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Newsclips - April 16, 2021

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Dallas Morning News - April 15, 2021

Pressure for Texas to spend billions earmarked for schools mounts

Business leaders from Longview to Dallas to Corpus Christi and advocates from education organizations are pressuring the state to clarify when nearly $18 billion will flow to schools. The federal government allocated the money to Texas to support students’ recovery from the pandemic. Even as the majority of other states have started the process to send their federal dollars to schools, Texas hasn’t made any moves to do the same. “As soon as possible, we ask leadership and the legislature to clarify when and how much federal funding will be made available to Texas’ education institutions,” 27 chambers of commerce and business groups wrote in a joint letter dated Wednesday to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan. The impact of COVID-19 on learning threatens the state’s ability to “maintain the significant momentum we have built to leverage talent,” the groups noted in the letter. If the federal funding is invested wisely, “these funds will ensure the pandemic does not result in a generational educational crisis for Texas students.”

Those applying pressure include various groups from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. One of the signees, the Dallas Regional Chamber, supports the DMN Education Lab. Schools need more information on the funding and guidance on how the money can be used, the chambers wrote. Educators want to implement interventions that tackle learning loss, extend instructional time and hire additional staff but need the additional funds to do so, the groups wrote. Schools are in the midst of planning next school years’ budget and need guidance on how much money will be available, the groups wrote. “Time is of the essence,” they said. Several other organizations including the Texas Federation for Children, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Families Empowered had their own request related to the federal funds. The organizations wrote to Abbott on Thursday asking that the state use some of the money to sustain a program that awards $1,500 grants to families who have children with special needs. The state has approved about 7,000 such grants — which must be used to purchase services for additional support — while almost 12,000 students have applied for the help. Lawmakers say they are waiting on guidance from the federal government before drawing down money. A provision that requires the state to maintain the same amount of education funding in proportion to the overall budget as it did pre-pandemic is causing confusion for them. Abbott sought a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on this provision in February, but the state hasn’t received any additional answers on the matter, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Wednesday.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 15, 2021

'Education has changed forever' - COVID upended K-12 schooling, and there's no going back

In March 2020, Sean Maika was getting ready for a family camping trip when he realized that everything was about to change, fast — not just his spring break plans, but his job as superintendent of North East Independent School District and education as a whole. It was a phone call from Taylor Eighmy, president of the University of Texas at San Antonio, who told Maika he was shutting down his campuses because the coronavirus had arrived and was starting to circulate locally. “I looked at my wife off of that phone call and I said, ‘I’m pretty sure my break is over now,’” Maika recalled a year later. “I knew at that given point there were going to be so many questions and so many things to work through.”

School buildings in San Antonio and across the country shut down almost overnight as educators scrambled to figure out how to teach from a distance while supporting students, school system employees and their families. As more than half a million K-12 students in the San Antonio area started learning through laptops and tablets at home, the educational system began a transformation — radical, on the fly and far from smooth. “In a week, we had to totally change the way we had done business for decades,” Maika said. “Education has changed forever.” Among the early priorities was finding a way to quickly transition to online classes — a massive endeavor that proved to be a major logistical challenge in an area where thousands of students do not have reliable high-speed internet access.

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Dallas Morning News - April 15, 2021

In historic vote, Texas House gives initial sign-off on bill letting people carry handguns without a license

For the first time ever, the Texas House approved divisive legislation that would let people carry handguns in public without a license, delivering a major victory to gun rights activists and Republicans’ conservative flank. In more than six hours of debate Thursday, several Democrats warned it would be dangerous to let untrained people carry a loaded gun in stores and on sidewalks. The chamber’s ruling Republicans countered that Texans have a right to protect themselves. Ultimately, the bill received initial approval in a 83 to 57 vote that fell largely along party lines. At least seven Democrats backed the measure, according to a preliminary vote count. Dallas Rep. Morgan Meyer was the lone Republican in opposition. Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, was present but did not vote. Under the bill, anyone 21 and older who can legally have a handgun could carry it publicly without first passing the safety course and background check required now. About 1.6 million Texans are currently licensed to carry.

The bill’s author, Republican Matt Schaefer of Tyler, said people should not be forced to spend money and time getting approval to keep a gun with them, especially if they are fearful for their safety. “This bill should be called common sense carry,” he said. “Law-abiding citizens need the ability to protect themselves and their families.” The Republican-led push to further loosen gun laws comes in the first legislative session since gunmen killed 30 people in back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa in August of 2019. In wake of the tragedies, top Texas Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, seemed willing to consider tightening gun laws, but backed off after their party maintained control of both chambers of the Legislature in November. Democrats largely decried the move.

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Reuters - April 16, 2021

Gunman kills eight before taking own life at FedEx site in Indianapolis -police

A gunman shot eight people dead and injured several others at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis before taking his own life, police said early on Friday. The incident occurred at a FedEx operations center near the Indianapolis International airport, after 11pm local time on Thursday night. A worker at the facility told local television station WRTV that he was eating when he heard what sounded like "two loud metal clangs" followed by more shots. "Somebody went behind their car to the trunk and then got another gun," he said, adding: "Then I saw one body on the floor."

Indianapolis police spokeswoman Genae Cook told local reporters the authorities had "arrived to an active shooter incident." "Preliminary information is that the alleged shooter has taken his own life here at the scene," she said. Five people were taken to hospitals with gunshot injuries, while "multiple" others had walked into hospitals nearby. Two more were treated at the facility itself by medical staff and released, according to the police. One of the people taken to hospital was in critical condition, Cook said. At least 30 people have been killed in mass shootings around the United States in the last month. President Joe Biden has announced limited measures to tackle gun violence, but more ambitious steps may be hard to enact despite broad support. read more The Indianapolis police department's deputy chief, Craig McCartt, told CNN that police did not fire any shots in the incident.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2021

Texas Senate passes transgender sports bill that critics decry as another bathroom bill

The Texas Senate approved a controversial transgender sports bill Thursday that would force young athletes in Texas to compete in sports that align with the sex designated on their original birth certificate rather than with their gender identity. The 18-12 vote followed a marathon March 26 hearing that featured emotional testimony on the bill, which foes decry as discriminatory and anti-LGBTQ. Supporters argue that allowing transgender women to compete on a women’s team puts others in physical danger, while opponents consider it a non-issue and say that legislation is unnecessary and unfairly targets transgender youth. The bill is one of several in the Legislature that opponents call anti-transgender. Both chambers are also considering legislation that would restrict transgender children’s access to health care.

Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry, author of Senate Bill 29, spent most of the floor debate getting pressed about equality, the effects the measure would have on transgender kids and his motive in proposing the legislation. Houston Democratic Sen. John Whitmire urged Perry to consider the impact on transgender youth. He also noted that the vote came just days after the NCAA Board of Governors stated it would hold championship events only in states where transgender student athletes can participate without discrimination. The NCAA issued a statement to the Houston Chronicle saying it was closely monitoring state bills that affect transgender student athletes. The Lone Star State is slated to host three Final Fours, including the women’s Final Four in Dallas in 2023, as well as the College Football National Championship in Houston in 2025. Combined, the events are projected to have over $1 billion in economic impact.

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Houston Chronicle - April 15, 2021

Texas water systems failed during February cold storm. Now, the challenge is making them stronger.

Before the sun rose on Monday, Feb. 15, backup power generators at Houston’s Northeast Water Treatment Plant already were failing. Ten tripped offline as ice, snow and frigid temperatures plunged Texas’ power grid into its worst crisis in decades. Even as workers battled to reset generators and keep the electricity on, 20 city drinking water facilities would lose all or some power that day. It was the same for much of the state as water suppliers struggled against the long-lasting outages. A falling tree knocked out power lines to Austin’s largest water treatment plant. San Antonio had no generators to run its pump stations. In Marlin, outside Waco, city employees replaced broken generator belts only to watch two compressors fry when the electricity came back on. While much attention since the February freeze has focused on the state’s electric grid, the winter storm also highlighted the fragility of thousands of public water systems that rely on that power.

The state does not require all systems to have emergency generators. Small cities cannot afford them; one of Houston’s was more than 40 years old. Freezing temperatures compounded troubles, forcing exhausted staff to make do as water treatment chemicals froze, diesel turned to gel and gauges broke. Water gushed from burst mains and residential pipes, further stressing systems. Providers to nearly two-thirds of Texas’s population were unable to send clean water to all taps at some point during the disaster, according to the state, leaving leaders grappling with what needs to change — and at what cost. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Texas’ drinking water infrastructure a C- grade in its latest evaluation, meaning “mediocre, requires attention.” When these systems stopped providing clean water — or any water — consequences mounted. Fire departments told emergency officials they lacked water to fight fires. In Houston, Memorial Hermann brought portable toilets to its hospital from its COVID-19 vaccination sites. Harris County jail officials cut back on inmates’ showers and modified meals. Officials and water experts say the city and state’s water infrastructure were not made to withstand days of frigid conditions and questioned why power providers cut off the sites they believe should have been listed as critical to support.

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Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

Mike Collier yelling at cows is everything I want from Texas political ads

Texas politics is some of the most ludicrous in the country, but I still think we don't lean hard enough into true satirical absurdity. But one of Mike Collier's campaign tweets is starting to give me hope for a more entertaining and less infuriating election cycle. Collier, a Houston-area accountant and Democrat, is running against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for the second time. He voiced his intentions to run just a few days ago and it already out courting voters. Namely, it seems, cattle?

In a video posted to his Twitter account, Collier stands in a pasture gesturing wildly to some fleeing cows, begging them to "talk about the numbers" with him before turning to the camera like a sitcom dad, huffing, "No one wants to talk about the numbers!" That's it. That's the tweet. Cows and noting that Patrick has given billions in tax breaks and Collier the Accountant wants to talk numbers. I can't even tell if this is part of a bigger upcoming/existing ad or if Collier was just driving by a random pasture, pulled a sudden and illegal U-turn, turned to his passenger with a glint in his eye and said, "I've got a great idea for my campaign." I'm a documented lover of a weird political ad, and this new genre of Suited Candidate in Unlikely Texas Places has me fully onboard for a new era of political marketing. I once said I never wanted to see an ad with a candidate on a horse ever again. This was better than I could have expected.

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Houston Chronicle - April 15, 2021

Texas voting bills target Democratic strongholds, just like Georgia's new laws

After major corporations criticized Georgia for adopting voter restrictions in the wake of Democratic wins there, the spotlight is shifting to Texas as Republican lawmakers advance similar legislation. And just as Georgia Republicans sought to rein in Fulton County — a heavily Democratic county that includes the city of Atlanta — Texas Republicans are targeting large counties run by Democrats with measures that provide possible jail time for local officials who try to expand voting options or who promote voting by mail. That same push is happening in Arizona and Iowa, said Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law. “All of these bills share a common purpose: to threaten the independence of election workers whose main job should be to ensure fair elections free from political or other interference,” Norden said.

The Senate is particularly intent on preventing a repeat of 2020, when the interim Harris County clerk, Chris Hollins, promoted novel approaches such as 24-hour voting sites and drive-thru polling places as safe alternatives to indoor voting amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Democrat-leaning county saw historic turnout that helped Joe Biden come within 5.5 percentage points of the incumbent, Republican Donald Trump. “Out of thin air they decided on drive-in voting,” charged Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a conservative Republican who runs the Senate and has been a leading voice in urging lawmakers to tighten voting laws in the name of preventing fraud. Harris County officials, on the other hand, say drive-thru voting was preapproved by administrators at the Texas Secretary of State’s office. “In 2020 we did everything we could within the bounds of the law to ensure that we were going to have a free, a fair, a safe and an accessible election in Harris County,” Hollins said. House Bill 6, which passed out of a committee and will next go before the full Texas House, would open up election officials to felony charges if they were to solicit a voter to fill out an application for an absentee ballot.

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Houston Chronicle - April 15, 2021

All 22 women named in sex assault lawsuits against Texans' Deshaun Watson

The final of 22 women suing Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson for sexual assault and harassment on Thursday identified herself in court documents. The women, all but one of whom filed their lawsuits under the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” allege that Watson engaged in sexual misconduct during massage sessions in Houston, Arizona, Georgia and California. The 25-year-old has denied the claims, and his attorney said any sexual acts were consensual. The Houston Chronicle typically does not identify victims of alleged instances of sexual assault and harassment.

Defense attorney Rusty Hardin argued that the women needed to name themselves in public court documents so he could properly investigate and respond to the allegations. Plaintiff’s attorney Tony Buzbee at first fought the request but eventually released the women’s names following a mixture of court orders that he said emboldened some of the women to speak out voluntarily. The final woman to name herself publicly amended her lawsuit to include her identity on Thursday. Another case is no longer on the books. A 23rd woman who sued Watson in late March dropped her lawsuit this week, citing security and privacy concerns.

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Houston Chronicle - April 15, 2021

Mitchell estate cuts deal to sell Galveston's historic Hotel Galvez

Historic beachfront Hotel Galvez is under contract to sell — again — this time to hotelier Mark Wyant, owner of Seawall Hospitality. Mitchell Historic Properties, the Galveston real estate arm of the late energy baron and real estate developer George P. Mitchell and his wife Cynthia, is selling the property in a deal scheduled to close May 12. The property was previously under contract to SRH Hospitality Holdings in January 2020, before the pandemic hit and devastated the hospitality industry. Terms of the latest transaction were not disclosed. Mitchell made his money in oil and was among the first to use hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, tapping oil and gas in the Barnett Shale of North Texas years before the technology transformed the energy industry. He also developed The Woodlands.

The Mitchells bought the Galvez, a 1911-era Spanish Mission-style structure, in 1993 and rehabilitated the property, restoring the main entrance and removing additions made between the 1950s and 1980s. The 224-room property at 2024 Seawall Blvd. has 13,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, full-service restaurant and pool with a swim-up bar. It is appraised at $25 million, according to the Galveston Central Appraisal District. Wyant has developed two properties in Galveston, he said in a press release, the Holiday Inn Express on Seawall in 1999 and the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, later selling both properties. Wyant plans to renovate the hotel and add entertainment venues, he said. “I recognize and will respect the hotel’s beautiful architecture design while at the same time bring a renewed energy to Hotel Galvez.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 15, 2021

With new CDC grant, Houston trauma surgeon to study gun violence like it's a disease

For 200 days, Dr. Bindi J. Naik-Mathuria thought her patient, Sir Romeo Milam, might die. Sir Romeo was 5 years old when he was struck by a stray bullet from a gunfight outside his Sunnyside apartment while watching television with his mother and grandmother in 2018. Naik-Mathuria, trauma director at Texas Children’s Hospital, said he had a spinal cord injury caused by the bullet entering his body at a dangerous angle. Movies and television show bullet holes as just that — a hole, but that entry point is just the tip of the iceberg, said Naik-Mathuria, a former member of the Mayor’s Commission on Gun Violence.

“With bullets, there is a ‘blast effect.’ One bullet can affect multiple organs and vessels,” she said. “We don’t hear about the ones that don’t die — they’re often paralyzed or have lifelong pain, need an ostomy or have disabilities.” For the first time in nearly 25 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding gun violence research. Naik-Mathuria and 17 other researchers and doctors received grants for two- and three-year long research projects. Naik-Mathuria’s project, “Understanding the Epidemiology of Firearm Injuries in a Large Urban County: A Guide for Targeted Intervention Efforts,” will examine gun violence as if it’s a disease. She was granted $342,190 for the two-year project, which will integrate data from trauma centers, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences and the Houston Police Department to study risk factors at the individual and neighborhood levels. “If we understand why it’s happening, where and who it’s happening to, we can understand ways to treat or fix it like it’s a disease,” Naik-Mathuria said. “All the statistics for firearm violence are related to deaths, but there are three times more people that are shot who don’t die.” Earlier this month, the Biden administration released six initial actions to help curb gun violence while it waits for Congress to vote on two bills to close loopholes in the background check system.

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Dallas Morning News - April 15, 2021

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson backs City Council challenger over incumbent in District 5

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson endorses Yolanda Faye Williams to represent District 5 over incumbent Jaime Resendez and two other challengers in the May 1 election, Williams’ campaign announced Thursday. The endorsement — the mayor’s only one of 14 contested council races thus far — comes less than a week before early voting starts and follows some recent indicators of the mayor’s support for several challengers in three City Council races featuring incumbents. Johnson declined comment earlier this month when asked by The Dallas Morning News if he supported bids by Williams, Donald Parish in South Dallas’ District 7 and John Botefuhr in East Dallas’ District 9. The News uncovered that several of the mayor’s past donors gave to all three this year, and Johnson appears to almost exclusively favor the trio on social media.

This is Williams’ fifth time seeking election. Parish is among eight candidates in the District 7 race along with incumbent Adam Bazaldua. Botefuhr is one of three in a race that also features incumbent Paula Blackmon. Johnson, who lives in District 9, had not officially endorsed anyone else for the May 1 election as of Thursday morning. Resendez, Bazaldua, Blackmon and Johnson were all elected in 2019. The City Council vote last fall to decrease the police department’s overtime budget by $7 million has been a point of contention for Johnson, who has repeatedly voiced frustration with the decision. The idea was backed by most council members, including Resendez, Bazaldua and Blackmon. Ultimately, the police department actually got more money. Resendez said he wasn’t surprised by Johnson’s endorsement of Williams in the Southeast Dallas district but pointed out that she was overlooking “severe personality flaws” in the mayor by accepting his support. The council member also accused the mayor of engaging in a misinformation campaign about the police overtime budget.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 15, 2021

Updated Alamo plan moving full speed ahead as San Antonio City Council gives 10-1 OK

The City Council voted 10-1 Thursday to approve an amended lease for Alamo Plaza, allowing a major overhaul of the historic mission and battle site to move forward. The approval enables work to continue on the third iteration of the Alamo plan, which has been in development for seven years, and comes six weeks after Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced a “reset” of the $450 million public-private undertaking.

One major change to the lease that allows the Texas General Land Office to manage part of the city-owned plaza is adding a deadline for a museum. Under the amended lease approved Thursday, the Land Office and nonprofit Alamo Trust must have a design in place and funding identified for the long-discussed museum and visitor center by Jan. 1, 2026, in order for the lease to include city right-of-way on what is now part of Alamo Street. The lease already is in effect in the central part of the plaza. A section of Alamo Street between Houston and Crockett streets will permanently close to traffic by June 1. The updated plan also includes street closures in and around the plaza. But officials said those will be phased in, based on construction in the plaza and traffic studies that will help determine how vehicles can best be redirected. During a three-hour discussion at Thursday’s council meeting, Councilman Roberto Treviño asked for a delay, and said he was worried the city would have to pay $50 million to break the lease if the museum component didn’t materialize.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 16, 2021

Gregg Popovich keeps heat on owners, others who support Donald Trump

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich refused to back down Wednesday when asked about members of the franchise’s ownership group who have made financial contributions to Donald Trump and other Republican politicians who support Trump’s false claims about election fraud in 2020 and legislation critics say would suppress voter turnout among Democrats. Responding to a question about the police shooting of 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb, Popovich on Monday said he wanted to know “what owners in the NBA fund these people who perpetrate these lies.”

One prominent member of the Spurs ownership group who has made donations to Trump and Republican politicians who support him, including Georgia U.S. Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, is former Spurs chairwoman Julianna Hawn Holt, according to an online database maintained by the nonprofit, nonpartisian Center for Responsive Politics. “I don’t think you need to single out anybody,” Popovich said Wednesday. “In general, one has to question why one would give money to people who participated in that sort of lie, whether it’s people in Texas or any other place. How did they enjoy Jan. 6? How do we enjoy the rise of the extremism we are seeing? And to have politicians who divert attention or out and out lie about it seems to me to be unbelievably dangerous. We are talking about our country, our democracy.” In about 60 lawsuits Trump’s legal team and his Republican allies filed since the election, only one resulted in a small victory — in Pennsylvania. None of those cases proved the presence of fraud in the 2020 election, the Associated Press reported. “What purpose does that do to keep people in office that are willing to out and out lie about things they know are untrue and dangerous for our society?” Popovich said. “It just boggles my mind.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Texas AG Ken Paxton takes aim at Beto O’Rourke over data handling in vaccine registration drives

Attorney General Ken Paxton is publicly calling out a political action committee founded by Democrat Beto O’Rourke over its COVID-19 vaccination outreach. Paxton, a Republican, warned the group Tuesday against the unlawful collection of people’s “personal and health related data in exchange for vaccine registration and voter registration information.” In a letter, the agency requested Powered by People turn over by May 3 a list of COVID-19 vaccine events and how any personal information was collected and stored. The office also put out a slickly produced video with footage purportedly taken from a Powered by People training session accompanied by warnings written across the screen.

“Partisan groups are attempting to trick Texans, create fear in seniors, and use your personal information to beef up their voter database,” the video said. O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, launched Powered by People to register Texans to vote and turn them out. In a statement, O’Rourke said hundreds of volunteers have simply helped register senior citizens in the “poorest neighborhoods in our state” for the COVID-19 vaccine, many of whom don’t have internet access, cell phones or speak English. He said Paxton was attempting to use the office “to hurt those he perceives to be his political enemies.” “I’m proud of what our volunteers are doing and look forward to continuing to do this important work long after Ken Paxton is out of office and, if there’s any justice in this world, sitting in prison,” he said. Paxton has been under indictment for securities fraud for five years, but has not yet faced trial. He disputes the charges.

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

AT&T commits $2 billion to closing digital divide, opening a ‘connected learning center’ in Dallas

Dallas-based AT&T is committing an additional $2 billion over the next three years to make internet access affordable for more Americans in underserved areas — narrowing a gap in access to education and job opportunities known as the digital divide. Baked into that pledge is a continuation of discounts for internet services that it offers to K-12 schools, colleges and universities. The company works with 135,000 educational institutions. The Access from AT&T program, which started five years ago, will continue to be available to qualifying households with income at 135% of the federal poverty rate or lower. In Dallas, a four-person household with annual income of $35,775 or less would qualify. The program provides qualifying customers with internet access for $10 a month or cheaper at speeds that vary based on customer location. For the time being, AT&T also is waiving home internet data overage fees for customers in the program through the end of June.

AT&T said eligible customers can sign up for the FCC’s forthcoming Emergency Broadband Benefit, which is expected to be announced in the next month. The federal program will subsidize up to $50 in internet costs per month, and up to $75 for those living on tribal reservations. But AT&T is also in talks with its partners to open 20 connected learning centers in underserved communities. The centers will have fiber connectivity, Wi-Fi access and all the tech needed to access the internet. AT&T employee volunteers will provide mentoring. The company is planning to roll out learning centers in Dallas, Cleveland and Chicago and is hoping to open its first by the start of next school year, said Charlene Lake, AT&T’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility. The company is also planning to provide educational content to students based on AT&T-owned WarnerMedia’s intellectual property, which includes brands like Cartoon Network and the DC Comics superhero universe. “We have a moral obligation to address the digital divide, but we also have a business imperative,” Lake said. “Because we really want to ensure that there is a robust and diverse pipeline of talent into this company for generations to come.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 15, 2021

What to know about the San Antonio native tapped to lead U.S. Census Bureau

When Rob Santos ran for president of the American Statistical Association last year, he pitched himself to colleagues as “just a kid (albeit much older) from a San Antonio barrio with two career passions — statistics and helping people.” His next job pitch will likely be to a roomful of U.S. senators as President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the U.S. Census Bureau. Santos, who is Mexican-American, was selected by Biden on Tuesday. If confirmed, he would be the first person of color to lead the the federal government’s largest statistical agency full-time.

