Quorum Report News Clips

View By Date
Printable Version of This Page

Newsclips - September 23, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 23, 2021

Texas GOP moves to fortify Senate lines as Democrats target 3 Republican incumbents for 2022

As they try to expand their majority in the Texas Legislature, Republicans are redrawing Senate boundaries to protect three GOP incumbents who will be targeted by Democrats in the 2022 elections and beyond. Democrats had been making plans to oust state Sens. Angela Paxton of McKinney, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Joan Huffman of Houston. They represent districts that have undergone population shifts that make the political turf more appealing for a Democratic candidate. Knowing that under the current boundaries those candidates are at risk for defeat, Republicans are moving to fortify those districts and disrupt the Democratic Party’s plan to win additional Senate seats.

July memos obtained by The News outline the plan to target the trio of Republicans and pour more money into an effort to take control of the Senate. In 2020 Democrats raised significant campaign cash inside and outside of Texas in their unsuccessful effort to seize control of the Texas House. The Senate would be an easier lift, the memo suggested. “A moderate commitment from all of the safe seats combined with a moderate amount of outside fundraising can fully fund this effort,” the memo stated. “We need to hire a winner, measure progress, and hold them accountable. We need to make smart, data-driven decisions. If we do that, we can flip the Texas Senate this cycle and be able to stop bad bills.” Veteran political consultant Colin Strother acknowledged that he authored the memos. Concerning redistricting, he said it was illegal for the Legislature to redraw the legislative boundaries, when lawmakers are not in a regular session. Earlier this month Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called a third special session for redistricting. The call includes other matters, such as mandating that transgender athletes participate in sports under the gender of their birth. Sens. Sarah Eckhardt of Austin and Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio, both Democrats, filed a federal lawsuit before the beginning to the special session to block GOP redistricting efforts. Strother added that the proposed Senate maps would not be implemented because they discriminate against minority residents, thus violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 23, 2021

El Paso is the first in the state to reach herd immunity against COVID-19

El Paso has become the first city in Texas to hit herd immunity against the coronavirus, officials said this week. As of Monday, 75 percent of El Pasoans 12 and older were fully vaccinated, Jorge Rodriguez, the El Paso Assistant fire chief and emergency management coordinator, told the El Paso County Commissioners Court on Monday. The definition of herd immunity varies, but experts generally say at least 70 percent of the population needs to be immune, either by vaccination or natural infection, for the virus to stop spreading. Some put the percentage as high as 80 to 90 percent.

Because El Paso has such a high vaccination rate, it means that coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths could be pushed down to insignificant levels. Rodriguez said that El Paso is way ahead of federal vaccination goals and is already seeing the benefits. “As other jurisdictions throughout Texas and throughout the country continue to suffer a great deal through COVID, we are actually doing pretty well,” Rodriguez said. “We should be very proud of this effort. El Paso County Health Authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza told commissioners that area hospitalizations are on the decline. Ninety percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were not vaccinated. Ocaranza urged those still unvaccinated to get the shot, especially parents who are living with young children. “It will be great if parents and kids can get vaccinated. In the meantime, they need to continue wearing the mask and parents who still need to get the vaccine need to do so to protect the rest of the family,” Ocaranza said. Ocaranza is encouraged by Monday’s news that Pfizer may get federal approval for children to receive the vaccination. "I hope that authorization will happen in a month. We were hoping for November, but it would be better if it’s October," Ocaranza said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

Heeding Patrick plea, Abbott asks lawmakers to use $2B of Texas’ surplus for more property tax cuts

Echoing a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday effectively asked lawmakers to use $2 billion or more of the state’s projected cash balance to provide more cuts in school property taxes. For the 2022-2023 school year, the owner of a $300,000 home in Texas – close to the median price – would pay about $200 less in property taxes, under a bill moving rapidly to passage. In the following year, depending on the state economy’s performance, the school property tax cut could be larger. Abbott also added to the third special session’s agenda submission to voters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow more detention of criminal defendants without bail.

Later Wednesday, the Senate, which Patrick leads, promptly passed the tax-cut measure and a constitutional amendment that would let judges deny bail to people accused of violent crimes, first-degree felony sex crimes and human trafficking if releasing them could jeopardize public safety. “These two additional agenda items are crucial to improving the quality of life for all Texans,” Abbott said in a written statement. “I look forward to working with my partners in the Legislature to pass these additional items that will lower property taxes and keep Texans safe.” In his message to the House and Senate adding two subjects to a five-item “call” for the session, the Republican governor didn’t specify an amount of property-tax cuts. Abbott simply said he wants lawmakers to provide “additional property-tax relief for Texans.” But going into the overtime session, which began Monday, Patrick said his top priority is to create a “quantum shift” in state leaders’ thinking – tax cuts before any new spending. The state is awash in nearly $16 billion of federal COVID-19 relief money. Divvying up the federal cash is one of Abbott’s original agenda items for the current session. But what Patrick proposes to use to buy down local school property taxes is part of a projected cushion in discretionary state funds for the two-year budget cycle that began earlier this month.

Top of Page

CNN - September 22, 2021

Americans *hate* the Texas abortion law

Texas Republicans' decision to pass the nation's most restrictive abortion law earlier this month has landed like a lead balloon with voters nationally. At the core of the law is the empowerment of private citizens to bring lawsuits against people who assist someone in getting an abortion after the state's six-week window. It also provides monetary rewards of up to $10,000 for those who bring the suits. People really don't like either of those provisions, according to new national polling from Monmouth University. Fully 70% of Americans disagree with the idea of allowing private citizens to bring lawsuits against abortion providers. That numbers includes 9 in 10 Democrats, yes, but also more than 4 in 10 Republicans.

Opposition to paying off these complainants is even higher in the poll, with 81% disapproving of the idea -- including 2 in 3 (67%) of self-identified Republicans. Those sorts of overwhelming majorities -- particularly on an issue as divisive as abortion rights -- are essentially unheard of, but speak to a bipartisan sense in the public that Texas Republicans went too far. Remarkably, in spite of those numbers, at least seven other Republican-controlled states have expressed interest in following Texas' lead on its abortion law. And in Missouri, a federal judge is expected to rule on Tuesday as to whether a 2019 law that effectively bans abortion after eight weeks can begin to be implemented. The Point: At minimum, the Texas law will serve as a base-motivating tool for Democrats who are in search of energy in advance of the critical 2022 midterms. At most, the law -- and other potential copycats around the country -- could jeopardize the GOP's ability to win over swing voters.

Top of Page

State Stories

KUT - September 22, 2021

How market manipulation might have worsened the Texas blackout

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected this week to release some details of its months-long inquiry into Texas' deadly February blackout. One of the things investigators are reviewing is how market manipulation in the state’s energy sector may have worsened the crisis. But what exactly are investigators looking for? And what constitutes illegal activity when it comes to the sale of electricity and natural gas in Texas? In Texas, the price of energy is based on supply and demand. Whether you’re talking about megawatts of electricity or cubic feet of natural gas, that means energy usually becomes more expensive when there's less of it available. Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston, said that presents obvious opportunities for gaming the system. Higher prices mean energy sellers can make more money selling less energy.

“When producers and generators can combine and withhold power from the market, they can drive the price up,” he told KUT last spring. “They can do it either willfully, or they can do it with willful blindness” by allowing their supply chain to break down. In the Texas electricity market, withholding supply to drive prices up is against the rules. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. “This is behavior that's taught in MBA programs. We teach the electricity game at school,” Hirs said. Experts say the rules are different when it comes to natural gas sales in Texas, where withholding supply may not even be a crime (more on that later). When it comes to uncovering market manipulation, Beth Garza says it’s all about looking for patterns. Garza was the independent market monitor for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas from 2014 to 2019. In that role she was kind of like the auditor for the Texas grid. She said when power plant shutdowns drove electricity prices up, she would start her investigation by asking some specific questions. “Is there one power plant owner that seems to be withholding, or having lots of power plant outages at the same time? If I'm a big owner, did I profit? That might raise concerns,” she said. If the behavior of power generators suggest intentional withholding of power, Garza said, investigators start asking for more information. She said she might ask power plant operators questions like: What did you know? And when did you know it?

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 23, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott disputes claim that foster-care orders don’t apply to kids sleeping in CPS offices

Gov. Greg Abbott has distanced himself from a recent claim by two Texas child welfare officials that maltreated children who are being bunked in Child Protective Services offices, hotels and churches are exempt from a federal judge’s orders. Abbott also “supports” a suggestion that lawyers for him and two state agencies meet with plaintiffs’ lawyers “in an informal discussion” of possible remedies to the state’s foster care capacity crisis, an aide to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office said in a recent email. Abbott favors the idea that lawyers in a long-running lawsuit over foster care would meet “in good faith to discuss possible solutions to the issues identified in your recently filed report,” senior special counsel Eric Hudson of Paxton’s office wrote court-appointed monitors Deborah Fowler and Kevin Ryan on Sept. 15.

The monitors’ report detailed how about 400 children in CPS’s care are sleeping for two or more consecutive nights each month in state offices and other temporary housing. In such unlicensed settings, many of the children are being given the wrong or improper doses of psychotropic medications, being exposed to sexual abuse or engaging in self harm, Fowler and Ryan wrote. Meanwhile, CPS “conservatorship” caseworkers, whose workloads recently had been reduced as a result of the decade-old lawsuit, are being required to pull four-hour overtime shifts, around the clock, to watch the children who lack proper foster-care placements. Last week, the Department of Family and Protective Services said in a report that turnover among conservatorship workers is again rising. In a court filing Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General for Special Litigation Patrick Sweeten, who also represents Abbott, disagreed with arguments made by two of the protective services department’s staff lawyers in late July emails to the monitors. The staff lawyers’ assertion infuriated U.S. District Judge Janis Graham, who presides in the case. Because the children don’t have “placements,” they don’t fall under Jack’s general injunction in the case that forbids putting youngsters “in placements that create an unreasonable risk of serious harm,” according to Associate Commissioner for Foster Care Litigation Compliance Corliss Lawson and General Counsel Vicki Kozikoujekian.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 23, 2021

Tech groups sue in attempt to void Texas social media law

Two technology industry groups filed suit Wednesday is an effort to strike down a new Texas law that will let social media users sue if they or their opinions are blocked from view or removed. House Bill 20 — inspired by complaints that conservatives are frequently censored online — also will give the state attorney general the power to sue social media companies on behalf of affected users once the law takes effect Dec. 2. Gov. Greg Abbott, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, praised HB 20 when he signed it into law two weeks ago, saying the measure will let improperly blocked users return online. "There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values," Abbott said. "It is now law that conservative viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media."

But in a lawsuit filed in Austin federal court, the tech associations argued that HB 20 —which applies to large social media platforms, particularly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — will impose onerous legal costs on companies forced to defend countless lawsuits from users. HB 20 also allows legal challenges by anybody who lives in Texas, does business in the state or "shares or receives content on a social media platform in this state." The tech lawsuit also contends that HB 20 violates the companies' First Amendment right to have editorial discretion over what appears on their websites. Because the law prohibits social media platforms from censorship based on "the viewpoint of the user or another person," the lawsuit argued that HB 20 will lead to drastic consequences. "At a minimum, HB 20 would unconstitutionally require platforms like YouTube and Facebook to disseminate, for example, pro-Nazi speech, terrorist propaganda, foreign government disinformation and medical misinformation," the lawsuit said. "In fact, legislators rejected amendments that would explicitly allow platforms to exclude vaccine misinformation, terrorist content and Holocaust denial," the lawsuit added.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 23, 2021

AG Ken Paxton urges appeals court to dismiss whistleblower lawsuit against him

A lawyer for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, arguing Wednesday before a state appeals court, insisted that Paxton cannot be sued by four former high-ranking officials who were fired after accusing him of accepting bribes and related crimes. The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals will decide whether a whistleblower lawsuit by the former officials, who say they were improperly fired last year in retaliation for reporting the allegations, can move forward. The Texas Whistleblower Act is intended to protect public employees from on-the-job retaliation after making a credible report of criminal acts to the appropriate investigators.

But Solicitor General Judd Stone II, Paxton's top appellate lawyer, argued Wednesday that the lawsuit must be dismissed because Paxton is immune to complaints by whistleblowing employees. "The Whistleblower Act waives immunity for claims based on reports regarding only public employees, appointed officials or an employing governmental entity. But the attorney general, Ken Paxton, is none of these," Stone told the court. "He's an elected official." State law does not allow whistleblower lawsuits against any elected official, from statewide leaders to school board members, Stone argued, adding that officials face other "powerful checks on misconduct," including impeachment, unfavorable press reports and removal by voters. A lawyer for the fired officials, Joseph Knight, urged the appeals court not to adopt such a "gaping exception," arguing that exempting all elected officials from whistleblower lawsuits has never been recognized since the Whistleblower Act became law three decades ago.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2021

Humble ISD president Martina Dixon to challenge Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in 2022 election

Humble ISD School Board president Martina Lemond Dixon announced Wednesday she is running for Harris County Judge as a Republican candidate in the 2022 election. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was one of the youngest candidates and first Latina ever elected to office after she beat out Republican incumbent Ed Emmett in 2018 to become judge of the third-largest county in the country.

Dixon took aim at Hidalgo in her announcement, claiming she is "more interested in playing politics and advancing her out of touch progressive agenda than managing the largest county in TX." Dixon has a long history working in the Lake Houston area, including serving on the Lake Houston Family YMCA Board, the Humble ISD Education Foundation Board, and on the Humble ISD PTA Council’s Executive Board. She currently also serves as the Assistant Secretary of the Harris Council Appraisal District Board.

Top of Page

Texas Public Radio - September 22, 2021

The Republicans who are concerned about Big Tech censorship are censoring other Texans

The Texas Republican Party believes its views are being silenced by big tech. The Republican-led legislature passed a bill that prevents so-called deplatforming, where users are banned from YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. “Freedom of speech is under attack in Texas,” said Gov. Greg Abbott when he signed the bill into law earlier this month. Now Texans, including the Attorney General, can sue social media companies who ban users for their political views. But — based on his own words — Abbott isn't interested in protecting all voices and views. “It is now law that conservative viewpoints in Texas cannot be banned on social media,” he said at the end of his video message announcing the law. The statements protecting the First Amendment have been increasingly at odds with the actions and legislation of elected Republican leaders. Texas Republicans officeholders have been notably aggressive this last year and legislative session in silencing other points of view.

The legislature passed a bill banning how teachers can talk about current events and systemic racism in the classroom. The so-called “Critical Race Theory” bill has been attacked by educators and historians who believe the state should be passing standards for educators, not scripts of what can and can’t be said. “Once you start making prohibitions, and restricting the ability of the teacher to discuss — particularly things that that to many individuals and students and to their parents, may be controversial — I think that that's getting into a dangerous area of censorship,” said Armando Alonzo, a professor of history at Texas A&M University. The bill banning CRT wasn’t the only one concerned with how Texas and its history are talked about. The so-called 1836 Project would provide a patriotic history through official committee pamphlets. “We must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place. And law creating the 1836 project does that the 1836 Project promotes patriotic education about Texas,” said Abbott. Historians like Alonzo argued the bill is an overreaction to the nation’s moves to highlight and address systemic racism. It derives its name from The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which charted the nation’s history from when the first slaves arrived in North America. Alonzo said it will likely gloss over the negative parts of the state’s complex history — like the violent history of the Texas rangers at the border or the racist legislation passing for years in the Texas legislature. And forget the 100 years of Texas history that occurred before 1836.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

Liz Cheney, targeted by Trump over impeachment, gets George W. Bush’s help with Dallas fundraiser

In a clear rebuke of Donald Trump and his wing of the GOP, George W. Bush will headline a Dallas fundraiser next month for Liz Cheney – who lost her House leadership post after supporting Trump’s impeachment over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Few fellow Republicans have incurred as much wrath from Trump. The 45th president has vowed to oust Cheney from Wyoming’s sole congressional seat in retaliation for the impeachment vote, throwing his considerable weight in the party behind one of her rivals in the primary. Cheney’s father, Dick Cheney, served as Bush’s vice president. The invitation for the Oct. 18 reception sends an unmistakable signal of Bushworld circling wagons around Cheney and against Trump.

Co-hosts include the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, Holly Kuzmich, and the first director of Bush’s presidential library, Mark Langdale, Bush’s ambassador to Costa Rica. The most recognizable names include Bush’s longtime strategist Karl Rove and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison,Trump’s ambassador to NATO, and Joe Straus, a former speaker of the Texas House. The clash of the ex-presidents goes far beyond family and political loyalty. Trump needled Bush’s younger brother as “low-energy Jeb” during the 2016 primaries. George W. Bush later averred that he couldn’t bring himself to vote for Trump that fall against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Presidents typically reach out to predecessors for occasional counsel but Trump insisted he had nothing to learn from Bush, whose invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks he criticized. Bush mostly bit his tongue through the Trump presidency but has weighed in with an occasional rebuke. In a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush made his views on Trump clear, linking the hijackers to the Jan. 6 mob Trump had encouraged to derail the election.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

Watchdog group says Reps. Lance Gooden and Roger Williams failed to disclose stock trades

The Campaign Legal Center, a government watchdog group, filed ethics complaints Wednesday accusing two Texas congressmen of failing to disclose stock trades in violation of a law meant to bar lawmakers from profiting off non-public information. Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell bought shares in a dozen companies in 2020 worth $60,019 to $376,000, according to his annual financial statement, mostly in sectors hit hard by the pandemic such as airlines and oil producers. Annual reports from Rep. Roger Williams of Austin, also a Republican, showed that his wife had sold stock last year valued at $3,003 to $45,000.

Since 2012, members of Congress have been required to report within 45 days any transaction topping $1,000. Neither Williams nor Gooden filed any such report. Gooden said that all of his transactions fell short of the threshold, so he had no obligation to file. “Contrary to this George Soros-funded group’s frivolous complaint, I have committed zero violations of the STOCK Act and this complaint is dead on arrival,” he said through an aide, referring to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. The Campaign Legal Center filed similar complaints against seven House members in all — four Democrats and one other Republican beside the Texans — with the Office of Government Ethics. The group asserted that each “conducted significant stock trading activity that has not been disclosed at all,” warning that minimal fines have not deterred a “widespread, systemic issue in Congress that crosses ideological and geographic lines.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

‘Nobody will tell me the truth’: Man’s death pinned on cougar attack; wildlife experts say no way

With a mountain lion skull tucked safely under his arm, Mike Bodenchuk walked more than a mile across downtown Fort Worth to the medical examiner’s office. A federal wildlife expert with more than four decades of experience, Bodenchuk had been asked to help with a death investigation. The body of a 28-year-old man found dead four days earlier was already on an exam table when he arrived. His obvious cause of death was a jagged tear around the right side of his neck. It had exposed vital tissue and opened his jugular vein. A wild predator must have killed him, deputies and medical examiners assumed within hours of finding the body near a wooded creek bed about 55 miles away in Hood County. Maybe, they thought, a mountain lion.

Before wildlife experts could evaluate all the evidence, the Hood County sheriff’s office issued a warning: Residents needed to be on the lookout for a killer feline. Bodenchuk had already seen photos from the autopsy by the time he arrived for the Dec. 7 meeting in Fort Worth. He had already visited the creek bed where the body was found. He knew it was practically impossible that a wild animal was involved. He brought the mountain lion skull because he thought it would help explain to the sheriff’s deputies and medical examiners why they were wrong. But when the meeting started, it was clear they had already made up their minds. While Bodenchuk and the others argued, Jonah Evans listened through a speakerphone. Evans was then the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s state mammalogist, and is an internationally recognized expert in tracking all kinds of wildlife, including mountain lions. He was asked to lend his own expertise to the case, and he meticulously chronicled his worries throughout the investigation in a journal on his computer. “Perhaps the concern is that if it is a homicide, they may have severely mishandled the case,” Evans wrote after the meeting. “I don’t understand how the sheriff’s office and M.E. could so quickly rule out a homicide. “I’m really concerned about the possibility that a murder[er is] out right now and has gotten away with this crime.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

Texas lawmakers receive credible threat of violence tied to vote for new abortion law

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Wednesday confirmed that a credible threat had been made toward members of the Texas Legislature saying it does “not discuss details of ongoing threats and investigations.” Rep. Mayes Middleton’s office confirmed that DPS had reached out to the Wallisville Republican on Tuesday.

In an email to lawmakers Tuesday, Kevin Cooper, the Department of Public Safety’s chief of government relations, said the agency had received “a CREDIBLE THREAT TO YOUR SAFETY from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a majority of you in the Texas Legislature.” Middleton’s legislative director, Andrew Herrell, said the threat had been made against every member of the Legislature who voted for the Texas Heartbeat Act, Senate Bill 8. The legislation, which went into effect on Sept. 1, outlaws abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy in Texas. There were 83 members who voted for the bill during the regular session, with one Democrat joining 82 Republicans in voting for it. Threats against lawmakers for their political stances are not uncommon in the Texas Legislature.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

Plano ISD won’t extend temporary mask mandate for schools

Plano students, staff and visitors won’t be required to wear masks in school buildings starting next week. On a 3-4 vote, Plano ISD trustees rejected an attempt to extend the district’s temporary mask mandate, which runs through Friday. “From a policymaker’s standpoint, I really don’t see why we should mandate masks, with or without exemptions,” said trustee Heather Wang, who voted against the extension. “All kinds of things have been done under the banner of science.” The policy had allowed for parents and guardians to file for an exception for their children, citing medical, religious or philosophical reasons. Around 8% of the district’s approximately 50,000 students opted out of wearing masks.

Board president David Stolle, who voted against the extension, said when trustees originally implemented the mandate on Aug. 23, they did so with the understanding that they were addressing a surge of COVID-19 cases in Collin County. Stolle said that in his mind, the surge was over. With any extension, he asked, what would be the district’s “endpoint?” “If we kick this can down the road, in two more weeks, then are we going to do it again?” In support of the extension, trustee Lauren Tyra said she did not see how the district could make a more informed decision than the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which have recommended indoor masking for students ages 2 and older. “The expert guidelines are put together with a thorough review of the data, and an expert group of physicians making that call,” Tyra said. The Department of State Health Services recorded 3,210 cases -- 2,559 confirmed and 651 probable -- in Collin County last week, with 31 new deaths. The county reported that 416 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2021

Mayor Turner names interim housing director after explosive corruption claims by former head

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday named a new housing director one day after firing his predecessor who publicly accused him of steering affordable housing funds to a specific developer and project. Keith Bynam, who was until Wednesday the department’s deputy director for the compliance division and operations, will be interim director of the Housing and Community Development Department. Personnel records show he was hired by the city in December 1991. “He has an extensive housing background and over 30 years’ experience faithfully serving the city of Houston,” said Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director.

Tom McCasland, who had led the department since 2016, told City Council members Tuesday that the mayor and his administration manufactured a “charade” of a competitive process to distribute Hurricane Harvey affordable housing money to a select developer. The decision, which overrode staff recommendations, meant the city would get 274 fewer units of affordable housing for about the same amount of money. McCasland provided a dense packet of emails and memos to council members as evidence of his assertions. They showed staff had recommended four projects that would use $16.2 million in Harvey relief funds to help finance 362 affordable units. Turner scrapped those recommendations in favor of one project in Clear Lake, which will use $15 million in relief money and produce 88 affordable units. A co-partner on the Clear Lake deal, Harbor Venture Group, is run by the mayor’s longtime law partner, Barry Barnes, and another partner at the firm, Jermaine Thomas. Turner left the firm when he was elected mayor in 2015.

Top of Page

Chron.com - September 22, 2021

Dan Crenshaw mails statewide fundraising letters featuring handwritten note and glamor shot

Rep. Dan Crenshaw is allegedly seeking congressional campaign support through what appears to be handwritten letters and...professional vanity photos? Scott Braddock of Quorum Report on Tuesday shared photos on Twitter of a fundraising appeal he received in the mail from the Houston congressman. The seemingly hand-penned missive, marked as a “private correspondence,” included a large photo of Crenshaw. “I’m drawing strong fire from Leftist Democrats for my leadership on border security and national defense,” the letter reads. “But as a wounded Navy SEAL, I’ve faced much worse. I’m personally grateful for your friendship and any support you can give me.”

The Republican also boasts of his achievements in the strange letter riddled with war metaphors. "I am a target ... In just two short years in Congress, I've drawn hostile fire for frequently taking on radical socialists and far-left Democrats," he further wrote in the letter, which he addressed "Personal and urgent update from the front-lines." While Crenshaw claims in the letter to have been "effective" in Congress, the lawmaker has actually failed to get any bills passed since being elected. The letter is the latest effort by Crenshaw to fill his campaign's war chest ahead of reelection in 2022. The U.S. Rep, who represents parts of northern and western Harris County, recently held a youth summit in Houston where he charged attendees $15 a ticket, and sold Crenshaw merchandise, according to Hailey Fuchs of Politico. In his 2020 reelection bid against Democratic opponent Sima Ladjevardian, the former Navy Seal raised more than $19.4 million, according to Julia Forrest and Melissa Holzberg of Open Secrets. Crenshaw's current term ends in 2022.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2021

Resident sues Grapevine-Colleyville school district over alleged free speech violations

A resident is suing the Grapevine-Colleyville school district and the board president alleging his constitutional right to free speech was violated when he tried to speak during a recent school board meeting. Mitchell Ryan is suing the district and school board president Jorge Rodriguez in the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth. Ryan suit alleges that during the Aug. 23 board meeting, Rodriguez repeatedly shut him down when he talked about Colleyville Heritage Principal James Whitfield who is currently on paid administrative leave and is facing the possibility of his contract not being renewed. In his lawsuit, Ryan believes he “has been and will be prohibited from addressing the board regarding Principal Whitfield’s efforts to promote critical theory at Colleyville Heritage High School.”

Whitfield has spoken out publicly when a former school board candidate alleged that he was teaching and promoting critical race theory. Ryan alleged that, while he was prevented from speaking against Whitfield, the principal’s supporters were allowed to speak and to use his name. The suit alleges that the school board adopted and published an official “speech content” policy which prohibits citizens from identifying district employees and others by name during the public forum. During the Aug. 23 board meeting, Ryan attempted to speak about Whitfield, but the suit alleges that Rodriguez continuously prevented him from speaking while allowing Whitfield’s supporters to speak. Ryan said that there are 56 languages spoken in the Grapevine-Colleyville school district and said he supports Whitfield’s posting photos showing the principal with his wife on the beach while celebrating their anniversary. “I thought it was tasteful. I thought….”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2021

United Airlines workers in Fort Worth area sue over vaccine mandate, religious beliefs

Six United Airlines employees, five of whom live in Dallas-Fort Worth, claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday the airline is discriminating against them through the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The Chicago-based airline announced on Aug. 6 that all employees would be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. The airline told employees they could seek a religious or medical exemption to the mandate and, if approved, they would be placed on temporary leave beginning on Oct. 2. The six employees in the class action lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas-Fort Worth Division, were placed on unpaid leave after their exemption requests were granted, according to the lawsuit. Two of the employees requested medical accommodations and four asked for religious exemptions because they believe the COVID-19 vaccine was developed using aborted fetal tissue, the suit says.

The vaccines do not contain fetal tissue or fetal cells. Scientists used cells grown in labs over the past few decades to test and research the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines and in development of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those cells — called cell lines — originated from cells taken from aborted fetuses in the 1970s and 1980s. United Airlines did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the federal suit are David Sambrano, a captain living in Tarrant County; David Castillo, an aircraft technician living in Tarrant County; Kimberly Hamilton, a station operations rep living in North Texas; Debra Jennefer Thal Jonas, a customer service rep living in North Texas; Genise Kincannon, a flight attendant living in Fort Worth; and Seth Turnbough, a captain living in Chicago who frequently flies through DFW Airport. Sambrano, Castillo, Hamilton and Kincannon asked to be exempt from the mandate because they believe vaccines “were derived using aborted fetal tissue” and “receiving the vaccine is contrary to the Bible’s teaching that her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Top of Page

Chron.com - September 22, 2021

ERCOT announces search for new board of directors after mass resignations

Want to join the infamous ERCOT board? The Texas Public Utility Commission is looking for new blood. The PUC announced Monday its search for eight new members to join the Electric Reliability Council of Texas board of directors. “The 87th Texas Legislature provided clear direction on ERCOT governance reforms in Senate Bill 2,” PUC Chair Peter Lake said in a statement. “I am thankful state leadership selected such accomplished business leaders to designate the new ERCOT Board that will chart a new path to providing reliable power to Texans.”

The search comes after a wave of board member resignations in the aftermath of the February freeze, which crippled the state power grid and resulted in the deaths of more than 200 Texans. The failure shined a spotlight on ERCOT and its governing regulators, a number of which were found to be living outside of Texas (and even the United States) at the time of the event. Following the passage of SB 2 in June, board members are now required to be state residents. The firm Heidrick & Struggles is leading ERCOT's search for new members. Its selection committee for the process includes Buc-ee’s CEO Arch Aplin; G. Brint Ryan, former chair of the UNT System board of regents; and Bill Jones, former chairman emeritus of the Texas A&M University System board of regents. Judging from predictions that the upcoming winter will be rough for Texans — and given ERCOT's damaged reputation — this new team will certainly have their hands full.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 22, 2021

Michael Taylor: The looming fight over Big Tech is as big as Texas

The most astonishing business story of the past 25 years is the rise to global dominance of the technology megalodons. I’m thinking about superstar companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google, in addition to Microsoft, Apple and others. The most astonishing business story of the next two to five years will be the government backlash to their rise — with attempts to contain, defang and ultimately break apart many of these companies. The Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott got an early start on this project a few weeks ago, passing a law banning giant social media companies from discriminating against users based on political views. Abbott supported this regulation on social media companies that have more than 50 million monthly users — think Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube — because they are part of what he called a “dangerous movement” to “silence conservative ideas (and) religious beliefs.” Specifically, these tech companies are subject to the law because of their size.

Abbott and the Legislature rode a wave of anger from the right about perceived political bias through “shadow-banning” or de-platforming leading voices of the conservative movement. Twitter and Facebook famously shut down former President Donald Trump’s accounts after the Jan. 6 riots in Washington, D.C. Elsewhere, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a Republican, dedicates a section of his website to Big Tech, touting the Bust Up Big Tech Act he proposed in April. Hawley calls out Amazon, Google, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok as specific targets of his ire, legislation and future regulation. When it comes to the conservative voices that support the Texas legislation, it’s important to pay close attention to what may have been unleashed on the right — and what’s coming from the left. Historically, the federal government has regulated big companies when they harmed consumers. That’s the main thrust of antitrust law. More on that later. But what Texas’ leaders attacked Big Tech for was exercising power as it relates to the companies’ sheer size. The industry’s bigness itself is the threat, and the national right, including the Texas state government, is here to fight it. This news out of Texas comes within a larger federal context. People who pay attention to antitrust regulation may know that President Joe Biden has appointed some new voices with wholly new ideas on what should happen with Big Tech. The moves foretell big fights ahead.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 22, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: San Antonio senator: Del Rio facing a 'humanitarian crisis, not an invasion'

The English language needs a new word. We need a noun that could apply a label to a very specific kind of political duplicity; the kind of phoniness we see when a crisis occurs and politicians pretend to be worried and upset, but are secretly joyful, because the crisis gives them a chance to score points against the opposition. This new word would come in particularly handy right now. It would capture the glee masquerading as outrage from Texas Republicans over the border crisis in Del Rio, in which more than 14,000 refugees — most of them from Haiti — have waded across the Rio Grande and camped under and around the international bridge connecting Del Rio to Ciudad Acuña. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has blamed the crisis on Democratic President Joe Biden’s “open-border politics and policies.”

Cruz scored some good photo-ops for himself during a visit to Del Rio, went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to demagogue the crisis and even exploited the human suffering with a fundraising email blast in which he told his supporters, “I’m leading the charge to stop (the crisis), but I’m counting on your partnership to do it. Please stand with me today by pitching in a much-needed gift.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Haitian refugees suffering through squalid conditions on the border would appear to be in greater need than Ted Cruz’s 2024 re-election campaign. Gov. Greg Abbott, during a Tuesday visit to Del Rio, warned refugees thinking of crossing the Rio Grande that they “may wind up with handcuffs on your hands, going straight to jail.” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has used the crisis to hawk the deranged theory that Biden is “bringing” Haitians and other refugees to the border to give Democrats a fresh supply of new voters who will eventually upend the U.S. political system. Calling the Haitian refugees “illegals” who are part of an “invasion” of the United States, Patrick told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham that “the revolution has begun, a silent revolution by the Democrat Party and Joe Biden to take over this country.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Dogs are on the agenda in the Texas Legislature, but not foster kids

Most parents don’t take kindly to disapproving glares or unsolicited parenting advice from other parents, knowing that no family is immune to occasional tantrums, injuries and sassy disobedience. But few moms and dads would take advice from a parent whose toddler is dirty with matted hair, protruding ribs, pocked with infected sores and is running loose in traffic after having been left unattended at a public park. When it comes to child welfare, Texas is that neglectful parent at the park. But despite all its shameful failures in protecting, insuring and educating its children, Texas is that hypocritical guardian who’s still trying to tell other people how to parent, and whether to parent at all. Given Texas’ recent enactment of the harshest abortion law in the nation, essentially banning the procedure after six weeks, before most women know they’re pregnant, you’d think the Lone Star State would be the most pro-life place in America.

That’s certainly what champions of Senate Bill 8 such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were crowing when the law took effect. “Texas will always defend the right to life,” Abbott tweeted earlier this month. News flash: Life doesn’t end with birth. Texas has plenty of living, breathing, walking, talking kids who are struggling, suffering and even dying because of the state’s callous disregard. In the nation’s supposed No. 1 pro-life state, consider how well Texas ranks on other stats recently researched by Politifact: 49th for prenatal care; 50th for insured women; tied for 40th for child hunger and 44th for per-pupil public school spending. Reasonable people can disagree on abortion, and we often do. But don’t Republican leaders ever wince at their own hypocrisy? How do they expect us to accept their politically advantageous concern for a six-week embryo no bigger than a grain of rice as sufficient service to the cause of “life” when Texas has allowed tens of thousands of foster children to languish in dangerous, abusive conditions for more than a decade?

Top of Page

Austin Business Journal - September 21, 2021

Teacher Retirement System’s board approves massive HQ relocation plan

A plan to move the Teacher Retirement System of Texas headquarters from downtown Austin to the Mueller mixed-use community was unanimously approved Sept. 17 by the organization’s board of trustees. The vote means the governmental entity's executive director is authorized to enter into negotiations for a purchase-sale agreement for the Alpha and Bravo buildings of the Mueller Business District. The negotiation is expected to last a few weeks.

The multibillion-dollar pension fund manager announced plans in August to shift operations from 1000 Red River St. to 457,000 square feet across two buildings at 1900 Aldrich St. in Mueller, a mixed-use community at Austin’s former airport, a few miles northeast of the Central Business District. “I believe it is prudent to make this move now and take advantage of returns from Austin’s booming commercial real estate market,” TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie said in a statement. “A new headquarters building will position TRS for success in serving our members in the coming decades.” 1900 Aldrich is part of the Mueller Business District developed by Shorenstein Properties LLC. After the Alpha and Bravo buildings, a third phase of the Mueller Business District could add another 350,000 square feet, according to marketing material produced by Aquila Commercial, which handles leasing.

Top of Page

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2021

Aldine ISD offers $500 vaccine incentive to staff

Aldine ISD employees will receive $500 with proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the district’s board of trustees decided Tuesday night. The voluntary program will start Thursday and staff will be able to apply to get the one-time financial incentive until Nov. 19. The money will be paid to staff who submit proof of vaccination and fill out a form by Dec. 10.

“COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be safe and effective against the virus,” said Aldine ISD Superintendent Dr. LaTonya Goffney in a prepared statement released by the district Wednesday. “By increasing the number of vaccinated staff, we increase our ability to provide our students with a safe and healthy classroom where they can continue with in-class instruction.” Qualifying full-time employees, permanent part-time employees and some substitute teachers are eligible to receive the money. The district will use federal relief funds to pay for the incentive. The program also will give administrators a better idea of how many staff are fully vaccinated, which will better inform contact-tracing and tracking which staff need to quarantine, the district’s statement said. “We feel a responsibility to encourage every possible preventative measure to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Goffney. The district is one of a handful defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s order banning mask mandates in Texas public schools. Students, staff and visitors are required to wear masks in all of the school system’s buildings and its buses.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 22, 2021

Staying in-house, city manager picks interim chief Joseph Chacon as Austin's next chief of police

Austin interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon has accepted the position on a permanent basis after a nationwide search that began with Chacon as a long shot to take over a department under scrutiny. The appointment of Chacon was announced Wednesday by City Manager Spencer Cronk. This is the second time Cronk has gone with an in-house candidate; he selected then-interim Police Chief Brian Manley to lead the department in 2018. In an introductory news conference at City Hall, Cronk acknowledged that Chacon initially faced long odds but said he overcame them through an interview process that included community feedback opportunities. "I was not anticipating necessarily to select an internal candidate, but the process played out, and this was the right person for the job," Cronk said.

The news was met with disapproval by the Austin Police Association, the union that represents Austin officers. The union issued a statement saying it believed an external hire was necessary to address morale and staffing issues within the department. The department has funding for more than 1,800 sworn officer positions but has fewer than 1,600, a gap attributed largely to the cancellation of three cadet training classes by the City Council last year. The statement said the union had preferred another finalist to Chacon — Emada Tingirides, a deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department. "The Austin Police Association is disappointed with this selection," the union said in a statement. "City Council did not seize the opportunity for change that officers and the community were ready and willing to bring about." Cronk's office narrowed the candidate list to seven in July and then cut it to three finalists: Chacon, Tingirides, and Dallas Assistant Chief Avery Moore. Cronk brought Moore and Tingirides to Austin last month to engage with residents in community forums, along with Chacon.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2021

Crowley ISD teacher on leave after video shows alleged excessive force used on student

Crowley ISD is investigating an incident involving a teacher accused of using excessive force on a student following a video posted on social media. The video, which shows a Crowley High Ninth Grade Campus teacher pinning down a student outside a classroom, was taken by another student and shared by @FunkyTownFridge on Twitter Saturday. The teacher has been put on administrative leave during the investigation, said Anthony Kirchner, chief communications officer for the North Texas school district, in an emailed statement Wednesday.

The video shows a student attempting to leave a classroom, walking toward someone in the hallway. The teacher, whose identity has not been confirmed by the district, is standing in the doorway blocking the student. In the video, the teacher puts his hands in front of the student, the student responds by saying, “Get your hands off of me,” and the teacher wraps his arm around the student’s neck to pin him to the ground. An additional video posted shows the teacher continuing to hold the student down for an indefinite amount of time. In the school district’s statement, Crowley ISD said the video was “disturbing and unacceptable.” “The improper actions taken by the teacher do not align with Crowley ISD’s expectations for our educators, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken,” according to the statement. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Tarrant County and the Fort Worth Circle of Clergy on Tuesday requested a meeting with the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education to discuss “the rise in racial hostilities and hateful tensions” in North Texas school districts including Crowley ISD. An email from Pastor Kyev Tatum of Fort Worth’s New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church noted several recent incidents of concern to the SCLC, including the Crowley incident, which the video shows involves a Black student and a white teacher.

Top of Page

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 23, 2021

Haitian crisis reignites the left's criticism of Biden's border policy

President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure from civil rights groups and some Democrats to stop using a Trump-era public health order to expel migrants as his administration ramps up mass deportations of Haitian refugees in Del Rio. Leaders from virtually every major civil rights group in the country signed a scathing letter to Biden on Wednesday accusing him of breaking campaign promises to build a more “humane” immigration system after the Trump administration. “We fear that commitments made on the campaign trail — to uphold the United States’ domestic and international legal obligation to asylum, to end privatized detention, and to disentangle federal immigration enforcement from local law enforcement — are being shredded before our eyes,” leaders from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote.

The letter comes as even top Democratic officials have started urging Biden to drop the order, known as Title 42, which his administration has used to immediately expel many migrants at the southern border because of risks associated with the coronavirus. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday slammed Biden for continuing “hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws.” “We must allow asylum seekers to present their claims at our ports of entry and be afforded due process,” the New York Democrat said. Some Texas Democrats have also criticized Biden’s use of Title 42. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio said it’s “bad policy and sets bad precedent” to leave it in place. “If we continue to do it, future presidents of both parties, I believe, will continue to use that as a way to basically say out of sight, out of mind,” Castro said. The pushback from the left complicates matters for the Biden administration, which has leaned on the public health order as a key part of its response to a six-month surge in migration at the southern border that Republicans have hammered the president with repeatedly. The administration has said the order is still necessary because of COVID. “We are expelling individuals based on Title 42, specifically because of COVID,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “Because we want to prevent a scenario where large numbers of people are gathering, posing a threat to the community, and also to the migrants themselves.” The administration used the order to immediately expel migrants in 93,414 encounters in August — 44 percent of encounters with migrants that month — according to the latest data. Most of those, 76,895, were single adults.

Top of Page

CNN - September 21, 2021

'Anonymous' hackers claim to hit website hosting firm popular with Proud Boys

The hacking collective Anonymous last week claimed to have stolen and leaked reams of data held by Epik, a website hosting firm popular with far-right organizations like the Proud Boys. The more than 150 gigabytes of data swept up in the breach shine a light on years of online activities from far-right groups, including those who tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election. While researchers are still sifting through the data, Epik has historically provided web hosting services to an array of conspiracy theorists, and for conservative media networks like Parler and Gab. The breach also undercuts Epik's pledge to customers that it can safeguard their anonymity, no matter what dangerous conspiracy theories they spread online. For that reason, experts told CNN the hack could have repercussions for how far-right groups organize and try to protect themselves online.

"A breach like this will force some of these actors to find security providers outside of North America, in Europe, to possibly step up their security game," Gabriella Coleman, a professor of anthropology at Harvard University, told CNN. Coleman said the data dump "confirmed a lot of the details of the far-right ecosystem." Emily Crose, a cybersecurity analyst who studies online extremism, said the breach "will be another factor causing paranoia among far-right communities online." Crose said those groups already feel like they're under surveillance, given their violent attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Emma Best, co-founder of Distributed Denial of Secrets, a non-profit that itself has published hacktivist data, said researchers could be poring over the Epik leaks for months for clues into how different people and far-right organizations are linked. In a statement to CNN on Tuesday night, Epik said the information that Anonymous released included data on 15 million people that was already public. "Epik has been a trusted resource for many years and our highest priority will always be security and privacy," the firm said. Epik said in a statement last week that it had "deployed multiple cyber security teams" to remediate the breach. The company, which is based in the Seattle area, tried to assure customers that "our highest priority will always be your security and privacy." Troy Hunt, an Australian cybersecurity consultant, said numerous people who are not Epik customers also had their data compromised in the hack. That's because Epik has apparently been collecting third-party data that is publicly available on the internet, according to Hunt. Hunt, who runs a service that informs people if their email addresses have been exposed in data breaches, told CNN that about 100,000 of his subscribers had been affected by the Epik hack. "It's a very salacious, messy situation," Hunt said. "Amongst all this, there's a whole bunch of people" who still haven't been notified that their information was compromised, he added.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 22, 2021

Fed: On track to slow support for economy later this year

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signaled Wednesday that the Fed plans to announce as early as November that it will start withdrawing the extraordinary support it unleashed after the coronavirus paralyzed the economy 18 months ago. Powell said that if the job market maintained its steady improvement, the Fed would likely begin slowing the pace of its monthly bond purchases. Those purchases have been intended to lower longer-term loan rates to encourage borrowing and spending. “I think if the economy continues to progress broadly in line with expectations,” the Fed chair said at a news conference, "I think we can easily move ahead at the next meeting" in November.

