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Newsclips - December 6, 2022

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Associated Press - December 6, 2022

Georgia Senate runoff between Warnock, former Dallas Cowboy Walker has bitter ending

Ads with the candidates’ ex-wives. Cries of “liar” flying in both directions. Stories of a squalid apartment building and abortions under pressure. Questioning an opponent’s independence. His intellect. His mental stability. His religious faith. The extended Senate campaign in Georgia between the Democratic incumbent, Raphael Warnock, and his Republican challenger, football legend Herschel Walker, has grown increasingly bitter as their Tuesday runoff nears. With Democrats already assured a Senate majority, it’s a striking contrast from two years ago, when the state’s twin runoffs were mostly about which party would control the chamber in Washington. “Herschel Walker ain’t serious,” Warnock told supporters recently in central Georgia, saying that Walker “majors in lying” and fumbles the basics of public policy. “But the election is very serious. Don’t get those two things confused.” Walker casts Warnock, the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, as a “hypocrite” and servile to President Joe Biden. Underscoring the insult, Walker calls the incumbent “Scooby-Doo,” complete with an impression of the cartoon hound’s gibberish.

The broadsides reflect the candidates' furious push in the four weeks between the Nov. 8 general election and runoff to persuade their core supporters to cast another ballot. For Walker, it also means drawing more independents and moderates to his campaign after he underperformed a fellow Republican on the ticket, Gov. Brian Kemp, by 200,000 votes. Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast in the first round, but the senator fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. In many ways, the shift from his first runoff campaign is exactly what Warnock wanted: a straightforward choice between two candidates. Two years ago, then-President Donald Trump, fresh off his defeat, and Biden, then president-elect, made multiple Georgia trips to illuminate the national stakes of the races between Warnock and Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler and between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. David Perdue as control of the Senate hung in the balance.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

How Ted Cruz could reshape Texas’ political scene

As the 2024 election season buds, Texas politicos have their eyes on Ted Cruz. The two-term senator’s political prospects are varied and complicated. Up for reelection in 2024, Cruz said on Nov. 19 that he’ll seek another term. That statement came after his speech last month at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting in Las Vegas. “I’m fighting in the Senate. I’m running for reelection in the Senate. I’m focused on the battles in the United States Senate,” Cruz said after being asked about his political future by a Fox News reporter. But Cruz has also been mentioned as a GOP presidential contender and he hasn’t ruled out another run for the White House. In 2016 he was the last Republican standing against Donald Trump, who won the GOP nomination and upset Hillary Clinton to become president. If Cruz makes a run for the White House, he’ll have to decide whether to forgo a Senate bid, or simultaneously campaign for both seats.

Texas law allows a U.S. senator to seek reelection while running for president or vice president. Democrats Lyndon B. Johnson (1960) and Lloyd Bentsen (1988) have taken advantage of the law, passed in 1959. That’s the year Johnson, then the Senate Majority leader, was preparing a presidential campaign. He became vice president under John F. Kennedy. Republican consultant Bill Miller said Cruz would almost certainly run for president and reelection to Senate at the same time. “It would reduce the competition, but it wouldn’t remove it entirely,” Miller said. “Candidates would run to set themselves up to run again. You don’t have to run against him, you just run for the seat, burnish your credentials, meet voters and lay the groundwork for the next campaign.” In Las Vegas Cruz brushed off questions about a presidential campaign. “There will be plenty of time to discuss 2024 presidential,” he said. “They’ll be plenty of time for that.”

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Bloomberg - December 6, 2022

Biden will likely announce 2024 bid after holidays, Klain says

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said he expects that President Joe Biden will announce he’s running for re-election after the US Christmas and New Year’s holidays. “The president will make that decision. I expect it shortly after the holiday,” said Klain on Monday at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council summit. “I expect the decision will be to do it.”

Biden is coming off midterm elections in which his Democratic Party fared far better than expected and has said he intends to run again. But he’s said an formal decision will come early next year. The president and his family were expected to discuss whether to run again during their Thanksgiving holiday on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, according to current and former aides, who said those talks would continue during the Christmas holidays. Biden, who was already the oldest president in US history, turned 80 last month, fueling questions over his fitness to run again and potentially serve another term. But Biden has brushed aside those worries, and cited only his family or a surprise development, such as a health crisis, as likely to dissuade from from running. Former President Donald Trump, who Biden has said was the reason he decided to run in 2020, has already announced his third bid for the White House in 2024.

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Nexstar - December 6, 2022

Congressional negotiations prioritizing government, military funding

Lawmakers are back in Washington with just a few short weeks to wrap up their remaining business before the end of the year. The biggest priorities include must-pass funding bills. Lawmakers have a lot to get done before the end of the year. Congress still has to pass a funding bill to keep the government running, and a separate bill to fund the military. Democrats say the pressure is on to pass a spending bill before the government runs out of funding mid-December, and before Republicans take control of the house in January.

“Making sure that we are putting together a blueprint of our values in how we spend our money. We do not want to leave that to the hands of the GOP,” Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) said. Another critical item on Congress’ to-do list is the annual National Defense Authorization Act, but a group of Senate Republicans are threatening to hold up the must-pass annual military budget until the Senate first votes to end the COVID-vaccination mandate for service members. However, the White House is standing by its policy. National Security spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that vaccine requirements are meant to ensure military readiness. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer says negotiations will continue until “we get the job done.”

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State Stories

KXAN - December 6, 2022

Texas Secretary of State resigns from role

Texas Secretary of State John Scott announced Monday he is resigning from his office, effective at the end of the year. Scott began his tenure as Texas secretary of state in October 2021, following an appointment from Gov. Greg Abbott. In his announcement, Scott said he would be returning to his private legal practice following his departure. During his time in office, Scott oversaw four statewide elections in 2022, as well as a forensic audit into the 2020 General Election in Texas. The findings of that audit will be released after he leaves office on Dec. 31.

“When I took office as Texas Secretary of State in October of last year, I did so with a singular goal and mission in mind: to help restore Texas voters’ confidence in the security of our state’s elections,” Scott wrote in his letter to Abbott. This was no small task, and I approached my duty with humility, patience, and an open mind. By listening directly to the concerns of local election officials, voters, and grassroots activists from across the political spectrum, I was able to understand how to better educate Texas voters about their most sacred civic duty. I also gained a deep appreciation for the difficult, meticulous, and often thankless work of local election officials in safeguarding the integrity of the ballot box. I am proud to say that Texas has made tremendous progress in restoring faith in our elections over the past year, and that the Texas Secretary of State’s office has developed a successful framework for analyzing and transparently reporting on election security through the forensic election audit process. With a successful 2022 General Election in the rear view mirror, and the final findings of the 2020 Texas forensic audit soon to be released, I write to inform you that I intend to return to my private law practice at the beginning of the New Year.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

Former DISD chief Michael Hinojosa not running for Dallas mayor, report says

Former Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa will not run for mayor of Dallas, according to a news report. Hinojosa told CBS11 that he would not challenge Mayor Eric Johnson because he is busy with consultant work.

Hinojosa, who worked for the district for more than a decade, left his position earlier than initially planned, sparking speculation on a potential mayoral run. A Suffolk University/Dallas Morning News poll published earlier this year showed Johnson with a nine-point lead over Hinojosa in a hypothetical mayoral race. Johnson told the news station that he’s focused on his re-election bid in 2023. ”We’ve done a lot of great things in this city over the past four years,” Johnson told the news station. “I think if you ask the voters the direction the city is going, they’ll say it’s going in the right direction.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

Fort Worth’s Bell wins coveted U.S. Army contract for next-gen assault helicopter

The U.S. Army on Monday selected Bell Textron Inc. to build a new long-range assault aircraft in a contract worth up to $1.3 billion, beating out a Lockheed Martin Corp.-Boeing Co. team to replace the iconic Black Hawk helicopters by 2030. The contract is one part of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program to replace both the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, and is seen as a crucial test of how the service can modernize without delay and cost overruns after some high-profile failures over the past 20 years. Textron’s stock jumped as much as 11% in extended trading. The contract is worth as much as $1.3 billion with development expected to take 19 months, according to the Army’s announcement. Bell, based in Fort Worth, supplies aircraft to U.S. military and private sector customers and has been building new facilities across North Texas, including a 140,000-square-foot Manufacturing Technology Center.

In a statement, the Army said the new machine will “provide transformational increases in speed, range, payload and endurance to replace a portion of the Army’s current assault and utility aircraft fleet.” The contract selection “is our chance to move to the next step in this vital program,” Douglas Bush, Army assistant secretary for acquisition, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. If all the options of this contract are exercised, it could go to $7 billion, Army officials said. That would also include the first initial low-rate production tranche of the new helicopter. The Army had two different aircraft to pick from. One was an advanced tilt-rotor offered by Bell—called the V-280 Valor—which is derived from the V-22 Osprey, with its vertical lift and takeoff technology. The second is the coaxial lift compound rotor helicopter called Defiant X, built by the Lockheed-Boeing team. For the winner, selection could establish a foothold as the Army’s aviation provider for decades, and reap the benefits of a market projected to be worth from $60 billion to $90 billion, according to congressional and Wall Street budget analysts. In a statement, the Lockheed-Boeing group suggested it wasn’t done fighting for the contract. “We remain confident Defiant X is the transformational aircraft the US Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future,” the group said. “We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing feedback from the Army.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

David Newman: Is Texas discouraging critical thinking in classrooms?

(David Newman teaches English at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi and lives in Odessa.) It may seem that the furor over teaching controversial material has died down but, as the Dallas Morning News reported, Gov. Greg Abbott discussed the issue in forceful terms just at the end of November: “Our schools are for education, not indoctrination. We will put a stop to this nonsense in the upcoming legislative session. Schools must get back to fundamentals and stop pushing ‘woke’ agendas.” Abbott was directly referring to class discussions of gender identity, but I know that public school teachers are still acutely aware that they are at risk in their classrooms if they broach any controversy having to do with an America that does not always realize its ideals. One of the ideals we insist teachers and students practice is the inculcation of critical thinking. But does the state really want any such thought? Critical thinking involves asking hard questions: How and why do things happen, how and why do people say the things they say, and how and why should people speak in order to change the things that need changing?

Those who do not ask such questions before participating in civic discourse, before offering a lesson in a public school or before writing new laws about education, are blind to the larger contexts that shape history, that shape opinions; moreover, they want to pass such blindness on to the next generation, and the next, and so on. All people concerned about what is taught in public schools should think carefully about how new ideas should be presented to students. But do we really want to require teachers to eschew thoughtfulness in order to capitulate to vague, imperious rules? In rhetoric classes, we read and discuss issues that cause the greatest furor in the moment, that have a local connection, and that have sides clearly in opposition; in other words, we discuss issues like whether critical race theory should be banned in Texas. Since those opposed to critical race theory argue that it indoctrinates students, it is then necessary to study some of the best arguments about confronting controversial speech. We read John Milton, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on the subject. But shall I also teach “Undemocratic Democracy” by Jamelle Bouie — a provocative essay that challenges the idea that all people living in the U.S. have always been equally protected by foundational ideals regulating, among other things, who has been allowed to speak freely and who has not?

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

Sen. Ted Cruz’s bill extending time for review of Civil Rights era cold cases becomes law

President Joe Biden signed into law Monday a bill from Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John Ossoff, D-Ga., extending the term of the Civil Rights Cold Case Review Board, which is tasked with investigating unsolved lynchings and murders from the Civil Rights era. “During the Civil Rights movement, there were far too many unsolved violent race-based crimes committed against African Americans,” Cruz said in a statement Monday. “It’s my hope that by giving the Review Board more time to examine the case files related to these unsolved crimes, we can shed sunlight on these Civil Rights cold cases and finally bring justice to the victims and their families.”

The bill, which the Senate passed in September and the House in November, extends the Review Board’s term an additional three years, through 2027. Former President Donald Trump formally authorized the review board back in 2019 to work through 2024, but the board’s members were not confirmed until February of this year. “Now that the President has signed my bipartisan legislation to investigate unsolved lynchings and Civil Rights cold cases, the work of pursuing justice can continue for the Black women, Black children, and Black men who were killed in some of the most heinous ways in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s,” Ossoff said in a statement Monday. Cruz and Ossoff first introduced the bill in the Senate in February, and Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., introduced companion legislation in the House. Biden thanked all three by name when he signed the legislation into law Monday. The idea of the board came from a group of New Jersey high school students who began sending out public information requests to the FBI and the Department of Justice in 2015 to solve unresolved crimes from the era themselves, CNN reported.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2022

Chris Tomlinson: Kevin McCarthy, Republican leaders in Congress could save the world with climate profits

Incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy might save the world as we know it. For decades, GOP politicians have denied the reality of climate change caused by human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. With slogans like “drill, baby drill,” Republican lawmakers have put the wealth of their fossil fuel fanatics ahead of humanity’s health. Climate denial is no longer an option, though, and McCarthy recognizes global warming. Wielding the speaker’s gavel, he has the power to turn his party from the world’s foremost blocker of progress to an important voice for free-market solutions. The future of the planet rests on his courage to lead conservatives in a new direction. Orthodoxy is a stubborn thing. The most fervent members of any group resist change to fundamental beliefs, especially those going back decades. Only 11 percent of Republicans believe climate change should be a top priority, according to a January poll by Pew Research.

Meanwhile, 75 percent of Americans believe humans are changing the climate, and 42 percent think it is the most important issue facing the world today. Fifty-four percent of Americans under the age of 29 say global warming is the biggest threat to the nation. McCarthy took the brave step as House minority leader to name energy and climate as one of his seven priorities. He tasked Republican colleagues to come up with a climate change strategy, including Texas Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Houston, Michael Burgess of Denton, and August Pfluger of Midland. A decade ago, such a committee would hear fossil fuel lobbyists declaring global warming unproven. They’d insist the earth’s climate changes all the time and humanity can do nothing about it. Today, every major oil and natural gas company publicly acknowledges human-induced climate change. The vast majority want a tax on carbon dioxide emissions and payments for capturing carbon because they recognize their future relies on stabilizing the planet’s temperature, which means reducing emissions. The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative brings together 12 CEOs of the largest oil and gas companies. The group is committed to the Paris Climate Accords, which aim to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Rio Grande Guardian - December 6, 2022

Bobby Guerra: It’s time to turn up the heat and support geothermal energy production in Texas

Hidalgo County could be a major energy provider to the Texas power grid and to other major industries 24/7 if we invest in geothermal energy production and storage. That’s why I’m re-filing a bill this session that I first introduced last session to turn up the heat – the geothermal heat – to encourage geothermal energy production in Texas. The bill asks the Railroad Commission to study the feasibility of and economic opportunity from geothermal energy production in Texas and evaluate how the state could best encourage investment in this technology. First, let me clarify that this bill will not interfere with Texas’ thriving oil and gas energy production industry. Geothermal energy production is another beneficial tool in our toolbox to make Texas number one in energy production and reliability. It will provide additional jobs for Texas oil and gas workers and additional use of oil and gas equipment because approximately 90% of the oil and gas skill set from exploration through drilling and completion directly applies to geothermal energy production.

Geothermal energy production is about energy independence, job creation, and revenue for the state. Geothermal energy is also clean and renewable. What makes geothermal energy so valuable is that it is continuously available; the heat source within the Earth never wavers like wind power or solar power does. Once tapped, this source of energy is truly reliable and uninterruptible. Geothermal energy is carbon-free, renewable and sustainable. It is continuous heat that can be transformed into energy used to power homes, businesses, military bases, and more. Additionally, it doesn’t take up much space on the surface of the Earth. It has a small physical footprint; for a 30-megawatt generation facility, the footprint would be about the size of a small house. This allows for simultaneous alternative uses of the land and the small footprint makes it easier to protect from weather and/or sabotage by nefarious foes. Geothermal energy is the heat that comes from the sub-surface of the Earth. It is contained in the rocks and fluids beneath the Earth’s crust and can be found as far down as the Earth’s hot molten rock called magma. The core of the Earth is the same temperature as the surface of the sun.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2022

LULAC sues Houston, challenging 'gross underrepresentation' of Latinos at City Council

The League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday filed its long-anticipated lawsuit against the city of Houston, seeking to get rid of at-large City Council seats it says leave Hispanic residents with insufficient representation at City Hall. The group, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, first announced plans to take legal action against the city in January. While 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic person holding a seat on the 16-member body, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The federal lawsuit aims to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats dedicated to certain geographic areas. Houston’s current election system has created barriers to Hispanic representation and deprived hundreds of thousands of minority Houstonians of their voting rights guaranteed by law, the complaint says. “The Latino voters of Houston have waited for fair redistricting plans. They have waited for years for the city of Houston to end its long relationship with 'at-large' districts that dilute the electoral strength of Hispanics,” the lawsuit says. “The time has come to replace this old election system that functions solely to dilute the power of Houston’s Latino voters.” In October, City Council approved a redistricting plan for the 2023 elections. The updated maps feature modest adjustments affecting parts of downtown, Braeburn, Greater Inwood and a few areas in southeast Houston. Sergio Lira, a Houston-based leader with LULAC, previously told the Chronicle he was disappointed in the lack of major changes in the new maps, saying, “it's going to take a lawsuit in order to change the system.” In a statement issued by his office, City Attorney Arturo Michel defended the existing council structure, as well as the new redistricting maps.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop sells for $80 million to parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP

The parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP is adding Mexican food to its menu of holdings. Dine Brands Global Inc. said Monday that it will acquire Fort Worth-based Fuzzy’s Taco Shop for $80 million in cash. The Glendale, Calif.-based company owns, operates and franchises more than 3,400 Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants. Founded near the Texas Christian University campus in 2001, Fuzzy’s is a highly franchised fast-casual chain with 138 restaurants in 18 states and long-term development agreements that could nearly double its locations. Atlanta-based private equity firm NRD Holding Co. acquired Fuzzy’s in 2016. Fuzzy’s systemwide sales are expected to top $230 million this year, according to Dine Brands.

Applebee’s and IHOP reported systemwide sales last year of nearly $7.3 billion. Dine Brands’ revenue totaled $896 million last year. Through nine months of this year, the company’s sales were up 5% over last year to $701 million. “Fuzzy’s Taco Shop is a compelling business with a loyal customer base and a distinct identity,” said Dine Brands CEO John Peyton in a statement. “It is an attractive asset with a tremendous growth trajectory and will be a complementary addition to our highly franchised portfolio.” Investors typically spend $580,000 to $1.2 million to launch after paying a $40,000 franchise fee, according to Fuzzy’s website. Annual sales per restaurant average $1.6 million, and 98% of the restaurants are franchise-operated. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop ranked 339th this year in Entrepreneur’s Franchise 500 and seventh among Mexican food restaurants.

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Associated Press - December 6, 2022

Supreme Court justices spar in latest clash of religion and gay rights

The Supreme Court ‘s conservative majority sounded sympathetic Monday to a Christian graphic artist who objects to designing wedding websites for gay couples, a dispute that’s the latest clash of religion and gay rights to land at the highest court. The designer and her supporters say that ruling against her would force artists — from painters and photographers to writers and musicians — to do work that is against their faith. Her opponents, meanwhile, say that if she wins, a range of businesses will be able to discriminate, refusing to serve Black customers, Jewish or Muslim people, interracial or interfaith couples or immigrants, among others. The lively arguments at the Supreme Court ran well beyond the allotted 70 minutes. Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of three high court appointees of former President Donald Trump, described Lorie Smith, the website designer, as "an individual who says she will sell and does sell to everyone, all manner of websites, (but) that she won't sell a website that requires her to express a view about marriage that she finds offensive."

The issue of where to draw the line dominated the questions early in Monday's arguments at the high court. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked whether a photography store in a shopping mall could refuse to take pictures of Black people on Santa's lap. “Their policy is that only white children can be photographed with Santa in this way, because that’s how they view the scenes with Santa that they’re trying to depict,” Jackson said. Justice Sonia Sotomayor repeatedly pressed Kristen Waggoner, the lawyer for Smith, over other categories. “How about people who don’t believe in interracial marriage? Or about people who don’t believe that disabled people should get married? Where’s the line?” Sotomayor asked. But Justice Samuel Alito, who seemed to favor Smith, asked whether it's “fair to equate opposition to same-sex marriage to opposition to interracial marriage?” The case comes at a time when the court is dominated 6-3 by conservatives and following a series of cases in which the justices have sided with religious plaintiffs. It also comes as, across the street from the court, lawmakers in Congress are finalizing a landmark bill protecting same-sex marriage. The bill, which also protects interracial marriage, steadily gained momentum following the high court's decision earlier this year to end constitutional protections for abortion. That decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade case prompted questions about whether the court — now that it is more conservative — might also overturn its 2015 decision declaring a nationwide right to same-sex marriage. Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly said that decision should also be reconsidered.

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KVUE - December 6, 2022

Texas State University changing marijuana policies as Central Texas cities ease up on low-level offenses

Last month, voters in multiple Texas cities approved decriminalizing low-level marijuana crimes in their areas, but some controversy is still brewing over those votes in two cities North of Austin. Voters overwhelmingly approved those measures in Killeen and Harker Heights but, last month, the Harker Heights City Council repealed that measure because leaders said it conflicted with state law. An activist group called Ground Game Texas plans to call a referendum in Harker Heights in an effort to force the city to honor the election results. On Tuesday, Killeen's city council plans to revisit its decriminalization measure to better understand the ordinance language that those voters approved.

In November, voters in Elgin and San Marcos also voted overwhelmingly to decriminalize low-level marijuana crimes. In San Marcos, the proposition also stops police from using smell as probable cause for searches and prohibits the use of city money for THC-level testing. After voters approved Prop A in San Marcos, Texas State University is changing one of its disciplinary policies for students It has to do with how students may be punished by the university if they're accused of having or selling drugs. Last month, the Texas State University system's board of regents approved a change to the system's rules and regulations. So, now if a student faces a second infraction for violating the university's drug policy, they will no longer be automatically expelled.

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KERA - December 6, 2022

Judge denies former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean's motion to move trial out of Tarrant County

Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean’s murder trial will remain in Tarrant County. Judge George Gallagher of the 396th District Court denied Dean’s request to move the trial out of Tarrant County. Dean’s attorneys argued that media coverage of the case made it impossible to seat an impartial jury locally.

This is the second change of venue motion a judge has denied in this case. That means Dean’s trial will begin Monday after repeated delays. The court will work a half day in order to allow people to attend the funeral of Dean’s lead attorney, Jim Lane. Lane died Nov. 27. The trial will begin by reading Dean’s indictment and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

PepsiCo plans to lay off workers at North American headquarters and Plano division

After layoffs tore through the tech and media sectors in recent weeks, PepsiCo Inc. is the latest to announce job cuts across its North American snacks and beverages divisions. The layoffs are said to affect PepsiCo’s North America beverage business in Purchase, N.Y., and its North America snacks and packaged-foods business in Plano and Chicago. The company manufactures Doritos, Lays potato chips, Quaker Oats and its namesake soda. “PepsiCo will take steps again to simplify the organization so we can operate more efficiently,” PepsiCo told employees in a memo sent to staff and viewed by The Dallas Morning News. The memo was signed by Steven Williams, chief executive of PepsiCo Foods North America, and Patrick McLaughlin, chief human resources officer for Frito-Lay North America.

The memo encourages all headquarters employees in Plano and Chicago to work from home through Wednesday to respect the privacy of affected co-workers. Hundreds of jobs are planned to be eliminated, according to documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal. PepsiCo did not respond to questions from The News about the number of North Texas workers affected. The cuts are expected to hit the beverage business harder because the snacks unit trimmed positions with a voluntary retirement program. As a result of the snacks division’s previous restructuring and employee acceptance of buyouts, “our impact will be relatively small in scale,” the memo said. PepsiCo employed about 129,000 people in the U.S. and 309,000 worldwide at the end of 2021. In the company’s third-quarter financial results, CEO Ramon Laguarta said PepsiCo expects its full-year revenue to increase 12% and earnings per share to rise 10%. “We are encouraged by the progress we are making on our strategic agenda and remain committed to investing in our people, brands, supply chain and go-to-market systems and winning in the marketplace,” Laguarta said at the time.

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Dallas Morning News - December 6, 2022

Fort Worth’s Bell wins coveted U.S. Army contract for next-gen assault helicopter

The U.S. Army on Monday selected Bell Textron Inc. to build a new long-range assault aircraft in a contract worth up to $1.3 billion, beating out a Lockheed Martin Corp.-Boeing Co. team to replace the iconic Black Hawk helicopters by 2030. The contract is one part of the Army’s Future Vertical Lift program to replace both the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, and is seen as a crucial test of how the service can modernize without delay and cost overruns after some high-profile failures over the past 20 years. Textron’s stock jumped as much as 11% in extended trading. The contract is worth as much as $1.3 billion with development expected to take 19 months, according to the Army’s announcement. Bell, based in Fort Worth, supplies aircraft to U.S. military and private sector customers and has been building new facilities across North Texas, including a 140,000-square-foot Manufacturing Technology Center.

In a statement, the Army said the new machine will “provide transformational increases in speed, range, payload and endurance to replace a portion of the Army’s current assault and utility aircraft fleet.” The contract selection “is our chance to move to the next step in this vital program,” Douglas Bush, Army assistant secretary for acquisition, told reporters at the Pentagon on Monday. If all the options of this contract are exercised, it could go to $7 billion, Army officials said. That would also include the first initial low-rate production tranche of the new helicopter. The Army had two different aircraft to pick from. One was an advanced tilt-rotor offered by Bell—called the V-280 Valor—which is derived from the V-22 Osprey, with its vertical lift and takeoff technology. The second is the coaxial lift compound rotor helicopter called Defiant X, built by the Lockheed-Boeing team. For the winner, selection could establish a foothold as the Army’s aviation provider for decades, and reap the benefits of a market projected to be worth from $60 billion to $90 billion, according to congressional and Wall Street budget analysts. In a statement, the Lockheed-Boeing group suggested it wasn’t done fighting for the contract. “We remain confident Defiant X is the transformational aircraft the US Army requires to accomplish its complex missions today and well into the future,” the group said. “We will evaluate our next steps after reviewing feedback from the Army.”

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KSAT - December 6, 2022

Uvalde CISD board takes no action at special board meeting after hours-long closed-door session

The Uvalde CISD school board took no action in a specially called meeting surrounding the board itself. “Trust is one of the most sacred things that we have,” said Jesse Rizo, uncle to Robb Elementary victim Jackie Cazares. The theme of trust, transparency and accountability stuck out once again in Monday night’s only speaker at the Uvalde CISD school board meeting.

“We gotta look at ourselves, and we’ve got to take a look, a hard look, and see what is the best thing for the community. What is the best thing for the families, what is the best thing for the board, and basically sometimes the best thing to do is save whatever dignity you have and just resign,” Rizo said. While Rizo didn’t call him out by name at the podium, he made it clear later he was referring to school board member JJ Suarez. “He was one of the officers that was in that hallway. He was one of the officers that elected to walk out,” Rizo said. On Monday, the board met behind closed doors to discuss several items, including the following: Consider and discuss the employment of a school administrator; Attorney consultation regarding legal issues related to board member roles and responsibilities; Consider and discuss board member roles and responsibilities. Attorney consultation regarding legal issues related to Board Operating Procedures.

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Smart Cities Dive - December 6, 2022

Houston’s housing-first model is reducing homelessness. Here’s how it works and the obstacles it faces.

Homelessness in many U.S. cities has risen drastically over the past few years. In some cities, where the price of housing has put it out of reach of low-income residents, there are not enough shelter beds to accommodate the number of people that need them on a given night. That shortage and other concerns with shelters have resulted in large numbers of homeless people sleeping on sidewalks, in parks, and in other public spaces. Cities have taken divergent approaches to address the very visible issue that has become a political flashpoint. Some have made it illegal to camp in public spaces; others are building more shelter beds and investing in tiny homes, among a range of solutions. To address what was the sixth-largest homeless population in the country, Houston adopted what’s called a housing-first strategy. The method prioritizes providing permanent housing to homeless individuals as quickly as possible while providing a host of voluntary supportive services to ensure they remain housed long-term.

“When we looked at all the different types of data from all the different strategies out there, housing with wrap-around support services was by far the most effective,” said Marc Eichenbaum, a special assistant to Houston’s mayor on homeless initiatives. The first story in this series tells how the greater Houston region achieved a 63% reduction in homelessness since 2011, more than any other of the 10 largest U.S. cities. Houston accomplished this without spending any city money beyond federal funding it receives, and Eichenbaum says it spends less than what any other major city spends to address the issue. The city has to be “smarter” on how it uses those limited resources, he said. Other cities that have deployed housing-first models also report experiencing drops in homelessness. Salt Lake City, Utah, and Columbus, Ohio, were among the first large cities in the U.S. to use housing-first approaches to reduce homelessness, said Sophie House, law and policy director of the Housing Solutions Lab at New York University’s Furman Center. Over several years, more than 90% of people placed in permanent housing in Utah remained housed, according to a 2021 report from the state’s Office of the Legislative Auditor General.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2022

New 300-home development planned for Montgomery, where population could double in 5 years

Montgomery officials expect the city's population to double to 4,000 residents within five years, spurred in part by plans for a new 80-acre subdivision with more than 300 homes. Atlanta-based Pulte Homes set plans to build the 309-home Montgomery Bend development in September. In a meeting on Oct. 25, city officials annexed the 80 acres of land located off FM 1097 for the subdivision. At build out, the subdivision would have an assessed value of about $82 million which would generate about $310,000 in revenue for the city annually. Dave McCorquodale, interim city administrator and director of planning and development, said the city's growth trajectory is exciting.

"I've lived here for 17 years ... I think the population was about 500," he said of the city that sits west of Lake Conroe with approximately 2,000 residents. In all, Montgomery is expected to grow with 1,500 additional homes to be constructed in the next five years. McCorquodale noted Montgomery is seeing Conroe's booming residential development head west down Texas 105 toward the city. "We really are ... right at the ... boundary of development," he said. Mayor Byron Sanford said growth also is coming from the western U.S. and neighboring counties such as Harris, with some people moving further away from Houston's metropolitan core. "My neighborhood alone has quite a number of people from California, Arizona ... as well as New York (and) Ohio," he said, noting Red Bird Meadows is one of the biggest development projects in the city. Red Bird Meadows, located south of Montgomery High School, is expected to add more than 500 single-family homes. Developers entered into an agreement with the city in May. McCorquodale said the city has seen an increase in interest from developers. "We really started seeing it just before (the COVID-19 pandemic)," he said. "We've seen a definite increase in the past 18 months."

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 6, 2022

As results come in, Nirenberg says it’s too soon to gauge Ready to Work training program’s success

A jobs training program that the city of San Antonio rolled out during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has placed more than 2,200 people into jobs — below the city’s original goal, but increasing graduates’ average wages by $2.50 an hour. The city paid roughly $20,000 per job placement. Called Train for Jobs, the program was launched in summer 2020 with the goal of helping lower-income residents who became unemployed due to the pandemic learn new skills and land better-paying jobs. It also served as a pilot program for the Ready to Work job training initiative that voters approved two years ago and was launched in May. As its numbers are being finalized, Train for Jobs has illustrated the challenge of building a citywide workforce initiative that can meet lofty expectations of reshaping San Antonio’s economy.

Advisers to the larger Ready to Work in October began raising alarms that the new effort isn’t placing enough city residents into training. Data provided last month showed that 3,648 people completed training through Train for Jobs, and 2,214 people secured a job. The price tag: $45 million, or about $12,000 per training graduate. In summer 2020, the city set a goal of spending $75 million to train 8,000 people through Train for Jobs. Those goals were scaled back to placing 3,000 people into new jobs through the initiative. Still, Train for Jobs retrained a chunk of the city’s workforce, and most of its participants were Black or Hispanic women living in poverty. There are still hundreds of participants in training through Train for Jobs, which could boost its final results, administrators said. Although it missed its job placement goal, the city has spent $45 million on Train for Jobs after originally budgeting as much as $80 million for the program. The city redirected $10 million of the surplus to small business grants and returned the remainder to the general fund and to the Alamo PROMISE scholarship fund. The $12,000 per-training graduate price tag was similar to the cost at Project QUEST — a lauded, health-care focused workforce program based on the South Side — of about $10,500 per graduate in 2019. The city’s broad workforce development push it initiated during the pandemic has had mixed results, and the effort has missed essentially every goal that city staffers initially set.

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National Stories

Associated Press - December 6, 2022

Biden's efforts to protect abortion access hit roadblocks

The Biden administration is still actively searching for ways to safeguard abortion access for millions of women, even as it bumps up against a complex web of strict new state laws enacted in the months after the Supreme Court stripped the constitutional right. Looking to seize on momentum following a midterm election where voters widely rebuked tougher abortion restrictions, there’s a renewed push at the White House to find ways to help women in states that have virtually outlawed or limited the treatment, and to keep the issue top of mind for voters. In reality, though, the administration is shackled by a ban on federal funding for most abortions, a conservative-leaning Supreme Court inclined to rule against abortion rights and a split Congress unwilling to pass legislation on the matter. Meanwhile, frustration on the ground in the most abortion-restricted states is mounting.

“This is not going away anytime soon,” said Jen Klein of the Biden administration’s Gender Policy Council. “Tens of millions of Americans are living under bans of various sorts, many of them quite extreme, and even in states where abortion is legal, we’re all seeing the impact on providers and on systems being loaded by people who are coming across state lines.” Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June, roughly half the states have some type of abortion restrictions in place, with at least 11 states essentially banning the procedure. Administration officials are meeting Tuesday and Wednesday with state lawmakers ahead of their 2023 sessions, including in states with more extreme bans on the table, and will discuss safeguarding rights and helping women access care as top issues. The meetings follow sit-downs with roughly nine governors, attorneys general and Democratic state legislators from more than 30 states. The administration, meanwhile, is implementing Biden’s executive orders signed in July and August that directed federal agencies to push back on abortion restrictions and protect women traveling out of their state to seek one, though some women’s rights advocates say it doesn’t go far enough. And there are still other avenues left for the administration to explore, said Kathleen Sebelius, a former U.S. health and human services secretary.

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Construction Dive - December 6, 2022

As construction adds jobs, recession is more likely

Construction is on a hiring spree, netting 20,000 jobs in November. Year over year, it recorded a change of 248,000, or 3.3%, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by Associated Builders and Contractors. Nonresidential construction employment added 16,300 positions last month, with growth in all three of its subcategories: nonresidential building (8,200), heavy and civil engineering (5,300) and nonresidential specialty trade (2,800).

Construction’s unemployment rate fell from 4.1% in October to 3.9% in November, higher than the nationwide rate of 3.7%. The numbers are positive for construction jobseekers — especially as workers in sectors like technology have faced increasing layoffs in recent days — but won’t necessarily be good news for employers, as a recession continues to threaten the health of the economy, according to Anirban Basu, chief economist for ABC. Employers have hired aggressively, increasing compensation in an effort to retain workers within the context of the great resignation, Basu said in the press release. Average hourly earnings for construction workers has increased by over $2 since November 2021, ABC found. “For those who want inflation to abate, interest rates to fall and markets to be less volatile, the November jobs report is rather bad news,” Basu said. “Those operating in real estate and construction are likely to be discouraged, as these segments are heavily influenced by interest rates, and rising borrowing costs make it more difficult to finance the next generation of construction projects.” Basu said some may think the jobs report makes a recession less likely, but “the reality is quite the opposite.” “The Federal Reserve will be forced to push interest rates higher for longer, and that makes a downturn more probable over the next 12 months,” he said.

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Washington Post - December 6, 2022

Democrats try to salvage Manchin’s side deal on energy projects

The push by Sen. Joe Manchin III to overhaul the nation’s permitting process for infrastructure projects could get some last-ditch help from Democratic leaders, who are trying to attach the permitting bill to the annual defense policy measure, according to two people familiar with the matter. With the blessing of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been in talks with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) about attaching a version of Manchin’s permitting bill to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), according to the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. New text of the defense bill that includes the permitting bill could be released Monday before the House Rules Committee considers the measure, the people said, although they cautioned that the plans were in flux and subject to change.

Spokespeople for Manchin (D-W.Va.), Pelosi and Schumer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The effort to salvage Manchin’s permitting crusade is the latest attempt by Democrats to honor a deal that secured his vote for the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping climate, energy and health-care law that President Biden signed in August. Manchin insisted on a follow-up permitting bill as part of the deal, part of his long quest to speed up America’s permitting process for energy infrastructure, including the contested Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would transport natural gas about 300 miles from his home state of West Virginia to Virginia. But liberal House Democrats objected to the permitting bill, saying it could undermine bedrock environmental laws, while Republicans complained that they were not consulted, even though changing the permitting process is a longtime conservative priority. Several Senate Republicans are likely to oppose the inclusion of the permitting bill in the NDAA, according to the people familiar with the matter, meaning the passage of Manchin’s measure is hardly guaranteed. It’s unclear whether Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to join the GOP opposition. Doing so could slow the passage of the defense bill, a top priority for the senator before he retires next month.

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Politico - December 6, 2022

Ronna McDaniel set to get new opponent for RNC post

Ronna McDaniel is about to draw a challenge to her post as Republican National Committee chair. Harmeet Dhillon, a RNC committeewoman whose firm represents Donald Trump, is prepping a bid for party chair, according to two people familiar with her planning. Dhillon has been talking with fellow RNC members about a prospective run, and those close to Dhillon say a formal launch could come within the next few days. “After three successive terms of underwhelming results at the polls for the GOP, all the while with leaders congratulating ourselves for outstanding performance, I feel that we owe it to our voters to have a serious debate about the leadership of the party and what we must change to actually win in 2024,” Dhillon said in a statement.

A Dhillon candidacy would mark the most serious challenge to McDaniel to date. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who ran an unsuccessful bid for New York governor, has also said he is considering a bid, though he has yet to declare his candidacy. Mike Lindell, the MyPillow executive and Trump backer who has risen to prominence through his denial of the 2020 election outcome, has launched a longshot campaign for the post. The committee’s 168 members will hold a vote to determine the RNC chairmanship at the committee’s annual winter meeting, which is set to be held in late January in Dana Point, Calif. A McDaniel representative declined to comment on Dhillon’s anticipated candidacy. McDaniel, who has been RNC leader since 2017 and would be the longest-serving chair in more than a century should she be reelected to a fourth term, may be tough to unseat. Her allies say she has already received commitments of support from more than 100 members — more than the majority of votes she would need.