“Thanks to everyone for their support in reaction to the White House intent to nominate me for director of the U.S. Census Bureau, an institution whose mission and staff I have always admired, and whose work I greatly value,” Santos, who was unavailable for an interview, tweeted Wednesday morning. “I find myself both humbled and honored as the nominations process unfolds.” Santos’ nomination will come at a critical moment, as federal officials work through the 2020 Census data that will inform state and federal redistricting processes across the nation. The agency is expected to deliver the data to all states by Sept. 30. He would also lead an agency re-evaluating the terms, check-boxes and methods it uses to accurately gather and report information about communities of color — a subject that Santos cares deeply about. “When I fill out the census form, I check the Latino-Hispanic-Mexican American box,” Santos told KERA in 2019. “And when it comes to race, I mark ‘other’ and insert ‘mestizo’ because that’s how I feel about race and ethnicity.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 16, 2021

Chris Brown: Berkshire Hathaway's proposal will help prevent future catastrophic blackouts

(Chris Brown is chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway’s BHE Infrastructure Group.) As one of the state’s largest employers, with more 80,000 Texas associates across companies like BNSF Railway, Star Furniture and McLane grocery and foodservice, Berkshire Hathaway saw and felt deeply the terrible impacts of February’s catastrophic blackouts as they hit our employees and the Texas communities we serve. Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s leadership team immediately made it a priority to find long-term solutions for electric reliability. We put our best and brightest minds to work and quickly concluded that a comprehensive, belt-and-suspenders approach was needed. Some of the necessary fixes were already being talked about and are moving through the legislative process, including weatherization of power infrastructure and better emergency communications. But what became clear to us and other experts is that, based on simple math and common sense, a Texas emergency power reserve is needed and is the least expensive, most effective way to ensure Texans never again face catastrophic blackouts.

First, it’s helpful to understand the solution Berkshire Hathaway Energy has put forward to prevent future prolonged blackouts. The company has proposed 10 new gas-fired generating units that would be available to run during times of emergency. This power would effectively act as blackout insurance, ensuring that future extreme hot or cold weather does not cause blackouts of longer than three hours. Next, the costs. Berkshire Hathaway Energy will invest $8.3 billion in the project, with up to $4 billion ($1 billion per peak season) paid to Texas if we fail to deliver. So what does this mean for Texas residents? Over the life of the project, for the average Texas resident, the cost of the project would be around $3 per month. That isn’t an insignificant amount of money, but it is considerably less than most of us pay to insure things like our cars or houses. It’s also worth noting that the actual cost will likely be lower due to the unique structure of the project as proposed. This is because any time the emergency plants run, 100% of the profit they earn goes right back to ratepayers. Since the generators will need to run at least 14 days per year for testing, customers will get regular rebates on their monthly electricity bills to offset the $3 charge. By some estimates, this impact could cut the average monthly cost in half. What is more, if this project were operational during Winter Storm Uri, it would have resulted in $9.4 billion in revenue that would have gone back to customers, assuming the plants met their power output potential. That would have more than offset the $8.3 billion cost.

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Politifact Texas - April 16, 2021

Fact check: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claims 'nothing has changed' with early voting in Texas

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stood before reporters during a Tuesday morning news conference in which he excoriated Democrats and many in the media for spreading "lies" about Senate Bill 7, a measure that would restrict voting access in the state. "The left, the Democrats, many in the media, some in this room, across the state, across the country, have changed the word sadly from ‘voter security’ to ‘voter suppression' or ‘voter restriction,’" Patrick, a Republican, said angrily. "Senate Bill 7 is about voter security not about voter suppression, and I’m tired of lies and the nest of liars who continue to repeat them." Before explaining how the bill would amend the state election code, Patrick said something that he would repeat during the 35-minute press conference.

"Nothing has changed in the election code (under SB7) regarding early voting. Nothing has changed," he said. SB 7 was passed along party lines by the Texas Senate last week and is one of two voting bills being considered by the Legislature. Similar to voting bills in Georgia and other states, SB 7 is designed to diminish local control over elections. The bill would prohibit local election administrators from extending early voting hours and operating drive-thru voting centers. It also would bar election officials from sending out mail-in ballot applications without a voter’s request and, among other things, gives partisan poll watchers more access to polling locations during voting hours. Patrick said the measures are intended to restore people’s trust in American democracy following the 2020 presidential election. Patrick has perpetuated former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was plagued by voter fraud. In November, the lieutenant governor offered $1 million in rewards to anyone who provided information leading to an arrest and conviction for voter fraud. (When asked by a reporter Tuesday if he would be rewarding Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman, who says he provided Patrick with two cases of Trump voters casting ballots in the name of their deceased mothers, Patrick said, "I didn’t come here to take stupid questions from the media.")

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KSAT - April 15, 2021

‘Active shooter’ shot, killed at San Antonio International Airport by officer, SAPD chief says

A man who opened fire from a highway ramp and then at the San Antonio Airport was shot and killed by a park police officer at the airport on Thursday. San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said the man drove into the airport terminal going the wrong way at about 2:30 p.m. A park police officer who was working overtime at the airport confronted the man who immediately got out of his car and opened fire at the officer and the building, McManus said. The officer returned fire and incapacitated the shooter.

The police chief credited the officer’s quick actions with saving lives. “(The shooter) had a lot of ammunition and was shooting indiscriminately,” McManus said. “We’re lucky today not to have a lot of people injured or killed during this event.” McManus said police were familiar with the man because of previous interactions and said the man had “mental issues.” The suspect was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. An FBI spokesperson on the scene said the incident would be handled by police as a local investigation and said there was no federal connection at this point. Two people were taken to the hospital for injuries suffered during the incident at the airport. One person may have been hit by shrapnel during the shooting, while a second person was injured while running away from the area during the gunfire, McManus said.

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Dallas Observer - April 15, 2021

How Collin College became the center of a months-long free speech debacle

One day in February, Lora Burnett had settled in her study for a round of grading when the email arrived. The previous week, a deadly winter storm had left hundreds of thousands of Texans without power and thousands waterless, and the Collin College history professor wanted to know how her students were holding up. Sitting in her home study, she read students’ responses from an online survey about the storm’s fallout. An Australian shepherd named Scout, whom Burnett calls her “grading buddy,” sat by her side. Clio, a fluffy black and brown cat, lounged nearby. The email seemed urgent. The subject line read “important notice,” and Burnett paused grading to read it. Then, she froze in her chair. After four months of her skirmishing with the school’s administration, Collin College was going to terminate her contract. She partly expected it, but to see the words in black and white still shocked her. “It was a real blow. I mean, it was shattering,” Burnett said. “Teaching at Collin College is my dream job.”

Collin College had already terminated at least two other professors earlier this semester. Although each case panned out differently, she couldn’t shake the similarities. All three are women. All three had spoken out against the college’s COVID-19 protocols. Unless college administrators change their minds or the teachers succeed in their pending appeals of the dismissals, they will each work their last day May 14. But Burnett’s dispute with the school had been going on longer. It all started with a tweet. In October, she posted her thoughts about the vice presidential debate on Twitter. Mike Pence, then vice president, repeatedly talked over the female moderator. Burnett wrote that he should shut "his little demon mouth up.” A well-oiled “outrage operation,” as she calls it, immediately kicked into gear. The right-wing media machine picked it up, with one Fox News headline reading “College Professors Let Loose Profane Criticism of Pence during VP Debate.” Instead of defending her, college officials distanced themselves.

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Reuters - April 15, 2021

'Not afraid to shoot': Migration raises tension in Texas border town

Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez is worried. More migrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border near Del Rio, Texas than Martinez recalls in his 13 years as Val Verde County Sheriff. They wade across the Rio Grande river and into residents’ yards. But it is members of his own community that have Martinez most concerned. Last month, he said, a resident fired his gun to scare a group of migrants walking on the outskirts of town; nearby schools were locked down in response. He said unfounded accusations have spread on social media blaming migrants for crimes like break-ins. And at a recent community meeting, Martinez said, a resident asked him if she could use “deadly force” to stop migrants who step onto her land. “Something like that happens, you got a different situation on your hands,” Martinez said.

Tensions are rising in Del Rio, a city of 35,000, as the nation once again grapples with an increase in migrants seeking entry into the United States. In the area around Del Rio alone, border agents have made more than 68,000 apprehensions so far this fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). That figure is four times larger than the number recorded over the same period last year. The influx has created a humanitarian and political challenge for President Joe Biden, who has vowed to treat migrants more humanely than his predecessor Donald Trump. The Biden administration has allowed children traveling alone and some families with kids to enter the United States to claim asylum. But it is still applying a Trump-era measure that calls for many unauthorized border crossers to be expelled. The strains are evident in Del Rio, perched on the border about 150 miles west of San Antonio. Martinez and other long-time residents say some in this 85% Hispanic community are showing increased hostility towards migrants.

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Washington Post - April 15, 2021

Biden pledged to stop building the wall. But he just won the right to seize a Texas family’s land for it.

For years, the Cavazos family has battled the federal government for their land in South Texas, tucked along the winding Rio Grande and passed down since before that river became an international boundary. They fought the Bush and Obama administrations to preserve the property from border fencing. When Trump pushed to erect “a big, beautiful wall,” the family delayed court proceedings to wait out his plans. But just when they thought they’d won a reprieve, it was President Biden — not Trump — who would end up defeating the family in their years-long fight for the ranch. A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the federal government had the right to condemn about 6½ acres of Cavazos land through eminent domain. After Biden pledged that “not another foot” of border wall would be constructed, it is a breach of faith for dozens of private Texas landowners along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We took him at his word,” one family member, Reynaldo Anzaldua Cavazos, told The Washington Post. “He is not keeping that word.” The White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. attorneys representing the federal government did not respond to requests for comment from The Post. In a statement to CNN, the Justice Department said it had sought to postpone “pending cases, including in this case, in which the government had previously filed motions for possession of land on the southwest border.” The case was postponed in February at the government’s request, but apparently the DOJ did not attempt to delay it a second time before the judge’s ruling. The Cavazos family has laid a claim to property in the Rio Grande since the 1760s, when their ancestors arrived on a Spanish land grant of more than half a million acres. Various sales and taxes eventually shrank down the area, including to a 77-acre ranch now mostly used to raise cattle and chickens and rented out for recreational fishing.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 16, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: We recommend Jake Ellzey for CD-6

With 23 candidates on the ballot, the Sixth Congressional District race offers nearly every choice a voter could want. Looking for military or legislative experience? Check. A long record of service in the district? Got it. Federal executive experience? Several options. Grassroots connections? You bet. There’s even an increasingly endangered species, an anti-Trump Republican. Oh, and there’s a former pro wrestler, too. We could recommend several candidates in this special election to replace Rep. Ron Wright, who died in February. But voters get one choice, and we suggest they go with state Rep. Jake Ellzey, a Waxahachie Republican.

Ellzey was a Navy fighter pilot who served several combat tours and was decorated for his service. He sought the congressional seat in 2018, after longtime Rep. Joe Barton declared he was retiring. We backed Ellzey, who’s now a commercial pilot, as someone with promising leadership qualities and as an important voice for veterans. He lost that primary to Wright but bounced back to win the state House seat. Ellzey, 51, will be a strong representative for Ellis and Navarro counties in their battle against a proposed high-speed rail plan to connect Dallas and Houston, which many local landowners vehemently oppose. We think the train should be built, but those voters must be heard and treated fairly. It’s important that Ellzey not neglect the more populated Tarrant County portion of the district, which includes almost all of Arlington and Mansfield along with parts of east and south Fort Worth. In our interview with the candidates, he pledged to open a district office in each of its three counties.

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KVUE - April 15, 2021

DPS trooper runs over, kills man lying in street near Texas Capitol, officials say

A Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) trooper ran over and killed a man who was in the road near the State Capitol early Thursday morning, according to the Austin Police Department (APD). The crash happened at around 3:45 a.m. Thursday just west of the Texas State Capitol building. The trooper was heading northbound on Colorado Street and as he was turning left on 13th Street, the trooper hit the pedestrian. DPS said the crash happened while the trooper was patrolling the area.

DPS said it is early in the ongoing investigation, but that it appears the pedestrian, a 50-year-old man, was lying on the street for unknown reasons. Immediately after the pedestrian was hit, troopers in the area tried to save his life until medics with Austin-Travis County EMS arrived, but the pedestrian died at the scene of the crash. DPS said it is early in the ongoing investigation, but that it appears the pedestrian, a 50-year-old man, was lying on the street for unknown reasons. Immediately after the pedestrian was hit, troopers in the area tried to save his life until medics with Austin-Travis County EMS arrived, but the pedestrian died at the scene of the crash. The pedestrian's name has not been released at this time.

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Associated Press - April 16, 2021

Texas' longest serving death row inmate has sentence tossed

An appeals court has overturned the sentence of Texas’ longest serving death row inmate, whose attorneys say has languished in prison for more than 45 years because he's too mentally ill to be executed. Raymond Riles’ “death sentence can no longer stand” because the 70-year-old inmate’s history of mental illness was not properly considered by jurors, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday. The decision means Riles’ case will be sent back to a Houston courtroom for resentencing. He was sent to death row in 1976 for fatally shooting John Thomas Henry in 1974 at a Houston car lot following a disagreement over a vehicle. A co-defendant, Herbert Washington, was also sentenced to death, but his sentence was overturned, and he later pleaded guilty to two related charges and was sentenced to 50 and 25 years in prison.

When Riles was tried, state law did not expect jurors to consider mitigating evidence such as mental illness when deciding whether someone should be sentenced to death. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that Texas jury instructions were unconstitutional because they didn’t allow consideration of intellectual disability or mental illness or other issues as mitigating evidence in the punishment phase of a capital murder trial. But Riles' case remained in limbo as lower courts failed to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision until at least 2007, said Jim Marcus, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and one of Riles’ attorneys. That then gave Riles a realistic chance to prevail on this legal issue but it wasn't until recently that he had contact with attorneys who were willing to assist him, Marcus said. Inmates like Riles are “housed on death row because their judgment is a sentence of death, but it can’t be carried out because they’re too mentally ill. In Texas, that means people are left to languish in the Polunsky Unit (the location of Texas’ death row), where the conditions are basically solitary confinement,” Marcus said.

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City Stories

KXAN - April 15, 2021

Austin homelessness summit sets goal of housing 3,000 in the next three years

A coalition of homeless advocates and city leaders set a goal on Thursday to house 3,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in the next three years — just over the number currently living on Austin streets and in shelters. The report from the Summit to Address Unsheltered Homelessness in Austin set benchmarks to house 100 people by June, 200 by August, 400 by December, 1,200 by October 2022, and 3,000 by April, 2024.

“For the first time, we have a strategy that is based on a shared vision for how to accelerate our response to unsheltered homelessness in Austin,” Lynn Meredith, chair of the coalition’s Core Leadership Planning Group and ECHO Board member, said in a statement. “It’s a culmination of the work done during the Summit, but also reflects the many years of input from dedicated citizens and leaders, and community conversations that have occurred—including many forums, hearings, and panels that have taken place over the past several years.” The report called for a “radical expansion” of affordable housing to address the public camping issue facing the city. On May 1, Austin voters will decide whether to reinstate the city’s ban on camping in public spaces. Several efforts in the state legislature would enact a statewide ban. In order to house 3,000 people in three years, 2,300 rental units would be secured by offering incentives to landlords while another 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing would be developed.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 15, 2021

San Antonio council postpones vote that would prevent some landlords from denying renters with vouchers

The San Antonio City Council postponed an ordinance Thursday that prohibits some landlords and property owners from turning away renters who have housing vouchers. The dais was going back and forth about specific measures in the proposal when Mayor Ron Nirenberg suggested they hammer out the details in a B session next Wednesday. The council could vote on the item as early as April 29. “Non-discrimination should not wait, but we do need to make sure we have this provision taken care of,” Nirenberg said.

The ordinance was originally scheduled to be discussed March 31, but it was canceled due to an emergency briefing about coronavirus vaccinations. If the ordinance passes, rental developments receiving grants, loans, tax abatements or other funds awarded by the city will not be able to deny applicants based solely on their sources of income, which could include Section 8 housing vouchers, Social Security, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers and other programs. “This sounds like a tool that helps our dollars that we invest in housing go further in terms of affordability,” said District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval. “There is somewhat a sense of urgency of getting this on the books because the projects that this will apply to haven’t even been built yet, so the sooner we can adopt this, the sooner we’ll see the benefits of it.” Renters with housing vouchers must still meet other requirements, such as background and credit checks, and be able to pay the advertised rent with the help of their voucher.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 15, 2021

These Fort Worth mayoral candidates say voter restriction laws are bad for business

Texas should avoid voting laws that may hurt businesses, candidates for Fort Worth mayor said Wednesday in a forum, though some wanted to have a more hands-on approach to advocating for voting laws. Many companies have spoken out against Republican efforts to make voting more difficult in Texas, so the forum focused on Fort Worth’s business environment led with the question of what role the mayor should play. It was also the question where candidates D.C. Caldwell, Mattie Parker, Deborah Peoples and Ann Zadeh seem to diverge from each other the most. Legislation under consideration in Austin would prohibit drive-thru voting, block election officials from sending applications for vote-by-mail without being asked, prohibit voting temporary structures, and loosen restrictions on poll watchers. Several major companies based in Texas have criticized the proposal, including Fort Worth-based American Airlines, Dell Technologies and Southwest Airlines. In a statement American Airlines said election security should be maintained “while making it easier to vote, not harder.”

While all the candidates appeared willing to use the mayor’s office to advocate for business interests, Peoples and Zadeh were the most direct about voting laws. Peoples, a former AT&T vice president and chairwoman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, said the mayor’s job selling the city is easier when diversity and inclusion are embraced. “I know what businesses are looking for, and anything that limits diversity and inclusion is bad for business,” she said. The lack of participation in elections locally is frustrating, Zadeh said, saying she would advocate against anything that made voting harder. “I think as a mayor having that platform to support businesses that are stepping up now, and the people that work for those businesses, saying that they do not want their right to vote limited,” she said. Parker, a former chief of staff for Mayor Betsy Price, didn’t say if she would use the mayor’s bully pulpit to influence legislation one way or the other, saying the city should allow “our business community to speak loudly to our state delegation or federal delegation about how they’re feeling.”

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National Stories

CNN - April 15, 2021

Chicago police say bodycam footage shows less than a second passes from when 13-year-old is seen holding a handgun and is shot by officer

Authorities released body-worn camera footage that shows an officer making a split-second decision to fire a single shot that killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo after the boy is seen holding a handgun at the end of a foot chase, according to police. Police say what was in Toledo's hand is a gun that was later recovered from behind the fence where the chase ended. Prosecutors, in charging a 21-year-old man who was with Toledo at the beginning of the police encounter in the early morning hours of March 29, said the gun recovered a few feet from the boy's body matched shell casings located where police were summoned moments earlier, and that Toledo's hand and gloves dropped by the older man had tested positive for gunshot residue.

Body-worn camera videos were released by Chicago's Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the police oversight agency that reviews incidents in which an officer fires a department issued handgun. Documents released by COPA identify the officer who fired his weapon as Eric Stillman, who is 34 years old. The Chicago Police Department also released a video compilation of surveillance footage from a nearby school and church. The video, according to police, shows a gun in Toledo's right hand as he nears an open area of fence next to an empty lot. Toledo turns to his left, toward the officer, and what police say is the gun disappears behind his right side. Toledo begins to raise his hands as he's facing the officer when the officer fires his weapon. From the time police said the gun was first visible on body-worn camera footage in Toledo's hand, to the time the officer fired his weapon, was eight tenths of a second. In that period of time, his right arm disappears behind the fence before he begins to raise both hands.

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CNN - April 15, 2021

Maxine Waters tells Jim Jordan to ‘shut your mouth’ after GOP congressman feuds with Fauci

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan and the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci got into a heated exchange Thursday over the country’s Covid-19 mitigation measures, which ended with Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters telling Jordan to “shut your mouth.” During a House subcommittee hearing about federal government’s response to the pandemic, Jordan, an Ohio conservative, asked Fauci when the nation can begin relaxing physical distancing measures and mask-wearing – posing it as a question as to when Americans will regain their freedom and liberties. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, started to respond that the time will be when the United States has more Americans vaccinated and has a level of coronavirus infection that is low enough that it’s “no longer a threat.” Jordan then interrupted Fauci, asking for a specific number.

“We had 15 days of ‘slow the spread’ turn into one year of lost liberty,” Jordan said. “What metrics, what measures, what has to happen before Americans get more freedoms back?” “You’re indicating liberty and freedom. I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital,” Fauci countered. “This will end, for sure, when we get the level of infection very low. It is now at such a high level, there is a threat again of major surges.” Fauci later said to Jordan, “You’re making this a personal thing and it isn’t.” “It’s not a personal thing,” Jordan fired back. “No, you are,” Fauci said, sounding exasperated. “That is exactly what you’re doing.” Fauci defended his recommendations as being consistent and based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid-19 guidance.

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Associated Press - April 16, 2021

Sarah Sanders raises nearly $5M for Arkansas governor's race

Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders' campaign on Thursday said she has raised nearly $5 million in her bid to be Arkansas' next governor, breaking the record for quarterly fundraising in the state. Sanders' campaign said the majority of the more than $4.8 million raised during the first three months of the year came from out-of-state donors. More than $1.5 million came from Arkansans. Sanders' campaign, which launched in January, said it held more than 50 events in Arkansas during the quarter. “Our message of limiting government and advancing education and opportunity is clearly resonating," Sanders said in a statement released by her campaign.

Sanders is running against Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in next year's Republican primary to succeed two-term GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is barred by term limits from seeking reelection. Republican Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin dropped out of the governor's race about two weeks after Sanders joined it and is now running for attorney general. Sanders' fundraising eclipsed Rutledge, who reported about $198,000 raised during the same period and has raised $1.2 million since she launched her campaign last year. Rutledge's campaign said 80% of her donations have come from Arkansas contributors. “I remain committed to making Arkansas first and will always be more concerned about what is happening in Fort Smith, Jacksonville, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff rather than in New York and Florida," Rutledge said in a statement. The daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sanders left the White House as former President Donald Trump's chief spokeswoman in 2019. She launched her bid for governor in January with an online video that prominently featured the former president and echoed his rhetoric, promising to fight the “radical left" in the solidly red state.