At the same time, the Fed's policymaking committee indicated that it expects to start raising its benchmark rate sometime next year — earlier than the members had envisioned three months ago and a sign that they're concerned that high inflation pressures may persist. Powell stressed, though, that a rate hike would occur only after the Fed had ended its bond purchases, a process he said would likely last through the middle of next year. Taken together, the Fed's plans reflect its belief that the economy has recovered sufficiently from the pandemic recession for it to soon begin dialing back the emergency aid it provided after the virus erupted. As the economy has strengthened, inflation has also accelerated to a three-decade high, heightening the pressure on the Fed to pull back. The central bank's pullback in bond purchases and its eventual rate hikes, whenever they happen, will mean that some borrowers will have to pay more for mortgages, credit cards and business loans.

Top of Page

Politico - September 22, 2021

Biden slips into political quicksand amid Haitian migrant buildup

The mass of thousands of Haitians at the U.S. southern border has put the Biden administration in the exact place it’s tried to avoid: knee deep in immigration politics. In the past 24 hours, the White House has responded to images and videos of aggressive tactics used by Border Patrol agents to corral those migrants by supporting an internal investigation into the matter. What it hasn’t done, yet, is figure out a solution to the crowding and sanitary issues arising in what’s become a makeshift encampment — or stop its policy of deporting migrants upon arrival. That’s left the president and his team with few supporters and allies. A coalition of more than 38 civil rights and immigrant advocacy leaders sent the White House a letter Tuesday evening calling on Biden to immediately stop expulsions of Haitians, some of whom arrived at the border community of Del Rio, Texas, after fleeing violence and natural disaster in their home county.

The letter, first provided to POLITICO, marks a “final straw,” said Nana Gyamfi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and president of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. The coalition, which includes the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, and the The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, described the moment as “an inflection point” for Biden’s commitment to a humane immigration policy. “Responsibility for the suffering and deaths resulting from summary expulsions and removals now falls squarely on your Administration and will be part of your enduring legacy,” the letter states. “Deportation flights to Haiti must stop, and those seeking safety at our borders must be granted their legally assured chance to seek asylum." Members of the president’s own party — from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on down — echoed the call to end the expulsions. Increasingly, they did so while directing their ire at the White House for its handling of the situation. On Wednesday, 12 House Democrats, including Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) will hold a press conference calling on Biden to halt the deportations. The White House condemned footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback appearing to use reins to deter Haitian migrants, which drew blowback from the agents themselves.

Top of Page

CNBC - September 22, 2021

The Fed is evaluating whether to launch a digital currency and in what form, Powell says

The Federal Reserve is pushing ahead with its study into whether to implement its own digital currency and will be releasing a paper on the issue shortly, Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. No decision has been made on the matter yet, he added, and said the Fed does not feel pressured to do something quickly as other nations move forward with their own projects. “I think it’s important that we get to a place where we can make an informed decision about this and do so expeditiously,” Powell said at his post-meeting news conference. “I don’t think we’re behind. I think it’s more important to do this right than to do it fast.” Powell added the Fed is “working proactively to evaluate whether to issue a CBDC, and if so in what form.”

Establishing a digital dollar has been on the Fed’s radar for more than a year, and it announced in May it would launch a deeper examination into the issue with a paper to follow. The Boston Fed has taken point on the project, joining with MIT in an initiative on whether the central bank should establish its own digital coin targeted at making the payments system more effective. Fed Governor Lael Brainard has been a strong advocate of the effort, though several other officials, including Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles, have cast doubts. Advocates such as Brainard say a central bank digital currency’s benefits include getting payments quickly to people in times of crisis and also providing services to the unbanked. “We think it’s really important that the central bank maintain a stable currency and payments system for the public’s benefit. That’s one of our jobs,” Powell said. He noted the “transformational innovation” in the area of digital payments and said the Fed is continuing to do work on the matter, including its own FedNow system expected to go online in 2023.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 22, 2021

Lead Stories

The Hill - September 22, 2021

Biden launches investigation into Texas school mask mandate ban

The Biden administration has launched a civil rights investigation into Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) executive order prohibiting school mask mandates, the latest in a series of probes by the Department of Education into whether the statewide bans violate the rights of students with disabilities. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) notified Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in a letter Tuesday that it was opening a probe into whether “students with disabilities who are at heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are prevented from safely returning to in-person education," as a result of the ban on mask requirements.

Suzanne Goldberg, the Education Department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, said that the investigation will specifically focus on whether the statewide ban is preventing schools from meeting components of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects students from disability-based discrimination, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits public entities, including educations systems, from discriminating based on disability. The Hill has reached out to the offices of Morath and Abbott for comment. The announcement makes Texas the seventh state to become the subject of an OCR investigation due to a statewide ban on mask requirements, following similar probes launched into orders issued by Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Florida. The Texas ban has garnered particular attention due to Abbott’s prolonged legal battles with individual school districts that have sought to impose mask requirements in defiance of his order.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Texans support mask mandates in schools, News/UT-Tyler poll finds

As conservative state leaders have moved to bar districts from requiring masks and to limit the discussion of race and racism in public schools, a sizable majority of Texans disagree with such stances, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. While Gov. Greg Abbott has prioritized those issues over the past six months, the poll indicates that voters, including those who identify as independent, don’t approve of such partisanship in public schools. The News/UT-Tyler poll was conducted Sept. 7-14 with 1,148 people from across the state. Half of all respondents thought that masks should be required in all K-12 schools, with another quarter of respondents saying that the decision should be left up to individual school districts. Only 20% of respondents opposed mask requirements. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

In May, Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting school districts and most other governmental entities from requiring masks. With rising COVID-19 case counts heading into the school year, dozens of school districts — including Dallas, Plano, Richardson and Garland ISDs — defied the order, implementing some form of a mandate under the protection of temporary restraining orders. The Texas Education Agency revised its guidance on Aug. 19, stating that it would not enforce the mask ban because of an ongoing legal battle. And, in recent weeks, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued several districts, including Richardson, for defying Abbott’s order. Those who identified themselves as parents were more supportive of mask mandates (57%), as were Black (65%) and Latino (57%) respondents. Similarly, 55% of all respondents opposed Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, although that question broke along partisan lines. While 66% and 67% of Democrats and independents, respectfully, opposed such a ban, 67% of Republicans were in favor of Abbott’s order. Ladarius Clark, a 29-year-old Balch Springs resident who participated in the poll, said he supports mask requirements at schools because “no one wants to see their kids suffer.”

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 21, 2021

U.S. default this fall would cost 6 million jobs, wipe out $15 trillion in wealth, study says

The United States could plunge into an immediate recession if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling and the country defaults on its payment obligations this fall, according to one analysis released Tuesday. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, found that a prolonged impasse over the debt ceiling would cost the U.S. economy up to 6 million jobs, wipe out as much as $15 trillion in household wealth, and send the unemployment rate surging to roughly 9 percent from around 5 percent. Lawmakers in both parties agree that the debt ceiling must be raised to avoid economic calamity, but their standoff over how to do so has intensified. Despite the national debt increasing by close to $8 trillion under President Donald Trump, Republicans have been adamant that they will refuse to help Democrats increase the debt ceiling, in opposition to President Biden’s spending plans.

The Treasury Department has said it will exhaust its “extraordinary measures” to pay the U.S. obligations sometime in October, giving lawmakers little time to act to head off calamity. “This economic scenario is cataclysmic. … The downturn would be comparable to that suffered during the financial crisis” of 2008, said the report, written by Zandi and Bernard Yaros, assistant director and economist at Moody’s Analytics. The debt limit is the maximum amount of debt that Treasury can issue to pay the country’s bills. It was suspended from 2019 through the beginning of last month under a deal reached during the Trump administration. If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, Treasury would be unable to pay debts as they come due. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said earlier this week that such a default would be unprecedented in U.S. history. Moody’s “best estimate” is that this date is Oct. 20, although Treasury has not given a more precise day. At that point, Treasury officials would face excruciating choices, such as whether to fail to pay $20 billion owed to seniors on Social Security, or to fail to pay bondholders of U.S. debt — a decision that could undermine faith in U.S. credit and permanently drive federal borrowing costs higher.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2021

Turner fires Houston housing director who accused him of 'charade' bid process to benefit developer

Mayor Sylvester Turner fired the city’s housing director Tuesday after he publicly accused the mayor of manufacturing a “charade” of a competitive process to distribute affordable housing money to a select developer. According to state documents, a company listed as a “co-general partner” and “co-developer” with a stake in the deal, Harbor Venture Group, is run by the mayor’s longtime law partner, Barry Barnes, and another partner at Barnes’ firm, Jermaine Thomas. Turner left the firm after being elected mayor in 2015. Turner denied wrongdoing and said he fired housing director Tom McCasland because he “has lost confidence in his leadership and abilities to manage the department in the city's best interest, and it is time to move on. We wish him the very best.”

McCasland, who did not mention Barnes or Thomas when he spoke at a meeting of the council’s housing committee earlier in the morning, sent council members a packet of emails and memos detailing how Turner rebuffed housing officials’ recommendation to approve four affordable housing developments in favor of one project in Clear Lake, called Huntington at Bay Area. The four staff picks would have used $16.2 million in city money to help finance 362 affordable units, whereas the project Turner’s administration selected to replace them uses $15 million for one project with 88 affordable units. The company with the majority stake in the Huntington at Bay Area proposal is MGroup, a Montrose-based firm founded by Bellaire couple Laura and Mark Musemeche, who have been involved in many tax credit housing projects in Texas. Barnes and Thomas, who reported on state forms they had no experience with the state tax credit process — and whose company was formed Dec. 29, 2020, records show, just weeks before the proposal was first filed — did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A receptionist at the law firm said they were in a conference. Mark Musemeche is on vacation this week, according to his receptionist. He also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2021

TEA now says school districts cannot require masks, but does not say how it will enforce that

In newly released guidance, the Texas Education Agency says public school systems cannot require students or staff to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A statement released by the agency Friday says Gov. Greg Abbott’s May executive order banning mask mandates precludes districts from requiring face coverings. “Per GA-38, school systems cannot require students or staff to wear a mask. GA-38 addresses government-mandated face coverings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “Other authority to require protective equipment, including masks, in an employment setting is not necessarily affected by GA-38.” The agency previously had said it would not enforce the governor’s ban until the issue was resolved in the courts.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sued several school districts for imposing mask requirements on students and teachers, and some districts have sued the state over the governor’s order. The lawsuits have produced mixed results with some courts upholding districts’ mask mandates and some siding with the attorney general. TEA officials on Tuesday did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new guidelines and questions about how the agency would enforce the ban on mask mandates. The agency has not yet clarified what prompted the new guidelines, given that the legal battles regarding the order are ongoing. Last month, Abbott and Paxton acknowledged in court filings that they do not have the power to enforce the ban on mask mandates. Abbott said at that time that local district attorneys have the authority to enforce the ban. In the Houston region, Aldine, Channelview, Galena Park, Galveston, Houston, Spring and Texas City ISDs currently require masks in school buildings.

Top of Page

CNN - September 21, 2021

Texas governor approves miles-long steel barrier of police vehicles to deter the more than 8,000 migrants in Del Rio

With 8,600 migrants remaining under the Del Rio International Bridge, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday officials are using "unprecedented" methods to deter migrants from crossing into the state, including parking Texas National Guard and Texas Department of Public Safety vehicles for miles along the border to create a "steel barrier." The surge of migrants -- many of whom are Haitian -- was the result of messages by word of mouth or social media that the border at Del Rio was open, US Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz said. Chaotic scenes at the bridge, including law enforcement officers on horseback using aggressive tactics against migrants, have sparked anger in both local and federal officials. Some have even called the makeshift camps under the bridge inhumane. "What you see underneath the bridge, that is not humane," said Brandon Judd, National Border Patrol Council president.

Abbott blamed President Joe Biden's administration for the current situation in Del Rio, saying the federal government is not doing enough to secure the country's southern border. That, Abbott argued, has led to thousands of migrants camped under the Del Rio International Bridge waiting to get processed by US immigration authorities. "When you have an administration that is not enforcing the law in this country, when you have an administration that has abandoned any pretense of securing the border and securing our sovereignty, you see the onrush of people like what we saw walking across this dam that is right behind me," Abbott said at a news conference in Val Verde County. The Biden administration is still relying on a Trump-era border policy linked to the coronavirus pandemic that allows border authorities to swiftly remove migrants apprehended at the US-Mexico border. Over recent days, the administration has ramped up those removals and increased the pace of repatriation flights. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the administration hopes to clear out the migrant camp under the bridge within the next nine or 10 days. "We expect to see dramatic results in the next 48 to 96 hours, and we'll have a far better sense in the next two days," he told senators during a Senate panel hearing Tuesday.

Top of Page

WFAA - September 21, 2021

'Trolling instead of governance': Lincoln Project says Abbott is more dangerous than Trump

The battle between the Lincoln Project and Governor Greg Abbott escalated in recent days and only promises to become more toxic moving forward. First, the Lincoln Project, a group of disaffected Republicans and conservatives, released an attack ad criticizing Governor Abbott’s management of the pandemic by highlighting how many Texans have died of COVID-19. The ad was scheduled to run during a Texas Longhorns game, but was yanked from the air just before kickoff. The Lincoln Project says the Governor used his influence to have it removed. The Governor’s office argues Abbott had nothing to do with it. Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson joined the latest episode of Y’all-itics and as usual, pulled no punches.

“Both Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis in Florida have become the poster children for this post-modern Republican Party that believes in trolling instead of governance, that believes in Fox News hits instead of leadership and that is failing utterly on dealing with COVID in both states. Both Florida and Texas have got a disaster on their hands,” Wilson said. We’ve reached out to the Governor’s office for comment and we’re still waiting on a call back. But a spokesman for Abbott’s campaign, Mark Miner, told the Dallas Morning News: “I’m not going to respond to a bunch of has-beens and out of work political hacks who sit in their basement all day doing videos nobody cares about and watching reruns of Seinfeld.” The Lincoln Project is not known for being shy or gentle in its attacks on Republican politicians. The group first took aim at then President Donald Trump. And then earlier this year, they turned their attention to Senator Ted Cruz. Now, it’s Governor Abbott. And in addition to the pandemic, the Lincoln Project is also criticizing the state’s new abortion law, which allows a bounty enforcement system. Private citizens can sue abortion providers, or anyone who helps. And that person wouldn’t even have to know the person seeking the procedure.

Top of Page

The 19th - September 21, 2021

For trans Texans and their families, another special session means another fight to exist

Transgender kids’ sports participation and access to gender-affirming care are a top priority for Texas’ third special legislative session that began on Monday. Gov. Greg Abbott named a long-debated bill to ban trans students from playing sports that match their gender identity as one of his core reasons for calling another session — and the bill is just one part of a legislative push targeting trans kids across several dozen states. Trans Texans and their families are feeling the strain of having to repeatedly speak out against the legislation, and the frustration from seeing how lawmakers talk about them and their loved ones. And still, advocates on the ground are also seeing how privilege impacts who has the opportunity to make their voice heard. Abi Robins, a yoga therapist living in Austin, was one of the people testifying against the sports bill — formerly Senate Bill 2, now Senate Bill 3 — in the last special session, staying until 4 a.m. on August 25. They were at the Capitol for over 18 hours. Being in the room as lawmakers claimed that trans people are mentally ill, or that parents of trans children are committing child abuse, took a toll on them. None of Texas’ proposed legislation acknowledges transgender as an identity, and sponsors of the bills have continued to stress in debates that the legislation is “about protecting female athletes.” Robins said they could hear that erasure reflected in the discourse around the bill.

Off of the track, field or court, however, Robins didn’t have the opportunity to live as themself while growing up the way that trans kids do today, they said. It devastates them to think that a bill that could threaten a new generation of trans kids — one that Robins says has a greater understanding of themselves and more chances to be who they are. After processing the last special session in therapy, they plan to return to the Capitol in the third legislative session to again testify against the legislation, adding in a text: “I’m ready.” Nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ youth, ages 13 to 24, reported participating in any kind of sport in the Trevor Project’s third annual mental health survey. The organization found a similar rate of sports participation last year among a younger cohort of 13 to 18-year-olds. Across the country, state lawmakers have failed to cite cases of trans youth posing a problem in sports — or participating in school sports at all. That lack of data undermines lawmakers’ rhetoric that trans inclusion would overrun teams and lead to an unequal playing field, Jonah DeChants, research scientist at the Trevor Project, said. LGBTQ+ kids should be able to “receive all of the mental, physical, social benefits of being on a sports team,” he said. The Trevor Project didn’t publish data solely on trans or nonbinary youths’ sports participation, though some kids responding to the survey pointed to policies that would keep them from playing with other girls or boys as a reason for staying out of sports altogether.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2021

Fact check: Why Gov. Abbott is wrong about the pregnancy and abortion timeline

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrongly characterized the timeline of pregnancy, distorting how long a woman would typically know she was pregnant and be able to get an abortion under the state’s new law. A reporter recently asked Abbott about SB 8, the state’s law that bans doctors from providing an abortion after detecting a fetal heart beat. The law has no exceptions for rape or incest. Under the law, which went into effect Sept. 1, any person can sue abortion providers or anyone who "aids and abets" an abortion. Plaintiffs have the opportunity to win judgments of at least $10,000. "Why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?" the reporter asked.

Abbott replied: "It doesn’t require that at all, because obviously it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion." Abbott then pivoted to vow to "eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas." Abbott’s statement that women would have at least six weeks to get an abortion drew pushback from abortion rights supporters, who said that the Republican governor was wrong about his pregnancy timeline. We contacted a spokesperson for Abbott to ask for his evidence and did not hear back by our deadline. Abbott’s comment that a woman would have six weeks to get an abortion distorts the timeline of pregnancy and assumes a woman would know almost immediately after intercourse that she was pregnant. The law doesn’t state that abortion is banned after six weeks. Instead, the law says that abortion is banned after detection of a fetal heart beat, which is defined as "cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythimc contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac." The law is named the "Texas Heatbeat Act," but medical experts say that’s a misnomer. "This is medically inaccurate, because a fetus doesn’t have a developed heart at this time," Dr. Kristyn Brandi, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an abortion provider in New Jersey told PolitiFact. "What they are referring to is being able to visualize electric activity in the cells that will eventually become a heart."

Top of Page

WFAA - September 21, 2021

'Don't Southlake my Grapevine': Parents and students support embattled principal after contract not renewed by district

The Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board voted unanimously 7-0 Monday night to not renew the contract of Dr. James Whitfield, a principal at Colleyville Heritage High School. The district will allow Whitfield to appeal his termination, and the board will have to re-vote regarding his termination after that hearing. Whitfield's attorney told WFAA a lawsuit is expected if his client is ultimately fired. Whitfield has been on administrative leave from Grapevine-Colleyville ISD since August 30 "for the best interest of the district," he says. Whitfield told WFAA he has not explicitly been informed why the district put him on the chopping block. He says he was only given a list of 34 things the district considers when not renewing a principal's contract. However, Whitfield said the district didn't elaborate further.

On Monday night, during a contentious school board meeting filled with Whitfield's supporters, a district official revealed for the first time why Whitfield was up for non-renewal of his contract. The official gave a laundry list of reasons that included performance issues, insubordination with superiors, and Whitfield failing to establish and implement high expectations for all staff and students. In addition, the official also said Whitfield was deficient in observation reports, evaluations and lacked communication skills and situational awareness. The official also listed an instance where Whitfield failed to report misconduct among staff. Whitfield told WFAA after the meeting that he looked forward to appealing the decision and said the reasons listed for his termination were ridiculous and never brought to his attention. Regardless, Whitfield has been a shining star with the district and has been promoted several times in the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD system. But he said trouble began as far back as 2019 when someone complained to administrators that he was setting a "bad example" by posting pictures of himself kissing his wife on Facebook. The photos were from an anniversary trip in Mexico and showed the pair kissing one another and embracing on a beach, fully clothed in the sand. He said he agreed to take some of the photos down.

Top of Page

KXAN - September 21, 2021

ACL announces updated COVID ‘health pledge,’ where you’ll need to wear a mask

Ten days out from the 2021 Austin City Limits Musical Festival, festival organizers have announced the updated protocols in place for the two-weekend event. The adjustments come following an approval issued by Austin Public Health. Under this year’s safety measures, festival attendees will be required to show a printed copy of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of attending ACL. Individuals who are fully vaccinated are not required to show a negative COVID-19 test, and may instead show proof of full vaccination.

Fully vaccinated attendees will not require testing prior to entering the festival. Fully vaccinated individuals are defined as those who are 14 days out from the second shot of Pfizer and Moderna, or 14 days since their one-shot dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Proof of vaccination or a printed copy of a negative COVID-19 test will be required each day of the festival, in addition to a festival wristband. “ACL Festival organizers submitted a COVID-19 Health & Safety Plan that is sensitive to the current strain on our healthcare system and includes strategies to reduce the need to transport patients to local hospitals,” said APH Interim Director Adrienne Sturrup. “Additionally, their plan requires masking indoors and in established mask zones, social distancing where possible, and indicates an ability to ensure attendees have a negative COVID test and/or are fully vaccinated.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

UT Arlington enrolls record number of freshmen, new international students

The University of Texas at Arlington enrolled its largest-ever freshman class and a record number of new international students this fall. Total enrollment for the fall is 41,515, the university announced in a press release Tuesday. UTA’s freshman class has 4,172 students, a 9.2% increase compared to fall 2020, which also set a record. This is the fifth consecutive year the university has posted record freshman enrollment, according to the release. Enrollment also grew among new graduate students and new international students, the university said in the release.

UTA enrolled 3,186 new graduate students, up 47% from the previous fall. It also enrolled 4,582 new international students, an increase of 18.4% compared to fall 2020. The enrollment growth comes one month after the university announced it had achieved Texas Tier One designation, which allows it to qualify for millions of research dollars each year. It’s the fourth university in the state to qualify for the designation. “We are the pre-eminent urban research university in North Texas,” Troy Johnson, UTA’s vice president of enrollment management, said in the release. “More and more students from both inside and outside of Texas are learning about our exceptional research and academic opportunities.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

North Texas breast milk bank issues plea for new donors amid record demand during COVID-19 pandemic

Shortly after he was born at 37 weeks, Nico Stevens struggled to breathe. The newborn was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, where he received oxygen and another critical lifeline: donor breast milk. Nico is one of a growing number of newborns in North Texas who has relied on donor milk in recent months. As demand soars, Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas is asking breastfeeding mothers to consider donating their milk. “Our freezers are not bare, but they are not overflowing, either,” said Amy Trotter, community relations director for the milk bank. “If you have extra milk, please do not let it go to waste. That milk can do a lot of good.”

Like blood banks reporting historic shortages, the Fort Worth-based nonprofit says the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on its supply. Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas supplies pasteurized milk to premature and critically ill newborns at some 140 hospitals across North Texas and beyond. It is one of only two milk banks in the state, with the other located in Austin. Doctors say human milk offers immune protection and is easier to digest than formula for medically fragile babies. It also lowers their risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, an intestinal disease that is a leading cause of death in neonatal ICUs. In August, the bank dispensed 70,726 ounces of milk, the highest one-month total since it was founded in 2004. From January through August of this year, the milk bank has provided 490,555 ounces of milk, a 43 percent jump over the same period last year. Medical professionals cited several reasons for the increase, including overall population growth and a baby boom this summer in at least one hospital. Andrews Women’s Hospital at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth reported a record 107 babies born in just 91 hours in June.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Dallas plans to approve its largest city budget ever. Here’s what to know

Dallas council members on Wednesday are scheduled to approve the largest budget in city history. Largely boosted by higher-than-expected property and sales tax revenues, Dallas’ proposed new $4.35 billion spending plan includes increased funding to improve streets, public safety and long-standing city inequities. Federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act is also part of the spending plan. The current budget was adopted last September at $3.85 billion. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The City Council tentatively approved the budget on Sept. 9, but can make some adjustments before a final vote Wednesday to formally adopt the plan. The council meeting starts at 9 a.m. Amid calls last year from some city officials and others to boost police funding to combat violent crime and other offenses, the Dallas Police Department is slated to receive the biggest bump — $42.4 million — from the city’s general fund. As of Monday, the department’s budget is proposed at $555.9 million, but could see a $10 million increase for police overtime that is currently earmarked for a reserve fund. The police budget calls for hiring 250 new police officers starting in October. Another 250 are slated to be hired starting in fall 2022. In addition to more police funding, the city plans to hire 31 more code enforcement officers. Plans are in the works to hire 42 people in the transportation department and task more of its employees, rather than police officers, with traffic duties like blocking off roads for accidents and road hazards.

Top of Page

KXAN - September 21, 2021

Nonprofit aims to help Central Texas foster kids succeed in school

When Andrea Brauer was looking a tutor for her foster daughter, she realized there was a need. “The consistency in the life of a foster child is extremely important, they’ve had so many adults let them down,” said Andrea Brauer, the founder and board president of Learning Bridge. She was looking for an organization that would address the educational needs of kids in foster care. “A lot of kids in foster care can be one to two years behind in school for many many reasons,” Brauer said. “These kids have been abused and neglected, they’re dealing with trauma, they’ve been moved to schools multiple times, they’ve moved to different caregivers multiple times so that impacts their schoolwork, their focus.”

That’s when she decided to create Learning Bridge. A nonprofit that started as a program last year with the goal to match volunteer tutors with foster kids like Jaden. “I had issues with my writing because the teacher would ask me what this word and I wouldn’t get it,” Jaden explained. For the past year, Jaden has had a tutor, and his papa has noticed a difference. “It was a lot of behavior issues at school, we were constantly talking to his teachers and coming up with different strategies to help him out and now he’s volunteering to help in school, and he loves it. It’s so cool to see the difference,” Marques Bland said. Today, Jaden is taking his new skills and writing his own story through comic books and reading books like Tristan Strong. Learning Bridge reports the majority of the students they tutor are students of color and are in need of Spanish-speaking volunteers. Data shows only around half of youth in foster care graduate from high school and fewer than 5% in the state have a college degree. It’s a statistic Jaden does not plan to be counted in. “I want to become a marine biologist,” he said. At present, the nonprofit needs help developing its staff and are always accepting volunteers to help kids from Travis, Hays and Williamson counties. They currently tutor 24 foster kids.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2021

Texas Southern law students voice concerns about technology

Maya Bailey said she often has to download study materials before coming to Texas Southern University’s law school’s campus and doesn’t feel she can study there because of its poor internet connection. Other students complain about classroom clocks without batteries, and faulty equipment like projectors and microphones.

“We want to learn and be in person, but the university has had a year and a half to get the infrastructure up to par and they have failed to do that,” said Bailey, a juris doctorate candidate. Bailey was among a group of TSU students who gathered at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law on Monday to air their grievances about technology issues at the school. Campus administrators barred Houston Chronicle journalists from covering the gathering, citing COVID-19 protocols. But students said as many as 50 students met with Joan Bullock, the law school dean, that afternoon. Some questioned why police officers were called to the building, noting that the gathering was peaceful. In a video provided to the Chronicle, TSU Police Chief Mary Young assured students that they had been peaceful and that she was responding to a call from the law school to ensure everyone was safe.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 22, 2021

Erica Grieder: Texas voters can expect to be the losers in the partisan redistricting process

They’re baaaack! Did you miss the Texas Legislature during that brief window between the end of this year’s second special session, on Sept. 1, and the beginning of yet another one, this past Monday? Probably not, in part because politicians didn’t actually leave us alone during those fleeting few weeks. On Sept. 1, 666 new state laws went into effect, leaving Texans to deal with the consequences of the permit-less carry of handguns and a de facto abortion ban that comes bundled with a bizarre bounty-hunting scheme. And now, legislators are back for the decennial redistricting process — the process that allows politicians to pick their voters, rather than the other way around. The highly partisan process effectively enables them to pass such wildly unpopular laws in the first place, without fear of consequences at the next general election.

Texans — all Texans, regardless of their political views — are the regular and predictable losers. Realistically, we shouldn’t expect legislators to acknowledge as much, much less to voluntarily cede any of their own power in lieu of a more equitable system. Still, we should at least know what they’re up to, before they foist a new set of political district maps on us. The basic state of play is as follows: Texas is getting two new seats in Congress as a result of the statewide population growth documented in the 2020 Census. We therefore need new congressional maps, dividing the state into 38 U.S. House districts rather than the current 36. We also need new maps for legislative and State Board of Education districts, all with roughly the same amount of people. Since the state’s major cities are growing, but rural Texas is losing population, those districts need to be adjusted. In theory, this is a task for the math nerds of Texas, who are both numerous and talented, to produce maps that are compact, contiguous, and fair. In practice, it’s an opportunity for politicians to try to game the system — to improve the odds of the GOP retaining control of the Legislature, our congressional delegation, and the SBOE for another decade, even though the Texas electorate has clearly turned purple.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2021

Grant program will provide funds to help child victims of human trafficking in Texas

A new Texas law aims to help countless children who are victims of human trafficking through a grant program. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced the creation of the program after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2633 into law this year. Texas Health and Human Services will administer the funds to help address the high need for emergency shelters and treatment programs. Facilities that provide protection and recovery services to child and adolescent victims are eligible for help. A 2016 report by the University of Texas at Austin found there were 79,000 youth out of the estimated 313,000 sex and labor trafficking victims in the state.

Sandy Hennip, executive director of Unbound North Texas, said it is wonderful news there will be more financial support for youth. The organization created Tarrant County’s first youth shelter in October. The drop-in shelter is located in One Safe Place. “These resilient youth deserve trauma-informed services and safe and secure shelter,” Hennip said in a statement. “We see the need for this every day as our advocates and drop-in center staff serve youth who have been trafficked and exploited right here in our community.” Karyn Purvis and David Cross, two researchers at Texas Christian University, developed a training method in the 1990s that is now helping law enforcement and service providers interact with youth victims. Trust-Based Relational Intervention Training (TBRI) was first used at summer camps for children who have experienced developmental trauma, abuse and neglect. In 2017, TCU’s Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development began training law enforcement and other professionals who help youth victims of human trafficking. Karen Furman, project liaison for the Karyn Purvis Institute, said the training helps service providers and law enforcement learn how to help youth victims feel safe, especially if they are dealing with trauma. Providers learn how to approach youth in a gentle manner, help children have a voice and protect their bodies.

Top of Page

Brenham Banner - September 21, 2021

Long-term care facilities aiming to correct staffing shortages

From COVID-19 to severe staffing shortages, places like long-term care facilities have had to adapt just to keep running. Now, as staffing shortages continue to strike facilities hard, some are striving to change the path. The Texas Health Care Association (THCA) has announced a proposed plan to address staffing shortages in the long-term care profession, which have been at critical shortage levels and were exacerbated by the pandemic. The plan would draw on funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated to Texas. In a recent survey of THCA members, 70% of long-term care facilities cited that they are unable to hire enough nurses and more than 30% have restricted new admissions due to staffing shortages.

“Since the beginning, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected long-term care residents as well as the facilities and staff that care for them,” President and CEO of THCA Kevin Warren said. “Despite an increase in vaccination rates, the Delta variant has prolonged increased costs related to the pandemic and have continued to make it difficult for facilities to attract staff to the profession and afford to retain them due to a hyper-competitive labor market for direct care staff.” These pains have been felt by facilities in Brenham. Mark McKenzie, CEO of Focused Post Acute Care Partners, which owns Focused Care at Brenham, said something must change to keep employees that have weathered the pandemic from leaving. “Those that continue to show up are completely worn out. It’s not just a Focused Care issue; it truly is an industry issue. Those that continue to come — whether it’s the administrator, the director of staff, all positions up and down the line — it’s beginning to take a tremendous toll on them,” McKenzie said. He said Focused Post Acute Care Partners is making changes to promote retention of employees and to provide a happier workplace with the potential to move up.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2021

Tarrant Regional Water District approves tax rate. Why you’re likely to pay more

Residents are likely to pay more in taxes to Tarrant Regional Water District, after board members voted to keep its tax rate the same for the third year in a row. The board of directors unanimously approved the tax rate of 2.87 cents per $100 of valuation. Average property values grew over 7% in the last year, and the average home market value in the water district rose from $206,487 to $221,634 in the past year, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District. Board member Mary Kelleher asked if the district could refund taxpayers surplus dollars. CFO Sandy Newby said there is “no way” the district could issue tax refunds.

The district expects to receive $22 million in tax revenue. Members also approved the district’s budgets for the general, revenue, and special projects and contingency funds. The vote follows a Monday public hearing where several residents called for a forensic audit of the district. Attorneys with the district and board members are discussing legal issues around former board president Jack Stevens’ authorized payment of $300,000 to now-retired general manager Jim Oliver and $60,000 to Panther Island executive director J.D. Granger. Several people who commented Monday reprised their complaints during the Tuesday meeting. The board discussed but did not vote on updated ethics, nepotism and code of conduct policies. Proposed new policy language prohibits individual directors from speaking or acting on behalf of the group, sets ethical standards for the manager and prohibits directors from appointing relatives to district positions. New policies also give the board the authority to vote on a director’s removal, should they miss several consecutive meetings. Kelleher said though the edited policies were necessary, the district needs more time to gauge public opinion on the changes. “I think this is a great move forward,” Kelleher said. “I kind of feel rushed, though.” Board member James Hill agreed. President Leah King told directors the board did not have to vote on the policies Tuesday.

Top of Page

Texas Lawyer - September 21, 2021

'It's my job to make your life better': Attorney arrested for dressing as Michael Myers tells his side of the story

It’s been a long week for horror movie character Michael Myers. Or rather, it’s been a long week for criminal defense attorney, Mark Metzger III, who dressed as Michael Myers last week and strolled on an empty Galveston beach. During the incident, Metzger was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct, but photos of the incident went viral and made their way to popular late-night comedy shows. Metzger, who has occasionally put on the black coveralls and iconic mask since last Halloween, said he’s always on a mission to make others’ lives better. One easy way to do that is through a smile, he told Law.com on Monday. But not everyone was laughing last week when he strolled the beach with a fake, bloody knife. Someone called 911 to report the suspicious man, which led to his arrest.

"It was creepy how abandoned it was. That’s something you don’t see in the middle of the day down here—even on a Monday—but it was silent and almost like a ghost town. I figured I could break up the monotony a little bit. There was no one out there, or there was not supposed to be anyone out there, because the storm’s coming in. It was a creepy situation but it’s funny as well. I figured it would get more laughs. That’s where it all stems from, just trying to have some fun and give people some laughs, because that’s what we do around here. That’s what I do for a living," he said. By making people laugh for a living as a criminal defense attorney, he means "I solve problems, I try to make people’s lives better. If you’re sitting across from me at my desk, you’re in the worst possible time in your life. If you’re in my office, you’re not having a good day. You either just got out of jail, or on the personal injury side of things, you just got injured and it was not your fault. It’s my job to make your life better. No lawyer wins every case, no lawyer can give every single client a fairy tale ending, but we can try our best. It all starts with enhancing the mood and my law office reflects that. Our lobby, my personal office, it’s not like you’re going to a doctor’s office or a dentist’s office, it’s cold and you don’t want to be there in the first place. You have to cater to the environment people are in."

Top of Page

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Tarrant County delays vote on tax break for electric truck plant proposed for Fort Worth

Tarrant County officials on Tuesday delayed a vote on a potential tax abatement for California-based Rivian Automotive, which is searching for a 2,000-acre site for a factory. A site in the Walsh development is one of the finalists. Bloomberg News reported last month that the Fort Worth location was the front-runner. Tarrant County’s potential tax break, alongside an approved tax break from the city of Fort Worth and a planned tax break from Parker County, is intended as an incentive to lure Rivian to the Metroplex. Rivian projects investing $5 billion and adding 7,500 full-time jobs by the end of 2027. If those projections were met at the Fort Worth-area site, it would make Rivian one of the largest employers in Dallas-Fort Worth.

The Tarrant County commissioners were scheduled to vote Tuesday on a tax break of about $35.8 million, which equates to a decade-long 70% abatement on the value that Rivian would add to the site. But officials instead delayed the vote until a later meeting. In a statement, Tarrant County spokesperson Bill Hanna said the county is working with Rivian “to finalize some of the information necessary to complete our tax abatement agreement documents.” “Tarrant County is excited to still be a finalist for the location of the Rivian manufacturing facility,” Hanna said in the statement. He added that the tax break will be back on the county commissioners’ agenda at some point after next week’s meeting. On Tuesday, the Tarrant County Central Labor Council released a statement in approval of the delay. Council president Brian Golden urged increased transparency throughout the process and said that residents deserve assurances that the tax break will help create “high-quality jobs with decent wages and benefits.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

Dallas commissioners approve raise for county employees, elected officials in split vote

After initially rejecting raises for elected officials and county employees, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to approve a 3.3% salary increase. Last week, the court rejected a 2% raise despite nine elected officials who filed salary grievances with the county. But a separate committee last week recommended giving those nine officials — including Commissioners Theresa Daniel and John Wiley Price — the raise.

When that recommendation was presented to the full court Tuesday, commissioners were split on whether to approve the raises. Some wanted to give employees a raise, but not the officials. The recommendation to approve the 2% raise for only the nine officials did not receive a second motion and failed. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has previously said he does not vote for salary increases for elected officials, but suggested a 3.3% increase starting Jan. 1 to keep up with inflation for employees. He said the total cost of the raises would be about $4.5 million, but elected officials make a small portion of that total. “All this talk about elected officials,” Jenkins said, “we’re talking about $40,000.” Jenkins’ amendment passed with a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners J.J. Koch and Elba Garcia voting against the raise. Garcia has vocally supported giving employees — especially those making less than $60,000 annually — a raise, but stalled efforts to give elected officials one. “I think that sends a terrible message to our taxpayers,” Garcia said. “I want a 2% raise for employees, but I can’t support that for elected officials.” Koch also criticized Jenkins’ suggestion of a 3.3% raise, saying city staff, the commissioners and the public needed to be informed in advance of the vote.

Top of Page

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Watchdog calls for more transparency from Dallas police on investigations into officer misconduct

The city’s top police watchdog is calling for Dallas police to disclose more information about the handling of misconduct cases against officers after a Dallas Morning News investigation revealed the secret dismissal of a criminal case against one officer. Tonya McClary, head of the Office of Community Police Oversight, said Monday that police officials had not informed her that they had cleared Sgt. Roger Rudloff in March after he shot a protester at close range with pepper balls during George Floyd protests. Nor did police keep her updated on various stages of the investigation such as interviews with witnesses, as she believes is necessary for her to do her job, she said.

The police department and the office of oversight are expected to exchange information about internal investigations that delve into shootings, excessive force and other misconduct. But the ordinance governing the oversight office lacks specifics on how information should be shared. “We should be hearing about any critical incident like this before the department concludes its investigations,” said McClary, who only recently learned of the case’s shutdown from The News. “I don’t even know how that happened.” The case became a local flashpoint over police violence during Black Lives Matter protests last year, drawing condemnations from city leaders and civil rights activists. The News also disclosed last week that police failed to seriously punish Rudloff for misconduct allegations dating to the late 1990s. Most of those cases involved Latino or Black people. McClary plans to propose new rules to keep her office and the public abreast of internal investigations, she said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Dallas police chief vows to ‘take Deep Ellum back’ after weekend violence that killed 1, injured 5

Dallas police Chief Eddie García vowed Monday to “take Deep Ellum back” for residents and patrons after an early Sunday shooting that killed a teenager and injured five others, including a 15-year-old girl. The mass shooting, which happened about 12:40 a.m. near the intersection of North Malcolm X Boulevard and Main Street, was just one of several recent violent crimes in the popular entertainment district east of downtown. Other violence in recent weeks included a man who crashed a truck into a pedestrian, Dallas police horse and a car; a stabbing; and gunmen who shot two people. “We’re not going to tolerate it,” García told The Dallas Morning News.

“There’s not an entertainment district in any major city in America that isn’t susceptible to some violence,” he added. “And unfortunately it occurs. But when it does occur, because of the fact that these areas are so populous, police departments need to respond in kind. So, that’s why we’re going to be more present.” One man, Kenneth Walker, 18, died at a hospital Sunday after he was hit by the gunfire, police said. A 19-year-old, who has not been identified, was in critical condition, while four other victims, all female, ages 30, 25, 21 and 15, had injuries that weren’t believed to be life-threatening. Walker’s mother, Jessica Palacios, told The News on Sunday that her son was “a silent burst of energy” and asked for prayers. Shortly after the shooting, officers found Lathaniel Pearson, 18, pointing a gun nearby and arrested him on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and evading arrest. Multiple weapons were fired that night and it was unclear whether he fired the rounds connected to the six people who were shot.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 22, 2021

‘I’m really upset.’ Fort Worth council concerned by police oversight board proposal

A proposed community oversight board of the Fort Worth Police Department remains a work in progress, including whether it will have the power to review complaints against officers. “I’m really upset,” District 8 representative Chris Nettles said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “That’s not what the community asked for; that’s not what we got from the Race and Culture Task Force.” Nettles and other council members continue to have many questions and few answers. Among other issues to be decided are member qualifications, responsibilities, number of appointees and a name for the board. Another critical question that remains unresolved is whether people with felony records should be allowed to serve.

Police monitor Kim Neal said the proposed board, made up of a maximum of 15 volunteers, would be responsible for reviewing the police department’s policies and procedures before recommending changes. The Race and Culture Task Force first recommended that a board of community members monitor police actions in 2018. The city manager later established the police monitor office to create criteria for the oversight board. But the working group wasn’t able to reach consensus on many proposals, including whether a board member should be allowed to have a felony record. “Things are not always what the records show,” council member Gyna Bivens said, referencing examples of residents being wrongly convicted or holding misleading records. Nettles pointed to a time when he was racially profiled by police and an officer told him that he “fit the description of a burglary.” Carlos Flores said he wasn’t “fully convinced” on allowing some convicted felons to serve on the board. Council members Jared Williams and Elizabeth Beck seconded Nettles’ view on allowing the board to review encounters with law enforcement. “There will be instances of alleged police misconduct, that will be of great interest to the community,” Beck said. “When it’s potentially a policy that we have in place that has created that situation ... those are the types of things that I think should be brought before this board.” Neal likely will make another presentation to council establishing criteria for how a convicted felon could be appointed to the board. She added that the proposal allows for the board to review policies regarding officer misconduct.

