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March 24, 2017: All Newsclips | Early Morning Clips

All - March 24, 2017

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Perry: Did A&M shun due process in the name of 'diversity?'

As Texas' first Aggie governor and as someone who was twice elected Yell Leader of Texas A&M University, I am deeply troubled by the recent conduct of A&M's administration and Student Government Association (SGA) during the Aggie student-body president elections for 2017-2018. When I first read that our student body had elected an openly gay man, Bobby Brooks, for president of the student body, I viewed it as a testament to the Aggie character. I was proud of our students because the election appeared to demonstrate a commitment to treating every student equally, judging on character rather than on personal characteristics. Unfortunately, a closer review appears to prove the opposite; and the Aggie administration and SGA owe us answers.

McAllen Monitor - March 22, 2017

Cuts to build border wall could increase offshore drug flow

In order to build President Donald Trump’s promised wall, the federal government is proposing to take money from the U.S. Coast Guard which could further increase the flow of drugs offshore, according to lawmakers. The federal Office of Management and Budget’s proposed budget for 2018 includes a $1.3 billion cut to the Coast Guard, which prompted more than 60 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to send a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Homeland Security earlier this week. “Given the Administration’s efforts to strengthen our southern land border, it’s likely that the flow of illegal drugs and immigrants offshore will increase,” reads the letter addressed to Congressmen John Carter, (R-Houston) and Lucille Royball-Allard (CA-40). “In this respect, the Coast Guard should see a sizeable budget increase to meet the President’s goal of eliminating the flood of illegal drugs.”

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

15 percent of female undergraduates at UT have been raped, survey says

Fifteen percent of undergraduate female students surveyed at the University of Texas at Austin said they've been raped, according to a statewide study that the UT system will soon release. "The first injustice committed in every assault or inappropriate behavior is the act itself, but the second injustice is often the silence of the community surrounding the survivor," UT-Austin President Gregory L. Fenves told The Dallas Morning News. "We must not be silent anymore, and we must not be afraid to face the very real problems that exist at our university and in society in general." Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, broke the news of the forthcoming survey Thursday morning when she mentioned the 15 percent figure during debate on a bill she has written to penalize college staff and some students who fail to report incidents of sexual assault on campus.

Corpus Christi Caller Times - March 23, 2017

Senate Democrats pressured to block Abbott appointee

Outnumbered and unable to block legislation they oppose, Democrats in the Texas Senate are under pressure from public-sector employee organizations to use one of the few weapons left in the arsenal to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s pick to lead the state’s Pension Review Board. “There are very few ways 11 people standing alone can shape public policy in this state. But this is one of those ways,” said Rick Levy, secretary-treasurer of the Texas AFL-CIO. Levy was referring to the 11 Democrats in the 31-member chamber, who have enough clout under the Texas Constitution to reject the nomination of Josh McGee, who in his private life has suggested public pensions systems, over time, be reconfigured along the lines of 401-K plans that do not necessarily offer a hard-and-fast dollar amount that retirees can expect to receive.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2017

HISD administrator resigns after special education troubles uncovered

Houston ISD school board trustees voted 5-0 to allow embattled Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Services Sowmya Kumar to resign Thursday following a Chronicle investigation that found she and her staff set an arbitrary cap on the number of students who could receive special education services in the district. Kumar had been with the district since 2010. Four trustees – including Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Diana Davila, Manuel Rodriguez and Jolanda Jones - missed the vote. Trustees discussed the resignation in an executive session that was closed to the public and did not offer comments on Kumar before they voted to accept her departure.

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2017

Arnold Schwarzenegger declines $40,000 fee for UH commencement speech

Arnold Schwarzenegger has told the University of Houston that he will not accept the $40,000 to speak at the campus's spring commencement, the university said Thursday. His contract initially called for the university to pay $40,000 for the 25-minute address. "Gov. Schwarzenegger wasn't aware that a fee was arranged by his representatives to deliver this commencement address, and he has never asked for a speaking fee to speak to students," said Daniel Ketchell, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, according to a UH news release. "He has asked his representatives to waive the fee, and he looks forward to his visit."

National Stories

Washington Examiner - March 23, 2017

Bob Woodward: Obama officials possibly facing criminal charges for unmasking scheme

The Washington Post's Bob Woodward warned on Wednesday that there are people from the Obama administration who could be facing criminal charges for unmasking the names of Trump transition team members from surveillance of foreign officials. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said earlier that he had briefed Trump on new information, unrelated to an investigation into Russian activities, that suggested that several members of Trump's transition team and perhaps Trump himself had their identities "unmasked" after their communications were intercepted by U.S. intelligence officials. The revelation is notable because identities of Americans are generally supposed to remain "masked" if American communications are swept up during surveillance of foreign individuals.

All - March 23, 2017

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

Governor's silence on hot issues leaves House lawmakers in no mood to play nice

Maybe it’s a debilitating allergy to political risk, or maybe it’s plain-old smart governing. Whatever you call it, Gov. Greg Abbott’s deafening silence on controversial issues that are roiling the Capitol hallways has left lawmakers on the western half of the pink dome — the Texas House — in no mood to play nice. “Increasingly, people are asking whether he’s strong enough as governor, whether he’s demonstrating enough leadership,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texas poised to maintain most of its border funding for Trump's first years

The Trump administration’s commitment to border security and increased immigration enforcement hasn’t convinced Texas budget writers to scale back from the record-setting budget it approved for the state's own efforts two years ago. Both the state House and Senate released proposed budgets in January that maintained well over half of the $800 million in border security funding that lawmakers approved in 2015. That original funding was touted by state lawmakers as necessary because the federal government wasn't doing enough to secure the border.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

'Nobody' will lose health care under GOP proposal, Rep. Sessions says, despite estimates millions will

A day before the House is set to take a critical vote on a bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions told CNN that “nobody” will “lose” coverage under the GOP’s health care proposal. That’s about 24 million fewer people than the Congressional Budget Office estimates will lose health insurance over the next decade if the GOP plan replaces Obamacare. Sessions' remarks came during an early Wednesday interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who asked about criticisms from the left and right over the GOP's American Health Care Act.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Texas Senate gives initial OK to ban on abortion insurance

The Texas Senate, voting 19-10, gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would ban insurance coverage for abortions in the state. Senate Bill 20 by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, would prohibit abortion coverage in private plans, under the Affordable Care Act and in state-issued insurance plans, except for medical emergencies. Those interested in abortion coverage would have to purchase supplemental coverage if offered by their insurer. Taylor said SB 20 would prevent abortion opponents from having to pay for the procedure for others through premiums or tax dollars. Abortion rights advocates say the bill restricts access to health care, disproportionately affects low-income Texans and does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

Politico - March 22, 2017

Schiff: There is now 'more than circumstantial evidence' of Trump-Russia collusion

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that there is “more than circumstantial evidence now” to suggest that President Donald Trump’s campaign may have colluded with Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election, but he would not offer details. “I can tell you that the case is more than that,” Schiff told Chuck Todd on MSNBC. “And I can’t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now.” When Todd followed up, asking if he had “seen direct evidence of collusion,” Schiff would not say so directly, but insisted that he has seen some “evidence that is not circumstantial” and is worth investigating.

The Hill - March 23, 2017

Healthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth

The battle on the right over the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal-and-replace legislation pits President Trump against an old nemesis: the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. The Club for Growth’s political arm spent millions of dollars trying to defeat Trump in the Republican presidential primaries. It battled him over Twitter, ran ads against him ahead of primaries in swing states and dug deep into Trump’s past positions on issues dear to conservatives to portray him as a big-spending liberal.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

White House defends use of eminent domain for border wall as feds gird for land fights

The White House defended its plan to add legal muscle to the effort to build a wall spanning the U.S.-Mexico border, saying Wednesday that no one should be surprised that the administration will take steps needed to acquire land for the project. President Donald Trump's budget blueprint, unveiled last week, includes funding for a squadron of 20 Justice Department lawyers dedicated to land disputes. Government has the power to force landowners to sell property for public use, through a process called eminent domain. "This is the government doing what it has to do to protect its borders," said White House press secretary Sean Spicer, asked by The Dallas Morning News to explain the rationale behind the plan.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

As critical health care vote looms, the pressure is on for Texas Rep. Brady, chief tax writer

Texas Rep. Kevin Brady isn’t stressed. He’s “excited.” That’s what Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says about life at the center of the GOP’s most urgent initiatives: overhauling America's health care system and its tax code. Even before Donald Trump was elected president, The Woodlands Republican was a critical player in developing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s once-unlikely plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and shake up the nation’s tax laws — goals that took on new urgency with Trump’s surprise victory.

Time - March 22, 2017

Koch Brothers Will Pay Millions to Back Republicans Who Vote Against the GOP Health Care Bill

The conservative Koch network is promising to spend millions of dollars to defeat the health care overhaul backed by President Donald Trump and top House Republicans. The network's leading groups, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, announced late Wednesday the creation of a special fund to support House members who vote against the bill. Spokesman James Davis says the current proposal doesn't do enough to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. He says, "We're going to be there to help these people for taking a principled stand."

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Straus agrees with Patrick on their different audiences

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus agreed Thursday with the idea that his disagreements with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over this session's priorities relate to the different audiences they serve. Patrick, a former talk show host, had weighed in Monday on House-Senate tensions by noting that Straus is elected state representative by the voters in his House district and then speaker by House members. Patrick had also noted that the coalition that elects Straus speaker always includes Democrats, including when he initially captured the gavel in 2009. "The lieutenant governor is absolutely correct," Straus told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty on Thursday. "He has a different audience. I mean, literally an audience. He was in your business. He’s an entertainer, a talk show guy. And a statewide elected official. I’m not."

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Texas state senators — who are also doctors — meet with Trump ahead of tight health care vote

Ahead of a nail biter House vote on the GOP health care plan, two Texas state senators - both physicians - met Wednesday with President Trump as part of the White House relations push to overturn Obamacare. Sen. Dawn Buckingham, an ophthalmologist from Lakeway, just west of Austin, and Sen. Donna Campbell, an emergency room doctor from New Braunfels, both lauded the president's push to repeal Obamacare. "I lost my doctor through Obamacare. My insurance rates went up. I lost patients through Obamacare because they couldn't get access through the narrow networks and it was too expensive for them to access," Buckingham said after the meeting. "Obamacare's a failed experiment."

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Texas A&M limits guest speakers after Richard Spencer visit put 'undue burden' on school, official says

Texas A&M University is changing its policy on who is allowed to be a guest speaker on campus after a controversial event last year featuring "alt-right" leader and former Dallas resident Richard Spencer. Spencer, whose "alt-right" movement is known for its racist views and its championing of a whites-only nation, came to the College Station campus in December as the guest of a former student. He told a crowd during a speech at the student center that "America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men." Texas A&M's new rule requires that external speakers be sponsored by a recognized student group or administrative unit. Sponsors have to attend the event and assume responsibility for any damage or unpaid fees.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Jeffers: After confronting Pete Sessions at raucous town hall, can Democrats 'vote him out' in 2018?

Can Democrats take the energy displayed at town halls in North Texas and across the country and turn it into victories at the ballot box? "To convert town hall activism to Democratic votes, we must earn trust with community organizers, recruit stellar candidates who will deliver, and inspire Texas' diverse new majority to the polls," said Cliff Walker, the political director for the Texas Democratic Party. "All the indicators for a perfect Democratic storm are aligning in 2018." Walker points out that Trump has had a rocky start as president. Like Democrats across the country, he hopes to use the new president as a foil, a reason to give Democrats a chance.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Straus hits Senate for ‘cooking books’ on Texas budget, though Patrick calls fund shift ‘very sound’

Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday accused Senate budget writers of "cooking the books" and using an "Enron-esque" accounting gimmick to achieve their wish to spend more but not incur fiscal hard-liners' wrath by tapping state savings. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick swiftly defended Sen. Jane Nelson, the chamber's chief budget writer, and other senators on the Finance Committee. He said the panel's $217.7 billion, two-year budget was "terrific work ... using a very sound fiscal method to do so." For weeks, the two top Republican legislative leaders have been sparring over the best way to handle Texas' budget crunch — and whether a draw-down of rainy day dollars is appropriate.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

North Texas transit projects could suffer under Trump budget, which dings 'localized' efforts

All politics isn’t local when it comes to President Donald Trump’s infrastructure priorities. That reality rang through in the White House’s recent budget blueprint, which sought cuts in transit funding that’s vital to Dallas Area Rapid Transit and others. For North Texas and other infrastructure-hungry regions, the rationale stood out just as much as the dollars. In critiquing some “inefficient” transportation grants, the White House cast the programs’ resulting projects as too “localized” and lacking “demonstrable national or regional benefits.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Fate of Texas 45 Southwest toll road project now in judge’s hands

Opponents of plans to build the Texas 45 Southwest toll road returned to federal court on Wednesday, asking a judge to stop the project now under construction and send planners back to the drawing board. Critics have long argued the 3.6 mile-long toll road, the subject of fierce debate in Austin for three decades, would harm the environment. Supporters and transportation planners have countered the fears are overblown and argued the additional infrastructure is badly needed. A dozen plaintiffs, including several Austin environmental groups and former mayors Carol Keeton and Frank Cooksey, charge the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and Texas Department of Transportation improperly separated the study on the toll road’s environmental impact from two other nearby proposals: adding toll lanes to the southern portion of MoPac Boulevard and new underpasses for the MoPac intersections at Slaughter Lane and La Crosse Avenue.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Texas Republican holdouts imperil GOP health care bill

Heading into what could be the most critical vote of the Trump presidency, about 10 of the 25 Republican members of Congress from Texas have yet to declare their support for the GOP plan to replace Obamacare with the American Health Care Act. Three of the seven Republicans representing parts of Travis County have yet to give a firm “yes,” though U.S. Reps. Roger Williams, R-Austin, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, seem to be leaning that way. It isn’t clear how U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, will land. As chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, McCaul faces the expectation from the White House and the House leadership that he will help put the legislation on which so much of their political capital is riding over the top.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Senate approves bill opposed to boycott of Israel

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved legislation banning state contracts and investment in companies that boycott Israel. Senate Bill 29, sent to the Texas House on a 25-4 vote, was a response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that seeks to change Israeli policy toward Palestinians. Texas should not do business with companies that participate in the “BDS” movement, which seeks to isolate Israel and disrupt its economy, said the bill’s author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. No senators spoke in opposition to SB 29 before the vote.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Trump’s Texas border wall hits a snag in Falcon Lake

ZAPATA — A few days before a late winter bass fishing tournament, a steady stream of anglers backed their motorboats into the chilly waters of Falcon Lake and zipped away in hopes of finding a lucky spot among the lake’s many inlets and islands. The largemouth bass are almost always biting in this 154-square mile reservoir, the largest lake on the Rio Grande and in many ways the economic lifeblood of surrounding Zapata County. Since it was created in 1953 with the construction of Falcon Dam, the bi-national lake has served as both a barrier and conduit between Mexico and Texas. But now that President Donald Trump is pushing for the construction of a wall or fence along the entire length of the border, some residents fear Falcon Lake could soon be surrounded by concrete.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Phillips: Abbott’s Texas stomps Austin, local governments

Welcome to Gov. Abbott’s Texas, where the state bullies local governments to bend to its will and strangles efforts of local people to govern themselves. That sounds surreal, but it is not a stretch if Abbott gets his way. The Texas Tribune reported this week that Abbott is proposing a “rifle-shot” law to pre-empt regulations of cities and counties that run counter to the state’s interest. Such an approach would wreck the current democratic process in which the Legislature publicly debates local ordinances before either validating them or striking them down. Here is what Abbott told the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank, during a Q&A session at the group’s meeting in Corpus Christi. “As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to pre-empt local regulations, is a superior approach,” The Tribune reported.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

House panel votes to raise age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18

he House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee on Wednesday voted to approve a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18. The proposal would affect thousands of 17-year-olds who encounter the criminal justice system by sending their cases to the juvenile justice system, a bone of contention for advocates and critics. Advocates say the crimes that 17-year-olds commit and their treatment needs are similar to 16-year-old offenders, who go into treatment programs under the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. Seventeen-year-olds are minors in all other aspects of society, bill supporters say. "As legislators, we have to remember that we live in the real world," House Bill 122 co-author and state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said in January.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texans in Congress anticipate controversial health care vote

Suspense was the word of the day outside of the U.S. House chamber Tuesday, as Republicans scrambled to figure out which members of their caucus opposed the plan to overhaul former President Obama's health care law that Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump aim to put to a vote on Thursday. Republicans across the board are bracing for, as one Texas delegation staffer put it, a "squeaker" of a vote margin — if the bill even makes it to the floor. With Democrats uniformly opposed to the proposed legislation, Ryan and his lieutenants — including some Texans — have little wiggle room to negotiate policy differences between the GOP's hardliners and moderates. And even then, there are no assurances that the Senate and House can square away their differences.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texas Senate passes restrictions on abortion insurance

The Texas Senate on Wednesday gave initial approval to a measure that would require women to pay a separate premium if they want their health plan to cover an elective abortion. Under Senate Bill 20, health plans would still be allowed to cover abortions that are deemed medically necessary. The measure does not make exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The vote was 19-10. The measure will get a final vote before heading to the House. "If you go back to the basics of insurance, it's to cover large, unexpected expenses," said the bill's author, state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. "In the case of abortion, you're electing to have that procedure done."

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Here's where the 25 House Republicans from Texas stand on the GOP health bill

A day before the U.S. House is poised to take a historic vote on a bill that would overhaul former President Obama's health care law, most Republicans in the Texas delegation are behind the measure with a few exceptions. But dramatically, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, withdrew his support for the proposed bill Wednesday, per the Huffington Post — reinforcing how unstable and perilous the vote counting process is proving for Republican leaders. Members are expected to vote on the bill Thursday night, but as of midday Wednesday, the bill was in enormous jeopardy. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump are pushing their caucus to pass the bill.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Ladner: Education savings accounts: A flexible alternative for Texas schools

The K-12 school system in Texas is currently at a crossroads. Since 1990, public school enrollment in Texas has grown by more than 50 percent — from approximately 3.3 million students in 1990 to 5.2 million today. The current public school system is incapable of handling the state’s growing population of 5- to 17-year-olds, and without substantial reform, students will suffer from overcrowding and a lack of opportunity to achieve their full potential. The Census Bureau projects that there will be an additional 1.6 million school-aged Texas residents by 2030. The state’s school districts simply can’t keep up with this growth, despite taking on enormous debt. However, a recent concept that would create K-12 education savings accounts (ESAs), which would be managed by parents with state oversight, seems to be a step in the right direction. In an ESA program, the state places public funds into a participating child’s account, allowing the parent to design a K-12 plan to suit the child’s needs and interests.

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2017

Report: State's interlock system stops thousands of drunk drivers

Fewer drunk drivers are able to hit the road in Texas thanks to ignition interlock systems, according to a recent report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group announced its findings in a press conference Tuesday, which showed that Texas leads the nation in the number of times a drunk driver has been prevented from operating a car because of an ignition interlock system. An ignition interlock works like a breathalyzer by requiring the driver to test his blood-alcohol concentration before getting on the road. They have stopped nearly 245,000 attempts to drunk drive in the state, the report found.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Ex-Congressman Stockman accused of stealing $800,000 from foundations, federal court records say

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, a Republican whose district stretched from Houston to Beaumont, allegedly conspired with two staffers to bilk conservative foundations out of at least $800,000 in donations meant for charitable purposes or voter education, according to federal court records. Details of the alleged scam are described in a plea deal signed in Houston by Thomas Dodd, Stockman's former campaign worker and 2013 congressional special assistant. Dodd pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of conspiracy and has agreed to help authorities build a case against Stockman in return for consideration on his sentencing. The maximum penalty for each charge is 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - March 21, 2017

West Texas ag leaders don’t see ‘end of the world’ for area industry in proposed Trump budget

Despite President Donald Trump’s proposal last week to cut $4.7 billion from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discretionary spending, South Plains residents saluted area farmers and producers with an optimistic outlook Tuesday during National Agriculture Day. “I’m not running around thinking the end of the world is coming because of what’s been proposed, but it is concerning to me that the administration feels like, or believes that there are areas in the agriculture budget that can take that kind of cut and there not be effects from it,” said Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers. “There’s room for improvement in any operation … but just to say they’re going to blanketly cut out — it’s very difficult to look at it and see how we’re going to make that work, especially knowing some of the reductions that have already been taken in some of those discretionary funds at USDA.”

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Abbott endorses idea of broad law to pre-empt local regulations

Gov. Greg Abbott suggested Tuesday it would be good for the Texas Legislature to pass a broad law saying that state rules always preempt local regulations. "As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to preempt local regulations, is a superior approach," Abbott said at an event hosted by a think tank in Corpus Christi, adding that such a law would be "more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you're going to have the certainty to run your lives." Abbott's comments were delivered during a question-and-answer event hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Rick Perry blasts election of Texas A&M's first gay SGA president

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a former Texas governor and Texas A&M University Aggies Yell Leader, said Wednesday the election of the first openly gay president of the institution's student body was "stolen" and that the student who had the most votes was disqualified through a process that "made a mockery of due process and transparency." In an extraordinary submission to the Houston Chronicle's Editorial Board, the energy secretary also suggested that Bobby Brooks' victory was engineered by the Student Government Association in a quest for diversity on the traditionally conservative campus. BACKGROUND: Openly gay junior to be Texas A&M student body president Brooks was declared the winner in the campus election by the SGA even though he came in second in the vote count to Robert McIntosh , who is white and was disqualified by student election officials.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Texas tries to join fight against BLM methane regulations

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked a Wyoming court for permission to join a lawsuit protesting the Bureau of Land Management’s new rules regulating methane leaks and flaring from oil and gas operations. If granted, Texas would join Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota in their request to stay enforcement of the rule, which were passed in November of last year. Wyoming initiated the lawsuit, which is opposed by California, New Mexico and several environmental advocacy groups.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

State lawmakers take aim at campus sexual assault

State legislation debated Wednesday in Austin aims to crack down on campus sexual assault, which has been largely under the purview of universities, police departments and federal guidelines. The House's higher education committee heard testimony on three bills and senators on Thursday plan to discuss other proposals in the state affairs committee, including one from Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin that would require an affirmative "yes" before sex on college campuses. The state's focus on campus sexual assault picked up in advance of this legislative session as an investigation found that Baylor University mishandled reports of the violent crime.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texas Republicans divided as health care overhaul hangs in the balance

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas had a long day Wednesday. He set off a mild firestorm early in the morning in a CNN interview when he conceded his party needed to do a better job selling its replacement to President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul and promised Americans they would be able to keep their current insurance plan and doctors. But those remarks were largely forgotten just hours later amid the continuing chaos surrounding the run-up toward a Thursday vote in the U.S. House. By nightfall, Sessions found himself sparring with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi over repeal in a marathon meeting of the House Rules Committee, which he chairs.

WFAA - March 22, 2017

North Texas State Rep. targets fly by night roofers with state certification bill

An effort is underway in the Texas House of Representatives to protect storm victims from roofers with big promises and shoddy work. On December 26, 2015, a tornado left Joyce Ghormley's house with significant damage. Desperate to get their kids back home, she and her husband hired a contractor to do their roof and more. They say he was a friend of a friend. "We thought this was someone we could trust, they’re local and we felt confident with using someone that we thought we kind of knew," she said.

The Eagle - March 17, 2017

Texas A&M's budget could be slashed by $29 million; former Sen. Ogden weighs in

Texas A&M University could see $29 million in cuts to its current state funding over the next two years under the latest draft of the Texas Senate's state budget. Under the Senate's newly adjusted budget announced Wednesday, each university in the state would receive a 6 to 10 percent reduction of its current 2016-2017 funding levels. The Senate's updated budget proposal marks a shift from its first draft, which caused concern throughout the higher education community for its total removal of special-items funding -- a critical financial component for many regional universities.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 22, 2017

Kress: We keep lowering the bar for Texas public schools and acting like it’s good

“94 percent are doing a dang fine job.” So says an education bureaucrat about the effectiveness of education in Texas. On what basis could such a bloated assessment be made? It certainly doesn’t square with the fact that just above 35 percent of students graduate with college or career readiness. What about the high rates of attrition and low rates of graduation from institutions of higher education, especially for our rapidly growing Latino population? More than 35 percent of all students who enter college require remediation, and roughly only 50 percent complete college. And, as to our participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, on a subject where we do our best, 8th grade math, only 32 percent of our students perform at either the advanced or the proficient level.

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

Holik, Fowler: Kids no longer get arrested for truancy and guess what they still go to class

During the last Texas Legislative Session, lawmakers passed a much needed criminal justice reform, empowering families and education administrators to address unauthorized school absences for juveniles rather than the criminal justice system. Authored by Representative James White and Senator John Whitmire and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott, HB 2398 decriminalized truancy in Texas. Prior to this landmark legislation, truancy cases were particularly a problem in Dallas County, even garnering the attention of federal investigators following reports of inequitable punishment. It was clear Texas needed to address its truancy system. This is why the bill was adopted by legislators. Passage was a bipartisan effort driven by the law's commonsense approach to a detrimental, but rather innocuous, infraction.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Remember the Alamo? What San Antonio's growth says about the Texas population boom

For eight years in a row, Harris County, Texas, added the most new residents of any county in the country. That changed in 2016, when it was unseated by Maricopa County, Ariz., home to Phoenix, according to the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. But careful watchers of the Texas economy will recall that July 2015 to July 2016 -- the period of time the census measured -- was also exactly when the effects of the oil bust were taking their toll on job numbers. In the second half of the year, things picked up, economists said. And although Texas’ growth overall dipped below its 10-year average last year, the Lone Star State’s economy is projected to come back strong in 2017.

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Senate Education Committee passes school choice bill

The Senate Education Committee voted 7-3 Thursday to pass Senate Bill 3, a key “private school choice” bill. The vote came two days after a hearing that lasted more than eight hours, with more than 150 people filling the room to testify in support and opposition. The bill would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition and homeschooling expenses. Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the author of the bill, submitted a new version to the committee for the vote, which he said would decrease the cost of the programs.

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Texas cities predict dozens of canceled events if "bathroom bill" passes

Every three years, the American Public Transportation Association holds an event it calls the APTA EXPO. For its 2026 EXPO, the trade group for the "bus, rapid transit and commuter rail systems industry" had put Dallas on its list of possible destinations, according to city officials, who estimated the event would generate more than $40 million in economic activity. Then the "bathroom bill" began moving forward in the Texas Legislature. That prompted the association to warn the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau that it may be out of the running for an event nine years in the future. “We are looking at several cities for our EXPO and Dallas is one city under consideration," Lenay Gore, the association's senior director of meetings and trade shows, told the Tribune. "If the law passes, we would not consider Texas for any future meetings.”

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Texas should spend more time finding out why schools fail young black men, lawmaker says

Texas schools would be held accountable for how well they are educating African-American boys if a bill discussed in Austin becomes law. The proposed legislation by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, would require districts that have at least 1,000 black males enrolled to be graded on their progress. That would be about 70 districts, mostly urban and suburban. African-American boys often face disparities that begin in preschool, and they are most at risk for falling into what advocates call the "school-to-prison" pipeline. Dutton noted that black males have the lowest graduation rates in 35 states across the country, including Texas.

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

FBI Director James Comey to speak at UT

FBI Director James Comey will speak at the University of Texas Thursday as part of a symposium on using intelligence to defend the U.S. Comey’s keynote address comes after a House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday in which Comey confirmed that the FBI is investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. He also refuted Trump’s claim that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration. The “Intelligence in Defense of the Homeland” symposium, which is being organized by the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, comes at a time when the intelligence community has come under attack from Trump.

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

When the one drug you believe protects your child could put you in jail

The Zartlers want Texas lawmakers to pass a bill, currently on file in Austin, that would legalize marijuana for autism patients under a doctor’s care. Such a bill is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where many conservatives remain unconvinced the unproven treatment is a good idea. To persuade lawmakers, Mark and Christy decided to make a video last month about their struggle -- despite the possibilities of getting in trouble with the police or Child Protective Services. The video shows Kara punching herself and yelling. Mark places a clear-plastic medical mask over Kara’s nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor. Within minutes, Kara is calm.

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

Texas Braces For Medicaid Cuts Under GOP Health Plan

Many in Texas are keeping a close eye on the Republican bid to replace the Affordable Care Act. One of the big changes is how it would affect low-income people, seniors and people with disabilities who all get help from Medicaid. And Texans on both sides of the political spectrum say the Lone Star State is not going to fare well. As the GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, works its way through Congress, Anne Dunkelberg, with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, said she’s a little stumped. “I have worked on Medicaid and uninsured and health care access issues in Texas for well over 20 years,” she chuckled. She said this bill leaves the fate of some current funding streams unclear, and there’s one pot of money she’s particularly concerned about.

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2017

Falkenberg: Texas or Moscow? Abbott has tyranny in the bag.

There are parts of Woodland Park - a serene, out-of-the-way tangle of trees and turtles and scampering rabbits in the heart of the Heights - that make you forget you're in the nation's fourth-largest city. Then there are the parts that make you remember. Such as the plastic grocery bags hanging high from the trees like some grotesque invasive species. Earlier this week, my daughter's Daisy troop took plastic grabbers to some of the trash that regular rains and flooding wash in to the park. But the hanging bags remained cruelly out of their reach. Now, legislation proposed in Austin would keep it that way. A Texas Senate committee last week heard testimony on the bill by state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, that would keep Houston and every other city in the state from restricting use of plastic bags like other jurisdictions have done, including Austin, Laredo, Brownsville and South Padre.

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

Senate panel approves private school voucher bill

The Senate Education Committee passed a bill on Thursday that would redirect state money to help students pay for private school tuition. The committee’s approval comes after more than nine hours of public testimony on Tuesday on a bill that has emerged as one of the most divisive public education issues this session. Senate Bill 3, which proponents have called the school choice bill and opponents have compared to private school vouchers, would create a system of so-called education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. Students leaving public school could use the savings accounts to pay for a variety of education services, including tuition for private schools, online courses and educational therapies.

D Magazine - March 21, 2017

What Will Happen to North Texas’ Dreamers?

The Trump administration made its way to the White House on a path paved with immigration-specific promises: the construction of a border wall, threats to end Obama-induced protections of undocumented immigrants, the assurance of mass deportations. And since Jan. 20, those promises have begun to flirt with reality. Trump has twice had executive orders banning travel from majority-Muslim countries blocked by federal judges. He’s made space in his first budget proposal for the pledged border wall separating the United States from Mexico. Agents with the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency have detained hundreds during sweeps in recent weeks. The world is closely watching the Trump presidency, but perhaps the most engaged audience lies within America’s so-called “Dreamers,” young undocumented immigrants who have temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, order.

Texas Observer - March 22, 2017

Meet the ‘Abolitionists,’ the Most Extreme Anti-Abortion Group at the Texas Lege

“WE THE PEOPLE OF THE SOVEREIGN STATE OF TEXAS DEMAND THE TOTAL AND IMMEDIATE ABOLITION OF HUMAN ABORTION.” Whenever there’s an abortion hearing at the Capitol, members of Abolish Abortion Texas, a 1-year-old religious right group, are likely nearby, handing out pamphlets with that demand emblazoned on the first page. Unlike established anti-abortion groups, Abolish Abortion Texas is only loosely organized. It doesn’t have a headquarters, hold official meetings or collect dues. But the group maintains a hard, unyielding line on abortion that makes even stridently anti-abortion activists uncomfortable.

County Stories

San Antonio Express News - March 22, 2017

Kevin Wolff pleads ‘no contest’ to DWI charge

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff pleaded no contest Wednesday to the driving while intoxicated charge that has hung over him since last summer, accepting a year’s probation and a breath monitor when he gets behind the wheel for the next six months. If he doesn’t live up to the terms of his probation, he could go to jail for 180 days. Wearing only a T-shirt and boxer shorts, Wolff was arrested July 31 after twice rear-ending a car in a Whataburger drive-thru line around 3 a.m. on San Pedro Avenue. He has said he drank vodka with peach tea cocktails, then took three prescription drugs, including the sleep aid Ambien, the latter possibly in an accidental double dose.

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Harris County loses residents to other areas; Texas suburbs growing

After having the nation's largest annual gain in residents for eight years, Harris County in 2016 was unseated by Arizona’s Maricopa County and lost thousands of residents to other parts of the country, new census figures show. And though it still experienced overall growth because of expanding families and international immigration, Harris County’s loss of residents to other areas depicts an ongoing reality in Texas where the suburbs continue to lead in population growth largely because of domestic migration.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Houston beats its own tourism goal ahead of schedule

More than 20 million tourists visited Houston in 2016, a record that meets the city's benchmark goal two years earlier than expected. Figures compiled by research group TNS Global and the state of Texas found that three-quarters of the 17.3 million domestic visitors came for leisure activities rather than business. Another 3.2 million travelers were international, with 2.2 million people visiting from Mexico. "Travel is a vital part of our Houston economy," Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. "The industry supports more than 140,000 jobs in our region and contributes $16.5 billion to the local economy."

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

DMN: Celebrating Roy Williams, the man who forced Dallas' leaders to look more like Dallas' population

Behind all the political success blacks and Hispanics have achieved in this city, they have veteran civil rights activist Roy Williams to thank for helping to pave the way. There may have been no bigger Dallas figure in the 1980s and '90s in the fight for representation and an increase in minority leadership than Williams, who with Marvin Crenshaw, filed and won a federal lawsuit that led to a new system of electing the City Council. Williams, 74, died Saturday of complications from a stroke at the Dallas VA Medical Center. Folks of a certain age here easily remember him as an imposing fixture in the City Council chambers. He was among the outspoken civil rights leaders who challenged, verbally jostled with and rankled the powers that be.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Schwitzer: How a prayer room used by Muslim students in North Texas supports religious liberty for all

For the past seven years, Muslim students at Liberty High School have been able to use a vacant classroom for prayer services initiated and led by the students. Without this accommodation, the students were leaving campus each Friday to attend prayers, missing over a quarter of the school day in the process. There had been no complaints about the arrangement until last week. Following positive media coverage earlier this month in the student-run news website Wingspan and on KERA, the Office of the Attorney General notified Frisco ISD Superintendent Jeremy Lyon of an "initial inquiry that left several questions unresolved." That initial inquiry apparently did not include any conversation with Liberty Principal Scott Warstler, Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon, or any of the faculty or students at the school.

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

With passage of health care bill still uncertain, Cruz huddles with House GOP holdouts

Sen. Ted Cruz isn't saying "vote no" on the GOP's health care legislation. But as House conservatives look to him for guidance ahead of a crucial vote expected as soon as Thursday, Cruz said he isn't yet a "yes." “I want to get to yes, I want all of us to get to yes,” Cruz said Wednesday. “But in order to get to yes, we have to succeed in enacting reforms that will actually reduce premiums and make health insurance more affordable.”