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NBC News - April 16, 2021

'Nobody would tell me anything': Immigrant parents struggle to find children who crossed border alone

Every night for the past three weeks, after finishing a long day of work, a Guatemalan father of two living in Kansas dials the same number, hoping to find his two daughters. Every night, he's put on hold, sometimes for more than an hour and half. If he doesn't give up and eventually reaches someone, he gets the same answer: Be patient. His daughters, ages 9 and 13, are in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, and they are safe, the hotline operators tell him. But they can't give out the girls' location, telling him it is confidential information. Instead, they tell him he must wait for a case manager to contact him to begin the process of bringing them into his home. "This is a situation that requires waiting, patience and serenity," the hotline operator told the man in Spanish on Wednesday night.

The interaction only left him more frustrated and upset. "He says this is how it always goes," an interpreter for the father said. "He says it's frustrating, because he's desperate to find out about his girls, but he can't get anywhere with this." The girls, like nearly 20,000 other children in HHS care, recently immigrated to the U.S. as part of a wave of unaccompanied children that has stretched the limits of the U.S. immigration system. At the start of this year, HHS was able to match about one case manager to 12 children, but the number of children per manager has shot up as the agency scrambles to hire more people who can look after each child's welfare and placement in homes with parents or sponsors, an HHS spokesperson said. The spokesperson didn't provide the current ratio. However, the time children spend in HHS custody appears to be dropping slightly. In the past week, children released by HHS had spent an average of 31 days in custody, said a source familiar with the data, down from 37 days in February and 42 days in January, according to data provided by HHS.

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NPR - April 15, 2021

Fewer migrant children held in border detention facilities, but challenges remain

The Biden administration has been scrambling to care for hundreds of migrant children and teenagers crossing the Southern border alone daily — opening a dozen emergency influx shelters and moving thousands out of jail-like holding cells and tents that have stoked public outrage. Still, the administration faces big challenges as it deals with the record-breaking surge of unaccompanied minors. The number of migrant teens and children in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection fell to 2,853 this week — less than half the number who were held in overcrowded facilities near the border in late March. Another 19,000 unaccompanied minors were in the custody of U.S. Health and Human Services as of Tuesday, according to the agency. By law, those children are supposed to be transferred to HHS custody within three days. In practice, that hasn't been happening, partly because of a lack of available space in HHS's permanent shelter system.

That bottleneck may be starting to ease. In recent weeks, HHS has been adding emergency influx shelters anywhere it can — from abandoned camps for oil workers, to big city convention centers in Texas and California, to smaller facilities far from the border in Michigan and Pennsylvania. All told, the agency has added temporary facilities with the potential capacity to house more than 16,000 children until they can be placed in long-term shelters, or with sponsors or relatives living in the U.S. Meanwhile, more than 400 migrant children continue to arrive at the border every day, according to the latest statistics. Earlier this week, about 100 of them were sent to their new temporary home — rustic cottages near a private lake in southern Michigan. "We are excited to be able to create those beautiful spaces and a place for healing for some of those children," says Elizabeth Carey, the CEO of Starr Commonwealth, a nonprofit with a long history of working with at-risk kids on its campus in Albion, Michigan. The organization is hosting a temporary influx shelter for up to 240 migrant children between the ages of 5 and 17. "When asked by our federal government if we could help and provide a safe refuge and haven for those children, we enthusiastically said, yes," Carey said in a statement. But HSS still has some thorny problems to solve, starting with hiring enough staff to run these emergency shelters, some of which are designed to hold thousands of migrant children.

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Newsclips - April 15, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

Most Americans disapprove of President Biden's handling of border crisis, poll finds

A new Quinnipiac poll finds that most Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of the situation at the Mexican border. Just 29 percent approved while 55 percent disapproved, according to the poll, in which 1,237 U.S. adults were surveyed by landline and cellphone between April 8 and 12. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. It comes as the U.S. government encountered an all-time record high number of unaccompanied minors traveling across the border last month. The 19,000 children that border patrol agents picked up was the largest monthly number ever recorded. Since his inauguration, the president, whose overall approval rating is 48 percent — 15 percentage points higher than Donald Trump’s when he left office — has taken steps to reverse the immigration policies of the Trump administration. On his first day, he issued proclamations ending the national emergency at the border, cutting off border wall funding and eliminating the “Muslim ban” that barred entry into the country by nationals of certain Muslim-majority countries.

Another of those policies has contributed at least in part to the surge in children crossing the border: The Biden administration has exempted unaccompanied children from a pandemic-related order that allows most people to be expelled without a chance for asylum. Instead, children are allowed to stay with “sponsors” in the U.S., usually parents or close relatives, while they await the outcome of their asylum cases in heavily backlogged immigration courts. Biden received much higher marks in other major policy areas, such as his response to the coronavirus, approved of by 64 percent of Americans; the economy, approved by 50 percent of Americans; climate change, approved by 48 percent of Americans; and taxes, approved by 45 percent of Americans. The exception was gun policy — only 39 percent approved compared to 49 percent who disapproved.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 14, 2021

Texas ban on transgender athletes gains initial Senate approval

Voting 18-13, the Texas Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to legislation banning transgender student athletes from competing in sports within their gender identity. Senate Bill 29 would require athletes in Texas public high schools and grade schools to compete in sports based on the "biological sex" listed on their original birth certificate. Under that definition, biological boys would be banned from competing in girls sports, although girls could compete in boys sports if a comparable female sport was not available. "This is about protecting female athletes and recognizing their accomplishments within their biological peer group," said Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, author of the bill.

Amended birth certificates, which can be issued to reflect gender changes for transgender people, would no longer be accepted by the University Interscholastic League, which oversees extracurricular athletic events. Democrats said the bill needlessly singles out transgender students, many of whom struggle with depression and suicide, to tackle a nonexistent problem. "You demonize a group of students unnecessarily," said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. "Have you heard from a school official, a coach, who says, man we got a problem on hands? You haven't," Whitmire said. "Do you think you're just overly concerned or are taking a more extreme position than necessary with some major, perhaps unintended consequences?" Whitmire said transgender athletes deserve respect: "All they want, senator, is to be left alone, to raise their families, to be equal."

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Dallas police say former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pushed girlfriend before arrest on domestic-violence charge

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst pushed his girlfriend down as he tried to get their shared laptop from her before he was arrested Tuesday on a domestic-violence charge, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. Dallas police announced his arrest just before midnight Tuesday. He was booked into the Dallas County Jail about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday and released on bail about 3:30 a.m. It is unclear whether Dewhurst has an attorney. The woman Dewhurst is accused of pushing could not immediately be reached for comment. Officers were called around 5:20 p.m. to a hotel in the 3300 block of West Mockingbird Lane, near Dallas Love Field, the affidavit states. A hotel manager told police that a woman was sitting down on a concrete bench outside when she was assaulted by Dewhurst as he walked out of the hotel, according to the affidavit.

The woman told police that Dewhurst was boarding a bus when she remembered she had his briefcase and his laptop, which was shared and accessed by both of them, the affidavit states. She told police she was holding the computer when Dewhurst started chasing her around the outdoor entryway of the hotel, according to the affidavit. Video footage confirms her version of the incident, according to the affidavit. Video footage shows Dewhurst chasing the woman to the bench and pushing her down to the ground to try and get the laptop, the affidavit states. Dewhurst pushed the woman toward the concrete bench and she hit her head, according to the affidavit. Dewhurst got the laptop and started walking back to the bus when the woman caught up to him, the affidavit states. He then pushed her head down and kept her bent over as he talked to someone else, according to the affidavit. The woman and Dewhurst were both taken to Dallas Police Department Headquarters and interviewed by detectives.

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Texas Senate advances winter storm bill to overhaul ERCOT board

A day after Texans were surprised by a request to conserve energy on a mild spring day, the state Senate advanced a bill that would increase oversight of ERCOT, the state’s electric grid operator. Senate Bill 2 would require the board of directors of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to live in the state, add criteria for some board members to be unaffiliated with electric generators and require that major procedural changes at ERCOT be reviewed by the Public Utility Commission. The bill additionally requires that ERCOT’s board chairman be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. After the bill cleared the Senate Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick praised his Senate colleagues, namely North Richland Hills GOP Sen. Kelly Hancock.

“Immediately following Winter Storm Uri, I pledged that I would get to the bottom of the power outages that caused so much suffering and death across Texas and do whatever needed to be done to fix it,” Patrick said in a statement. “The need for ERCOT reform was an obvious first step.” The legislation is one of multiple bills this session attempting to overhaul the state’s electric grid operator. As Texans weathered statewide power outages and freezing temperatures during February’s winter storm, Gov. Greg Abbott declared ERCOT overhaul one of his emergency items for this session. SB 2 passed 30-1. The only no vote was Democratic Sen. Sarah Eckhardt of Austin. As SB 2 cleared the Senate, it joined a House package of bills that address concerns raised during the winter storm that have already passed in the House and Senate. With only six weeks left in the session, some legislators have wondered if a special session would be necessary to address the overhaul. Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said that this week’s grid scare, in which ERCOT asked its consumers to conserve energy on a mild spring day, was a reminder of the need for such an overhaul. He said Tuesday’s high demand and low supply—and corresponding price spike—made apparent the need for oversight.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Dan Branch: Texas cannot afford to sue Google

Texas faces serious budget constraints, with the pandemic, the winter storm and the failure of the electrical grid. Safeguarding Texas taxpayer resources has never been more important. The Legislature must determine how our limited taxpayer resources will be spent, and what programs need to be cut. Of all funding the requests to the Legislature, one sticks as a particularly low priority: taxpayer-funded antitrust litigation by the Texas attorney general’s office against Google, at a cost of $43 million. With any tight budget, it’s important to establish priorities. Two of the biggest budget priorities this legislative session will be helping Texans recover from the pandemic and the winter storm. Then there’s funding for sustaining public education reforms initiated last session, higher education, health care and public safety, which account for more than two-thirds of our state budget.

With limited resources and expensive priorities already on the table, there needs to be a strong case made for utilizing taxpayer dollars to fund questionable and expensive antitrust litigation. State senators have rightly asked tough questions of the attorney general regarding the merits of using tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to fund this case, especially at this moment in time. This case brings great expense to the state and no guarantee of success. Beyond the issue of resources, this lawsuit is largely redundant. The U.S. Department of Justice has already filed its own antitrust lawsuit against Google. Texas taxpayers are already paying for this litigation indirectly through their federal tax payments. And unlike the state of Texas, the Justice Department has far greater scale and resources it can devote to this endeavor. Then there’s the question of the benefits a case like this will provide to Texas consumers. The actions by the attorney general’s office could cripple a business that during the pandemic has provided enormous benefits to consumers, as well as assistance to struggling small businesses. Specifically, Google’s service has helped consumers and and small businesses work remotely and stay connected to customers, at no cost to them. This does not include the significant jobs and economic revenue the company generates directly for Texans.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 14, 2021

Students at North Texas school disciplined for ‘slave trade’ held over social media

A group of students at an Aledo school were disciplined based on a slave auction they set up on social media to pretend to sell their Black classmates, according to local activists. The Aledo Independent School District learned of an incident where students at the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus cyberbullied and harassed other students based on their race, according to a statement from Superintendent Dr. Susan Bohn. The district started an investigation that involved law enforcement. The district did not specify what the incident involved and said administrators learned about it more than two weeks ago. Local activists told the Star-Telegram that a group of students set up the slave auction. A screenshot provided to the Star-Telegram showed a Snapchat group with various names, including “Slave Trade” and another name that includes a racial slur. One person typed they would spend $1 on a peer, and another person wrote in the chat they would pay $100 for someone else.

Tony Crawford, an activist and one of the organizers of Parker County Progressives, said the situation was “another in a long line of incidents that are swept under the rug.” “Can you imagine what it’s like for somebody to put a price on your head?” he said in regards to the students who were victims of the cyberbullying. “I cannot imagine the embarrassment and hurt that people you might be friends with are having that conversation.” Eddie Burnett, president of Parker County NAACP, said he learned about the situation on Sunday. He plans to talk about the situation at the Aledo school board meeting on April 19. The district did not specify what discipline the students received. “There is no room for racism or hatred in the Aledo ISD, period,” Bohn said in the statement. “Using inappropriate, offensive and racially charged language and conduct is completely unacceptable and is prohibited by district policy.” In a letter sent to parents the week of April 5, Principal Carolyn Ansley wrote that “an incident of cyberbullying and harassment” led to conversations about how inappropriate and hurtful language can impact others. The district spoke with all the students involved, as well as their parents, and “made it clear that statements and conduct that targets a student because of his or her race is not only prohibited but also has a profound impact on the victims,” Bohn said in the statement.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 14, 2021

Violent crime in Arlington rose in 2020. Police think this program may prevent more

If your neighborhood has recently experienced a violent crime, you may be in for a visit from Arlington Police, as officials try to build relationships with communities around the city as part of a new initiative. Police Chief Al Jones announced Tuesday that officers have begun knocking on doors and visiting with residents. The effort comes as the city reports a 4% rise in violent crime in its 2020 annual report. The individual visits, Jones said, could help residents better understand nearby police activity. “Normally we actually do it backwards in policing,” Jones said. “We go out and we flood the area with our police officers, then we want to explain to residents why we’re doing something.”

The city reported 2,136 violent crimes — defined as rape, robbery, murder and aggravated assault — last year. Jones said in his first few weeks as chief in January, the department responded to several calls and developed the program, Operation Connect, as a response. Violent crime accounted for less than a fifth of crimes reported by the city. Arlington’s amount of overall crime fell by more than 7% in 2020 and property crime fell by over 9%. City officials appointed Jones in November as the next police chief based on his experience building relationships with communities in Baltimore County, where he was employed for 25 years before coming to Arlington. Operation Connect is one of several efforts Jones discussed with Arlington City Council Tuesday afternoon, including gradually resuming community events and reviewing equity recommendations made by the city’s Unity Council.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 14, 2021

TCU’s chancellor knows when he will retire, but he eyes a national title before then

Victor Boschini’s white “TCU Rose Bowl” champions hat from 2011 sits behind his desk, and at one point over the last year, when the job security of the longtime TCU chancellor appeared shaky, he had more made. “During the pandemic I had the hats made so I could send them to students and donors,” he said in his office. “I sent a little note with the hat and just said, ‘Remember how great this was?’” Alumni and donors certainly remember it, but current students were probably watching The Disney Channel or Nickelodeon back then. Boschini is 65, and he realizes he doesn’t have much more time left before he retires. He’d like to squeeze in one more Rose Bowl type moment before he leaves a job he’s had since 2003.

He said he plans to retire in 2026, “If I make it that long,” he said. “I never thought that was an issue, until lately, if I can do it. The emotional toll was much harder than ever before.” The popular, personable and charming chancellor survived the year with a few scars from the criticism he took from the faculty and staff during the pandemic. The biggest was the faculty discussion last summer on whether to issue a vote of no confidence in Boschini’s leadership. The faculty was upset over the school’s reduction of its 401k plans, retirement packages and how it handled the class schedule during the pandemic. Ever the optimist, Boschini believes his relationship with the faculty can be repaired, and that he envisions campus life will return to “normal” in the fall. He’s planning that classes will once again be an in-person experience. He covered all this and an array of other topics in a lengthy interview on Monday.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 14, 2021

Texas teacher who used racial slur next to Tupac photo is put on administrative leave

A teacher at a Texas high school has been placed on administrative leave after a racial slur was displayed during a class lesson. An English class at Houston’s Stratford High School was instructed to write 75 words on the prompt, “How is the [N-word] complicated? How has it changed?” according to media reports. The teacher spelled out the slur on a presentation slide in the classroom. On the same slide, the teacher included a quote from rapper Tupac Shakur that also included the word.

The teacher was placed on administrative leave because of “concerns with the professional judgment” in the lesson, according to a statement provided by the Spring Branch Independent School District. “Inappropriate and offensive language was used, which the Spring Branch Independent School District does not condone and will not accept,” the district said in a statement to McClatchy News. The teacher was not identified by the district, though KTRK confirmed she is white. Students said the writing assignment was a lead-in to a book the class was about to read, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” written by Zora Neale Hurston, a Black woman, KHOU reported. “That word didn’t need to come up on any screen, with any children of any color,” Mary Daly, whose granddaughter was in the class, told KPRC. “A thinking human is all you have to be. You don’t have to be any color to understand that that was completely wrong of (the teacher) to do.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 14, 2021

Texas Sens. Cruz and Cornyn are split on Afghanistan troop withdrawal

Sen. Ted Cruz said he is “glad the troops are coming home” in response to President Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Sen. John Cornyn disagrees. Biden announced Wednesday he plans to withdraw all troops by Sept. 1, the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago,” the president said. “That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021. Rather than return to war with the Taliban we have to focus on the challenges that are in front of us.” This deadline is past the May 1 exit the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban last year. “Bringing our troops home should not be taken as a sign that America will be any less vigilant in protecting American lives and those of our allies, but we can do so without a permanent military presence in a hostile terrain,” Cruz said Tuesday on CNN. Cornyn said he believes that pulling out troops will harm national security. Cruz and Cornyn are Texas Republicans. “I’m concerned about it,” Cornyn told the Star-Telegram. “If there’s one thing that we’ve learned is that power vacuums get filled and usually by the bad guys.

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Texas education chief apologizes for STAAR glitch, says schools could soon have clarity on billions in federal money

Texas’ education commissioner apologized for a widespread glitch that disrupted thousands of students taking STAAR tests last week. But Mike Morath also had some good news for the State Board of Education on Wednesday morning, when he hinted that schools soon could have clarity on when billions in federal funds would flow to school districts to help address student learning loss. The STAAR glitch interrupted the exams of 250,000 students, according to the Texas Education Agency. It was an “unacceptable challenge, given everything that folks have been through,” Morath told the board. “We at TEA are responsible for ensuring STAAR can be administered flawlessly, and we’ve failed to do that,” he said. “Specifically, it’s my responsibility, personally, to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen, and I take full responsibility for the disruption that happened last week.”

The state works with New Jersey-based testing vendor ETS to administer the exams but will switch to Cambium Assessment for next year’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests. Students previously experienced issues under ETS’ administration of STAAR in 2016, leading officials to void exams. About 1 in 5 of the students affected by the recent glitch could resume testing and complete their exams that same day. The other students will complete theirs later, according to TEA. Five years ago, the state fined ETS for the testing issues. Morath did not say whether the same would happen because of this year’s problems, but noted that Texas will pursue every remedy possible under its current contract. Meanwhile, the commissioner also addressed what has become a contentious issue for educators in recent weeks: the status of roughly $18 billion in federal funds meant to help students recover from the pandemic. “There is some degree of non-clarity as to exactly how much those resources are and when they will be deployed,” Morath said. “I am optimistic that this clarity will be achieved in relatively short order.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Voting bills spark full-contact politics, Bo’s Law brings bipartisan support

Fort Worth Republican Rep. Matt Krause and DeSoto Democrat Rep. Carl O. Sherman shared their thoughts on the slew of controversial voting bills moving under the pink dome right as political blows were thrown across the aisle over the Senate’s voter fraud bill. No, seriously. Sherman picked up the phone moments after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ripped into Democrats, American Airlines and the media over their response to Senate Bill 7 from Mineola Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes. In case you missed it, Patrick called them a “nest of liars” who are “race baiting” for political leverage — Texas’ full-contact legislative session has heated up. To Krause, bills such as House Bill 6 and SB 7 — two of the most controversial election proposals — don’t make voting “harder,” they make “cheating” harder, a common phrase Republicans have returned to this session. “You don’t have to wait until there’s massive widespread voter fraud to tackle issues that might lead to massive widespread voter fraud,” Krause said.

He later added, “It’s very frustrating to see others opine on election bills, imputing intent to the authors or to the bodies without even reading the bills. … People keep saying ... Republicans are just trying to keep people from voting. No, I want everybody to vote.” Krause, who signed onto Deer Park Republican Rep. Briscoe Cain’s HB 6, acknowledged the difference in opinion between him and Sherman. But, Krause said, he looks forward to having a “healthy discussion” on the bills with Democratic colleagues, and is willing to ask, “What am I missing?” From most Democrats, the question would draw a snarky, “well, quite a lot.” But, when asked what he would say to his Republican colleagues who don’t see the other side of this debate, Sherman provided a longer response. “It is my prayer that as America changes, when the state is blue, that we won’t do what they are trying to do now,” Sherman said. Sherman remembers sitting on a window ledge looking at fellow lawmakers during his freshman session in 2019 when he was asked by a Republican colleague, “What do you see?”

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Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

New lawsuit brings Deshaun Watson allegations back to 22

A Houston makeup artist has filed a new lawsuit against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during two massage sessions at his home in September and November 2020. The woman's litigation means that 22 lawsuits are standing against Watson. One woman who filed suit dropped her case Tuesday, citing privacy and security concerns. Watson has denied any wrongdoing, and his defense has said any sexual acts that occurred were consensual.

The latest woman to allege misconduct by Watson described feeling mentally worn down after the football player repeatedly asked her to touch his penis, according to the lawsuit. The Houston Chronicle typically does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or harassment. "Plaintiff was mentally beat, the pressure from Watson's relentless instruction coercing her against her will left her powerless," the suit reads. As in many of the other cases, the woman said Watson reached out to her on social media to book a session. She told him she was not an esthetician and was clear that she was not a licensed massage therapist, she said. At various points in the two sessions she gave Watson, he exposed himself, asked her to place her hand on his penis and masturbated himself, ejaculated, tried to kiss her and groped her, she said in the litigation. "She now feels ashamed, embarrassed, deeply distressed and confused by Watson's manipulating the massage and her into sexual coercion," the suit reads.

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Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

US Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands to retire in 2022

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a longtime congressman from The Woodlands and one of the most powerful Republicans in the House, announced Wednesday he won't seek a 14th term in office. Brady, who was first elected in 1996, is the top GOP member on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and was its chairman as it drafted former President Donald Trump's tax rewrite in 2017. But Brady faces a term limit leading the committee at the end of 2022, which he said in his announcement was a factor in his decision not to return. “In the end, I’ll leave Congress the way I entered it, with the absolute belief that we are a remarkable nation — the greatest in history,” Brady said in an address at the Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Conference.