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Reuters - December 6, 2022

Facebook owner Meta may remove news from platform if U.S. Congress passes media bill

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc on Monday threatened to remove news from its platform if the U.S. Congress passes a proposal aimed at making it easier for news organizations to negotiate collectively with companies like Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook. Sources briefed on the matter said lawmakers are considering adding the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to a must-pass annual defense bill as way to help the struggling local news industry. Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in a tweet said the company would be forced to consider removing news if the law was passed "rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions." He added the proposal fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because "it benefits their bottom line - not the other way around."

The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing newspaper publishers, is urging Congress to add the bill to the defense bill, arguing that "local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper." More than two dozen groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Monday urged Congress not to approve the local news bill saying it would "create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters" and argued the bill does not require "funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists." A similar Australian law, which took effect in March 2021 after talks with the big tech firms led to a brief shutdown of Facebook news feeds in the country, has largely worked, a government report said. Since the News Media Bargaining Code took effect, various tech firms including Meta and Alphabet have signed more than 30 deals with media outlets, compensating them for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars, the report added.

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Houston Chronicle - December 6, 2022

Oil field services industry adds over 2,300 U.S. jobs in November, according to trade group

Companies that provide equipment, labor and technology for oil and gas drilling continue to add workers, but employment in the oil-field services sector remains below pre-pandemic levels. In November, employment in oil field services and equipment ticked up by more than 2,300 jobs nationwide to 645,486, according to preliminary federal data analyzed by the industry group Energy Workforce and Technology Council.

“The latest increase in our sector is very encouraging,” said Energy Workforce CEO Leslie Beyer. “We now have almost gained back all the jobs lost since March of 2020 when the pandemic began to significantly hit the labor market.” Employment in the sector has inched back up to its highest level since the pandemic hit in March of 2020, but still sits about 60,000 below February 2020 numbers. Texas is consistently the largest employer in the country for oil field services workers. The group estimates Texas is home to nearly 315,000 oil field services jobs, a more than 9 percent boost from the 287,000 in the beginning of the year.

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Newsclips - December 5, 2022

Lead Stories

Associated Press - December 5, 2022

Supreme Court weighs 'most important case' on democracy

The Supreme Court is about to confront a new elections case, a Republican-led challenge asking the justices for a novel ruling that could significantly increase the power of state lawmakers over elections for Congress and the presidency. The court is set to hear arguments Wednesday in a case from North Carolina, where Republican efforts to draw congressional districts heavily in their favor were blocked by a Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court because the GOP map violated the state constitution. A court-drawn map produced seven seats for each party in last month's midterm elections in highly competitive North Carolina.

The question for the justices is whether the U.S. Constitution's provision giving state legislatures the power to make the rules about the “times, places and manner” of congressional elections cuts state courts out of the process. “This is the single most important case on American democracy — and for American democracy — in the nation’s history,” said former federal judge Michael Luttig, a prominent conservative who has joined the legal team defending the North Carolina court decision. The Republican leaders of North Carolina's legislature told the Supreme Court that the Constitution's “carefully drawn lines place the regulation of federal elections in the hands of state legislatures, Congress and no one else.” Three conservative justices already have voiced some support for the idea that the state court had improperly taken powers given by the Constitution when it comes to federal elections. A fourth has written approvingly about limiting the power of state courts in this area.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Texas companies’ mass layoffs drop dramatically this year from even pre-pandemic 2019

Texas employers have laid off close to 6,800 workers so far this year – fewer than half the number sent packing in pre-pandemic 2019, according to notices filed with the Texas Workforce Commission. The notices are required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a 1988 law requiring companies with 100 or more employees to provide a 60-day warning of closings or mass layoffs. It’s intended to give employees time to potentially find new work or train for new positions. This year’s single biggest layoff came in August when Michigan-based Home Point Financial Corp. told 526 workers affiliated with its Farmers Branch office that they would be terminated beginning Nov. 1. Home Point added 49 more layoffs to the total this month. Mortgage companies have been particularly hard hit this year by a huge drop in demand for home loans caused by higher interest rates.

But a strong labor market in Texas has kept this year’s mass layoffs well below pre-pandemic 2019 and the last two years when the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread job losses. In 2019, Texas employers filed WARN notices eliminating 14,553 jobs – more than twice this year’s total with a month left in the year. The pandemic high came in 2020, when WARN notice filings exceeded 91,000 jobs. WARN notices, however, don’t include all job cuts made by Texas companies. Coppell-based mortgage lender Mr. Cooper, for example, recently announced a layoff affecting 800 workers in its origination business. Many of the job cuts were in Chandler, Ariz. Earlier this month, Dallas-based Builders FirstSource, the largest supplier of materials to homebuilders in the U.S., told investors that it cut 2,600 jobs nationwide in response to this year’s decline in new home construction. Nationally, employers have announced plans this year to cut 320,173 jobs, a 6% increase over the same 11-month period last year, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. The year-to-date total is the second lowest on record, since the firm began tracking job cuts in 1993. The lowest total came in the same period last year.

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New York Times - December 4, 2022

The Texas group waging a national crusade against climate action

When a lawsuit was filed to block the nation’s first major offshore wind farm off the Massachusetts coast, it appeared to be a straightforward clash between those who earn their living from the sea and others who would install turbines and underwater cables that could interfere with the harvesting of squid, fluke and other fish. The fishing companies challenging federal permits for the Vineyard Wind project were from the Bay State as well as Rhode Island and New York, and a video made by the opponents featured a bearded fisherman with a distinct New England accent. But the financial muscle behind the fight originated thousands of miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in dusty oil country. The group bankrolling the lawsuit filed last year was the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit organization backed by oil and gas companies and Republican donors.

With influence campaigns, legal action and model legislation, the group is promoting fossil fuels and trying to stall the American economy’s transition toward renewable energy. It is upfront about its opposition to Vineyard Wind and other renewable energy projects, making no apologies for its advocacy work. Even after Democrats in Congress passed the biggest climate law in United States history this summer, the organization is undaunted, and its continued efforts highlight the myriad forces working to keep oil, gas and coal companies in business. In Arizona, the Texas Public Policy Foundation campaigned to keep open one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the West. In Colorado, it called for looser restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And in Texas, the group crafted the first so-called “energy boycott” law to punish financial institutions that want to scale back their investments in fossil fuel projects, legislation adopted by four other states. At the same time, the Texas Public Policy Foundation has spread misinformation about climate science. With YouTube videos, regular appearances on Fox and Friends, and social media campaigns, the group’s executives have sought to convince lawmakers and the public that a transition away from oil, gas and coal would harm Americans.

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Bloomberg - December 5, 2022

Crypto stocks teeter near abyss as Fink’s warning adds to angst

Analysts and investors are struggling to call a bottom in crypto stocks in the wake of a brutal month that ended with the head of BlackRock Inc. saying most digital-asset firms won’t survive. Cryptocurrency firms including Coinbase Global Inc., Galaxy Digital Holdings Ltd. and MicroStrategy Inc. all plunged more than 25% last month. The declines added to the pain of a dismal year amid a deep and extended plunge in Bitcoin and other digital tokens. While that trio of firms rallied this week, they’ve still wiped out roughly $52 billion of shareholder value in 2022. Already reeling from the so-called crypto winter, investors were dealt a major blow with the high-profile collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange in early November, which sent Bitcoin tumbling.

To top it off, BlackRock Chief Executive Larry Fink said this week that he expects most crypto companies will fold after FTX’s demise. A Schwab index tracking crypto-linked stocks is coming off its worst month since June, and is down 63% this year. “Questions about whether crypto has a future have become prevalent after a year during which many tokens lost more than 70% of their value and the collapse of FTX has exacerbated a crisis of confidence that had started in the spring,” said Mark Palmer, an analyst at BTIG LLC. Few, if any, companies connected to the sector have been spared during the selloff, with even banks like Silvergate Capital Corp. and Signature Bank taking hits. Mining stocks have been among the worst performers, with Marathon Digital Holdings Inc. and Hut 8 Mining Corp. both seeing their share prices cut roughly in half in November. FTX’s sudden downfall sparked fears of contagion across the industry, which ultimately became a reality this week when crypto lender BlockFi Inc. also filed for bankruptcy.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2022

Election-denying Houston Republican Mike May takes his case to the Texas House after 6,000-vote loss

A Republican who lost his Houston-area race for a Texas House seat by 15 percentage points is formally contesting the result, arguing Harris County’s Election Day woes mean the outcome should be “declared void and a new election be ordered.” Mike May, the GOP nominee who ran against state Rep. Jon Rosenthal in House District 135, filed a petition challenging Rosenthal’s win with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday morning. May contends that the result “is not the true outcome” because some voting locations in Harris County ran out of paper used to print ballots in voting machines. Texas Democrats cast the election challenge as a bad-faith political stunt spawned by Donald Trump's baseless accusations that Democrats stole the 2020 election from him through voter fraud and other illicit means. Some Republicans also criticized the effort, arguing it distracts from their more serious efforts to address Harris County's election administration issues.

May's challenge also draws attention to the little-exercised House procedure used to vet these claims, one that is typically invoked in contests decided by dozens of votes, not the several thousand separating May and Rosenthal. State election law directs the secretary of state to deliver May's petition to House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who will then refer it to a committee of House members to consider whether to recommend that the full House uphold the result or declare it void, thus triggering a new election. Phelan is also directed by state law to appoint another House member as a “master of discovery,” who can throw out the contest by declaring it “frivolous.” Rosenthal received 57.6 percent of the vote, to May’s 42.4 percent, in House District 135. The contest was decided by a margin of more than 6,000 votes, out of over 40,000 total. May could not be reached for comment Friday. Larry Veselka, a Houston lawyer who represented Democrat Hubert Vo when Vo's 2004 election to the Texas House was challenged by his Republican opponent, said the legal standard for voiding an election result and ordering up a redo typically requires "clear and convincing" evidence that would be near-impossible for May to obtain.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2022

After devastating Big 12 title loss, TCU has new life with CFP selection

A day after a crushing emotional hit, TCU discovered new life in its football season and championship dreams. The Horned Frogs became the first school from Texas and the first Big 12 member not named Oklahoma to make the College Football Playoff. TCU (12-1) was third in the final CFP ranking released Sunday morning and will face No. 2 Michigan (13-0), the Big Ten champion, in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Dec. 31. Defending national champion Georgia (13-0) is the No. 1 seed and will meet No. 4 Ohio State (11-1) in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31. This season’s CFP championship game matching the two winners will take place Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. The news of the selection ended about 20 hours of white-knuckle anxiety and insomnia for TCU in the wake of Saturday’s crushing overtime loss to Kansas State, 31-28, in the Big 12 title game.

Alabama coach Nick Saban commandeered the airwaves Saturday night on ESPN and Fox, lobbying for the Crimson Tide to gain a spot in the playoff, based on projected Las Vegas odds to make the case. “After [Saturday], I think we had a sleepless night, but I appreciate the committee’s confidence in our players and our program,” first-year TCU coach Sonny Dykes said Sunday after TCU’s watch party at Amon Carter Stadium. “I know our guys were disappointed last night and there was some concern, but I appreciate them giving us an opportunity to go and compete for a national championship.” TCU finally got the good news after ESPN revealed the top two seeds, although the network took its time. The crowded luxury suite immediately erupted when TCU’s name flashed on the big-screen TVs. “I was actually pretty nervous,” said senior quarterback Max Duggan, who will probably be named a Heisman Trophy finalist Monday. “My heart was kind of beating in waiting for it because they took so long from two to three. It’s a great spot to be in just having the opportunity. “That’s all you ask for is to have a shot.”

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NBC News - December 4, 2022

'He did nothing wrong': Family of Texas entrepreneur fatally shot by police say he was defending his home

A tech entrepreneur in Texas wasn’t given ample time to drop a rifle he was carrying on his own front porch before he was fatally shot by police last month, his devastated family told NBC News. Rajan “Raj” Moonesinghe, 33, had returned from a trip and suspected his home had been burglarized during the early-morning hours of Nov. 15. That’s when he held a rifle outside his front door and was encountered by an Austin police officer who quickly shot him while almost simultaneously ordering Moonesinghe to drop the gun, relatives said. In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Moonesinghe’s mother, Ruth, and brother, Johann, said they were heartbroken and demanded answers from Austin police as to why their loved one was killed so quickly before being given a reasonable amount of time to drop the weapon.

“He did nothing wrong,” Johann Moonesinghe said. “He had a gun … he was defending his house and he didn’t point the gun. He was not menacing. He didn’t look like he was going to shoot anyone.” Moonesinghe said his brother got a rifle to protect himself and there had been recent crimes in the area. “He called his friend and he said I think something’s been moved around my house. Something strange is going on.” Ruth Moonesinghe described her son, the co-founder of a restaurant consulting business, as an "amazing gift" to her and many others. "I just wanted to hold him … and say, ‘I love him. Thank you for being this amazing gift that I had,''' she said. "I’m just sad. I wasn’t there because … that shouldn’t have happened to him." Austin police said in a statement the deadly shooting occurred about 12:30 a.m. They said a 911 caller told a dispatcher that a man in a gray robe and dark pants was pointing a rifle down the street. The caller also said the man was pointing his rifle at the interior of his home, police said. The caller then stated the man just fired into his own home. The caller said the police were on scene and the man fired again, police said. Police identified the officer who fired at Moonesinghe as Daniel Sanchez, who is now on administrative leave. “Officer Sanchez was the first to observe Mr. Moonesinghe and gave him a verbal command to drop the gun. Immediately after telling Mr. Moonesinghe to drop the gun, Officer Sanchez fired his Department approved firearm at Mr. Moonesinghe. Mr. Moonesinghe was struck and fell to the ground,” police said.

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Fort Worth Report - December 4, 2022

Granger is poised to be next chair of powerful US House Appropriations Committee. But for how long?

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger likely will wield the gavel of the powerful Appropriations Committee when the next Congress convenes in January — giving Fort Worth an outsized role on the national stage. However, Granger’s time as chair overseeing how the federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars may be short because of the House Republican Conference’s rules. Those rules cap the number of years a House Republican can serve as a ranking member and chair to three consecutive two-year terms. Granger was selected in 2018 as ranking member, a designation given to the most senior member of the minority party. She has served two of her three terms. The rule has been in place since 1992.

Committee chair decisions are expected to happen as early as this week, according to Politico. The Republican steering committee selects committee chairs. In a statement to the Fort Worth Report, Granger said she hopes to serve as chair when Republicans take control of the House. Previous Republican chairs tend to leave Congress and retire once they hit term limits, according to a study from Brookings, a nonpartisan public policy organization. Brookings found in the GOP-majority years of 2014, 2016 and 2018 that 40% of term-limited Republican chairs retired. House Democrats, as well as Senate Republicans and Democrats, do not have term limits for ranking members or chairs. House Republicans can seek a waiver to the term limit rule. U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, is seeking one so she can lead the Education and Labor Committee starting in January. However, it is unclear whether House Republican leaders will grant the waiver, Politico reported.

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Fox 4 - December 5, 2022

Aaron Dean murder trial set to begin Monday after numerous delays

The trial of former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean for fatally shooting Atatiana Jefferson in 2019 during a welfare check at her mother's home will begin Monday in Tarrant County. The murder trial has faced a number of delays due to the pandemic, a change of judges and more. "Yeah, certainly been a long-time coming," said Russell Wilson, a former Dallas County prosecutor who has no ties to the case. Wilson says Monday's opening arguments will allow attorneys on both sides to present clear and concise messages to the jury. "The lawyers have a usually a very clear vision of what they believe the evidence is going to show and witnesses sometimes will stumble, they may be uncertain on things," Wilson said.

Wilson expects the case to be focused on specific elements, beginning with the non-emergency call from a neighbor to police because a door was open with lights on. Officer Dean arrived, walked into the backyard and saw Jefferson in a window, yelling, "put your hands up! Let me see your hands!" Dean immediately fired a single shot killing Jefferson. "I expect it to be focused very heavily in those areas," Wilson said. According to an affidavit, Jefferson's nephew told police Atatiana "heard noises coming from outside and she took her handgun from her purse." He says she then pointed it toward the window, then she was shot. "The defense might be arguing that that was you know a sufficient threat," Wilson said. Wilson, however, points out it is not a crime to possess a legal gun inside your family home. "You know often times we view our home as our castle if you will," he said. Of the 200 jurors who showed up for jury selection, 8 men and 6 women were chosen. None are African American.

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WCVB - December 5, 2022

Texas man charged with threatening Boston doctor over transgender care

Federal authorities in Massachusetts are accusing a Texas man of threatening to kill a Boston doctor who provides care to transgender children. Matthew Jordan Lindner, 38, of Comfort, was charged with one count of transmitting interstate threats and arrested Friday morning. According to charging documents, Linder called the Boston-based National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center on Aug. 31 and left a threatening voicemail that targeted one of the center's affiliated doctors.

Authorities claim that in the voicemail, Linder said, in part: "You're all gonna burn. There's a group of people on their way to handle [victim]. You signed your own warrant, [victim]. Castrating our children. You've woken up enough people and upset enough of us. And you signed your own ticket." "While everyone has a right to express their opinion, they don't have a right to use or threaten violence against individuals who do not share their same set of beliefs," Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Boston Division, said in a statement. "The victim, a doctor caring for gender nonconforming and transgender patients, should be able to engage in this meaningful and necessary work without fear of physical harm or death," U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement. "And although the doctor is clearly a victim, Mr. Lindner's threat is rooted in a hatred of the LGBTQIA+ community and the families, friends and people that love and support them. They are victims, too."

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San Antonio Express-News - December 4, 2022

New hospital planned at A&M University-San Antonio in partnership with University Health

An agreement to spend $500 million to create a new hospital on the South Side and education opportunities to match was signed Thursday by officials from Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Texas A&M Health and the University Health System. University Health officials last week closed on the purchase of 68 acres at the west entrance to the A&M campus as the future site of the 256-bed hospital slated to be finished by 2027. “Today’s partnership is a game changer for creating unlimited opportunities,” A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson said. “Together we are also going to be (ushering) a predominantly Latino and Latina student population to tangible career paths with a solid road map and real-world experience.”

The need for the facility was identified four or five years ago and reinforced by the pandemic, which highlighted the many dangers of its absence, said University Health President George Hernandez. “One of the things we found out during the pandemic was that we only had one hospital in one location. We had lots of clinics, but only one hospital, and it became very difficult to take care of our patients,” Hernandez said. “At the peak of the pandemic in 2021, we had over 174 patients in the hospital with COVID, and it basically almost shut us down.” Location was key. The health system has clinics on the South Side area but no hospital, but a search for a site proved unsatisfying until officials settled on the area next to the university, he said. “We couldn’t find the synergy until this property became available,” Hernandez said, adding he was glad they didn’t jump to buy something sooner. The project also will include a clinic or public health facility adjacent to the hospital, for which Bexar County officials approved $30 million. The university will construct a building on its campus to house a new College of Education and Public Health, for which the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has approved $45 million in funding.

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CBS 11 - December 5, 2022

Small, tight-knit community comes together to keep Athena Strand's memory alive

Two days after the body of 7-year-old Athena Strand was found a few miles away from her Cottondale home, her small tight knit community is coming together to keep her memory alive and support her heartbroken family. It's hard to miss all of the pink spread throughout the community on the road heading from Boyd into Paradise. "We just wanted to show support for the Strand family. It's a tight knit community around here. Even though it's one town over, we're all family," said Heather King, a Boyd resident. King is just one of at least a dozen neighbors who traveled around town Sunday decorating with pink ribbons, balloons, and anything else pink they could find. Pink was Athena Strand's favorite color. Now the community is lit up in pink in memory of her.

"We're gonna focus on her and the good things and the love that she brought and we're not gonna focus on the tragedy," said King as she decorated a fence with Athena's name alongside another neighbor. Athena was first reported missing by her stepmother on Wednesday evening. Her body was found two days later on Friday after, investigators say, 31-year-old Fedex contract driver Tanner Horner confessed to abducting her from her Cottondale home and killing her. "This is not what we want our town to be remembered by. We're a loving community; we don't want this tattooed on our city," said King. Rod Townsend the superintendent of Paradise ISD, the district where Athena attended elementary school, said the district will have additional counselors available at the elementary and middle schools on Monday and that they will honor Athena at a later date.

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Fort Worth Business Press - December 4, 2022

Communities In Schools: Tarrant County nonprofit making a difference in students’ lives and education

Nathaniel “Junior” Session, like so many young people, was looking for some guidance, a road map to help him navigate to a better place in life. Then he found an entire community of support, Communities In Schools of Greater Tarrant County (CISTC), a local affiliate of a national nonprofit network dedicated to helping students stay on track by overcoming barriers to success caused by poverty, hunger, lack of transportation, access to medical and dental services, and mental health needs. Session, then a senior at Lake Worth High School, first met his CISTC social worker Kimeeka Brown in the seventh grade. Brown had heard that he, his mom and siblings had found themselves homeless after Junior’s father walked out. She sprang into action and helped the family get back on their feet.

Brown soon established a close relationship with Junior and his mom, even helping to secure two pairs of basketball shoes, which Junior needed to make the school team. “Junior would always come to me and ask, ‘Why, Ms. Brown? Why are you so nice to me?’” Brown said. “And I would say to him ‘Because sometimes good things need to happen to good people.’ Junior and his family needed a hand up, not a hand out.” During Session’s freshman year, his mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Brown and Morgan Eary, the CISTC social worker who started working with Session when he entered Lake Worth High School, were at the hospital with him when his mother passed. “At the hospital, his mother took us both aside and asked us to take care of him,” Brown recalled. “Her dying wish was to entrust us with her son.” Last May, Session graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA. He is now attending Bethany College on a scholarship to play football. “He is regarded as a leader among his peers and is fiercely independent and self-reliant,” CISTC Executive Director Lindsey Garner said. “Imagine if Brown and Eary were not there to surround Junior with support when no one else had? They were able to go behind the scenes to assess his unique needs and provide him the support he needed to succeed.”

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Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2022

TCU first team from Texas to make College Football Playoff

The state of Texas has finally put a program in the four-team College Football Playoff: TCU. The Horned Frogs (12-1) are the No. 3 seed and will face No. 2 seed Michigan (13-0) on New Year’s Eve in Glendale, Ariz., in the CFP semifinals. TCU, which entered the weekend at No. 3 under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, lost in overtime 31-28 to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium on Saturday but did not drop in the rankings. The 13-member committee opted to keep TCU ahead of Ohio State and SEC hopefuls Alabama (10-2) and Tennessee (10-2). No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Ohio State will play in the other semifinals in Atlanta, Ga.

“The body of work by TCU, the way they had played all season leading into the (Big 12 title) game … the way they came back against Kansas State with a heroic effort by (quarterback) Max Duggan … we came to the conclusion that we believed TCU was No. 3,” said North Carolina State athletic director Boo Corrigan, who is in his first year as the CFP committee chair. “TCU has earned this spot,” ESPN analyst Joey Galloway said. “They did it all season long.” TCU fans with long memories still held their collective breaths Sunday morning in the lead-up to the seedings, considering the CFP committee in 2014 put Ohio State ahead of TCU in the final rankings and the Horned Frogs were left out of the first playoff. The state of Texas has a dozen members in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), most in the country, and finally has placed a team in the CFP following a handful of near misses, including Baylor in 2014 (along with TCU) and Texas A&M in 2020. The playoffs are expanding to 12 teams in 2024. TCU is the second team to make the CFP after starting the season unranked. Michigan was the first a year ago, and the Wolverines lost to eventual national champion Georgia 34-11 in last year’s CFP semifinals.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - December 5, 2022

Lawrence Schovanec: Texas Tech's first 100 years worth celebrating, but best is yet to come

((Lawrence Schovanec is President of Texas Tech University.) For many, this is one of the most cherished times of the year. For Red Raiders, it's even more special as we host one of our oldest and most memorable traditions, the Carol of Lights. On Friday, Dec. 2, the event brought current and former students, faculty, staff, and the Lubbock community together to celebrate the holiday season, sing Christmas carols and launch Texas Tech University's Centennial Celebration. February 2023 will mark 100 years since the founding of our beloved institution. Born as Texas Technological College in the vast open space of West Texas, Texas Tech has always aspired to big goals and a worldwide presence. It is here where we have been imbued with Texas-sized ambition. From such drive, a small college founded in 1923 has become an extraordinary 21st-century engine of educational, research, cultural, and economic opportunity. In our first 100 years, Texas Tech has become a potent force for learning and discovery in areas critical to humanity.

As we commemorate Texas Tech's past, we do so with anticipation of an even greater fulfillment of our potential. We have come far and now enjoy unprecedented momentum. But we have so much more to do, and we must raise our bar of expectations. Texas Tech will be the destination for those seeking a world-class education and a unique and personalized experience where the individual comes first. We will continue to build on our history of scholarship and research as we move toward the status of a top 50 national research institution. We will also seize upon our location in these great plains to enhance our tradition of creativity and cultural enrichment as we solve global problems through impactful research that addresses energy, sustainability, and health. But we are more than just our accomplishments. Texas Tech and Lubbock have shown that we are there for one another in many unique and uplifting ways. And as part of our Centennial Celebration, we are challenging all Red Raiders to support the communities that are home to them and their families. We have an ambitious goal of one million hours of volunteerism and service. Anyone can participate. Find an individual, organization, or cause that needs help and give them your most precious gift – your time and talents. Then, log your volunteer hours at 100.ttu.edu/volunteer. Texas Tech is about friendships, life-lasting bonds, and ideas and values that weather the test of time. I invite you to join us on this journey to celebrate what Texas Tech has been and will be. We will honor a century that has turned potential into power, education into inspiration, and passionate students into proud alumni.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 5, 2022

Herb Ritchie, former Harris County criminal judge and UT Tower survivor, dies

Herb Ritchie, a retired criminal court judge who barricaded himself in the UT Tower during Charles Whitman’s 1966 sniper attack and went on to help break the Republican gridlock on the Harris County judiciary, died Thursday at 77. Ritchie stepped down from the 337th District Court in December 2020 but continued working as a visiting judge during the pandemic, a task that contributed to reducing the ballooning backlog of felony cases after Hurricane Harvey's damage to the courthouse and the global contagion. He died at St. Luke's Hospital after complications from a recent procedure, Ritchie's longtime law partner Judge Greg Glass said. Services have not been planned.

Lawyers and prosecutors hailed Ritchie as a smart criminal defense lawyer who made deliberate decisions and showed kindness in his courtroom with decorum. Ritchie started running for office in 2002, when voters rarely elected judges lacking prosecutorial experience. He finally won the 337th District Court seat in 2008, beating two-term Republican incumbent Don Stricklin. Ritchie lost a re-election bid but garnered a second term in 2017. The jurist graduated from the University of Texas in 1974, Texas Bar records show. Ritchie’s education in Austin crossed paths with one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. On Aug. 1, 1966, he took refuge in an office in the campus tower where Charles Whitman started his rampage, killing 16 and wounding 31 others, one floor above him. Ritchie, then 20, was working in the tower when the gunfire erupted. He looked out the window and saw people below being shot. A professor reported seeing bodies in the stairwell, and they were unable to escape through the elevator.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 5, 2022

CPS’ financial woes worsening as customers’ past-due bills near $210 million

CPS Energy ’s cash crunch is worsening as customers’ past-due bills near $210 million — a total that’s continuing to increase months after executives said the issue would be resolved by the end of the year. About 215,000 ratepayers — nearly a quarter of all CPS customer accounts — are at least 30 days behind on their bills and collectively owed $207 million in October, the city-owned utility reported this week. The increases come after a summer of record-high temperatures led to record utility bills — a period during which the utility largely suspended disconnections of customers with past-due accounts. Those are among the reasons the situation is more persistent than CPS officials expected and raising concerns among credit rating agencies and the utility’s trustees.

In board meetings this year, trustee John Steen has had several testy exchanges with CPS executives over why the past-due balance has continued increasing after trustees were told early this year the problem would be resolved quickly. “A few meetings ago, my remarks were decried by someone sitting at the dais as ‘harping,’” he said Tuesday, referring to CEO Rudy Garza ’s response to questions he raised about the lingering issue during a September board meeting. “Everything else CPS does depends on being on firm financial footing. We the trustees must protect the organization’s financial status,” said Steen, a lawyer and former Texas secretary of state. “So, with all due respect, I intend to keep harping on these matters.” CPS executives didn’t respond to Steen’s comments during a board meeting this week. The issue is not a new one. Late bill balances began mounting early in the pandemic when CPS suspended its usual practice of shutting off power to customers who fell behind on their bills. For months, utility officials have said resuming disconnections this year would spur customers to pay up or enter a payment plan. But CPS couldn’t cut off power to past-due customers for much of the sizzling summer because it doesn’t disconnect during heat advisories. When temperatures fell, however, it suspended service to 12,000 customers. Even so, the past-due balance has increased by nearly $50 million since June.

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McAllen Monitor - December 4, 2022

Governor appoints Mission attorney to head Hidalgo County’s newest court

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a Mission attorney who serves as the city of Palmhurst’s municipal judge to serve as a judge for Hidalgo County’s newest state district court. In a news release issued Friday, Abbott announced that he appointed Horacio Peña to the 476th state District Court for a term set to expire on Dec. 31, 2024, or until someone else is elected. The Texas Legislature created the court during its last legislative session.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2022

Dallas Museum of Art delays opening after police investigate bomb threat

The Dallas Museum of Art did not open at its scheduled time Sunday while police investigated a bomb threat made against the building, police and a museum spokesperson said. A Dallas police spokesman said in an email a person called the museum about 8:30 a.m. to report a bomb was inside the building. The call prompted the department’s explosive ordinance team to respond. The building was cleared several hours later, and no credible threats were found, police said.

DMA spokeswoman Aschelle Morgan said in an email the museum received a threat, and the building and garage would be closed “until we can be certain our patrons, staff and community are safe.” The museum typically opens at 11 a.m. on Sundays; the museum said in an update that police cleared the building of threats. The museum opened at 2 p.m. The closure comes about six months after a man allegedly broke into the museum and went on a rampage resulting in the destruction of several displays.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Dallas’ gas mower ban plan is bad local government

It’s tempting to see the proposal to outlaw gas-powered lawn equipment in Dallas as the machinations of a progressive block of city staff and council members seeking to “California our Texas.” After all, two of the case studies put forward at last month’s council briefing came from California and Washington, D.C. On the other hand, 30 seconds listening to a leaf blower blasting can change one’s mind. The tricky task facing Dallas is to find a way to promote enjoyable, peaceful neighborhoods without overburdening property owners or businesses. Few people like leaf blowers, but few of us want government telling us how to cut the lawn. The current proposal, which is likely to change before the council adopts any formal policy, is to phase out gas-powered lawn equipment of all kinds over the next several years, culminating in a complete ban by 2030.

We can get behind this rule for city crews and contractors, but outlawing this equipment for homeowners and private contractors is a step too far. First, and most important, it removes a simple freedom — to care for one’s property as one sees fit. Yes, property rights are subject to regulation for the common good, especially when they conflict with the safety or health of other citizens. But, as annoying as they are, no one is being directly injured by leaf blowers. Promoters of the ban will point to climate change and air quality as harmful, but the council presentation last month included no evidence that is true. There were some data about emissions. A large leaf blower, operated for three hours per day, will emit 9.61 tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to city staff. But does it really reduce emissions to charge a leaf blower on a grid powered by methane-belching plants in West Texas? Or with the power from a landscaper’s truck left running so he can charge up for the next job? Proponents of the ban will say it’s an environmental justice issue since, quoting the staff report, “Most lawn crews are unprotected and work full time at the source of emissions and noise. ... A large portion of landscape workers are Hispanic.”

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National Stories

CNN - December 5, 2022

Same-sex marriage fight continues Monday at the Supreme Court with challenge from website designer

The Supreme Court will revisit the intersection of LGBTQ rights and religious liberty on Monday, when it takes up the case of a graphic designer who seeks to start a website business to celebrate weddings – but does not want to work with same-sex couples. The case comes as supporters of LGBTQ rights fear the 6-3 conservative majority – fresh off its decision to reverse a near 50-year-old abortion precedent – may be setting its sights on ultimately reversing a landmark 2015 opinion called Obergefell v. Hodges that cleared the way for same-sex marriage nationwide. The House this week is expected to pass a bill that requires states to recognize another state’s legal marriage if Obergefell were ever overturned. The bill would then go to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.

“I am concerned,” Mary Bonauto, senior attorney of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, told CNN in an interview. “I am concerned only because the Court seems to be reaching for cases and literally changing settled law time and again.” Justice Clarence Thomas, for instance, when Roe v. Wade was overturned, explicitly called on the court to revisit Obergefell. On one side of the dispute is the designer, Lorie Smith, whose business is called 303 Creative. She says she has not yet moved forward with an expansion into wedding websites because she is worried about violating a Colorado public accommodations law. She says the law compels her to express messages that are inconsistent with her beliefs. The state and supporters of LGBTQ rights respond that Smith is simply seeking a license to discriminate in the marketplace. Four years ago, the court considered a similar case involving a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, citing religious objections. That 7-2 ruling favoring the baker, however, was tied to specific circumstances in that case and did not apply broadly to similar disputes nationwide. Now, the justices are taking a fresh look at the same state Anti-Discrimination Act. Under the law, a business may not refuse to serve individuals because of their sexual orientation.

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Dallas Morning News - December 5, 2022

Will Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes cooperate to avoid long prison sentence?

Oath Keepers founder and North Texas resident Stewart Rhodes has big decisions to make now that he’s been convicted of sedition and a potentially lengthy prison sentence could mean he dies in prison because of his age. Rhodes, 57, of Granbury, faces up to 20 years in federal prison for leading a violent plot with members of his extremist militia to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential win over Donald Trump. A Washington, D.C., jury convicted Rhodes and a top deputy on Tuesday of the rarely used Civil War-era charge of seditious conspiracy and other charges after a nearly two-month trial. The five-defendant trial, the biggest to date in the government’s massive investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, focused on the far-right extremist group’s efforts to keep Trump in the White House, even by using deadly force.

Rhodes testified in his own defense during the trial. If the judge decides Rhodes lied on the witness stand, he faces punishment enhancements that could add up to a long prison sentence, unless he’s willing to help prosecutors with other cases. His conviction also has important implications for some of his top associates, including two other North Texas residents awaiting trial on related charges in Washington, D.C. “He can either be a hero in prison or he can try to get out to see some grandbabies,” said Aaron Wiley, a former federal prosecutor in Dallas. “This might mean the rest of his life” in prison. Rhodes’ two Dallas defense attorneys could not be reached for comment. The judge hasn’t set a date for sentencing. Those under Rhodes who face trials of their own are likely sweating it as they meet with their lawyers to discuss their next move, Wiley said. They include Kellye SoRelle, who assumed leadership of the Oath Keepers after Rhodes was arrested. She faces charges related to obstructing an official proceeding and obstruction of justice by tampering with documents. SoRelle, a 43-year-old family and immigration lawyer from Granbury, is closely linked to Rhodes. He told court officials he was in a relationship with her, though she denies it, and had lived with her in an apartment she leased.

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CNN - December 4, 2022

China operating over 100 police stations across the world with the help of some host nations, report claims

Beijing has set up more than 100 so-called overseas police stations across the globe to monitor, harass and in some cases repatriate Chinese citizens living in exile, using bilateral security arrangements struck with countries in Europe and Africa to gain a widespread presence internationally, a new report shared exclusively with CNN alleges. Madrid-based human rights campaigner Safeguard Defenders says it found evidence China was operating 48 additional police stations abroad since the group first revealed the existence of 54 such stations in September. Its new release – dubbed “Patrol and Persuade” – focuses on the scale of the network and examines the role that joint policing initiatives between China and several European nations, including Italy, Croatia, Serbia and Romania have played in piloting a wider expansion of Chinese overseas stations than was known until the organization’s revelations came out.

Among the fresh claims leveled by the group: that a Chinese citizen was coerced into returning home by operatives working undercover in a Chinese overseas police station in a Paris suburb, expressly recruited for that purpose, in addition to an earlier disclosure that two more Chinese exiles have been forcibly returned from Europe – one in Serbia, the other in Spain. Safeguard Defenders, which combs open-source, official Chinese documents for evidence of alleged human rights abuses, said it has identified four different police jurisdictions of China’s Ministry of Public Security active across at least 53 countries, spanning all four corners of the globe, ostensibly to help expatriates from those parts of China with their needs abroad. Beijing has denied it is running undeclared police forces outside its territory, with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs telling CNN in November: “We hope that relevant parties stop hyping it up to create tensions. Using this as a pretext to smear China is unacceptable.” Instead, China has claimed the facilities are administrative hubs, set up to help Chinese expatriates with tasks like renewing their driver’s licenses. China has also said the offices were a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had left many citizens locked down in other countries and locked out of China, unable to renew documentation. When approached by CNN last month about Safeguard Defenders’ original allegations, China’s foreign affairs ministry said the overseas stations were staffed by volunteers. However, the organization’s latest report claims one police network it examined had hired 135 people for its first 21 stations. The organization also sourced a three-year contract for a worker hired at an overseas station in Stockholm.

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The Hill - December 4, 2022

Why Biden is keeping his distance from Georgia’s Senate runoff

With just two days to go, President Biden is staying away from the Georgia runoff, where Democrats are hoping Sen. Raphael Warnock can defeat Republican Herschel Walker and secure a crucial 51st Senate seat for the party. Biden has had basically no role in the runoff race despite a better-than-expected midterm showing for the party last month. While former President Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama have shown up to boost Warnock, Biden is keeping the contest at arm’s length. The move appears to be an extension of the White House’s midterm strategy, where Biden largely did not campaign alongside House and Senate candidates in close races.