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 22, 2017

Conservatives could torpedo Republican health care overhaul

Their top legislative priority dangling in peril, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders cajoled recalcitrant GOP lawmakers Wednesday to back their healthcare overhaul, but it was far from clear they would be able to sway enough votes. A day ahead of Thursday’s long-awaited House showdown roll call, conservatives insisted they had the votes to torpedo the measure and the number of lawmakers publicly expressing opposition snowballed. Some conservative House members were urging their leaders to delay the vote if it is clear that it would fail. White House spokesman Sean Spicer declared there’s no plan B for how to deliver on Trump’s promise to repeal and replace Obamacare if the vote fails.

Politico - March 22, 2017

High court rules public schools must do more to educate special-needs kids

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that school districts must go the extra mile to accommodate students with disabilities in a unanimous decision that could dramatically expand the rights of special education students. All eight justices sided with the Colorado student in the case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, in one of the most significant special education cases in decades. Endrew was diagnosed with autism and his parents feel his public school and individualized education program had failed him. They sought reimbursement for the cost of sending him to private school. The ruling is a major victory for special education advocacy groups.

Politico - March 22, 2017

House Democrats' new Obamacare strategy: Get out of the way

House Democrats have a new plan to tank Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal: Get out of the way. Democratic leaders in the House know they’re powerless to stop the GOP’s health care bill. So instead, with a repeal vote looming Thursday, they’re executing a strategic retreat. After previously deploying a bevy of procedural tactics to delay the bill from reaching the House floor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her caucus are shifting strategies and hoping that Republicans will run their beleaguered plan aground on their own.

Washington Post - March 22, 2017

Democrats continue to press Gorsuch for answers, but Republicans’ confidence of confirmation grows

Democratic senators more aggressively questioned Judge Neil Gorsuch on Wednesday in hopes of drawing him out on his potential independence from President Trump, while Republicans began congratulating him — signaling they anticipate his successful confirmation to the Supreme Court. Senators completed two days of questioning Gorsuch with repeated inquiries about abortion rights, money in politics and a Supreme Court ruling issued on Wednesday that reversed a decision of his appeals court. The hearings will continue Thursday with testimony of those who support and oppose the nomination of the 49-year-old judge on the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit

Washington Post - March 22, 2017

Manafort is gone, but his business associate remains a key part of Trump’s operation

The White House on Wednesday sought to again distance itself from President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is under increasing scrutiny over his connections to Russian business interests. But even as Trump officials downplay Manafort’s role, his ­decade-long business associate Rick Gates remains entrenched in the president’s operation. Gates is one of four people leading a Trump-blessed group that defends the president’s agenda. As recently as last week, he was at the White House to meet with officials as part of that work. Through Manafort, Gates is tied to many of the same business titans from Ukraine and Russia, including Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with strong ties to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Manafort had a multimillion-dollar contract with Deripaska between at least 2005 and 2009 that was aimed at helping the political interests of Putin.

The Hill - March 23, 2017

Poll: Voters split on Trump's job performance

Sixty days into President Trump’s term, registered voters are split over how he is performing as the nation’s leader. According to new data from the Harvard-Harris Poll provided exclusively to The Hill, 49 percent approve of the job Trump is doing and 51 percent do not. The partisan breakdown of the survey is 37 percent Democrats, 30 percent Republicans, 28 percent independents and 5 percent others. Registered voters of different party affiliations have very different views of the president. Trump gets 87 percent approval among Republicans and 80 percent disapproval among Democrats; independents are split, with 47 percent approving and 53 disapproving.

Associated Press - March 23, 2017

AP Exclusive: US probes banking of ex-Trump campaign chief

U.S. Treasury Department agents have recently obtained information about offshore financial transactions involving President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as part of a federal anti-corruption probe into his work in Eastern Europe, The Associated Press has learned. Information about Manafort's transactions was turned over earlier this year to U.S. agents working in the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network by investigators in Cyprus at the U.S. agency's request, a person familiar with the case said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss a criminal investigation. The Cyprus attorney general, one of the country's top law enforcement officers, was made aware of the American request. A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately respond to questions from the AP.

New York Times - March 23, 2017

Light: A ‘Stand Your Ground’ Expansion That Expands Inequality

The Florida Senate recently passed a bill intended to make its already robust Stand Your Ground law even more friendly to people who say they killed in self-defense. Under the current law, someone in this situation can avoid a trial if he proves at a pretrial hearing that he was acting in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm. The new Republican-sponsored bill would flip the burden of proof. It would make the prosecution responsible for proving that someone who used deadly force instead of retreating from an attack was not behaving reasonably. If the prosecution could not do so, the killer would walk free. Supporters say this legal innovation will give important extra protection to Floridians who defend themselves from an imminent danger. But it’s not that simple.

New York Times - March 22, 2017

Democrats Fail to Move Gorsuch Off Script and Beyond Generalities

In his final day of questioning at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch continued to answer with practiced generalities on Wednesday, frustrating Democrats who seemed unable to rattle him or pin him down. “You have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have seen before,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “And maybe that’s a virtue, I don’t know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important to a vote.” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said he was searching to find “a beating heart and an independent streak” behind Judge Gorsuch’s testimony.

New York Times - March 22, 2017

Bernstein, Spielberg: Why Medicaid Work Requirements Won’t Work

Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Obamacare is headed to the House floor on Thursday for a vote that, even now, could go either way. That may sound surprising since Republicans have a sizable majority in the House. But if you’ve been following the debate over their replacement plan, the American Health Care Act, you know that, as harsh as it is, it’s not draconian enough for some members of Speaker Ryan’s party. In an attempt to win over those lawmakers, the Republican leadership has offered ideas to restrict coverage even further. One of the worst is a Medicaid work requirement. That may sound sensible to conservatives who, contrary to evidence, believe that Medicaid receipt discourages work. But it’s a mistake.

Texas Public Radio - March 22, 2017

Ivanka Trump's Move To The White House Raises Questions About Ethics

In her unpaid role, Ivanka will "continue to be the eyes and ears of her father and provide candid advice as she has for her entire adult life," her attorney, Jamie Gorelick, said in an NPR interview. "She is intending to spend some time on initiatives that she cares about, particularly with regard to women in the workplace." Ivanka's elevated position has historians and ethics experts questioning the appropriateness of having one of the president's adult children serving directly in the administration, especially while continuing to own a business. Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, says Ivanka's White House role raises concerns such as: "Do the rules apply on nepotism, on conflict of interest, on other kinds of regulations that employees face?"

Bloomberg - March 22, 2017

Lake: Comey Is Now the Most Powerful Person in Washington

One of the most important things we learned Monday from the House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russian influence of the 2016 elections was that the hackers may have wanted to get caught. FBI director James Comey said Russia's cyber intruders were "unusually loud," as though they "wanted us to see what they were doing." That's counterintuitive. The Russians have officially denied taking active measures in the 2016 election. They have complained that the toxic environment in Washington has scuttled any chance for a reset in the relationship with the U.S. So if Kremlin proxies were meddling in the U.S., why would they want us to know? Comey says this is because the specter of Russian interference in and of itself instills doubt about our electoral process. It gets people to freak out. It calls into question the legitimacy of the election Donald Trump just won. It divides us. If that was the mission, then: mission accomplished.

The Hill - March 22, 2017

GOP chairman: Surveillance was collected about Trump transition team

The U.S. intelligence community incidentally collected information on members of President Trump's transition team and the information was "widely disseminated" in intelligence reports, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Wednesday. "I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition," Nunes told reporters. "Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports."

The Hill - March 22, 2017

GOP faces risky decision on ObamaCare vote

It’s full steam ahead on ObamaCare for House GOP leaders, who insist they are going forward with Thursday’s scheduled vote on their replacement legislation regardless of threats from conservatives. Asked in a Fox News interview if the Thursday vote would be delayed if the GOP doesn't have the votes, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said, "I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. “We’re not losing votes, we’re adding votes, and we feel like we’re getting really, really close.” The House Freedom Caucus insists it has enough votes to stop the American Health Care Act in its tracks, but GOP leadership aides say the bill is headed to the floor regardless.

New York Times - March 22, 2017

Joviality at Neil Gorsuch’s Hearing Masks Drama Behind the Scenes

Judge Neil M. Gorsuch continued to be questioned Wednesday at his confirmation hearing, but the real struggle over his nomination to the Supreme Court is already well on its way to the Senate floor. Republicans reveled in the nominee’s gaffe-free performance — one Democrats found a tad too scripted and stuffed with a lot of gollys and gees — and are ready to move ahead as quickly as they can. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, was emphatic Tuesday that Mr. Gorsuch would be seated on the Supreme Court before the Senate leaves for its April recess in two weeks.

Washington Examiner - March 21, 2017

Old Rick Perry aide can't let go, opens lobbying shop instead

Goodbyes are hard. Sometimes it's best just to avoid them altogether. Or at least that's the strategy of a former top aide to Texas Governor Rick Perry. He managed Perry's 2016 bid for president and then Jeff Miller auditioned to be Perry's chief of staff over at the Department of Energy. But even though the aide didn't get the job, he's not leaving. To stay close to his old boss, Miller launched his own lobbying shop. Shortly after hanging a shingle on K-Street last February, the politico-turned-lobbyist started racking up energy-related clients. Though Perry was always an oil man, Miller's current portfolio includes both fossil fuels and green energy. According to E&E News, Miller will lobby for an electric-car company and the corporation behind the Dakota Access pipeline.

CNN - March 23, 2017

US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN. This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source. The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

Politico - March 22, 2017

Obama's homeland security chief: 'Trump has the potential to be a great president'

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Wednesday that he believes President Donald Trump "has the potential to be a great president," and suggested that the Trump administration's issuance of an emergency order banning passengers from carrying larger electronic devices on certain flights from the Middle East and North Africa to the United States would be good for national security. "I actually believe that Donald Trump — and I told him this when I met with him in December — I actually believe that Donald Trump has the potential to be a great president in sort of the Nixon-goes-to-China way, or Reagan-goes-to-the-Soviet-Union way, if he can find a way to rein in some of the more unhealthy impulses, listen to his staff, bring on a full complement of political appointees who will help him govern," Johnson said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday.

Rolling Stone - March 21, 2017

How Politicians Force Doctors to Lie to Women

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate advanced a bill that would enable doctors to lie to pregnant patients about fetal deformities in order to coercively dissuade them from choosing to have an abortion. Specifically, SB 25 eliminates withholding information regarding fetal health as a cause of action in so-called "wrongful birth" lawsuits, which prevents parents from pursuing financial damages. Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton, the bill's author, has repeatedly noted that the legislation sends "a message." "Senate Bill 25 will send a message that Texas does not believe that a life, in and of itself, is an injury in which parents need a damage payment," Creighton told CNN earlier this month. To advocates for women's health, the message is different: that pregnant women can't necessarily trust their doctors.

New York Times - March 22, 2017

Eyeing Trump’s Budget Plan, Republican Governors Say ‘No, Thanks’

Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky was unrestrained in his praise for President Trump: Opening for him at a rally on Monday, Mr. Bevin, a conservative Republican, echoed Mr. Trump’s “America First” slogan and only gently noted the nagging divisions in their party. “We now have a president and a Congress that are united in party, and yet we still have disagreements among us,” Mr. Bevin said, insisting, “This is healthy and good.” In private, Mr. Bevin has been blunter about the party’s disagreements. Just days before appearing with Mr. Trump in Louisville, he joined a conference call with the president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to protest a White House proposal to defund the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency that spans 13 states and steers millions of dollars in federal money to Kentucky. Mr. Bevin was not alone in his dismay.

Associated Press - March 23, 2017

Applications for US jobless aid rise to still-low 258,000

More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, but applications are still at a low level that points to a healthy job market. THE NUMBERS: Weekly unemployment benefit applications rose 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 258,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average ticked up 1,000 to 240,000. The number of people receiving benefits fell 39,000 to 2 million, the department said. That's down 8.6 percent from a year earlier. THE TAKEAWAY: Applications, which are a proxy for layoffs, have been below 300,000, a historically low level, for 80 weeks. The figure had topped 100 weeks but the Labor Department revised the data Thursday.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

Schultz: Dear Trump supporters, maybe you try to understand us

For months now, I've been hearing and reading about how those of us who didn't support Trump need to understand those of you who did. We must listen to you, the argument goes. We must understand your anger. I'm reaching my saturation point with this one-sided conversation, because it is always framed as a threat. Figure out why so many of my fellow Americans supported Trump, or lose more elections. This is an argument for political ambition, not reconciliation. I don't want to mock or ridicule you, but I also don't want to pretend that my objections are irrelevant. Many of you Trump supporters regularly write to ask why I won't give him a chance. I want to know how you can continue to tolerate a man so needy that, even as president, he requires campaign rallies full of cheering throngs to keep his ego afloat.

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

Israel police arrest suspect in threats on US Jewish targets

Israeli police on Thursday arrested a 19-year-old Israeli Jewish man as the primary suspect in a string of bomb threats targeting Jewish community centers and other institutions in the U.S., marking a potential breakthrough in the case. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the suspect as a hacker, but said his motives were still unclear. Israeli media identified him as an American-Israeli dual citizen and said he had been found unfit for compulsory service in the Israeli military. "He's the guy who was behind the JCC threats," Rosenfeld said, referring to the dozens of anonymous threats phoned in to Jewish community centers in the U.S. over the past two months.

Politico - March 23, 2017

Obamacare repeal in jeopardy as Trump offers 11th-hour concessions

The Republican plan to replace Obamacare — backed vehemently by President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan — continued to bleed support from moderate House members Thursday morning just hours before an expected vote. An effort to woo conservatives hatched late Wednesday appeared to backfire with other factions in the House Republican conference, and the growing rebellion threatens to derail Trump's guarantee that he will repeal and replace the seven-year-old health care law. “After careful deliberation, I cannot support the bill and will oppose it,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) announced after he joined moderates for a two-hour meeting with Ryan and House leaders late Wednesday. “I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals.”

Politico - March 23, 2017

Nunes apologizes after going directly to White House with monitoring claims

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to members of his panel Thursday for not informing Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, before going public with allegations that Trump transition messages were inadvertently intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. A committee aide said that Nunes apologized "for not sharing information about the documents he saw with the minority before going public” and that “he pledged to work with them on this issue.”

Politico - March 23, 2017

GOP Takes Up Russia-Aligned Attack On Soros

A group of congressional Republicans is teaming up with Russia-backed politicians in Eastern Europe with the shared goal of stopping a common enemy: billionaire financier George Soros. Led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’ Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left.”

All - March 22, 2017

Lead Stories

Wall St. Journal - March 21, 2017

WSJ: A President’s Credibility

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago that he had “found out that [Barack] Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory” on Election Day. He has offered no evidence for his claim, and a parade of intelligence officials, senior Republicans and Democrats have since said they have seen no such evidence. Yet the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims.

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

Abbott wants "broad-based law" that pre-empts local regulations

As local control battles rage at the Texas Capitol, Gov. Greg Abbott is voicing support for a much more sweeping approach to the issues that have captured headlines. "As opposed to the state having to take multiple rifle-shot approaches at overriding local regulations, I think a broad-based law by the state of Texas that says across the board, the state is going to pre-empt local regulations, is a superior approach," Abbott said Tuesday during a Q&A session hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, an Austin-based think tank. Such an approach, Abbott added, "makes it more simple, more elegant, but more importantly, provides greater advance notice to businesses and to individuals that you’re going to have the certainty to run your lives."

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Richtsmeier: Dallas first responders played by the rules and now politicians are changing the game

Lately I wonder: Am I still living in the United States of America? Can the government really seize money from our pension accounts? Can the government really take our money hostage and deny access to our pension accounts? Can Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and these public officials really disguise stealing money -- our money -- as an "equity adjustment" and get away with it? Flynn's plan is not a shared sacrifice as these politicians would have you believe. This bill places the burden solely on the backs of first responders. Can they not see our backs are broken? We have nothing left to sacrifice. Nothing.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Herman: Texas Legislature halfway through all the damage it can do?

We’re just about halfway through the 140-day legislative session. Through mid-morning Tuesday, 8,274 pieces of legislation had been filed and 1,241 had been approved. Sounds pretty productive until you realize that 1,226 of the approved measures were resolutions honoring stuff like really nice dead people, a hometown church or winners of the Robstown school district’s coveted “Proud You’re A Picker Award.” (Congrats to Gregario Vargas, Roel Tagle and Mary Ann Saenz.) So, utilizing basic arithmetic, this means in half a legislative session, 15 real pieces of legislation have been approved by our hard-working legislators and the other ones. At that rate, we can look forward to a total of 30 real pieces of legislation by the time the session ends May 29.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Senators go after critics of bill that would give parents state funds for private school

Staunchly conservative GOP senators on Tuesday hit back against claims that their "school choice" bill is a voucher plan skimming money from public schools, inviting fraud and wrongly mixing church with state. At a hearing that drew scores of witnesses, the Senate education panel's Republicans and one of its Democrats, Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio, spoke glowingly of how the bill would help children escape bullying and bad neighborhood schools. "It's not a winner-take-all. We're not trying to decimate anybody," said Sen. Larry Taylor, the bill's sponsor.

KGTV - March 21, 2017

California's 'Resist the Wall Act': If you build Trump's 'wall of shame,' we won't invest in you

A San Diego state legislator and two other Assembly members today introduced a bill that would require California's pension funds to divest from companies involved in building the border wall championed by President Donald Trump. Assembly Bill 946 -- the Resist the Wall Act -- was co-authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, and Assemblymen Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella. "The state's contracting and investment practices should reflect the values of our state,'' said Gonzalez Fletcher. "It's clear the people of California don't want to invest in the hateful values that the Trump wall represents.'' Ting called the wall that would separate the U.S. and Mexico a "Wall of Shame.''

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Senate lawmakers discuss bills to slow college tuition increases

Five bills trying to stop the cost of college from increasing came before the Senate’s higher education committee on Wednesday morning. The bills' authors are responding to soaring college costs that have burdened Texas families and students as they try to receive post-secondary credentials. Statewide, tuition and fees more than doubled from fall 2003, when lawmakers began allowing universities to set their own tuition, to fall 2015. Universities say that's because state appropriations haven't kept pace with growing student and research needs.

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

More property tax restrictions on the move in the Legislature

Despite local officials’ warnings that public safety will be shortchanged, the Texas Senate voted Tuesday to put new restrictions on how much local property tax revenue can be raised by cities and counties. The 18-12 vote sends Senate Bill 2 to the House, where a similar measure has been filed by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. Local officials will continue to press their case in the House for easing or ditching the measure, which supporters cast as tax relief for beleaguered property owners. “Texas taxpayers know the truth. Property taxes are rising too fast,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, author of the bill.

Washington Post - March 22, 2017

New poll: only 3% of Trump voters regret their vote

Within weeks of the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, social media posts expressing voters’ second thoughts began trending. While some Donald Trump voters felt he was backtracking on initial hard-line positions, the Huffington Post and other websites reported on hashtags such as #Trumpgrets — used by voters irked that his campaign persona was not simply an act to win votes. A subsequent wave of regretful Trump voters tweeted about executive orders they perceived as misguided and dangerous. Even more nuanced mainstream news stories included such headlines as “These Iowans voted for Trump. Many of them are already disappointed” or comments that “a significant segment of Trump’s coalition is not entirely enchanted with his actions or public persona.”

Xconomy - March 21, 2017

Why Austin Tech Entrepreneur Joseph Kopser Might Run For Congress

Republicans have controlled Texas politics for so long that “we no longer have the good competition of ideas,” says Austin entrepreneur Joseph Kopser. That’s why he says he’s considering becoming a Democratic challenger to incumbent Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in the 2018 elections. Kopser, who founded and sold his startup, RideScout, to Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler AG in 2014, has increasingly involved himself in discussions about policy, transportation, workforce development, and education. “We’ve enjoyed the ‘Texas Economic Miracle,’ but we can’t sustain our leadership and future growth if we don’t invest more in our people today,” Kopser wrote last week in a blog post announcing his potential candidacy.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

State freezes bid to privatize foster care in northwest Texas

State officials have frozen an effort to privatize the foster care system in northwest Texas, cancelling bids for a much-heralded plan that would put the fate of children in 30 counties in the hands of a private contractor. The Department of Family and Protective Services has put its request for proposals for “foster care redesign” on pause, saying in a letter to bidders that the contract is on hold “due to a possible issue with the evaluation process.” Officials had anticipated awarding a contract in January. Foster care redesign is essentially privatization. Under the model, one contractor would coordinate the care of all the foster children in a designated geographical area and make most of the big decisions in the lives of the foster children they oversee, such as where they live, what services they get and what schools they attend.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Texas Senate votes to limit city and county property tax increases

The Texas Senate on Tuesday voted 18-12 to approve a bill that would trigger an automatic referendum if a city or county raises property taxes by 5 percent or more. Currently, a tax ratification election only takes place if local governments raise taxes 8 percent or more and if taxpayers petition to force the referendum. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who authored Senate Bill 2, drummed up support for the measure, a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, by holding a series of public hearings across the state leading up to the legislative session to air complaints from property taxpayers ranging from big businesses to low-income families.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Mitchell, Philpot: Enterprise Fund gives Texans’ money to their competitors

In 2013 and 2014, then-gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott expressed skepticism about corporate welfare. His predecessor, Governor Rick Perry, had no such qualms. Perry had established the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) in 2003 to help attract out-of-state businesses by dispensing “economic development” incentives. It grew to become the largest closing fund of its kind in the country. But candidate Abbott wasn’t impressed. He repeatedly worried about corporate welfare cronyism, saying, “government should get out of the business of picking winners and losers.” However, when asked whether this meant he would discontinue the TEF—a program that does just that—the candidate did not directly answer.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Bill aims to expand coverage of new breast cancer screening technology

Austin resident Anne Hunt gets a mammogram every year, and she didn’t hesitate to pay extra for a more detailed 3D scan that can detect cancer in its earlier stages last year, though Texas insurers typically don’t cover the cost. The $60 fee for the imaging — not covered by Hunt’s insurance — was “worth every penny,” she says. But that cost could put the technology out of reach for some Texas women, reducing their chances of early detection. “Your quality of life is at risk,” Hunt said. “If you can catch it early and take care of it, then you don’t have to look in the rear-view mirror anymore.” On Tuesday, Hunt and a group of medical experts rolled up to the Capitol in a bus to showcase the benefits of 3D mammography technology, as legislators consider ways to make the technology more accessible.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Shirk: Proposed state legislation limit freedom of expression

It has been seven years since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee. By holding that unlimited corporate spending to “influence” political outcomes is a form of protected speech, the Court significantly altered the American marketplace of ideas. Political representation — like commodities — is now open for bidding; unreported dark money, Super-PACs, and legions of well-connected lobbyists ensure that the First Amendment remains robust and vibrant for a the minority of voters who benefit from huge infusions of money into the political process. As meaningful engagement in the legislative process has become increasingly narrowed because of Citizens United, it is possible to find some reassurance that freedom of expression permits the percolation of fresh ideas challenging the status quo and incumbent structures of power.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

McComb: Legislators must fix failed promise of step therapy

Unfortunately, “step therapy” is a common practice in the insurance world. It requires patients to try out a cheaper, alternative prescription drug than the medication their physician originally prescribed. The hope is that the cheaper option will prove to be equivalent and effective. All too often, it’s not. Only when – after considerable lost time – the proposed alternative proves ineffective; will insurers step up and pay for the originally prescribed medication. It’s time to admit that step therapy, once touted as a way for insurers to save costs, simply doesn’t work. It generates miles of red tape, leads to higher patient costs, and in some cases, prevents people from getting any effective treatment at all.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Texas educators weigh in on proposed changes to school grades

About two dozen education advocates, many of them school district superintendents, weighed in during a public hearing Tuesday afternoon on proposed changes to a new state grading system for schools and districts. House Bill 22, filed by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who is also the House Public Education Committee chairman, would scale back the new A-F accountability system, which is set to go into effect in August 2018. State Sen. Larry Taylor, the Senate education committee chairman, also has filed a bill similar to Huberty’s. While many educators said they disagree with the use of an A-F grading system, they said they support the bill and the changes it will bring, including the elimination of an overall grade for campuses and districts, and delaying the system’s implementation until 2019.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Bill requiring classroom instruction on police interaction advances

Responding to a rash of violent encounters between police and the public, a Texas Senate committee approved a bill Tuesday that would require high school instruction on how best to interact with officers during traffic stops and other situations. The goal is to avoid or defuse confrontations by teaching students what is expected of them during encounters with police — including instruction on an officer’s responsibilities during the same encounter, said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, an author of Senate Bill 30. SB 30 also requires similar information to be given to officers during police academy training and continuing education courses so both sides of an encounter have a better understanding of their duties and expectations, West said.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Staples: Remember all that’s possible because of oil and natural gas

With 100-plus years of oil and natural gas history in Texas, it may be tempting to take for granted all that is possible because we are the nation’s No. 1 state for oil and natural gas production, pipeline miles and refining capacity. Today, Texans from far and wide will remind lawmakers in Austin that those accolades translate into jobs, state and local tax revenue and financial security for our state. On Texas Energy Day, 25-plus chambers of commerce, trade associations and organizations that span the state will join forces to reinforce how oil and natural gas keep Texans safe and secure in our homes and lives. Lately, we are reminded that state and local tax revenue paid by the oil and natural gas industry is not guaranteed. Yet, even in a down market, the Texas oil and natural gas industry paid $9.4 billion in state and local taxes and state royalties in fiscal year 2016 — an average of $26 million a day.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

First Reading: Roger Stone to Alex on Infowars: “I’m Jonesing to appear before the committee.’

The House Intelligence Committee opened hearings yesterday on ties between Russia and the Trump administration with testimony from FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, and a lot of Democratic interest in Roger Stone. From Maggie Haberman at the New York Times: In President Trump’s oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants — a loyalist and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Crowd turns out for hearing on ‘private school voucher’ bill

Public school officials and their advocates told Texas lawmakers Tuesday that an effort to redirect state money to private schools is unconstitutional and unlikely to improve academic performance, particularly for low-income minority students. “There has been a lack of any real evidence to show that this works,” said Yannis Banks with the Texas NAACP. “I’ve heard people mention that this is the civil rights issue of our time. This is far from the civil rights issue of our time.” More than 100 people signed up to testify on Senate Bill 3, which has emerged as one of the most divisive pieces of education legislation this session, during a state Senate Education Committee hearing that continued into the night.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Ben Crenshaw backing bill to transfer Muny from UT to state parks unit

Pro golfer Ben Crenshaw testified Tuesday in support of proposed state legislation that would remove Lions Municipal Golf Course from University of Texas ownership to prevent potential development of the historic West Austin site. The two-time Masters winner and three-time NCAA champion at UT, who grew up playing at the course, said its value as a civil rights landmark and as green space in a rapidly growing city “is incalculable.” The federal government added Muny, as the course is known, to the National Register of Historic Places last year because it was one of the earliest municipal golf courses in the former Confederate states to be desegregated, if not the first to achieve that distinction.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Neely: Texas workers shouldn’t need a license for everything

Should you need a license to work? For a few key fields such as, say, brain surgery, most people would say “yes.” Yet in recent decades, the number of occupations requiring a license has expanded dramatically. Since the 1950s, the percentage of Americans working in a field requiring an occupational licensing has grown from 5 percent to more than 20 percent. In Texas, nearly one-third of the state’s workers are employed in a licensed field — and more than 500 occupations currently require some form of professional license from the state. Each time the Legislature meets, more industries come to lawmakers asking to be licensed. Already this year, bills have been filed in Texas to require a license for such fields as rainwater harvesting, behavioral therapists and sprinkler-system testers.

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

Craig: It’s time to deliver on the promise of electricity deregulation

Nobody likes a monopoly. That was the fundamental premise of deregulating the Texas utility market nearly 15 years ago. Rather than having single utilities serving wide swaths of Texas, the free market would encourage competition across the state, with the goal of bringing down energy costs and improving customer service. In the proud tradition of oil production, hydraulic fracturing and massive wind and solar energy growth, electric utility deregulation was yet another example of Texas energy innovation. Gov. George W. Bush — who signed the bill into law — said "competition in the electric industry will benefit Texans by reducing monthly rates and offering consumers more choices.”

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

School leaders welcome proposed changes to A-F system

Multiple school superintendents told the Texas House Public Education Committee on Tuesday that while they do not support A-F school grading systems, proposed changes to the accountability measures are sorely needed. The changes in question are part of House Bill 22 by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and would overhaul how the state assigns letter grades to public schools and districts in Texas. The bill, which was left pending in committee Tuesday, would place less importance on assessment tests and would take into consideration other factors like participation in extracurricular activities and support of low-income students.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Ramsey: Can Abbott assemble an army for this session’s pre-K fight?

The governor of Texas is getting bullied on his request for serious money for a serious pre-kindergarten program. Messing with governors can be risky business, but Texas lawmakers aren’t answering Greg Abbott’s call. Texans aren’t, either. In a year of frequent and large rallies and protests at the Texas Capitol, pre-K is a relative dud. It’s popular with many educators and politicians, but it hasn’t drawn the kind of crowd that might turn some heads inside the big pink building at the end of Congress Avenue in Austin.

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

Texas Senate passes bill to cut franchise tax paid by businesses — later

The Texas Senate approved legislation Tuesday that aims to eventually slice — and possibly eliminate — the state’s franchise tax, a levy on businesses earnings that’s widely unpopular among the state’s Republican leadership. Senate Bill 17, authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would not cut the franchise tax during this tight-budgeted Legislative session, but it would do so in future years — as long as state revenue grows at a certain rate. After no debate Tuesday, the Senate voted 23-7 to send the bill to the House.

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

School choice bill proponents, foes debate what's best for families

Maria Aberra put on her red school uniform shirt with the Texas emblem like she does every morning — but instead of heading to her charter school, she drove 20 miles with her mom Tuesday to the Capitol to testify on school choice. The 15-year-old Priority Charter School student wanted legislators to know that she wants Texas to make it easier for her and her siblings to transfer schools. She had to transfer from her local public school when her family moved from Round Rock to Cedar Park. "As much as I like my school I'm currently in, I feel like there's some stuff I would prefer to have at other schools," she said.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Floyd: On the edge of crisis: Why Texas needs hailstorm claims reform

The Texas homeowners’ insurance marketplace is always under stress from our state’s severe weather, from hail to tornadoes to wildfire, even to earthquakes. But in recent years, a different kind of threat has emerged: a systematic effort by certain lawyers and their associates to abuse both the insurance claims system and the court system for narrow personal gain. Their well-documented techniques — if left unchecked by the Texas Legislature — threaten to impact all Texans with higher insurance rates, fewer insurance choices and damaged dispute processes. In 2015, growing awareness of this issue led the Texas Legislature to direct the Texas Department of Insurance, or TDI, to conduct an in-depth study of both litigation and market data related to homeowners’ insurance.

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2017

Ruin, Bresette: Health care bill in Congress is a threat to Texas kids

A few weeks ago, a burly police detective in a coat and tie sat at a wooden table with his wife and squirmy 16-month-old daughter, Sully, explaining to state Senators what it meant to hear his little girl cry. He described to the Texas Senate Finance Committee the joy of hearing Sully cry for the first time after she was silent for the first few months of life. Since then, Sully, who has Down syndrome, has had many more breakthroughs thanks to the family's hard work and the support provided by Sully's therapists. But Sully's family didn't drive to Austin just to tell a heartwarming story. They told the Senate budget-writers that Sully's progress, and the progress of other kids, was now in jeopardy because the Legislature cut Medicaid funding for therapies for kids with disabilities.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

DMN: Rep. Pete Sessions got grilled at town hall, but at least he showed up

Democracy is messy. Our elected representatives should know that when they sign on for the job. And when their constituents tell them that they disagree with a position in, um, colorful language, well, that comes with the turf. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, encountered this reality when his town hall in Richardson on Saturday turned aggressive. Angry constituents booed his opening remarks about the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Sessions, in a fit of pique, shouted back, "You don't know how to listen!" Not exactly the classiest response from a congressman. And that's a critique that could fairly be made on both sides of the microphone Saturday.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 20, 2017

Metz: Should insurance companies require patients to “fail first” on wrong drugs?

This year, state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, have introduced identical bills in the Texas Legislature that would ensure that step therapy protocols are based on sound medical research and practice and create a clear process to protect patients from being required to try or stay on a step therapy medication if is not in their best interest. The bills would also prevent patients who are stable on their medication from being forced to try a new medication if step therapy protocols are added as a requirement and prohibit insurers from requiring patients to fail a medication more than once, even if the patient switches to a different health insurance company. These commonsense protections are good for all Texans.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 22, 2017

Chadwell, Reid, Rogers, Wilson: When we rate public schools, we must have a plan that considers every child

Imagine a teacher in her classroom moments before students arrive on a Monday morning. She glances at her email and her eyes stop on a message stating that her school has received a rating of “F” on the state’s new accountability system. There are explanations, but all she sees is an “F” representing her work and the work of her students and colleagues. As her students enter, she smiles at them and thinks about the challenges many of them have — homelessness, hunger, illness, teen pregnancy, parental divorces, depression, poverty, death of parents/siblings and mobility. She then thinks of their incredible talents and potential.

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

Texas Senate committee hears pros and cons of school choice measure

A Texas Senate committee kicked off its first round of hearings Tuesday on a controversial measure that would give public funds to parents who want to enroll their children in private schools or public charter schools. Senate Bill 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, would establish educational savings accounts and tax credit scholarships to fund costs associated with parents moving their children from traditional public schools to private, parochial or charter schools. “This is not a winner-take-all system. This is just a choice — it's another option. We're not trying to decimate anybody,” Taylor said in response to charges that his bill would divert money from cash-strapped public schools and give it to private schools.

Texas Observer - March 21, 2017

Meet the Trans Woman Who Visited Offices of All 181 Texas Legislators to Fight the ‘Bathroom Bill’

Monday marked Stephanie Martinez’s 12th time participating in a lobby day hosted by Equality Texas at the Capitol. But this session, in response to Senate Bill 6, the 48-year-old transgender woman from Austin felt compelled to do more. After waiting 16 hours to testify against the anti-trans “bathroom bill” during a Senate committee hearing March 7, Martinez called the offices of all 31 senators to encourage them to vote against SB 6. She said she was “shocked” when she received a return phone call from the office of Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, the lone Democratic senator to support the bill, who requested a personal meeting. Lucio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Houston Press - March 20, 2017

State AG Paxton Claims Texas School's Prayer Room Is for Muslims Only (It's Not)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton criticized a north Texas school district for providing a prayer space only for Muslim students — but the district says it accommodates students of all faiths, and the attorney general would know that if he had bothered to call the superintendent. Since 2007 Muslim students at Liberty High School in the Frisco Independent School District have been allowed to use a spare classroom to pray in during the afternoon. The vacant classroom has been used for this purpose in the afternoons for a decade now without issue, school district officials insist. But Paxton, who in the past has spoken about the importance of protecting religious freedoms, says he is still concerned.