Brady is the second member of the Texas delegation to announce his retirement this year, following U.S. Rep. Filemón Vela, a South Texas Democrat. Their announcements come as Republicans are already pushing to take back the House from a slim Democratic majority — something Brady said in his announcement he was confident would happen. Brady’s departure will leave open a reliably red seat north of Houston as Texas lawmakers work to redraw congressional boundaries. Brady won reelection last year by 47 percentage points and it is unlikely Democrats will be able to gain much ground there in 2022. He struck an optimistic tone in his announcement, saying he has not “lost faith in a partisan Congress and the political system” as he touted legislative accomplishments, including a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, a ban on surprise medical billing, and perhaps most notably, the GOP tax overhaul that he spearheaded in the House. “The tax cuts lifted millions of Americans out of poverty and gave hope to so many the old tax code had left behind,” Brady said. “America recaptured the title of the most competitive economy in the world, bringing manufacturing jobs and investment back home to America from overseas.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

Erica Grieder: Democrat Mike Collier betting voters will be ready to retire Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in 2022

Do you remember when politics, one of our great national pastimes, was fun? You may not — it’s been a while. These days, to wade into the political arena is often to emerge covered in bile. Those who’ve done so recently might be tempted to make a beeline back to shore, safe from the hand-wringing, hyperbole and mutual recriminations that have come to pass for considered debate. “We were much more lighthearted before things became so partisan,” Democrat Mike Collier said over six-inch Subway sandwiches at Total Plaza on Monday, days after he’d launched his second campaign for lieutenant governor. “Much more lighthearted.” It was a poignant comment coming from Collier, a longtime accounting executive who’s been involved in Texas politics since the 2014 midterm cycle, when he served as the Democratic nominee for state comptroller. He lost to Republican Glenn Hegar that year, and then went on to lose his first challenge to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in 2018. But in both cases he campaigned with a sense of humor, as well as a wonkish passion for issues such as public education, property taxes and infrastructure.

“It’s fun being a Democrat!” Collier told me years ago, an attitude that might be perplexing in a red state such as Texas but is energizing nonetheless. And this was an attitude that resonated with many voters. In the 2018 election cycle, Collier was nearly unknown, with a small campaign team and modest fundraising reports. He managed to build a base of grassroots support, and ultimately came within 5 percentage points of unseating Patrick, the fiery conservative who holds what is arguably the state’s most powerful office. Many Democrats cheered the news that Collier would seek a rematch against Patrick, a Republican who in January announced that he has a $20 million war chest and intends to seek re-election next year. “Last time I didn’t assemble a team. I just started throwing punches,” Collier said. “We were grassroots; we were digital; we wore out a couple of trucks.” This time around, he reckons, his campaign will have more infrastructure, given the strong showing in 2018 and the message those results sent to donors and operatives who may have written off Collier’s bid as quixotic.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 14, 2021

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg parts ways with campaign director less than a week before early voting

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has cut ties with his campaign director less than a week before early voting begins in the May 1 election, his campaign confirmed Tuesday. The campaign parted ways with Ryan Garcia, a veteran of several local and state legislative races, on Monday but the reasons for his departure weren’t immediately clear. Gilberto Ocañas, Nirenberg’s campaign chairman and the mayor’s chief political adviser, declined to give specifics — deeming the matter a personnel issue. But Ocañas mentioned that Garcia is working on other campaigns that are on the May ballot.

“I have nothing bad to say about Ryan at all,” Ocañas said. “He accomplished the things that we wanted him to accomplish.” Later, Ocañas said, “It was time for him to focus on something else, and I wish him the best of luck.” Garcia did not return a call requesting comment. Garcia, who grew up on the South Side, first entered Nirenberg’s circle in the last mayoral race when he advised the mayor during a runoff with then-Councilman Greg Brockhouse, who is once again challenging Nirenberg in this year’s election. Nirenberg then tapped the 31-year-old operative to help him sell the mayor’s four-year, $154 million sales tax plan to provide job training and college degrees to out-of-work residents to voters at the November ballot box. In this year’s race, Garcia rose to campaign director — a role likened to a chief operating officer. Garcia previously managed successful campaigns for County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, Sheriff Javier Salazar, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer and District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 13, 2021

Texas is among the most stressed out states in America, but are you surprised?

Texans are stressed the heck out. In fact, personal finance website WalletHub found that the Lone Star State ranks No. 10 for most stressed-out state in the country, per Culture Map's John Egan. So what exactly are we stressed about? WalletHub found that work and family-related stress contributed heavily to Texas' ranking, per Egan. Health and safety-related issues are also factors, and as you may have guessed, so are financial woes. Factor in a few other things, including divorce and crime rates, and I'm surprised we only rank at No. 10.

In order to determine the most and least stressed states, WalletHub compared the 50 states across 41 key indicators of stress, per its website. While we're not nearly as stressed as the No. 1 ranking state of Nevada, I can think of a few others things that merely add to the stress Texans are already facing. Three words: ZOOM BURN OUT. While I am sure we all love being able to see our coworkers' lovely faces during these unprecedented times, if Zoom permanently crashed tomorrow, I don't think anyone would be upset. We're broke. Texas’ unemployment rate increased from 6.8 percent in January to 6.9 percent in February, per the Texas Tribune's Megan Menchaca. In 12 months, Texas lost nearly 600,000 jobs, which is the third most of any state. People are asking why we're stressed, and that just adds more stress. Seriously. It happens. We can't stop eating. I'll be the first to say that I have put on a few pounds amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and considering the fact that nearly 40 percent of Texans packed on pounds — I am clearly not alone. To make matters worse, Houston has some of the best food around and it's hard not to indulge. Can you think of anything else we need to add to the list? Remember, this is a safe space.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 13, 2021

Mike Finger: As Gregg Popovich questions NBA owners, he finds an uncomfortable truth

Gregg Popovich was seething, even more than usual, and this time his outrage took him to a place where he’d never ventured in public. This time he didn’t stop with the politicians. This time he wanted to follow the money. “We need to find out who funds these people,” the Spurs coach said at the end of a long Monday Zoom monologue about the Minnesota police shooting of Daunte Wright, and about the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, and about state officials’ response to February power outages in Texas, and about what he called the false claims of election fraud associated with voter suppression efforts.

“I want to know what owners in the NBA fund these people who perpetrate these lies. Maybe that’s a good place to start, so it’s all transparent. That’s all I got.” With that, Popovich stood up and walked away from the camera, but he had to have known where his question would lead people. He had to have known how close to home they would find the answers. And he had to have known that the layer of his political commentary that most people seldom mention was about to become impossible to ignore. It’s never been a secret that Popovich has voted differently than the people who sign his checks. For much of the past five years, he routinely has criticized the policies and legacy of Donald Trump, the former president supported financially by prominent members of the team’s ownership group. According to an online database maintained by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, former Spurs chairwoman Julianna Hawn Holt has made multiple donations to Trump’s campaigns, including in 2020, when she also contributed to Republican Georgia U.S. Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

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CNN - April 15, 2021

Biden starts to execute on policies Trump abandoned by crossing off another campaign promise

President Joe Biden is carrying out some of Donald Trump's biggest campaign promises by leaving America's longest war, targeting economic aid at forgotten Americans and building an infrastructure plan that may actually happen. The current White House is, of course, a sharp political and behavioral reaction to the previous one. And Biden is never going to finish his predecessor's border wall, berate allies or set a mob on the US Capitol. But the 45th and 46th presidents do share an understanding of several key economic and societal forces driving modern life outside Washington. And both, in different ways, shaped their appeal by convincing ordinary Americans who feel left behind that they were committed to working for them.

With his new vow Wednesday to get troops home from Afghanistan and his big legislative proposals that elevate the working class, including a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, Biden is eying achievements his predecessor talked up but failed to accomplish. Biden, like Trump and President Barack Obama before him, ran for office on a platform of extricating Americans from quagmires, spending the trillions such wars cost here at home and restoring economic fairness. While the previous two presidents made progress in various ways toward those goals, the current commander-in-chief has put them at the heart of everything he does. Political and outside factors could still frustrate Biden -- not least a wafer-thin margin of error in a 50-50 Senate. And the world has a habit of disregarding American presidents and their big foreign policy pronouncements. But so far, Biden is not being distracted. Indeed he is turning his plans to beat the pandemic into a double purposed quest to lift up everyday Americans -- one reason why his $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan was quite popular with Republican voters, if not their representatives. And he and national security adviser Jake Sullivan envisage a foreign policy built around the needs of US workers -- Americans First, rather than Trump's "America First" philosophy.

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CBS 11 - April 13, 2021

Texas police chiefs oppose constitutional carry bills championed by state GOP

Texas police chiefs took aim at Constitutional Carry bills making their way through the state legislature and supported by the Texas Republican Party. During a news conference on the steps of the Texas Capitol Tuesday, April 13, police chiefs, including Eddie Garcia of Dallas, voiced their opposition to House Bill 1911 that would make it easier for adults to carry handguns in public and end the requirements to be licensed, trained, and pass a written and shooting proficiency tests.

Those convicted of felonies and domestic violence would not be eligible. Chief Garcia said, “Gun owners have a duty to ensure that their guns are handled safely and a duty to know applicable laws. The licensing process is the best way to ensure this message is conveyed.” During a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Texas Gun Experience in Grapevine, the Chair of the Texas GOP, retired Lt. Col. Allen West, said Texans can already carry long guns in public without a permit and that passing a federal background check should be all that’s required. “I think everyone who comes in here who wants to buy a firearm wants to get properly trained on it. But that doesn’t mean their rights to have that firearm and carry that firearm should be infringed. That’s why we don’t need to have permits.” Texas Democrats have opposed the bills and instead have filed legislation that would increase gun restrictions.

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The Bulwark - April 14, 2021

Kimberly Wehle: Here’s how the Texas GOP wants to restrict voting

Last year, nearly every state took steps to make it easier for eligible Americans to vote during the pandemic. But this year, Republican lawmakers across the country are unabashedly working to confine the franchise. As of late March, the Brennan Center for Justice counted 361 restrictive bills introduced in 47 states. Five are already law, including Georgia’s controversial omnibus overhaul of its election system. Texas stands out as the state with the largest number of restrictive proposals, with a whopping 49 bills pending—including measures limiting absentee voting, requiring stricter IDs, and cutting back on early voting. Anyone, no matter where on the political spectrum, who cares about our democracy—about preserving government by “We the People”—should be worried by these provisions that would inhibit convenient voting. But the darkest stuff might lie elsewhere: in changes to who in government gets to control elections.

In 2020, turnout in Texas was the highest in nearly three decades. In Harris County, which includes Houston, local officials introduced drive-thru voting (DTV) to address COVID-19 concerns, along with 24-hour voting, innovations that together prompted the county to break its all-time voter-turnout records prior to election day. The GOP has since introduced a series of bills that would restrict the power of local election officials to take similar steps in the future. The most prominent proposal is Texas Senate Bill 7 (SB 7), which would cancel DTV, make it illegal for election officials to send out unsolicited vote-by-mail applications to qualified voters, require absentee voters with disabilities to provide written documentation (from a physician or other authority) of their conditions, ban the use of unstaffed dropboxes, limit early and curbside voting (which especially aids disabled voters), and restrict the means of voter assistance. SB 7 also seeks to penalize election officials with fines for not purging voters from the rolls. And it would lift anti-intimidation restrictions by increasing partisan poll watchers’ access to polling locations and authorizing video recordings of voters receiving assistance if a poll watcher “reasonably believes” something unlawful is happening. (A similarly controversial Texas bill, HB 6, would further strengthen poll watchers, but that bill has not progressed as far in the legislature.) SB 7 passed the Texas Senate along party lines early this month. At a hearing on the bill, Carol Alvarado, a Democratic state senator from Houston, noted that more than half of the votes cast via DTV and during extended hours were estimated to have come from black and Hispanic voters.

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Bloomberg - April 14, 2021

Cornyn urges DOJ probe of Avantor link to drug crisis

A top Republican senator on Wednesday formally requested that the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission probe Avantor Inc. for what he called the company’s “deeply troubling connection” to the U.S. opioid crisis. “I am writing to urge you to conduct an investigation of a publicly-traded American company for its apparent longstanding contribution to the opioid epidemic that killed 50,000 of our fellow citizens in 2019,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Allison Herren Lee, the acting chair of the SEC. Cornyn is one of the nation’s most influential lawmakers on drug issues, serving for more than a decade on the bipartisan Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. He credited an investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek that exposed how Avantor’s Mexican sales of an essential heroin-making chemical, called acetic anhydride, were easily diverted by narcotics traffickers.

Mexican drug cartels are the virtual monopoly suppliers of heroin sold in the U.S., where both supply and overdose deaths skyrocketed in the last decade. Cartel chemists also have used the chemical to make methamphetamine. An SEC spokeswoman declined to comment on Cornyn’s request. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. In his letter to Garland and Lee, Cornyn likened Avantor’s conduct to that of Purdue Pharma, as he did in an interview with Bloomberg News in March. The now-bankrupt drug maker helped ignite and fuel America’s prescription opioid epidemic with its painkiller OxyContin. Cornyn said Purdue admitted in an $8 billion settlement with the government that it marketed and sold the pills to health care providers “even though it had reason to believe those providers were diverting them to abusers.” Of Avantor, Cornyn told Garland and Lee that “it is simply not credible to believe or argue” that the company “was not aware of the use of its product in Mexico for the production of heroin,” the vast majority of which was exported to the U.S. Avantor has said that it had “no indication that its acetic anhydride product was potentially being diverted to make heroin.” A spokeswoman repeated that statement on Wednesday.

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Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - April 6, 2021

In Lubbock, Democrat Mike Collier talks about potential run for Lt Gov

Texas Democrat Mike Collier is eying a rematch of the 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor against incumbent Republican Dan Patrick, and says he wants to get more support from rural voters this time around. Collier says he's strongly exploring the idea. He's traveling across the state to gage feedback, and he began in Lubbock on Tuesday morning. After visiting with different media outlets in Lubbock, he was headed south to Midland/Odessa and then east to San Angelo and Abilene. "I want to emphasize that in rural Texas, I perceive that Republicans take you guys for granted," Collier said. "I'm going to win a lot of votes because I don't take rural Texas for granted. This is going to be a very kinetic campaign where I'm going to be out talking to people all the time. If there's issues I'm not aware of, you find that out by coming to talk to people."

Collier, a Houston-area accountant, lost to Patrick by 5 percentage points in 2018. Collier says his previous run showed Democrats that winning statewide office is within reach. Collier went on to serve as a senior adviser to Biden's Texas campaign in the general election, and is now gearing up for another challenge. In 2018, Collier really pushed the issues of property tax reform and school finance. Collier wants to close a property tax loophole he says is used by big corporations, and direct those funds to public schools. Collier says it's fundamentally wrong that property taxes keep going up, yet neighborhood schools aren't benefiting. Collier is also advocating for more broadband access in rural Texas and the expansion of Medicaid, which Collier says is necessary to keep rural hospitals from closing, as well as citizens. Collier also says the state needs to find a solution to the electric grid problem, and he's advocating for criminal justice reform. Collier's stop in Lubbock on Monday came while Patrick hosted a news conference defending the Senate's passage of Senate Bill 7, which would institute new, sweeping voting restrictions in Texas. Collier said the bill represents a return to Jim Crow era policies that targets the right to vote of disadvantaged, minority voters. Collier says Texans need a lieutenant governor who wants to solve problems, and to do it honestly.

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Fox 26 - April 15, 2021

Breaking Bond: Judges who allowed defendants to remain free on bond that ended with deadly consequences

What do six criminal district court judges have in common? They allowed at least six defendants in their courts to remain free on multiple felony or PR bonds until they were charged with killing someone. Remember the 110 lives allegedly taken by violent repeat offenders free from jail on multiple felony and PR bonds are the ones we’ve documented and are aware of. There are undoubtedly many more. "It’s a tragedy yet from our perspective, it’s so utterly preventable because the defendants time and time again were released on multiple bonds," said Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers.

When it comes to the six criminal district court judges, 262nd court Judge Lori Chambers-Gray leads the pack. She’s given multiple bonds to nine defendants now accused of taking a life while free on those bonds. The most recent, Marcus Sparkman, he’s now charged with capital murder. Coming in second, 182nd Criminal District Court Judge Danny Lacayo. He has eight defendants now charged with killing someone after he allowed them to remain free while picking up new felony charges. Take 41-year-old Jonny Zermeno "We got a PR bond for assault on a family member, we have another felony bond for violation of a protective order, and then we had another felony bond for continuous violence against a family member," Kahan said. On Sunday, Zermeno shot and killed that family member claiming it was an accident. 232nd Criminal District Court Judge Josh Hill, 230th Criminal District Court Judge Chris Morton, 263rd Judge Any Martin, and 248th Judge Hillary Unger have all given multiple felony or PR bonds to at least six defendants now accused of killing someone while free on those bonds.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 15, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Elizabeth Beck best choice for City Council District 9

A year ago, we recommended that Democratic voters nominate Elizabeth Beck for a Texas House seat, predicting she had potential as a future leader in Austin. She won the nomination but lost the general election. Now, voters in central-south Fort Worth have a chance to put her skills to use on the City Council, and we recommend that they do so. Beck, a 38-year-old lawyer, stands out in a large field aiming to replace Ann Zadeh in District 9, one of the city’s most politically engaged districts. It includes areas such as downtown, Ryan Place, Mistletoe Heights and Fairmount. Beck has good ideas on the policies most vital to the district. Downtown, for instance, suffered greatly from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the future of much office space is a question with the rise of working from home.

In our interviews with the candidates, Beck showed a good grasp of the issue, which will be important for the next council member. And she wants the city to consider bonds to improve transit options around the Cultural District and downtown. The Panther Island project is a top concern in this district, too. Frustration over it is palpable, but Beck understands that the only solutions are patience with the federal appropriations process needed for the project’s flood-control aspects. Meanwhile, the city, the Tarrant Regional Water District and other local entities to push ahead with what will ultimately be an economic boon for the entire area. In her House race, Beck’s down-the-line progressive policy stances hurt her campaign. But in the District 9 contest, those stances have her well aligned with many voters in the increasingly Democratic area.

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KUT - April 14, 2021

An army of people is helping folks in the Austin area find COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Laura Catoe has gotten really good at snagging vaccine appointments for folks having trouble doing it themselves. Anyone 16 or older in Texas has been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine for a few weeks now, but finding an appointment to get a shot hasn't gotten much easier. Catoe is a volunteer appointment booker with Kendra COVID Coaches, a group in Central Texas that helps people get vaccinated. Folks fill out a form online and people like Catoe hunt down a spot for them. Catoe says she has a whole system at this point. “It’s a constant dialogue of who, what, when, where why and how,” she says. Catoe has figured out a couple of reliable places for appointments. Providers like Austin Public Health and UT Austin have their own waitlists, so she has less control over booking. Instead, she scans the websites of the many stores and pharmacies allocated doses. She says one of the places she starts is Walmart. The chain is statewide, so she's been able to help a lot of people get appointments there. CVS is sometimes a good option, too.

“I typically like to book CVS if I am up at the random hours that CVS decides to drop appointments,” Catoe says. That sometimes means being awake at around 4 or 5 a.m. And then there’s the real wildcard, Catoe says: H-E-B. “We kind of refer to it as taking a trip to Las Vegas,” she says. “You feel like you are playing slots. You constantly hit refresh until an appointment pops up and then you scramble to select the time before anybody else does.” Catoe has helped hundreds of people get vaccinated by navigating this system — and she’s been doing it for free, like many other people in Austin. Austin Vaccine Angels has about 30 to 50 active volunteers at any one time. Founder Jodi Holzband told KUT that about 100 people have volunteered since February. As a result, the group has booked almost 3,500 appointments and helped 4,000 people so far.

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Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

Questions continue about the group housing immigrant girls in Houston

In one of Houston’s industrial parks near Bush Intercontinental Airport, the 114,400-square-feet building looks like any other warehouse in the area. Like many of the built-to-suit commercial facilities in the park, the well-kept building features a contemporary front entrance to the lobby and loading docks for trucks. Unlike other warehouses in the park, however, this one is not housing cargo. It is a new emergency intake unit for unaccompanied migrant girls. But the facility, opened earlier this month, is raising questions among immigration advocates and lawyers who have experience doing this type of work. The National Association of Christian Churches, a disaster-relief agency based in Houston, was awarded a federal contract to house unaccompanied minors who had been detained at the southwest border.

About a dozen organizations and lawyers reached by the Houston Chronicle expressed concern or surprise about the shelter and NACC, which has no track record sheltering or working with unaccompanied children or immigrants in general. Among them, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston which has a long history of sheltering immigrant children, the managing attorney at the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, and FIEL Houston, an immigrant-led civil rights organization that has operated in Houston since 2007. Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL, expressed concerns about NAAC after being turned away when he offered help in the form of translators, volunteers or advice. He was later allowed inside the facility, and his trepidation increased. “From overcrowding to the heat that these children may experience, (these) are just a few questions that linger in my mind after witnessing for myself the conditions in which these children are currently being stored in at a warehouse that once housed dry goods,” said Espinosa. He toured the shelter the day after it opened and said the girls’ movement is limited to their cot spaces except to go to the portable toilets and showers that were brought to the facility, Espinosa said. “They don’t even have a place to eat… The food is brought to their cots.” Instances of inappropriate social distancing were also evident, he said. NACC didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

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National Stories

NBC News - April 14, 2021

No charges for Capitol Police officer who shot Jan. 6 rioter, Justice Department says

The Justice Department has determined it won’t file charges against the U.S. Capitol Police officer who fatally shot 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt during the storming of the Capitol on January 6th. In a press release announcing the decision, the Justice Department said the investigation did not find evidence that the officer had violated any federal laws, and there was nothing to contradict that he believed it was necessary to shoot at Babbitt "in self-defense or in defense of the Members of Congress and others evacuating the House Chamber."

“Officials examined video footage posted on social media, statements from the officer involved and other officers and witnesses to the events, physical evidence from the scene of the shooting, and the results of an autopsy” and “based on that investigation, officials determined that there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution,” the release said. The probe found "Babbitt was among a mob of people that entered the Capitol building and gained access to a hallway outside 'Speaker’s Lobby,' which leads to the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. At the time, the USCP was evacuating Members from the Chamber, which the mob was trying to enter from multiple doorways." It also gave a harrowing account of what the officer, who was not identified, was facing at the time of the attack. "Members of the mob attempted to break through the doors by striking them and breaking the glass with their hands, flagpoles, helmets, and other objects. Eventually, the three USCP officers positioned outside the doors were forced to evacuate. As members of the mob continued to strike the glass doors, Ms. Babbitt attempted to climb through one of the doors where glass was broken out," the statement said.

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Associated Press - April 15, 2021

Ex-Minnesota cop faces hearing in shooting of Black motorist

A white former police officer faced her first court appearance Thursday in the traffic-stop shooting of a Black motorist that has engulfed a small Minneapolis suburb with four straight days of bitter conflict between protesters and police. Kim Potter, who quit her job on the Brooklyn Center force two days after Daunte Wright’s death, was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter in what her chief said appeared to be a case of confusing her Taser with her handgun. Many protesters and Wright’s family members have rejected that, saying either that they don’t believe it or that the incident reflects bias in policing, with Wright stopped for an expired car registration and ending up dead. Potter, a 26-year veteran, was training another officer at the time of the stop. She was arrested and later freed after posting a $100,000 bond.