Top of Page

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 22, 2021

House seeks to cement the right to abortion into federal law, superseding Texas’ new restrictions

The U.S. House is poised to vote on a bill that would put Roe vs. Wade protections into federal law and cement women’s legal right to an abortion — an effort that would nullify a Texas ban on the procedure as early as six weeks that Gov. Greg Abbott signed this month. “It is important to give women back their rights,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said on the House floor Tuesday. “Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and we are going to pass that legislation … because people are suffering with the Texas law. It has no place in society. It is a violation of the Constitution of the United States, and it should be quashed with the Roe v. Wade codification.” The bill faces dim prospects in the Senate, though the Democratic majority in the House is expected to approve the bill. The House voted to approve the debate rules for the measure Tuesday, a key step on the way to passage.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., called the bill a “deeply misguided and truly unprecedented piece of legislation” during a Rules Committee hearing on the measure. “This legislation constitutes a radical assault on the sanctity of life and the dignity of the most vulnerable Americans,” Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., said on the floor. “I am grieved and shocked beyond words that Democrats are moving to force states across the country to accept abortion on demand right up until the moment of birth.” Although the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a right to abortion since 1973, Congress has never done so, and that’s why Democrats seek to codify it now. With the Senate evenly divided, it’s unlikely to succeed. Just 48 Democrats support the Senate version, and ten or more Republicans would be needed to overcome a filibuster. “I ask the other body to support us in [codifying Roe vs. Wade],” Jackson Lee said. The Women’s Health Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., would “protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy” and “protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services” — both of which are under threat in Texas. The legislation would supersede any laws in effect at the state level, notably the controversial Texas law known as Senate Bill 8.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

U.S.-Mexico border to remain closed through Oct. 21

The U.S.-Mexico border will remain closed for non-essential visitors and tourists until Oct. 21 to prevent COVID-19 and delta variant spread, a White House official said in a call with reporters. The border closure’s extension until Oct. 21 was confirmed to reporters by Jeff Zients, U.S. government COVID-19 response coordinator, according to a report on Canada’s Global News website. The measure also applies for the U.S.-Canada land border. With the new date, it will be 19 months since the partial closure of the land border has been in place. The closure went into effect March 21, 2020.

Canada began allowing U.S. travelers into the country in August. The U.S. has not yet done the same for Canadians. Under these restrictions, people with tourist visas can’t enter by vehicle or on foot. Only U.S. citizens and permanent residents are cleared for entry. Travel by people with tourist visas from Mexico to the U.S. was under no restriction. But on Monday, government officials announced that beginning in November, COVID-19 vaccination proof will be required to anyone wanting to enter the country by air. Initially, the partial border closure was agreed to by the U.S. and Mexican governments as a measure to curb spread of the coronavirus. But starting last May, the Mexican government asked its U.S. counterpart to lift restrictions, and the Biden administration refused.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 22, 2021

‘The world must wake up’: Tasks daunting as UN meeting opens

In person and on screen, world leaders returned to the United Nations’ foremost gathering for the first time in the pandemic era on Tuesday with a formidable, diplomacy-packed agenda and a sharply worded warning from the international organization’s leader: “We face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime.” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rang the alarm in his annual state-of-the-world speech at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly’s high-level meeting for leaders of its 193 member nations. More than 100 heads of state and government kept away by COVID-19 are returning to the U.N. in person for the first time in two years. But with the pandemic still raging, about 60 will deliver pre-recorded statements over coming days.

“We are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction,” Guterres said. “I’m here to sound the alarm. The world must wake up.” Guterres said the world has never been more threatened and divided. People may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions, he said, but in basic values when they see their human rights curtailed, corruption, the reality of their harsh lives, no future for their children — and “when they see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth.” Nevertheless, the U.N. chief said he has hope. Guterres urged world leaders to bridge six “great divides”: promote peace and end conflicts, restore trust between the richer north and developing south on tackling global warming, reduce the gap between rich and poor, promote gender equality, ensure that the half of humanity that has no access to the Internet is connected by 2030, and tackle the generational divide by giving young people “a seat at the table.”

Top of Page

NPR - September 21, 2021

U.S. border agents chased migrants on horseback. A photographer explains what he saw

Images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants along the Rio Grande are "horrific," the White House says. The migrants were attempting to return to a camp near the Del Rio International Bridge, where thousands of migrants have gathered on the U.S. side of the border river. Many of them carried food they'd just bought in Mexico. But when the migrants attempted to cross the river and return to the U.S. side of the border, agents used their horses to try to turn them back. The dramatic scene immediately sparked new questions about how a "nation of immigrants" treats people who are desperate for a better life.

Video from the scene shows an agent whirling his horse's long reins as he tries to block a man from entering the U.S. And in widely seen photographs, an agent lunges nearly out of his saddle to grab a man by the shirt as the man carries bags of food. "I thought the Haitians were quite scared, and I think there was probably some panic, which resulted in them trying to run around the horses," photographer Paul Ratje told NPR's Morning Edition. "The agents tried to block them, and then the one agent grabbed a man by his shirt and then kind of swung them around," said Ratje, who frequently covers border issues. "And I don't know what prompted that." His photos quickly went viral, along with video from the scene. The images have now triggered an investigation into what happened, as well as questions about the Biden administration's immigration policies. "Absolutely unacceptable," Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said as she posted Ratje's photos on Twitter. "No matter how challenging the situation in Del Rio is right now, nothing justifies violence against migrants attempting to seek asylum in our country."

Top of Page

CNN - September 21, 2021

Progressives say they plan to vote against bipartisan infrastructure bill next week

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is standing by her claim that her members will not vote for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill without passing the $3.5 trillion package that is aimed at enacting President Joe Biden's economic agenda. To those who think progressives are bluffing about voting down the bipartisan package, Jayapal told reporters Tuesday, "Try us." The Washington state Democrat made the remarks after meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who can only afford to lose a handful of votes in order to pass anything through the narrowly divided chamber.

The talks come at a crucial moment for Democrats in control of Congress and the White House as Capitol Hill faces a self-imposed September 27 deadline to pass the bipartisan deal, as well as a separate, looming threat of the government shutting down at the end of the month and raising the nation's borrowing limit in the coming weeks. Biden will significantly ramp up his engagement with congressional Democrats on Wednesday as his legislative agenda reaches its highest stakes moment. Biden will meet at the White House with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, according to two people familiar with the planning. He is also scheduled to hold meetings with Democrats representing several of the party's critical caucuses, the sources said. The meetings will mark the most extensive in-person engagement Biden has held with Democrats at the White House since he took office and come as Democrats are engaged in an increasingly heated intraparty war as they attempt to reconcile divergent positions on Biden's legislative plans. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters he hopes Biden has the "secret sauce" to bring all factions of the Democratic party together and unite behind the two legislative packages.

Top of Page

Politico - September 22, 2021

‘The world is looking at us’: Minneapolis puts 'defund the police' to a vote

The “defund the police“ movement got its start in Minneapolis last year. It might meet its end there in November. Minneapolis voters will decide then whether to adopt an amendment to the city’s charter that would limit the size, scope and influence of its police department, a first-of-its-kind measure sparked by the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The mayor who would help spearhead those reforms is also on the ballot: incumbent Mayor Jacob Frey, who is facing a slate of nearly 20 challengers, including several leaders of last summer’s protests for police accountability in the wake of Floyd’s death. The amendment — and, to a lesser extent, the mayoral race — will provide the first ballot test of a big-city police department overhaul in advance of the midterm elections. Those in favor of sweeping police reforms also see the amendment’s outcome as a gauge of just how much political capital defund movement activists have left against the backdrop of a spike in violent crime.

Democrats have been divided nationally over whether the push to “defund the police” seriously damaged their electoral prospects in 2020 or had no effect at all. It’s a debate happening in nearly every big city in America. “After George Floyd, the world literally turned its eye to Minneapolis. The pressure was on,” said Robin Wonsley Worlobah, a community organizer and candidate for City Council. “Really, we're seeing what legacy are we creating in the wake of George Floyd. What are we going to do about the future of public safety? Because what we do here, we know will impact other cities.” Under the Yes 4 Minneapolis initiative, the Minneapolis Police Department would be replaced with a Department of Public Safety, eliminating the city’s required minimum number of officers per capita and replacing some with social workers, mental health experts and crisis managers — effectively defunding the local police by reallocating funds to other city services. The City Council and the mayor would share oversight of the new department, deciding the scope of the role police officers — who would be newly classified as “peace officers” — would play. These changes would mark a significant check on the mayor’s power, as Frey currently has total control of the department’s funding, staffing and leadership.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 21, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2021

Two lawsuits filed against Texas doctor who violated abortion ban could test law's constitutionality

A man in Arkansas and another in Illinois sued a Texas doctor in two separate actions on Monday, the first reported cases filed under the state's new law prohibiting most abortions. Dr. Alan Braid, a longtime physician in obstetrics and gynecology from San Antonio, wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post that he had performed an abortion outside of the legal window permitted in the law, which prohibits the procedure after about six-weeks of pregnancy. Braid became the first doctor to publicly share that he had violated the ban, which took effect Sept. 1, writing in the Post that he knew his actions could draw a civil lawsuit under the law, which permits any individual to sue abortion providers or others seen as aiding and abetting an abortion that violates the ban.

Oscar Stilley, a former lawyer convicted of tax fraud in 2010, sued Braid in state District Court inBexar County on Monday. "I woke up this morning ... and I saw a story about this doctor, Dr. Braid," Stilley told the American-Statesman. "He's obviously a man of principle and courage and it just made me mad to see the trick bag they put him in and I just decided: I'm going to file a lawsuit. We're going to get an answer, I want to see what the law is." Felipe Gomez, identified in his lawsuit as a "pro-choice plaintiff," also sued the San Antonio doctor on Monday in Bexar County, according to KSAT in San Antonio. Both Stilley and Gomez are representing themselves. The law allows successful plaintiffs to collect at least $10,000 for every illegal abortion that is exposed and does not require the individual to have any connection to the patient or defendant. Stilley, who is on home confinement, said he saw an opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the provision — and possibly snag $10,000 in the process. "(The statute) says any person can bring a lawsuit," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter that I'm a disbarred attorney. It doesn't matter that I'm in custody. It doesn't matter that I'm up in Arkansas and not in Texas. It kind of looks like I have nothing to do with it, but they said I can have a chance and I can go in there and I can sue and collect $10,000 for it.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

DMN, UT-Tyler poll: 1 in 4 Texans say they likely won’t get COVID vaccine

As Texas reached the grim milestone of 60,000 COVID-19 deaths last week — 549 days after the state recorded its first — a poll of 1,148 Texans conducted by The Dallas Morning News and The University of Texas at Tyler demonstrates the anti-vaccine hurdles that the state still has to battle. Of the 1,093 people who answered a question about whether they plan to take the COVID-19 vaccine, about 1 in 4 said they either won’t, or are unlikely to. Eighteen percent said they won’t get vaccinated. Another 6% responded that it was unlikely they would get the vaccine, while 9% said they “probably would.”

Seven percent said they would “definitely” get the vaccine, according to the poll, which was conducted from Sept. 7 to Sept. 14. More than half of the respondents —59%— said they were already vaccinated. That figure aligns with the vaccine reality in Texas: as of Friday, 59.8% of eligible Texans were fully vaccinated, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Of those who said they do not plan to make an appointment, the largest proportion — 27% — said they were concerned about potential side effects from the vaccine. Medical experts have repeatedly said that vaccine side effects, ranging from sore arms at the injection site, to fatigue and fever, pale in comparison to symptoms unvaccinated people who get sick with COVID-19 may experience. Another 15% said they do not have enough information about the vaccine. Only 4% said they were too busy to set up an appointment.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Abbott’s approval rating on immigration is higher than that of Biden, new Texas poll finds

Texans registered to vote approve of Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of immigration at the border more than they approve of the way President Joe Biden handles the issue. But only 36% of those polled say Texas should spend more on a border wall. A new Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler poll found that 47% of those surveyed approve of the Texas governor’s border immigration policies, while only 29% approve of Biden’s “handling of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border.” The poll, conducted Sept. 7-14, surveyed 1,148 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. It surveyed Texas voters on a wide range of state and political issues. Results generally leaned toward conservative views, but there is some nuance over issues like the border wall and a legalization program for younger immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

“It might seem a paradox. But the public wants to see some decisive action but also some welcoming or compassion,” said Mark Owens, the UT-Tyler professor who directed the poll. The results also reflect beliefs that “decisive action” is being taken on border immigration, said Owens. Abbott’s policies have included sending state troopers and the Texas National Guard to the border, arresting migrants on state charges of property trespassing and spending an additional nearly $2 billion in border security. While almost half of responding registered voters approve of those policies, 41% of voter respondents say state funds should not be used to build a wall and 21% say the state has spent enough on such a barrier. After Biden froze billions in spending on former President Donald Trump’s federally funded wall effort, Abbott cobbled together about $1 billion for border barriers.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - September 21, 2021

Real estate agents gear up for fight to save their commissions

The residential real-estate industry is bracing for a challenge to the commissions charged by its sales agents, one that could put downward pressure on the fees paid by home buyers and sellers. The Justice Department is investigating home sale commissions, and in a wide-ranging executive order President Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to adopt rules to address unfair or exclusionary practices in the real-estate industry. Several civil lawsuits challenging industry rules and practices around commissions have survived initial procedural challenges and drawn support from the Justice Department, putting added pressure on traditional broker fees. The politically powerful real-estate industry has survived past challenges to its commission structure, but consumer advocates say rising home prices have exacerbated concerns about excessive fees. “The litigation and the government attention that the industry is getting now is unprecedented,” said Stephen Brobeck, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America and a longtime critic of the industry.

At issue are the commissions real-estate agents earn for the sale of a home, typically around 5% to 6% of the sale price. For a home sale at the recent national median price of about $375,000, a 5% commission would be $18,750—or for a $1 million home, it would be $50,000. Very high-end properties tend to have somewhat lower commission rates. Home buyers end up contributing to these commissions as part of the purchase price, but often have little room to negotiate since it is the home sellers who generally set the commissions for agents on both sides of the deal. Consumer advocates say this contributes to excessive commissions and point to the National Association of Realtors’ rules as the biggest roadblock to change. Those rules require sellers to offer commissions to would-be buyers’ brokers, which consumer groups say encourages sellers to offer high rates for buyer agents as a way to attract more potential buyers. Industry critics also say that the fees are opaque to most buyers, and say the advent of online home search engines has diminished the traditional role buyers’ agents play in connecting buyers and sellers. The National Association of Realtors says a tight sales market and rising prices have made real-estate agents more important than ever, and it says that commissions are fully negotiable and declining. The average national commission rate is currently in the range of 4.9% to 4.94%, according to industry news and research site RealTrends, down from 5.40% in 2012.

Top of Page

State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2021

Colleyville Heritage principal’s contract not renewed despite community support

After an executive session lasting over an hour, the Grapevine-Colleyville school board voted 7-0 Monday night to authorize the superintendent to not renew the contract of Colleyville Heritage High School principal James Whitfield. The vote prompted a response from the audience, “no justice, no peace, no justice no peace.” One member of the audience said, “Dr. Ryan, you’re no mad of God,” referring to superintendent Robin Ryan. Whitfield, who has been on paid administrative leave since August, will receive a letter outlining the reasons for the superintendent’s recommendation. He will have 15 days to respond and request a hearing before the board. Ryan said that Whitfield chose to have the information supporting the superintendent’s recommendation read in the open session.

“The district has attempted to resolve this issue with Dr. Whitfield and his (legal) representation both informally and formally with no avail,” Ryan said. “This has played out in this community as a racial issue, and many people are hurt and confused. It’s not about Dr. Whitfield’s race. It’s not about pictures. It’s not about certain individuals in this community calling for his resignation.” The reasons outlined by the district included email communications with a party from outside of the school district and accusations of hiding public records from discovery by deleting them from sent items and trash folders. Whitfield, the school’s first Black principal, was also accused of dividing the community. He previously was accused of promoting the teaching of critical race theory after he wrote a letter to Heritage parents over racial issues when George Floyd was killed. After the vote, Whitfield said he will decide his next steps after receiving the letter from the school district. “The love and support in this room is what has sustained us through a time where other people that I hoped who would have supported me would have stepped up and done so,” he said. “While it’s unfortunate to hear what they had to say and the direction they’re choosing to take this, I am encouraged by the love and support.”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: How the handling of Heritage High principal could haunt Colleyville school district

James Whitfield, the principal of Colleyville Heritage High School, may be on his way out after months of rancor. But in time, the real lesson of his case may be this: Watch out for unintended consequences. Grapevine-Colleyville school trustees voted unanimously late Monday to move ahead with non-renewal of the principal’s contract, which expires at the end of the current school year. Whitfield will have opportunities to make his case, but at this point, he’s unlikely to remain in the job. Whitfield, the school’s first Black principal, was targeted over accusations that he promotes “critical race theory” after he wrote an impassioned letter to Heritage parents over racial issues when George Floyd was killed. He drew strong support, including a student walkout on his behalf, when he was placed on administrative leave. But the superintendent recommended to trustees that Whitfield’s contract not be renewed.

Trustees may think that moving ahead could lower the temperature on matters of race. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope they’re right. But fights on what our schools teach about history and the effect of racism on our society aren’t going away. Superintendent Robin Ryan stressed that “this recommendation is not about Dr. Whitfield’s race. It’s not about pictures of Dr. Whitfield. It’s not about critical race theory. It’s not about certain individuals in our community calling for his resignation or his firing.” The district’s top human resources official laid out issues that she said Whitfield had been counseled about, including insufficient communication, attempts to destroy emails and a lack of honesty in discussing his case with the news media. Whitfield was insubordinate and violated district policy, she said. In a disciplinary letter, according to the Texas Tribune, Ryan also cited a now-infamous Facebook photo of Whitfield and his wife that many saw as too racy for a public-school administrator to have posted. In personnel matters, employers must tread carefully. And the board obviously believes it must support the superintendent’s findings. All of us should remain circumspect about what we don’t know about his tenure and his relationship with his bosses. Whitfield clearly bears some fault. His public criticism of his employer on COVID-19 policies at a time when he knew he was under scrutiny was a mistake. Trustees said they wanted to proceed in part so that Whitfield could defend himself in a hearing before the board. But the decision will have consequences that could raise the heat, not lower it. It will embolden some to scrutinize every aspect of educators’ lives and come after those they don’t like.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas lawmakers cannot leave foster care teens to their fate

Exasperation and exhaustion have set in for many of us who have followed the failure of the state’s foster care system to protect children while complying with reforms rightfully demanded by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack. The latest report from court-appointed monitors of the system is yet another frustrating chapter in the legal battle over how to fix Texas foster care. According to the report, the number of children without placement — kids who are housed in unlicensed locations such as state offices, churches and hotels — has jumped from an average of 22 per night in January to 106 per night in June. Last year, that average was 10 kids per night between August and December.

These children are mostly older teens with severe needs who require a high level of care. But under the state’s supervision, some of them run away, engage in prostitution and harm themselves. Texas has lost more than 1,000 beds since 2020 after state officials revoked licenses or ended contracts over unsafe conditions. Jack has ordered Gov. Greg Abbott and his legal team to explain why the two state agencies that oversee the foster care system don’t agree over sanctions against some providers. This crisis — not myriad red-meat issues that the Legislature has embraced this year — is what must be a priority for Abbott and lawmakers. The Department of Family and Protective Services has suggested that court-ordered enhanced oversight of problematic providers — referred to as “heightened monitoring” — is to blame for the state’s inability to care for its neediest children. But the court monitors’ report disputes the state’s theory.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire,’ won’t film new HBO series in Texas because of abortion law

The name and subject matter for David Simon’s next project for HBO have not been announced. But we do know that the famously cranky showrunner is refusing to film it in North Texas in light of the Lone Star State’s near-ban on abortion. It’s been a good year for the local film scene, at least until now. This summer saw the release of 12 Mighty Orphans, a film with an impressive cast shot in Fort Worth. There’s also the recent success of The Green Knight from Dallas director David Lowery and a Yellowstone prequel series began filming in Fort Worth last month. A non-fiction HBO miniseries from David Simon based on events in Texas would be a particularly good get for the region next year. But the creator of The Wire, often regarded as one of the greatest television shows ever made, is apparently planning to film in a city that looks like Dallas-Fort Worth, as opposed to the real thing.

“This is beyond politics,” Simon said, in a Tweet on Sept. 20. “I’m turning in scripts next month on an HBO non-fiction miniseries based on events in Texas, but I can’t and won’t ask female cast/crew to forgo civil liberties to film there. What else looks like Dallas/Ft. Worth?” “We stage production where women risk nothing and endure nothing to control their own bodies,” Simon added in a reply on Twitter. HBO didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Hollywood celebrities, many of them women, have raised their voices against the law. On Sunday, Julianne Nicholson referenced women “in Kabul, in Texas or anywhere struggling” in her Emmy acceptance speech. But Simon is among the first entertainment figures to label it a dealbreaker. They join others out of state who’ve spoken out publicly about the legislation, the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the country, which essentially bans abortions after six weeks.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Abbott asks Biden to declare federal emergency, provide help with migrant surge near Del Rio, Texas

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday asked President Joe Biden to declare a federal emergency and provide resources to help state and local authorities cope with a migrant surge at the Texas-Mexico border near Del Rio. The federal government’s “failure to enforce immigration laws and in particular, its failure to halt illegal crossings on a dam on federal property, which is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government,” is overtaxing the ability of Texas, Del Rio and Val Verde County to respond to a “concentrated surge” of immigrants who illegally crossed on Wednesday, Abbott said in a release and his letter to Biden. The migrants, many from Haiti, camped near the Del Rio International Bridge and on Saturday, their number reached about 16,000, the Republican governor said in his letter.

“Thousands of families are immobilized in 100-degree heat as their numbers continue to swell as they wait to be processed by the approximately 64 federal agents in the area,” Abbott wrote. “Individuals are camping in squalid conditions and bathing in muddy river water, causing great health concerns.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged Monday that videos of what’s happening at the bridge in Del Rio are disturbing but said the federal government already is moving on several fronts to assist both the migrants there and improve conditions in Haiti. “It’s a challenging situation,” Psaki said at a White House press briefing. “It’s devastating to watch this footage. It’s important, though, for people also to know what we’re trying to do is also protect people.” While the Department of Homeland Security is surging officers from the Border Patrol and from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Del Rio area, the federal government also is “taking a multi-pronged approach,” Psaki said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 21, 2021

Coronavirus hospitalization numbers stabilizing in Dallas-Fort Worth after surge from delta variant

Daily coronavirus hospitalizations in North Texas remain high but are stabilizing, according to health experts. In Dallas County, the number of hospitalized patients is already on the downswing, according to the latest forecast from UT Southwestern Medical Center, and is expected to fall to about 800 by Oct. 7. During the current surge in cases, the county had peaked at 1,040 hospitalizations on Sept. 10.

The forecast predicts that Tarrant County’s hospitalizations, which have been higher than Dallas County’s in recent weeks, will flatten in the coming weeks and be at about 1,200 on Oct. 7. The forecast says that more Dallas County residents, about 80%, report that they’ve been wearing masks while in public than residents of the other large North Texas counties. Children — many of whom cannot be vaccinated yet — are still hospitalized at a much higher rate than at any other point in the pandemic, the forecast says. In North Texas, there were 82 pediatric COVID-19 patients on Monday. Health experts and local officials continue to stress that vaccinations are the best way to slow the virus’ spread. Noting a poll conducted by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that nearly a quarter of Texans don’t plan to get vaccinated, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins suggested businesses mandate inoculations for workers to help reach herd immunity. “In order to put the pandemic behind us, private business must lead the way through employer-required vaccination efforts,” Jenkins said in a written statement.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott signs more Texas abortion restrictions, penalties into law

A bill adding more restrictions and raising criminal penalties for the use of abortion-inducing medication in Texas goes into effect in December after being signed with no fanfare by Gov. Greg Abbott. Senate Bill 4, which passed during the second special session that adjourned Sept. 2, has been decried as a “back-door ban on abortion” by Planned Parenthood officials because it outlaws providing abortion-inducing drugs to Texans after seven weeks of pregnancy. Abortions have already been severely limited in Texas by the newly enacted Senate Bill 8, which outlaws abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, about six weeks into a pregnancy. Senate Bill 8, the so-called “heartbeat bill” that passed this spring, also applies to drug-induced abortion.

Pro-abortion rights groups say the signing of SB 4 is yet another signal by Texas’ political majority of their commitment to blocking as many abortions as possible. “Anti-choice politicians have made their intentions abundantly clear, and they will stop at nothing to strip away reproductive freedom,” said Adrienne Kimmel, acting president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement following Friday’s bill signing. In addition to posturing, the bill may also carry serious consequences for people who mail abortion-inducing drugs to Texas. Although SB 8 already carries the threat of lawsuits against people who “aid or abet,” abortions, including those providers who live out of state, SB 4 increases liability with criminal penalties. Under SB 4, the charges for “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly,” violating the provisions of the bill would be a state jail felony, which carries fines of up to $10,000 and between 180 days and two years of imprisonment. During testimony before the bill’s passage, SB 4?s House sponsor, Fort Worth Republican Rep. Stephanie Klick, said out-of-state providers may be subject to an extradition process. In practice, says Farrah Diaz-Tello, an attorney with If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice, this would be difficult to achieve. “I don’t anticipate that if people who are doing things in places where they’re legal, that their governments are going to cooperate with these radical prosecutions,” Diaz-Tello said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Russia is a concern, but Ted Cruz isn’t helping

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is right to be concerned about a soon-to-be-operational Russian gas pipeline. He’s wrong to obstruct U.S. diplomacy over it. For months, Cruz has been holding up dozens of State Department nominations as leverage to get the Biden administration to reinstate sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It’s an unprecedented level of obstruction, affecting nearly 80 diplomatic posts. To be clear: Cruz’s actions have nothing to do with the nominees or their qualifications. The nominations simply appear to be the only lever Cruz can think of, so he’s pulling it.

This is not a minor hiccup. Without those emissaries on watch, the world is less accountable to U.S. interests. This newspaper’s reporting of Cruz’s “tantrum,” as it was characterized by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, last week, has drawn a sobering comparison, just days after our nation’s observance of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The commission formed to investigate those attacks identified unfilled diplomatic posts as a dangerous vulnerability at the time. Eight months into his term, 57% of President George W. Bush’s nominees for key national security posts had been confirmed. At the same point in his tenure, Biden has just 26%, we reported. “It is scandalous that these nominees and many others are being held up for reasons completely unrelated to them and the positions they will hold,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. “Such irresponsible behavior jeopardizes our national security.” Cruz is understandably frustrated with the Biden administration. In passing the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019, Congress stipulated sanctions against Russia if they pressed construction of the pipeline. Biden dropped those sanctions, saying they weren’t working and the pipeline is all but operational.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Trial date set for Aaron Dean, Fort Worth officer accused of murdering Atatiana Jefferson

The murder trial of the former Fort Worth police officer charged in the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019 is set to start Nov. 16, according to Tarrant County court records. Aaron Dean, 36, is accused of shooting Jefferson to death on Oct. 12, 2019. Jefferson died as she was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew at her mother’s house in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue in Fort Worth. A neighbor telephoned the police because he was worried after seeing open doors at the house, and Dean and another officer responded to the call. Jefferson, who was 28 and Black, heard noise outside and thought a prowler was in the yard. She held a gun and looked through a bedroom window as Dean fired once from outside, killing her, according to an account from the nephew that is described in an arrest warrant affidavit for the former officer.

Last week, Jefferson’s family filed a lawsuit in federal court against Dean and the city of Fort Worth, citing the emotional trauma Jefferson’s nephew endured when she was killed in front of him. “At the age of 8,” the lawsuit says, Zion Carr “was forced to watch the murder of his aunt, Atatiana Jefferson, at the hands of Fort Worth Police.” Prosecutors have previously indicated they do not intend to offer Dean a plea bargain. If convicted of murder, Dean could face up to life in prison. Fort Worth City Council member Chris Nettles, an outspoken advocate calling for Dean to be tried for murder in Jefferson’s death, said the community has been waiting for this day. He said he and other community members have marched, protested and demanded justice in the case. “I truly believe that the persistence of community activists across Fort Worth helped bring this day to fruition,” Nettles told the Star-Telegram on Monday. “It’s time that Aaron Dean be held accountable for his actions through due process — a right that he stole from Atatiana Jefferson.”

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

‘A miracle.’ Neighbors marvel that no one was killed in North Texas military plane crash

Residents of a Lake Worth neighborhood where a military training plane crashed were reeling Monday from what seemed like a highly improbable event — and from the reality that it could have been much worse. The small plane — a Navy T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft — crashed into a Lake Worth residential area shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday, according to the Lake Worth Police Department. The crash took place about two miles north of the Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. The two pilots — an instructor and a student — ejected from the plane before the crash; one landed in a wooded area and the other got caught in power lines and was shocked and burned, Lake Worth police said.

The instructor pilot was released from a local hospital Monday, the Navy said in a statement. The student pilot was still in serious condition and receiving treatment for his injuries at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the Navy said. A resident who lives on Dakota Trail, close to a doughnut shop near where one of the pilots landed, told the Star-Telegram on Sunday that he ran toward the pilot who had gotten caught in the power lines and saw him on fire before paramedics arrived. “Although badly burnt, the pilot was conscious, alert and breathing,” Lake Worth police said in a news release. Three residents also sustained minor injuries, Lake Worth police said in a Sunday evening update. But because the plane crashed into the back yard of a house, instead of into the house itself, no residents were killed or seriously injured. Lake Worth police called this “a miracle.” By Monday morning, some military and emergency personnel remained in the area investigating and assessing damage, and both ends of Tejas Trail were still blocked with bright orange barrels. The residents of the home where the plane crashed were displaced from the house, authorities said. On Monday morning, yellow tape stretched across the front porch posts and in front of the garage. The back yard, visible from the driveway, was piled with charred debris that barely resembled an aircraft.

Top of Page

Inside Higher Ed - September 21, 2021

Military history society faces internal battle with Texas boycott

The Society for Military History is divided over holding its annual conference in Fort Worth next spring, as long planned, in light of the state’s new ban on abortions after six weeks and other controversial legislation involving voting rights and transgender youth. The conference location debate escalated in recent days, following a letter to members from Peter Mansoor, society president and General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History at Ohio State University.

Arguing against moving the conference, Mansoor wrote to his fellow military historians that “there are good reasons to continue on our current course. Moving the conference at this late date would cause serious financial harm to the society,” to the tune of $90,000 in contract cancellation penalties. Hotel employees and local businesses also would be affected, he said. Beyond cost, Mansoor wrote, “We are an inclusive organization that includes members of different political views, races, genders, professional jobs, religious views and other attributes. To be truly inclusive, the society must be nonpartisan and apolitical and make decisions based upon the society’s mission.” To “take action against the Texas legislation,” he argued, would “take us beyond” the society’s mission of advancing military history, “into politics.” Mansoor based his opinion, in part, on a policy on public statements that the society’s governing council adopted during the Trump administration. Prior to adopting this policy, the society’s council signed on to a statement by the American Historical Association condemning the Trump White House’s 2017 ban on travel from a number of majority-Muslim countries. Dozens of other historical organizations signed on to the AHA’s statement, too. But facing criticism from a vocal minority of its members that the society had acted inappropriately politically, the council voted to limit further public statements to those involving exceptional circumstances, as determined by the society’s Board of Trustees, and only when those circumstances have some bearing on the society’s mission.

Top of Page

Inside Higher Ed - September 21, 2021

Baylor moves class online over instructor’s mask protest

Baylor University has moved a professor’s courses online after the instructor refused to wear a mask in class, as required by the university’s COVID-19 mitigation policy. Stephen Goniprow, the temporary lecturer in political science in question, declined an interview request. The Baylor Lariat originally reported that Goniprow used his first lecture in his U.S. Constitution class to object to mask mandates, and the paper said some students in class also allegedly removed their masks. After several class meetings like this, the course was moved online. Eric Eckert, a Baylor spokesperson, said that Goniprow is teaching two sections of his constitution course this term. The university is aware of the “alleged incident” and is “following proper university protocols,” he said.

Top of Page

The 19th - September 20, 2021

‘We’re seeing shock.’ Texas abortion clinics are now operating as trauma centers

Marva Sadler is not used to telling patients “no.” Since Senate Bill 8, Texas’ six-week abortion ban, took effect, she now feels like she’s saying it all day. Sadler is the director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth. When patients arrive at the clinic, she said, they are aware of the realities of the new law: Abortion past six weeks is now illegal, with no exceptions for rape and incest. Still, they can hardly process that there’s little the clinic can do to help them. “We’re seeing shock. Absolute shock,” Sadler said. “They know the law but don’t expect to hear from us that there are no other options other than leaving the state.” As streams of patients continue to show up seeking procedures they can no longer receive, abortion clinics in Texas have become more like trauma centers — places where people are coming in severe emotional crisis. “There is anger, fear and sadness,” Sadler said. Being there to help patients process these feelings is not easy work, Sadler said, calling it a “wear on anyone’s mental stability.” For patients they can’t treat, clinic staff offer to schedule appointments with providers out of state. To date, not a single patient at Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth has taken them up on it.

Most are taken aback by the offer, Sadler said. They’ve already had to take time off of work, find child care and transportation, even leave meals for family at home just to make it through the door at her clinic. “It’s not just the financial piece, but about jumping up and leaving home without having the time or expectation to plan,” she said. “100 percent of our patients have left here with an ‘I don’t know what’s next for me.’ They’re leaving the clinic without a plan because there are no plans.” While Sadler emphasized that SB 8 has been especially hard on low-income people and people of color, she is also concerned about their patients who are minors, like a 17-year-old who had just learned on August 30 that she was 13 weeks pregnant, which she told Sadler was a result of rape by a close family friend. When she called on September 1, the day the law went into effect, there was no longer anything the clinic could do to help her. “I felt so horrible for her,” Sadler said. “What we could recommend and refer her to is so limited.” Doris Dixon, the director of patient access at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston, said the days preceding and following SB 8 taking effect have “been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster.” Dixon said she and her colleagues have gone from being people who help schedule health care appointments to staffers at “a crisis center.” They’re providing emotional support, referrals and logistics in lieu of actual abortion services. “[I’m] thinking about how we can provide resources, financial resources, get patients out of state just to get care,” Dixon said. “That’s where I’m at right now. I just try not to cry. It’s really, really hard sometimes.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

Expanding the footprint: Two years in, Whataburger's new owner works on recipe for expansion

What do you do when the closest honey butter chicken biscuit, taquito and mushroom Swiss burger from your favorite orange-and-white chain is hundreds of miles away? If you’re Patrick Mahomes, you open a Whataburger in your backyard. Maybe even a string of them. The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback is part of an investor-led franchise group that plans to develop 30 Whataburger restaurants in Kansas and Missouri over the next seven years, including a cluster in Kansas City. The locations operated by KMO Burger will stretch from Wichita, Kan., to St. Joseph, Mo. The first two, both in Kansas City, are scheduled to open late next year. “I love Kansas City and I love Whataburger,” said Mahomes, a Tyler native and Texas Tech University star who tweeted at Whataburger to open a Kansas City location in 2018. “I’m excited to help bring a gift from my first home to my second home.”

The push into the Midwest — and the Southeast — was in the cards when Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners acquired a majority stake in the San Antonio company in 2019. Since Chicago-based BDT Capital Partners acquired a majority stake in Whataburger in 2019 to expand it, the San Antonio chain has been pushing deeper into the Midwest and Southeast. Construction is underway on restaurants in Overland Park, Kan., and Lee’s Summit and Independence, Mo., Whataburger said last month. Those restaurants, its first in those states, are not among KMO Burger’s locations. Tennesseans will soon be able to get their fix too. Five restaurants are coming to the Memphis area in 2022 and 2023, and nine to middle Tennessee, including a location in Nashville, according to a company announcement and local media. In Colorado Springs, longtime franchisee BurgerWorks is opening the first Whataburger restaurant and training center in the state this year, with more locations planned in 2022. BurgerWorks owns and operates nine Whataburger locations in Texas. Whataburger is also adding more locations in existing markets. The company plans to bring a restaurant to metro Atlanta, its first in the area and second in the state, Tomorrow’s News Today reports. Locally, stores at San Antonio International Airport and on the far West Side are in the works for next year.

Top of Page

KXAN - September 20, 2021

‘Home cooking’ concerns revealed in corruption prosecutions outside Texas capital

Massive floods tore through Central Texas on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. Rivers spilled over their banks and ripped waterfront homes from their foundations. Towns were inundated. While tragic deaths on the Blanco River and a ruptured dam in Bastrop State Park captured headlines, few noticed the damage to a low water crossing on Wilbarger Creek Drive — a private dead-end road south of Elgin. Nobody knew then how that broken bridge would brew a political storm of its own. Two years later, Bastrop County Commissioner Gary “Bubba” Snowden would be charged with three counts of abuse of official capacity. Two of the charges were felonies for misusing public dollars and county resources to resurface part of the road without county commissioners’ approval.

Snowden’s case was investigated under the state’s redesigned Public Integrity Unit. The previous state-funded Public Integrity Unit housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office was dismantled in 2015, following allegations it was politicizing prosecutions. State lawmakers aimed to reform the system by moving state public corruption investigations to the Department of Public Safety’s Texas Rangers and prosecuting accused officials in their home counties rather than Travis County. Though the sea change in Public Integrity Unit prosecutions didn’t fundamentally alter how Snowden’s case was handled, the former Bastrop County commissioner’s indictment and prosecution do exemplify most public corruption cases processed under the new system. Now, six years later, an investigation by the Texas Observer and KXAN found prosecutions of statewide public officials for corruption are nearly non-existent. Since 2015, the Rangers investigated a handful of state-level elected leaders, but few faced charges. From 2015 to 2020, the Texas Rangers completed more than 560 public corruption case investigations, but only 67 of those cases have been prosecuted, according to DPS data analyzed by the Observer. DPS said in an email to the Observer there were hundreds more inquiries and complaints beyond those investigated. No officials with DPS or the Texas Rangers would agree to speak with KXAN for this report. The prosecutions that have taken place are mostly against lower-level local officials or government employees and typically end with light sentences. Several Central Texas cases followed that pattern.

Top of Page

KXAN - September 20, 2021

Comptroller says Texans are owed $6 billion in unclaimed property claims

The Texas Comptroller’s office says it has paid $285 million in unclaimed property claims in fiscal year 2021. The Comptroller’s office said in a press release on Thursday it has returned more than $3 billion in unclaimed property to rightful owners since Texas’ unclaimed property program began in 1962.

The state is currently holding more than $6 billion in cash and other valuables through the program. The $285 million from this year represents more than 538,000 properties, that includes thing like forgotten utility deposits, insurance proceeds, payroll checks, cashier’s checks, dividends, mineral royalties and abandoned safe-deposit box contents as examples. Generally speaking, owners can file a claim at any time to claim the property as there isn’t a statute of limitations.

Top of Page

Waco Tribune-Herald - September 17, 2021

Waco region sees highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in Texas

Experts say overlapping causes are behind the snowballing hospitalization rate for COVID-19 in this part of Central Texas, which is higher than any other part of the state. But even the low vaccination rate, the more contagious delta variant and the number of patients from outside counties do not fully explain just how bad things are compared to other areas. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services designates 22 clusters of counties, called Trauma Service Areas, guided by regional advisory councils. COVID-19 patients make up a higher share of total hospitalizations in Trauma Service Area M, the five-county region consisting of McLennan, Hill, Bosque, Falls and Limestone counties, than any other in Texas, with 243 COVID-19 inpatients and 55 COVID-19 intensive care patients filling 43% of occupied beds, as of Thursday.

The statewide COVID-19 hospitalization rate sits at 20%. Service Area H in East Texas is the current second highest at 38%. Christine Reeves, director of the Heart of Texas Regional Advisory Council, said she noticed a small increase in hospitalizations the first week of August that picked up speed over the next few weeks. Multiple days this week have seen new highs in the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Waco. Reeves said facilities in Coryell, Comanche and Freestone counties, which are in other trauma service areas, regularly transfer patients into Waco hospitals for surgeries and specific procedures not available back home. She said people used to coming to Waco for care likely would continue to do so, regardless of whether they cross the boundary of a trauma service area, a designation used for logistical purposes by the Department of State Health Services. “Coryell is the same distance to Waco, pretty much, as Clifton is,” Reeves said. “It’s a longer drive to go to Temple, even though that’s their trauma service area.”

Top of Page

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2021

Officer, suspect killed as gunfire erupts at north Harris County apartment; second cop hospitalized

Deadly gunfire between police and a wanted man erupted as residents of a Harris County apartment complex prepared Monday to go work and school, sending several — children among them — to the ground for safety. As the gun smoke settled, residents saw that three people — two Houston police officers and one of their neighbors — had been shot in the exchange. One of the officers — William Jeffrey — later died at Memorial Hermann Hospital. The two officers and other law enforcement officials were at the apartments in the 5300 block of Aeropark Drive, north of the East Aldine area, to arrest a man suspected in a narcotics case. The wanted man opened fire on police, officials said, adding that the two officers never had a chance to return fire. A third officer shot the suspect — killing him.

Authorities lauded Jeffrey as a 31-year veteran of the Houston Police Department. The other officer, said to be in stable condition, was identified as Sgt. Michael Vance. He joined the department in 1998. Several sisters of the suspect who gathered at the scene identified him as Deon Ledet. Resident Lynnmaries Turner quietly weeped as she recalled seeing her neighbor’s body outside the home. She was speechless, she said. “It was horrible. Kids were walking. They had to get down,” Turner said. “It was just overwhelming.” The shooting happened around 7:30 a.m., interrupting preparations for work and school for several residents. One neighbor, Monica Scott, spotted several plainclothes officers descend on Ledet’s apartment. Several neighbors saw a woman step out of the apartment with a baby moments before the shooting. “I saw one (officer) at the back door and one at the front,” Scott said. “I said, yeah, it’s going to go down.” A panting officer soon called for backup on police radio traffic and said, “We’ve got two officers shot. Need an ambulance,” according to police radio traffic. Eyewitness video of the aftermath showed several officers standing over Jeffrey as one law man gave him CPR to no avail.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 21, 2021

Too busy for bathroom breaks: Deputies file lawsuit over working conditions at Harris County jail

With the inmate population topping 9,000, the deputies who staff the Harris County jail have mounted a federal lawsuit saying they are so understaffed that some detention officers have soiled their clothes or urinated in trash cans because they couldn’t get a break to go to the bathroom. David Cuevas, executive director of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization FOP 39, said at a briefing Monday that the situation is dire, and he attributes the problem to “failed leadership” by the Commissioners Court and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, pointing to a growing rate of assaults on guards and drug abuse among inmates.

“They have knowingly underfunded the jail,” said the union’s lawyer, Robin McIlhenny Foster. The deputies are not asking for a pay bump, she said. The jail staffers are calling for an immediate injunction, federal oversight of the jail and compliance with basic state and federal jail standards. The class-action civil rights suit targets the county, all five commissioners, Hidalgo and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Gonzalez said the coronavirus pandemic has placed an “unyielding and unprecedented” strain on the criminal justice system, adding, “I am grateful to all our teammates for consistently performing their duties under the toughest circumstances we’ve ever experienced.” “Everyone with a stake in ensuring Harris County public safety recognizes that our current trajectory is unsustainable,” Gonzalez said. “We all understand we must do more to reduce violent crime, address the backlog of cases in our courts and improve the working conditions of our dedicated public servants. As sheriff, I am committed to working with all partners on solutions that keep us safe.”

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 21, 2021

Where are your Tarrant Regional Water District taxes going? This group wants answers.

A newly formed coalition seeking accountability from the Tarrant Regional Water District Board of Directors called for a forensic audit of the entity’s spending during a hearing on the tax increase. Board members will vote Tuesday whether to keep tax rates at 2.87 cents per $100 of valuation. Average property values in the water district grew more than 7% in the last year, meaning home owners will pay the district more in taxes. The average home market value rose from $206,487 last September to $221,634, according to Tarrant Appraisal District estimates.

