointing triangle chairman and chief executive’s references to his sister gave Saturday’s letter a familiar tone that would be unexpected in many corporate communications. But they were in keeping with a style Buffett developed over more than half a century of messages to owners of Berkshire shares. “In visualizing the owners that Berkshire seeks, I am lucky to have the perfect mental model, my sister, Bertie,” he wrote. Buffett went on to say that his sister is smart, sensible and nobody’s fool—but isn’t ready for a CPA exam and doesn’t consider herself an economic expert. “So,” the famed investor wrote, “what would interest Bertie this year?”

“The company has been searching for suitable acquisitions within, and conceivably without, the textile field. Although to date none has been successfully concluded, we continue to have an active interest in such acquisitions.” Dec. 2, 1966 (signed by Berkshire Chairman Malcolm Chace Jr. and President Kenneth Chace) Feb. 26, 1982: “Investors can always buy toads at the going price for toads. If investors instead bankroll princesses who wish to pay double for the right to kiss the toad, those kisses had better pack some real dynamite. We’ve observed many kisses but very few miracles. Nevertheless, many managerial princesses remain serenely confident about the future potency of their kisses—even after their corporate backyards are knee-deep in unresponsive toads.” Feb. 27, 1987: “Occasional outbreaks of those two super-contagious diseases, fear and greed, will forever occur in the investment community. The timing of these epidemics will be unpredictable. And the market aberrations produced by them will be equally unpredictable, both as to duration and degree. Therefore, we never try to anticipate the arrival or departure of either disease. Our goal is more modest: we simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” Feb. 28, 1992: “It’s true, of course, that, in the long run, the scoreboard for investment decisions is market price. But prices will be determined by future earnings. In investing, just as in baseball, to put runs on the scoreboard one must watch the playing field, not the scoreboard.”

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Newsclips - February 23, 2024

Lead Stories

Washington Post - February 23, 2024

AT&T says massive cell outage caused by technical error, not cyberattack

AT&T said Thursday that a nationwide cellphone outage that affected more than 1.7 million customers and disrupted 911 services in several states was caused by an error made while it was expanding its network — not by a cyberattack. Spokesman Jim Greer said AT&T would continue to assess the outage, which began spiking early Thursday and quickly grew to tens of thousands of reports on Downdetector, peaking shortly after 9 a.m. Eastern time and gradually decreasing for the rest of the morning. He said AT&T restored service to all customers by about 3 p.m.

The outage prompted wide concern, particularly over the loss of emergency services — with some 911 centers urging customers to use a landline for any calls, or find a cellphone that uses a different carrier. It also prompted a flood of speculation over the cause, though experts early on suggested a technical mishap was more likely than some of the other suggestions, including a cyberattack or a solar flare. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are looking into the outage. The Federal Communications Commission is also investigating the outage, a spokesperson said.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Texans wait months to receive food stamps amid application backlog: ‘The state has let me down’

After the bills are paid each month, Mary Helen Olivarez has a tough choice to make: spend her remaining $100 on food or medication. So last April, the 71-year-old applied with the state for food assistance. Nearly a year later, she’s still waiting for help. Olivarez is one of many Texans in limbo as the state’s Health and Human Services Commission struggles to process a backlog of more than 225,000 applications for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program once known as food stamps. The federally-funded program helps low-income Texans buy groceries and the state is supposed to process applications within 30 days. Community advocates say the delays are putting strains on local food banks and on residents who don’t know when, or if, they will be approved for benefits.

The lag picked up last year with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Since April, HHSC has been tasked with rechecking the eligibility of more than 6 million Texans who received health care benefits during the pandemic. The state “is taking all possible actions to provide benefits to eligible Texans as quickly as possible,” said HHSC spokeswoman Tiffany Young in a written statement. The agency has brought on more than 2,100 eligibility workers and pulled staff from other areas to focus exclusively on processing SNAP and Medicaid applications. As of Jan. 26, it took an average of 38 days to process a SNAP application once it had been assigned to an eligibility advisor, Young said. The agency has not said how long the assignment process can take, and it said it could not provide details on Olivarez’s case due to confidentiality. Most of the applications waiting to be processed come from people who applied to multiple benefit programs and require review by an eligibility advisor trained in each, Young said. In September, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and 12 other Democrats in Congress urged the USDA to crack down on the state over delays that they said have been a problem since July 2021. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, has had HHSC under a “corrective action plan” since May 2020 for failing to meet federal timeliness standards for processing applications.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston Democrats Shawn Thierry, Harold Dutton fight for re-election after backing anti-LGBTQ bills

Democrat Lauren Ashley Simmons was about to launch into her campaign pitch on a recent Saturday of block walking in southwest Houston when the woman who answered the door interrupted. “We’re definitely getting Thierry out of here, so you don’t even have to give your spiel — we’re down for it,” Westbury resident Nicole Rodriguez, 31, said of Democratic state Rep. Shawn Thierry. She added that Thierry last year “really showed her true colors. And they’re not blue.” Thierry is one of two Houston Democrats facing competitive primaries after she and longtime state Rep. Harold Dutton voted with Republicans last year to ban gender-transition care for transgender minors and prevent transgender college athletes from competing on the teams that match their gender identity. Both also backed a GOP bill aimed at prohibiting books in public school libraries that include sexually explicit material, which critics charged would end up banning LGBTQ literature because it was too vaguely worded.