Forbes - March 20, 2017

DeVore: The Texas Model Bolsters Migration To Texas Cities

After assigning each of the 35 major urban areas to six geographic regions, the Atlantic Northeast, the Atlantic Southeast, the Rust Belt and Midwest, Texas, the Mountain West, and the Pacific Coast, one trend becomes clear: Texas’ major cities are attracting Americans from every region. Of the 35 largest metro areas in America, a net of 51,129 people moved from the 31 largest metro areas outside of Texas to Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio from 2010 to 2014. Net migration was the highest out of three regions into Texas: Atlantic Northeast, the Rust Belt and Midwest, and the Pacific Coast, with each region’s big metros sending a net of more than 13,000 people to live in Texas’ four largest metro areas.

Huffington Post - March 21, 2017

Women Wore ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Robes To The Texas Senate

On Monday, the Texas Senate considered several abortion-related bills, including Senate Bill 415, a regulation that would effectively ban a safe and common procedure used for second trimester abortions, which anti-choice legislators have taken to calling a “dismemberment abortion ban.” It passed and will now head to the House. The Senate also inched forward with SB 25 ? a bill that would effectively allow doctors to lie to pregnant women if they detect a fetal anomaly and are concerned their patients might opt for abortion. It will likely head for a final vote on the floor this week. But in the Senate chambers on Monday, a group of Texas women were having none of it. The activists arrived decked out in full red robes, an homage to characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s classic (and distressingly relevant) feminist tome.

Victoria Advocate - March 21, 2017

Quintero: Taxpayers locked-out of pension plans

Public pension problems plague major metropolitans throughout Texas, prompting many to call for decisive action. But putting out these fiscal fires has been next to impossible thanks to the schemes of a few. Throughout the years, 13 local retirement systems have successfully wiggled their way into state law, cementing in statute certain aspects of their plans, like benefit levels, contribution rates and the composition of the boards of trustees. By embedding these provisions in state law, this wily group has shrewdly positioned Austin between themselves and the taxpaying public that supports them. Instead of good government reforms being advanced locally, the current system requires community stakeholders to have the right political connections and to successfully navigate the legislative process - no easy task.

KAUZ - March 21, 2017

House Bill aims to change wine labeling in Texas

A house bill could shake things up for the Texas wine industry. HB 1514 aims to change the way Texas wine bottles are labeled. Patrick Whitehead, managing partner at Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard in Saint Jo has been growing grapes and bottling wine since 2011. "We have eight acres of grapes. We grow several different varietals. Harvest time, or crush as we call it here in north Texas, normally falls around August or September," he said. On occasion they use grapes from other states, mostly California and New Mexico, to enhance a wine style or extend wine they have.

New York Times - March 21, 2017

A Hotel Boom Comes to Texas

Hotel construction continues apace in the United States, and dozens of new properties are expected to open this year in two major corporate and tourist destinations, New York and Los Angeles. But the three other cities with the most hotels projected to open in 2017, according to the industry research company STR, are all in Texas — Dallas, Houston and Austin. There had not been a hotel building boom in Texas in about a decade, said Daniel Moon, the vice president of the Sam Moon Group, a developer of shopping centers and hotels in the Dallas area. But recent relocations by corporate headquarters and population growth have been driving new demand, and there is still plenty of open space to build on around the major cities, he said. Mr. Moon’s company, which has been in business since the mid-1980s, is building its own first full-service hotel, a Marriott Renaissance in Plano, part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. The state’s development-friendly attitudes are also a major driver, though each city’s particular circumstances have also helped fuel the growth.

Dallas Observer - March 21, 2017

Texas' Horrible Voter Turnout Continued In 2016, New Study Says

Once every two years, the nonpartisan U.S. Elections Project releases a data package updating the current state of voter turnout in the United States. For the state of Texas, the news contained within the most recent report is abysmal. Texas, according to data released last week, had the 49th worst turnout among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Just more than half of the state's voting eligible population, 51.6 percent, showed up at the polls to cast a ballot last November. This continues a string of poor turnout. Two years ago, during the 2014 midterms, Texas had the worst voter turnout in the country among states that featured at least one statewide race. In 2016, despite Texas' prominent March 1 spot on the presidential primary calendar, only 21.5 percent of the state's voting eligible population showed up.

KUHF - March 21, 2017

What Would It Take To Summon A Convention of States?

Gov. Greg Abbott spent more than a year speaking and writing about the need to pass a series of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, in order limit the power of the federal government. His chosen vehicle: invoking Article V of the Constitution to call a “convention of states.” So when Abbott took the stage to deliver his State of the State message in January, there was every reason to expect he would spotlight the issue. But Abbott went one step further, designating it as one of his top four priorities for the legislative session. “Senator Birdwell and Representative Phil King, you know as well as I do that the future of America cannot wait for tomorrow,” he said. “So I am declaring this an emergency item today.”

McAllen Monitor - March 21, 2017

McAllen Monitor: Statewide texting ban is bit closer

We congratulate the Texas House of Representatives for last week passing (once again) a proposed bill that would ban texting while driving in our great state. And we strongly encourage the full Texas Senate to take up the measure soon, and to do the same. We’re not taking anything for granted, but we believe the Texas Senate will do the right thing this session and pass this bill. (A similar bill fell shy of one vote in this chamber in 2015.) But the real trick becomes getting our Republican governor to sign it. Because our state has a bad history of partially passing this good bill, which has been reincarnated three succeeding sessions — and always dubbed the Alex Brown Memorial Act in honor of a Texas victim of an accident that was caused by texting while driving — yet it has been unable to get the gubernatorial go ahead.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

John Wiley Price tax preparer: Commissioner never disclosed income from associates

The accountant who prepared John Wiley Price's taxes testified Tuesday that the Dallas County commissioner did not tell him about money he received outside of his county salary. Russell Baity acknowledged under questioning from a prosecutor that Price never told him about money Price allegedly got from rent payments, art sales, real estate profits and a civil court judgment. Baity, a Dallas CPA, said he also prepared the taxes of Price's co-defendants: Kathy Nealy, Price's friend and political consultant, and Dapheny Fain, his chief of staff.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Man faces hate-crime charge in Dallas County over tweet that gave Kurt Eichenwald a seizure

The man accused of sending a seizure-inducing tweet to Dallas-based journalist Kurt Eichenwald has now been indicted in Dallas County. John Rayne Rivello, 29, is charged with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The charge carries a hate-crime enhancement. Rivello, a resident of Salisbury, Md., was booked into the Dallas County Jail on Monday night and released around 2 a.m. Tuesday after posting bail. Last week, Rivello was arrested at his Maryland home on a federal cyberstalking charge in connection with the case.

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Key things to know as trial begins over Texas 45 Southwest, MoPac

A challenge by environmentalists to the construction of three highway projects in Southwest Austin comes before a federal court Wednesday, the culmination of decades-long resistance to building Texas 45 Southwest. Here are some key things to know about the dispute: • Who’s involved: The challenge was filed in February 2016 by a dozen plaintiffs, including the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association, Clean Water Action, singer Jerry Jeff Walker and former Austin Mayors Frank Cooksey and Carole Keeton. • The central argument: The plaintiffs contend the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority should have conducted a single environmental study on the three projects: the Texas 45 Southwest tollway, an underpass project on South MoPac Boulevard near Circle C, and proposed toll lanes on South MoPac. Instead, each project was reviewed separately.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Authorities investigating sexual assault charge at Waller County Jail

The Waller County Sheriff's Office is investigating a complaint lodged by a female inmate that she was sexually assaulted by a male inmate working at the jail, officials said Tuesday. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards will also investigate for possible procedural violations at the facility, which drew national attention in 2015 when Sandra Bland hanged herself there after being arrested during a traffic stop. In the sexual assault case, the male inmate was performing duties typically assigned to inmates who have trusty status, but the inmate had not been designated as a trusty, said Craig Davis, chief deputy at the Waller County Sheriff's Office.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Houston's immigrant-rights hotline receives hundreds of calls

In its first month, the Texas Immigrant Rights Hotline has received more than 500 calls from all over the U.S. Most are from Houston. "The most common calls are from people concerned about whether they are going to be deported and seeking legal assistance to ensure that their family has protection," explains Andrea Guttin, legal director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, one of the institutions supporting the hotline. ... The coalition said in a press release that during the first three weeks of the hotline's operation, 63 attorneys have volunteered 144 hours to answer callers' questions.

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Keller: City Hall losing sight of big picture in pension changes

With the death earlier this month of Capt. William "Iron Bill" Dowling, who in 2013 lost both legs and suffered brain damage in the Southwest Inn fire, this might seem an awkward time to bring up the city's relationship with our firefighters' pensions system. But perhaps it's a perfect time to shine a spotlight on our concerns. Our pension fund's benefits supported Capt. Dowling and his family after his injuries in service to Houston. We will continue to do so in the future. His widow will not get a monthly Social Security check - firefighters don't pay into that system. Our pension fund is all that the thousands of other brave men and women who risk their lives each day can count on. To support our commitment to Houston and our emergency workers, the city's firefighter pension system has developed a long-term diversified investing horizon. This matches up well with a workforce that is extraordinarily dedicated, often staying 20 or 30 years on the job.

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Victoria airport would lose commercial flights under Trump's budget cuts

Want to fly into or out of the South Texas city of Victoria on a commercial flight? Under President Donald Trump's preliminary 2018 budget proposal, you'd be out of luck. As part of a proposed $2.4 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Transportation, his administration's budget would slash $175 million for the Essential Air Service (EAS), a program that subsidizes flights to rural airports — including the Victoria Regional Airport in Texas. The airport is one of the smallest in the state and currently only has commercial flights to and from Houston and Austin.

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

Concerns over STAAR testing arise as HISD discusses goals

A conversation about goal-setting at Houston ISD's board workshop Monday turned into a debate about whether Houston ISD relies too heavily on the statewide STAAR standardized test and Texas Education Agency performance metrics. Superintendent Richard Carranza unveiled three draft goals for the district, which the board was required to create by the Texas Education Agency in December. Two of the district-written goals rely solely on STAAR test scores to measure improvement: One that aims to increase the percent of students reading at or above grade level by 3 percentage points each year, and one that aspires to see the number of students performing below grade level meeting or exceeding their progress measures increase by 4 percent each year.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

ICE denies targeting Austin, but says more enforcement needed

Federal immigration officials Tuesday evening denied that a new policy by Sheriff Sally Hernandez led them to conduct a major enforcement operation in the Austin area. But, in a hint of their changing strategy, federal agents said more enforcement is needed in places such as Travis County where local authorities don’t fully cooperate with them. “Rumors and reports that recent ICE operations are specifically targeting Travis County, apart from normal operations, are inaccurate,” a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement said. “However, more ICE operational activity is required to conduct at-large arrests in any law enforcement jurisdiction that fails to honor ICE immigration detainers.” The statement came a day after a revelation from a U.S. magistrate judge that federal immigration agents targeted Austin for a major operation in response to a so-called sanctuary policy enacted by Hernandez.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Downtown Austin hotel moving forward — without Trump affiliation

A developer is releasing new details about a hotel planned for downtown Austin that last fall was linked to the development team of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. This week, however, Empyrean Development said Trump is not involved in the Austin project, which developers are calling Hotel Mirabeau. “We are focused on moving forward with the current team that has been assembled. Neither Trump Hotels, nor Scion, nor any other affiliate is involved in the development, design, ownership or any other aspect of this project,” Mark Miner, a spokesman for Empyrean, a new company founded by developers Brett Norwich and Craig Bull, said in a written statement.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Dallas may offer IDs for all residents, including unauthorized immigrants

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is hopeful that the city will be able to offer photo IDs to all residents who “believe Dallas is their home,” including unauthorized immigrants. Rawlings announced the city’s plan to study identification cards, which would include a resident’s photo, name and address, on Tuesday. The announcement coincided with the "Cities' Day of Immigration Action," an event organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Municipal IDs help immigrants who might not have access to other types of identification to cash checks, seek employment, obtain library cards and have access to other municipal services.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

DMN: This is a fix for the Dallas police pension we should all get behind

Fixing a broken pension is a zero-sum game with high stakes, intense emotions and no guarantee of success. So give credit to leaders in Dallas and Austin for hammering out a compromise to save the Dallas Police and Fire Pension. While still in progress, the months-long effort has accomplished a lot. As proposed, the pension fix would preserve key benefits for retirees and keep the valuable retirement program in place for young officers and future hires. The plan doesn’t require a tax increase, a top priority for city leaders, and could improve Dallas’ negative credit outlook. We support the rescue as outlined in HB 3158, although more work lies ahead. Lawmakers in Austin should strengthen the proposal, especially on clawbacks.

National Stories

Washington Post - March 21, 2017

Trump to meet at White House with Congressional Black Caucus leaders

Five weeks after inappropriately asking a reporter to set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, President Trump has arranged his own face-to-face discussion with the group, whose leaders are scheduled to visit the White House on Wednesday. Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), the caucus chairman, said that he and five executive committee members have accepted Trump's invitation to discuss issues related to the African American community, including the president's proposed budget, education, criminal justice reform and health care. The White House later confirmed the meeting. “This will be a serious meeting, not a photo opportunity,” Richmond said in a statement.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Senators' questions of Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch show stark partisan divide

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch received a warm reception from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including the two senators from Texas, during day two of his confirmation hearings. As Republicans asked Gorsuch to discuss his views on the importance of precedent and the role of the judiciary in general, Democrats on the committee hammered Gorsuch on everything from religious tests and maternity leave to campaign finance and torture. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who’s been a vocal advocate for Gorsuch since President Donald Trump first announced the nomination in January, greeted Gorsuch warmly.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Quinones: Trump is the opportunity Mexico has been waiting for

In late January, when Mexican Cabinet ministers were about to depart for Washington to meet with a group from the Trump administration, a curious thing happened. Politicians from the two main opposition parties, ordinarily the government's bitterest critics, met with the officials to publicly offer their support. A day later, President Donald Trump tweeted that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto shouldn't attend the meeting if he wasn't willing to pay for a border wall. Pena Nieto countered that he would therefore not be attending. The Mexican political class rushed to support him — the same president many had been attacking since he took office more than four years ago.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Cowen: How having 50 states is becoming a drag on U.S. growth

One unfortunate side effect of today's political polarization is that voters are more likely to select state and local candidates on the basis of whether those individuals profess the same ideology -- as defined at the national level -- as the voter. In other words, if you think the federal government spends too much on transfer programs, you are more likely to vote for the Republican in your state, whether or not your state spends too much on transfer programs. The incentive for candidates is then to stake out relatively extreme and easily observed positions, to attract the most commonly held ideology in each state. The news media, by devoting most of its coverage to the most highly visible national candidates and issues, makes this problem worse.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Leubsdorf: Trump undermines campaign promises by supporting GOP policies

The Trump presidency operates on two levels. And it's creating problems for itself on both of them. One is its public face, epitomized by President Donald Trump's incessant tweeting and his zest for unprovoked criticism of everyone from political foes to longtime U.S. allies. Even many supporters question his refusal to transition from campaign to governing mode. Second is a growing disconnect on policy, where Trump seems primarily a salesman for policies that, in crucial areas like health care and the budget, are starkly different from positions he advocated in his campaign. The result has accentuated the rightward thrust of a presidency that promised to be more ideologically eclectic and populist than rigidly conservative.

The Hill - March 21, 2017

Health groups blast away at ObamaCare repeal bill

Healthcare groups are ramping up their opposition to the ObamaCare replacement bill ahead of a House vote this week. The American Hospital Association is running TV ads against the American Health Care Act, warning that millions of people would lose coverage if it becomes law. The AARP says it will be alerting its 38 million members to how their representatives voted on the legislation. And the American Medical Association is calling on Republicans to go “back to the drawing board.” So far, though, congressional Republicans are pushing ahead, with the bill scheduled to reach the House floor on Thursday.

The Hill - March 21, 2017

For Democrats, no clear leader

The Democratic Party has a leadership vacuum at the top, with many registered voters eager to see someone who is not currently on the scene become the party’s standard-bearer in 2020, according to a new Harvard-Harris Poll survey provided exclusively to The Hill. When registered voters were asked whom they view as the leader of the Democratic Party, 40 percent said it has no leader. Fifteen percent named former President Obama as the party’s leader. Twelve percent said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has gone out of his way not to join the Democratic Party despite running for the its presidential nomination last year.

The Hill - March 21, 2017

The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on ObamaCare repeal plan

Republican leaders are working to shore up the votes to pass legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare, with a vote by the full House slated for Thursday. But the plan faces a difficult path. Conservatives were quick to criticize the legislation, saying it falls short of full repeal and would create new entitlements. Centrist Republicans and many from districts Democrat Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election have also balked at measures that would roll back the Medicaid expansion or defund Planned Parenthood. On Monday night, leaders made a number of last-minute changes aimed at gaining support from reluctant conservatives and centrists.

Newsweek - March 21, 2017

Perker: Gerrymandering keeps gun lobby pawns in office

As in states like North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Indiana, to name just a few of the most egregious offenders, Virginia Republicans hold artificial control of the Legislature thanks to gerrymandering. While Democrats were asleep at the switch in 2010, the Koch brothers’ money quietly engineered this coup, and they were able to cheaply buy elections in rural areas like Virginia’s 9th District. Tea Party darling Morgan Griffith was the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of their Citizens United dollars. Even he was surprised he’d unseated a popular incumbent, and the Koch brothers saw it as an enormous return on a comparatively small investment. Now, thanks to gerrymandering, statehouses across the country are carved into districts so skewed it would be almost impossible for a Democrat to win (and the other way around in a few rare cases). Maps of many of the districts look like snakes and toilet bowls. If every Democrat in the district voted and a good number of Republicans stayed home, it still wouldn’t make a difference.

Huffington Post - March 21, 2017

Mogulescu: Why Democratic Senators Must Filibuster Neil Gorsuch Or Face Primary Challenges

You probably have a better chance of being appointed as a judge by the Chinese Communist government without being a member of the Communist Party than you have of being appointed as a judge by Republicans without being affiliated with the hard-right Federalist Society. Trump Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch fulfills this Republican litmus test in spades. He was picked from a list of 21 names supplied by the Federalist Society and plucked from that list largely through the efforts of longtime Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo who coordinated the fight to confirm Federalist Society members John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. That’s reason enough why every Democratic Senator must use every tool at he/r disposal to defeat Gorsuch’s nomination, including the filibuster. The growing Resistance movement to the Trumpublican agenda must make it clear to any wavering Democrat that he or she will face a certain primary challenge to their reelection if they fail to do so.

Indianapolis Star - March 21, 2017

How voucher dollars kept coming as a private school collapsed

The Indiana Department of Education and the attorney general’s office both had been warned. Teachers at the tiny Todd Academy weren’t getting paid. Parents complained that classes were being held in an unsafe building without heat, and the school appeared to be promoting children who weren’t ready, in an effort to secure more state money. Yet after two visits by the education department and an investigation by the attorney general's office, the troubled Indianapolis private school still received thousands of dollars in public funds through Indiana's school voucher program and remained eligible to receive state voucher money until it collapsed under the weight of its unpaid debts.

The Hill - March 22, 2017

Poll: By 2 to 1 margin, registered voters reject Comey

FBI Director James Comey is unpopular across the political spectrum, according to a new poll that finds voters have a negative opinion of Comey by a more than two-to-one margin. According to data from a Harvard-Harris Poll survey of registered voters provided exclusively to The Hill, only 17 percent have a favorable view of Comey, compared to 35 percent who have a negative view of him. Forty-one percent of Democrats have an unfavorable view of Comey, with only 12 percent saying they view him positively.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Trump's former campaign chairman secretly worked to 'benefit the Putin Government'

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

Oremus: Reporters who ask multi-part questions are letting Trump off the hook

In a press conference with President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, a German reporter asked Trump a question so brutally direct that it went viral on social media. The question has been loosely translated from German as, "Why do you keep saying things you know are not true?" (A slightly better translation might be: "Why do you assert things that cannot be substantiated?") The reporter, Kristina Dunz of the German Press Agency, offered as an example Trump's discredited claim that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him during the 2016 campaign. Dunz won praise from her stateside counterparts for the question's bluntness. "Good for German reporters, asking Trump tough and direct questions on wiretapping," Philip Rucker, the Washington Post's White House bureau chief, told the Independent after the press conference. But there's a reason only the text of the question went viral and not the video of the exchange itself. It's the same reason Trump did not feel compelled even to dodge the query, let alone answer it. That's because it came as part of a multipart question -- in this case, a peripatetic, four-part doozy whose twists and turns Trump would have been hard-pressed to follow even if he'd cared to.

New York Times - March 21, 2017

How a Trump Turnabout on Gay Rights Hurts Republicans

During Donald Trump’s campaign, he repeatedly cast himself as a supporter of L.G.B.T. rights. As president, however, he is being urged by fringe-right groups and raging extremists to sign a “religious liberty” executive order that would allow discrimination against gays, women and religious minorities. As one Republican to another, I’d like to offer this bit of advice to President Trump: Don’t do it. I wish it were as simple as pointing out that supporting discrimination against anyone is just a bad idea and that doing so in the name of religion is hypocritical as well. But just for good measure, I’ll offer a few more reasons.

USA Today - March 20, 2017

George Soros-aligned group weighs funding anti-Trump activists

A network of some of the nation’s wealthiest Democratic donors is weighing providing money and support to several of the new activist groups that have cropped up since Election Day to challenge President Trump and his agenda. Organizers of January’s Women’s March on Washington and leaders of Indivisible will make presentations later this week to the Democracy Alliance when the influential donor coalition holds its private spring meeting in Washington, the group’s president Gara LaMarche said. LaMarche said he already has sought to connect alliance contributors to Indivisible, one of the groups at the forefront of anti-Trump efforts. Its organizers, led by former Democratic congressional aides, have created a how-to manual “for resisting the Trump agenda” that is modeled on conservative Tea Party tactics and has encouraged shows of opposition at congressional town hall meetings.

Associated Press - March 21, 2017

Uber vows to change direction, become more humane company

Uber is vowing to head down a new road and become a more humane company following a wave of ugly developments, including allegations of rampant sexual harassment and a video of a profanity-laced confrontation between the ride-hailing company's CEO and a disgruntled driver. The pledge came in a contrite conference call held Tuesday with some of the reporters who have been covering the incidents that have painted an unflattering portrait of the company, threatening to trigger a backlash among the riders and drivers who have propelled its rapid rise. Even as it acknowledges past mistakes, Uber says the fallout hasn't damaged its business yet. Ridership in the U.S. during the first 10 weeks of this year is up from the same time last year, according to Rachel Holt, who oversees Uber's operations in the U.S. and Canada.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

Republicans face crunch time on Obamacare repeal

It’s crunch time for Republicans in Congress on replacement legislation for the Affordable Care Act, which could come to a vote as early as Thursday and set the course for Donald Trump’s presidency — and possibly for the GOP itself. Facing withering criticism from hard-right conservative groups like Heritage Action, some rank-and-file Republicans from Texas and across the nation face a decision about whether to sign on to their party leaders’ gradual approach, or hold out for a full repeal of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. A survey of the Lone Star State’s House GOP delegation Tuesday suggests at least a half-dozen Texans remain uncommitted, not counting Tyler Republican Louie Gohmert, an outspoken member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who has been sharply critical of the bill.

Time - March 16, 2017

Proposed $100 Fine for Masturbation Is Latest in Long Tradition of Protest Legislation

Many recent examples have come from lawmakers calling attention to attempts to restrict access to abortion. In February, after Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill requiring a women to have a medical consultation 24 hours before an abortion, state representative Mary Lou Marzian introduced legislation requiring a man to have two doctor's visits, be married, and swear on the Bible that he is faithful to his spouse before receiving a prescription for Viagra. Several similar bills cropped up in 2012, amid a wave of antiabortion legislation. An amendment to a "personhood" bill in Oklahoma attempted to classify any spilled semen as an "action against an unborn child." In Georgia, as the legislature passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, a lawmaker proposed a bill banning vasectomies. Ohio state senator Nina Turner also took aim at Viagra, introducing a bill that would require men to see a sex therapist and provide a signed affidavit from a sexual partner confirming erectile dysfunction in order to get a prescription. And in Virginia, one state senator proposed making a rectal exam and a stress test prerequisites for erectile-dysfunction medication.

Texas Public Radio - March 21, 2017

Trump Budget Blueprint Backs Privatizing Air Traffic Control

If President Donald Trump has his way, the U.S. air traffic control system will be privatized. The idea is the first bullet point in the transportation section of the White House budget blueprint. Some major airlines including Texas-based American and Southwest support privatization of air traffic control. Andrea Ahles, who follows the airline industry for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram says that commercial airlines have been advocating privatized air traffic control for some time, and bills to take the function out of the hands of the FAA have been introduced in Congress. “Representative Bill Shuster, a Pennsylvania Republican, introduced a bill that would remove air traffic operations from the FAA, and move [them] over to a private corporation that’s funded primarily by passenger fees that are charged as part of your airline ticket,” she says.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Trump signs NASA bill, hands Ted Cruz the pen

President Donald Trump handed out pens after signing a NASA authorization bill, and a half-dozen lawmakers from Texas and Florida got one. But only Sen. Ted Cruz got the actual pen he'd used to sign the document. The others just got Oval Office souvenirs. If it was a peace offering, it came at an important time. Trump badly needs Cruz's support for the Obamacare repeal measure that he hopes will clear the House on Thursday. Lawmakers from both parties flanked Trump, with Cruz just to his right, with House Science Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, and Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston — chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that controls NASA's funding — also nearby.

Associated Press - March 22, 2017

New Trump hotels face political fights, ethics questions

You might have expected the Trump Organization to tap the brakes on expansion plans given all the criticism over potential conflicts of interest while its owner sits in the Oval Office. It's hitting the accelerator instead. The company owned by President Donald Trump is launching a chain of new hotels with plans to open in cities large and small across the country. Called Scion, they will be the first Trump-run hotels not to bear the family's gilded name. The hotels will feature modern, sleek interiors and communal areas, and offer rooms at $200 to $300 a night, about half what it costs at some hotels in Trump's luxury chain.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Politico - March 22, 2017

Poll: Approval wanes for GOP health bill

Support for the GOP proposal to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law is fading, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted just before an expected House vote on the legislation. Voters are divided on the measure: Approval of the bill declined from 46 percent last week to 41 percent in the new poll, conducted last Thursday through Sunday. Disapproval, meanwhile, ticked up marginally, from 35 percent last week to 38 percent in the new survey. More voters, 22 percent, strongly disapprove of the bill than the 17 percent who strongly approve of it.

Politico - March 22, 2017

Tillerson: 'I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job.'

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “didn’t want this job,” according to a profile published Wednesday in the Independent Journal Review, and only accepted it on the urging of his wife. The remarks, which Tillerson delivered during a multi-part interview that took place over the course of his recent trip to Asia, were a starker version of introductory ones he made upon his arrival at the State Department following his confirmation. “I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told IJR’s Erin McPike, the lone reporter to accompany the secretary of state on his trip to Asia, who noted that the secretary does not appear to harbor regrets about accepting the job. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

Politico - March 22, 2017

Rand Paul: I hope the GOP pulls back the health care bill today

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said Wednesday he hopes the GOP will pull the American Health Care Act from consideration ahead of an expected vote on the bill's passage tomorrow. “My hope is they will pull the bill today sometime and that when they pull the bill, we’ll have a serious conversation with conservatives at the table,” he said during an appearance on Fox Business. “And we’ll come to an agreement. We want to come to an agreement, and that agreement is for complete repeal.”

New York Times - March 21, 2017

Burying Their Cattle, Ranchers Call Wildfires ‘Our Hurricane Katrina’

ASHLAND, Kan. — Death comes with raising cattle: coyotes, blizzards and the inevitable trip to the slaughterhouse and dinner plate. But after 30 years of ranching, Mark and Mary Kaltenbach were not ready for what met them after a wildfire charred their land and more than one million acres of rain-starved range this month. Dozens of their Angus cows lay dead on the blackened ground, hooves jutting in the air. Others staggered around like broken toys, unable to see or breathe, their black fur and dark eyes burned, plastic identification tags melted to their ears. Young calves lay dying. Ranching families across this countryside are now facing an existential threat to a way of life that has sustained them since homesteading days: years of cleanup and crippling losses after wind-driven wildfires across Kansas, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle killed seven people and devoured homes, miles of fences and as much as 80 percent of some families’ cattle herds.

New York Times - March 20, 2017

Swartz: ‘W.’ and the Art of Redemption

If you haven’t seen the recent paintings by the artist formerly known as President George W. Bush, you can find them collected in a new book called “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.” It’s just become a New York Times best seller. The proceeds from sales will go to a nonprofit organization that helps veterans and their families recover and rebuild from America’s post-Sept. 11 wars — otherwise known as Mr. Bush’s disastrous venture in the Middle East. ... But the bigger surprise is that Mr. Bush paints well. His early works, images of which circulated on the internet in 2013, weren’t bad: one showed Mr. Bush’s toes and knees peeking from his bath water, another featured his naked back in the shower, with his all-too-familiar visage peering out from a shaving mirror. There were also some paintings of family pets: dogs and cats with enviably cushy lives.

Washington Post - March 21, 2017

Labor nominee Acosta cut deal with billionaire in sex abuse case involving 40 underage girls

There was once a time — before the investigations, before the sexual abuse conviction — when rich and famous men loved to hang around with Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire money manager who loved to party. They visited his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. They flew on his jet to join him at his private estate on the Caribbean island of Little Saint James. They even joked about his taste in younger women. President Trump called Epstein a “terrific guy” back in 2002, saying that “he’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.” Now, Trump is on the witness list in a Florida court battle over how federal prosecutors handled allegations that Epstein, 64, sexually abused more than 40 minor girls, most of them between the ages of 13 and 17.

New York Times - March 21, 2017

How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps

Americans overwhelmingly believe that global warming is happening, and that carbon emissions should be scaled back. But fewer are sure that the changes will harm them personally. New data released by Yale researchers gives the most detailed view yet of public opinion on global warming. In every congressional district, a majority of adults supports limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. But many Republicans in Congress (and some Democrats) agree with President Trump, who this week may move to kill an Obama administration plan that would have scaled back the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Nationally, about seven in 10 Americans support regulating carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants — and 75 percent support regulating CO2 as a pollutant more generally. But lawmakers are unlikely to change direction soon.

All - March 21, 2017

Lead Stories

The Hill - March 20, 2017

Texas high-speed rail project ramps up Washington lobbying efforts

A Texas high-speed rail project is ramping up its outreach in Washington as President Trump begins to assemble a massive infrastructure package, which is expected to include a number of “shovel-ready” transportation proposals. Texas Central Partners, a private firm developing a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston, has tapped Washington powerhouse K&L Gates to lobby on the “development of high speed rail system in Texas.” Stephen Martinko, a government affairs counselor at K&L Gates, is expected to act as a lobbyist for the Texas company, according to disclosure forms.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Texas bill to crack down on corrupt hospital owners advances but lacks vetting requirements

The Texas Senate is slated to vote this week on a bill its author says will protect hospitals from corrupt administrators. But so far, it's missing what experts say is basic preventive medicine: a requirement that the state vet the backgrounds of would-be hospital owners before giving them licenses. Senate Bill 267, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, would allow the state to impose heavier fines on hospitals that run afoul of safety regulations and to temporarily take over mismanaged facilities that face closure. It also would require disclosure of owners of as little as 5 percent of a hospital; the current standard is 25 percent.

McClatchy Newspapers - March 20, 2017

FBI’s Russian-influence probe includes a look at far-right news sites

Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories — some fictional — that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say. Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said. Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused by the FBI of ordering a campaign intended to influence the U.S. election. Russian President Vladimir Putin is accused by the FBI of ordering a campaign intended to influence the U.S. election. Mikhail Klimentyev AP The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said.

The Hill - March 20, 2017

GOP leaders unveil changes to healthcare bill

House Republican leaders on Monday night released a set of changes to their ObamaCare replacement bill, as they seek to win more votes for the legislation. The changes include two measures that conservative Republican Study Committee members won at the White House on Friday: allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to work and allowing states to choose a Medicaid block grant over the cap system in the current bill. The revisions also include a change targeted at New York state that is expected to bring on board several wavering Empire State Republicans. That change would cut off federal Medicaid reimbursement for county contributions to Medicaid.

Associated Press - March 20, 2017

Already in peril, rural hospitals unsure on health care bill

CLAXTON, Ga. (AP) — Talmadge Yarbrough had just sat down at his desk and opened a box of pecans when he let out a gasp that could have been his last breath. He'd gone into cardiac arrest in his office, a co-worker called 911, and an ambulance drove him two miles to the small hospital that serves this rural community in southeast Georgia. "I would have never lasted to get to Savannah or Statesboro," Yarbrough said of the biggest cities near Claxton — each 30 to 60 miles away. "I firmly believe if that hospital wasn't here, I wouldn't be here." But like Yarbrough, the 10-bed Evans Memorial Hospital has fought to survive. That story is reflected nationwide — rural hospitals have long struggled, with patients who are older, suffer from chronic illnesses, and face few insurance options, if they're insured at all.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

The Atlantic - March 20, 2017

Kellyanne’s Alternative Universe

After Romney lost the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee concluded, in its “autopsy” report, that the party needed to broaden its appeal. Supporting immigration reform, and thus bringing in Hispanic voters, was the only way forward—a position shared across the Republican establishment, from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to the Chamber of Commerce to the Koch brothers. Donald Trump, then hosting The Apprentice, said Romney had lost because his “self-deportation” policy alienated Hispanic voters. But there was another view: that Romney lost because he’d failed to inspire white working-class people, many of whom stayed home in 2012. This idea, laid out by an analyst named Sean Trende for RealClearPolitics and known as the “missing whites” theory, became the major counterpoint to the GOP autopsy. It held that Republicans didn’t need to do better with minorities; they could instead turn out a bigger share of white voters, particularly rural, blue-collar white voters. One way Republicans could win, Conway believed, was by arguing for stricter immigration policies.

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

By wading into energy policy, did Texas GOP chair break ethics law?

Tom Mechler strolled across the lobby of the William B. Travis State Office Building on a recent morning and took an elevator to the 12th floor. The chairman of the Texas Republican Party was about 20 minutes early for an unusual meeting with Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton. The party chairman had not traveled from Amarillo to talk politics. He was there as an oil and gas producer and consultant, representing a group of fellow Panhandle producers who claimed the local pipeline company was unfairly cutting payments to producers for their natural gas. In a letter to the state's three railroad commissioners three months earlier, Mechler had asked that they "actively engage senior corporate management" at Denver-based DCP Midstream.

Politico - March 21, 2017

Trump to Republicans: Vote for Obamacare repeal or lose your seat

President Donald Trump arrived on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning with a stern message for Republicans who've been wobbly about dismantling Obamacare: Give me your vote or you may lose your seat in 2018. Trump warned Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who has led conservative opposition to the Republican health care plan, that "I'm gonna come after you" if he keeps it up, according to multiple sources. The sources cautioned that Trump may have been "half joking," as one put it. Yet the president did single Meadows out in front of his colleagues, asking the North Carolina Republican to stand up as Trump addressed him.