Strategists argue it’s a smart play that allows Warnock to focus on local issues and comparisons with Walker, as opposed to making it a referendum on the party in power. The president was asked Friday why he wasn’t going to Georgia to help Warnock. He responded that he’s “going to help Sen. Warnock” by attending a fundraiser in Massachusetts, a Democratic stronghold, for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. There, he will also participate in a phone bank for the incumbent. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that “one of the things” the midterms demonstrated “is that it didn’t matter where the president went; his message very much resonated.” “We made that contrast very clearly with … what Republicans in Congress were trying to do. And that worked. Right? That worked,” she said. Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins argued that the strategy to not send Biden to Georgia is wise because his presence could energize Republicans.

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Wall Street Journal - December 4, 2022

How to start regulating the crypto markets—immediately

Only someone who has been living under a rock could think cryptocurrency markets don’t need stronger regulation. The implosion of FTX, the collapse of the TerraUSD “stablecoin,” and the recent bankruptcy of crypto lenders and hedge funds—all causing massive losses to investors—provide ample evidence that digital assets should be regulated just like practically all other financial products and services. Yet there is continued risk that the road to compliance with basic regulatory principles, in the U.S. and globally, will be rough. This risk is partly the result of the widely divergent and often emotional responses crypto has triggered since it began. Charlie Munger has referred to crypto tokens as “partly fraud and partly delusion,” while many successful venture investors believe tomorrow’s financial infrastructure will be based on crypto technology. Each camp believes the government should act in furtherance of their view.

The unique genesis of crypto assets has also complicated the regulatory challenge. Unlike other financial innovations, bitcoin was launched globally and directly to retail consumers, with a claim that it would make traditional intermediaries obsolete. Because financial regulation is implemented on a national basis and largely through intermediaries, this “global retail” path of emergence has challenged regulators as traditional tools are less effective. Adding complexity, the use case of many crypto assets is often cloudy: Does a particular token provide an investment opportunity, access to goods or services, or a banklike product? These factors, coupled with our fragmented financial regulatory system, in which multiple regulators have overlapping roles to play, have slowed the application of basic prudential and consumer-focused regulation. Crypto proponents have sought to exploit the situation by arguing that a large portion of digital assets should not be treated as securities, but instead as commodities where the spot market has no federal regulator.

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Politico - December 5, 2022

Red-state rodeos to set GOP’s 2024 Senate chances

Montana stretches for 147,000 square miles. That still might not be enough room for the ambitions of its two GOP House members. Rep. Matt Rosendale and Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke are weighing whether to run against each other for the right to challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one of four marquee red-state Senate races taking shape in 2024. For Rosendale and Zinke, it could mean a rematch of their 2014 House GOP primary battle, when Zinke narrowly dispatched Rosendale. Currently, Big Sky Country has two House seats — but there will be only one nominee to take on Tester. The Montanans’ potential matchup is a microcosm of the national dynamic heading into 2024.

As Senate Democrats grapple with a daunting map and a handful of undecided incumbents, ambitious Republicans are already angling for Democratic-held seats in West Virginia, Ohio and Montana as well as an open GOP seat in Indiana. “I was hired to do this job and Trump asked me three times to run,” said Zinke, who’s returning next year to the House stomping grounds that he left in 2017 to head then-President Donald Trump’s Interior Department. “I’m gonna make the decision after we get this budget through … If it happens, it happens. There’s plenty of time.” With a narrowly divided Senate assured next year, the battle for control will center around the GOP’s effort to defeat Tester, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). If Republicans win two of those three races, they are highly likely to make up the majority, even if Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) is reelected on Tuesday. Despite the built-in Republican advantage, Tester, Manchin and Brown are a surprisingly durable trio who survived in 2012 and 2018. Which means the GOP can’t afford to get it wrong. Rosendale lost to Tester in 2018, and Zinke resigned as Interior secretary amid a cloud of scandal.

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Newsclips - December 4, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Texas House Republicans back keeping Dade Phelan as chamber’s speaker

Speaker Dade Phelan on Saturday easily cleared a hurdle long-demanded by the most staunchly conservative members of his party — endorsement by the House Republican Caucus, by secret ballot, of a would-be presiding officer of the chamber. And it was done before Democratic House members get to participate in the speaker election. Phelan, R-Beaumont, who served as speaker for the first time last year, defeated Arlington GOP Rep. Tony Tinderholt, 78-6. The vote, taken at a closed-door session held at the Capitol weeks before the formal election of a speaker by all 150 House members on the first day of session, was the first contested speaker-endorsement vote held under a 2017 caucus bylaw change. It allows any Republican member to trigger a pre-session, intraparty vote if he or she desires to be the chamber’s next presiding officer.

Phelan, who was just elected to his fifth term in the House, said in a written statement Saturday that he is “deeply grateful” to his Republican colleagues. “The 88th Texas Legislature will include important debates on issues ranging from property taxes to foster care, and I’m confident that our chamber and our caucus will lead the charge on policy proposals that better the lives of all Texans,” said Phelan, 47, a real estate developer. Tinderholt, 52, a retired Air Force major who also was just elected to a fifth term, declined to comment after he emerged from the 45-minute meeting, saying, “What we do in the caucus pretty much stays in the caucus.” Soon after, though, he said in a written statement that the result was “unsurprising” if disappointing. “Because Dade Phelan has all the support of Democrats, Republicans fear the bully tactics of his team if they oppose him,” he said. Caucus Chairman Tom Oliverson of Cypress, a Phelan ally, stressed that the vote, which involved distribution of ballots printed on light-blue paper, involved tight security controls. “It was completely free from influence of any kind,” he said. “Members were free to vote their conscience.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

‘Disarray:’ Texas senators might halt ERCOT power grid redesign

A bipartisan group of state senators wants Texas’ electric grid regulator to halt its redesign of the state’s electricity market just two weeks after first seeing the proposal. All nine members of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee sent a letter late Thursday to the Public Utility Commission, telling the power grid regulatory agency that its proposed redesign for the ERCOT electricity market should be placed on hold. The committee’s chairman, Georgetown Republican Sen. Charles Schwertner, signaled that legislators might take a leading role in the overhaul in next year’s legislative session, which begins Jan. 10. “Let’s work together this session to get it right for Texans,” he said in a tweet that included the letter.

Energy consultant Doug Lewin said the letter was, in effect, an “indefinite pause” to what has been the chief mission of the Public Utility Commission following the February 2021 winter storm and the blackouts that killed more than 200 Texans. “The letter signed by all nine members of the Senate Business & Commerce Committee is essentially a vote of no confidence in the PUCT leadership,” Lewin said in an email. “It throws the whole ERCOT market redesign process into even deeper disarray, which was already a mess.” The Public Utility Commission appeared undeterred by the senators’ letter, a statement from commission spokesman Rich Parsons indicated. “As we’ve said since the beginning of this process, the PUCT will develop a reliability service as directed in Senate Bill 3,” Parsons said, referring to the grid reform law passed in 2021. “The PUCT published multiple options for consideration and eagerly awaits public comments on all options. Once the Commission holds a vote on a preferred reliability service, we will present it to the Legislature next session.” The implication could be a stunning setback for the agency and its commissioners, who were handpicked by Gov. Greg Abbott after every preceding commissioner was either fired or resigned in the aftermath of the winter storm.

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NBC News - December 4, 2022

Biden's 2024 primary calendar gives Kamala Harris an edge in a future White House bid

President Joe Biden's push to make South Carolina the first major battleground in Democratic presidential primaries has a second big beneficiary: Vice President Kamala Harris. While Biden figures to reap the most reward from his own plan — putting his best political turf first — party strategists say it also creates a natural advantage for Harris in a future run for the White House. Harris is the first Black woman ever elected on a national ticket, and Black voters often make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in South Carolina — with Black women voting in higher numbers than Black men.

Even as her favorability numbers have languished far below the break-even point in national polls, her standing has remained strong with Black voters — at 67.4 percent in the latest YouGov survey of registered voters. “It sets her up,” said Pete D’Alessandro, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 bid. “I’m thinking Pete Buttigieg is not really happy with this one.” Buttigieg, who serves as Biden’s Transportation secretary, won Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses in 2020. But he struggled to find support among voters of color in subsequent primaries and dropped out of the contest after Biden’s big win in South Carolina. “For the vice president, this positions her whenever the Biden presidency is over,” said Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist who has advised national party organizations. “She will be perfectly primed to do well coming out of the gate.”

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The Hill - December 4, 2022

OPEC+ agrees to stay with existing oil output targets

Oil-producing alliance OPEC+ agreed on Sunday to keep its same production targets, dealing another setback for the U.S. and western allies seeking to curb high gas prices. OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, slashed oil production starting in November by 2 million barrels, a cut that will remain in effect after Sunday’s meeting, the group confirmed in a statement. The decision comes after the Group of Seven (G7) nations as well as Australia agreed on Friday to cap what they would pay for Russian oil at $60 per barrel, which is set to take effect on Monday along with an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea.

The move angered Moscow and a spokesperson said it would not accept the price cap, which is intended to cut into Russia’s war chest to hinder the nation’s ability to fight in Ukraine. OPEC+ rebuffed U.S. efforts to block the cuts that were decided in October. President Biden over the summer had traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman amid soaring gas prices in the U.S. At the October meeting, OPEC members cited concerns about potential recessions in Europe and the U.S. for lowering oil production output, which before the cuts was already down. Now, COVID-19 infections in China and general unrest is creating more uncertainty. The price for a barrel of oil closed on Friday at $85.42, which is down from $98 a month ago. In the U.S., gas prices have fallen to $3.41, according to transportation and automobile organization AAA.

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Politico - December 4, 2022

'I've never been hiding': Walker defends campaign ahead of Tuesday's runoff

Herschel Walker defended his campaign strategy less than four days before the Georgia Senate runoff and denied that he has been avoiding questions from voters and mainstream news organizations, telling POLITICO in an exclusive interview that “I’ve been talking to as many [voters] as I can. ... I’ve never been hiding.” “We’re in this runoff here and we’re going to win this thing,” Walker said. Walker traveled to meet voters on his home turf on Saturday, holding a tailgate-style meet and greet before his alma mater, the University of Georgia, prepared to play in the SEC championships outside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The event, which was not listed on his public schedule, was one of at least two the Republican Senate candidate scheduled in the final weekend before Election Day on Tuesday.

Walker was known for his jam-packed schedule throughout the primary season but in the last two weeks, he’s had fewer public events than his opponent, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). Walker recently picked up the pace with an “Evict Warnock” bus tour. He has also avoided taking questions from reporters except for interviews with Fox News, often with a surrogate such as GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham at his side. In a short conversation with POLITICO on his campaign bus, Walker denied that his campaign team was hiding him too much from voters and the press, saying, “Nope, they haven’t.” Walker, as he does at most events, received a long line of potential Georgia voters for photos, handshakes and short greetings. At the UGA tailgate event, he first started meeting voters one by one inside his bus because of the rain before moving outside under a tent. Walker is challenging Warnock in what is Georgia’s third Senate runoff election in less than two years. Unlike the 2020 runoff, however, control of the Senate is already decided. Both parties have worried that this could decrease motivation to turn out to vote, and both have launched an all-hands-on-deck effort to turn out voters using outside organizing groups and fly-in visits from national figures.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Experts see the Texas economic outlook being stronger in 2023 than other states

Some of the state’s top economic leaders paint a rosy picture for Texas heading into 2023, saying it’s on more solid ground than many other areas around the country. But they also warn the state isn’t immune to a recession. “Texas is well positioned for long-term growth, with favorable demographics and expansion across a spectrum of industrial sectors,” according to the annual long-term Texas economic outlook report from The Perryman Group. Dallas’ best asset is its natural population growth, coupled with the flood of people moving into the state, said Ray Perryman, CEO of The Perryman Group, at an event this week hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber at UT Southwestern Medical Center. By 2050, his firm expects Texas’ population to hit 42 million, compared with about 30 million today.

“Human capital is going to be the single most important resource that we have going forward,” he said. “Because [the U.S.] is running short of it, and we have it in abundance here.” Employers in the state have added 694,200 positions since October 2021. Texas is expected to generate 7 million more new jobs by 2045. Most of those will be in the services sector, including professional and business services, education, health care, accommodations and food services, the Perryman report said. The wholesale and retail trade segment will also grow significantly. Next year will see about 340,700 jobs added, less than the 725,100 total jobs projected for this year, because the state can’t continue to grow at its existing rate, the report projected. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who also spoke at the event, said Texas’ growing population can help fill jobs during a tough labor market better than other areas. “When you wake up in Texas, think about this for the next week, every morning when you wake up, there’s another thousand people who call Texas home,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2022

Ted Cruz accused by watchdog of violating ethics rules with podcast deal

When U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s podcast got picked up by the massive radio network iHeartMedia, the Texas Republican declared it a “big damn deal.” A government watchdog says that big deal is also illegal. Senators are prohibited from accepting gifts from lobbyists, which iHeartMedia has. According to the Campaign Legal Center, the company is providing free production and marketing services for Cruz's podcast under an “unprecedented national syndication agreement for a sitting member of Congress.” The organization wants the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the deal.

"Although Senator Cruz is not the only member of Congress to host a podcast, he is the only member who is apparently violating federal law because there is substantial evidence that an illegal source finances the podcast," says a complaint the group filed this week. "Moreover, iHeart lobbies on media industry bills before Senator Cruz’s committee while the podcast boasts that iHeart will 'fund production (and) dump a whole bunch of money into marketing' Senator Cruz’s show." A spokesman for Cruz said the senator gets no financial benefit from the deal and compared it to appearing on a cable news show — something virtually every senator does regularly. “It’s no surprise Democrats and their allies in the corrupt corporate media take issue with Sen. Cruz’s chart-topping podcast — it allows him to circumvent the media gatekeepers and speak directly to the American people about what is really happening in Washington," the spokesman said. "There is no difference between Sen. Cruz appearing on a network television show, a cable news show, or a podcast airing on iHeartMedia.”

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Houston Public Media - December 4, 2022

The pandemic doubled the number of Texas hospitals at risk of closing

A new report from Kaufman Hall, a health care consulting agency, said one in 10 hospitals in the state are at risk of closing, almost double the rate before the pandemic in 2020. The pandemic has put unprecedented financial strain on hospital systems across the state, particularly when it comes to the staffing shortage. Burnout and early retirement have pushed hospitals to rely more heavily on contract work that can pay two or three times more normal wages. "I don’t think I’ve ever seen this challenging of an operating environment in the 15 or so years that I’ve been advocating for hospitals," said John Hawkins, CEO of the Texas Hospital Association. "This data shows it doesn’t look like it’s going to reconcile very quickly, particularly on the workforce front." The situation is even more dire for hospitals in rural parts of Texas — 26 percent are facing risk of closures. In the past two decades, Texas has led the nation in rural hospital closures.

Hawkins said before the pandemic, the main drivers of rural hospital closures in Texas were uncompensated care or low reimbursements. The pandemic has brought a host of new expenses — labor costs, as well as greater need for medical supplies and rising drug costs. Revenues, all the while, have not kept pace. The impact will ultimately trickle down to patients, who will have to drive farther in order to receive health care. They will no longer have the flexibility of at-home rehabilitation. Outcomes and recovery will likely take a hit. "This creates a real financial challenge, which will ultimately limit access to care," Hawkins said. "If you’re in a rural area, I think you really should have a concern about your hospital being able to continue to be viable and losing that access point." Regardless of population density, the report indicates that all hospitals are feeling a financial pinch stemming from the pandemic. Almost half of Texas hospitals had negative operating margins in 2022. Patients in urban areas will still likely have hospital access, but limited services and longer wait times, Hawkins said. The industry-wide shortage of healthcare workers is already having a ripple effect on hospital capacity. The lack of staff at nursing homes, acute care facilities or home health aides keep patients in the hospital longer as they wait for a space to open up and further lengthen wait times.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

439 Texas congregations granted approval to leave the United Methodist Church

Two regional governing bodies of the United Methodist Church in Texas approved the departure of all 439 churches that had requested to disaffiliate from the denomination during separate special sessions Saturday. The Texas Annual Conference, based in Houston, granted approval to 294 churches out of its nearly 600. The Northwest Texas Conference, based in Lubbock, approved the departure of 145 churches from the roughly 200 it encompasses. After a controversial stance against same-sex marriages and LGBTQ clergy members was upheld by a slim majority in 2019, congregations across the country are seeking to disaffiliate from the denomination.

Many conservative congregations are leaving the UMC, believing the 2019 decision has not been enforced. However, some churches deny leaving over LGBTQ inclusion and point to a variety of differences, from finances to theology. The UMC is allowing churches to leave the denomination while retaining their properties and assets as long as certain steps are taken before the end of 2023, under a ruling also approved in 2019. Church congregations must first reach a two-thirds majority vote in favor before being approved by their annual conference or its regional governing body. Churches must also pay two years of apportionments to the UMC as well as any unfunded pension liability. Apportionments are annual funds paid to the UMC by individual congregations. The amount is decided by annual conferences. In Houston, 1,245 delegates from the 598 congregations voted on the mass departure, and 93% voted in favor. A spokesperson for the Texas Annual Conference, which covers much of East Texas, said 4% abstained and 3% voted against the departures. The Texas Annual Conference is the third-largest in the country.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: The PUC has a plan to fix the Texas grid. Legislators need to listen

Last month, the Public Utility Commission released an analysis about how Texas needs to change its deregulated energy market to ensure we have enough power for future needs. The criticism piled up, with a focus on the fact that the analysis didn’t account for a freak weather event like the 2021 winter storm. Criticism about the way the state failed in the run-up to the storm is warranted, but this analysis is the wrong place for it. Instead, we urge lawmakers and the public to carefully consider what the PUC has put forward, because it represents the most serious look we have at how the state can fix its energy problem. We aren’t talking about the problem that led to the outages during the 2021 winter storm. It’s actually more severe than that.

During the winter storm, Texas should have had the energy it needed. But state regulators failed to ensure that energy companies had adequately weatherized their equipment. Wellheads and turbines froze. Natural gas plants went offline. That was shameful. Regulators must ensure that it never happens again by holding energy producers to account. The bigger problem is this: Texas is not going to have enough power for the future unless we do something about the current energy market. That is the problem the PUC’s report is attempting to address. Texas has done a fantastic job creating renewable energy. We are the nation’s leading producer of wind power. But as more low-cost wind power has come online, there has been less incentive to develop natural gas plants or any other dispatchable power that’s available anytime. The plan presented by the PUC would create a market incentive for the production of additional dispatchable power through a credit sale and purchase program between electricity generators and retail electric companies. Generators would earn credits by demonstrating they can meet a reliability standard that would meet the state’s energy needs. Retail electric companies would purchase the credits in a public market to supply capital and incentive for generators to invest in more dispatchable power.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

‘We’re in the people’s House:’ new Texans in Congress pick offices in orientation lottery

New member-elects of Congress crowded into a Cannon House building early Friday morning for one of the more anticipated traditions of congressional orientation – the D.C. office lottery. The batch of newcomers randomly selected a number to determine the order in which they pick their new House offices. Throughout the day they scoped out potential spaces where they would host constituents for the next two years. Texans weren’t so lucky in their draws this year, perhaps because they didn’t have a lucky talisman like Dallas Rep. Colin Allred did in 2018. The first member of the Texas delegation to draw one of the 73 slots was Rep.-elect Monica De La Cruz at No. 26. De La Cruz, who won a competitive South Texas district in November and flipped it red for the first time in its history, said the act of choosing her new office marks the “beginning of a new era in Texas 15,” her future district.

Rep.-elect Wesley Hunt drew the 27th selection slot, immediately after De La Cruz. The Army veteran, one of four Black Republicans in the next Congress and the only one from Texas, handily won the newly drawn 38th Congressional District northwest of Houston. The next Texan was Republican Rep.-elect Keith Self, who will take over a solidly red district northeast of Dallas from Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano. Self snagged the 35th slot and was confident that would land him a decent space. “We’ve made our priority list and we’ve sorted through the offices, because homework is everything with this because you get five minutes,” he said, referring to the time allotted each member to select their office. “This is not as much time as the NFL teams get to choose their draft picks.” Rep.-elect Greg Casar, D-Austin, drew the 42nd slot – Jackie Robinson’s number, he later pointed out. Former Austin City Council member Casar overwhelmingly won his election to represent the 35th District held by Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett. He commented that many of the progressive new members drew later slots, and said he was hopeful they could pick offices near one another.

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Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2022

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Abbott's big flip-flop on fentanyl could save lives

For too long, many believed that fentanyl wasn’t a Texas problem. “There’s no sense of urgency,” paramedic Daniel Sledge complained to the Chronicle last year. As one of the people who saw the drug’s deadly impacts on the state, he knew better than most the damage the potent, highly addictive drug could do. But his efforts to save people, many of whom weren’t even aware they had ingested fentanyl, were hampered by the state’s own underfunded lifesaving drug overdose treatments and restrictive policy that demonized fentanyl testing strips as illegal "drug paraphernalia." Now, as fentanyl deaths rise in the state and nation, Gov. Greg Abbott finally seems to have woken up to the reality of the crisis.

Though he’s touted his $4 billion-and-counting Operation Lone Star as a response to the deadly wave, he’s historically eschewed the changes that harm-reduction advocates say could make an immediate difference on the streets, including decriminalizing testing strips that would help users confirm whether fentanyl is in other drugs they buy. “I was not in favor of it last session,” Abbott admitted after a visit to the University of Houston, where researchers have developed a vaccine that could potentially inoculate people against the effects of synthetic opioids, according to the Texas Tribune. But times have changed — and lives have been lost, including 1,672 Texans in 2021, according to the state’s estimates. “There’s going to be a movement across the state to make sure we do everything that we can to protect people from dying from fentanyl, and I think test strips will be one of those ways,” he said. We hope he's right, and we applaud the governor's change of heart. It may indeed save lives. As many as half of overdose deaths are due to drugs laced with fentanyl without the users’ knowledge, according to a 2019 estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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El Paso Matters - December 4, 2022

Abbott accepts resignation of El Paso DA Yvonne Rosales

Gov. Greg Abbott accepted the resignation of District Attorney Yvonne Rosales on Friday, clearing the way for him to appoint a successor. “I hereby accept your letter of resignation as the District Attorney for the 34th Judicial District, Culberson, Hudspeth and El Paso Counties,” Abbott wrote. Rosales sent her resignation letter to Abbott on Thursday, the same day she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in a court hearing that was examining possible abuses by the district attorney and her associates.

Her attorney, Richard Román, entered the letters of resignation and acceptance in the court record of the capital murder case of the gunman accused of murdering 23 people and wounding 22 others at an El Paso Walmart in 2019. Rosales’ handling of that case was at the heart of months of controversy, including a court petition to remove her from office. The filing by Román also quoted Psalm 34: “When the righteous cry out for help, the Lord hears, and he delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and will save those with a crushed spirit. For many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord will rescue the righteous, all of you, from those afflictions.” The statement concluded with this comment: “It is our sincere hope and prayer that the Lord has heard your cries for help, and your time for healing can finally begin.” Rosales announced her resignation on Monday, effective Dec. 14. That ended a court petition that could have led to her removal from office on grounds of incompetency and official misconduct.

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KERA - December 4, 2022

No Black jurors chosen for murder trial of former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean

officer Aaron Dean, which is set to begin Monday after repeated delays. Dean is on trial for the 2019 on-duty killing of Atatiana Jefferson, who he shot through the window of her home. Jefferson’s name is often invoked alongside the names of other Black Americans killed by white police officers in recent years, including George Floyd. This week, Judge George Gallagher and attorneys on both sides spent long days in court, selecting from a pool of 200 potential jurors. The 14 they landed on — 12 jurors and two alternates — includes no Black jurors, but several people of color. Lawyers questioned many potential jurors individually, asking about their preconceived notions about the case, the news outlets they watch, their opinions about law enforcement, and their participation in Black Lives Matter protests.

Dean’s attorneys had also asked to move the trial to another county, arguing that the well of public opinion has been poisoned against Dean. They pointed to comments from local officials like the former Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price, who condemned Dean’s actions in the press. Gallagher has not officially denied that change of venue request in court filings. He told reporters on Friday that he would make the final decision about the change of venue at 8:30 a.m. on Monday. That's the day the trial is officially scheduled to begin at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth. There was some speculation on whether the trial would be delayed again, because Dean’s lead counsel, Jim Lane, died on Sunday, the day before jury selection was set to begin. The trial will still start Monday, but the court will work a half day so people can go to Lane’s funeral in the afternoon, Gallagher said.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Athena Strand, 7, found dead after authorities say delivery driver abducted her

The body of a missing 7-year-old girl was recovered Friday night after authorities say a FedEx driver abducted her two days earlier. Tanner Lynn Horner, 31, of Fort Worth was arrested Friday on charges of capital murder and aggravated kidnapping connected to the disappearance and death of Athena Strand. It was unclear whether he had an attorney; authorities said he made a confession but they did not go into detail. Athena’s body was found about 7 or 8 p.m. southeast of Boyd, about 25 miles northwest of Fort Worth, Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said at a late-night news conference. Akin, who called the investigation “one of the toughest” he has been involved in, said officials believe the girl died within about an hour of being taken from her home. Authorities have not released her cause of death.

“Anytime there’s a child that dies, it just hits you in your heart,” the sheriff said. “You compare that child to your own children when they were that age, and it just takes the wind out of your sails.” An Amber Alert was issued Thursday for Athena, who went missing the previous day from the 200 block of County Road 3573 in Paradise — about 10 miles from where her body was found. Akin said at a Friday-afternoon news conference that the girl was alone with her stepmother Wednesday after her father went on a hunting trip. He said the stepmother called 911 to report Athena missing after an argument. The sheriff said concern grew the longer Athena was missing and that detective work became a greater emphasis. On Thursday, hundreds of volunteers helped with a massive search of the area where Athena went missing, KXAS-TV (NBC5) reported. Her aunt Keeland Kulbeth from Oklahoma joined the search and said she couldn’t believe Athena would just walk away. “She loved people, loved animals, loved flowers,” she told the station. “She’s a very girly girl. I just can’t see her running off and leaving.” At Friday night’s news conference, Akin said Horner made a delivery in front of the home about the same time Athena went missing. He added that Horner did not know the family.

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Max Duggan’s Heisman effort wasn’t enough vs. K-State. Was it enough to get TCU into CFP?

Max Duggan and TCU did what they always seem to do in rising to the moment despite the odds and the deficit. For the first time this season it wasn’t enough, and the opponent celebrated the storybook ending. Ty Zentner booted a 31-yard field goal in the first overtime Saturday to give CFP No. 10 Kansas State a 31-28 win in the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium. The Wildcats will play in the Sugar Bowl after winning the conference. “Big 12 champions has a nice ring to it,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said. “Credit to our seniors. Credit to our leaders. Credit to the culture that they’ve created. Credit to player ownership, the power of belief, all those things, because we’ve had a lot of tough times.” No. 3 TCU (12-1) will have an anxious wait until the College Football Playoff pairings are announced at 11:15 a.m. Sunday in Grapevine.

Duggan did everything humanly possible — and then some — to will TCU into overtime from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter. On an 80-yard touchdown drive, he ran for 87 yards because of penalties, several times looking physically ill on the turf. He still found a way to score from 8 yards out on a keeper and then hit Jared Wiley for a tying two-point conversion with 1:51 left. But on the most important sequence in overtime, TCU gave running back Kendre Miller two shots at a go-ahead touchdown. K-State (10-3) held both times, setting up the winning field goal. Miller looked like he might have broken the plane of the goal line on third down, but the play wasn’t reviewed. “We just felt that Kendre has done it for us all year,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said. “He’s been really, really good at converting those short yardage situations. ... Obviously if we had to do it over again, we’d do it different.”

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Utility Dive - December 4, 2022

Texas lawmakers want to hit brakes on electricity market redesign, bring dispatchable generation online sooner

Texas lawmakers on Thursday questioned work by the state’s public utility commission to holistically redesign the state’s electricity market, fearing proposals under consideration by utility regulators “will not guarantee new dispatchable generation in a timely and cost-effective manner.” The Public Utility Commission of Texas in November discussed a new “performance credit mechanism” to incentivize generators to be available during times of high electricity demand. That proposal and others “should not be adopted ... without further consultation with the Legislature,” a group of nine state senators, led by the chair of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, said in a letter to the commission.

The state’s electricity grid remains vulnerable to blackouts in extreme winter weather, grid operator Electric Reliability Council of Texas warned Tuesday. ERCOT and the PUCT have been working to bolster reliability since Winter Storm Uri caused widespread blackouts in 2021 and led to 246 deaths. In the wake of Uri, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 3 directing the PUCT to boost dispatchable generation and improve grid reliability. Regulators have been developing and implementing reforms for a year, but lawmakers fear their efforts may not be moving quickly enough to bring new generation online. Along with the performance credits, the PUCT has also discussed a forward reliability market to ensure sufficient resources. “There is significant concern the proposals being considered by the Commission ... not only fail to meet the directives clearly stated in SB3, but more importantly will not guarantee new dispatchable generation in a timely and cost-effective manner,” wrote Sen. Charles Schwertner, R, lead author of the letter. There are also concerns that “implementing an administratively complex and novel concept could in fact deter new investments,” the letter said. The senators requested the PUCT “define reliability goals for the ERCOT region” and “evaluate the impact of creating a new market-based ancillary or reliability service to meet this reliability standard.” And any proposals the commission considers should have clear performance requirements, lawmakers said, and “strong penalties for nonperformance.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 4, 2022

Cruz bristles as Warnock woos Georgia voters saying he’ll work with anyone, even him

Sen. Ted Cruz has enthusiastically stumped for fellow Republican and former Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker in his bid to unseat Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. In his role as a Walker surrogate, the Texas Republican sharply criticizes Warnock as too far left for the voters of that state. But the Georgia senator has repeatedly cited teaming up with Cruz on an infrastructure project as evidence of his willingness to work across the aisle with even the most hard-core of Republicans. Cruz isn’t happy about it. “It says something that a guy who votes consistently on the extreme left of the Senate, he’s not bragging about that, he’s bragging about ‘I worked with Cruz,’’” he said. One of Warnock’s TV ads features examples of things that “work surprisingly well together” such as pizza with pineapple and french fries with a frosty.

“Raphael Warnock and Ted Cruz?” one person asks while holding up photos of the two men. “That’s right,” says the narrator. “Raphael Warnock partnered with Republican Ted Cruz to extend I-14, connecting military communities in Texas and Georgia, which will help create jobs from Columbus to Macon to Augusta.” Warnock himself appears on screen to assure Peach State voters: “I’ll work with anyone if it means helping Georgia.” The choice to talk up a partnership with Cruz left some observers scratching their heads given the deep antipathy many Democrats feel toward the outspoken Cruz. But with Biden’s popularity having sagged in Georgia, Warnock has framed himself as a bipartisan deal-maker in Washington. In campaign speeches he mentions Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and various measures he’s co-sponsored with those Republicans more than he mentions Biden or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 4, 2022

Abandoned Harris County properties are getting rehabbed thanks to federal stimulus funds

Harris County is scheduled to clean up around two dozen abandoned "nuisance properties" this month, part of an effort aimed at tackling about 1,100 neighborhood eyesores and public health hazards during the next four years. Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved another batch to add to the list, which now includes 76 lots in areas such as Spring, Katy and Channelview. The properties typically are selected in response to complaints about unsafe conditions reported by residents. The majority of properties set to be cleaned up under the expanded neighborhood nuisance program are "cold cases" in which the owners have been unresponsive for years, according to the county. To reach the owners, the county sent investigators to the properties, mailed numerous official notices and published advertisements.

Using American Rescue Plan dollars to fund the program, the county will complete the work without placing a lien on the property or charging the owner for the cost of abatement. "The people or companies who own them sometimes don't even know they own the property or they really have no plans for it," said Scott Jeansonne, Director of the Environmental Public Health Division at Harris County Public Health. County officials hope the effort will make the abandoned properties more attractive to buyers. "So, hopefully, if we go out there and we clean these up, somebody will come along and actually buy that property and do something with it — flip that house, rebuild a new house, commercially improve that vacant lot that's been covered in trash for five years and turn it into some sort of business," Jeansonne said. Three properties have been completed since the initiative was announced in July, including a partially burned home, a house destroyed in Hurricane Harvey with an abandoned swimming pool and a large vacant lot. The county was able to remove remnants of the structures, tear out the pool and remove trash from areas that had become dumping grounds.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 4, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Should tax dollars aid growth of Austin’s lucrative shoreline?

No one looking at the old American-Statesman site on South Congress Avenue — perched on the tree-lined shore of Lady Bird Lake, within shouting distance of downtown — would imagine this prime tract wouldn’t be redeveloped. Nor would the 1980s office building, empty for just a year, be considered “blighted.” That has fueled a fierce debate over whether the area deserves the kind of tax incentives that the Austin City Council just unlocked for the South Central Waterfront District, a 118-acre swath that includes the 19-acre Statesman site. The incentives for the entire district will total at least $153.6 million over the next two decades, under a formula the council approved Thursday evening. Mayor Steve Adler emphasized that diverting those tax dollars won’t shortchange the city’s general fund, which pays for things like police and parks. But that means the rest of us taxpayers will pay a little bit more to make up the difference.

Some of the incentive-funded amenities, such as the extension of Barton Springs Road, are crucial for the redevelopment of the old Statesman site, where Endeavor Real Estate Group got the council’s blessing Friday to build six gleaming towers with offices, shops and 1,378 residential units. A project of that scale isn’t possible without these road improvements. And now the larger community will support much of that roadwork, through incentives that were originally envisioned to address “unproductive, underdeveloped or blighted” areas. Does that make it a corporate giveaway? Or a public investment supporting the kind of growth that’s better for Austin? Adler is firmly in the latter camp. And he notes the state law on these tax incentives has an expansive definition of the areas that qualify — including areas where "inadequate sidewalk or street layout" or "faulty lot layout” stand in the way of growth. The incentives also can be used in areas tied to the development of mass transit, which is relevant considering a light rail station for Project Connect is planned on the old Statesman site. Adler argues the entire city benefits if the waterfront district — the south shore area from South First Street to Blunn Creek — is developed at much greater density.

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KXAN - December 4, 2022

Austin City Council approves Statesman PUD, South Congress area set for massive redevelopment

Austin City Council voted Friday to approve the Statesman PUD, allowing developers to move forward with plans for Austin’s South Central Waterfront area, the site of the old Austin-American Statesman building. The contentious 305 South Congress PUD has been under discussion for months.

The development will eventually become the latest expansion of the downtown area. Plans for the area include a 275-room high-rise hotel, offices and residential units spread throughout six towers and just under 1,400 living units. It also includes affordable housing requirements, though they will not be on-site, and the city plans to build a light rail station in the area. Simply put, a PUD is a set of rules for developers which typically go beyond what other parts of the city can do on what can and can’t be built or what is required to be included in the space. Discussion on the Statesman PUD has been kicked down the line several times as the city and developers have not been able to agree on the details of the PUD. One of the most vocalized concerns during previous meetings is the lack of park space offered by developers and required under the PUD. Friday’s discussion focused on affordable housing and hotel development for the area.

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Houston Public Media - December 4, 2022

Houston 2026 World Cup reps visit Qatar to learn what to expect when hosting games

Ahead of Saturday's knock-out round World Cup match between U.S. Men's Soccer and the Netherlands, several Houstonians say they're getting a better idea of how things will work when Houston hosts World Cup matches in 2026. Houston is one of 11 U.S. cities that will host matches in four years. Five other cities in Mexico and Canada will also serve as host sites. NRG Stadium, where the Houston Texans play, will host between five and six matches over a 35-day period. "There are so many aspects to it," Harris County-Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke said. She has spent the last few days in Doha, Qatar ahead of Saturday's U.S. match. "From security to escorting the teams, police escorts back and forth to their training sites and their stadiums, to making sure the whole world feels welcome and making sure that they can get visas and get into the country smoothly, so there really is a lot to it behind the scenes."

Burke is one of two Houston representatives in Qatar as part of the Future Host City Observation Program that includes visits to a number of different venues in the host country. Leah Mastaglio, the assistant general manager at NRG Park, and is also observing the hosting process. Houston is no stranger to hosting big sporting events, including several Super Bowls, the Major League Baseball and NBA All-Star Games and men's college basketball NCAA Final Four. Knowing the city will host World Cup matches more than four years in advance helps. "We have a whole plan for innovation and for adding fields and the more time you have, the more of those kinds of things that you can do that leave a legacy for the city," Burke says. "I like that we have more time than we did with the Super Bowl as far as planning, but it's never enough time." Officials with the World Cup have already made several site visits to Houston to check on preparations for the matches in 2026. One of the most complicated parts of the host process is also one of the most basic; getting the grass for the field just right. The World Cup insists that all the soccer pitches in host stadiums have the save quality and consistency of grass, which can be complicated in a stadium that's sometimes covered with a retractable roof like NRG Stadium is.

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National Stories

CNN - December 4, 2022

Trump calls for the termination of the Constitution in Truth Social post

Former President Donald Trump called for the termination of the Constitution to overturn the 2020 election and reinstate him to power Saturday in a continuation of his election denialism and pushing of fringe conspiracy theories. “Do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump wrote in a post on the social network Truth Social and accused “Big Tech” of working closely with Democrats. “Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

Trump’s post came after the release of internal Twitter emails showing deliberation in 2020 over a New York Post story about material found on Hunter Biden’s laptop. White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Saturday that Trump’s remarks are “anathema to the soul of our nation, and should be universally condemned.” “You cannot only love America when you win,” Bates said in a statement. “The American Constitution is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country. The Constitution brings the American people together – regardless of party – and elected leaders swear to uphold it. It’s the ultimate monument to all of the Americans who have given their lives to defeat self-serving despots that abused their power and trampled on fundamental rights.” Employees on Twitter’s legal, policy and communications teams debated – and at times disagreed – over whether to restrict the article under the company’s hacked materials policy. The debate took place weeks before the 2020 election, when Joe Biden, Hunter Biden’s father, was running against then-President Trump.