And Dutton has received flak for helping usher in a state takeover of Houston ISD, a move many fellow Democrats opposed because they worried it would give Republican state leaders too much sway as they work to crack down on race and LGBTQ content in classrooms. Thierry and Dutton’s campaigns have each drawn financial support from the Family Empowerment Coalition PAC, a group that advocates for private school vouchers and has raised money largely from GOP donors, and that contributes mostly to Republican candidates. Thierry, 54, said she hopes voters “keep an open mind” and judge her by the rest of her voting record beyond the LGBTQ votes. “Unfortunately, there are going to be those folks that are going to be single-issue voters,” Thierry said in an interview. “And you just can’t always agree with every single issue and every single person, and so I’ve accepted that.” Competitive primaries are not new for Dutton, who was first elected to his northeast Houston district in 1984. He has scraped by in a pair of tightly decided races in 2020 and 2022, most recently winning by 219 votes out of more than 8,000 cast. In both primaries, Dutton overcame backlash stemming from his effort to oust Houston ISD’s elected school board. That issue is again at the center of his re-election after HISD’s board was replaced last year under legislation authored by the Houston Democrat. Dutton’s main Democratic challenger, former Harris County Department of Education trustee Danny Norris, believes the takeover has made Dutton more vulnerable than ever, in light of what Norris called the “brazen, tyrannical actions” of state-appointed HISD superintendent Mike Miles. Dutton said he pushed for the state takeover because HISD leaders were not doing enough to change the status quo at two high schools in his district: Kashmere, which failed to meet state academic standards for 11 years, and Wheatley, Dutton’s alma mater whose failing grades put HISD on the path to a state takeover.

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Politico - February 23, 2024

Trump says long VP shortlist includes Tim Scott, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy

Former President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that at least half a dozen names are on his vice presidential shortlist — a list ranging from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. During a Fox News town hall event, host Laura Ingraham asked Trump about six possible choices for his running mate: DeSantis, Scott, biotech entrepreneur and former GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Gabbard. “Are they all on your shortlist?” she asked. “They are,” Trump said, before adding: “Honestly all of those people are good. They’re all good, they’re all solid.”

Trump is known to talk off the cuff, and it would be surprising if he were to pick DeSantis. Trump and DeSantis spent a year savaging each other, before DeSantis dropped out of the presidential race following a disappointing second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. DeSantis, however, has since endorsed Trump. Trump has also stopped attacking the governor and has retired the “DeSanctimonious” nickname he had given him. Trump on Tuesday evening singled out Scott, who was in the audience, for the most praise. Scott, who dropped out of the Republican primary last year and later endorsed Trump, has been aggressively campaigning for Trump in his home state ahead of South Carolina’s Feb. 24 primary. “A lot of people are talking about that gentleman right over there,” Trump said, gesturing to Scott. “He’s been such a great advocate. I have to say this in a very positive way, Tim Scott, he has been much better for me than he was for himself. I watched his campaign, and he doesn’t like talking about himself. But boy does he talk about Trump. … I called him and I said, ‘Tim, you’re better for me than you were for yourself.’”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston’s Intuitive Machines makes history as first private company to touch down on the moon

A Houston delegate is once again on the moon. Intuitive Machines’ uncrewed lander made history Thursday as the first privately owned spacecraft to touch down on the lunar surface. It was also the first U.S. vehicle to accomplish this in more than 50 years. The moment was nerve-wracking. A bustling company watch party in Houston fell silent as the landing time passed and mission control waited to see if it could establish communications with the spacecraft. The minutes stretched by until, finally, mission control announced that the lander was sending a faint signal to Earth. Then Intuitive Machines Chief Technology Officer Tim Crain made an announcement: "What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon and we are transmitting."

The room leapt to its feet. Employees decked in Intuitive Machines gear congratulated one another and celebrated with their children dressed as astronauts. The company later confirmed that the lander was upright on the lunar surface and was working to send back its first images. After four years of preparations, the company’s 14-foot-tall Nova-C lander navigated to a spot near the moon’s South Pole. It was the 24th mission to softly land on the moon since 1966. And with it comes a new era of exploration. NASA and its Houston-trained astronauts dominated moonshots of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This time, commercial companies and other countries are sharing more of the action. "To actually have my hands in this, to be a participant in this, it's a wild experience," said Mario Romero, an Intuitive Machines assembly, integration, and test engineer who brought his wife and 8-week-old son to the company's watch party. Six government and commercial-owned spacecraft from Japan, Russia, India and the U.S. have attempted to reach the moon in the past year. Three of the missions — led by India, Japan and Intuitive Machines — made soft landings, with their spacecraft at least intact enough to transmit a signal home. The Nova-C vehicle will have about seven days of sunlight to generate power for its scientific and commercial payloads, which were provided by NASA, the International Lunar Observatory Association, Lonestar Data Holdings and others.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Audrii Cunningham died of 'homicidal violence,' blunt head trauma, medical examiner rules

