July 7, 2022

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 6, 2022

Whole Woman’s Health closing Texas clinics after Roe ruling

Whole Woman’s Health is shuttering its four clinics in Texas, including two in North Texas, and working to move to New Mexico to offer abortion services. The abortion provider has in clinics Fort Worth, McKinney, Austin and McAllen, but after Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, abortion services are mostly unavailable in the state. Whole Woman’s Health has launched a GoFundMe to raise money to move to New Mexico, where abortion laws are less restrictive, according to a news release. There, it will provide first and second trimester abortions. “We’re not closing because we want to, we’re closing because we’re forced to,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, told the Star-Telegram. The clinics have already stopped providing abortions in Texas.

The abortion provider doesn’t have the financial reserves to open a New Mexico facility without community support to help vacate its clinics, move equipment, buy and renovate a new building, and relocate and hire staff, Hagstrom Miller said in a Friday statement. Hagstrom Miller said Whole Woman’s Health’s Texas clinics continue to see patients for follow up visits and are taking care of things like medical records, “staff wind down,” and helping people find their way to other states where they can get abortions, Hagstrom Miller said. She expected buildings to be put up for sale in the next month or two. “Our care model has been dismantled by the overturning of Roe,” Hagstrom Miller said. “We are abortion providers and we are banned from providing that service, and so we are forced to migrate to other communities where abortion is affirmed as essential health care, which unfortunately, Texas has not done.” Texas has a “trigger” law banning most abortions in the state, with an exception for medical emergencies, following court’s overturning Roe on June 24. The law goes into effect 30 days after a judgment is issued, so it’s unclear exactly when the law will go into effect.

Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2022

Report details 3 missed opportunities to slow, stop Uvalde gunman outside school

A report released Wednesday details three missed opportunities to slow — or even stop — the Uvalde gunman before he entered Robb Elementary School, where he ultimately killed 19 students and two teachers in Texas’ deadliest school shooting. The 26-page report by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University, commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety to assess the response by law-enforcement authorities, contains the latest revelations in the efforts to unfold what happened May 24. Law enforcement has been widely criticized for the response in Uvalde. Eighty minutes elapsed between the first call to 911 and police confronting the shooter, who fired at least 142 rounds, according to a timeline from Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw. The report was based on an hour-long incident briefing held for select ALERRT staff on June 1 and was led by an investigating officer with knowledge of the event, ALERRT said. Briefing materials included surveillance footage from the school, Google Maps, a brief cell phone video and a questions and answers period.

According to the report, the first in a long series of mistakes started outside the school. ALERRT said while a teacher closed an exterior door when the lockdown was announced, she did not check to see whether the door was locked. She also did not have the “the proper key or tool to engage the locking mechanism on the door.” “Because it was not locked, the attacker was able to immediately access the building,” the report says. However, even if the door was successfully locked, ALERRT noted it was a steel frame with a large glass inlay — which was not made of ballistic glass, meaning the suspect could have shot through it and opened the door regardless. Second, the report says one of the first responding officers drove through the parking lot on the west side of the building “at a high rate of speed.” The gunman was in the parking lot as the officer drove by, but because he was going too fast, he missed the gunman entirely. “If the officer had driven more slowly or had parked his car at the edge of the school property and approached on foot, he might have seen the suspect and been able to engage him before the suspect entered the building,” the report says.

KSAT - July 6, 2022

Texas House committee files notice of deposition for Uvalde County sheriff to testify in school shooting investigation

After refusing to testify in the Robb Elementary School shooting investigation so far, Texas House officials are now calling Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco to the stand. State Rep. Dustin Borrows, chairman of the committee, released a statement Wednesday saying they’ve been “forced to send a notice of deposition” to Nolasco and hopes he’ll join the 19 other law enforcement members in giving their testimonies.

Per the notice, if Nolasco complies, he is scheduled to testify the afternoon of July 11. It’s unclear what happens if Nolasco doesn’t appear to testify. On Wednesday, a report was released by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center that shared new details about the May 24 shooting that left 21 dead, including several missed opportunities for law enforcement to “engage or stop the gunman” before he went into the school, the Texas Tribune said. The most significant new detail brought to light in the report was the lack of response from an officer to shoot the gunman.

KSAT - July 6, 2022

Uvalde mayor suspects Texas DPS is covering up details of Uvalde shooting

Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said he suspects Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw is “covering up” details of the Robb Elementary School massacre. McLaughlin spoke with CNN Tuesday and said he suspects McCraw is covering up for his agency. “It’s always hard when you tell a lie that you have to keep telling a lie. I’m not saying he’s lying. Maybe he was misled with information,” McLaughlin said. McCraw has placed blame for the bungled handling of the active shooter scenario on May 24 squarely on Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo. He has maintained that Arredondo is responsible in the weeks since, calling the response to the shooting an “abject failure” during a special Texas Senate committee hearing on June 21.

“You know, every agency in that hallway is gonna have to share the blame,” McLaughlin said. “And like I said again, I’ll go back to when have you ever seen a federal or state law enforcement officer take their cues from local law enforcement?” McLaughlin said McCraw is going to have to be held accountable. “Your story can’t change on something this horrific three times, four times in three days and that’s what it’s done,” he said. “Let’s be candid. “I mean when I got to that scene there were 30 to 40 DPS officers already on scene. In the various videos you see from outside, you see DPS officers run around with flak jackets on and ballistic helmets on and different things,” McLaughlin said. “That’s video that’s been shown from the outside. But yet we want to talk about no presence on the DPS there in the hallway. I know at one time there were 14 of them in the hallway. Now if they stayed there or not, I can’t tell you because I hadn’t seen the video.” Multiple reports have detailed the delayed police response, indicating that responding officers from various agencies waited in the hallway outside the classrooms where the massacre occurred for 77 minutes before engaging with the 18-year-old shooter who killed 19 students and two teachers.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2022

The Dallas mayor wants to spend more on public safety. Here are his ideas

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is vowing to fight an uptick in crime by pressing for more money for a blight remediation program for abandoned buildings and vacant lots and for a program where police and community advocates help high-risk residents avoid gun violence. In a memo to City Manager T.C. Broadnax and City Attorney Chris Caso, the mayor also: Said he wants better coordination between the police department and the Dallas Independent School District to help expand group counseling programs for teen students that began last year. Asked that city departments present strategies to council members this fall on ways to increase public safety that don’t directly involve police. Said he’d like city officials to seek the revocation of state liquor licenses from businesses repeatedly tied to violent offenses such as shootings.

The mayor, who is up for reelection next year, said in the memo that city officials needed “to be relentless in our pursuit of public safety policies and partnerships that can make a measurable difference in our communities.” Johnson has said public safety is his top priority since first being elected in 2019. He has clashed with other city elected officials over police funding, pushed for annual increases and opposed efforts to strip any money away from the police department. As of Monday, 126 people have been homicide victims in Dallas this year, according to police. That’s 18 more people than through the same time last year. But 2021 saw a decline over the year before. Recent homicide victims have included a 30-year-old woman outside a northwest Dallas strip club, a 5-year-old boy in his South Dallas home and a 21-year-old man police say was shot in Oak Cliff and then dropped off at a hospital in the area where he later died. In a statement, Broadnax said he believed the mayor’s suggestions could help the city reduce crime and emphasized the importance of working together. This comes after the two pledged to put aside past grievances after Johnson led a failed campaign to fire Broadnax.

Texas Tribune and ProPublica - July 6, 2022

Justice Department is investigating Texas’ Operation Lone Star for alleged civil rights violations

The Department of Justice is investigating alleged civil rights violations under Operation Lone Star, a multibillion-dollar border initiative announced last year by Gov. Greg Abbott, according to state records obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. The Legislature last year directed more than $3 billion to border measures over the next two years, a bulk of which has gone to Operation Lone Star. Under the initiative, which Abbott said he launched to combat human and drug smuggling, the state has deployed more than 10,000 National Guard members and Department of Public Safety troopers to the border with Mexico and built some fencing. Thousands of immigrant men seeking to enter the country have been arrested for trespassing onto private property, and some have been kept in jail for weeks without charges being filed. Since the operation’s launch, a number of news organizations, including ProPublica and the Tribune, have outlined a series of problems with state leaders’ claims of success, the treatment of National Guard members and alleged civil rights violations.

An investigation by the Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project found that in touting the operation’s accomplishments, state officials included arrests with no connection to the border and statewide drug seizures. The news organizations also revealed that trespassing cases represented the largest share of the operation’s arrests. DPS stopped counting some charges, including cockfighting, sexual assault and stalking, after the publications began asking questions about their connections to border security. Another investigation by the Tribune and Army Times detailed troubles with the National Guard deployment, including reports of delayed payments to soldiers, a shortage of critical equipment and poor living conditions. Previous reporting by the Army Times also traced suicides by soldiers tied to the operation. Angela Dodge, a DOJ spokesperson, said she could not “comment on the existence or lack thereof of any potential investigation or case on any matter not otherwise a part of the public court record.”

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

University of Houston to Big 12: Football looks for boost in attendance

Imagine the University of Texas or Oklahoma greeted, not at comfy NRG Stadium but at a sold-out, decibel-crushing TDECU Stadium. Imagine trading don’t-move-the-needle games against Tulsa and Tulane for a tasty buffet of regional rivals like Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. A more attractive home schedule with the move to the Big 12, along with an improved product on the field, is the recipe University of Houston athletic officials hope will translate to an increase in attendance at football games after a steady decline in recent years. “That’s probably our area of greatest need for improvement,” Chris Pezman, UH’s vice president for athletics, said of lagging attendance at TDECU Stadium. “We’re trying to do everything we can to eliminate every reason not to show up. At some point we just got to get people there.” A Big 12 schedule built on the renewal of old rivalries from the Southwest Conference and enhanced gameday atmosphere are just part of the plan school officials envision to entice fans to pack TDECU Stadium on Saturday afternoons.

Ask any UH fan and the belief is the powers-that-be have conspired to keep down attendance with everything from early September kickoff times in the sweltering Houston heat, Thursday and Friday night kickoff times (ever try to navigate rush-hour traffic for a weekday game?) or conflicts/competition with other events in the nation’s fourth-largest city. “There’s always the ‘we’re in a big market, we’re competing against everything,’” Pezman said. “But at the end of the day it’s 40,000 seats (at TDECU Stadium) and 7,035 seats (at Fertitta Center). We’ve only got six or seven opportunities in the fall and 20 opportunities with basketball. “Everybody has begged for Power Five, facilities, great coaches, great programs. Tell me what else? The schedule is never going to be perfect. You can’t play Texas every football game. You can’t play Kansas every basketball game. Those kids, that come in here that have committed to our university and bust their (butt) every day and have put us in this spot, deserve it.” Aside from a few opponents (SMU, Memphis, UCF and Cincinnati), UH’s memberships in Conference USA and the past decade in the American Athletic Conference has offered few meaningful rivalries and just a smattering of big-ticket matchups. The largest crowd in the eight-year history of TDECU Stadium is 42,822 for a non-conference game against Louisville.

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

Texas electricity demand hits record high as heat wave continues

Summer is barely two weeks old, but demand for electricity on the Texas power grid has already surpassed the projected peak for the season — which wasn't expected to occur for another month. Peak demand hit 77,460 megawatts Tuesday afternoon, an all-time high. In May, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the grid, predicted in its annual seasonal assessment that the net peak this summer would come in at 77,317 megawatts on Aug. 10. But sustained hot temperatures throughout June and early July, combined with what has been booming statewide population growth, has triggered huge demand for electricity to cool homes and businesses amid the sweltering heat wave. In its week-ahead projection, ERCOT said demand could top 80,000 megawatts Monday. That would be a new all-time high, capping a multiweek stretch in which peak demand has repeatedly set and then broken records.

Prior to the current record-breaking streak, the all-time high for demand on the ERCOT grid was 74,820 megawatts, which was reached on Aug. 12, 2019. One megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 200 homes on a hot day. ERCOT spokesperson Christy Penders said Wednesday that the agency “projects sufficient generation to meet possible record demand” throughout the summer and is “monitoring conditions closely and will deploy all available tools to manage the grid reliably.” Top officials of ERCOT and of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees ERCOT, have said previously that the state's generation capacity will be sufficient. So far, the grid's performance has backed them up, handling the enormous power demand in recent weeks without major hitches, aside from some requests by ERCOT for power generators to defer maintenance and stay online. But grid operators are facing skepticism in the wake of the grid’s disastrous failure in February 2021, when prolonged blackouts during a severe winter freeze contributed to hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. "There are a lot of reasons to be concerned" about the resilience of the grid through the remainder of the summer, said Doug Lewin, an Austin-based energy consultant.

KUT - July 6, 2022

After protests, San Marcos will move forward with tax break for film studio as planned

The controversy over Hill Country Studios, a big film studio coming to San Marcos in 2025, came to a head at a City Council meeting on Tuesday night. The project has been criticized by many for its location on the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. On the table again was the $4.6 million tax break the city awarded to Hill Country Studios last month. After protests from the public, council members Alyssa Garza and Saul Gonzales brought the deal back to the council for reconsideration. Both Garza and Gonzales voted in favor of the tax incentive last month. Garza said her motivation to bring the item back to council was partially because of an "outpour of community feedback and concern."

The move came after a grassroots movement called Protect the River formed to protest the development. The group organized a protest in front of City Hall last month, and encouraged supporters to contact the city directly to voice their opposition to the development. Activists say developing on the recharge zone could negatively impact the Edwards Aquifer, and ultimately, the San Marcos River. More development (think concrete, buildings, roads) prevents rainwater water from seeping in through the ground and into the aquifer. That means less water would eventually get pushed out into natural springs and rivers. But the deal will remain as is. After a lengthy discussion Tuesday night, none of the City Council members brought forth amendments to the deal. Xandria Quichocho, an organizer with Protect the River, urged City Council to scrap the tax incentive altogether on Tuesday. They agreed that the film industry would be a unique addition to San Marcos, but said it could be created elsewhere in the city. "What cannot be recreated is our springs and our river," they said.

Texas Newsroom - July 6, 2022

Attorneys say resurrection of 1925 abortion law is a rollback of civil liberties

Even though Texas’ so-called trigger law that outlaws most abortions has yet to be implemented, providers in the state have stopped offering services after the state’s highest court ruled a century-old law can go into effect. The Texas Supreme Court ruled late Friday that a 1925 Texas law outlawing abortions can be enforced. The decision opens abortion providers to civil penalties and lawsuits and came after a state district judge in Harris County temporarily blocked the law from going into effect. The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling does not allow for criminal enforcement of the law, but Marc Hearron, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told The Texas Newsroom the ruling has already had a chilling effect on providers.

“[There are] disciplinary proceedings to go against licenses for doctors and nurses, the facilities themselves, there are civil fines,” he said. “There's just a lot of civil penalties that could rack up pretty quickly. And as a result, none of the providers are moving forward with providing right now.” The ruling from the state’s high court came after the U.S. Supreme Court last month overruled Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. The ruling returned that decision-making power to the states, which Texas interpreted as a green light to resurrect the 1925 law. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated the Texas Supreme Court’s decision on Twitter and said he’d continue to battle in court as the pre-Roe policies are “good law”. The case returns to the lower court later this month and could be placed on hold again. “Our state’s pre-Roe statutes banning abortion in Texas are 100% good law. Litigation continues, but I’ll keep winning for Texas’s unborn babies,” he said.

Texas Observer - July 6, 2022

Lipan Apaches are challenging the myth that their tribe was wiped out.

The moment seemed to call for drastic action. Lucille Contreras’ youngest son was on his own, ranching buffalo on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota where both lived. Her other kids were financially stable. For the first time, this mother of three didn’t have to consider what anyone else wanted. The COVID-19 pandemic had her locked down and looking every day at the heaping stack of U.S. Department of Agriculture loan application papers that had lingered on her desk for years. Finally, she decided. It was time. The career computer information tech worker from San Antonio would return to Texas and start to ranch buffalo, just as she’d learned in six years living with the Lakota. She believed her own people, the Lipan Apaches, needed buffalo too. The Lipan Apache, historically based around Central Texas, are recognized by the state—but not by the federal government. They have no reservation and no unified representation. That means thousands of people with Lipan heritage, like Contreras, live scattered across a state that has historically labeled Native Americans as Mexican immigrants and taught school children that Texas’ tribal people were long gone.

Contreras wanted to show that those myths were false, and that South Texas cultural staples, like the roasted cow heads consumed in barbacoa tamales, the heirloom metate her grandma used to grind corn for tortillas, and the colorful parties thrown for young women coming of age didn’t originate in Spain, but trace back to a time when buffalo roamed all across Texas by the millions. “There’s one thing for sure: The buffalo survived,” Contreras said. “And we as Indigenous people, especially Texas Indigenous, we also survived.” Since her people didn’t have a reservation to use as a cultural center, Contreras decided to buy land. She acquired 77 acres near the tiny town of Waelder, gathered a small herd of bison, and started the nonprofit Texas Tribal Buffalo Project in March 2021, using a mixture of $580,000 in loans, grants, donations, and support from her Native American activist community. Her project is only the latest example of the steady re-emergence of the long-hidden Lipan Apache culture in Texas. Thirty years ago, there were no openly Lipan groups here, but several robust communities have since been formed by a generation of people who organized around common oral stories of South Texas Apache ancestry. All are dedicated to rediscovering and reclaiming their pre-colonial roots. Today, two major Lipan Apache groups have thousands of members: the Lipan Apache Band of Texas, based in tiny Brackettville, 30 miles outside Del Rio, and the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, based in McAllen. Two other smaller groups call themselves the Lipan Apache Nation of Texas and the Apache Council of Texas. Contreras is enrolled as a member of the Band.

San Antonio Express-News - July 6, 2022

Before Texas human-smuggling disaster, 5 rigs caught illegally ferrying immigrants this year

Roderick Dewayne Chisley was almost home free. It was nearly Christmas 2021, and all the Louisiana trucker had to do was get the trailer he was hauling from Laredo to San Antonio. He’d collect $50,000 for the one load — as much as some truckers make in a year. He told Border Patrol agents at the checkpoint north of Laredo that he was traveling alone. As he was waved through, cameras captured the license plates. Agents ran them and learned the rig was stolen, and so were the license plates on the trailer. Agents stopped the truck. When they opened the trailer’s back doors, they found 52 undocumented immigrants inside and arrested Chisley, 47, on federal smuggling charges, court records show. Similar scenarios have played out at that checkpoint at least four other times since mid-December, with truck drivers in each case caught illegally transporting dozens of immigrants. One trailer had 145 people in it.

Craig Larrabee, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, said the number of cases of smugglers using trucks to ferry immigrants hasn’t changed much in recent years. But lately they’ve been crowding more people into their trailers. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a far-ranging campaign to fight human smuggling, a partnership between multiple federal agencies and foreign governments. Biden said authorities had made 2,400 arrests of smugglers in three months, adding “that work will only intensify in the months ahead.” However, former federal agents say most truckers were able to pass through the checkpoint north of Laredo without being subjected to thorough inspections, in part because of the volume of traffic. About 20,000 trucks pass through the corridor from Laredo to San Antonio every day, officials said. The drivers in human smuggling cases have told federal investigators that they were recruited on social media or through people they knew or met. And they were lured by the promise of thousands of dollars in pay, sometimes for a single load. At least one previously had made smuggling trips before being caught. Law officers said Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, passed through the same Laredo-area checkpoint last week with a load of 64 migrants, taking advantage of a shift change to slip the tractor-trailer through unchecked. A few hours later, he allegedly abandoned the sweltering trailer — its air conditioning unit appears to have stopped working — on San Antonio’s Southwest Side in an incident that claimed the lives of 53 migrants. Zamorano, of Palestine in East Texas, is scheduled for probable cause and bail hearings in San Antonio federal court on Wednesday. He was charged with human smuggling resulting in death. It was the country’s deadliest truck-smuggling episode. But it wasn’t the only one this year in the Laredo-San Antonio corridor.

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

District clerk Burgess subpoenaed following mistrial sparked by 'Jury Appreciation Week'

Harris County District Clerk Marilyn Burgess has been asked to appear in court Thursday following the “Jury Appreciation Week” events that prompted a mistrial for a man accused of beating his wife to death. A subpoena issued in June orders the elected official’s presence in the 339th District Court where Judge Te’iva Bell earlier declared the mistrial after a defense attorney’s objection to speeches intended for prospective jurors. The speeches were meant to convey the county’s gratitude for jurors’ civic duty but the lawyer, Sean Buckley, believed the speakers focused too heavily on victim families and could be prejudicial to jurors.

The subpoena, sent out June 23, also asks that the district clerk’s office deliver communications regarding jurors and planning for the days-long tribute, according to court records. The Harris County Attorney’s Office has attempted to quash aspects of the subpoena that demand the communications records, arguing that the attorney’s request is “overly broad.” Al Ortiz, a district clerk’s office spokesman, said Burgess had already scheduled Thursday off for her birthday and that the county attorney’s office advised that “her presence will not be required.” “She was personally served,” Buckley said, adding that he is more interested in obtaining the records than hearing Burgess’ testimony at this time. Buckley suspects that Judge Bell will also set a new trial date for his client, Itani Milleni, who in 2019 was charged with murder in his wife’s death. He also sent the district clerk’s office the bill for legal fees related to Milleni’s defense by certified mail.

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

Majority of Texas voters want tighter gun control laws, a statewide poll finds

A majority of Texas voters favor stricter gun control measures, including "red flag" laws, a ban on some semi-automatic rifles and other policies that have failed to gain traction with Republican state leaders, according to a statewide poll released Wednesday by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. The wide-ranging survey, conducted last month in the wake of the mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school, reflects several years of polling that has found a majority or plurality of Texas voters want tighter gun restrictions. The latest poll measured a notable spike in support for stricter policies, however, with 52 percent in favor — up nine percentage points from a prior Texas Politics Project survey in February. Just 14 percent of voters said they want to further loosen gun policies, while 28 percent said they support the status quo.

State lawmakers have softened gun laws amid a string of mass shootings in recent years, instead focusing on mental health services in a bid to prevent future massacres. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a “permitless carry” law that allows most Texans 21 and over to carry handguns in public places without a license. Forty percent of voters said they support the policy, while 54 percent voiced opposition in the latest Texas Politics Project poll. The survey otherwise measured 78 percent support for requiring background checks on all gun sales, including at gun shows and for private sales where buyers are not subject to background checks. Majorities also supported banning the sale of certain semi-automatic rifles, raising the minimum age for buying a gun from 18 to 21 years, banning the sale of high-capacity magazines and allowing judges to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed potentially dangerous, known as red flag laws. Aside from gun policy, last month’s poll also found that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke has narrowed to six points, down from an 11-point margin in April. Abbott received 45 percent support in the latest survey, compared to O’Rourke’s 39 percent. Another 10 percent said they had not thought about the race enough to form an opinion.

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

Deborah Cohen: Texas legislators, prove you are pro-life and care for kids with Down syndrome

(Deborah Cohen is an assistant professor in the Dell Medical School and the Steve Hick School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin.) Changes to legislation will almost always have consequences beyond those that were intended. The result of Texas laws banning abortion will be no different. It could lead to an influx of children with Down syndrome and other genetic conditions born during the next year. I am the mother of a child born with Down syndrome and a professor at the University of Texas with a doctorate in social work. If the state’s goal is to encourage families to take on the extra demand of special needs parenting, several policy changes are needed to promote a supportive environment. First, we need to deepen our investment in our state-run early child intervention programs and provide mental health care for participating parents. Receiving an unexpected diagnosis during pregnancy or at the birth of a child is a shock even under the best of circumstances. Emotional support to process and grieve the loss of their imagined child is needed to ensure new parents can be present for their new child and the additional set of needs.

Programs such as the perinatal psychiatry access program (PeriPan) built off the child psychiatry access program offer an initial skeleton for expanding supports. PeriPan includes several necessary services to support the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women, and it would benefit from expanded services specifically for families receiving unexpected diagnoses about their child. Second, paid family leave policies should be thoughtfully considered at the state level. In the wake of the pandemic, women have shouldered much of the extra child care burden due to day care and school closures. Frameworks for developing paid family leave policies, such as the collaborative work by the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution, can be used as a starting point. Family leave policies have the potential to support all families, but they can be particularly helpful to families that endure a neonatal unit stay. For many individuals, the financial and time burden of traveling to and from the hospital prevents them from being able to fully participate in the process. This is damaging to caregivers and children alike. We must ensure our current policies are nimble to the array of birthing experiences, including a long-term stay in the hospital. Third, we need to re-evaluate our state Medicaid policies to ensure families are not automatically placed at an economic disadvantage due to the pure chance of having a child with a disability.

Axios - July 6, 2022

Ukraine fatigue surfaces in Texas poll

Amid high gas prices and at-home inflation worries, Texans' support for U.S. involvement in Ukraine appears to be flagging, per a new University of Texas poll. The big picture: As the Russian invasion of Ukraine drags into its fifth month, the poll showed tentative signs that the early wave of support for U.S. efforts to aid Ukrainians may have crested. Details: The University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll, released today, asked whether "the U.S. is doing too much, too little, or about the right amount in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?" The share who responded "too much" increased from 15% in April to 28% in June, while the share that said "too little" decreased from 39% to 27% in the same period. The poll surveyed 1,200 registered Texas voters representative of the demographic characteristics of the state's population from June 16-24.

What they're saying: "While two polls do not constitute a trend, these are significant changes in the space of two months on an issue in which many Americans are still forming opinions," wrote the pollsters. Zoom out: Some European leaders have suggested Ukraine may have to give up some territory to end the conflict — even as the continent continues to support the embattled nation. "You can already see in the media that interest is going down, and that is also affecting the public, and the public is affecting the politicians," Ann Linde, Sweden's foreign minister, told the New York Times last week."So it is our responsibility to keep Ukraine and what Russia is doing high up on our agenda." The bottom line: President Biden said at the NATO summit in Madrid last week that Americans should be prepared to pay higher gasoline prices for "as long as it takes, so Russia cannot in fact defeat Ukraine and move beyond Ukraine."

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2022

Dallas County raises its COVID risk level to yellow amid increased cases

Dallas County on Wednesday raised its COVID-19 risk level to yellow following two months of increasing cases and hospitalizations. The number of reported cases increased between 20% and 30% in the last two weeks of June, according to a letter sent to Dallas County Judge Jenkins by the Dallas County Public Health Committee. Two highly-contagious omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, are the dominant strains in the area. “While Dallas County currently has lower COVID-19 case columns and hospitalization rates than reported in other waves, the acceleration in numbers of cases, hospitalizations, employee absenteeism and the transmissibility of the current circulating strain is increasing the burden on the health of our residents and our health care system,” the letter said. The Public Health Committee said that, under the yellow risk level, people at high-risk from COVID-19 should mask in public indoor settings, especially in areas with high numbers of people.

“It doesn’t dramatically change the recommendations,” said Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang. “I think it’s a reinforcement of the need to mask… and just another reminder to get the vaccine if you haven’t already been vaccinated or get the booster if you’re eligible.” North Texas remained at the green risk level for months following the omicron surge that peaked in late January. Dallas saw increases in BA.4 and BA.5 later than some other areas of the country, including Houston. While Dallas County officials moved the county to yellow, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still designates the county at the green level. Huang said the decision to move the risk level was based on a number of indicators and that there is no one metric that triggers such a change. The CDC measures community spread level using a combination of three metrics: new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 people, the percent of inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and total new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Tarrant County is at the yellow level, according to the CDC’s metrics. The agency designated Harris County, where Houston is located, at the red COVID risk level, meaning that all residents are encouraged to wear masks indoors, regardless of health status.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2022

‘No man’s land’: Frisco residents with Little Elm ZIP code want USPS to fix boundaries

Soon after he moved to the Estates of Rockhill in December 2018, Harold Keller said his packages weren’t being delivered. Letters that typically took two days to be delivered instead took more than a month. At one point, he called the city’s environmental services department with questions about waste collection. Keller’s home wasn’t located in Frisco, the city said. But the manhole covers throughout the neighborhood say “Frisco.” The trash cans belong to the city as well. Residents like Keller conducted extensive research before moving to Frisco, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. While closing on their homes, some residents noticed “Little Elm” listed on official documents instead of “Frisco.” Although the newly developed neighborhood is located in the northwest corner of the city, each home bears a Little Elm ZIP code.