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Politico - December 4, 2022

Some Republicans say the midterms were a mandate for further abortion restrictions

Republicans racked up big wins in more than a dozen state legislatures this fall — and now they’re planning to use their expanded power to crack down on abortions come January. With sweeping abortion legislation having little chance in a divided Congress, conservative state legislators are stepping into the void, proposing to limit when the procedure can take place, enact new regulations on abortion pills and strengthen penalties for doctors who break the law. Taken together, the legislation could make it harder for tens of millions of people to obtain abortions — particularly in Southern states that still permit most abortions, like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, which have become havens for access since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The actions in state capitols come as most national-level Republicans have eschewed talking about abortion, a reticence that some in the anti-abortion movement say explains the party’s underwhelming performance in the midterm elections. Many GOP lawmakers who sailed to victory in states with anti-abortion laws balk at the idea that Democrats’ focus on abortion rights is evidence the left’s message resonated with voters. Instead, they’re taking their electoral victories as a mandate to pass additional abortion restrictions. “South Carolina had a huge red tidal wave in this election. We flipped eight seats in the South Carolina House of Representatives … We all ran on pro-life,” said South Carolina Republican Rep. John McCravy, who spearheaded efforts this summer to prohibit abortion in most cases starting at conception. “If anything, we need to ramp our efforts up.” In North Carolina, GOP Senate leader Phil Berger said in an interview he believes a bill limiting abortion to 12 or 13 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest, life of the pregnant person and in cases where the fetus won’t survive is the “sweet spot as far as where the public would be.”

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NBC News - December 4, 2022

South Carolina Democrats stunned by Biden’s plan to put them first in 2024

When President Joe Biden proposed making South Carolina the first to vote in the 2024 Democratic presidential primaries Thursday, Democrats in the state were caught completely off-guard. It wasn't something they had asked for. "It’s a very pleasant surprise," said Carol Fowler, the state's representative on the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee, which met Friday to codify the new plan. During the monthslong process to rewrite the primary calendar, South Carolina was focused on keeping its spot among the early states, or maybe moving up its date a bit — but did not push to be first, she said. Not even Rep. Jim Clyburn, the longtime dean of South Carolina Democrats and a key Biden ally, received an early heads-up. He found out Thursday night in a phone call from the president, according to a South Carolina Democratic official.

"The boss didn't ask for this," the official said of Clyburn. Clyburn himself told NBC News he was not involved in the decision, but was obviously pleased with it. "You can't find a state that size that will allow you to connect with a broader range of voters," he said. Clyburn had in the past, however, publicly blasted Iowa and New Hampshire as states not representative of the coalition that helped sweep Biden into office. For a red state, South Carolina plays an outsize role in Democratic politics. It revived Biden’s flagging presidential campaign in 2020, and both the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Jaime Harrison, and a top House Democrat, Clyburn, hail from the state. Harrison said Friday that he only found out while attending the state dinner Thursday. A senior White House official tracked him down to break the news after they could not get through on his cell phone -- which his wife was using to take photos. "I was stuffing my mouth with shrimp and she found me in the room and said, 'Have you heard?' I said, 'What are you talking about?'" Harrison recalled with a laugh. The South Carolina plan has plenty of detractors, especially from states that were passed over for the prime spot.

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Wall Street Journal - December 4, 2022

Twitter, Tesla, Neuralink, SpaceX: The week that ran on Elon Musk time

The past week offered a dizzying display of Elon Musk‘s multitasking range. In the space of a few days, he showed off a monkey typing using a brain chip from his Neuralink startup, delivered an all-electric semitrailer from Tesla Inc., green up pointing triangle planned rocket launches at SpaceX and personally got involved in a high-profile account suspension at Twitter Inc., among much other activity. Supporters say it is an example of how the world’s richest man motivates his teams to accomplish tasks that might have seemed impossible—such as landing rockets with SpaceX or building Tesla into a profitable electric-car giant. It all highlighted an aspect common to Mr. Musk’s ventures, what some closer observers call “Elon Standard Time.” That somewhat-joking, somewhat-on-the-nose shorthand refers to Mr. Musk’s habit of promising a new product or feature in the near term, which ends up being pushed off to a fuzzy future date—weeks, months or even years later.

Mr. Musk, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, in the past attributed his missed deadlines to the same optimism that enables him to take on daunting tasks. The latest delay happened Friday. Mr. Musk had set that as the tentative date for the relaunch of a beefed-up version of the company’s Twitter Blue subscription service, an effort that could make the platform less reliant on advertising dollars, but as of late Saturday the rollout hadn’t happened. It was the third scheduling lapse for Twitter Blue since Mr. Musk completed his Twitter acquisition in late October. Advertisers were told by Twitter employees that the relaunch could come this week, according to people familiar with the matter. Twitter didn’t respond to a request for comment about the subscription service and the deadlines. Mr. Musk is racing to remake the social-media company as what he calls Twitter 2.0. As part of that, he cut half the workforce, and many other employees left on their own when offered a choice between severance and “long hours at high intensity.” Advertisers are pulling back in the midst of concern about the platform’s content-moderation strategies and the general pace of change, as Twitter faces losses.

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NPR - December 4, 2022

Alex Jones files for bankruptcy following $1 billion Sandy Hook verdicts

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has filed for bankruptcy, less than two months after a jury ordered him and his InfoWars parent company to pay nearly $1 billion to the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Jones's bankruptcy petition, made in U.S. bankruptcy court in Houston on Friday, reported that Jones has between $1 million and $10 million in assets and between $1 billion and $10 billion in liabilities. On his far-right conspiracy channel InfoWars, Alex Jones spent years repeating lies about the 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn. He called it an "inside job" and a "government operation." He claimed that the 20 children and six adults killed there had not actually died and that first responders and grieving relatives were crisis actors. A group of Sandy Hook families filed suit in 2018, saying that they had endured stalking, harassment and death threats as a result of Jones's lies. Another family sued in Texas later that year.

The verdicts from those two cases arrived earlier this year. In August, the Texas jury ordered Jones to pay $45.2 million. Then, in October, a jury in Connecticut awarded $965 million in compensatory damages to a group of eight Sandy Hook families; a judge later added $473 million in punitive damages. Jones has vowed to fight those verdicts in a lengthy appeals process. Jones has recently claimed on his show that he only has about $2 million to his name. But he does business through a web of corporate entities, including the parent company of InfoWars, which filed for bankruptcy in July, about a week before the first verdict in Texas. Evidence in that separate case has suggested Jones and his company Free Speech Systems have a combined net worth as high as $270 million, and that the company still brings in millions of dollars in revenue each month. Throughout the legal proceedings, Jones used his broadcasts to ask for donations to help fight the lawsuits. A court filing from November showed that Free Speech Systems received nearly $3 million in donations through the first five months of 2022. Jones's new bankruptcy filing covers his individual finances. He has filed under Chapter 11.

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The Hill - December 4, 2022

Taking on the elite becomes go-to brand for DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) loves to despise “the elite.” In speeches, remarks at news conferences and even in an op-ed he penned in The Wall Street Journal last year, his message has been the same: “Don’t trust the elites.” “We rejected the elites and we were right,” the governor said to a crowd attending the National Conservatism Conference in September, referring to how he bucked the system and railed against everyone from public health experts to government officials during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even Republicans acknowledge that the 44-year-old DeSantis — who attended Yale University and Harvard Law School and served half a dozen years as a congressman — could be seen as a member of the elite itself. Yet like other Republicans — including former President Trump — rallying against the elite has become a major part of his political brand, his strategy and his blueprint for others in his party.

“All of this anti-elitist stuff … he’s the first person to tell you where he went to school,” one top Republican strategist said of DeSantis’s tack. “It’s the performance art, when you know better. When you’re really smart and you act dumb.“ “He’s playing a role, but it’s a role the base says it wants,” the strategist added. The strategist and other political observers say the approach is working for DeSantis and parallels rhetoric used by Trump, who could end up being his rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Trump is already in the race, and many Republicans see DeSantis as the strongest potential opponent against him in the primary. The former president, a wealthy New Yorker who was born into a well-heeled family and spent much of his adult life living on Fifth Avenue, won the 2016 election as a champion for the everyman. All that said, some Republicans say DeSantis’s story is quite a bit different from his would-be rival’s. “He came from a working-class family and used baseball to get a scholarship to an Ivy League university,” said Republican strategist John Feehery, an opinion contributor for The Hill, said of DeSantis. “A true rags-to-riches story, which is incredibly powerful.”

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New York Times - December 4, 2022

Defamation suit against Fox grows more contentious

Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation, is expected to be deposed on Monday as part of a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News for amplifying bogus claims that rigged machines from Dominion Voting Systems were responsible for Donald J. Trump’s defeat in 2020. Mr. Murdoch will be the most senior corporate figure within the Fox media empire to face questions under oath in the case so far. And his appearance before Dominion’s lawyers is a sign of how unexpectedly far and fast the lawsuit has progressed in recent weeks — and how contentious it has become. Fox and Dominion have gone back and forth in Delaware state court since the summer in an escalating dispute over witnesses, evidence and testimony.

The arguments point to the high stakes of the case, which will render a judgment on whether the most powerful conservative media outlet in the country intentionally misled its audience and helped seed one of the most pervasive lies in American politics. Although the law leans in the media’s favor in defamation cases, Dominion has what independent observers have said is an unusually strong case. Day after day, Fox hosts and guests repeated untrue stories about Dominion’s ties to communist regimes and far-fetched theories about how its software enabled enemies of the former president to steal his votes. “This is a very different kind of case,” said David A. Logan, dean of the Roger Williams School of Law, who has argued in favor of loosening some libel laws. “Rarely do cases turn on a weekslong pattern of inflammatory, provably false, but also oddly inconsistent statements.” Dominion, in its quest to obtain the private communications of as many low-, mid- and high-level Fox personnel as possible, hopes to prove that people inside the network knew they were disseminating lies.

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Newsclips - December 2, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

Experts see the Texas economic outlook being stronger in 2023 than other states

Some of the state’s top economic leaders paint a rosy picture for Texas heading into 2023, saying it’s on more solid ground than many other areas around the country. But they also warn the state isn’t immune to a recession. “Texas is well positioned for long-term growth, with favorable demographics and expansion across a spectrum of industrial sectors,” according to the annual long-term Texas economic outlook report from The Perryman Group. Dallas’ best asset is its natural population growth, coupled with the flood of people moving into the state, said Ray Perryman, CEO of The Perryman Group, at an event this week hosted by the Dallas Regional Chamber at UT Southwestern Medical Center. By 2050, his firm expects Texas’s population to hit 42 million, compared with about 30 million today. “Human capital is going to be the single most important resource that we have going forward,” he said. “Because [the U.S.] is running short of it, and we have it in abundance here.”

Employers in the state have added 694,200 positions since October 2021. Texas is expected to generate 7 million more new jobs by 2045. Most of those will be in the services sector, including professional and business services, education, health care, accommodations and food services, the Perryman report said. The wholesale and retail trade segment will also grow significantly. Next year will see about 340,700 jobs added, less than the 725,100 total jobs projected for this year, because the state can’t continue to grow at its existing rate, the report projected. Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who also spoke at the event, said Texas’ growing population can help fill jobs during a tough labor market better than other areas. “When you wake up in Texas, think about this for the next week, every morning when you wake up, there’s another thousand people who call Texas home,” he said.

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Austin American-Statesman - December 2, 2022

Texas lawmakers signed NDAs to quietly obtain Uvalde shooting case file. What do they know?

More than six months after the mass shooting in Uvalde, grieving families and the public are continuing a fierce fight for investigative records, including videos and officer statements, that would help reveal the full truth of the failed law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School. But as they press for answers from records that authorities insist remain confidential, six Texas lawmakers have quietly obtained investigatory information through written agreements with the Texas Department of Public Safety in which they vowed to keep the records secret, the American-Statesman has learned. The rarely used nondisclosure agreements, which are legal under state law, underscore the unusual amount of secrecy that authorities continue to exert on the investigation, deepening concerns about a lack of transparency that have persisted since the May 24 attack that killed 19 students and two teachers.

The contracts, which have not been previously reported, are considered helpful among some lawmakers in preparing legislation targeting gun control and school safety. They say that, with a broader picture of what happened during the shooting, they will be able to draft stronger bills for the legislative session, which starts next month, rather than wait for authorities to conclude the investigation. "Every lawmaker needs to begin this session with the fullest body of knowledge," said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde and who has received information through a nondisclosure agreement. But the contracts are also viewed by some elected leaders and transparency advocates as an unjustified extension of secrecy by the DPS and lawmakers for information that many contend should be widely available to the public by now. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said that, while she respects the need for confidentiality during the investigation, she is uncomfortable signing onto such agreements. "Ultimately, I believe public information belongs to the people of Texas, so I would not likely sign a nondisclosure agreement if it would prohibit me from eventually sharing matters of public interest with my constituents at the appropriate time,” Zaffirini said. Among those most affected by the shooting, the slow flow of information continues to prolong their grieving. “The parents should have that information,” said Jesse Rizo, who lost his 9-year-old niece, Jackie Cazares, that in the attack. “The longer it takes for that to come out, the longer that delays the healing process."

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Associated Press - December 2, 2022

Uvalde sues local prosecutor over school shooting records

The city of Uvalde sued the local prosecutor’s office Thursday seeking access to records and other investigative materials on the May shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 children and two teachers dead, a move that highlights ongoing tensions over the slow police response and information flow on the rampage. The lawsuit filed in Uvalde County against District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee says the lack of access on the May 24 massacre is affecting an independent investigator’s ability to look for policy violations by local responding officers and determine whether internal disciplinary actions are needed. Busbee is conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting, which will include examining a report she is awaiting from the Texas Department of Public Safety. The state’s police chief said it would come by the end of the year. “The Uvalde community has waited entirely too long for answers and transparency with regard to the Robb Elementary shooting incident,” Uvalde city officials said in a statement.

An employee at the Uvalde District Attorney’s Office declined to comment Thursday when reached by phone. The only information that has been available to an independent investigation agency for the city’s review is from city witnesses, “much of which was provided to the City subject to a non-disclosure agreement and criminal investigation privilege,” the lawsuit says. Busbee has cited the criminal investigation — which she told city officials would be done by November — when asked for additional records, the lawsuit says. The independent investigator, Jesse Prado, would be subject to a confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement if provided the information, which the lawsuit says has already been handed over to other agencies conducting similar reviews and would not be available to anyone from the city, according to a statement by city officials. Nearly 400 law enforcement officials rushed to the school the day of the shooting, according to a legislative investigate report, but all of them waited more than 70 minutes to enter a fourth-grade classroom to confront the gunman.

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Wall Street Journal - December 2, 2022

November employment report will update on tightness of U.S. labor market

Friday’s employment report will reveal how the labor market fared in November amid rising interest rates and high inflation. The job market has remained resilient this year, with employers still seeking to hire despite an uncertain economic outlook and elevated recession fears. Low unemployment and wage gains have helped fuel consumer spending, the economy’s main engine. One big question is how long that strength can last as the Federal Reserve aggressively raises interest rates to tame inflation. Some companies in technology, entertainment and real estate are laying off workers, but demand for workers continues to outpace the number of unemployed people looking for work.

Economists are concerned that higher interest rates will trigger more widespread layoffs and a recession in the next year, as has typically occurred during prior episodes of rapid rate increases. The Labor Department will release November employment and wage data on Friday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Payrolls grew by 261,000 in October, down from an average of 423,000 in the first nine months of the year. Some of the slowdown reflects increased employer caution. Some of it reflects a return to a more normal pace of job growth following a historically fast pandemic rebound. Job gains still well exceed the 2019 monthly average of 164,000. Economists closely monitor the pace of hiring for early signs of shifts in labor-market momentum. “An employer is going to start reducing hiring long before they start letting go of their existing workforce,” said Guy Berger, principal economist at LinkedIn. “That’s the first lever.” Rising unemployment could follow, he said, as job seekers have fewer available opportunities. Continuing claims, which reflect the number of people seeking ongoing unemployment benefits, are drifting upward in a sign of labor-market cooling, Mr. Berger said.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - December 2, 2022

Texas lawmakers propose changes to school taxing, funding systems

Texas lawmakers have proposed a slew of bills that could introduce big changes to both the main funding mechanism for the state's public schools and the formula that calculates how much money individual school districts receive. The proposals come as some school districts are struggling in the post-pandemic environment to retain teachers and fight higher operating costs due to rising inflation. The proposals also come four years after House Bill 3, which passed in 2019, introduced a major overhaul of the state's public school funding, including increases to the per-pupil allotment and the reduction over time of the maximum tax rate districts can charge for basic operations. The tax rate – called the maintenance and operations tax – is the bulk of what Texas property owners pay in taxes to school districts.

Several bills filed for the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January, propose going a step further than the 2019 HB 3 and eliminating or drastically reducing the maintenance and operations tax in hopes of alleviating the property tax burden. The maintenance and operations tax funds everything from teacher salaries to utilities. “It is the largest source of revenue for schools,” said Matt Worthington, a public school data analyst and trustee-elect for the Del Valle Independent School District. “If that goes away, the big question is what will replace that?” One proposal involves shifting more to reliance on sales tax or other consumption-based taxes, said Chandra Villanueva, director of policy and advocacy with Every Texan, a nonpartisan policy institute. Villanueva said the concern is that shifting reliance to consumptive taxes will create volatility in funding and shift the burden to lower-income families. Most states rely on three-legged stool approach to tax: a state income tax, property tax and sales tax. “We don't have an income tax,” Villanueva said. “If we move to just a sales tax, we will be on a pogo stick, and it will go up and down with the economy.” The system would require the state to find the sources of funding elsewhere, said Sheryl Pace, senior analyst with Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. “It'll be made up from general revenue, which as you know is mostly sales tax,” Pace said.

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

Ted Cruz unites with Bernie Sanders behind failed push for rail worker sick leave

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, doesn’t often find himself in the same camp as the most left-leaning members of the Senate, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described Democratic Socialist from Vermont. But Cruz was among a half dozen Senate Republicans who backed Sanders’ push Thursday to award seven days of sick leave to rail workers as part of a federally mandated labor agreement intended to avoid an economy-crippling strike. The 52-43 tally on the sick leave proposal fell well short of the 60 votes required for adoption. It had the support of nearly all Senate Democrats and the opposition of most Senate Republicans. But the support from Cruz and a few other conservative Republicans demonstrates how the party’s newfound populism has at least blurred some traditional political lines. Cruz described this week as an illustration of how the GOP is becoming the party of blue collar workers.

“That is an important shift of the last decade, that the people we are fighting for every day are rail workers and truck drivers and steel workers and cops and firefighters and the Democrat Party more and more is becoming a party of urban elites,” Cruz said as he left the Capitol following the vote. The rail labor dispute threatened massive negative repercussions for Texas, as everyone from agricultural producers to chemical manufacturers in the state rely on trains to move their supplies and finished products. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a large coalition of business groups wrote a letter earlier this week pleading with lawmakers to take action to avert a strike. Among the signatories: the Texas Ag Industries Association, Texas Association of Business, Texas Business Leadership Council, Texas Grain and Feed Association and the Texas Trucking Association. “While a voluntary agreement with the four holdout unions is the best outcome, the risks to America’s economy and communities simply make a national rail strike unacceptable,” the groups wrote. “Therefore, absent a voluntary agreement, we call on you to take immediate steps to prevent a national rail strike and the certain economic destruction that would follow.” But Cruz objected to the mandated settlement as the government forcing a deal down rail workers’ throats.

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

Dallas Rep.-elect Jasmine Crockett chosen for freshman House leadership role

Dallas Rep.-elect Jasmine Crockett was chosen as the freshman class representative Thursday, a House leadership position that elevates her profile in the new generation of the Democratic Party. Crockett, the Texas House District 100 representative, won the largely blue 30th Congressional District in the November midterm elections, replacing longtime Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who retired. “I am truly humbled by the confidence that my colleagues have placed in me,” Crockett told The Dallas Morning News in a prepared statement. “While I am focused on having a successful transition, I look forward to using this position in leadership to advocate for this historic class of new members and ensuring that Texas priorities are prioritized.”

As the freshman representative, Crockett will be a liaison between party leadership and at least 35 new Democrats who will be sworn into the House on Jan. 3. Crockett will be the first Black woman to hold the position since Democrats added it in 2016. “For nearly a century, freshmen have selected Members of their class to represent their best interests before party leadership and it doesn’t fall short on me the responsibility that we have as a collective,” Crockett said in a statement. “We’ve got work to do and I’m ready to lock arms with each of my colleagues to deliver on the key issues facing us while ensuring we build a stronger Democratic caucus,” she continued. Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., was elected freshman class president, a role Dallas Rep. Colin Allred shared with Michigan Rep. Haley Stevens for the 116th Congress. El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar, freshman co-representative in 2019, was elected as one of three Democratic Policy and Communications Committee co-chairs Thursday.

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

Decades after Little Rock photo, it’s not too late for Jerry Jones to make a difference

The 65-year-old photograph of Jerry Jones standing on the wrong side of history doesn’t make him a racist now any more than it did then, though it begs the question. He tells us he was simply curious. And that’s supposed to explain why he bounded up the steps and around the Black students trying to enter North Little Rock High before they were denied by a blockade of white male students. The photo ran on the cover of The New York Times in the fall of ‘57. Only days before he turned 15, Jerry had already made the big time. His excuse for showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time is that he simply wanted a better view. Even if he wasn’t down front leering over the shoulder of the guy with a cigarette in the corner of his smirk, Jerry didn’t try to help, either. He was only a teenager, you say. So was most of the crowd. His peers. Hard to imagine any time in his 80 eventful years when Jerry didn’t wield considerable influence among his own, good or bad.

If he was guilty of anything then, it’s the same as his culpability now: Doing nothing to change the status quo. Jerry concedes his ability to be an agent for change in the NFL, which is why he was willing to be interviewed by The Washington Post about the photo and the bigger picture of the paper’s nine-part series on the NFL’s failure to hire Black coaches. One of the co-writers, Sally Jenkins, Dan’s daughter and a legend in her own right, not only gives Jerry points for talking about the lack of diversity among the NFL’s head coaches when no other owner would, she concedes that whatever he did or didn’t do back then, you can’t hold it against him now. But it’s certainly fair to ask how much he may have evolved since, just as it’s fair to question his track record and his peers’. Because it sure seems like the NFL is going backward. Eleven years ago, nine Black head coaches worked league sidelines. In 2018, there were six. Now it’s three. Even though Black players make up nearly 60% of NFL rosters, 13 franchises have never hired a Black head coach. Jerry hasn’t done anything to alter that history, either. Over 33 years owning the world’s most valuable sports franchise, he’s hired eight of its nine head coaches. It’s not exactly a Hall-of-Fame relay. More miss than hit, and that’s even after hitting it out of the park on his first swing.

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Houston Chronicle - December 2, 2022

How Fort Bend County is changing from a Houston community to an economic powerhouse in its own right

On a recent morning, Sugar Land Town Square was serene, though not quite sleepy. The restaurants and retailers that ring the plaza, just outside City Hall, had yet to open. But locals were gathering for the free fitness classes held each Friday morning, boot camp followed by Zumba. Among those watching at the activity was Elizabeth Huff, director of economic development for this city of 110,000 people just southwest of Houston, in Fort Bend County. Recently, Huff said, she has faced an unusual challenge as corporate relocation leads pour in, and her department turns down 80 percent of them. This isn’t because of local opposition to growth, but something more fundamental, Huff said. “We have nowhere to put them. We’re running out of space.” Sugar Land, the largest city in the county, is at the forefront of the transformation of Fort Bend from a bedroom community revolving around Houston to an economic powerhouse in its own right.

For years, the county has billed itself as “Greater Houston’s Finest Address,” emphasizing its suburban lifestyle of single family homes, manicured parks and well-lit sidewalks. But other attributes -- its highly educated population, business-friendly political landscape, affordable housing and access to institutions such as the University of Houston at Sugar Land -- are attracting major employers such as the oil field services company Schlumberger, engineering firm Fluor and tech company Texas Instruments, as well as entrepreneurs. Employment in Sugar Land jumped 14 percent from 2015 to 2020 -- twice the national rate -- even as its population grew by less than 2 percent, according to a workforce analysis by Ernst & Young. It's yet another sign of the community’s growth as a commercial center. Fort Bend is one of the fastest-growing counties in America, and arguably its most diverse. It ranks among the state’s leaders in median household income and educational attainment.

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Houston Chronicle - December 2, 2022

Texas Southern University clarifies tenure status for two deans amid lawsuit

Texas Southern University officials informed at least two college deans they did not have tenure, three years after they were hired believing they held the coveted position, according to court testimony. The disclosure arose during a heated lawsuit involving former law school dean Joan R.M. Bullock, who said she was stripped of faculty tenure without cause after losing her deanship in June. The school’s attorneys said in an early November court filing that Bullock was not wronged because she never had a tenured professorship as she thought – and another dean told a federal judge that the university corrected them on their own status just a week earlier. The deans’ accounts raise questions about the Houston HBCU's tenure process, which has broad implications on professors’ academic freedom, several higher education experts said.

They also pose differing explanations for the apparent blunder: Texas Southern’s lawyers said that the university erred in following standard academic practices that typically require deans to hold tenured faculty positions, but opposing attorneys said they fear that deans have become collateral damage in the school’s defense of Bullock’s lawsuit. Tenure is a highly protected status that provides educators job security and safeguards the freedom to teach and conduct research as they choose. “If TSU is now changing the story in claiming that Bullock was not properly granted tenure, and this is the same process that was followed with every other dean at the university, then it is likely that under TSU’s ‘new policy,’ many other deans at the university also do not have tenure,” said Todd Slobin, an attorney representing Bullock. “(Texas Southern is) willing to lose all credibility with every dean at the school simply to try to win on a technicality.” A Texas Southern spokesman declined to comment, as the university doesn’t typically respond to questions concerning pending litigation. But in a court hearing on Nov. 2, Texas Attorney General’s Office lawyers said that any standard Texas Southern did not follow is not unlawful – they would simply add on to prior reputational and accreditation challenges for the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.

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NBC DFW - December 2, 2022

Jury selection continues in trial of former police officer Aaron Dean

Jury selection continued Thursday in the trial of Aaron Dean, the ex-Fort Worth police officer charged with the murder of Atatiana Jefferson. Jury selection has spanned over three full days, with the original jury pool of nearly 200 people on Monday. By Thursday, the jury pool was down to roughly 140 people. Judge George Gallagher told potential jurors Thursday was considered the most important part of the trial process, as potential jurors were able to ask questions and elaborate on their answers in greater detail. Prosecutor Dale Smith questioned the jury pool for about four hours total. Most of the questions Smith asked focused on attitudes and feelings toward law enforcement, along with social justice movements.

More than one potential juror was directly asked if they felt as though they would be “starting the state of Texas at a disadvantage”, should they be selected. Smith clarified this means their participation as a member of the jury would raise the state’s burden of proving Dean’s guilt. Smith reminded jurors that bias is not inherently a “bad” thing. "Nobody is in trouble here," he said. Bob Gill, the defense attorney representing Dean, began questioning the jury pool around 2:45 p.m. Gill had far fewer questions for the potential jurors, though there were more than two hours of discussions. “Technically, the defense always has a "leg up" on the case because the defendant is innocent until proven guilty,” Gill told the jury pool. Gill made the argument defendants have the right to a fair trial by a jury of their peers, adding "peers" can include people who are in law enforcement or support police officers. Lawyers began the process of eliminating potential jurors around 4:30 p.m. Jury selection did not complete Thursday evening and were instructed to return Friday by 9 a.m.

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Route Fifty - December 2, 2022

What Texas lawmakers can do to get kids ready for kindergarten

Many Texas children aren’t showing up to kindergarten ready to learn, but a new dashboard highlighting challenges points lawmakers to changes that could help students. Many also face challenges unrelated to education — lack of access to food and health care — that also affect whether they arrive ready to learn. Teachers can quickly identify which kids need the most help but it’s a struggle to catch them up, said Michele Hand, a kindergarten and first grade interventionist for Whitehouse ISD in East Texas. “When our kindergartners don’t get the eyeglasses they need or haven’t had enough to eat or their parents don’t understand the importance of regular conversations and counting with their toddlers, these students enter kindergarten behind,” she said. The new Texas School Readiness Dashboard by Texans Care for Children highlights where children are struggling most and provides recommendations for what policymakers can do. It was created with the help of the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

Among the nonprofit’s recommendations are encouraging lawmakers to extend maternal health care coverage to 12 months after pregnancy; removing barriers that block families from enrolling in Medicaid or SNAP; and providing more funding to child care and pre-K programs to help make them more affordable for families and improve the quality of education they provide. Such policy changes could help better prepare the state’s youngest kids for kindergarten and beyond, which in turn can positively affect entire communities, advocates say. Texas has improved some access to child care and pre-K in recent years but more work must be done, said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of the child advocacy nonprofit Texans Care for Children. “The big ask for this session is state investment in child care to help with affordability for families, to help child care programs sustain their business and expand to serve more families, especially in rural areas, and sustain their workforce,” she said.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 2, 2022

Webb County prosecutor quits just days into the capital murder trial of former Border Patrol agent

A Webb County assistant district attorney helping prosecute a former Border Patrol supervisor accused of killing four women in Laredo in 2018 abruptly departed the high-profile case — and his job — in a bitter break with his boss. Joshua “Josh” Davila was questioning witnesses Wednesday as the second-chair prosecutor in the capital murder trial of Juan David Ortiz. By Thursday, a Facebook post in which he slammed the district attorney’s office as an “unprofessional and toxic workplace” was circulating on social media. Ortiz is accused of killing four sex workers in the span of two weeks, including two during a police manhunt for him that lasted only hours and ended with his arrest after a short foot chase early Sept. 15, 2018.

Davila was among seven prosecutors brought to the trial, which was moved to San Antonio because of extensive media coverage in Laredo. He had been seated in the second chair, next to Webb County District Attorney Isidro R. “Chilo” Alaniz, since Bexar County jurors began hearing testimony Monday. “I have officially left the Webb County District Attorney’s office. That is the most unprofessional and toxic work place I’ve ever had to deal with. I do not recommend it. I’m sorry to anyone I let down,” Davila wrote on his private Facebook account, according to screen grabs of the posting. Brigette Garay, public information officer for the district attorney’s office, confirmed Davila’s departure and said Alaniz would have no comment on it. A request for comment sent to Davila’s cellphone was not answered Thursday. His LinkedIn page shows that he has graduate and law degrees from St. Mary’s University. He got his law license in 2013, according to the State Bar of Texas’ website. The trial continued without him Thursday, as jurors continued watching hours of video of a police interrogation of Ortiz that began around 3:20 a.m. on the night of his arrest. By afternoon, the panel had seen five of the 12 DVDs that contain 10 hours of questioning in all.

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Pittsburgh Union Progress - December 2, 2022

'Meet us at the table': Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff commence labor strike

The warning signs revealed themselves pretty early for Emily Brindley. She began working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as an investigative reporter in June 2021. Brindley, who happens to be a University of Pittsburgh graduate, cherished being part of such a “small but scrappy newsroom” and quickly joined the Fort Worth NewsGuild bargaining committee that was attempting to negotiate what would be the Star-Telegram’s first labor contract with its owner, The McClatchy Company. Her first taste of how ruthless McClatchy could be was when the company decided not to renew the contracts of two Star-Telegram workers who were there via Report for America. They also both happened to be on the bargaining committee, and McClatchy essentially laying them off cut that unit in half. “Seeing that firsthand and being at the bargaining table and seeing those two laid off, that showed me who McClatchy was,” Brindley, now the Fort Worth NewsGuild’s bargaining chair, told the Union Progress. “This was not a company that cared about its journalists.”

That sentiment began to spread throughout the Star-Telegram newsroom until it finally boiled over earlier this week when the Fort Worth NewsGuild officially enacted a labor strike. The strike commenced Monday morning with 91% guild support as Star-Telegram staff members attempt to show McClatchy that they mean business. “I would not want to hold a hedge fund accountable with any other group of people,” said Kaley Johnson, a Star-Telegram crime and social justice reporter and the Fort Worth NewsGuild’s vice president. “I think we do have a very tight-knit newsroom, and my little heart gets filled with love and admiration for each and every one of them.” This is the first large-scale newspaper strike nationwide following the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh walkout that began on Oct. 18. It also comes on the heels of one-day walkouts staged earlier his year by unionized Gannett journalists, three McClatchy-owned publications in Miami and The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. The Star-Telegram filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against its ownership in August over its alleged bad-faith bargaining practices over the past two-plus years. “The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is serving our communities, covering the news that matters to Tarrant County and North Texas,” Star-Telegram executive editor Steve Coffman said in a statement to the Union Progress. “We continue to bargain in good faith and look forward to reaching an agreement.” Brindley said that during the bargaining process, the Fort Worth NewsGuild presented McClatchy with a contract proposal that would codify a minimum salary of $57,500 for all guild-eligible members. That figure represented what their research had shown to be a livable wage for affording a one-bedroom apartment in Fort Worth. McClatchy came back to them with a salary floor of $45,000, which to Brindley was a “pristine example of the company being … unwilling to engage with us in good faith.” In Johnson’s 4½ years at the Star-Telegram, she has seen at least six senior reporters with decades of experience leave the newspaper “specifically because of financial failures on the part of the company. “Those people needed to put kids through college and plan for retirement,” she said. “The company simply wouldn’t do that for them.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

SEC Fort Worth regional director David Peavler exits watchdog agency

David Peavler is leaving the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as its regional director in Fort Worth after nearly three years at the helm. Peavler took charge of the office in 2019 but spent a combined 19 years with the regulatory agency in two stints. He earlier worked 15 years in senior division enforcement roles before joining the private sector. Eric Werner, associate regional director of enforcement, and Marshall Gandy, associate regional director of examinations, will serve as the office’s co-acting regional directors, according to the SEC. The division’s jurisdiction of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas has one of the highest concentrations of Fortune 500 companies of any SEC region.

“It has been a privilege to lead the Fort Worth office and to work with so many talented professionals across the agency who are dedicated to protecting investors,” Peavler said in a statement. “I am especially grateful to my Fort Worth colleagues for their resourcefulness, enthusiasm, and dogged determination to advance the SEC’s mission, no matter the obstacle.” During Peavler’s tenure, the office conducted several high-profile investigations, including Shell’s overstatement of hydrocarbon reserves that resulted in $113.5 million being returned to investors and a Houston-area businessman operating a $114 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 300 investors.

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

Judge to Dallas: Leave poker business alone while appeal happens

A Dallas poker business will stay open while it continues to challenge the city’s efforts to shut it down. Dallas officials can’t force Texas Card House to close or interfere with its ongoing business pending a final ruling on the poker club’s appeals of the city revoking its certificate of occupancy, according to a court order signed by District Judge Eric Moye on Monday. The decision stems from an April lawsuit from the city’s top building inspection official against Dallas’ citizen Board of Adjustment, which disagreed that Texas Card House should lose its certificate after city attorneys and building officials changed their minds on whether poker businesses can legally operate in Dallas. Moye last month said he found the city was justified in revoking Texas Card House’ certification and agreed with the city’s current stance that the business violates Texas’ ban on gambling. Attorneys representing Texas Card House also filed notice Monday that they plan to challenge Moye’s ruling with the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas.

Texas Card House is one of at least three poker businesses operating in Dallas. All three are facing legal challenges from the city seeking to shut them down. Meanwhile, proposed state legislation has been filed earlier this month in an attempt to legalize gambling in Texas as well as close a loophole in the state’s gambling ban that has been used to permit poker businesses. Brian Mason, an attorney representing Texas Card House declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation. Dallas City Attorney Chris Caso didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Shuffle 214 also had the city’s decision to revoke its certificate of occupancy reversed by the Board of Adjustment, leading to Chief Building Official Andrew Espinoza suing the board in May. The suit is currently scheduled to go to trial next summer. The owners of Poker House of Dallas were sued by the city earlier this month alleging code violations saying its operations as a poker business isn’t officially listed with the city. According to the lawsuit, the business was La Zona Rosa Cabaret when it received its latest certificate of occupancy from the city in 2017. The owners submitted a new land-use statement in 2021 telling the city that the business would be allowing customers to pay to play card games and that its new name was Poker House of Dallas. But the group never got approval from the city, and its current certificate of occupancy only allows it to continue operating as a strip club, according to the lawsuit.

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Houston Chronicle - December 2, 2022

Former Houston, Texas coach Tom Herman lands Florida Atlantic job

After two years away, Tom Herman will be back on a college football sideline as the head coach at Florida Atlantic, the school announced Thursday. The 47-year-old former University of Houston and University of Texas coach was wildly successful at Houston, leading the Cougars to a Top 10 finish in his first season in 2015, including a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Florida State. The Cougars went 9-3 the next season, including wins over Top 5 teams Oklahoma and Louisville. Herman parlayed those two years of success into the Texas job, where he lasted just four seasons before being fired. At Texas, Herman led the Longhorns to four straight bowl wins, including an upset of Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, which elevated the Longhorns to No. 9 in the country in the final poll of the 2018 season.

He was fired and replaced by Steve Sarkisian after regressing to 8-5 and 7-3 the next two seasons. Herman worked as an offensive analyst for the Chicago Bears in 2021 and was a college football analyst for CBS Sports this season. "It is an honor to have the opportunity to lead the Florida Atlantic football program," Herman said in a statement released by the school. "... All the pieces are in place at FAU for us to be successful. There are already great young men on this team, great facilities, a great location, a great recruiting base and great leadership, all of which are important to building a successful program." Florida Atlantic, which began play in 2001 under Howard Schnellenberger, leaped to prominence under Lane Kiffin, winning a pair of Conference USA titles before Kiffin left the program for Mississippi after the 2019 season. Former Oregon and Florida State head coach Willie Taggart took over in 2020 but was fired after going 15-18 in three years.