An 11-year-old girl whose body was found in the Trinity River on Tuesday died of homicidal violence, according to Harris County medical examiner records. Audrii Cunningham, who vanished on her way to school in Polk County, also suffered blunt head trauma, according to an Institute of Forensic Sciences autopsy performed this week. Her body was transferred to Harris County. A neighbor and family friend, Don Steven McDougal, 42, has been charged with capital murder in her death. He had been jailed Friday on an unrelated charge. The girl was reported missing Thursday. Days after an AMBER Alert was issued, searchers lowered the water level from the reservoir into the Trinity River and found her body.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Exxon warns Baytown, other hydrogen projects unlikely under federal draft rules

A year after Exxon Mobil announced it would be part of a team planning to build the largest clean hydrogen facility in the world, executives are warning the project at its Baytown refining and petrochemical complex along the Houston Ship Channel might no longer happen. At issue are draft rules issued by the Treasury Department late last year, which include no incentive to produce clean hydrogen fuel using natural gas with reduced methane emissions. That would limit Baytown and other proposed blue hydrogen projects, which use electricity from natural gas plants and store carbon emissions underground, to the lowest tier of hydrogen tax credit, making them less economic, said Mark Klewpatinond, global business manager for hydrogen at Exxon Mobil. "If were not able to differentiate natural gas production, it's highly unlikely Baytown would proceed," he said. "It needs to compete for capital against other projects we have."

Exxon is part of the HyVelocity Hub, a coalition of energy companies and nonprofits seeking to develop a clean hydrogen hub in Houston through $1.2 billion in funding from the Department of Energy. Representatives of HyVelocity declined to comment. The warning from Exxon and other hydrogen developers comes as cities such as Houston and Los Angeles move to develop large-scale clean hydrogen projects despite questions about whether the tax credit included in 2022's Inflation Reduction Act will be enough to get the nascent industry off the ground. Following failed efforts by former President George W. Bush and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Biden administration is moving to shift the industrial sector, along with heavy duty transportation like trucks and cargo ships, to clean hydrogen fuel in line with their goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. But producing hydrogen fuel is hugely energy intensive, and the Biden administration is seeking to ensure it doesn't mistakenly incentivize the construction of a raft of hydrogen facilities with high greenhouse gas footprints.

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Community News - February 23, 2024

Randy Keck: Don’t let character assassination affect your vote

Politics is full of hyperbole. Donald Trump warned that if Joe Biden was elected. we wouldn’t have a country any more. Biden warns that democracy is at stake if Trump is re-elected. Last time I checked, we still have a country and we still have a democracy. “True believers” on either side probably earnestly believe the hype, but I think voters in general take it with a grain of salt. However, a line is crossed when political “hype” becomes dangerous disinformation, which is happening at an alarming rate locally. At this newspaper, we strive on our news pages to be as objective as possible. On our staff we have people with a variety of political opinions, but our policy is that those opinions are “checked at the door’ when writing news items. At the same time, occasionally a situation occurs that is so egregious that something must be said. In those instances, there can be no objectivity, because giving “both sides” is not fair to the truth of the situation. Such a case is the race for state representative in House District 60 between Dr. Glenn Rogers and Michael Olcott.

People who have voted in Republican primaries (like me and the vast majority of Parker County voters) are getting their mailboxes and social media flooded with hit pieces attacking Rogers. I have received a couple of pieces attacking Olcott, but nothing like the asymmetrical bombing that is happening against Rogers. In my mailbox it started with a photo of Rogers and the obligatory addition of Nancy Pelosi, as if there was any crossover of political thought between the two, with hundred-dollar bills floating in the background, proclaiming with the big word “FACT”that “Glenn Rogers voted with every Democrat to increase his pension this session.” Except it is not a fact. It’s a lie. First and foremost, Rogers does not even qualify to receive a state pension at this point in his career as a state representative. The back side of the mailer had a big photo of Rogers on a “Wanted” poster with the word “CRIME” in large capital letters. The mailer originated from “Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.” Here’s a shocker for you. Their current campaign finance report shows no contributors, and a total of $60 in contributions, leading to the question: “who are these people?” The same organization sent out at least two additional mailers accusing Rogers of a “reckless spending spree” and again doubling down on the pension lie. I would like to talk to someone from that organization for consultation on financial efficiency. It’s amazing what they have been able to do on just $60!