Residents contacted the U.S. Postal Service to petition a ZIP code change and received generic responses. They raised their concerns to city officials and leaders. The frustration has been building for years, and Keller said he and his neighbors are fed up. ”We’re going through it with our own city and our own governmental services,” he said. “Something’s gotta give.” Just north of Dallas, Frisco spans a little more than 69 square miles and has a population of about 210,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Sam Rayburn Tollway outlines the city’s southern border, and the Dallas North Tollway bisects the city as it runs north. The Estates of Rockhill is at the northwesternmost tip of Frisco, west of FM423. The city is in Collin and Denton counties and spans ZIP codes 75033-75036, 75068, 75072 and 75078. Frisco shares 75034 with Plano, and 75036 includes The Colony, Hackberry and Little Elm. The Estates of Rockhill is located in 75068, which the Postal Service says is largely recognized as Little Elm, Lakewood Village and Oak Point. USPS does not list Frisco as an alternative city name, despite parts of the ZIP code’s boundaries falling within Frisco city limits. Keller and his neighbors have advocated for the neighborhood’s postal code to be changed to 75033, which would link the neighborhood to the closest post office, about 6 miles away in the 8800 block of Teel Parkway. He first contacted Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney about the issue in February 2019. “Many of my neighbors have inquired about our lack of inclusion and have expressed concerns on our neighborhood social media platforms based on community identity,” Keller said in a follow-up email to Cheney in February 2020. “We live in Frisco and purposefully bought homes in Frisco.”

National Stories

Politico - July 6, 2022

The Southwest is bone dry. Now, a key water source is at risk.

California and six other Western states have less than 60 days to pull off a seemingly impossible feat: Cut a multi-way deal to dramatically reduce their consumption of water from the dangerously low Colorado River. If they don’t, the federal government will do it for them. A federal Bureau of Reclamation ultimatum last month, prompted by an extreme climate-change-induced drop in water levels at the nation’s largest reservoirs, reopens years of complicated agreements and political feuds among the communities whose livelihoods depend on the river. The deadline represents a crucial moment for the arid Southwest, which must now swiftly reckon with a problem that has been decades in the making. Despite the oppressive dryness that has plagued the region for more than 20 years, California has, in large part, avoided reductions to its usage of the Colorado River. But now that reservoir levels have fallen drastically, the Golden State may be forced to use less water, a prospect that would only further strain a state that is already asking residents in some regions to stop watering lawns and take shorter showers.

California’s Imperial Valley, with its vast swaths of farmlands, uses more water than its neighboring water districts — and could be a target for much of the cuts. The state will also have to contend with water users in Arizona and Nevada, who face their own sets of limitations and internal pressures. “You can’t possibly overestimate how hard this is,” said Felicia Marcus, a fellow at Stanford University’s Water in the West program and former chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board. “Each state has their own peculiar set of politics.” Over the past 20 years, as the effects of climate change have become more apparent, water authorities in their respective states have been able to hammer out agreements on moderate cutbacks. But it hasn’t been enough. Supplies at Lake Mead and Lake Powell are dangerously low, holding just more than a quarter of their total capacities — and threatening the dams’ ability to generate electricity and provide water to its nearly 40 million users. At its highest level, in the 1980s, Lake Mead could have submerged the Empire State Building up to its top floor. Now, water levels have dropped by nearly 200 feet, or 20 stories, exposing a stark white “bathtub ring” around the rocky walls of the perimeter.

CNN - July 6, 2022

Biden's pick for FAA administrator would be the agency's first Black permanent leader

The White House on Wednesday announced that President Joe Biden is nominating Phil Washington to lead the Federal Aviation Administration. If confirmed, he would be the first Black permanent administrator of the agency. Washington is currently the chief executive officer of the Denver International Airport -- the third busiest airport in the world. The FAA administrator position has been vacant since late March, when former President Donald Trump's appointee to the role, Steve Dickson, stepped down halfway through a five-year term. The FAA's current acting administrator, Billy Nolen, is also Black. Washington's prospective leadership at the FAA, the agency that regulates civilian aviation in the United States, comes as airlines have experienced immense strain resulting from a ramp up of domestic air travel this summer. Bad weather and staffing shortages across the airline industry have led to a rash of canceled flights throughout the summer holidays -- as American passengers have returned to travel in numbers nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Tracking service FlightAware showed about 2,200 flights canceled between the Thursday and Monday of the Fourth of July weekend -- or 2% of scheduled flights. There was a peak of 657 flights canceled on Saturday. It was the third-straight weekend in which there has been a spike in canceled flights as the airlines struggle to handle the demand for flying with limited crews. The FAA, meanwhile, continues to deal with criticism of its oversight of Boeing, which produces commercial airplanes. The agency is in an ongoing review of Boeing's 737 MAX 10. Other variants of MAX jets returned to service in 2020 after being grounded for 20 months following two crashes that killed 346 people. In response to a request from members of Congress, the Department of Transportation's inspector general will audit the FAA's oversight of Boeing 737 and 787 production. The IG will evaluate the FAA's processes for "identifying and resolving production issues" and "addressing allegations of undue pressure within the production environment."

July 6, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2022

Uvalde’s mayor, state senator say victims relief center providing ‘meager’ benefits

Uvalde’s mayor and its state senator say a one-stop resiliency center created to provide aid to victims’ families in the aftermath of the Robb Elementary School shooting is failing to provide adequate aid and should be taken over by the state. The accusation came in a letter from Sen. Roland Gutierrez and Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to remove Uvalde’s district attorney from oversight of the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center. They said in a letter to the governor’s office that the center has only provided “meager” benefits in the form of two-weeks of bereavement pay to the families of the 19 children and two teachers killed in the May 24 shooting. “This, simply, is insufficient,” the letter states. “These families cannot begin to heal unless they are given time to grieve free from financial worry.” Abbott announced the creation of the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center on June 6 and funded it with $5 million from the Governor’s Public Safety Office.

The center was created to be a one-stop shop for victims’ families and suffering community members with services including mental health resources, assistance with insurance forms and other aid. DA Christina Mitchell Busbee’s office was tasked with running the multi-agency effort. But in a news release, Gutierrez’ office said the Texas Department of Emergency Management should take over its operation because Busbee’s office lacks resources and staff. Busbee did not immediately return a phone message and email seeking comment. Gutierrez said he has spoken with victims’ families members who were already on the edge of poverty but now face financial distress over hospital bills. The letter mentioned a family who was threatened with having their electricity shut off while their child was being treated in a hospital. “My constituents have told me that they are faced with dire financial demands and they are desperate for help. But, little help has been provided,” Gutierrez said. Their demand comes as local political strife has continued to grow in aftermath of the shooting. Gutierrez has criticized Busbee after she shut down his attempts to provide the names of the officers who were in the classroom hallways of the school for more than 70 minutes while the gunman remained with injured children.

San Antonio Express-News - July 5, 2022

Texas border county leaders declare ‘invasion,’ urge Abbott to expel migrants

Leaders in several Texas border counties declared Tuesday they are under “invasion” and called on Gov. Greg Abbott to start expelling migrants suspected of crossing into the country illegally. The move aligns with some conservative officials and activists who have privately urged Abbott to begin unilaterally enforcing federal immigration laws. Expelling migrants from the country would be unprecedented for the state but justified, they argue, by the Biden administration’s push to expand legal pathways for migrants to enter the country. “This is not a photo op today,” said Kinney County Judge Tully Shahan, one of several county officials to declare a “local state of disaster” due to the surge in migrant encounters at the southern border. “We don’t want to lose America,” Shahan said. “The Biden administration won’t do a thing about it. They could stop this thing this hour. They could stop it now.”

Kinney County was one of at least four counties — joined by Goliad, Terrell and Uvalde — to issue a disaster declaration this week and call on Abbott to enforce federal immigration laws. The governor said in April that he has declined to do so because he’s concerned about legal consequences. Texas would almost certainly face a barrage of legal challenges if Abbott decided to expel migrants instead of turning them over to Border Patrol or detaining them on state trespassing charges, as he has done under his border initiative, Operation Lone Star. “There are federal laws that law enforcement could be prosecuted under if they were to take someone, without authority, and immediately return them across the border,” Abbott said in April. By rolling back Trump-era immigration measures, local officials argued Tuesday, Biden is abdicating the federal government’s constitutional duty to defend states from invasion and “domestic violence.” Otherwise, they say, states have the constitutional right to protect themselves from “imminent danger” or invasion. But legal experts say the “border invasion” strategy would likely run afoul of U.S. asylum laws, along with legal precedent that gives the federal government broad discretion in setting and enforcing immigration policy.

Associated Press - July 5, 2022

7th victim dies after Highland Park shooting; gunman fired more than 70 rounds, police say

The gunman who attacked an Independence Day parade in suburban Chicago fired more than 70 rounds with an AR-15-style gun that killed at least seven people, then evaded initial capture by dressing as a woman and blending into the fleeing crowd, police said Tuesday. A spokesman for the Lake County Major Crime Task Force told a news conference that the suspected shooter, who was arrested late Monday, used a high-powered rifle “similar to an AR-15? to spray bullets from atop a commercial building into a crowd that had gathered for the parade in Highland Park, a community on the shores of Lake Michigan that has long drawn the rich and sometimes famous. More than 30 people were wounded in the attack, including one who died Tuesday, task force spokesman Christopher Covelli said. Investigators who have interrogated the suspect and reviewed his social media posts have not determined a motive for the attack or found any indication that he targeted anyone by race, religion or other protected status, Covelli said. The shooter spent several weeks planning the assault, Covelli said. Authorities have not filed criminal charges.

Earlier in the day, FBI agents peeked into trash cans and under picnic blankets as they searched for more evidence at the site where the assailant opened fire. A day later, baby strollers, lawn chairs and other items left behind by panicked parade goers remained inside a wide police perimeter. Outside the police tape, some residents drove up to collect blankets and chairs they abandoned. David Shapiro, 47, said the spray of gunfire quickly turned the parade into “chaos.” “People didn’t know right away where the gunfire was coming from, whether the gunman was in front or behind you chasing you,” he said Tuesday as he retrieved a stroller and lawn chairs. The shooting was just the latest to shatter the rituals of American life. Schools, churches, grocery stores and now community parades have all become killing grounds in recent months. This time, the bloodshed came as the nation tried to find cause to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together. “It definitely hits a lot harder when it’s not only your hometown but it’s also right in front of you,” resident Ron Tuazon said as he and a friend returned to the parade route Monday evening to retrieve chairs, blankets and a child’s bike that he and his family abandoned when the shooting began. “It’s commonplace now,” Tuazon said. “We don’t blink anymore. Until laws change, it’s going to be more of the same.”

D Magazine - July 5, 2022

Jacki Deason subpoenaed in Georgia criminal investigation

Subpoenas were issued today to seven allies of former President Donald Trump in connection with the criminal investigation in Georgia of election interference. Among those who received subpoenas, including Rudy Giuliani and Senator Lindsey Graham, was the Dallas-based lawyer Jacki Deason, who is a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and host of The Jacki Daily Show, which airs on The Blaze. Her husband is Doug Deason, namesake of SMU’s Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center and the subject of a May 2020 D Magazine cover story.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

Texas Bond King was right on inflation when the Fed was wrong. Now he warns a recession is next.

When we last checked in with the Texas Bond King, he declared that Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell was flat-out wrong about inflation being “transitory.” He predicted inflation would continue to soar, that central bank officials would have to raise interest rates much faster and higher than they were signaling, bond yields would rise sharply, and stocks could fall as much as 20 percent. It seems so obvious now that it has all happened. But when Gilbert Garcia, managing partner of Houston’s Garcia Hamilton Associates, laid out this case in November, most other bond investors seemed the least bit concerned about inflation. Seven months later, inflation has climbed to a 40-year high of 8.6 percent. Stocks have fallen about 20 percent, crossing into a bear market. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield about doubled to more than 3 percent, before recently falling back below that threshold.

(As a point of clarification, when bond yields rise, bond holders lose money. That’s because they are stuck with an investment paying a lower interest rate than what the present market offers.) So now what? Garcia says the Fed is already making its next big mistake by raising interest rates in huge increments, likely leading the U.S. into a steep recession. He says stocks may have further to fall as the economy loses steam and inflation remains sticky. He also predicts that bond yields may have hit their peak. He’s betting they’ll decline. With about $18 billion in assets under management, Garcia runs the largest independent bond investment firm in Texas, giving him clear title to the nickname Texas Bond King.

WFAA - July 5, 2022

Federal appeals court to hear oral arguments over Texas ruling that said DACA is unlawful

The legality behind a 10-year-long program that allows undocumented youth to have temporary permission to stay in the U.S. is being questioned in court. Wednesday at 9 a.m., the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments about the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. Under the Barrack Obama administration, DACA was created in June of 2012 to provide temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to young undocumented immigrants who pass certain qualifications. Naomi Rios lives and works in North Texas. She has been a DACA recipient, also known as a “Dreamer," for nine out of the last 10 years. Rios was 15 when she first applied and was accepted by the program. She and her family came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was two years old.

"I wish more people were more open to understanding our story and why we deserve to be here," Rios said. Rios is currently employed as the crime victim's program case manager at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, which is a 21-year-old organization that provides free social services for immigrant survivors of human rights abuses. This includes: Asylum-seekers fleeing persecution based on religion, race, ethnicity, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group; Those protected under the Violence Against Women Act, the Victims of Trafficking and the Violence Protection Act Immigrants abused by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) spouse; Immigrant children who are victims of violent crimes, neglect, abuse or abandonment. Rios said one of the main misconceptions people have about Dreamers is that they don't pay taxes. DACA recipients pay about $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the nonpartisan policy institute The Center for American Progress. "I don't really feel angry," Rios said. "I just feel disappointed that people follow that kind of rhetoric."

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

Harris County picks new elections administrator, with voting four months away

Harris County leaders on Tuesday selected the former head of Washington, D.C.’s board of elections to oversee voter registration and elections. Clifford Tatum would become the county’s second chosen elections administrator since the office was created in 2020. His selection by the five-member Harris County Elections Commission was unanimous. Tatum served as general counsel for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from 2015 to 2019. He is the former executive director of the District of Columbia Board of Elections, and served as the interim director for the Georgia State Elections Division. Tatum is a graduate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Tatum takes over as Harris County continues to face close scrutiny over the way elections have been run, particularly after this year’s March primaries, in which the elections administrator’s office was criticized for slow reporting of results and failed to include 10,000 ballots in the initial count on election night.

The position is a daunting job in a sprawling county with more than 2.5 million voters, an adversarial political climate with frequent election lawsuits, and a high rejection rate of nearly one out of five mail ballots in this year’s March primaries under the state’s new voting laws. Beth Stevens, chief director of voting for Harris County, stepped in as the interim administrator July 1, the day outgoing administrator Isabel Longoria’s resignation went into effect. Stevens will hold the position until Tatum begins, which is likely to be in August. Tatum faces a narrowing time frame to prepare for his first test: Early voting for the November election begins Oct. 24, less than three months after his likely start date. The Harris County Election Commission is made up of five members: both local party chairs, the county clerk, the county judge and the county tax assessor-collector. Before Commissioners Court created the appointed election administrator in October 2020, the county clerk and tax assessor-collector managed elections in Harris County. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Tatum will move quickly to sign a lease and establish residency in Harris County.

KHOU - July 6, 2022

2 of Texas' 3 biggest school districts navigating teacher shortage ahead of upcoming year

The new school year may be the last thing on students' minds right now but teachers start back in a little more than a month in both Houston and Cy-Fair ISDs which are two of Texas’s top three largest districts. Both are working, like many others, to make sure classrooms are equipped with certified educators but HISD had about 950 vacancies with “teacher” in the title according to data on the district’s application site on Tuesday. "It seems high to me,” Houston Federation of Teachers president Jackie Anderson said. Anderson said having hundreds of openings during the summer isn’t unusual. But retirements, resignations and folks leaving the profession amid the pandemic may have taken a greater toll this year. "That’s what has happened, it has driven that number up a little bit more than it was,” Anderson said.

Cy-Fair ISD reported 678 teacher vacancies as of Tuesday. But 138 teacher recommendations are being processed, which will drop the number to 540 if all are approved. "The biggest challenge I think right now is just finding certified teachers," HISD talent acquisition senior manager Alejandro Gonzalez said during a previous interview with KHOU 11. "People that just want to come into the profession." His office continuously participates in job fairs and other events. HISD shared a post on social media pushing its alternative certification program, new starting teacher salary and stipends of up to $5,000. Those are among the recent changes Anderson said she hopes will help with recruitment. "I think that HISD’s going to be a better place to work probably than it has been in a long time,” Anderson said. Cy-Fair ISD has a virtual job fair scheduled for July 12. Many other districts in our area are also hosting events over the next few weeks.

Houston Chronicle - July 6, 2022

Rice chemist, Nobel laureate Robert Curl dies at 88

Nobel Prize-winning chemist Robert Curl, who spent six decades at Rice University, has died at 88. Curl and his research team won the award in 1996 for their discovery of a carbon form known as “buckyballs.” The finding cemented Rice as a leader in materials research and made Curl one of the most beloved, prominent figures on campus, university officials said. “Despite winning one of science’s top honors, Bob was a quiet hero who stayed true to his passions - scientific discovery, teaching and the spirit of collegiality,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches said in a news release. “During his 64 years as a faculty member at Rice, Bob mentored countless students and colleagues. His institutional presence on campus made a profound contribution to the university’s culture and character that will live on for years to come.”

The laureate — a Rice alumnus himself — was a University Professor Emeritus and the Kenneth S. Pitzer-Schlumberger Professor Emeritus of Natural Sciences. Curl died Sunday in Houston. “I view Bob as the gentle intellectual giant,” said R. Stanley Williams, a mentee of Curl’s who is now a Texas A&M University professor. “When we chatted about science, his eyes would just literally light up and sparkle. I would come away from every discussion that I had with Bob energized.” Curl was born in 1933 in Alice, two hours south of San Antonio. His father was a Methodist minister, moving them to various towns across south Texas during his childhood, according to the Nobel Foundation. He found his own calling at age 9 when he received a chemistry set for Christmas. “Within a week, I had decided to become a chemist and never wavered from that choice,” he wrote in an autobiography for the foundation. Curl graduated in 1954 with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry from what was then the Rice Institute. He learned there about the ongoing work of chemist Kenneth Pitzer and resolved to study with him at the University of California-Berkley as he earned his Ph.D. Serving as Curl’s thesis adviser, Pitzer helped him obtain a postdoctoral position at Harvard University in 1957 before he returned to Rice the next year as an assistant professor. Curl and Pitzer also reunited at the Houston research institution, where Pitzer served as president from 1961 to 1968.

KUT - July 5, 2022

San Marcos is reconsidering economic incentives for film studio project after protest

The San Marcos City Council is holding a discussion tonight to address concerns about the environmental impact of a new development coming to San Marcos: an 820,000-square-foot film studio on the recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer. City Council already voted 6-1 last month to give the developer a tax break. Proponents of the project point to its economic benefits and its potential to diversify the local economy with a more creative industry. But two council members who voted in favor of the deal decided to bring it back to council after a grassroots movement known as Protect the River formed in protest. The group says its aim is "to protect the San Marcos River and the Edwards Aquifer Zone from further development and destruction." Its message spread across social media, and their Instagram account quickly gained thousands of followers in the days after it was created. The group has been encouraging followers on Instagram to contact City Council members and city staff directly to tell them they "oppose development in the environmentally sensitive recharge zone."

Recharge zones are pieces of land that can absorb rainwater and replenish the aquifer below, which is why many environmentalists oppose development on them. More development (think concrete, buildings, roads) prevents water from seeping in through the ground and into the aquifer. The Edwards Aquifer provides drinking water to a number of cities, but it's also the source of the San Marcos Springs, which feeds the San Marcos River. Around 200 people protested the film studio's plans late last month, according to the San Marcos Daily Record. They demonstrated in front of City Hall to share stories and make posters that said "Agua es vida," or "Water is life." The group is organizing another protest outside City Hall during tonight's meeting, according to the Protect the River Instagram page. "Last week we showed those who work at the City who we are, and that we will not be silent," the caption on the post reads. "This week we'll tell them directly ... Protect the River plans to be there, in the meeting, and making the other city council members understand what it means to us that they vote NO for providing a tax incentive for Hill Country Studios."

Houston Public Media - July 1, 2022

Wesley Hunt holds edge over Duncan Klussmann in contest for Texas’ new 38th congressional district

The contest to fill Houston's newest congressional district, Texas' 38th, features Republican Wesley Hunt, a former U.S. Army captain and Iraq War veteran, and Democrat Duncan Klussmann, previously the superintendent of Spring Branch ISD. The race appears to be Hunt's to lose. The reason for that can be found in Jersey Village, a city northwest of Houston that sits at the waist of the new 38th Congressional District. It also provides an example of why some residents, even Republicans favored by the new political map, are not entirely thrilled to have shifted from what was a swing district represented by a Democrat to a potentially safe Republican seat. "Jersey Village is a ruby red district," said Andrew Mitcham, the city's former mayor and now owner and brewmaster of Senate Avenue Brewing Company.

That's ruby red just like Mitcham, who’s a Republican. But up to now, Jersey Village been part of Congressional District 7, a district represented by Democratic Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher. That changed last year, when Texas gained two new congressional seats, and Republican state lawmakers redrew the maps. You’d think Mitcham would be happy, but he’s concerned the newly designated conservative 38th district won’t necessarily help Jersey Village. "What was so great about Lizzie Fletcher, being our congresswoman was the responsiveness of when we would call, but also the proactiveness when we had horrible issues happening, a lot of big challenges that happened over the last few years, and she was proactive and reactive," Mitcham said. “What’s the incentive for that elected official to be as responsive as they would be were it not a competitive district anymore?” Texas Congressional District 38 winds from River Oaks and the Energy Corridor north through Jersey Village up to Cypress and Tomball. It includes the most conservative portions of Fletcher's old district, plus portions of two districts now held by Republicans – Congressmen Kevin Brady and Dan Crenshaw.

Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2022

As uncertainty looms over Pac-12?s future, Big 12 needs to get in on the firesale

Time will tell if George Kliavkoff goes down in history as the Neville Chamberlain of college athletics, but it’s not looking good. Only last August, Kliavkoff, the newly-minted commissioner of the Pac-12, entered into a handshake deal with the Big Ten and ACC to form an “alliance” after the SEC invaded the Big 12 and made off with Texas and Oklahoma. Asked why he didn’t at least get it in writing, Kliavkoff called it “an agreement among three gentlemen,” which was his first mistake. As old Neville learned after attempting to appease Hitler, there are no gentlemen in war or college athletics. The Big 12 is about to give George his second lesson. Even as you’re reading this, maybe, Big 12 officials are reportedly meeting with representatives of Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado and Utah to discuss their annexation. There’s no time to waste. The Big Ten reportedly awaits a decision from Notre Dame, putting a hold on potential offers to Oregon and Washington/Stanford, depending on which accounts you believe.

The Big 12 must jump now, in the midst of the lull, while uncertainty looms over the Pac-12?s future, if not existence. Maybe Kliavkoff can still pull his league out of the fire, but that is not the way to bet. Or at least that’s what Big 12 officials need to tell Utah, Colorado and the Arizona schools. As for you, dear reader, forget for a moment that most realignment rumors don’t pan out. The moves that take are the ones you never hear about, like USC and UCLA. Next thing you knew, Big Ten presidents made it unanimous. When Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle broke the news last summer that Texas and OU were bound for the SEC, he should have won a Nobel Prize for cracking the code. This time, though, the rumors have substance. What’s transpiring is probably the last great shift in our lifetime. Or mine, at least. Before the ground stops shaking, the Big Ten and SEC will have all the schools they want, save for Notre Dame. Notwithstanding the ACC’s media deal, which guarantees grant of rights until 2036, the SEC will end up with Clemson and Florida State. Maybe Miami, if the Hurricanes don’t go to the Big Ten. North Carolina will get a Big Ten invite. As for the grant-of-rights penalty, it might not be as onerous as you’d think. They’ll make enough money in their new SEC and Big Ten deals to make up for it. Their new neighbors might even pitch in.

Associated Press - July 5, 2022

Cowboys criticized over deal with gun-themed coffee company

The Dallas Cowboys sparked criticism on social media Tuesday after announcing a marketing agreement with a gun-themed coffee company with blends that include “AK-47 Espresso,” “Silencer Smooth” and “Murdered Out.” The partnership with the Black Rifle Coffee Co. was revealed on Twitter the day after more than a half-dozen people died in a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in suburban Chicago. It also comes a little more than a month since the Cowboys announced their role in a $400,000 donation to support victims and survivors of the school shooting in Uvalde in South Texas, where 19 students and two teachers died. The tweet announcing the agreement between “America's Team” and “America's Coffee” drew about 200 comments in the first few hours, most of them critical and suggesting the timing of the announcement was poor. “Maybe read the room a bit, guys,” one person posted, while another wrote, “The Dallas Cowboys just lost one of their biggest fans. Integrity matters.”

The Cowboys declined comment. The tweet links to a contest offering two tickets to a Cowboys home game and a one-year subscription to the coffee company. Most of the company's sales are direct to consumer. Black Rifle was founded by U.S. Army veteran Evan Hafer, who has made support of veterans one of the tenets of his company. “BRCC is proud to partner with the Dallas Cowboys, who are strongly committed to our mission of supporting veterans, first responders, and America’s men and women in uniform,” a Black Rifle spokesman said. “The long-planned announcement was timed to coincide with the Independence Day holiday — America’s Team. America’s Coffee. America’s Birthday.” Reaction to the marketing agreement suggests a “split identification among fans” of the Cowboys, according to T. Bettina Cornwell, academic director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. “For those opposed to gun violence, there is no good timing,” Cornwell said in an email. “The business question is, ‘Have the Cowboys made a misstep in terms of their relationship with their more moderate fans?’” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' steadfast support of the military was best illustrated when he was one of the most outspoken NFL owners against players kneeling during The Star-Spangled Banner before games to protest racial injustice and police brutality.

Austin American-Statesman - July 5, 2022

Fact-check: Is Abbott campaign right Texas has 90% high school graduation rate?

Gov. Greg Abbott: Texas' public high school graduation rate is at 90% overall PolitiFact Texas ruling: True Here's why: Gov. Greg Abbott's reelection campaign lauded education in Texas, with a May 15 video touting Blue Ribbon public schools, U.S. News ranking four Texas high schools among the top 50 STEM high schools, and the Texas public high school graduation rate. "Governor @GregAbbott_TX has lead education to a brighter future," Abbott's campaign Twitter account @TexansforAbbott's tweeted, "That's why Texas' public high school graduation rate is at 90% overall." Does Texas have a 90% high school graduation rate? State data supports the Abbott campaign's statistic.

PolitiFact Texas reached out to Abbott's campaign but did not hear back. However, the video credited the Texas Education Agency for the graduation rate statistic. Of the students who started ninth grade in 2016-2017, scheduled to graduate in 2020, 90.3% graduated within four years, according to a 2019-2020 report by the agency. This percentage is called the four-year longitudinal graduation rate, because it measures how much of a starting ninth grade class completes high school within four years. The remaining 10% might have continued school, received a high school equivalency certificate, or dropped out. Abbott's statistic checks out. Some demographic groups have better graduation rates than others. Economically disadvantaged students graduated 6 percentage points lower (87.5%) than those who were not (93.5%). Compared to state averages, there were lower graduation rates and higher dropout rates for students in special education programs and students identified as learning English as a second language.

Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2022

They spoke Arabic while gun shopping in North Texas and ended up behind bars

Gun ownership has exploded in firearms-friendly Texas and nationwide, and people of color are among the market’s fastest-growing segment. But that doesn’t mean shopping for a gun is always an enjoyable experience for these new buyers. Hosni and Ibrahim Omeis went to gun stores in Plano and Highland Park in May 2020 and days later ended up behind bars, targets of an FBI investigation. How the FBI became interested in the Plano brothers is not clear from available court records. Authorities said the men reportedly smelled like marijuana inside one gun store and spoke Arabic in another. The Lebanese-American men, both in their late 20s at the time, passed a background check and each purchased a 9mm pistol in Highland Park. When questioned days later by the FBI, the brothers admitted using marijuana. That resulted in criminal charges for lying on a federal form. When they bought the guns, the brothers signed a required form stating they were not unlawful drug users. The form also asks gun buyers other questions, such as whether they are felons, convicted domestic abusers or fugitives.