Washington Post - March 21, 2017

New documents show Trump aide laundered payments from party with Moscow ties, lawmaker alleges

A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan. The new documents, if legitimate, stem from business ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s backing while he was in power. He has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protesters in 2014, and is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges.

KCBD - March 20, 2017

TX job growth accelerates; Employment forecast surges to 2.7 percent for 2017

The Texas economy continues to gain momentum, posting job gains across most sectors and all major metro areas, said Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economist Emily Kerr in the latest Texas Economic Update video. "Texas economic growth continues to accelerate," said Kerr. "We just got new job numbers in for January, and they show really strong growth, almost 5 percent month over month from December, and that represents the strongest gain since October 2014." Employment surged 4.9 percent in January, with Dallas–Fort Worth and Austin posting the strongest gains and Houston the weakest. Incorporating this data as well as upward revisions to December jobs numbers and an increase in the Texas Leading Index, the Texas Employment Forecast now suggests that jobs will grow 2.7 percent in 2017.

KUT - March 16, 2017

McGee: 60 Years Ago, Resistance To Integration In Texas Led To School Voucher Plan

After the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, Texas was resistant to desegregating its public schools. Then-Gov. Allan Shivers appointed a committee to recommend ways to prevent integration. One proposal created a school voucher program that would give parents who opposed integration taxpayer money to send their children to a segregated private school. “Such aid should be given only upon affidavit that the child was being withdrawn? from the public schools due to the parents' dislike of integration.” The voucher proposal was part of a larger group of bills filed to circumvent desegregation, but the bill never passed.

The Hill - March 20, 2017

Five takeaways from Comey’s big day

Comey did real damage to Trump: The FBI director inflicted a double blow on President Trump early on in the hearing. He first confirmed that the bureau is investigating links between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government. And he stated flatly that he had “no information” to support the president’s assertion, first made on Twitter, that former President Barack Obama had wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Abbott angry as Travis County tops new federal sanctuary cities report

Travis County denied more federal immigration holds than anywhere in the country during a one-week period, according to a report released Monday that local officials say misrepresents data. The Department of Homeland Security report detailed 206 federal immigration detainers that local entities denied from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. Travis County declined 142 requests to hold unauthorized immigrants — about 69 percent. The report was the first of weekly updates that President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration requires, and it fueled the debate over sanctuary cities at the Capitol.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

First Reading: Matthew Dowd on how an independent (maybe him) could beat Ted Cruz in 2018

I had a story in Sunday’s paper about the early action in the 2018 race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ted Cruz, with Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso, getting a head start last week with his spur-of-the-moment, sieze-the-day bipartisan San Antonio-to-Washington, D.C., road trip with his Republican colleague Will Hurd. O’Rourke has yet to formally announce his candidacy, but his intentions seem unmistakable. Meanwhile, Joaquin Castro, the Democratic congressman from San Antonio, is also considering making the race, though his candidacy seems less likely. Either way, for Texas Democrats it seems a heartening development that two young and attractive candidates are seriously interested in taking on Cruz. But, just before O’Rourke set out on his road trip, I talked to another potential candidate for the Cruz seat, whose path would seem an even longer shot than O’Rourke’s or Castro’s.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Texas Senate OKs latest attempt to chip away at abortion

Parents who would have aborted their baby if they had more information about fetal abnormalities would no longer have the right to sue their doctor under a bill passed by the Texas Senate Monday in the chamber's latest attempt to chip away at the controversial procedure. The Senate voted 21-9 to pass a bill that would eliminate the "wrongful birth" cause of action which gives parents the ability to seek legal damages if they give birth to a child with disabilities that they would have aborted had the doctor provided them more information.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Forbes reveals the richest Texans of 2017

The Texan who had the best year is Kelcy Warren, who co-founded Energy Transfer Partners, the company who has been contracted to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline. From 2016 to 2017, Kelcy Warren's net worth jumped from $1.7 billion to $4.5 billion, which resulted in a 700 spot jump in Forbes' rankings. The biggest winners overall were Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Gates was ranked the richest person on the planet for the fourth year in a row. Bezos added $27.6 billion to his net worth and moved to the number three spot for his first time.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Bill that could stymie Astrodome redo advances

A state Senate committee voted Monday to approve a bill that could torpedo Harris County's multimillion-dollar overhaul of the Astrodome. The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations voted unanimously in favor of the measure to require certain local public stadium projects - including the county's planned $105 million renovation of the Astrodome - to be put to a county-wide referendum. The committee's unanimous bipartisan vote suggests the bill by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, will have enough support to pass the full chamber and head to the House.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Whitehead: I didn't expect much when I showed up for the Pete Sessions town hall, but I was wrong

I'll admit, I wasn't expecting much from the town hall based on what I understood of the format. Congressman Sessions would take only pre-screened questions that had been submitted ahead of time and the audience would not be allowed to vocalize any concerns. I imagined a series of softball questions offered up to allow the congressman to stick to his talking points and address only those issues that served him. To his credit, I was immediately proven wrong. One of the first invited speakers was the parent of a disabled child who had worked with Sessions in the past. It became immediately clear that she did not support the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. To the cheers of the crowd, she urged the congressman to oppose the Republican-proposed AHCA.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Texas Tech's rivalry with Texas just got dragged into the FBI director's congressional hearing on Russia

What started as a congressional hearing into alleged Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election of President Donald Trump turned into a discussion about the Texas-Texas Tech rivalry somehow. During the hearing, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, who represents part of West Texas, disputed a conclusion from FBI Director James Comey that because Russian President Vladimir Putin disliked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, that meant he preferred Trump. In trying to make his point, Conaway made a reference to the rivalry between Texas and Texas Tech.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Tomi Lahren show on hold after she voiced 'pro-choice' stance

Tomi Lahren, a conservative commentator for the Irving-based, right-wing media firm The Blaze, has been temporarily suspended days after announcing on The View that she favors abortion rights. "Tomi's show will not be in production this week," The Blaze managing editor Leon Wolf said in an email. Wolf did not elaborate. Lahren, who has remained mum about the situation on social media, said in an email that she is "not allowed to comment at all."

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Texas attorney general's office trying to use a student prayer room to instigate anti-Muslim hysteria

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Paxton has made a career of complaining about what he calls discrimination against Christians in Texas schools, going so far as to sue the Killeen school district after a middle school asked a teacher to remove a homemade Charlie Brown poster with a religious quote. Paxton has also opposed atheists seeking to halt prayers before public meetings. Last week, Paxton's office took an unwarranted whack at Frisco ISD, suggesting that school officials allow special treatment of Muslim students who gather to pray in an empty classroom at Liberty High School.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Texas senators praise Trump Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch at confirmation hearing

On a normal day, in a normal year, the confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court justice would be the biggest attraction of the day for political observers. But given the fireworks at Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, the introduction of Judge Neil Gorsuch was a muted affair. The first day of confirmation proceedings for Gorsuch, who sits on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, unfolded as expected, as Republicans lavished praise on President Donald Trump’s nominee and Democrats expressed concern.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

For Trump loyalist and the neighbors she hates, immigration policy more than politics

VALLEY VIEW -- At 4:30 a.m. on a windy Monday, Tamara Estes swallows vitamin B12 for energy and krill oil for her arthritic fingers. Even with her nightly Ambien, she is always up before the sun, getting ready for a job that reminds her of what infuriates her about America. She drives a school bus on a route that winds through a neighborhood filled with undocumented Mexicans in this North Texas town about 70 miles northwest of Dallas. She picks up nearly 100 of their children and drops them off at public schools funded by American taxpayers. By her. One immigrant family lives in the house next door, and in the dark hours before dawn, they are also stirring. As the father leaves for his job at a construction site, the mother is scrambling eggs and scooping them into warm tortillas.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

House member seeks first bump in poor Texas nursing home residents’ allowance in 12 years

Twelve years after she last secured a raise for Texas' most impoverished old folks, Rep. Senfronia Thompson is at it again. On Monday, Thompson began her latest push for an allowance bump for nursing home residents on Medicaid. "Occasionally, people may need an extra diaper," the Houston Democrat told the House Human Services Committee. "Can you imagine sitting in one diaper all day long? ... You know, a fresh diaper a couple of times a day may be a pretty good relief." Thompson has filed a bill that would increase the state's "personal needs allowance" to $75 a month. Since 2005, the amount has been $60.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Senate OKs bill to protect doctors who don't tell women about fetal disabilities

The Texas Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that would ban parents from suing a doctor who doesn't tell them their baby has a disability or counsel them on their options, including abortion. Sen. Brandon Creighton, the bill's author, revised the legislation after numerous media reports said a bill to ban "wrongful birth" lawsuits would allow doctors to lie to their patients. The new language doesn't relieve doctors of their duties under "any other applicable law." Creighton, R-Conroe, told lawmakers Monday that existing laws protect parents from doctors who fail to tell them the truth, so they could file negligence or malpractice claims instead.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Unions have concern with teacher impropriety bill

A bill filed by a Cedar Park legislator would require anyone applying for a job in a Texas public school to disclose whether he or she had been accused of improprieties with a minor. House Bill 218 by Republican state Rep. Tony Dale is intended to crack down on the rising number of improper relationships between teachers and students, an issue that has become a priority for lawmakers. The bill, which Dale presented Monday to the House Educator Quality Subcommittee, also would require more teacher training and tighten the language in the criminal law about improper teacher-student relationships.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Bill to cut gun license fees advances in Senate

A Senate committee approved four gun-related bills Monday, including one to cut the fee for a license to carry a handgun from $140 to $40. Senate Bill 16, approved 9-0 by the State Affairs Committee, originally waived the entire fee, but a new version submitted Monday by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, would create a break-even $40 fee for new and renewed licenses that would cover state costs to issue the permit. “Texas has one of the most expensive licenses in the country,” Alice Tripp, a Texas State Rifle Association lobbyist, told the committee. “We’re finding the cost to DPS and the state is $40, meaning there’s a $100 tax on personal protection.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Texas lawmakers spar over raising state’s minimum wage

Depending on your point of view, the minimum wage in Texas is a “misery wage” that’s too low for struggling workers to stay afloat, or it’s an efficient entry level pay rate that enables employers to hire more people and create more jobs. Lawmakers sparred over those competing descriptions Monday during a House committee hearing over a number of bills dealing with the state’s minimum wage, currently set at the federal minimum of $7.25 a hour. Among the bills, several would increase the state’s rate to $10.10 an hour or to $15 an hour, while others would mandate statewide referendums putting the issue to Texas voters. “What we are asking for is something for the little dogs,” state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, told members of the House committee on Business and Industry, which held the hearing. “Even the little dogs have to eat.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

U.S. judge: ICE said Austin raid was because of ‘sanctuary’ policy

Federal agents privately alerted two magistrate judges in late January that they would be targeting the Austin area for a major operation and that the sting was retribution for a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that dramatically limited her cooperation with them, according to one of the judges. The revelation — made Monday in open court by U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin — conflicts with what Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials told local leaders after the sweep, when ICE characterized the operation as routine and said the Austin area was not being targeted. It also provides evidence after weeks of speculation that Hernandez’s policy triggered ICE’s ire. “We had a briefing … that we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation, and at least it was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen,” Austin said.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Lawmaker pulls bill to change early voting in Texas

The future of a bill that trims down the early voting period is uncertain after its author withdrew it from committee consideration Monday following logistical concerns from the attorney general’s office and county election officials. House Bill 288, authored by state Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, would have shrunk the early voting period from 12 to seven days and pushed it closer to Election Day. Jason Millsaps, Keough’s chief of staff, said the attorney general’s office had concerns with how the bill could impact litigation over the state’s voter ID law. The attorney general’s office was worried prosecutors in federal court could potentially use HB 288 as an example of attempted voter suppression, Millsaps said.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Matteson: Legislative investment key for foster children success

Graduating from college, or just attending college, seem like impossible dreams for foster children after they “graduate” out of the system at age 18. A number of Texas House and Senate bills this session address college access for this population. Senate Bill 482, authored by Sen. Borris Miles (D), for instance, proposes that the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services work with foster care transition centers to create a program that helps those in foster care earn a high school diploma and then either earn vocational certificates or take advantage of college tuition fees and waivers. House Bill 928 would assist foster children in the college admission process by providing specific information regarding tuition and fee waivers and help school districts identify foster children eligible for these waivers and also provide assistance in applying for financial aid and scholarships.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Lawmakers to consider ‘private school voucher’ bill on Tuesday

A contentious bill that would divert state money to private schools will have its first Capitol hearing on Tuesday morning. The Senate Education Committee will consider Senate Bill 3, which proponents have called the school choice bill and opponents have compared to private school vouchers, would create a system of education savings accounts and tax credit scholarships. Students leaving public school could use the savings accounts to pay for a variety of education services, including tuition for private schools, online courses and educational therapies.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Rose, Hansch: Severe mental illness and the death penalty

Over the course of our state’s history, people with severe mental illnesses have faced serious consequences in the criminal justice system. All too often, these individuals faced capital punishment, a sentence that frequently extends an already emotionally difficult ordeal for family members, involves years of litigation and occurs at high financial cost to taxpayers. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty for persons with intellectual disabilities and for juveniles — because medical research shows those individuals do not have the same mental capacity as fully-functioning adults. People experiencing symptoms of severe mental illnesses are clearly in the same category and should be treated the same way.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

NYT: Texas Needs a Remedial Lesson on Voting Rights

In Texas, which has for decades made an art of violating the voting rights of minorities, officials and lawmakers can’t seem to keep their hands clean. Now, the state may become the first to have its voting practices placed under federal oversight since the Supreme Court struck down a central part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. A Federal District Court in San Antonio ruled on March 10 that the state’s Republican-led Legislature redrew congressional district lines in 2011 with the intent to dilute the voting power of Latino and black citizens, who tend to vote Democratic. In two districts — one encompassing parts of South and West Texas, and the other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — the court found that mapmakers used various methods that violated the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Davis, Ellis: Stop SB 6 — the kids are watching

This week at South by Southwest, our nation’s brightest innovators and most inspiring creatives gather in Austin to celebrate the best of the tech business. We can’t help but be reminded of the Texas spirit: a beautiful mix of bold individuality, fair-minded opportunity and the single word that comprises the Texas state motto, Friendship. Meanwhile, just a short walk away at the Texas Capitol, the Legislature is considering a bill that would undermine those cherished values and make Texas more dangerous for the people who live here, including its public school children. Senate Bill 6 must not become law. SB 6 is modeled on a North Carolina law that prevents transgender people from using the bathrooms that match their gender identities.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Texas Senate passes two anti-abortion bills

Two GOP-backed anti-abortion bills passed the Texas Senate on Monday — one that would prevent parents from suing doctors if their baby is born with a birth defect and another that would require doctors to make sure a fetus is deceased before performing a certain type of abortion. Sen. Brandon Creighton's Senate Bill 25, a "wrongful births" bill designed to prevent doctors from encouraging abortions to avoid lawsuits, passed 21-9. Creighton said without it, doctors have "an invitation to be sued for just practicing medicine" and might not want to work in the state.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Stolen after Super Bowl in Houston, Tom Brady's jersey recovered in Mexico

More than six weeks after New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's football jersey was stolen after the Super Bowl in Houston, sparking investigations from local, state and federal officials, the jersey has been recovered. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted Monday that the jersey was traced to Mexico and "has been recovered with help of FBI & Mexican authorities." Both that jersey and Brady's jersey from the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, were found "in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media," according to a statement from the NFL.

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

Texas' next religious liberty fight could be over foster care

You can’t talk about religious liberty in Texas without mentioning Lester Roloff. In the 1970s, Roloff, a Baptist preacher, was known for his homes for teenagers in Corpus Christi. A 1973 legislative report on child care in the state said members heard testimony from children previously in Roloff's Rebekah Home for Girls about irregular meals and whippings. Roloff told lawmakers his homes should be exempted from state interference due to his religious roots. “We spanked them because God loves them, and we love them,” Roloff told the committee.

San Antonio Express News - March 20, 2017

State agency launches internal investigation into questionable contracts for medical transportation

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has opened an internal investigation into the privatization of a program that transports poor Texans to medical appointments after a critical Legislative Budget Board report said the move has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars more while serving fewer than half as many people. The probe by the commission’s inspector general, Stuart Bowen, will examine why officials gave lucrative contracts for administration of the program to companies and nonprofit organizations that did not provide cost information and, in some cases, scored poorly on the state’s own rating system.

San Antonio Express News - March 17, 2017

Casey: A backstory on the Texas redistricting ruling

Last week’s ruling by a three-judge panel in San Antonio that the Texas Legislature racially discriminated in drawing three congressional districts is being hailed as a major civil rights triumph in some legal quarters. “This is a huge victory for voting rights plaintiffs,” wrote nationally recognized elections law expert Richard Hasen in his Election Law blog. He predicted the 2-1 decision was unlikely to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because “it closely tracks Justice (Anthony) Kennedy’s views of the issues in this area.” Kennedy is often the swing vote on the closely divided court.

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

UT System report concludes behavior of UTSA’s Romo was sexual harassment

An internal investigation into Ricardo Romo, conducted before he resigned as president of the University of Texas at San Antonio this month, determined it was “more likely than not” that Romo violated UTSA's sexual harassment policies in connection with hugs he gave three employees. Released Monday in response to an open records request by the Express-News, the report said the female complainants described Romo’s hugging them as “disgusting,” “perverted” and even physically hurtful. In an interview, Romo’s lawyer rejected its findings. The information gained in the probe “supports the conclusion that President Romo engaged in sexual harassment and sexual misconduct against the victims,” the report’s executive summary stated.

KAUZ - March 21, 2017

House Bill aims to change wine labeling in Texas

A house bill could shake things up for the Texas wine industry. HB 1514 aims to change the way Texas wine bottles are labeled. Patrick Whitehead, managing partner at Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard in Saint Jo has been growing grapes and bottling wine since 2011. "We have eight acres of grapes. We grow several different varietals. Harvest time, or crush as we call it here in north Texas, normally falls around August or September," he said. On occasion they use grapes from other states, mostly California and New Mexico, to enhance a wine style or extend wine they have.

Yahoo! News - March 16, 2017

Sorry, Texas: PBS Stations in Trump States Would Suffer Most Under Trump’s Cuts

The local PBS stations that would be hardest hit by President Trump’s proposed budget cuts are in states that voted for Trump. Public television receives about 15 percent of its funding from federal sources, according to PBS. But in rural parts of the country — most of which voted overwhelmingly for Trump — that federal funding represents a much larger portion of the budget. Federal taxes provide up to 50 percent of the money for some stations. “For those stations, if this funding is eliminated, it would be an existential crisis,” PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger told TheWrap on Thursday. Federal tax dollars for public TV are administered through the private Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has a $445 million annual budget. Among the PBS member stations that get roughly half their budgets from the CPB are KYUK in Bethel, Alaska; KPBT in Midland, TX; and KEET in Eureka, California.

Longview News Journal - March 19, 2017

East Texas views mixed on GOP health bill

The Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act drew criticism from East Texans who fear it will leave more without coverage, while an insurance underwriter sees some good points and a tea party activist said he's in favor of a repeal with no replacement. The proposed Republican plan, officially called the American Health Care Act, is not pleasing many people on either side of the political aisle, said Jeff Brown, business development director of Wellness Pointe, a nonprofit entity that operates primary-care clinics in the Longview area. "Obviously, for the hardcore conservative, they are calling it 'Obamacare Light,'" he said. "For the liberal standpoint, the new plan looks like it could be a very scary proposition for the future of community health centers."

Texas Monthly - March 19, 2017

Leeson: Closing the Partisan Divide One Rest Stop at a Time

John Smithee apparently doesn’t listen to political consultants. If he did, the second-longest-serving Republican in the Texas House would hear panicked versions of a political proverb he’s long understood: There’s no context in politics— when you’re explaining, you’re losing. And in an 85th Legislature that is hotter than hell’s hinges, fueled by partisan provocation and ideological indignation, Smithee’s legislation honoring an old friend– a Democrat who passed away last August– requires explanation. House Bill 1691 reads: “Relating to the designation of certain rest areas on Interstate Highway 27 in Hale County as the Nelda Laney Safety Stops. Author: Smithee.”

Associated Press - March 21, 2017

Texas 'affluenza' teen's lawyers seek his release from jail

Lawyers for a Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck have turned to the Texas Supreme Court in an effort to secure his release from jail. The motion filed Friday on behalf of 19-year-old Ethan Couch argues that a judge had no authority to sentence Couch to nearly two years in jail after his case was moved from juvenile to adult court. Couch's attorneys argue that the judge only had jurisdiction over criminal cases and that juvenile matters are civil.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

The Battallion - March 20, 2017

Brooks to serve as first openly gay SBP

Economics junior Bobby Brooks will serve as the first openly gay student body president after the end of the latest Student Government Association elections, setting a hallmark for the university and its culture. The official confirmation of Brooks’ victory came weeks after the polls closed due to the disqualification of candidate Robert McIntosh, who filed two different appeals attempting to overturn his disqualification. “I would like it to echo the sentiment that I’ve always had, that I am just ready to get to work here, get things done,” Brooks said. “Someone had do it at some point. I think it’s less about me, Bobby, and more about a person that filled that role is now here and that is what’s really exciting for me.”

Kaiser Health News - March 17, 2017

Change In Texas Medicaid Payments Helps Cut Number Of Premature Births

Even though the health risks to babies born before they reach full term at 39 weeks have long been recognized, nearly 1 in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely. Texas decided to try to change that. In 2011, the Texas Medicaid program was the first in the country to take steps to curb elective early deliveries by refusing to pay providers who induced early labor or performed a cesarean section that wasn’t medically necessary before 39 weeks. In the first two years after that, Texas reduced the rate of unnecessary early delivery by as much as 14 percent. The state’s efforts also led to an increase in the length of pregnancies by nearly a week, with infants weighing on average nearly half a pound more, a new study found.

Texas Public Radio - March 20, 2017

Texas House Lawmaker Vows To Stop Feral Hog Poisoning

This month, Ag Commissioner Sid Miller announced he was bringing a “Hog Apocalypse” to Texas with the creation of a program that would allow farmers and ranchers to use the product, Kaput Feral Hog Bait, to poison feral hogs on their property. A lawsuit that challenges Miller’s emergency rule-making has put the program on hold until the end of this month. But Rep. Lynn Stucky, a Denton County Republican wants to take this effort a step further. “My bill basically says we need to do more studies, more trials before we use this in our environment to kill hogs and probably other animals at the same time," Stucky says.

New York Times - March 18, 2017

A Texas Woman ‘Voted Like a U.S. Citizen.’ Only She Wasn’t.

When Rosa Maria Ortega was a teenager, her mother was deported to her native Mexico after being arrested twice. As she grew up, Ms. Ortega decided to take a different route. Lacking a high school diploma, she signed up for the Job Corps at age 18 and snagged a position at a state employment office. In 2012, she registered to vote, and not only cast ballots in the next two elections but served as a poll worker. Divorced, she raised four children, now teenagers, sometimes working three jobs. “When my mom was here, she did everything illegal,” Ms. Ortega, 37, said in an interview. “I wasn’t going to let that happen to me.” She may not have a choice. Ms. Ortega, of Grand Prairie, Tex., a suburb between Dallas and Fort Worth, is a permanent resident with a green card, but she is not an American citizen.

Longview News Journal - March 18, 2017

Trump budget would leave large gaps across East Texas

Federal housing grant programs that have delivered more than $30 million to Longview since 1988 are on the chopping block in President Donald Trump's proposed budget — but are only one local example of the impacts that would be felt if his plan were passed. The president's budget envisions 20 percent to 30 percent cuts from housing, diplomatic, environmental, health, arts and labor programs. Analysis of the proposal shows it would have wide-ranging effects on East Texas programs that feed and house the elderly and poor, provide tutoring for low-income students and help build roads. In some cases, local officials said, the cuts would mean more burden could fall to local or state taxpayers to fill gaps in needed programs.

Rolling Stone - March 17, 2017

How Texas Could Be the First State to Ban Sanctuary Cities Under Trump

On Wednesday, in the middle of her spring break, 10-year-old Lizbeth huddles with three friends in a group hug on the steps of the Texas Capitol. Though they've slept just a few hours at their slumber party the night before, the children – whose parents are all undocumented – are ready to testify against SB 4, a bill forcing local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. "This law's not only going to affect immigrants, but also us. They forget about the children of immigrants and how our lives will be affected," says Lizbeth, whose parents came to Austin 15 years ago and were too afraid to attend the hearing. (A documented member of Austin's immigrant community has chaperoned them instead.) "We're only kids. We need our parents to be by our side. No one gives us more love than they do. I worry about losing my parents."

KBTX - March 18, 2017

Valedictorians could soon be admitted to all state-funded schools

A Texas lawmaker wants to pass a law that would automatically admit students that graduate as valedictorian of their high school class into all state-funded universities. House Bill 3904 was filed by Leighton Schubert of Caldwell. The Representative says the new rule tweaks some of the flaws in the current top 10% rule - and is more fair to those graduating from smaller school districts.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

Houston-area family fights father's deportation

Earlier this month, Gerardo Martinez-Morales, a 52-year-old printer and father of four, was driving to a doctor's appointment in Galveston when he was pulled over by an island police officer because of a broken tail light. He handed the officer the only driver's license he had - one that had expired and which he couldn't renew because he was in the country illegally. That was enough to get Martinez-Morales arrested and eventually taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, where he now awaits deportation to Mexico. Martinez-Morales is one of at least six similar cases that have come to the attention of a local immigrant rights advocacy organization since President Donald Trump ordered stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws aimed at deporting people in the country illegally.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

George P. Bush emerges as Ike Dike champion

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has emerged as the long-awaited champion for what supporters say is a much-needed storm-surge barrier for the Texas Gulf Coast. Advocates of the "Ike Dike" concept have longed bemoaned the lack of a prominent state official to champion construction of a coastal barrier that could protect Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula from a storm surge like the devastating one generated by Hurricane Ike in 2008. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Bush said a storm-surge barrier is needed to protect one of the largest concentrations of petroleum refining and petrochemical processing plants in the country, as well as tens of thousands homes that are vulnerable to an Ike-like storm surge, he said. "It is unacceptable policy to wait for the next storm," before taking action, Bush said.

KTRE - March 21, 2017

Angelina County leaders opposed to SB2

A big concern Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter has is with the proposed change is the burden it puts on the counties. "In Angelina County we have not come close to that percent in my 11 years," Suiter said. "We have no intent to do that. We have stayed close to the same over my time to meet the $23 million budget. We have $23 million coming in and we have $23 million going out. We don't plan o doing that outside of a major economic disaster and that is only to keep providing the services we provide." Suiter explained that the state has unfunded and low funded mandates that they put on the counties that the counties are made to fund. Some of these programs include operating the county jail, providing health care to low income families, and court-appointed attorneys.

Corpus Christi Caller Times - March 18, 2017

Ruling means unclear future for Nueces County's congressional district

The state of Texas has no immediate response to — and may have room to actually ignore — a federal ruling that three congressional districts were drawn to intentionally discriminate against minority voters, showing "a willingness to use race for partisan advantage." The federal court determined that the lines of the districts, including District 27, were drawn, at least in part, to dilute the Hispanic and black vote, a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. A 2-1 vote from a federal judge panel in San Antonio reached the conclusion a little more than a week ago.

Corpus Christi Caller Times - March 18, 2017

Ruling means unclear future for Nueces County's congressional district

The state of Texas has no immediate response to — and may have room to actually ignore — a federal ruling that three congressional districts were drawn to intentionally discriminate against minority voters, showing "a willingness to use race for partisan advantage." The federal court determined that the lines of the districts, including District 27, were drawn, at least in part, to dilute the Hispanic and black vote, a violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. A 2-1 vote from a federal judge panel in San Antonio reached the conclusion a little more than a week ago.

McAllen Monitor - March 16, 2017

Hidalgo County wants to continue building the border wall

Hundreds of vendors have shown interest in building President Donald Trump’s wall including Hidalgo County officials who hope for a continued partnership with the federal government to build levees that can provide border security and flood protection. And that’s before a new Trump budget, which came out Thursday, includes $2.6 billion over two years to begin construction of the wall. A few days before the Department of Homeland Security posted a pre-solicitation for the design and building of a border wall, Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 sent a letter on behalf of the citizens of Hidalgo County thanking the federal government for the existing 20 miles of levees and asking for the completion of a 2008 joint agreement which called for 30 additional miles.

City Stories

San Antonio Express News - March 20, 2017

Top San Antonio leaders leaning toward easing marijuana laws

Five City Council members and San Antonio’s top law enforcement leaders say that San Antonio should consider treating the possession of small amounts of marijuana “like a traffic ticket.” On March 1, Harris County became one of the first entities in the state to divert offenders found with 4 ounces or less of marijuana away from jail and into a drug education program, with a $150 fine. Since then, the program has caught the attention of lawmakers and public officials across the state, including several leaders in the Alamo City. Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood said although he has reservations about Harris County’s policy, he could see a program here that would treat low-level marijuana crimes “like a traffic ticket,” where the accused could receive a summons and be able to contest their citation in court, or enter a program.

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Birdville ISD won't have to end student-led prayers at board meetings

A federal court ruled this week that a North Texas district can continue student-led prayers at its school board meetings in another case that tested the boundaries of religious expression in government. Birdville ISD graduate Isaiah Smith and a nonprofit called American Humanist Association sued the Haltom City-based district two years ago alleging that the Christian prayers at the school board meetings made Smith feel "violated and uncomfortable." Smith, who said he attended meetings before and after his 2014 graduation, told the court that the district's practice violated the Constitution by pressuring students and others to participate.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 20, 2017

FWST: School prayer room ignites a hot dispute

A war of words over religious liberty broke out Friday between Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office and officials at the Frisco school district. Relying on a student journalist’s March 3 report about a prayer room at Frisco’s Liberty High School, Paxton’s office distributed a letter and press release complaining that the room was for the exclusive use of Muslim students. Frisco Superintendent Jeremy Lyon fired back the same day. Room C112 at Liberty High has been used by Muslim students for prayer since 2009, Lyon wrote.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Forbes ranks 13 Houstonians among world's billionaires

Houston's richest 13 people mostly got richer in 2017 as all but one on Forbes' annual ranking of the world's billionaires saw their wealth rise over the last year. Richard Kinder kept the top spot among Houston's richest, No. 194, up from No. 240 last year. ... Tilman Fertitta, of the Landry's restaurant, hotel and gaming empire, saw his wealth slip to $2.9 billion from $3 billion, moving his ranking to No. 693 from No. 569. ... Other billionaires include: Jeffery Hildebrand, No. 402 with $4.3 billion; Dan Friedkin, No. 522 with $3.6 billion; Robert McNair, No. 544 with $3.5 billion; John Arnold, No 660, with $3 billion; George Bishop, No. 814 with $2.5 billion; Leslie Alexander, No. 1,098 with $1.9 billion; and Fayez Sarofim, No. 1,290 with $1.6 billion.

San Antonio Express News - March 20, 2017

San Antonio starts outside review of officer-involved killing of Marquise Jones

The city of San Antonio has hired an outside law firm to review how its police detectives investigated some of the evidence in the 2014 officer-involved shooting of Marquise Jones, whose family is suing the city. The move comes after the city discovered last week that the San Antonio Police Department forensics team did, in fact, attempt to secure fingerprints from the handgun police say Jones pointed at Officer Robert Encina. Previously, the city claimed the handgun was not tested. The city says no fingerprints were found on the weapon, and it stands by its conclusion that Encina was justified in using force.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

DACA students seek studies abroad, despite immigration uncertainty

Despite an uncertain fate for thousands of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries and recommendations to refrain from overseas travel, some University of Texas students are not letting their undocumented status get in the way of studying abroad. UT junior Yahaira Pamela, a DACA recipient who recently returned from a study abroad program in Mexico City, is planning to go on another trip this summer — even though her entry back into the United States is not guaranteed. Pamela said her family comes from Tlalnepantla de Baz, Mexico, a town north of Mexico City, and entered the United States on a travel visa when she was 2 years old.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Rally draws 1,000 transgender bathroom bill opponents

Galvanized by concern over the transgender bathroom bill, about 1,000 advocates for equal treatment rallied Monday at the Capitol to decry Senate Bill 6 as a dangerous solution to a problem that does not exist. “Our LGBTQ-plus family is under attack, again, and it is not OK,” actress Sara Ramirez, known for a longtime role on the “Grey’s Anatomy” TV drama, told the crowd on the Capitol’s south steps. “Loving thy neighbor as thyself means making sure all Texans have equal rights — and the same access to bathrooms,” Ramirez said. A similar advocacy day in 2015 drew about 80 participants to the Capitol. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s quest to crack down on transgender-friendly bathroom policies, begun about a year ago, sparked a surge of interest in fighting for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans, said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas.

National Stories

Salon - March 17, 2017

Behind the Western land war: How the fringe ideology of anti-government cranks is becoming the GOP mainstream

This week, the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonpartisan environmental nonprofit, released a report flagging the 15 members of Congress — nine House members and six senators — it considers most hostile to federal ownership of land. ... It’s not hard to see why energy barons like the Kochs are interested in this issue. A huge amount of fossil-fuel energy could potentially be extracted from public lands. In recent years, concerns over climate change, the popularity of outdoor sports and increased awareness of the historical and environmental importance of these lands has turned public opinion against the idea of letting industry run rampant over them.

San Antonio Express News - March 20, 2017

Hurd, Castro question FBI on Russian hacking

At Monday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing, Rep. Will Hurd elicited a bit of frank hindsight from FBI Director James Comey when he asked whether the FBI would have been more forceful in warning the Democratic National Committee if agents knew early on what they know now about Russian hacking. The FBI notified the DNC in August 2015 of the hacks, but the Democratic committee didn’t hire a forensics firm to investigate until June 2016. The firm then shared that information with the FBI but the bureau never gained access to DNC computers. “We’d have sent up a much larger flare. We’d have kept banging and banging on the door,” Comey told Hurd, R-San Antonio. “I might have walked over there myself, knowing what I know now.”

Associated Press - March 20, 2017

For many older Americans, costs rise under GOP health plan

Among the groups hardest hit by the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act is one that swung for Donald Trump during last year's presidential race — older Americans who have not yet reached Medicare age. Many of those who buy their own health insurance stand to pay a lot more for their coverage. That is especially true for the nearly 3.4 million older Americans who have enrolled through the government marketplaces, many of whom receive generous federal subsidies through the health care law enacted under former President Barack Obama. Health care experts predict those older adults will end up buying skimpier plans with lower coverage and higher deductibles because that's all they will be able to afford. The Republican plan replaces the subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, which mostly benefit low- and middle-income earners, with a flat tax credit that does not take into account income or local insurance prices.