However, protesters outside the district office at 800 E. Northside Drive were more concerned about how the board used its funding than a higher property tax bill. The group, called Water District Accountability Project, waved at passersby with signs that read “forensic audit” before filing into the meeting. “My concern is how Tarrant Regional Water District spends the tax money,” said Doreen Geiger as she held her sign under the shade of a frilly pink umbrella. “Are they wasting it? Are they spending it fraudulently?” The water district board and executives found themselves in the middle of multiple controversies after former board president Jack Stevens directed payments of $300,000 to now-retired general manager Jim Oliver and $60,000 to Panther Island executive director J.D. Granger for extra paid leave. Attorneys have completed an inquiry into the arrangements, but are still in the midst of legal discussions with the board over Oliver’s revoked payment.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Money is a barrier in solving Fort Worth cold cases. A new group seeks to change that.

On Aug. 24, the decades-long case of Carla Walker’s murder finally came to a close when Glen McCurley was convicted of killing the 17-year-old in 1974. But nearly 1,000 other families in Fort Worth still search for answers to their own cold cases. The name for these cases itself tells of the emotional limbo families face; they remain frozen, waiting for resolution as years and decades go by. Carla’s brother, Jim Walker, and the Fort Worth detectives who solved the case want to change that. In September 2020, after police arrested McCurley for the murder of Carla, Detective Jeff Bennett asked the department for permission to create a foundation dedicated to solving Fort Worth’s unsolved murders. On Wednesday, the FWPD Cold Case Support Group officially began accepting donations. “We’ve got justice for Carla,” Walker said. “We all understand what families go through. And I believe that’s where the focus is now. And to let the bad guys know, ‘We’re coming after you.’”

When they used forensic genealogy testing to solve Carla’s case, Bennett and cold case Detective Leah Wagner knew they needed a way to fund this form of testing in more cases. In Carla’s case, forensic genealogy and new DNA extraction technology allowed police to zero in on McCurley as Carla’s killer. The process cost tens of thousands of dollars. Walker said to his knowledge, the price tag was at least $18,000. Bennett said the cost for forensic testing was “in the mid-five figures.” The testing was made possible through $15,000 donations from NBC and producers of “The DNA of Murder,” who coordinated with Fort Worth police for an episode about Carla on the Oxygen show. Not every case is able to draw the kind of attention Carla’s received. And like every department at FWPD, the Fort Worth cold case unit has a budget. “I don’t want to say that cold cases are not important,” Bennett said, “but they prioritize where the money goes and obviously current crimes take priority.” Forensic genealogy is more in-depth than typical DNA testing. In most criminal cases, police develop a DNA profile and upload it into CODIS — the national DNA database. But if someone has never been put into that system — like McCurley — they won’t show up as a match to the DNA profile. With no matches on CODIS, Bennett and Wagner turned to Othram, a Houston-based lab that focuses on matching unknown DNA to people through genealogical databases, like 23AndMe and Ancestry.com.

Top of Page

National Stories

Associated Press - September 20, 2021

U.S. eases foreign air travel restrictions, adds steps for unvaccinated flyers

The U.S. will soon allow entry to most foreign air travelers as long as they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — while adding a testing requirement for unvaccinated Americans and barring entry for foreigners who haven’t gotten shots. The measures, announced Monday by the White House, are the most sweeping change to U.S. travel policies in months, and widen the gap in rules between vaccinated people — who will see measures relaxed — and the unvaccinated. The new rules will replace existing bans on foreigners’ travel to the U.S. from certain regions, including Europe. While the move will open the U.S. to millions of vaccinated people, the White House cast the measure as a crackdown, pointing to stricter testing rules and a new contact tracing regime. The new policy will take effect in “early November,” according to the White House, though the precise date isn’t yet clear.

“We know vaccines are effective, including against the delta variant, and vaccines are the best line of defense against COVID, so this vaccination requirement deploys the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday. The new rules will replace the current system, which includes outright bans on entry for foreigners who’ve been in certain regions, such as the U.K. and European Union, within the previous two weeks, regardless of vaccination status. “We will protect Americans here at home and enhance the safety of international travel,” Zients said. News of the policy change caused U.S. airline shares to pare premarket losses. The Standard & Poor’s index of the country’s five biggest airlines rose less than 1% at 11:14 a.m. in New York, overcoming a global stock rout on anxiety over U.S. monetary policy and China’s real estate market. American Airlines Group Inc. climbed about 2%. Before the coronavirus crisis hit, the North Atlantic corridor connecting the U.S. and Europe was the single most profitable part of the global aviation market, filled with premium travelers paying top dollar for first- and business-class seats.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Max Boot: Biden’s Australian submarine deal is a big win in the strategic competition with China

No pain, no gain. That’s as true in diplomacy as in the gym. The United States has gained much with its agreement to share nuclear-powered submarine technology with Australia as part of a new Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) accord. But this achievement comes at a cost: France, complaining of a “knife in the back,” recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington (but not London) in its fury over losing a $66 billion agreement to sell diesel submarines to Australia. Was it worth it? Yes. Could it have been better handled? Also yes. This is a bit like a football team scoring a touchdown and then getting penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. AUKUS is the kind of “tremendously big deal” that former president Donald Trump always bragged about but seldom delivered. It turns the “Pacific pivot” that former president Barack Obama advertised into more than an empty slogan. Ten years ago, Obama dispatched 2,500 U.S. Marines to Australia. The impact of that deployment is trivial compared with having eight Australian nuclear submarines patrolling the silent depths of the Pacific.

China is building cruise missiles and ballistic missiles to target surface ships, including U.S. aircraft carriers. But the Pentagon reports that “it continues to lack a robust deep-water anti-submarine warfare capability.” That is a weakness the Royal Australian Navy will be able to exploit in conjunction with the U.S. and British fleets. (The United States already operates 68 nuclear submarines, Britain 11.) Once Australia’s nuclear submarines are ready, China’s ability to dominate sea lanes and invade or blockade Taiwan will be reduced. (The naval balance of power would tilt even further against China if Japan, which already has 20 diesel submarines, were to build its own nuclear subs.) But the first submarine is not due to be built Down Under until 2040. The program needs to be accelerated to reduce Australia’s window of vulnerability — and reduce the incentives for China to commit aggression while it still can. Chinese President Xi Jinping has no one but himself to blame for this development. China’s expansive territorial claims, appalling human rights abuses and brutish “wolf warrior” diplomacy have alarmed its neighbors — and created a strategic opening for the United States. Beijing, for example, tried to punish Australia with trade sanctions for refusing to buy Huawei’s 5G technology, criticizing Chinese human rights record and calling for a probe of covid-19’s origins. As a result, Australian perceptions of China turned sharply negative. That allows Biden to assemble a coalition to contain China. This week, just days after the announcement of AUKUS, the leaders of the Quad — a coalition of the United States, Japan, Australia and India — will meet in Washington. AUKUS and the Quad are the most important strategic initiatives undertaken by the United States in the 21st century, and they will help dispel some of the concerns about U.S. retreat following the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The United States could be even more effective in countering China if Biden would rethink his born-again protectionism and rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership that he extolled as vice president.

Top of Page

The Hill - September 21, 2021

Biden steps onto global stage with high-stakes UN speech

President Biden faces high stakes on the global stage as he takes his plea for international cooperation on pressing issues like climate change and the coronavirus to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. Biden’s first speech as president to the annual meeting comes at a time when he is facing questions from allies on U.S. commitments abroad and fury from France, America’s oldest ally, over a nuclear submarine deal with Australia. The president plans to use Tuesday’s speech to rally nations behind confronting common threats, explicitly tying the recent U.S. exit from Afghanistan to a broader shift from traditional military conflict to “intensive” U.S. diplomacy, a senior administration official said.

“The speech will center on the proposition that we are closing the chapter on 20 years of war and opening a chapter of intensive diplomacy by rallying allies and partners and institutions to deal with the major challenges of our time,” the official told reporters Monday on a call previewing the speech. Atop Biden’s agenda are climate change and the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to delivering in-person remarks at the gathering, Biden will host a virtual COVID-19 summit Wednesday during which officials say he will press countries and the private sector to increase their commitments to vaccinate the global population. Biden, whose administration has already committed to sending 500 million vaccine doses to lower income countries, is expected to announce additional U.S. contributions to fighting the pandemic. “He believes that it is high time for the world to come together,” the senior administration official said. “He is going to call for an all-hands-on-deck effort that can end this pandemic much more rapidly than if we allow for things to unfold without the focus, sustained energy and effort required.” Biden is also expected to encourage nations to address economic inequality and emerging technologies, take a modern approach to counterterrorism and rally around rules of the road on trade. He will also describe “vigorous competition with great powers but not a new Cold War,” the senior administration official said, a thinly veiled reference to tensions with China and Russia.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee personally vetted Trump’s fraud claims, new book says. They were unpersuaded.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham agreed to hear Rudolph W. Giuliani out. In a Jan. 2 meeting arranged by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and held in his West Wing office, the South Carolina Republican met with Giuliani and his legal team to learn about findings they said could hand Trump a second term. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney at the time, put forward a computer whiz who presented a mathematical formula suggesting Biden’s support in certain states was unrealistic. Graham, a lawyer and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, found the reasoning too abstract. He wanted hard evidence. “Give me some names,” Graham said at the Saturday meeting. “You need to put it in writing. You need to show me the evidence.” Giuliani promised details by Monday — proof that scores of ballots had been cast in the names of dead people and people under 18, among other irregularities. This scene is recounted in a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward and national political reporter Robert Costa.

The book, “Peril,” describes parallel efforts by the South Carolina Republican and his conservative colleague from Utah, Sen. Mike Lee, to personally investigate the president’s claims of voter fraud as the lawmakers prepared to certify Joe Biden’s victory on Jan. 6. Graham and Lee, both of whom ultimately voted to certify the results, took the claims of election fraud seriously enough to get briefed on the details, involve their senior staff and call state officials throughout the country. But privately, Graham gave the arguments a withering assessment, according to the book, saying they were suitable for “third grade.” The episode illustrates how strenuously the president’s legal team sought to nullify the results of the election; how flimsy even their more serious claims were; and what little stock the president’s own allies placed in his objections, even as they stood steadfastly with their standard-bearer. Giuliani’s promised proof arrived on Jan. 4 in the form of several memos he sent to Graham, one titled “Voting Irregularities, Impossibilities, and Illegalities in the 2020 General Election.” Graham had already proved himself willing to act on assertions of election irregularities, calling Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, in November to see if he could toss mail ballots in counties found to have high rates of nonmatching signatures, Raffensperger later said. Graham maintained he was only inquiring about the state’s signature-matching requirements. The memos from Giuliani included sweeping claims lacking references or evidence. One said Pennsylvania had processed 682,777 mail-in ballots without proper observation — an assertion underlying a suit rejected by a federal judge two months earlier.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 21, 2021

COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 flu

COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic did — approximately 675,000. The U.S. population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country. But the COVID-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time. "Big pockets of American society — and, worse, their leaders — have thrown this away," medical historian Dr. Howard Markel of the University of Michigan said of the opportunity to vaccinate everyone eligible by now. Like the Spanish flu, the coronavirus may never entirely disappear from our midst. Instead, scientists hope it becomes a mild seasonal bug as human immunity strengthens through vaccination and repeated infection. That could take time. "We hope it will be like getting a cold, but there's no guarantee," said Emory University biologist Rustom Antia, who suggests an optimistic scenario in which this could happen over a few years.

For now, the pandemic still has the United States and other parts of the world firmly in its jaws. While the delta-fueled surge in new infections may have peaked, U.S. deaths still are running at over 1,900 a day on average, the highest level since early March, and the country's overall toll stood at just over 674,000 as of midday Monday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, though the real number is believed to be higher. Winter may bring a new surge, with the University of Washington's influential model projecting an additional 100,000 or so Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, which would bring the overall U.S. toll to 776,000. The 1918-19 influenza pandemic killed 50 million victims globally at a time when the world had one-quarter the population it does now. Global deaths from COVID-19 now stand at more than 4.6 million. The Spanish flu's U.S. death toll is a rough guess, given the incomplete records of the era and the poor scientific understanding of what caused the illness. The 675,000 figure comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ebbing of COVID-19 could happen if the virus progressively weakens as it mutates and more and more humans' immune systems learn to attack it. Vaccination and surviving infection are the main ways the immune system improves. Breast-fed infants also gain some immunity from their mothers.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 20, 2021

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Beto O'Rourke expected to run for Texas governor against Greg Abbott

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke plans to run for governor next year, Axios reported Sunday. Rumors have swirled for months that O'Rourke, one of the state's highest profile Democratic politicians, has been considering a run against Gov. Greg Abbott.

O'Rourke, 48, gained national prominence when he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 in what was at the time one of the most expensive Senate races in history. Shortly after his failed Senate campaign, he mounted a bid for the presidency in 2020. He is likely to face significant challenges now, with a surge in immigration at the border and high-profile comments he made after the El Paso massacre in 2019, in which he advocated proposed mandatory buyback programs for assault weapons. According to the Dallas Morning News, Abbott leads O'Rourke in a hypothetical matchup by five points, 42-37. That's significantly narrower than earlier this summer, when O'Rourke faced a 12 point deficit.

Top of Page

Business Insider - September 18, 2021

McConnell was not shocked by Trump's 2020 loss, said there were 'so many Maalox moments' during his presidency: book

After Joe Biden was declared the US President-elect by most major news outlets last November, many Republicans were in disbelief that the former vice president had beaten then-President Donald Trump. But then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had served in the upper chamber alongside Biden for decades, was "the least surprised," according to a new book by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, an early copy of which was obtained by Insider. McConnell, who had been a governing partner with Trump, shepherding through three Supreme Court justices and scores of appeals judges, along with passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and other conservative priorities, nonetheless had to contend with the wildly unpredictable president, who could tank a piece of legislation as easily as he could sell it to conservatives. The senator, who at the time was closely watching the Georgia Senate runoff contests that would determine whether Republicans controlled the upper chamber or ceded control to the Democrats, chose to give Trump some space as the election results were still sinking in, which Woodward and Costa wrote in "Peril."

Despite being in the same political party, McConnell told his staff that the president's actions could often lead to stressful predicaments, according to the book. "There were so many Maalox moments during the four years," he reportedly told his staff, referring to the antacid commonly used to treat stress-induced heartburn. During this time, McConnell continued to tread slightly with Trump — working behind to scenes to keep Biden from calling him for fear of upsetting the president, whom the then-majority leader still wanted to keep in his fold. "McConnell worried Trump might react negatively and upend the upcoming, hotly contested runoff Senate elections in Georgia," the book said. "He also said he did not want Biden, a serial telephone user, to call him. Any call from Biden was sure to infuriate Trump and set off unwanted calls from him, asking if he believed Biden had won the presidency." To keep things under wraps, McConnell reached out to GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to speak privately with Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a Biden confidant, about a "back channel" for the then-majority leader to have a level of communication with the president-elect. Cornyn said that the senators were "in a delicate situation" since Trump may have assumed that the men were "cutting a deal behind his back to cut him out," which would make him "even more irrational."

Top of Page

NBC News - September 20, 2021

As House returns, Democrats face hard choices on Biden mega-bill, infrastructure

When the House returns Monday, Democrats will face a series of difficult decisions about how to prevent a government shutdown, avert a catastrophic debt default and resolve deep divisions within their ranks about President Joe Biden's economic agenda. There is little time. Government funding expires Sept. 30, the Treasury Department says the debt ceiling will be breached in October without congressional action, and states need disaster relief. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's complicated set of promises to competing party factions will face a major test. Pelosi, D-Calif., has promised centrists a deadline of Sept. 27 to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. But she has told progressives that it will move side by side with the multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better measure.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has said for months that dozens of House Democrats are prepared to vote down the infrastructure bill if the larger spending bill isn't done. That means a cornerstone of Biden's agenda risks a humiliating defeat in the House if party leaders don't rapidly resolve a slew of differences among Democrats over price tag and policy in the bigger bill, which includes priorities like child cash payments, Medicare expansion, community college subsidies and tax increases on the wealthy. A House Democratic aide said party leaders remain confident that progressives will hold the line. Others doubt that they would tank a centerpiece of Biden's agenda in a bid for leverage over a different bill. Nine centrist Democrats led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., issued a joint statement Friday to rally support for the infrastructure bill and to remind Pelosi about her promise of a vote by Sept. 27. They said Congress "cannot afford to delay a single day." House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that Democrats are working to "make sure that we never get to that point" where the infrastructure bill could fail. "We are working with everybody in all corners of our party," he said. "They're trying to get to a common ground on all of these issues. And I feel very comfortable that we are going to get there." Clyburn said Democrats "ought to stop focusing on the number and start looking at what needs to be done" when it comes to the spending bill.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Anti-Trump group TV ad blasting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pulled before start of UT-Rice football game

A national television ad blasting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that was slated to air during Saturday’s University of Texas vs. Rice University football game was pulled minutes before the contest started, according to the group that produced the television spot. Members of the Lincoln Project, a group of former and current members of the Republican Party who resist the polices of former President Donald Trump, are asking why the ad they produced and paid for didn’t air. The $25,000 spot was approved by ESPN’s legal department, a Lincoln Project spokesman said. “Despite being cleared by ESPN’s legal department, 10 minutes before kickoff, we were informed that the ad would not run,” according to a Lincoln Project statement. “When asked why, we were told it was a ‘University-made decision.’ Did Greg Abbott or his allies assert political influence to ensure the advertisement was not broadcast?”

A spokesman for Abbott said the governor had nothing to do with pulling the ad. Officials with the University of Texas could not immediately be reached for comment. Abbott is a University of Texas graduate. He appoints members of the school’s board of regents. “Once again, instead of focusing on the task of keeping Texans safe from the coronavirus pandemic, it appears they’ve focused their time and energy on censoring those that would hold him to account for his failures,” the statement read. “Indeed, multiple sources in Texas have informed us of the political panic inside the Governor’s office and campaign organization.” The television ad, named “Abbott’s Wall,” claims that if you made a wall from the caskets of Texans that died because of COVID-19, it would stretch from Austin to San Antonio. The ad features a gritty Texas landscape with captions that reveal dreadful coronavirus statistics. The commercial states that 3.8 million Texans have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Of that total, 60,475 people have died. According to the ad, those deaths led to over 60,000 burials, with 85 miles of lumber used to make caskets.

Top of Page

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Gov. Abbott will pick the Texas secretary of state, who gets vast new powers from GOP elections bill

The new GOP elections law gives broad new powers to the Texas secretary of state, and by extension Gov. Greg Abbott, who will choose its next leader. Whomever the Republican governor picks could shape Texas elections for years to come. When the law takes effect Dec. 2, the secretary of state will be newly empowered to fine counties up to $1,000 a day and to audit potentially years’ worth of their elections. The office will also have broader ability to pass on alleged voter fraud or missteps by election officials to the attorney general, who has made prosecuting election violations a top priority. The law leaves much of the rule-writing up to the secretary of state, so the office will have discretion in how it wields the new power.

“We’ve turned what’s largely an administrative function that does a little bit of training ... into this power center of regulatory heft and administrative fines,” said Adam Haynes of the Texas Conference of Urban Counties. The law’s backers say it makes sense for the secretary of state to have authority because it’s the highest election official in Texas. “The important thing is to find a path to make sure you have got good top-down guidelines for election processes,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston. Overseeing elections is just one of the Texas secretary of state’s many tasks. But it’s increasingly becoming the most high profile as partisan battles over voting rights play out the national stage. Politics derailed Abbott’s most recent picks for secretary of state. Both of them failed to get confirmed by the state Senate. In 2019, Democrats blocked David Whitley’s nomination after he oversaw a botched attempt to purge voter rolls that wrongly flagged thousands of Texans as potential noncitizens. This year, the GOP-led Senate Nominations Committee never even considered Ruth Ruggero Hughs, who left the office in May. Republicans have not explained why they passed on Hughs. But Democrats speculate it was her office’s oversight of the 2020 election, which saw Houston’s Harris County roll out novel early-voting methods now banned by the new GOP-backed elections law. Abbott has yet to name a replacement. Spokeswoman Renae Eze said Abbott and his team continue to “carefully review all qualified applicants for Secretary of State to ensure the best representation for Texas.” Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza, a former Abbott staffer, is acting as interim. The office is still developing guidance for county election officials before the law kicks in later this year, spokesman Sam Taylor said.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 18, 2021

US launches mass expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas

The U.S. flew Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland Sunday and tried blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico in a massive show of force that signaled the beginning of what could be one of America’s swiftest, large-scale expulsions of migrants or refugees in decades. More than 320 migrants arrived in Port-au-Prince on three flights, and Haiti said six flights were expected Tuesday. In all, U.S. authorities moved to expel many of the more 12,000 migrants camped around a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. The only obvious parallel for such an expulsion without an opportunity to seek asylum was in 1992 when the Coast Guard intercepted Haitian refugees at sea, said Yael Schacher, senior U.S. advocate at Refugees International whose doctoral studies focused on the history of U.S. asylum law.

Central Americans have also crossed the border in comparable numbers without being subject to mass expulsion, although Mexico has agreed to accept them from the U.S. under pandemic-related authority in effect since March 2020. Mexico does not accept expelled Haitians or people of other nationalities outside of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. When the border was closed Sunday, the migrants initially found other ways to cross nearby until they were confronted by federal and state law enforcement. An Associated Press reporter saw Haitian immigrants still crossing the river into the U.S. about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) east of the previous spot, but they were eventually stopped by Border Patrol agents on horseback and Texas law enforcement officials. As they crossed, some Haitians carried boxes on their heads filled with food. Some removed their pants before getting into the river and carried them. Others were unconcerned about getting wet. Agents yelled at the migrants who were crossing in the waist-deep river to get out of the water. The several hundred who had successfully crossed and were sitting along the river bank on the U.S. side were ordered to the Del Rio camp. “Go now,” agents yelled. Mexican authorities in an airboat told others trying to cross to go back into Mexico.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Early voting starts Monday to fill House District 118 in San Antonio

Early voting in the special election to fill former state Rep. Leo Pacheco’s seat starts Monday at five polling sites. Five candidates — three Democrats and two Republicans — are seeking the House District 118 seat, which became vacant after Pacheco, 63, resigned last month to take a faculty job at San Antonio College. With only two weeks of campaigning and low turnout expected, Republicans are hoping to take the seat, which is in a traditional Democratic stronghold. The only time a Republican has won the South Side district was in the last special election, held in January 2016.

John Lujan, a retired firefighter, won that election with a margin of victory of 171 votes; 3,589 ballots were cast. He lost the seat in the general election held November 2016, when Pacheco won the seat back for the Democrats. Lujan is back, seeking to retake the seat. This time around, he’s facing fellow Republican Adam Salyer, a retired Army sergeant, and Democrats Katie Farias, a trustee for Southside Independent School District; attorney Desi Martinez; and Frank Ramirez, a former aide to City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval. If one of them doesn’t win a majority of all the votes cast, the election will go to a runoff between the two leaders. Election day is Sept. 28, but early voting will be held from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2021

As COVID patients overcrowd hospitals, those with other medical issues wait for care

When Jazz Paz learned that the 93-year-old woman she takes care of waited 24 hours for a hospital bed, she choked back tears. The woman’s family hired Paz, a retired nurse, to be a companion for the woman back in February. Paz found her absolutely endearing. She laughed at her quick-wit, keenly listened to her childhood stories about living through the Great Depression and was impressed that someone her age was exercising daily. “Every day I was just amazed at how strong this woman was mentally and physically,” said Paz, 69, of Southwest Houston. “She didn't have any indications of being sick until she got this urinary tract infection.”

Given the woman’s age, her family and her doctor had pause about sending her to the hospital while the ICUs were near capacity, Paz said. Initially, they decided to treat her with antibiotics and keep her at home when she became ill. Data suggests that Paz and her client’s family’s decision wasn’t unfounded. About 98 percent of Texas ICU beds are full, and of those full beds 43 percent are used for COVID-19 patient, according to the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, which oversees a 25-county hospital preparedness region including the Houston area. The majority of hospitalized COVID patients — 86 percent — are unvaccinated, according to the to the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation. Meanwhile, as hospitals across Texas and the nation fill and emergency rooms and ICUs are crowded with COVID patients, those with other medical needs, like Paz’s client, are left waiting. “We're still in a very dire situation, the hospitals are absolutely full, the emergency departments are full,” said Dr. David Persse, the chief medical officer for the city of Houston, where hospital occupancy closely reflects the state trend. In Harris County, 98 percent of beds are full, with COVID patients occupying 39 percent of those beds, according to SETRAC data as of Friday.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 18, 2021

Texas appeals court allows Round Rock school district's mask mandate to continue

A state appeals court has allowed the Round Rock school district to continue requiring masks on campus, as a lawsuit from Attorney General Ken Paxton over the district's mask mandate proceeds. A panel of judges from the 3rd Court of Appeals on Friday blocked a temporary order from state District Judge Rick Kennon that had prevented the school district from enforcing its mask mandate amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, Paxton had declared a victory after Kennon, a Republican in Williamson County, issued a temporary restraining order against the school district's mask requirement.

The Round Rock school district argued Kennon abused his discretion by issuing the order without a hearing, notification or explanation and asked the appeals court on Friday to put a hold on it. Judges Thomas Baker, Gisela Triana and Edward Smith, all Democrats, granted the school district's request and ordered the state to respond no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday. In an announcement late on Friday, Round Rock school district leaders said they plan to continue requiring masks. The Round Rock school board is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss and take possible action on the district's mask mandate, which was set to expire on Saturday after the board postponed the discussion because of tension and disruptions at a meeting last week. More than a hundred school districts are defying or have defied an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott that banned public schools from requiring masks in schools, according to a list from the attorney general's office. In response, Paxton sued school district leaders in Round Rock and Elgin, along with several other school districts.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Despite ongoing debate over transgender rights, Black and brown leaders continue to care for Houston's trans communities

When the Legislature convenes Monday for its third special session, the main order of business is redrawing the state’s political boundaries for the next decade’s worth of elections. But tucked into Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda, again, is a bill that would bar transgender children from playing in school sports that align with their gender identity. Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, says his bill — which already failed to pass during the 87th legislative session and the two special sessions that followed — is about protecting competitive balance for cisgender girls, or those whose gender identity matches the one they were assigned at birth. It is just the latest in a history of attempts to curtail the rights of transgender Texans, but for longtime advocates in Houston’s transgender community, it only reinforces their conviction in their causes and each other. In Texas, at least 14 transgender people were killed between 2017 and 2020, eight of whom were Black and four of whom were Latinx, according to the Transgender Law Center. That’s about 10 percent of the 139 transgender people who were killed nationwide in that time; Texas has just under 9 percent of the U.S. population.

Earlier this summer, Abbott successfuly pushed to have gender-affirming surgery for children redefined as “genital mutilation,” a characterization that goes against the longstanding wisdom of medical professionals. In 2015, Houston voters struck down the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — which protected marginalized groups including transgender people from discrimination — after opponents stoked fears of transgender women using women’s restrooms. Neither Abbott nor Perry’s offices returned requests for comment. For transgender people in Houston, and especially people of color, the political attacks mean many have had to take matters into their own hands to keep themselves and their communities safe. Some choose to take their fight to lawmakers, while other tune out the political noise and focus on what they can do to help each other. “When people say I’m a trans advocate, I’m actually a human rights advocate. It just so happens that I’m trans and that population needs attention, and I have some privilege in that space to use my voice,” said Atlantis Narcisse, founder of Save Our Sisters United.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Brett Perlman: Houston can lead 'Earthshot' to cheap, clean hydrogen

(Perlman is the president and CEO of Center for Houston’s Future, a nonprofit that brings business, government and community stakeholders together to engage in fact-based strategic planning, collaboration and action on issues of great importance to the region. The center receives donations from energy companies, but the views expressed here represent an independent assessment.) President John F. Kennedy delivered a bold vision in his historic Moonshot speech in Houston, 59 years ago this month: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Given our current turmoils we need to find similar inspiration to achieve great things in our own time. In Houston, our inspiration should be to transform energy, the area in which we’re globally recognized, and address climate change. Last June, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm made Houston her first visit outside the nation’s capital because she recognized the unique role our region can play in leading the energy transition.

The week following that visit, she announced her own Kennedyesque vision: an “Earthshot” to address climate change through new ambitious targets. The first is to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80 percent to $1 per kilogram in one decade. And to deploy it on a grand scale. At the Center for Houston’s Future, we believe that these events were no mere coincidence. As Granholm well understands, the world’s energy capital must answer her call if the country is to achieve this ambitious climate vision. Just as NASA used hydrogen as spacecraft fuel on moon missions, the first element can be employed for this new challenge. Hydrogen is a remarkably flexible element. Today, we use hydrogen to refine gasoline and create petrochemicals, but tomorrow we can convert it to a low-carbon fuel that can reduce our carbon emissions and decrease air pollution. As we innovate to reduce emissions and drive down production costs, we will also create new markets for hydrogen in steel and cement manufacturing and in energy storage and new global export markets. These will create a new low-carbon energy industry in Houston with good-paying jobs and significant economic growth potential. This vision is not without its detractors. Recently, some have criticized the drive to produce low-carbon “blue” hydrogen using natural gas combined with carbon capture technology as “greenwashing,” an industry subterfuge to perpetuate fossil fuels. They prefer “green” hydrogen produced with renewable energy through the process of electrolysis, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Today, that’s both expensive and requires vast amounts of renewable energy, and therefore will take a decade-long “Earthshot” to make it competitive.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 20, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Social Security and Medicare are in financial trouble, these people will save them

Social Security and Medicare trustees say these funds are running out of money, leaving older Americans to wonder who will finance their retirement. Most people have been paying into these trust funds throughout their working lives. While the monthly check from Social Security will be barely enough to live on, Medicare is the only way most of us can afford health care in old age. Decades of Congress playing three-card monte with our premiums, though, could leave us all losers.

“Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing,” the trustees wrote in their 2021 report. “Both programs will experience cost growth substantially in excess of GDP growth through the mid-2030s due to rapid population aging. Medicare also sees its share of GDP grow through the late 2070s.” Social Security will pay out $2.4 trillion more than it takes in over the next decade. The program’s Old-Age and Survivors Insurance only has 13 years left to insolvency. Disability Insurance is in better shape, currently forecast to last until 2057. When the accounts are combined, though, Social Security will run out of money in 2034, when the government will automatically reduce benefits by 22 percent. “Lawmakers have only a few years left to restore solvency to the program, and the longer they wait, the larger and more costly the necessary adjustments will be,” the conservative group Committee for a Responsible Budget said in its analysis. The fund for Medicare, the health insurance relied on by most Americans over 65, will run out of money in 2026, according to its trustees. Congress has not adequately funded the trusts since 2003, the report added. “Medicare’s costs under current law rise steadily from their current level of 4.0 percent of GDP in 2020 to 6.2 percent in 2045,” Medicare trustees report.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Collin County deserves more from its sheriff

An improper police action. An anonymous whistleblower. An alleged cover-up. These aren’t the plot points of the latest Hollywood thriller. They’re all part of a real-life story that has been unfolding in Collin County for four years and is only now coming to light. We expect better transparency and accountability from Sheriff Jim Skinner, and residents should too. On Dec. 4, 2017, Collin County Deputy Sheriff Robert Merritt conducted a traffic stop along U.S. 75 north of McKinney. The motorist, a 45-year-old Black man named Ronnie Brown, was driving alone. He said he was on his way to the night shift at work, and that he was stopped for a missing light on his license plate. Riding along with Merritt was a civilian named Leos Drbohlav, a dog trainer who works with the department’s K-9 units. In dashcam footage of the stop, Drbohlav is seen wearing a tactical vest marked “POLICE” on front and back. He carries a holstered sidearm. Merritt and Drbohlav search Brown’s car, which Brown said he consented to. At one point, Merritt comes away from the car, leaving Drbohlav to search alone. Drbohlav is not a sworn peace officer.

According to multiple sources, he is from the Czech Republic and not an American citizen. We spoke to Drbohlav briefly by phone, but when we asked about his citizenship status, the line went dead. He has not responded to multiple attempts to contact him since then. Civilians are not allowed to pose as police officers or participate in police searches. The sheriff department’s own internal policy on ride-alongs forbids them to carry firearms, give the impression that they are police, use police equipment or participate in an investigation. The 2017 stop broke all those rules. In an email, Sheriff Jim Skinner called the incident a “mistake” that “should not have occurred.” Fortunately, any escalation was avoided once patrol Sgt. Russell Driver arrived. When he discovered what was happening, he said, he told Merritt to let Brown go. Then he reprimanded Merritt and Drbohlav and ordered the ride-along over, he told us.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Attorney: Colleyville Heritage principal wasn’t told why contract may not be renewed

James Whitfield, the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School, will learn whether he will keep his job during a specially-called board meeting. Grapevine-Colleyville trustees will meet at 5 p.m. Monday at the school administration building, 3051 Ira E. Woods Avenue. Whitfield has been on paid administrative leave since late August, and last week, trustees were supposed to vote on whether to renew his contract, but the meeting was postponed because not enough board members could attend. David Henderson, an attorney who is representing Whitfield, said he and his client learned on Sept. 9 that the superintendent was going to recommend that the school board should vote against renewing Whitfield’s contract. Henderson described how Whitfield was not given specific reasons why officials did not want to renew the contract.

Whitfield received a document listing 34 possible reasons for “non-renewal.” The school district highlighted several which include: Deficiencies pointed out in observation reports, appraisals or evaluations, supplemental memoranda or other communications, insubordination or failure to comply with official directives and failure to meet the District’s standards of professional conduct. Henderson said Whitfield will receive an explanation after the school board votes, implying that his fate is already decided. “They refused to provide any specificities until after the board votes. They’re leaving him in the dark and they don’t provide any clarity,” Henderson said. Whitfield was called out publicly and accused of teaching and promoting critical race theory during the July 26 school board meeting. Publicly naming employees during a school board meeting goes against district policy. Whitfield wrote a lengthy Facebook post several days later saying he could no longer remain silent about racial attacks against him after he was publicly named at the meeting. The district told the Star-Telegram previously that Whitfield’s being placed on administrative leave is a personnel matter, and that it had nothing to do with accusations that he taught critical race theory or photos he posted showing him with his wife on the beach while celebrating their anniversary. Henderson said serving as principal at Colleyville Heritage is more than a job to Whitfield. “Right now, this is his life. The district is treating this just like this is just his job. But when you are a principal, this is not a 9 to 5 job. You live in the community and your kids go to school here; the decent thing to do is provide more clarity,” Henderson said.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 20, 2021

Military plane crashes in Lake Worth neighborhood; 2 pilots injured, 3 homes damaged

Two military pilots were seriously injured when they ejected from their plane before it crashed into the back yard of a home in North Texas during a training exercise Sunday morning. No residents in the neighborhood, off Tejas Trail in Lake Worth, were injured, authorities said at a press conference Sunday afternoon. But families were displaced from three homes that had significant damage. One of the pilot’s parachutes became tangled in power lines, and the other pilot landed in a nearby neighborhood, authorities said. Both pilots were taken to local hospitals, one in critical condition and the other in serious condition, according to a MedStar official. Two neighbors said they saw one pilot’s flight suit catch fire. The names of the pilots have not been released.

The Navy jet crashed in a back yard between the 4000 blocks of Tejas Trail and Dakota Trail shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Lake Worth police. The neighborhood is near the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, in an area that the military has identified as a potential accident zone, because of its proximity to where planes take off and land, police said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. The cause of the crash is under investigation. A statement on the Chief of Naval Air Training Facebook page said it was a Navy T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft assigned to Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, that crashed in Lake Worth, about two miles north of Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth. “The two occupants ejected from the aircraft,” the Navy’s statement said. “The instructor pilot is in stable condition; the student naval aviator was reported in serious condition – his injuries were not life threatening. Both were transported to medical facilities for evaluation.” “The pilots were conducting a routine training flight that originated from Corpus Christi International Airport,” the statement said. “The cause of the crash is unknown.”

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 20, 2021

University of Texas hits record undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment

The University of Texas hit a record percentage of Hispanic undergraduate students enrolled this year, surpassing for a second year the threshold that qualifies the institution for federal money designated for schools with significant numbers of Hispanic students. The number of Hispanic students at UT has steadily increased over the past decade. In 2011, about 20% of undergraduate students at UT identified as Hispanic, compared with 27.1%, or 11,087 undergraduate students, this year, according to new enrollment data obtained by the American-Statesman. Luis Zayas, co-chair of UT’s Hispanic Serving Institution Transition Committee, said Hispanic enrollment has grown as more Hispanic high school students become eligible for admission and university officials engage in outreach with students around Texas.

“We have been very active in building a presence throughout the state, and our leaders have gone to the various parts of the state, whether it's the (Rio Grande) Valley, West Texas or Central Texas, to really show that we care and we're interested,” said Zayas, dean of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. UT surpassed 25% Hispanic undergraduate enrollment for the first time last year, qualifying the school as a Hispanic Serving Institution. This year, after meeting that designation again, UT will be eligible to apply for three grants offered by the U.S. Department of Education focused on enhancing the quality of such institutions, increasing the number of Hispanic students in STEM fields and expanding post-baccalaureate opportunities for Hispanic students. Deborah Parra-Medina, a Hispanic Serving Institution Transition Committee member and director of the Latino Research Initiative at UT, said being named a Hispanic Serving Institution is important for UT to show the community that it is committed to providing high-quality education that values the Latino experience along with other student experiences. “Many of the strategies that we design or implement often positively impact other students as well, such as first-generation students or students who are financially disadvantaged,” said Parra-Medina, a Mexican American and Latina/o Studies professor. “I think people think it's exclusively about the Latino experience, but actually, it does benefit large aspects of the university population.”

Top of Page

Vox - September 18, 2021

The Texas GOP sees Haitian migrants in crisis as a political opportunity

Amid an influx of Haitian migrants, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is trying to stir up fear about a crisis at the border yet again. On Thursday, he said that he had ordered state troopers and the Texas National Guard to “shut down six points of entry along the southern border” at the direction of federal immigration authorities as thousands of Haitian migrants await their turn to enter the US under an international bridge in the city of Del Rio in southwest Texas. But Abbott backtracked just hours later, claiming that the Biden administration had “flip-flopped” on its request for state assistance. The Department of Homeland Security has said that it isn’t asking Texas for help in shutting down ports of entry and that it would be a “violation of federal law for the Texas National Guard to unilaterally do so.” The situation in Del Rio — where more than 12,000 migrants are camping in increasingly squalid conditions without adequate access to water, food, and sanitation — is growing dire from a humanitarian perspective. Most of these migrants are from Haiti and plan to seek asylum in the US, as is their right under federal and international law.

In just the last few months, Haiti has suffered from a political crisis stemming from President Jovenel Moïse’s July assassination, resultant gang violence, and the one-two punch of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and a tropical storm that left about 2,200 dead and many thousands more injured or missing. Those conditions appear to have driven more Haitians to make the treacherous journey to the US border: Federal immigration authorities have encountered more than 30,000 Haitians this fiscal year, nearly six times the number encountered over the previous fiscal year. But Abbott has sought to twist that humanitarian crisis into a security crisis designed to appeal to Republican voters in his state, who have long identified immigration and border security as top priorities in public opinion polling. He told the Texas Tribune that he was trying to “stop these [migrant] caravans from overrunning our state” and described US Customs and Border Protection agents as “overwhelmed by the chaos.” That’s in line with his recent rhetoric trying to demonize migrants arriving on the southern border as lawbreakers and carriers of disease. Other Texas Republicans have followed suit, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who warned during a Fox News segment on Friday of an “invasion” of migrants who could “take over our country without firing a shot.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Roger C. Barnes: Under Abbott, state in Human Rights Hall of Shame

State executions, criminalization of homelessness, imprisonment of debtors, systemic racism, abuse of immigrants. These are not simply moral ills or social problems. More deeply, they are human rights violations. And Texas knows its fair share of such violations. The concept of human rights took on a sense of urgency following World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust. On Dec. 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, setting forth a person’s “basic rights and fundamental freedoms.” The declaration lists 30 articles that apply to every person. It includes the freedom of movement and residence, freedom of education, right to property, right of peaceful assembly, and the rights of conscience, religion, opinion and expression.

Importantly, it declares the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to an adequate standard of living, including medical care and freedom from torture. Further, no one should be subjected to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The drafting committee for the declaration consisted of an international group chaired by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There was no dissenting vote when the U.N. adopted the declaration. The U.S., never reluctant to lecture other countries — China, North Korea, Russia, Cuba — on their human rights violations, does not itself have a very good record on human rights. The Human Rights Measurement Initiative tracks 13 rights in three categories: civil and political rights, safety from the state, and economic and social rights. The scores for the U.S. are “worse than average” compared to other high-income countries in the latest report. The HRMI notes, “Our research shows that if the United States used its existing resources better, millions more Americans could be enjoying their basic human rights.” It is no wonder the HRMI says that “human rights defenders fight an uphill battle” in the U.S.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 20, 2021

Abby M. McCloskey: Why Texas pro-life Republicans should support paid family leave

(Abby M. McCloskey is the founder of McCloskey Policy LLC and a former campaign policy director for Howard Schultz and Rick Perry.) Pro-life Republicans in Texas have put forward a law that makes abortion illegal after six weeks of pregnancy. Regardless of your view on that law, there’s another opportunity to protect all newborns and their families in the early days following birth, and one that engenders broad support. An infant comes into the world with no resources other than her parents. She has no savings. She can’t care for herself or feed herself. Her own central nervous system can’t even regulate itself outside of close, bodily contact with her parents. Yet America is the only country in the developed world that does not protect the early weeks and months of a newborn’s life by ensuring that all parents, irrespective of income or job, can be home with their children during this critical time of healing, bonding and development.

We have no national paid family leave policy. Businesses don’t provide paid time off after birth either; fewer than 1 in 5 workers have access to paid family leave from employers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some workers patch together vacation days and sick days to help cover the time, 40% of workers and 80% of low-wage workers do not receive any paid leave upon the birth of a child, according to an Abt Associate survey. Forty percent of all workers don’t even have job protection following the birth of a child from the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the Department of Labor, meaning that an already physically, emotionally and financially taxing event can also be accompanied with job loss. As a result, nearly 1 in 4 women go back to work within two weeks of childbirth, according to a Department of Labor survey. Unsurprisingly, this is associated with a host of downsides, including reduced rates of breastfeeding, one of the highest neonatal fatalities rate in the developed world, maternal depression and more. Some states have taken action to change that, passing paid family leave policies of their own over the last decade. Congress, too, is debating a paid leave policy, which could be used for paid parental leave, embedded in its $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. (There’s a lot to take issue with in the legislation, but allowing all parents to spend early weeks with their babies is not one of them.) But Texas doesn’t need to wait on Washington to pass its own statewide paid parental leave policy. Especially considering the good it would do for infants and their families.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

Bad blood has developed between Dan Crenshaw and Lizzie Fletcher. How did we get here?

Ever since Republican Dan Crenshaw and Democrat Lizzie Fletcher entered Congress together in early 2019, the Houston-area representatives have avoided clashes with one another while occasionally issuing joint press releases that contain mutual praise. But that all changed Monday during an exchange that drew in at least three other members of Congress, brought a rebuke from a House committee chairman and resulted in Crenshaw taking to Twitter to slam Fletcher on an entirely unrelated point. It started when an agitated Crenshaw attacked some Democrats during a marathon meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is working on the massive “Build Back Better” spending bill that Democrats are pushing. Republicans offered an amendment that could have potentially blocked 911 funding for police in states where cities have considered reducing funding for law enforcement, as the city of Austin did last year after the death of George Floyd.