The two were also later indicted for being unlawful drug users in possession of a firearm and faced up to a decade in prison. Their case points to a troubling trend that racial minorities in the U.S. have increasingly complained about: extra scrutiny when shopping for a gun. The Omeis brothers, both U.S. citizens born in California, pleaded guilty to the drug-gun count and were sentenced June 27 to five years’ probation in federal court in Dallas. They declined to be interviewed following their sentencing, citing a desire to avoid further law enforcement attention. But they acknowledged feeling their ethnicity played a role in their troubles. The two North Texas gun stores declined to comment. A lawyer for the Beretta Gallery, which has a store in Highland Park Village, said he was unaware of the matter. “Even if I had knowledge concerning the situation, Beretta U.S.A. would not comment publicly on a matter of law enforcement investigation,” said the attorney, Jeff Reh. The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Dallas also declined to comment on the case.

Dallas Morning News - July 5, 2022

Billy Bob’s Texas kicks off renovations to main concert space

The Fort Worth music venue that bills itself as the “The World’s Largest Honky Tonk” is aiming to give concertgoers a better view and clearer sound. Billy Bob’s Texas, the 41-year-old concert space and watering hole in The Stockyards, launched two-and-a-half weeks of renovations Tuesday in the main Showroom, where country musicians take the stage every Friday and Saturday night. But fear not, revelers. The 127,000-square-foot stomping ground will still host performers during construction — they will croon on the Honky Tonk Stage across the room. “As soon as you guys walk out of here,” said general manager Marty Travis at a Tuesday morning news conference, “we’re starting work.” The renovations will consist of replacing two load-bearing pillars in front of the stage with a truss and raising a portion of the roof by several feet, said Travis. The facelift, he said, is meant to reduce obstructions in the audience’s view and allow sound to travel better.

“The two biggest things we deal with are sound and vision — we’re dealing with both of them right now,” Travis said in an interview after the news conference. “It’s not going to fix it, but it’s at least going to make a dent in it.” Plans for the renovations have been in the works for eight or nine months, but the start date depended on when the venue could close down the main stage, Travis said. The first post-renovation concert on the Showroom stage will be Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen on July 22 at 10 p.m. Rogers was present at Tuesday’s kickoff, as was singer-songwriter Josh Weathers, who is slated to perform July 30. “It’s going to change the game with the way Billy Bob’s does music,” Weathers said of the renovations. “This room is legendary, and it’s just getting better.” Built in 1910, Billy Bob’s building served as a barn, airplane factory and department store before becoming the music venue in 1981. Since then, it’s hosted country superstars like Willie Nelson, Miranda Lambert and Merle Haggard (who famously bought $12,737 worth of whiskey for the whole crowd at his 1983 show). In a honky-tonk twist on a groundbreaking ceremony, the news conference concluded with Rogers and Weathers slamming glitter-filled acoustic guitars against one of the poles slated to be removed. Talk about bringing down the house.

KUT - July 5, 2022

Texas to start randomly inspecting public schools for weak entry points this fall

Republican state lawmakers continue to focus on school safety more than changes to gun laws after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde – and starting this fall at Texas’ public schools, the state will start implementing what it’s calling “random intruder detection audits.” A Texas State University group called the Texas School Safety Center has been tasked by Gov. Greg Abbott to go to schools around the state and check for weak access points to enter the building, said Kate McGee, a higher education reporter for the Texas Tribune. “The center is really emphasizing that these are not going to be people simulating some kind of active threat, but they are going to just try and get in,” McGee said. “And they’re going to train them to be able to do this so it doesn’t create alarm or hysteria.”

McGee said that local law enforcement and district officials will know if the audits are coming in a particular week or day but that individual school campuses will receive no warning. “That has a lot of education advocates, teacher groups worried because, you know, a given student or classroom or teacher might see someone trying to get into a back door and not know who that person is and might negatively react,” McGee said. “You know, we have schools around the state that have school marshals – people who can carry weapons on campus. And the question is, could this be an issue if no one on the campus is aware that this kind of audit might be happening and might cause some kind of actual accident?” Though research has not shown that hardening schools has reduced gun violence, McGee said, intruder attempts are a strategy that some schools have previously taken on an individual basis. Now that the governor has asked the school safety center to do them more broadly across the state, additional staff will be trained this summer to begin audits in September, with a goal of hitting 100% of districts and about 75% of campuses by the end of 2022-2023 school year.

Houston Chronicle - July 5, 2022

The Texas economy is still growing, but optimism is waning

The Texas economy, which expanded at solid pace in recent months, is expected to slow through the second half of the year amid the nation’s weakening economic outlook. A new analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas lays out the picture: the nation’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing, and Texas is recovering at a faster clip than the nation as a whole. Still, revenue growth among Texas companies remains constrained by supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, and businesses are becoming more pessimistic as inflation remains high and interest rates rise. “The data still looks pretty healthy, especially on the labor market side,” said Laila Assanie, a senior business economist at the Dallas Fed. “But what has turned is the outlook." In a survey of 366 Texas business executives conducted in June, Assanie said, half cited supply chain disruptions as a primary factor constraining their firm’s revenue, and 41 percent pointed to labor shortages as a key issue.

Those numbers are consistent with survey results from earlier this year. But a new issue surfaced in June: 26 percent of the executives cited “weak demand” as affecting their business, up from 15 percent in March. That’s a sign that inflation and the darkening outlook for the economy is leading some customers to spend more cautiously. The job market, meanwhile, remains tight, with employers across sectors reporting labor shortages. In Texas, Assanie said, employment in most sectors has returned to pre-pandemic levels. Employment in the state grew at an annualized rate of 6.2 percent in May, double the national rate. The unemployment rate stood at 4.2 percent in May, higher than the national rate of 3.6 percent, but reflecting growth in the state’s labor force. The scorching-hot housing market is finally cooling off in the state’s major metropolitan areas, including Houston, where the median home price recently hit a record $351,000, according to the Dallas Fed.

Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2022

University of Houston to the Big 12: Changing the brand and look

A giant Big 12 logo greets visitors at the entrance of the University of Houston’s Athletics-Alumni Center. It’s a can’t-miss, scream-it-from-the-rooftop announcement of UH’s impending and long-desired move to the Power Five conference. And just the first of many new logos that will become visible at UH’s on-campus athletic facilities in the next 12 months, as the school begins to transition branding from its current affiliation with the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12. When UH student-athletes suit up next fall — the school recently finalized plans to begin play in 2023 — they’ll do so in new uniforms that feature the Big 12 logo. The school also will need to change out parts of the playing surfaces at TDECU Stadium, Fertitta Center, Guy V. Lewis Development Facility and Schroeder Park.

While it may sound like a lot, there is no map or extensive list of AAC logos that eventually must be replaced, and UH’s athletic facilities and offices will require only minimal changes, according to T.J. Meagher, senior associate athletics director for capital projects. UH did not use the AAC logo around its facilities or offices much, eliminating some replacement expenses. “I think we were somewhat strategic about what we made our commitment to in terms of long term,” Meagher said. “All were identified quickly in a few minutes. We’re not talking pages. It’s not that long of a list.” A recent tour of UH’s on-campus facilities revealed only a handful of permanent AAC logos. Two AAC logos are visible on the artificial turf at TDECU Stadium (the red ‘A’ with a star in the middle located at the 25-yard-lines) that can be painted over. “We’ll get the stencil, and it will look brand-new,” Meagher said. A second-floor wall inside the Athletics-Alumni Center, the headquarters for the school’s 17 varsity sports, features a U.S. map with locations of all 11 AAC members that will need to be removed or updated.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 6, 2022

Haltom City police: Officers who were shot ‘in good spirits’

Haltom City police on Tuesday released a photograph of two recovering officers who were shot last week outside a house where two people were slain. In a hospital room, Officer Jose Avila is seen in bed, and Corporal Zach Tabler is in a chair beside him. Officer Tim Barton was released from a hospital on Sunday. “All three are in good spirits and are missing shenanigans on late night patrol!” the department wrote in a Facebook post. “The outpouring of warm wishes and prayers have been amazing from not only the #BuffNation but also from all over Texas,” the department wrote.

Edward Freyman killed a man and woman and wounded a neighbor on Saturday before opening fire on the officers as they stood outside the house in and near the street, authorities said. Freyman, 28, previously served in the Army and Texas Army National Guard, according to an Army spokesperson. After shooting to death Collin Davis, 33, and Amber Tsai, 32, Freyman killed himself about a half mile from Tsai’s house in the 5700 block of Diamond Oaks Drive North, police said. The neighbor and police officers who were wounded are expected to survive. Police said that Freyman knew Davis and Tsai but that the nature of their relationship and the motive for the killings were not clear. Neighbors said Tuesday that Freyman appeared to have been living at Tsai’s home. Donations to the families of Tabler, Avila and Barton may be sent via Zelle to Jwhitmire@haltomcitytx.com or via Venmo to @Nellie-whitmire. Prosperity Bank in Haltom City opened an account to receive donations that police said would be divided among the officers.

San Antonio Express-News - July 5, 2022

‘It’s not going to be as sexy’: Boca Chica looks toward a SpaceX future less lofty than it’d hoped

Luis Garza and his wife, Mireida, drove five hours from Monterrey, Mexico, to be here Friday. They brought their son, Luis Jr., 3, and daughter, Miranda, 7, to Starbase as part of a family vacation. They came for a glimpse of a Starship, to pose with it in the background. They came with hopes of seeing the first-ever orbital launch from South Texas. “Thanks to Elon, I can see the rockets,” Garza said. “I want to see the stars and the moon,” his daughter added. Posing with the big SpaceX rockets was simple. Seeing an orbital launch may not be. For years, Elon Musk has touted SpaceX’s compound in Boca Chica as the “Gateway to Mars” — the site from which his company would launch its massive Starship to carry astronauts to the moon and the red planet.

But area residents increasingly believe Musk is abandoning Starbase as his premier launch site. They’re taking him at his word about turning the South Texas facility into a research and development center — and moving most orbital launch operations to Florida. “Anything that goes to the moon or Mars is definitely not happening here,” said Louis Balderas Jr., who for the past three years has been recording SpaceX operations 24/7 on his LabPadre YouTube channel. “It’s not going to be as sexy being R&D. It won’t be the true gateway to Mars.” SpaceX workers agree. Speaking on condition of anonymity because they don’t have approval to discuss the company’s plans, past and current employees say South Texas is no longer the gateway. The future of Starbase — Musk’s branding of the 47-acre facility here — began to come into focus last year as officials repeatedly delayed completion of an environmental review necessary for the Federal Aviation Administration to authorize orbital launch operations. In February, it was Musk himself posing with a 400-foot-tall Starship, telling a crowd of employees, locals and journalists that he expected approval soon. But his optimism came with a warning: If the FAA postponed the review again, SpaceX might move operations to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it already had approval for orbital Starship launches. After four more postponements, the FAA on June 13 concluded its review, issuing a finding of “no significant impact” from orbital launches. But the agency said it would require SpaceX to take more than 75 actions to mitigate environmental impacts before issuing the operator a license needed to launch from Starbase.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 5, 2022

This Houston bank is led by women and is the first of its kind

Over nearly four decades in the banking industry, Lauren Sparks saw few women move into C-level suites or the corporate board room. When banks merged, a common occurrence in recent history, women executives were often among the first to get pinks slips as staffs consolidated. One day in 2018, as she expressed her frustration with the state of women in banking, her husband suggested she do something about it. Over the next two days she barely spoke to her him as she processed the thoughts racing through her mind: I can’t do that. How would I do that? Who am I to do that? I don’t come from a family that does that. I don’t have those resources. “But after about two days I figured out that there was probably a way to do it,” Sparks said. Sparks’ way was Agility Bank, the first new minority depository national bank to be chartered by the Comptroller of the Currency in more than 15 years.

Agility said it is also the first federally chartered minority-owned bank founded and led primarily led by women. The bank opened in the Heights neighborhood in May with more than $40 million in deposits from 300 shareholders after more than a year of fundraising that included a frigid week in February 2021 when electricity was scarce and cellphone batteries were running down. One group gathered dozens of women who pooled their money to come up with the $50,000 minimum investment. “The word isn’t ‘vindication,’ but—we did it,” said Sparks, now Agility Bank’s CEO. Sparks began her career in banking while attending Rice University in the 1980s, working part-time as a teller at Charter Bank. She went on to work at that bank for almost nine years before striking out as a consultant to banks, and in 2010 founded her own company, Third Party Resources, which specializes in risk management and regulatory compliance. Over the years, she came to see that perspective matters—or really, different perspectives. “I don’t think people mean to push other people out,” Sparks said. “They just don’t understand. They don’t have the perspective of what somebody else knows, thinks, feels, needs. They just don’t get it.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 6, 2022

‘I had to get out’: High number of teachers, staffers resigning from Austin schools

For Andrew Gonzales, resigning from his teaching job at Lively Middle School in South Austin was a difficult decision. A third-generation teacher, he envisioned himself as a lifelong educator and fondly remembers helping his mom set up her classroom during her 36 years on the job. But after seven years in the profession — including five at Travis High School, also in the Austin district — Gonzales, 30, said the “abysmally low” pay and ever-expanding responsibilities became unsustainable. So he left in October to work at a medical device company, earning a $1,000 per month pay raise and a quick promotion. “It makes such a big impact on how I feel when I go to work,” he said. Gonzales isn’t alone. According to data provided by the district’s Office of Human Capital, more than 1,700 staff members resigned from Austin schools from July 2021 to June — more than in any of the past three school years. That includes 875 teachers resigning — a nearly 30% increase from the 2020-21 school year.

The school board approved pay increases and bonuses for the upcoming school year, but some teachers and education advocates worry that the pay boosts are too small and are coming too late to improve staff retention and alleviate a shortage that's being felt nationwide. Bronwyn Merritt, 35, decided to leave teaching in December after 15 years in the profession. She said she resigned from her job at Brentwood Elementary School, where she had worked for four years, because she felt a lack of support and understanding from the administration, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Public education wasn't serving me as a person anymore,” she said. “It wasn't fulfilling, and it was taking away from my personal well-being and my family's well-being, so I had to get out.” There are multiple problems in the field, Merritt said, including low pay, long hours and “endless to-dos.” But she said it’s the way teachers are treated by administrators and state and federal officials — with a lack of respect, lack of trust and increasing oversight — that pushed her to leave the profession. “It seems to me like our administrators, locally at the school level, at the district level and also at the state and federal level, just really want to micromanage everything that's done in the classroom right now,” she said. “And it's taking away the autonomy from teachers.”

National Stories

CNN - July 6, 2022

Former deputy press secretary for Trump to testify at an upcoming January 6 committee hearing

Sarah Matthews, who served as deputy press secretary in the Trump White House until resigning shortly after the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, has been subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the insurrection and has agreed to testify at an upcoming hearing, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation. Matthews has been subpoenaed to testify at a public hearing as early as next week, sources tell CNN. Matthews resigned the night of January 6, 2021, saying in a statement that she was honored to serve in then-President Donald Trump's administration but "was deeply disturbed by what I saw." She added: "Our nation needs a peaceful transfer of power."

After another former Trump White house aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, publicly testified before the committee last week, Matthews tweeted: "Anyone downplaying Cassidy Hutchinson's role or her access in the West Wing either doesn't understand how the Trump (White House) worked or is attempting to discredit her because they're scared of how damning this testimony is." The committee declined to comment on the Matthews subpoena. The last two hearings are expected to focus on the assembly of a violent mob in Washington, DC, that Trump directed to march to the US Capitol and on Trump ignoring pleas for assistance and failing to take immediate action to try to stop the violence. Earlier Tuesday, the committee announced a hearing will be held on July 12, and it's expected to focus on the role of extremist groups on January 6.

Wall Street Journal - July 6, 2022

Biden Administration sues Arizona over proof-of-citizenship voter law

The Biden administration on Tuesday sued Arizona, saying the state violates federal law by requiring proof of citizenship to vote for president. In its latest challenge to Republican-backed changes to state voting procedures, the Justice Department said Arizona’s newly enacted requirement that residents provide documentary proof of citizenship would keep eligible voters from participating in certain federal elections. The state law set to take effect in January, “turns the clock back by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division. She called Arizona’s House Bill 2492, which also requires proof-of-citizenship to vote by mail in any federal election, a “textbook violation” of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. A provision requiring election officials to reject registration forms based on mistakes that aren’t relevant to a voter’s eligibility also violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Justice Department said.

Arizona Republicans passed the bill in a party-line vote, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed it on March 30, calling it “a balanced approach that honors Arizona’s history of making voting accessible without sacrificing security in our elections.” It requires proof-of-citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate, on a federal voter registration form. Voting rights advocates had warned that such a measure could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters. State lawmakers who wrote the bill said it is aimed at curbing fraud, though experts say cases of noncitizens voting are rare. The Justice Department is seeking to block provisions of the state law from being enforced. “It’s another round of Brnovich v. Biden as his DOJ continues its attempts to undermine our election integrity laws,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said on Twitter. “I will see you in court. Again.” In 2013, the Supreme Court rejected an earlier attempt by the state to impose similar proof-of-citizenship requirements for federal elections, saying such a mandate interfered with Congress’s prerogative to set election laws. Mr. Brnovich told Ms. Clarke in a letter last week that he was prepared to defend the new law all the way to the Supreme Court and “defeat the federal government’s efforts to interfere with our state’s election safeguards.”

Associated Press - July 5, 2022

A federal judge sides with 3 major drug distributors in a landmark opioid lawsuit

A federal judge on Monday ruled in favor of three major U.S. drug distributors in a landmark lawsuit that accused them of causing a health crisis by distributing 81 million pills over eight years in one West Virginia county ravaged by opioid addiction. The verdict came nearly a year after closing arguments in a bench trial in the lawsuit filed by Cabell County and the city of Huntington against AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp. "The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law," U.S. District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. "In view of the court's findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants' favor." Cabell County attorney Paul Farrell had argued the distributors should be held responsible for sending a "tsunami" of prescription pain pills into the community and that the defendants' conduct was unreasonable, reckless and disregarded the public's health and safety in an area ravaged by opioid addiction.

The companies blamed an increase in prescriptions written by doctors along with poor communication and pill quotas set by federal agents. While the lawsuit alleged the distributors created a public nuisance, Faber said West Virginia's Supreme Court has only applied public nuisance law in the context of conduct that interferes with public property or resources. He said to extend the law to cover the marketing and sale of opioids "is inconsistent with the history and traditional notions of nuisance." Faber noted that the plaintiffs offered no evidence that the defendants distributed controlled substances to any entity that didn't hold a proper registration from the Drug Enforcement Agency or the state Board of Pharmacy. The defendants also had suspicious monitoring systems in place as required by the Controlled Substances Act, he said. "Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants," Faber wrote. In a statement, Cardinal Health said the judge's ruling "recognizes what we demonstrated in court, which is that we do not manufacture, market, or prescribe prescription medications but instead only provide a secure channel to deliver medications of all kinds from manufacturers to our thousands of hospital and pharmacy customers that dispense them to their patients based on doctor-ordered prescriptions.

Charlotte Observer - July 5, 2022

Mick Mulvaney: GOP loyalists are speaking truth about Trump

(Mick Mulvaney was former President Donald Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff in the final days of his term. Mulvaney resigned Jan. 6, 2021 following the attack on the Capitol. He is currently co-chair of Actum, LLC and lives in Indian Land, S.C.) The significance of last week’s Congressional Jan. 6 committee hearings cannot be overstated. For the first time, evidence was presented that former President Trump knew some of the protesters were armed before encouraging them to go the Capitol, that right-wing extremist rioters communicated directly with the White House, that key Presidential advisers requested pardons, that the chief White House lawyer was concerned about getting “charged with every crime imaginable,” and that someone within Trump world may be trying to tamper with committee witnesses. Serious stuff. But roughly half the country — the Republican half — isn’t watching. They object that the hearings are a made-for-TV show trial, designed to attack the former president and salvage the Democrats’ dismal prospects in the upcoming midterms.

They claim that the “Unselect Committee” is made up entirely of Trump-haters and that there is no cross-examination of witnesses. They complain that the committee has heavily edited the evidence, and that the full testimonies of the witnesses have not been released. They point out that some of the evidence presented is hearsay that would never see the light of day in a legitimate court hearing. And they are correct. On every single point. But they still should be paying attention. That is because, despite all of the flaws in the structure of the heavily Democrat committee, almost all of the evidence presented so far is coming from eminently credible sources: Republicans. Bill Barr is a two-time Republican U.S. Attorney General. As recently as a few weeks ago he was still defending the former president against charges of criminal activity. When he swears, under oath, that he investigated almost every allegation of voter fraud — including those in the 2000 Mules movie — and found them to be completely worthless, Republicans should pay attention. Rusty Bowers is the Republican Speaker of the House in Arizona. He campaigned for Trump and voted for him twice. And until last week at least, said he would do so again.

Reuters - July 5, 2022

Abortion bans in Florida, Mississippi allowed to take effect

Florida's ban on abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy is now in effect after a court order blocking its enforcement was put on hold on Tuesday, and a Mississippi judge declined to prevent a near-total ban from being implemented later this week. The dual developments marked the latest legal setbacks for abortion rights supporters after the U.S. Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed women nationally the right to terminate pregnancies. In Florida, soon after Circuit Court Judge John Cooper finalized an expected order blocking enforcement of a 15-week ban that took effect on Friday, the Republican-led state promptly appealed, triggering an automatic freeze of his injunction.

Hours later, Judge Debbra Halford in Jackson, Mississippi denied a request by the state's only abortion clinic to prevent officials from carrying out a near-total ban on abortion that is set to take effect on Thursday. The clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, in challenging the law and a separate six-week ban, cited a 1998 ruling by the Mississippi Supreme Court holding that the right to privacy under the state's constitution included a right to abortion. But Halford said it was "more than doubtful" the state's high court would continue to uphold that decision as it rested on the U.S. Supreme Court's own past rulings including Roe v. Wade. Rob McDuff, a lawyer for the Mississippi clinic, called the ruling disappointing and said they were considering their options. Mississippi is one of 13 states with "trigger" laws designed to ban or restrict abortions once the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, as it did June 24 in a case upholding a different Mississippi law barring abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Appeals in both cases are expected, with lawyers for the abortion providers in Florida at the ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights already vowing to seek reinstatement of the injunction and to get the 15-week ban "blocked for good."

Washington Monthly - July 5, 2022

Bill Scher: The end of Roe v. Wade could help Democrats in these midterm races

Last month, with the demise of Roe v. Wade looming, I worried about Democrats reacting to the Supreme Court decision by forming a circular firing squad. And now that the Court has killed off Roe with its radical opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, Democratic officeholders, progressive activists, and even left-leaning celebrities have already begun moving into their self-destructive positions. Legitimate arguments can be made about whether Democrats should take every conceivable action—without regard to existing law and Senate rules—to protect abortion rights now or whether party members should only work within the system because further erosion of norms would make all rights, reproductive and beyond, at the mercy of shifting political winds. But why should Democrats get mired in an intraparty debate about tactics when they can unite against Republicans banning abortion?

Republicans are turning the clock back to the early 20th century—and in some cases, where dormant laws are being dusted off, the 19th—in about half of the states. The political scientists Jake Grumbach and Christopher Warshaw crunched survey data from multiple sources for The Washington Post and determined that “a majority of the public in about 40 states supports legal abortion rights.” In other words, several states present opportunities for Democrats to restore reproductive freedoms. Here are some vulnerable Republicans. These Republican governors signed abortion bans that are unpopular in their states. Just this week, a Quinnipiac poll showed the Georgia gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican Brian Kemp and former House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams in a dead heat, with Abrams closing a two-point gap since January. However, a smattering of prior polls from other outfits suggests that Kemp may still hold a slight lead. The Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Texas, former Representative Beto O’Rourke, might face a tougher battle as he trails Governor Gregg Abbott by five points in the most recent Quinnipiac poll and eight points in the most recent CBS/YouGov poll. But regarding abortion policy, Quinnipiac found that Texas voters preferred O’Rourke over Abbott by two points. And 59 percent of Texans in the CBS/YouGov poll disapprove of Abbott’s handling of abortion. (The Quinnipiac poll was taken before, and the CBS/YouGov poll was partially taken before, the Dobbs ruling.)

July 5, 2022

Lead Stories

KSAT - July 5, 2022

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez calls Uvalde CISD police chief a ‘scapegoat;’ blasts Gov. Abbott, DPS for systemic failures

State Senator Roland Gutierrez says he thinks Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo is just a scapegoat for systemic failures that resulted in the mass school shooting that left 21 people dead. “Pete Arredondo was placed out there as the scapegoat, for sure, for a tremendous amount of failure that happened at every possible level,” Gutierrez said in a July 4 interview with CNN. Gutierrez said Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw was quick to point the finger at Arredondo when there were more troopers on the scene than district police officers. “I don’t know Peter Arredondo. Don’t need to know him; don’t want to know him,” Gutierrez said. “But at the end of the day, we had so many DPS troopers on scene —12 of the 19 that were in that hallway, twelve were DPS troopers. What are the systemic failures?”

Gutierrez said he was glad Arredondo resigned from his City Council seat saying it was what his constituents wanted to happen. “I think that this will begin to at least begin that part of the healing process with regard to this gentleman. But I think that we also need to (not) forget that accountability doesn’t just lie with him,” he said. Gutierrez said there needs to be transparency in the investigation because he doesn’t believe fault for the botched response to the May 24 shooting lies solely with Arredondo. “It lies with Operation Lonestar, the 91 troopers that were on scene and the eight other agencies that were in that hallway,” he said. Gutierrez called it possibly the worst mass shooting, not in terms of most people killed, but due to the response from law enforcement. “It’s probably the longest in having to wait for law enforcement to go in,” he said. “We don’t know how many children possibly bled out, but the systemic failures and the human error here were abound.” Gutierrez is suing DPS for access to records related to the massacre at Robb Elementary School, saying he wants to see the facts for himself because he wouldn’t trust another “sugarcoated presentation” from DPS.

San Antonio Express-News - July 4, 2022

ERCOT's shift in operations may mean rise in prices for customers

Unilateral changes made by the Public Utility Commission and state’s grid manager have fundamentally altered how the state’s power market functions, potentially costing Texans an estimated $1 billion since July 2021 and as much as $2 billion by the end of the year. After two decades of relying on market mechanisms, namely prices, to bring power on and off the grid, the PUC and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas are instead ordering generators to keep plants running — even when the electricity isn’t needed — to ensure a comfortable supply cushion. In addition to adding costs for consumers, power generators say they’re losing money and damaging aging equipment to meet the new requirements, signaling they may mothball some plants, or shut them down for good, due to wear and tear. The changes put in place by the PUC and ERCOT have distorted the market, undermined pricing and created uncertainty, analysts said, making it unlikely investors would pour millions of dollars into building and expanding generation while it remains unclear how the power market operates and how it may change in the next year.

The PUC was charged by the Legislature to redesign power markets following the catastrophic grid failure during the winter storm of February 2021. The agency is not expected to publish its final proposals until the fall, and those changes likely won’t go into effect until 2023 or 2024. Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission, defended the measures taken in recent months as temporary reforms designed to increase reserves and move away from a model in which generators are rewarded when power shortages reach crisis levels and wholesale prices spike 100 times or more above average prices. Lake pointed to the recent stretch of 100 degree days that drove record power consumption to all-time highs without disruptions to the power grid. “We know the reforms are working,” Lake said. “We’ve seen it in action. We’ve faced test after test early this summer and have seen benefits of our refocus on reliability.” But it’s still unknown how much more reliability the PUC and ERCOT have bought and at what cost, said Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant who worked for the PUC from 1995 to 2001 and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004. “We have no proof or analysis, other than assertions by the PUC and ERCOT, that these measures are in fact improving reliability,” she said. “They have not been clear or straightforward in accounting for the full costs of reliability.”

Associated Press - July 4, 2022

Uneasy U.S. tries to fete an Independence Day marred by parade shooting in Chicago suburb

A shooting that left at least six people dead and dozens hurt at an Independence Day parade in a Chicago suburb rattled Monday’s celebrations across the U.S. and further rocked a country already awash in turmoil over high court rulings on abortion and guns as well as hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection. The parade in Highland Park began around 10 a.m. but was suddenly halted 10 minutes later after shots were fired. Hundreds of parade-goers — some visibly bloodied — fled the parade route, leaving behind chairs, baby strollers and blankets. Authorities asked residents to shelter in place while they search for the suspect. “On a day that we came together to celebrate community and freedom, we are instead mourning the tragic loss of life and struggling with the terror that was brought upon us," Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering said. News of yet another mass shooting came as the nation tried to find cause to celebrate its founding and the bonds that still hold it together. It was supposed to be a day for taking off work, flocking to parades, devouring hot dogs and burgers at backyard barbecues and gathering under a canopy of stars and exploding fireworks.