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KTEP - December 2, 2022

DA no show at Walmart mass shooting hearing, victim’s son and widow testify about alleged threats

District Attorney Yvonne Rosales failed to show up Wednesday in court for a status hearing on the Walmart mass shooting case involving her office’s alleged role in violating a gag order. A frustrated District Court Judge Sam Medrano ordered Rosales to be in court Thursday, or possibly face arrest, saying it was something he “has never, ever had to do in all my time on the bench.” It’s the third time in November that Rosales has not made a court appearance. Wednesday’s testimony included troubling allegations of witness intimidation, abuse of authority and chilling testimony from relatives of a victim killed during the Walmart shooting.

The hearing focused on an alleged gag order violation that involved a mysterious email sent to local media in August using the cell phone of one of the victim’s relatives. A family member of Alexander Gerhard Hoffman’s had told KTEP earlier the email could not have been written by them. Hoffman was one of the 23 killed in the Walmart mass shooting in 2019. On Wednesday, his widow Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia and son Thomas Hoffman, who live in Juárez, testified Rogelio “Roger” Rodriguez, who Rosales presented as a member of her team, was behind the email along with his wife Anne. Rodriguez, a municipal judge in Vinton, has been described as an associate of Rosales’ but is not part of the District Attorney’s staff. Rodriguez was not in court, or available for comment. Mother and son testified about feeling intimidated and threatened by Rodriguez during several encounters including one meeting at a Village Inn restaurant where Thomas Hoffman recalled Rodriguez showed him the gun he carried. “It made me feel as if he wanted to intimidate me.” Hoffman said in Spanish. “He said you see me using this weapon because I use it to protect myself from my enemies. He said it as if he were saying that I was one of them. As if he were referring to me.” Justin Underwood, a court appointed attorney representing the Hoffman family, called the alleged treatment of the Hoffman family "disgusting." “Don’t forget he lost his father. His father was brutally murdered and now they have to deal with this,” said Justin Underwood, the court-appointed attorney for the family after the hearing.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 2, 2022

Pasadena ISD removes employee under Baytown police investigation, district says

A classroom facilitator at Pasadena ISD was removed from all school roles after allegations of "improper electronic activity with a student" at Goose Creek ISD, where he worked previously, officials from the districts said. The activity prompting the investigation was reported on Sept. 27, according to the Baytown Police Department. He was removed from his role as classroom facilitator at Pasadena ISD on Wednesday. No Pasadena ISD students were believed to be involved in the activity, a Pasadena spokesperson said.

The allegations came from a student at Goose Creek CISD regarding conduct that happened after the facilitator was no longer employed by the district, according to Goose Creek ISD spokesperson Kristyn Cathey. He worked in Goose Creek CISD for four months before being asked to resign in May of 2022 based on performance issues. Goose Creek CISD advised the student who made the allegations to make a report with the police. The district also made a report to Texas Education Agency’s Investigation Division and the State Board for Educator Certification. “District and campus administration took immediate action to remove the individual from the campus and further investigate the matter,” a Pasadena ISD statement read. Pasadena ISD requires criminal background checks for employees and reviews the Texas Education Agency’s Do Not Hire Registry. The employee who was removed had no notable history to trigger issues with either, the district reported.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 2, 2022

‘Welcome back, Mike’: Former Councilman Mike Gallagher temporarily takes over for Clayton Perry

Former City Councilman Mike Gallagher will fill Councilman Clayton Perry’s District 10 seat temporarily while Perry continues his leave of absence after a hit-and-run arrest. Gallagher, who left the District 10 seat in 2017, was selected from 17 applicants. As one of three finalists to be interviewed by the City Council on Thursday morning, he said the issues important to him align with those that matter to District 10 — security, infrastructure and a need for more code enforcement. He will retain all district staff to help make the transition as smooth as possible and plans to lean on Perry during this interim term. Gallagher applied for the seat after he received several calls and emails asking him to take a shot at it.

“I wanted to make sure that our District 10 staff was protected and that everybody was able to stay in their jobs and keep things moving smoothly,” he said. “It’s not about Mike Gallagher. It’s about District 10 and making sure it runs right.” The retired Air Force colonel won unanimous approval from the 10 active council members and the mayor after about 35 minutes of closed-door discussion. “Welcome back, Mike,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said before Gallagher was called up to be sworn in and take his seat on the dais. Gallagher said he won’t run for the District 10 seat in the May 6 city elections or collect the $45,722 pay for council members set in the city charter. Multiple council members stressed the importance of selecting an applicant who could hit the ground running and seamlessly serve the district. “I really feel that it’s my job to respect what the constituents have chosen in the past when they voted in 2021 — and apparently in 2017 when they overwhelmingly chose Mike Gallagher — and to do our best to ensure that they continue to get what they thought they were voting for at that time,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said.

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Dallas Morning News - December 2, 2022

Truist Bank gives $10 million boost to Dallas affordable housing fund

A local private investment fund dedicated to financing affordable housing in Dallas just got a $10 million boost. Truist Financial Corp. has invested $10 million into the Dallas Housing Opportunity Fund LLC, according to LISC Fund Management LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Local Initiatives Support Corp. With the news Wednesday, LFM explained the scope of Truist’s investment, which the fund’s leaders hope will act as a call to action for more investors. “What we don’t want is a city comprised solely of high-priced condos and investment properties. We don’t want a city where teachers, policemen, restaurant workers and other service providers have to live in the next town over.” George Ashton, president of LFM said. “What we do want is mixed-income communities where families can live and play and be educated close to where they work, where economic opportunity is spread more equitably across the city, and the opportunity to succeed is based not on where you’re born, but on your discipline and desire.”

With the help of $6 million in seed money from the city of Dallas, LFM formed and manages the DHOF that’s designed to create more affordable units in high opportunity areas for households earning at or below 120% of the area median income, or AMI. Ashton said the pursuit of building quality, affordable housing in Dallas isn’t only an altruistic mission, but also a key element in a healthy economy. Local powerhouse industry group The Real Estate Council — and its certified community development financial institution called Community Investors — partnered with LFM to bring 158 units of rental housing in East Dallas, most of which are affordable to families with lower and moderate incomes, according to a news release. Linda McMahon, president of The Real Estate Council, said that city funding for affordable housing hasn’t been enough to meet the growing demands of Dallas, creating the need for public and private partnerships like this.

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KUT - December 2, 2022

Austin's legal costs to oust the South Terminal's operator double to $3 million

Legal bills are piling up in the city's fight to oust the company running the South Terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Austin's City Council voted Thursday to double ABIA's legal services agreement with corporate law firm Winstead PC to more than $3 million. The move comes after the company with a 40-year lease to run the South Terminal — Lonestar Airport Holdings — sued in federal court in at attempt to stop the city from forcing it out through the use of eminent domain. Thursday's council vote was taken without discussion. The money for legal services is coming from ABIA's operating budget, which is funded by airport revenue. Only two airlines — ultra-low-cost carriers Allegiant and Frontier — operate out of the South Terminal. More than 38,000 passengers traveled through the facility in September, compared to 1.7 million travelers through the main Barbara Jordan Terminal.

Officials who run the city-owned airport want to bulldoze the South Terminal to make room for a new concourse with space for up to 40 gates, connected to the main terminal by an underground walkway. The project is part of a $4 billion expansion to accommodate unprecedented volumes of travelers. Airport officials are hoping to open the new concourse by 2027. In a novel use of eminent domain, the city is attempting to seize the lease of city-owned land from Lonestar and pay $1.9 million compensation. Lonestar said it found the city's offer of less than $2 million "offensive," arguing it spent more than 10 times that amount fixing up the facility. Now, the company is waging a two-front legal battle against the city in Travis County Probate Court and federal court. The vote to boost the airport's legal war chest to $3 million means Austin is now spending 58% more on lawyer bills than its rejected offer to Lonestar. The increase in legal costs "came after Lonestar filed a federal lawsuit in response to the City's legal action to acquire the leasehold," ABIA said in a statement to KUT, calling the addition of a new midfield concourse "a necessary step to increase capacity for more flights at AUS." Lonestar Airport Holdings declined to comment on the City Council vote. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman has set a hearing on the case for Jan. 20.

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National Stories

Associated Press - December 2, 2022

Trump probe: Court halts Mar-a-Lago special master review

A unanimous federal appeals court on Thursday ended an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information. The decision by the three-judge panel represents a significant win for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized during an Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. It also amounts to a sharp repudiation of arguments by Trump's lawyers, who for months had said that the former president was entitled to have a so-called “special master” conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents taken from the property.

The ruling from the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had been expected given the skeptical questions the judges directed at a Trump lawyer during arguments last week, and because two of the three judges on the panel had already ruled in favor of the Justice Department in an earlier dispute over the special master. The decision was a unanimous opinion from the panel of Republican appointees, including two who were selected by Trump. In it, the court rejected each argument by Trump and his attorneys for why a special master was necessary, including his claims that various seized records were protected by attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. “It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” the judges wrote. A Trump spokesperson said Thursday's decision was “purely procedural” and did not address the “impropriety” of the raid, and promised that the ex-president would “continue to fight” against the Justice Department. Lawyers for Trump did not immediately respond when asked if they would appeal the ruling.

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New York Times - December 2, 2022

How Herschel Walker could win Georgia’s Senate race

The steady stream of tough headlines for Herschel Walker has always obscured one stubborn fact about the Senate race in Georgia: He could still win. With the runoff election just days away, the conventional wisdom holds that Senator Raphael Warnock is waltzing toward re-election against an inexperienced Republican opponent who has a thin grasp on policy issues, avoids reporters, faces serious allegations about his personal conduct and has been known to ramble on the stump. But if things were that simple, Warnock would have won handily in November. And if there’s one thing American politics keeps teaching us, it’s to be humble about predicting what voters will do. With that in mind, here are two basic ways to look at the Georgia runoff on Tuesday:

Under this theory, the runoff is Warnock’s to lose. Many Republicans will stay home, the thinking goes, because they no longer believe that their vote matters much. It’s hard to make the case that 51 Democrats in the Senate, as opposed to 50, would represent some huge threat to conservative priorities and values. Denying Democrats a majority vote on Senate committees is not the kind of argument that fires up the Republican base. Runoff elections are driven by who can persuade more of their supporters to vote yet another time. And Warnock has a battle-tested turnout operation that has now performed well over three elections. The Walker campaign, by contrast, is relying on Gov. Brian Kemp — who is no longer on the ballot — to drag a weak candidate across the finish line. Senate Republicans have basically rented Kemp’s field program for the runoff, but it’s not at all clear that an operation built to turn out voters for Kemp can change gears so easily.

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Associated Press - December 2, 2022

Arizona county certifies election after judge's order

A rural Arizona county certified its midterm election results on Thursday, following the orders of a judge who ruled that Republican supervisors broke the law when they refused to sign off on the vote count by this week’s deadline. Two Republicans on Cochise County’s three-member board of supervisors balked for weeks about certifying the election, even as the deadline passed on Monday. They did not cite any problems with the election results. Rather, they say they weren’t satisfied that the machines used to tabulate ballots were properly certified for use in elections, though state and federal election officials have said they were. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs filed suit Monday, as did a local voter and a group of retirees, asking a judge to force the supervisors to certify the election, a process formally known as a canvass. Hobbs said she is required to hold the statewide certification on Dec. 5 and by law can delay it only until Dec. 8.

At the end of a hearing Thursday, Judge Casey McGinley ordered the supervisors to convene within 90 minutes and to approve the election canvass by the end of the day. “I am not ashamed of anything I did,” said Supervisor Peggy Judd, one of the two Republicans who twice blocked certification. “And today I feel I must, because of a court ruling and because of my own health and situations that are going on in our life, I feel like I must follow what the judge did today.” The board’s other Republican, Tom Crosby, skipped the meeting. Two hours earlier, Supervisor Ann English, the board’s lone Democrat, urged the judge to order the board to immediately certify the election and not wait another day. She said Crosby is trying to stage a “smackdown between the secretary of state and the election deniers” at a meeting scheduled for Friday. “I think it’s a circus that doesn’t need to have to happen,” English said. “So I’ve had enough. I think the public’s had enough. So I’m asking for a swift resolution of this if that’s possible.” The vote allows the statewide certification to go forward as scheduled on Monday. Hobbs, a Democrat who was elected governor in November’s election, had warned that she may have to certify statewide results without numbers from Cochise County if they aren’t received in time, an outcome that could have tipped the balance of several close races. The county’s 47,000 votes went overwhelmingly to Republicans.

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HuffPost - December 2, 2022

New polling shows democracy mattered in the 2022 midterms

In his final speech before the Nov. 8 midterms — the first general election since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — President Joe Biden warned that “American democracy is under attack” from “extreme MAGA Republicans” who would seek to “suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself.” “This is no ordinary year,” Biden said. “So I ask you to think long and hard about the moment we’re in. In a typical year, we’re often not faced with questions of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year, we are.” The press and some Democratic Party allies panned the president’s remarks. His speech was “head-scratching,” according to CNN’s Chris Cillizza. It was “important” but “puzzling,” said Politico’s Playbook newsletter. “[As] a matter of practical politics, I doubt many Ds in marginal races are eager for him to be on TV tonight,” tweeted David Axelrod, former President Barack Obama’s top political aide.

The results of the election, however, speak for themselves. The predicted Republican “red wave” disappeared before it reached shore, with the GOP only picking up 8 seats to narrowly take control of the House. It could still lose one seat in the Senate. Democrats flipped control of more governorships and state legislature chambers than Republicans. And, most importantly, nearly all high-profile election deniers lost their races, including competitive secretary of state competitions in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada and gubernatorial contests in swing states like Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Now, one poll of the 71 most competitive House districts backs up the importance of the democracy issue in Democrats’ midterm success. Concerns about threats to democracy motivated Democrats and independents to turn out while also helping independents decide to vote for Democrats, according to a voter survey from Nov. 11-16 by Impact Research, a Democratic polling firm. “The biggest takeaway here is just how important protecting democracy was for voters in this House battlefield immediately coming out of the election,” said Molly Murphy, the president of Impact Research, which conducted the survey for Democratic Party-aligned political action committees End Citizens United and Let America Vote.

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Washington Post - December 2, 2022

CNN makes massive staff cuts as news industry prepares for a dark winter

CNN is laying off hundreds of employees in a cost-cutting effort that illuminates the financial challenges facing a wide array of media companies as the economy teeters toward a possible recession. The cuts began on Wednesday and finished on Thursday, with affected employees notified in person or via Zoom. “It is incredibly hard to say goodbye to any one member of the CNN team,” CNN chief executive Chris Licht wrote in a Wednesday staff memo obtained by The Washington Post, describing the cuts as a “gut punch.” Chris Cillizza, who joined CNN as a politics reporter and editor-at-large in 2017, confirmed to The Post that he has been laid off. Susan Glasser, a CNN global affairs analyst, also said that she was “one of many” part-time commentators affected by the cuts. Rachel Metz, a senior technology writer, said she was “devastated” to have been laid off on Thursday.

Other television networks are planning cost-cutting measures over the winter. NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News and MSNBC, will lay off employees in January, according to a Business Insider report, though a news division spokesperson declined to comment Thursday. ABC News parent company Disney is similarly planning cuts under the leadership of Bob Iger, who recently returned as the company’s chief executive. Among those laid off was USA Today sports investigative reporter Rachel Axon, who has reported on sexual abuse in competitive sports. “I’m grateful for all those who trusted me with their stories,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never forgotten the privilege of that — whether it was showing their triumphs or holding those who harmed them to account.” One journalist for a Gannett-owned publication told The Post of being laid off over Zoom, leaving behind a newsroom of less than a dozen reporters. “They read from a script and thanked me for my service, which I find laughable,” the person said, spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. NPR is also facing a financial shortfall that will require $10 million in budget cuts over the next 10 months, chief executive John Lansing told employees on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Washington Post executive editor Sally Buzbee informed employees of plans to close the company’s weekly print magazine, citing The Post’s plans for “global and digital transformation.”

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Newsclips - December 1, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - December 1, 2022

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to pass parental rights bill, end professors’ tenure

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he will devote much of the Senate’s focus next year to education, including a parental rights bill, possibly eliminating tenure and opening up the Public University Fund to more state colleges. Patrick laid out a roadmap for the Senate following a vote from a legislative board that sets limits on the state’s budget. With that in hand, Patrick said he felt comfortable outlining his priorities for the state Senate, where he holds near-ironclad control over what bills come up for a vote. Education was one of several priorities he discussed during a media briefing at the Capitol on Wednesday. He also indicated support for cutting property taxes and using the Legislature to attract the construction of new natural gas power plants. But his focus on education was notable for what he did not address directly: school vouchers. Patrick has shown support for a system that would divert public education funds toward private schools.

That is unpopular in rural Texas, where education options are often limited and communities’ identities are often enmeshed with their local public school system. Patrick has said he might forward a voucher system for urban communities only. That would track with legislative priorities he said were greatly influenced by the recent 130-city tour of rural Texas he took to shore up the conservative vote during his reelection campaign. Those voters delivered for him, and while Patrick said his priorities are not about politics, he wants to deliver for communities where he drew the greatest support. “I’m laser beam focused on rural Texas not for political reasons,” he said. “I’m focused on it because rural Texas is the heart of who we are, and rural Texas has not been served as well. And sometimes we haven’t had enough money to do these things. But we now have the money.” Clay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, noted while Patrick made no mention of vouchers or school choice Wednesday, he still expects it to be one of his top priorities. “The fact that Dan Patrick didn’t mention it today does not mean we think he wouldn’t continue to push for it,” Robison said. “He’s made it pretty clear that vouchers will be a top priority.”

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Associated Press - December 1, 2022

House approves bill aimed at averting nationwide rail strike

The U.S. House moved urgently to head off the looming nationwide rail strike on Wednesday, passing a bill that would bind companies and workers to a proposed settlement that was reached in September but rejected by some of the 12 unions involved. The measure passed by a vote of 290-137 and now heads to the Senate. If approved there, it will be quickly signed by President Joe Biden, who requested the action. Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene and avert the rail stoppage that could strike a devastating blow to the nation’s fragile economy by disrupting the transportation of fuel, food and other critical goods. Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation warned that halting rail service would cause a $2 billion per day hit to the economy.

The bill would impose a compromise labor agreement brokered by the Biden administration that was ultimately voted down by four of the 12 unions representing more than 100,000 employees at large freight rail carriers. The unions have threatened to strike if an agreement can’t be reached before a Dec. 9 deadline. Lawmakers from both parties expressed reservations about overriding the negotiations. And the intervention was particularly difficult for Democratic lawmakers who have traditionally sought to align themselves with the politically powerful labor unions that criticized Biden’s move to intervene in the contract dispute and block a strike. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to that concern by adding a second vote Wednesday that would add seven days of paid sick leave per year for rail workers covered under the agreement. However, it will take effect only if the Senate goes along and passes both measures. The call for more paid sick leave was a major sticking point in the talks. The railroads say the unions have agreed in negotiations over the decades to forgo paid sick time in favor of higher wages and strong short-term disability benefits. The head of the Association of American Railroads trade group said Tuesday that railroads would consider adding paid sick time in the future, but said that change should wait for a new round of negotiations instead of being added now, near the end of three years of contract talks.

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Washington Post - December 1, 2022

Trump’s dinner with antisemites provides test of GOP response to extremism

Former president Donald Trump’s refusal to apologize for or disavow the outspoken antisemites he dined with last week is setting him increasingly at odds with leaders of his own party, providing the first test of his political endurance since launching his third run for the White House. The fracas is also testing how Republicans will handle the party’s extreme fringe in the months ahead after years of racist, misogynist and antisemitic speech flooding into the political bloodstream during the Trump era. Trump has been taken aback by the backlash and maintained that the controversy over his Mar-a-Lago dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, who has been vocally spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories, would blow over, according to advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations. “I think it’s dying down,” they recalled Trump saying.

But the wave of denunciations only intensified as lawmakers returned to Washington from the Thanksgiving holiday this week, breaking a well-worn pattern of dodging or shrugging off Trump’s controversies during much of his presidency, possibly ushering in a new phase of more vocal criticism of him. “We have to stop the whispered concerns and veiled statements, and we have to stand up for the principles and the beliefs that our country and party were founded on,” former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the first potential 2024 candidate to condemn Trump on the dinner, said on Wednesday. “There is no place for antisemitism or white supremacists in the Republican Party and no place for anyone who gives people like Nick Fuentes the time of day. Donald Trump’s recent actions and history of poor judgment make him untenable as a candidate for our party.” Rebukes from other likely 2024 challengers followed, including an exceptionally rare criticism from Trump’s own former vice president. “I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification,” Mike Pence said in an interview with NewsNation that aired Monday.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 1, 2022

75% of Texas voters under age 30 skipped the midterm elections. But why?

Young Texans voted in record numbers in 2018 — but four years later, with Democrat Beto O’Rourke at the top of the ticket again, participation among 18- to 29-year-olds fell flat. Just 25 percent of young people who were registered to vote cast a ballot this year. About 34 percent of the same group voted four years ago, while 51 percent of them did in the 2020 presidential election, according to a post-election report by Derek Ryan, an Austin-based GOP strategist and data analyst. The decline in participation is concerning for youth advocates, especially Texas Democrats who have doubled down on their efforts to register and turn out young voters in recent years. Young voters set a record turnout in 2018, helping Democrats pick up 12 seats in the state House of Representatives and put O'Rourke within 3 percentage points of defeating his foe, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

This year's national political climate favored Republicans, but activists hoped young voters would again turn out in huge numbers, motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to end federal abortion protections and a series of mass shootings across the country. While young people pushed Democratic candidates over the edge in battleground states elsewhere across the country, many of them stayed home in Texas — and Republicans swept every statewide election here, as they have since 1994. “Both parties in the state failed to mobilize and engage young voters in the way that they should have been,” said Olivia Julianna, the director of politics and government affairs for the progressive advocacy group Gen Z for Change. “When we look at other campaigns across the country, especially in Pennsylvania, there was very, very, very strong youth engagement coming from people running at the top of the ticket. Youth voices were prioritized. … We saw that in some races here in Texas, but we didn't see that in all of them.”

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 1, 2022

For property tax relief, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pitches raising homestead exemption to $65,000

As Texas sits on a massive $27 billion surplus heading into the next legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick advocated on Wednesday for a tight spending plan that would focus primarily on cutting property taxes. The Legislature is constitutionally limited in how they can spend the surplus over the next two years, allowing lawmakers to tap into just $12.5 billion of those funds. There is a little bit of wiggle room if lawmakers get “creative,” Patrick said, but he stressed that the Legislature should build up the state’s reserves and fortify its rainy day fund. Property tax relief is at the top of his spending priorities — and he’s asking lawmakers to again raise the homestead exemption, which offers homeowners a $40,000 break on school property taxes. Patrick suggested raising the number to roughly $65,000, but he’s leaving the specifics to state lawmakers who will debate property tax legislation when they return to Austin on Jan. 10.

“When you have this kind of money, you've got to get it back to the taxpayers,” he said at a press conference at the state Capitol. Raising the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $40,000 saves the average homeowner about $176 a year, according to state Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, author of the legislation. Patrick is also pushing to expand the state’s personal property exemption, which would help small business owners account for office supplies, such as computers, desks and chairs. “It will cost us some revenue, but it would be just so much freedom to small business,” Patrick said. “And remember: Small business is what creates jobs.” Next on his list is an expansion of natural gas across the state. Patrick said Texas must “level the playing field” with renewable energy, touting natural gas as a more reliable option that will help the state keep up with increasing power demands. While renewables are more environmentally friendly than natural gas, they’re a “luxury,” Patrick said. “I don't think we would be a responsible legislature if we leave next year … without passing legislation that will guarantee that we start building more natural gas plants — whether it's incentivizing them, whether it’s building them, whatever that plan is,” he said. The lieutenant governor also wants to bolster pay for law enforcement, open more mental health hospitals across the state, increase pay for teachers and make voter fraud a felony once again.

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WFAA - December 1, 2022

Frisco ISD board votes to remove books from libraries for the first time following Patterson's requests

Board members for the Frisco Independent School District voted to permanently remove five titles from district shelves Wednesday evening after a state Republican lawmaker challenged 28 books to be reviewed within the district weeks ago. It was the first time the board had voted to remove titles from district shelves permanently. State Rep. Jared Patterson of the 106th District appealed to the board to review the titles after they had been vetted and deemed appropriate by parents, staff and administrators. Patterson is a Frisco ISD parent with three children within the district. He also plans to file new legislation for 2023's legislative session to address sexually explicit books within schools.

In August, he announced that he was challenging 28 titles within the district after they "had each been pulled by either neighboring districts or national book vendor PermaBound due to their explicit nature." Frisco ISD told WFAA that it had been combing through its library catalog since 2021 to review books that were either obscene or explicit. To this day, the district has removed at least 307 books from library shelves. To see a list of those titles and why they were removed, click here. When a parent or citizen challenges a book for review within the district, they have a few options. The district may perform an expedited review if it is pointed to specific explicit or obscene content in a book. You can read more on that here. But most book challenges have the possibility of facing three levels of review. If material is challenged, a level 1 review includes parents and school staff reviewing the book to see if it is appropriate. If it is deemed appropriate and the challenger disagrees with the review's conclusion, it can appeal to have a level 2 review involving district officials and administrators. If the conclusion of that review is not to the challenger's liking, they can appeal to have the board make a final decision on the book.

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Houston Chronicle - December 1, 2022

Ted Cruz says Congress shouldn't 'crush' unions with rail deal

As Congress works to pass legislation to avert a rail strike this week, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is saying he will not support a deal that railroad workers do not want — an unusually pro-labor stance for a member of the Texas GOP, which has long opposed unions. "Is Congress’ job now to step in and crush the unions and resolve these issues?" Cruz said Wednesday on an episode of his podcast, sounding more like progressives such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders than many of his Republican colleagues. "Congress has stepped in and said, we’re picking the winners, we’re picking the losers — and by the way, we’ve decided the management’s the winners and the workers are the losers," Cruz said Wednesday on an episode of his podcast. "That’s what (President Joe) Biden is doing — Biden is screwing the union workers."

But Cruz said he has made the case to his GOP Senate colleagues that Congress should not intervene at all, and that siding with unions could actually be good politics for the party. Most Texas Republicans opposed the deal as it passed the House on Wednesday. With a potential rail strike looming just before the holidays, Biden is urging Congress to pass a compromise labor agreement brokered by his administration that was voted down by four of the 12 rail unions. The unions, which represent more than 100,000 employees at large freight carriers, have threatened to strike if an agreement can’t be reached by Dec. 9. The compromise agreement provides for 24 percent raises and $5,000 in bonuses retroactive to 2020, along with one additional paid leave day. But it does not resolve workers’ concerns about demanding schedules that make it hard to take a day off and the lack of paid sick time for many jobs in the industry. The House on Wednesday approved the deal on a 290-137 vote. The chamber also approved a separate proposal from progressives to add seven days of paid sick leave to it. Seventy-nine Republicans supported the agreement in the House, including three Texans: U.S. Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, Troy Nehls of Richmond and Beth Van Duyne of Irving. Only three Republicans supported the additional sick days. None were Texans.

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San Antonio Express-News - December 1, 2022

Alleged thefts from USAA customer accounts results in arrest of 2 Louisana women

Two Louisiana women have been arrested in connection with the theft of more than $1 million from USAA customers. Investigators in Shreveport said one of the women used her position at Teleperformance — a multinational company that handles inbound calls from USAA members — to gain access to USAA customers’ bank account information. The woman, ZarRajah Watkins, allegedly sold the account information to Destane Glass and others who used various tactics to pilfer account holders’ money, the Shreveport Police Department said last week. Also last week, USAA reported a data breach incident it said occurred Oct. 24. The San Antonio insurer and financial services company said it was unrelated to the Louisiana case.

In Shreveport, police said, Glass used USAA customers’ money to buy a home, expensive cars and other lavish items. She paid cash in October for a home that had been listed for $639,000, according to a report by KTBS-TV in Shreveport. On Nov. 22, she was charged with 65 counts of identity theft. Court records show Glass previously had been arrested in Caddo Parish on nine counts of misdemeanor theft and two counts of felony theft, the television station reported. She pleaded guilty to one charge of felony theft in March, received a suspended sentence and was placed on probation. Watkins was charged with 175 counts of identity theft after she was taken into custody Nov. 17. The women, both 21, are being held at the Caddo Correctional Center. The Caddo-Shreveport Financial Crimes Task Force investigators began a probe into the alleged scheme in September. More arrests are expected.

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Houston Chronicle - December 1, 2022

As Deshaun Watson returns to Texas, reform on sexual assault laws lags

The Cleveland Browns, fully aware of the cost associated with their choice, are poised to begin their professional partnership with Deshaun Watson in the city where the former Texans quarterback was sued by more than two dozen women accusing him of sexual assault and underwent criminal and NFL investigations that resulted in his 11-game suspension, $5 million fine and mandated counseling. Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam outbid the Falcons, Panthers and Saints and convinced Watson to waive his no-trade clause for a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract that protected all but $632,500 (0.34 percent of the deal’s total base salary) Watson had to eventually forfeit in game checks this season. The Browns made the decision without speaking to any of Watson’s accusers. They made it before a second grand jury chose not to indict Watson, a procedure his attorney, Rusty Hardin, said the Browns were aware of and had no effect on Watson’s status with the team.

They stuck to it after Sue L. Robinson, an independent arbitrator, said Watson’s violations met the NFL’s definition for sexual assault during massage therapy sessions with four women. They waited out a brief battle between the NFL and its players union that yielded the largest fine in league history and a strange suspension length that scheduled their controversial quarterback’s debut against the very franchise that’s using Cleveland’s draft capital to supplement its rebuild. Watson demanded a trade shortly after his final game with the Texans on Jan. 4, 2021, and he’ll return to NRG Stadium on Sunday, 700 days after departing it. “I think this will probably be the final piece to that story,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. The conclusions of such complex stories rarely are so definitive. The turmoil of the Watson saga was in itself a chapter in the continual history of how sexual assault cases are handled locally, federally and in private corporations. Tony Buzbee, who represents the majority of women who filed suit, said several of Watson’s accusers will attend Sunday’s game to express, “Our voice was heard, and this is not something that’s over.”

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Houston Public Media - December 1, 2022

Houston boil water aftermath: Council members say city must improve communication during emergencies

Houston City Council members said Wednesday the city needs to improve its communication to residents after the city’s boil water notice this week. Councilor Tiffany Thomas said she found out about the boil water notice on Twitter. “We didn’t receive the initial communication, I believe we received it the day after, before [Mayor Sylvester Turner’s] press conference,” Thomas said. “The communication improved after the press conference when communication was going out, but we were trending because people were saying, ‘If it had not been for social media I would not have known.'” Thomas suggested that the city also let councilmembers know when such notices are going out so they can alert their districts. Councilor Amy Peck also suggested the city take another look at AlertHouston, a city emergency alert service that calls, texts and emails. Residents must sign up for alerts through the service.

“Anything we can do to put a process in place for that because a lot of people didn’t know about the boil water notice until that text message went out that night at around 10:30,” Peck said. “Unless you were signed up for AlertHouston you didn’t know either. Something like this to send through wireless, the alert system or put a process in place so that people know.” Turner said homeland security have already made those changes, but it is important that people sign up for AlertHouston. Other councilors suggested that the city work with other Harris County municipalities in cases of similar events like the boil water notice. Turner emphasized multiple times throughout the discussion that the purification plants pressure was low for only a small amount of time. “You have 21 sensors, five of them never went below 20 psi, and 14 sensors that were below the 20 psi were for less than two minutes, and two sensors were below the psi for 30 minutes,” he said. He also noted that 29 water samples were pulled and none of them showed bacteria or contaminants. “When you put in a boil water notice it is very disruptive, hospitals, businesses are affected,” he said. “…If we’re instructed to do a boil water notice, we do a boil water notice.” Turner also explained that there was an overload on the plant’s system, and whatever caused the overload, also resulted in its backup generators to fail.

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Associated Press - December 1, 2022

Report: No altitude advice before Dallas air show crash

Just before a midair collision that killed six at a Dallas air show, a group of historic fighter planes was told to fly ahead of a formation of bombers without any prior plan for coordinating altitude, according to a federal report released Wednesday. The report did not give a cause of the crash. A P-63 Kingcobra fighter was banking left when it struck a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber behind the left wing during the Nov. 12 air show featuring World War II-era planes, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its preliminary findings. All six people aboard the planes — the pilot of the fighter and the bomber's pilot, co-pilot and three crew members — died as both aircraft broke apart in flight, with the bomber catching fire and then exploding on impact.

There had been no coordination of altitudes in briefings before the flight or while the planes were in the air, the NTSB said. The report said that the Kingcobra was the third in a formation of three fighters and the B-17 was the lead of a five-ship bomber formation. Eric Weiss, an NTSB spokesperson, said the agency is trying to determine the sequence of maneuvers that led to the crash. It is also examining whether such air shows normally have altitude deconfliction plans. “Those are precisely the types of questions our investigators are asking,” Weiss said. “What was the process? What’s the correct process? And what happened?” John Cox, a former airline captain with more than 50 years’ experience, was surprised that the NTSB found there wasn’t an altitude deconfliction brief before or during the flight. He said these take place in other air shows, but he’s not certain whether they’re standard for the Commemorative Air Force, which put on the Wings over Dallas show.

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STAT - September 28, 2022

On the Texas-Mexico border, a bold plan to diversify Alzheimer’s research takes shape

Gladys Maestre is on a scouting mission. The Alzheimer’s disease researcher is driving through Southmost, a Mexican American neighborhood just north of looming sections of the border wall and a checkpoint that leads to Mexico. She passes barking dogs and “no trespassing” signs, but doesn’t see a single person outside, despite the comfortable stuffed recliners, refrigerators, and shade canopies that furnish many yards. “A house outside the house,” Maestre laughs, delighting in seeing these elaborate living spaces while acknowledging that the clear wariness of outsiders here demonstrates the need for her unorthodox approach to engaging the people she studies. “That’s where we could put a community center,” she says, pointing to a vacant house. “For yoga, or art classes.” For decades, and really for as long as the field has existed, Alzheimer’s researchers have recruited patients for clinical trials in largely the same way: pulling them from specialty clinics, often at elite medical institutions that house the bulk of the nation’s federally funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers.

That’s led to patients in these trials, which sometimes offer new therapies available through no other channels, being overwhelmingly privileged, well-insured, and white. It’s an approach that’s been increasingly criticized for its lack of inclusion. Hispanic people, for example, make up more than 18% of the U.S. population, and are among groups more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease, yet accounted for just 2% of participants in Alzheimer’s clinical trials as of 2019. Maestre came to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to change that. With some of the nation’s highest rates of Alzheimer’s disease among Hispanic people and a population that’s more than 90% Mexican American, this would seem to be an easy place to recruit Hispanic patients to join studies. But that hasn’t been the case. When Maestre met with colleagues recently to analyze recruitment data, they realized that even here, where Spanish is the lingua franca and some towns have almost no white residents, 60% of patients interested in taking part in research are white — likely because they, too, were recruited from university health clinics. While her team still has recruited far more Hispanic people than other centers have, the numbers are clear evidence, said Maestre, that the standard method of enlisting people for Alzheimer’s research is broken. “It is the modus operandi of 99% of Alzheimer’s centers. High-risk patients get sick, go to the doctor, and get invited to participate,” she said. “It’s encouraged by the NIH because it’s cheaper, but this is why there are no Hispanics. You need to go to the population.”

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San Antonio Express-News - December 1, 2022

Texas must invest more resources in early childhood development, advocates say

Texas children aren’t getting the early support they need to succeed in school, according to data compiled by the advocacy group Texans Care for Children in a new online dashboard. The organization evaluated a number of metrics to assess children’s wellbeing, finding alarming rates of child hunger, lackluster child care options and obstacles to access quality health care across the state. All of those factors could negatively impact a child’s early years before kindergarten, a period crucial for brain development, advocates say. “There’s no one issue that, in a silo, is going to make it or break it for kids to succeed in school,” said Stephanie Rubin, the CEO of Texans Care for Children. “There has to be this whole range of positive early childhood experiences.”

The dashboard focuses on four key areas: health, household resources, adult-child interactions and early learning experiences. On health insurance, for example, Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured children despite being eligible for Medicaid. More than half of low-income children under age 6 do not live in an area that has adequate access to subsidized child care. And 7.5 percent of households with young children report moderate to severe child hunger, while the state ranks 46th nationwide in the percentage of children enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, according to the data. The site provides state legislators with dozens of recommendations to improve those measures, such as providing extra funding to child care providers, expanding access to home visiting programs and extending postpartum health coverage to a year after pregnancy. The Legislature last year lengthened postpartum Medicaid coverage to six months instead of two, though many advocates and lawmakers had asked for a full year. The longer proposal fell flat in the conservative state Senate.

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KVUE - December 1, 2022

Texas lawmaker files resolution to place constitutional amendment protecting abortion on ballot

On Tuesday, Texas State Rep. James Talarico filed a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment addressing reproductive care. The resolution would limit the Texas Legislature's ability to pass laws prohibiting abortion, with an amendment to the state constitution. HJR 56 was submitted on Nov. 29 and states the proposed amendment would be brought before Texas voters in November 2023 for them to decide on the matter. Talarico shared the news in a tweet, saying Republican states like Kansas and Kentucky have approved amendments in this manner. "In August, the people of Kansas voted to legalize abortion. In November, the people of Kentucky voted to legalize abortion. Let's make Texas next," he tweeted.

But in Texas, the constitutional amendment process is different. In order for amendments to get on a ballot and placed before voters, they have to go through the Legislature. It's not like other states, where if voters can gather enough signatures on a petition, the issue gets put on the ballot. The Texas House and Senate have to approve a measure and also approve a joint resolution with a two-thirds majority to put it on the ballot. The joint resolution is what decides the ballot language, and then the Legislature can call for an election on the amendment. The Texas Constitution has been amended more than 500 times in its 146-year history. Most recently, voters approved two amendments in May that dealt with property taxes. Rep. Talarico's abortion measure would need the approval of both the House and the Senate with a two-thirds vote, and only then could voters weigh in. With Republicans in the majority, it is unlikely to pass. The 88th Texas Legislative session begins on Jan. 10, 2023.