After several Democrats objected to the amendment as political theater, Crenshaw went off on them like he was on a radio talk show. The former Navy SEAL, a regular on conservative talk shows who has a big presence on social media, accused Democrats of lying and said they and their policies were the reasons for a rise in crime in American cities. In Fletcher, Crenshaw couldn’t have drawn a more different combatant. During her time in Congress, Fletcher has typically worked behind the scenes, rarely doing national television interviews and often using social media to offer nonpartisan takes on issues. But there she was on Monday immediately calling out Crenshaw for engaging in nonserious partisan “gotcha” tactics. Crenshaw started it all when he explained why Republicans wanted to make Democrats vote on a Defund the Police amendment. “This amendment is common sense, just like all the previous amendments,” Crenshaw said. “They expose the hypocrisy and contradictions that are present on the other side of the aisle. That is the purpose of this, to expose how insane this actually is. To expose the reality that if a city is defunding the police, they probably don’t need more money for 911 centers, now do they?” Crenshaw didn’t stop there. “So spare me the outrage on the other side because we’re for exposing what your side says all the time,” Crenshaw said, raising his voice.

Top of Page

KHOU - September 18, 2021

Doctor accused of stealing vaccine plans to sue Harris County, CBS News has learned

A Houston-area doctor says he was punished for trying to save lives and he is ready to strike back. Dr. Hasan Gokal was fired from his job and charged with a crime in 2020 after giving out COVID vaccine doses that were about to expire. This was at the end of last year, when vaccine doses were often scarce and appointments hard to find. CBS Morning's lead national correspondent David Begnaud has learned that Dr. Gokal plans to sue the Harris County Public Health District that fired him.

Dr. Gokal was charged with theft by a public servant, but a judge threw the case out, saying there was no proof of theft. The Texas Medical Board later cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing and a Harris County grand jury declined to indict him in June. Begnaud was told by sources that in the lawsuit, which is expected to be filed in the next 72 hours, Dr. Gokal will claim he was discriminated against on the basis of race and national origin when he was fired. The suit will reportedly seek damages in excess of $1 million for what Dr. Gokal claims is mental anguish, economic loss and loss of reputation. This story gained international attention when it broke, but the headlines were not as prominent and glaring when the criminal case that District Attorney Kim Ogg brought against the doctor fell apart. “Tell folks why did what you did,” Begnaud asked Dr. Gokal. “I did what a physician would do which is take resources for patients and give it to them instead of throwing it away and that’s why it was so infuriating,” he said. The doctor, who headed up HCPHD's first COVID-19 vaccine rollout, said there was no protocol for what to do with leftover vaccine. Instead, he chose to follow what the Texas Department of State Health Services suggests frontline workers do with doses at risk of expiring.

Top of Page

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - September 19, 2021

Fire at Georgetown pet resort kills all 75 dogs inside Saturday night

A pet boarding facility caught fire Saturday night in Georgetown, killing all 75 dogs inside and raising a number of questions investigators vowed to answer in the days ahead. Just before 11 p.m., crews with the Georgetown Fire Department were dispatched after receiving calls about a fire at the Ponderosa Pet Resort. The facility is east of Interstate 35 on North Austin Avenue. Fire Chief John Sullivan said firefighters arrived within five minutes and discovered "the worst possible scenario," with heavy smoke and the presence of fire. No people were present.

Speaking to reporters from KVUE and other media outlets Sunday morning, Sullivan said he did not know what caused the fire or where in the building it originated. He said those answers could come in another week or so. He did note that the boarding facility is not required by local, state or federal laws to have a sprinkler system due to the size and use of the building. At that time, Sullivan said he did not have a breakdown of the different types of animals that were present when the blaze erupted. Later in the day, the city released a statement saying all of the animals killed were dogs and that arrangements are being made for owners to retrieve the remains. The resort's owner, Phillip Paris, did not respond to a message Sunday seeking comment. The city's statement said Paris is cooperating with the investigation. According to the city's statement, the dogs probably died of smoke inhalation, not burns.

Top of Page

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

SAWS closer to controlling where treated wastewater it discharges goes

A permit application submitted in 2013 by the San Antonio Water System to control 50,000 acre-feet of treated water per year discharged into the San Antonio River is in the approval process’s final stages. And the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority is still seeking to derail it. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has issued a draft “Bed and Banks” permit that SAWS has sought for environmental and economic purposes. In Texas, groundwater is privately owned while surface water belongs to the state, and such a permit authorizes the use a stream’s beds and banks to transport water.

If granted, the permit would allow the city-owned water company to maintain control of water withdrawn from the Edwards Aquifer after it’s used and discharged into the San Antonio River as treated effluent — in essence, using the river as a natural pipeline to move that water downstream. SAWS’ Bed and Banks permit application is unique in that unlike other permit holders that move treated water downstream for irrigation, SAWS is seeking to safeguard its water from being withdrawn by others. During very dry periods, the San Antonio River can reach low levels that threaten its downstream ecosystem, the San Antonio Bay and estuaries along the coast. For several years, SAWS has voluntarily discharged treated water into the river — critical to maintaining its health when its flow is reduced. But there’s no legal protection to ensure the water remains instream, said Greg Eckhardt, a senior analyst with production and treatment operations at SAWS. “Anyone downstream could divert the water for their own purposes,” Eckhardt said. If approved, SAWS’ permit will protect this flow all the way to the bay in perpetuity. “We just want to make sure we have ownership and control over all existing and future discharges of our groundwater,” Eckhardt said.

Top of Page

Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2021

Austin's jobless rate falls to 3.8%, lowest since pandemic began

In the latest sign that Austin's economic recovery from COVID-19 is pushing ahead, the area's unemployment rate last month fell to its lowest point since the pandemic hit. The jobless rate in the Austin metro area came in at 3.8% in August, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That's down from 4.2% in July and 5.5% in August 2020. The metro area numbers are from Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Employers in the region added 1,400 jobs last month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, bringing total nonfarm employment to 1.24 million — about even with the number of people employed in the Austin area in February 2020, just before COVID-19 pummeled the economy nationwide.

Nearly 140,000 local nonfarm jobs were shed in March and April last year amid the initial shock of the pandemic. Austin's current jobless rate signals how far the recovery has come since last year, when unemployment hit a pandemic peak of about 12% in April 2020. After that peak, the jobless rate spent months hovering in a monthly range of about 5% to 6% — roughly double pre-pandemic levels since the area's jobless rate had been 2.6% in February 2020. The Austin metro area's unemployment rate remains below Texas and national rates, which both stand at 5.3%, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The rapid comeback in comparison with past downturns is not surprising, said Ray Perryman, an economist based in Waco. The pandemic "was an entirely different animal" because there were no big speculative bubbles or structural issues that are seen in a typical downturn. Austin's jobless rate falls to 3.8%, lowest since pandemic began Lori Hawkins Austin American-Statesman In the latest sign that Austin's economic recovery from COVID-19 is pushing ahead, the area's unemployment rate last month fell to its lowest point since the pandemic hit. The jobless rate in the Austin metro area came in at 3.8% in August, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. That's down from 4.2% in July and 5.5% in August 2020. The metro area numbers are from Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties. Employers in the region added 1,400 jobs last month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, bringing total nonfarm employment to 1.24 million — about even with the number of people employed in the Austin area in February 2020, just before COVID-19 pummeled the economy nationwide. More:Texas economy faces hurdles, but growth still in the forecast More:Austin's jobless rate fell to 4.2% in July, lowest since COVID struck More:$180 million project envisioned for Hill's Cafe site in South Austin Floor manager Casey Langford, left, and owner Suzy Ranney, stock shelves at Paper Place on North Lamar Boulevard. Austin's unemployment rate fell to 3.8% in August. A tight job market has put pressure on employers to raise wages, economists say. Nearly 140,000 local nonfarm jobs were shed in March and April last year amid the initial shock of the pandemic. Austin's current jobless rate signals how far the recovery has come since last year, when unemployment hit a pandemic peak of about 12% in April 2020. After that peak, the jobless rate spent months hovering in a monthly range of about 5% to 6% — roughly double pre-pandemic levels since the area's jobless rate had been 2.6% in February 2020. The Austin metro area's unemployment rate remains below Texas and national rates, which both stand at 5.3%, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The rapid comeback in comparison with past downturns is not surprising, said Ray Perryman, an economist based in Waco. The pandemic "was an entirely different animal" because there were no big speculative bubbles or structural issues that are seen in a typical downturn. "Obviously, this report is encouraging overall," Perryman said. "The state and the Austin area continue to gain jobs, and the growth is relatively diverse. The strength in business and professional services is a distinct positive aspect of the report, as it indicates that offices are opening and resuming more normal activity." However, the outlook will depend on whether the COVID-19 delta variant can be brought under control, he said.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

San Antonio community icon Joe Webb Sr. dies at 86

Joe Webb Sr., a former San Antonio city councilman and longtime community leader on the East Side, died Saturday. He was 86 years old. Webb died of complications from kidney failure at Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, according to his son, Vincent Dee Webb of San Antonio. He served as District 2 city councilman from 1977 through 1991 and was the first official elected to that seat, after the city council elections went from at-large seats to 10 districts to ensure equal representation. Webb also opened the city’s first Black-owned, full-service grocery store, WebbWay, at 2145 E. Houston St. in the early 1980s, said his niece, Lisa Jackson of San Antonio. Described as the “people's man,” Webb was known to talk with constituents over the counter of his store and make the rounds of East Side churches.

Webb also helped establish the city’s famous Martin Luther King Jr. March, one of the largest in the nation. And he helped to secure the Alamodome, his family said. In 1992, the city renamed the Durango Bridge after him, which is still known today as the Joe Webb Bridge. “Uncle Joe and all of those of his generation are icons,” Jackson said Sunday. “And they are standard bearers ... So when you look back at Uncle Joe, you smile — you have pride. We had actual leadership during that period of time, which we’re severely lacking today. Uncle Joe was a groundbreaking leader.” She noted her uncle regularly engaged with people face to face, shook their hands and rode the bus. Webb’s death is “the passing of an era,” Jackson said. “There’s a passing of responsibility — of community responsibility.” Webb and his colleagues on the City Council “weren’t career politicians,” she said. “They weren’t making speeches for soundbites, and they weren’t putting up polls for clicks and likes and followers. They actually had to do the work in the community to earn the vote and to lead the people.” Webb is survived by his wife, Barbara, and four children.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: SA Council freshmen rebel against the city budget process

City Council budget-approval sessions tend to be predictable and dull. Council members inevitably praise city staff for all their hard work and express pride over the new budget, which they describe as a righteous document. This year was different. The council has four new members and three of them — Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, Teri Castillo and Mario Bravo — are insurgents elevated to the dais by progressives, with the understanding that their mission is to disrupt complacency, shake up the protocol, challenge old assumptions and afflict the comfortable. At both Wednesday’s final budgetary work session and Thursday’s budget-approval session, the three freshmen were in their full glory.

McKee-Rodriguez, a former high-school math teacher, employed his arithmetic skills to argue against the proposed $15 million increase in the city’s police budget, a hike of more than 3 percent. The East Side councilman pointed out that if the city increased its police funding by 3 percent annually over the next decade, in 10 years we’d be facing a police budget $172 million bigger than where it currently stands. Given that a recent state law all but negated the possibility of big cities reducing their police budgets, even small annual increases essentially become locked in and irreversible. McKee-Rodriguez introduced a budget amendment that would have trimmed $5.7 million from the proposed police budget increase, with the thought that the funding could be used to give residents property tax relief. It was a small gesture, an attempt to repurpose less than half of 1 percent of San Antonio’s general-fund budget. But its bigger purpose was to break the chain of municipal rote thinking when it comes to police funding. McKee-Rodriguez’s amendment failed by an 8-3 vote. Unsurprisingly, the three votes of support came from McKee-Rodriguez, Bravo and Castillo.

Top of Page

KUT - September 17, 2021

Ideology, not access, is keeping people from getting vaccinated, Austin Health officials say

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the Austin area were on the decline earlier this week, but health officials say those numbers appear to be plateauing, or leveling off — a sign the community needs to redouble its efforts to slow the spread of the virus. The five-county region is seeing an average of 55 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per day, down from a peak of 84 in mid-August. Still, that number keeps Austin in Stage 5, the highest level of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines. “We are close to that Stage 4 threshold, and we can do it again by continuing to do what we know works,” Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said during a news conference Friday. “Wearing masks, getting vaccinated, staying home when we’re sick, and if we do test positive, getting in touch with a health care provider and seeing if we’re eligible for monoclonal antibody therapy.”

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the region is at 537, which is down from the all-time-high of 653 on Aug. 25. But the number of people in intensive care units continues to exceed the region’s ICU-bed capacity. Walkes said the region — which consists of Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties — has an ICU capacity of 200 beds. As of Thursday, though, the region had 229 ICU patients. That's causing congestion at hospitals, Walkes said; people are being cared for in unconventional spaces and patients are waiting for care on stretchers in hallways. Walkes said COVID-19 patients are needing to stay in the ICU longer than during previous surges because of the delta variant, which is causing more severe disease than previous variants. Health care providers have been stretching their staff and resources to meet the demand of COVID-19 patients, the majority of whom are not vaccinated, she said. But the high number of patients means people with other health issues, like strokes and heart attacks, are having to wait to get the help they need, which can be fatal. “We’re reaching that point where we … [are] assessing who needs to have the care first and where they need to be in order to have that care,” Walkes said. Nine months after COVID-19 vaccines were introduced into the Austin community, health officials are continuing to implore people to get vaccinated. Just under 70% of people eligible for the vaccine in Travis County are fully vaccinated against the virus. But surrounding counties, which also rely on Austin’s hospital systems, have lower rates.

Top of Page

National Stories

Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Senate parliamentarian rules against immigration measure in budget bill

The Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Democrats’ bid to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants through a $3.5 trillion budget package — which would have allowed them to leverage their slim majority to overcome Republican opposition — is “not appropriate” for that type of measure. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan arbiter of the Senate’s rules, advised against including immigration in the budget bill more than a week after she heard arguments from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Her decision is a blow to Democrats’ plans to create a path to legal residency, and then U.S. citizenship, for as many as 8 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, including many who have lived here for years. The last major legalization was a bipartisan bill signed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.

MacDonough had to decide whether giving citizenship to immigrants was primarily a budget matter, enough to merit being included in the proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which would require a simple majority to pass the Senate instead of the usual 60-vote threshold. That normal process would require GOP support. But she found that granting legal residency to millions of immigrants would be a “tremendous and enduring policy change that dwarfs its budgetary impact.” She warned that such a move would “set a precedent” that could also expose any immigrant to losing their legal status through the same type of legislation. “That would be a stunning development but a logical outgrowth of permitting this proposed change in reconciliation and is further evidence that the policy changes of this proposal far outweigh the budgetary impact scored to it and it is not appropriate for inclusion in reconciliation,” she wrote. Her ruling could foreclose legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants via the budget reconciliation package, which progressive Democrats have said they want to pass together with a bipartisan infrastructure package.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 20, 2021

Biden seeks a phone call with France’s Macron to calm the waters

President Biden is pressing to set up a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron in coming days, U.S. officials said Sunday, hoping to end a frantic stretch of public snubs and behind-the-scenes exchanges between the two allies. The two leaders have not spoken since French leaders erupted last week at Biden’s announcement that the United States was forming a new defense alliance with Australia and the United Kingdom focused on the Indo-Pacific. As part of the deal, the United States will share nuclear submarine technology with Australia, prompting the Australians to drop a $66 billion submarine contract with France. U.S. officials acknowledged Sunday that they have been surprised by the strength of France’s reaction, which included abruptly recalling its ambassador from Washington last week. They privately attributed the spat largely to internal French politics as Macron seeks reelection but said they were nonetheless working urgently to tamp down the flare-up and avoid further inflaming a close ally.

One U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said national security adviser Jake Sullivan met face to face with French Ambassador Phillipe Etienne on Thursday and Friday. Friday’s visit was to inform Sullivan of the ambassador’s immediate recall, and Etienne left Washington hours later. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, attempted to set up a phone call with his French counterpart, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, to describe the U.S.-U.K.-Australia deal before it was announced, but American officials said the French told them that they were unable to schedule a call. Officials at the White House and State Department predicted that relations would warm up again after the French have made their displeasure known, saying they expected the French ambassador to return to Washington in the coming weeks. One French official said the recall for consultations was likely to last at least a week. The ambassador’s departure “should not be interpreted as a major rift in the bilateral relationship,” said one U.S. official, who spoke on the anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Paris also recalled its ambassador to Australia. U.S. officials noted that the collapse of the submarine deal is a significant economic blow to France’s important defense industry, suggesting that the French government had to signal its frustration to the country’s voters. “It’s a difficult situation, but we’ll manage it,” the U.S. official said.

Top of Page

NBC News - September 20, 2021

Trump won these counties big. His supporters question the results there, too.

Former President Donald Trump won Mesa County, Colorado, by 28 points in last fall's election. In Barry County, Michigan, he won by more than 32 points. And in Lander County, Nevada, his victory was in excess of 61 points. Yet in each county, Republican officials have sought to further investigate those results and, in some cases, suggested they may not be accurate. That's despite no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election there or elsewhere. With denial of President Joe Biden's victory at the core of the pro-Trump movement, demands for partisan election investigations styled after the one authorized by Republicans in Arizona — focused in a county Biden won — have proliferated. Now, a push to revisit November's results is underway or being called for in at least nine counties Trump won by more than 24 points.

The trend is symptomatic of the increasingly entrenched idea among the Trump base that elections are rigged and not to be trusted — a lie Trump continues to vigorously promote and which has become a litmus test for GOP officials at all levels of government. A recent CNN poll found that nearly 6-in-10 Republicans say believing this false claim is important to their partisan identity. Some county officials have taken increasingly irregular steps to probe the prior election while others face pressure at rowdy local government meetings from groups demanding such investigations. Experts say this is another flashing red light for the state of U.S. elections. The growing trend of unorthodox election reviews "demonstrates that the Big Lie is getting bigger," Jena Griswold, a Democrat who serves as Colorado's secretary of state, told NBC News, referring to Trump's baseless and unceasing claims that massive fraud prevented him from winning a second term. "The threat to democracy is increasing." The county efforts are happening on a parallel track to partisan reviews launched by or in conjunction with state legislatures in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, reviews that largely stray from typical vote-auditing procedure and have sometimes involved private firms with little relevant experience or expertise. Partially for those reasons, these reviews in solidly red counties have not been immune to skepticism from fellow local GOP officials — including those who run elections.

Top of Page

NBC News - September 20, 2021

Pfizer says its COVID vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11

Pfizer-BioNTech said on Monday that the companies' two-dose Covid-19 vaccine was safe and showed a "robust" antibody response in children ages 5 to 11. Based on data collected in a trial that included more than 2,000 children, Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, said in a press release that the vaccine was "safe, well-tolerated, and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses" for this age group. No Covid vaccines have yet been authorized or approved for use in children under 12. According to Pfizer-BioNTech, the children in the trial were given two smaller doses of the vaccine than those given to people 12 and older. The companies said that it produced antibody responses, and side effects, in children that were comparable to those seen in a study of people 16 to 25 who received the full dose of the vaccine.

More than 466.5 million Covid vaccine doses have been given in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech is one of three in use in the U.S., along with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Around 12.7 million children under the age of 18, or around 54 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds, have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics analysis of CDC data as of Sept. 15. In August, the AAP recommended against giving the vaccine to children under 12 until it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer-BioNTech said they will now submit their data from the trial to the FDA for emergency use authorization. They are also testing the vaccine in children under five and expect results from that trial by the end of the year. Pfizer first applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine for adults in November. The FDA granted full approval to the two-dose vaccine in August for those ages 16 and up. It was the first Covid vaccine to pass this final regulatory hurdle. The vaccine is currently given to 12-to-15-year-olds under the FDA's emergency use authorization. The news comes as Covid cases have surged in the U.S. in recent months. In total, nearly 5.3 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for Covid since the onset of the pandemic, or around 15 percent of all cases as of Sept. 9, according to the AAP. More than 243,000 cases were added that week alone, the second highest number of child cases recorded in a week since the pandemic began. Concerned with rising cases in children, the head of the AAP wrote in August to the FDA to work "aggressively" toward authorizing a Covid vaccine for children under age 12. Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, whose Covid vaccines are in use in the U.S., are also researching the effects of their Covid vaccines in pediatric trials.

Top of Page

CNBC - September 17, 2021

After years of being ‘squeaky clean,’ the Federal Reserve is surrounded by controversy

The Federal Reserve has a big meeting on tap this week, one that will be held under the cloud of an ethical dilemma and will be run by a policymaking committee that finds itself with fairly pronounced divisions about the path ahead. Markets largely expect the Fed to follow the two-day session with no major decisions, but rather just the first but significant nods that the historically easy pandemic-era accommodation is coming to an end soon if slowly. “Tapering” will be the word of the day when the post-meeting statement is issued Wednesday, at which time individual officials also will release their forecasts on the future arc of interest rates as well as economic growth and inflation. All of that will be set against a backdrop of controversy: News reports in recent days indicate that Fed officials have been trading stocks and bonds that could be influenced at least indirectly by their policy decisions.

For the normally staid Fed, the present circumstances are unusual and could yield some interesting dynamics. “I think it’s embarrassing for the Fed. It had such a squeaky-clean reputation,” Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF Investments, said of the trading controversy that largely involved regional presidents Robert Kaplan of Dallas and Eric Rosengren of Boston. “But I don’t think it’s going to change policy in any regard at all. I think it will be rearview mirror pretty soon, assuming there’s no other shoe to drop.” Valliere did note the issue will help fuel Fed critics such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who had been a vocal detractor of the Fed’s looser regulatory approach in the years since the 2008-09 financial crisis. More than that, though, the Fed lives on its credibility, and some of the recent problems could dent that. There’s the market credibility issue – Wall Street and investors need to believe that the Fed is at least mostly unified in its monetary policy approach to setting interest rates and associated moves that have market impact. Then there’s the public credibility – at a time when faith in Washington’s institutions has plunged, ethical missteps only add to that and can have repercussions, especially at such a delicate time.

Top of Page

NPR - September 19, 2021

How Ivermectin became the new focus of the anti-vaccine movement

Through July and August, Julie Smith watched her husband Jeffrey get worse and worse from COVID-19. In early July, the healthy, 51-year-old outdoorsman had tested positive for the coronavirus. Within a week, he was admitted to the intensive care unit at a hospital near their home, in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio. The hospital treated him with antiviral drugs, convalescent plasma and steroids, but he continued to decline. Weeks later he was on a ventilator, in a medically induced coma — "on death's doorstep," Smith wrote in a legal complaint filed August 20. Smith felt the hospital had given up on her husband, but she could not, according to the complaint. After doing research on the internet, she sued the hospital to require it to treat her husband with ivermectin — an inexpensive anti-parasitic drug that's been used to cure animals and people from worms and lice since the 1980s. U.S. health authorities and most doctors do not recommend using it to prevent or treat COVID-19, citing a lack of clear evidence on whether the drug works.

Yet myths and beliefs around the drug have taken on a life of their own, fueled by a small group of doctors whose views diverge from the medical consensus, by right wing commentators and by internet groups where people share tips on sourcing and dosing. That people like Smith, and a handful of other families of COVID-19 patients, are turning to the courts to enforce treatment with the drug, shows how heated the debate over ivermectin has come to be in the U.S. "There's misinformation on both sides," says Jennifer Granston, head of insights at Zignal Labs, a firm that conducts data analysis on internet trends. She cited inflated, unsubstantiated claims of both the drug's efficacy and its harms. "At the end of the day, does this medication help COVID patients or does it not? That's a scientific issue." How did a science question about the efficacy of an inexpensive, everyday drug become an inflamed public morality debate — where people on both sides believe the wrong position could cost lives? It's a tale that spans science and politics, pitting health officials against celebrities and communal responsibilities against individual rights. And it's a debate that public health experts worry could prolong the pandemic, as individuals forgo vaccines and proven prevention measures and instead take up alternative treatments that may not be effective.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

North Texas is ground zero for looming fight over how to draw legislative, congressional boundaries

State lawmakers Monday are convening to redraw Texas’ legislation and congressional boundaries, an exercise that will likely bolster the Republican dominance in the state, and—if history is a guide—lead to lawsuits that will claim that the new maps are discriminatory. North Texas is an important region in the process. The area could get one of the two new congressional districts earmarked for the fast-growing state. Additionally, the makeup of the area’s delegation to the Legislature could change, since Republicans are looking to expand their majorities in the House and Senate. Expect a big fight over Senate District 10, where incumbent Democrat Beverly Powell of Burleson is in a seat that Senate Republicans are trying to make more favorable for the GOP. On Saturday, Senate officials released a tentative plan that gives the GOP a chance of at least 19 and potentially 20 seats in the 31-member upper chamber. The proposed new boundaries make it nearly impossible for Powell to get elected. Republicans hold a 18-13 advantage in the Senate.

“The proposed State Senate map is a direct assault on the voting rights of minority citizens in Senate District 10 and, if adopted, it would be an intentional act of discrimination,” Powell said Saturday in a statement. She pointed out that the new proposal would disenfranchise Black, Hispanic and Asian voters that currently have a strong voice in the district. In order to make Senate District 10 a GOP district, Republicans have proposed removing Black and Hispanic voters in the south, east and north to nearby districts, where their voting clout would be diminished. If the plan is approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, voting rights activists will pursue legal action. The new Senate proposal also bolsters Collin County’s Senate District 8 for the GOP, which would help incumbent Republican Angela Paxton of McKinney. Because of demographic shifts, that district had been trending in favor of Democrats. Republicans are expected to fortify House districts in Dallas County, if that’s still possible. Dallas County could lose a House seat because of a population dip and suburban growth in other counties. That could mean a new district elsewhere, perhaps Collin County.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Abbott’s right turn deflates GOP rivals but opens door for O’Rourke, McConaughey: News/UT-Tyler poll

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has kept conservative primary challengers at bay by tacking hard right on abortion, the border, mask and vaccine mandates, guns and critical race theory. But the strategy has come at a high price. His overall support is plunging, potentially leaving him vulnerable to the likes of actor Matthew McConaughey and former congressman Beto O’Rourke, according to a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler. A whopping 54% of Texans surveyed think the state is on the wrong track. Just 41% approve of the governor’s job performance. The poll on state and political issues was conducted Sept. 7-14. It surveyed 1,148 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. In the past two months, McConaughey has gone from slightly behind to 9 percentage points ahead of Abbott in a hypothetical match-up, and O’Rourke has cut the governor’s lead from 12 points to five. As the state death toll from COVID-19 tops 60,000, Texans are unhappy about many things.

The causes Abbott has championed to endear himself to conservatives and survive the primary have also hardened opposition against him. “So many issues are on the table,” said pollster Mark Owens, a political scientist at UT-Tyler. “The collective attention of what the state is doing and leading the country on is not even confined to just one message.” Abbott’s far-ranging 2021 agenda includes a legally provocative ban on abortions as early as six weeks, a dream come true for social conservatives, and a $1 billion commitment of state funds for border wall construction, sure to please Donald Trump and his followers. The governor’s political fortunes are entwined with these and other equally divisive initiatives. Of poll respondents who support the right to carry a gun without a permit, or Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, two-thirds think Texas is on the right track. It’s 3-in-5 among those who support Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates, or the abortion ban. On the other side, nearly everyone (83%) who disapproves of Abbott’s job performance thinks Texas is on the wrong track. Of Texans who oppose spending state revenue on a border wall, 74% say Texas is on the wrong track. Even 29% of Abbott supporters are in that camp. “I don’t know where the bottom is on this,” said Owens. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the country in March 2020, Abbott’s approval rating was 59%. It’s been dropping since January and is now at a rock-bottom 41%. The hard-right agenda has alienated a critical swing bloc. Abbott’s approval among independents has dropped from 53% early last year to just 30% in the new poll — a perilous low. “The man is a complete idiot. He’s not listening to scientific results [and] he’s initiated his own little war,” said Walter Story, 51, an independent and former paramedic from Sulphur Springs east of Dallas.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 18, 2021

Alan Braid: Why I violated Texas’s extreme abortion ban

(Alan Braid is a physician who provides abortion care in San Antonio.) Newly graduated from the University of Texas medical school, I began my obstetrics and gynecology residency at a San Antonio hospital on July 1, 1972. At the time, abortion was effectively illegal in Texas — unless a psychiatrist certified a woman was suicidal. If the woman had money, we’d refer her to clinics in Colorado, California or New York. The rest were on their own. Some traveled across the border to Mexico. At the hospital that year, I saw three teenagers die from illegal abortions. One I will never forget. When she came into the ER, her vaginal cavity was packed with rags. She died a few days later from massive organ failure, caused by a septic infection. In medical school in Texas, we’d been taught that abortion was an integral part of women’s health care. When the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, recognizing abortion as a constitutional right, it enabled me to do the job I was trained to do.

For the next 45 years — not including the two years I was away in the Air Force — I was a practicing OB/GYN in Texas, conducting Pap smears, pelvic exams and pregnancy check-ups; delivering more than 10,000 babies; and providing abortion care at clinics I opened in Houston and San Antonio, and another in Oklahoma. Then, this month, everything changed. A new Texas law, known as S.B. 8, virtually banned any abortion beyond about the sixth week of pregnancy. It shut down about 80 percent of the abortion services we provide. Anyone who suspects I have violated the new law can sue me for at least $10,000. They could also sue anybody who helps a person obtain an abortion past the new limit, including, apparently, the driver who brings a patient to my clinic. For me, it is 1972 all over again. And that is why, on the morning of Sept. 6, I provided an abortion to a woman who, though still in her first trimester, was beyond the state’s new limit. I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care. I fully understood that there could be legal consequences — but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested. Though we never ask why someone has come to our clinic, they often tell us. They’re finishing school or they already have three children, they’re in an abusive relationship, or it’s just not time. A majority are mothers. Most are between 18 and 30. Many are struggling financially — more than half qualify for some form of financial aid from us.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - September 19, 2021

Natural-gas prices surge, and winter is still months away

It is supposed to be offseason for demand, and prices haven’t climbed so high since blizzards froze the Northeast in early 2014. Analysts say that it might not have to get that cold this winter for prices to reach heights unknown during the shale era, which transformed the U.S. from a gas importer to supplier to the world. Rock-bottom gas prices have been a reliable feature of the U.S. economy since the financial crisis. Gas crashed and never recovered thanks to the abundance extracted with sideways drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Gas is burned to generate electricity and heat homes and to make plastic, steel and fertilizer. A substantial and sustained increase in price would be felt from households to heavy industry.

Stocks have already gotten a lift from $5 gas. Energy has been the best performing sector in the S&P 500 stock index in September and one of only two that are up this month. Monetary-policy makers often exclude energy prices when they gauge inflation because the prices move around so much. Even so, rising natural-gas prices are another factor for investors trying to tease out whether higher materials costs will fade or are here to stay. The Federal Reserve’s monetary-policy meeting Wednesday headlines the week ahead for investors. They will look for signs that the Fed will begin tapering bond purchases after its November meeting as well as indications that more officials believe that short-term interest rates can be raised by the end of next year. Also in the coming week, rental-home firm Invitation Homes Inc. , apartment owner UDR Inc. and other landlords will update investors on rents, occupancy and return-to-work at a big real-estate conference. Home builders KB Home and Lennar Corp. , which have faced higher materials costs, are part of a busy week of corporate earnings: Nike Inc. , Costco Wholesale Corp. , FedEx Corp. , Darden Restaurants Inc. and General Mills Inc. are scheduled to report and shed light on input expenses and consumer behavior.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

'Out of breath': Oversight of hazardous Texas concrete plant emissions comes to a head

Imelda Sanchez tries not to go outside if she doesn’t have to. Dust from the nearby Martin Marietta batch concrete plant in Kirby cakes on her windows, settles on cars and powders the water she stores in a bucket in the garage. Sanchez, 63, blames it for a deep cough that tightens her chest. “Even walking down to the street,” she said, “I feel out of breath.” With more than two dozen such plants that supply wet concrete ready to be poured in the San Antonio area, and more than 1,300 across Texas, many residential neighborhoods like hers live with the dust they generate. But it’s more than a nuisance. It contains tiny particles that can be hazardous to people’s health. Crystalline silica, a mineral present in the cement and other materials at batch plants, has been linked to lung disease, chronic respiratory problems and silicosis. Whether the concentration of airborne silica in neighborhoods such as Sanchez’s is high enough to endanger human health hasn’t been established. Plant operators do not monitor silica emissions. Nor does Texas’ environmental regulator.

For years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the material doesn’t need to be regulated at batch plants, and for that reason, the state historically did not require plant operators to monitor the air for silica. That changed, at least on paper, in 2012 when the TCEQ inadvertently removed an exemption for silica. Technically, the plants have been required to eliminate silica from their emissions since then. But no plants in Texas are known to have done so, and the TCEQ has not enforced the requirement. The industry maintains it’s impossible to produce concrete without releasing silica particles. The matter will be back before the TCEQ on Sept. 22, when it is expected to decide whether to restore the exemption or impose limits on silica emissions that could affect a $10 billion industry. For Sanchez and her husband, whose house is less than 250 yards from the concrete plant, the issue comes down not to money but to dust. “Is someone going to do something about this?” she asked. Concrete batch plants are popping up throughout Texas to meet demand spurred by development in the nation’s fastest-growing state. The number of applications for air quality permits for batch plants rose 25 percent from 2014 to 2019, according to the Texas Tribune. Of the 27 permits in Bexar County, 12 were applied for in the last five years, according to the TCEQ. The plants are operated by companies that include Martin Marietta Inc., a nationwide supplier of building materials based in Raleigh, N.C.; Alabama-based Vulcan Materials Co.; and Alamo Concrete Products Ltd. Concrete batch plants combine cement, air and materials such as sand and gravel in large drums. The material is loaded into trucks, mixed with water and transported to construction sites.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Federal rationing threatens Texas supply of Regeneron COVID treatment, a key to Abbott's plan

Accessing a critical COVID-19 therapy could soon be tougher in Texas as the federal government moves to ration the treatment amid the spread of new variants. The Biden administration is taking over distribution of monoclonal antibodies, returning to the system that had been in place until vaccines became readily available and infections began to plummet this year. It also purchased 1.4 million additional doses. Under the old system, the federal government had been doling out doses to states based on need, and states were then responsible for distributing them. The administration had until recently been allowing hospitals and other health care centers to order directly from manufacturers, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department would initiate a review of any individual site that ordered more than 50 doses to make sure none were hoarding.

But with the highly contagious delta variant continuing to spread nationally, demand for the treatment has soared, with concerns that it could soon outstrip supply. By last week, the vast majority of doses — 70 percent — were going to just seven Southern states where COVID cases are still high and vaccination rates are low, including Texas. “The recent increase in the prevalence of the delta variant coupled with low vaccination rates in certain areas of the country resulted in a substantial (20-fold) increase in the ordering and utilization of (monoclonal antibodies) since mid-July,” the federal health services agency said in a statement. “Just seven states accounted for about 70 percent of our monoclonal antibody ordering. Given this reality, we must work to ensure our supply of these lifesaving therapies remains available for all states and territories, not just some.” Under the new model — and a 50 percent bump in allocations that President Joe Biden ordered this month — Texas and Florida are still getting far more doses than other states. Texas received 23,640 doses this week, behind only Florida, which received 30,950. Georgia received the third most, 9,920. The Biden administration has been working to increase the total number of available doses by 50 percent this month, from 100,000 per week in early August to 150,000 per week currently. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, a critic of the administration’s pandemic response, said he sent a letter to the health agency demanding more information and was expecting to be briefed on the rationing Friday afternoon.

Top of Page

State Stories

Politico - September 17, 2021

Sarah Isgur: Why Republicans are scared of Texas’ new abortion ban

(Sarah Isgur is a graduate of Harvard Law School who clerked on the Fifth Circuit. She was Justice Department spokeswoman during the Trump administration and is the host of the legal podcast Advisory Opinions for the Dispatch.) When the Supreme Court allowed Texas’ 6-week abortion law to stand earlier this month, it was presented as a major victory for anti-abortion conservatives. After all, Republican state legislators in deep red states have long been passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws, only to see many later get struck down in the courts. Finally, one law got through (at least for now). But if it’s the victory conservatives were hoping for, why aren’t high-profile Republicans celebrating it? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell — never one to shy away from a political fight — had only this to say about the Supreme Court’s ruling: “I think it was a highly technical decision.” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee who oversees the platform for the party, was out within hours declaring that she would challenge the legality of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate, yet has been totally silent on the Texas abortion case — as well as the Biden Justice Department’s decision to challenge the law. Even most of Texas’ congressional delegation remained silent on the new abortion legislation.

For decades, Republican state lawmakers have been able to vote for and pass highly restrictive abortion laws without living through the political consequences, because the laws were typically enjoined by the courts before they ever took effect. The politicians got to check the pro-life box important to a segment of their voters without their constituents ever living under those strict laws. This kept the political backlash to their votes to a minimum. This month, the Supreme Court called these legislators’ bluff by letting the Texas abortion law stand. Now the most restrictive abortion law in the country is under the political microscope and Republicans in Washington are being uncharacteristically quiet — at least in part because they sense that this law will do more to motivate the opposition than it will to rally the faithful. Already, the Democrats can’t stop talking about it. After a brutal August that mired the Biden White House in one bad news cycle after another, the Supreme Court’s decision on Texas was like rain breaking a long drought for Democratic operatives. The issue allowed Democrats to unite their warring factions on the Hill, moved the news cycle off wall-to-wall coverage of Biden’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal, and raised money for Democratic candidates. If larger historical trends hold, Republicans would be favored to win back the House in 2022, but the question now is whether anti-abortion advocates just handed a beleaguered White House the key to energizing their pro-abortion rights voters and potentially staving off a GOP landslide. By finding a legal loophole that allowed the Texas law to go into effect, did they win the battle but lose the war?

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Most Texans oppose gerrymandering, disagree that party in power should be able to rig political maps

A majority of Texans are against gerrymandering, disagreeing that a party in power should be able to intentionally draw political maps to favor one party, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. With the Republican-controlled state Legislature beginning the redistricting process on Monday, 54% of Texans of all political stripes opposed allowing partisan map manipulation. On the other hand, 22% agreed the majority party should call the shots. The poll, conducted Sept. 7-14, surveyed 1,148 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points. It surveyed Texas voters on a wide range of state and political issues. “The public is not looking for a redistricting process that’s going to point to Democrats being excluded from meetings, or those communities led by Democrats being split up into multiple different districts,” said pollster Mark Owens, who teaches political science at UT-Tyler.

The poll showed Texans preferred an independent commission to draw the maps, a polarizing process that typically leads to court battles. Texas must add two new U.S. House districts and redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries after the release of new population data from the U.S. Census. Republicans currently command the Legislature, meaning they run the redistricting process. Asked whom they would trust most to determine the district boundaries, 36% of registered voters preferred an independent commission and 20% preferred the state Legislature. “Voters might have a little less trust in state legislatures, which in the past have shown aspects of partisan gerrymandering,” Owens said. “Some additional checks and balances are what the voters want to see.” Fairness is a primary concern for voters, Owens said, noting that 42% of those who didn’t know who they want to run the redistricting process disagreed that the outcome should favor one party intentionally. Among voters who most trusted the independent commission — which Texas does not have – 35% preferred, of the other available options, a panel of federal judges to draw the maps. The Legislature was favored by 12% of those voters, with 29% preferring a board of statewide elected officials. A lawsuit filed earlier this month by two Democratic state senators seeks to have judges create interim redistricting plans, forcing the Legislature to wait to draw its maps until the next regular session in 2023.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 19, 2021

Paxton stalls under ethics cloud, Texans unenthused on Cruz or Abbott presidential bid: News poll

One of the state’s most embattled politicians is treading water in a new poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler. An endorsement from Donald Trump in late July provided no meaningful bump for Ken Paxton as he seeks a third term as Texas attorney general. Nor did the report Paxton’s own office released a month ago purporting to clear him of bribery and abuse of office allegations that prompted an FBI investigation. Fewer than half of Republican voters polled (48%) say Paxton has the integrity to serve in the job he’s held since January 2015. That’s actually up 3 points from earlier in the summer. But doubts about Paxton’s integrity are rising, among Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. Paxton has been under indictment on charges that he violated state securities law for his entire tenure, and the FBI probe began after former aides accused him of illegally helping a campaign donor.

Even so, he holds a commanding 43-28 lead in the GOP primary over Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman trails far behind at 5%. Paxton was at 42% just before the Trump endorsement, so that didn’t help much — except perhaps to muddy the waters. Bush was the only member of his prominent family to embrace Trump, and after the ex-president’s snub, he dropped 6 points. But this may be Paxton’s high-water mark. Most of the support Bush lost flowed into the undecided column. Only 1 in 4 undecided GOP voters approve of Paxton’s job performance, and most think he lacks the integrity needed to serve as Texas’ top lawyer. “I don’t really think much of him at all,” said Austin independent Christopher Clark, 48. “He exonerated himself?” And he added, “I’m generally turned off by all super-conservative tea partyists.” Two Texas Republicans may be eyeing higher office: Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Greg Abbott. But the voters who know them best — Texas GOP primary voters — aren’t keen on seeing either of them run for president in 2024. Cruz was Donald Trump’s runner-up for the GOP nomination in 2016 and has already visited Iowa this year, helping GOP congressional candidates in the state that hosts the first presidential contest every four years.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

More than 60,000 Texans have now died from coronavirus

A year and a half after Texas reported its first death from COVID-19, more than 60,000 Texans have now died from the coronavirus. The state reported 377 deaths Friday, raising its toll to 60,357. California is the only other state to have more residents — about 67,000 — die from the virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Texas ranks 24th among the states in deaths relative to population, with its 206 deaths per 100,000 residents slightly above the national average of 201. Mississippi’s 306 deaths for every 100,000 residents is the nation’s highest rate, while Vermont’s 45 is the lowest.

The state’s deaths have largely occurred in three waves: last summer, this winter and now, as the highly contagious delta variant of the virus spreads mostly through residents who have not gotten vaccinated. But the toll — higher than the population of Euless — averages out to more than 3,300 Texans dead each month from COVID-19, or 110 per day. Though the most recent wave has led to more severe cases among children than previous coronavirus surges, the vast majority of the deaths have occurred among older Texans. More than 47,000 victims — 78% — were at least 60 years old, and 18,670 were at least 80. Only 502 of the state’s deaths have occurred among people younger than 30, with just 79 of those among children and teenagers. Across the state, 18,628 more cases were reported Friday, including 18,097 new cases and 531 older ones recently reported by labs. Of the new cases, 13,929 were confirmed and 4,168 were probable. Of the older cases, 252 were confirmed and 279 were probable. The state’s case total is now 3,902,306, including 3,265,735 confirmed and 636,571 probable. There are a total of 12,475 hospitalizations in the state, including 3,423 in North Texas. According to the state, 16,963,517 people in Texas have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 14,390,670 — 59.8% of the state’s population 12 and older — are fully vaccinated.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Analysts: Companies will keep moving to Texas, even as state’s abortion ban prompts business concern

Business-friendly policies attracting companies to Texas are proving crucial to the state’s economic-powerhouse identity in the wake of condemnation from a handful of high-profile companies over the recently enacted Heartbeat Act. Despite public outcry surrounding the strictest anti-abortion law in the country, the economics of staying in the state largely outweigh the tightening social legislation’s potential financial or talent attraction burdens, economists and business analysts say. “I don’t expect a mass exodus of firms from Texas, and the state will continue to attract new activity,” said Texas economist Ray Perryman. Just this week, airplane manufacturer Boeing announced plans to move 150 supply-chain jobs from Washington and California to North Texas, where the company’s Global Services division is headquartered.