“The Fourth of July is a sacred day in our country — it’s a time to celebrate the goodness of our nation, the only nation on Earth founded based on an idea: that all people are created equal,” President Joe Biden tweeted earlier on Monday. “Make no mistake, our best days still lie ahead.” These are precarious times: An economic recession lurks, and the Highland Park shooting will weigh on a national psyche already raw from mass shootings like those seen recently in Uvalde and Buffalo, N.Y. Sharp social and political divisions have also been laid bare by recent Supreme Court decisions overturning the constitutional right to abortion and striking down a New York law limiting who may carry a gun in public. “Independence Day doesn’t feel like much of a celebration when our basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are on the chopping block,” tweeted New York Attorney General Tish James, a Democrat. “Today, I encourage you to imagine what this nation could be if and when we live up to our values.” However, many had reason to gather and celebrate for the first time in three years amid easing coronavirus precautions.

New York Times - July 5, 2022

Veterans of Carter-era inflation warn that Biden has few tools to tame prices

When inflation surged in the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter convened his top economic advisers for weekly lunch meetings in which they tended to offer overly optimistic forecasts of how high prices would rise. But the political consequences of rising prices could not be escaped: By 1978, Democrats had lost seats in the House and Senate. A year later, Mr. Carter’s Treasury secretary, W. Michael Blumenthal, was ousted in a cabinet shake-up. In 1980, Mr. Carter lost his re-election bid in a landslide as the Federal Reserve, intent on bringing inflation down, raised interest rates so aggressively that it tipped the economy into a painful recession. President Biden and the Democrats in power now face a similar predicament as they scramble to tame inflation after a year of telling Americans that price gains would be short-lived. In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has pressed oil refineries to ramp up production, proposed a three-month gas tax holiday and called on the Federal Reserve to do what is needed to cool an overheating economy. But to veterans of the Carter administration, the echoes of the past call for a greater sense of urgency from Mr. Biden despite his limited power to bring prices down.

“The basic problem that this president faces is really not too dissimilar from the one that confronted Carter,” said Mr. Blumenthal, who is 96 and divides his time between Princeton, N.J., and Germany, where he was born. “President Biden faces this dilemma, and it’s certainly my hope that he will choose clearly, choose decisively and be very clear not only about the fact that he recognizes that inflation has to be dealt with, but that he is really willing to support painful steps to do that.” That pain could be severe if the Fed, as economists increasingly expect, is forced to tip the economy into recession in order to bring inflation to heel. The central bank has already begun raising interest rates quickly and signaled it will do whatever it takes to restore “price stability” as it tries to avoid the mistakes of the 1970s. Veterans of the Carter administration say Mr. Biden would be wise to also learn from the past and avoid half-measures that have popular appeal but do little to resolve the underlying problem, as well as forgoing large spending initiatives. The United States has been buffeted by soaring prices this year as supply chain disruptions that emerged during the pandemic coincided with a surge in food and energy prices spurred by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Consumer Price Index picked up by 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, as price increases climbed at the fastest pace in more than 40 years. Gas hit $5 per gallon in June and is now averaging around $4.80.

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - July 4, 2022

Embattled Arredondo quits Uvalde council

Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, the school police chief in charge of the botched law enforcement response to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, won a City Council seat two and a half weeks before the massacre. Many Uvalde residents turned against Arredondo in the weeks following the killing of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, with some calling for his ouster from council. Arredondo quietly resigned on Saturday, bowing to the pressure. Not that he’s had much of a presence at City Hall. He was sworn in as the District 3 councilman during a private ceremony a week after the shooting, and hasn’t attended a single meeting since then. As the weekend began, residents were stunned, learning of his resignation from the Uvalde Leader-News. In a letter sent Saturday afternoon to the city secretary, Arredondo said the mayor, council members and city staff “must continue to move forward to unite our community, once again.”

“It is in the best interest of the community to step down as a member of the City Council for District 3 to minimize further distractions,” he wrote. Mayor Donald McLaughlin Jr. said he first learned that Arredondo was leaving the council in a text message containing a link to the Leader-News story. He later was given a copy of the resignation letter Arredondo had written Friday and sent via email. Arredondo, 50, could not be reached for comment on Saturday. But he spoke earlier with the local newspaper. “After much consideration, I regret to inform those who voted for me that I have decided to step down as a member of the city council for District 3,” he said. “I feel this is the best decision for Uvalde.” Neither McLaughlin nor Councilman Ernest “Chip” King III were aware of his decision until the story broke. It also wasn’t clear when Arredondo’s resignation would become effective. His letter didn’t address the timing of his exit. The mayor said Arredondo’s departure would give families and citizens “a sense of relief.”

Dallas Morning News - July 4, 2022

After Roe, architect of Texas abortion law sets sights on gay marriage and more

If Jonathan Mitchell were a comic book character, he would be drawn holding a lawbook in one hand and in the other, a sledgehammer. Best known as the architect behind Senate Bill 8, the state law that deputizes everyday Texans as abortion bounty hunters, Mitchell has spent years arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court should reverse its decision in Roe vs. Wade. His legal theories and court cases helped lay the groundwork onto which the ruling came toppling down. But as the rest of the country was bracing for the fall of Roe, Mitchell was already moving on. Since opening up a one-man legal shop in Austin four years ago, he has jumped headlong into myriad other lawsuits over everything from the contraceptive mandate to affirmative action and same-sex marriage.

Mitchell says his goal is to systematically dismantle decades of rulings he believes depart from the language of the U.S. Constitution or that impose constitutional rights with no textual basis. With the Supreme Court moving ever more his way, the cases he brings may be a bellwether for the direction of the nation’s legal establishment, and, by extension, the nation itself. In a rare interview, the former solicitor general of Texas insisted that underlying his mission is not religious belief or political ideology or personal animus, but an unflinching conviction that federal courts must interpret the Constitution closely and cannot declare new rights not explicitly afforded in that document. Mitchell sees himself in the role of redeemer — not destroyer. “For decades, the Supreme Court has been making up constitutional rights that are nowhere to be found in the language of the document,” Mitchell, 45, told The Dallas Morning News. “These decisions are lawless, and they need to be undermined and resisted at every turn until the Supreme Court sees fit to overrule them.” But where Mitchell sees himself as a devotee to the rule of law, his opponents detect an extremist. Regarded even by his harshest critics as an undeniably sharp legal mind, they fault him for, in their views, intentionally dismissing precedent and the real-world consequences of his actions in an effort to wipe a number of fundamental rights from the lawbooks. When Mitchell threw his support behind Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, the case that toppled Roe, he urged the Supreme Court not to be squeamish about other rulings it might knock down.

Austin American-Statesman - July 4, 2022

Could abortion ban tarnish Texas' business-friendly image?

The Texas economy has fueled strong job growth and investment in recent years even as businesses in the state have increasingly found themselves embroiled in culture war issues ranging from vaccine policies to when sports teams must play the national anthem. But the politics surrounding abortion could challenge that resilience. Texas has banned most abortions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the nationwide right to the procedure — the opposite position of some states from which it has been attracting steady streams of corporate relocations and new workers, such as California, Illinois and New York. In addition, a number of socially conservative Republican lawmakers in Texas have said they plan to mount efforts during next year's session of the Legislature to punish companies that help their employees obtain out-of-state abortions.

Possible measures include barring "corporations from doing business in the state of Texas if they pay for (out-of-state) elective abortions or reimburse abortion-related expenses" — as state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and 13 other state House members outlined in a May letter to ride-hailing service Lyft — to making such companies ineligible for state contracts or publicly funded financial incentives. It's unclear if any of those efforts will gain sufficient political traction to become law or withstand legal challenges if they do so. But the state's anti-abortion stance already has put it at odds with many private-sector employers. Dozens of corporations nationwide have announced they back abortion rights and intend to support workers who want to obtain the procedure. Austin-based companies that have done so include electric automaker Tesla, job search firm Indeed.com and dating app company Bumble. Others with big operations statewide include Facebook parent Meta and Dallas-based AT&T, as well as Lyft and fellow ride-hailing service Uber. "We are committed to supporting our employees in their own decisions about their health," Indeed said in a written statement. "Not only will employees be reimbursed for travel expenses for covered medical procedures that are unavailable where they live, but we are also covering their dependents."

Houston Chronicle - July 4, 2022

Deal on historic gun law shows Sen. John Cornyn in his element: shrewd, steady and jeered as a RINO

To U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the bipartisan gun bill he helped draft — the most significant tightening of firearm laws in decades — wasn’t just about saving lives, though he stressed repeatedly that it would as he shepherded it through the evenly divided Senate. The legislation was also a sign of life from the institution where he’s spent two decades representing Texas. "Americans are wondering whether our institutions can still work the way they’re supposed to," Cornyn said. "I think we demonstrated that is still possible. That was a high-profile example of our institutions working." The gun bill was just the latest - and perhaps most visible - example of Cornyn’s work in the Senate, where the Texas Republican is a key player for his party, and an often effective dealmaker, even if public polling has shown many back home don’t like his work or even know who he is.

The gun debate highlights the position Cornyn has staked out for himself: An institutionalist in a Republican party that is increasingly distrusting of institutions, a conservative willing to strike deals with Democrats at a time when doing so got him branded a "RINO" — Republican in name only — by former President Donald Trump. "This was fundamentally important to the country at a time when things are so polarized," Cornyn said. "I thought it was really important to demonstrate that the Senate could work." The 70-year-old senator has kept his head down for most of his two decades in D.C., a style that can seem outdated in an era of hyperpartisan posturing. He rarely throws bombs or makes comments that will land him segments on Newsmax, Fox or other conservative outlets many of his colleagues frequent. When he does go viral, it’s more likely for a questionably worded tweet than a political haymaker. Cornyn has "staked his career on being an institutional player," working his way into the GOP leadership, serving as party whip through part of the Trump administration and as the head of its fundraising arm, said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

New York Times - July 4, 2022

'So stressed out': Gas prices force Texans to rethink driving and spending

Most Americans would gladly pay the $4.29 for a gallon of regular gas Buc-ee’s was charging this week on Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio, more than 50 cents below the national average. But with prices more than $1.50 a gallon higher than they were a year ago, even Texans are complaining, and changing their buying habits to make do. “It makes me so stressed out just thinking about buying gas,” Nancy Oncken, a retired kindergarten teacher, said as she filled up her station wagon on her way to join five cousins at a water park outside San Antonio for the long weekend. “It’s now always in the back of my mind to be conservative about what I buy.” When Oncken drives through Buc-ee’s, the well-known Texas-scale convenience store with enough gasoline pumps to fuel an army, she often buys a souvenir bumper sticker, tumbler or keychain adorned with the cartoonish bucktoothed beaver wearing a baseball cap. But this year, she said, she will keep a grip on her wallet.

Drivers will get a bit of a break this Fourth of July weekend now that gasoline prices have eased about 15 cents a gallon over the last two weeks. But with the Russian invasion of Ukraine settling into a grinding war of attrition, constraining global energy supplies, gas prices are not likely to decline much more this summer. At $4.84 a gallon Friday, the national average price for regular gas was $1.72 above a year ago, according to the AAA motor club. The fuel prices are altering buying patterns, and there are early signs that people may be rethinking their driving. Economists report that travel spending remains strong this year because of pent-up demand after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. But interviews with drivers at Buc-ee’s in Katy, Texas, suggest that consumer confidence is beginning to erode under the pressure of high prices for fuel, food and housing. Oncken and several others said the holiday weekend might be the only vacation they would take this summer, a sharp break from the past. A recent report by Mastercard SpendingPulse, which monitors national retail sales, showed that despite a roughly 60% increase in gasoline prices from last year, total spending at gas station convenience stores was up only 29%, suggesting that many like Oncken are compensating for gas prices by saving on little, whimsical indulgences. “Opting for a lower fuel grade, driving a bit less, or skipping that slushy or candy bar in the store are part of a bigger picture of choices consumers are making every day in the face of higher prices,” said Michelle Meyer, U.S. chief economist at the Mastercard Economics Institute.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2022

Jerry Patterson: Keep guns from criminals not law-abiding Texans

(Jerry Patterson is a retired Marine Vietnam veteran, former Texas State Senator and former Texas Land Commissioner.) The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, struck down New York’s law requiring applicants prove “good cause” to qualify for a concealed handgun license. There are three reasons this was the right decision: There is no other constitutionally enumerated right for which a citizen must prove a need; Evidence in the multitude of states without a good cause requirement is that handgun licensees are exceptionally law abiding; and, unlike other states that regulate who can carry, where they can carry, and what they can carry, the New York law wants to know why. It’s the why that makes the New York concealed carry law unconstitutional. I own dozens of firearms and have lots of ammunition. I own fully automatic and federally licensed machine guns. I carry a handgun at all times, not because I’m afraid, but because I always know where it is, and so it won’t be stolen from my vehicle or home. In 1995 I was the Texas Senate author of Senate Bill 60, the Concealed Handgun Law signed by then Governor George W. Bush.

The Houston Chronicle editorial board has long made arguments against gun rights based on emotion not solid evidence, or no evidence at all. This reflects a broader problem in the debate over guns. Chronicle editorials regarding the concealed handgun law when it was being debated predicted a dramatic increase in shootouts and gun deaths across Texas. A Chronicle article from March 16, 1995, quoted my colleague Sen. Greg Luna, “It is going to be a much more dangerous and deadly society we have imposed on ourselves in Texas,” as well as many other naysayers. It didn’t happen. In fact, firearms homicides after the passage of SB 60 declined 42 percent during the period from 1996 to 2012. Texas Department of Public Safety data indicates that in 2021, there were 124,280 Texans convicted of a serious crime and only 178 (0.1416 percent) were license holders — more proof that licensed carry does not increase firearm-related deaths. Nonetheless, in their dissent, Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan predicted, without any factual basis, the 6-3 decision that eliminated the good cause requirement “severely burdens” states’ efforts to reduce gun crime. They chose to ignore that the predicted carnage in other states with unfettered license to carry laws didn’t happen, or maybe their bias against the Second Amendment is so compelling as to be irrational.

TIME - July 4, 2022

Katie Gutierrez: Why I stay in Texas, even though it’s breaking my heart

(Katie Gutierrez is the author of the novel More Than You'll Ever Know.) My home office in San Antonio is honeyed with summer light. Outside, a fledgling roadrunner races through the hot dirt and buffelgrass of the empty lot next door. The sun is already high, another scorcher, as my parents always called these days in Laredo, where I grew up, and where they did, too, and their parents before them, three generations of South Texans before our roots stretch across the Rio Grande into Mexico, where some long-ago relatives must have looked at their children and decided the U.S. would be a better home for them, safer and freer. The U.S. is my home. Texas is my home. Both are breaking my heart. On May 19, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB8, a draconian law banning abortion after six weeks (before most people even know they’re pregnant) and turning private citizens into bounty hunters by authorizing them to sue abortion facilitators or providers. On September 17, 2021, Abbott signed SB4, a law that outlawed medication abortion after seven weeks and made it illegal to mail abortion pills to anyone in the state.

Now, within 30 days of the June 24 Supreme Court decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, 13 trigger-law states, including Texas, will implement total or near-total bans on abortion. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t waste any time, quickly issuing an advisory saying that abortion providers could be criminally liable for violating pre-Roe statutes. “I will work tirelessly to ensure our laws are fully enforced and Life is protected in Texas,” he tweeted. He then closed his office, declaring June 24 an annual holiday. Exactly a month before the Supreme Court stripped millions of bodily autonomy and devalued our lives, an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers in Uvalde, a small town an hour and a half from my home. Three friends of a friend lost their 9-year-old daughters that day. “Lost”—a thing you say about keys, your page in a book, your way. Not your children, torn apart by a weapon of war. Not your basic rights, your full humanity.

Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2022

Texas Legislature looks to boost funding for alternatives to abortion even with most abortions illegal

Although abortion is about to be outlawed in Texas, anti-abortion groups and key state lawmakers say they are determined to pour even more money into programs designed to discourage women from getting abortions. The state has already dramatically boosted money for the “alternatives to abortion” programs by more than 450 percent over the past six years from $9 million a year to over $50 million a year. “My focus is to increase the funding for those programs,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola. “These services are going be even more needed going forward.” Hughes said he’ll be pushing for that funding when the Texas Legislature convenes in January. It’s not just Hughes, who was the lead legislator in creating the so-called Texas heartbeat bill that allows any citizen to sue those who help a woman obtain an abortion after six weeks of gestation. Texas Right to Life has also made protecting and increasing funding for alternatives to abortion, often called crisis pregnancy centers, a top priority.

John Seago, president of Texas Right to Life, told Republican activists at the state GOP convention last month that even though they are winning the fight against abortion, it’s no time to ease up. “This is not a time for us to back away from the fight,” he said. “It’s a time to double down and be bolder than ever.” The pledges to send more money to the programs started last week as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v Wade decision that had established constitutional protections for abortion rights. Texas is among more than a dozen states with a trigger law that will soon take effect and ban nearly all abortions. Last week, two of the state’s largest abortion providers, Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood Texas, announced they were no longer providing the service. Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott have touted alternatives to abortion programs as providing valuable counseling and mentoring to mothers in need.

Dallas Morning News - July 4, 2022

Wendy Davis says Democrats must intensify their fight to preserve abortion rights post-Roe

Politics were more collegial when Wendy Davis was a Democratic North Texas state senator from 2009 to 2015. But she as reflects on her history as a crusader for abortion rights and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, she wishes she could go back more than a quarter-century to when Democrats had control of the Legislature. And then she’d take no prisoners, especially in redistricting to keep the state from being controlled by Republicans. “If I had a magic time machine, I would want to go back to those last days when we had a majority in the Texas House and Senate,” Davis said this week in Dallas. “And I would wield my redistricting sword as brutally as they have toward us.” About two hours before Davis, perhaps best known for her 2013 filibuster of restrictive abortion legislation, made remarks at the Arts District Mansion in downtown Dallas on Tuesday, Harris County state District Judge Cory Sepolio issued a temporary restraining order stopping Texas from enforcing a ban on abortion in the state. When a guest at the luncheon shared the news, the audience applauded.

That reaction reflected a realization Davis had come to in the days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade: There’s no shame in a political dogfight with moral questions at stake. In a speech attended by Democratic officials, candidates and Linda Coffee, one of the attorneys who represented Jane Roe, Davis cajoled her colleagues to continue fighting for the sake of young people turned off by Democratic inaction. “That’s what a lot of our young people are hungry to see us do,” she said. “I’ve always been of the mind that even if you lose the fight, the battle is absolutely worth waging.” Davis now is part of a lawsuit challenging Texas residents and elected officials who use Senate Bill 8 restrictions, which went into effect Sept. 1, to dissuade people from donating to abortion funds. Enforcement of SB8 relies on civil legal actions taken by members of the public, which opponents — including President Joe Biden’s administration — decry as vigilante justice. Davis’ lawsuit takes on citizen enforcement. “The fact that we’ve allowed a vigilante system that encourages the reporting of other people is a system that is completely not in keeping with who we are as a civil society. And I think we need an answer to that question,” she said. Coffee said the Davis lawsuit could be a fruitful legal strategy going forward. She and her partner, Rebecca Hartt, said they learned the nearly-half-a-century-old case had been overturned from TV.

Dallas Morning News - July 4, 2022

How Sherman is making itself into an epicenter of the U.S. semiconductor universe

In downtown Sherman, markers explain the city’s past and restaurants and coffee shops boast about the historic buildings they call home. Just 10 minutes down the road, Dallas-based Texas Instruments and Taiwanese-owned silicon wafer builder GlobalWafers plan to spend a combined $35 billion on high-tech factories in the all-important semiconductor supply chain. Founded in 1846, the city is named after a Texas Revolution hero who led one of the militias shouting the “Remember the Alamo” rallying cry. Almost two centuries later, residents still pass beneath an ancient sprawling Pecan Tree that shades the county courthouse and the former town square. They know their neighbors’ names, professions and family trees. They visit shops, restaurants and expansive antique stores in the city’s preserved downtown.

But there’s a new lifeblood of Sherman’s economy. No longer built around railroads or mail routes or cotton trades, it’s now a high-tech town, largely bolstered by the jobs and investments provided by Texas Instruments, GlobalWafers and Apple supplier II-VI. As the city’s tech sector expands, its population is growing, and new housing developments and businesses are popping up left and right. “It’s a little scary for us,” said 37-year-old Sherman resident Lauren Sims. Still, she said, “It’s a good scary.” Sherman, the bigger part of the 120,000-person Sherman-Denison metro area, is no stranger to change. Its transformation into a key U.S. hub for semiconductor manufacturing is made possible by natural resources, infrastructure and savvy local leadership, but also by a business-friendly tradition dating back decades. “It’s in our DNA,” said Kent Sharp, president of the Sherman Economic Development Corp., which helped land the GlobalWafers deal that’ll bring the first facility of its kind to the U.S. in two decades.

Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2022

Roe v. Wade ruling could jeopardize the quality of OB-GYN education in Texas, experts say

In the wake of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, Texas medical professionals worry about retaining well-trained OB-GYNs as opportunities to learn about abortion fade — a problem that medical schools are grappling with nationwide. Nearly half of all OB-GYN residency programs are located in the 26 states certain or likely to outlaw abortions following the court decision, according to an article in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. A recent report from the American Association of Medical Colleges details how those laws could make it harder for the next generation of OB-GYNs to learn about the fundamental procedure, which is often necessary to complete a miscarriage or save a pregnant patient’s life. Dr. Paul Klotman, CEO and president of Baylor College of Medicine, acknowledged the potential disruptions in an email to faculty on Tuesday. Baylor is one of four major medical schools in the Houston area, including McGovern Medical School, the largest in Texas.

“We will work with the AAMC and other groups to fully understand the implications and determine how we continue to train our future healthcare providers in reproductive care following this ruling,” he said in the email. “We are committed to assuring that all of our students and trainees continue to receive an outstanding medical education.” Now, with fewer options for clinical experience in Texas, students might favor residency programs in less restrictive states, and doctors currently training here may be forced to complete temporary rotations elsewhere. Texas OB-GYN residency programs already feel the pressure, said Dr. Kimberly Pilkinton, a former OB-GYN residency program director and president-elect of the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Some students are already considering plans for their futures with this in mind, and residency program directors have already seen those student applicants asking about their adequacy of training,” said Pilkinton, who asked not to include her institutional affiliation in this story. “I sure hope that our current Texas residents feel they are still getting great training and will remain in Texas to finish their residencies — and that many choose to help us care for patients in our state thereafter.”

KERA - July 1, 2022

'We need to be making plans now.’ LGBTQ Texans reconsider their future in the state

Andony Ybarra of Carrollton said he first considered moving after Donald Trump won in 2016. He and his partner have parents in North Texas but are thinking more seriously about settling elsewhere. “With the new Supreme Court, it’s kind of broadened to, do we want to leave the state, or do we want to leave the country?” he said. Lara Young has two children who identify as LGBTQ. She moved from Texas to Gig Harbor, Washington in May and said it was the best decision for her mental health and that of her family after two solid years of turmoil. Realtor Bob McCranie launched a new relocation service, called “Flee Texas” in the past few days. It’s to help gay people sell their house and find a trusted real estate agent in another state — a state with more reliable gay and trans rights.

These are the conversations LGBTQ Texans and their families are having. After abortion rights took a staggering blow last week, they're afraid that they'll be targeted next. They worry their marriages might be nullified — or that they will never be able to get married. They also worry they might not be able to adopt children or that their right to be parents will be even more under attack. The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization nullified the nearly 50-year Constitutional right to abortion. The majority opinion’s reasoning also included serious warning signs for LGBTQ families. And at least one justice, in a concurring opinion, explicitly called for reversing legal protections for same sex intimacy and marriage. McCranie started thinking about launching his new website a couple of months ago, around the time a draft of the Dobbs opinion leaked. “A lot of the LGBTQ people I hang out with were having this conversation quietly,” he said. “And as the decision leaked and things were happening, I was like, I need to take some action on this.” McCranie said he didn’t have an exact number of people who have used the site so far, but said he’s talked to about two dozen people about the topic in the past week. The concern is far from theoretical: McCranie recalled that in 1998, when he and his first partner bought a house together, one of them had to be listed as a tenant to get the house insured. He fears a return to policies that relegate queer people to second-class status.

San Antonio Express-News - July 4, 2022

In a tweet, Tony Gonzales says Spurs have not donated money to Uvalde

In a tweet on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales said the "San Antonio Spurs have donated $0.00 to help Uvalde get whole. Facts are facts." It is unclear what prompted the social media post from the Republican congressman, whose 23rd district includes Uvalde, where on May 24 a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary. Gonzales' office has not returned multiple requests for comment.

Spurs Sports & Entertainment declined to comment, but the organization has recently taken a leadership role in a coalition of Texas sports teams called the "Sport for Healing Fund," which seeks to provide long-term support for Uvalde. Assisted by the NBA, the coalition also includes the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Stars. The fund aims to provide "long-term support for the Uvalde community by creating and investing in trauma and healing-centered care for youth and families," according to a news release from June 23, six days before Gonzales' tweet. The NBA and the four teams will provide initial funding for the fund, the news release said. Spurs Sports & Entertainment will manage the fund in conjunction with the San Antonio Area Foundation, distributing funds to Uvalde. According to the news release, the Spurs aim to make a lasting impact on Uvalde through the fund. Before his tweet, Gonzales quote tweeted an Express-News story about the team's Dejounte Murray trade and said the "Spurs will move to Austin if we don’t fight for them now." In another tweet, the congressman said, "Spurs are having a fire sale to tank the team and move to Austin." Earlier this year, the team announced it was going to play two home games in Austin during the upcoming season, worrying fans that the team would eventually relocate to the Texas capital. In a public letter, Spurs chairman Peter J. Holt said the team was committed to San Antonio. Gonzales has written opinion columns fro the Express-News about his fears that the Spurs will leave the Alamo City.

WFAA - July 4, 2022

'This was an ambush situation': Video released of suspect shooting at Haltom City officers in neighborhood

Haltom City police have released surveillance video of an "ambush" shooting that left three officers injured on Saturday night. Prior to officers arriving, the suspect had killed two people at a home, police said. During an update on Sunday, police released more details on the shooting incident, including the identities of those involved, that led to a heavy police presence at a neighborhood for hours. Police said they responded to a home at around 6:45 p.m. Saturday in the 5700 block of Diamond Oaks Drive. A man and woman were found fatally shot at the home, police said. According to police, an elderly neighbor had called 911 but was also shot by the suspect. The neighbor was hospitalized and is expected to be okay. In a news conference on Sunday, police showed video of officers responding to the scene. The video shows three officers walking down the street before shots were fired.

Police said the suspect shot at the officers, which led to an exchange of gunfire. The video shows one of the three officers staying down on the street while the other two ran for cover. One other officer appeared to be injured as he took cover behind a nearby car. More officers could be seen entering the area with their weapons drawn. "This was an ambush situation," Haltom City Police Chief Cody Phillips said. Three officers were transported to area hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries, police said. They were identified as Cpl. Zach Tabler and officers Tim Barton and Jose Avila. One of the officers was shot in the arm, finger and leg, another in both legs, and the third was hit in the thigh. Police said the suspect, later identified as Edward Freyman, 28, fled the area, which led to authorities asking residents in the area of Glenview Drive and Denton Highway to stay indoors. Freyman was eventually found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound about a mile from the initial scene in the 3900 block of Golden Oaks Drive. He was found with a "military-style rifle" and a handgun, according to police. The victims who were found dead at the home of the initial call were identified as Amber Tsai, 32, and Collin Davis, 33. The relationship between the suspect and victims are unknown, but police said they knew each other. Chief Phillips said that numerous homes and vehicles were struck by bullets during the incident. There were no other injuries reported from nearby residents.