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Faulkner, Heffron: Separating children and moms won’t deter illegal immigration

Recent news reports indicate that the Department of Homeland Security is considering causing children psychological harm as a strategy to curb illegal immigration from Central America. It is contemplating separating mothers and children who cross the border without authorization. Regardless whether this practice becomes official policy, it is already happening in Texas, and it is not deterring women from escaping violence in their home countries. Texas immigration advocates recently noted cases of mothers who have had their children sent to detention facilities 300 miles away from them. Even though family detention centers have capacity for more families, children are being taken from their mothers at the border and bussed to different locations.

New York Times - March 19, 2017

Whitebook: Trump’s Method, Our Madness

Now many of us throughout American society at large, after an interminable electoral campaign and transitional phase into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, have experienced a form of disorientation and anxiety that bears a striking resemblance to the clinical situation I have described. And recent events indicate that this feeling is not going to abate any time soon. Of course, a clinical psychoanalytic experience and general social experience are not strictly analogous. But a comparison of them can prove illuminating. Just as disorientation and bewilderment tell analysts something significant about what they are experiencing in the clinical setting, so too our confusion and anxiety in the face of Trumpism can tell us something important about ours. I am suggesting, in other words, that Trumpism as a social experience can be understood as a psychotic-like phenomenon.

The Week - March 20, 2017

Ted Cruz deflects when asked if President Trump is trustworthy

Face the Nation host John Dickerson kicked off his interview Sunday with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) with a line of questioning about President Trump's allegation that former President Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower during the election. Citing a wealth of criticism of Trump's claim, Dickerson began by asking if Trump should simply drop the issue. "Well," Cruz replied, "these are serious allegations. I think they need to be looked into seriously." After Cruz explained his reasoning, Dickerson pushed back. "You, in the campaign, went back and forth [with Trump] about the question of veracity," he said. "[Trump] told stories about your father and JFK's assassination. There seemed to be as much evidence for that as there is for this wiretapping claim. Can people trust this president?" Cruz deflected the trustworthiness question entirely. "I don't know what basis the president has for these allegations," he said, reiterating once again his demand for an investigation.

Washington Post - March 20, 2017

Drezner: The dangerous trajectory of Rex Tillerson’s tenure

If there has been a narrative about the Trump administration’s foreign policy, it has been the idea that the primary cleavage is between the populists and the grown-ups. The populists consist of Trump, Stephen K. Bannon, Peter Navarro and Bannon’s minions in the White House. The grown-ups are Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and national economic council head Gary Cohn. What about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? He has been lumped with the grown-ups, but I’m beginning to wonder if he will be put in any relevant category going forward. The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts has been unimpressed with Tillerson’s brief tenure as secretary of state, but acknowledged that “Tillerson might just be moving down the learning curve at this point.”

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Ted Cruz: GOP health bill is a 'disaster'

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz doubled down Sunday on his contention that the House GOP health care bill is in trouble in the Senate, countering the more sunny predictions of some Republican leaders. Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Cruz argued that the bill devised by House Speaker Paul Ryan and fellow Texan Kevin Brady does not go far enough to repeal the insurance mandates under Obamacare. Cruz, whose support could be critical to Senate passage, also took a swipe at Ryan's assurances that the real heavy-lifting in the GOP's Obamacare repeal effort will happen in a future third installment of legislative changes, after passage of the current bill and certain administrative changes in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Fox News - March 15, 2017

GOP senators ask Tillerson to probe US funding of Soros groups abroad

Republican senators are asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to investigate claims that U.S. taxpayer money is being used to back left-wing billionaire George Soros' political meddling and similar efforts overseas. A letter sent Tuesday asked for a probe into how U.S. funds are being used by agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to back left-wing political groups in other countries. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of the co-signers, even said foreign officials and political leaders have come to him with "reports of U.S. activity in their respective countries."

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

McCann: Donald Trump, the Lyin’ King

My good Catholic mother issued a stern warning every time she caught one of her sons fibbing. “God’s going to punish you, and if he doesn’t, I will.” If mom were around today, no doubt she would say that President Donald Trump, America’s Lyin’ King, deserves a good thrashing. The fact-checking website Politifact has analyzed Trump’s statements and found 70 percent to be mostly false, false or “pants on fire.” Similarly, the Washington Post, which is keeping a tally, counted 219 false or misleading claims by Trump in his first 51 days in office.

The Hill - March 19, 2017

House Intelligence chairman: 'No evidence of collusion' between Trump camp, Russia

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) on Sunday said he's seen no evidence of collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russia. Nunes was asked during an interview on "Fox News Sunday" if he has seen any evidence of any collusion between "Trump world" and Russia to swing the 2016 presidential election. "I'll give you a very simple answer: 'No,' " Nunes said. "Up to speed on everything I have up to this morning. No evidence of collusion."

The Hill - March 19, 2017

Ted Cruz: Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court 'within a month or two'

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Sunday he expects President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, to be confirmed. "I think it's 50/50 whether the Democrats filibuster," Cruz said on CBS's "Face The Nation," adding that a Democratic filibuster will not succeed. "They don't have any good arguments against Gorsuch, but they're furious that we're going to have a conservative nominated and confirmed." Cruz said, though, that one way or another, Gorsuch will be confirmed to the Supreme Court. "I'll tell you this, Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed," he said.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Lindenberger: 14 things to know if the GOP plan to replace Obamacare becomes law

1. Fourteen million will lose insurance next year. There are two reasons for that, according to the CBO: the repeal of the individual mandate and a rise in premiums. From the analysis: "CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law. Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Some of those people would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums."

Associated Press - March 20, 2017

High court limits president's power to fill temporary posts

The Supreme Court says a former top lawyer at the National Labor Relations Board served in violation of a federal law governing temporary appointments. The 6-2 ruling on Tuesday limits the president's power to fill vacant government posts while nominations are tied up in partisan political fights. ... President Barack Obama named Solomon acting general counsel in June 2010 and he held the office until Nov. 4, 2013.

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Associated Press - March 21, 2017

Google affiliate offers tools to safeguard elections

An organization affiliated with Google is offering tools that news organizations and election-related sites can use to protect themselves from hacking. Jigsaw, a research arm of Google parent company Alphabet Inc., says that free and fair elections depend on access to information. . To ensure such access, Jigsaw says, sites for news, human rights and election monitoring need to be protected from cyberattacks. Jigsaw's suite of tools, called Protect Your Election, is mostly a repackaging of existing tools:

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Reuters - March 20, 2017

Exclusive: Almost half of Canadians want illegal border crossers deported - Reuters poll

Nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are illegally crossing into Canada from the United States, and a similar number disapprove of how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is handling the influx, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Monday. A significant minority, four out of 10 respondents, said the border crossers could make Canada "less safe," underlining the potential political risk for Trudeau's Liberal government. The increasing flow of hundreds of asylum-seekers of African and Middle Eastern origin from the United States in recent months is becoming a contentious issue in Canada.

Reuters - March 21, 2017

Tillerson plans to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia in April - sources

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month in order to stay home for a visit by China's president and will go to Russia later in April, U.S. officials said on Monday, disclosing an itinerary that allies may see as giving Moscow priority over them. Tillerson intends to miss what would have been his first meeting of the 28 NATO allies on April 5-6 in Brussels so that he can attend President Donald Trump's expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, four current and former U.S. officials said.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Ted Cruz: Gorsuch nomination has "superlegitimacy"

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, kicked off the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch on Monday by saying the nomination carried a "superlegitimacy" — the result of the vacant seat's outsize role in the 2016 presidential election. In the presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, Cruz said, "the people chose originalism, textualism and the rule of law." The committee is holding a four-day confirmation hearing for Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Colorado. Democrats are likely to use the proceeding to press Gorsuch on his past decisions on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and on his views on Trump's attacks on the judiciary and other incendiary statements.

Politico - March 20, 2017

FBI’s Trump-Russia probe knocks White House on its heels

The White House was knocked on the defensive ahead of its biggest week yet on Capitol Hill after FBI Director James Comey confirmed the existence of an active investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, including whether there was any coordination with now-President Donald Trump’s team. The dramatic revelation, made at a Monday hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, dragged the Trump administration yet again back into uncomfortable territory just as it had hoped to highlight the smooth rollout of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who began his confirmation hearings across the Capitol on Monday.

Washington Post - March 20, 2017

Rucker, Parker: President Trump faces his hardest truth: He was wrong

On the 60th day of his presidency came the hardest truth for Donald Trump. He was wrong. James B. Comey — the FBI director whom Trump celebrated on the campaign trail as a gutsy and honorable “Crooked Hillary” truth-teller — testified under oath Monday what many Americans had already assumed: Trump had falsely accused his predecessor of wiretapping his headquarters during last year’s campaign. Trump did not merely allege that former president Barack Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower, of course. He asserted it as fact, and then reasserted it, and then insisted that forthcoming evidence would prove him right.

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2017

Architect: Solar-Wind powered border wall would 'pay for itself'

With Mexico apparently unwilling to pay for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall, and Congress always hard up for cash, a New York architect has come forward with a concept that is meant to pay for itself. His plan: A 1,000 mile long border wall equipped with solar panels and wind turbines that will generate more than $1.2 billion per year in electricity. With an estimated $25 billion cost, the wall – pitched as "the largest green project of its kind in the world" – would be paid for in 25 years. The solar and wind powered wall is the brainchild of Vijay Duggal, a New York architect who has sent the proposal to the White House and members of Congress, including Texas U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 20, 2017

GOP leaders aim to woo conservatives with amendments to health care bill

House Republican leadership released a slew of amendments to the Obamacare replacement bill on Monday evening, an attempt to wrangle conservative votes for the party’s biggest campaign promise which is set to go in front of the full House for a vote on Thursday. The amendments include overtures to conservatives such as immediately halting the ability for new states to expand Medicaid and allowing states to implement “reasonable” work requirements for Medicaid recipients. But some conservative members were undeterred by the proposed changes, and Mark Meadows, R-N.C, said he thinks the legislation won’t have enough votes to pass. If 21 Republicans vote against the bill, it will fail.

Washington Post - March 21, 2017

She thought she’d saved her daughter from MS-13 by smuggling her to the U.S. She was wrong.

Her daughter had been missing for about a month when Maria Reyes hacked into the 15-year-old’s Facebook account and discovered the death threats. “Those guys want to kill you,” warned one private message in Spanish. “They have already given permission to take you out.” “Get ready,” said another. The profiles of the people making the threats featured skulls, guns, coffins and gang signs that Reyes immediately recognized as emblems of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13. The 36-year-old had witnessed the street gang’s brutality in El Salvador. And in the summer of 2014, she had sent for her daughter to join her in the United States to escape MS-13.

New York Times - March 21, 2017

Domenech: How Trump Can Fix Health Care

President Trump has mostly stayed on the sidelines of the messy policy debates regarding health care reform. But amid the war on Capitol Hill among Republican factions, he could seize the opportunity to provide leadership consistent with his campaign message to disrupt existing health policy. Instead of trying to satisfy the free-market wing of his party, Mr. Trump could push for a solution that delivers on his populist promises by proposing universal catastrophic coverage, ending the specter of medical bankruptcy for many Americans. There is little question that the Affordable Care Act replacement legislation proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan has disappointed many on Capitol Hill, leaving moderates and conservatives alike unhappy and drawing opposition from groups as diverse as the Heritage Foundation and AARP.

Politico - March 21, 2017

Cornyn 'not ready to reach conclusion' on Trump wiretapping claim

Texas GOP Senator John Cornyn said Tuesday that he is not ready to conclude that President Donald Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama’s administration surveilled Trump Tower before the election was false. Despite FBI Director James Comey’s assertion Monday that no surveillance took place, Cornyn said during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," there was not enough evidence to reach a “final conclusion” on the matter. “I’ve always believed you ought to wait until you know all the evidence before you reach a conclusion,” he said. “So I'm not ready to reach conclusions before the evidence is complete. That's all I'm saying.”

Politico - March 21, 2017

Rand Paul's latest lonely fight incenses fellow senators

Rand Paul is at it again. It’s not enough for the Kentucky Republican to try to tank House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal bill. He’s also driving his Senate colleagues crazy by holding up the one thing the Senate could do to quickly rebuke Russian President Vladimir Putin: pass a popular treaty ratifying Montenegro’s membership in NATO. The dispute exploded on the Senate floor this month as Paul blocked Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) from bringing up the treaty. McCain said Paul is “working for” Putin; Paul responded that McCain is “past his prime.” But the anger toward Paul goes much deeper than just McCain — nearly the entire Senate wants to pass the treaty immediately.

The Hill - March 21, 2017

Health groups blast away at ObamaCare repeal bill

Healthcare groups are ramping up their opposition to the ObamaCare replacement bill ahead of a House vote this week. The American Hospital Association is running TV ads against the American Health Care Act, warning that millions of people would lose coverage if it becomes law. The AARP says it will be alerting its 38 million members to how their representatives voted on the legislation. And the American Medical Association is calling on Republicans to go “back to the drawing board.” So far, though, congressional Republicans are pushing ahead, with the bill scheduled to reach the House floor on Thursday.

New York Times - March 21, 2017

Roger Stone, the ‘Trickster’ on Trump’s Side, Is Under F.B.I. Scrutiny

In President Trump’s oft-changing world order, Roger J. Stone Jr., the onetime political consultant and full-time provocateur, has been one of the few constants — a loyalist and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” who nurtured the dream of a presidential run by the developer-turned-television-star for 30 years. But two months into the Trump presidency, Mr. Stone, known for his pinstripe suits, the Nixon tattoo spanning his shoulder blades and decades of outlandish statements, is under investigation for what would be his dirtiest trick — colluding with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton and put his friend in the White House. At a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, Democrats pressed James B. Comey, director of the F.B.I., for information on Mr. Stone.

New York Times - March 21, 2017

Law Enforcement Agencies Bristle at U.S. Report on Immigration Detention

One of President Trump’s first executive orders promised a weekly recounting of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and a list of the recalcitrant local law enforcement departments that failed to turn those people over to federal officials. The Department of Homeland Security on Monday delivered the first report. But rather than provide a complete tally, it contained misleading information that only prompted confusion and defiance from law enforcement officials from the jurisdictions in question. ... Travis County, Tex., which includes the city of Austin, declined the most detainers, 142, out of the 206 rejections nationwide listed in the ICE report.

All - March 20, 2017

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express News - March 19, 2017

Fikac: Lawmakers continue to debate if it is raining in Texas

The dance over using part of the state savings account known as the rainy day fund to blunt the impact of budget cuts is in full swing at the Texas Capitol. Texas House leaders are taking a straightforward approach on spending a portion of the fund, saying it makes no sense to leave so many billions of dollars untouched while putting crucial state services on the chopping block. In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has set a high bar for dipping into the fund, which is expected to have $12 billion at the end of the next two-year budget cycle if it’s not used. “I stand with the senators in our commitment to live within our means and our determination not to tap the Rainy Day Fund for ongoing expenses,” Patrick has said. That is taken to mean the fund can be tapped for one-time expenses.

New York Times - March 20, 2017

Comey Confirms F.B.I. Investigation of Russian Election Interference, Links to Trump Campaign

The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said. Mr. Comey said that it is unusual for the F.B.I. to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, but in unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau sometimes will discuss such matters. “This is one of those circumstances,” he said. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” he continued, adding that the investigation included looking at whether associates of Mr. Trump were in contact with Russian officials, and colluded with them.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Giovanetti: How the Texas Legislature can solve the bathroom bill dilemma without using the words 'bathroom' or 'transgender'

I'd like to challenge everyone to pause and do a rethink. There is, in my view, a constructive way out of this conundrum that would solve the real problem without turning national business interests against the state of Texas. There was no national controversy over which bathrooms are used by the tiny, 0.3 percent of Americans who identify as transgender until government created one. Caught up in the ecstasies of social justice do-goodism, the city of Charlotte, N.C., created a protected class, transgender people, and awarded special privileges to that class. The real offence isn't about bathrooms or transgendered persons; it's about municipalities creating protected classes and awarding them special protections.

Politico - March 19, 2017

Cruz: I negotiated health care at Mar-a-Lago

Sen. Ted Cruz said Sunday he spent three hours at the Mar-a-Lago estate of his former rival on Saturday, negotiating with President Donald Trump's team on changes to the Republican health care bill. The Texas Republican said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that he went to the Florida estate with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to talk with "the president's team." "I have got to tell you, I am spending night and day meeting with House members, meeting with senators, meeting with the administration," Cruz said. "Just yesterday, I spent three hours at Mar-a-Lago with ... Mike Lee and Mark Meadows negotiating with the president's team, trying to fix this bill."

Politico - March 20, 2017

Gallup: Trump hits low 37 percent approval

President Donald Trump’s approval rating is at a low 37 percent, according to Gallup daily tracking poll results released Monday. A solid majority of Americans polled, 58 percent, said they disapprove of the president’s job performance. The results represent Trump’s worst results in the poll since his inauguration in January and a swing from just over a week ago, on March 11, when 45 percent of those surveyed told Gallup they approved of the president’s job performance (49 percent said they disapproved then).

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Texas AG sued to keep a Bible quote in school. Now he’s troubled by Muslim prayers.

Every day at lunch, a handful of teenagers in Frisco, Texas, would pop into room C112, face a whiteboard and kneel for one of their five daily prayers. It was just a spare classroom, used for everything from teachers’ grading to Buddhist meditation, school officials say. But Muslims at Liberty High seemed to like it. “Takes like five minutes, instead of having to leave school, get in a car and go to my parents,” junior Sarah Qureshi told the school news site early this month. “This is the seventh year we’ve been doing this, and we’ve never had one issue,” school principal Scott Warstler said.

The Hill - March 17, 2017

Shutdown politics return to the Senate

Senators are firing the opening salvos in a new fight over funding the government. With President Trump releasing his first budget request Thursday, both parties are preemptively pointing fingers over who would be responsible if Congress misses a deadline in April to avoid a government shutdown. Republicans say it’s up to Democrats to play ball, while Democrats counter that Republicans have to be willing to reject some of Trump's proposals. “If they put those poison pill amendments in and try to shove them down the American people's throats, of course they might be responsible for shutting the government down,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters during a leadership press conference.

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

SAEN: Yes, there was intent to discriminate

That a federal court would rule last week that three congressional districts in San Antonio were intentionally drawn to disadvantage Latino voters in particular will not surprise any observer — casual or otherwise — of the state’s history of gerrymandering. The state had claimed that the 2011 maps in question were drawn for partisan, not racial, advantage. Legislatures have interpreted previous court rulings as allowing this. This is a poor excuse, but it is a distinction without a difference in any case. Voting in Texas is highly polarized — Latinos and African-Americans tend to vote Democrat and whites Republican. But even so, the court found, the Legislature evidenced keen awareness of race in crafting the 23rd, 27th and 35th congressional districts, represented respectively by Republicans Will Hurd of San Antonio, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi and Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, also of San Antonio.

Washington Times - March 14, 2017

Joe Biden: Donald Trump ‘deserves a chance’ to lead

Former Vice President Joe Biden declared Monday that President Trump “deserves a chance” to lead the country. During a press conference at the University of Delaware, Mr. Biden told reporters that Mr. Trump has been “playing catch-up” since taking office because he didn’t think he was going to win and was unprepared for a smooth transition. Asked if the Republican president “deserved a chance to govern,” Mr. Biden replied, “Sure he does,” according to audio posted by The Blaze. “That’s exactly why you haven’t seen the president on any of the shows,” the former vice president said. “He deserves a chance and in fairness to him, this is a man in my view, who understandably like all the press thought, didn’t think he was gonna win.”

KEYE - March 19, 2017

Minimum wage fight takes over the Texas Capitol

Texas lawmakers in the House business and industry committee are considering several bills Monday that address raising the minimum wage in Texas. The current minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour and has stayed at the same since 2009 when the federal government raised the minimum wage to the same amount. For tipped employees, the minimum wage is $2.13 an hour before tip earnings are factored in. Five of the eight house bills being debated would raise the minimum wage to either $10.10 or $15 an hour.

State Stories

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 17, 2017

Texas lawmaker: Let research dogs and cats be adopted — not euthanized — after they retire

State Rep. Ina Minjarez wants to make sure retired research animals can be adopted after the research involving them has ended. Minjarez, D-San Antonio, filed House Bill 2490, calling on research facilities to offer up for adoption any healthy retired cats or dogs they were otherwise planning on euthanizing. In 2015, more than 19,000 cats and 61,000 dogs — including more than 1,600 in Texas — were used in research, testing and teaching, U.S. Department of Agriculture reports show. “This legislation represents a second chance for hundreds of dogs and cats currently in laboratories in Texas,” said Marcia Kramer, director of legal and legislative programs for the National Anti-Vivisection Society. In 2015, more than 19,000 cats and 61,000 dogs — including more than 1,600 in Texas — were used in research, testing and teaching, U.S. Department of Agriculture reports show.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 17, 2017

FWST: Teach about mental health in schools

There is far-reaching cultural misunderstanding when it comes to mental health. Pop culture often dictates that if you are suffering from a mental disorder, you’re either weird, violent or unstable. People absorb this from the world around them and weave it into how they perceive mental health sufferers. Yes, there are people suffering from extreme behavioral health issues, but a vast number of Americans suffer from these problems but live productive, healthy lives. Children and teens don’t usually hear about them. They only hear about the extremes that pop culture and misinformation provide, leaving kids confused, isolated and scared when they, or people they know, have mental health issues.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 17, 2017

FWST: Run the state budget like your household

Some people in the political arena say Texas officials should run the state budget like people run their household budgets. When times are tough, they say, real people tighten their belts. Let’s see how much that helps. Say your household budget for the past two years was almost $108 billion. You have thousands of people that you pay out of that budget (you have a pretty big house). Moreover, almost 30 million people rely on you to do things for them, very important things. You made the $108 billion stretch to cover what you needed for the past two years, even tucking money away in savings like you usually do. You had $1.53 billion left over when it was all done.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2017

Two Views -- Smith: Distance between House, Senate leaves key bills in doubt

It was an old ritual of the high school rebels: light up our cigarettes in the bathroom. That’ll show the teachers and the principals who’s really in charge! In our ritual conformity, we rebels were a rather sad spectacle, but we can put the behavior off to adolescent confusions. The same excuse can’t be made for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has turned the 2017 Legislature into an extended bathroom protest of his own. The 85th Legislature’s regular session has slipped past the halfway point and — so far — most of the debate has been about who can use which bathroom in schools and other public facilities. Patrick seems obsessed with his own dark fantasies of bathroom dangers brought upon us by transgender folks.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2017

Two Views -- Mackowiak: Which bills will survive distance between Senate, House?

In 1990, a Democratic member of the U.S. House named Al Swift was quoted in D.C.-area media reports as saying “Republicans are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy.” That line remains a shrewd observation today. Though partisanship is a considerable factor in any legislative body, nothing unites a legislative body like the disdain it has for its counterpart. There are about 70 days left in the 2017 biennial legislative session. Tomorrow, we will be at the exact midpoint of the 140-day legislature. Let’s take stock of where Gov. Greg Abbott’s four emergency items stand:

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Novy: Shuttering supported living centers hurts our vulnerable

Senate Bill 602 would establish a commission to evaluate the future of each of the 13 state supported living center (SSLC) currently serving persons with severe intellectual developmental disabilities. Authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), the bill would authorize five gubernatorial appointees to identify centers that should be shuttered or consolidated with other centers. The bill’s authors and supporters provide three reasons for shuttering or consolidating centers: the excessive cost of the state supported living centers per capita; the existence of less expensive group home opportunities, which they call community programs; and poor management and living conditions at state supported living centers. As a brother and guardian of someone living in a state supported living center, I contend that the bill’s advocates are either ignorant of existing conditions at the centers or willing to sacrifice the current system and its residents for a mistakenly perceived greater good — or both.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Texas film incentives program facing state budget ax

Plenty of movie blockbusters have been built around the theme of plucky protagonists triumphing over adversity through grit, hard work and the righteousness of their cause. Boosters for the film and video game industries in Texas are hoping to write themselves just such a Hollywood ending at the Capitol, where a taxpayer-funded incentive program — which backers say is critical to luring movie, TV and video game productions to the state — hangs in the balance. They’re trying to carve out $50 million to $75 million for the program in the state’s upcoming 2018-19 budget, even though House and Senate budget writers initially earmarked only $10 million for it over the two-year cycle and recent legislative action has cut the Senate’s proposed appropriation even more. In addition, some Republicans are angling to eliminate the incentives entirely — and abolish the Texas Film Commission, which oversees it.

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2017

Castillo: Why the border wall fences us in

From atop a dusty bluff on the U.S. Mexico border in deep South Texas, the mighty Rio Grande commands the panoramic vista below. Its waters a muted hue of green, the river courses wildly in every direction, zig-zagging here, straightening out there for about a mile due south before making an impossible hairpin turn due north, then zig-zagging again. With its bedeviling twists and turns, the Rio Grande is God’s work or Nature’s work, or both. This is the border. The border fence, however, is far from the river’s edge in many places, up to a mile in some spots, leaving many Texans and their way of life caught in something of a no man’s land, as reporter Jeremy Schwartz noted in last Sunday’s American-Statesman.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Wear: Why Central Texas rail crossings are not the threat they once were

The MetroRail engineer didn’t hit his brakes until the car stalled on the tracks up ahead was as close as 100 feet from the front of train. The high-speed collision in April 2012 pushed the crumpled white sedan 80 yards down the track, killing the 32-year-old man behind the wheel and severely injuring his two boys in the back seat. None of the 128 passengers or the engineer on the train was hurt. The crash alongside North MoPac Boulevard near Scofield Ridge Parkway raised questions, never fully resolved, about why the car was unable to move beyond the hump-backed crossing, so named because the road sloped considerably on the west side of the tracks.

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2017

Levin: Texas can raise the age and keep youth, communities safe

Few Texans would want to be judged their entire life based on what they did or who they were when they were 17, an age when most of us were in high school. However, Texas is one of only seven states where all 17- year-olds are placed in the adult justice system. “Raising the age” of juvenile court jurisdiction so that 17-year-olds will presumptively go into the juvenile justice system will help enhance community safety and manage tax dollars effectively. Recently, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) released a report that shows how other states “raised the age” without breaking the bank, which should give comfort to policymakers in Texas considering this issue. In “Raising the Age: Shifting to a more effective juvenile justice system,” JPI profiles what happened in states that absorbed 16-or-17-year-olds (or both) into their youth justice system from the adult court, and how the change happened without spiking taxpayer costs.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Proposed bill would speed up the process of bonding out of jail

Two state lawmakers hope their bill – and a constitutional amendment – will speed up the process of releasing jailed defendants who are considered unlikely to skip their court date or become safety risks. The proposed legislation would require judges to use an automated, pretrial "risk-assessment" system to measure those risks before making bail decisions. The goal is to allow more poor, non-violent and low-level offenders to be released on a personal recognizance bond — which doesn't require paying bail. Senate Bill 1338 also would mandate that judges and magistrates make their release decisions within 48 hours of a defendant's arrest.

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

Ramsey: Cutting the Texas budget, even with money on hand

The budget conversation in the Texas Capitol is coming down to how much money is available — but not in the way you normally think about that. It’s not about how much money the state has to spend, but about whether to spend the money that the state has. Generally speaking, the Senate is trying to use money that’s expected to come in from taxes and fees and such, while the House seems a lot more willing to tap alternative sources, like the state’s savings account. Preface all of this by saying the clock on this legislative session has another nine weeks on it and there is plenty of time to work things out — if lawmakers want to work things out.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

FBI identifies man arrested over seizure-inducing tweet to Dallas journalist Kurt Eichenwald

The FBI has arrested a man accused of sending Dallas reporter Kurt Eichenwald a tweet that triggered an epileptic seizure. The agency announced that John Rayne Rivello, 29, of Salisbury, Md., was arrested Friday morning in Maryland on a cyberstalking charge. Eichenwald tweeted that the man who "assaulted" him also is expected to be indicted by the Dallas district attorney on different charges in the next few days. Eichenwald's attorney, Steven Liberman, told Newsweek that "What Mr. Rivello did with his Twitter message was no different from someone sending a bomb in the mail or sending an envelope filled with anthrax spores."

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Schnurman: Government to the rescue in Texas? That rarity could solve Dallas' failing police pension

Here’s a nice surprise: The public sector is getting the job done, and in Texas, no less. Leaders in Dallas and Austin have worked out a compromise plan to fix the Dallas Police and Fire Pension. The fund has a hole of roughly $3.7 billion, which has created a financial crisis that threatens the retirement of thousands of workers and the future of the city. Dallas’ credit rating has already been downgraded, and a crippled pension makes it tougher to retain first responders. At some point, the soaring costs of public safety may also crowd out spending on streets, parks and libraries.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Law enforcement groups oppose some of the bills filed in response to Sandra Bland's death

Sandra Bland's death in the Waller County Jail in July 2015 sparked public outrage and calls for changes to the criminal justice system. Bland, 28, was found dead of an apparent suicide in her cell three days after she was arrested during a routine traffic stop that escalated into a heated confrontation. The events leading to her death, critics say, highlight longstanding problems in the policing and criminal justice systems: the lack of resources for mental health training, inadequate use of de-escalation tactics, incomplete data on racial profiling, and policies that allow people who aren’t dangerous to remain too long in jail.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Lakey, Keller: Texas needs to reform its mental health hospitals

Imagine this common, tragic scenario: Your previously healthy son, daughter or spouse has gradually developed increasing difficulty managing her finances, job or relationship. A doctor sees your loved one and diagnoses depression or another mental illness. The doctor learns that she is at risk of hurting herself or others. Or maybe she committed a minor crime such as trespassing, and the police arrested her. At the police station she is diagnosed as having a mental illness. In both cases, your loved one will likely be sent to a state mental health hospital that is poorly designed for healing. Whole wards may be closed due to mold. She may share a small room with up to five other patients. The building where she's sleeping was built almost 100 years ago and is run down and out of date. The campus, which housed about 3,000 people when it was first built, now houses 300, but those unused wards were never torn down.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Nelson: All eyes should be on Texas teacher preparation

Every day, we ask 330,000 Texas teachers to be responsible for preparing a diverse group of students and providing the pupils with an academic foundation that will allow them to be successful, productive adults. During my more than three decades in public education, we often discussed how to best prepare teachers with the skills and knowledge to be successful. Sadly, our current patchwork system of preparing teachers is not working well enough for aspiring teachers or school districts. Ultimately, our Texas students are paying the price. Today, anyone who wants to teach in Texas has more than 200 choices of programs to become a certified teacher.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Q&A: Independent banker optimistic about a regulatory overhaul

Six years after the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, the Independent Bankers Association of Texas is feeling optimistic: Congressional Republicans are getting ready to substantially overhaul the law, peeling back many of the layers that imposed burdens on small and large banks alike. The group's president and CEO, Chris Williston, sat down to talk about small banks' suddenly rosier future. Q: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. recently released data showing that community banks enjoyed very healthy profits in 2016 - even better than the larger banks. What does that tell you about the health of your constituents? A: We're blessed to be in Texas. But if you go to other pockets of the country, it's not been as robust. That being said, what's hidden in those numbers is all the things that we've not been able to do, because of regulation, for our customers. More specifically, if you look at the suburban and rural banks compared to the major metropolitan banks, you're going to see very different numbers.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Baylor draws record-high applications despite scandal

Despite the scandal that rocked its campus and resulted in the departure of President and Chancellor Ken Starr, football coach Art Briles and athletic director Ian McCaw, Baylor this year drew a record high number of freshmen applications. University and guidance counselors attribute the rise to a strong and loyal brand within the state and outreach to potential applicants over the course of their high school years. About 36,000 students completed freshman applications. Students have until May 1 to make a final admission decision, but the university says it does not believe many admitted students will be deterred from attending Baylor due to concern about sexual assault or personal safety.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

State program makes conservation pay for farm, ranch owners

WEST COLUMBIA - The Brazos River passes - wide and muddy - through the Griffith family ranch. Floodwaters frequently prompt family members and an armada of cowboys for hire to round up their cows and move them to higher ground. Historic flooding on the Brazos last summer made much of the ranch accessible only by boat for weeks. "You'd have to be crazy to want to put a subdivision here because of the flooding we get," said Wilson Griffith. "About all the land is good for is ranching, and maybe growing a few pecan trees." Griffith and his brother, Jamie, have never wanted to sell the land, which their family has owned for more than 100 years. They want to give it to their children someday but worry about the tax implications.

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

SAEN: Nuke waste can be safely transported

There’s been no shortage of local anxiety over a proposal to transport and store high-level nuclear waste in West Texas. Bexar County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to oppose the transport of spent nuclear fuel to Andrews County, and City Councilman Ron Nirenberg has said he wants the city to legally oppose Waste Control Specialists’ application. The concern is that rail transport of high-level nuclear waste from across the U.S. to Andrews County will pass through Bexar County, putting our community at risk. But the facts don’t fully support the concern. Nuclear waste is transported safely all the time. And there needs to be a solution to either the interim or long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at more than 62 sites across the nation. This includes 29 years of high-level waste stored at the South Texas Project.

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

Davidson: Texas gerrymandering denies representation— again

Redistricting brings out the worst in politicians. When elected officials draw new political districts, the process is the ultimate form of winning ugly. State senators frequently find a way to draw a congressional district for themselves, and at a minimum, legislators have a stake in defending their turf and helping partisan pals. The result is packed districts maximizing the majority party’s chances. This month’s federal court ruling declaring three Texas congressional districts to be illegitimate highlights an unsavory truth. Two members of a three-judge panel found that Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted minority voting clout when drawing congressional lines in 2011.

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

Schilt: Let my wife pee in peace

I remember the first time I went on a movie date with my future wife. We saw “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and I emerged from the darkened theater feeling satisfied that we had just caught the sleeper hit of the season. Katy, on the other hand, was not so sanguine. “I really have to pee,” she said, shooting a glance at the restrooms sign, “but I’m not sure if I should go here.” “Why not?” I wondered. I mean, the theater seemed clean enough. There were no soda-sticky floors or littered aisles. As a cisgender person — that is, someone whose gender identity and expression matches the gender she was assigned at birth — I wasn’t yet used to the kind of anguished calculations that gender nonconforming folks have to make every time they need to relieve themselves in public restrooms.

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

Schneider: Improving foster care should include juvenile justice reforms

Each child who walks into my courtroom is unique, but most of them have a lot in common. Many have been scarred by childhood neglect and extreme trauma. Some of these children come to my court by way of Child Protective Services (CPS) and the foster-care system that state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to transform during the 2017 legislative session. Some of them come to my court by way of the juvenile-justice system. And, unfortunately, many Texas children first appear in court through a CPS case and then end up back in my courtroom as a juvenile offender. While many children in the care of CPS stay out of trouble, research shows neglected and abused kids are at a much higher risk of getting arrested as a juvenile.