Access to major airports and ports, economic incentives and comparatively inexpensive real estate are key advantages for the state, which has welcomed swaths of companies exiting expensive markets in California and New York. The Lone Star State won 113 California corporate relocations from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30 of this year, according to an August study by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and McKinney-based Spectrum Location Solutions. It outpaced its nearest competitor, Tennessee, by nearly 90 companies. “The comparative benefits of being located in Texas are significant, as evidenced by the fact that the state has been at or near the top of many rankings for decades,” Perryman said. “For a public company with a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, the allure is substantial.” Only a handful of Texas companies have spoken publicly about the abortion law, including dating app companies Match Group and Bumble and rideshare firms Lyft and Uber. They picked up a big ally this week when Apple told its thousands of workers in Austin that it’s monitoring legal challenges to the Texas law. “In the meantime, we want to remind you that our benefits at Apple are comprehensive, and they allow our employees to travel out-of-state for medical care if it is unavailable in their home state,” according to an internal company memo seen by TechCrunch.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

First Baptist’s Robert Jeffress: ‘There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines’

As Americans increasingly seek religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine mandates, many faith leaders are telling them no. With more employers imposing the mandates, the push for exemptions has become more heated. At issue for many whose faith leads them to oppose abortion is that the most widely used coronavirus vaccines were tested on fetal cell lines developed over decades in laboratories, though the vaccines themselves do not contain any such material. Among the religious leaders rejecting the exemptions is the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, who said he and his staff “are neither offering nor encouraging members to seek religious exemptions from the vaccine mandates.”

“There is no credible religious argument against the vaccines,” the downtown megachurch’s senior pastor told The Associated Press in an email. “Christians who are troubled by the use of a fetal cell line for the testing of the vaccines would also have to abstain from the use of Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Ibuprofen, and other products that used the same cell line if they are sincere in their objection.” Though he has aligned himself with former President Donald Trump — whose supporters are among the least-vaccinated Americans — Jeffress has steadfastly supported the coronavirus vaccines. First Baptist hosted vaccine clinics in the spring, with Jeffress encouraging his congregants to get inoculated so they could safely worship in person. Jeffress, who is vaccinated, also has compared his positions on vaccination and abortion: “We talk about life inside the womb being a gift from God,” he said on Fox News. “Well, life outside the womb is a gift from God, too.” The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York laid out its own vaccine-exemption stance during the summer, saying that any priest issuing an exemption letter would be “acting in contradiction” to statements from Pope Francis that receiving the vaccine is morally acceptable and responsible. Both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have said Catholics can receive the vaccines in good conscience given the lack of alternatives and the goal of alleviating suffering — even while objecting to research with even a remote connection to abortion.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Petition aims to relocate 2023 Women’s Final Four from Dallas in response to Texas ‘Heartbeat Act’

Sue Favor was in attendance for the 2017 Women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four at American Airlines Arena. It marked her first time in Dallas. “It was a great time,” said Favor, who covers women’s basketball at both the collegiate and professional level on her own website. “They put on a great show.” The sequel is set to happen in 2023, when American Airlines Center once again hosts the women’s Final Four. Favor and over 53,000 Americans hope that doesn’t happen. In light of SB 8 — the state’s “Heartbeat Act,” which bans abortions in Texas after six weeks of pregnancy — Favor started a petition on Change.org to relocate the 2023 Final Four out of Dallas and out of Texas. The petition, started on a whim by Favor, is over halfway to 100,000 signatures and climbing since it was started on Sept. 5.

“I’ve always been an extremely strong women’s rights proponent,” Favor said, “and we’ve seen so many advances in the last few years, especially for women and also women in sports. “This law, it came out of the blue, and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. We were just making all this progress, and now we’re back in 1973?’ That doesn’t fit.” The petition, according to Change.org, is mostly made up of people outside of Texas. Roughly 16% of signees are from Texas. The next states featuring the largest representation are California, New York and Florida. There’s precedent for this type of action from the NCAA. In 2016, the NCAA moved seven championship events from North Carolina after the state passed HB 2, the controversial Bathroom Bill that required public school bathrooms and locker rooms only be used by people based on the gender they were assigned at birth. A year later, the NCAA “reluctantly” voted to re-allow championship events in North Carolina after a compromised version of the bill replaced the original. The Dallas Morning News asked the NCAA if it’s considering moving championship events out of Texas based on SB 8, like the petition hopes. The NCAA declined to comment. The News also reached out to The Dallas Regional Chamber and Monica Paul, the Executive Director of the Dallas Sports Commission, but didn’t hear back.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott signs tougher anti-critical race theory law

Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that aims to further ban critical race theory from Texas classrooms, even after educators and advocacy groups fought against the move for months. The new law, signed Friday without fanfare, prohibits teaching certain concepts about race; develops a civics training program for teachers; and largely bars schools from giving credit to students for advocacy work. It also urges educators to teach only that slavery and racism are “deviations” from the founding principles of the United States. It aims to strengthen Texas’ law passed in May that seeks to eliminate critical race theory from schools. The new law goes into effect Dec. 2. The theory is an academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism. Texas teachers and education leaders across the state have insisted repeatedly that critical race theory is not part of K-12 curriculums.

But Republican leaders have said Texas needs to ensure critical race theory rhetoric stays out of public schools. “I think critical race theory and the belief in critical race theory is creating racial disharmony in the United States,” Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said last month. Toth was among the lawmakers pushing to address the issue. Advocates worry attempts to curb critical race theory will hinder schools’ efforts to address inequities in classrooms and teachers’ abilities to discuss current events and social issues. During this summer’s debates on the bill, Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said the bill is blatantly attempting to censor teachers and “whitewash our history.” Many worry about the law’s vague language. Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, said in August that teachers should have the latitude to be able to nurture and engage with students’ interests in what’s happening outside of school. “Helping students make connections between what they read in books and what they see in the public square is something that we should celebrate in our educational system,” she said, “not something that we should discourage.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

‘If we fail the state economy fails’: Texas small-business owners tell Gov. Abbott they need workers

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met with 12 small-business owners from around Texas on Friday and heard a common theme: They need more workers if they are going to succeed. The roundtable took place at the Dallas Farmers Market as part of National Small Business Week. The business owners were all members of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices community, which advocates for policies that matter to members. “We focus on workers because we know you need employees to make your business work,” Abbott told them. While 73% of U.S. small businesses are currently hiring, 87% of those hiring are finding it difficult to fill those spots with qualified workers, according to a survey this month from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices.

Hyacinth Belcher runs Dallas live events company Onstage Systems and had to let 80% of her staff go overnight. Her company lost 70% of its revenue for 18 months due to the pandemic. For three months last year, it had zero revenue. “We lost millions,” she said. “A lot of people left the industry.” A second-generation family business, Onstage used its savings to survive 2020. It also received two forgivable loans and one low-interest loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Now business is picking back up. In late April, it worked the Ubbi Dubbi electronic dance music festival, which was dubbed the first festival back after the pandemic caused most events to be canceled in 2020. But Belcher said she doesn’t have enough employees to handle the increase in requests. Before the pandemic, she had 50 full-time employees. Now, she has 25 full-time employees and is struggling to find more. “Between 45% and 50% of the Texas workforce works for small businesses so if we fail, the state economy fails,” she said. Belcher suggested that Abbott and the state work on helping business owners provide child care for employees to help bring them back to work. The Goldman Sachs survey showed that 44% of small-business owners think a return for kids to remote learning would make it difficult to retain employees.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2021

Erica Grieder: Republicans need to take Ken Paxton to task, if they want to unseat him in the GOP primary

They seem to be lining up to challenge Texas’ two-term attorney general, Ken Paxton. Wonder why? State Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican from Fort Worth first elected in 2012, recently announced that he was joining the field of GOP candidates seeking to unseat Paxton. It already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Two Democrats — former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski and Dallas civil rights attorney Lee Merritt — have also set their sights on Paxton. They will face off for their party’s nomination. Krause and Bush are not seeking releection to their respective posts in order to run, and Guzman stepped down from the state Supreme Court before announcing her bid. So it’s safe to assume that they’re running to win, rather than to raise their public profiles. Why then are Paxton’s Republican challengers approaching this primary with such a diffident attitude to the man they’re trying to unseat? Take Krause, for example, since he just got in the race.

“As your Attorney General, I will continue to fight to keep critical race theory out of our schools, protect Texas families from the crisis at our southern border, and stand proudly with our men and women in law enforcement,” he said in a campaign announcement. This would be a fine pitch, perhaps, in a typical Republican primary. Krause is a founding member of the Texas House’s Freedom Caucus and had one of the most conservative voting records of any member during this year’s regular legislative session, according to an annual ranking put out by political scientist Mark Jones of Rice University. But Paxton himself is a pretty far-right guy, who was endorsed by most of the Freedom Caucus types, including Krause, in his first bid for attorney general seven years ago. And more to the point, Paxton — the state’s chief law enforcement officer — continues to face a plethora of legal problems. Since 2015, Paxton has been under indictment for alleged violations of state securities law, all of them felonies. The case remarkably has yet to go to trial, allowing Paxton to do what he does best — file lawsuits promoting conservative causes, like those brought against school districts over mask mandates intended to keep kids safe. Paxton is also reportedly the focus of an FBI investigation after seven of his top aides accused him of abusing his office to help a donor. All have since resigned or been fired. Paxton also faces a civil lawsuit brought by four of those whistle-blowers, who argue that they were fired in retaliation. Paxton has denied all of the accusations.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2021

Biden administration boosting access to emergency contraception in Texas in wake of strict abortion law

The Biden administration has pledged to help boost access to emergency contraception in Texas as part of its response to the state’s strict new abortion law banning the procedure after six weeks. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bacerra said Friday the agency will send more funding to family planning clinics here through its local Title X administrator, a nonprofit in Austin called Every Body Texas. The administration did not disclose the amount, but a representative for the group said it will be used to increase supplies of different types of contraception that can stave off pregnancy if taken shortly after having unprotected sex. “We’re trying to make sure this is a normal part of an interaction and increases the number of people who don’t just have access to emergency contraception, but actually have it on hand,” said Mimi Garcia, the group’s director of communications.

Emergency contraception, sometimes known as the morning-after pill, is currently available for free at many low-income family planning clinics, but only for patients who request it. It can cost about $50 at a retail pharmacy. There are no age requirements to purchase it and parental consent is not required, according to pro-choice groups, which stress that emergency contraception is not the same as the so-called “abortion pill.” The financial infusion comes as abortion providers and their supporters are scrambling to minimize the impacts of the new law, Senate Bill 8, which went into effect earlier this month and bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, before many people realize they’re pregnant. The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, allowed the law to take effect, pointing to SB 8’s unique enforcement approach. It allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and others who assist in obtaining the procedure if they defy the state’s guidelines. But the high court has not ruled on the merits of the law.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Idea to reduce backlog by dismissing thousands of felony cases proves too far for Harris County

The number of criminal cases pending before Harris County courts currently stands at more than 94,000. That includes 41,000 misdemeanors and 53,000 felonies, numbers so high that if prosecutors stopped filing criminal charges tomorrow, it would take misdemeanor judges a year to clear their dockets; felony judges would need 19 months, based on their average pace for closing cases since 2017. Forty-six percent of these cases are considered backlogged — defined as misdemeanors pending more than six months and felonies older than one year — beyond which the likelihood of conviction plummets as investigators retire, victims withdraw and witnesses’ memories fade. “As the county recovers from natural disasters and navigating a public health crisis, it has put our justice system in a crisis state,” said Ana Yáñez Correa of the Harris County Justice Administration Department. “All county partners are diligently working to address this backlog which is counter to what procedural justice should look like.”

The backlog is so high, that the Justice Management Institute, a Colorado nonprofit that has helped the county improve its criminal justice system since the early 2000s, offered a startling proposal last summer: Dismiss most nonviolent felony cases more than 9 months old, which would allow judges to focus on disposing the newest and most serious cases, including murders, rapes and assaults. Piecemeal solutions would be inadequate, the group said. A year later, that proposal has proven too radical for commissioners, judges and Harris County’s chief prosecutor, many of whom ran for office on platforms that included criminal justice reform. District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office said justice would be better served by hiring many more prosecutors, which Commissioners Court has refused to do, rather than dismiss cases without considering the facts of each. “We have a duty to enforce the law, and the wholesale dismissal of entire classes of cases based on an arbitrary deadline is a violation of that duty and a slap in the face to crime victims,” Ogg spokesman Dane Schiller said. “Every case is unique and we prosecute on a case by case basis, based on the evidence.” Case backlogs long have plagued Harris County courts, which in September added their first new felony judge since 1984, though the county’s population has almost doubled since then.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 19, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: $29 billion won't stop the Big One. Here's why the Ike Dike is still worth it.

Doomsday, we’re told, will go something like this: A 20-foot storm surge propelled by 150 mph winds from a cyclonic beast spawned in the balmy Gulf of Mexico is on a collision course with the Houston Ship Channel. The wave tosses debris, vehicles, shipping containers into refineries and chemical plants, unleashing pyrotechnic clouds of toxicity unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Mass evacuations ensue. Hundreds, if not thousands are left dead or severely injured. Galveston Bay, an ecological jewel vital to the local economy, becomes so polluted it’s rendered unusable for a generation. The Port of Houston, one of the busiest in the nation, is crippled, stalling the global supply chain. If you’ve lived in the Houston-Galveston region through even one hurricane season you’re likely familiar with this scenario.

After Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, pushing a 17-foot storm surge over Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, causing $30 billion of damage and killing 43 people, there was a collective epiphany. We could no longer rely on our prayers, weather forecasters and emergency go-bags to get us through the most volatile months of hurricane season. We needed protection from deadly storm surges as fast as possible. Thirteen years later — the Army Corps of Engineers won’t win any awards for speed — the agency has finally unveiled full-fledged plans for the so-called Ike Dike. Named by Texas A&M oceanographer Bill Merrell who proposed the concept shortly after Ike hit, the proposal is the product of an exhaustive, seven-year study that the Corps’ chief of engineers is expected sign off on by Oct. 12 and send to Congress. The $29 billion plan is more expansive than Merrell’s original idea. It includes projects up and down the Texas Gulf Coast, but the bulk of the work will be south of Houston. A series of gates designed to protect against a surge of up to 22 feet would stretch from the east end of Galveston Island across the mouth of Galveston Bay to Bolivar Peninsula.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 19, 2021

Bud Kennedy: Lincoln Project slams Greg Abbott as ‘Trumpist,’ but he’s on track for re-election

Gov. Greg Abbott is starting his 30th year of a perpetually charmed political career. He remains as calm as any former civil court judge. Meanwhile, his Republican challengers are kicking up a fuss or self-destructing. Democrats? They haven’t won anything in Texas since 1994. Plus, elections in the middle of a president’s term rarely favor the party in the White House. Right now, everything points to Abbott sailing into a third term as governor. So why is a wealthy PAC of former Republicans running a TV ad criticizing Abbott?

Rick Wilson, the Florida campaign strategist who co-leads the PAC, said through a spokesperson: “After letting Texans freeze in the dark, failing to lead on COVID, cheerleading a racially motivated voter suppression bill, and enraging millions of Texas women in both political parties, [Abbott’s] being held to account.” The Lincoln Project cranked up in 2019 to oppose then-President Donald Trump. Now, it targets anyone for what co-founder Reed Galen described as extreme “Trumpist behavior.” The 60-second TV ad during the Texas Longhorns-Rice Owls football game shows a counter with the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Texas, enough to require “over 3.6 million feet of casket lumber.” The tagline: “If Governor Abbott wants to build a new wall” at weak points along the Mexico border, “tell him to stop building this one,” showing a long row of caskets lined up on end. It’s not a convincing ad. We see the numbers every day. Measuring the loss of 60,000 loved ones in terms of “casket lumber” seems macabre.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2021

Gov. Greg Abbott approves nearly $2 billion for border security while in Fort Worth

Hundreds of miles away from the Texas-Mexico border in Fort Worth, Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday signed a nearly $2 billion border security bill. The $1.8 billion allocated for border security efforts is in addition to more than $1 billion set aside during the regular legislative session that ended in May. The latest allotment was passed during a second special session that ended earlier this month. “Let me explain to you why we are making this announcement in Fort Worth,” Abbott said at the Fort Worth Police Officers Association Headquarters. “We need to understand and make clear that the challenges that you see on the border do not stay on the border. They go to every community in the state of Texas. In fact, go to communities across every state in the United States.”

Abbott has made stops in Fort Worth in the past where he’s attributed an increasing use of fentanyl, an opioid, to President Joe Biden’s border policies. He again discussed the effect of the drug on communities like Fort Worth during the Friday news conference. In attendance was Fort Worth Police Officers Association President Manny Ramirez, who said there’s been an increase in drug overdoses and overdose deaths locally. There’s also been an “exponential increase” in fentanyl cases, he said. ”The drugs scare me. The weapons scare me. The human smuggling rips at my heart, and it is a darn shame that the federal government isn’t doing its job,” said State Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who chairs the Senate Finance committee. Abbott has clashed with the Biden administration over its immigration policy. On Friday, he reiterated his position that the Biden administration has failed at border security. “So Texas is stepping up and doing what the federal government is supposed to do,” Abbott said. The latest allotment includes nearly $155 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety for law enforcement efforts, such as roughly $134 million to Abbott’s Operation Lone Star launched in early March. The operation tasks the department and the Texas National Guard with combating the smuggling of people and drugs across the Texas-Mexico border. The bill also allocates $301 million to the Texas Military Department. The bill allocates about $1 billion for physical border barriers. According to an Abbott spokesperson, $250 million of that would reimburse the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for a “down payment” for a border wall.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2021

Tourists from Texas assault hostess who asked them for vaccination proof, NYC cops say

Three women from Texas were taken into custody Thursday after they assaulted a New York City restaurant worker who asked them for proof of COVID-19 vaccination, police say. Video obtained by WNBC shows a hostess at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan being attacked by the women. The hostess had asked the Texas tourists for their vaccine proof, which is a part of New York City’s new protocols that recently went into effect. The hostess stand nearly toppled over during the tussle outside the restaurant, video shows. The 22-year-old was punched and slapped but declined medical attention, WCBS reported.

A 44-year-old woman, her 21-year-old daughter, and a 49-year-old woman were apprehended at the scene, WABC reported. Their charges were not publicly disclosed. A spokesperson for Carmine’s said it is “shocking and tragic” to see one of its employees assaulted for complying with the COVID-19 protocols. “Our focus right now is caring for our employee and the rest of our restaurant family,” the spokesperson said. “We are a family-style restaurant, and this is the absolute last experience any of our employees should ever endure and any customers witness.” People 12 years and older are required to show they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter a New York City restaurant. Restaurants that do not comply could be fined $1,000. Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase penalties for assaulting restaurant workers and to increase awareness of the city’s vaccine requirements. “Assaulting a restaurant worker for doing their job is abhorrent and those responsible must be held accountable,” Rigie said in a statement to McClatchy News.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calls Haitian migrant surge an 'invasion,' echoing conspiracy theory

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick referred to the Haitians massing at the Texas border as pawns in a Democratic plan “to take over this country” in a Thursday night interview on Fox News, making an argument that is part of a conspiracy theory known as The Great Replacement. The theory — embraced by white supremacists and far-right nationalists in the U.S. and Europe for about the last 100 years — holds that minority ethnic groups are engaged in a plot to take power from whites, with the ultimate goal of domination or extermination of the white race. “Let me tell you something, Laura and everyone watching: The revolution has begun. A silent revolution by Joe Biden and the Democrat Party to take over this country,” Patrick said, speaking on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

“(Democrats) are allowing this year probably 2 million — that’s who we apprehended, maybe another million — into this country. At least in 18 years, even if they don’t all become citizens before then and can vote, in 18 years if everyone of them has two or three children you’re talking about millions and millions and millions of new voters. And they will thank the Democrats and Biden for bringing them here. Who do you think they’re going to vote for?” Patrick took it a step further. “We now will have illegals in this country denying citizens the right to run our government,” Patrick said. “This is trying to take over our country without firing a shot.” The Texan who has been charged with shooting and killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019, Patrick Crusius, was linked to an online manifesto that made a similar argument. “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” it said, adding that the Democratic Party intends to dominate the U.S. government by flooding the country with immigrants living in the country illegally and courting their votes, drowning out Republicans.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 19, 2021

Elaine Ayala: Abbott's response to Del Rio migrant crisis was pure opportunism

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did what he does best this week. He preened and postured as a hardliner to grab the Republican national spotlight. It matters not what the issue is, only that it gets him more face time on Fox News than other Republicans positioning themselves to seek the party’s 2024 presidential nomination — especially Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. This time, Abbott’s cause was border security. He announced that he would send more Texas National Guardsmen and state troopers to the U.S.-Mexico border to close six official ports of entry after migrants gathered by the thousands at an international bridge in Del Rio. It might have scored Abbott some points with unknowing viewers. In reality, he has no authority over immigration or the border. No governor does. It’s a federal responsibility. Abbott boasted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had requested the state’s help in sealing the border.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, responded that it had done no such thing. The department warned that it would be a violation of federal law if Texas Guardsmen shut down ports of entry unilaterally. Abbott responded with spin, his specialty. He said CBP had changed its mind. The Texas Guard and state troopers would “maintain their presence at and around ports of entry to deter crossings.” The governor’s empty edict was his opportunistic response to an alarming situation at the bridge connecting Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. The throng of migrants grew from 2,000 a week ago to more than 8,000 by the end of the week. The site has become a refugee camp — and like others around the world, it is a product of human desperation, war, poverty and climate disasters. Thousands of the migrants, mostly Haitian, are seeking asylum after a presidential assassination and a devastating earthquake led to unbearable suffering in their homeland. As the government processes the migrants’ claims, some will be deported. Others will be given the chance to prove their cases while staying in the U.S. with relatives or sponsors.

Top of Page

NBC News - September 19, 2021

'We've been preparing for a post-Roe world': Ripples from Texas abortion law spread to Illinois safe haven

The day was jampacked at a Planned Parenthood clinic in southern Illinois when a woman who had just driven over 12 hours from Louisiana for an abortion procedure erupted into tears during her health intake. Kawanna Shannon, the surgical services director at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, dropped her tasks and led the woman into a private room to talk. The woman said she was panicking because she had used her rent money to pay for child care for her two kids, rent a car, buy gas and drive to the clinic in Fairview Heights. The days leading up to and after Texas’ restrictive abortion law went into effect, clinics in surrounding states became overbooked, diverting patients further away, including this patient who only had one extra day off work to get the procedure done, Shannon said. The woman's only option was Illinois, but it cost her her rent, she said.

“No one is thinking about these hardships when they put these bans on. People have other children, people have health issues, people have all types of things and they are spending every dime just to go somewhere else because this basic need isn’t accessible in their own state,” Shannon said. “But there are people fighting for them, no matter what laws are being passed or what the restrictions are, and we are doing everything we can to be able to service these patients. They need to know that we're going to continue to fight for them.” The Illinois clinic, emblematic of a state that has deemed itself a safe haven for abortion care, is feeling the reverberations of the Texas law in the form of dozens of women forced to travel hundreds of miles just to secure an appointment. Despite facing its own challenges, including staff shortages and similar legislation up for consideration across the border in Missouri, the Illinois clinic said it is fully prepared to welcome any woman who needs the medical care. The clinic has long been preparing for what it calls “the writing on the wall,” according to Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, which oversees the Fairview Heights clinic. “This is the reality that we have been seeing for a long time, and we’ve been preparing for a post-Roe world with a plan to ensure abortion services remain accessible with this clinic.”

Top of Page

New York Times - September 18, 2021

Texas lawmakers, after a rightward shift, plan for more of the same

In the span of a few months, the nation’s second most populous state followed what was perhaps the most conservative legislative session in state history with a special session packed with even more of the prerogatives of the right flank, a pronounced political shift that has caught even many conservative residents off guard. The Legislature is set to convene another special session Monday to consider further laws on cultural issues, such as transgender athletes, and to redistrict the state, likely in favor of Republican members. The new laws, which passed with surprising speed, restrict abortion, voting rights and the teaching about race in schools. They also expand gun rights, fund a border wall with Mexico and prohibit bans on social media because of political opinions. The moves cheered conservatives, alarmed liberals and forced Texans to wrestle with their state’s identity as the tip-of-the-spear for conservatives in the nation’s most contentious social conflicts. Add to that a surge in coronavirus cases and an ongoing tug of war over the pandemic response between Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, and Democratic leaders in growing urban centers, and the mood among many Texans has turned glum. For the first time in more than a decade, a majority of residents told pollsters from the University of Texas last month that the state was heading in the wrong direction.

“Texans are watching their state government that is consumed with these partisan debates over abortion and election reform, but they’re actually living in a state where schools can’t give clear safety guidance on Covid,” said Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican who served as the speaker of the Texas House until 2019. “The concern is that the conservative faction has gone too far and is damaging our state’s reputation.” None of that has slowed the momentum among conservatives, led by Mr. Abbott and the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who oversees the staunchly right-wing Texas Senate. Both remain more focused on appealing to their own primary voters than to the shifting demographics of the state’s rapidly growing Democratic cities. For a new special session of the House starting next week, the governor has added legislation that would restrict the participation of transgender athletes in school sports, a late addition to a session focused on redistricting. The Republican-controlled Legislature will redraw boundaries for the first time since the Supreme Court gutted provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that provided federal oversight. In the past, Texas had been found in violation of the act during redistricting, and Democrats fear that Republicans will use the opportunity to redraw districts in a way that blunts the influence of the state’s growing Black and Hispanic populations, maintaining control in the Capitol for rural white legislators in a state that is increasingly more diverse. The process could extend the Republican lock on the state for at least another decade, at a time when statewide and presidential races in Texas have been growing more competitive. “The Republican Party should be very, very optimistic about the ’22 cycle,” said Ray Sullivan, a Republican political consultant who served in the administrations of two recent governors, George W. Bush and Rick Perry. “The vaunted blue wave from 2020 never happened, and P.S., the Democrats don’t even have a candidate for governor.”

Top of Page

National Stories

CNBC - September 18, 2021

Small crowd gathers near the Capitol to protest arrests of Jan. 6 rioters

A sparse crowd of demonstrators gathered in Washington to rally for those criminally charged in the Jan. 6 deadly pro-Trump insurrection. Organizers called the rally “Justice for J6,” referencing the date in which supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results. Protestors were met with heavy presence of local, state and federal law enforcement — and members of the press — outnumbering event attendees. U.S. Capitol Police made a few arrests Saturday in an otherwise nonviolent demonstration, according to the department’s social media. Arrests included weapons violation, possession of a firearm and probation violation, according to police.

Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee told NBC News the crowd was “about what we expected” and the heightened police presence may have deterred attendance. Police in advance of Saturday ramped up security around the Capitol, erecting fences around the Capitol grounds, Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and other congressional office buildings. One hundred National Guard troops were on standby to help protect the Capitol, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday. Matt Braynard, the former Trump campaign staffer who organized the rally, previously told CNBC he expected the protest to be peaceful. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot began shortly after Trump, speaking at a rally outside the White House, urged the crowd to march to Congress and fight against the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president. Four people died that day in connection with the riot, including a woman shot by a police officer as she tried to crawl through a window toward the House of Representatives chamber. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick died the following day after collapsing hours after he was attacked by rioters. Four police officers who responded to the insurrection have died by suicide since the attack.

Top of Page

The Atlantic - September 19, 2021

Why Biden bet it all on mandates

When president joe biden rolled out his plan requiring vaccinations on a mass scale, he sounded a bit like a gambler at a point of desperation. Biden’s presidency, and much of his legacy, hinges on defeating the prolonged pandemic. During a dismal summer of rising infections and deaths due to vaccine holdouts and the Delta variant, the pandemic seemed to have defeated him. Under the new rules, Biden hopes to pressure about 80 million more Americans to get their shots. It’s a political risk that opens him up to Republican attacks that he’s intruding on peoples’ freedoms, ahead of midterm elections that could easily strip the Democrats of their congressional majority. Biden gets this. He’s all in, win or lose. “There are going to be people who don’t believe in the mandates and don’t believe they should be told what to do,” Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told me, encapsulating an argument that his party plans to make ahead of the midterms. “We’re supposed to live in a country where you’re not being dictated everything.” While Scott’s sentiment may resonate with hard-line Republicans, he appears to be misreading the larger public mood. As frustration with the pandemic mounts, Republican leaders look to be on the wrong side of an effort to expand vaccinations through a more forceful show of executive power. Under Biden’s plan, businesses with more than 100 employees will face fines unless they require their workers to be vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 tests.

Not only do most people favor vaccine mandates, but even a good chunk of Republican voters who’ve gotten their shots are inclined to blame the unvaccinated for the pandemic’s persistence. Forcing people to get the shots wasn’t Biden’s first choice. Inside the White House, the preference was that Americans do this on their own. But with so many people still unvaccinated even though the shots are readily available, Biden was losing patience. “Months ago, because of the potential political blowback, no one wanted to resort to mandates,” a senior Biden-administration official told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk more freely. “But then it became clear that we didn’t have any other choice, because, essentially, we had pulled out all the stops. We tried trusted messengers [to promote the vaccines]. We made it very convenient. It wasn’t enough.” Biden’s bet, while risky, grows more solid by the day. Republicans are making a counterargument that they believe their base wants to hear, which would be fine if their base were sufficient to wrest control of Congress from the Democrats. Biden is trying to appeal to a wider audience. Two of the most prized voting blocs in an election—suburban and independent voters—favor Biden’s vaccine-mandate plan by solid margins. They don’t see the vaccine requirement as government overreach; for them, it’s a step toward reentering a world they remember from two years ago.

Top of Page

Reuters - September 19, 2021

U.S. authorities accelerate removal of Haitians at border with Mexico

U.S. authorities moved some 2,000 people to other immigration processing stations on Friday from a Texas border town that has been overwhelmed by an influx of Haitian and other migrants, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday. Such transfers will continue "in order to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed, and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policy," DHS said in a statement. While some migrants seeking jobs and safety have been making their way to the United States for weeks or months, it is only in recent days that the number converging on Del Rio, Texas, has drawn widespread attention, posing a humanitarian and political challenge for the Biden administration.

DHS said that in response to the migrants sheltering in increasingly poor conditions under the Del Rio International Bridge that connects the Texas city with Ciudad Acuna in Mexico, it was accelerating flights to Haiti and other destinations within the next 72 hours. Report ad DHS added it was working with nations where the migrants began their journeys - for many of the Haitians, countries such as Brazil and Chile - to accept returned migrants. Officials on both sides of the border said most of the migrants were Haitians. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry expressed solidarity with the mass of migrants at the border in a series of posts on social media late on Saturday, saying "arrangements have already been made" to warmly receive those who return to the Caribbean nation. "I share their suffering and say to them welcome home," he wrote. U.S. Customs and Border Protection was sending 400 additional agents to the Del Rio sector in the coming days, DHS said, after the border agency said on Friday that due to the influx it was temporarily closing Del Rio's port of entry and re-routing traffic to Eagle Pass, 57 miles (92 km) east.

Top of Page

NBC News - September 19, 2021

Suburbs take center stage as U.S. growth slows

In 1990, fewer than 10,000 people lived in Meridian, Idaho, a sleepy bedroom community surrounded by farmland. Now, with a population of 117,600, its main thoroughfare, Eagle Road, gets so congested at rush hour that motorists might forget they're in one the country’s most sparsely populated states. The 2020 Census listed Meridian as one of the 10 fastest-growing large cities in the country. All the cities on the list grew at rates of more than 44 percent. They are all in the South and the West. And they are all suburbs.

South Jordan, Utah, for example, is outside Salt Lake City. Frisco, Texas, is just north of Dallas. Buckeye, Arizona, is west of Phoenix. And Meridian is outside Boise. Meridian and the nine other cities represent a trend, according to U.S. Census Bureau officials. As the country’s biggest cities grow and become increasingly unaffordable to many, their suburbs have ballooned, taking on their own identities. Marc Perry, a senior demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, said in an email that “for the past several decades the general trend has been for the fastest-growing cities of 50k+ population to be located on the outskirts of generally fast-growing metro areas in the South and West.” The Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth metro areas have had suburbs on this list every decade, he said. “Sizable amounts of empty land for construction of housing” encourages this population growth, and that land is more commonly available in the West and South. Now, people are often going farther and farther from city centers to search for empty lots, especially in cities that have been growing for the past half-century, Perry said.

Top of Page

Wall Street Journal - September 19, 2021

Elon Musk’s push to expand Tesla’s driver assistance to cities rankles a top safety authority

Tesla is readying a major upgrade of its driver-assistance software. The country’s top crash investigator says the move may be premature. Chief Executive Elon Musk last week said drivers would soon be able to request an enhanced version of what Tesla calls its “Full Self-Driving Capability.” The upgrade is expected to add a feature intended to help vehicles navigate cities, expanding the suite of driver-assistance tools that had been designed mainly for highways. Despite its name, Full Self-Driving doesn’t make cars fully autonomous, and Tesla instructs drivers to remain alert, with their hands on the wheel. Jennifer Homendy, the new head of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tesla shouldn’t roll out the city-driving tool before addressing what the agency views as safety deficiencies in the company’s technology. The NTSB, which investigates crashes and issues safety recommendations though it has no regulatory authority, has urged Tesla to clamp down on how drivers are able to use the company’s driver-assistance tools.

“Basic safety issues have to be addressed before they’re then expanding it to other city streets and other areas,” she said in an interview. Ms. Homendy also expressed concern about how Tesla software is tested on public roadways. Ms. Homendy called Tesla’s use of the term Full Self-Driving “misleading and irresponsible,” adding that people pay more attention to marketing than to warnings in car manuals or on a company’s website. In Tesla’s case, she said, “It has clearly misled numerous people to misuse and abuse technology.” Mr. Musk has said Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance features prevent crashes and make driving safer. He has expressed mixed views about the Full Self-Driving system in recent months. “We need to make full self-driving work in order for it to be a compelling value proposition. Otherwise people are, you know, kind of betting on the future,” he said in July, responding to a question about customer interest in subscribing to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving package. Tesla didn’t respond to requests for comment. Some safety advocates and transportation officials have raised concerns that drivers may be overestimating the capabilities of advanced driver-assistance systems such as Tesla’s. “We’re consistently hearing that it’s definitely a work in progress, so it’s just how do we make sure the public understands its limitations?” Reema Griffith, executive director of the Washington State Transportation Commission, told The Wall Street Journal.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 18, 2021

The days of full COVID coverage are over. Insurers are restoring deductibles and co-pays, leaving patients with big bills.

Jamie Azar left a rehab hospital in Tennessee this week with the help of a walker after spending the entire month of August in the ICU and on a ventilator. She had received a shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in mid-July but tested positive for the coronavirus within 11 days and nearly died. Now Azar, who earns about $36,000 a year as the director of a preschool at a Baptist church in Georgia, is facing thousands of dollars in medical expenses that she can’t afford. “I’m very thankful to be home. I am still weak. And I’m just waiting for the bills to come in to know what to do with them,” she said Wednesday, after returning home. In 2020, as the pandemic took hold, U.S. health insurance companies declared they would cover 100 percent of the costs for covid treatment, waiving co-pays and expensive deductibles for hospital stays that frequently range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But this year, most insurers have reinstated co-pays and deductibles for covid patients, in many cases even before vaccines became widely available. The companies imposed the costs as industry profits remained strong or grew in 2020, with insurers paying out less to cover elective procedures that hospitals suspended during the crisis.

Now the financial burden of covid is falling unevenly on patients across the country, varying widely by health-care plan and geography, according to a survey of the two largest health plans in every state by the nonprofit and nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. If you’re fortunate enough to live in Vermont or New Mexico, for instance, state mandates require insurance companies to cover 100 percent of treatment. But most Americans with covid are now exposed to the uncertainty, confusion and expense of business-as-usual medical billing and insurance practices — joining those with cancer, diabetes and other serious, costly illnesses. (Insurers continue to waive costs associated with vaccinations and testing, a pandemic benefit the federal government requires.) A widow with no children, Azar, 57, is part of the unlucky majority. Her experience is a sign of what to expect if covid, as most scientists fear, becomes endemic: a permanent, regular health threat. The carrier for her employee health insurance, UnitedHealthcare, reinstated patient cost-sharing Jan. 31. That means, because she got sick months later, she could be on the hook for $5,500 in deductibles, co-pays and out-of-network charges this year for her care in a Georgia hospital near her home, including her ICU stay, according to estimates by her family. They anticipate she could face another $5,500 in uncovered expenses next year as her recovery continues.

Top of Page

The Hill - September 19, 2021

Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks'

The 26-page indictment of former cybersecurity attorney and Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann by special counsel John Durham is as detailed as it is damning on the alleged effort to push a false Russia collusion claim before the 2016 presidential campaign. One line, however, seems to reverberate for those of us who have followed this scandal for years now: “You do realize that we will have to expose every trick we have in our bag.” That warning from an unnamed “university researcher” captures the most fascinating aspect of the indictment in describing a type of Nixonian dirty tricks operation run by — or at least billed to — the Clinton campaign. With Nixon, his personal attorney and the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) paid for operatives to engage in disruptive and ultimately criminal conduct targeting his opponents.

With Clinton, the indictment and prior disclosures suggest that Clinton campaign lawyers at the law firm of Perkins Coie helped organize an effort to spread Russia collusion stories and trigger an investigation. Durham accuses Sussmann of lying to the general counsel of the FBI in September 2016 when Sussmann delivered documents and data to the FBI supposedly supporting a claim that Russia’s Alpha Bank was used as a direct conduit between former President Trump's campaign and the Kremlin. According to Durham, Sussman told the FBI general counsel that he was not delivering the information on behalf of any client. The indictment not only details multiple billings to the Clinton campaign as the data was collected and the documents created; it claims Sussman billed the campaign for the actual meeting with the FBI. At the time, Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias was general counsel for the Clinton campaign. Both men have since left the firm. The big trick in 2016 was the general effort to create a Russia collusion scandal with the help of Justice Department insiders and an eager, enabling media. It was only last October, for instance, that we learned that then-President Obama was briefed by his CIA director, John Brennan, on an intelligence report that Clinton planned to tie then-candidate Trump to Russia as “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.” That was on July 28, 2016 — three days before the Russia investigation was initiated.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 18, 2021

New redistricting commissions splinter along partisan lines

When voters in some states created new commissions to handle the politically thorny process of redistricting, the hope was that the bipartisan panelists could work together to draw new voting districts free of partisan gerrymandering. Instead, cooperation has proved elusive. In New York, Ohio and Virginia, commissions meeting for the first time this year have splintered into partisan camps to craft competing redistricting maps based on 2020 census data. The divisions have disappointed some activists who supported the reforms and highlighted how difficult it can be to purge politics from the once-a-decade process of realigning boundaries for U.S. House and state legislative seats. As a result, the new state House and Senate districts in Republican-led Ohio will still favor the GOP. Democrats who control New York could still draw maps as they wish. And a potential stalemate in Virginia could eventually kick the process to the courts.

Redistricting can carry significant consequences. Subtle changes in district lines can solidify a majority of voters for a particular party or split its opponents among multiple districts to dilute their influence. Republicans need to net just five seats to regain the U.S. House in the 2022 elections, which could determine the fate of President Joe Biden’s remaining agenda. Throughout most of American history, redistricting has been handled by state lawmakers and governors who have an incentive to draw lines favoring their own parties. But as public attention to gerrymandering has grown in recent decades, voters in an increasing number of states have shifted the task to special commissions. Some commissions — such as those in Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan — consist solely of citizens who hold the final say on what maps to enact. But others, such as in Ohio and Virginia, include politicians among their members or require their maps to be submitted to the legislature for final approval, as is the case in New York, Virginia and Utah. If New York’s Democratic-led Legislature rejects the work of the new commission (consisting for four Democrats, four Republicans and two independents), then lawmakers can draft and pass their own redistricting plans. The prospects of that increased last week, when Democrats and Republicans on the commission failed to agree and instead released competing versions of new maps for the U.S. House, state Senate and state Assembly.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 17, 2021

Lead Stories

Washington Post - September 16, 2021

Brooke Rollins and other Trump aides to spearhead multimillion-dollar campaign against Biden economic plan

A new conservative coalition led by former Trump administration advisers plans to launch an up to $10 million campaign to attack President Biden’s economic package as it advances through Congress. The effort, set to launch Friday, is being spearheaded by the America First Policy Institute founded earlier this year by former Trump officials, as well as conservative organizations such as the Conservative Partnership Institute, the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and FreedomWorks. Leaders of the campaign, called the “Save America Coalition,” met Wednesday night at the Washington headquarters of the America First group located near the White House. They discussed plans to rally more than 100 conservative organizations and draw donors for advertisements and social media campaigns criticizing the Biden proposal in swing states and districts controlled by centrist Democrats.

Conservative alarm about Biden’s proposed tax hikes — which some nonpartisan estimates have found overwhelmingly target the rich and large corporations — has intensified as they move toward passage. Democrats face a difficult legislative path in holding together virtually all of their members in both the House and Senate to approve a plan to spend approximately $3.5 trillion over 10 years on safety net expansions, education programs, and funding to mitigate climate change. Among those leading the Save America Coalition is Brooke Rollins, who led the White House Domestic Policy Council under Trump and is now the CEO of the America First Policy Institute. Rollins told The Washington Post the campaign will “include all of our key people to fight on every front,” including Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser; Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling executive who led the Small Business Administration; and Russell Vought, Trump’s budget director. Former Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore is also helping lead the coalition through the Committee to Unleash Prosperity. Kudlow confirmed his involvement in a brief interview and said the phrase “Save America” was his idea for the campaign. A spokeswoman confirmed Vought’s involvement. Rollins said other senior Trump economic, health, and environmental officials would play roles in the campaign. Chad Wolf, Trump’s acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, leads immigration issues for the America First Policy Institute and is also expected to be involved. “The Biden economic agenda is designed with one goal in mind — to remake America and the principles upon which our nation was founded,” Rollins said. “These policies threaten American prosperity, small businesses, the economic health of every American family, and our standing in the world.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Texas’ redistricting special session begins Monday as GOP moves to boost majority, settle scores

You may think Texas legislators have been squawking and scrapping over contentious stuff all year. But just wait until they return for a third overtime session on Monday. No topic lands closer to home than what’s at the top of their agenda – redistricting. Once a decade, the Legislature decamps behind closed doors to redraw political boundaries. This year, it’s a chance for ruling Republicans to tighten their grip on the levers of power. Individual lawmakers, even the most high-minded, will furiously try to claw out safer seats. For the wily, the intrigue-filled exercise offers opportunities to store up IOUs – and settle scores. “It’s the most personal thing that a legislator will do,” noted former Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican who ran the House Redistricting Committee in 2011. “It’s all about how their district looks. Do they have the numbers [of friendly voters] to have a reasonably good chance of being elected? That’s it, period. … You get some raw emotions. The tension and the stress really build up.”