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Texas Legislative Black Caucus plans to revisit CROWN Act following Barbers Hill ISD ruling

Some Texas lawmakers have vowed to revisit legislation protecting hairstyles associated with race after a judge’s ruling that Barbers Hill ISD’s policy prohibiting male students from having long hair didn’t violate the CROWN Act. Judge Chap B. Cain III said in his ruling Thursday afternoon at the Chambers County courthouse that the district's decision to punish 18-year-old student Darryl George for refusing to cut his locs wasn't illegal in accordance with the new law. The decision follows a months-long battle between the district and supporters of George over the dress code policy. The Texas Legislature passed The CROWN Act, an acronym for Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, in May 2023. The law went into effect Sept. 1, prohibiting school and employment dress codes or grooming policies from discriminating against hair texture or protective hairstyles associated with race.

George’s family contends his ongoing disciplinary actions regarding his hair violate the law. But at Thursday’s hearing, Judge Cain confirmed it did not. George wears his hair in dreadlocks pinned up in a barrel roll. The district prohibits male students from having hair "below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes" and cannot have hair "below the top of a T-shirt collar or be gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes when let down," according to the student handbook. George, a junior, has been suspended from Barbers Hill High School in Mount Belvieu since Aug. 31. According to district officials, the suspensions include infractions for conduct and failure to comply to the district's dress and grooming policies. And now, George will return to learning at an alternative school rather than learning in a classroom with his peers based on Cain's ruling. He'll likely finish out the remainder of his junior year in the facility. George’s family filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency and a federal civil rights lawsuit against Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. They allege neither Abbott nor Paxton enforced the CROWN Act based on the district's continued punishment of George. A date for the federal hearing, which will take place in Galveston, has not been set. In the meantime, George’s attorney Allie Booker, has stated she plans to file an appeal to Cain's ruling.

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Crypto News - February 23, 2024

Texas Bitcoin mining firm sues SEC for overreach on crypto

A Texas crypto firm and industry group sued the SEC, disputing its authority over exchange-traded crypto, aiming to classify them as non-securities. In a legal maneuver against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a Texas-based crypto mining firm called Lejilex and the Crypto Freedom Alliance of Texas (CFAT) initiated legal action, Reuters reports, citing the lawsuit. Both are challenging the SEC’s purported authority in the crypto domain, contending that the regulatory body lacks a definitive legal mandate. Lejilex aims to establish Legit.Exchange, a crypto trading platform, intending to list tokens, including those previously designated by the watchdog as securities, in lawsuits against Coinbase and Binance. Lejilex co-founder Mike Wawszczak expressed regret at resorting to legal action, saying the firm wanted to launch its business “instead of filing a lawsuit, but here we are.” Both Lejilex and CFAT challenge the SEC’s classification of cryptocurrencies as investment contracts, saying that such assets lack the ongoing commitments typically associated with securities.

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Beaumont Enterprise - February 23, 2024

Locally elected officials discuss LNG pause in Southeast Texas

President Joe Biden's pause on pending liquefied natural gas exports is hurting Southeast Texas -- that was the message given by a locally-elected politicians on the city, state and national level while gathered on Port Arthur soil on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas; Texas Speaker Dade Phelan; and Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie on Wednesday met with Port Arthur LNG, Golden Pass LNG, Cheniere LNG and other stakeholders before publicly discussing the pause during a news conference. The officials didn't give many details regarding the meeting, which was closed to media, but said the group talked about the "positive impacts of LNG in Port Arthur."

"On Jan. 26, President Biden inexplicably announced an indefinite ban on pending LNG export projects -- a ban that could stretch past the November election and have a real impact that could cause hurt here in Port Arthur, Texas," Weber said. "That's why we're here today ... to highlight what this ban means for Southeast Texas." Biden previously said the pause will give time for the federal government to look at the impacts of LNG on energy costs, America's energy security and the environment. But Weber said Southeast Texas already knows that exporting LNG creates positive economic prosperity for local economies, and the Biden administration's pause prevents that. Neither Weber nor Phelan gave a straight answer on how much the pause could cost the area. Weber said the impact will depend on how long the pause extends, what stage of construction LNG plants were in and the cost of the individual plant.

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KBTX - February 23, 2024

Texas Congress members to hold briefing with USPS officials to address ongoing mail delays

District 17 Congressman Pete Sessions along with Congressmen Al Green and Troy Nehls, are set to tour a Houston USPS processing center Thursday to learn more about delivery delays impacting Texas. The Missouri City, TX facility, identified as the source of ongoing issues, has raised concerns among residents and businesses across the Brazos Valley and Central Texas for months. In early February KBTX spoke with a Leon County resident who waited over 30 days for delivery of heart medication that was shown on hold at the postal processing center in Missouri City. Earlier this month Congressman Michael McCaul from the Brazos Valley and Senator John Cornyn from Texas sent a letter to the Postmaster General expressing their concerns. The lawmakers say they have received multiple reports from constituents who have experienced delays.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

New Mavericks majority owner Miriam Adelson attends first game since purchase of franchise