Texas Observer - March 17, 2017

DeGrave: Puff, Puff, Pass? GOP Lawmakers Silent on Marijuana Decriminalization

Marijuana decriminalization used to be a polarizing political issue in Texas. It might still be, but lately it’s easier to find weed in the Capitol than it is to find people there who openly oppose decriminalizing it. This week, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considered House Bill 81, a measure that would make possessing an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense rather than a Class B misdemeanor. At its first hearing on Monday, nearly 30 people testified in support of the bill, authored by committee chair Joe Moody, D-El Paso. Only one person — Bobby Bland, the district attorney for Ector County — spoke in opposition.

Odessa American - March 16, 2017

‘Monica’s Law’ seeks protective order registry

The day after the murder, Jon Nielsen said he wanted to find a way to save future victims of domestic violence. His daughter, 32-year-old Monica Deming, was shot and killed at her home on Nov. 29, 2015, by ex-boyfriend Brandon Leyva. Leyva, 38, killed himself after slaying Deming. He had stalked and harassed her for weeks. Grief gripped Nielsen. Then by chance, just days after the murder, Rep. Brooks Landgraf knocked on his door.

County Stories

Odessa American - March 20, 2017

With roadwork almost done, business along Texas 114 is booming

SOUTHLAKE Once a rural highway overrun with traffic from nearby cities, Texas 114 has undergone a transformation in recent years. The road is now a spacious, well-lit freeway — and businesses have responded with a new wave of hotels, restaurants and corporate campuses. Several hundred million dollars’ worth of commercial developments are either underway or scheduled to begin soon along Texas 114 in Southlake, Westlake, Trophy Club and Roanoke. The area straddling the Tarrant County-Denton County border has become a magnet for financial services, insurance, hospitality and many other industries.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Before Zika strikes, county considers mutant mosquitoes

The Bayou City's teeming mosquito population spawns in dark, wet nooks and carries a slew of deadly tropical diseases that could ravage the region. So Houston is pondering a sneak attack, something akin to a Trojan Horse. Harris County officials are negotiating with a British biotech company, Oxitec, to create and release mutant mosquitoes genetically engineered so that after they're set loose in the wild, offspring die, and the mosquito population dwindles. Deric Nimmo, principal scientist at Oxitec, said it is a paradigm shift - "the release of mosquitoes to control mosquitoes."

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Border Patrol presence turns heads, creates worries at the Rodeo

It started with what looked like an unnerving photo: windowless Border Patrol vans parked outside the Houston Rodeo. And as the image spread online in the run-up to Sunday's Go Tejano Day, it seeded fear and rumors of roundups in the local Hispanic community in light of President Donald Trump's immigration crackdown. "They don't need to be spreading fear or instigating further tension between people with different skin tones," said Yvonne Hernandez, a Houstonian who comes from a family of immigrants. But the picture didn't give the full story; U.S. Customs and Border Patrol had simply turned up to bolster recruiting efforts. Even so, some locals were angry and nervous over the agency's unexpected presence at a family event.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

Houston congresswoman floats impeachment over Trump wiretapping claim

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said Sunday that President Donald Trump's repeated claims he was wire tapped by former President Barack Obama could provide grounds for impeachment if a Monday hearing with the FBI director does not produce evidence to substantiate the allegation. ... Any article of impeachment would originate in the House Judiciary Committee, where Jackson Lee serves as a senior member. That article would be sent to the House chamber for a hearing and a vote, then sent to the Senate, which would either convict or acquit the president. Impeachment proceedings would require Republican support to pass in both chambers, Lee conceded.

City Stories

KPRC - March 20, 2017

Sugar Land ban on texting while driving goes into effect

Sugar Land City Council approved an ordinance on Tuesday that prohibits the use of portable electronic devices while driving unless the device is in hands-free mode or being used for an emergency. Portable electronic devices include mobile phones, personal digital assistants, MP3s or other hand-held music players, electronic reading devices, laptop computers, pagers, electronic game devices and more. Sugar Land's new ordinance will take effect March 20; however, drivers will be issued only warnings during the first 90 days. After the grace period, any person found guilty of violating the ordinance will be fined up to $500 for each offense.

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2017

Mayor Mike Rawlings: Dallas needs more 911 call takers

Dallas doesn't have enough people to adequately answer 911 calls, Mayor Mike Rawlings acknowledged Friday. The revelation comes as Dallas grapples with sudden surges in 911 calls that have correlated with two tragic deaths and left hundreds of people on hold for emergency services. The 911 problems are at least partially to blame on the technological troubles of T-Mobile and City Hall. But Rawlings said he was "obviously disappointed" to discover that the city has let its 911 call-taker staffing drop again more than four years after the city made a concerted effort to improve the emergency call center.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Event teaches millennials how to run for office

These days, Kylie Mugleston spends a lot of time on street corners, piquing drivers' curiosity with a sign that says "Talk to Your Future Politician." ... Mugleston was one of more than 100 millennials who gathered at Rice University on Saturday for an introductory course on how to run for office at an especially divisive time in politics. It offered those with little or no political experience a guide to organizing campaigns and chairing a county precinct for both major parties. Houston Millennials, a nonpartisan nonprofit, organized the event, which was held for the first time. Ivan Sanchez, the group's president, said he received overwhelming response to the idea and plans to offer similar courses in the future. "I had no idea what I was creating," he said.

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2017

Muslim Gold Star family that scolded Trump helps raise money for Islamic advocacy group in Dallas

Early last year, he was another Gold Star father grieving the loss of his American son to the war in Iraq. Today, he himself is a star. "My name is Khizr Khan. I am patriotic, American Muslim," he said to thundering applause Saturday night at a fundraiser for the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Khan and his wife, Ghazala, became an enduring image of the 2016 presidential race after a powerful speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Virginia couple's son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Iraq in 2004 while protecting his troops from a car bomb.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

At SXSW, tech leaders talk about walking a tightrope with Trump

After shock and hand-wringing over President Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election, leaders in the Silicon Valley and other U.S. tech hubs have been trying to decode where his administration is headed on everything from trade and immigration to self-driving cars. At this year’s South by Southwest, many of the participants and panelists tried to predict how the tech industry may fare in the next four years. The election outcome has sparked reflection among tech executives, employees and lobbyists about how technology is accelerating economic change and how in some cases, it’s created social silos. Trump’s victory has also challenged tech execs as they try to figure out how to walk the tightrope of working with the Trump administration, even as his policies polarize their employees and customers.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Texas rattlesnake battle pits small-town economics against ecological activists

This is a story about government oversight, alternative facts, pharmaceutical research, small-town economics and ecological activists. Oh, and snakes. Lots of snakes. Last weekend, over 6,000 pounds of rattlesnakes were rounded up in Sweetwater, about 40 miles west of Abilene. Most of them were caught by gassing dens all over Texas. At the same time, in Round Rock, herpetologists from across Texas gave the public a chance to see more than 50 species of snakes up close in a kill-free festival. The Lone Star Rattlesnake Days is specifically advertised as an alternative to Sweetwater’s roundup, which has grown increasingly unpopular among animal rights advocates and other ecologically minded groups.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Tomlinson: The mobility revolution is ready for boarding

If Houston does not want to end up like New Delhi, where I spent 90 minutes in a cab traveling 10 miles last year, city leaders need to give up on adding lanes and purchase technology that uses our roads more efficiently. In Wednesday's column I wrote about how internet-connected cars and traffic signals can work more efficiently, but ultimately, cities can't build enough roads. The best solution may be to reconsider our entire system. "Every time you expand a freeway, it just fills up with more traffic," Long Beach, Calif., Mayor Robert Garcia said during a presentation at the SXSW Conference & Festivals in Austin. "We've given all of this space to automobiles, so how do you move from that as we focus on multi-modal transit and autonomous vehicles? How do we reclaim that public space and make it more usable and not just for car traffic?"

National Stories

The Hill - March 20, 2017

FBI director: 'No information' to support Trump wiretapping claims

The Department of Justice has “no information” to support President Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower, FBI Director James Comey said Monday. Comey refused to “characterize” the tweets containing the allegation from President Trump, saying only that “I have no information” that supports the claim. Both the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee have previously said there is no evidence of Trump's claim that Obama had his "wires tapped" in Trump Tower ahead of the presidential election, a charge he made on Twitter earlier in March.

Washington Post - March 20, 2017

Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch begins Senate confirmation hearings with broad support among Republicans

Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing for a seat on the Supreme Court began Monday morning, giving President Trump his first chance to make a lasting imprint on the federal judiciary — and Republicans a fresh test to work their will now that they control all of Washington’s levers of power. Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Colorado, was promoted by conservative legal activists because of his sterling credentials, a decade of right-of-center rulings and his allegiance to the same brand of constitutional interpretation employed by the late justice he would replace, Antonin Scalia. “Single best thing the president’s done,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a frequent Trump foil who predicted Republican unity on the matter and an easy victory for the president following the string of controversies that Trump has wrought since he took office.

Washington Post - March 20, 2017

Why Donald Trump’s low approval rating may mean less than you think

Social media erupted into paroxysms of schadenfreude over the weekend with the discovery that President Trump’s daily approval rating from Gallup had hit a new low of 37 percent. That figure is lower than Barack Obama experienced at any point over the course of his presidency. On a daily basis, Trump is now averaging 42.1 percent approval, lower than any other previous president included in Gallup’s data. For those looking to these figures as proof that Trump’s presidency is failing and, perhaps an eventual drag on his party, there are a few reasons to wait before spiking the football. The first is that Gallup’s daily numbers are volatile. He’s been down before, as low as 38 percent approval. A week later, he was at 43 percent. On March 11, about a week before the March 18 low that’s gotten so much attention, he was at 45 percent approval — which then collapsed.

Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2017

Ted Cruz: Trump’s wiretap charge unproved but ‘not necessarily outlandish’

Speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said President Donald Trump should produce evidence that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped or otherwise surveilled Trump Tower toward the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, but Cruz argued that the charge is “not necessarily outlandish.” “We do know that the Obama administration targeted its political enemies. We do know that the IRS, for example, targeted citizens’ groups that spoke out against Obama,” said Cruz, R-Texas. “So the notion is not necessarily outlandish, but it’s serious, so it needs to be based on facts, so we should see what the facts are behind this.” “It’s worth looking at, was there a fishing expedition the Obama administration was trying to do or not?” he said.

New York Times - March 19, 2017

NYT: No Crackdown on Illegal Employers

President Trump began his campaign assailing immigrants as ruthless lawbreakers who steal American jobs with impunity. To halt them, he has vowed to build a wall along the border with Mexico, hire thousands of new immigration agents, ramp up immigrant detention and subject visa applicants to even more rigorous vetting. His administration has been largely silent, however, about the strongest magnet that has drawn millions of immigrants, legal and not, to the United States for generations: jobs. American employers continue to assume relatively little risk by hiring undocumented immigrants to perform menial, backbreaking work, often for little pay. Meanwhile, as Mr. Trump’s deportation crackdown accelerates, families are being ripped apart, and communities of hard-working immigrants with deep roots in this country are gripped by fear and uncertainty. As long as employers remain off the hook, a border wall and an expanded dragnet can only make temporary dents in the flows of undocumented immigrants.

Politico - March 19, 2017

A 40-year 'conspiracy' at the VA

Four decades ago, in 1977, a conspiracy began bubbling up from the basements of the vast network of hospitals belonging to the Veterans Administration. Across the country, software geeks and doctors were puzzling out how they could make medical care better with these new devices called personal computers. Working sometimes at night or in their spare time, they started to cobble together a system that helped doctors organize their prescriptions, their CAT scans and patient notes, and to share their experiences electronically to help improve care for veterans. Within a few years, this band of altruistic docs and nerds—they called themselves “The Hardhats,” and sometimes “the conspiracy”—had built something totally new, a system that would transform medicine. Today, the medical-data revolution is taken for granted, and electronic health records are a multibillion-dollar industry. Back then, the whole idea was a novelty, even a threat.

Politico - March 19, 2017

Trump sued over disclosure of personal debts

A Washington lawyer is suing President Donald Trump for allegedly obscuring the extent of his personal debts on his federal financial disclosure form. Attorney Jeffrey Lovitky filed the case in federal court in Washington this week, claiming that Trump's May 2016 disclosure intermingles his personal indebtedness and loans made to businesses or development projects Trump is affiliated with. While Trump or his businesses are facing at least four lawsuits alleging unfair competition or violations of the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause, Lovitky's suit makes no claims of impropriety — it simply alleges that the public is being deprived of accurate information about Trump's debts.

Washington Post - March 18, 2017

Trump’s budget proves that U.S. will pay for border wall, Mexican governor says

As the Trump administration advanced plans to erect a multibillion-dollar wall on the southern border, the leader of Mexico’s national governors association said Saturday in Washington that President Trump’s budget proposal proves that U.S. taxpayers will foot the bill. Trump has insisted that he will force Mexico to pay for the wall, but Mexican officials have refused. The president’s budget request Thursday included $2.6 billion, mostly for first stages of the wall. “Trump is asking the Americans to pay for the wall,” Gov. Graco Ramírez of the Mexican state of Morelos said in a news conference. “The first victory is ours.” Ramírez, who is president of the National Conference of Governors of Mexico, was in Washington for a meeting at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Associated Press - March 20, 2017

Billionaire philanthropist David Rockefeller dies at age 101

A billionaire philanthropist who was the last of his generation in the famously philanthropic Rockefeller family has died. David Rockefeller was 101 years old. Rockefeller's spokesman, Fraser P. Seitel, says he died peacefully in his sleep Monday morning at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York. Rockefeller was the sixth child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and the grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Associated Press - March 20, 2017

Home health aides: Minimum-wage hikes could deepen shortage

It's a national problem advocates say could get worse in New York because of a phased-in, $15-an-hour minimum wage that will be statewide by 2021, pushing notoriously poorly paid health aides into other jobs, in retail or fast food, that don't involve hours of training and the pressure of keeping someone else alive. "These should not be low-wage jobs," said Bruce Darling, executive director at the Center for Disability Rights. "We're paying someone who gives you a burger the same as the person who operates your relative's ventilator or feeding tubes." There are 2.2 million home health aides and personal care aides in the U.S., with another 630,000 needed by 2024 as the Baby Boomer generation ages, according to the nonprofit research and consulting group PHI. New York state employs about 326,000 home health workers but is predicted to need another 125,000 by 2024.

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

The Hill - March 19, 2017

Paul predicts GOP healthcare plan will fail

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday said he does not believe proposed Republican healthcare legislation will pass through Congress. "I don't believe so. I think there's enough conservatives that do not want 'ObamaCare lite,' " Paul said on ABC's "This Week." Paul during the interview stressed a clean repeal of ObamaCare. “None of us ran on this plan. We ran on repealing ObamaCare because it doesn’t work,” Paul told ABC’s “This Week.” Paul has dubbed the new GOP plan, released earlier this month by House Republicans, “ObamaCare lite,” and has vowed to vote against the measures once they reach the Senate.

New York Times - March 18, 2017

Partanen: The Fake Freedom of American Health Care

In wealthy capitalist democracies all around the world the government itself also has an essential kind of freedom. It’s a freedom that enables the government to do work on behalf of the citizens who elect it, including negotiating the prices of health care with providers and pharmaceutical companies — a policy that has led to lower drug prices in those countries. Americans today are paying vastly more in money, worry and hassle for the same, and sometimes worse, care than people in other wealthy capitalist democracies. Some Americans have coverage that serves them well, but judging by the current mood, the number of Americans who think the system needs to change is growing. No health care system is perfect. But in a nation that purports to champion freedom, the outdated disaster that is the United States health care system is taking that freedom away.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Lindenberger: It's time for a full accounting of the botched Iraq War

Fourteen years ago on Sunday, around dinnertime, the U.S. invasion of Iraq began. Most adults alive now will remember that moment, even if they weren't among the brave volunteer soldiers who risked and sometimes gave their lives to fight that war. I sure do. I was safely in Kentucky and had spent the long lead-up to the invasion writing about the preparations at Fort Knox and at Fort Campbell, the sprawling base along the Tennessee border. March 19 fell on a Wednesday that year, and at 6:12 p.m. Dallas time, American forces aimed 40 cruise missiles, each carrying 1,000 pounds of explosive force, at a house near Baghdad where Saddam Hussein and two of his sons were thought (wrongly it turned out) to be staying. Three hours later, President George W. Bush announced the official start of the war, touching off days of protests in cities across America and the world. Thousands of American troops began rolling into Iraq from Kuwait.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

DMN: Trump's plan to reduce fuel efficiency standards doesn't make good business sense

In business, if you aren't innovating then you're falling behind. Apparently, the auto industry and the Trump administration missed that business school class. This week, President Donald Trump ordered a review of motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards, a move that environmental and consumer groups rightly fear is a step toward rolling back aggressive targets that the Obama administration had set years earlier. Automakers had complained that they could not make the goals and would end up cutting jobs or making cars that are beyond the pocketbooks of many Americans. We've heard this tired refrain before and it remains every bit off key now as has in the past. For all their complaints, carmakers have found innovative ways to meet or exceed fuel-economy standards since mandates went into effect in 1978.

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

Falkenberg: Go ahead and celebrate the Irish, and the Mexicans, and the Muslims

A friend called while I was feverishly pecking away at this column. Before he let me go, he asked what I was writing about. I told him: Irish American Heritage Month. It set him off. He described showing up at the office Friday to find an assemblage of coworkers decked in 40 shades of green. As an American with Irish roots, he felt torn. He appreciated the St. Paddy's Day pride, but wondered about celebrating one wave of formerly despised immigrants while some in this country are vilifying and discriminating against those trying to get here now. "You know, a century ago, there was another group of immigrants that was getting blamed for every damn thing, and that was us," he told me. "Back then, we were the devil. But we were actually the heart and soul."

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2017

Kelso: Trump can’t tell difference between fake, unfavorable news

That 3,000-year-old hunk of statue that has been dug up by Egyptian and German archaeologists being promoted as a likeness of an ancient Pharaoh? Sadly for science, it’s a phony replica of Donald Trump’s head, buried in a Cairo slum by the Trump team to give the Trumpster even more publicity than he already gets. The piece will become part of a complete Trump artwork, and it’s estimated it will take a good six months to complete the project. This is the current big thing in Egypt, by the way. When completed, the Trump statue will be placed on top of one of the pyramids. The purpose of this move? Egypt is hoping the Trump statue atop a pyramid will pump some life into a lagging tourism industry.

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2017

PolitiFact: Border apprehensions dropped 40% in 1 month

Illegal immigration from the U.S.-Mexico border dropped significantly during President Donald Trump’s first full month in office, he said in his first Cabinet meeting last week. “In the first full month of my administration following the issuance of my executive orders, illegal immigration on our southern border fell by an unprecedented 40 percent,” Trump said. ... Trump’s statement is accurate but needs additional information, such as the context that it’s one month of data and that apprehension data can be used in several ways. We rate it Mostly True.

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2017

Tomi Lahren slammed for 'pro-choice' stance after comments on 'The View'

Tomi Lahren, a conservative commentator for the Irving-based, right-wing media firm The Blaze, is catching heat after announcing on The View that she is pro-choice. But none of the criticism seemed to faze the 24-year-old, who has an audience of more than 4.2 million on Facebook and can often be found speaking on controversial issues. In Friday's appearance on the show's "Political View" segment, co-host Sunny Hostin said to Lahren, "You call yourself a conservative Republican and a constitutional conservative, but you also consider yourself pro-choice ... ." That stunned another host, Paula Faris, who chimed in to ask, "Are you? ... You're pro-choice?"

Washington Post - March 19, 2017

White House installs political aides at Cabinet agencies to be Trump’s eyes and ears

The political appointee charged with keeping watch over Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides has offered unsolicited advice so often that after just four weeks on the job, Pruitt has shut him out of many staff meetings, according to two senior administration officials. At the Pentagon, they’re privately calling the former Marine officer and fighter pilot who’s supposed to keep his eye on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “the commissar,” according to a high-ranking defense official with knowledge of the situation. It’s a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal.

Washington Post - March 19, 2017

‘Your child is safe’: Schools address deportation fears among immigrant families

The schools superintendent in Harrisonburg, Va., was meeting parents this month when a mother broke down in tears, explaining that she was undocumented. What would the school do, she asked, if she became separated from her children? “I remember walking up to her and putting my arm on her shoulder and saying, ‘Your child is safe at our school,’ ” said Scott Kizner, the city schools chief. But he also advised those at the meeting in the Shenandoah Valley that any parents worried about deportation “need to make plans.” Across the country, President Trump’s promise to crack down on illegal immigration is leading schools with large immigrant communities to consider how to care for children whose parents could be detained in federal raids.

Washington Post - March 19, 2017

GOP lawmakers wouldn’t come to a town hall — so voters brought literal empty suits

In the past two months, Republican lawmakers who have dared to brave town halls have been upbraided, booed and yelled at over policy decisions, Cabinet votes or even just the fact that they share a party affiliation with a polarizing president. Some legislators are taking a simple lesson from the shouting: You can’t get booed if you don’t show up. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) has rejected calls to host a town hall, saying in a letter that he doesn’t want to give “more publicity to those on the far left who have so much hatred, anger and frustration in them.” And voters in Lexington, Ky., have been clamoring for the state’s congressional representatives — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr — to tackle constituents’ questions in person. They even booked a venue for Saturday and hand-delivered town hall invites to the politicians’ offices.

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2017

HC: Open spot -- Sessions needs to appoint a new U.S. attorney for the Southern District ASAP.

They're just the kind of bad dudes you want off the street. There were 10 of them in handcuffs, alleged gun-toting drug dealers with the Hermandad de Pistoleros Latinos gang. U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District announced the arrest last week. It took a three-year investigation and a coordinated round-up in multiple jurisdictions to secure these indictments. Instead of a thank-you for his public service, Magidson's boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asked for Magidson's resignation, along with the resignation of 45 other U.S. attorneys, by midnight of the following day.

New York Times - March 19, 2017

Trump Shifting Authority Over Military Operations Back to Pentagon

President Trump is shifting more authority over military operations to the Pentagon, according to White House officials, reversing what his aides and some generals say was a tendency by the Obama White House to micromanage issues better left to military commanders. The change is at the heart of a re-engineering of the National Security Council’s role under its new leader, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, and reflects Mr. Trump’s belief that the N.S.C. should focus less on military operations and tactics and more on strategic issues. A guiding precept for the president and his team is that the balance of power in the world has shifted against American interests, and that General McMaster should focus on developing foreign and economic policy options in concert with the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies to respond to that challenge.

All - March 19, 2017

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Houston's office market takes a dubious honor

Houston has the highest office vacancy rate in the nation, pushing the metro area lower in a ranking of 46 major markets based on forward-looking economic factors, a new report showed. Houston's office vacancy, projected to reach 21.5 percent in 2017, contributed to a drop of eight spots to No. 31 in Marcus & Millichap's 2017 National Office Property Index. In 2014, local office vacancy stood at 16.3 percent. Nationally, the vacancy rate is forecast to be 14.3 percent in 2017. The index ranks the markets based on 2017 projections on employment growth, vacancy levels, construction deliveries and rents.

Washington Examiner - March 18, 2017

Norquist: Here's what happened this week that guaranteed Trump's re-election and Republican gains in 2018 and 2020

Remember the date of March 13, 2017. It was the day President Trump was guaranteed his re-election and Republican congressional gains in 2018 and 2020. It's not complicated. Follow along. The Congressional Budget Office released its study of Trump and Paul Ryan's plan to repeal Obamacare and begin to reform our healthcare system. It had many numbers. Only two mattered: taxes and spending. CBO announced that the repeal bill reduces taxes by almost $900 billion and reduces federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade. This reduces deficit spending by $300 billion over the next 10 years. Thus the CBO, as official umpire, announced that the GOP Obamacare repeal plan may be enacted through "reconciliation," the process that requires a simple majority in the House and only 51 votes in the Senate. No filibuster allowed.

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

Abbott pushes back against lawmakers targeting pre-K funding

Gov. Greg Abbott, who challenged lawmakers earlier this year to "do it right or don't do it at all" in funding his signature pre-K program, is finding they are choosing the latter. In revising their budgets, both the Senate and House eliminated proposed funding for Abbott's initiative - the Senate doing so on Wednesday night as it worked to finalize its version of the state's two-year budget. That prompted an irritated Abbott to make an impromptu face-to-face plea with the Senate's chief budget writer, Jane Nelson, leading to an abrupt shift by her committee the following morning to restore less than half the funding.

Texas Tribune - March 17, 2017

In Texas House, uncertain fate of bathroom bill could reverberate

For weeks, it’s been clear that the Texas “bathroom bill” would face a less-than-friendly reception in the Texas House. After passing out of the Senate this week, the controversial legislation's path forward is up to House Speaker Joe Straus, who has expressed reservations about the bill. But as leaders in the Texas House hint that the high-profile bill may never reach the chamber's floor for a vote, some are bracing for the fallout to reverberate throughout the remainder of the legislative session. Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — would regulate bathroom use in public schools and government buildings on the basis of “biological sex,” prohibiting most transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Trump's proposal to slash agriculture budget alarms key Texas Republicans

Key Texas Republicans with oversight of agricultural issues were already quietly perturbed by President Donald Trump’s fierce opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the time it took him to nominate an agriculture secretary. Now the Republican president, swept into office with the help of rural voters, is looking to slash the federal agriculture budget, raising further alarms about how his administration will handle the issues most important to America’s farmers. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Midland, voiced concern Thursday over Trump’s proposal to cut discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Agriculture by $4.7 billion, a 21 percent decrease to $17.9 billion.

Washington Post - March 19, 2017

Inside Trump’s White House, New York moderates spark infighting and suspicion

Inside the White House, they are dismissed by their rivals as “the Democrats.” Outspoken, worldly and polished, this coterie of ascendant Manhattan business figures-turned-presidential advisers is scrambling the still-evolving power centers swirling around President Trump. Led by Gary Cohn and Dina Powell — two former Goldman Sachs executives often aligned with Trump’s eldest daughter and his son-in-law — the group and its broad network of allies are the targets of suspicion, loathing and jealousy from their more ideological West Wing colleagues. On the other side are the Republican populists driving much of Trump’s nationalist agenda and confrontations, led by chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has grown closer to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in part to counter the New Yorkers.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Bipartisan road trip gives Beto O’Rourke head start in Senate race

Beto O’Rourke had, it seemed, already made up his mind he was going to run for Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat next year. But among the many hurdles the three-term Democratic congressman from El Paso would face, semiobscurity seemed hard to crack. He was little known outside of his hometown — no El Paso native has ever won statewide office — despite recent trips to virtually every corner of the state to raise his profile. That changed Tuesday, when O’Rourke and his colleague, Will Hurd, a second-term Republican from Helotes, found themselves unable to fly from San Antonio into snowbound Washington in time for some House votes Wednesday. Instead, at O’Rourke’s instigation, they rented a Chevy Impala and hit the road for the nation’s capital.

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

Garcia: Archer likely to help O’Rourke’s Senate bid

Five years ago, Christian Archer helped to successfully navigate Joaquin Castro through his first congressional campaign. Next year, if Castro makes a widely expected leap into the race for Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat, Archer probably will be working for Castro’s Democratic primary opponent. Archer, a veteran San Antonio political operative, is a friend and unabashed admirer of U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso. As O’Rourke, 44, inches his way toward a Senate campaign of his own, Archer says he plans to assist O’Rourke’s cause in any way that he can. “I’m truly inspired by the guy,” Archer said. “He is a really cool dude. There is a level of coolness to him that’s Kennedy-esque. I know people keep saying he looks like Bobby Kennedy. You know what? He’s got this aura around him. It’s neat, because he can talk about anything.”

San Antonio Express News - March 19, 2017

Study: Texas presents multiple barriers for clinics to provide vasectomies

Although vasectomies pose fewer surgical risks and are more cost-effective than female sterilization procedures as a means of contraception, a lack of trained clinicians, funding and community education is preventing the male surgery from becoming more widely available in Texas, recent peer-reviewed research shows. There is also a persistent problem with misconceptions about the procedure, including fear of losing sexual performance and fear of pain. “There is a concern that any kind of procedure (for men) that takes place below the waist is going to be excruciatingly painful,” said Dr. Kari White, lead author on the study, which was published in the American Journal of Men’s Health in February. “But this is something that can be done relatively quickly, they can recover quickly and get back to work really soon.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Did Culberson misfire when he took a shot at 'sanctuary city' funds?

Last July, a year after the shooting death of California resident Kate Steinle intensified the national debate over illegal immigration, Houston Republican John Culberson declared a single-handed victory against sanctuary cities like San Francisco. Employing a stealth budget maneuver as chairman of a House panel that controls Justice Department spending, Culberson announced that jurisdictions like San Francisco - nay the entire state of California - would be denied millions of dollars in law enforcement grants unless they complied with federal law on sanctuary cities. "Today this law is being fully enforced for the first time," Culberson said at the time. "State and local governments must now choose between receiving federal law enforcement grant money or protecting dangerous criminal aliens. They can no longer do both." Except that state and federal records tell a much different story.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

Houser: Texas faces a new normal under neutered EPA

With the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the path ahead for our climate is clearer - or perhaps dirtier - than ever. With his reported ties to oil and gas corporations, Pruitt is set to defang the EPA in line with the 14 lawsuits he brought against the agency as Oklahoma attorney general. Appointing him to steer the United States' environmental agenda was just one sign of what's ahead. President Donald Trump is poised to slash the EPA budget and life-saving protections such as the Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule. It's evident that the Trump administration does not intend to address our greatest threat to planetary health and security - climate change. Instead, the next four years will see us accelerate into the worst of the projections for the climate system.

Houston Chronicle - March 18, 2017

A half million Texans could be without insurance under GOP health care plan

As many as a half-million Texans could become uninsured under the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, wiping out at least half the gains the state has made in reducing the number of uninsured residents in recent years, according to health care analysts. Texas still has the nation's highest percentage of people without health insurance, but that uninsured rate has dropped significantly, falling to about 19 percent from 26 percent over the past four years. About 1 million more Texans gained coverage under the health care overhaul known as Obamacare, which became law in 2010. Under the Republican plan to repeal and replace the health care law, 500,000 could lose coverage by 2020, either through changes in federal assistance to purchase coverage and Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, or the end of individual mandates that require people to have insurance, said Ken Janda, president and CEO of Community Health Choice whose company offers insurance plans on the federal exchanges.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Texas firms line up to build border wall: 'imposing,' 18 + feet, pretty (from U.S. side)

Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga has done a lot of “soul-searching” over President Donald Trump’s border wall. The Hispanic businessman takes a moderate immigration stance, backing a pathway to citizenship for some who are in the U.S. illegally. But his Fort Worth general contracting company could also benefit if it gets a piece of what he calls the biggest project since the Great Wall. After thinking long and hard, Evangelista-Ysasaga decided that his Penna Group had to go for it. “We need to be a productive part of the solution, rather than sit on the sidelines,” he said, explaining that he had heard rumors that other firms might propose “inhumane” methods like electrified barriers.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Murphey: Where are the physicians in the bathroom bill fight?

As the Texas Legislature considers a bill to require people to use the bathrooms that correspond to the genders assigned on their birth certificates, where are the physicians in this fight? How is sex assigned at birth? Usually, it is upon visual inspection. When there is ambiguity of sexual anatomy (1 of 5,000 births is a very conservative estimate), further testing is performed (imaging, hormonal, genetic diagnostic studies). These individuals were once disparagingly referred to as hermaphrodites by the medical establishment but today self-identify as intersex.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Texas AG Paxton defends Alabama's ban on 'dismemberment' abortions

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to uphold Alabama's ban on "dismemberment" abortions, days after the Texas Senate gave preliminary approval to a similar ban. "It is a solemn day when we must fight not for human life, but for the minimum respect owed to human life in an already difficult situation," Paxton said in a prepared statement. "Dismemberment methods of abortion are callous, cold and demonstrate a complete lack of respect for human life. In a country where the horror of abortion has already become normalized, if this practice goes unregulated, the balance between women's reproductive rights and the risk of devaluing human life will be scattered to the wind."

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Olivera: Some say ‘intent to dilute minority voting strength’ in redistricting case is nothing new

The latest ruling against Texas by a three-judge federal panel has found "intent to dilute minority voting strength" when state lawmakers redrew congressional districts in 2011. The key word here is "intent." For state Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, the ruling reinforces his argument and confirms his concern of a pattern by state GOP lawmakers to discriminate against Latinos. It's difficult not to see that pattern, when you look at the growing list of GOP policies and laws that have taken place since 2011, he says. That's the year Latinos became the majority in the state's public schools, and the year that the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public school funding.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Texas AG's concerns over legality of Frisco high school's prayer room called 'publicity stunt' by school district

Frisco ISD responded tersely on Friday to the Texas attorney general's concerns about the legality of a prayer room at Frisco's Liberty High School that is often -- but not solely -- used by Muslim students. Frisco ISD learned of the AG's concerns on Friday from the media about the same time a news release was sent from the AG's office along with a copy of a letter addressed to district Superintendent Jeremy Lyon. The letter from Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie states that "it appears that students are being treated differently based on their religious beliefs," which would violate the First Amendment.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

How Trump got two Texans to get behind GOP health care plan

All he had to do was ask, it turned out. Two Texas holdouts on the GOP's plan to repeal Obamacare, conservative Reps. John Ratcliffe and Blake Farenthold, emerged from an Oval Office session on Friday promising to support a health care repeal-and-replace plan being pushed by President Donald Trump. "I heard from Trump's mouth that he was 1,000 percent behind it. That's what I needed to hear," said Farenthold, a Corpus Christi Republican. "I was an undecided and ended up a yes. I promised to repeal Obamacare. It's why I ran for Congress in 2010, and this is the only way it's going to get repealed is on a bill that President Trump supports."

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Child Protective Services purchasing director on leave amid contract investigation

The purchasing director at Child Protective Services has been placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into a "substantial" contract awarded to a private vendor that may have violated ethics rules or state law. Frianita Wilson was placed on emergency leave Thursday, the second time she has had to take leave because of questions about contracting. The latest investigation involves a pending contract between the Department of Family and Protective Services, CPS' parent, and a nonprofit where Wilson's husband works, according to a report from the Austin American-Statesman. Doug Wilson, Frianita's husband and the former inspector general of the Health and Human Services Commission, told the Austin American-Statesman on Friday that officials at the commission are unfairly targeting him and his wife.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Federal judge in Texas foster care suit scolds CPS leaders for withholding information

The federal judge in a lawsuit over Texas foster care has chided state officials for rebuffing information requests and has vowed to stick to her previously stated timetables for fashioning remedies that will overhaul the system, two plaintiffs' lawyers said Friday. In her Corpus Christi courtroom Thursday, U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack flashed with irritation over the Department of Family and Protective Services' refusal to supply requested information to her two special masters in the case, the lawyers recounted. Department spokesman Patrick Crimmins, though, downplayed the disagreements. U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack "We have worked cooperatively with special masters and will continue to do so," he said in a written statement.