Wright’s death came as the broader Minneapolis area nervously awaits the outcome of the trial for Derek Chauvin, the first of four officers charged in George Floyd’s death. “Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief, said in a statement announcing the charge against Potter. “(Potter’s) action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.” Intent isn’t a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by “culpable negligence” that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause a death. Potter’s first court appearance was expected to be via Zoom at 1:30 p.m. Her attorney did not respond to messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

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New York Times - April 14, 2021

Nearly half of Republicans say they don’t want a Covid vaccine, a big public health challenge.

With Covid-19 vaccines now widely available, just over half of American adults have now received at least one shot, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday. But more than two in five Republicans said they would avoid getting vaccinated if possible, suggesting that President Biden has not succeeded in his effort to depoliticize the vaccines — and leaving open the question of whether the country will be able to achieve herd immunity without a stronger push from Republican leaders to bring their voters on board. The results of the Monmouth poll lined up with those of a separate survey by Quinnipiac University, also released on Wednesday, that found 45 percent of Republicans saying they did not plan to get vaccinated.

Among Democrats, two-thirds have already received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Monmouth poll. Just over half that share of Republicans have done so (36 percent). When it comes to confronting the pandemic, Americans generally give positive marks to the president and to their state’s governor; both were seen as handling the pandemic well by 62 percent of Americans, according to the Monmouth poll. But Americans don’t have as much faith in one another: Just 43 percent said the general public had done a good job dealing with the outbreak. Democrats in particular were disappointed in their fellow citizens, with just one in three saying the public had handled it well. With public health experts warning that there could be another surge in Covid-19 cases if the economy reopens too swiftly this spring, the Quinnipiac poll found that 85 percent of Democrats said they were worried about another outbreak. Just 32 percent of Republicans shared their concern. And while hardly any Democrats — just 12 percent — said they would feel safe attending large events like professional sports games or concerts, two-thirds of Republicans said they would.

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CNN - April 14, 2021

US is expected to sanction Russia and expel Russian officials in response to hacks and election interference

The Biden administration is expected to announce sanctions as soon as Thursday targeting Russian individuals and entities, in addition to new financial restrictions and the expulsion of as many as a dozen Russian diplomats from the US, in response to the hack of SolarWinds and election interference, according to two sources familiar with the plans. The sanctions will target intelligence and government officials and entities involved in the SolarWinds cyber intrusion, the officials said. One reason the rollout of these actions has taken longer than anticipated is because the White House was not satisfied with the options the State Department initially presented and wanted more expanded sanctions, a US official familiar with the plans said. The White House announced an intelligence review of Russia's "reckless and adversarial actions" in a wide array of areas during President Joe Biden's first week in office.

Another source familiar tells CNN that the administration is expected to take measures against Russia on Thursday and is coordinating with European allies. These actions will be rolled out in the form of an executive order from Biden as well as sanctions coordinated with the State Department and the Treasury Department, the officials said. State Department officials have called US allies and are preparing for potential Russian responses. The Russian diplomats who are being expelled are based in Washington, DC, and New York, and they will have 30 days to leave the country, the US official familiar with the plans explained. New financial restrictions, consisting of efforts to target Russian sovereign debt, will be put in place, which could hurt Russia's economy. It is unclear if these sanctions will be enough to change Russian behavior, the officials said. The White House and the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Biden administration vowed to respond to Russia's aggressions against the US and its allies in the early days of Biden's presidency.

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Reuters - April 14, 2021

Are the Olympics cancelled? Japan official's comments sow doubts

A senior Japanese ruling party official said on Thursday that cancelling this year’s Olympics in Tokyo remains an option if the coronavirus crisis becomes too dire, dropping a bomb on a hot-button issue and sending social media into a frenzy. The Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee responded with a statement saying all those involved in preparing for the Games remained fully focused on hosting them in the summer. “If it seems impossible (to host the Olympics) any more, then we have to stop it, decisively,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said in comments to broadcaster TBS. Cancellation is “of course” an option, he said, adding: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?”

With Japan in the midst of a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, doubts over whether Tokyo would be able to host the Summer Games - already an unpopular idea with the public - have resurfaced in recent weeks. But government and organising officials have consistently said the Games would go ahead, and the fact that a ruling party heavyweight made the remark was enough to give his comments top billing on domestic news. “Olympics Cancelled” was trending on Twitter in Japan with nearly 50,000 tweets from users as of Thursday afternoon. “If this person says it, Olympics cancellation looks like a reality,” tweeted @marumaru_clm in reference to Nikai, who is a key backer of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and is known for his frank comments. “Yay! This is great! Finally, it’s cancelled, cancelled, cancelled!” tweeted another user, @haruha3156. Nikai later issued a written statement to explain his stance.

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Inside Higher Ed - April 14, 2021

NCAA will move events from states passing bills targeting transgender athletes

Leaders of the National Collegiate Athletic Association are throwing their economic weight and influence behind transgender athletes ability to participate in college sports by threatening to pull lucrative championship events from states with discriminatory laws. The NCAA Board of Governors released a statement Monday reiterating that it will select championship sites that are “safe, healthy and free of discrimination,” following the passage of four laws, and dozens more bills under consideration, that bar transgender women from competing against cisgender women in K-12 and intercollegiate sports.

The board’s statement echoed a position and policy created nearly five years ago, when the association moved championship events from North Carolina after state lawmakers approved legislation that barred transgender people from using public bathrooms associated with the gender with which they identify. “The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports,” the statement said. “Our clear expectation as the association’s top governing body is that all student-athletes will be treated with dignity and respect. We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them.” The board warned that it “will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.” The board’s statement was cheered by advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in college athletics, who last month urged the association to take a definitive stance against policies in several states that attempt to restrict transgender people's participation in sports.

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Los Angeles Times - April 15, 2021

In a year of reckoning, slavery reparations bill moves forward in the House

House committee late Wednesday advanced legislation, first introduced in 1989, that would study the issue of awarding reparations to the descendants of American slaves. The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send a bill to the House floor for the first time to create a commission to study the legacy of American slavery, racist laws and how they affected formerly enslaved people and their descendants. The bill instructs the 13-person committee to consider a “national apology” and recommend any “appropriate remedies” to Congress. In the vote, which came after 11 p.m. Eastern, 25 Democrats supported advancing the bill, and 17 Republicans opposed it.

“The goal of this historical commission and its investigations is to bring American society to the new reckoning with how our past affects the current conditions of African Americans and to make America a better place to help and truly study the disadvantage,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who introduced the current version of the bill in January. The renewed debate over reparations comes amid a national reckoning over racial injustice, as Americans watch the proceedings in a white former police officer’s trial in George Floyd’s death and learn details of the case of another young Black man shot and killed by an officer in the Minneapolis area. It also comes as Black Americans continue to struggle disproportionately amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Jackson Lee has said the measure could help “confront the stark societal disparities occurring in the African American community today,” and during the bill’s markup hearing, she referenced a study that found reparations would help address the health inequities that have persisted throughout the pandemic. Efforts to award sweeping reparations to former enslaved people and their descendants have largely been unsuccessful since the end of the Civil War.

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Newsclips - April 14, 2021

Lead Stories

ABC News - April 13, 2021

COVID-19 fallout threat 'will ripple through the world for years,' new intel report finds

The U.S. intelligence community warned in a new report that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic will "ripple through the world for years" and is likely to escalate existing challenges posed by America’s adversaries -- a sign of the challenges that lie ahead as the nascent Biden administration seeks to stem the virus’ spread and reassert America’s role as a global leader. The Annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, which provides lawmakers and the American people with a vast landscape of threats to the U.S. homeland, found that the "far-reaching effects" of the pandemic, which "extend well beyond global health to the economic, political, and security spheres," may present the governments of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, an opportunity to "advance their interests at the expense of the United States and its allies."

"The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to strain governments and societies, fueling humanitarian and economic crises, political unrest, and geopolitical competition as countries, such as China and Russia, seek advantage through such avenues as 'vaccine diplomacy,'" the report found. "No country has been completely spared, and even when a vaccine is widely distributed globally, the economic and political aftershocks will be felt for years." The 27-page report, released Tuesday, precedes two days of highly anticipated congressional testimony from America’s spy chiefs, who will convene on Capitol Hill this week for the first time in more than two years. Once an annual event, the Worldwide Threat Assessment hearings took a hiatus in 2020 after intelligence community leaders reportedly balked at depicting a national security landscape in conflict with the sentiments conveyed by then-President Donald Trump. Their 2019 testimony, which contradicted Trump’s rosy vision of relations with Iran, attracted scrutiny on the then-president’s now-dormant Twitter page. "The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong!" Trump tweeted. "Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!"

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Austin American-Statesman - April 13, 2021

Pushing spending package, Biden administration gives Texas a C on infrastructure report card

Giving Texas a C on an infrastructure report card released Monday, the Biden administration says the state needs upgrades to its roads, bridges, drinking water and broadband internet systems as part of the White House's $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan. The administration released report cards on each of the 50 states as it hopes to rally support for its sprawling plan. Widely embraced by Democrats, the plan faces resistance from Texas GOP lawmakers, according to interviews by the American-Statesman. With no bill yet finalized, the administration's report card did not release specific road or bridge projects that Congress might address — even as members of Congress are pressing their own pet projects on the administration.

Instead, the report card noted that in Texas: More than 19,400 miles of highway and 818 bridges are "in poor condition." Since 2011, commute times have increased 11.4% in Texas and on average each driver pays $709 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. Those who take public transportation spend an extra 80.8% of their time commuting, and nonwhite households are 2.7 times more likely to commute via public transportation. Twelve percent of trains and other transit vehicles in the state are past useful life. Over the next 20 years, Texas’ drinking water infrastructure will require more than $45 billion in additional funding. More than 12% of Texans live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds.

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Dallas Morning News - April 14, 2021

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst arrested on domestic-violence charge in Dallas

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was arrested Tuesday afternoon in Dallas on a domestic-violence charge. Dallas police announced the arrest just before midnight Tuesday. According to police, officers were called about 5:15 p.m. about a disturbance in the 3300 block of West Mockingbird Lane, near Dallas Love Field. They spoke to a woman who said she had been assaulted by a man she knew. Police said they identified Dewhurst as a suspect, and he was taken into custody on a misdemeanor charge of family-violence assault and booked into the Dallas County jail. Jail records showed that he had been booked into the facility about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday. His bail had not been set, and it was unclear whether he had an attorney.

Dallas police said the department’s public integrity unit would conduct the investigation. Dewhurst was Texas’ lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2015. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2012 but lost the race for the Republican nomination to Ted Cruz in a runoff. In 2014, he lost his bid for a fourth term as lieutenant governor in a primary runoff against Dan Patrick. Dallas police did not release the name of the woman involved in Tuesday’s incident or provide details about her relationship with Dewhurst. Last May, Dewhurst’s girlfriend was accused of kicking and biting him in incidents that left him with two broken ribs. She was arrested on a charge of injury to an elderly person, but a Harris County grand jury declined to indict the 41-year-old woman in October. Three weeks later, in early November, the same woman was arrested on another charge of injury to an elderly person in Harris County. According to a criminal complaint, she was accused of hitting and scratching Dewhurst and throwing candle wax on him. That case was dismissed last week, according to court records, in part at Dewhurst’s request.

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Dallas Morning News - April 13, 2021

Ted Cruz brings in $5.3 million in quarterly fundraising after attempt to block Electoral College votes

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has turned lemons into lemonade after his vote against the Electoral College votes in January caused many to question his political future, raising more than $5.3 million in campaign cash from January-March of this year. The Texas Republican was heavily criticized and called on to resign because of his objection to the Arizona slate of electors on Jan. 6, when Congress met to count the Electoral College votes and certify President Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. But his loyalty to former President Donald Trump has paid off.

Cruz raised $5,317,000 between his reelection committee, Ted Cruz for Senate, his political action committee, the Jobs, Freedom, Security PAC and a joint fundraising committee, the Ted Cruz Victory Committee. Cruz received contributions from more than 112,028 donors, 61,888 of which were from first-time donors, and 98% of the contributions were less than $100. The average donation was $41. His first quarter 2021 fundraising is one of his biggest yet — and his Senate seat is not up for reelection until 2024. In the heat of his 2018 Senate race against former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, he raised more than $12 million one quarter. Cruz reported $5.6 million cash on hand. The haul could be a considerable resource for the Texan, who has been rumored to be considering a 2024 presidential run, as has freshman Sen. Josh Hawley, the only other Senate Republican to also vote against the Electoral College votes. Hawley also brought in a sizable fundraising haul of more than $3 million, with an average contribution of $52. “Ted Cruz is the preeminent defender of freedom for the Lone Star State,” said Steve Guest, spokesman for Cruz in a press release.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 13, 2021

Gov. Abbott would lose power to close businesses under bill advanced by Texas Senate

Gov. Greg Abbott would never be able to shut down businesses in Texas again during an emergency like COVID-19 under legislation that passed the state Senate on Tuesday. In a move to curb Abbott’s powers, lawmakers would require him to call the Legislature into a special session in order to shut down businesses during a major statewide emergency. State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said his Senate Bill 1025 makes clear “only the Legislature may close or economically degrade a category of business.” The Senate also passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would would require the governor to call a special session before extending a disaster declaration for more than 30 days. That measure would need to be approved by the state’s voters to become law.

Because the Legislature meets once every two years, lawmakers had a limited role in shaping the state’s response to the pandemic until the start of 2021. Only three states in the nation, including Texas, had governors who unilaterally controlled their state’s coronavirus response for more than six months. The duration of Abbott’s coronavirus-related orders — the first was issued March 1, 2020 — is unprecedented and raises questions about the strength of the governor’s emergency powers, which have also been the subject of a number of lawsuits filed by business and political interests. The legislation curbing Abbott’s power still has a long way to go. It must still go to the Texas House for approval. The House has its own legislation seeking to rein in the governor’s emergency powers — House Bill 3 — which has yet to pass out of committee. During the pandemic, Abbott has received increasing criticism from Republicans who disagreed with forcing businesses to close or limit their occupancy to prevent transmission of the virus. Though such shutdowns were enacted in most states, the lawmakers say they worried that livelihoods were destroyed by those decisions.

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Houston Chronicle - April 13, 2021

ERCOT ends call for conservation measures as tight power supplies ease

Higher-than-anticipated power plant outages and temperatures caused electricity supplies to be tighter than forecast Tuesday, forcing the state’s grid manager to call on power customers to conserve energy. Wholesale power prices soared as high as $2,000 per megawatt hour as the supplies shrunk late Tuesday afternoon, nearly 100 times higher than earlier in day, when electricity was selling for about $25 a day. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, ended the appeal for conservation measures at about 8:45 p.m. Tuesday. Power plants are typically shut down for maintenance between February and May to prepare for the summer when demand for air-conditioning — and power — skyrockets with rising temperatures. ERCOT officials said supplies could again become unusually tight in coming weeks as the planned maintenance shutdowns continue.

“These (power plants) are big complicated machines,” said Woody Rickerson, ERCOT’s vice president of grid planning and operations. “They require maintenance. You can’t run them continuously. “There may be days like today where (power) margins are tighter than we like,” Rickerson added. “We could be in the same situation in the next few weeks.” ERCOT’s warning to conserve electricity surprised many Texans still on edge after the February winter storm, which iced over natural gas wells, froze wind turbines and tripped off power plants. At that time, the grid operator was forced to order rotating outages that led to nearly 200 deaths and billions of dollars of property damage from broken pipes. The warnings also called into question ERCOT’s announcement less than a month ago that it expects to have enough power on hand to meet another record summer demand. Although ERCOT warned power supplies might be tight over the next few weeks due to scheduled plant outages, it stood by its summer forecast on Tuesday.

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Houston Chronicle - April 14, 2021

Houston is a hotbed for illegal bandit signs. A new bill could triple violation fines

A bill winding through the Texas Capitol aims to send a message to companies cluttering telephone poles, road medians and public rights-of-way with offers of jobs, houses and predatory loans: Bandit signs are not funny business anymore. “When we catch them, they laugh and consider it a cost of doing business,” said Houston District K Councilwoman Martha Castex-Tatum, noting the $1,000 maximum fine for posting signs on public land has proven less than a deterrent. Bandit signs are illegal in Texas, but as anyone who has seen a Houston street can attest, making them against the law has not shrunk their popularity as an advertising medium. Under changes proposed by state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, fines for a first violation would remain $1,000, but increase significantly from there. Second offenses would jump to $5,000 before doubling to $10,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

Under existing law, cities and counties pursue the fines as civil penalties, meaning they take businesses or individuals to court to decide if the penalty is warranted, or settle the matter during the legal process. Miles’ bill, SB 355, also allows for fining the businesses being advertised, loosening the rules slightly so cities and counties do not have to prove they commissioned the sign’s placement. “If we can’t catch the individual in the act of placing the sign, we then go the business being advertised,” Miles told members of the Senate Transportation Committee last week. Any additional revenue from costlier fines would go to cities and counties, which Miles said could be used to increase enforcement. Miles’ bill was passed unanimously out of the transportation committee with slight changes and is scheduled for discussion Tuesday on the Senate floor. An identical bill is working its way through the Texas House, authored by Dallas-area Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, though that bill has not received a committee hearing.

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Houston Chronicle - April 13, 2021

Fact checking Texas lawmaker's claim of 400 voter fraud 'cases'

In defending his controversial voting bill on CNN on Sunday, Texas state Sen. Bryan Hughes claimed half a dozen times that the attorney general's office had 400 open voter fraud cases. “That's the fact,” Hughes, R-Mineola, said in an interview with CNN host Pamela Brown. “It's documented. There's no question about that.” Yet that number is almost 10 times larger than the number of people with pending voter fraud charges in Texas, which is 43, according to data from the attorney general’s office. Only one of those pending cases stems from the 2020 election, in which more than 11 million Texans cast ballots.

Hughes, who is the author of the Senate Bill 7, which would ban drive-thru and overnight voting among other provisions, said in an interview that he was referring to the office’s 386 ongoing investigations of voter fraud as of April 5. Investigations, or unproven allegations that have not yet been taken to court, are different than filed criminal cases in which there has been some evidence of wrongdoing found. There have been no arrests in any of those cases, and because of the way Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office defines them, it’s unclear how many people are under investigation or how many offenses each of them may have committed. It’s also unclear how long those investigations have been ongoing. A spokeswoman for Paxton did not respond to a request for clarification on Monday. Texas Republicans, including Paxton, were among former President Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters as he falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him. But even as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered up a $1 million reward for evidence of voter fraud and Paxton doubled the resources for his election integrity unit in 2020, none have come up with evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas or anywhere else.

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Dallas Morning News - April 13, 2021

Firearms instructors clash over whether Texans should be able to carry handguns without license

Republican-backed legislation to let people carry handguns without a license is drawing rebuke from some firearms instructors, revealing divisions in the gun community over the controversial policy known among supporters as “constitutional carry.” Three instructors and several law enforcement officers, including Dallas Police Chief Eddie García, called on lawmakers Tuesday to reject the legislation, which they branded as dangerous. “The last thing we need is untrained individuals out in public carrying guns that don’t know what the hell they are doing,” Raul Camacho, who teaches the course Texans are currently required to take in order to carry a handgun, said at a press conference outside the Capitol.

The show of opposition comes as the National Rifle Association-backed legislation is advancing in the Texas House after years of going nowhere. A bill is set to come up for a vote Thursday on the House floor. The legislation would let people 21 and older who can legally possess a handgun carry one in public without first being licensed by the state. The current licensing process requires passing a background check, taking a safety course, showing shooting proficiency and paying a fee. The debate in Texas to further relax the state’s gun restrictions comes as President Joe Biden is seeking to tighten them following mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado last month that killed 18 people. While GOP leaders are pushing gun rights bills this session, none has prioritized changes to the handgun licensing requirement. House Speaker Dade Phelan carried the policy in the past. But the Beaumont Republican did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about whether he supports the legislation this session. Proponents say Texas should eliminate barriers to self defense. The authors, GOP Reps. James White of Hillster, and Matt Schaefer of Tyler, called the opposition Tuesday “scare tactics” and pointed to other firearm instructors who back the policy. At least 18 other states don’t require permits for carrying concealed handguns. Tennessee became the latest last week.

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Dallas Morning News - April 13, 2021

Ted Cruz wants to punish MLB with antitrust scrutiny after baseball pulls All-Star Game from Georgia

Sen. Ted Cruz demanded an end Tuesday to a century old antitrust exemption for professional baseball, as punishment for a politically “woke” decision to pull its All-Star Game out of Georgia over new voter restrictions. “They shouldn’t expect to see special goodies from Washington when they are dishonestly acting to favor one party against the other,” he said, denouncing “the rise of the ‘woke’ corporation” that have been siding with Democrats in the tussle over voting rights that erupted since the contested presidential election. Major League Baseball is the only sports league not subject to federal rules against monopoly behavior, a legal quirk that stems from a 1922 Supreme Court ruling that held, through somewhat tortured logic, that the league didn’t engage in interstate commerce because each game is played in one city at a time.

Over the next 99 years, lawmakers have mounted at least a half-dozen efforts to overturn that exemption. The latest effort, from Cruz and fellow Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri, is also part of a running feud between conservatives and team owners in several sports. During his 2018 reelection bid, Cruz railed against football teams that allowed players to take a knee during the National Anthem, a gesture meant to draw attention to police brutality and racism. He has also attacked Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and other basketball team owners, accusing them of caving to pressure from China to avoid criticism of anti-democracy crackdowns. Lee accused MLB of arrogance emboldened by the unusual legal status. “It’s a decision you wouldn’t see from an entity that wasn’t insulated from market competition by our antitrust laws,” he said. But MLB is hardly the only business to express dismay over the GOP-led push to tighten ballot access in recent months, though it’s the only one not subject to federal anti-monopoly law.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 13, 2021

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton files third lawsuit against Biden immigration policies

Continuing his attack on President Joe Biden's immigration policies, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to reinstate a Trump-era rule that restricts immigrants' ability to stay in the United States if they traveled through Mexico from another country. It was Paxton's third immigration-related lawsuit and the second in the past week. Paxton argued that Donald Trump's restriction, which required many non-Mexican asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting immigration court hearings, greatly reduced the burden on federal and state resources along the state's southern border. By ending Trump's "Migrant Protection Protocols," which were begun in January 2019, Biden fueled an ongoing surge of prospective immigrants, severely straining the federal immigration response, Paxton said.