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Dallas Morning News - December 1, 2022

Communities Foundation of Texas president David Scullin to retire in March

After nearly six years at the helm of one of the largest foundations in Dallas-Forth Worth, David Scullin will step down in March from his role as chief executive officer and president of Communities Foundation of Texas. “I am proud of what we have achieved toward building a better community and strengthening Texas education,” Scullin said. Scullin joined the foundation in January 2017 after a 40-year career as a certified public accountant and in leadership roles at consulting firms Deloitte and Arthur Andersen. Under Scullin’s leadership, the foundation recorded a 118% increase in annual gifts, with more than $205 million donated this year, according to the foundation. Its grants to nonprofit organizations totaled over $165 million this year, a record for the foundation. “CFT is uniquely well-positioned to build on this momentum and continue this path, driving greater impact across our community, our state and on behalf of Texas students,” Scullin said in a statement.

Since its founding in 1953, the foundation has awarded more than $2.4 billion to efforts aimed at creating thriving communities in North Texas and beyond. It manages more than 1,200 philanthropic funds and is the seventh largest foundation in Texas. As president and CEO, Scullin grew the foundation’s staff by 76% to 139 employees, making it one of the largest of the nearly 800 community foundations across the country. “We congratulate him on a renowned and influential career and know that his profound impact on this organization and our work in the North Texas region will be apparent for many years to come,” said board chair Alfreda Norman in a statement. North Texas Giving Day, one of the foundation’s hallmark fundraising events in September, drove $62.6 million to more than 3,000 local nonprofits from more than 94,000 donors. Donations came from all 50 states and 40 countries. Giving day has raised more than $500 million over the past six years. The foundation is one of several local funders for The Dallas Morning News’ community-funded journalism initiatives, including teams reporting on education and the arts. The foundation is a fiscal sponsor for The News’ Education Lab and manages the initiative’s donations and how its dollars are spent.

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Dallas Morning News - December 1, 2022

James Glassman: COVID interrupts the march toward ending AIDS. What to do?

(James K. Glassman, who was founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, advises health care companies and nonprofits.) Not only has COVID-19 killed a million Americans, it also has slowed the bipartisan effort to close the books on another terrible virus, HIV/AIDS. In a thorough study released Oct. 27, the health research firm Milliman found that COVID-19 has had a “negative impact on HIV testing, diagnosis, and treatment initiation” across the United States. Earlier studies found a 68% to 97% reduction in weekly HIV tests between 2019 and 2020 and rising positivity rates as a result. UNAIDS, the U.N. organization responsible for fighting the disease worldwide, concluded in June that “progress against the HIV pandemic has faltered, resources have shrunk, and millions of lives are at risk as a result.” The new research found that the declines have continued well after the pandemic’s peak, indicating a “prolonged impact on overall HIV transmission and management.” That’s a serious setback on this, the 35th annual World AIDS Day.

For example, the Milliman study estimated that, between March 2020 and October 2021, some 33,000 Texans missed HIV testing because of COVID-19, a figure exceeded by just three other states. In the Fort Worth-Arlington-Grapevine metro area, testing dropped 37% — the fourth-worst record in the nation. Dallas fared much better on testing, but new treatment initiations dropped 20%. The setback is disheartening because the U.S. was making significant headway against the disease, thanks to cooperation across party lines and scientific breakthroughs. In 2019, the Trump administration launched the “Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative: A Plan for America,” an effort to reduce new HIV infections – running at 35,000 in 2019 – by 75% in five years and by 90% in 10 years. On last year’s World AIDS Day, President Biden released a new National HIV/AIDS Strategy with the aim of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030. HIV, or the human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system to make it vulnerable to all sorts of bacteria, viruses and other disease agents. HIV leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, which was a death sentence before the development of miraculous antiretroviral therapy about 30 years ago.

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KHOU - December 1, 2022

Texas Southern University police chief sues university to keep her job after lawyer says she was falsely accused of fraud

A lawyer for Texas Southern University Police Chief Mary Young said her client's job is now in jeopardy after she told officers to stop being “errand boys” for the university’s president. The attorney said police officers were acting as chauffeurs and personal attendants for TSU president Dr. Lesia L. Crumpton-Young, and when they were told to stop, the university moved to fire the chief. A Harris County judge will decide if Chief Young gets to keep her job for at least the immediate future. “This is just sour grapes by someone who probably wants their purses carried and a chauffeur around to pretend they have an entourage protecting them,” Chief Young’s attorney, Benjamin L. Hall III, said. “I think it’s ridiculous.” Lawyers for the university said she should be replaced now.

Hall said Chief Young has a work history that is squeaky clean. “This woman had an unblemished record at HPD, nearly two decades,” Hall said. “People were dying to have her as police chief.” Hall said everything was going fine for the chief until a few months ago. Chief Young was allegedly informed that her officers were performing duties clearly outside of their job descriptions for the university’s president. “What happened was, a board of regents trustee saw the police officers operating in a more personal manner with the TSU president,” Hall said. “They were acting like errand boys. Holding her purse, fixing and arranging her dress, and acting like chauffeurs as opposed to security.” Hall said Chief Young admonished the officers, telling them they weren’t to perform any more of these personal services for the school’s president. Not long after that, Hall said the chief was informed of an anonymous complaint. Lawyers for TSU said in a court hearing Wednesday the complainant claimed the chief committed fraud. Hall said the fraud allegation was nothing more than the chief allowing officers to work overtime because the police force is understaffed. Now, he said his client has a right to defend herself before she gets fired. But the several lawyers representing the university disagreed. The attorneys claimed that keeping the chief on staff could cause irreparable harm to the university.

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Fox Business - December 1, 2022

Texas State Security Board calls FTX founder to testify in Feb. 2023 hearing

The Texas State Security Board called on FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried to testify during a hearing scheduled for Feb. 2, 2023, to discuss whether to order a cease-and-desist order, fines and refunds. Bankman-Fried became a billionaire after creating FTX and gained popularity on social media while donating to causes addressing issues such as pandemics and climate change. He also gave big donations to Democrats and liberal PACs, making him a major player in Washington. His wealth was estimated to be $15.6 billion, but that all changed on Nov. 11, when FTX filed for bankruptcy.

On Nov. 22, the Texas State Securities Board scheduled a hearing with Bankman-Fried to discuss violations of the Securities Act and repercussions. According to the notice, Bankman-Fried is a founder of entities FTX US, FTX Capital Markets, LLC and West Realm Shires Services Inc. FTX US was purportedly regulated as a money services business and offered Texans the opportunity to deposit cryptocurrencies in accounts that generated a good return. It was also listed as a cryptocurrency exchange where Ethereum and Bitcoin could be purchased and sold. Going back to April 2022, Voyager Digital Holdings offered Texans the opportunity to invest in accounts that paid high interest and were regulated as securities in Texas, but the company allegedly violated the Securities Function as well, and a hearing is pending. Voyager filed for bankruptcy in July 2022, and in September 2022, FTX won an auction to purchase Voyager’s assets of approximately $51 million, plus an additional $60 million payment in earnouts and incentives, according to the filing. The purchase was objected to by the Texas Attorney General’s Office because FTX was being investigated for violations of the Securities Act for the EARN accounts, which are things like investment contracts and evidence of indebtedness. The state claims FTX violated the Securities Act by offering and selling securities in Texas that were not registered or permitted for sale in Texas, the filing read, and by offering and selling securities in Texas without registering as a dealer or agent.

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El Paso Matters - December 1, 2022

Here’s what to know about the DA’s resignation and what comes next

El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales is stepping down, almost halfway into her four-year term. Her resignation was announced Monday and is effective Dec. 14. Rosales serves as district attorney for El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties, known as the state’s 34th Judicial District. The family law attorney made history as the first woman elected to the office. The resignation caps off a months-long effort to oust her, spurred by defense attorney Omar Carmona’s Aug. 24 legal petition to remove the first-term district attorney from office for alleged incompetence and official misconduct. By resigning, Rosales avoided a March jury trial that would have determined her fate. Here’s what to know about what happens next:

Who will serve the remainder of Yvonne Rosales’ term? Because Rosales is a state employee, Gov. Greg Abbott will appoint someone to serve out the remainder of her term through December 2024. The Republican governor will almost certainly appoint a Republican for the seat, which has long been Democratically held. Nothing precludes the governor’s appointee from running for the seat in the March 2024 primary election. That election will determine each party’s candidate for the November 2024 general election. There is no definite time by which the governor must make the appointment. Once he does so, the Texas Senate must approve the appointment, though the appointee will serve until the Senate votes on confirmation. Abbott’s spokesperson has not returned an email seeking comment on his intended timeframe for naming Rosales’ successor. Who can be appointed the next El Paso DA? Abbott must choose a licensed attorney to carry out the remainder of Rosales’ term. That person must also be a registered Texas voter, have lived in Texas for more than a year and in the 34th Judicial District for at least six months, and be a practicing attorney. The person can not have been convicted of a felony.

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KVUE - December 1, 2022

Uvalde victims, survivors file $27 billion class action lawsuit

Attorneys hand-delivered a $27 billion lawsuit related to the shooting at Robb Elementary to Uvalde officials Wednesday. So far, the class-action suit does not involve immediate relatives of the 21 people who died on May 24. Instead, the plaintiffs are mostly parents of children who were on campus during the shooting, away from the classrooms the gunman attacked. A bus driver and cafeteria worker have also signed onto the suit. Attorneys indicated they'll likely take on more clients soon. The plaintiffs named specific law enforcement officials who responded to the incident, along with DPS head Steve McCraw. They're also suing the school district and former UCISD police chief Pete Arredondo.

The lawsuit states that surviving children experience nightmares, severe anxiety, emotional changes, anger, separation anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Attorneys say one child named in the suit obsessively ties strings to doorknobs, hoping to re-enforce them. The filing says another child becomes emotional when she leaves friends, worried she won't again see them. The suit says a number of children have developed fear of darkness, refuse to close doors, and experience nighttime incontinence. In all, nearly 30 children are named in the suit. "They're totally changed from what they were on May 23, the day before this incident," attorney Charles Bonner said. "They're just suffering and in misery." The suit blames the school district and various lawmen for alleged failures before, during, and after the shooting. Lawyers describe the police response to the tragedy as an "uncoordinated travesty of inaction that made certain the death of the young children and their teachers, kept treatment from some who would have survived otherwise, and added to the physical injuries and emotional suffering that will forever follow those who were impacted."

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Dallas Morning News - December 1, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Will new leader of Texas child welfare agency finally turn things around?

Running the state agency in charge of child welfare is one of the most difficult and high-profile jobs in state government. And it’s a job at which state leaders have repeatedly failed. A federal lawsuit against Texas’ foster care system endures more than a decade later. Three years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott tapped an outsider, Jaime Masters, to right the ship. Masters told the Houston Chronicle this week that fulfilling her agency’s mission is hard without a pandemic or social unrest or the Great Resignation — all of which she had to face. Masters is right. Yet Texas cannot keep gesturing at the waves and accept a Department of Family and Protective Services that can do nothing but tread water. Given Masters’ troubled tenure, we’re not surprised that Abbott decided to replace her with a new commissioner, seasoned state government veteran Stephanie Muth, who takes the helm in January.

The state Legislature, rattled by department scandals, has increased the agency’s funding over the years and backed a redesign of the foster care system that transfers child placement duties and support services in a geographic region to a lead private contractor. The rollout of the “community-based care” model was unsteady under Masters’ watch. The department is also struggling to hire qualified workers, a national problem. But its high turnover rate and the insights of former employees point to structural and cultural issues that can’t be dismissed simply as manifestations of the pandemic zeitgeist. For example, according to the agency’s own numbers, the turnover in the division in charge of investigating child abuse was 42%. A 21-year employee with the agency offered context when she resigned her job as a hiring specialist in a scathing letter that is now part of the foster care lawsuit court file. Monica Knighton wrote in August that only three of 14 people in her hiring team from a year earlier remained. She complained that managers demanded that she and her colleagues meet hiring quotas even at the expense of candidate quality. “We are using agency resources to hire, train and supervise new hires that aren’t going to stay or need to be terminated,” she wrote. “It all becomes a vicious cycle with tenured staff leaving because the new hires never become case assignable or leave cases behind that must now be worked by the remaining staff.”

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Dallas Morning News - December 1, 2022

Republicans headed for ‘civil war,’ says Trump ally and Dallas megachurch pastor Jeffress

Prominent Dallas evangelical leader Rev. Robert Jeffress, an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump, said he will hold off on endorsing the former president before the Republican party nomination. Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, called Trump “a great friend” and “our greatest president since Ronald Reagan” but he said he wants to stay out of Republican infighting during what he predicts will be a combative primary. “I think Republicans may be headed for civil war, and I see no reason to get involved,” Jeffress told The Dallas Morning News. “If he is the nominee, which I fully expect him to be, I will happily and enthusiastically support him.” Trump announced his candidacy for 2024 in mid-November from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where he said he wanted to “make America great and glorious again.” Jeffress was among the first prominent evangelical leaders to endorse Trump in 2016 and was credited with helping him win over the evangelical vote.

Trump held on to that support. In 2020, roughly 71% of white Americans who attended religious services at least once a month voted for Trump, according to the Pew Research Center. Jeffress has served as lead pastor of First Baptist, an influential Southern Baptist church in downtown Dallas with membership in the thousands, since 2007. But he has gained wider notoriety through his daily television and radio shows and on Fox News, where he is a regular contributor. During Trump’s presidency, Jeffress was a frequent visitor to the White House and was at Trump’s side for the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem in 2018. At White House Christmas parties, Trump often invited him to say a few words about the holiday and lead a prayer. Then last year, Trump attended a Christmas service at First Baptist at Jeffress’ invitation. But following two disappointing elections for Republicans in 2020 and 2022, Jeffress said the party must decide who can best take on President Joe Biden or another Democratic nominee. “In the end,” he said, “I think Republicans will turn to Donald Trump.”

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - December 1, 2022

Clayton Perry’s seat on San Antonio City Council seat will be filled Thursday by 1 of 3 finalists

City Council has shortlisted three applicants to fill District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry’s seat temporarily. Former District 10 City Councilman Mike Gallagher, retired AT&T employee Joe F. Garcia and Palo Alto College Professor Pauline A. Rubio will be interviewed by the council Thursday morning. All three stressed a desire to provide continuity in the district if selected. The finalist Thursday will serve until Perry returns from his leave of absence following his recent hit-and-run arrest or when the term expires. The temporary council member will be sworn-in and take office immediately if approved with eight or more votes or on Dec. 12 with fewer than eight votes.

City Clerk Debbie Racca-Sittre said that the shortlisted applicants will provide a written statement Thursday morning before council members interview them. There were 18 applicants when the deadline passed at 5 p.m. Monday, but one withdrew before Wednesday afternoon’s meeting. Most applicants gave three-minute statements before council members went into a closed-door meeting for approximately 40 minutes to decide who to shortlist. Gallagher, seen as the front-runner for the temporary position, served as Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s media relations director during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He is president of the Northeast Neighborhood Alliance, a coalition of neighborhood associations, and the Northern Hills Homeowners Association. “One of my main goals, if I am to be reappointed, would be to make sure we have continuity,” Gallagher told the council. “I have told the District 10 staff that I fully intend to keep everybody on board. I think that’s very important because I don’t want to lose any of the programs or projects or items that they’ve been working on behalf of the city and on behalf of District 10.”

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - December 1, 2022

How the oil sector came to embrace E15 after years of opposition

When a bipartisan group of midwestern senators introduced legislation this week allowing the nationwide sale of gasoline with higher concentrations of ethanol, they found an unusual partner in the American Petroleum Institute. Corn-based ethanol is a competitor to gasoline, and the oil industry's largest lobbying group had long opposed efforts to expand sales of the fuel known as E15, which contains 15 percent ethanol as opposed to the 10 percent in standard gasoline. But the calculus shifted in recent months after a group of midwestern governors moved earlier this year to open up year round sales of E15 in their states and increase demand for corn produced by their farmers. But those moves could also create a patchwork of fuel standards that would complicate the business of refining fuel.

Over the last several months, representatives from the oil sector began meeting with their counterparts in the ethanol industry to discuss a solution, said Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, which represents ethanol producers in the Midwest. "The thinking was we can continue to butt heads every summer or we can find a path forward that works for everyone," Cooper said. "It really boils down to the simple fact that uncertainty and shifting regulations and emergency waivers and all this ad hoc management, none of that is good for anyone." In 2019 former president Donald Trump ordered the EPA to loosen federal environmental standards, allowing the sale of E15 year round. That ended a longstanding policy that banned sale of the fuel in summer months when air pollution levels are higher, limiting widespread adoption of the fuel. Only two years later, the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ruled it was not within presidential authority to do so. Now oil and ethanol companies want to see that policy written into law. On Tuesday 12 midwestern senators, Democrats and Republicans alike, introduced a bill making the change, with a statement in support from the American Petroleum Institute. "This bipartisan legislation strengthens the reliability of the fuel supply chain and ensures American consumers have access to the fuels they depend on every day," said Will Hupman, vice president of downsteam policy at the institute. "We urge Congress to recognize the broad and diverse support that this bill has already received and work expeditiously to pass it into law."

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Washington Post - December 1, 2022

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s new reality

Marjorie Taylor Greene wanted everyone to know she was trying to be helpful. As Republicans feuded this month over who should lead their razor-thin House majority, the Georgia congresswoman stopped before a crowd of reporters at the U.S. Capitol and urged conservatives to unify behind her choice for speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). If they refused, Greene warned, the House gavel — that all-important prize needed to subpoena Hunter Biden and anyone else she and the GOP want to haul before the committees they will soon control — could fall in the wrong hands. Like, Democratic hands. Or even Liz Cheney’s hands. (Yes, it could happen, she insisted on a right-wing podcast.) “I will not allow that to happen,” Greene told the reporters, her tone suggesting potential danger.

“Has McCarthy promised you’ll be seated on committees next Congress?” one asked, a reference to the current Congress having stripped Greene of committee assignments because before her election to the House she had — among other things — questioned that a plane had hit the Pentagon on 9/11 and appeared to endorse social media posts about executing top Democrats. “Of course I’m going to be seated on committees!” the congresswoman said, her tone suddenly brightening. “Isn’t it silly for anyone to think I’m not going to be?” The midterms have left Greene in unfamiliar territory. House Republicans are back in power for the first time since she arrived in Washington, but just barely. Many Republicans have blamed her wing of the party — the election-denying, unabashed Trumpists — for dragging down what they had expected to be huge gains for the GOP. And yet the narrowness of the new Republican majority means that McCarthy can’t afford to alienate too many members if he wants to win the gavel when Congress convenes Jan. 3. That has created an opening for Greene, who spent her first term on Washington’s fringe, to attach herself to McCarthy and make her play for more influence, even as prominent Republicans are trying to nudge the party away from her political North Star, former president Donald Trump.

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Dallas Morning News and Pulitzer Center - December 1, 2022

Colleges spend thousands on AI to prevent suicides and shootings. Evidence that it works is scant.

W hen Social Sentinel representatives pitched their service to Florida’s Gulf Coast State College in 2018, they billed it as an innovative way to find threats of suicides and shootings posted online. But for the next two years, the service found nothing dangerous. One tweet notified the school about a nearby fishing tournament: “Check out the picture of some of the prizes you can win - like the spear fishing gun.” Another quoted the lyrics from a hit pop song from 2010: “Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now.” As police and administrators fielded a flood of alerts about posts that seemed to pose no threat, the company told the school in emails that it had eliminated more than half of all irrelevant alerts. Months later, they said the number had decreased by 80%. By January 2019, the company told schools its service flagged 90% fewer irrelevant posts. But at Gulf Coast, the problem continued. One alert from March 2019 read, “Hamburger Helper only works if the hamburger is ready to accept that it needs help.”

Gulf Coast was not the only college inundated with irrelevant alerts. Officials from 12 other colleges raised concerns about the performance of Social Sentinel in interviews and emails obtained by The Dallas Morning News and the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Only two of the 13, North Central Texas College and the University of Connecticut, still use the service. As schools and universities confront a worsening mental health crisis and an epidemic of mass shootings, Social Sentinel offers an attractive and low-cost way to keep students safe. But experts say the service also raises questions about whether the potential benefits are worth the tradeoffs on privacy. Records show Social Sentinel has been used by at least 38 colleges in the past seven years, including four in North Texas. The total number is likely far higher — The company’s co-founder wrote in an email that hundreds of colleges in 36 states used Social Sentinel. The News also analyzed more than 4,200 posts flagged by the service to four colleges from November 2015 to March 2019. None seem to contain any imminent, serious threat of violence or self-harm, according to a News analysis, which included all of the posts obtained through public records requests. Some schools contacted by The News said the service alerted them to students struggling with mental health issues. Those potential success stories were outweighed by complaints that the service flagged too many irrelevant tweets, interviews and emails between officials show. None of the schools could point to a student whose life was saved because of the service. Launched in 2015 by two former university police chiefs, Social Sentinel told colleges and K-12 schools around the country that its service scanned more than a billion social media posts across multiple platforms each day by comparing them to its “language of harm,” allowing officials to become aware of threats in near real-time.

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New York Times - December 1, 2022

After Xi’s coronation, a roar of discontent against his hard-line politics

Striding out to speak to the Chinese nation just under six weeks ago, Xi Jinping exuded regal dominance. He had just won what was likely to be another decade in power. His new team of subordinates stood out as unbending loyalists. A Communist Party congress had cemented his authoritarian agenda and promised a “new era” when China’s 1.4 billion people would stay in ever-loyal step with him and the party. But a nationwide surge of protest has sent a stunning sign that even after one decade under Mr. Xi’s rule, a small and mostly youthful part of the population dares to imagine, even demand, another China: more liberal, less controlling, politically freer. A murmur of dissent that has survived censorship, detentions and official damnation under Mr. Xi suddenly broke into a collective roar. “I can regain my faith in society and in a generation of youth,” Chen Min, an outspoken Chinese journalist and writer who goes by the pen name Xiao Shu, wrote in an essay this week.

“Now I’ve found grounds for my faith: Brainwashing can succeed, but ultimately its success has its limits.” Since the weekend, the police have galvanized to stamp out new protests. The authorities have been searching people’s phones, warning would-be protesters, interrogating detained participants and staging loud shows of force at potential protest sites. Vigilance will only grow after the death on Wednesday of Jiang Zemin, a former Chinese president who, more in retirement than in office, gained a political patina as a relatively mild leader. His memorial service will be held on Tuesday. Even so, the flash flood of defiance suggests that Mr. Xi’s next years in power could be more contested and turbulent than had seemed plausible even a month ago. His hold on the party elite seems unassailable; his hold over parts of society, especially the young, seems less sure. Members of a previously submerged minority opposed to Mr. Xi’s hard-line policies now know that they have allies, and that could make fresh opposition over other issues more likely. The government has tried to extinguish the current discontent by signaling on Thursday that the harshest and most arbitrary Covid prevention measures will be reined in. But supporters of the nascent protest movement showed that they wanted far more — to rein in the party’s authoritarian reach.

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Washington Post - December 1, 2022

Whirlpools, blackouts, predator fish: What happens on the Colorado River’s descent to ‘dead pool’

The first sign of serious trouble for the drought-stricken American Southwest could be a whirlpool. It could happen if the surface of Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir along the Colorado River that’s already a quarter of its former size, drops another 38 feet down the concrete face of the 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam here. At that point, the surface would be approaching the tops of eight underwater openings that allow river water to pass through the hydroelectric dam. The normally placid Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, could suddenly transform into something resembling a funnel, with water circling the openings, the dam’s operators say. If that happens, the massive turbines that generate electricity for 4.5 million people would have to shut down — after nearly 60 years of use — or risk destruction from air bubbles. The only outlet for Colorado River water from the dam would then be a set of smaller, deeper and rarely used bypass tubes with a far more limited ability to pass water downstream to the Grand Canyon and the cities and farms in Arizona, Nevada and California.

Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July. Worse, officials warn, is the possibility of an even more catastrophic event. That is if the water level falls all the way to the lowest holes, so only small amounts could pass through the dam. Such a scenario — called “dead pool” — would transform Glen Canyon Dam from something that regulates an artery of national importance into a hulking concrete plug corking the Colorado River. Anxiety about such outcomes has worsened this year as a long-running drought has intensified in the Southwest. Reservoirs and groundwater supplies across the region have fallen dramatically, and states and cities have faced restrictions on water use amid dwindling supplies. The Colorado River, which serves roughly 1 in 10 Americans, is the region’s most important waterway. The 1,450-mile river starts in the Colorado Rockies and ends in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. There are more than a dozen dams along the river, creating major reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead. On the way to such dire outcomes at Lake Powell — which federal officials have begun both planning for and working aggressively to avoid — scientists and dam operators say water temperatures in the Grand Canyon would hit a roller coaster, going frigid overnight and then heating up again, throwing the iconic ecosystem into turmoil. Lake Powell’s surface has already fallen 170 feet.

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Newsclips - November 30, 2022

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

‘We’re better prepared’: ERCOT, PUC confident Texas’ power grid will withstand the winter

The state’s power grid is ready for the upcoming winter season, but more “long term” solutions are needed to ensure energy reliability, according to the heads of the Public Utility Commission of Texas and ERCOT. ERCOT on Tuesday released its Seasonal Assessment of Resource Adequacy report for the winter, which includes estimates related to the state grid’s expected reliably through the cold season under different scenarios. In its report, released Tuesday, ERCOT estimated a peak energy demand of 67,398 megawatts during the winter months. The state’ main grid operator reported that about 87,300 megawatts is expected to be available during times of peak demand. Peter Lake, chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Pablo Vegas, CEO of ERCOT, explained at news conference Tuesday the changes implemented to grid operations following the deadly February 2021 winter storm, when millions of Texans lost power and hundreds of people died.

“In the past 18 months, because we’ve had these reforms in place, we have avoided emergency conditions or blackouts eight times — we know the reforms are working, we’ve seen the results and we’re going to continue with those reforms,” Lake said. Changes mandated increased weatherization standards for generators and enhanced inspections, Lake said. Lake also said the utility commission is working to improve communication between the natural gas industry, ERCOT and state agencies that contribute to grid reliability. “We’ve built out a map — a critical supply chain and critical infrastructure network — to make sure that the natural gas supply chain stays online at all times and to ensure that gas continues to flow to our generators,” Lake said. Lake also said ERCOT and the utility commission created a new “Firm Fuel Supply Service” that would add nearly 3,000 megawatts of power to “bolster and enhance” the grid going into winter. ERCOT’s forecast for the winter season states that enough energy resources would be available to handle expected energy demand.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

John Whitmire formally launches Houston mayoral bid with backing of Tilman Fertitta, GOP mega-donors

State Sen. John Whitmire formally launched his campaign for Houston mayor Tuesday evening with a fundraiser at the ritzy Post Oak Hotel, attended by dozens of the city’s political luminaries — including the hotel’s billionaire owner, Tilman Fertitta, and several other Republican mega-donors who are opening their checkbooks for Whitmire, a moderate Democrat. With almost a year to go until next year’s Nov. 7 election, Whitmire outlined his platform and kickstarted his campaign at Tuesday’s fundraiser. The host committee is filled with prominent lobbyists, business groups, labor unions, former elected officials and a mix of donors to both political parties. Whitmire said his campaign is motivated by his desire to solve a variety of problems that he has personally witnessed in Houston including homelessness, illegal dumping, rising crime and inefficient city services.

Among them, public safety is a driving issue for the candidate. Besides supporting law enforcement officers, he said he would also take a holistic approach to improving the criminal justice system including offering more resources to the court system and the crime lab. “I’m not going to get into squabbles with other elected officials about what the numbers are, but the bottom line is we have a crime issue in Houston, Harris County,” he said at the fundraiser. “We are not New York or Chicago. We fix our problems.” Whitmire said he is expecting resistance from people who do not want to see the changes that he is advocating for, including a more transparent government than how the city is currently operating. “There are people who like the status quo. There’s people that like the city is operating because they are profiting real well. They know if I’m mayor, it’s going to be very transparent, honest and play no favors,” he said. “I want you to tell the firemen and the policemen that help is on the way. I want you to tell Houstonians that help is on the way.” Fertitta, who also spoke at the event, praised Whitmire for his bipartisan perspective. “When you look in this room tonight, you see Republicans and Democrats and you see the whole city of Houston,” he said. “John looks at things the right way and isn’t partisan when it comes to doing the right thing.”

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Associated Press - November 30, 2022

Railroad unions accuse Biden of undercutting their efforts to protect workers

Railroad unions on Tuesday decried President Joe Biden’s call for Congress to intervene in their contract dispute, saying it undercuts their efforts to address workers’ quality of life concerns, but businesses stressed that it is crucial to avoid a strike next week that would devastate the economy. Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that lawmakers will be asked to vote this week to impose the terms of the deals the 12 unions agreed to before an original strike deadline in September, even though four of those unions representing more than half of the 115,000 rail workers rejected them. Eight other unions ratified the five-year deals that include 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses. Biden said he reluctantly agreed that it would be best to override the union votes because the potential damage to the economy would be too great. “Congress I think has to act to prevent it,” Biden said Tuesday. “It’s not an easy call but I think we have to do it. The economy’s at risk.”

Unions and worker groups have been pushing to improve the demanding schedules they say make it hard for workers to ever take a day off and persuade railroads to add paid sick time. They have threatened to strike if new agreements can’t be reached before a Dec. 9 deadline. “It is not enough to ‘share workers’ concerns’,” said the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division union said in a statement. “A call to Congress to act immediately to pass legislation that adopts tentative agreements that exclude paid sick leave ignores the railroad workers’ concerns.” The union is one of the four that rejected their deal. The railroads that include Fort Worth-based BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, Kansas City Southern and Norfolk Southern have refused to consider adding sick time because they didn’t want to spend any more on the labor deals than they agreed to in September. They have also argued that rail unions have agreed over the decades to forego paid sick time in favor of higher wages and stronger short-term disability benefits. Conductor Gabe Christenson, who is co-chairman of the Railroad Workers United coalition that includes workers from all the rail unions, said Biden and the Democrats are siding with the railroads over workers.

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NBC News - November 30, 2022

The inside story of Trump’s explosive dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes

Just two days before Thanksgiving, Donald Trump was planning to have a private, uneventful dinner with an old friend: Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. The two had arranged to break bread Tuesday night at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida after weeks of private phone conversations as Ye lost lucrative partnerships and became a mainstream cultural pariah for his antisemitic remarks, according to those familiar with the talks between the two men. But Trump may have been walking into a trap in Mar-a-Lago’s gilded halls — one that leveraged his own penchant for spectacle and showmanship against him. Ye arrived with three guests, including white nationalist and antisemite Nick Fuentes. Trump has since said he didn’t know Fuentes or his background when they dined together, a claim Fuentes confirmed in an interview, but others at the crowded members-only club figured out his identity.

News of the meeting prompted an avalanche of criticism, from some Republican rivals and allies of Trump and his then-week-old presidential campaign. In damage control, Trump’s campaign is now instituting new vetting procedures and gatekeeping efforts as details emerge about how Fuentes and the former president found themselves at the same table, according to two people briefed on the plans. The headline-grabbing attention on his guests — and therefore the subsequent fallout — were all but ensured by Trump before the dinner when he made a grand entrance at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 22 to meet his guests. One longtime Trump adviser, who didn’t want to go on the record criticizing his preferred candidate, said it was clear that Fuentes’ presence was part of a headline-grabbing setup. “The master troll got trolled,” the adviser said. “Kanye punked Trump.” As advisers to Trump have attempted to quell the backlash, some have insisted that the former president was essentially tricked by the rapper and his guests — a suspicion backed up by Milo Yiannopoulos, the anti-Trump, far-right provocateur who is now acting as a political adviser to Ye.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

He called Abbott’s border crackdown a waste of time and money. He’s also defending it in court.

For decades, David Schulman made a name for himself teaching attorneys to help poor Texans fight criminal prosecution. Can’t afford a forensic expert to prove your client’s innocence? “Dr. Dave,” as he sometimes calls himself, has tips for convincing the judge to pay for one. Think the law that your client broke is unconstitutional? Dr. Dave can help you persuade the judge to throw the case out. So it came as a surprise this year when Schulman, who is based in Austin, began working for Brent Smith, a local prosecutor in the remote border community of Kinney County. Smith is a fervent supporter of Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security initiative known as Operation Lone Star, which has led to the monthslong incarceration of thousands of migrants for minor criminal offenses.

It was a head-scratcher. Why would Smith, a Republican prosecutor in a rural, conservative county, hire a longtime criminal defense lawyer from a liberal city hundreds of miles away? Why would Schulman take the job? The unlikely professional alliance between Smith and Schulman, who both declined to comment for this story, illustrates the quandary that Abbott’s border crackdown has created for local governments along the Texas-Mexico border. The $2 billion-a-year endeavor has overwhelmed the courts in Kinney County, with a population of just 3,000 people and few qualified lawyers – or even judges – to handle the surge in cases. Before Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in 2021, two people worked in the Kinney County Attorney’s office: Smith, who was an oil and gas lawyer before getting elected to the post, and a secretary. Now a handful of national guardsmen work in his office as paralegals. Prosecutors based in El Paso and Pecos are pitching in, too. Then there is Schulman, a veteran appellate attorney who Smith hired to handle a flood of more complex legal challenges that have been filed against his office in recent months.

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Associated Press - November 30, 2022

Woman pleads guilty to role in slaying of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén

The only suspect arrested in connection with the killing of Vanessa Guillén at a Texas military base in 2020 pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges that included helping dispose of the soldier’s body near Fort Hood. Cecily Aguilar, 24, pleaded guilty in a federal court in Waco to one count of accessory to murder after the fact and three counts of making a false statement, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. A sentencing date has not yet been set, but Aguilar faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. According to federal and state authorities, Aguilar helped her boyfriend, Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, of Calumet City, Ill., kill, dismember and dispose of Guillén’s body in the woods. Robinson died by suicide on July 1, 2020, the day Guillén’s remains were found.

“Cecily Aguilar’s guilty plea today was another step on the long path toward justice for Vanessa, my client, and her courageous family,” attorney Natalie Khawam, who represents the Guillén family, said in a statement. Lewis Berray Gainor, Aguilar’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Guillén’s death and claims by her family that she was harassed and assaulted at the Texas base sparked a social-media movement of former and active service members who came forward about their own experiences using the hashtag #IAmVaessaGuillen. State and federal lawmakers passed legislation in 2021 honoring Guillén which removed some authority from commanders and gave survivors more options to report. Guillén had been declared missing since April 2020. According to a criminal complaint, Aguilar helped Robinson dispose of Guillén’s body after he bludgeoned her to death. Guillén’s family has said that they believe she was sexually harassed by Robinson. Aguilar, a civilian, later helped Robinson mutilate and hide her body, according to authorities. Two weeks after Guillén’s remains were found, Aguilar pleaded not guilty to three conspiracy charges. Authorities say Aguilar had confessed to her role, and a judge dismissed an attempt by her defense team to have the confession thrown out over claims that investigators did not first read her Miranda rights.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

Family of Uvalde massacre victim sues gun maker, gun store, more than 130 police officers

In a new federal lawsuit, the mother of Eliahna Torres, one of 19 children killed in the Robb Elementary School mass shooting on May 24, accuses scores of individuals, law enforcement agencies, local governments and the maker of the semi-automatic rifle used in the slayings of failing to protect the victims. Filed Monday in Del Rio, the suit described the last time Sandra Torres talked to her 10-year-old daughter, hours before the gunman entered the Uvalde school and opened fire in classrooms 111 and 112, killing 19 fourth-grade students and 2 teachers. Eliahna called her mother, a fleet driver, after waking up around 7:20 a.m. Her final youth softball game of the season was that evening, and Eliahna was nervous about making the all-star team.

Before hanging up, Eliahna told her mother that she loved her. She then put on ripped jeans, a white top and black Vans sneakers. Her grandmother took her to school for her third-to-last-day as a fourth grader in classroom 111. It was awards day. Eliahna attended the school awards ceremony in the morning, posing for a photo in front of pink balloons with some of her best friends. The girl returned to class later that morning. “Eliahna did not make it out of classroom 111,” the lawsuit says. “She was killed. Her family’s world was destroyed.” Sandra Torres brought the suit, along with Eliahna’s older brother, Eli Jr., and older sister, Justice. They are suing gun-maker Daniel Defense LLC of Georgia, the local Oasis Outback gun store where the shooter picked up his AR-15-style rifle, the Uvalde school district, dozens of officers who converged on the school, the city of Uvalde, Uvalde County and the local fire marshal. The 77-page lawsuit accuses many of the defendants of contributing to wrongful death, negligence and violating the constitutional rights of Eliahna and other victims at Robb Elementary. “Sometimes the only way you get justice is by filing a lawsuit,” said Blas Delgado of San Antonio, the lead lawyer for the Torres family. “There have been a lot of questions throughout the investigation, and we hope this also helps answer some of them.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Austin is weird, but this bill to dissolve it is a lot weirder

We thought the political silly season had ended with the midterm primaries. But alas, we forgot Texas’ biennial follies, the vast stack of bills filed in the days leading up to the next legislative session that range from significant to frivolous virtue signaling and political petulance. Once again, Austin is the center of weirdness, but not in the tongue-in-cheek way that celebrates the city’s quirkiness. Shortly before Thanksgiving Day, state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, filed measures that would dissolve Austin’s city government and create a District of Austin. In a tweet, Patterson said “elected officials in Austin have failed their city.” He blamed “record high taxes and crime” for pushing folks out of the city, and “San Francisco wannabe policies [that] force the state to come over the top on legislation each session.” Austin’s city politics frequently have left us scratching our heads in disbelief. However, Patterson’s proposal, which also requires voter approval of a constitutional amendment, would make a mockery of the legislative process, local control and small government.