The new-look Mavericks ownership group was on hand for Dallas’ star-studded win over Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night. Miriam Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and fifth-richest woman in the world whose purchase of the Dallas Mavericks was approved by the NBA in December, was in attendance for her first Mavericks game since formally taking control of the franchise, joined by son-in-law and Mavericks governor Patrick Dumont. The 78-year-old Adelson, who is still the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., sat courtside next to Dumont clad in a coat decorated with blue, white and silver stars. A couple of seats down from them was Cowboys star pass-rusher Micah Parsons, who was pictured chatting with Adelson and Dumont during the game. Former Mavericks majority owner Mark Cuban, still with his 27% share of the franchise, was in attendance as well, seated in his typical baseline spot.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

Feds eye Texas as cases of syphilis surge in newborns

Syphilis is on the rise in Texas and nationally, causing serious medical complications, especially for newborn babies who contract the disease during pregnancy. Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine visited Parkland Hospital, Dallas County’s public hospital, Thursday to discuss the rise of syphilis and what can be done to prevent its spread. Though often thought to be a disease of the past, syphilis rates have grown consistently in the last decade. Between 2018 and 2022, syphilis cases jumped nearly 80% nationwide, while cases of congenital syphilis — or babies born with syphilis — nearly tripled, climbing 183%, according to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Texas saw 15.5 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people in 2022, putting it below the national average of 17.7.

For congenital syphilis, Texas ranked fourth highest among reporting states, with nearly 247 cases per 100,000 live births, more than double the national average. But a decade earlier, Texas had 6.6 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people and 19.4 cases of congenital syphilis per live births, according to the CDC.“This is a treatable bacterial illness. Almost all cases of congenital syphilis, again, which is devastating, are preventable,” Levine said. “We need, from a public health point of view both locally, statewide and federally, to be addressing this issue.”The rise of syphilis is likely due to a confluence of factors, including increased barriers to health care, which disproportionately impact Black and Brown communities. The disease is also tricky to identify. Early symptoms include a painless sore or rash that goes away whether or not someone receives treatment. Dr. Emily Adhikari, director of perinatal infectious diseases for Parkland Health, said she rarely saw maternal or congenital syphilis cases while she was training in the early 2010s. “It has not been rare for any of the trainees that I now train,” Adhikari said. “With the public awareness of syphilis as being a problem, I think we’re playing catch-up.”

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

Sen. Cornyn promotes his bill to fight online child exploitation in Dallas

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday visited Dallas to discuss his proposed legislation that would aid in preventing online child abuse. The Protect Safe Childhood Act provides about $60 million a year to modernize technology used for online abuse investigations, improve coordination of law enforcement across jurisdictions and educate the public. The bill would reauthorize an existing program, started in 2006, through 2028. The Protect Safe Childhood Act was passed by the Senate in October and is awaiting consideration in the House. Cornyn said he is optimistic the bill will get over the finish line because of the issue’s nonpartisan nature. Cornyn was joined Thursday by local and national advocates, local law enforcement and survivors of child abuse. Speakers discussed their roles in combating these crimes and how the legislation would be beneficial.

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Dallas Morning News - February 23, 2024

Sharon Grigsby: Former Dallas Mayor Rawlings talks about city manager Broadnax, new search for ‘unicorn’

The wonky title alone — Dallas city manager — makes your eyes glaze over. But no one is more important to the quality of our day-to-day lives. As Dallas’ top boss, this person has everything to do with how safe you are, how lousy your streets are and what the chances are that you can afford to live here. T.C. Broadnax is leaving that job and taking his talents elsewhere. He was far from perfect as city manager, but his performance doesn’t seem to be at the root of his departure. I’ve sometimes disagreed with Broadnax’s priorities. I’ve slammed frustrated words onto my keyboard when he didn’t fix problems as quickly as I felt he should. At times, I’ve even questioned whether the city would be better off without him. But as one of the diminishing few who have paid attention to Dallas City Hall for more than a hot minute, I always held out hope the old Broadnax would re-emerge. I’m talking about the guy who worked so effectively alongside former Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Rawlings and the City Council in late 2016 broke Dallas’ longstanding tradition of promoting a city manager from within when they named Broadnax the new boss. He came to Dallas after holding the same job in Tacoma, Wash., and with extensive experience in San Antonio. Much has been made of Broadnax’s $423,246 salary. For comparison, his predecessor, A.C. Gonzalez, was collecting about $400,000 annually when he resigned under pressure in May 2016. Rawlings, in announcing Broadnax’s hire Dec. 9, 2016, described him as a “very special and successful man” in all his previous jobs. “He’s all business, and focused on the right things,” Rawlings said that day. So how does Rawlings, who left office in June 2019, assess things today? I called him Thursday to get his perspective on all that’s gone wrong since that optimistic start to the city manager’s tenure. The farthest Rawlings would go in making a diagnosis was this: “T.C. is the same person, but we have a different council and a different mayor. And things change with that.” Rawlings then laid out how he and Broadnax worked during their two years together. They met twice every week — a regular one-on-one session and, before every council meeting, an hour-long huddle to walk through the entire agenda.