"President Biden could immediately remedy the influx of crime pouring across our border," he said. "We cannot allow this lawlessness to destroy our communities any longer. President Biden must act." Biden began phasing out the remain in Mexico policy on Inauguration Day after sharply criticizing it as inhumane, saying tens of thousands of asylum seekers were being forced to live in squalor along the border while waiting for their cases to be processed. Advocates said many of those seeking asylum were fleeing violence, corruption and poverty in Central America. “This is the first president in the history of the United States of America that says anybody seeking asylum has to do it in another country. That’s never happened before in America,” Biden said during a presidential debate in October. Paxton filed his latest lawsuit against Biden in federal court in Amarillo, putting the complaint before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by Trump after serving as a lawyer for First Liberty Institute, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group. Missouri's attorney general joined the compliant.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 12, 2021

Hispanic chief hired to reform suburban Austin police force left it in a culture clash

When an Austin suburb wanted a police chief to shake up its male-entrenched culture, it recruited a law enforcement executive from retirement — a diverse hire with a résumé that brimmed with experience and accolades. A year after Jessica Robledo retired as an Austin police assistant chief in 2016, she was leading the Pflugerville Police Department, directed by city leaders to diversify the force and implement more modern policing standards. “I was ready to take on the opportunity,” said Robledo, who is Hispanic and lesbian and took the job in early 2017. “I didn’t see it as a challenge because I knew that my heart and intentions were always going to be in the right place.”

Four years later, Robledo is no longer at the helm, and her former department on the frontier of Austin’s growth has become a cultural policing battleground. In recent months, once-collegial officers have turned on one another, fracturing along lines of whether they embraced Robledo’s reforms or saw her as a caustic, overly aggressive leader. “Everybody was afraid, and there were a lot of lives that had been affected by her regime,” said Kevin Reiff, a former police officer who worked nine years for the Pflugerville police. “She came through like a tornado that not only affected people’s lives, reputations and futures but destroyed them without a second thought.” To outside observers, what happened in the department is emblematic of the struggle to reform policing and ensure officers more clearly identify with communities they serve, moving away from what has historically been a white male dominated career field.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 13, 2021

Military suicides in COVID era hit a new high

Suicides across the armed services rose sharply in the first year of the coronavirus, hitting a record 571 in 2020, but a Pentagon official and others say the stress of the pandemic isn’t the likely culprit. Just what is behind the steady rise during years of Defense Department efforts to reduce self-inflicted deaths baffles experts. It is a mystery nowhere near to being solved. The latest mark, released in a report last week, was above the 503 suicides recorded in 2019 and the previous record of 543, set in 2018. The suicide total since 2003 now exceeds the 7,038 military lives lost in action or accidents in Iran and Afghanistan. Suicides among uniformed personnel rose sharply after the invasion of Iraq and were once thought to be a byproduct of a military at war. The past six years have challenged that notion.

In that period, a near-peacetime era for the armed forces, the number of troops dying by their own hand has gone up almost every year and is nearly half the total of 7,491 military suicides from 2003 to 2020. “It’s frustrating to see soldiers struggle and to die by suicide. It certainly is,” said James Helis, head of the Army Resilience Directorate. “It’s frustrating in trying to understand a very complex human behavior, but that does not discourage us from continuing to try to find better ways to prevent it from happening.” The Pentagon has attacked the problem intensely since the Iraq War, establishing the Army’s $50 million Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers — STARRS — and creating the Defense Suicide Prevention Office in 2011.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 13, 2021

Feds argue Air Force not liable for Sutherland Springs massacre, or only partly responsible

Government lawyers defending the Air Force in the Sutherland Springs mass shooting trial said Devin Kelley’s supervisors could not foresee he would open fire on parishioners. They also claimed Tuesday that Kelley could have gotten guns other than through licensed gun dealers. A San Antonio-area Academy Sports and Outdoors store sold him the assault rifle he used to kill 26 people. The government is trying to convince U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez that even if he finds the Air Force liable after the trial ends next week, the Air Force shares liability with Kelley and Academy.

The bench trial is to resolve a federal lawsuit filed by families of victims of the Nov. 5, 2017, mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. They allege the Air Force failed to flag shooter Devin Kelley from legally buying a gun after he was convicted on a domestic violence charge. Testimony has established that what was known to the Air Force at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, where Kelley spent most of his time in the service, was that Kelley had sexually and physically abused teens when he was younger, physically abused women he had relationships with and a stepson, bought guns, threatened to kill his own leadership and had mental issues leading to violence. At one point, the Air Force got a restraining order barring Kelley from Holloman. The Air Force never reported Kelley’s domestic violence conviction to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, a national database used to determine if someone can legally buy guns. In a pretrial ruling declining to dismiss the suit, the judge wrote that the Air Force had more than 20 opportunities to correct the blunder.

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San Antonio Current - April 13, 2021

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro backs proposition to limit police union's bargaining power

In what amounts to the highest-profile endorsement of the local ballot measure to strip collective bargaining power from San Antonio's powerful police union, former mayor Julián Castro has endorsed Proposition B. In a video posted to Twitter on Monday, Castro — a former Democratic presidential candidate and the Obama White House's housing chief — said he supports police and their work but added that they must be held accountable. He said Prop B, which voters will decide on during the May 1 citywide election, is a way to achieve that. "Our system of accountability is broken," he said. "In fact, 70% of SAPD officers fired by the police chief have to be rehired because our accountability system is so bad — the worst rehire rate of bad officers in the nation."

Senior Castro advisor Sawyer Hackett shared the video via his Twitter account. Fix SAPD, the group that petitioned to get Prob B on the ballot, argues that the union has used the collective bargaining process to force too many concessions protecting officers who engage in violent conduct. Proposal backers say the union and city should shift to a "meet and confer" system used in other large Texas metros. For its part, the union has alleges that Fix SAPD's measure amounts to an effort by activists to "defund the police," a catchphrase used by some police-reform groups that's proved unpopular with Texas voters. Castro tweeted his video endorsement of Prop B a day after a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. The officer, Kim Potter, is a 26-year force veteran who once served as that city's police union president. "I'm all for paying officers what they deserve, but accountability for bad officers doesn't belong at the bargaining table," Castro said in his endorsement. "When bad officers act out, they should face the consequences, and that should be non-negotiable."

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Politico - April 13, 2021

Meet the Texas veteran who could blaze a trail for the anti-Trump GOP

Criticizing Donald Trump is considered a death sentence for Republican candidates. But Michael Wood’s betting that it will be his lifeline. Wood is campaigning on an explicitly anti-Trump platform as he competes with 22 other candidates in a special election to fill the seat of the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), who represented a rapidly diversifying district in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Wood’s risky strategy centers on a belief there is a healthy slice of the GOP ready to move on from Trump after Jan. 6 — a proposition that will be tested at the ballot box next month. Wood, a combat veteran and small business owner, has embraced his political identity as a Trump antagonist. He has publicly needled the former president on Twitter, recently declaring that “I’d rather fight for my country and the Constitution on a shoestring budget than kiss that man’s ring at Mar-a-Lago.”

The 34-year-old has also collected some high-profile yet polarizing allies in Washington, including GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Liz Cheney (Wyo.). Both voted to impeach Trump and have faced calls to be excommunicated from their own party. And Wood’s race, conducted in a so-called jungle-style format where candidates from all parties compete on one ballot, could be the first real bellwether of anti-Trump Republicans’ future success. Should Wood prevail with his long-shot bid, he would offer a road map for other Republican candidates who want to distance themselves — and the party — from Trump. But if Wood fails, it could deliver a major blow to the wing of the GOP that's desperate to turn the page on Trump and hoping to show its strength in the burgeoning battle over who should guide Republicans into the midterms and 2024. Even Wood’s campaign website frames the election as the “the first battle in this war to take back our party.”

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 14, 2021

Doctor accused of groping, harassing 22 women let off easy by Texas law, critics say

Sunny Woodall says she knew something was wrong as soon as her cardiologist started a breast exam. For starters, cardiologists do not generally conduct breast exams; that job is for gynecologists. When Dr. Dennis Doan grabbed Woodall’s chest and roughly massaged her breasts, Woodall instantly felt pain, according to police testimony at a medical board hearing. Woodall is a breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. While Doan massaged her breasts, Woodall says, she felt his erection on her side. When he left the room, another doctor noted he was “walking funny,” according to medical board testimony. “It was completely sexual from the beginning,” Woodall said. “I knew what was going on. He hurt me.”

Woodall, 46, rushed out of the Heart Center of North Texas office in Weatherford that day in January 2018. She felt shocked and ashamed, she said. The next day, she called the practice to report what happened. An employee urged her to call the police, she said. Woodall’s call to Weatherford police began a string of events that led 14 other patients and seven Heart Center employees to report that Doan had sexually assaulted or harassed them, according to a lawsuit filed against Doan and the Heart Center of North Texas. Woodall’s report also started a three-year legal process that has left her and others angry and frustrated. About Texas laws that relegate sexual groping — even by a medical professional — as a minor infraction. About a health care practice that, according to the lawsuit, failed to take action on complaints against Doan that date as far back as 2013. About a plea deal that could leave Doan with a clean record and able to practice medicine again. Texas law prevented the Parker County Attorney’s Office from pursuing a felony against Doan, said Natalie Barnett, the assistant county attorney who worked on the case. Texas law limited the way Doan could be held accountable for his alleged actions because, at the time, it did not qualify the groping Woodall and others say they experienced as sex crimes. The law has since been updated, but such abuse remains only a misdemeanor sex offense, and there is no way to upgrade the charge when the crime is committed by a doctor against a patient. “Anyone from the outside looking in would say, ‘That’s terrible, and a doctor should not be groping women,’” said Kim D’Avignon, head of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office Adult Sexual Assault prosecution team. “But then we don’t have a law to fix it.” At the time of Woodall’s case, if someone groped a person’s breasts, the most the person could be charged with was assault by offensive contact, a class C misdemeanor and the legal equivalent of a traffic ticket. The punishment is no jail time and up to a $500 fine.

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FOX 7 Austin - April 12, 2021

Texas vehicle registration waiver expires Wednesday

There are less than 48 hours to get your vehicle registration up-to-date in the state of Texas. "It's human nature and so we know a lot of people are gonna wait to the last minute and they are and so our drive-through lines are very long," says Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant. Long lines can be seen across the state at county tax offices like the one off Airport Boulevard in Austin as people are rushing to get their vehicles registered last minute in order to avoid getting a ticket.

"Here we are on the deadline and unfortunately there's a lot of people who waited too long and they're gonna run the risk of getting a ticket," Elfant said. "We didn't want people going out in public to do this and the governor agreed and suspended the deadlines and then in January he announced that the deadline suspension would be ending on April 14 and we've been doing everything we can since January to let the public know," Elfant said. If you're one of the ones who waited till the last minute and are looking to either set up an appointment or show up in person before the Wednesday deadline, you're probably out of luck. However, there is another option. "We would encourage people to go online if their registration is less than nine months expired. Online is going to be the most convenient way to update registration," Elfant said. Drivers can apply to renew online and are advised to have their car's license plate number and insurance readily available as well as a way to pay. Once completed, drivers can print out a temporary registration pass while the new one comes in the mail.

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FOX 7 Austin - April 13, 2021

‘Cati’s bill’ aims to protect Texas children who cannot swim

In June 2019, John and Kori DelaPena started their typical summer day by dropping their six-year-old daughter Catiana off at High Hopes Summer Camp in Cedar Park. "Later that day about 3:00 the camp called us both and said there had been an accident at the pool," said John. The parents said they told the camp administrators well in advance that Cati could not swim. "They said we will take care of it. We have life jackets," said John. Cati later died at Dell Children's Medical Center. "CPS completed their report and investigation. They found the camp negligent. We asked the camp to change their policies, and to this day they have refused," said Kori DelaPena.

John and Kori turned their incomprehensible pain into purpose, and are now at the Capitol pushing for Cati's Bill. "When we looked at the code for childcare facilities, there is no language of life jackets to be placed on kids," said Kori. State Rep. Vicki Goodwin (D-Austin) filed House Bill 1676, and state Sen. Judith Zaffrini (D-Laredo) filed its companion SB 1297 in the Senate. HB 1676 would require childcare providers to identify kids who can't swim and make sure they are fitted for a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket before going near any water. if the body of water isn't owned by the camp or organization, they must provide the owner with a list of kids identified as non-swimmers. "We are talking about U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. We are not talking about other types of flotation devices like water wings, noodles," said Alissa Magrum, executive director of Colin’s Hope.

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Valley Morning Star - April 12, 2021

Desert days: South Texas drought beginning to ring alarms

Crispy lawns and dry, dusty shrubbery may be the least of our problems here in the Rio Grande Valley as a persistent drought continues to intensify. The entire Valley is in some level of drought, ranging from moderate drought along coastal Cameron County to severe drought in the rest of Cameron and Willacy County, and west Willacy and the southern half of Hidalgo County is in extreme drought. And it’s worse elsewhere, with northern Hidalgo County, southern Brooks County and western Starr County in the grip of exceptional drought, conditions which continue for about 100 miles up the Rio Grande toward Laredo.

The bad news is contained in the April 8 update from the U.S. Drought Monitor. “The main concern right now is with wildfires because things are now really starting to dry out and heat up, and there have already been some sizeable fires in South Texas,” John Neilsen-Gammon, Texas state climatologist, said Thursday. “It also means that there’s not a lot of forage out there for cattle and other livestock, and it’s the time of year when crops like cotton are really sensitive to having enough moisture in the topsoil to get established.” “So those are the immediate concerns,” he added. “As temperatures get warmer, the moisture will very quickly be depleted by what vegetation there is. We’re seeing some impacts now and we will see very sizeable impacts in another month or two if conditions stay dry.”

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D Magazine - April 13, 2021

Dallas Council Candidate Jesse Moreno returns $11,000 in campaign contributions

Dallas City Council candidate Jesse Moreno recently found himself in an interesting predicament. He is running to represent District 2, an oddly shaped swath of the city that sweeps from Love Field, the Medical District, south of downtown, and into the Cedars and Deep Ellum. From January 1 through March 22, he raised more than $36,000 in contributions, but a D Magazine analysis revealed that nearly a third of the money appeared to come from limited partnerships that were governed by a single person. Election law limits contributions in Dallas municipal races to just $1,000 per individual and certain businesses. When asked last week about the origins of the money, Moreno pointed out—correctly—that everything was aboveboard. This week, though, he has returned all $11,000, saying that he wants to avoid even the whiff of funny business. The episode illustrates an interesting gray area in election law that it appears few local campaigns have taken advantage of, particularly during this cycle.

The contributions, each in the amount of $1,000, were made by 11 limited partnerships all registered to the developer Scott Rohrman, whose purchase of many buildings in Deep Ellum almost a decade ago helped begin the neighborhood’s latest resurgence. Rohrman says each limited partnership has varying interests “in or near” the district and wanted to support Moreno. And that is, without question, legal. The state’s election code allows individuals and certain businesses (e.g., limited partnerships, limited liability corporations) to give to political candidates; the city’s election code limits each to a maximum $1,000. But what happens when one individual controls multiple partnerships? “Is this the sign of someone who’s putting his toe right on the ethical line, or, alternatively, is this the sign of a shrewd businessperson who knows how to get things done?” asked Dallas appellate attorney Chad Ruback, who has experience with election law. He was speaking generally about the situation after hearing a description of it. “I think two different voters can interpret it two different ways.” Rohrman says even raising that question was enough for him. “We determined that everything is aboveboard, but I did not want anyone questioning my intent,” he said. “The donations have been sent back.”

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NPR - April 13, 2021

UNT pitcher Hope Trautwein throws a perfect game of all strikeouts

It's a rare feat in baseball or softball to pitch a "perfect game." That happens when no opponent reaches base — not by a hit, or a fielding error, or a walk. But pitcher Hope Trautwein of the University of North Texas made history on Sunday by pitching a game more than perfect. Through all seven innings, she struck out every single one of the 21 batters she faced from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. "I guess it's never been done before so it doesn't have a name," she told NPR's Morning Edition. The NCAA said Trautwein, who hails from Pflugerville, Texas, is the first pitcher in NCAA Division I softball history to strike out every batter in a seven-inning perfect game. It's also the first perfect game in the history of the North Texas team. "I don't really know what else to call it. Never seen anything like it. Don't know if I ever will," North Texas head coach Rodney DeLong said.

Two other pitchers in NCAA Division I softball have recorded 21 strikeouts in seven-inning games: Alabama's Alexis Osorio in 2018 and California's Michele Granger in 1991, according to NCAA.com. But neither were perfect games. DeLong said there wasn't much for him to do in the dugout Sunday. "Yeah, it was pretty easy sitting there watching her," he told NPR. "Doesn't really put any pressure on our defense or anything, and they weren't even hardly fouling the ball off early." Trautwein said her "poor team just had to watch me throw over and over and over again every inning. So it might have been boring for them. But I guess they were excited in the end." The perfect game was just another to add to Trautwein's long record of accomplishments. She's pitched two no-hitters before, in 2018 and 2019. And Sunday was the third time she's struck out 21 batters in a single game, her team noted. As for what to call the feat — the coach has an idea. "I mean Hope did it, so maybe we call it a Hope-a-Dope."

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 13, 2021

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Yes on Prop D

The mayor of Austin is a powerful official, an agenda-setter and a figurehead for America’s 11th-largest city. A person who speaks for the city should be elected by its largest share of voters. That is the sound reasoning behind Proposition D, a measure on the May 1 ballot that would move the election for Austin mayor from the midterm elections to presidential election years, when voter turnout is highest. We agree that is the best time for voters to pick the mayor — even if, ironically, this question on election timing comes to voters in a low-turnout May contest. Prop D nonetheless deserves voters’ support. It’s no surprise voter turnout is highest in presidential election years, when robust debates about the direction of our nation bring the largest number of voters to the polls.

Turnout among Austin voters in the last two presidential elections was 71% (2020) and 65% (2016), while turnout in the last two mayoral elections was 62% (2018) and 40% (2014). That translates into tens of thousands of Austinites who voted for president but not the mayor. Austinites for Progressive Reform, the coalition that put Prop D and other election reform proposals on the ballot, also notes that presidential election turnout is likely to be more diverse and reflective of Austin’s demographics. Studies have shown that midterm elections tend to draw voters who skew older, whiter and wealthier than the voters in a presidential year. Critics of Prop D note that campaigning is more costly in presidential election years: Everything from phone banking to mailers must be done on a larger scale to reach that deeper pool of likely voters. Moving the mayor’s race to that costlier cycle, they argue, could make it even harder for candidates who cannot afford to bankroll their own campaigns.

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Houston Chronicle - April 13, 2021

Stephen Ives seeks to build YMCA of Greater Houston's more equitable future

Drawn by the challenges and opportunities of making a difference in a resilient and multicultural city, Stephen Ives took the helm as CEO of YMCA of Greater Houston two years ago, having played the same role at the organization’s outposts in Columbus, Ohio, Lawrence, Mass. and Biddefort, Maine, during his 28-year tenure with the nonprofit. “This is where we figure it out,” Ives said in reference to the YMCA. “Figure out how to be a thriving community that is also diverse and multicultural. The notion of being part of that as a capstone in my career was really aspiring to me.” The YMCA is positioned to accelerate equity initiatives in Houston, thanks to an $18 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in December. Scott, an author and ex-wife of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is one of the world’s wealthiest women. The gift also enabled the Y to lift its entry level wages for frontline employees to $15 an hour, demonstrating its commitment to equity and a more livable wage.

Ives spoke with the Chronicle about the YMCA’s role in building strong communities and pursuing a brighter future. What will MacKenzie Scott’s gift do for your organization? "That arrived in late November at a time when we had depleted nearly $9 million of our reserves and were anticipating an operating loss of $10 million to $12 million. It certainly allowed us to have some confidence in moving forward the initiatives under way around repositioning the Y to engage more people, redesigning many of our programs to have them make sense and be valid post COVID. It’s going to help us get through the next year of continued disruption. We’re readjusting our staff and our overall cost structure. We’ve eliminated our corporate headquarters and are working virtually and/or in one of our centers." How big a hit did operations take during the pandemic? "March 16 (2020), we were forced to shut our doors without any sense of how long that would be or what kind of long-term impact that would have. I believed at that time that it was not going to be a short interruption and began to position ourselves accordingly."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 13, 2021

Fort Worth council candidate who yelled profanity after a forum has left the race

A Fort Worth City Council candidate has dropped out of the race after facing criticism for aggressive behavior that included yelling profanity at other candidates after a public forum. Darien George, running in District 9, lashed out at opponent Jordan Mims following the Near Southside forum Monday night, calling Mims a vulgar term for human excrement and yelling at other candidates, according to multiple people in the room. After the Star-Telegram inquired about the incident, George said in an email Tuesday night he had decided to leave the race, saying he had faced attacks.

The outburst at the forum was the latest in a series of incidents involving George that includes posts on social media claiming the candidate had been aggressive with residents unwilling to support his campaign. But George, in the email, said he was the one under attack through “whisper campaigns, smears, and at the lowest point, someone drove by and shot out the windows on our car and home in the middle of the night.” At the Near Southside forum Monday night, which was broadcast on Facebook with limited attendance in person, Mims began his introduction by calling on George to drop out, citing aggressive behavior and calling his opponent “an abuser.” George did not respond to Mims during the forum. “I do believe he’s unfit for this gig,” Mims told the Star-Telegram. “I wanted to make sure that was on the record, how I felt.” Mims said George became angry almost immediately after the broadcast ended and mics were turned off. George stood up and yelled a profanity at Mims, he said. The outburst prompted Elizabeth Beck, another candidate, to move between Mims and George, who was advancing “very, very aggressively,” she said. George began berating both of them, said Fernando Peralta, another candidate on stage who also intervened. “We all heard it,” Peralta said. “He yelled it at him.” Beck and Peralta joined Mims in saying George should leave the race for District 9, which has nine candidates.

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McAllen Monitor - April 13, 2021

Edinburg police chief placed on administrative leave

The city confirmed Tuesday that police chief Cesar Torres was placed on administrative leave Monday. “But as previously mentioned the city of Edinburg does not comment on personnel matters,” city spokesperson Ashly Custer said in a statement Tuesday. While the reason for administrative leave is unclear, the decision follows a ruling by a neutral arbitrator, who heard five days of testimony in December, that Torres retaliated against two police officers for union activity. The two officers were members of the Edinburg United Police Officers Association, which sued the city of Edinburg last year on behalf of those officers.

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National Stories

NPR - April 13, 2021

CDC studies 'breakthrough' COVID cases among people already vaccinated

Ginger Eatman thought she was safe after getting her second COVID-19 vaccination in February. But she kept wearing her mask, using hand sanitizer and wiping down the carts at the grocery store anyway. A few weeks later, she noticed a scratchy throat. "By Wednesday morning, St. Patrick's Day, I was sick. I had congestion — a lot of congestion — and some coughing," says Eatman, 73, of Dallas, Ga. Her doctor thought her symptoms might be allergies. But Eatman started feeling sicker. And then she suddenly lost her sense of smell. She even tried her strong perfume. Nothing. So Eatman got tested for the coronavirus. It came back positive. "I was shocked. I almost cried," she says. "It was like: No, that can't be." Eatman isn't alone in this experience. It's a long-recognized phenomenon called "vaccine breakthrough."