KXAN - July 4, 2022

SNAP food benefits delayed for some Texas families

Kihayla Soloye hasn’t been able to get any answers over the phone. After weeks of waiting, on Tuesday morning she drove to the Round Rock Health and Human Services Food Stamp Office hoping to talk to someone after delays in getting what she described as a necessary benefit. “Usually it’s a one-day process, and they process it and get me some help right away, but they told me to wait 30 to 45 days, which I thought I didn’t hear the lady right. Like I was, ’30 to 45 days?’ And she was like, ‘yeah,'” Soloye explained. She has been trying since May to renew her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP food benefits.

“I have a 3-year-old son, you know, gas has been almost $5,” Soloye said. “I’m DoorDashing to get food for my son and gas money.” A KXAN News viewer helping another family apply for the benefits sent an email saying, “Today they were told by the clerk ‘we are 65 days behind you’ll just have to wait.'” The Texas Health and Human Services Commission oversees SNAP benefits. Tiffany Young, assistant press officer with the agency, said as of June 26, there were an estimated 258,000 applications pending processing. “HHSC is taking action to process cases as quickly as possible to ensure timely access to important benefits,” Young said. She added right now, 74% of applications are determined within 30 days from receiving it, which is within the federal time standard. Young explained an increase in applications and staffing shortages have been challenging. “The workforce and workload challenges throughout the pandemic have increased in the last few months when certain federal flexibilities ended, leading to an increase in processing times,” Young said. She explained the federal flexibilities which ended included SNAP certification extensions.

Axios - July 5, 2022

Insurance rates rising fast in Texas

The price you pay for auto and home insurance is quickly rising as Texas underwriters raise rates to keep up with inflation, escalating mechanics' wages and soaring construction costs, per documents obtained by Axios. The big picture: Average auto insurance premiums dropped during the pandemic as Texans drove far less and companies slashed rates to retain and win customers. But at least three major insurance companies are now warning Texas insurance agents to brace for higher premiums.

What they're saying: "A rate increase is needed to address deteriorating profitability of the personal auto program," states a Germania Insurance bulletin to agents marked "confidential" that lays out the factors for a statewide 9% auto rate increase, on average, effective this month. Details: The bulletin from Brenham-based Germania zeroes in on claim frequency and severity. "The occurrence of claims has increased as driving patterns continue to normalize after the pandemic. Texans are driving more and having accidents." "Auto repair shop costs continue to increase for vehicle parts and labor, new and used vehicle prices remain high, and delays in receiving parts has lengthened the claims process." Insurance company Travelers is singing a similar tune and has advised agents that weather, labor shortages, supply chain issues, and an increase in the number of fatal crashes — likely due to distracted driving — is driving up car premiums.

KHOU - July 5, 2022

Abbott leads Beto O'Rourke 49% to 41%

As the race for governor tightens, a new CBS News poll shows Gov. Greg Abbott regaining support against Democratic candidate and former congressman Beto O’Rourke. The matchup between Abbott and O'Rourke is the marquee race and the new poll shows Republicans could retain power in November.

“The economy, war and I think the court’s decisions clearly favor the Republicans. The only question mark -- will Democrats mobilize?” KHOU political expert Bob Stein said. Indications show incumbent Abbott is in a good position to win again in November. The poll shows Abbott with an eight-point lead: 49% to 41%. “Republicans always had a tremendous advantage in turnout -- particularly in the midterms, in the midterm elections. The Democratic margin in turnout to Republicans was as much as 12 to 15 points,” Stein said. The Republican margin of victory has seen some decline to Democrats in recent elections. Looming large are current events in Texas -- like the school shooting in Uvalde. “We don’t know what 2022 is going to hold. Do Democrats get mobilized because of the reversal of Roe? Do Republicans get mobilized because they’re now wanting to, of course, take control over the questions of abortion, gun control?” Stein said. Forty-six percent of Texans approve of the job Abbott is doing and 55% believe Abbott’s response to the Uvalde shooting was "bad." The CBS poll continued to show strong support for red flag laws, background checks, a ban on semi-automatic weapons and restricting the age to buy an AR-15.

Austin American-Statesman - July 4, 2022

City Hall Insider: Is Kathie Tovo serious about running for Austin mayor?

(City Hall Insider is a roundup of news and notes to keep you informed on the goings-on at City Hall and throughout Austin's city government.) In Austin's mayor race, a question continues to loom over the field in the November election: Will Kathie Tovo run? Tovo, the longtime Austin City Council member who represents downtown and the neighborhoods near the University of Texas campus, has long been pegged as a potential successor to Mayor Steve Adler, whose second term is expiring. In February, she fueled that speculation by naming a campaign treasurer — a move required to raise money and often seen as a precursor to a formal announcement. But in the four months since she took that step, Tovo's campaign has done next to nothing — raising questions that she refuses to answer on whether she is serious about running. As other contenders in the race introduced themselves to donors and voters, Tovo did not launch a campaign website and has not announced any policy positions.

It's unclear if she even has a campaign team. Some of Austin's top political consultants say they declined to work with Tovo because they don't think she can win or because they support another candidate: Kirk Watson. "I'm not talking about the mayor's race," Tovo told the American-Statesman in April. Since then, she has not responded to several messages seeking clarity on her political future. All evidence suggests Tovo will not run, but a clear answer could come in two weeks. By July 15, Tovo must file a campaign finance report revealing financial donations and expenditures made through the end of June. A thin report will signal she's not sticking around for the long haul. The first day candidates can apply to be on the ballot is July 23. When it began to look like a mayoral run was a longshot, political insiders said Tovo's friends encouraged her to pivot and run for reelection in her council district. Since she is term-limited, Tovo would first need signatures from 5% of voters in her district. But it appears she has no interest in that. Three weeks ago, Austin school teacher Linda Guerrero announced she will run for the City Council's District 9 post, which is Tovo's seat. A press release on her candidacy included a statement from Tovo, who said of Guerrero, "She has my wholehearted support."

City Stories

NBC 5 - July 5, 2022

Man from The Colony arrested in connection to online threats made against Supreme Court

Police have arrested a man in The Colony and accused him of threatening to kill Supreme Court Justices following the decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade. The Colony Police Department was contacted by the FBI on Friday shortly after 9:30 p.m. regarding threats of violence made on Twitter towards The Supreme Court. The suspect accused of making those threats was believed to reside in The Colony, police said.

According to police, officers searched the residence that the subject was believed to live in but the subject was not initially found. In conjunction with the FBI, detectives from The Colony Police Department's Criminal Investigative Division conducted an investigation and obtained probable cause for an arrest warrant, police said. Officers returned to the suspect's residence, located the him, and placed him under arrest for making terroristic threats. The suspect was identified as Mikeal Deshawn Archambault. He is currently being held on a $25,000 bond.

Click2Houston - July 4, 2022

Murder suspect Kaitlin Armstrong expected to be transferred to Austin in coming days after allegedly killing professional cyclist: Officials

A Texas murder suspect is in Houston after the U.S. Marshals Service arrested her in Costa Rica. Kaitlin Marie Armstrong is accused of killing professional cyclist Anna Moriah Wilson, 25, at an Austin home in May. Wilson was in Austin for a race. Armstrong is expected to face a judge when she is taken to Austin, where she faces a murder charge. According to an official from PC court in Harris County, Armstrong will be transferred back to Austin in 10-15 days. Officials say Armstrong went on the run a day after she was questioned in Wilson’s death. On May 13, two days after Wilson was found dead, authorities learned Armstrong sold her black Jeep Grand Cherokee to a CarMax dealership in south Austin for $12,200. She then used that money to begin her 43-day run.

Investigators said they suspect Armstrong was at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport days after the murder, “on May 14 at approximately 12:30 p.m., and that she boarded Southwest Airlines Flight WN2262 from ABIA to Houston Hobby Airport, where she boarded a connecting SW Flight WN30 to New York LaGuardia Airport.” According to authorities, sources informed them on May 18 Armstrong had been taken to Newark Liberty International Airport with a “fraudulent passport, had boarded United Airlines Flight 1222 from Newark International Airport at 5:09 p.m. EST on May 18 and arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, at 8:27 p.m. EST.” Officials say investigators searched all outbound flights at Newark Airport but didn’t find any with Armstrong’s name. Armstrong was captured by officials on June 29 at a Costa Rica hostel. Lonestar Task Force brought her back to Texas. Susan Pamerleau with the U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas said the Marshals Service elevating Armstrong’s case “likely played a key role in her capture after a 43-day run,” she said. “This is an example of combining the resources of local, state, federal and international authorities to apprehend a violent fugitive, bring an end to that run and hopefully a sense of closure to the victim’s family.”

San Antonio Express-News - July 4, 2022

After abortion ruling, most San Antonio companies silent on paying for employees’ travel for care

In overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court presented corporate America with a question that’s proving uncomfortable for big companies headquartered in places where abortion has effectively been banned. Several national companies — including Disney, Goldman Sachs, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook — reacted to the Dobbs v Jackson ruling handed down last month by announcing they would reimburse the costs for employees who need to travel out of state to access abortion care. Others — including Apple, Amazon, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, SalesForce, Bumble and Levi’s — had already announced similar policies in anticipation of such a ruling or after draconian restrictions on abortion were adopted by states such as Texas, which last year banned virtually all abortions after the six-week mark of pregnancy.

But many San Antonio companies have not been forthcoming about whether they will modify their benefits to help employees get access to reproductive health services. Multiple requests for comment last week from many of the area’s biggest companies went unanswered. Of the San Antonio-are companies contacted, only two responded: USAA and Frost Bank. With about 19,000 of its 37,000 employees here, USAA is one of the city’s largest private employers. The big financial services company said it would continue to help employees travel for access to reproductive health care. “USAA’s employee health insurance program provides travel benefits for such covered medical services that are not available within 100 miles of the participant’s residence,” it said in a statement. Frost Bank, meanwhile, said it was considering options. “At this time, we haven’t made any changes to our policies,” its statement said. “We’re still evaluating what the effects will be.” Those contacted that did not respond include H-E-B, Nustar Energy, Rackspace Technology, Rush Enterprises, TaskUs, Valero Energy, Toyota Motor Corp. and Whataburger.

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 5, 2022

Oil and gas deals to accelerate in second half of 2022, report says

Oil and gas industry mergers and acquisitions are set to accelerate in the second half of the year, boosted by $100-plus oil, according to international consulting firm PwC. Mergers and acquisitions often follow the health of the economy: The number of deals declines during a downtown and rises in good times. Even with inflation at a 30-year high and a potential recession looming, the price of crude — which settled Friday above $108 — is attracting buyers such as private equity firms, which have helped drive mergers and acquisitions in recent decades. PwC’s latest outlook for energy deals reported 123 deals totaling $107 billion over the year ended May 15. That’s up from 98 during the previous year.

“Private equity deals are on pace for another record year as traditional oil and gas investments become attractive once again,” said Seenu Akunuri, a principal with PwC, in the outlook. Transactions in the oil exploration and drilling sector made up most of deals so far this year, PwC says. The firm expects that trend to continue, pointing to the recent merger between Midland-based Colgate Energy Partners and Denver’s Centennial Resources Development. The $7 billion deal was inked just days after PwC’s closing period for the current outlook. “Higher commodity prices will have the biggest impact on upstream deals, as investors’ hesitancy about the sustainability of returns subsides,” PwC wrote in the outlook. “LNG (liquefied natural gas) is ripe for additional investment as global demand, particularly from Europe, accelerates.” Russia’s war against Ukraine, which threatens Europe’s natural gas supply from Russia, has driven up demand for LNG from the U.S. and other countries. In 2020 and 2021, concerns about how companies handle non-financial matters, like environmental issues, diversity and labor issues, had muted deal-making — along with investor demands for increased dividends, according to PwC. That seems to be changing in 2022, and high oil and gas prices may be overshadowing those concerns and shifting investor interest from renewables and back towards fossil fuels, at least temporarily, PwC wrote.

New York Daily News - July 5, 2022

Highland Park, Ill. Fourth of July parade shooting was nation’s 309th this year

With the shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, on the nation’s 246th birthday, the U.S. had marked its 309th mass shooting this year, according to a nonprofit that tracks gunfire incidents. To date this year, there have been on average 11 mass shootings per week, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive’s data show. The group classifies an incident as a mass shooting when four or more people, excluding the shooter, are shot or killed.

At least six people were killed and 30 or more wounded Monday when a gunman rained bullets down upon an Independence Day parade in an affluent suburb about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago. The gunman, who as of Monday afternoon was still at large, found his way to a rooftop to wreak his havoc as hundreds of people, including parents with strollers and kids on bikes, fled the scene. On Monday evening, police identified 22-year-old area resident Robert Crimo III as a person of interest. He was driving a silver 2010 Honda Fit, and cops said he should be considered armed and dangerous. Highland Park Police Commander Chris O’Neill urged people to shelter in place as police sought the killer in a “very active apprehension effort.”

Miami Herald - July 5, 2022

Gavin Newsom airs anti-GOP ad in Florida. ‘Let’s talk about what’s going on in America’

Gov. Gavin Newsom, fueling speculation that he’s interested in the White House, unveiled an ad Sunday that will air in Florida, pitting him squarely against former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis. Newsom, who is expected to win re-election to a second term as governor in November, urges viewers to “join us in California, where we still believe in freedom.” The ad is scheduled to run Monday. Newsom has been aggressively promoting California’s strong support for abortion rights, gun regulation and environmental protection in recent days, as Supreme Court rulings have weakened laws in all three areas.

The ad, running on Fox News stations in Florida and posted on Twitter Sunday by Newsom’s campaign, tries to draw a sharp contrast with the conservative DeSantis, who is said to be weighing a presidential run of his own in 2024. “It’s Independence Day, so let’s talk about what’s going on in America. Freedom, it’s under attack in your state. Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors,” Newsom says in the 30-second spot. “I urge all of you living in Florida to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love.” As he touts California, there are images of an American flag, beaches and Newsom himself. A Florida law banning abortion after 15 weeks was to take effect Friday, but a judge has blocked its implementation. The Florida Department of Education has banned certain books from school use, saying they contained information about prohibited topics such as critical race theory.

NBC News - July 5, 2022

With pressures mounting, Biden thinks GOP will make his midterm case for him

Little is going President Joe Biden’s way as the summer lull sets in before the crush of midterm elections. Gas prices are up; his approval rating is down. A conservative Supreme Court majority is hacking away at his agenda by abolishing federal abortion rights and undermining environmental protections meant to curb climate change. His own party is losing patience, fearing that any chance of consequential change while Democrats control Congress is vanishing. “There needs to be urgency and action,” said Rebecca Kirszner Katz, who was an aide to the late Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. “Folks have been saying since the day Joe Biden was elected that we need to move fast. There are a lot of things we need to get done for the American people.”

Biden has been rolling out plans to cope with the mounting crises. He has a three-part plan to reduce inflation. Another plan to suspend the gas tax in hopes of bringing prices down. Then there’s his long-shot plan to enshrine abortion rights into law by suspending the Senate filibuster rule requiring 60-vote supermajorities. Inside the White House, though, advisers grasp that what’s required aren’t just plans, but votes. The 50-50 split in the Senate between the parties has proved an insurmountable obstacle for Biden’s grandest ambitions — to expand the social safety net in ways that insulate the most vulnerable Americans from economic shocks. “He has to change course,” said a Democratic congressman, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of upsetting the White House. “His numbers are in the toilet. Whatever he’s doing is not working.” A perennial complaint from Biden’s Democratic critics is that he hasn’t capitalized on the platform he commands as president. “There’s a benefit to having the president out there every day using his executive power to show the country you’re fighting for them,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “And it’s almost like he’s hiding. He has the bully pulpit, and he’s either hiding behind it or under it. I don’t know where he is.”

The Atlantic - July 4, 2022

Mitt Romney: America is in denial

(Mitt Romney is a Republican senator from Utah.) Even as we watch the reservoirs and lakes of the West go dry, we keep watering our lawns, soaking our golf courses, and growing water-thirsty crops. As inflation mounts and the national debt balloons, progressive politicians vote for ever more spending. As the ice caps melt and record temperatures make the evening news, we figure that buying a Prius and recycling the boxes from our daily Amazon deliveries will suffice. When TV news outlets broadcast video after video of people illegally crossing the nation’s southern border, many of us change the channel. And when a renowned conservative former federal appellate judge testifies that we are already in a war for our democracy and that January 6, 2021, was a genuine constitutional crisis, MAGA loyalists snicker that he speaks slowly and celebrate that most people weren’t watching.

What accounts for the blithe dismissal of potentially cataclysmic threats? The left thinks the right is at fault for ignoring climate change and the attacks on our political system. The right thinks the left is the problem for ignoring illegal immigration and the national debt. But wishful thinking happens across the political spectrum. More and more, we are a nation in denial. I have witnessed time and again—in myself and in others—a powerful impulse to believe what we hope to be the case. We don’t need to cut back on watering, because the drought is just part of a cycle that will reverse. With economic growth, the debt will take care of itself. January 6 was a false-flag operation. A classic example of denial comes from Donald Trump: “I won in a landslide.” Perhaps this is a branch of the same delusion that leads people to feed money into slot machines: Because I really want to win, I believe that I will win. Bolstering our natural inclination toward wishful thinking are the carefully constructed, prejudice-confirming arguments from the usual gang of sophists, grifters, and truth-deniers. Watching angry commentators on cable news, I’m reminded of H. L. Mencken’s observation: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

Associated Press - July 3, 2022

‘Stay tuned’ for new evidence against Trump in July hearings

More evidence is emerging in the House’s Jan. 6 investigation that lends support to recent testimony that President Donald Trump wanted to join an angry mob that marched to the Capitol where they rioted, a committee member said Sunday. “There will be way more information and stay tuned,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. The committee has been intensifying its yearlong investigation into the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee’s vice chair, is making clear that criminal referrals to the Justice Department, including against Trump, could follow. At least two more hearings are scheduled this month that aim to show how Trump illegally directed a violent mob toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, and then failed to take quick action to stop the attack once it began. The committee also has been reviewing new documentary film footage of Trump’s final months in office, including interviews with Trump and members of his family.

Kinzinger, in a television interview, declined to disclose the new information he referred to and did not say who had provided it. He said many more details emerged after last week’s testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson and that nothing had changed the committee’s confidence in her credibility. “There’s information I can’t say yet,” he said. “We certainly would say that Cassidy Hutchinson has testified under oath, we find her credible, and anybody that wants to cast disparagements on that, who were firsthand present, should also testify under oath and not through anonymous sources.” In a separate interview, another committee member, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said: “We are following additional leads. I think those leads will lead to new testimony.” Legal experts have said Cassidy’s testimony is potentially problematic for Trump as federal prosecutors investigate potential criminal wrongdoing. “There could be more than one criminal referral,” said Cheney in an interview that aired Sunday. She said the committee will decide later in the process whether to proceed. Cassidy also recounted a conversation with Tony Ornato, Trump’s deputy chief of staff for operations, who, she testified, said Trump later grabbed at the steering wheel of the presidential SUV when the Secret Service refused to let him go to the Capitol after the rally.

July 1, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

What’s next after Supreme Court ruled President Biden can scrap ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy?

People on all sides of the immigration debate are anxious about what lies ahead policy-wise after the Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for the Biden administration to end Trump-era regulations that have kept tens of thousands of migrants from entering the United States. The Migrant Protection Protocols, known more colloquially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, require some migrants stay on the Mexico side of the border rather than entering the country while their asylum claims are heard. That policy resulted in many of those migrants landing in dangerous, unsanitary refugee camps while they waited. After taking office, Biden moved to end the policy but was blocked by the courts after legal challenges by Texas and Missouri.

Is this the final word in the case? Maybe not. The 5-4 majority found that the lower courts were mistaken in blocking the administration from ending the policy, but also sent the case back down to a federal court in Texas to consider additional questions about the administration’s move. That means the states who brought the legal challenge to begin with could continue the fight. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent mixed signals Thursday about his plans. “I am disappointed in SCOTUS allowing Biden to dissolve the Remain-in-Mexico program, one of our last & best protections against the Dems’ border crisis,” Paxton wrote on Twitter. “I will con’t to fight to secure our border & hold Biden accountable in my dozen other border-security suits in federal court.” Some advocates viewed that as an indication Paxton was prepared to move on and focus on his many other immigration beefs with the administration. But Paxton also appeared on “The Charlie Kirk Show” on Thursday and struck a different tone.

Bloomberg Quint - June 30, 2022

Harvard affirmative action, gay rights cases are next up at Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court reshaped the legal landscape in dramatic ways in the past few months, and it may just be getting started. When its next nine-month term begins in October, the nation’s highest court is scheduled to hear arguments on the use of race in college admissions, on the intersection of free speech and gay rights and on a challenge to an environmental permitting law. In the blockbuster court year that ended Thursday, conservative justices used their 6-3 majority to strike down federal abortion rights, remove some limits on gun permits, curb federal regulatory power and blur the line between church and state.

“Last term saw the fewest decisions from argued cases since the Civil War, and this term isn’t on track for many more,” Shay Dvoretzky, head of the Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation Group at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, said in an emailed statement. “So it’s noteworthy that these controversial issues have made the cut, suggesting eagerness among some members of the court to revisit or remake precedent in significant ways.” The upcoming cases come for an institution that is facing waning approval and internal strife that has spilled into public view. The court is still conducting an investigation into who leaked a draft opinion of the abortion ruling in May, and justices have had to get added security as protesters picket outside some of their homes. The court, which will include a Black woman for the first time, will consist of four members who’ve joined in the past five years. The new justices have shown they are not afraid to upend precedent -- long a key feature of American law and known as “stare decisis.” Chief Justice John Roberts warned his five fellow conservatives who voted to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that such a drastic reversal could cause a “serious jolt to the legal system.”

Washington Post - June 30, 2022

How Trump World pressures witnesses to deny his possible wrongdoing

As rumors flew in the spring of 2018 that Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen was preparing to flip on his former boss and offer potentially damaging testimony to federal prosecutors, Cohen received an email. “You are ‘loved,’ ” read the email, which indicated it was relaying comments from former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and was quoted in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 2019 report. “Sleep well tonight … you have friends in high places.” It was one of a number of times messages of cajoling support or bullying encouragement were delivered to potentially important Mueller witnesses. And it was strikingly similar to the communications Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said on Tuesday had been received by witnesses who have testified for the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Evidence across multiple state, federal and congressional investigations points to a similar pattern: Trump and his close allies privately shower potential witnesses with flattery and attention, extending vague assurances that staying loyal to Trump would be better than crossing him. Meanwhile, Trump publicly blasts those who offer testimony against him in bluntly personal terms, offering a clear example to others of the consequences of stepping out of line. “Donald Trump never changes his playbook,” Cohen said in an interview. “He behaves like a mob boss, and these messages are fashioned in that style. Giving an order without giving the order. No fingerprints attached.” A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. At Tuesday’s hearing, Cheney recounted that committee members have asked each witness connected to Trump’s administration or campaign whether they have been contacted by former colleagues or others who have “attempted to influence or impact their testimony.”

Bloomberg - July 1, 2022

Texas asks top state court to allow abortion prosecutions sooner

Texas urged the state’s highest court to vacate a temporary restraining order that is preventing the criminal prosecution of abortion providers in the weeks before the procedure is fully banned. The state’s so-called trigger law was designed to take effect 30 days after the federal right to abortion was overturned, which the US Supreme Court did last week. But medical professionals who perform abortions during that window should still be prosecuted under the trigger law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement Thursday.

Paxton, a Republican, said he asked the Texas Supreme Court to immediately put the restraining order on hold so that prosecutions can go forward as needed. The 2021 trigger law purports to have a criminal provision dating from the 1920s, which the American Civil Liberties Union argues is invalid. Paxton said the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade was an “erroneous decision” that has kept Texas from prosecuting abortions “for many decades.” “Let there be no mistake: the lower court’s unlawful order does not immunize criminal conduct, which can be punished at a later date once the temporary restraining order is lifted,” Paxton said in a statement. “My office will not hesitate to act in defense of unborn Texans put in jeopardy by plaintiffs’ wrongful actions and the trial court’s erroneous order.”

State Stories

Associated Press - June 30, 2022

Giuliani’s former Ukraine fixer with ties to Texas Rep. Sessions gets 20 months in prison

Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani who was a figure in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment investigation, was sentenced Wednesday to a year and eight months in prison for fraud and campaign finance crimes by a judge who said fraud had become “a way of life” for Parnas. Parnas, 50, had sought leniency on grounds that he'd cooperated with the Congressional probe of Trump and his efforts to get Ukrainian leaders to investigate President Joe Biden's son. U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken didn't give Parnas credit for that assistance, which came only after the Soviet-born businessman was facing criminal charges. But the judge still imposed a sentence lighter than the six years sought by prosecutors. The judge also ordered Parnas to pay $2.3 million in restitution.

The various schemes Parnas deployed to get money that prosecutors claim say fueled a lavish lifestyle led Oetken to say that for Parnas, fraud “was essentially a way of life, a way of doing business.” Addressing the court before the sentence was announced, Parnas sobbed and apologized to those who had lost money investing in his business ventures. “A lot that you heard is true, your honor. I have not been a good person my whole life. I’ve made mistakes. And I admit it,” Parnas said. “I want to apologize to all the victims that I hurt. These are all people who are my friends, all people who trusted me, and I lied to them to further my personal agenda.” The criminal case against Parnas was not directly related to his work acting as a fixer for Giuliani as the former New York City mayor lobbied Ukrainian officials to launch an investigation of Biden's son, Hunter. Instead, it zeroed in on donations Parnas had illegally made to a number of U.S. politicians using the riches of a wealthy Russian to jump-start a legal recreational-marijuana business. Parnas was funneling money from Russian oligarch Andrey Muraviev into a variety of Republican campaigns, including a $5,400 donation to U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Waco, during his 2018 re-election campaign. He was ousted by Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, but was successful in a 2020 bid in a different county.

Fox News - June 30, 2022

Texas vows to fight 'devastating' 'Remain in Mexico' ruling: 'We have to protect our citizens'

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed Thursday that The Lone Star State will fight the Biden administration to keep "Remain in Mexico" in place after the Supreme Court ruled the White House can overturn the Trump-era border policy. Patrick joined "America's Newsroom" to respond to the breaking news and discuss how Biden's open border policies continue to "devastate" Texans. "Under the four years of Biden, based on the numbers we already have seen, and the numbers projected over his last two and a half years, we will have allowed more people into this country illegally that do not share our values and our principles… than live in the two largest cities in America – New York and Los Angeles – combined," he said.

Patrick emphasized that Texas will work to secure the border despite the Supreme Court ruling. "The Supreme Court has just opened the doors, but we're not going to suggest packing the court," he said. "We're not going to try to burn down the cities because we don't like the decision. We're not going to change the filibuster rule. We're going to respect this decision and fight to overturn it." "The federal government is allowing people to come to this country, which has a tremendous impact in so many areas on America, but on Texas that's my responsibility. And I should have a right to protect my citizens." Under the "Remain in Mexico" policy, migrants seeking entry into the U.S. had to stay in Mexico as they awaited hearings. The Trump administration put the policy in place so that migrants would not be released into the U.S. The Biden administration had tried to repeal the policy but was previously blocked by a lower court.

San Antonio Express-News - June 30, 2022

In Uvalde, a House panel takes quiet testimony as city officials endure emotional barrage

In just 24 hours, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin Jr. went from secret questioning by a Texas House committee to being a target of an emotional outpouring of grief and anger at a City Council meeting Thursday. After his appearance at the closed-door hearing on the May 24 mass shooting here, with invitation-only witnesses who including school and civic officials and law enforcement, the mayor had counted himself among residents angry and chafing at the pace and direction of various investigations. Then, during a 90-minute free-for-all, some of those residents chafed at him, at other council members and the city’s lawyers. The council members, who have been warned not to comment publicly about the shooting, sat and endured the public raging and didn’t try to limit it.