According to experts, Texas Republicans are confident, in no mood to be merciful and face fewer constraints from federal judges and Justice Department officials who in earlier cycles sometimes looked askance at how GOP map makers treated minorities. “They’re comfortable and even a little bit cocky with where they stand,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said of the Republicans. “First, they’ve got the numbers,” he said, referring to the party’s 83-67 edge in the House and 18-13 majority in the Senate. “And the courts have been pretty consistently on the side of the GOP. On issues about redistricting by race or by partisanship, the Republicans figure out how to maneuver redistricting to their advantage and not run afoul of the law. " Normally, redistricting is done in the first regular session after a new census is taken but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the federal government’s population count. Detailed census data that are needed to make maps didn’t start arriving until a few weeks ago. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who added remapping to the year’s third special session, also asked lawmakers to try again to pass a transgender sports bill that restricts public school athletes to competitions of the sex on their birth certificates. Months after Democrats wanted to, Abbott also asked the Legislature to divvy up the nearly $16 billion that President Joe Biden’s COVID-relief package sent to Texas. Abbott also beseeched lawmakers to decide whether state and local governmental bodies can require individuals to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. He is against such requirements. And he asked them to revive an anti-dog tethering law that, in an act that sparked loud protests from animal lovers, he vetoed in June.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 16, 2021

Federal Reserve reviewing ethics policies in wake of Dallas chief’s stock trades

The Federal Reserve is reviewing the ethics policies that govern the financial holdings and activities of its senior officials in the wake of recent disclosures that two regional Fed presidents engaged in extensive trading last year. Robert Kaplan, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, traded millions of dollars of stock last year in companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google, while Eric Rosengren, president of the Boston Fed, traded in stocks and real estate investment trusts, according to financial disclosure forms. Both pledged last week to divest those holdings after they were reported by The Wall Street Journal. Comments made by Fed regional presidents can move markets and they have a hand in the Fed’s interest rate policies. Such high-placed officials often have exclusive access to discussions about upcoming policy shifts that could benefit or be detrimental to some economic sectors, though they are prohibited from trading on that knowledge and are unable to trade in the period leading up to Fed meetings.

Both Kaplan and Rosengren said last week that their trades were permitted under the Fed’s ethics rules. But they also said they would sell their holdings the end of this month and place the money in index funds, which track a wide range of securities, or in cash. Still, the trades occurred last year when the Fed took extraordinary steps to buoy the U.S. economy and stabilize financial markets during the pandemic. The central bank cut its short-term benchmark interest rate to zero in March 2020 and has since purchased trillions of dollars in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed bonds to hold down longer-term interest rates. One impact of those policies has been to make stocks a more attractive investment relative to bonds, which provide very little return when interest rates are low. The Fed has come under criticism for worsening wealth inequality by pushing up the value of stock portfolios. The Fed’s purchase of mortgage-backed bonds, which are issued by mortgage buyers such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has been criticized by some other regional bank presidents for contributing to the run-up in home prices in the past year. One investment that Rosengren made was in real estate investment trust Annaly Capital Management, which also purchased those same securities. In a prepared statement Thursday, the Fed said that Chair Jerome Powell late last week requested a “fresh and comprehensive look at the ethics rules around permissible financial holdings and activities by senior Fed officials.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will step on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s turf for campaign event in Dallas

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is invading Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s home turf for a campaign fundraiser. According to an invitation obtained by The Dallas Morning News, DeSantis and his wife, Casey, will be in Dallas Monday for an event at the home of Dallas billionaire Kenny Troutt and his wife, Lisa. Guests are asked to pay $2,500 a person, while event co-chairs are kicking in $25,000 a person. DeSantis, in his first term as Florida governor, is widely considered a GOP presidential contender for 2024, particularly if former President Donald Trump opts against a comeback. His rapid reopening of Florida, when most states were still in lockdown mode in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic, made him a darling of many national conservatives. He’s been an outspoken critic of mask mandates and so-called vaccine passports.

DeSantis is the routine winner of most Republican straw polls for the 2024 race that don’t include Trump. He was victorious in the July “if Trump doesn’t run in 2022” straw poll done at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas. Trump was the winner of the straw poll that included his name, while Abbott wasn’t a factor in the surveys. Since then Abbott has become more of a national figure because of the controversial Texas elections bill he signed into law, as well as the new law that bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Texas governor has also resisted a return to mask mandates. He’s currently in legal fights with local authorities that are implementing such mandates despite his ban. Both men are up for reelection in 2022 and are believed to have presidential aspirations. No word yet on whether Abbott will travel to Florida to raise campaign cash.

Top of Page

State Stories

Washington Examiner - September 16, 2021

Abbott says Biden reversed course and refused to allow closure of Texas border crossings

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the unprecedented move of shutting down six ports of entry with Mexico on Thursday following a surge of migrants crossing illegally into the United States. However, he reversed course an hour later, saying the Biden administration changed course and refused to shut the crossings. Earlier in the day, the Republican governor said he directed the Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to shut down six points of entry on the southern border to "stop these caravans from overrunning our state." “The sheer negligence of the Biden Administration to do their job and secure the border is appalling," he had said in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner Thursday afternoon. Abbott's office did not specify which six ports of entry would be shuttered or how long the closure would last. However, Abbott said the federal agency, Customs and Border Protection, asked the state to step in and assist.

But shortly after announcing the closure, which only the federal government has the ability to do because ports are federally operated, Abbott reversed course, saying ports would be open. "Six hours after the U.S. Customs and Border Protection requested help from Texas to close ports of entry and secure the border, the Biden Administration has now flip-flopped to a different strategy that abandons border security and instead makes it easier for people to cross illegally and for cartels to exploit the border," Abbott wrote in a statement. "The Biden Administration is in complete disarray and is handling the border crisis as badly as the evacuations from Afghanistan," Abbott said. Instead, Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety officers will be present in the area to "deter crossings." However, military and police cannot arrest migrants on immigration crimes, as it is a federal crime and only federal law enforcement can make an arrest. Images that show thousands of people who illegally crossed the border and are in Border Patrol custody under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, were published this week on Twitter by Fox News reporter Bill Melugin. Border Patrol does not have facility space to detain and process the thousands being encountered, and an unknown number of people are evading detection when crossing and getting away.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2021

Federal judge in Austin denies DOJ’s bid for expedited briefing on challenge to Texas’ abortion law

A federal judge in Austin late Thursday denied the U.S. Justice Department’s request this week for expedited briefing in its challenge to SB 8, the Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The order by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman says that the case presents “complex” and “important” questions that merit giving each party the full opportunity to present their positions to the court.

On Tuesday, the district court denied the DOJ’s emergency motion request for a injunction on the abortion ban until the case is decided. On Wednesday, Pitman set an Oct. 1 hearing on the U.S. request. The “Heartbeat Act” enforcement mechanism is unique in that private citizens can sue anyone — such as providers, friends, family, and clergy — who “aids and abets” a elective abortion after fetal heartbeats are detected. Private citizens can sue for $10,000 plus legal fees. The law took effect Sept. 1. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling denied an emergency request to block SB 8 from going into effect. Although elective abortion is federally legal through the decision in Roe v. Wade in the U.S., SB 8 has, for the time being, circumvented its enforcement in Texas.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Report: Southwest to offer extra pay, quarantine days to employees who get COVID vaccine

Southwest Airlines joined other U.S. carriers in using incentives to encourage their employees to get vaccinated on Wednesday. Southwest employees will get extra pay if they can show proof that they have received both doses of the COVID vaccine before mid-November, according to a company memo, CNBC reported. People who work for the Dallas-based airliner will get 16 hours of pay when they upload their vaccination card by Nov. 15. However, flight attendants and pilots will get paid for 13 trip segments.

The decision comes a week after the Biden administration announced a plan to adopt rules mandating that companies with more than 100 employees require workers to get vaccinated. However, in the memo, Southwest officials said the new pay incentives are unrelated to the planned vaccine mandate, CNBC reported. “If you have not been vaccinated and choose to do so, this timeline gives you enough time to receive both rounds of a two-series vaccine or the single-dose vaccine,” Southwest wrote to staff, CNBC reported. The vaccine incentive will go into effect as major corporations are finding ways to encourage their employees to get the shot. In August, United Airlines announced that it would require all of its 67,000 employees to get inoculated for COVID. Employees will receive an extra day of pay after providing proof of the shot by Sept. 20 to United officials. Meanwhile Delta is charging increased healthcare premiums for employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo in hot water in Miami over 'Cuban Mafia' comment

Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo may have thought moving to Miami would be sun and fun, but he appears to have landed himself in some hot water recently. Readers may recall that Acevedo abruptly announced in March that he was moving to the Magic City. At the time, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez touted the surprise hire -- Acevedo never formally applied for the job -- by saying “We got the Michael Jordan of police chiefs.” But almost immediately, Acevedo's hire prompted controversy. One city commissioner complained that Suarez and City Manager art Noriega "came out of nowhere and picked a policy chief that wasn't vetted."

In Houston, Acevedo quickly established himself as an outgoing leader who wanted his department to be in touch with the community it protected, and became a fixture at community meetings -- neighborhood associations, schools, civic clubs and public hearings on a variety of issues — and for his friendly relations with local media. He was no stranger to controversy here, engaging in high-profile spats with fellow Republicans such as Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas’ senior Sen. John Cornyn and drawing the wrath of rank-and-file police officers for a discipline style some said was too harsh. As Houstonians doubtless recall, Acevedo was no stranger to the camera, frequently marching in protests alongside criminal justice reform advocates. But over the last years of his tenure in Houston he was dogged by the Harding Street drug raid scandal. In Miami, his tenure has come under fire far more quickly than his time here in Houston. The Miami Herald reported that Acevedo has come under criticism for a string of disciplinary decisions, including firing the highest-ranking police couple in the department for not properly reporting a patrol vehicle accident, relieving a popular sergeant-at-arms and abruptly demoting several supervisors -- including a high-ranking Black female officer.

Top of Page

KXAN - September 16, 2021

Tension in Texas: What is, and isn’t, allowed at ISD board meetings under state law

This week in Central Texas, at least two school board meetings dissolved into chaos as districts work to navigate COVID-19 safety protocols, specifically whether they will enforce mask mandates, regardless of Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order. On Monday night, several people were escorted out of a Leander ISD board meeting, according to people at the meeting and videos obtained by KXAN, despite a warning from leaders in their previously posted agenda, which announced people who were disruptive would be removed. That’s exactly what ended up happening. “I don’t think a general reminder at this point is going to help us altogether, I don’t think a plea for respectful interactions is really helping before I end up giving a warning and asking for removal if you are disrupting the meeting,” one of the members of the board said as parents continued to yell. The agenda shows that action items included accepting a board member’s resignation and options for filling that vacancy.

A day later, the Round Rock Independent School District had to cut a meeting short after it was disrupted several times by angry community members. A number of people were upset at not being allowed in the main chamber for the meeting, which was at one point blocked off by police. A spokesperson for Round Rock ISD says they let the room fill up as much as possible while abiding by social distancing guidelines. Once the room was full, people were put in an overflow room, where they could watch the meeting on television and come into the main room to talk — if they signed up to speak. Community members were unhappy with that, citing the Open Meetings Act. Politics and opinion aside, there appears to be some confusion on what can and can’t be done by a school board, and by police, under the Open Meetings Act and within the bounds of freedom of speech. We took community members’ concerns to University of Texas law professor Steven Collis to break down what the Open Meetings Act means for you. Can I legally be escorted out of a public meeting? Collis said, “Generally speaking, people can’t disrupt the meeting. There are reasonable times allotted for when people can make comments, and if they’re preventing the operation of a meeting by say, screaming or yelling or violence or anything like that, then at that point they can be escorted out.”

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2021

As Texas Republicans celebrate wins on abortion and voting, Democrats predict a 2022 reckoning

Two years ago, Texas' Republican leaders agreed to boost public education spending by billions of dollars, setting aside most of the incendiary social issues that had derailed similar efforts in the past. But the GOP’s fixation on bread-and-butter issues — seemingly driven, at least in part, by a painful 2018 midterm election — proved to be fleeting. After Democrats fell flat in their lavishly funded attempt to retake the Texas House in 2020, Republicans responded by adopting a parade of conservative priorities this year, including the nation's strictest anti-abortion law and an overhaul of Texas elections that prompted Democrats to leave the state for over a month to stall it. While Republicans have touted their string of policy wins over the last few months, Democrats are already predicting a reckoning in the 2022 midterms, arguing that the state's hard shift to the right went too far and will fuel Democratic gains at the polls.

“There is such a thing as a Republican who publicly — in their social groups, maybe at church — will profess to be hardline about something, but when they finally get it, they realize that is not the world that they want,” said state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio. “They might be pro-Second Amendment, but they may not like permitless carry. They may be pro-life, but they recognize the dangers of having an outright ban on abortion, especially without exceptions for rape and incest. “Democrats don't have to spin those issues. They just have to make sure people are aware of what's happened, because they honestly just speak for themselves.” Even if the Republican policies have created some ammunition for Democratic candidates, the party also faces headwinds next year, including the tendency for a president's party to lose seats in midterm elections — the same phenomenon that aided Democrats in 2018. They will also need a major candidate to oppose Gov. Greg Abbott and his $55 million war chest. And the next round of redistricting, a top priority for the legislative session that begins Monday, gives Republicans a chance to shore up some of the seats Democrats are targeting. Those factors, combined with national issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Biden administration’s messy exit from Afghanistan, have muddled the political outlook for Texas heading into 2022, said Renée Cross, senior director of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. “We've seen throughout history the midterms are traditionally very hard on the party in power,” Cross said. “However, we've got all these other variables that I don't think we've really had to deal with before. In our generation, we haven't had to deal with ending a 20-year war and a pandemic.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Texas judges order DA Kim Ogg to stop withholding Harding Street raid evidence - yet again

The ruling from the state’s highest court Wednesday to Harris County prosecutors was definitive, and final: Turn the documents over. For more than a year, Harris County prosecutors have fought requests from defense attorneys for information and evidence that are routinely turned over in every criminal case. The documents being sought are those used to charge some of the Houston police narcotics officers at the center of the Harding Street drug raid scandal. After a 2019 drug raid ended in the deaths of two homeowners, Houston police investigators said the operation by Narcotics Squad 15 was based on lies by Gerald Goines, the veteran narcotics officer who led the operation. The firefight led to investigations from the FBI, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, and an internal probe by the police department.

The FBI’s investigation led to federal charges against Goines — for violating the rights of the slain couple, Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas — and his former partner, Stephen Bryant, with lying on government documents. Local prosecutors, meanwhile, began re-examining hundreds of cases Goines and his colleagues worked, dismissing many of them and pushing to have some convictions overturned. Ultimately, Goines was charged with felony murder, and a grand jury indicted him and 10 other current and former officers with a slew of other crimes, mostly related to lying on government documents to pad their overtime pay. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg trumpeted the indictments in January, comparing the officers’ behavior to “straight-up graft,” which she said “can literally rot an institution from the inside out.” At the time, defense attorneys representing several of the accused officers asked Ogg’s prosecutors for documents and information DA investigators used as the basis for the charges — documents they say they routinely receive in other cases. Under the Michael Morton Act, prosecutors are required to share such information with defendants, but Ogg’s civil rights prosecutors have fought defense attorneys’ requests for the documents by arguing that they are protected from disclosure because they are work product.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

47 arrested, more than 100 guns seized in Pleasant Grove in 90-day law-enforcement push

A collaborative effort to curb gun violence in Pleasant Grove resulted in at least 47 arrests and the seizure of hundreds of firearms over the course of 90 days, law enforcement officials say. Operation Pegasus involved more than 117 undercover efforts and “strategic enforcement,” Dallas, state and federal officials announced Thursday. Dallas Police Chief Eddie García said the Pleasant Grove area of southeast Dallas was chosen because it has a high concentration of violent crime. He said Dallas police were “all in” when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approached the department about the collaborative effort, which included the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI. “We know that it’s a few individuals that are causing the majority of the crime,” García said. “And in order for the vast majority of our residents that live in Pleasant Grove that live in fear to live their lives without these criminals is very, very important.”

The announcement of the operation’s results came as the police chief has overseen a strategy that aims to reduce violent crime after two years of increased homicides. On Monday, he marked the end of the initial 90-day implementation of the strategy’s first phase, which focused on increasing patrol resources in high-crime areas, relying on raising police visibility and targeting offenders. The plan also focuses on dealing with drug houses and tackling poverty as a root cause of violent offenses. Police and city officials voiced confidence in the plan this week, noting there had been fewer murders and robberies across Dallas during the first half of the year, though aggravated assaults were slightly higher than in 2020. Operation Pegasus is one of multiple interagency efforts that have taken place since García’s arrival about seven months ago. “The collaboration that I’ve seen with our state and federal partners is the best that I have experienced in nearly 30 years of law enforcement in two different cities and in two different states,” García said Thursday. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah said firearm offenders are about 50% more likely to revert to criminal behavior than non-firearm offenders.

Top of Page

AV Club - September 16, 2021

Texas man cited by police for walking around in a storm dressed as Michael Myers

On Monday, as Galveston, Texas prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Nicholas, a lawyer decided to amp up an atmosphere of dread just a little bit more by throwing on a Michael Myers costume and walking along the beach holding a fake knife. Despite this being a straightforwardly cool and fun thing to do, the lawyer was quickly slapped in handcuffs and cited for disorderly conduct. Footage shows Mark Metzger III enjoying himself by strolling along the beach as a storm rolls in, doing stuff like staring at onlookers and pointing his bloody knife at them. This may seem kind of menacing but Metzger later explained that his performance was just meant to make people happy.

Metzger told ABC13 that he wanted to “find a little bit of positivity in the gloomy doom” of 2021 and that horror movie cosplay was his way of accomplishing that goal. For his efforts, he was handcuffed by police—who soon figured out that his knife and the blood on it weren’t real—and cited for disorderly conduct before being released. He later told ABC13, “I guess there’s some people out there that don’t have a sense of humor or, you know, can’t please them all.” He also said his arrest “felt like a scene out of Scooby-Doo after they handcuffed me and pulled the mask off, like, ‘I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling Karens, you know?’” In a Facebook post, he reiterates some of the same comments about wanting to dress up like a serial killer in order to “[restore] our faith in humanity through humor” and writes that he’s “still fuzzy on what exactly was illegal about my actions.” Metzger also mentions that he got to meet Tom Araya of Slayer during the prank (and attaches a photo) and then tosses out a few hashtags, like #irreverentwarriors on his post. Just like Myers, this defeat isn’t likely to stop him for long. Metzger told ABC13 that “If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would,” which suggests that he’ll probably be out during the next big storm getting his overalls all wet and sandy. Keep an eye on the beach.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 16, 2021

Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause running in election for Texas attorney general

Fort Worth Republican Rep. Matt Krause is the latest candidate to launch a 2022 bid against embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his statewide office. Krause on Thursday announced his bid for the seat. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman have previously announced campaigns for attorney general in the Republican primary. On the Democratic side, civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who represents the families of Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean, is running for attorney general, as well as Galveston lawyer Joe Jaworski. “I can bring a faithful, conservative fighter to that position to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect the values and liberties of Texans while pushing back against a Biden and Harris administration that too often seeks to exert too much influence into the lives of Texans,” Krause said.

Krause, who practiced constitutional law before serving in the legislature, has represented House District 93 in the Texas House of Representatives since 2013. In seeking statewide office, Krause will not again run for his House seat. Krause pointed to his legislative record and experience in the state legislature as what differentiates him from other candidates. Voters could expect to see similarities between him and Paxton when it comes to policies, he said. But Krause said turnover and allegations related to abuse of office concern him and factored into his decision to run. Paxton, who took office in 2015, is facing federal felony securities fraud charges. He is separately under investigation by the FBI for allegedly using his office to benefit a political donor, according to the Associated Press. “Anytime you have that kind of environment surrounding an office, it takes your focus off the ability, not necessarily to do anything good for Texans, but most effective and the best things for Texas,” Krause said. In a Thursday statement, Paxton touted his endorsement by former President Trump and his record challenging the Biden administration. “I have taken the American First fight to this far left administration on the border and reinstated Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy,” Paxton wrote. “I am also prosecuting dozens of felony charges of voter fraud and helped lead the investigation and closure of the largest human trafficking website in America. I stand by my record and values, and ask each voter to join President Trump in standing with me for a safer and stronger Texas.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dave Lieber: Ken Paxton released a report clearing himself of any and all crimes. How brilliant is that?

Dear Attorney General Ken Paxton, Man, you are one slick lawyer. I give you credit. In a world where there’s very little originality, you’ve carved out a special place for yourself in the annals of law enforcement. You and your office released a 374-page report that supposedly clears you of all wrongdoing in a case in which you stand accused of using your powers to help a friend who is also a campaign donor. I’m surprised you haven’t already done this in your separate securities fraud case you’ve been fighting now for six years. Clear thy own name. Wow. Why didn’t I think of that when I received a one-week suspension in the fifth grade for using foul language? I should have cleared myself in a report to the principal. My grandmother from the old country would have called this a great example of chutzpah. It’s probably not a word anyone much uses in Minot, N.D., where you were born. But Dictionary.com defines the Yiddish word’s meaning as shameless audacity, arrogance, nerve and gall.

To use it in a sentence, you, sir, displayed extraordinary chutzpah when you cleared yourself of all crimes. The word is not pronounced like it’s spelled. It’s not shutz-pa. It’s more like hootz-spa. You could print T-shirts that say, “Full of chutzpah.” (Wait, I just checked. You can already find them on the Internet for $19.90.) I admire the way you flipped the scenario. You had eight staff members accuse you of wrongdoing for allegedly favoring buddy Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor, with special treatment. These officials, who worked in the office with you, claim you abused your power as the state’s top law enforcement officer. But you blamed them for the wrongdoing instead. Beautiful. Such malcontents. Good thing they no longer work for you. Who needs employees with a conscience? I love the way empty moving boxes were placed in the hallway near some of their offices. The message was clear: Time to go, you traitors. Darn those whistleblowers. Such tattletales. In an explosive lawsuit, several of them wrote that you “became less rational” in your decision-making and more “unwilling to listen to reasonable objections” to your instructions. They claimed you became obsessed with helping Paul, also under FBI investigation, achieve goals he needed for his business.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

AT&T debuts first of three ‘connected learning centers’ in Dallas with plans to open 20 nationwide

AT&T’s effort to address the digital divide is underway with Thursday’s opening of a downtown Dallas education center aimed at assisting mostly low-income families left behind by gaps in affordable, reliable internet availability. The so-called “connected learning centers” are part of a $2 billion commitment by AT&T to bridge inequities in modern internet infrastructure. AT&T declined to provide the specific amount it’s investing in 20 centers planned nationwide. In many parts of the U.S., people living in majority non-white neighborhoods and regions with lower incomes lack access to high-speed internet, creating barriers to education for children and to finding employment for adults.

The gap in accessibility became starker when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to turn to virtual instruction and companies told employees to work from home. In Dallas, which ranks among the worst connected for U.S. cities of its size, the city invested hundreds of thousands to turn library parking lots into internet hot spots and distributed laptops and tablets to students. AT&T is partnering with Dell Technologies, which is providing 15 computers for each center, the Public Library Association and Black-owned global IT firm Overland-Tandberg, which will provide technical assistance to the centers. Family Gateway, which supports homeless families, also is on board. The nonprofit is one that’s familiar to Dallas-based AT&T, whose employees have volunteered their time at Family Gateway after work for several years, tutoring the children of families staying there, according to the organization’s president and CEO Ellen Magnis. AT&T employees will continue to volunteer at the center. The learning centers will be equipped with educational content from Khan Academy and an in-house learning program that includes content from WarnerMedia’s brands like the DC Comics Universe and Cartoon Network. The company also is giving $50,000 to each nonprofit it partners with to cover additional operational costs.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Here comes another Texas voter purge, but this time with a wrinkle

Two years after Texas officials fumbled an effort to double-check the voting rolls on a hunt for noncitizens — and instead threatened the voting rights of nearly 60,000 eligible Texans — similar efforts to purge noncitizen voters are now the law of the land, thanks to provisions tucked into the massive elections bill enacted this month. The secretary of state will again be allowed to regularly compare driver’s license records to voter registration lists in a quest to find people who are not eligible. But while Republicans are determined to make another run at the purge that alarmed civil rights groups two years ago, they insist they’ve made key changes to prevent a repeat of the same mistakes. “They blew it last time,” acknowledged state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

So much so that then-Secretary of State David Whitley resigned in the aftermath and triggered a public apology from his office. Civil rights groups also sued his office and blocked the state from continuing the purge at the time. Starting by December of this year, the secretary of state will review Department of Public Safety records every month looking for potential noncitizens. But this time, lawmakers have put in a provision that intentionally bars the secretary of state from going too far back in time as they scour driver’s license records, something that led to some of the problems in 2019. In some instances, the state flagged legal voters who had become naturalized citizens since the time they first applied for a driver’s license a decade or more earlier. Noncitizens, including those with visas or green cards to stay in the U.S., are able to get Texas driver’s licenses. The state’s 2019 analysis flagged those drivers, but it never accounted for the fact that about 50,000 Texans become naturalized citizens each year. The result was many legitimate voters receiving letters warning they were at risk of being knocked off the voter rolls and facing potential legal action because of faulty data.

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2021

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul slams 'appalling' Texas abortion ban, criticizes Greg Abbott

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul this week sharply criticized a new Texas law that essentially bans most abortions and said that her state intends to assist women who want to leave the Lone Star State to access the procedure. “For women in Texas, we want you to know: We will help you find a way to New York. And right now we are looking intensely to find what resources we can bring to the table to help you have safe transport here, and let you know there are providers who will assist you in this time of your need,” Hochul said in a Wednesday night interview on MSNBC. She went on to attack Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, saying he and Republicans like him claim to be proponents of deregulation and small government, but then seek to control women’s bodies.

“I’m going to help women get elected all over this country who are pro-choice. I’m going to use my energy and my resources to make sure that happens as well. That’s the only thing that’s going to change this: We have to wipe out men like Governor Abbott,” said Hochul, a Democrat who became the state’s first woman governor last month. “It’s so appalling what’s going on in these Republican states. And their people are suffering, and I can’t stand it any longer. We have to take a strong position against this and call it out whenever we see it.” A spokeswoman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear from Hochul’s remarks whether she means that New York will have a policy to financially assist Texas women seeking to travel to her state for abortions, or whether she simply means that New York’s existing clinics that perform abortions will be open to Texans. “New York State provides care for people regardless of residency. We will do everything we can to help individuals who are seeking the procedure in New York State,” Haley Viccaro, a spokeswoman for Hochul, wrote in an email.

Top of Page

Rio Grande Guardian - September 13, 2021

McAllen-Reynosa area about to benefit from EDC’s focus on China

Multiple visits to China in 2019 by McAllen leaders is finally set to pay off with Chinese companies investing in the McAllen-Reynosa area. That is the prediction of Jorge Torres, president and founder of InterLink Trade Services, a customs brokerage company with offices in McAllen, Pharr and Brownsville. Torres participated in the trips to China two years ago. They were organized by the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and featured then-McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “For our region, there is a lot of potential for growth. Because of USMCA and Covid, we have a very good opportunity for growth in our region because companies will be interested in setting up operations, both on the U.S. side of the border and on the Mexican side as well,” Torres said, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service.

The interview was arranged as a follow-up to a recent webinar Torres hosted in collaboration with McAllen EDC about USMCA. USMCA stands for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and is the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Torres pointed out that provisions in USMCA that were not present in NAFTA require more raw materials to be sourced in North America for manufactured products coming into the United States if manufacturers wish to avoid paying import duties. For an automobile or a light duty truck, the original value content, as of 2023, is going to be 75 percent. “The USMCA rules of origin, particularly in the automotive industry, are making (supply) companies think about setting up operations in North America. In particular cross-border operations. That is going to allow them to meet the rules of origin for their customers and therefore comply with USMCA requirements,” Torres said. “That is pretty much a given, especially for the automotive industry. Companies like General Motors and Ford and other companies that assemble cars in our region are going to start demanding that their components are originating here so they count in the 75 percent. That is forcing companies to locate operations in North America if they want to keep supplying North America. If they want to supply manufacturing companies they need to make the product in North America in order to company with the rules of origin for USMCA purposes.”

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Evan Mintz: Texas put a bounty on my rabbi. Is it time for us to leave?

While I was hoping to hear the deep blasts of the shofar in person, yet another year of virtual High Holiday services has given me the opportunity to catch up on some paperwork that my Jewish guilt had been urging me to begin for some time. I started applying for my kids’ passports. The annals of Jewish history stretch back for millennia, yet all those chronicles point to a single indispensable lesson: Be prepared to leave. Whether it’s Israelites escaping Pharoah before they had time to let bread rise or my own great-grandfather fleeing his hometown after his mother was murdered by Cossacks, the perpetual narrative of the Jewish people is one of exodus. After the passage of Senate Bill 8, I have started to worry that Texas will be part of that narrative for my own family. SB 8 was nominally crafted to prohibit abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, but that’s not the part that concerns me.

Rather, it’s the provision that delegates enforcement to individual Texans. Anyone in the state can take private civil action not only against those who seek or provide an abortion, but also those who merely assist in pursuit of one. You’ll find the leadership of my own synagogue in that latter category. Like most American Jews, I belong to a denomination that believes life begins at birth and places the utmost value on that life — especially when carrying a future child. That’s why, for example, rabbis have developed a specific process for accommodating a woman’s pregnancy cravings if she happens to hanker for a slice of honey-glazed ham. Her wellbeing, and that of the fetus, matters far more than Kosher law. That’s also why Danny Horwitz, a rabbi at Congregation Beth Yeshurun, once explicitly instructed a woman to get an abortion after hearing about how another child would put undue stress on her preexisting health issues. “Thus, when this woman came to me for direction, I told her not that she could have an abortion, but that she must have an abortion, that the God of my understanding would want her to do it,” he wrote. That advice alone would likely be in violation of SB 8. I have to wonder how long until a self-proclaimed “baby-murder bounty hunter” like state Rep. Briscoe Cain, one of the bill’s sponsors, fixes his metaphorical crosshairs on my synagogue. I also have to wonder how long until someone drops the metaphor.

Top of Page

Dallas Observer - September 10, 2021

Parents sue Allen ISD over 'failure' to protect children with COVID safety measures

Allen Independent School District parents have petitioned and protested for more COVID-19 protocols throughout the district, including a mask mandate for students. But the district hasn't budged. So now, these parents are taking their chances in court. In a federal class-action lawsuit filed late Wednesday, the parents demand the district implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19, including a temporary mask requirement for students. These guidelines wouldn't require teachers and staff to wear masks, according to the lawsuit. In May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order banning mask mandates by government entities, which included schools. But Abbott has faced a swell of defiance from many school districts around the state, including Dallas ISD, as they implement mask mandates. Other districts challenging the governor include Austin, Fort Worth and Houston.

Attorney Martin Cirkiel filed the suit on behalf of students and parents only identified as Jane and John Doe. It alleges Allen ISD and school board members violated students’ constitutional rights by not implementing enough protocols to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “This failure by the school district has caused too many children to get sick and has put them, their classmates and their families, as well as staff, at further risk,” Cirkiel & Associates said in a press release. The lawsuit said the school board has a responsibility to assure students’ right to life and that it’s not living up to this. “While it yet to be determined whether or not a student has a constitutional right and liberty interest in not wearing a mask at school, even if so, it does not supersede the Doe’s constitutional right to life (and by extension their health) to have those same students wear a mask at school, because of the current rampage of the COVID-19 pandemic delta variant,” the lawsuit said. But Allen ISD officials insist the district is doing just fine. “Due to the ongoing litigation, the school district cannot speak to the specifics regarding its response to the lawsuit at this time,” an Allen ISD spokesperson told the Observer by email. “The District, however, strongly disagrees that the students’ constitutional rights have been violated by leaving masks as an option for students and staff. Allen ISD continues to work proactively and professionally with parents who have questions or concerns about COVID-related issues.”

Top of Page

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2021

Group pushes to decriminalize cannabis in San Marcos

Social justice advocates in Hays County are pushing to keep people who possess or use cannabis in San Marcos out of jail. At a news conference last week, Mano Amiga announced a campaign of public outreach aiming to get a measure on the ballot in November 2022. It would decriminalize use and possession of small amounts in the city.

Come January, the group will have 180 days to collect the signatures of 10 percent of voters, said Sam Benavides, a Mano Amiga campaign fellow. “We are confident that this will be a campaign widely popular across the political spectrum,” Benavides said via email. “It is time that members of our community stop having their lives so needlessly disrupted over possession of something that people in other states have legally created million-dollar companies selling.”

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Flashlight beatings, chokings and threats: Dallas officer faced multiple allegations of brutality

Two Black men accused the officer of beating them with his flashlight so badly they were treated at a hospital. Another Black man said he threatened to yank his “[expletive] through this window.” A Black woman said the officer choked her while saying, ‘B----, you want to die?’’ Those complaints were among the first from people who alleged brutality, racial profiling and other misconduct by Sgt. Roger Rudloff over his 26 years on the Dallas police force. And the allegations of abuse kept coming, at least 18 in all, mostly from Black and Latino people, police records show. Eight people accused Rudloff, who is white, of using inappropriate force. Thirteen accused him of making racist or abusive remarks. The allegations rarely resulted in discipline, a Dallas Morning News investigation found. Instead, Rudloff moved up the ranks, serving as a field training officer for new recruits and racking up at least 125 commendations for his aggressive police work.

Then last year, a photograph of Rudloff shooting pepper balls at a Black Lives Matter protester stoked concerns from community leaders about police violence. In March, police quietly cleared Rudloff, 48, of criminal wrongdoing, despite experts’ opinions that there was ample evidence to charge him. The Dallas Morning News examined more than a thousand records tracking Rudloff’s career. The pepper-ball shooting, captured in a photo published by The News, marked the first time allegations against Rudloff prompted a criminal investigation. The disclosure of Rudloff’s history comes as the Dallas Police Department is facing scrutiny by the FBI, the Dallas County district attorney’s office and City Council for a string of scandals since last year. Among the problems: a flawed murder investigation into a former officer that led to his release from jail and a suspected Ponzi scheme involving a dozen officers. Dallas police Chief Eddie García, who started in February, has vowed to improve accountability. In a statement, García declined to comment on the complaints against Rudloff because a separate internal investigation is pending. Rudloff declined repeated requests for interviews. His lawyer described all of the complaints against Rudloff as baseless. The sergeant’s record of achievement speaks for itself, he said.

Top of Page

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

Joe Manchin: The last of the oil and gas Democrats?

Natural gas is a booming business in West Virginia, and when the state’s gas producers started getting nervous about President Joe Biden’s climate policies earlier this year, they put in a call to the last Democrat holding statewide office in West Virginia. Sen. Joe Manchin, the newly appointed chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, took their questions for an hour, discussing topics such as pipeline construction and industry tax breaks, said Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil & Natural Gas Association of West Virginia. “We talked about issues like intangible drilling costs and percentage declines. He is very well versed,” Burd said. “Everyone gets a visit, but he welcomes us.” Since last year’s election turned him into a critical swing vote in the closely divided Senate, Manchin has used the spotlight to advocate aggressively within his party for climate change policy that allows the continued use of fossil fuels — or as he likes to describe his position, “innovate not eliminate.”

Facing off against President Joe Biden and other members of his party calling for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, Manchin has emerged as one of the last Senate Democrats willing to go to bat for the fossil fuel industry, whether it’s West Virginia’s still sizeable coal mining sector or oil and gas drillers in states like Texas. “Senator Manchin has a lot of power and has wielded it,” said Matthew Davis, legislative director at the environmental group League of Conservation Voters. “He’s shaping the way things are running.” Manchin’s office declined interview requests for this story. But the senator has not been shy in publicly expressing his displeasure with his party’s approach to climate change. Trying to navigate his way through a scrum of reporters in the Capitol this summer — all eager to get his take on Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget proposal — Manchin issued a stern warning to Democrats looking to use the budget to shift the nation away from fossil fuels. “I know they have the climate portion in here, and I'm concerned about that," Manchin told reporters. "Because if they're eliminating fossils, and I'm finding out there's a lot of language in places they're eliminating fossils, which is very, very disturbing.”

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 16, 2021

Joe Manchin gets all the attention. But Kyrsten Sinema could be an even bigger obstacle for Democrats’ spending plans.

Senate Democrats were riding high on the afternoon of July 28: A long-delayed bipartisan infrastructure package had finally come together, with many senators eager to finish that bill and move forward with a multitrillion-dollar piece of economic, climate and social legislation — President Biden’s signature “Build Back Better” plan. But one senator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), punctured the gleeful atmosphere with a warning shot. While Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee may have agreed on the size of the second bill, she had not. “[W]hile I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion,” Sinema said in a statement that struck some of her fellow Democrats as poorly timed — coming just hours before she was counting on a united caucus to advance the infrastructure deal she had painstakingly negotiated. Sinema, 45, is not the only Senate Democrat to raise pointed concerns about the size of the party’s legislative agenda. In fact, her objections have been largely obscured by the much more prominent complaints that fellow Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has aired about the left wing’s ambitions in newspaper op-eds, TV news appearances and near-daily comments to reporters.

Sinema, on the other hand, has remained almost entirely mum. While Manchin appeared on multiple Sunday news programs this month, Sinema hasn’t done a national television interview in weeks. But her vote in the evenly divided Senate is just as crucial as Manchin’s, and some Democrats quietly fear her objections could be even more nettlesome. She remained silent when asked about her priorities in shaping the bill at the Capitol this week, and a spokesman, John LaBombard, said in a statement Wednesday that Sinema “is continuing to work in good faith with her colleagues and President Biden as this legislation develops.” According to more than a dozen interviews with her Senate colleagues and aides involved in the negotiations, Sinema and her staff have been closely involved in the talks, putting detailed questions to several key lawmakers and committee aides to understand the justification for proposed spending and tax increases. “She’s gone through the whole package and has very specific concerns and questions about very specific pieces,” said Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who said Tuesday that he has personally fielded questions from Sinema about his own proposal for a new Civilian Climate Corps — a multibillion-dollar line item that is a key priority for the left. Sinema, Coons said, wanted to know more about whether the program could be quickly grown to the scale that its supporters envision. “It’s a perfectly reasonable question,” Coons added. “I spoke up in caucus and said, you know, this is one of the ones I’m working really hard on. And she said, ‘Okay, I need answers to this, this, this and this.’”

Top of Page

CNBC - September 16, 2021

Lawyer who allegedly advised Clinton campaign charged with lying to FBI in tip about possible Trump-Russia bank link

A lawyer who allegedly advised the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was indicted Thursday on a charge of lying to the FBI. Federal prosecutors say Michael Sussmann, then a partner at law firm Perkins Coie, lied when he offered a tip that same year about the possible secret electronic channel between former President Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank. The charge against Sussmann was filed as part of special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of a prior probe by the FBI and former special counsel Robert Mueller into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. Then-Attorney General William Barr put Durham in charge of the investigation in early 2019 after Trump had railed about the Russia inquiry for several years.

Sussmann, a 57-year-old former federal prosecutor, has reportedly denied working for the Clinton campaign. He is accused in the indictment of lying to the FBI’s general counsel during a September 2016 meeting by falsely stating he was not representing any legal client as he relayed the information about a possible electronic link between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank. “In fact, Sussmann assembled and conveyed the allegations to the FBI on behalf of at least two clients, including a U.S. technology executive and the Clinton Presidential Campaign,” Durham’s office said in a statement announcing the indictment by a Washington, D.C., federal court grand jury. The indictment says that beginning in July 2016, Sussmann worked with the tech executive, other cyber-researchers, and an American investigative firm to assemble data and documents that Sussman later gave the FBI and media. “The technology executive, for his part, exploited his access to non-public data at multiple internet companies and enlisted the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract designed to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security,” Durham’s office said.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 17, 2021

GOP Rep. Gonzalez, who voted to impeach Trump, announces he won’t seek reelection, citing ‘toxic dynamics inside our own party’

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach former president Donald Trump, on Thursday announced he will not seek reelection in 2022, citing a desire to “build a fuller family life” as well as “the toxic dynamics inside our own party.” Gonzalez, a former professional football player, was once seen as a rising star within the GOP, before his vote to impeach Trump incurred the wrath of the former president and his supporters. Gonzalez was facing a tumultuous primary against Max Miller, an aide to the former president, whom Trump endorsed in February. Gonzalez, who turns 37 on Saturday and has two children, said in a statement Thursday that his decision was based on concerns about the toll the job was taking on his young family, as well as the state of the Republican Party.

“Since entering politics, I have always said that I will do this job for as long as the voters will have me and it still works for my family,” Gonzalez said, before conceding that it had become “clear that the best path for our family is not to seek reelection next fall.” “While my desire to build a fuller family life is at the heart of my decision, it is also true that the current state of our politics, especially many of the toxic dynamics inside our own party, is a significant factor in my decision,” Gonzalez added. In an interview with the New York Times, Gonzalez went into more detail about how those concerns intersected, describing the difficulty of dividing his time between Ohio and Washington, and noting an “eye-opening” moment with his family this year at the Cleveland airport, where they needed additional security after the impeachment brought a new wave of threats. “That’s one of those moments where you say, ‘Is this really what I want for my family when they travel, to have my wife and kids escorted through the airport?’” Gonzalez told the newspaper. Gonzalez also told the Times that he saw Trump as “a cancer for the country” and that he would devote most of his political energy to ensuring Trump would never be president again.

Top of Page

Associated Press - September 17, 2021

Milley: Calls to China were ‘perfectly’ within scope of job

The top U.S. military officer said Friday that calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final stormy months of Donald Trump’s presidency were “perfectly within the duties and responsibilities” of his job. In his first public comments on the conversations, Gen. Mark Milley such said calls are “routine” and were done “to reassure both allies and adversaries in this case in order to ensure strategic stability.” The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to The Associated Press and another reporter traveling with him to Europe. Milley has been at the center of a firestorm amid reports he made two calls to Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army to assure him that the United States was not going to suddenly go to war with or attack China.

Descriptions of the calls made last October and in January were first aired in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book says Milley told Li that he would warn Li in the event of an attack. Milley on Friday offered only a brief defense of his calls, saying he plans a deeper discussion about the matter for Congress when he testifies at a hearing later in September. “I think it’s best that I reserve my comments on the record until I do that in front of the lawmakers who have the lawful responsibility to oversee the U.S. military,” Milley said. “I’ll go into any level of detail Congress wants to go into in a couple of weeks.” Milley and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are scheduled to testify Sept. 28 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in what initially was going to be a hearing on the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation of Americans, Afghans and others from that country. Now, however, Milley is expected to face tough questioning on the telephone calls, which came during Trump’s turbulent last months in office as he challenged the results of the 2020 election. The second call, on Jan. 8, came two days after a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s White House victory.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2021

Energy Department lowers U.S. Gulf oil production estimates after Hurricane Ida

The Energy Department lowered its oil production estimates in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida temporarily halted production at the vast majority of offshore oil platforms last month. U.S. Gulf oil output is expected to fall by 200,000 barrels per day in August to 1.5 million barrels per day. September production is expected to fall by 500,000 barrels per day to 1.2 million barrels per day, the agency said Thursday. Ida caused the largest disruption to U.S. offshore oil production since Hurricanes Delta and Zeta in October 2020. U.S. crude oil production fell by 1.5 million barrels per day between Aug. 27 and Sept. 3, the Energy Department said.