"Essentially, these are cases that you see amongst vaccinated individuals during a period in which you expect the vaccines to work," says Dr. Saad Omer, a vaccine researcher at Yale University. This incomplete protection that some people experience occurs to some extent with a vaccine against any disease. The three vaccines authorized for use against COVID-19 in the United States appear to be at least 94% effective at preventing severe disease and death (starting about two weeks after a person is fully vaccinated), according to data reported so far, and about 80% effective at preventing infection. But that's not 100%, Omer notes, so a relatively small number of infections despite immunization with these very effective vaccines is to be expected. "So the bottom line is: It's expected. No need to freak out," Omer says. So far, more than 74 million people have gotten fully vaccinated in the United States. It's unclear how many have later gotten infected with the coronavirus anyway. But Michigan, Washington and other states have reported hundreds of cases. Most people have gotten only mildly ill, but some have gotten very sick. Some have even died. Still, at a recent White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health noted that such cases of lapses in full protection appear to be very rare. And the deaths seem to be happening primarily among frail elderly people who have other health problems.

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NPR - April 13, 2021

Report: Capitol Police Leadership, Equipment Deficiencies Hampered Jan. 6 Response

U.S. Capitol Police officers were hindered by leadership decisions and equipment deficiencies that left the force ill-prepared to respond to the Jan. 6 insurrection, according to a new watchdog report, which found that some advance intelligence offered a "more alarming" warning ahead of the day's events. The detailed, 104-page review was launched by Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton in the wake of the January siege and was completed in March. NPR reviewed the report on Tuesday ahead of its public discussion as part of a House Administration Committee hearing on Thursday. The panel's chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, called for the hearing after receiving a briefing from Bolton last month. Lofgren, D-Calif., said his findings "provide detailed and disturbing findings and important recommendations."

Bolton's review outlines a wide range of concerns, including inefficiencies facing Capitol Police when it comes to a fragmented approach to tracking intelligence and a lack of related training. Ahead of the insurrection, the report said Capitol Police did not place enough emphasis on threat analysis and assessments of threats. An analysis by the agency's own intelligence division offered somewhat conflicting details ahead of Jan. 6, with one section offering what Bolton called "more alarming language" than another. "Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021, as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election," the analysis said in one section, according to Bolton's report. "This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent." It goes on to say, "Congress itself is the target on the 6th."

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Washington Post - April 14, 2021

With Afghan pullout, Biden aims to reset America’s global agenda

President Biden has watched a parade of presidents set sweeping goals for the United States overseas, only to become entangled in long-running, slow-bleeding problems. Now that he has the job himself, Biden is determined to avoid the same fate. His pledge to end the two-decade U.S. war in Afghanistan is the best example so far. Biden sees the war against the Taliban as a drag on the need to deal with bigger threats like China, climate change, the coronavirus pandemic — and even a terrorism menace that has mutated significantly in the two decades since the attacks that launched the Afghan war to begin with. He is also focused on threats from Russia and the decline of U.S. influence abroad. Biden will lay out plans Wednesday to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the United States that were planned from Afghan soil.

The announcement makes good on Biden’s campaign promise to close down the nation’s longest war and is in keeping with his view that wars become self-perpetuating if the generals call the shots. “The president has been consistent in his view that there’s not a military solution to Afghanistan, that we have been there for far too long,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, adding that “he also believes we need to focus our resources on fighting the threats we face today, 20 years — almost 20 years — after the war began.” Biden in coming days and weeks is starkly signaling his belief that the United States needs to shift its focus to other parts of the globe, especially Asia. The announcement Wednesday comes two days before Biden hosts Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the first foreign leader to visit the Biden White House, for a session expected to focus heavily on threats from China. It also comes as U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry is expected to soon become the first top Biden administration official to visit China, and a day after Biden had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin for a future summit. Biden has also invited both Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend a U.S.-sponsored climate summit later this month.

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NBC News - April 14, 2021

Former officer testifies Derek Chauvin was 'justified' in pinning down George Floyd

A use-of-force expert testified Tuesday that former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was justified when he knelt on George Floyd's neck as he tried to arrest him in May, contradicting testimony from other use-of-force experts and the police chief. The defense witness, Barry Brodd, a former Santa Rosa, California, police officer, also said that he did not believe that the responding officers' actions — pinning Floyd to the pavement while he was handcuffed facedown with Chauvin's knee on his neck for what prosecutors have said was 9 minutes, 29 seconds — qualified as a use of force. He said that he believed it was a "control hold" and that he did not think Chauvin was inflicting any pain on Floyd. "I felt that Derek Chauvin was justified and was acting with objective reasonableness, following Minneapolis Police Department policy and current standards of law enforcement, in his interactions with Mr. Floyd," Brodd said.

Chauvin is on trial charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Floyd, 46. Brodd testified that the prone position in which Floyd was kept was safe and that it was an accepted way to control someone during an arrest. Veteran officers from inside and outside the Minneapolis Police Department, including Chief Medaria Arradondo, have said Chauvin used excessive force and violated a number of department policies he had been trained in. Under cross-examination by prosecutor Steve Schleicher, Brodd backpedaled on a number of statements he made when he was questioned by the defense. Schleicher showed Brodd a photo of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck. Floyd appeared to be in pain in the photo. Brodd conceded that restraining a person in such a way could inflict pain.

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Politico - April 14, 2021

'Breyer Retire' campaign looms over Dems' tenuous majority

Democrats are grappling with judicial déja vu: an aging liberal Supreme Court justice, a paper-thin Senate majority and activist pressure to swing the bench leftward. Justice Stephen Breyer is 82 and Democrats are a single Senate seat away from ceding control back to Republicans. It’s a familiar and uncomfortable bind for a party that barely nudged former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to retire the last time they controlled both the Senate and the White House — then watched the Supreme Court veer to the right.

But even as some liberal groups boot up a “Breyer Retire” campaign, the Democratic Party is sensitive to the justice’s predicament. That’s why neither Democratic lawmakers nor President Joe Biden are putting overt retirement pressure on the Bill Clinton appointee while their party still holds the Senate. But Breyer’s future is on everyone’s minds, maybe even the justice’s own. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he would “never presume to tell a Supreme Court justice to retire,” but that Breyer himself “is very familiar with the potential risks of a Republican president appointing his successor.” “He is well familiar with the way judicial appointments work, and I believe strongly he has in mind the best interests of the country and will make the right decision,” said Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “There are political realities that I hope judges will perceive.” A single Senate vacancy could plunge the future of the Biden-era high court into uncertainty, given Democrats’ tenuous 50-50 majority. Yet despite that risk, and the obvious consequences of Ginsburg’s decision to stay on after 2014, Supreme Court retirements remain a third rail in Democratic politics — at least publicly.

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Associated Press - April 13, 2021

Minnesota police chief, cop quit after Black driver's death

A white Minnesota police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb and the city's chief of police resigned Tuesday. Officer Kim Potter and Police Chief Tim Gannon both resigned two days after the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Potter, a 26-year veteran, had been on administrative leave following Sunday’s shooting. Gannon has said he believed Potter mistakenly grabbed her gun when she was going for her Taser. She can be heard on her body camera video shouting “Taser! Taser!” “Whenever, through the line of duty, someone kills another human being, there must be accountability,” Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott told the “Today” show earlier Tuesday.

Activists and some residents say Wright was racially profiled, and his death has sparked two days of clashes between police and protesters. The shooting happened as the Minneapolis area was already on edge over the trial of the first of four police officers in George Floyd’s death. Wright was shot as police were trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” the officer is heard shouting on her body cam footage released Monday. She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police outside his car and gets back behind the wheel. After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away, and the officer is heard saying, “Holy (expletive)! I shot him.”

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CNN - April 12, 2021

Hawley raised $3 million in 2021's first quarter after objecting to electoral votes Biden won

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley raised $3 million in the first quarter of 2021, a person familiar with his fundraising said -- a total that showcases how the Republican base is rewarding loyalty to former President Donald Trump. Hawley received more than 57,000 donations in that three-month period from more than 44,000 individuals -- a pool of grassroots donors that he can continue to tap if he pursues the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination. Included in his fundraising haul is $600,000 raised between the afternoon of January 6, the day the Missouri Republican objected to the certification of electoral votes from some states President Joe Biden had won and Trump supporters rioted at the US Capitol, and January 25. During that window, the senator's team had paused its usual text and email outreach to donors -- which means those donors were responding to Hawley's actions without being asked to contribute.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley raised $3 million in the first quarter of 2021, a person familiar with his fundraising said -- a total that showcases how the Republican base is rewarding loyalty to former President Donald Trump. Hawley received more than 57,000 donations in that three-month period from more than 44,000 individuals -- a pool of grassroots donors that he can continue to tap if he pursues the GOP's 2024 presidential nomination. Included in his fundraising haul is $600,000 raised between the afternoon of January 6, the day the Missouri Republican objected to the certification of electoral votes from some states President Joe Biden had won and Trump supporters rioted at the US Capitol, and January 25. During that window, the senator's team had paused its usual text and email outreach to donors -- which means those donors were responding to Hawley's actions without being asked to contribute.

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Newsclips - April 13, 2021

Lead Stories

San Antonio Express-News - April 12, 2021

Texas leads U.S. in weather disasters. Biden's infrastructure plan includes $50B for resilience.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $50 billion to fortify states against future extreme weather events such as the droughts, floods and hurricanes that caused up to $200 billion in damage in Texas over the past decade — a tally that includes six droughts, five hurricane landfalls and five floods that each left at least $1 billion in damage behind. Texas was hammered by 67 major weather disasters from 2010 to 2020, more than any other state in the nation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fifty-nine of those were billion-dollar disasters — more than double the 25 costly storms the state saw in the decade prior as major weather events have become increasingly common.

The NOAA data does not include the deadly winter storm that killed nearly 200 Texans and caused billions in damage. The state was bracing for more severe weather on Monday with Gov. Greg Abbott ordering rescue boats, helicopters and other resources to stand at the ready for spring storms expected to bring heavy winds and hail. The storm damage figures are a key piece of the White House’s efforts to sell Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, which administration officials continued to push stepped up on Monday as they released breakdowns of needs in each state. But Republicans say the massive spending package directs too little to infrastructure projects, accusing the administration of “deception” in its campaign for the package that includes boosting clean energy and the electrical vehicle market, paying for elderly care and more while raising taxes on corporations. “We are going to fight tooth and nail,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said in a recent radio interview. “If any private citizen put something out like this you’d be prosecuted for deceptive marketing.”

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Politico - April 12, 2021

Old Trump health team rivalries resurface in Texas House race

A senior Trump health official’s bid to become the first administration alumnus elected to Congress is running into resistance from an unlikely source: his own former colleagues. Brian Harrison, a chief of staff to former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, has angered a swath of Trump White House and HHS political appointees with his “America First”-style campaign in the special election for a Dallas-area House seat, prompting complaints that he’s inflating his record and trying to co-opt Trump’s brand. A first-time candidate who helped run a labradoodle-breeding family business prior to joining the Trump administration, Harrison has sought to break out of a crowded Republican field by casting himself as a key driver of Trump’s agenda, touting his role in the administration’s Covid vaccine development effort and taking credit for a series of anti-abortion and deregulatory policies.

But the 38-year-old’s claims have reignited rivalries that raged throughout much of the Trump years, putting Harrison at odds with former White House and health officials who viewed him more as a driver of internal conflicts that hampered Trump’s health care ambitions, according to nearly a dozen former administration officials. The campaign has prompted one top Trump HHS official, Roger Severino, to endorse one of Harrison’s opponents, amid what three former officials described as frustration with Harrison running on the kinds of anti-abortion policies that Severino’s office worked on and struggled at times to convince department leaders to finalize. Others have worked furiously behind the scenes to counter Harrison’s campaign, going as far as to urge Trump not to weigh in on Harrison’s behalf as the special election hits its stretch run. “There are people close to the president reminding him not to endorse Brian Harrison,” a former White House official said. “There’s no MAGA candidate in that race.” Harrison in an interview dismissed questions about his anti-abortion record and closeness to Trump as “laughable,” adding that he’s received broad support from former senior officials across the administration.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

An open Texas power grid would boost reliability and renewables, experts say

Since the February power outages, Texas legislators have been busy weighing a host of improvements for the state’s grid, from weatherizing equipment to shaking up oversight to partnering with the billionaire investor Warren Buffett on new emergency-use power plants. But hardly any of them have focused on what some believe could be a more widespread fix: plugging into other U.S. power supplies. While Texas has long opposed opening its grid to avoid federal oversight, and ostensibly to keep prices low, energy experts say the calculus is not what it once was and that the benefits of connecting to the outside world are at least worth examining, especially as renewable energy is poised for a major expansion under the Biden administration. Not only is the state missing out on a potential lifeline in future blackouts, they warn, it also risks passing up billions of dollars in new investments for clean, marketable electricity.

“We export every form of energy you could imagine except electrons,” Michael Webber, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told reporters recently. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “Let’s at least study the option.” Texas is the only contiguous state with its own grid, a decision prompted by the creation in 1935 of a federal commission to oversee interstate power transactions. Today, the state has just a handful of transmission lines linking to neighboring power supplies. Though a more integrated grid would probably not have prevented outages in February— surrounding states were also struggling to meet demand — it could have helped shorten them substantially, according to Dan Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. The blackouts left 4.5 million Texans without power and water for days and contributed to at least 197 deaths. Most importantly, Cohan said, having outside power supplies would strengthen the grid’s reliability during the state’s most frequent natural disasters. “The vast majority of our crises are more often a summer drought, or a summer hurricane, or a summer flood that hits Texas more strongly than other states, where we would have plenty of power that we could have been importing in,” he said. Some question, though, whether joining other grids would be worth the cost, especially because building new transmission lines is expensive and obtaining permits can take years. Without a robust build-out, the state would be giving up its autonomy without gaining substantial backup capacity.

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Associated Press - April 13, 2021

US recommends 'pause' for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines over clot reports

The U.S. is recommending a “pause” of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating clots in six women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts. More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S.

U.S. federal distribution channels, including mass vaccination sites, will pause the use of the J&J shot, and states and other providers are expected to follow. "Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare," the FDA said in its statement. "This is important to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot." CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Wednesday to discuss the cases and the FDA has also launched an investigation of the cases. “Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said in a joint statement.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

NCAA issues stern warning as Texas Senate prepares to debate transgender sports bill

For all the talk of boycotts and corporate criticism of election bills going through the Texas Legislature, there may be a far bigger problem facing conservative Republicans and a top priority on their agenda. With the Texas Senate cued up to debate a bill this week that would ban transgender girls from competing in girls’ interscholastic sports, the NCAA recently issued a stern warning that they are watching the legislation. “The NCAA continues to closely monitor state bills that impact transgender student-athlete participation,” NCAA officials said in a statement to Hearst Newspapers. “The NCAA believes in fair and respectful student-athlete participation at all levels of sport. The association’s transgender student-athlete participation policy and other diversity policies are designed to facilitate and support inclusion.” The NCAA policies allow transgender athletes to participate without limitations.

It is very similar to the statements the NCAA put out just before Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a transgender bill similar to the one Texas is considering and one that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem backed away from while warning of an unwinnable showdown with the college sports association. SB 29, sponsored by Lubbock Republican Sen. Charles Perry would ban a student from participating in a sport “opposite to the student’s biological sex as determined at the student’s birth…” Perry said the bill is about the safety and fairness of female athletes. “There has been a steady increase in the number of biologically born males competing in female sports,” he said. He said he worries about girls facing a competitive disadvantage in competition because of transgender girls competing against them. However, the University Interscholastic League, which sets rules for Texas high school and middle school sports, says it already have rules in place that prevent biological males from competing in girls’ sports. Critics of the Texas legislation and others like it say it’s all part of a wave of bills in statehouses around the nation that are not only discriminatory against transgender children, but dangerous to them.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Amy Kristin Sanders and Daxton “Chip” Stewart: Don't make the National Anthem mandatory at Texas sports events

(Sanders is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Stewart is a journalism professor at Texas Christian University. Both are First Amendment experts.) Before the 2023 legislative session, Texans should require their lawmakers to pass a class in constitutional law. The complete disregard for First Amendment rights during this legislative session is shocking and saddening. Last week, the Senate passed SB 4, which would require professional sports teams to play the national anthem. It was the brainchild of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who ironically worked in broadcasting before entering politics. Patrick was upset Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks hadn’t been playing “The Star Spangled Banner” before home games. In a statement earlier this year, Cuban said, “We respect and always have respected the passion people have for the anthem and our country. But we also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard because they have not been.”

In Patrick’s quest to mandate patriotism, he seems to have forgotten about the First Amendment. Yes, that pesky right to freedom of speech that so inconveniently prohibits the state from doing exactly what SB 4 seeks to do: compel private actors to distribute a government-mandated message. In any other time and place, we’d associate such ridiculousness with Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela or Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea. SB 4 asserts that because teams play in taxpayer funded stadiums that the government has the right to control their speech. That’s simply untrue. You might think that the U.S. Constitution has no bearing on what the state does; it’s clear the Legislature doesn’t believe it must respect the Bill of Rights. A long line of Supreme Court cases, however, tell us otherwise. In 1943, the Supreme Court struck down a state requirement that teachers and students salute the flag. Writing in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, Justice Robert H. Jackson noted, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Thirty years later, the court ruled New Hampshire couldn’t force residents to display its “Live Free or Die” motto on their license plates. Both of these represent what First Amendment lawyers call “compelled speech” — being forced to say something against your will.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Three kids and their cousin were killed. Could a traffic stop's outcome have changed everything?

On a Sunday evening in mid-March, a sheriff’s deputy pulled over a driver who sped by his patrol car near Spring. The man admitted to having a “small amount of marijuana,” which the deputy took for lab testing and not seeing any outward signs of impairment, according to the Harris County sheriff’s office, let the motorist leave. At an intersection roughly 7.5 miles away, Porsha Branch and her three young boys paused at a red light after a busy evening spent helping her mom move into a new home. As the family was stopped, the man, believed to be speeding again and allegedly intoxicated, smashed into the back of Branch’s vehicle, killing the 28-year-old and her three children. At a vigil for the family five days later, relatives received another devastating call. The kids’ 6-year-old cousin, Laurionne Walker, had been shot multiple times amid an argument at the Pasadena home of a family friend babysitting so the girl’s mother could attend the remembrance. Paramedics raced Laurionne to a hospital, where she died.

Nearly a month after the pair of intertwined tragedies, members of the extended family hope for answers and justice from the courts as two men have been charged in connection with the two cases. Numerous questions remain, like why a sheriff’s deputy released a man accused of having a blood alcohol content level twice the legal limit moments later when he set off a chain-reaction wreck that ignited a lifetime of grief. “We still are taking a day at a time,” said Damien House, Branch’s husband, father of the three children and Laurionne’s uncle. The deputy pulled over Daniel A. Canada, whose vehicle registered a speed of 115 mph two seconds before smashing into Branch’s vehicle, shortly after 8 p.m. March 14, causing her car to burst into flames. The stop is under review by the office’s internal affairs division “to determine whether all applicable policies were followed.” The office has not released any updates and declined to answer questions about whether body camera footage of the stop was available and why the deputy did not issue the man a speeding ticket.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Talk is cheap. The Ike Dike is not. Here's how to help fund it.

Early on the morning of Sept. 13, 2008, a Saturday, a huge Category 2 hurricane christened Ike roared ashore at Galveston, announcing itself with 100 mile-per-hour winds and a storm surge more than 12 feet high. After it played out days later, Hurricane Ike would account for 43 deaths in Texas and would cause an estimated $30 billion in damage. It was the third-costliest storm in U.S. history. More than 2.6 million southeast Texans without power, some for weeks. Thousands of homes flooded. At least 35,000 trees destroyed on Galveston Island. Homeowners’ assistance delayed for years. Those were among the many lingering effects of Hurricane Ike, but arguably the longest-lingering effect has been a perpetual storm of talk for a dozen years. Houston and our Texas Gulf Coast neighbors might hold the record for the longest-running public works discussion in Lone Star history. Realizing that Hurricane Ike — or Hurricane Harvey, for that matter — could have been incomprehensibly worse had they delivered a direct hit on greater Houston, particularly along the Ship Channel, we started talking about a plan to keep future storms at bay immediately after the coast cleaned up and dried out. We’re still talking.

To be fair, we’ve done more than talk. We’ve studied. We’ve modeled. We’ve analyzed. We’ve written. We’ve argued. Certainly, we need to be careful and deliberate, but after a dozen years of tempting Mother Nature after she gave us fair warning, it’s time to act. It’s time to build the system originally dubbed the Ike Dike. Championed by the man who named it, oceanographer and Texas A&M-Galveston Professor Bill Merrill, the ambitious plan would extend Galveston’s seawall, build a similar structure along Bolivar Peninsula and construct massive floodgates at the entrance to Galveston Bay. We can’t continue pressing our luck, knowing as storm clouds gather every hurricane season that one of these days a hurricane with the potential for devastation greater than the Great Storm of 1900 might hit the Houston-area bullseye. With climate change inducing more and more cataclysmic weather events, our luck may run out sooner rather than later. Now, at last, the political climate seems to be shifting, in Austin and in Washington. Legislation sponsored by two Houston-area Republicans, state Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood and state Rep. Dennis Paul of Houston, would establish a regional district that could levy taxes and issue bonds to build and maintain a coastal barrier. Paul’s House bill, we’re happy to note, includes Republicans and Democrats as co-sponsors.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Oil and gas companies have thousands of ways to clean up

No matter how hard we may try, humans are always going to need oil. Some environmentalists want to ban drilling, stop building pipelines and close refineries and petrochemical plans. But even renewable energy companies need lubricants, paint and chemicals. Electrification will not be the end of oil. Crude has a million applications beyond combustion. We may need less oil in the future, but the real challenge is how to extract it sustainably and affordably. Unfortunately, oil companies have earned a bad reputation by taking their historical monopoly for granted. From poorly fracked wells to unnecessary flaring and climate change denial, the industry has achieved a great deal of distrust with the public.

The tide is turning, however. Every major oil company CEO acknowledges the need to mitigate climate change, and most have plans to transition out of the traditional oil and gas business. There are also countless small and big steps the industry can take to clean up its practices. Frequent readers know that I oppose a ban on hydraulically fracturing wells. Fracking and horizontal drilling made cheap natural gas possible in North America, which offers an alternative to coal-fired powerplants. Fracking has done more to reduce U.S. carbon emissions than anything else. Despite the propaganda, fracking does not cause earthquakes, though improperly disposing of frack fluid does. Neither does a properly cemented well ruin groundwater. Drillers can frac wells safely, but that’s not to say they cannot frac them more sustainably. The most obvious and most crucial step is stopping the routine venting and burning of gases produced when the well is drilled and completed. This practice known as flaring is unnecessary, wasteful and horrible for the climate. Texas is far behind other states in banning routine flaring. There are many others things the industry can do, such as using cleaner fluids to fracture the rock and producing more oil from each well, so companies do not have to drill as often. Houston-based Locus Bio-Energy Solutions is an example of an oil field services company offering drillers a way to frac smarter.