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Fort Worth Report - February 23, 2024

Voters to test grassroots vs. establishment dynamic in Republican race for Granger’s seat

Kay Granger’s plans to leave Congress created an open race and rare moment for Texas’ 12th Congressional District, one that five Republicans hope to seize. Since 1919, only five people have represented the district. State Rep. Craig Goldman is among those running in the GOP primary and has the money, name recognition and backing of key Tarrant County officials in his bid. His opponents say that with the Fort Worth establishment throwing its support behind him, the only way to win the district is through grassroots support. Voters will put this dynamic to the test as they decide who among five Republican contenders should carry their party’s banner in the Nov. 5 election.

The Republican candidates are: Army veteran and engineer Clint Dorris, Electrical engineer Shellie Gardner, State Rep. Craig Goldman, Retiree Anne Henley, and Former banker John O’Shea. The winner of the GOP primary will go on to face either Trey Hunt or Sebastian Gehrig as the Democratic nominee for the seat. A runoff is possible for the Republicans, said Thomas Marshall, a retired political science professor. He sees the race coming down to one person. “I think it’s still a question of whether Mr. Goldman can get to 50%, and I don’t think it’s a certainty,” Marshall said. A candidate who receives more than 50% of the vote outright wins the primary, avoiding a runoff election. If no one hits that threshold, the top two vote-getters face off in another election to determine who will carry their party’s mantle in the general election. Goldman and his team have been canvassing across the 12th Congressional District, which covers the western half of Tarrant County and most of Parker County. He is using the $1 million in his campaign’s coffers to tell Republican primary voters he is the right candidate. “We’re out knocking on doors now and getting our message out that I have a proven conservative voting record and, no offense to my other opponents, they don’t,” Goldman told the Fort Worth Report.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Chris Tomlinson: Texas lawmakers target large 'climate-friendly' banks — and avoiding boycotts won't stop them

Texas lawmakers have never hesitated to use the power of the state to punish those with whom they disagree. Do you or your company refuse to do business with Israel? Then you cannot do business with the state of Texas. Do you boycott gunmakers? Don’t even think about applying for a state contract. The newest boycott legislation, though, goes much further. If a financial services firm refuses to do business with coal, oil or natural gas businesses or offers products that allow investors to avoid the fossil fuel industry, then no government authority in Texas can contract its services. If a company invests in those corporations — but demands they tackle climate change — the punishment is the same.

Texas’ law could cost taxpayers $22.5 billion in higher interest rates and fees over the next 30 years, a study by an economist at the Wharton School calculated. This column is part two of a three-part series on the conservative war against considering environmental, social and governance factors, known as ESG, when investing. For years, Big Oil executives have complained about a growing movement to boycott and divest from fossil fuel companies. Proponents of ESG investing have produced research showing how public companies contributing to climate change, income inequality and corruption pay less in total shareholder returns than socially responsible companies. Doing good and doing well are connected, they argue. Oil and gas corporations call ESG investing discrimination, and they’ve asked state lawmakers across the country to pass anti-boycott laws like Senate Bill 13, which became Texas law on Sept. 1, 2021. Texas is arguably the first state to pass anti-ESG legislation, which first emerged from conservative think tanks after large companies began advertising themselves as “climate-friendly” in the early 2000s. Conservative groups, such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, lobbied Republican lawmakers to pass the bill, which Democrats mostly opposed.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston supports 17 affordable housing proposals as developers vie for competitive tax deals

Houston City Council unanimously approved support for 17 new affordable housing proposals, paving the way for developers to vie for a share in this year’s highly competitive low-income housing tax credit program. After a week-long delay, City Council on Wednesday voted to approve a resolution of support for 17 applications for this year’s 9% tax credit program with no discussion. Federally funded and administered by the state, the program offsets a portion of developers’ federal tax liability in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable rental units.

In the Houston area, typically only six to eight developments are chosen each year to receive the tax breaks, according to city officials. While officials from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs have the final say on who gets funded, a proposal has little chance of approval without local government backing. The city initially selected 19 of the 34 submissions for support, using a competitive scoring system that evaluates housing needs, income levels and the availability of high-performing schools and transit options. However, following City Council’s decision to delay last Wednesday’s vote, the developers of two Kingwood projects chose to withdraw their applications.

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Houston Chronicle - February 23, 2024

Houston’s push to buy thousands of electric cars by 2030 is far behind schedule, city data shows

Houston is unlikely to meet its climate action goal of phasing out gas-powered vehicles, with just 49 electric and hybrid cars added to its 13,000-vehicle fleet over the past two years, according to Fleet Management Director Gary Glasscock. In 2020, former Mayor Sylvester Turner unveiled a series of long-range goals to curb greenhouse gas emissions and combat the adverse effects of climate change. The plan included a bold target for Houston to electrify all non-emergency, light-duty city vehicles within a decade.