Offshore oil producers are still reeling from Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29 in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm shut down as much as 96 percent of crude oil production and 94 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Interior Department. More than two weeks after Ida, nearly 30 percent of oil production and 40 percent of natural gas production in the Gulf remains shut down, the Interior Department said Wednesday. The Gulf of Mexico represents 15 percent of U.S. crude production. The Energy Department expects that Gulf oil production will return to pre-Ida levels by October, but warned that refinery operations could take longer to recover. At least nine refineries shut down or reduced production in response to Ida. Gulf Coast refineries took in 1.6 million fewer barrels of oil per day from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3. Although some refiners have restarted operations, the Energy Department expects that refinery runs will average 713,000 barrels per day less in September as a result of Ida. “Repairs to any infrastructure required to resume refinery operations, however, could potentially take longer, making the forecast highly uncertain,” the Energy Department said. Ida caused crude oil inventories in the Gulf to fall by 2.6 million barrels from Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, the Energy Department said. Over the same period. Crude oil imports into the Gulf Coast fell by 247,000 barrels per day while crude oil exports from the Gulf fell by 698,000 barrels per day. Hurricane Nicholas, which made landfall in Texas as a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 14, could delay the oil industry’s recovery from Ida, analysts said. Oil producers, refiners and petrochemical manufacturers are assessing damage from Nicholas, although preliminary reports found no significant damage from the storm.

Top of Page

Newsclips - September 16, 2021

Lead Stories

Associated Press - September 16, 2021

FDA strikes cautious, neutral tone ahead of Friday vaccine booster meeting

Influential government advisers will debate Friday if there's enough proof that a booster dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective — the first step toward deciding which Americans need one and when. The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday posted much of the evidence its advisory panel will consider. The agency struck a decidedly neutral tone on the rationale for boosters — an unusual and careful approach that's all the more striking after President Joe Biden and his top health advisers trumpeted a booster campaign they hoped to begin next week. Pfizer’s argument: While protection against severe disease is holding strong in the U.S., immunity against milder infection wanes somewhere around six to eight months after the second dose. The company gave an extra dose to 306 people at that point and recorded levels of virus-fighting antibodies threefold higher than after the earlier shots.

More important, Pfizer said, those antibodies appear strong enough to handle the extra-contagious delta variant that is surging around the country. To bolster its case, Pfizer pointed the FDA to data from Israel, which began offering boosters over the summer. That study tracked about 1 million people 60 and older and found those who got the extra shot were far less likely to become infected soon afterward. Pfizer said that translates to “roughly 95% effectiveness” when delta was spreading, comparable to the protection seen shortly after the vaccine’s rollout earlier in the year. The Israeli data, also published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, cannot say how long the boosted protection lasts. The FDA's reviewers, however, suggested they would mainly look to research on how the vaccines are working among Americans, saying that “may most accurately represent vaccine effectiveness in the U.S. population.” Overall, the data show that the Pfizer and other U.S.-authorized COVID-19 vaccines “still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death in the United States,” the agency said, summarizing the evidence. The FDA is not bound to follow the advice of its independent advisory panel. But if the agency overrules its own experts, that could stoke public confusion. Earlier this week, two top FDA vaccine regulators joined a group of international scientists in rejecting boosters now for otherwise healthy individuals, citing the strong continuing protection against severe disease. Dr. Anna Durbin of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health said it’s important to understand the FDA’s decision simply is whether an extra dose is safe and does what it promises — to raise immunity levels.

Top of Page

Marshall News-Messenger - September 16, 2021

Harrison County GOP censures State Rep. Chris Paddie

The Harrison County Republican Party’s executive committee recently voted, 9-1, to censure State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall). Local party chair Lee Lester said the vote was spurred by Paddie’s seemingly lack of support to the party’s platform. “He was censured in Harrison County,” said Lester. “We were kind of waiting to see if he did anything in this legislative session. We were hoping that he would and we wouldn’t have to do anything, but he’s still not representing the people who sent him. “We’re in a representative republic, and he doesn’t represent us, so we have to do something,” said Lester.

The local party chair said Paddie has been invited to their meetings several times to entertain questions about his representation of House District 9, to no avail. “He has not even responded to our request,” said Lester. Thus, in accordance with Rule 44 of the Rules of the Republican Party of Texas, the executive committee voted to move forward with the censure, having duly offered Representative Paddie an invitation and opportunity to speak to such grievances, the censure states. Paddie, who is now gearing up for a third special session in Austin, expressed his disappointment in the executive committee’s move to censure him. “It is shameful that while the Legislature was busy passing Republican priorities, such as election integrity, pro-life legislation, and a 13th check for retired teachers, a handful of folks were busy trying to tear apart the Republican Party,” Paddie said in a statement to the News Messenger. “Their misinformed censure motion is in contrast to the almost 80 percent of Harrison County Republican voters who supported me in the last primary,” said Paddie.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

U.S. Senate Democrats are pushing a new voting rights bill. If passed, what would it mean for Texas?

A new elections bill introduced Tuesday could impact balloting in Texas and other states, with several provisions potentially changing how Texans register to vote, vote by mail and in-person and drop off ballots. A group of U.S. Senate Democrats — including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key swing vote — introduced a new voting rights package to establish federal elections standards and counter what they see as Republican efforts at the state level to limit access to the ballot box. “As we have seen in states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Montana, and most recently Texas, we are up against a coordinated attack aimed at limiting the freedom to vote,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “This demands a federal response, and the Constitution could not be clearer. It says right there that Congress can make or alter laws regarding federal elections.”

Klobuchar introduced the legislation, which builds off of both the stalled For the People Act that Senate Republicans filibustered in June and a compromise framework laid out by Manchin, who argued the For the People bill was too broad and partisan. Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Angus King, I-Maine, Manchin, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. are cosponsors. Despite Manchin’s support — and his efforts to garner support from his fellow centrists — Republican opposition is expected, and passage looks unlikely with the filibuster still in place, which requires 60 votes to overcome. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday he expects a procedural vote on the bill possibly as soon as next week. The new bill, called the Freedom to Vote Act, would make Election Day a public holiday and ensure all states offer same-day, automatic and online voter registration. According to the statement Klobuchar released Tuesday, the act would also allow “voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form” when casting a ballot in-person. In Texas, you currently can’t submit an application online to register to vote unless you’re updating your driver’s license — it must be mailed in, and the application must be received in the County Voter Registrar’s office or postmarked 30 days before an election in order for you to be eligible to vote in that election.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Interest in self-managed abortion rising in Texas as new restrictions face legal challenges

Each morning, Brenna McCaffrey, a Ph.D. student at City University of New York, checks her TikTok inbox, where people send messages about videos she makes about self-managed abortions. In the past two months, she says, 60% of the dozens of messages have been from people in Texas asking for more resources about how to manage a medication abortion at home. In her most recent video, McCaffrey, who studies medical anthropology, explains an illustrated graphic that details the process of properly taking the abortion-inducing medications. Other videos have specifically discussed where Texas women can find the pills, which are widely available online and in pharmacies across the border in Mexico. Senate Bill 8, which went into effect Sept. 1, makes it illegal to “aid or abet” an abortion in Texas, but that hasn’t stopped people like McCaffrey from going online to provide information about self-managed medication abortions.

Although she knows that SB 8?s vague language could prompt a lawsuit against those who make these materials available, McCaffrey said she isn’t worried. “In the United States, where freedom of speech is such a tenet of our society, I am not worried that speech and spreading information would ever be truly classified as aiding and abetting,” McCaffrey said. Abigail Aiken is the principal investigator of Project SANA, a research group that studies self-managed abortion in the United States. According to the group’s research on requests for abortion pills, more Texans are going online or out of state to seek abortion-inducing medications now that the new abortion restrictions are in effect. Some say that trend could grow even more when another new law goes into effect later this year that is intended to restrict access to drugs used to induce medication abortions. Aiken, who also teaches public policy at the University of Texas at Austin, said individuals like McCaffrey as well as groups like Plan C, which provides informational resources through its website and outreach events, are filling a gap created by the state’s new restrictions of abortion. She said the information they provide helps women avoid any confusion and take the medication safely. She said the information is important to make available because women will seek out self-managed abortions if no other options are accessible.

Top of Page

State Stories

Houston Public Media - September 15, 2021

Federal judge will consider temporarily blocking Texas abortion ban

A federal judge on Wednesday agreed to consider blocking the enforcement of a new Texas law banning abortions after about six weeks. In his order, Judge Robert Pitman set a preliminary injunction hearing for Oct. 1, where he’ll hear arguments over whether the implementation of Senate Bill 8 should be put on hold pending a ruling on its constitutionality. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state last week after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed SB 8 to go into effect.

The law bans abortions after cardiac activity is detected, and allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps someone access an abortion. If successful, that plaintiff could be awarded $10,000 or more. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Two weeks ago, a Travis County judge granted a temporary restraining order to three Texas Planned Parenthood affiliates, blocking anti-abortion group Texas Right To Life from suing those providers under the new law. Anti-abortion groups have slammed the DOJ’s suit, with Texas Right to Life calling it a “desperate move.” In a statement before the ruling, Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law for Planned Parenthood, called any injunction a “welcome step forward.” “For two weeks now, Texans have been forced to either cross state lines for care or carry a pregnancy against their will,” the statement read. “They need relief now.”

Top of Page

Forbes - September 15, 2021

Atomic chickens: Texas lawmakers reject proven plan to store nuclear waste

The best, safest, least expensive solution to our nuclear waste problem gets a near-unanimous bipartisan negative vote from the Texas Legislature. The lawmakers banned the storage of high-level radioactive waste in Texas, including spent nuclear fuel, at their approved nuclear waste disposal site near Andrews, Texas. The Texas bill expresses opposition to a pending U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission license application to store this waste in West Texas, near where we have already been safely disposing of nuclear waste for over 20 years. The legislation also directs the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to deny any state permits for the project. If you remember, the federal government licenses nuclear facilities and the State permits them. In other words, the feds control radioactive materials but the States control the RCRA hazardous materials like lead, mercury and toxic chemicals. Since it’s rare to have no toxic chemicals in with the rad, this is where the state exerts its power. The Texas Senate approved House Bill 7 unanimously and the bill cleared the House by a 119-3 margin on September 2 – a rare bipartisan agreement in the Texas Legislature. But when Republicans and Democrats join and religious groups, and environmental groups like Public Citizen and Sierra Club join with oil and gas companies, you know something’s strange.

They don’t seem to understand that Texas already has storage sites like this with lots of this nuclear waste already in storage, over 2,600 metric tons, in exactly the same way as this proposed storage site would have. These are at their two nuclear power plants, Comanche Peak and South Texas Generating Station. Texas also has nuclear weapons waste from its Pantex Plant near Amarillo. Putting all of its nuclear waste in one spot is the safest thing they can do. It’s also one of the most patriotic things they could do, helping the country take care of an important issue. This centralized facility is no different, nor more dangerous, than any of the others in Texas or around the country, just because it would have more of the same waste than any individual site. The risk of this storage facility would actually be less than the two storage facilities at their nuclear power stations, and much less than the 30-plus storage sites around America, because the number of sites trumps the size of a site with respect to risk. Having a centralized storage facility that takes all waste of this type from Texas would half the risk of any event in Texas. If it took all the waste from America, since there’s not much of it anyway, it would reduce the risk of any event by about 30 times. And the proposed location near Andrews, Texas is physiographically ideal for this facility, better than the facilities that already exist in Texas or most anywhere else in America, and the design is much higher tech. It’s always been puzzling to those of us who handle nuclear waste how nuclear waste got such a bad rep. It’s not coincidental that no one has been killed by nuclear power or nuclear waste. It’s just too easy to shield and store. It’s not like coal, oil or gas waste, that do kill people every year. As does chemical waste.

Top of Page

San Antonio Report - September 15, 2021

SAISD’s Pedro Martinez to be named Chicago Public Schools CEO

San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez is leaving the district to become CEO of Chicago Public Schools, the third largest U.S. public school system. His appointment was scheduled to be announced Wednesday morning at Chicago’s Benito Juarez High School, where he was once a student. Martinez told the San Antonio Report he plans to start his new job at the end of the month, returning to the city where he grew up and the school system where he began his education career. “I will always love San Antonio,” Martinez said Tuesday. “I will always love the community because it was a community that embraced me from day one, and the only district that would even have an opportunity to take me away is my hometown of Chicago.”

Last month, Martinez emerged from a pool of 25 applicants as one of four finalists for the Chicago CEO position. He served as the school system’s chief financial officer from 2003 to 2009, managing a $5 million budget. Arne Duncan, then the head of Chicago’s public schools and later the U.S. Secretary of Education, recruited Martinez to join a team working to turn around the school system. Now, Martinez will lead the district of roughly 340,000 students through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic, but the 51-year-old said that he is ready for the challenge. While he is familiar with the school system, Martinez is prepared to listen and learn about the changes Chicago’s public schools have endured in the past decade, such as declining enrollment. In SAISD, Martinez faced similar challenges, including generational poverty and declining enrollment that led to a $31 million budget shortfall in 2018. He acknowledged that there is still work to be done, but Martinez said he believes he is leaving the school district in a strong position, from the school board to the staff at each campus. At every level, the culture has shifted to prioritize supporting students, Martinez said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2021

Portland scraps Texas boycott, changes response to the state’s new abortion

The city of Portland, Oregon has walked back a proposed Texas boycott and travel ban in response to the state’s dramatic curtailing of abortion access. Instead, city officials are considering setting aside $200,000 that will go to organizations “that deliver programs and services related to reproductive health care,” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. The resolution does not specify if the groups to receive that money would be based in Oregon. The city council will consider the new proposal on Wednesday. Days after Texas passed legislation that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, the council announced the city would be withdrawing its business over what they called an “attack on the reproductive rights, freedom, and autonomy of people across the country.”

City spokesperson Heather Hafer said the city had purchased slightly less than $35 million in goods and services from Texas in the past five years. City officials have scrambled since the initial proposal to nail down how such a boycott would work. Late Tuesday afternoon, the city released the draft resolution showing the boycott had been scrapped. “The Portland City Council wishes to manifest its opposition to the Texas abortion ban, and its support for those who are affected by it, by ensuring that those who seek to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion have access to certified healthcare providers in safe and secure facilities,” the ordinance says. The resolution also directs the council to send a letter to the Oregon Congressional delegation urging them to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would preserve people’s right to access abortion, and a letter to the Biden Administration supporting the Department of Justice’s challenge to the Texas law. Wheeler’s previous plan to boycott drew the ire of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who insulted Portland on Twitter as a “dumpster fire” and called its leaders “depraved” in response. The Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks — before some people know they are pregnant. It differs significantly from laws blocked in other states because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

Top of Page

KVUE - September 15, 2021

Austin wants to be a model of modern policing, but the future remains unclear

A little more than a year ago, Austin leaders set out on a new mission in the aftermath of unprecedented protests: To make the city a vanguard of modern policing and create a template that could be replicated across America. In the months following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the local controversial police shooting of Michael Ramos, council members cut or reallocated $140 million – about one-third – from the Austin Police Department's budget by removing operations such as 911 dispatch and the forensics lab from law enforcement oversight. In what turned out to be among the most far-reaching decisions, officials also nixed three cadet classes, giving the department time to transition the police academy from a military-style boot camp to something that more closely resembles a college classroom. The cancellation meant that as more than 130 officers left in the past year, the department had no new rookies to replace them. Officials also directed new money to programs to help address what they said were underlying causes of police interactions, including mental health.

All told, Austin at the time was among the biggest cities in the U.S. to remove that high of a percentage of the local police budget and to launch such a dramatic policing overhaul. But recent interviews by the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman with more than 30 City leaders, City Hall staff, activists, politicians and community leaders reveal Austin’s efforts to dramatically reform police have, in many ways, yielded a fragmented picture of success a year later. Much of the discussion has become acutely political, with new laws passed by the Texas Legislature – primarily aimed directly at Austin – limiting cities from decreasing police budgets without the threat of losing tax dollars. The discussion of police reform also has been infused with issues such as a rise in homicides and gun violence. “The conversations in our community are ongoing to make sure that we have a public safety system and police force that makes everyone feel safe, and that’s the conversation we’re involved in,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a recent interview. “There’s a lot of work to do.” Austin remains in a unique moment for that continued discussion. The City is in the midst of hiring a new police chief. Voters in November will consider a measure pushed by the political action committee Save Austin Now that would mandate a minimum staffing level for the police department at an estimated cost of $119 million a year. To help promote ongoing and fact-based dialogue, KVUE and the Statesman early in October will jointly host a community forum with panelists from all sides of the issues. The goal: To discuss the future of policing in Austin and the community’s goal of reform. And, in the end, create a platform of discussion to help ensure that what happens in Austin will reflect policing for all.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Houston company hopes to store renewable energy in salt domes

Beneath a salt dome near where the first major oil field was discovered outside Beaumont, Houston-based Renewable Storage Co. hopes to begin storing energy. But it won’t be crude or other chemicals that are typically stored beneath the salt formations across the Texas Coast. Instead, it will be compressed air that, when released, will turn a turbine to generate electricity in a pinch. It’s being called a mechanical battery, and if the company can wrap up Series A fundraising with enough capital, it could be operating by late 2023 and the first of its kind in Texas. Art Gelber, one of the partners behind the Houston-based Renewable Storage Company, said only a handful of similar batteries exist in the world, including one in Alabama and one in Germany. The battery he hopes to build, however, differs in that it will not use natural gas or hydrocarbons to generate power.

“When it comes to making renewables more reliable power, generators and consumers don’t want to go backwards,” he said. “It is imperative that generators and consumers have a way to use 100 percent fossil-free energy all day, every day.” He said the battery, called Greenstore, works sort of like a balloon. When there’s an abundance of cheap electricity on the grid, air compressors will inject high volumes of air into the salt caverns, which are impervious. Then when grid conditions get tight, wholesale prices shoot up and there’s a need for more power, the battery releases some of that compressed air to turn a turbine that, in turn, generates electricity. But the air pushed out of the battery cools as it expands, which can make it difficult for it turn the generator. Other mechanical batteries use natural gas to heat the air as it leaves, but Renewable Storage is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to test a new system that would use heavily insulated concrete blocks that would be heated when compressed air enters the salt dome. The blocks would heat the air that leaves. That, Gelber said, gives it an edge when it comes to carbon emissions.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Democrats' tax plan is full of old tricks, including protection for the ultra-wealthy

Democrats wanting to raise taxes is nothing new, but who will not pay more under their proposal is revealing. First things first, the tax plan that House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal released Monday would not raise taxes on the vast majority of Americans. If you make less than $400,000 a year and do not have millions invested in the markets, your taxes will not go up. If you are among the highest 10 percent of American earners, your taxes could rise. But then, Democrats are also planning to keep some of the most unfair loopholes in the tax code.

Stipulate, if we may, that fiscal irresponsibility and subservience to big-money donors are bipartisan vices. Republicans manifest them in lowering taxes without reducing spending. Democrats demonstrate them by raising taxes alongside spending without addressing the growing budget deficit. Both habits lead to a growing national debt that taxes future generations. Members of both parties only discover fiscal discipline when they are out of power. Democrats fell back on their tried-and-true tax tricks this week. They proposed creating corporate tax brackets, like the personal income tax, with the top rate rising from 21 percent to 26.5 percent. Their tax plan would increase the top rate on stock and bond sales—the capital gains tax—to 28.8 percent from 23.8 percent. The top personal income tax bracket would rise from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. If you make more than $5 million a year, the Internal Revenue Service would levy an additional 3 percent surcharge. Taxing the rich is standard operating procedure for moderate Democrats. The progressive wing of the party, meanwhile, considers the package wholly inadequate.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Democrats see their opening in race against embattled AG Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, with his snowballing legal troubles and slim margin of victory in his 2018 re-election, has instilled new fervor in challengers from both parties — but especially Democrats hoping to seize on what they see as a prime opening. Paxton, who has been under indictment since 2015 for felony securities fraud charges and is facing an FBI investigation after being accused of corruption by his top aides last October, will face at least two high-profile challengers in the Republican primary: Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Both have identified the seat as one vulnerable to a Democratic flip. “They see that Ken Paxton is our weak link,” Bush said about Democrats at his campaign announcement in June. “They know that if he was the lowest vote-getter statewide in the last election cycle, and they know that if he is our nominee again, they have their first statewide elected office in close to 30 years.”

Two candidates are so far vying for the Democratic nomination: Joe Jaworski, 59, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, 38, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney. Both of the Democrats have emphasized the need to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office. It’s a line of attack that Paxton’s Republicans challengers are putting front and center, as well. “Of course, I was saying that before George Bush was, but I welcome his perspective,” Jaworski said. “I mean, of all offices, for Christ’s sake, the attorney general’s office needs to be above reproach.” Austin attorney Justin Nelson also focused on Paxton’s legal woes when he came within 3.6 percentage points of defeating him in 2018. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing in both the securities fraud case and the corruption inquiry. The FBI investigation has been ongoing for nearly a year without a resolution. A Paxton primary win would indeed give the Democrats their best chances to win a statewide election next year, said Juan Carlos Huerta, professor of political science at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “If Guzman or Bush were to win the nomination, that takes away all the scandal and investigations that surround Paxton,” Huerta said.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Gov. Abbott, please recognize International Underground Railroad Month

September is International Underground Railroad Month. Gov. Greg Abbott should recognize it with an official proclamation. In 2019, Maryland adopted such a proclamation, choosing September because that’s the month in which two of America’s most well-known freedom-seekers escaped slavery — Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Last year, several other states joined Maryland in recognizing the designation. Those include New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. We learned about all of that from Diane Miller, program manager for a National Park Service initiative called National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

That program seeks to document historic sites related to freedom-seekers in American history and tell their stories. Miller and her team have been spreading the word to recruit more states to adopt Underground Railroad Month. According to Renae Eze, a spokesperson for the office of the governor, Abbott could make Texas one of those states with just his signature. Ceremonial observations like this don’t require legislative approval. They are usually issued in response to constituent requests and can take as little as a few days to process. We encourage Abbott to take that action before the end of this month. Texas’ history in this area is just now coming to light as historians from the University of North Texas to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have started giving more attention to our state’s unique place in the journey of hundreds of those escaping slavery. Many of those freedom-seekers escaped to Mexico or Caribbean nations, which is part of the reason the September recognition includes the word “international.” Miller said enslaved people escaped to many nations, not just Canada, which seems to be what people assume when they think of the Underground Railroad. Her agency is working with the International Council on Monuments and Sites to expand the network. Miller said there is not a federal designation for the month and, in fact, the involvement of the park service could be a hindrance to that. “We can’t really initiate such a thing out of the agency. It’s viewed too much like lobbying,” she said. “That kind of thing is better coming from the outside.” That, too, sounds like a worthy endeavor to us. An official designation from the federal or Texas government could help raise awareness and uncover more corners of this important part of American history. As Americans, and especially as Texans, we put a high value on freedom. It makes sense for us to celebrate those in our history who risked their lives to pursue it, and those who helped them.

Top of Page

Reason - August 12, 2021

Former staffers condemn cruel treatment of inmates at a Texas prison for sex offenders

For many men serving time for committing sex offenses in Texas, their prison term never really ends—even if they complete their sentence. That's because they're required to enter a live-in mental health facility before returning to society. That facility—in Littlefield, Texas—is actually a former maximum security prison in the middle of a dirt field. "It comes as a surprise," says Mary Sue Molnar, founder of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming the state's sex offense laws and registry. "I often get letters from prison saying, 'Oh my god, they're going to civil commit me. What should I do?'" Civil commitment is the practice of keeping people locked up past their release date, on the grounds that they are so dangerous they need therapy—years and years of it—before they can safely return to society.

Of course, Molnar notes, if the state really "wanted them to have treatment and counseling, they had plenty of time to get that done. In some cases, these men served 20 to 25 years" in an ordinary prison before being civilly committed. This might seem just. But even as we feel great anger and sorrow on behalf of sex crime victims, we can also see that civil commitment is an extra prison sentence by another name. Originally called clients or residents when the center opened in 2015, the men have been re-labeled "inmates" since Management and Training Corporation, a private prison company, took over in 2019. "MTC does not run it in a therapeutic manner whatsoever," says Mandi Harner, a former security officer at the facility who was fired for having a relationship with one of the residents. "They run it like a prison. I'm not going to tell you everyone in there is an angel. But there are some men who deserve treatment they're not getting, and also some who did things as teenagers who don't deserve to be there their whole lives." For their first year or two at the treatment facility, the men are required to wear electronic ankle monitors that they have to pay for, according to Harner. MTC declined a request for comment about this and other claims made by sources in this article, as did the Texas Civil Commitment Office (TCCO), the government agency that oversees the facility.

Top of Page

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2021

Fort Worth school district’s ever-changing mask requirements leave students confused

Last week, Omar Marquez broke a piece of news to his students. Starting Monday, he told them, there will be a new rule requiring everyone at school to wear masks. Marquez, a sixth grade science teacher at Applied Learning Academy in Fort Worth, wasn’t sure how the kids would react. But to his surprise, none of them complained. A few even broke into cheers. But that rule didn’t even survive the school day. A state appeals court issued a ruling Monday blocking Fort Worth’s school mask requirement, marking the fifth change to the district’s mask policy in the past four months. Teachers in the district say the long series of rule changes has been confusing for their students.

Kids like procedures and predictable rules, Marquez said. When rules change — and especially when they change several times — it can leave students confused and frustrated, he said. Monday marked the first day the Fort Worth school district was able to enforce a new mask requirement after the Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District of Texas lifted a temporary injunction barring the district from enforcing the rule. But Monday afternoon, the appeals court granted a motion to reinstate the injunction brought by the four parents who are challenging the district’s mask rule. That means the district can’t enforce the rule while the parents’ lawsuit makes its way through the court system. Following the ruling, the district released a statement saying it would abide by the injunction. District officials and the district’s Board of Trustees will “stand firm in strongly encouraging” students and district employees to wear masks inside school buildings, according to the statement.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Dallas’ public safety math: Too few cops, steep overtime costs

Dallas City leadership has to come to grips with three basic truths about public safety. The first is that Dallas needs more police officers. The second is that the police department has to continue to manage resources more effectively. The third involves the police overtime budget, which is increasing because there is work to be done on the first two truths. For years, Dallas has treaded water just to keep a force at roughly 3,000 officers. In the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, for example, the department lost to attrition more than twice the number of officers it hired, and it wasn’t until the 2019 fiscal year that new hires began to keep pace with departures — and then just barely. Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax’s budget calls for the department to hire 275 new officers in each of the next two fiscal years, which is projected to get the department to around 3,100 officers.

This editorial board has urged the department to do more with available resources, and it has. The department adopted some key reforms from a KPMG management study, such as increasing the non-uniform share of total staff to free up officers for patrol duties, and Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia’s violent crime reduction plan is an example of how laser focus on the right things in the right ways can begin to bend the curve of rising crime. The challenges of law enforcement have grown, and the number of available officers needs to grow, too. And that is why the debate over police overtime misses a point. A persistent shortage of police officers has been driving up overtime costs for the city. Moving dollars in and out of overtime isn’t material to the overall budget, nor does it solve the basic police manpower shortage or acknowledge the efforts that the department has made to control overtime. Nonetheless, following the lead of councilmember Chad West, the City Council last week voted 8-7 to move $10 million of next year’s roughly $28 million police overtime budget to a reserve fund that will require the police department to make a formal request to the council’s Public Safety Committee to tap those funds. His concern is that the police department needs checks on its overtime and that putting the $10 million aside would compel closer accountability.

Top of Page

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2021

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson says he’ll propose restoring $10 million in police overtime

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson wants to undo a proposal to place $10 million of police overtime in reserves. And it appears he’s got council support. After the City Council narrowly voted last week to move nearly a third of the money into a reserve fund, the mayor said he is proposing to reverse the decision to transfer $10 million of next year’s roughly $28 million in police overtime. At least three council members who were part of the 8-7 majority in favor of the decision now say they’ll support the mayor’s idea. His plan comes after a preliminary city audit report released last Friday found no apparent waste or abuse of Dallas police overtime between 2018 and 2020. Johnson, who requested the overtime review in December, said he’ll make a formal proposal next Wednesday, when council members take a final vote on the city’s $4.35 billion budget. The City Council tentatively approved the spending plan last Thursday, but members can still suggest changes.

This is the second year in a row that the Dallas police overtime budget has been hotly debated among the city’s elected leaders. The department has needed more money than planned to cover overtime payouts every year since 2013. The topic has divided the council. Some have expressed concerns that the system can be exploited by police staff and result in wasted taxpayer dollars. Others have argued that the department needs all the money it can get for public safety. “I believed that if any evidence existed of such waste, we needed to address it promptly,” Johnson said in a memo to City Manager T.C. Broadnax, announcing his upcoming budget proposal. “After reading this interim [audit] report’s findings, I am satisfied that no problem exists.” Even before budget planning began, Johnson has consistently said that police needed more money, adding that it was one of his top funding priorities. The mayor, in his memo, also mentioned Police Chief Eddie García, saying during last week’s council meeting that his department would need the $10 million. Johnson also said that hiring more officers could reduce overtime costs. Broadnax has proposed that the city hire 500 new police officers over the next two fiscal years.

Top of Page

KXAN - September 16, 2021

Round Rock ISD pushes mask mandate decision to Saturday after unruly board meeting

The Round Rock Independent School District did not make a decision on whether to extend its mask mandate Tuesday night after the meeting was disrupted several times by angry community members. They were overall upset at not being allowed in the main chamber for the meeting. A spokesperson for Round Rock ISD says they let the room fill up as much as possible while abiding by social distancing guidelines. Once the room was full, people were put in an overflow room, where they could watch the meeting on television and come into the main room to talk — if they signed up to speak. Community members were unhappy with that, citing the open records act.

In the district’s live stream, board members can be heard asking a police officer at the meeting to remove one of the members of the crowd. “We cannot continue our meeting with him speaking,” one of the board members said. That person, who can’t be seen in the district’s live stream, but was caught on camera by KXAN and can be seen being escorted out in the video above, screams at the board members on his way out. “It’s an open meeting! Shame on you. Communist! Communist! Let the public in!” he said. KXAN has reached out to police and the district to see if the man who was escorted out is facing charges. This article will be updated when we hear back. Two RRISD trustees also walked out during the meeting after being yelled at for not wearing their masks — despite the mandate. The district is one of several school systems being sued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over mask rules. Its current mask mandate ends on Friday.

Top of Page

KVUE - September 16, 2021

24 attorneys general file amicus brief to support Biden administration's effort to block Texas abortion law

Twenty-four attorneys general have filed an amicus brief in support of the Joe Biden administration's effort to block Texas' restrictive abortion law. The new law, which went into effect Sept. 1, blocks abortions when cardiac activity can be detected in a fetus, which is typically at six weeks and before many women even know they're pregnant. It's the most restrictive abortion ban since the passing of Roe v. Wade in 1973. The amicus brief, filed by Massachusetts' attorney general in addition to 23 other Democratic attorneys general, was filed Sept. 15. The attorneys general from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawai'i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and North Carolina also joined in on the amicus brief.

The attorneys general echoed what President Biden has said about Texas' new law: That it's a direct contradiction to a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. “Today, virtually no one can obtain an abortion in Texas,” the brief said. “In order to obtain abortion care, patients now have to travel out-of-state, which makes abortion for many people too difficult, too time-intensive, and too costly.” The Justice Department under the Biden administration earlier filed a lawsuit in federal court in Texas, asking a federal judge to declare that the law is invalid, “to enjoin its enforcement, and to protect the rights that Texas has violated.” “The act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that no state can deprive individuals of their constitutional rights through a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication of those rights.” Supporters of the new anti-abortion law, like nonprofit Texas Right To Life, said it will save lives. Senior Legislative Associate for Texas Right To Life Rebecca Parma said they think a halt will be granted, but the anti-abortion law will stand in the long run. "This request for an emergency order isn't surprising and it isn't adding no new arguments to the lawsuit or bringing a new lawsuit," said Parma. "It just highlights the Biden administration's desperate attempt to as quickly as possible, by any means necessary, stop this lifesaving law."

Top of Page

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2021

Judge calls for changes to Texas ban on political apparel at the polls

A U.S. magistrate judge this week recommended striking down parts of Texas law that prohibit wearing political apparel within 100 feet of a polling place as unconstitutionally vague — but upholding a narrower provision that specifies that clothing bearing messages related to what’s on the ballot can be banned. The issue first arose in 2018 when Harris County resident Jillian Ostrewich wore a Houston firefighters T-shirt to a polling place and election workers told her to turn it inside out because it related to Prop B, a pay parity measure for firefighters on that ballot that year. Claiming she was unconstitutionally censored and her right to free speech infringed upon, she sued Harris County and state officials.

The case puts to the test a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from June of that year in which the justices struck down a Minnesota law that banned voters from displaying “issue-oriented” apparel at the polls for being overbroad. The Texas suit was brought by Pacific Legal Foundation, the same California-based libertarian public interest law firm that won the Minnesota case. “It’s a win for free speech and for objective standards,” said foundation attorney Wen Fa. The parties to the suit will now have 14 days to respond to the magistrate’s recommendation. A U.S. district judge will ultimately make the final ruling. The Texas Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. All 50 states restrict political activities near polling places while voting is taking place, but the types of restrictions vary. Texas is one of at least seven states other than Minnesota that ban political apparel near polling places. U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew M. Edison in his report on Tuesday said the election judge had a constitutional basis for rejecting Ostrewich’s shirt because it had a clear relationship to the ballot measure, even if it did not explicitly say to vote for that measure. Under that law, Edison said, Ostrewich had not been harmed and therefore was not entitled to damages.

Top of Page

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2021

Should felons be on Fort Worth police oversight board? That and other questions remain.

A community-based board designed to provide oversight of the Fort Worth Police Department was recommended by the city’s police monitor office at Tuesday’s city council meeting. According to the recommendation, the board would be made up of a maximum of 15 community members approved by the council with a mission to review police activities and recommend ways to ensure fair and equitable policing. Board members would have to be Fort Worth residents, be at least 18 years of age, pass a criminal background check and have experience with a diverse community perspective such as civil rights, LGBTQ issues or immigration. Board members would also be trained in Fort Worth police policies and procedures.

But the working group tasked with establishing criteria for the oversight board wasn’t able to reach consensus on everything, including whether members would be allowed to have a felony on their record. “Those are the individuals more than anyone who have the lived experience that is needed to provide input on this board,” said Pamela Young of United Fort Worth and member of the working group. “They live this.” Police monitor Kim Neal said that having board members with a felony isn’t the standard practice for oversight boards across the country. Some people on the working group were concerned whether a person with a felony conviction could be impartial when evaluating police actions, Neal said. The group also couldn’t agree on the training process, including whether board members should have to ride along with police. The city council will ultimately decide whether to implement these recommendations.

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

City of Houston rolls back regulations on taxis, drops cap on permits

Taxi drivers in Houston no longer will have to vie for permits under a city-imposed cap, nor will they have to paint their cars white or yellow, under a regulatory rollback approved Wednesday. City Council voted unanimously to permanently ease some restrictions on the taxi industry, beleaguered by a pandemic that upended its business in 2020 and by years-long headwinds from rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft. Most of the rules codify temporary changes Mayor Sylvester Turner made last year to help cabbies when COVID-19 ground travel to a halt. “The industry came back and said, ‘These have been helpful, is there any way we can make them permanent,’” said Kathryn Bruning, assistant director for the city’s Administrative and Regulatory Affairs Department.

The city long has operated with a cap of 2,505 permits, though only 1,169 of them were active or available as of Wednesday. When previous owners forfeited a permit, they were retired indefinitely, lowering the number of permits in the marketplace. More than 700 people forfeited permits during the pandemic, Bruning said. Now, applicants will be able to get permits once they can prove they have an eligible car and can pay the $450 fee. The city also will offer temporary, 30-day permits. “This basically gives them flexibility,” Bruning said. “As the need for taxis rises, more permits can be issued. As the need for taxis contracts, people can turn in permits and don’t have to carry the ancillary costs that go along with owning one.” The city enacted color requirements in 2014 to try to keep the taxi fleet consistent. It called for white cabs with dark green lettering, unless the cars were operated by a dispatch service. Independent drivers complained that process was costly, Bruning said, and the city decided to scrap it.

Top of Page

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2021

Democrats call for a fee on excess methane emissions

House Democrats and Republicans clashed Monday over a proposed fee on methane emissions that could cost the natural gas industry in Texas and other states billions of dollars a year. Within their $3.5 trillion budget legislation, Democrats laid out plans to charge oil and natural gas producers $1,500 per ton of methane allowed to escape into the atmosphere, part of a wide ranging series of initiatives designed to address U.S. contributions to climate change. In 2019 the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that through leaks and flaring the U.S. oil and gas industry released 91.5 million tons of methane, even as large companies like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell have sought to rein in those emissions to address climate change.

"There is no time for delay. This summer, the communities of nearly 1 in 3 Americans were hit by an extreme weather disaster," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Natural disasters cost Americans a record-shattering $95 billion in damages last year and they are expected to be even higher this year. Bold action is clearly needed — the days of incremental change are long gone." At a hearing before the House Energy committee Monday, the proposal drew strong criticism from House Republicans, who accused the Democrats of risking massive increases in energy costs that could wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. "This is nothing short of an attack on America's energy system," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lake Dallas. "It's going to determine the nations fate for decades to come." The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest lobbying group, criticized the fee as a jobs killer, arguing instead for better government regulation on drilling over direct fees on industry.

Top of Page

Reuters - September 16, 2021

White House plans new system for international travel, contract tracing rules

The United States is developing a "new system for international travel" that will include contact tracing for when it eventually lifts travel restrictions that bar much of the world's population from entering the country, a senior White House official said on Wednesday. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board the administration does not plan to immediately relax any travel restrictions citing COVID-19 Delta variant cases in the United States and around the world. Reuters first reported early in August that the White House was developing vaccine entry requirements that could cover nearly all foreign visitors. The White House previously confirmed it was considering mandating vaccines for foreign international visitors.

"The American people need to trust that the new system for international travel is safer even as we - I mean at that point - we'll be letting in more travelers," Zients said on Wednesday, adding it will eventually replace existing restrictions. "We are exploring considering vaccination requirements for foreign nationals traveling to the United States," Zients said. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at the same meeting that the spike in COVID-19 cases is preventing lifting international travel restrictions. "We want to move to a metrics-based system," Raimondo said. "Before we can do that, we have to get a better handle on the domestic situation, which requires us to get everyone vaccinated." Zients said the new plan would replace the current restrictions and would be "safer, stronger and sustainable." He did not lay out specific metrics for when the administration might relax restrictions. "Vaccination rates matter here at home and other countries," Zients said, urging travel companies like airlines to quickly mandate employee vaccines. Some industry officials fear the Biden administration may not lift travel restrictions for months or potentially until 2022. The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. Numerous other countries have been added, most recently India, in May.

Top of Page

Washington Post - September 16, 2021

Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers approve wide-ranging subpoenas for personal information of 2020 voters

Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania on Wednesday approved subpoenas for a wide range of data and personal information on voters, advancing a probe of the 2020 election in a key battleground state former president Donald Trump has repeatedly targeted with baseless claims of fraud. The move drew a sharp rebuke from Democrats who described the effort as insecure and unwarranted and said they would consider mounting a court fight. Among other requests, Republicans are seeking the names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, last four digits of Social Security numbers, addresses and methods of voting for millions of people who cast ballots in the May primary and the November general election. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called Wednesday’s vote “merely another step to undermine democracy, confidence in our elections and to capitulate to Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.”

Wolf added in a statement, “Election security is not a game and should not be treated with such carelessness. Senate Republican[s] should be ashamed of their latest attempt to destabilize our election system through a sham investigation that will unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars.” But Sen. Cris Dush, the Republican chairman of the committee that approved the subpoena, argued during the hearing that the information is needed because “there have been questions regarding the validity of people who have voted — whether or not they exist.” “Again, we are not responding to proven allegations. We are investigating the allegations to determine whether or not they are factual,” he said, adding that the vetting process for outside vendors will be “rigorous.” Judges, including on the Pennsylvania and U.S. Supreme Courts, have denied bids by Trump and his allies to overturn President Biden’s win in the state or invalidate millions of ballots. Yet in Pennsylvania and other battleground states, Republican legislators have bowed to pressure from Trump and his base to investigate the results, despite a consensus among judges, election officials and experts that there was no widespread fraud in the election.

Top of Page

CNN Business - September 14, 2021

White House praises Fox for its new Covid policy, encourages network to 'convey to their audience' why it's effective

Fox is earning some rare praise from the White House after essentially admitting on Tuesday that it will follow the protocols pushed by the Biden administration to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In a memo I obtained, Fox Corp. human resources chief Kevin Lord effectively communicated to employees that they all face a choice: Get vaccinated or face a daily Covid-19 test. Lord told staffers that after the company asked employees to report their vaccination status, more than 90% of full-time Fox staffers "reported that they are fully vaccinated." Lord then explained that "soon" the company will introduce daily testing for the staffers "who are not vaccinated or have not provided their vaccination status." Lord said "additional details about this protocol" would be "shared with the relevant employees in the near future."

In effect, Fox has adopted a more stringent version of the vaccine and testing mandate President Biden announced last week — the mandate that the company's loudest voices have trashed and deemed to be nonsensical and "authoritarian." While Biden pushed a vaccination or weekly testing requirement, Fox is saying it will implement a vaccination or daily testing requirement for unvaccinated staff. All of this has prompted the White House to offer some praise to the Rupert Murdoch-controlled company, while also issuing a challenge to it: "Today's news from Fox News follows a trend we're seeing across the country: vaccination and testing requirements work," a White House spokesperson told me Tuesday night. "We are glad they have stepped up to protect their workforce and strengthen the economy, and we encourage them convey to their audience that these types of practices will protect their employees, their communities, and the economy..." Throughout the pandemic, Fox has privately implemented common sense health measures to protect its employees, while simultaneously allowing its most influential hosts and personalities to publicly trash such measures. It has been true for face masks. It has been true for the concept of vaccine passports. And now it is true regarding vaccines and testing. Which is all to say, that while it would be nice if Fox's biggest stars did encourage its audience to follow basic health precautions — as the White House is challenging the company to do — I will not hold my breath...

Top of Page

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2021

'We deserve answers': Simone Biles testifies about botched FBI probe of Larry Nassar

Simone Biles said she was haunted for years by the abuse she suffered at the hands of Larry Nassar, including as she trained for and competed in the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Biles, who said she was the lone competitor in the games who had been abused by Nassar, testified to a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday that the Olympic training process “meant I would be going to the gym, to training, to therapy, living daily among the reminders of this story.” And because the games were postponed due to the pandemic, it meant another year of reminders.

Biles said she persevered because she did not want “this crisis to be ignored.” It was the same reason that Biles agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee — even as the Houston native said she could “imagine no place that I would be less comfortable” — about sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar while the FBI and other agencies failed to investigate allegations against him. Biles, the most decorated gymnast in the world, did not draw a connection between the abuse and her decision to opt out of several competitions at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on her mental health. But she said her experience in Tokyo amid the constant reminders of the abuse were an “exceptionally difficult burden for me to carry.” “I can ensure you that the impacts of this man’s abuse are not ever over or forgotten,” Biles said. “I am a strong individual and I will persevere, but I never should have been left alone to suffer the abuse of Larry Nassar. And the only reason I did was because of the failures that lie at the heart of the abuse that you are now asked to investigate.” Biles was one of four Olympic gymnasts who testified Wednesday as the panel continues to probe the FBI's bungled investigation into the allegations against Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor who was sentenced in 2018 to up to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing women and girls.

Top of Page