Texas Tribune - March 19, 2017

Trump budget cuts would hit Texas education service programs hard

Mary Ellen Isaacs looks at the Trump Administration's proposed budget and sees no federally-funded tutors for the 2,000 Austin students who pass through the Literacy First program for extra reading help each year. Isaacs, the director of the program, placed about 106 AmeriCorps volunteers to tutor in low-income Austin schools this year, and received about $12,900 per full-time volunteer. Next year, she might not see any of that money. The Trump Administration Thursday released its proposed federal budget, which would eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that deploys volunteers across the country to staff service programs in underserved communities.

Texas Tribune - March 18, 2017

After road trip, Hurd and O'Rourke sign on to one another's bills

After spending two days in a car together, U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Beto O'Rourke showed Friday their bipartisan road trip was not for nothing. Back at the U.S. Capitol, the two Texas congressmen signed on to legislation one another is working on, with Hurd, a Helotes Republican, lending his support to a cause that usually divides his party and Democrats: immigration. He became a co-sponsor on O'Rourke's American Families United Act, which would let family members of U.S. citizens who are barred from ever re-entering the United States on a technical issue to go before a federal judge to decide if they can return.

Texas Tribune - March 18, 2017

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions faces rowdy town hall

U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, faced a raucous town hall Saturday as he sought to defend the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, among other issues that have spawned fierce opposition under President Donald Trump. Addressing over 2,000 people, Sessions was frequently drowned out by boos and angry outbursts from the audience. Many of his answers were not entirely audible due to the crowd’s reaction as he began to speak. “We are going to make the changes, we are going to pass the bill and we are going to repeal Obamacare,” Sessions said at one point, a declaration that gave way to sustained chants of “Vote him out!”

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Wear: Uber and Lyft ride hail into the Legislature — again

Sitting there in a cramped Capitol hearing room last week, I experienced a feeling of deja phooey. As I listened (twice!) to debate over a proposed ride-hailing law — and fingerprints, drunken driving, sexual assault, apps, innovation, local control, Uber and Lyft — the whole thing had a dispiriting familiarity. The cast of characters was recognizable too. There were Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen and Mayor Steve Adler for the (city) defense; the preternaturally composed Lyft executive April Mims; folks from Houston city government; law enforcement trying to thread the needle between endorsing fingerprinting but not chasing off the biggest ride-hailing companies; Mothers Against Drunk Driving standing up for ride-hailing’s purportedly magical effect on drinking and driving; state Sen. Charles Schwertner and state Rep. Chris Paddie speaking for Uber.

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2017

Some lawyers question response to ICE arrest at Travis courthouse

A few hours after immigration officials took the rare step of arresting an immigrant at a Travis County courthouse, a network of taxpayer-funded attorneys advised its members that it had two locations where they could take their clients, in case the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up again. Some attorneys who work with the Capital Area Private Defender Service say the email they received March 3 amounted to their employer suggesting they evade state and federal law. The memo, sent by director of holistic defense Kathryn Dyer, presents an “alternative plan for safety,” if “ICE agents are near the courtroom,” urging attorneys to take clients to the defender service’s offices on the courthouse’s seventh floor or at the nearby Brizendine House.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

State purchasing director on leave — again — amid contract questions

The purchasing director at Child Protective Services has been placed on leave as officials launch an investigation into a “substantial” pending contract involving a nonprofit where the director’s husband works, the American-Statesman has learned. It’s the second time Frianita Wilson has been placed on leave amid contract questions. She was a figure in the 21CT contracting scandal, which led to the resignations of her husband, Doug Wilson, former inspector general of the Health and Human Services Commission, and the former agency Chief Counsel Jack Stick, among others. Frianita Wilson continued to be paid her annual $100,000 salary while on a yearlong administrative leave, starting in December 2014, as officials investigated her role in procuring a contract with Austin data and analyticsfirm 21CT.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Herman: Judge ponders whether Hooters is school trip appropriate

Once again (and this makes twice, as far as I know), Your State Government is wrestling with a particular existential issue of our day. This is no less than a real-time review of something sociologists, psychologists, archaeologists and all kinds of ologists someday will somehow make a living studying. It is this: What’s the deal with Hooters? In November, I told you how a state administrative law judge got involved in whether downtown Fort Worth is a fit place for an eatery in which the wait staff uniforms are a key marketing feature.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

PolitiFact: School voucher bills are nothing new for Texas Legislature

Near the start of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood on the Capitol’s steps and exhorted lawmakers in the House and Senate to vote on “school choice” legislation, saying it’s “easy to kill a bill when no one gets to vote on it.” An advocacy group opposed to using public money to support students going to private and religious schools urged a different course. In a press release, the Coalition for Public Schools, which says it represents religious, child advocacy and education organizations, urged the Legislature to “focus its efforts on providing support for our neighborhood public schools instead of funneling public tax dollars to (private school) voucher schemes with little or no accountability for how our tax dollars are spent.” ... The coalition said: “Texas legislators have filed voucher proposals in every legislative session since 1995, but all of them have failed to become law.” All told, we identified 54 failed bills, at least one in each of the 11 regular sessions from 1995 through 2015, that proposed the use of public funds for private school tuition, though not every one was a pure voucher proposal. We rate this statement True.

Austin American-Statesman - March 18, 2017

AAS: No matter what they’re called, vouchers won’t improve public schools

As the saying goes, a rose by any other name still smells as sweet. Similarly, vouchers by any other name still stink. You would think that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers in love with vouchers would know as much by now, after more than a decade of pushing to get them passed into law. Instead, they continue romanticizing them as the answer for improving public schools, especially low-performing ones. If the goal of the latest voucher measure, Senate Bill 3, is really to “improve public schools and overall academic performance,” then lawmakers must see them for what they are — not what they imagine or want them to be.

Washington Post - March 19, 2017

On a Texas prairie, distance grows between neighbors over an American birthright

VALLEY VIEW, Tex. — At 4:30 a.m. on a windy Monday, Tamara Estes swallows vitamin B12 for energy and krill oil for her arthritic fingers. Even with her nightly Ambien, she is always up before the sun, getting ready for a job that reminds her of what infuriates her about America. She drives a school bus on a route that winds through a North Texas neighborhood filled with undocumented Mexicans. She picks up nearly 100 of their children and drops them off at public schools funded by American taxpayers. By her. One immigrant family lives in the house next door, and in the dark hours before dawn, they are also stirring. As the father leaves for his job at a construction site, the mother is scrambling eggs and scooping them into warm tortillas.

El Paso Times - March 19, 2017

González: The new separate and unequal

Education is the most powerful tool we have. It is the one thing that can transform lives, break the cycle of poverty and allow us to realize the possibilities of an equal society. In fact, quality public schools are like air. We take it for granted but can't live without it. Even though the vast majority of us understand the power of education and the necessity of a public school system, many incorrectly assume that because we’ve had public schools in our state for so long, they will always exist.

Texas Observer - March 17, 2017

Cuellar Slams Trump Proposal to Hire Attorneys to Take Land for Border Wall

Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar said the Trump administration is gearing up for a fight over taking private land needed to build the president’s border wall — and Texas is likely to be ground zero. This week, the Observer was the first to report that some landowners have already received condemnation notices they have vowed to resist. And in the proposed White House budget released Thursday, the Trump administration is asking for funding to hire 20 additional Department of Justice attorneys to pursue condemnations. Cuellar, whose district covers nearly 180 miles of the Texas border, said the money would be better spent on the clogged court system. “Judges at the border have some of the highest caseloads in the country,” Cuellar said. “We should be helping them reduce their cases ­— many of which are criminal cases by the way — and not back things up more with all of these eminent domain cases.”

Texas Observer - March 17, 2017

Wright: Senator Lois Kolkhorst Casts Herself as Victim in Bathroom Bill Battle

During legislative debate on Senate Bill 6, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has maintained that the measure isn’t intended to target transgender people. She has argued instead that her so-called bathroom bill is primarily designed to address a perceived threat of cisgender male sexual predators taking advantage of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws to enter women’s restrooms. But on Thursday, speaking to a right-wing audience one day after SB 6 cleared the Senate, Kolkhorst appeared to acknowledge that the bill is motivated, at least in part, by anti-trans bias.

El Paso Times - March 18, 2017

Blanco seeks $143 million cut in DPS overtime

An El Paso lawmaker is trying to cut almost $73 million in annual overtime pay to Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. However, the DPS says the cost of the overtime is significantly less than recruiting and training new troopers who could be hired away by other law enforcement agencies that pay more. Now that the DPS has hired and trained most of the 250 new troopers that the Legislature in 2015 appropriated more than $40 million a year for, it shouldn’t be necessary to pay all troopers for a 50-hour workweek, Texas state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Thursday.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

Deep in debt, flood insurance program expected to boost rates

The cost of federal flood insurance will likely rise for thousands of Houston-area homeowners after Congress hits its September deadline to renew and reform the deeply troubled program. The National Flood Insurance Program was created because private insurers couldn't bear the risk of catastrophic loss, but the program is $24.6 billion in debt and struggling to remain solvent. It covers more than 300,000 homes in Harris and Galveston counties. "The program offers rates that do not fully reflect the risk of flooding." the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in a report last month.

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2017

Trump's budget cuts would slash 32,000 Meals on Wheels in Collin County alone

The Trump administration this week outlined a budget blueprint for the 2018 fiscal year that promises sweeping funding cuts across many government departments. Some of the largest proposed cuts in the $1.1 trillion plan are a 31 percent decrease for the Environmental Protection Agency and a 29 percent drop in State Department spending. But one of the most controversial cuts in the White House plan would eliminate the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program that funds organizations like Meals on Wheels. The grant program provides cities with funds to help with things like affordable housing and economic opportunities for people with little to no income.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

John Wiley Price bribery trial shines light on hidden world of lobbying within county government

If you’re an outsider looking to win a local government contract and you don’t know any of the players or decision makers, you call a lobbyist. It’s a perfectly legitimate way to promote your services and get information to busy public officials. But in the case of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, lobbying crossed over into bribery, prosecutors say, when the commissioner accepted money from a Dallas lobbyist to help her clients. Testimony from Price’s bribery and tax evasion trial has provided a rare look into the world of people who are paid to cozy up to politicians for access and influence.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Travis County GOP hires 2 leaders to chart new course

Now that the dust has settled after a particularly tumultuous period under an eccentric former chairman, the Travis County Republican Party has hired two new leaders that it hopes will lead the party in a new direction. The hiring of Executive Director Gary Teal and a deputy executive director, Tracey Carroll, announced Friday, marks the first time in recent memory that such county GOP leaders have been paid employees and symbolizes the revitalization of the party, said Travis County party Chairman James Dickey. “That’s what makes this even more exciting: to see us go from what was undoubtedly seen as a pretty low, negative point to being far ahead of any point we’ve been in the past,” Dickey said.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Miller: Why I'm reopening the Whole Woman's Health clinic in Austin

Nearly nine months after U.S. Supreme Court's historic Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt decision, which overturned restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas and nationwide, we've decided to reopen our flagship Whole Woman's Health clinic in Austin. By mid-April, we will be serving Central Texas again. In July 2014 Whole Woman's Health of Austin was forced to close due to Texas's Omnibus Abortion Bill. The bill required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals and set building requirements, including the size of hallways and janitor's closets. These rules prompted more than half of the Texas' abortion clinics to close. Since then, women in need of abortion care have had to wait longer for appointments, drive outside of their communities for simple procedures, and delay their care.

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

Promises to keep -- As three federal grants draw to a close on a historically neglected side of town, what do the numbers say about progress made -- or not made?

The academic alchemy happening inside Bowden, a school where most kids come from low-income families, isn’t the result of luck or happenstance. About four years ago, it and two other public elementary schools on the East Side switched to a project-based model focused on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, to better prepare students for 21st century work. The school changes were part of a larger plan over the last half-decade that pumped $54 million in federal grants into a relatively small area on the East Side, a place with some of the worst poverty rates in San Antonio and long-plagued by high crime, low-performing schools and little economic opportunity. In addition, the city ponied up more than $50 million in federal funds and bond money; the county supplied close to $3 million for a park project. Other money followed.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Surge in violent crimes putting Austin police on edge

It began just before 8 p.m. March 10, when police found a man who was barely alive near a bus stop at East Seventh and Comal streets after being stabbed. Medics did their best to save 51-year-old Glen Raymond Burford and rushed him to University Medical Center Brackenridge. He died a short time later. At a time when tourists were pouring into Austin from around the globe for the South by Southwest festivals, the next week would bring a wave of violence to Central Texas that left five more people dead, four facing criminal charges and at least seven other suspects who haven’t been identified or charged.

National Stories

San Antonio Express News - March 18, 2017

VA could feel chill of Trump’s hiring freeze

Leo Villanueva’s memories of his two Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan surface unbidden almost a decade after his last deployment. Each step he takes reminds him. He carried war home on his damaged back, the physical legacy of his work as a heavy-wheel mechanic on armored fighting vehicles. Lifting 200-pound tow bars and muscling quarter-ton tires onto axles broke his body, and there are days when, at age 42, the former staff sergeant strains to walk across his living room. Villanueva faced another kind of struggle after his medical discharge in 2011 following a 16-year military career. More than two years passed before the Department of Veterans Affairs granted him full disability benefits for his back, neck and leg injuries and a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Hundreds of thousands of veterans had endured a similar ordeal since the mid-1990s as they waited years to obtain disability and pension benefits from the VA.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Trump seeks bids for construction of border wall

Wanted: Border walls. Prototype: 30 feet tall preferred. Will consider 18 feet minimum. Concrete or “other” material. Should prevent climbing and tunneling. Must have see-through component. Aesthetically pleasing — at least on the U.S. side. The Department of Homeland Security issued two requests for proposals Friday night seeking concept papers for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, one for a prototype made of reinforced concrete and another for a wall made of “other” material. Proposals are due March 29, and that will be followed by the selection of bidders and the building of prototypes in San Diego. The move starts the bidding on President Donald Trump’s signature campaign issue — a wall on the Mexican border — as Congress considers funding requests the administration made Thursday for $1.5 billion this year and $2.6 billion next year to begin building the wall.

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

HC: Repeal and disaster -- For the foreseeable future we're not going to see sensible health-care reform in America.

Congressman Kevin Brady, the Republican who represents The Woodlands area and who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is among the more congenial elected officials, with both his constituents and the media. But even the mild-mannered former chamber of commerce executive seems a bit touchy these days as he assumes the task of defending his handiwork - a hugely complicated package of health-care legislation that seeks to consign the Affordable Care Act to the garbage heap of American history, while replacing it with a plan that deprives some 24 million Americans of their health insurance, even as it increases their costs, inflicts harm on the insurance market and offers up an enormous tax cut to the rich. That's the sort of task that would leave any of us out-of-sorts. Brady, of course, doesn't see the new Republican health-care plan as anything but a vast improvement over the hated Obamacare. "We're returning control to states and individuals rather than Washington," he told the Chronicle editorial board last week.

Politico - March 18, 2017

Obamacare repeal's abortion language could hit procedural snag, GOP warned

A prominent anti-abortion group is warning Republicans that the Obamacare repeal bill’s restrictions on funding abortions might not comply with the Senate’s strict budget rules — a potentially huge procedural development that could derail the repeal effort. The Family Research Council told GOP lawmakers it won't support the repeal effort if the anti-abortion language is struck, the group's vice president of government affairs, David Christensen, told POLITICO. “I do think there is a question about whether or not abortion funding restrictions in the House bill are compliant with the Byrd rule,” Christensen said. “So that is definitely a concern of ours and it’s definitely a concern that a lot of House members have.”

Politico - March 18, 2017

Senate Republicans: From 'hell no' to 'not so sure' on Obamacare

Joni Ernst promised to “unload” on Obamacare in a 2014 campaign ad that featured her firing a gun as a narrator described what she would do to the Democratic health care law. But three years after winning election to the Senate on a vow to seek an “immediate" repeal of the law, the Iowa senator is being very careful about pulling that trigger. “I am legitimately undecided on this,” she said here Friday after relentless attempts by questioners in the state’s two largest cities to pin her down on the health care bill under consideration in the House in the state’s two largest cities. “And you will hear that from a number of my colleagues, as well.”

Politico - March 18, 2017

Tillerson says North Korea nuclear program is 'imminent' threat, as China urges talks

North Korea’s nuclear program poses an “imminent" threat that nonetheless requires the United States, China, and other countries to respond with a "staged approach" that includes sanctions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a rare encounter with the media. Tillerson, speaking to the conservative Independent Journal Review in an interview published Saturday, also said that U.S.-China relations appear to be at a historic inflection point that must be carefully managed. China's foreign minister, meanwhile, urged the United States to remain "cool-headed" on the issue of North Korea and to consider going ahead with talks with Pyongyang.

New York Times - March 18, 2017

Hess: The Trump Resistance Will Be Commercialized

Recently I received an email inviting me to attend a private salon held at a Brooklyn restaurant. “Under this new … ahem … ‘administration’ … you gotta stay loud,” the invitation read. “We’ll gather round an ~intimate~ table of fellow disruptors to eat out + speak up.” The invitation didn’t come from a political group or an activist friend. It came from a public relations agent for Thinx, a brand of underwear that absorbs period blood and odor. Over sangria and gluten-free pizza with a roomful of journalists, Miki Agrawal, a co-founder of Thinx, led a conversation about activist resistance, feminism and the Thinx brand, which has expanded with Icon, a line of “pee-proof” panties for leaky bladders, and Tushy, a travel bidet attachment that screws into a toilet.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

DMN: President Trump should heed Churchill's warning not to escalate arms races

As Winston Churchill warned, if we ramp up the arms race, we'll just "make the rubble bounce." The stakes are even higher today because so many countries have nuclear weapons - and they could set the world on fire. This moment calls for a strong, but nuanced and strategic policy, not incendiary bluster. (Attention, you-know-who). In Europe, there's increased talk of a European Union nuclear weapons program that would refocus France's arsenal to protect the rest of Europe and operate under a common European command. Supposedly this plan would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection.

Politico - March 19, 2017

How to fix Obamacare with this one amazing trick

One simple way to fix Obamacare is to do something that no one is willing to do: Kick hundreds of thousands of young, mostly healthy Americans off their parents’ coverage. Obamacare allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26. It’s a wildly popular feature and a successful one. The uninsured rate for 18- to 25-year-olds has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2010 — a steeper decline than for any other age group. Taking away this provision of the law – even though it might help stabilize the broader health system -- is politically toxic to both Democrats and Republicans because it would antagonize millions of middle-class voters.

Washington Post - March 19, 2017

These first-generation Chinese Americans are vigorously opposing sanctuary laws

Hongling Zhou came to Maryland for a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University and then waited 14 years to become a U.S. citizen. “It was not easy, but we did it with dignity,” she told a Maryland state senate committee last month. Zhou, a mother of two Howard County schoolchildren and statistician for a federal agency, said that’s the way immigrants should come to America. “Everybody should follow the law of the land,” Zhou said. “Nobody should be above the law.” As state and local lawmakers in Maryland consider proposals to protect undocumented immigrants by limiting cooperation with federal authorities, some of the most persistent and passionate voices in opposition have been Chinese American.

New York Times - March 18, 2017

Hillary Clinton Says She’s ‘Ready to Come Out of the Woods’

Hillary Clinton said she was “ready to come out of the woods” during a St. Patrick’s Day speech on Friday night in Pennsylvania in front of an overflow crowd — an indication that she plans to shed the low profile she has kept since the election. Mrs. Clinton, the presidential candidate and a former secretary of state, made the comments at the end of a nearly 20-minute talk she gave at a yearly St. Patrick’s Day celebration held by a women’s group in Scranton — in the northeast corner of a battleground state that made for one of her most surprising electoral losses in November. Mrs. Clinton, whose grandfather and father grew up in Scranton, spoke about her family’s connections to the area, including many summers she spent at a nearby lake as a child.

New York Times - March 17, 2017

Four Republican Governors Voice Opposition to House GOP Health-Care Legislation

Four Republican governors have announced their opposition to the House GOP legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act, another sign of the political challenges facing the bill. The four GOP governors come from Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and Arkansas, states that expanded their Medicaid programs under the ACA. In a letter Thursday night addressed to congressional leaders, they cited the potential for the bill to strip people of Medicaid coverage, and they proposed an alternative vision for the program. In their letter to congressional leaders, Govs. John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas wrote that the bill’s Medicaid provisions, as written, present them with an unacceptable combination of federal funding cuts and little relief from the program’s federal regulations.

All - March 17, 2017

Lead Stories

San Antonio Current - March 14, 2017

Texas Gave an Anti-Abortion Group $1.6 Million to Improve Women's Health Care. It Hasn't.

It's been eight months since Texas paid a conservative, anti-abortion organization to help connect low-income women to health care providers — and there's little to show for it. That's according to a Tuesday Associated Press report, which found the Heidi Group has presented no evidence that it's following through on its promise to Texas taxpayers. In August, Texas health officials gave the anti-abortion group $1.6 million to help smaller clinics reach low-income patients eligible for the brand-new Healthy Texas Women program, the state's Medicaid voucher program meant to cover low-income women. Carol Everett, the Heidi Group's leader, promised 20 proposed clinics could reach 50,000 patients in one year by crafting marketing campaigns, adding new staff and modernizing clinic websites.

San Antonio Express News - March 17, 2017

Legislative budget-writers get creative as they put spending plans to bed

Legislative budget-writers looked for creative ways to blunt the pain of tight revenues as they worked to finalize competing state spending plans Thursday. On the House side, there's a proposal to dip a bit more deeply into the state rainy day fund to pay for items including border security. Among senators, there’s a proposed new way to funnel money to higher education. And in both chambers’ spending plans at this point, Gov. Greg Abbott’s “high-quality” prekindergarten initiative appears to be toast, which isn’t going over well with the top statewide officeholder.

Texas Tribune - March 16, 2017

Key chairman says House will take its time on "sanctuary" legislation

The chairman of the powerful committee that determines whether immigration proposals will move forward in the Texas House said Thursday he’d like to see the current proposal to outlaw sanctuary jurisdictions scaled back. A “sanctuary” jurisdiction is the common term for government entities and college campuses that don’t enforce federal immigration laws. Passing a bill is considered a priority for Gov. Greg Abbott this session but state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee, said he is in no hurry to rush through the process. “We’ve got a long ways to go to get this right,” Cook said at the Capitol the morning after a marathon hearing on the current measure, Senate bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. The legislative session ends on May 29.

New York Times - March 17, 2017

Trump Takes a Gamble in Cutting Programs His Base Relies On

President Trump’s proposal on Thursday for deep cuts to the budgets of a broad part of the federal bureaucracy was billed as a tough-minded and necessary corrective to the growth of the government’s power. But even members of his own party questioned some of the cuts — and what was not being cut. The harshest criticism of Mr. Trump’s budget came from Democrats and liberal organizations. But in a city where many federal programs enjoy longstanding bipartisan support, some Republicans also assailed the president’s judgment. “While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” said Representative Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky and a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We will certainly review this budget proposal, but Congress ultimately has the power of the purse.”

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

Conservative Christians call for Texas House vote on bathroom bill

Inspired by the recent success of bills seeking to crack down on abortion and transgender-friendly bathrooms, conservative Christians rallied at the Capitol on Thursday to continue pressing for favored legislation. “For too many years we have been the silent majority,” Rafael Cruz, father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said to shouts of “Amen!” on the Capitol’s south steps. “Well, we can be silent no more.” A crowd of about 275 at the Faith and Family Day rally cheered state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, whose bill to ban second trimester “dismemberment abortions” received initial Senate approval Wednesday.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Trump's border wall hinges on legal team devoted to eminent domain; Texans wary

The administration made no effort Thursday to explain how it will get Mexico to pay for a border wall, as the White House rolled out a budget that calls for a new squadron of lawyers focused on wresting land from border residents in Texas and other states. A sea-to-sea barrier of the sort promised by President Donald Trump would require control of land in a narrow strip along 2,000 miles. Not all landowners would be willing to sell. That means the project could require widespread use of "eminent domain" — the power to force owners to sell land for a public purpose. "You're taking land that in some cases belonged to people for generations. In Texas, private property rights is a very, very important concept," said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat.

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

While Scolding Trump, Mexico Seeks to Curtail Citizens’ Rights

Even as Mexico fumes over President Trump’s aggressive stance toward its people, the Mexican government is quietly trying to rip up basic legal protections for its citizens at home and gut longstanding efforts to fix the nation’s broken rule of law. Legal experts fear the move will set back human rights in Mexico by decades. The tool is an innocuous-sounding bill, submitted last month by a close ally of President Enrique Peña Nieto — only a day after his government publicly chided the Trump administration to respect the rights of all Mexicans.

Roll Call - March 15, 2017

Texas Isn’t Only State Where Redistricting Could Be Factor in 2018

With a three-judge panel invalidating the lines of one of the most competitive congressional districts in the country late last week, redistricting is once again in the political spotlight. The Texas case was a reminder that redistricting litigation, which played out in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, is still ongoing across the country. It could result in Rep. Will Hurd’s district becoming more favorable for Democrats in 2018, Congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland are still being challenged, with the impact on next year’s midterms yet to be determined.

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

Fewer Mexican shoppers are heading to San Marcos outlet malls

For years, the outlet malls in San Marcos have bustled with Mexican tourists looking for deals. Mexican license plates dotted the parking lot, and it was common to see people piling out of tour buses to do their shopping. “I haven’t seen a bus in a while,” said Bradley Tanksley, store manager of New York, New York, after hanging a long gown on a rack above his head on a recent weekday. “We’ve had a lot more people from around here and the states, the closer states, but not a lot from Mexico.” And hardly any Mexican license plates were to be seen in the lot just outside the store’s window.

Texas Tribune - March 17, 2017

Ramsey: State boosts local accountability while eroding local control

On the same day this week that the state’s Senate Finance Committee voted to limit how quickly property taxes can grow without voter approval, a House committee was taking up “sanctuary cities” legislation that would force local governments to enforce federal immigration laws. The second bill exemplifies local government opposition to the first bill: The state regularly mandates programs and services to be offered by independent school districts, counties, cities and other government entities even as the big shots in Austin are screaming — in harmony with voters, by the way — about rising property taxes.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

House chairman says 'no evidence' Texas needs a bathroom bill, signaling tough road ahead

A top Republican in the Texas House has confirmed he will hold a public debate on the so-called bathroom bill, but he said he doesn't see any reason for it to become law. "In all the years I've been on [the House Committee on] State Affairs, we've never seen an issue that would indicate there's a need to address a bathroom bill," Byron Cook, the Corsicana Republican who chairs the committee that will next take up the measure, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. "There's no evidence of a problem." Senate Bill 6 would prohibit transgender people from using the bathrooms in government buildings, public schools and universities that match their gender identity, as well as nix city laws that protect their rights to do so.

Associated Press - March 17, 2017

Tillerson says use of pre-emptive force an option with NKorea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday it may be necessary to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if the threat from their weapons program reaches a level "that we believe requires action." Tillerson outlined a tougher strategy to confront North Korea's nuclear threat after visiting the world's most heavily armed border near the tense buffer zone between the rivals Koreas. He also closed the door on talks with Pyongyang unless it denuclearizes and gives up its weapons of mass destruction. Asked about the possibility of using military force, Tillerson told a news conference in the South Korean capital, "all of the options are on the table." Trump weighed in on the matter Friday on Twitter: "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been 'playing' the United States for years. China has done little to help!"

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

DePillis: Trump budget would hit Texas hard

President Donald Trump's first budget blueprint, released Thursday, would hit Texas' state and local finances hard if enacted as proposed, cutting deeply into housing and environmental programs as well as scientific and medical research that supports the state's health care and energy industries. The proposal is likely to be changed dramatically by Congress, but it still drew outrage from Democratic leaders, city officials, and community advocates - and muted reactions from Republicans, who are walking a fine line between constituents and the White House. "It is important to keep in mind that the President's budget proposals are just the beginning of the negotiation process with Congress," said Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican representing a district between Houston and Austin.

Texas Tribune - March 16, 2017

Cruz taps his former Iowa director for re-election campaign

Bryan English, the Iowa Republican operative who guided U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to victory in the first-in-nation caucuses last year, has joined the Texas senator's re-election campaign. English recently moved to Houston and is serving as a senior adviser to Cruz's 2018 effort, according to Cruz officials. English is the first major addition to Cruz's re-election campaign, which for months has formally and informally involved a number of longtime aides. English was Cruz's Iowa state director during his 2016 presidential campaign. After the campaign, English went to work for a pro-Cruz outside political group — a group that is now readjusting its focus following Donald Trump's upset victory in the White House race.

Texas Tribune - March 16, 2017

House leaders push for withdrawing $1 billion more from state savings account

While Senate leaders have been wary of any calls to tap the state's savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, Texas House leaders on Thursday proposed withdrawing an additional $1 billion on top of their earlier proposal to pay for the needs of a growing state during a tight budget year. The proposal from state Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican and the House’s chief budget writer, would withdraw about $2.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund as part of a supplemental budget to pay bills coming due for programs like Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, and to pay for repairs to state-run institutions including mental hospitals and the School for the Deaf.

Texas Tribune - March 16, 2017

Universities face funding cuts of 6 percent to 10 percent in Senate plan

A Senate committee on Wednesday voted to significantly rework how universities in Texas are funded — a move that will save some smaller regional schools from catastrophic cuts but instead spread significant losses more evenly among all the public colleges in the state. Each university would lose 6 percent to 10 percent of its state funding under the plan. Some of the smaller schools had been facing reductions of more than 50 percent in the first version of the Senate's budget. But the help for the smaller schools would come in part at the expense of others, especially large growing universities. Texas A&M University, for example, stood to see its funding increase in the Senate's initial budget. Now it could end up with millions less.

Texas Tribune - March 16, 2017

Gov. Greg Abbott's top health appointee draws bipartisan fire at hearing

Both Republican and Democratic members of a key legislative oversight committee unloaded on Gov. Greg Abbott’s top health appointee and other administration officials Thursday, putting them on the hot seat for hours about alleged contracting abuses and failures at the sprawling Health and Human Services Commission. The often tense hearing before the House General Investigating & Ethics Committee played out against a backdrop of mounting frustration in the Texas Legislature about scathing audits and embarrassing disclosures at an agency that was supposed to be getting its act together after contracting scandals roiled it two years ago.

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

Bill would mandate teaching positive character traits in Texas schools

State lawmakers could start requiring students to learn character traits such as honesty, kindness and school pride as a part of their lesson plans. The price tag to school districts and public charter schools statewide is an estimated $25 million for next school year and another $4 million in the following year to implement the program and train teachers, according to the Texas Education Agency and the Legislative Budget Board. But the bill’s author state Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said that the agencies overestimate the cost of House Bill 729 because half of school districts already teach some sort of character program.

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

PolitiFact: No public studies of a feral hog pesticide? Mostly True.

A Texas meat processor who questions a government-approved bait that kills feral hogs charges there’s no public research on the product. Will Herring, owner of the Hubbard-based Wild Boar Meat Company, which makes hog meat into pet food, has said he fears the product’s active ingredient--warfarin, long known as a rat poison and human blood thinner--will damage his business. ... There’s no public study of that EPA-registered product, we confirmed. But a 2015 study submitted to a science journal would become public if it’s accepted for publication. Also, the effects on feral hogs of warfarin, Kaput’s active ingredient, has been explored in published studies. We rate this statement Mostly True.

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

Trump’s budget spells end for some Texas environmental projects

Programs that aim to rid water wells of arsenic in poor pockets of South Texas, prevent bioterrorism and redevelop former industrial sites into parks in East Austin appear to be in jeopardy under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal. Seeking a “broader strategy of streamlining environmental protection,” the White House has suggested cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget by nearly a third. To achieve its aims, the Trump budget proposal, released Thursday, “eliminates or substantially reduces federal investment in state environmental activities.”

Houston Chronicle - March 16, 2017

Shannon: Act fast to repair damage to Texas Public Information Act

We Texans are fortunate when it comes to access to government information. Correction. We were fortunate. For more than 40 years, Texas' open records law was one of the nation's strongest. The Texas Public Information Act, originating during a time of scandal in the early 1970s, presumes all government records are available to citizens, unless there's a specific exception preventing release of the document. But our modern era of openness shifted dramatically with two state Supreme Court decisions in 2015 known as the Boeing ruling and the Greater Houston Partnership ruling. Both put many government financial records off limits to citizens. If the damage isn't repaired in this legislative session, Texas will be way back in the pack compared with other states' transparency laws.