“These kids were obliterated. My sister was obliterated. It was a closed casket. I couldn’t hug her,” Velma Lisa Duran, 50, of San Antonio told the council, referring to Irma Linda Garcia, a teacher killed at Robb Elementary School. “You sit here and say, ‘I don’t know. I have no control’… Enough is enough. This is ridiculous. It is frightening to be a teacher now. Now they want to arm teachers. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You need to do something! “Blood is on your hands because you failed to do anything,” she said “There’s body cameras, there’s surveillance, there is audio, there’s surviving kids, there’s a surviving teacher. You have facts!” Tina Quintanilla Taylor, 41, whose daughter was at the school that day but was unhurt, said families were going to get “a million excuses on why we can’t answer the questions, why we can’t provide this, why we can’t provide that.” “But what we need here is to know that y’all have our backs, because you know, right now we feel like none of y’all -- I mean, it’s scary. It’s scary to be on this side,” she said. The council heard a similar outpouring last week, but Thursday’s crowd was even more vocal. McLaughlin himself has been an outspoken critic of the various investigations into what police were doing as 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School. He has complained, along with anguished citizens, at the lack of answers.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 30, 2022

Texas man pleads guilty to crime in synagogue hostage crisis

The Dallas man who sold Malik Faisal Akram the gun he used to kidnap hostages in a Colleyville synagogue pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal gun crime, according to a federal official in Dallas. Henry “Michael” Dwight Williams, 32, who was charged via criminal complaint in January pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm before U.S. Magistrate Judge Irma Carrillo Ramirez. Williams now faces up to 10 years in federal prison. “This defendant, a convicted felon, had no business carrying – much less buying and selling – firearms. Whether he suspected his buyer would use the gun to menace a community of faith is legally irrelevant: In the U.S., convicted felons cannot possess firearms,” said United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham in a Thursday news release. “The Justice Department is committed to prosecuting those who violate our nation’s federal firearm laws, which are designed to keep guns from falling into the hands of dangerous offenders. Meacham praised the FBI for its work on the case against Williams.

“Tireless days of nonstop investigation revealed the connection of Mr. Akram to Mr. Williams. We are grateful to the many law enforcement agencies and personnel that traced the weapon’s nefarious source,” said Dallas FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew DeSarno in the news release. “We are fortunate to be able to celebrate the brave actions of the hostages and will continue to support Congregation Beth Israel and the Jewish community in their process of healing.” Williams – a felon previously convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and attempted possession of a controlled substance – sold Akram a semiautomatic Taurus G2C pistol on Jan. 13, according to the federal complaint. In plea papers, Williams admitted to possession of that firearm despite his prior conviction. According to the complaint, on Jan. 15, agents recovered the pistol from Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel synagogue, where Akram had held four people hostage for several hours before he was fatally shot by federal law enforcement. FBI agents tied Williams and Akram through an analysis of Akram’s cellphone records, which showed the pair exhanged a series of calls from Jan. 11 through Jan. 13. When agents first interviewed Williams on Jan. 16, Williams stated that he recalled meeting a man with a British accent, but that he could not recall the man’s name. (Akram was a British citizen.)

San Antonio Express-News - July 1, 2022

Smugglers exploited shift change at border checkpoint to evade detection

Smugglers who drove a tractor-trailer from the Laredo area to San Antonio with dozens of dead or dying migrants inside timed its passage through a federal immigration checkpoint to take advantage of a shift change, according to a source close to the investigation. The timing, which was likely intentional and based on the smugglers’ own surveillance, made the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 35, about 26 miles north of Laredo, especially vulnerable, the source said. Details released by U.S. and Mexican authorities show that the smugglers picked up the immigrants in Laredo, and that the rig went through the checkpoint between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Monday U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, told the Express-News that the vehicle was “waved through” the checkpoint because traffic was backing up. Migrants were inside the trailer at the time, Cuellar said.

At least 53 migrants from Mexico and Central America died in the suffocating heat of the trailer, which was abandoned near JBSA-Lackland later Monday. Temperatures in San Antonio approached 100 degrees that day. It wasn’t the first time smugglers have exploited a chink in the same checkpoint’s effectiveness, with tragic results. In 2017, an x-ray machine at the checkpoint wasn’t working the night a Kentucky trucker passed through with human cargo in the back of his sweltering tractor-trailer. That driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., was later found with 39 immigrants in his rig in the parking lot of a Walmart on San Antonio’s South Side. Eight were dead when police arrived; two more died at hospitals. Bradley was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences with no parole. Those who died in the latest tragedy included 22 Mexican nationals, seven from Guatemala, two from Honduras and 17 others of unknown origin. Some of the deceased may have been from El Salvador. Authorities identified the driver as Homero Zamorano Jr., 45, of Palestine in East Texas. Zamorano tried to disguise himself as one of the migrants before he ran away, investigators said. Police apprehended him in a field. Several factors can hamper the ability of Border Patrol agents to detect illegal cargo at checkpoints, including the sheer volume of traffic.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

Texas Republican Party platform used to be the butt of jokes. Now it influences laws

The Texas Republican platform was once considered the musings of the most fringe elements of the party, mocked or ignored by elected leaders and most others. Folks aren’t laughing anymore. While the platform still contains wacky planks, such as calls to return to the gold standard monetary system, many proposals once thought too extreme are becoming public policy. Examples include laws related to guns, abortion and transgender residents and policies that address former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election grievances. As Texas elected leaders adopt these platform proposals, the obscure delegates who huddle in a convention center room to develop them are now some of the most influential political players in the state. “You can look at a lot of different issues, whether it’s on abortion, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, and the list goes on,” said Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “When they’re initially proposed, people kind of roll their eyes and shake their heads and say, ‘Oh, that’ll never happen.’ But within a few short years, those proposals have become priority items for Republicans in the Legislature.”

Former Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, said the fringes of both political parties are controlling politics because most Texans aren’t voting in primaries. “The convention and the platform committee represent the extreme right of the Republican Party, not the average rank-and-file Republican,” said Deuell, who in 2014 lost a primary runoff to Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, a proponent of the new permitless carry gun law and other conservative planks, such as banning gender-affirming surgery for those under 18. “You’ve got a smaller group of people controlling the party now,” Deuell said. “That’s because of low primary turnout.” In June, the Texas GOP approved a platform that declared President Joe Biden’s 2020 election was not legitimate. The document more than 5,000 delegates ratified also called homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” deemed gender identity disorder “a genuine and extremely rare mental health condition” and required official documents to adhere to “biological gender.” While some across the country decried Texas Republicans, many of those items will inform bills filed in the 2023 legislative session, serving as a guide for lawmakers who are influenced by the most conservative elements of the GOP. “Regardless of what people say about the platform, it becomes ingrained within the Republican Party,” Republican consultant Matthew Langston said. “Pushing back on it as elected officeholder usually means that they are not as in tune to the party that they are associated with as they would want you to believe.” Through a campaign spokesperson, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did not comment on the GOP platform.

Texas Monthly - July 1, 2022

The Buc-ee's brand has been "hatejacked" by the Proud Boys

When Lisa West and some of her friends decided to show up to a Pride Month event for families at a public library in the Dallas suburb of McKinney this past weekend, they were expecting to encounter hostility. The friends, all of them members of a Facebook group with nearly five thousand members called the Liberal Women of Collin County, had heard reports that armed homophobic demonstrators were planning to make an appearance at the event as well. The women’s goal, West said, was to form a human wall between vitriol-spewing demonstrators and the families who planned to show up with young children in tow to read Pride-positive books and sing songs together. “We were there to be allies,” she recounted several days later, “so that these families wouldn’t feel threatened by the guys with guns.” Once she’d taken her place with a Pride poster in her hands, West was able to get a good look at the fifteen or so protesters brandishing firearms and pepper spray. Some of their garb—tactical vests, black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirts, and black baseball caps with laurel wreath emblems—were instantly recognizable symbols of the Proud Boys, the all-male neofascist group that is routinely linked to political violence, including during the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which led to seditious conspiracy charges for multiple members. But West was surprised to see that several members of the group had added another distinctive garment: a bright red Bucky the Beaver face covering, complete with the rodent’s signature buck-toothed grin, arguably the foremost symbol of the Buc-ee’s chain of huge gas station emporiums.

The same iconic, goofy smile is emblazoned above the entrance of more than forty stores across the state, coaxing drivers off the road and into the chain’s warehouse-size travel centers, where, among other things, shoppers can experience restrooms that have been designated America’s finest, purchase a deer hunting blind, or select from one of 83 types of soda. For ­untold numbers of Texas travelers, the quirky mascot, whose face graces everything from pillows and swimsuits to glassware and beef jerky, is more than a symbol of convenience, it’s a source of state pride that inspires cultish devotion. But when the same imagery is used to conceal the identity of hate-mongering armed agitators, West said, Bucky’s purehearted and lovable visage takes on a menacing feel, like a sweet-hearted clown that has turned sour. “I assumed they were trying to be clownlike and creepy,” she said. “I’m not saying they couldn’t harm someone, but the Bucky masks looked really over-the-top, like these intimidation tactics were a big game to them.”

Austin American-Statesman - June 30, 2022

South by Southwest in Australia: Austin event plans a Down Under version in 2023

Austin's famed South by Southwest festival is going global next year, putting on a weeklong version of the event in Australia. The first SXSW in Sydney, Australia is scheduled to for Oct. 15-22, 2023, with plans calling for a lineup similar to that of the signature Austin event, including music, technology, film and other programming, SXSW organizers said Wednesday. SXSW's annual Austin festival will still go on as planned on March 10-19. SXSW LLC, the Austin-based company that operates the annual festival, said SXSW Sydney will aim is to be be an Asia-Pacific version of SXSW. The technology, film and music festival, which started in 1987, has grown to a world renowned event that attracts close to 100,000 registered attendees, speakers and media members from around the world to each year.

Hugh Forrest, SXSW's chief programming officer, said the SXSW's leaders are always looking to push the boundaries and evolve. "SXSW connects people to each other year-round by developing events and content that celebrate the inter-relatedness of current and emerging topics," Forrest said. "We’ve been exploring doing something outside North America for a while and found the right collaborators. This gives us the ability to offer a new range of programming to businesses centralized in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region." Forrest said SXSW aims to help creative people achieve their goals, and said expanding to Australia serves that mission in new and innovative ways. "So much of what has fueled the growth and development of SXSW over the last 30-plus years is the creativity of Austin," Forrest said. "We believe that Sydney’s similar future-focused, fast-moving culture that celebrates and cultivates creativity across many different industries makes it the perfect destination for an extension of our event." Forrest said SXSW Sydney will offer programming in music, storytelling, gaming trends and tech, all focused on the Asia-Pacific region, which is generally considered to include countries in East Asia, Oceania, the Russian Far East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The event will also celebrate and showcase Australia's indigenous First Nations community and creators.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

North Texas LGBTQ people say they live between fear and freedom

The recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as well as Texas regulations limiting treatments for transgender minors, has left many in the North Texas LGBT community uncertain about their own freedom to live and express their identities. “It’s really discouraging when we see a lot of the policies pushed out by our Texas lawmakers that make my state feel less like a home,”' said Javier Enríquez, who is from Grand Prairie. Enríquez is the empowerment coordinator with FUSE, a group of young LGBT people who seek to engage in a healthy and safe community. The news about the end of constitutional protections for abortion made its members feel like they could be targeted next, he said. “Immediately after the court ruling, a lot of our participants expressed distress about how that could affect marriage equality,” he said. In February, the Texas government deemed some gender affirmation treatments as child abuse.

Subsequently, some parents of transgender children were put under investigation, and now are in legal proceedings to defend their access to the treatments. “Governor (Greg) Abbott and Attorney General (Ken) Paxton have been clear that they are going after transgender youth, and specifically trying to deny them medically necessary care just because they happen to be trans,” said Rafael McDonnell, senior advocacy, policy and communications manager at Resource Center, a group that provides health services and support to LGBTQ people in Dallas. Meanwhile, early this month, state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, said he would seek legislation on banning children from drag shows, in response to a family show offered in Dallas as part of Pride. “We’re talking about (the massacre of 21 people in) Uvalde and gun control and doing something better to protect them, and what we get is, ‘You know what? You’re right, we should protect children by not allowing them to attend drag shows,’” said San Antonio resident Jessica Hawkins, a drag artist and lesbian. She and her crew performed this month in Dallas as a part of an exhibition at the Latino Cultural Center. Overall, the Texas political and regulatory atmosphere makes it difficult to feel free as an LGBT person, said Stephanie Hinojosa, a drag artist and lesbian. “I tell my partner all the time: I don’t feel safe here, and that’s because of the people in power.”

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2022

Texans are using a European company to obtain abortion pills after Roe v. Wade ruling

Texans face dwindling abortion options, as funds for out-of-state travel indefinitely freeze and many organizations that mail abortion pills limit services to states that allow the procedure. It’s illegal for healthcare providers in other states to mail abortion pills to Texans. But that reportedly hasn’t stopped Aid Access, an Austria-based telemedicine abortion provider that ships the pills from a pharmacy in India. The company continues to mail the pills - mifepristone and misoprostol, usually taken in tandem - to all U.S. states. Requests to Aid Access had already tripled in Texas after the state effectively banned abortions last year. Demand is expected to grow exponentially now that Roe v. Wade has been struck down.

Jill Adams, executive director of If/When/How, a reproductive rights group that offers legal counseling through a confidential helpline, said before last week’s ruling her staff took calls from people in nearly every state seeking access to abortion services. “We saw an explosion over the weekend,” she said. “Our helpline staff interacted with hundreds and hundreds of people.” Medication abortion is the most common method of terminating a pregnancy in the U.S. It’s a medically safe option in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. A February 2022 study in Lancet found that 96 percent of people who received the medication from Aid Access successfully ended their pregnancy without surgical intervention. Less than 1 percent reported treatment for a serious adverse event. But in Texas, the legal landscape around this medication is complicated, Adams said.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2022

After having to ‘remain in Mexico,’ this father says he was trafficked by cartel members

It was 2019 — Carlos and his toddler, Oscar, were on the run. After repeatedly being stalked and threatened because of their family’s political beliefs, they had to suddenly leave their home country in South America. They flew to Mexico and made their way to the Texas-Mexico border, looking to seek asylum in the United States. The father and son crossed the border near Reynosa and were detained in the Rio Grande Valley by U.S. border officials for six days — and sent back to Mexico. “They put me on a bus and I’m seeing where we’re going, and then after around two hours they release us in Matamoros,” said Carlos, in Spanish. (The U.S. State Department advises against travel to that area “due to crime and kidnapping.”)

Border officials returned Carlos and Oscar to Mexico under the Trump-era Remain in Mexico program, that forced asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico - a policy criticized for returning migrants into a situation that would further their desperation and make them vulnerable to organized crime. Carlos’s story was part of legal evidence brought to the Supreme Court, ahead of Thursday’s decision to allow the Biden administration to end the program, which argued that Remain in Mexico actually contributed to migrants being trafficked. After being released in Matamoros, terrified and toddler in hand, Carlos turned to the only person he knew in Mexico for help — the smuggler who had helped him cross the border. (The Houston Chronicle is withholding certain personal details of the family’s case and is referring to them through pseudonyms, because of their ongoing immigration case.) But Carlos, a mechanic who had had a well-paying job in his home country, soon realized he made a mistake. The smuggler brought him to a hotel that was controlled by gang members. There he had to pay hundreds of dollars for shelter and for his and his son’s protection. Then, when Carlos ran out of money, the cartel put him to work to pay his way. Carlos said they took him to a warehouse run by Mexico’s Gulf Cartel. There he worked from 8 a.m. to midnight — with his toddler — and fixed up tricked-out cars while cartel members snorted cocaine. They didn’t pay him anything. When Carlos brought it up, they told him to stay safe, he needed to keep working.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

Grand Prairie man requested public records — and got $406,386 bill from school district

Malcom Chakery is no stranger to Grand Prairie politics. Chakery is editor of the online Grand Prairie News and founder of a 26,000-member Facebook page dedicated to all things Grand Prairie. He is also a frequent critic of the school board for Grand Prairie ISD, where his two children attend school. So when Chakery received an anonymous tip about a discrimination complaint involving a district employee, he shot off a public information request. The school district’s reply? The records would cost Chakery $406,386. “Receiving that cost estimate wasn’t all that shocking, disappointing yes, but in past dealings with Grand Prairie ISD, I have come to expect curveballs,” Chakery told The Dallas Morning News.

District spokesman Sam Buchmeyer said the request — which asked for all records, claims and grievances involving cases of discrimination from 2019 through 2022 — was too vague. A search for the word “discrimination,” produced more than 1 million hits in the district’s emails alone, Buchmeyer said. Fulfilling the request would require an estimated 22,577 hours to sift through emails and documents and determine which ones are pertinent, according to the district’s response. “That’s a needle in a haystack,” Buchmeyer said. “We need more information from him. It’s that simple. And that’s why that number looks a little garish.” Grand Prairie ISD twice requested that Chakery modify or narrow the scope of the request, district records show. Arguing that he should be given the opportunity to review the records in person for free or a reduced rate, Chakery said he plans to file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office that he is being overcharged. “Schools are funded by the taxpayers,” he said, “and part of those funds cover open records requests.”

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

Texas schools must check all exterior doors before school year starts, TEA announces

Texas districts must inspect every exterior door of each campus before the start of the next school year. Districts must also conduct a summer safety audit as well as review emergency operations and active threat plans and ensure that all campus staff — including substitutes — are trained on safety protocols. The Texas Education Agency issued new safety guidance on Thursday afternoon, just weeks after the deadly school shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two adults. Officials need to ensure that each exterior door at schools closes and locks, according to the guidance. Districts must also convene their safety and security committees in reviewing plans. Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the agency to enforce weekly door inspections to ensure their security. The shooter in Uvalde gained access to Robb Elementary through an unlocked exterior door, although it’s not clear how the door was able to be opened.

Once the school year begins, local officials will have to conduct exterior door sweeps at campuses at least once a week, according to the new guidance. The TEA is developing rules on building standards aimed at securing facilities. The agency will seek input from districts on schools not in compliance with the standards to help determine how much it would cost to remedy the issues. Data collected will be sent to state lawmakers to help craft funding requests. Texas’ school facility footprint is immense, with more than 8,000 campuses and 672 million square feet, larger than the footprint in every state but California, according to the National Council on School Facilities. Building designs and ages vary greatly, as do security protocols. School leaders say they are committed to securing their campuses but face considerable logistical challenges in locking down schools, particularly high schools that often resemble college campuses.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

Home affordability has worsened more in Collin County than in most of the U.S.

The cost of owning a home is soaring all over the U.S. alongside higher mortgage rates, but especially in Texas, where home prices are still dramatically on the rise. Collin County saw one of the most drastic changes in affordability in the nation, according to a new report from Attom Data Solutions. Attom’s home affordability index measures affordability by comparing the cost of owning single-family homes and condos in each county with average wages using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Of counties with populations of more than 1 million, the company found affordability worsened the most in these: Hillsborough County, Fla. (Tampa); Clark County, Nev. (Las Vegas); Collin County (Plano); Maricopa County, Ariz. (Phoenix); Pima County, Ariz.(Tucson).

While mortgage rates were already soaring over the last few years due to few homes for sale and strong demand, still-rising prices have led to mortgage payments that can cost 40% to 50% more than a year ago. At the end of the second quarter, the report found, the monthly cost of owning a midpriced Collin County home is $2,856, up $971 from the same time last year, including mortgage payments, property taxes and insurance. The annual household income needed for buying a Collin County home to be considered affordable rose to $122,384. “Many potential buyers may elect to continue renting until market conditions improve. Others might adjust their sights and look for smaller properties, or homes that are further away from major metro areas,” Attom’s Rick Sharga said in the report. “And it’s possible that worsening affordability could accelerate the migratory trends that the COVID-19 pandemic started, as residents in high-cost, high-tax states who can now work from home look for less expensive places to live.”

Houston Chronicle - June 30, 2022

Texas conservatives flex muscle to help anti-woke charter school, a sign of things to come

The State Board of Education last month denied, for the third time, efforts to launch Heritage Classical Academy in Northwest Houston, a school designed as a conservative response to anti-racism, LGBT-inclusive sex education and other progressive themes in public schools. But despite Heritage’s recent failure, its future — and that of other charter schools like it in Texas — looks bright. The state’s fight over charter schools has bubbled slowly for decades since they were first authorized in the 1990s, with the state board standing as the main political roadblock to their expansion. Now, as Republican lawmakers fight to restrict how teachers discuss social issues in the classroom and generally shift the education system more toward the right, their alliance with charter schools is stronger than ever.

So much so that three GOP members of the state board, who have sided with Democrats in voting against Heritage Classical Academy, won’t be there next time — two were beaten in a primary after the family of Heritage’s board chairman donated $250,000 to a PAC supporting their opponents. The third was redistricted out of his seat by the Texas Senate. Heritage, and other classical academies to come, can count on a more sympathetic board starting in January. Matt Robinson, the Republican who lost his seat in redistricting — he says he had decided before then not to run for re-election anyway — called his ouster a testament to the power charter school advocates wield. “There’s a whole pattern here of them really strongly exerting the influence that they have with our elected officials,” he said. Heritage is part of the Barney Charter School initiative, a national charter school movement to introduce a more conservative ideology in schools. The initiative was founded by Hillsdale College in Michigan. The college doesn’t fund or govern schools directly, but provides curriculum and consulting. Dozens of schools have been started so far across the nation, including one in Gardendale, Texas. The schools serve nearly 15,000 students and 8,000 more on wait-lists.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 30, 2022

Jesus "Jesse" Sanchez: Immigration can fix labor shortage in restaurants

(Jesus “Jesse” Sanchez is a longtime Dallas-Fort Worth restaurant owner and manager.) My first job in a restaurant was in 1967 in Chicago, as a dishwasher at a Mexican place called Las Glorias de Pancho Villa. I worked overnight, 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. One Friday, I thought to myself: This is a job I do not want to do again. I had come to the U.S. on a visitor permit. I’ve worked in hospitality since, managing and even owning restaurants. And any time an employee left, there was always another Mexican worker to take over. It did not matter what the position was. And it’s still true. The solution to the labor shortage hurting our restaurants, stores and other businesses is right there at the southern border. But too many people and politicians want to close the door entirely to immigration. Most of the people I talk to have the same view of the labor problem: It all has to do with stimulus money, unemployment pay or child credits. But what they do not understand is that the hard jobs — dishwashing, busing tables, cooking, construction yard maintenance — have seldom been done by legal residents or U.S. citizens.

We Mexicans come to work, most of the time taking two or three jobs to make enough for the trip here and support our families back home. It used to cost between $1,500 and $3,000 to make the trip. Now, it can be up to $15,000, with no guarantees that the crossing will be safe or successful. The only person I know who came last year spent $9,500 and had to walk for 3 nights. After I became a citizen, I have always voted Republican until President Barack Obama. Then came candidate Donald Trump, and one of the first things out of his mouth was: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Many people do not understand how offensive that was. Of course, we have bad apples like every other group, but the demand for drugs is so large that there will always be somebody willing to make easy money. People often say, don’t you see all the Central American caravans and all those Haitian people crossing the border? The truth is most of those people won’t be let in, and the ones who make it will easily adapt to the American way: Work hard and you will have everything you have always dreamed about.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2022

Harris County judge suspended days after arrest for official oppression

Harris County misdemeanor court Judge Darrell Jordan on Thursday was suspended from his bench by the state's commission on judicial conduct. The suspension came just days after Jordan was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression and then arrested. In a three-paragraph letter addressed to Jordan, the commission said that Jordan would be suspended without pay from his office as Harris County Criminal Court at Law Judge No. 16. The suspension will remain in place until Jordan is either acquitted or the charges are dismissed, according to the letter. The letter was signed at 4 p.m. Thursday by David Schenk, the chairman of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Jordan's attorney, Marc Carter, on Thursday evening confirmed the suspension.

Jordan is accused wrongfully holding Wayne Dolcefino, a private media consultant and former TV journalist, in contempt or subjecting him to summary punishment and jail without a hearing. The charges are related to a June 2020 incident when Dolcefino entered Jordan's court and spoke with Jordan, who was holding hearings over a Zoom conference. The two exchanged words, and Jordan eventually ordered Dolcefino to sit down and stop talking, according to a video of the encounter posted by Dolcefino on his company's Facebook page. When Dolcefino kept talking, Jordan ordered him arrested for contempt. The indictment calls the contempt charge illegal. Jordan, through his attorney, has claimed innocence and said that judges have the power to hold people in contempt in order to maintain decorum and control court proceedings. Carter said the judicial commission was compelled to act because of the indictment. State law require judges to be suspended if their indicted on official misconduct charges, he said. The commission itself had received a complaint about Jordan's contempt charges against Dolcefino and dismissed them, Carter said. The case against Jordan was filed with Harris County DA’s Office, who recused themselves and asked Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton to investigate the allegation.

KUT - June 30, 2022

Affordable housing program in Travis County opens waitlist for the first time in eight years

A program that limits how much low-income families have to pay toward rent is accepting applications for the first time in nearly a decade. The Housing Authority of Travis County says it will add 500 people to its waitlist for housing choice vouchers, formerly known as Section 8 vouchers. Residents who receive these vouchers pay no more than 40% of their income toward rent; the federal government pays the landlord the rest. The authority will accept applications for its waitlist starting Friday through July 8. Housing authorities receive funding for only a finite number of vouchers. The Housing Authority of Travis County, for example, has about 800 vouchers — most of which are currently being used. “Vouchers don’t become available too often,” Patrick Howard, executive director of the housing authority, told KUT. Once one does though, the authority offers it to someone on the waitlist.

Howard said it’s been nearly eight years since the authority last opened its waitlist. Even if you qualify and get a spot, it can still take about two to three years to receive a voucher. The news comes during a historic rise in housing prices in Travis County; average monthly rents in Austin, for example, rose nearly 20% in 2021. Howard said the authority is reopening the waitlist as the list of eligible people has dwindled, either because they received a voucher or no longer qualify. People need to earn less than 80% of the median family income which, for a family of four, equates to about $88,000 a year. Howard said the housing authority will be prioritizing people who are currently living on the streets or disabled. And then you have to convince a landlord to accept it. In an attempt to make it easier for voucher holders to find a place to live, the Austin City Council passed a resolution in 2014 prohibiting landlords from discriminating against tenants based on how they planned to pay their rent. A year later, state lawmakers signed a bill undoing Austin’s rule. Because of this, Howard said the housing authority tries to encourage landlords to accept vouchers – especially, in wealthier parts of town where data shows few people using housing choice vouchers live. “We’re always in the business of trying to market to new landlords,” Howard said. “The options are limited in certain parts of town.” The Housing Authority of the City of Austin, which also hands out housing choice vouchers to people who qualify, last opened its waitlist in 2018. A spokesperson told KUT on Thursday the authority currently has no plans to reopen it.

National Stories

Politico - June 30, 2022

Pelosi receives Communion in Vatican despite abortion stance

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Pope Francis on Wednesday and received Communion during a papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, witnesses said, despite her position in support of abortion rights. Pelosi attended the morning Mass marking the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, during which Francis bestowed the woolen pallium stole on newly consecrated archbishops. She was seated in a VIP diplomatic section and received Communion along with the rest of the congregants, according to two people who witnessed the moment. Pelosi’s home archbishop, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, has said he will no longer allow her to receive the sacrament in his archdiocese because of her support for abortion rights. Cordileone, a conservative, has said Pelosi must either repudiate her support for abortion or stop speaking publicly of her Catholic faith.

Pelosi has done neither. She called the recent Supreme Court ruling removing constitutional protections for abortion an “outrageous and heart-wrenching” decision that fulfils the Republican Party’s “dark and extreme goal of ripping away women’s right to make their own reproductive health decisions.” And she has spoken openly of her Catholic faith, including at a diplomatic reception at the residence of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See on Tuesday evening marking Independence Day. Speaking to a crowd of ambassadors, Vatican officials and other Rome-based Americans, Pelosi spoke about the Catholic virtues of faith, hope and charity and the important role they play in the U.S. Embassy’s mission. “Faith is an important gift, not everyone has it but it is the path to so many other things,” she told the crowd. Pelosi met with Francis on Wednesday before the Mass and received a blessing, according to one of the Mass attendees. Last year, President Joe Biden, another Catholic who also supports abortion rights, said after meeting with Francis that the pontiff told him to continue receiving the sacrament. Biden later received Communion during a Mass in a Rome church that is under the authority of Francis as bishop of Rome. Pelosi’s partaking of the sacrament inside the Vatican during a papal Mass was even more significant, and a sign of Francis’ unwillingness to refuse the sacrament. Francis has described the Eucharist as “not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” Asked about some U.S. bishops who wanted to refuse Biden the sacrament, Francis told reporters during an airborne press conference in September that priests shouldn’t be politicians and condemn their flock but should be pastors who accompany the faithful with tenderness and compassion.