City money, contracts, leases and property, including records, and debt would be transferred to the new entity that the lieutenant governor and speaker of the Texas House would oversee. If the past is prologue, then this bill, like a similar measure that withered unceremoniously in the 2019 legislative session, is rightly doomed for the waste bin. And if you’re one of Patterson’s constituents, you probably would prefer his attention be on issues closer to home in North Texas than on reorganizing Austin’s city government under state control. Texans are fiercely independent, imbued with a history of pushing back against perceived overreach from Washington, even to the point of various politicians flirting with secessionist rhetoric, and not always in jest. Moreover, small-government Republicans have long embraced local control until recent legislative sessions when state lawmakers have proposed measures to sharply limit cities’ ability to pass ordinances and enact policies. The tenets of small government, responsible spending, public safety and accountability should be reflected at city councils and the state Capitol. However, preempting and consolidating power at the statehouse does not serve small government conservatism or provide local accountability that comes when city residents can oust elected officials at the ballot box if they determine that those officials are out of touch or ineffective. And do we really think that the lieutenant governor and House speaker want to review sewer line extensions or ordinance amendments? Austin is weird, but Patterson’s bill to dissolve it is a lot weirder.

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KUT - November 30, 2022

Austin's program to sell homes to people affected by gentrification off to slow start

The City of Austin has not yet sold one of the two dozen homes it began marketing six months ago to low-income families affected by displacement and the influx of wealth into neighborhoods. This is the city’s first attempt at using its long-touted “preference policy,” approved by council members in 2018. Policies like these — also referred to as "right-to-return” policies — have been adopted in other cities, including Portland, Ore. Applicants need to prove they earn less than the typical household in Austin; that’s no more than $70,600 a year for a two-person household, according to numbers set by the federal government. Although the city is selling these 24 homes at a fraction of what they’d sell for on the traditional housing market, a program manager with the city’s Housing and Planning Department told KUT applicants have struggled to qualify for mortgages.

“Typically it's lack of credit, poor credit or lack of assets or their debt-to-income ratio,” Chanda Gaither said. Mortgage interest rates have also nearly doubled over the past year, making it harder for people to afford to buy homes. That has added another hurdle, Gaither said, but it's not the core of the problem. "When rates go up, it's going to make it harder. But lack of assets and sometimes lack of credit — maybe they don't have bad credit, but lack of credit — those factors are always there," she said. Gaither said the city is now asking people who otherwise qualify for the program to take homeownership courses in the hopes they can qualify for mortgages soon. She said she hopes to have someone under contract for the first home next month. That home — a three-bedroom on Linden Street in East Austin — will go for $221,000, a far cry from the city’s median sales price of $555,000. The city is able to sell these homes for much less because it is operating them as community land trusts, a model where the buyer owns the house but not the land it sits on. Those applying will get priority if they can prove they have either lived or used to live in a gentrifying neighborhood or have been displaced by a natural disaster or government action, such as eminent domain.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

Texas gymnastics coach arrested, faces child sex abuse allegations dating to 1983 in Houston area

Anne Elrod Whitney had only recently joined a girls gymnastics team at Rowland’s Northwest when she was invited to attend a team sleepover at the gym’s building in northwest Houston. It was 1983. She was 10. What should have been a safe, fun-filled event in a familiar space instead became corrupted. The sleepover had the atmosphere of a school lock-in with loosely organized games, sleeping bags splayed across the floor, and pizza ordered in for dinner. Kids played on the gym equipment normally reserved for rigorous instruction. Some people propped blue vinyl gym mats up against the wall to construct lean-to forts.

At some point, Whitney found herself alone in one of the forts with Mike Spiller, whom she knew as a charismatic man and one of the gym’s primary coaches, out of sight between the mats and the wall. There, she says, Spiller snuggled with her on top of sleeping bags and began massaging her thighs and hip while commenting on her muscles. Then Spiller put his hand inside Whitney’s underwear and massaged the outside of her vagina. “I actually, at that time, didn't know anything bad had happened,” says Whitney, who is now 49 and resides in Pennsylvania. “I think I liked to be somebody's favorite, you know? And I know now that's the thing that happens to a lot of kids where, you know, there's (seeking) approval in a relationship, and even affection, from somebody that you care about.” Nearly 40 years later, on Nov. 18 of this year, Spiller turned himself in after police in Boerne put out a warrant for his arrest, according to a law enforcement incident report. He was booked into the Kendall County jail, where he remains on a bond of $100,000. On Tuesday morning, a Kendall County grand jury returned an indictment against Spiller, 75, on the felony charge of indecency with a child. Law enforcement officials say they are aware of at least five victims who say Spiller abused them. Some of the allegations date to more than 20 years ago.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

First-ever Muslims elected to Texas House reflect on their wins: 'A very proud moment.'

As early voting began this year, Democratic Texas House candidate Dr. Suleman Lalani wasn’t facing attacks from his opponent's campaign based on his politics or policy preferences, nor any dug-up dirty laundry or past statements. The vitriol was tied to Lalani's religion. Republican Dan Mathews' campaign touted his service as a "Christian minister" in an automated text message that many Fort Bend County voters received, calling for them to stop Lalani from becoming "the First MUSLIM" in Texas state government. Lalani took a moment before reacting, consulting with family members and trusted mentors. He recalled former First Lady Michelle Obama’s catchphrase: “When they go low, we go high.”

Then he told his supporters on Twitter: “Our opponent is hoping Fort Bend voters choose based on fear and hate. Fort Bend is a loving coalition of races, religions, and ethnicities. Together we win over hate.” Two weeks later, he and another Pakistani-American Democrat made history. Lalani and Salman Bhojani in Tarrant County’s 92nd District were elected to be the first Muslims and South Asians to serve in the Texas Legislature. For Bhojani, 42, it was a full-circle moment to be elected to the Texas House seat once held by Jonathan Stickland, a Republican who had bullied him in a 2018 race for Euless City Council, his first political campaign. In a Facebook post titled “EULESS RESIDENTS BEWARE,” Stickland identified Bhojani as a Muslim and included a clip of local Boy Scout troop members leading an invocation prayer from the Quran at a council meeting. That was "thanks to Mr. Bhojani,” whose “ideas for our community would scare a majority of our residents," the post read. In January, Bhojani will be the first person of color to represent Texas House District 92, in the state's largest urban county that's still Republican. “I’m humbled by that,” Bhohani said. “There may be so many people out there who may be seeing that example and saying, yes, someone can do it in a very conservative area and upholding to the Muslim values … That’s what my effort has always been: to be that example.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

Dallas area megachurch responds to social media backlash for extravagant Christmas production

Prestonwood Baptist Church's annual Christmas production, "The Gift of Christmas," is an extravagant event that features flying angels, live animals, state-of-the-art technology, and a nearly 1,000-member cast and choir. Although the Dallas area megachurch is expecting thousands of people to attend the multi-day production, a viral TikTok of its rehearsal attracted backlash online, drawing many comments that criticized the scope of Prestonwood's production value. "Tell me the preacher has a private jet without telling me the preacher has a private jet," one user wrote. Others called for the church to be taxed.

A spokesperson for Prestonwood said that "The Gift of Christmas" is a longtime tradition in the DFW Metroplex and called the online backlash "unfortunate." "For more than a quarter of a century, Prestonwood Baptist Church has pulled out all the stops in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ during the Christmas season," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "We are grateful to have the opportunity to share this grand celebration of our Savior with as many as 75,000 people each year through 'The Gift of Christmas.'" "At Prestonwood, we believe Jesus deserves our absolute best, especially at Christmas. It's unfortunate that the perennial American tradition of the church Christmas program now draws hateful ire from some. We pray that they, too, may come to know the joy of Christmas and the love of our Savior." Tickets for the production range from $19 to $59 for a premium ticket package, that includes reserved parking and premium seating. According to "The Gift of Christmas" website, the heart of the production is the standard story of Christmas with the manger, shepherds, Joseph and Mary and the Christ Child. Inside the 100-minute production, audiences will see "eye-popping virtual scenery," with elaborate staging and lighting, a massive LED video wall, a 50-piece orchestra and more.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

Houston may avoid ‘tripledemic,’ but COVID poised for another winter wave

A collision of three respiratory viruses — COVID-19, influenza and RSV — may not hit Houston as severely as other parts of the country, experts say, but pediatric hospitals are still preparing for a busy winter season with at least some virus overlap. Texas Medical Center data published Tuesday shows early signs of another COVID wave, with an uptick in hospitalizations and the positivity rate, which jumped from 3.2 percent to 5 percent last week. COVID wastewater surveillance also offers a grim outlook, as the viral load rose for the fifth straight week, to 196 percent of the baseline set in July 2020. Newer variants make it difficult to predict the size and severity of the next wave of infections, experts say.

Meanwhile, RSV and flu, two respiratory viruses that commonly infect children, continue to circulate at high levels, weeks after patients began filling beds and prolonging wait times in Houston pediatric hospitals. Despite the ongoing strain, infectious disease experts believe Houston can avoid a so-called “tripledemic,” in which three simultaneous virus surges overwhelm hospital systems. Statewide surveillance shows both RSV and flu have either peaked or declined. “At least for us, here in Houston, the story that’s being written is we had this very early peak of flu and RSV and they’re starting to come down,” said Dr. Wesley Long, the medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist. “But then we’re probably going to see a winter speed bump of COVID.” Dr. Melanie Kitagawa, medical director of the Texas Children's Hospital pediatric ICU, said there are roughly 50 children admitted to Texas Children’s with RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which usually causes mild cold-like symptoms but can be severe for infants and older adults. That number has remained steady for at least a month, but flu admissions have been decreasing across the hospital system, she said.

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KERA - November 30, 2022

Plano city council got campaign contributions from PAC for group that supports short-term rentals

Plano city council members have something in common — since November 2021, their biggest campaign contributions have all come from the PAC for a real estate advocacy group that strongly supports short-term rental owners. A KERA review of campaign finance reports found that the Texas Realtors Political Action Committee (TREPAC) donated $1,000 to all of the Plano city council members’ campaign funds at the end of 2021 or in early 2022 — and $2,000 to Mayor John Muns. For all but one council member, it was the only contribution listed on their campaign finance reports during that time. The last reports were submitted in July. Four of the council members, Rick Grady, Shelby Williams, Julie Holmer and Maria Tu, are up for reelection in May 2023.

TREPAC donated to their campaigns at the end of November 2021. Muns, who received $2,000 from TREPAC in December of last year, isn’t up for reelection until 2025. TREPAC also donated $1,000 to the rest of the council members’ campaign funds. Those members can’t run for reelection because of term limits — city council members in Plano are limited to two consecutive four-year terms. Council Members Rick Smith, Kayci Prince and Anthony Ricciardelli finish their second terms in May 2025. Rick Grady’s ends in 2023. The donations came at a time when the Plano City Council has been grappling with complaints about short-term rentals and looking at ways to regulate them. Items related to short-term rentals have appeared on Plano City Council agendas at least since 2018. TREPAC regularly has donated to elected city officials in other North Texas communities. It donated $7,500 each to three Dallas city council members’ campaigns in June 2022, a total of $11,000 to four Arlington representatives’ campaigns in 2019, and a total of $3,000 to three Grapevine council members in 2021 and 2022. Bill France is the leader of the Plano chapter of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition, a local group that wants to ban short-term rentals in residential areas. He said the donations from TREPAC are a conflict of interest.

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Houston Chronicle - November 30, 2022

Experts: Why it’s difficult to prosecute a police officer, as James Brennand faces criminal charges

As ex-San Antonio police officer James Brennand awaits a possible trial, criminal justice experts say prosecutors likely will have a difficult time convicting the man who shot 17-year-old Erik Cantu of a crime. And they said doing so would have been virtually impossible years ago, before body cameras became standard equipment for officers. Sam Walker, a criminology and criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, said prosecutors generally must prove an officer’s guilt overwhelmingly to convince a jury — because many jurors are loath to put an officer in jail. It’s rare for an officer to be sentenced for actions committed on duty. Notwithstanding such hurdles, the San Antonio Police Department, which fired Brennand shortly after the shooting, arrested him Oct. 11 on two counts of aggravated assault by a public servant. The next morning, he was released on $200,000 bail. A pretrial hearing had been set for this week but was postponed to an undetermined date.

About 10:45 p.m. Oct. 2, Brennand was responding to a disturbance at a McDonald’s in the 11700 block of Blanco when he observed Cantu’s car in the parking lot. Although Cantu was not involved in the disturbance, Brennand recognized the maroon BMW sedan as one that he’d tried to pull over the night before but that drove away. He called for backup, but Brennand — a rookie who’d been on the force for only seven months — did not wait for other officers to arrive before he opened the driver-side door to Cantu’s car and ordered the teen to get out, body camera footage shows. Instead of complying, Cantu drove backward for several feet and then turned toward the parking lot’s exit and drove away — as Brennand fired several shots into the car, striking Cantu. The wounded teen was found about a block away from the parking lot and taken to University Hospital, where he remained in critical condition and on a ventilator for several weeks. He was recently discharged and is recovering at home. In recent years, smartphones and body camera footage have helped bring police accused of wrongdoing to justice. In May 2020, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was captured on smartphone video with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, who died during the incident. The video went viral, and Chauvin was convicted of murder in April 2021.

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Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

Stephen F. Austin University set to join UT System next year

Stephen F. Austin State University’s regents voted in a 8-1 decision on Tuesday to accept the system’s offer for affiliation. The board member who opposed expressed worries that the system would eventually change the university name. The East Texas university in Nacogdoches had also been courted by the Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas State systems. SFA officials tasked with reviewing offers found that joining any of the four systems would help the university grow.

Officials told KXAN that the system wouldn’t require changes to the university’s name, mascot and colors. Additional school funding drove the regents’ decision. UT System’s offer includes additional funding for scholarships, the forestry program and mental health resources, as well as $5.5 million for staff salaries and access to its online library system, according to its response to a series of questions presented by students, faculty and staff. Each system was asked to respond to the questionnaire. The UT System also benefits from money from the state’s Permanent University Fund, which is revenue largely based on oil and gas from land in West Texas. Lawmakers must approve legislation next year to allow for the incorporation of the university. The legislative session starts on Jan. 10 and is set to address a range of education issues. If successful, SFA would join more than a dozen academic and health institutions, including UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington and the UT Southwestern Medical Center. UT institutions enrolled a record-high of 244,276 students this fall. The system has an operating budget of $25.2 billion.

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Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

Ted Cruz wants Americans to know if their refrigerator might be watching them

Many common household appliances now come equipped with cameras, microphones and WiFi capabilities that can order groceries when the eggs are almost gone or automatically record a video of the delicious salmon cooking on the stove. But such modern capabilities raise questions about the potential for covert surveillance and leaks of sensitive information. It’s something to consider when hunting for holiday deals on a new smart TV or high-tech dishwasher. Nobody wants to discover they’re being watched while dancing around the kitchen belting out Taylor Swift tunes into a spatula, but there are more serious data breaches that could happen as a result of an ever more interconnected world. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has teamed up with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to introduce legislation intended to at least make Americans aware of the potential for spying when they purchase certain products.

Their legislation would require the Federal Trade Commission to create disclosure guidelines for products such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and dishwashers that feature not-obvious audio and visual recording components. According to the senators, many people don’t realize their appliances have the ability to record and transmit data without them ever knowing. “American consumers should be aware when their appliances and everyday tech products have the capability to record them through microphones and cameras – let alone the ability to transmit through Wi-Fi,” Cruz said in a press release announcing the bill introduction. The concerns over audio and visual surveillance are part of a larger set of privacy concerns surrounding the “internet of things.” That phrase refers to the increasing array of everyday products networked together from your car to your home thermostat. Those connections provide convenience and ease of use, allowing people to bump up their air conditioning before they arrive home. But they also raise questions about information security, with a host of examples over the years where seemingly innocuous functions were exploited. Hackers figured out how to use a smart fridge to steal the owner’s gmail credentials, according to The Register. WiFi-enabled barbies record and transmit words that come literally from the mouths of babes and can be hacked to share sensitive information.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

Allen ISD moves forward with zoning changes; trustee quits, walks out after vote

After dozens of parents spoke out about the district’s proposed rezoning plan, Allen ISD trustees approved the plan Monday night in a 6-1 vote. The sole vote against the proposal came from trustee Vatsa Ramanathan, who resigned on the spot and walked out after the vote. As the district tries to balance overcrowding on the city’s west side and slow enrollments in the east, district officials are trying to move quickly because of financial woes and a state mandate to provide daylong kindergarten. The new boundaries will close George J. Anderson Elementary and Rountree Elementary schools. Anderson Elementary will be repurposed to an early childhood campus, and Rountree would be used for future noninstructional use. Across the school district, more than 3,000 elementary seats are open and more than 75% of those are in the eastern part of the district. Some parents questioned the need to close schools and suggested moving students from the west to the east where schools have more capacity.

“By all appearances this plan has been designed to spare high-income neighborhoods on the west side at the expense of the east side … our students are not treated fairly based on their social economic status, special education status and geographical status,” said Shanna Coulter. Chris Arnell reminded trustees of their power and responsibility. “That power comes with an equal amount of responsibility. Everyone is here tonight because the proposal you are about to vote on is not in our children’s best interest,” Arnell said. “Commonsense tells us that closing two elementary schools in the middle of an overcrowding problem can only make the problem worse. You don’t fix overcrowding by closing schools.” Ramanathan, who works as a data analyst, said he has looked at the information and it doesn’t make sense. He simplified the capacity problem by comparing it to airport suitcases at check-in. “You have two bags. One weighs 60 pounds, and one weighs 40 pounds. They put it on the scale and tell you the 60 pound is overweight because 50 pounds is the limit. What do I do? Take 10 pounds out of the 60-pound suitcase and put it on the 40-pound suitcase and it makes it even,” he said.

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Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

Fort Worth provides incentives for $150 million manufacturing plant

Fort Worth has agreed to provide up to $2 million in incentives to land a new manufacturing plant. Coppell-based Beauty Manufacturing Solutions Corp, plans to spend $150 million to put the new facility in the AllianceTexas development in North Fort Worth The 445,870-square-foot plant will employ more than 250 people and will be located at 5650 Alliance Gateway Freeway. The Fort Worth plant will operate in addition to Beauty Manufacturing’s existing facility in Coppell. The company produces a variety products for brands including Naterra, L’Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Mary Kay, Unilever and Tree Hut.

“The growth and success of companies, especially in manufacturing, need great partnerships and great people,” Beauty Manufacturing CEO Peter Song said in a statement. “This site will merge new technologies in manufacturing along with the supporting infrastructure and ambitions from the city and our company.” Fort Worth’s city council agreed to provide a 10-year, 70% property tax abatement to the firm. “Beauty Manufacturing Solutions Corp.’s presence brings another innovation-driven, future-focused company to Fort Worth while also building upon our city’s historic strengths in advanced manufacturing,” Robert Sturns, director of economic development for the city of Fort Worth, said in a statement. Beauty Manufacturing is a century-old company that has its headquarters near DFW International Airport at 1250 Freeport Parkway in Coppell. The company is leasing the industrial building from developer Hillwood.

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 30, 2022

Supreme Court appears divided in Texas case over Biden immigration policies

The Biden administration painted a bleak picture Tuesday of what would happen if the Supreme Court sides with Texas and rules that federal laws trump prosecutorial discretion in certain immigration enforcement cases. Texas is leading a legal challenge to guidelines issued last year by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas seeking to prioritize certain categories of individuals for enforcement. Those guidelines run afoul of federal laws declaring the government “shall” detain certain individuals in the country illegally, including those convicted of certain felonies or those with final removal orders, according to Texas and others backing the challenge. During oral arguments in the case Tuesday, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices it is impossible as a practical matter for the Department of Homeland Security to comply with all of the “shall” clauses written into the country’s immigration laws.

If the court rules it must treat those clauses as binding mandates with no discretion, she said, it would be destabilizing to the system. Enforcement officials would be required to take actions against any individuals they encounter who might be subject to the mandates, she said. “And that means we wouldn’t have the resources or ability to go after those individuals who are threats to public safety, national security and border security,” Prelogar said. “That is a senseless way to run an immigration enforcement system and it is not the statute that Congress enacted.” Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone countered that talk about resource limitations and prosecutorial discretion is beside the point. The states challenging the guidelines are not claiming the government must remove everyone in the country illegally, Stone said, but rather a “small subset of this nation’s illegal aliens” who are specifically and clearly identified in the law. Such arguments appeared to be welcomed by some of the right-leaning members of the court. Chief Justice John Roberts pressed Prelogar on whether “shall” should mean “shall” regardless of the practicality involved. “Now it’s our job to say what the law is, not whether or not it can be possibly implemented or whether there are difficulties there,” Roberts said. “And I don’t think we should change that responsibility just because Congress and the executive can’t agree on something that’s possible to address this ... problem. I don’t think we should let them off the hook.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 30, 2022

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act, rejecting GOP efforts to block the bill

The Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act late Tuesday, strengthening federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriage. Ahead of the final passage, the Senate voted on three Republican amendments, including one co-sponsored by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. All three of those measures failed. The final bill passed 61 to 36, with Cruz and Texas Sen. John Cornyn voting against the measure but in support of the three amendments. Following the Senate vote, the amended bill will return to the U.S. House for a vote before going to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it. The Respect for Marriage Act was originally introduced in the House in July with 47 Republicans, including San Antonio Rep. Tony Gonzales, joining Democrats to pass the bill. The bill strengthens protections for same-sex and interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize legal marriages performed in other states. It also repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

“With today’s bipartisan Senate passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, the United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love,” Biden said in a statement shortly after the vote. “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled.” Johnathan Gooch, communications director at LGBTQ rights group Equality Texas, said the vote is important and shows a commitment from Congress to protect LGBTQ people that will energize Texas advocates. “Family is a Texas value,” Gooch said. “I think knowing that people are secure in their families and their marriages is incredibly valuable to all Texans.” Congress intensified the push for marriage equality protections after remarks by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas urging justices to reconsider other due process precedents such as Obergefell vs. Hodges, the landmark 2015 ruling that guaranteed same-sex marriage rights nationwide. Gooch added the bill’s passage is especially encouraging for Texans who are witnessing legal and political attacks on the LGBTQ community from some state Republicans.

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NBC News - November 30, 2022

Jiang Zemin, Chinese leader who oversaw its global rise, dies at 96

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who led China in the years after the Tiananmen Square protests and oversaw its rise as a global economic power, died in Shanghai on Wednesday, according to China’s state-run news agency. He was 96. The cause was leukemia and multiple organ failure, the ruling Communist Party said in an announcement that was carried by Xinhua. In a letter to the party, the military and the Chinese public, Xinhua said, officials described Jiang as “a great Marxist, a great proletarian revolutionary, statesman, military strategist and diplomat, a long-tested communist fighter, and an outstanding leader of the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Nicknamed "The Toad," Jiang was born Aug. 17, 1926, to a middle-class family in Yangzhou, an eastern city that was historically one of the wealthiest in China. After graduating from university with an engineering degree in 1947, he worked at state-controlled factories, including one that made soap. His career was interrupted by the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, part of which he spent doing farm labor like many other officials. In 1985, Jiang became mayor and later party secretary of Shanghai, China’s most populous city. He was preparing to retire when a pro-democracy political movement emerged in the spring of 1989, ending in the June 3-4 massacre of protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Jiang initially served as a transitional figure, becoming general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party — China’s most powerful position — weeks after the massacre. His surprise appointment was a compromise in a divided party after his predecessor, Zhao Ziyang, was ousted over his support for the protesters. By the early 1990s Jiang had consolidated power, with crucial support from his Shanghai-based party faction and the 2.3 million-member People’s Liberation Army.

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CNN - November 30, 2022

Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker described himself as living in Texas during 2022 campaign speech

Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, facing renewed and growing questions about his residency in the final week of the runoff campaign, described himself during a campaign speech in January as living in Texas and said he decided to run for Georgia’s Senate seat while at his Texas “home,” according to a CNN KFile review of his campaign speeches. Georgia Democrats have called for an investigation by state officials into Walker’s residency after CNN’s KFile reported last week that Walker was getting a tax break in Texas intended for a primary residence, possibly running afoul of Texas tax law and some rules for establishing Georgia residency for voting and running for office. “I live in Texas,” Walker said in January of this year, when speaking to University of Georgia College Republicans. Walker was criticizing Democrats for not visiting the border when he made the comments. “I went down to the border off and on sometimes,” he said.

Earlier in the speech, Walker said he decided to run for Georgia’s Senate seat while at his Texas home after seeing the country divided. “Everyone asks me, why did I decide to run for a Senate seat? Because to be honest with you, this is never something I ever, ever, ever thought in my life I’d ever do,” said Walker. “And that’s the honest truth. As I was sitting in my home in Texas, I was sitting in my home in Texas, and I was seeing what was going on in this country. I was seeing what was going on in this country with how they were trying to divide people.” The Georgia Republican is heading into a runoff election against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock on December 6. Walker and his campaign have so far not commented to CNN or others on the reporting of the tax break or questions about his residency. On Monday, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that Georgia authorities have been urged in a complaint to investigate Walker’s residency. Georgia Democrats in a statement called for an immediate investigation of Walker’s residency, and Congresswoman Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, also asked authorities to see if Walker lied about living in Georgia. “The Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the Georgia Attorney General’s office must immediately investigate whether Herschel Walker lied about being a Georgia resident,” Williams said.

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Associated Press - November 30, 2022

Oath Keepers' Rhodes guilty of Jan. 6 seditious conspiracy

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted Tuesday of seditious conspiracy for a violent plot to overturn President Joe Biden’s election, handing the Justice Department a major victory in its massive prosecution of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. A Washington, D.C., jury found Rhodes guilty of sedition after three days of deliberations in the nearly two-month-long trial that showcased the far-right extremist group’s efforts to keep Republican Donald Trump in the White House at all costs. Rhodes was acquitted of two other conspiracy charges. A co-defendant — Kelly Meggs, who led the antigovernment group's Florida chapter — was also convicted of seditious conspiracy, while three other associates were cleared of that charge. Jurors found all five defendants guilty of obstruction of an official proceeding: Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.

The verdict, while mixed, marks a significant milestone for the Justice Department and is likely to clear the path for prosecutors to move ahead at full steam in upcoming trials of other extremists accused of sedition. Rhodes and Meggs are the first people in nearly three decades to be found guilty at trial of seditious conspiracy — a rarely used Civil War-era charge that can be difficult to prove. The offense calls for up to 20 years behind bars. It could embolden investigators, whose work has expanded beyond those who attacked the Capitol to focus on others linked to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently named a veteran prosecutor, Jack Smith, to serve as special counsel to oversee key aspects of a probe into efforts to subvert the election as well as a separate investigation into the retention of classified documents at Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

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Yahoo - November 30, 2022

Alexander Nazaryan: How antisemitism became an American crisis

(Alexander Nazaryan is Yahoo's senior White House correspondent.) Jews have always been fleeing, but America was the country from which Jews would never have to flee. They fled from Eastern Europe, Germany and the Soviet Union (as my family did in the 1980s). They settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and in West Philadelphia. They opened delis in Denver and Indianapolis. They went to Ivy League colleges and played in the NFL. And now, suddenly, after all this time, after so many waves of assimilation and acceptance, after “Seinfeld” and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, many American Jews have come to feel like strangers in their own home. “America was our promised land but we might not be safe here anymore,” the artist Deborah Kass recently wrote, expressing a sentiment that is increasingly voiced at synagogues, where armed guards are now commonplace, and at Shabbat tables, where younger American Jews are suddenly facing anxieties that had supposedly been expunged several generations ago.

For many Jews, it adds up to the all-too-familiar feeling of being caught, in this case, between a progressive left with a growing antipathy to Israel and a hardening conservative movement whose xenophobic tendencies spell obvious trouble. During a recent High Holidays sermon, a rabbi confronted congregants at his Washington, D.C., synagogue with a forthright question: “How many people in the last few years have been at a dining room conversation where the conversation has turned to where might we move? How many of us?” Since then, the question has taken on even more urgency. Last week, having just announced his third run for president, former President Donald Trump hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at his South Florida estate with two of the most prominent antisemites in the United States: white nationalist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and rapper-entrepreneur Kanye West. Trump denied knowing Fuentes’s lurid background, though the 24-year-old would-be fascist is a verified user on Trump’s own Truth Social network and has long traveled in the same far-right circles from which the former president draws some of his support. As for West, there is no doubt that Trump knows of the rapper’s antisemitic tirades, which led to the severing of most of his professional relationships.

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Newsclips - November 29, 2022

Lead Stories

Associated Press - November 29, 2022

Biden calls on Congress to head off potential rail strike

President Joe Biden on Monday asked Congress to intervene and block a railroad strike before next month’s deadline in the stalled contract talks, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers would take up legislation this week to impose the deal that unions agreed to in September. “Let me be clear: a rail shutdown would devastate our economy,” Biden said in a statement. “Without freight rail, many U.S. industries would shut down.” In a statement, Pelosi said: “We are reluctant to bypass the standard ratification process for the Tentative Agreement — but we must act to prevent a catastrophic nationwide rail strike, which would grind our economy to a halt.” Pelosi said the House would not change the terms of the September agreement, which would challenge the Senate to approve the House bill without changes.

The September agreement that Biden and Pelosi are calling for is a slight improvement over what the board of arbitrators recommended in the summer. The September agreement added three unpaid days off a year for engineers and conductors to tend to medical appointments as long as they scheduled them at least 30 days in advance. The railroads also promised in September not to penalize workers who are hospitalized and to negotiate further with the unions after the contract is approved about improving the regular scheduling of days off. Hundreds of business groups had been urging Congress and the president to step into the deadlocked contract talk and prevent a strike. Both the unions and railroads have been lobbying Congress while contract talks continue. If Congress acts, it will end talks between the railroads and four rail unions that rejected their deals Biden helped broker before the original strike deadline in September. Eight other unions have approved their five-year deals with the railroads and are in the process of getting back pay for their workers for the 24% raises that are retroactive to 2020.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2022

With record profits and rising stock prices, the oil and gas industry has its swagger back — for now

Another quarter of record profits. Another quarter of rising stock prices. Another quarter of happy investors. The oil and gas industry, riding the highest prices in nearly a decade, has its swagger back — once again the indispensable player in a world desperate for energy. After years on the defensive as a fading industry that could no longer deliver for shareholders, the oil and gas sector is capitalizing on its advantage, showering investors with returns, pressing its policy agenda in Washington and rebuffing the entreaties of President Joe Biden to significantly increase production to ease high prices. But, analysts say, oil companies should enjoy the moment. As executives bask in the glow of short-term profits — much of them driven by Russia’s war against Ukraine — the industry faces the same long-term challenges that have been threatening its future in recent years.

Despite generating some $1.4 trillion in free cash this year, companies have invested precious little of it to position themselves for the ongoing transition in which fossil fuels play a smaller role in the world’s energy mix. Oil companies may have little choice but to favor the short term as they try to win over and hold skeptical investors with generous payouts. But the strategy has long-term implications for Texas, where the future may depend on whether the critical energy industry can make the transition to a low-carbon environment. Despite eye-popping profits, analysts said, U.S. oil and gas companies have done little to develop or invest in a sustainable, long-term business strategy. “They didn’t have one before Ukraine,” said Tom Sanzillo, director of the Cleveland-based nonprofit Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which advocates for a sustainable energy industry. “And unless we expect these kinds of geopolitical manipulations to continue — whether it’s a war or something else after it that makes for artificially high prices — I don’t know that they have anything but a short-term gain here.” Short term gains, indeed. For the third quarter, San Antonio refiner Valero Energy Corp. said its profits jumped 400 percent from a year ago, to $2.8 billion. Houston independent oil company ConocoPhillips reported that profits surged 90 percent from a year earlier, to $4.5 billion.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

McCaul’s strategy: Assure Ukraine on aid while appeasing GOP demands to end ‘blank check’

Weeks before the midterm elections, Austin Rep. Michael McCaul – the House Republican point man on Ukraine policy – averred that colleagues calling to cut off aid “may not understand what’s going on” with Russia. Now poised to take over as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, McCaul is embracing the rhetoric of more strident GOP lawmakers who demand “accountability” from the Biden administration and Ukraine, even as he rejects the idea of disengaging. “We are going to provide more oversight, transparency and accountability. We’re not going to write a blank check,” he said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “These are American taxpayer dollars going in. Does that diminish our will to help the Ukraine people fight? No. But we’re going to do it in a responsible way.” Ten Texas Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine as it sailed through the House 368-57, including Irving Rep. Beth Van Duyne and Austin Rep. Roger Williams, whose district reaches Johnson County just south of Fort Worth. The rest are from beyond North Texas.

Eleven Senate Republicans tried to block the aid. Texans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz joined the overwhelming bipartisan majority that quashed a filibuster and approved the aid, which President Joe Biden promptly signed into law. “I don’t understand” the opposition to helping Ukraine financially, McCaul told The Dallas Morning News last month. “I grew up during the Cold War and I thought killing Russians was a good thing.” McCaul said on ABC he’s optimistic that majorities in the House and Senate remain committed to providing whatever Ukraine needs as winter looms. “It’s very important that the American people understand what’s at stake here,” he said. “If we lose in Ukraine, [China’s] Xi is going to look at Taiwan. And the Ayatollah’s already all in with Russia and China in this fight. And [North Korean strongman] Kim Jong Un now is providing artillery shells to Russia.” But some in the GOP base object to spending so much to help another country – and that was before Congress signed off on another $12 billion. “Oligarchs in Ukraine are getting enriched off of our taxpayer dollars, because we’re just dumping money, like truckloads of money,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, one of the Texans who opposed the aid package, told The News last month. Both sides focused on Ukraine funding ahead of the midterm elections.

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2022

Texas challenge to Biden deportation priorities goes to U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Tuesday is set to hear arguments in a Texas challenge to President Joe Biden’s immigration enforcement priorities, a key piece of the Republican-led state’s strategy of using the courts to stymie presidential power that was unheard of just a decade ago. The case is a significant test of the president’s power to set immigration policy, and a ruling for Texas would mark a major departure from how the courts have long handled the issue. For years, presidents have set priorities for which immigrants their administrations would detain and deport. But Texas has so far succeeded in stopping that for the first time. “If the Supreme Court were to rule in Texas's favor, this would be a landmark 180-degree shift from about the last 140 years of immigration law,” said Leon Fresco, an immigration attorney based in Washington, D.C. “It would replace the principle that presidents get broad say over how to enforce the immigration laws.”

The case centers on the Biden administration’s attempt to narrow targets for arrest and deportation to just immigrants seen as a threat to national security or public safety, a significant shift from the Trump administration's more sweeping approach, which directed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to consider virtually anyone in the country illegally to be a priority. Texas and Louisiana sued, arguing in part that the narrower scope would drive up costs for law enforcement, education and health. They say the law requires Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to arrest more people who are in the country illegally than just those the Biden administration wants to prioritize. A federal judge in Corpus Christi blocked the Biden policy this summer and now the high court is weighing whether the states have standing to sue, if Biden’s approach flouts immigration law and whether the administration followed the necessary process to change it. Experts say it’s a major test of a relatively new strategy of using courts to shape immigration policy that Texas Republicans have led the way on. And it’s one of a series of cases Texas has pursued as Attorney General Ken Paxton hunts for a legal path to overturn a key 2012 Supreme Court ruling that keeps states from enforcing immigration laws.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Help wanted: Texas has over 1 million job openings, the most ever

Homebuyers may have missed their chance to lock in super-low interest rates, but the window of opportunity for job-seekers remains wide open. Texas has more people working than ever before, and Dallas-Fort Worth added 255,000 jobs in the last 12 months — roughly two-and-a-half times the usual pace. Yet employers are still clamoring for more help. In September, Texas had nearly 1.03 million job openings, the most ever and nearly twice the number before the pandemic, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That translates into almost 1.8 openings for every unemployed Texan. For those already working, a million job openings offer a great shot at trading up. “It’s still a really good time to apply and be active — if you’re looking for something new,” said Thomas Vick, Dallas-Fort Worth regional director of Robert Half, a major staffing firm. “A lot of candidates are still very comfortable looking for another job. And they’re quickly realizing how many opportunities are out there because they’re getting phone calls from people like us on a daily basis.”

This is the busiest time of year for his staffing business, he said. Many companies have budgeted money for new hires in 2022, and managers want to fill slots before the calendar turns. Workers often have a lighter schedule during the winter holidays, so it’s easier to talk with candidates and bring them in for interviews. And it’s a seller’s market, Vick said: “You can be pretty commanding when it comes to salary and what you’re looking for.” In the U.S., median wages grew 6.4% through October, according to a wage tracker by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Those switching jobs typically got a premium, and their median wage gain was 7.6% over the same period. “Those who switch jobs often get a much larger pay increase,” said Mallory Vachon, senior economist at ThinkWhy, a Dallas-based software services company that focuses on jobs and pay. Some tech giants recently announced major layoffs, including Facebook parent Meta cutting over 11,000 jobs and Amazon cutting about 10,000. Those moves made national headlines, and the large layoffs have a big impact on those directly affected, Vachon said.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Gov. Abbott targets discussions of gender identity in Texas schools

Discussions about gender identity in schools are a likely target for the upcoming legislative session as Gov. Greg Abbott alluded to his support for stopping what he called “indoctrination.” The Republican governor on Sunday tweeted a link to a Fox News article about a Fort Worth teacher who reportedly came out to students and staff as nonbinary and discussed it with the middle schoolers. Abbott responded that lawmakers will “put a stop to this nonsense” during the session that starts Jan. 10. “Schools must get back to fundamentals & stop pushing woke agendas,” he wrote. “We will pass laws to get it done.” A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment seeking clarity on what types of laws Abbott was referencing. This is the latest of several moves by Republican lawmakers signaling an appetite for legislation that targets LGBTQ people, and discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation within schools.

Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wants Texas to replicate Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in the youngest grades. Patrick, also a Republican, controls the legislative direction of the Texas Senate as its president. Tension over how to address gender and sexuality in schools has put students and teachers in the crosshairs of an increasingly bitter political fight. Asked about the Fox News article, Fort Worth ISD spokeswoman Barbara Griffith said the district “addressed the incident when it took place in August, 2022.” She declined to elaborate. Zeph Capo, president of the educator group Texas AFT, criticized the governor for “his quest to invent controversy” in schools. “Greg Abbott has underfunded our schools and made them less safe,” Capo said in a statement. “And he makes them even more dangerous for teachers and their LGBTQIA+ students when he uses his platform to spread this hurtful nonsense.” Nonbinary refers to a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman, or identifies as somewhere in between male and female. Many nonbinary people use they/them pronouns. Some, but not all, also identify as transgender, which refers to someone who identifies as a different gender than that assigned at birth. One recent study estimated there are around 92,900 transgender adults in Texas, and nearly 30,000 between the ages of 13 and 17. During the GOP primary this year, Abbott ordered Child Protective Services to investigate reports of transgender kids receiving gender-affirming care. Although the investigations were put on hold for most families, at least 11 cases were opened and families of transgender children are fighting the directive in court.

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El Paso Matters - November 29, 2022

El Paso DA Yvonne Rosales resigns, ending troubled 2-year tenure

El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales resigned on Monday after less than two years in office, ending a turbulent tenure that saw her facing a trial to remove her from office. The resignation is effective on Dec. 14, the day before a hearing that could have led to her temporary suspension from her job until the conclusion of the removal effort. A jury trial had been set for March 2023 on whether to remove Rosales from office for alleged incompetency and official misconduct. Rosales’ attorney provided state District Judge Tryon Lewis with a copy of her resignation letter, addressed to Gov. Greg Abbott, during a Monday status hearing in the removal case. Lewis, of Odessa, was selected by Stephen Ables, the presiding judge of the West Texas region, to preside over the case.

“I think Ms. Rosales made the right decision today,” said defense attorney Omar Carmona, who filed a petition on Aug. 24 to remove Rosales from office. “I think that this was overdue,” Carmona continued. “I am hoping that she does keep her word and resigns 5 p.m. on the 14th of December.” Abbott will appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of Rosales’ term, which runs through the end of 2024. Rosales was not present for the hearing. Her attorney, Richard Román, said she would submit her resignation letter to the governor by 5 p.m. MT Monday. If Rosales fails to resign by Dec. 14, she has agreed — through her attorney — to an order that would remove her from office the following day. “My client came to the realization that this community needs to heal, the Walmart case needs to be put back on track, and all the other crime victims that aren’t mentioned that are out there deserve a legal system that is continuous, predictable and stable,” Román told El Paso Matters. “And while this was not fun for anybody, I’m pleased that we were able to get it resolved and the healing can start.”

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Houston Chronicle - November 29, 2022

Houston boil water notice steams residents, shutters businesses

A boil water notice issued late Sunday closed Houston schools and businesses, leaving residents frustrated with the city’s communication and scrambling on Monday to adjust their post-Thanksgiving plans. That scramble will continue for another day: Word came Monday afternoon that the Houston Independent School District would be closed for a second day on Tuesday. The city issued the boil order after a power failure at the East Water Purification Plant caused the water pressure in the city to dip below the level required to meet safety standards Sunday morning. City officials have said they believe the water was and continues to be safe, but they were required to notify the public about the pressure drop. As of Monday afternoon, no hospitals had reports of patients with symptoms that might have come from contaminated water.

“A decision was made out of an abundance of caution to issue the boil water notice,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner at a press conference Monday morning. By Sunday night, people were already buying water in bulk. “It's probably all precautionary, I get it,” said John Beezley, who was buying water at a Walmart. He and his wife were in Houston for her treatments at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “We wanted to stock up now, because once it's gone, it's gone.” Families with students in HISD were forced to adjust work plans, too. “Between the Astros Parade cancellation, the week off for Fall Break, and this, it hardly seems possible for parents to get any work done in this city,” said Cameron Buckner, a parent in HISD. Many people around the city were alarmed to learn how long officials had waited to let people know about the incident. Although monitoring sites across the city reported low pressure at 11 a.m. on Sunday, city officials did not issue a boil water notice until after 6 p.m. The first notice was sent at 6:44 p.m. via email. The city tweeted the alert at 7:27 p.m. and sent texts to subscribers of AlertHouston around 10:30 p.m.

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Poynter - November 28, 2022

Fort Worth journalists launch first open-ended strike at McClatchy

More than 20 workers representing the vast majority of unionized journalists at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram went on strike Monday, claiming that owner McClatchy has refused to bargain with them in good faith. The two sides have been negotiating a first contract for two years. Among the issues at stake are workplace policies regarding salaries, sick leave, layoffs and severance. The union representing the journalists, the Fort Worth NewsGuild, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in August, alleging that McClatchy has violated federal labor law by refusing to negotiate fairly. The company also faces two other complaints of unfair labor practices. During negotiations, McClatchy has repeatedly rejected the union’s proposals and sent back counterproposals reiterating company policy, Fort Worth NewsGuild vice president Kaley Johnson said.

“Bargaining is supposed to be a compromise on both sides,” Johnson said. “We know we’re not going to get everything we want. But McClatchy also should be aware that they’re not going to get the exact company policy in the contract because that’s why we unionized in the first place.” One major point of contention is wages. In March 2021, McClatchy implemented $42,000 and $45,000 wage floors for its papers. But newly unionized papers like the Star-Telegram did not benefit from this increase as the company expected them to set their salaries through the contract negotiation process. During negotiations, the guild proposed a wage floor of $57,5000, which they based on the average cost of rent and utilities of a one-bedroom apartment in Fort Worth, Texas. McClatchy countered with a wage floor of $45,000. “This offer reflects the disregard and carelessness with which McClatchy has approached its proposals to date, as a $45,000 salary all but ensures journalists will continue to be priced out of this newsroom and leave for more stable opportunities elsewhere,” the guild wrote in a press release. McClatchy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Marriage equality bill clears another vote despite lobbying by Cruz, other GOP senators

A bill strengthening protections for same-sex and interracial marriage cleared another procedural vote Monday night despite lobbying to reject it by some Republicans, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The U.S. Senate returned from the Thanksgiving holiday break for a vote to limit debate on an amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act, which requires the federal government and states to recognize the validity of same-sex and interracial marriage licenses. Monday’s vote passed 61-35. The amended Senate bill passed a key procedural hurdle 62-37 on Nov. 16, meaning 12 Republicans voted with Democrats to overcome the filibuster. In the nearly two weeks since then, Cruz and other GOP senators have urged supporters to contact and apply pressure on the 12 Republicans in hopes at least three will flip to block the bill unless another Republican-backed amendment with additional religious liberty protections is passed. “We’re going to find out today … whether three of the 12 Republicans who decided to embrace gay marriage are going to stand up for religious liberty or not,” Cruz said on his Monday podcast ahead of the vote.

Cruz co-sponsored another amendment proposed by Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, which adds more protections for religious liberty. Shortly after the initial vote, Lee released a letter urging GOP senators to vote against cloture on Monday unless his amendment is added to the bill. An additional 21 senators including Cruz and Texas Sen. John Cornyn signed the letter. “The so-called Respect for Marriage Act poses a serious threat to churches, religious charities, universities, and K-12 schools that do not embrace same-sex marriage,” Cruz said in a statement Monday to The Dallas Morning News. “I’m proud to co-sponsor my friend Mike Lee’s amendment and fight to ensure the Biden IRS cannot target people of faith for religious persecution.” Congress began pushing for marriage equality protections in response to remarks by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas urging the court to reconsider other due process precedents like Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The U.S. House passed the Respect for Marriage Act in July, which offers protections for same-sex and interracial marriages by requiring states to recognize marriages legally performed in other states. It also repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Dallas could ban all gas-powered lawn equipment to address noise, environment concerns

Using gasoline-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment could soon be illegal in Dallas. Citing health, noise and environmental concerns, Dallas officials are developing plans to phase out the use of gas-powered tools for city departments, contractors, businesses and residents by 2027 or 2030. The ban would mandate use of alternative devices, like ones powered by electricity. The city is hiring a consultant group to help flesh out a transition plan and evaluate its impact on the public. Dallas officials, for example, don’t know how feasible it is for the average resident to switch to non-gasoline equipment or how many lawn care and landscaping businesses operate in the city. Small businesses aren’t tracked by the Texas secretary of state’s office, according to Susan Alvarez, assistant director of Dallas’ environmental quality and sustainability office.

“I think being able to meaningfully implement this in a way where we’re not adversely impacting those businesses is going to be critical,” Alvarez said during a Nov. 7 meeting of the City Council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee. The city in August estimated it would cost $6.5 million to fully convert more than 5,400 pieces of gas-powered municipal equipment, and the cost for residents and business owners to switch was estimated to be $23 million. The city’s switch was also estimated to reduce emissions by 11,665 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, or comparable to taking more than 2,500 gas-powered cars off the road, according to an Environmental Protection Agency calculator. For residents and business owners, the estimate is 338,666 metric tons, or the equivalent of taking almost 73,000 cars off the road. But the proposed ban faces opposition from the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, which represents more than 1,400 industry members, including 60 based in Dallas. “Our member companies have shared concerns with an abrupt transition forcing the use of inadequate technology and imposing serious costs as well as lost investments in our industry,” Ryan Skrobarczyk, the association’s director of legislative and regulatory affairs, told The Dallas Morning News. “TNLA is interested in preserving the freedom for our members to invest in the proper landscape equipment as they see fit.”

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas gets its first $15 million donation

The Perot Foundation, established by the late Ross Perot and his wife, Margot, is donating $15 million to the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas — the largest single philanthropic investment in its 98-year history. The money will help United Way tackle the community’s most pervasive challenges in education, income and health, United Way CEO Jennifer Sampson said. The Perot family goodwill will be announced Tuesday evening to about 200 United Way program-providing partners, board members and guests at the Perot Museum on Turtle Creek as part of Giving Tuesday.

Margot Perot called Sampson in September with news that her family was making the historic donation in three installments. “She said, ‘I have the pleasure of telling you that we’re giving United Way of Metropolitan Dallas $15 million,’ ” Sampson recalled. But here’s the kicker. Sampson had only asked her for $12 million. “Margot knew we needed $15 million to accelerate impact with our 144 community program partners,” Sampson said. “These providers range from long-standing, proven nonprofits to grassroots organizations that bring bold new strategies to our efforts.” Sampson called the investment — she doesn’t like the word gift — “catalytic for our community, not only for the size of the commitment but equally important for how United Way is structured to leverage it.” United Way zeroes in on what it feels are the most critical needs of North Texas and aligns with strategic partners that it feels are best suited to offer solutions, she said.

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Inside Higher Ed - November 29, 2022

Did UT Southwestern force a tenured woman to retire?

Ellen Vitetta, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Scheryle Simmons Patigian Distinguished Chair in Cancer Immunobiology at the University of Texas’s Southwestern Medical Center, worked for decades to make her institution more welcoming to women. She co-founded the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee, which proposed and won an on-site childcare center and which continues to sponsor events on women’s issues in science. Today, in some part because of Vitetta’s efforts, UT Southwestern has a permanent Office of Women’s Careers, and some 66 percent of employees in leadership roles are women. The institution even erected a multimedia display wall of 60 “trailblazing” female faculty members last summer. Yet Vitetta—who is featured on that wall—says that none of this progress mattered when a group of younger, male administrators decided it was time for her to retire, starting in 2012, when she was approaching 70. That’s when she says she was forced to close a key part of her research center and surrender lab space to a new, younger male hire.

Following a series of parallel and escalating incidents—what she calls “death by a thousand cuts”—Vitetta sued UT Southwestern for discrimination on the basis of age and sex and for retaliation, in 2016. A resolution proved elusive, however. It took years for the Texas court system to decide that she could sue the state in the form of UT Southwestern, despite Texas’s strong sovereign immunity law prohibiting most causes of action against the state. And when that decision did finally arrive in Vitetta’s favor, in 2020, COVID-19 and shakeups on UT Southwestern’s legal team brought other delays. Fearing that “this was never going to end,” Vitetta settled with UT Southwestern this fall for an undisclosed amount. Her initial ask was more than $1 million, to cover back pay and other financial losses, along with pain, suffering, inconvenience and legal fees. Vitetta says she can’t reveal details of the settlement but that she is pleased. She says she hopes to be able to donate some of the money back to UT Southwestern, to fund transparent, criteria-driven programs for off-boarding senior faculty members, and that negotiations to this end are ongoing. UT Southwestern declined to comment on the settlement or the case, or even the general climate for women working at its sprawling Dallas campus, saying it does not discuss legal matters in public. But Vitetta wants her story told. She says her case highlights how academe has come a long way in welcoming women to its ranks—but that this project remains unfinished, particularly where sexism confronts ageism.

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Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2022

Bridget Grumet: Grieving families, frustrated congressman wonder why aviation safety rule still isn't in place

We’ve all heard the expression: It would take an act of Congress to accomplish some incredibly difficult task. Except in this case, Congress has acted. Nearly four years ago. Heck, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, polar opposites in their politics and temperaments, were on the same page in championing this measure. And we’re talking about a matter of public safety, life and death. Yet the rule in question — requiring commercial hot air balloon pilots to undergo annual medical screenings, a basic safeguard that might have prevented the 2016 Lockhart balloon crash that killed 16 people — is stuck in a bureaucratic maze. Congress ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to adopt such a rule by the spring of 2019. We’re still waiting. In the federal government, “delay is certainly not unusual. Some degree of (bureaucratic) indifference is certainly not unusual,” said Doggett, who has been a congressman for nearly three decades.

“But this goes far and beyond anything I've ever seen in my entire career, in terms of an agency being directed to do something and ignoring the direction.” “It is words like appalling, outrageous, astounding that have characterized my view about something that has been going on for so long,” Doggett added. Perhaps you’re thinking: Hot air balloon regulations are not exactly a front-burner issue for most Americans. The FAA estimates the rule will affect roughly 350 pilots who provide hot air balloon rides to paying customers. (The rule won't affect balloonists who fly for their own enjoyment.) But we’re also talking about the federal response to the deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history, a wholly avoidable tragedy that devastated families. And we’re talking about Congress plainly directing a federal agency to do a specific thing by a specific deadline in the name of consumer safety … and that thing hasn’t happened. As the American-Statesman first reported in the aftermath of the Lockhart crash, the National Transportation Safety Board had tried for years to get the FAA to beef up its regulation of the hot air balloon industry. In 2014, the NTSB had even predicted a “high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident” if the FAA didn’t improve oversight.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Chris Wallace, Richard Perez, Laura Huffman, and Bob Harvey: Congress must act on DACA or Texas stands to lose thousands of jobs

(Chris Wallace is president and CEO of the North Texas Commission; Richard Perez is president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce; Laura Huffman is president and CEO of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; and Bob Harvey is president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.) Texas is where businesses thrive, and the Lone Star State is well-known as a welcoming business environment for entrepreneurs and home to some of the nation’s most critical industries. The success of our state’s renowned business and trade community is a direct result of the unwavering commitment by the Texas labor force, including the foreign-born population that increases our competitive advantage while driving economic growth. Maintaining a robust and diverse workforce, however, requires lawmakers to enact policies that ensure our state’s economy can be a well-oiled machine. This includes immigration policy. Unfortunately, our immigration policies are failing us, as recently evidenced by a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. This decision will have detrimental effects on our workforce unless Congress intervenes.

The court’s decision that the DACA policy is unlawful — while allowing for current enrollees to continue renewing their statuses — brings devastating impacts to Texans and families who are already working overtime to recover from the pandemic in addition to supply chain woes and rising inflation. DACA provides work authorizations for 101,000 “Dreamers” in Texas so they can find employment opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them. It also extends temporary deportation protections so they can live, work and build lives with certainty. Most importantly, the court’s ruling sets the DACA policy up for ongoing legal action. Without a solution from Congress, Texas could see 5,000 jobs vacated each month and 1,000 U.S. citizens could see their spouses subjected to deportation risk each month for the next two years. The U.S. economy could suffer from as much as $11.7 billion in lost wages annually from previously employed DACA recipients, equating to roughly $1 billion a month. More broadly, federal immigration policy has failed to keep up with today’s labor demands. There are currently 11.2 million jobs open in the U.S. with only half as many workers available to fill them. With appropriate policy changes that expand opportunities for immigrants to have certainty in their personal and professional lives, we could put more workers on the job and create a robust recovery along with it.

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San Antonio Express-News - November 29, 2022

Which Texas counties got redder, bluer in the 2022 midterm election?

Republicans won two big races this midterm election, governor and attorney general, as they did the last time those seats were up for reelection in 2018. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton each won by about 10 percentage points – for Abbott, it was a slightly narrower margin than in 2018, while Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton rebounded from a narrow win of less than 5 percentage points in 2018. But Texas is a land of 254 counties, the largest with a population greater than Wyoming, Vermont, Washington DC, Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota combined, the smallest with barely enough people to fill a school bus. Overall, a far greater number of counties got redder this election than got bluer. And even though many of Texas’ largest counties got bluer, it wasn’t enough to sway the elections for gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke or attorney general candidate Rochelle Garza.

A county getting “redder” or “bluer” could mean that voters in those areas were swayed to vote for the other party, or it could mean that fewer voters showed up to vote. Even though the state gained nearly 770,000 voting-age residents between the two election years, nearly 270,000 fewer people cast ballots in the gubernatorial and attorney general races when compared to 2018 results. In areas that went blue for O’Rourke, voter turnout was much lower than in areas that went red for Abbott. Of the 20 counties that had Democratic majority in the 2018 gubernatorial election: 2 flipped to Republican in 2022, 12 got less Democratic (Still a majority Democrat vote but smaller margin between Dems and Reps), 6 got more Democratic (Still a majority Democrat vote but larger margin between Dems and Reps). Of the 234 counties that had Republican majority in the 2018 gubernatorial election: 1 flipped Democratic in 2022, 64 got less Republican, 169 got more Republican. Of the 31 counties that had Democratic majority in the 2018 attorney general election: 10 flipped to Republican in 2022, 18 got less Democratic, 3 got more Democratic. Of the 223 counties that had Republican majority in the 2018 attorney general election: None flipped to Democratic in 2022, 11 got less Republican, 211 got more Republican, 1 stayed the exact same amount of Republican.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Jaime Masters out, Stephanie Muth in as Gov. Greg Abbott’s pick to lead CPS

Gov. Greg Abbott, ushering off stage a bureaucrat he recruited from another red state just three years ago, has turned to a veteran of Texas’ health care and nutrition safety-net programs to lead the state’s embattled Department of Family and Protective Services. Starting on Jan. 2, Stephanie Muth will replace Jaime Masters as the department’s commissioner, Abbott announced late Monday. Muth, 53, has been a private consultant since 2020, after a lengthy run as a senior level executive at the Health and Human Services Commission. “As a recognized administrator and organizational leader, Stephanie will contribute her deep understanding of agency operations and increased accountability to strengthen the efforts of this critical agency,” Abbott said in a written statement. Masters, the outgoing commissioner, has been under fire from lawmakers for what they consider a tardy rollout of a regional approach to further privatization of the state’s purchase of foster care services.

The new procurement model is known as “community-based care,” and Abbott stressed in his statement that “Stephanie will lead DFPS and help guide the agency as it continues rolling out Community-Based Care (CBC) services statewide.” Until Muth starts, Kezeli “Kez” Wold, the head of Adult Protective Services, will be interim commissioner, Abbott said. The Republican governor also announced that Casey Family Programs’ Texas director Anne Heiligenstein returns as senior adviser. In June, Heiligenstein, who ran the department for a time under former Gov. Rick Perry, was brought in to be the department’s executive deputy commissioner for 12 months. However, last month, Masters canceled the contract with Casey Family Programs and fired Julie Frank as her chief of staff. Frank, a former Abbott aide, had come over from the governor’s office in January. “Children and families across Texas will benefit greatly from the expertise and deep understanding of child welfare that this new leadership team brings to DFPS,” Abbott said, referring to Muth, Heiligenstein and Wold. In addition to speeding rollout of community-based care, Muth will be “furthering the agency’s compliance with the remedial orders in the foster care litigation,” Abbott said, referring to a decade-old federal lawsuit.

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WFAA - November 29, 2022

What Chick-fil-A and H-E-B can teach Texas about running elections

While the 2022 election has come and gone, its shadow will loom over Harris County for weeks, and possibly months, to come. District Attorney Kim Ogg is investigating the election in Harris County after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. Ogg also asked the Texas Rangers for assistance. But the man who organized and led the 2020 election for Harris County calls the investigation pure politics.

“If the past is predicate, what’s going to come out of these investigations is nothing at all, Chris Hollins said on Y’all-itics. “The point of these investigations is just to be able to tell right wing extremists that there’s an investigation going on. There’s nothing underneath that. And no thought goes into it beyond that from what I’ve seen.” Hollins, a Democrat who is now running for Houston Mayor, says the new election law may have actually created problems instead of solving them. Hollins says lawmakers made it illegal for county clerk staff or election administration staff to visit voting locations to check for problems, unless they’re specifically called in by the people running that location. “They can’t check in proactively. They can only check in when called. And this was in reaction to the fact that under my leadership, the County Clerk’s Office had assigned professional staff in addition to the election judges, just to be there as a base of support,” Hollins told us. And Hollins says everyone must remember running an election, especially in the state’s largest county, is incredibly difficult. Among other complexities, he says thousands and thousands of election workers must not only be hired, but also trained. Hollins says Harris County must become more efficient when it comes to elections and run them for what they are: serving millions of people in a short amount of time. And he says the county doesn’t have to look very far for ideas. “Election administration is not, and should not be, a political job," Hollins said. "It’s a job managing an enormous logistical operation. And so, in the same way you’ve seen successful private sector companies, whether it’s a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru or an HEB shopping line, solve some of these challenges, we should be taking that approach to make these operations seamless."

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County Stories

Fort Worth Report - November 29, 2022

Tarrant County law enforcement hire ‘wandering officers’ after misconduct at other departments, Texas 2036 report shows

Tarrant County constables’ precincts have hired 10 law enforcement officers with a history of alleged misconduct during the past decade, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan public policy organization Texas 2036. When officers separate from their department, either through resignation, firing or retirement, the chief of police fills out a F-5 form, which outlines the circumstances surrounding their departure. There are three options: honorable discharge, general discharge, and dishonorable discharge. Officers who receive a less than honorable discharge and then go on to work at another law enforcement agency have been dubbed “wandering officers” by scholars in the field. Texas 2036 obtained data on F-5s and the rehiring of dishonorably discharged officers (who left their previous agency because of allegations of criminal misconduct, insubordination or untruthfulness) through public information requests, and published its general findings in a 90-page report.

The report published as the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission was finalizing its own staff report on the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, including how the organization handles F-5 reports. Texas 2036 then shared granular, county-wide data for Tarrant County with the Fort Worth Report. From 2012 to 2022, the data shows, Tarrant County law enforcement departments rehired 23 officers with a dishonorable discharge from earlier in their career. Almost half of those hires were made by Tarrant County constables. Across eight precincts, Tarrant County’s constables employ 122 officers. “These smaller agencies don’t have the resources or the applicant pool to make better hiring decisions,” said Luis Soberon, a Texas 2036 policy adviser covering justice and safety issues. “It could be slim pickins at these agencies, relatively speaking.” The department with the second-highest number of dishonorably discharged hires was Lakeside Police Department (3), a town of about 2,200 in the northwest corner of Tarrant County, followed by the University of North Texas Health and Science Center (2). The Fort Worth Police Department, which employs the largest number of peace officers in the county at 1,685, did not hire any officers with a dishonorable discharge on their record. Soberon said that’s likely because the department has the resources to dedicate to young officers.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - November 29, 2022

November delivered more rain than usual to Austin, but not enough to shake the drought

It's been a wet November in Central Texas, with cold, rainy days through the week of the Thanksgiving holiday. That weather might have affected your plans, but was a welcome break from continuing drought. It was also another unusual twist in what has shaped up to be a weird year in local weather. November is not known for heavy rainfall in Austin. The month averages a respectable 2.7 inches of precipitation in a normal year. This year was different, with around 4.1 inches recorded at Austin’s Camp Mabry weather station by Nov. 28.

That above-average accumulation helped make up for some of the rainfall deficit we’ve had this fall. It also continues a quirk in the weather this year, in which drier months like February and August have delivered more rainfall than what are normally our wettest months: May, June and October. But it wasn’t enough to lift the region from a continued drought. “Definitely it looks like it was wet during the month of November,” Orlando Bermudez, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in New Braunfels, said. “But when it comes to the bigger picture, we're still way below those [rain] numbers for the year." On an average year, Austin gets more than 35 inches of rain. This year, Bermudez says, the city is still running a deficit of about 9 inches with only one month left. That means recent rain won’t be enough to refill area reservoirs, some of which are less than half full at the moment. Bermudez says the long term forecast also suggests a hotter and drier winter than usual, thanks to a persistent La Niña weather pattern.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

District fires Allen ISD teacher accused of ‘inappropriate communication’

Mathew McDermott, a teacher in the Allen Independent School District accused of inappropriate communication with a student, was fired in October. David Hicks, Allen ISD chief communications officer, said in an email that school board members approved his termination Oct. 25. The teacher was placed on leave after the allegations surfaced last month.

Allen police detectives investigated and found no criminal wrongdoing. Allen Police Detective Julian Adames said the investigation of McDermott found nothing to warrant criminal charges but whether the teacher violated a code of conduct would be up to Allen Independent School District officials. The district had also notified the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and the State Board for Educator Certification of the allegations. McDermott had taught at Allen High School since 2017. Hicks said no additional information would be released.

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Dallas Morning News - November 29, 2022

Mary Frances Burleson, former Ebby Halliday CEO, dies at 87

Mary Frances Burleson, who started her career as Ebby Halliday’s $2.50-an-hour, part-time secretary in 1958 and worked her way up to president and CEO of the Dallas-based residential real estate company, died Sunday morning of natural causes. She was 87. The graduate of Highland Park High School and Southern Methodist University rose quickly through the management ranks, becoming executive vice president and general sales manager in 1979. She was running the show as CEO in 2000 — a position she held until her retirement in 2020. “I’m an Ebby girl. I want what’s best for this company,” the then 83-year-old Burleson said in an interview in 2018, when she announced the sale of Ebby Halliday Cos. to Warren Buffett’s Minnesota-based real estate arm.

“Mary Frances Burleson was an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to service on every level,” said Chris Kelly, CEO of the Ebby Halliday Cos. “That dedication touched the lives of thousands of people across the North Texas community, the nation and beyond. We at the Ebby Halliday Cos. are forever grateful for her vision, for her leadership and for her friendship. She is and will be greatly missed.” Burleson helped expand the firm to 1,700 agents in 35 offices across three brands, making it the largest independent residential real estate brokerage in Texas and the 10th largest in the nation. She also led the firm’s creation of its core service business lines of mortgage, insurance and title. Outside work, Burleson’s passion was breeding and training championship show dogs, Marburl boxers, a pedigree created by her late husband of 54 years, Rufus Burleson. The name is a combination of Mary and Burleson. “I have vet bills. I have advertising bills. I have a handler bill. I can’t afford to retire,” she said in 2018. She was a longtime member of Park Cities Baptist Church and was an active participant in the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the International Women’s Forum, the Baptist Foundation of Texas and Buckner International. She was on the board of directors of SMU’s Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series and the Highland Park Education Foundation.

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National Stories

Associated Press - November 29, 2022

Pence calls on Trump to apologize for dinner with antisemite

A growing number of Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence, criticized Donald Trump on Monday for dining with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West days after launching his third campaign for the White House. Pence, in an interview, called on Trump to apologize and said the former president had “demonstrated profoundly poor judgment” when he met last week at his Mar-a-Lago club with West, who is now known as Ye, as well as Nick Fuentes, a far-right activist with a long history of espousing antisemitic and white nationalist views. The episode is serving as an early test of whether party leaders will continue to rally behind Trump as he embarks on yet another campaign for the White House after they have spent much of the last eight years being asked to respond to the controversies he's created.

Trump has said he didn't know who Fuentes was before the meeting. But he has so far refused to acknowledge or denounce the positions of either Fuentes or Ye, who has made his own series of antisemitic comments in recent weeks, leading to his suspension from social media platforms and the end of his ties with major companies like Adidas. “President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and Holocaust denier, a seat at the table and I think he should apologize for it. And he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification,” Pence said in an interview with NewsNation's Leland Vittert that aired Monday night. Still, Pence, who is considering his own potential run against his former boss, said he does not believe Trump is antisemitic or racist and said he would not have served as Trump's vice president if he was. The decision to criticize Trump's actions — but still defend the man himself — underscores the former president's continued hold on the party, even as he finds himself at a moment of intense vulnerability. Many of the party's top fundraisers and strategists blame him for their worse-than-expected showing in this year’s midterm elections and increasingly say they believe it is time to move on. At the same time, Trump remains deeply popular with the GOP base, and even candidates hoping to challenge him for the Republican presidential nomination risk alienating those voters if they criticize him too strongly.

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Rolling Stone - November 29, 2022

Trump is pissed Republicans keep telling him to stay away from Georgia

As Republicans pour party resources into the Georgia Senate runoff, Donald Trump is getting irritated at the idea that virtually no one of importance in the GOP wants him to campaign in Georgia. In the lead-up to the contest between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Trump-endorsed challenger Herschel Walker, several GOP figures and Trump allies have already implored him not to hold a Georgia rally ahead of the runoff, according to two people familiar with the matter and another person briefed on the situation. Trump — who helped recruit Walker to run — and his advisers have discussed the possibility of heading to Georgia, though Trump hadn’t made a commitment as of last week.

Trump has, however, suggested to those close to him that he’ll react poorly if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis campaigns — a potential 2024 rival — in Georgia while the Republican Party holds its once undisputed leader at arm’s length, the first two sources say. People who’ve recently spoken to Trump fear that if DeSantis were to announce a Georgia event, it would guarantee that Trump would also head to the state. Trump has also vehemently argued to aides and confidants that his presence in the runoff would be a net positive for Walker, and he has accused pundits and Republicans who say he shouldn’t go to Georgia are unintelligent Trump haters. But two years ago, when control of the Senate came down to two Georgia run-offs, Republicans lost both, and some blame Trump. High-level party figures are publicly warning that Trump’s presence could lead to a similar result this time around, fearing that Trump’s poor favorability among independent voters and election denialism could do more harm than good. Adviser Jason Miller told Newsmax that he had advised Trump to “hold off until after the Georgia race.” Trump 2016 campaign senior adviser Mike Biundo told Fox News that “Walker’s campaign needs to be the priority and focus for our party.” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a vocal critic of Trump, told Fox that the announcement was “a terrible idea” and that whoever was advising the president to plow forward with his campaign plans “should be fired.” According to one of the people familiar with the matter, the ex-president has privately complained about a Nov. 9 Fox News clip, during which his own former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to say whether or not Trump should travel to Georgia — even though she added that DeSantis should be “welcome to the state.” Trump saw the Fox segment, starring one of his own past senior administration officials, as a “slap in the face,” per the source’s characterization.

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New York Times - November 29, 2022

G.O.P.-controlled county in Arizona holds up election results

Republican officials in an Arizona county voted on Monday to hold up certification of local results in this month’s midterm elections, reflecting an expansion of partisan battles into obscure elements of the election system and largely uncharted legal territory. The Cochise County board of supervisors refused to certify the results, although members cited no issues with the count or problems in the vote. In Mohave County, Republican supervisors delayed a vote to certify the election, but then backtracked and certified the vote on Monday. The move is unlikely to significantly stall the final results of this year’s elections; state officials have said that if necessary they will pursue legal action to force the board’s certification. But it represents a newfound willingness by some Republican officeholders to officially dispute statewide election results they dislike, even when the local outcomes are not in doubt.

“Our small counties, we’re just sick and tired of getting kicked around and not being respected,” said Peggy Judd, one of two Republican supervisors in Cochise who voted to delay the certification of county results until Friday. Ms. Judd described the move as a protest over the election in Maricopa County, where Republican candidates have claimed — with no evidence — widespread voter disenfranchisement, largely as a result of ballot printing errors. Similar actions have taken place in Pennsylvania, where activists have sued to block certification in Delaware County, and Republican election officials in Luzerne County voted against certification, forcing a deadlock on the county election board after one of the three Democratic board members abstained from voting. In Arizona and Pennsylvania as in most states, elections are run by county governments, which must then certify the results. The act was regarded as little more than a formality until the 2020 election. Since then, local Republican officials aligned with the election denier movement have occasionally tried to use their position to hold up certification. The tactic has become more widespread this year and earned encouragement from Republican candidates and right-wing media personalities.

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Washington Post - November 29, 2022

China clamps down on ‘zero covid’ protests, loosens some pandemic measures

Small protests against China’s strict “zero covid” policy occurred in several cities Monday evening, as citizens defied a police crackdown and threats of reprisal, with Beijing blaming “foreign forces” even as authorities moved to vaccinate more seniors and relax some distancing measures. From Hangzhou in the east to Kunming in the southwest and Beijing in the north, groups of people demonstrated by holding up blank paper — a symbol of state censorship — in solidarity with protesters in Shanghai, the first major city where the recent rallies against the zero-covid measures occurred. The protests were primarily vehicles to vent about lockdowns and commemorate people who had died in a fire in the far northwestern region of Xinjiang last week. Many Chinese believe that the zero-covid policy worsened the tragedy by slowing first responders, an allegation that authorities deny. Frustrations about political oppression have also crept in, with some calling for the ouster of the ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping.

Monday evening’s demonstrations were relatively small, involving perhaps dozens of protesters. Rallies against alleged local government malfeasance are also not an uncommon sight in China — but prolonged, nationwide protests against central authorities are extremely unusual. Videos of these moments circulated widely online, even as censors made efforts to cut off access. Local security officials, who appeared to be caught off guard when demonstrations began over the weekend, seemed more proactive in trying to stamp out Monday’s protests. In Hangzhou, home to tech giants including Alibaba, police were shown in a widely circulated video cornering a bespectacled young man and trying to grab a bouquet of chrysanthemums, a symbol of mourning, from him. “Can’t I bring some flowers to the West Lake?” the man asked the officers, referring to a popular destination where some had gathered to demand the lifting of strict coronavirus measures. Security forces attempted to take the man away by force but were stopped by onlookers. The man was eventually let go.

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The Ringer - November 29, 2022

What’s behind the exploding prices of pro sports franchises?

OnOn Wednesday, September 21, Robert Sarver, the embattled owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury, announced that he would be looking into selling his teams. He didn’t sound altogether pleased about the development—in the statement he blamed “our current unforgiving climate” for forcing him to explore a sale—though it’s hard to believe he can really be all that upset. Today Forbes estimates the value of the Suns at $2.7 billion. Others, however, think the Suns’ final selling price could be as high as $4.5 billion. Sarver purchased a controlling interest in the Suns at a valuation of $401 million, in 2004. On its face, such a return seems remarkable; few would have guessed, when Sarver purchased the Suns 18 years ago, that the team would appreciate at least sixfold. But what’s really remarkable about it is that, in pro sports these days, such a return isn’t that remarkable. Earlier this year, a group of investors led by Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, paid $4.65 billion for the Denver Broncos. (The team’s previous owners, the Bowlen family, had purchased the Broncos for $78 million, in 1984.) That was the most anyone had ever paid for a pro sports franchise, but just earlier this month, Dan Snyder—the also-embattled owner of the Washington Commanders—announced that he, too, would consider selling his team. Snyder purchased the Commanders for $800 million in 1999. Some think he’ll sell for $7 billion next spring.

Over the past 40 years or so, every single team in all four of the United States’ major sports has increased exponentially in value—inexorably through all manner of catastrophe, and at an average rate that far outpaces that of both inflation and the S&P 500. (As Forbes recently reported, the average NBA team is 15 percent more valuable than a year ago; as of November, the S&P was down 15 percent over the same span.) The Golden State Warriors, at $7 billion, are today worth 61 times what they were worth in 1996, and 16 times more than the $450 million that Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber paid for them in 2010. That’s tops, so far as most dizzying increases in monetary value go, but it’s not atypical. From 2012 to 2021, on average, NBA values increased 387 percent, per Sportico. Since 1996, the average NHL team has seen its value go up 1,112 percent. Even the Oakland A’s, who play a sport from which fans are fleeing, and into whose on-field performance owner John Fisher has invested nearly nothing during his tenure—and who play in a stadium once poetically described as a concrete toilet, which this year reported the lowest attendance numbers in all of baseball—have seen their value go up from $180 million, in 2005, to $1.34 billion today. (If you were lucky enough to buy and hold on to a much older franchise, meanwhile—like the Chicago Bears, which the McCaskey family purchased for $100 in 1920—the return on your investment would dwarf even these large numbers; ??as of 2020, the return on the McCaskeys’ investment sat at 3,449,990,800 percent.)

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Wall Street Journal - November 28, 2022

Elon Musk’s Boring Company ghosts cities across America

The unsolicited proposal from Elon Musk’s tunnel-building venture arrived in January 2020. To the local transportation authority, it felt like finding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. Officials had started planning for a street-level rail connection between booming Ontario International Airport and a commuter train station 4 miles away, with an estimated cost north of $1 billion. For just $45 million, Mr. Musk’s Boring Co. offered to instead build an underground tunnel through which travelers could zip back and forth in autonomous electric vehicles. Dazzled by Boring’s boasts that it had revolutionized tunneling, and the cachet of working with the billionaire head of EV maker Tesla Inc. the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority dumped plans for a traditional light rail and embraced the futuristic tunnel.

When it came time to formalize the partnership and get to work, Boring itself went underground—just as it has done in Maryland, Chicago and Los Angeles. Boring didn’t submit a bid for Ontario by the January 2022 deadline. The six-year-old company has repeatedly teased cities with a pledge to “solve soul-destroying traffic,” only to pull out when confronted with the realities of building public infrastructure, according to former executives and local, state and federal government officials who have worked with Mr. Musk’s Boring. The company has struggled with common bureaucratic hurdles like securing permits and conducting environmental reviews, the people said. “Every time I see him on TV with a new project, or whatever, I’m like: Oh, I remember that bullet train to Chicago O’Hare,” said Chicago Alderman Scott Waguespack. Boring had backed away from its proposal for a high-speed tunnel link to the airport there. Mr. Musk and Steve Davis, president of Boring, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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