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National Stories

Bloomberg - February 23, 2024

UnitedHealth blamed ‘nation-state’ threat in hack that disrupted pharmacy orders

A cyberattack against a division of UnitedHealth Group Inc. has caused a nationwide outage of a computer network that’s used to transmit data between health-care providers and insurance companies, rendering some pharmacies unable to process prescriptions, according to the company and reports from affected organizations. UnitedHealth found a “suspected nation-state associated cyber security threat actor” had access to subsidiary Change Healthcare’s systems on Feb. 21, prompting the company to disconnect them from other parties, the company said in a filing Thursday. UnitedHealth, the country’s largest health insurer, said in a statement Thursday that the cyberattack and related “network interruption” only impacted Change Healthcare and that all its other systems are operational. Change Healthcare is a key intermediary in the $1.5 trillion US health insurance market.

UnitedHealth is working with law enforcement and security experts but can’t say when the service will be restored, according to the filing. The company hasn’t determined that the attack is likely to affect its financial results, it said. “Change Healthcare is experiencing a cybersecurity issue, and our experts are working to address the matter,” the Minnetonka, Minnesota-based company said earlier in a statement on its website. “Once we became aware of the outside threat, in the interest of protecting our partners and patients, we took immediate action to disconnect our systems to prevent further impact.” The incident is the latest in a series of attacks where hackers have compromised providers of back-end IT software and services — companies that are often little-known outside of their industries yet play critical roles in the normal functioning of everything from financial markets to government services — and triggered cascading disruptions across their customer bases.

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Politico - February 23, 2024

Biden impeachment effort on the brink of collapse

The House GOP’s push to impeach Joe Biden appears close to stalling out for good. First, the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas scraped through on the narrowest of margins — and took two tries, raising serious doubts about Republicans’ appetite for an even bigger impeachment fight. Then, a high-profile informant making bribery allegations against the Biden family was not only indicted, but has now linked some of his information to Russian intelligence. Even before those recent developments, the numbers were lining up against House Republicans, who can only afford to lose two votes on the floor after Democrats won a special election in New York. Falling short on a Biden impeachment would be yet another embarrassing bullet point for a conference that struggles to square the ambitious demands of its right flank with the reality of a thin majority.

“I happen to know there are like 20 Republicans who are not in favor of a Biden impeachment. Mainly because it smells bad what he did, it looks bad, but when you ask them what crime is committed — they can’t tell you,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a vulnerable purple-district incumbent who’d raised doubts about impeaching Mayorkas but eventually backed that effort. Bacon estimated that as many as 30 House GOP lawmakers may be currently opposed to impeaching the president because they haven’t seen evidence of any crime. Private briefings to update members on the investigation haven’t swayed those holdouts, and Republicans know it only gets politically riskier to try to impeach Biden as they head deeper into an election year — possibly giving the president a polling boost even if they succeed. Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), in a TV interview after the party lost a special election in New York last week, said that the “math keeps getting worse” for impeaching Biden. Conservatives, however, are still hoping to eke out new momentum from next week’s scheduled deposition of Hunter Biden and a March hearing with Special Counsel Robert Hur, who investigated Joe Biden’s mishandling of classified documents.

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Bloomberg - February 23, 2024

Why are there suddenly so many car washes?

The town of Streetsboro, Ohio, just off the state’s famous turnpike, owes a not insignificant part of its identity to automobiles and the industries that support them. About 6.5 million cars drive by every year, and the local retail mix is dominated by motels, gas stations and various drive-through businesses. But in recent years, Mayor Glenn Broska has heard from a lot of constituents angry about one particular element of the autocentric landscape: car washes. There are four full-service car washes in town, with a fifth on the way; three are bunched up on a mile-and-a-half stretch of Route 14. Social media complaints about car wash overkill spurred town leaders to take action. Early last year, Streetsboro ended up enacting a moratorium on new car wash businesses. “A car wash does not provide a lot of jobs for the community, and they take up a lot of space,” Broska said. “If you want to invest your dollars into a car wash, then God bless you. But at the same time, I’m responsible for 17,500 people and have to be cognizant of their wishes.”

Other such “saturation bans” have emerged in nearby northeast Ohio cities such as Stow and Parma, Cleveland Scene reports. In Buffalo, New York, a surge of suburban car wash openings in 2023 triggered opposition from nearby residents and community members — including the owners of an existing car wash nearby. New Jersey, Louisiana and Alaska are also seeing their own car wash booms as national chains like Mister Car Wash and Zips Car Wash expand. Last fall, the planning commission in Lebanon, Tennessee, rejected a permit to build a new Mister Car Wash location, arguing that the largely automated facility wasn’t the best use for a prominent Main Street site. In response, the company is suing. In a country with roughly 280 million private cars and trucks, can there be such a thing as too many car washes? A growing number of city leaders seem to think so. Unlike stores, restaurants or other businesses, most self-service car washes don’t pay sales taxes to their host communities. And they don’t bring much else to the table in terms of local benefits, critics argue; like drive-through-only fast-food outlets (which have also been the target of local bans), the latest generation of automated facilities provide few jobs even as they pump out noise, traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. But where neighbors might see a too-crowded market, investors see the beginning of a boom. From the Snow Belt to the Sunbelt, companies are scrambling to add locations and grab a piece of a $14 billion-plus industry.