USA Today - June 30, 2022

Supreme Court sides with states, curbs EPA authority to regulate power plant emissions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. In the 6-3 ruling, conservative justices sided with Texas and 17 other states that sued the EPA over former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. The plan, which was never implemented, would have required utilities to reduce carbon emissions in the electricity sector and phase out coal in favor of renewables. The Supreme Court's ruling on West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency will severely limit the agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases and address the climate crisis. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton welcomed the ruling in favor of Republican-led states and coal companies that joined the suit.

"I am proud that my office has been a part of this huge win against burdensome Big Government regulation & we will fight on," Paxton wrote on Twitter. President Joe Biden called the ruling "another devastating decision" and pledged to use other avenues to take federal action on climate change. Texas environmental organizations and some Democratic legislators warned it would hinder meaningful federal action on climate change. "Republicans tried and failed to undermine the Clean Air Act in Congress. Today, they've gotten the Supreme Court to do it for them," U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, tweeted. The decision is one of the most significant court rulings on climate policy in the past decade. The ruling limits the federal government's ability to regulate power plant emissions, one of the largest contributors to climate change, and leaves more regulatory decisions up to the states. States including New Mexico have set aggressive targets to decarbonize their electric sectors, while states like Texas and other plaintiffs in the case have not. While the Obama administration plan never went into effect, many coal power plants have closed in recent years anyway.

Axios - July 1, 2022

DeSantis backers plot early 2024 boost

A new political group led by veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins is looking to jump-start a potential Ron DeSantis presidential bid with a legally extraordinary attempt to beef up his donor contact list, Axios has learned. Why it matters: The group, Ready for Ron, says it plans to gather the names and contact information of more than 1 million DeSantis supporters nationwide by the end of the year — then provide that potent political asset, free of charge, to the DeSantis camp. Campaign finance experts say its proposed tactics are legally questionable, and, if accepted by federal regulators, would remake how candidates "test the waters" before runs at public office. Driving the news: Ready for Ron, which Rollins founded in May, detailed its plans in a letter to the Federal Election Commission last month. It asked for an official ruling on the tactics it plans to use to boost a potential White House bid by the Florida governor.

The group is gathering petition signatures urging DeSantis to run for the White House, boosted by digital and TV ads and plans for other promotions via billboards, blimps and even skywriting. Ready for Ron told the FEC it expected to collect names, ZIP codes, email addresses and phone numbers for nearly 60,000 people by the end of June, and "well over a million" by the end of the year. Its plan is to turn over that petition — along with the contact info for each of its signatories — to the DeSantis camp, either before or after he's declared his candidacy. If he doesn't run, the group says it will give the information to the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. The intrigue: That's not an uncommon tactic. But Ready for Ron's proposed approach would test the bounds of campaign finance laws. Ordinarily, any independent group that wants to give such a list to a candidate must either report it as an in-kind contribution or receive a fair market value payment. Ready for Ron told the FEC neither should be required, as the petition it plans to share with the DeSantis camp would merely be a public communication in support of DeSantis' candidacy, and unbound by campaign contribution limits. Even granting it is a contribution, Ready for Ron's position is that it's acting as a conduit for each individual signatory, whose signatures would be their own contributions — for roughly $0.05 each — to DeSantis.

USA Today - June 30, 2022

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson makes history as Supreme Court's first Black woman justice

Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former public defender who rose to become a judge on a powerful federal appeals court, made history Thursday as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Jackson, 51, a Miami native and Harvard-trained lawyer who was confirmed by the Senate nearly three months ago, will take the seat occupied by Associate Justice Stephen Breyer for 28 years. Breyer announced his retirement in January, clearing the way for President Joe Biden to name Jackson as his first pick for the nation's highest court. Previously a judge on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Jackson took the oath of office at a fraught moment for the high court, as its decisions to overturn Roe v. Wade and expand access to handguns have exacerbated tensions among the justices and underscored divisions among Americans over culture war issues.

But none of that was on display as Chief Justice John Roberts administered one oath of office to Jackson and Breyer – for whom Jackson clerked more than 20 years ago – administered the other. With that, Jackson became the 104th associate justice – marking the first time women and people of color outnumber white men on the court. "I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great nation," Jackson said in a statement released by the court after the ceremony. In brief remarks before the oaths were administered, Roberts noted that Jackson could now exercise her duties as a justice. That will allow Jackson to get her chambers and staff set up in preparation for the start of what appears to be another intense term this fall. "I am pleased to welcome Justice Jackson to the court and to our common calling," Roberts said. When the justices return to Washington in October with Jackson in her seat, there will be four women and two African Americans on the nation's highest bench for the first time in the court's 233-year history. "Her hard work, integrity, and intelligence have earned her a place on this court," Breyer said in a statement released by the court. "I am glad for America. Ketanji will interpret the law wisely and fairly, helping that law to work better for the American people, whom it serves."

New York Times - July 1, 2022

As federal climate-fighting tools are taken away, cities and states step up

Legislators in Colorado, historically a major coal state, have passed more than 50 climate-related laws since 2019. The liquor store in the farming town of Morris, Minn., cools its beer with solar power. Voters in Athens, Ohio, imposed a carbon fee on themselves. Citizens in Fairfax County, Va., teamed up for a year and a half to produce a 214-page climate action plan. Across the country, communities and states are accelerating their efforts to fight climate change as action stalls on the national level. This week, the Supreme Court curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, one of the biggest sources of planet-warming pollution — the latest example of how the Biden administration’s climate tools are getting chipped away. During the Trump administration, which aggressively weakened environmental and climate protections, local efforts gained importance. Now, experts say, local action is even more critical for the United States — which is second only to China in emissions — to have a chance at helping the world avert the worst effects of global warming.

This patchwork approach is no substitute for a coordinated national strategy. Local governments have limited reach, authority and funding. But as the legislative and regulatory options available in Washington, D.C., become increasingly constrained, “States are really critical to helping the country as a whole achieve our climate goals,” said Kyle Clark-Sutton, manager of the analysis team for the United States program at RMI, a clean energy think tank. “They have a real opportunity to lead. They have been leading.” New York and Colorado, for example, are on track to reduce electricity-related emissions 80 percent or more by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, according to new state scorecards from RMI. By removing partisan politics from community discussions about climate policy, it’s sometimes possible to reach a consensus that’s been difficult to achieve on a national level. That is what happened in Morris, a city of about 5,000 in Minnesota, not far from the South Dakota border. There, the University of Minnesota Morris campus leans left politically, while surrounding farming communities lean right. But both communities broadly support — and have helped to shape — the “Morris Model,” which calls for reducing energy consumption 30 percent by 2030, producing 80 percent of the county’s electricity locally by 2030 (thus guaranteeing it comes from renewable sources) and eliminating landfill waste by 2025.

Dallas Morning News - July 4, 2022

Donald Trump has given conservatives big wins, but will GOP jump off train?

For the nation’s conservative movement, these are the days of wine and roses. Republicans can thank former President Donald Trump for what’s been a stunning period of progress. With his 2016 upset victory over Hillary Clinton, Trump appointed three conservative judges to the Supreme Court, which resulted in June’s rulings that removed abortion as a constitutional right, struck down a restrictive gun control law, and made it tougher for the EPA to curb power plant emissions. Though he served only one term, many conservatives view Trump as the most consequential Republican president since Ronald Reagan. But many Americans see the controversial Trump as a flawed president who expanded the nation’s political divide and threatened America’s institutions and its democracy. His bogus assertion that the 2020 election was stolen has gulled a large number of his supporters and led to bizarre debates on what constitutes truth.

The Jan. 6 hearings have made the twice-impeached former president look as bad as ever, especially the thundering testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about Trump’s behavior before and during the Capitol riot. President Joe Biden beat Trump in 2020 because a majority voters grew tired of Trump’s antics, including even some who liked his policies. Still, Republicans got what they wanted out of Trump: a Supreme Court that has ushered in a new era of conservatism. Now the problem for Republicans is that Trump is still the unquestioned leader of the GOP, and most elected Republicans and party leaders are still reluctant to criticize him. That makes them vulnerable to his actions, particularly if he’s ever again on a ballot. Another Trump candidacy could happen in 2024, when many analysts expect the former president to seek a rematch with Biden. That means Republicans will be faced with moving past Trump, or potentially letting him destroy the gains they’ve made with the Supreme Court and expect to make in this year’s midterm elections.

Associated Press - June 30, 2022

US newspapers continuing to die at rate of 2 each week

Despite a growing recognition of the problem, the United States continues to see newspapers die at the rate of two per week, according to a report issued Wednesday on the state of local news. Areas of the country that find themselves without a reliable source of local news tend to be poorer, older and less educated than those covered well, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications said. The country had 6,377 newspapers at the end of May, down from 8,891 in 2005, the report said. While the pandemic didn’t quite cause the reckoning that some in the industry feared, 360 newspapers have shut down since the end of 2019, all but 24 of them weeklies serving small communities. An estimated 75,000 journalists worked in newspapers in 2006, and now that’s down to 31,000, Northwestern said. Annual newspaper revenue slipped from $50 billion to $21 billion in the same period.

Even though philanthropists and politicians have been paying more attention to the issue, the factors that drove the collapse of the industry’s advertising model haven’t changed. Encouraging growth in the digital-only news sector in recent years hasn’t been enough to compensate for the overall trends, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, visiting professor at Medill and the report’s principal author. Many of the digital-only sites are focused on single issues and are clustered in or close to big cities near the philanthropic money that provides much of their funding, the report said. News “deserts” are growing: The report estimated that some 70 million Americans live in a county with either no local news organization or only one. “What’s really at stake in that is our own democracy, as well as our social and societal cohesion,” Abernathy said. True “daily” newspapers that are printed and distributed seven days a week are also dwindling; The report said 40 of the largest 100 newspapers in the country publish only-digital versions at least once a week. Inflation is likely to hasten a switch away from printed editions, said Tim Franklin, director of the Medill Local News Initiative.

Associated Press - June 30, 2022

Buttigieg launches $1B pilot to build racial equity in roads

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday launched a $1 billion first-of-its-kind pilot program aimed at helping reconnect cities and neighborhoods racially segregated or divided by road projects, pledging wide-ranging help to dozens of communities despite the program’s limited dollars. Under the Reconnecting Communities program, cities and states can now apply for the federal aid over five years to rectify harm caused by roadways that were built primarily through lower-income, Black communities after the 1950s creation of the interstate highway system. New projects could include rapid bus transit lines to link disadvantaged neighborhoods to jobs; caps built on top of highways featuring green spaces, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways to allow for safe crossings over the roadways; repurposing former rail lines; and partial removal of highways. Still, the grants, being made available under President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, are considerably less than the $20 billion the Democratic president originally envisioned.

Advocacy groups say the money isn’t nearly enough to have a major impact on capital construction for more than 50 citizen-led efforts nationwide aimed at dismantling or redesigning highways — from Portland, Oregon, to New Orleans; St. Paul, Minnesota; Houston; Tampa, Florida; and Syracuse, New York. Meanwhile, some Republicans, including possible 2024 presidential contender Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have derided the effort as the “woke-ification” of federal policy, suggesting political crosswinds ahead in an election season. Flanked by Black leaders at the site of a soon-to-start rapid bus line in Birmingham, Alabama, Buttigieg highlighted the potential of federal infrastructure money to boost communities. Close to half of Birmingham's population lives within one-half mile of planned stations along the new 15-mile bus corridor. City leaders say that will open up access around I-65, which cuts through the city's Black neighborhoods, providing connections to jobs in the corridor as well as the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other schools. “Transportation can connect us to jobs, services and loved ones, but we‘ve also seen countless cases around the country where a piece of infrastructure cuts off a neighborhood or a community because of how it was built,” Buttigieg said.

June 30, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

4 face charges as death toll rises to 53 in San Antonio trailer

In the chaotic minutes after dozens of migrants were found dead inside a tractor-trailer sweltering under the Texas sun, the driver tried to slip away by pretending to be one of the survivors, a Mexican immigration official said Wednesday. The driver along with three other men remained in custody as the investigation continued into the tragedy that killed 53 people — the nation’s deadliest smuggling episode on the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal prosecutors said two of the suspects, including the driver, face charges that carry a potential sentence of life in prison or the death penalty if convicted. Two more people died Wednesday as the death toll slowly climbed since the discovery of 46 bodies Monday at the scene near auto salvage yards on the edge of San Antonio. The truck had been packed with 67 people, and the dead included 27 from Mexico, 14 from Honduras, seven from Guatemala and two from El Salvador, said Francisco Garduño, chief of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute.

Officials had potential identifications on 37 of the victims as of Wednesday, pending verification with authorities in other countries, according to the Bexar County medical examiner’s office. Forty of the victims were male, it said. Identifying the dead has been challenging because some were found without identification documents and in one case a stolen ID. Remote villages where some of the migrants came from in Mexico and Central America have no phone service to reach family members and fingerprint data has to be shared and matched by the governments involved. Javier Flores López’s family was waiting to find out whether he was on the truck. He had returned home to see his wife and three small children in southern Mexico and was going back to Ohio where his father and a brother live and he worked in construction. He is now among the missing and his cousin, José Luis Vásquez Guzmán, is hospitalized in San Antonio, the family said.

San Antonio Express-News - June 30, 2022

Greg Abbott: Texas is reaching out to help Uvalde heal

The peaceful community of Uvalde has endured horror these past weeks that has shaken every Texan to the core. We are left processing the shock and grief brought on by the tragedy at Robb Elementary School. Hearts are broken for the innocent lives taken so senselessly and families suddenly bereft of the joy and laughter of their precious children. Parents are worried about the basic safety and security of their schools. Understandably, people are angry and baffled at the injustice of a disturbed criminal’s demented final actions causing such devastation. The faces of the grieving families and stunned residents of Uvalde, with whom Cecilia and I have met, will leave deep and lasting scars on our hearts. I pray each day for the innocent souls taken too soon and for the families who must now carry on incomprehensibly without their loved ones.

While we can never bring back those who were lost, we must come together to support the grief-stricken community as it embarks on the long road of healing. To jump-start that process, I immediately mobilized all available resources to Uvalde. The state disaster declaration allows Texas and local jurisdictions to provide support that is easily accessible and readily available. State agencies have embedded representatives in Uvalde to provide on-site assistance with benefits such as workers’ compensation claims and counseling services for residents. My public safety office made an initial $5 million investment establishing a permanent Uvalde Together Resiliency Center to serve as a hub for services, such as crisis counseling and behavioral health care for survivors, first responders and the entire community. In partnership with state agencies, regional mental health authorities led by the Hill Country Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Centers are connecting area residents with mental health services through a 24/7 hotline, which has answered hundreds of calls since late May.

Los Angeles Times - June 30, 2022

The campaign to discredit Cassidy Hutchinson has begun

In the hours after Cassidy Hutchinson delivered bombshell testimony to the Jan. 6 committee Tuesday, former President Trump and his allies rushed to attack the former White House staffer. Hutchinson, who served as an aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, told the panel that Trump was aware that some of his supporters were armed when he urged them to march to the Capitol. She also testified that Anthony Ornato, then the deputy White House chief of staff, told her the president was so “irate” that the Secret Service would not drive him to the Capitol that he reached for the steering wheel and lunged at an agent. Trump and his allies have seized on media reports of unnamed Secret Service sources rejecting those statements to paint Hutchinson’s sworn testimony as unreliable. So far, though, none of the people who have disputed Hutchinson’s story have done so under oath. Now members of the Jan. 6 committee, Hutchinson’s lawyer and several of Hutchinson’s former Trump administration colleagues are challenging her critics to follow the 25-year-old’s lead and testify before Congress under penalty of perjury.

“The lies and fabricated stories being told to the partisan Highly Unselect Committee, not only by the phony social climber who got caught yesterday, but by many others, are a disgrace to our, in serious decline, Nation,” Trump wrote Wednesday morning on his social media platform, Truth Social. “No cross examination, no real Republicans, no lawyers, NO NOTHING. Fake stories and an all Fake Narrative being produced, with ZERO pushback allowed. Unselects should be forced to disband. WITCH HUNT!” An anonymous Secret Service official told CNN that Ornato denies telling Hutchinson that Trump grabbed the steering wheel or an agent. “The agents are prepared to say under oath that the incident itself did not occur,” the official told the network. CNN’s anonymous source did not dispute that Trump was furious that he was not being driven to the Capitol. Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Secret Service, would not confirm the CNN report to The Times, saying only that the federal law enforcement agency “has been cooperating fully with the select committee since its inception in spring of 2021 and we will continue to do so including by responding formally and on the record to the committee regarding new allegations that surfaced in [Tuesday’s] testimony.”

Washington Post - June 29, 2022

Antiabortion lawmakers want to block patients from crossing state lines

Several national antiabortion groups and their allies in Republican-led state legislatures are advancing plans to stop people in states where abortion is banned from seeking the procedure elsewhere, according to people involved in the discussions. The idea has gained momentum in some corners of the antiabortion movement in the days since the Supreme Court struck down its 49-year-old precedent protecting abortion rights nationwide, triggering abortion bans across much of the Southeast and Midwest. The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization, is drafting model legislation for state lawmakers that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident of a state that has banned abortion from terminating a pregnancy outside of that state. The draft language will borrow from the novel legal strategy behind a Texas abortion ban enacted last year in which private citizens were empowered to enforce the law through civil litigation.

The subject was much discussed at two national antiabortion conferences last weekend, with several lawmakers interested in introducing these kinds of bills in their own states. The National Association of Christian Lawmakers, an antiabortion organization led by Republican state legislators, has begun working with the authors of the Texas abortion ban to explore model legislation that would restrict people from crossing state lines for abortions, said Texas state representative Tom Oliverson (R), the charter chair of the group’s national legislative council. “Just because you jump across a state line doesn’t mean your home state doesn’t have jurisdiction,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Thomas More Society. “It’s not a free abortion card when you drive across the state line.” In relying on private citizens to enforce civil litigation, rather than attempting to impose a state-enforced ban on receiving abortions across state lines, such a law is more difficult to challenge in court because abortion rights groups don’t have a clear person to sue.

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 29, 2022

H-E-B, Fort Worth firm Huckabee to help build new Uvalde school

A Fort Worth-based architect firm will help construct a new elementary school in Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were shot to death May 24. The Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation is raising money to replace Robb Elementary School. The Butt family and H-E-B committed $10 million. “Our first store in Uvalde opened in 1959, and Uvalde people are our people,” said Charles Butt, H-E-B’s chairman. “As we continue to mourn tremendous loss, I join with my family and H-E-B in working to ensure the Uvalde community can move forward from this tragic event. Our children are this country’s future, and our schools should be a safe place where children can thrive and envision new possibilities.” Huckabee, a Fort Worth architect firm that specializes in public schools, will contribute to the design of the new building at no charge, said CEO Christopher Huckabee. The firm will work with San Antonio-based Joeris, which is donating its contracting services.

“Public schools are the foundation of a community,” Huckabee said in a statement. “Our team is honored to partner with Joeris Construction, the Butt family, H-E-B, and so many others to design a new facility that will honor Uvalde and serve its future generations.” Robb Elementary was built in the 1960s and had 538 students in second through fourth grades. The superintendent of Uvalde schools said in a special board meeting Friday that students and staff would not return to Robb Elementary. “We will never forget those who were senselessly taken from us on that tragic day, and we want to honor their legacy as we work to build our future,” Superintendent Hal Harrell said in a press release. “Along with the entire Uvalde community, we are immensely grateful for the extreme generosity from our amazing donors, and we look forward to collaborating on this exciting new campus. Thank you to everyone for the unyielding support our community continues to receive from across Texas, the nation, and the world.” The location, design and timeline for the new school have not been set. The school district will collaborate with the Uvalde community and donors to create ideas and receive feedback. Donations to support the project can be made to the Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation, a nonprofit charitable trust fund to help the new build the new campus.

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2022

Fifteen Texas doctors agree to pay $2.8 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations

Fifteen Texas doctors have agreed to settle False Claims Act allegations and pay more than $2.8 million in fines. The allegations, according to the Department of Justice, involve illegal kickbacks in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law. The Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits offering, paying, soliciting or receiving money to induce referrals of items or services covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other federally funded programs. The Stark Law forbids a hospital or laboratory from billing Medicare for certain services referred by physicians who have a financial relationship with the hospital or laboratory. “These settlements should reinforce the message that the Eastern District of Texas will not tolerate health care providers who seek to enrich themselves through kickback schemes,” said U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston of the Eastern District of Texas. “We will continue to work with our agency partners to identify those who defraud our taxpayers, and we will hold those who have engaged in the schemes responsible.”

The Department of Justice alleged that the doctors were receiving thousands of dollars from nine management service organizations in exchange for ordering laboratory tests from Rockdale Hospital Little River Healthcare, True Health Diagnostics LLC and/or Boston Heart Diagnostics Corp. Former True Health CEO Christopher Grottenthaler, former Boston Heart CEO Susan Hertzberg, former Little River CEO Jeffrey Madison and others are defendants in a separate False Claims Act lawsuit in which the United States filed an amended complaint in May 2022. Three of the doctors are in North Texas: Dr. Louis Coates, an osteopath in Garland, agreed to pay $87,694 to settle allegations that from Sept. 26, 2016, to March 14, 2018, he received kickbacks from Herculis MG LLC in return for ordering laboratory tests from Boston Heart; Dr. Marco Munoz of Fort Worth agreed to pay $54,280 to settle allegations that from July 7, 2015, to April 6, 2016, he received kickbacks from Alpha Rise Health LLC in return for ordering laboratory tests from Boston Heart and Little River; Dr. Paul Worrell, an osteopath in Dallas, agreed to pay $237,487 to settle allegations that from Oct. 9, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2017, he received kickbacks from Ascend MSO of TX LLC, Eridanus MG LLC and BDS Healthcare LLC, Vybrem Labs, in return for ordering laboratory tests from Boston Heart, True Health and Little River.

KVUE - June 29, 2022

Texas AG Ken Paxton launches investigation into Walmart's opioid prescriptions

On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he has opened an investigation into Walmart’s opioid sales. Paxton is investigating whether Walmart improperly filled prescriptions for controlled substances and failed to report suspicious orders. His office issued a Civil Investigative Demand to Walmart for potential violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act related to the promotion, sale, dispensing and distribution of prescription opioids.

“I have fought for Texans who have been tragically impacted by the illegal marketing and sale of opioids, which have caused addiction and the untimely deaths of thousands of people each year,” Paxton said in a release. “I am committed to holding pharmacies accountable if they played a role in this devastating epidemic.” Walmart is required to report documentation of orders from January 2006 to the present to the Drug Enforcement Administration and all Texas state agencies, Paxton said.

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2022

Serial killing suspect Billy Chemirmir indicted on 4 more capital murder charges

Collin County prosecutors obtained four more capital murder indictments against serial killing suspect Billy Chemirmir on Tuesday. The indictments allege Chemirmir killed Marilyn Bixler, Diane Delahunty, Helen Lee and Mamie Dell Miya in 2017. “These indictments should serve as a reminder that every victim of a violent crime deserves to have their case investigated and prosecuted, and Collin County law enforcement and prosecutors will work every day to hold violent offenders accountable,” Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis said in a written statement. Lee, 82, was killed Sept. 2, 2017, in Frisco. Bixler, 90, was killed Sept. 17, 2017, at the Parkview retirement community in Frisco. Delahunty, 79, was killed Dec. 3, 2017, at Preston Place Senior Living Apartments in Plano, the same location where Miya, 93, was killed Dec. 8, 2017.

All four women were smothered with pillows, according to the indictments. Many victims’ families connected as law enforcement pieced together Chemirmir’s alleged killing spree and have spoken publicly about their pursuit of justice. Some had sued the senior-living facilities where their loved ones lived. Others are still suing. Bixler, Delahunty and Miya had been identified as suspected victims before the indictments Tuesday, but Lee’s death had never been publicly linked to Chemirmir. Relatives of the women issued a joint statement through the district attorney’s office, saying they were glad to learn of the indictments. “These indictments are another step in holding Billy Chemirmir accountable for the full extent of his horrible crimes,” they wrote. “We’d like to thank police and prosecutors for listening to us, and for their continued efforts to see that justice is done for all the victims and their loved ones.” The new charges add to 18 capital murder indictments Chemirmir already faced in Dallas and Collin counties. He has stood trial for only one murder, that of Lu Thi Harris, 81, who was killed in March 2018. A Dallas County jury convicted Chemirmir in April for Harris’ slaying, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He has denied killing anyone. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has vowed to try Chemirmir on one more case, the January 2018 death of Mary Brooks. The other 11 counts of capital murder in Dallas County will likely be dismissed, Creuzot told families last year.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2022

Chevron's offer to pay for staff to move to Houston signals growing focus on Texas

Chevron is offering to pay for California employees to voluntarily relocate to Houston and is selling its San Ramon headquarters campus, as the company’s center of gravity continues to shift to Texas. Last week Chevron confirmed it will remain in California, but it is inviting employees to move to Houston as it puts its 92-acre corporate campus in San Ramon on the market and plans to move its headquarters offices into a smaller leased office spaces elsewhere in the region. The 1.4 million square-foot campus is about 35 miles east of San Francisco. It's still a question though of how many of its 2,000 employees in San Ramon would actually make the move. Chevron isn’t requiring employees to move to Texas, but its offer to cover employees’ relocation is another sign that Houston is a primary center of operations for the oil major. Chevron has about 8,000 employees in the Houston area, including about 6,000 employees in downtown Houston.

Chevron’s real estate shuffle was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The energy firm has roughly 3 million square feet of office space in downtown Houston spread across three buildings. Chevron also owns two office buildings in northwest Houston that it picked up after it acquired Noble Energy. One of those 438,000 square-foot building represented one of the largest blocks of sublease office spaces available in Houston area as of the first quarter 2022, according to real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. In the past year, Chevron also moved into a leased small office space in The Ion, Rice Management Co.’s startup incubator in Midtown Houston. In February, Chevron started requiring office-based employees to physically commute to the office at least three days a week. “One of the primary reasons that we felt strongly that it was the right thing to eventually come back is we believe that every company has to preserve a strong culture and that comes from collaboration, face-to-face feedback and our ability to interact with each other on a human (level). We strongly believe that contributes to better business outcomes,” Steve Green, president of Chevron North America, in a March interview. “I’ve heard more and more people had forgotten all the positive things from being together, like the ability to go to lunch with someone, the ability to walk out of the building to go to a different restaurant, the ability to collaborate fact-to-face on a business issue, or to ask a short question without having to jockey for positions on a calendar for a Teams or Zoom call.”

Axios - June 30, 2022

Roe's ending could threaten LGBTQ+ rights in Texas, activists warn

Texas civil rights activists are sounding the alarm over what the end of Roe v. Wade could mean for the future of same-sex marriage. State of play: Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion that the U.S. Supreme Court should reconsider Lawrence v. Texas, which legalized the right to same-sex intimacy in 2003, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. Thomas dissented in both of those decisions. Why it matters: Texas lawmakers have never passed a measure to add constitutional and legal protections that would enshrine same-sex marriage into law, a move advocates in other states say would fortify safeguards for LGBTQ+ residents.

Instead, GOP lawmakers have aimed to halt gender-affirming care and access to sports for transgender children, and most recently, the state party adopted a platform that calls homosexuality "an abnormal lifestyle choice." Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also promised a Texas version of a Florida bill, referred to by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" law, which bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. What they're saying: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has not ruled out the possibility of trying to get a case in front of the Supreme Court that could challenge rulings like Lawrence and Obergefell. Paxton stopped short of saying he would support the legislature if laws testing those cases were passed: "I'd have to see how the legislation was laid out and whether we thought we could defend it. If it's constitutional, we're going to go defend it." Yes, but: No other justice joined Thomas' concurring opinion, and Justice Samuel Alito suggested in the court's majority opinion that no other prior decision is at risk of being overturned.

San Antonio Express-News - June 30, 2022

Medina Valley ISD expected to approve its second ‘lone finalist’ for superintendent

Medina Valley Independent School District trustees’ latest choice to be their next superintendent grew up in a neighboring county and has ties to the area, though his 29-year education career has taken him across Texas. “I always had a great respect for the school district,” Scott Caloss said of the Castroville-based MVISD in a recent interview. “There are a lot of things going on there. Great kids, great staff, great community, and I wanted to be part of something like that.” Caloss has led Wills Point ISD, about an hour’s drive east of Dallas, for six years. He became the second lone finalist for the MVISD position on June 15. In April, the board chose Samuel Nix for the position, but near the end of the state-required 21-day waiting period for the appointment to become final, the board president sent a letter to the community stating that Nix withdrew his candidacy.