Houston Chronicle - March 16, 2017

House: Sanctuary-cities bill revisions underway to make it 'a better product'

Closing a marathon hearing early Thursday on the controversial 'sanctuary cities' bill, the House sponsor said the Senate-approved version will be modified to allow police to check the immigration status only on people who have been arrested, not just detained. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said the goal of that change and others will be "to make it a better product." Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott's four emergency items for the current legislative session, seeks to compel local law enforcement authorities to cooperate with federal immigration officials by criminalizing noncompliance, as well as cutting state funds and imposing other financial penalties on cities and counties.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 16, 2017

Hail of a year: 2016 storm season was the costliest on record in Texas

Early on March 17 a year ago, the first wave of hail hit Aledo about 4 a.m. and moved quickly through Benbrook and west Fort Worth. A second round of storms a few hours later pummeled parts of Arlington with more hail. The hail varied from egg-size in Benbrook to tennis ball-size in south Arlington. Thousands of windshields were busted and roofs damaged, and a handful of exotic birds were killed at the Fort Worth Zoo. Insured losses from the storm in Tarrant County climbed above $600 million, the start of what would become the costliest year for storm damage in Texas.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Head of Texas economic development agency to step down to start consulting firm

Tracye McDaniel, who heads the state's economic development arm, will step down from her post to start her own consulting firm, the agency announced on Thursday. McDaniel, as president and CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corporation, has helped aggressively market the state as an ideal destination for businesses looking to expand or relocate. The agency also helps connect companies with state incentives, like ones available through the Texas Enterprise Fund. McDaniel will leave Texas EDC on March 22, a news release said.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

DMN: House bill is good first step toward giving Texas public schools the cash boost they need

It's encouraging to see House lawmakers take a first step toward fixing the mess that is Texas' school finance system. Houston Republican Dan Huberty had introduced a bill that would put more money in the coffers of at least 95 percent of the state's school districts, increasing state spending on public education by $1.6 billion in the next two years. That's welcome news for both urban districts that need more funding to address generations of systemic poverty and wealthier suburban ones that are struggling to keep up with growth.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Texas officials call for probe into conduct of family services employee on 'substantial' state contract

The state's top health official has called for an investigation into a "substantial" contract to determine whether a state employee involved in awarding the contract to a private vendor violated ethics rules or state law, according to a document that several Texas lawmakers received Thursday. The letter, sent by Health and Human Services Commissioner Charles Smith and obtained by The Dallas Morning News, implicates an unnamed employee of the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees the state's beleaguered foster care system and other social programs. The letter does not make clear which contract has been called into question, though Smith indicated it was a "substantial procurement" that hadn't yet been awarded. That contract process has been halted, the commissioner told lawmakers Thursday.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Texas jails could lose funds to house inmates in U.S. illegally under Trump budget plan

The budget blueprint that President Donald Trump released on Thursday morning calls for billions of dollars to be spent on immigration enforcement. But he also suggested cutting a grant program that sends millions of dollars to Texas and other states to help cover the cost of incarcerating inmates who are in the country illegally. The grant program, the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, sends money to states to reimburse them for the cost of jailing unauthorized immigrants who have committed crimes. In the 2016 fiscal year, the program sent more than $13 million to Texas, one of the top grant recipients along with California. Of that amount, $9 million went to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The two counties with the biggest reimbursements — Harris County and Dallas County — received a combined $1.5 million from the same program. Under Trump’s budget blueprint, that money would disappear.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Trump backs American, Southwest in push to privatize air traffic control

President Donald Trump is giving full-throttle support to privatizing the nation's air traffic control system, a top priority for American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and other major carriers. The Republican, a former airline owner, announced the stand in the budget blueprint released Thursday by the White House. He listed it as the top bullet point for the U.S. Transportation Department, saying the move would make the system "more efficient and innovative." The presidential blessing marks a major win for the airline industry, which says an aging air traffic control system has contributed to congestion and delays.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Overhaul of Texas CPS, foster care wins more dollars in Senate, House budgets

A Senate panel tentatively approved a two-year state budget Thursday that would take big steps toward satisfying a federal judge who has been critical of Texas' management of foster children. The Senate's emerging budget would add 382 slots for new Child Protective Services "conservatorship caseworkers," who track foster children, and expand "foster care redesign," a new model for procuring beds and therapies for the often-traumatized youngsters, to four new regions. Three hours later, a House budget panel tentatively passed its version of the budget, which would permit CPS to hire 728 conservatorship workers — nearly twice as many as the Senate's spending blueprint contemplates.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

The Satanic Temple invites Texas students to fight corporal punishment by invoking religious rights

The Satanic Temple doesn't like the paddling of schoolchildren, so it's picking a fight with a small Fort Worth-area school district. On Wednesday, it raised a billboard along State Highway 199 in Springtown with this message: "Never be hit in school again. Exercise your religious rights." Members of The Satanic Temple, an activist group that views Satan not as a deity but as an icon of rebellion, are criticizing Springtown ISD for allowing corporal punishment. The district made headlines in 2012 when a male assistant principal at Springtown High School paddled two female students.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Watchdog: Delete the word 'public' from Public Utilities Commission

For the foreseeable future, as of this moment, The Watchdog is changing the name of one of Texas' most important state agencies. Forevermore, I will no longer call the Public Utilities Commission by that name. From now on, it's the UC, not the PUC. These bureaucrats in Austin, as well-intentioned as they believe they are, completely bailed on helping the public. No more P word for you. You are not for us. The UC heard from more than 200 of my readers last summer, all asking for the same: Make shopping for electricity less scammy so you don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure out the best deal for your family.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Scores of Texas companies hope to help build Donald Trump's 'big, beautiful' border wall

Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga has done a lot of “soul-searching” over President Donald Trump’s border wall. The Hispanic businessman takes a moderate immigration stance, backing a pathway to citizenship for some who are in the U.S. illegally. But his Fort Worth general contracting company could also benefit if it gets a piece of what he calls the biggest project since the Great Wall. After thinking long and hard, Evangelista-Ysasaga decided that his Penna Group had to go for it. “We need to be a productive part of the solution, rather than sit on the sidelines,” he said, explaining that he had heard rumors that other firms might propose “inhumane” methods like electrified barriers.

NBC News - March 16, 2017

Wendy Davis: Abortion is ‘Not the Only Issue That I Care About’

Former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis said she faced "backlash" from supporters when she attempted to expand her message beyond women's reproductive rights, the issue that thrust her onto the national stage. "It was a damned if you do, damned if you don't sort of a situation," the Democrat told NBC News' Chuck Todd in an interview Tuesday at the SXSW conference for "1947: The Meet the Press Podcast."

San Antonio Express News - March 15, 2017

Senate budget writers vote to ease proposed property tax restrictions, but local officials say more is needed

After protests from numerous local officials, Senate budget writers voted to give them a little more breathing room in a proposal that would put more restrictions on how much property tax revenue they can raise. The change isn’t enough for city and county leaders who maintain the tighter revenue limits will hurt their efforts to protect public safety, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff saw some hope in the move. “I personally feel good they’re moving in the right direction. They just need to keep driving a little further,” Wolff said, adding that it shows there could be room for negotiation. “Don’t stop.” Others had less positive reactions.

Baptist Standard - March 15, 2017

Knox: How can Texas claim to be righteous and embrace injustice?

A politician can go far waving the God flag in Texas. We’re proud of being upright, devout and Christlike. Except when we aren’t. A panel of federal judges detailed our state’s collective shame March 10, when it ruled some of Texas’ 36 congressional districts violate either the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the U.S. Voting Rights Act. This was the second time in eight months the federal courts determined Texas discriminates to dilute the voting power of racial minorities, thus denying them fair representation in our legislative system. How embarrassing.

Texas Tribune - March 17, 2017

Former U.S. Rep. Stockman charged with violating federal election law

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, has been charged with violating federal election law. Stockman conspired with former congressional employees to funnel money intended for a charity to his campaign, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent unsealed Thursday. He is also accused of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. The allegations center on a $350,000 donation Stockman solicited from an unnamed businessman shortly after taking office in 2013, according to the statement. The money was supposed to go to a Las Vegas-based nonprofit called Life Without Limits, but Stockman instead "secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman's campaigns for public office," the statement said.

The Eagle - March 16, 2017

Texas A&M's budget could be slashed by $29 million; former Sen. Ogden weighs in

Texas A&M University could see $29 million in cuts to its current state funding over the next two years under the latest draft of the Texas Senate's state budget. Under the Senate's newly adjusted budget announced Wednesday, each university in the state would receive a 6 to 10 percent reduction of its current 2016-2017 funding levels. The Senate's updated budget proposal marks a shift from its first draft, which caused concern throughout the higher education community for its total removal of special-items funding -- a critical financial component for many regional universities.

NPR - March 17, 2017

Texas Braces For Medicaid Cuts Under GOP Health Plan

Many in Texas are keeping a close eye on the Republican bid to replace the Affordable Care Act. One of the big changes is how it would affect low-income people, seniors, and people with disabilities who get help from Medicaid. And people on both sides of the political spectrum say the Lone Star State is not going to fare well. As the GOP bill, the American Health Care Act, works its way through Congress, Anne Dunkelberg with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin says she's a little stumped. "I have worked on Medicaid and uninsured and health care access issues in Texas for well over 20 years," she chuckles. She says this bill leaves the fate of some current funding streams unclear and there's one pot of money she's particularly concerned about. Texas has struck deals with the federal government to help reimburse hospitals for the cost of caring for people who don't have insurance. And Texas has more uninsured residents than any other state.

San Antonio Express News - March 16, 2017

Senator pushing ‘bathroom bill’ says she got a threat on her life

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst said Thursday that she received a threat on her life on the same day her so-called bathroom bill was approved by the Texas Senate. “I will tell you that I, from what is supposedly called a tolerant left and anti-bullying left, I have received emails that I would not let my children read, no matter what. My staff even withheld yesterday, until the end of the day, a threat on my life,” Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said in remarks at a Faith and Family Day rally on the Texas Capitol steps in which she discussed her bill. After her appearance, Kolkhorst declined to say whether there had been one threat or several but said the Texas Department of Public Safety was contacted.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Change In Texas Medicaid Payments Helps Cut Number Of Premature Births

Even though the health risks to babies born before they reach full term at 39 weeks have long been recognized, nearly 1 in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely. Texas decided to try to change that. In 2011, the Texas Medicaid program was the first in the country to take steps to curb elective early deliveries by refusing to pay providers who induced early labor or performed a cesarean section that wasn’t medically necessary before 39 weeks. In the first two years after that, Texas reduced the rate of unnecessary early delivery by as much as 14 percent. The state’s efforts also led to an increase in the length of pregnancies by nearly a week, with infants weighing on average nearly half a pound more, a new study found.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

Stidvent: Higher education must respond to changing workforce

Texas’ dynamic economy is something we should embrace — a changing and growing economy based on the diversity of both jobs and our workforce. From health care to education, the oil patch to technology and cybersecurity, the jobs are there, but how will we fill them? How Texas addresses that dynamism and the accompanying challenges it poses is key to our long-term prosperity. And, higher education should be front and center in that discussion. We can and must do more to make higher education not simply a dream, but a reality for more Texans. Pause for a moment and consider today’s Texas job market and especially those high-demand, high-skilled fields where much of today’s job growth and hiring occurs.

Houston Chronicle - March 17, 2017

'Death and destruction' expected as Trump moves to gut Chemical Safety Board

A White House proposal to eliminate funding for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board signals a full retreat from two decades of progress against chemical disasters and would, if enacted, put American lives in jeopardy, health and safety experts said. While little known to the masses, the CSB is to chemical disasters what the much better-funded National Transportation Safety Board is to airline crashes, train derailments and bridge collapses. Without the recommendations that come from these boards, preventable accidents repeat themselves. Gutting the CSB is "standing up for death and destruction," said chemical safety consultant Paul Orum. "It's disrespectful to those killed in such incidents." A Houston Chronicle investigation last year found that federal agencies, including the CSB, don't have enough resources to provide adequate oversight to facilities that handle dangerous chemicals.

Texas Tribune - March 17, 2017

As Texas higher ed tuition rises, financial aid is covering less and less

When it comes to paying for college, Ricardo Gutierrez receives about the best help that Texas has to offer. Still, it sometimes feels like his future at the University of Houston is hanging by a thread. The state’s most generous financial aid program, the Toward Excellence, Access and Success Grant, or TEXAS Grant, pays his tuition. And he uses a federal Pell Grant and scholarships from UH to take care of his textbooks and fees, plus a little extra.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Schnurman: Government to the rescue in Texas? That rarity could solve Dallas' failing police pension

Here’s a nice surprise: The public sector is getting the job done, and in Texas, no less. Leaders in Dallas and Austin have worked out a compromise plan to fix the Dallas Police and Fire Pension. The fund has a hole of roughly $3.7 billion, which has created a financial crisis that threatens the retirement of thousands of workers and the future of the city. Dallas’ credit rating has already been downgraded, and a crippled pension makes it tougher to retain first responders. At some point, the soaring costs of public safety may also crowd out spending on streets, parks and libraries. So this proposed fix is a big deal for Dallas.

Dallas Morning News - March 17, 2017

Floyd: Texas' health care grant to anti-abortion activists was a steep price for nothing

If there's a downside for state officials in their relentless holy war against Planned Parenthood, it's this: They have to make a pretense of making good on their promise to replace the services lost when Texas defunded the women's health organization. Confident that oh, just anybody can come up with cancer screenings, breast exams, contraceptives, and other medical care for tens of thousands of low-income women, the state slashed family planning grants and defunded all clinics that also provide abortions two years ago. The replacement program, christened Healthy Texas Women, was supposed to fill in the gap. One of the biggest contracts the state awarded under HTW last August, $1.6 million, went to the Heidi Group, a Round Rock anti-abortion organization that provides no medical services. Instead, the group promised a multi-pronged outreach program that would steer 50,000 eligible clients to several designated clinics.

Austin American-Statesman - March 17, 2017

With land already in hand, Trump eyes Big Bend for border wall

LAJITAS — Not even Donald Trump can build a wall as beautiful as what God has built here, says the GOP chairman for Presidio County, in the heart of the Big Bend, the vast, remote nook of West Texas. The terrain here is stark and inhospitable, and bigger than any wall envisioned by the Trump administration: In Santa Elena Canyon, thousand-foot walls drop off into the Rio Grande, and farther away from the river, on both sides of the Big Bend, treeless mountains offer no succor for the would-be traveler. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he is against a wall here, as has U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who represents the area. But hoping to make good on his campaign promise, the president may leave his own kind of mark in this part of Texas, dominated by just the sort of public land — Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Black Gap Wildlife Management Area — that might make for the easiest terrain, logistically speaking, for the federal government to build a wall.

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

Austin abortion clinic is first to reopen since Supreme Court ruling

Whole Woman’s Health, the abortion clinic that sued the state of Texas over 2013 abortion restrictions and won at the U.S. Supreme Court last year, will reopen its Austin location next month. The clinic, in Northeast Austin, had closed in 2013 after then-Gov. Rick Perry signed a law that required abortions to be performed in hospital-like surgical centers and that doctors have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Whole Woman’s Health challenged those provisions of the law on the grounds that they restricted access to the procedure. Supreme Court justices agreed in a ruling last June. While the law was being contested in court, more than half of the state’s 41 abortion clinics closed.

Texas Monthly - March 13, 2017

Cecile Richards Talks Tech, Politics, And Planned Parenthood

Cecile Richards and SXSW are a good fit. The executive director of Planned Parenthood is a native Texan with deep ties to the state—her mom, Ann Richards, was the last Democratic governor of the state—and she’s increasingly interested in the role of tech as a way to increase her organization’s reach. To that end, she spent Friday afternoon on a panel with Tumblr founder and CEO David Karp (who joined Planned Parenthood’s board of directors in 2014) as they talked about ways for people in the tech world can get involved in the political struggle Planned Parenthood faces. She and Karp unveiled a campaign to give observers in the tech industry the chance to take a side—#TechStandsWithPP—but the role of tech in Planned Parenthood’s mission goes beyond politics. Texas Monthly sat down with Richards to talk about what the tech community can offer, how the current political environment has changed Planned Parenthood’s aims for 2017 and beyond, and whether she sees herself following in her mom’s political footsteps.

KFOX - March 16, 2017

Texas Senate bill to eliminate Texas Film Commission

The state of Texas stands to lose millions of dollars and thousands of jobs as a result of a new bill targeting the movie industry. On Tuesday, a Bill was introduced to the Texas Senate that would eliminate the Texas Film Commission. The program — known as the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program — offers qualifying projects rebates of up to 20 percent on money they spend in Texas. Supporters of the incentives contend they have created $5.55 in economic value for every dollar disbursed.

Washington Times - March 14, 2017

Texas attorney general backs up Trump claim of noncitizens voting at polls

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton supports President Trump’s claim that noncitizens are voting in U.S. elections, saying prosecutors in his own state have won convictions for voter fraud. “I know it’s an issue because I deal with it,” Mr. Paxton told The Washington Times. “We just got a conviction on an illegal that voted in an election.” Putting a number on how many illegal votes were cast is difficult, however, because local election officials aren’t looking for that kind of fraud. “They’re complicit in allowing it to happen,” he said. “I guarantee it is happening — whatever people say.”

Government Technology - March 16, 2017

Tax Restrictions Will Limit San Antonio PD's Ability to Raise Money for Tech

Proposed new restrictions on how much property tax revenue local governments can raise got a big thumbs down Tuesday from San Antonio’s police and fire chiefs. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told the Senate Finance Committee that Senate Bill 2 would “stop police department in their tracks” by limiting their ability to raise money for personnel and technology. Fire Chief Charles Hood, in an interview with the Express-News, put the matter in starkly personal terms.

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Judge Elizabeth Frizell resigns, announces bid for Dallas County DA

Elizabeth Davis Frizell is resigning as a state district judge to run for Dallas County district attorney. Monday is her last day as judge in Criminal District Court 7. Frizell, a Democrat, turned in her resignation letter to Regional Administrative Judge Mary Murphy. A temporary replacement will preside over Frizell's criminal court until the vacancy is filled by Gov. Greg Abbott. "I have decided to step down from the bench as a Criminal District Court Judge to run for Dallas County District Attorney because the decisions that will be made by the District Attorney’s Office will shape the future of fairness and justice for Dallas County and the nation in 2018 and for many years to come," Frizell said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News.

Houston Chronicle - March 13, 2017

Culberson town hall to feature 'written' questions - randomly drawn

Texas U.S. Rep. John Culberson, the target of protests last month outside a private country club gathering with members of a Republican women's group, has scheduled a town hall on March 25 at Houston's Spring Branch Middle School. But there will be ground rules. With Republican lawmakers around the nation facing off in recent weeks with people vocally opposed to President Donald Trump and the dismantling of Obamacare, Culberson's town hall will be open only to constituents of his Seventh Congressional District. Government-issued IDs will be required for check-in.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

John Wiley Price bought land that he put in co-defendant Kathy Nealy's name, witnesses testify

When John Wiley Price bought land, he didn't want it in his name, according to testimony Thursday in his federal bribery trial. Price sought to buy property near Canton in 2005 and asked that the buyer's name be changed to Kathy Nealy, said Denise White, a real estate broker who represented the sellers. "He said that all of his real estate was in her name," she said. Nealy was Price's close associate and political consultant who is accused of paying him bribes to help her corporate clients and make her lobbying business a success. She will be tried later.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

How hundreds of W-2s were stolen from city of San Marcos

Confidential information of more than 800 current and former city of San Marcos employees has been compromised after one employee fell for a phishing scam, officials said Thursday. Officials learned Monday that a payroll employee had been sent a targeted phishing email on Feb. 22 that was made to look like it was from the mayor. The employee then sent back all of the city’s 2016 W-2 forms, which contain sensitive information including Social Security numbers. Finance director Heather Hurlbert said the city figured out what had happened after a few employees reported that they had tried to file their tax returns and were rejected by the IRS because records showed that another return had already been filed.

KUHF - March 14, 2017

Texas Redistricting Fight Could Spill Over Into Houston

A panel of federal judges has ruled the Texas Legislature discriminated against minority voters when it drew up its political maps after the 2010 Census. The court is ordering lawmakers to start over. The decision only refers to three congressional districts – District 23, covering much of southwestern Texas, District 27, stretching from Corpus Christi to Brownsville, and District 35 in metropolitan Austin. But it applies to all 36 districts, including those in Greater Houston. “Not only does the holding say that Texas intentionally discriminated against its own citizens and against the voters in these districts but that it could bring under reenactment the provisions of the Voting Rights Act which require preclearance,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston. In other words, any changes to the Texas congressional map would require approval by the U.S. Justice Department.

San Antonio Express News - March 17, 2017

Classes can resume at charter school here as state probe continues

The Texas Education Agency on Thursday lifted the suspension of operations it had issued to the San Antonio School for Inquiry and Creativity, meaning students of the charter district can return to class Monday, when spring break ends. The state had ordered the district on March 8 to suspend activity at its five campuses in San Antonio due to concerns about food safety and non-compliance with requirements on checking for a criminal history of employees. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said in a letter Thursday that he received evidence SASIC was now complying with the criminal background requirements. He also assigned a monitor to ensure safe food services, according to the letter sent to Superintendent Tonja Nelson.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Dallas hails 'significant progress' on 911 issues, but questions persist after long hold times, deaths

T-Mobile engineers and city officials said Thursday they've made "significant progress" in figuring out why the Dallas 911 call center has been so bogged down by spurious calls. City spokeswoman Sana Syed said a series of complex technological issues have helped create a debacle that has correlated with at least two deaths. What remains unclear is who shares in the blame and whether the problem is fixed. T-Mobile has made some technological upgrades, which officials declined to elaborate on for security reasons. And city officials say they plan to make their own changes. The city will also add a dozen call takers a day until the issues are resolved. The days ahead will be critical, Syed said.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

Dallas pension chairman: Cool it on 'inflammatory' messages to lawmaker working on rescue bill

Dallas Police and Fire Pension System Chairman Sam Friar called on active and retired police and firefighters this week to quit sending "inflammatory" messages to the state lawmaker who is working on a bill to save the failing retirement fund. In an email to police and fire association leaders, Friar wrote that he was personally "being blamed for encouraging your organizations to send out inflammatory letters and emails" to House Pensions Committee Chairman Dan Flynn, R-Van. Friar had been encouraging people to contact lawmakers, but only to express support for changes in the bill to benefit them. Some apparently did more than that, and Flynn wasn't happy.

Austin American-Statesman - March 16, 2017

Adler says ride hailing bill tailor made for Uber, Lyft

Uber and Lyft executives, as they did in the 2015 session, have hired more than three dozen lobbyists at a cost of at least $1.2 million to plead the case for statewide regulation of ride-hailing services rather than the “patchwork” system of local laws now in place. Austin Mayor Steve Adler, speaking Thursday to the House Transportation Committee as it considers House Bill 100 to ban local regulation of transportation network companies, said the interests of the two ride-hailing giants would be served by the bill. “If you’re trying to draft a law for a particular company, this statute might do the job,” Adler said during a back-and-forth with state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman.

National Stories

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

Second federal judge blocks parts of Trump’s revised travel ban

A second federal judge issued an injunction Thursday blocking enforcement of one of the critical sections of President Trump’s revised travel ban, using Trump’s own comments against him in deciding that the ban was likely to run afoul of the Constitution. The decision from U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang in federal court in Maryland marks another win for challengers of the president’s executive order, which had been slated to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Earlier, a different federal judge in Hawaii stopped it. Chuang’s order did not sweep as broadly as the one in Hawaii, but he similarly declared that even the revised travel ban was intended to discriminate against Muslims. He said those wanting evidence of anti-Muslim intent need look no further than what the president himself has said about it.

The Hill - March 16, 2017

Nervous GOP senators rooting for Ryan to fail

A growing number of GOP senators are hoping the House fails to pass its bill to repeal and replace ­ObamaCare so they won’t be blamed for killing it in the upper chamber. Support for the House legislation has “disintegrated” in the Senate, according one Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss internal conference politics. It will require substantial revisions to win the support of moderate Republicans in the upper chamber — something that will likely make it unacceptable to conservatives.

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

In Trump’s blueprint to reorder the federal government, echoes of Reagan ’81

President Trump’s governing blueprint represents the most ambitious effort to cut domestic spending and pare back the federal government since former president Ronald Reagan came to Washington in 1981. Whether it will come close to accomplishing the president’s ambitions is a far different question. Trump’s new budget proposes to raise discretionary defense spending by $54 billion in the next fiscal year and cut domestic discretionary spending by an equivalent amount, a sizable shift in priorities. To pay for his defense buildup, he would take huge chunks out of the budgets at the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies. The list of programs identified for elimination is lengthy, with targets both familiar and obscure.

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

7 things Trump and his advisers have said about the travel ban that wound up hurting them in court

Two federal judges have now blocked President Trump’s revised travel ban, and both cited extensively the president’s own words — and those of his close advisers — as reasons they were convinced to do so. The comments, the judges said, provide strong evidence that the directive was meant to disfavor Muslims and thus violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Justice Department has argued that the comments should not be considered, because, in the department’s view, the courts should not look beyond official statements and the order itself to determine its purpose. Informal statements to the media, they say, “may not accurately reflect the government’s position.” And statements on the campaign trail, they have asserted, are particularly irrelevant.

Houston Chronicle - March 16, 2017

Health bill short of votes, GOP leaders look to Trump

Short of votes for their health care bill, Republican congressional leaders turned to President Donald Trump on Thursday to wrangle support for the divisive legislation they hope to push through Congress before Easter. But Trump sounded more like he was at the start of a negotiation than ready to close the deal. And combined with opposition from Republicans of all stripes, the president's flexible stance suggested final passage of the bill could be delayed, potentially exposing the legislation to the same kind of extended public backlash that undermined former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act from the start.

Dallas Morning News - March 16, 2017

DMN: Mr. President, it's time to show us your taxes

For crying out loud, Mr. President, it's time to turn over your tax returns. It's time to do so, not because of Rachel Maddow's underwhelming and over-hyped show Tuesday night. While the breathless reporting over a few leaked summary pages from a 12-year-old tax return told us nothing about the source of your money, they indicated that, at least for that year, you did indeed pay taxes. It's time, because it's always been the right thing to do. Mr. President, it has never made a lick of sense to refuse to show your tax returns, not as a candidate and especially now that you are in office. Gerald Ford was the last president to not do so, and even he produced summary pages of his returns during his brief tenure in office.

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

Cillizza: There’s a 2020 presidential poll out! And it’s not totally useless!

Moments after Hillary Clinton conceded the presidential election to Donald Trump on Nov. 10, talk in Democratic circles turned to the next presidential election. With Clinton, presumably, out of the mix, and Trump, presumably, very much in it, the race to be the Democratic nominee in three years' time is going to be a humdinger. And it's already started. The leadership PAC tied to former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley (D) conducted a poll in Iowa this month testing the state of play in the Hawkeye State. The poll, done for the O'Malley super PAC by Public Policy Polling, produced these not terribly surprising results: O'Malley at 18 percent, with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey at 17 percent and Minnesota's own Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 11 percent. No other candidate received double-digit support. A third of respondents said they “weren't sure” about their choice.

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

Immigrants are going hungry so Trump won’t deport them

In the two months since President Trump’s inauguration, food banks and hunger advocates around the country have noted a decline in the number of eligible immigrants applying for SNAP — and an uptick in immigrants seeking to withdraw from the program. Their fear, advocates say, is that participation could draw the eye of Immigration and Customs Enforcement or hurt their chances of attaining citizenship. Without federal nutrition benefits, many are resorting to food pantries and soup kitchens to feed themselves and their children. The evidence is still anecdotal — and The Washington Post was unable to speak directly with immigrants who chose to cancel their SNAP benefits.

The Hill - March 16, 2017

Tate: Violent threats against the president are OK now?

Turn on TV or browse your newsfeeds on social media, and you will be bombarded with polemics about the sky falling and credible threats of violence against conservative figures. The FBI investigated a threat to kill Milo Yiannoupolis for the audacity to want to speak on a college campus. Threats against former Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder’s wife caused him to withdraw himself from consideration. Multiple intimidatory remarks haunted members of the Trump-voting Electoral College. President Trump has been the target of declarations of violence on a near daily basis. And yet, when it comes to this constant flow of threats, there seems to be little outrage from the nation’s leading journalists and pundits.

Washington Post - March 16, 2017

Who Undercut President Trump’s Travel Ban? Candidate Trump

Rarely do a presidential candidate’s own words so definitively haunt his presidency. For the second time in two months, two federal judges on Wednesday refused to allow President Trump to impose a travel ban, citing his campaign rhetoric as evidence of an improper desire to prevent Muslims from entering the United States. The judges’ stunning rebukes were a vivid example of how Mr. Trump’s angry, often xenophobic rallying cries during the campaign — which were so effective in helping to get him elected — have become legal and political liabilities now that he is in the Oval Office. It is a lesson that presidents usually learn quickly: Difficult and controversial issues can easily be painted as black-and-white during a long campaign, but they are often more complicated for those who are in a position to govern.

New York Times - March 16, 2017

Trump Budget Is ‘Heavy Lift,’ Even for G.O.P. Congress

As a candidate, President Trump pledged to preserve Social Security and Medicare at the same time that he would accelerate military spending, construct a border wall and pump $1 trillion into infrastructure. The budget he issued on Thursday showed there is really only one way to achieve those ends: major cuts in domestic spending. As such, Mr. Trump has produced a fiscal plan that few can love, not even a Congress controlled by his own party. “This is a good budget if you want to spend your time fighting small fires,” said former Senator Judd Gregg, who as the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee spent years trying to rally lawmakers to balance the budget.

Washington Post - March 17, 2017

Why mandatory vaccinations are critical, visualized

The mission of the federal Department of Health and Human Services is a simple one: “to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans.” One of the most effective ways to protect the health of Americans has proven to be vaccinations against infectious diseases. Before the introduction of the polio vaccine in the mid-1950s, tens of thousands of people were afflicted. In 1952, nearly 3,200 people died. By 1960, there were a few hundred cases, and 90 deaths. These days, there are usually no reported cases in a year. Another example. For the first five years of the 1940s, there were a million cases of whooping cough. When a vaccine was introduced at the end of that decade, the number of cases fell to 15,000 by 1960 — and 1,700 by 1980. But then the number of cases started to go back up, as immunization rates fell.

CBS News - March 17, 2017

Trump border wall: Texans receiving letters about their land

Even before President Trump was inaugurated, U.S. citizens who own land along the border reportedly began receiving letters from the Justice Department informing them that the federal government wants their land to build a fence (i.e. the president’s border wall), that it intends to acquire their land and the amount of compensation the government is offering. Yvette Salinas, a Texan whose ailing mother owns a small parcel of land with her siblings near the Rio Grande was informed by the “Declaration of Taking” letter sent by DOJ that her 1.2 acres was worth $2,900, according to a story in the Texas Observer. She told the Observer that the family’s 16 acres has been in her family for five generations. The government’s letter asks recipients to sign in order to receive compensation, acknowledge that they “do not have an interest” in the case or do not intend to make a claim. It doesn’t really say what landowners should do if, like Salinas, they don’t want to sell their land.

The Hill - March 17, 2017

GOP leaders want details before funding Trump’s border wall

Republican leaders in Congress want more details from President Trump about his proposed border wall before appropriating significant funding for the project. They have questions about the design and how the administration would handle the rights of property owners whose land would be used to build the structure. “What I’d like to see is a plan that we know is going to be implemented that’s going to be effective before we start writing the check,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Washington Post - March 17, 2017

Jeff Sessions is in deep trouble. Bigly.

You can tell how much trouble a Washington politician is in by how forcefully his (or her) allies push back in the immediate aftermath of a bombshell negative story. By that measure, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in big, big trouble. In the 12-ish hours since The Post published a story that details two conversations Sessions had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, discussions that run directly counter to statements the then-Alabama senator made during his confirmation hearings, the defense of Sessions has been weak. And that's being kind. Sessions himself — as expertly documented here by Aaron Blake — is responding by not really responding, setting up a straw man and then knocking it down with no real effect. “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss the issues of the campaign,” Sessions said in a statement released through a spokesman. That is a denial — just not of what The Post is reporting, which is simply that Sessions met with Sergey Kislyak twice in 2016 despite insisting he had no contact with Russia over that time.

Houston Chronicle - March 14, 2017

Texas doctor and RNC committeeman joins White House gathering of Obamacare 'victims'

President Donald Trump's push for an Obamacare replacement bill included a White House listening session Monday with "victims" of the current health care law, including Dr. Robin Armstrong, a Texas physician and member of the Republican National Committee. Armstrong, a doctor, missionary and former vice chairman of the Texas GOP from Texas City, told the president that a lot of patients are not adequately covered by Obamacare and are hit with high premiums and deductibles, according to a White House pool report. Armstrong had good things to say about the repeal bill drafted by House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Politico - March 16, 2017

Six surprises in Trump's budget

In many ways, President Donald Trump’s budget stays true to his governing promises—to build up the military, cut back on the regulatory state, and boost homeland security. But not in every way. Yes, it increases defense spending by $54 billion, with equal cuts to domestic programs. The Department of Agriculture faces a 21 percent cut. For Commerce, it’s 16 percent. The budget cuts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly a third. It also eliminates more than a dozen agencies. For all the attention on those cuts, however, they aren’t particularly surprising. Two of the lead authors of the budget, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and Paul Winfree, the White House’s director of budget policy, have long supported major cuts to domestic programs; Winfree was the main author of a Heritage Foundation budget that is widely considered to have influenced Trump’s plan.

Politico - March 16, 2017

Rural voters lose in Trump’s budget plan

The rural voters who turned out in droves to elect President Donald Trump would be some of the biggest losers under the new White House budget. The spending blueprint calls for a deeper cut to the Agriculture Department — 21 percent — than to just about any other agency. Trump would slash programs that invest in rural infrastructure, target rural public radio and demolish food-aid programs that farmers rely on to buy their products.

Politico - March 16, 2017

Blackman: Why Courts Shouldn’t Try to Read Trump’s Mind

More than a decade ago, Justice David Souter warned courts that when searching for an impermissible religious purpose, they should resist performing a “judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts.” And yet, in Hawaii and Virginia, the courts have done exactly that—halting President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration by trying to read his mind. On Wednesday, a federal court in Hawaii concluded that Trump’s revised order violates the First Amendment’s prohibition that the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This opinion basically cribbed from a February decision by a federal court in Virginia halting the president’s initial executive order for the same reason. In both cases (and despite the fact that the administration made significant changes to the policy between them), the judges gleaned from the orders a malicious intent by parsing punditry from Trump and his surrogates, particularly Rudy Giuliani, on cable news.

National Review - March 17, 2017

Why Corporate Leaders Became Progressive Activists

For one thing, conservatives are cheap dates. You do not have to convince the readers of National Review or Republicans in Valparaiso that American business is in general a force for good in the world. But if you are, e.g., Exxon, you might feel the need to convince certain people, young and idealistic and maybe a little stupid in spite of their expensive educations, that you are not so bad after all, and that you are spending mucho shmundo “turning algae into biofuel,” in the words of one Exxon advertisement, and combating malaria and doing other nice things. All of that is true, and Exxon makes sure people know it. The professional activists may sneer and scoff, but they are not the audience. Even if it were only or mainly a matter of publicity (and it isn’t — Shell, among other oil majors, is putting real money into renewables and alternative energy), big companies such as Exxon and Apple would still have a very strong incentive to engage in progressive activism rather than conservative activism.

The Hill - March 17, 2017

Trump makes $1.5B request for border wall

President Trump will ask Congress for $1.5 billion this year to begin work on the wall he promised to build at the U.S.-Mexico border. The money is part of a $30 billion supplemental spending request that’s being sent to lawmakers on Thursday, according to White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. The request could trigger a fierce partisan showdown over the controversial wall proposal, as well as Trump’s broader efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

New York Times - March 17, 2017

Michael Flynn Was Paid by Russian-Linked Firms, Letter Shows

Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, was paid over $65,000 by companies linked to Russia in 2015, according to a letter released on Thursday by congressional investigators. Among the companies was a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia’s intelligence services, and RT, the Russian government’s English language TV channel, according to the letter, which was sent to Mr. Trump on Thursday by Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. Mr. Cummings is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

New York Times - March 17, 2017

Soros: When Hate Surges

President Trump has wasted no time in cracking down on immigration. He pledged to build a wall, hire 15,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents and speedily deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He justified these actions by claiming that immigrants regularly flout the “rule of law and pose a threat.” In his first speech to Congress, he directed the Department of Homeland Security to create a new office — Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or Voice — dedicated to helping victims of crimes perpetrated by “removable aliens.” I am an immigrant and an American citizen, and, as a philanthropist, have supported migrants all over the world for more than 30 years. Based on my experience and the facts, the president’s approach to immigrants is just wrong — and a new round of court injunctions against Mr. Trump’s latest proposed travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries suggests many in the federal judiciary agree.

Politico - March 17, 2017

Could the GOP health bill make it harder to buy insurance?

From the moment the GOP released its health plan earlier this month, it’s been pitched as all about consumer choice. “[We want] a system that empowers patients through both transparency and accountability,” said Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services. House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump have both promised to increase competition by “empowering” consumers and making it easier to shop for insurance. But the law might have exactly the opposite effect, the Congressional Budget Office suggests. The CBO report, released Tuesday, chiefly made news for its topline numbers: the $337 billion drop in the deficit projected over 10 years, and 24 million fewer people with insurance by 2026. But it also raised serious questions about whether the GOP will be able to convert on its promise to make it easier for consumers to buy health insurance.