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Politico - February 23, 2024

‘She abandoned us’: Haley’s South Carolina problem isn’t just Trump

Nikki Haley is running into a wall of hard feelings among conservatives in her home state, who feel that she ditched them for national politics years ago. Since leaving the governor’s office, Haley has largely ignored the state’s grassroots activists, according to interviews with more than a dozen GOP operatives across South Carolina. One striking illustration came in December, when a junior-level staffer on Haley’s presidential campaign sent the South Carolina GOP an email asking how to find out about county party events so that Haley could begin sending surrogates to them. It was a surprisingly basic question coming from the campaign of the state’s two-term former governor. And to state GOP officials who had been communicating for months with her rivals’ campaigns, it was off-putting that it came so late in the election cycle — and from someone so unfamiliar with the state party.

It was also reflective of a significant problem Haley has in South Carolina — one that has more to do with her than with the front-runner, Donald Trump. For years after she left the governor’s office, Haley failed to nurture her own base of support with the party faithful. “We didn’t abandon her,” said Allen Olson, formerly the head of the Columbia Tea Party, who was supportive of Haley as she entered the governor’s office. “She abandoned us.” As Haley campaigns in her home state ahead of Saturday’s primary, she is encountering an electorate that is not only enamored with Trump but that she has done little to cultivate. More than a decade after she last won over conservative voters here, Haley had become a stranger at state and local party events, avoiding Silver Elephant Dinners, party conventions and grassroots gatherings as she embarked on national speaking circuits and book tours, stumped for Republican candidates around the country, appeared on national TV and flirted with the question of whether she would run for president. And when she did enter the race, her presidential campaign made few attempts until late in the contest to work with state party activists or show up at their regular events. The email from the Haley staffer, a copy of which POLITICO obtained, never received a response from the state party. There was a time when that would have been unthinkable — back when Haley, then a star of the tea party movement, rode a wave of far-right, anti-establishment fervor to win a crowded Republican primary here in 2010.

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Wall Street Journal - February 23, 2024

The hedge funds that changed the game

Hedge-fund titans Steve Cohen, Izzy Englander and Ken Griffin are killing it. Their imitators are having trouble keeping up. The big three’s advantage comes from having pioneered what has become the hedge-fund industry’s hottest strategy over the past few years: Known as multimanager firms, they divvy up money across as many as hundreds of specialized investment teams with the aim of producing steadier returns that are uncorrelated to broader markets. Their method turns on its head the original idea of a hedge fund as the strategic vision of just one manager.

Cohen’s Point72, Englander’s Millennium Management and Griffin’s Citadel notched returns of around 10% or more last year. That is not nearly the 26% return, including dividends, of the S&P 500 last year, but hedge funds typically don’t mark their success against the overall market. They aim to make money in any type of market environment. A broad hedge-fund index returned 7.5% last year, according to research firm HFR. The top three’s competition, meanwhile, struggled to beat the return any investor can get by stashing cash at the bank and earning interest. Balyasny Asset Management finished up 2.7% in its flagship fund. Schonfeld Strategic Advisors gained about 3% in its main fund. Walleye Capital, founded in Minnesota, returned about 4%. London-based LMR Partners generated returns of 2.9% in its main fund. Huge sums of money have flowed into multimanager firms in the past few years, defying what has otherwise been a period of tepid asset growth in the hedge-fund industry. Assets at multimanager funds ballooned from $185 billion at the end of 2019 to $350 billion at the end of last year, according to Barclays. Big institutional investors like pensions and endowments find them attractive because they operate more like an institution than a trading shop.

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CNN - February 23, 2024

Judge rejects Trump’s request to delay finalizing the $355 million civil fraud order

The judge overseeing the $355 million civil fraud case has denied Donald Trump’s request to delay the judgment for a month. Judge Arthur Engoron told lawyers for Trump and the New York attorney general of his intentions in an email sent Thursday. Once the judgment is officially entered, it will start the 30-day clock for Trump to file an appeal. During that period, Trump will need to put up cash or post bond to cover the $355 million and roughly $100 million in interest he was ordered to pay the state. The judgment was pending but not uploaded on the court website as of late Thursday.

In the email, Engoron rejected Trump’s request for an additional 30 days, writing, “You have failed to explain, much less justify, any basis for a stay.” The judge said he would sign off on the New York attorney general’s office proposed judgment, saying Trump’s attorney didn’t tell him what was incorrect in the state’s papers or how his proposal would be different. “The proposed judgment accurately reflects the spirit and letter of the February 16 Decision and Order,” the judge wrote. The judge found Trump and his two adult sons liable for fraud. In addition to the payment, the judge banned Trump from serving as an officer of a New York business for three years and instituted a two-year ban for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. The brothers were ordered to each pay $4 million. The judge also ordered an independent monitor, who has been in place since 2022, to continue in that role for at least three years. The judge directed the monitor to recommend a person to serve as an independent compliance director for the Trump Organization.

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