The board has been working to replace the current superintendent, Kenneth Rohrbach, who has served since 2016 and plans to retire this year. It can finalize its choice of Caloss on July 6. Caloss grew up in Bandera and he and his wife have spent most of their lives in the area. Besides leading Wills Point, he was Poth ISD’s superintendent for three years and its junior high school principal for eight years before that. Medina Valley ISD has 6,785 students but is growing rapidly and estimates its enrollment will reach 16,960 by 2032. “We’ve experienced some growth here in Wills and I’ve been involved in developing long-term plans for things like that,” Caloss said. “Not to the extent to what it is growing like in Medina Valley, obviously. “Between the staff that is there and the people there that we can have conversations with as a team, I feel we can handle the situation and we will be prepared to handle the growth,” he said. Medina Valley ISD has had a turbulent year, with complaints about its athletic director and the board’s decision-making on bond-funded construction projects amplified during trustee elections.

KUT - June 30, 2022

Demand – and an illicit market – grows for Texas-native yucca plant

It’s another dry year in Texas, and as more people adopt xeriscaping, or drought-tolerant landscaping, there’s a growing demand for the Texas-native yucca plant. But the desert plant, known for its sharp-pointed leaves, takes 10-15 years to grow to the size most buyers want. This has sprouted an illicit underground yucca trade as garden retailers struggle to meet demand, especially in Texas, which lacks regulations on the uprooting of native plants.

Houston Chronicle - June 30, 2022

Texas and EPA face off over ozone designation in Permian Basin

fter years of resistance from politicians in Texas, oil and gas companies in West Texas’s Permian Basin could soon have to operate under much tougher air pollution restrictions. The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to declare counties in West Texas and eastern New Mexico in violation of federal limits on ozone pollution. At issue are the large volumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that when exposed to oxygen forms ozone, leaking into the atmosphere during oil and gas drilling. Air monitors in eastern New Mexico have been tracking elevated ozone levels for years, prompting that state to put in place tougher air pollution rules for oil drillers. But across the border in Texas, the state government has resisted calls for similar action, refusing to install air monitors to track the level of pollution around oil and gas fields, said Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory and legislative affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“You can’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “Texas does not have any rules on the books on methane pollution. That’s what makes the EPA action so important. It’s going to kick over to the state these tougher regulations.” The EPA is expected to face a tough fight from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who last year ordered state agencies to do whatever necessary to protect the state’s oil and gas industry from climate action by the Biden administration. Earlier this week Abbott wrote a letter to President Joe Biden threatening to “take the action needed to protect the production of oil” and warning the EPA’s proposed crackdown on methane emissions would likely decrease crude production in one of America’s largest oil fields, further driving up gasoline prices already at record levels. “Your fellow Americans are counting on you,” Abbott wrote. “You can either stand with Americans by working to reduce gas prices, or you can side with arbitrary and discretionary EPA bureaucrats who could impair oil production and jobs in the Permian Basin.” Were the EPA to declare the Permian Basin a non-attainment area, state officials would be required to enact tougher air pollution laws, likely requiring oil and gas companies to regularly inspect their equipment for methane leaks through technologies such as infrared cameras and drones and replace older equipment.

Fort Worth Report - June 29, 2022

Proposed African American Museum receives city funding, expands its study of possible sites

The proposed African American Museum and Cultural Center is expanding its search for a place where it should be built. Fort Worth City Council on June 28 allocated $40,000 to the museum, but with one condition: The committee overseeing its development must include multiple sites into a feasibility study. The museum committee plans to reset the fundraising budget to accommodate the city’s request. The timeline is now uncertain as the committee seeks funding from the community. The museum committee initially was looking at the Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St., in the Cultural District as the only study site. City Manager David Cooke questioned the study. “It seems like they’ve already made a conclusion with that one site before the study,” Cooke told the Fort Worth Report.

John Barnett Jr. is the co-chair of the museum’s steering committee and now is the chair of the nonprofit overseeing the museum. The African American Museum and Cultural Center became a nonprofit organization in early June, Barnett said in a June 21 presentation to the City Council. The presentation included the feasibility study of the Community Arts Center. After the work session, City Council members met in executive session to discuss the committee’s proposal on studying the Community Arts Center. Behind closed doors, Cooke requested the museum’s committee to include more sites to its feasibility study, the city manager told the Report. The City Council’s latest request will require the African American Museum and Cultural Center, the recently established nonprofit, to reconsider its fundraising plan. The city wanted to make sure other sites will be considered and not to exclusively rely on one site, Cooke said.

Texas Newsroom - June 29, 2022

U.S. Supreme Court rules veteran who alleged employment discrimination can sue state of Texas

The United States Supreme Court ruled against the Texas Department of Public Safety Wednesday in a case brought by a veteran and former state trooper who was denied a job after returning from military service. The plaintiff in the case, Le Roy Torres, sued after he alleged the DPS did not provide Torres a job after he returned from service injured. Torres, a South Texas native, was a captain in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported. Torres served in the U.S. Army for 23 years, including seven years of active duty and 16 as a reservist. He was deployed to Iraq from 2007 to 2008. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that states could not invoke sovereign immunity that shielded them from lawsuits under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

The opinion, authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, held that states ceded sovereign immunity from certain lawsuits, including those under Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, when they ratified the Constitution, according to an analysis by SCOTUSBlog. “Text, history, and precedent show that the States, in coming together to form a Union, agreed to sacrifice their sovereign immunity for the good of the common defense,” Breyer wrote. The decision sends the case back to the lower courts. During oral arguments in March, Justice Breyer noted that had Torres worked for a local or federal law enforcement agency, he would have been able to sue, SCOTUSBlog reported. “Captain Torres went to war, and when he came home, he brought a piece of the war with him. And if he had been a member of the local sheriff’s department or a U.S. marshal or worked for any other employer, he would have been able to sue to vindicate his rights. But because he worked for Texas, he had no cause of action,” Breyer said. “It’s not right. We’re asking this court to make it right.” U.S. Rep Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, celebrated the decision as a victory for Torres and other veterans who seek employment after returning home from war zones.

Texas Observer - June 29, 2022

Big shock in Big Bend

Visitors to the Big Bend country in May noticed a conspicuous absence: the Rio Grande, whose great arching pathway gives this region its name. Where cool water used to flow, a dry, cracking riverbed now snakes through some of Texas’ most iconic landscapes. Near Santa Elena Canyon, a river gage measured 0 cubic feet per second for the first time on record on April 28, and it stayed that way for most of the next month. It’s a grim warning sign for the lower reaches of the Rio Grande, which provide water to millions of acres of crops and to many people in Texas and Mexico. The river has dried up in other spots off and on for decades now, battered by drought and overuse, but never in these places. No one alive has seen the river as it looks today. “The scope of this is significantly more widespread than I have ever seen,” said Raymond Skiles, a retired park ranger who spent 31 years at Big Bend National Park and grew up in the region.

Heavy rains fell in West Texas and North Mexico over the first weekend in June, sending a raging pulse of water down the canyons of Big Bend and wetting the riverbed again. It was sweet relief from the ongoing drought, but nothing near enough to bring the once-great river of Texas back to life. What seems like the death throes of this river began slowly. Upstream, between El Paso and Presidio, the so-called “forgotten” stretch has run dry intermittently for the last 40 years. But water from the Rio Conchos, which meets the Rio Grande at Presidio, always brought the river back to life before. Skiles said he only saw the river dry up once below the Conchos in Big Bend National Park. It was 2003 and it happened along a particularly remote area, accessible only via a 15-mile round-trip hike. The phenomenon lasted only several weeks and never affected more visited stretches of river upstream, so few visitors noticed. Today, more than 100 miles of Rio Grande riverbed are dry or hold stagnant water. At Santa Elena Canyon,one of the park’s most popular sights, visitors have gawked at the striking absence of water.

KUT - June 29, 2022

Gov. Abbott is again adding truck inspections along the border. Critics say he’s playing politics.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday additional inspections of commercial vehicles along the border. The governor's proposal came after dozens of people were found dead in a tractor trailer in San Antonio earlier this week. He said inspecting commercial vehicles could help deter drug smuggling and human trafficking. Abbott said the new state-sponsored inspections of commercial trucks are in response to a lack of strong immigration policy from President Joe Biden. "In Texas we, once again, are going to try to step up and play a role by the state, to address this catastrophe that president Biden is responsible for,” Abbott said during a press conference Wednesday in Eagle Pass. The policy is similar to one briefly put in place two months ago that led to hours-long delays at the points of entry.

Critics say it is not effective, and claim the Republican is just scoring political points. “These migrants were actually being smuggled through an illicit entryway, in a truck,” Aileen Teague, an assistant professor of international affairs at Texas A&M University, said. “So, there's a lot more complexity here than what the governor would necessarily have us believe in looking at the tweet and kind of oversimplifying the solutions.” She added checkpoints and over-militarizing the border through the Operation Lone Star initiative is flawed. “History has shown that an escalation of people on the border — border policing officials and … drug enforcement agents and cops, don't necessarily correspond to keeping people out,” Teague said. Between 1994 and 2000, the U.S. doubled the size of its border patrol, Teague said. At the same time, illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States reached its apex. But she said pushing that false narrative could help Abbott continue to fire up his political base. Abbott is running for reelection against Beto O’Rourke. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University has Abbott leading O’Rourke by just five points. Abbott has used his platform of immigration — and the tragedy in San Antonio — to attack Biden. On Monday, he tweeted the deaths were “a result of his deadly open border policies.”

San Antonio Express-News - June 29, 2022

‘One big campaign stunt’: Bexar County sheriff criticizes Abbott on immigration, wants to meet Biden

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday, criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott’s policies on immigration and human smuggling and urging the president to meet with Texas sheriffs to address fallout from the rising number of immigrants crossing the border. In the letter, Salazar said Abbott has used the issues of immigration and human smuggling as “one big campaign stunt.” “Governor Abbott has wasted excessive assets and personnel on an ineffective farce of an effort,” said Salazar, a Democrat. “I know it’s ineffective, because my deputies and surrounding county sheriffs deal with the aftermath every single day in the form of vehicle pursuits and even rescue operations with dozens of victims at a time.”

He said Abbott has jailed countless immigrants on “worthless charges that have only served to clog an already over-taxed state prison system, which has had a trickledown effect on overcrowded local jails.” The letter comes one day after 51 migrants from Mexico and Central America were killed in a sweltering tractor-trailer on the city’s Southwest Side in one of the deadliest such episodes in recent history. Eleven other people who were rescued from the trailer and were hospitalized, including an adolescent boy who was in critical condition at University Hospital. Authorities estimate that up to 100 people could have been packed inside at one point. The dead were 39 men and 12 women. Twenty-two were from Mexico, seven were from Guatemala and two were from Honduras, Mexican officials said. The rest are still being identified. On Tuesday, federal authorities arrested three people in connection with the deaths. Homero Zamorano, 45, was arrested after officials say he abandoned the tractor-trailer and fled the scene while high on meth. Zamorano may appear Wednesday in federal court on human-smuggling charges. He has a long criminal history.

KSAT - June 29, 2022

San Antonio first responders describe scene of trailer deaths, say people ‘basically cooking’

First responders with the San Antonio Fire Department recalled the “horrific scene” they arrived at Monday on the Southwest Side, where dozens of migrants died as they were left inside a sweltering trailer. The victims, they said, were basically “cooking” as they didn’t have access to water, air conditioning or ventilation and as temperatures surpassed 100 degrees. They were also apparently covered in a meat tenderizer seasoning to mask their smell in an effort to confuse dogs who are trained to smell for humans at Border Patrol checkpoints, authorities said.

As of Wednesday, 53 people have been pronounced dead. “I was taken aback by the numbers of people we were getting and the resources that were being sent out there,” SAFD Chief Charles Hood told ABC News’ Matt Gutman on Tuesday, adding that he arrived on the scene at 6:45 p.m., as survivors were still being transported to hospitals. “It was organized chaos.” A Bexar County spokesperson said 48 people died at the scene and first responders sent 16 people, including four pediatric patients and 12 adults, to area hospitals. Five of those patients died at a hospital. Every survivor was “very close” to death, according to Bryn Everitt, an associate medical director with the SAFD. They were hot to the touch and weak when they were rescued. Everitt told ABC News that those victims needed immediate treatment because when bodies are subjected to that type of prolonged heat, their organs shut down and they go into cardiac arrest. “They will die. We talk about it all the time. We talk about patients in hot cars, about kids. And these are just the same thing. These patients will die if they don’t get treated appropriately, quickly,” he said. “I can’t imagine what those people went through in that trailer. It’s unbelievable.”

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 30, 2022

Swimming at Jacob's Well suspended for foreseeable future, Hays County officials say

Swimming at Hays County’s Jacob’s Well Natural Area has been suspended for the foreseeable future, county officials announced Wednesday. The water has threats of high bacteria levels, other pollutants and poor visibility making it unsafe for swimming, officials said. Jacob’s Well, a popular Central Texas swimming hole near Wimberley, contains the longest cave in Hays County and the second-longest fully submerged cave in Texas. The water temperature averages a cool 68 degrees year-round.

It welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. Roughly 30,000 swimmers visit every summer, and 100,000 visit the well and its surrounding park every year, Jay Taylor, parks lead at Hays County Parks, previously told the American-Statesman. The swim season, which began May 1, requires reservations. The well is surrounded by about 80 acres of parkland and is home to many animals, including quail, roadrunners, turkeys and Guadalupe bass. But as growth and climate change transform the area, the water gets murkier. And as the drought continues and the demand for groundwater increases, the well faces trouble, diving researchers have said. Water flows into the well from the Trinity Aquifer, which is made up of three segments, Baker said. The segment that goes into Jacob's Well is the Cow Creek segment. Cow Creek is pressurized, and it is where the majority of drinking water comes from in the Wimberley area and a good part of the Hill Country, David Baker, founder and executive director of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, told the Statesman in July 2021.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2022

Abortion rights supporters, opponents clash while demonstrating in downtown Dallas

Abortion rights supporters and opponents came face to face Wednesday afternoon during a protest in downtown Dallas. The protest, organized by abortion rights supporters, began at noon at Dallas City Hall and became rowdy after a handful of counterprotesters appeared about 12:15 p.m. Protests have sprung up in North Texas and around the country after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Tuesday night in Denton, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside City Hall as the City Council considered a resolution — which ultimately passed, 4-3 — that would ask police to deprioritize enforcement of abortion laws. At the beginning of Wednesday’s rally in Dallas, Kamyon Conner, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, told protesters not to worry about the counterprotesters, but more than half of the supporters attempted to engage with them as police tried to keep the groups separated.

Written in chalk on sidewalks and walls around City Hall were messages that said “Fill me with rage” and “You can only ban safe abortions.” Opponents were gathered behind police, and one person held a sign that said “Repent, turn to Jesus or burn.” Anjali Das, 19, said she joined the rally with her friends because she was “enraged and livid” over the Supreme Court’s decision. She said although she was worried about counterprotesters, she felt strength in the number of abortion rights supporters. ”Especially being women of color, that’s a fear whenever we step out of the house but especially while protesting,” she said. “But I feel like when you see all of these people, they are here to protect you.” Hundreds of protesters began gathering around City Hall as tensions grew between the groups. A police officer asked demonstrators to stay back at the intersection in front of City Hall, but they instead began marching up Akard Street. One officer was heard saying, “There are only six of us, what can we can do?” Police said no arrests were made during the demonstration. Uduak Nkanga, one of the organizers with The Afiya Center and an abortion rights supporter, said the turnout exceeded expectations, especially on a weekday afternoon.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 29, 2022

Fort Worth schools employees get $30 million in raises

The Fort Worth school board approved an estimated $819.5 million general fund budget Tuesday and increased teacher and employee pay for the upcoming school year. The board voted 8-1 in favor of the budget. Trustee Camille Rodriguez was the sole “No” vote. The board approved a 4% compensation increase for teachers and a 4% midpoint increase for all other employees except for para-professional and hourly employees, who will receive a 6% midpoint increase. The board also raised the minimum rate to $15 per hour for all full-time hourly employees and approved a multitude of stipends and incentives for various district positions. The pay raises amount to an estimated $30 million of the 2022-2023 general fund budget.

The budget reflects a reduction of 5.6% from the prior year’s budget of $865.5 million, but still shows deficit spending of about $40 million. The district is projected to make $779.1 million in revenue while spending $819.5 million, with the deficit being covered by the district’s additional $281.4 million fund balance. “The district is committed to continuing to work toward adopting a balanced budget while dealing with increasing operational costs due to inflation while providing competitive salaries for all of its workforce,” Chief Financial Officer Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria said. Teachers will receive a 4% increase based on their base salary, with an entry-level salary now at $60,000. Teachers with master’s degrees will receive a $1,400 stipend and teachers with a doctorate will see $3,000 extra. Employees working for the district from Sept. 1, 2022 to May 26, 2023 will be eligible for an additional incentive bonus. Full-time employees and 180-day substitute teachers will receive two $1,000 payments throughout the school year, one in December and the other in June. Part-time employees will receive two $500 payments in December and June.

KERA - June 29, 2022

New Arlington council member promises to uphold 'American dream

Long Pham, a claims supervisor and U.S. Army veteran, promised to work for and respond to Arlington residents after being sworn in as an at-large council member. Pham says he lives the "American dream," which he defines as success through hard work. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1975 as a teenage Vietnamese refugee following the fall of Saigon. He worked as a custodian to help his family before serving in the U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. "I can't ask for more," he says after being sworn in Tuesday evening. "I promised the voters that I would work hard, and that's the best I can do."

Pham won 57.4% of the 8,033 votes cast over Albert Parra, an oncologist, in the June 18 runoff. The candidates were the top vote-getters in the city's May 7 general election, but neither claimed a majority of the votes. Pham had significant support from big names in Arlington and Tarrant-area politicians. His website lists endorsements from Arlington Mayor Jim Ross, former Mayor Jeff Williams, former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt and former Rep. Bill Zedler. Parra had support from outgoing District 6 Council member Ruby Faye Woolridge, local philanthropists Dan Dipert and Linda Dipert and former council members Sheri Capehart and Dr. Ignacio Nunez. Parra also received endorsements from Arlington Board of Realtors, Young Men for Arlington, MPAC Arlington and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Woolridge left city council to run for Tarrant County Commissioner Precinct 2 instead of a second term. Woolridge lost the Democratic primary. However, she secured the Democratic nomination for the District Clerk race after the previous nominee moved out of the county, according to a June 21 party announcement.

D Magazine - June 27, 2022

Michael Hinojosa will leave his job early. What's next for the Dallas ISD super?

After next Tuesday, Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa will officially walk out of its headquarters on North Central Expressway and be done leading the state’s second-largest urban school district for good. If you’ve been halfway following along with what has happened between the time Hinojosa announced in January he would resign and now, you might be confused. The original idea was that he’d stick around until December 31, acting as a consultant and “superintendent emeritus” to help his successor get his or her footing during what is a pretty delicate time for a school district emerging from pandemic learning. “I could’ve finished my contract,” he told reporters at a press conference following his announcement. “But they [school board trustees] need to find someone who can keep this magic going for 10 years and 20 years. “I am going to exit as superintendent. My last official day will be December 31, 2022. I will be around for the foreseeable future, certainly through that date.”

At that point, rumors were already swirling that he was eyeing a mayoral run, but he demurred, saying that his focus was on “landing this airplane in the next six months.” Last month the school board named Austin ISD superintendent (and former Dallas ISD chief of school leadership) Stephanie Elizalde its lone finalist for superintendent and then 21 days later voted to offer her a contract. Elizalde’s first day is Friday. The last school board meeting before the district takes its July break happened last Thursday. There was an inkling that something was up when an agenda item that would’ve turned Hinojosa into a consultant was removed. An item calling for an executive session to discuss the resignation of the superintendent was on the agenda, as was an item to vote on that resignation. That night, the board went into that executive session, and upon returning to open session, launched into the superintendent’s report. Instead of discussing the usual district accolades, Hinojosa announced (rather abruptly) that he would be departing his job early.

National Stories

Politifact - June 29, 2022

Fact check: No, Marjorie Taylor Greene didn't give a Nazi salute while wearing a Soviet shirt

Old photos of lawmakers have the potential to cause political embarrassment if they show the person in such a compromising pose as, say, giving a Nazi salute. That’s how some people have interpreted the gesture being made in a supposed "leaked photo" of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

In the image, it appears as if Greene is wearing a Soviet T-shirt and a pair of underwear outside of her pants. She is also raising one of her arms in a way some people think looks like a Nazi salute but could also be interpreted as a superhero pose, as she’s also wearing a cape. But a reverse image search of the photo shows this picture has been altered. It appears that Greene’s face has been superimposed on the face of the person in the photo. In what looks like the original image, it’s clear that it’s not Greene but rather another person pictured raising her arm. An Instagram post sharing the photo was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. We found that this photo has been online since at least 2013, and in photos that appeared on Russian and Turkish websites. This is not a real photo of Greene. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2022

Clean energy outpacing oil sector in hiring

The U.S. energy industry added 300,000 jobs last year, driven largely by growth in clean energy technology as the oil and gas sector faltered, according to a new report from the Department of Energy. The solar industry added more than 17,000 jobs, a 5.4 percent jump. Jobs producing electric and hybrid vehicles and parts increased 25 percent, with more than 45,000 new jobs. Meanwhile the oil and gas industry lost more than 31,000 jobs, a 6.4 percent decline. Even with the decline in oil jobs,Texas added more than 30,000 energy jobs last year, the most of any state except Michigan, with its large automobile manufacturing sector.

"Energy jobs are growing faster than the economy as a whole, notably jobs in renewables like solar and wind," said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. "The jobs are growing in industries we need to support a 100 percent clean power sector." Driving last year's oil sector job losses was continued low crude prices coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic. But with public health restrictions now loosened and economies clamoring for oil, crude prices are up more than 50 percent since the beginning of the year, with the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate trading for almost $110 per barrel Monday. The Energy Department is projecting jobs in the fuels sector, which includes oil and gas, coal and biofuels, will grow by 3 percent this year. Granholm said as the economy shifts towards clean energy, jobs in the oil and gas sector would inevitably decline. But with fuel prices at historic highs, for now those jobs remained necessary.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2022

Pharmacies lift purchase limits on emergency contraception following Supreme Court abortion ruling

Big box retailers and pharmacies are lifting restrictions on the amount of emergency contraception consumers could purchase after experiencing a spike in demand following the Supreme Court’s decision to end a constitutional right to abortion. Consumers rushed to stock up on emergency contraception when the high court struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on Friday. Also known as the morning after pill, emergency contraception, is a single pill taken within three days of unprotected sex to prevent a pregnancy, and is not considered abortion. To prevent shortages some retailers began putting limits on how many people could buy, but now they say the limits are no longer necessary. CVS was one of the retailers that limited purchases of emergency contraception to three per customer in the days after the ruling. It lifted the limit on Tuesday.

“Immediately following the Supreme Court decision, we saw a sharp increase in the sale of emergency contraceptives and implemented a temporary purchase limit to ensure equitable access,” Matt Blanchette, a CVS spokesperson said in a statement. “Sales have since returned to normal and we’ve removed purchase limits in-store and on CVS.com. We continue to have ample supply of emergency contraceptives to meet customer needs.” Walgreens’s website showed Tuesday that two emergency contraceptives — Plan B and Take Action — were out of stock for shipping, but could be ready for pick up and same-day delivery in certain locations, according to news reports. A Walgreens spokesperson said Wednesday that the supply was “ample.” “We continue to have ample supply to meet customer demand for Plan B,” said Karen May, a Walgreens spokesperson. “To help ensure ongoing access and availability for our customers and patients, we have implemented a purchase limit of 15 products per customer for Walgreens.com purchases only.” There are currently no limits in-store at Walmart, but store managers may make decisions based on demand to help ensure availability, a spokesperson said. Kroger has the contraceptives available for pick up, delivery and in stores, according to its website. The grocery and pharmacy chain did not immediately respond to comment.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2022

Oil exports to break records as refining shortages limit local processing

Oil exports leaving the Gulf Coast are projected to reach record highs in the coming weeks as releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve boost domestic oil supplies but insufficient refining operations squeeze the ability to process it. The amount of Gulf Coast crude bound for other countries could reach 3.3 million barrels per day in the second quarter, researcher Rystad Energy says. The current record, 3.2 million, was set in the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic wiped out global demand for oil. U.S. producers are ramping up oil production at the same time President Joe Biden is releasing 180 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in hopes of reducing record-high fuel prices.

But with U.S. refining capacity down by about 1 million barrels a day since 2020 and with crude prices around $110 a barrel, producers are choosing to export what can’t be processed. The global energy crunch is already boosting exports at the Port of Corpus Christi, which set new volume records this year. Its throughput recently reached 1.9 million barrels per day, up from 1.7 million in the first quarter, Rystad said. Rystad projects that U.S. oil exports will surpass 4 million barrels per day next year as oil production increases. Refining capacity, meanwhile, is unlikely to increase much within the next year. Refineries are expensive and take years to build. They are also difficult to justify, given the expected decline in gasoline demand within the next decade as more electric vehicles hit the road. Still, refiners such as Exxon are expanding crude refining capacity where it “makes business sense,” according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the refining industry’s trade group. Exxon and Valero are expanding their Beaumont and Port Arthur refineries, bringing a projected total of 300,000 barrels per day of new capacity to the market next year.

Associated Press - June 30, 2022

Ketanji Brown Jackson to be sworn in as Supreme Court justice Thursday

Nearly three months after she won confirmation to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson is officially becoming a justice. Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court’s 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires. The judicial pas de deux is set to take place at noon, the moment Breyer said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday that his retirement will take effect after nearly 28 years on the nation’s highest court. The court is expected to issue its final opinions earlier Thursday in a momentous and rancorous term that included overturning Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of the right to an abortion. The remaining cases are a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate-warming emissions from power plants, and Biden’s bid to end the Trump-era “remain in Mexico” asylum program.

In a ceremony the court said it will stream live on its website, Jackson will recite two oaths required of Supreme Court justices, one administered by Breyer and the other by Chief Justice John Roberts. Jackson, a federal judge since 2013, will be the first Black woman to serve as a justice. She will be joining three women, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett — the first time four women will serve together on the nine-member court. Biden nominated Jackson in February, a month after Breyer, 83, announced he would retire at the end of the court’s term, assuming his successor had been confirmed. Breyer’s earlier-than-usual announcement and the condition he attached was a recognition of the Democrats’ tenuous hold on the Senate in an era of hyper-partisanship, especially surrounding federal judgeships. The Senate confirmed Jackson’s nomination in early April, by a 53-47 mostly party-line vote that included support from three Republicans. She has been in a sort of judicial limbo ever since, remaining a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., but not hearing any cases. Biden elevated her to that court from the district judgeship to which she was appointed by President Barack Obama. Jackson will be able to begin work immediately, but the court will have just finished the bulk of its work until the fall, apart from emergency appeals that occasionally arise. That will give her time to settle in and familiarize herself with the roughly two dozen cases the court already has agreed to hear starting in October as well as hundreds of appeals that will pile up over the summer.

Reuters - June 29, 2022

U.S. Capitol riot panel faces questions over Trump fracas in SUV

A congressional probe into the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters faced questions on Wednesday about what steps it had taken to corroborate a White House aide's account of the then-president having struggled with Secret Service agents in his armored SUV that day. U.S. media outlets, citing Secret Service sources, said the head of Trump's security detail, Robert Engel, and the driver of the car were prepared to challenge the aide's testimony that Trump grabbed the steering wheel of the modified Chevrolet Suburban when he learned that the Secret Service would not drive him to the Capitol, where thousands of his supporters rioted.

Neither Engel nor the driver made public statements on Wednesday. Trump on Tuesday denied having grabbed the wheel. An aide to the U.S. House of Representatives committee on Jan. 6 said it would welcome testimony from any witness who wished to provide new information under oath following Tuesday's testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. The House aide declined to answer questions about whether the committee already had interviewed Secret Service agents or other officials with first-hand knowledge of the incident Hutchinson described. "Ms. Hutchinson stands by all of the testimony she provided yesterday, under oath, to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol," her attorneys Jody Hunt and William Jordan said in a statement late on Wednesday. Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Wednesday the committee had not sought to confirm details of Hutchinson's testimony in the 10 days before the hearing, which was scheduled unusually quickly. In a separate statement it said it was cooperating with the committee.