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Houston Chronicle - April 13, 2021

As legislator and real estate mogul, Gates seeks to disband management districts

Before state Rep. Gary Gates was elected to the Texas House, the Republican real estate executive launched a petition drive to disband the Southwest Management District, one of 39 special districts across Houston that collect taxes from commercial property owners to fund extra police patrols, sidewalk improvements and other hyper-local services. Gates, who also has taken aim at a management district in the Hobby area where he owns apartment properties, has continued his efforts to dissolve the special districts since taking office early last year. In January, he filed a bill that would make it easier to dissolve most management districts, including the two he has targeted, then weeks later circulated petition forms to business owners in the Sharpstown area. Under state law, a management district must disband if its board receives dissolution petitions from property owners who own at least two-thirds of the district’s assessed property value.

Gates’ legislation, House Bill 1219, would lower the threshold from 67 to 55 percent for districts created before September 2017, meaning it would apply to the Hobby Area District and Southwest Management District that Gates has sought to dissolve. The bill passed out of the House Committee on Urban Affairs last week. Houston Councilman Robert Gallegos, whose city council district includes the Hobby Area District, has urged lawmakers to reject the bill and, in written testimony to the Urban Affairs Committee, highlighted the convergence of Gates’ roles as a property management owner and state representative. “House Bill 1219 is misguided at best and may present a potentially serious conflict of interest at worst,” Gallegos wrote. Gates, R-Richmond, acknowledged his business stands to benefit from the legislation, but he insisted the bill is needed because the current threshold to disband management districts is too high. Property owners often are reluctant to sign petitions because they fear retaliation from the district board or are board members themselves, Gates said, adding that many property owners are difficult to track down because they live in other states or countries, or are large multinational corporations that have little desire to meddle in local politics.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Abbott appoints chair of Public Utility Commission

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday appointed Peter Lake, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, to lead the Public Utility Commission of Texas. If confirmed by the state Senate, Lake would serve as chairman of the PUC through Sept. 1, 2023, taking over an agency reeling from the fallout of the catastrophic power failures in February that led to the deaths of nearly 200 Texans. All three members of the previous commission resigned; Abbott so far has named two replacements, Lake and Will McAdams, a long-time legislative staffer and now president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Texas, a trade group. A Senate committee on Monday unanimously recommended McAdams’ appointment, sending it the full Senate for final confirmation.

The PUC regulates the state's electric, telecommunication, and water and sewer utilities. It also implements respective legislation, and offers customer assistance in resolving consumer complaints. Lake, 38, has served on the Texas Water Development Board since December 2015 and as chairman since 2018. The board plans and helps develop water resources in the state. Lake is the former head of business development at Lake Ronel Oil, an exploration and production company in Tyler, and he previously served as director of special projects for VantageCap Partners, an investment firm. “Peter Lake has been a diligent public servant throughout his time with the Texas Water Development Board, and I am confident he will bring a fresh perspective and trustworthy leadership to the PUC,” Abbott said in a statement. “Peter’s expertise in the Texas energy industry and business management will make him an asset to the agency.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2021

‘It doesn’t need to become a culture war.’ Texas legislators want to revamp civics education but could face political backlash

What Texas kids need to know in order to become responsible citizens is up for debate. After Gov. Greg Abbott named strengthening civics education as one of his priorities for the legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle filed bills with that goal in mind. But some advocacy groups are concerned that the issue could become too politicized, potentially stymieing progress in Austin. “Teachers want this. Parents want this. Concerned citizens want this,” said Wendy May-Dreyer, chair of the Texas Civic Education Coalition. “It doesn’t need to become a culture war.” Texas GOP Chairman Allen West recently decried several of the civics education bills, saying in a statement that the Legislature is facing an “onslaught of … legislation that advances Critical Race Theory from a progressive socialist standpoint” and would “open the doors to left-wing activism among our children.”

May-Dreyer pushed back on those characterizations, saying some people are trying to bring political divisions into an effort backed by dozens of bipartisan organizations. The criticism, she said, is based on “misinformation.” “We are not looking to promote student activism in the classroom. That’s not what this is about,” she said. “This is about teaching students to mirror good, responsible, informed civic behavior.” state. A bill from Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney, would create “civics academies” for teachers to learn how to better guide classroom discussions on current events and model democratic processes. Legislation from Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would provide training on how to identify propaganda and require students complete non-partisan “civics practicums,” such as holding mock trials or assembling mock legislatures. Other bills name specific founding documents that should be studied in the social studies curriculum, such as the Federalist Papers and excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2021

New funding available for families struggling to pay for COVID-19 funerals

The Federal Emergency Management Administration announced last month that starting Monday, families can be reimbursed for up to $9,000 in COVID-19-related funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020, and as long as applicants meet certain requirements, such as citizenship. “I know we have to use insurance one day for our loved ones,” said Tutt, who’s looking into applying for the FEMA aid. “But the state — someone else — should have had to pick up the funeral expenses, [as] opposed to the grieving families.” Rachel Cantu of New Braunfels also thought the government would have covered more of the funeral costs for her husband, Felix Cantu, who spent 24 years in the Marines. Veterans’ families can receive up to $300 for funeral services and up to $796 for a burial plot outside a national cemetery, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cantu said she had to scrape together money for other costs — the funeral home’s COVID-19 fee, embalming and other services — on her own and with the help of $700 from a GoFundMe campaign. “My husband always used to say, ‘You don’t ever have to worry about spending a cent on me,’” she said. “Well, I did have to worry about a lot of things financially.” She said she’s excited about the FEMA reimbursement and plans to apply. “I pray that [FEMA] helps me out,” Cantu said in a text message. Aside from the federal aid, there is no state funding available to families of COVID-19 victims, though Texas does assist families who are burying crime victims or fetal remains. Nonprofits have attempted to help families dealing with sudden loss, but they’ve been overwhelmed by the staggering number of deaths in Texas and across the nation — nearly 50,000 and 600,000, respectively.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2021

Trey Grayson: Bills would make elections less secure, less accessible

(A Republican, Grayson served two terms as Kentucky’s Secretary of State and is past president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. He currently chairs the advisory board of the Secure Elections Project.) In states across the country, lawmakers are proposing bills to reform our elections. During my time as Kentucky’s Secretary of State, I led both the National Association of Secretaries of State and the Republican Association of Secretaries of State and remain engaged in efforts to modernize our nation’s elections. In fact, just since the 2020 election, I have advised Republican policy makers in several states (not Texas) on legislation to increase election security while still maintaining voter accessibility. It is from this vantage point that I worry that two of the election-reform proposals given priority status by Texas Republicans, House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, would actually make Texas elections less secure and less accessible.

The bills aren’t all bad. For example, mandating a paper trail for voting systems is an important security measure that can help provide confidence in election outcomes. While most voters won’t notice, the bills contain some important ballot accountability rules to keep track of ballots issued in polling places so that administrators (and the public) can see how many ballots were voted, spoiled or unused. And an online portal to allow voters to track their mail ballots is helpful to administrators and voters alike. Unfortunately, the bills would also enact several bad ideas. Banning mail-ballot dropboxes is inconvenient for many voters and will force more voters to use the postal service to return their ballots, which is an increasingly unreliable and insecure method. In contrast, Republicans in Georgia recently authorized dropboxes so long as they met some reasonable security requirements. These security measures could include 24/7 video surveillance, or only putting dropboxes indoors or outside city or county offices. Texas should do the same.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 9, 2021

Texas Supreme Court tosses Shelley Luther's contempt finding for refusing to close salon

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday tossed out a contempt of court judgment against Shelley Luther, the Dallas hair salon owner who rose to national prominence when she was jailed last year for refusing an order to close under pandemic safety rules. In a unanimous ruling, the court said the contempt finding was improper because it was based on a judge's temporary restraining order that was unclear on what conduct was prohibited. "This is a victory for any Texan concerned about civil liberties," said state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park and one of Luther's lawyers. "When the government seeks to restrain your liberty, you should be fully informed of what the consequences are." The matter began toward the end of April 2020 when the city of Dallas sued Luther and her business, Salon a la Mode, when she refused to close under city, county and statewide orders that sought to limit the spread of COVID-19 by shuttering or limiting operations of non-essential businesses.

State District Judge Eric Moyé quickly granted a restraining order requiring Salon a la Mode to close, but Luther refused, leading to a contempt of court judgment on May 5 that included seven days in jail and a $500 fine for every day the salon operated in violation of the order. Luther's stand made her an instant hero to conservatives in Texas and nationwide who were bristling against government interference into business operations and personal choices. After two days in jail, the Texas Supreme Court intervened, ordering Luther freed on a no-money bond while its nine Republican justices considered her challenge to the contempt finding. On Friday, the court issued its ruling, agreeing with Luther's claim that the temporary restraining order did not properly inform the salon owner about what conduct was prohibited. Moyé's order accused Luther of violating state, county and city emergency regulations but did not specify which rules were broken, nor did it specify which "in-person services" were banned at Salon a la Mode, the court ruled.

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KXAN - April 12, 2021

More companies are relocating to Austin than anywhere else in Texas. Yes, they’re coming from California.

In the past 11 years, more companies have relocated their headquarters to Austin than anywhere else in Texas, according to the Texas business network YTexas. Fifty-six took the plunge in that time frame. They’re often tech companies, with Oracle’s move from California last year coming as the headliner. “The majority of companies and people that are moving to Texas, this is no surprise to anyone, they are coming from California,” said YTexas CEO Ed Curtis. “Austin and the technology scene, the culture here, is what really attracts them. It’s probably the closest thing they have to what they had in California.” Since 2010, 94 company headquarters moved from California to Texas. Twenty-eight of those companies settled in Austin. Sometimes those workers come with the company, but often they’re not required to move in order to keep their jobs. Curtis said most companies that move still keep a presence in the state they’re coming from.

“If you were to try to recruit someone out of another city and say, ‘Look, I have a job opening and it’s in Austin Texas, do you think you might want to come?’ chances are they’re very interested in coming,” Curtis said. It’s also a lot more affordable to live here. CNN’s cost of living calculator shows someone making $100,000 in San Francisco needs to make roughly half that, $52,100, to have a comparable lifestyle in Austin. Relocations aren’t slowing down in the pandemic either. On the contrary, they’re picking up. Relocations in 2021 are already 45% ahead of where they were in 2020, and the state is on pace to have the most relocations ever this year. “If you look at the history of Texas, no matter where we stood — in the business community — it’s always been a pro-business state, and I think it will remain that way,” Curtis said. “I think it’s a bright future for Texas.”

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KXAN - April 12, 2021

More companies are relocating to Austin than anywhere else in Texas. Yes, they’re coming from California.

In the past 11 years, more companies have relocated their headquarters to Austin than anywhere else in Texas, according to the Texas business network YTexas. Fifty-six took the plunge in that time frame. They’re often tech companies, with Oracle’s move from California last year coming as the headliner. “The majority of companies and people that are moving to Texas, this is no surprise to anyone, they are coming from California,” said YTexas CEO Ed Curtis. “Austin and the technology scene, the culture here, is what really attracts them. It’s probably the closest thing they have to what they had in California.” Since 2010, 94 company headquarters moved from California to Texas. Twenty-eight of those companies settled in Austin.

Sometimes those workers come with the company, but often they’re not required to move in order to keep their jobs. Curtis said most companies that move still keep a presence in the state they’re coming from. “If you were to try to recruit someone out of another city and say, ‘Look, I have a job opening and it’s in Austin Texas, do you think you might want to come?’ chances are they’re very interested in coming,” Curtis said. It’s also a lot more affordable to live here. CNN’s cost of living calculator shows someone making $100,000 in San Francisco needs to make roughly half that, $52,100, to have a comparable lifestyle in Austin. Relocations aren’t slowing down in the pandemic either. On the contrary, they’re picking up. Relocations in 2021 are already 45% ahead of where they were in 2020, and the state is on pace to have the most relocations ever this year. “If you look at the history of Texas, no matter where we stood — in the business community — it’s always been a pro-business state, and I think it will remain that way,” Curtis said. “I think it’s a bright future for Texas.”

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Huntsville Item - April 6, 2021

Quint Balkcom and Richard Jankovsky: Texas' public servants -- and its taxpayers -- need a healthy retirement system

(Lieutenant Richard Jankovsky is president of the Department of Public Safety Officers Association. Major Quint Balkcom is president of the Texas Game Warden Peace Officers Association.) People from every community in the state come to work for the great State of Texas. They spend decades maintaining and patrolling Texas' roadways and waterways, preserving the peace, overseeing natural areas and resources, and serving the disadvantaged. Public health workers who worked long shifts in response to COVID-19 are state employees. So are the park employees who maintain natural spaces for Texans. And so are our fellow game wardens and Department of Public Safety troopers. These are some of Texas’ most essential workers. They played a vital role helping the state weather the pandemic. Many have traded higher private-sector salaries for careers in public service. The state’s promise of meaningful retirement benefits encourages and rewards this commitment.

Now, shaky finances have put this promise in jeopardy. For decades, the state has failed to adequately fund its Employees Retirement System (ERS). The pension fund’s uncertain future now represents a looming crisis for taxpayers and employees. Unless something changes, the fund could be completely depleted in 40 years, and it will only get more expensive to prevent this catastrophe. Already, it has been 20 years since state retirees had a cost-of-living annuity adjustment. It took years to create this problem, and it will take years to solve it. The Texas Legislature can and should take action this year by making a requested investment of roughly $950 million into the fund and committing to a long-term path that will bring ERS into balance in a way that meets retirees’ needs. That includes remaining faithful to the system’s traditional and historic structure, which safeguards the interests of young employees even as it protects the livelihoods of retired ones. The fund’s unsoundness is not just a problem for state employees and legislative budget-writers. It endangers things Texans love and need, from beloved state parks to protection by DPS troopers and Texas game wardens, when the state fails to adequately fund ERS. It’s harder to recruit good employees — and harder to keep them — when people cannot be sure of the state’s commitment to its pension system. And that undermines the value and effectiveness of essential state services.

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Denton Record-Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Dormant bill might harm local governments if Austin resuscitates it

A bill recently left to die in the Texas Legislature would have cost local governments more money and harmed taxpayers, opponents said. If passed, it would have banned taxpayer-funded lobbying, which would have included lobbying done on behalf of municipalities by nonprofits. That would have been a big deal for school districts that are members of the Texas Association of School Boards, or TASB. The association counts as members more than 1,000 school districts across the state, including Denton and many other local districts. TASB is a voluntary nonprofit that helps draft school board policies and monitors legislative actions on behalf of districts to track potentially helpful and problematic bills alike. It’s that lobbying work that House Bill 749 sought to end.

The bill, which was left pending in committee on March 26, would have barred school districts from being paid members of TASB so long as the association employed lobbyists. Similarly, the city of Denton and other entities associated with the Texas Municipal League wouldn’t have been able to do so. A separate bill, Senate Bill 10, would have banned aspects of taxpayer-funded lobbying for municipalities and counties but not school districts. That bill was left pending in committee, effectively killing it for this session, on April 6. Deron Robinson, a Denton ISD attorney, said TASB isn’t engaged in the type of lobbying work that first comes to mind for most people. The work the association is engaged in, he said, doesn’t come in the form of expensive dinners for legislators but instead in the form of late nights spent watching committee hearings at the state Capitol.

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Washington Post - April 12, 2021

John Cornyn’s ugly, transparent attempt to paint Biden as a Manchurian Candidate

For almost the entirety of the 2020 presidential general election campaign, Republicans tried in vain to make Joe Biden’s lack of a public profile an issue. The aim was threefold: (1) They wanted to make him look weak, (2) they hoped that goading him into emerging more might result in some more trademark Biden flubs, and (3) they knew Donald Trump’s continued domination of the election narrative was doing him no favors. But Biden tuned it out, as he did much of the chatter on conservative and social media, and won. Today, that effort is evolving, as best exemplified by a tweet Monday in which a Republican senator suggested the president is something amounting to a Manchurian Candidate.

“The president is not doing cable news interviews,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), copying text from a Politico piece on Biden’s low profile. “Tweets from his account are limited and, when they come, unimaginably conventional. The public comments are largely scripted. Biden has opted for fewer sit down interviews with mainstream outlets and reporters.” Then Cornyn got to the point: “Invites the question: is he really in charge?” Just a U.S. senator asking some questions. Cornyn’s tweet builds upon a whisper campaign among conservatives that perhaps Biden isn’t actually engaged in doing his job. Some have even suggested that Vice President Harris is actually in charge or will be soon — a suggestion that, at its worst, carries real dog-whistles given her status as the first woman and first Black person to hold that job. It’s a baseless and ugly bit of innuendo. There is no question the White House — just as the Biden campaign did — has motives beyond good government for keeping a lower profile and keeping Biden on-script. He has for years made a habit of stepping in it with his public comments. And the stakes are significantly higher now that he is the leader of the free world.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 12, 2021

Dallas-Fort Worth leads the US in new homes for sale. How high can prices go?

The homes being built in the master-planned Walsh community in far west Fort Worth are pricey to say the least — typically $450,000 to $750,000 — yet one builder reports that sales are up 300% compared to the first quarter of last year. Layne Mitchell, a sales counselor for Highland Homes in Walsh, says many prospective buyers are coming to him after an exhaustive search for a place to live. North Texas is in the midst of a historic housing shortage, and the prices for new and resale homes are at record highs. Residents are tired of engaging in bidding wars and overpaying for existing homes, and they’re frustrated by the lack of homes in the $250,000 to $350,000 range.

Walsh is expensive, but for those who are willing and able to pay, it’s less stressful than many other alternatives. “I’ve got homes ready to go right now. I’ve got two, in fact, and I’ve got two more homes that are halfway done. The pressure just releases from people when they see that,” Mitchell said. “I have something for you here and there’s no bidding war.” More homes have been built in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — 40,000 — than any other U.S. metro area in the past year, according to the data firm CoreLogic. The region is on pace for construction of about another 40,000 new houses in 2021, too. And yet, those new rooftops are nowhere near enough. The median home price in North Texas was $312,990 in February, up from $272,500 a year ago, according to the Texas A&M Real Estate Center. That’s roughly double the value of Metroplex homes a decade ago.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - April 9, 2021

Brandon Young: Texans shouldn’t pay for PUCT’s and ERCOT’s $46 billion mistake

(Brandon Young is a member of Texans for Fair Energy Billing (TXFEB), a statewide coalition created to amplify the voices of Texans impacted by inflated energy costs by advocating to reprice energy charges from the February 2021 winter storm.) During February's Winter Storm Uri, millions of Texans who were left without power suffered tremendous physical, emotional, and financial damage. For weeks, our focus has been: What happened? Fingers were pointed. Leaders have resigned. It was immediately evident that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) failed Texans. But, for many, the worst is yet to come. During that devastating week in February, demand on the state's energy infrastructure increased as multiple generation units tripped offline. Former ERCOT CEO Bill Magness testified that the only way ERCOT could ensure that the generators would stay online was to set the price at the highest possible price permitted. ERCOT called a meeting with the PUCT, who passed a rule allowing this course of action in less than 10 minutes.

What happened in that short time will impact Texas residents and businesses for decades. Potomac Economics — an independent market monitor that oversees ERCOT activities on behalf of the PUCT— found that the PUCT erroneously instructed the power grid operator to fix prices at $9,000 per megawatt per hour. The PUCT and ERCOT claim this negligent decision was necessary to save lives. However, no new generation came online, lives were lost, and substantial costs will be passed onto rate payers and taxpayers. Small retail electric providers, which make up about 20 percent of the retail market, operate with small margins to ensure customers receive the most competitive rates. The billions of dollars in overpricing ERCOT invoiced during the Winter Storm Uri means that many of these companies can't afford to pay for generators’ or natural gas’ charges, which increased more than 1,100 percent during the winter storm. These inflated costs will ultimately be borne by consumers in the form of higher rates, surcharges or taxes, or retailers may face bankruptcy.

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KUT - April 9, 2021

Austin Health officials won't relax COVID-19 guidance this month

Numbers tracking the coronavirus pandemic in the Austin area have stopped improving and could worsen, new projections show. The projections released Friday by UT's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, show lines flattening in the weeks ahead and possibly rising. The consortium reports a 32% probability that the pandemic will worsen here and a reproduction number of .91. A rate above 1 would mean the pandemic is growing in severity. "We're seeing plateauing of the projections for hospital admissions, ICU admissions and hospital utilization," Austin Public Health interim Medical Director Dr. Mark Escott said in a briefing. "And as of today, entering the stage 2 is off of the projections through the first week of May."

APH had earlier suggested restrictions could be eased as soon as the end of this month if new hospitalizations averaged fewer than 10 per day. But daily hospitalizations have remained closer to 20, the threshold for the current stage 3 level of risk. Escott urged increased precautions to prevent the pandemic from getting worse. "It means we have to work harder to continue those protections: the masking, the distancing, the hand hygiene, staying home when we're sick, getting tested, and isolating from other individuals when we have any of the symptoms of COVID-19," he said, "and we've got to work on getting more vaccines out." APH is opening its vaccine availability to anyone 18 and older starting Monday and urging people at higher risk, including public-facing workers, to get an appointment. Escott also announced some brighter news Friday: Since last month, hospital stays have been shorter and mortality rates have been lower. He credited vaccination efforts and the use of monoclonal antibody treatments, which help to reduce severity of the disease.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 13, 2021

Harris County vaccination data shows African-American, Latino residents have fallen behind

Black and Latino Harris County residents received the COVID-19 vaccine at lower rates than their white counterparts, according to a county analysis that also found a person’s likelihood of vaccination, to date, largely has depended on where they live. The findings underscore what a Houston Chronicle analysis found last month: Even though African-American and Latino communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19 in Texas, they are being vaccinated at a much slower pace. The gap exists despite a Harris County public health campaign crafted to convince residents of color to get the vaccine. And it is significant: In the highest-participation ZIP code, 77046 in Upper Kirby, 87 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Fourteen miles north in Greenspoint, 77060, 8 percent of residents have.

“That disparity is so disappointing, but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Rice University health economist Vivian Ho. “A large portion of the vaccines in the state went to the hospital systems, who just went through their electronic records — so if you’re insured, which means you’re more likely to be white, then it was easy for them to sign you up.” Of the 20 Harris County ZIP codes with vaccination rates of at least 31 percent, 18 have predominantly white residents. Sixteen are in the so-called Houston Arrow, the section of Houston from Oak Forest southeast to downtown, southwest to Meyerland, north to the Galleria and west through the Energy Corridor that is significantly whiter and more affluent than other parts of the city. Much of the data from 77030 likely is incorrect, the report notes, since the Texas Medical Center is located there and many hospitals appear to have listed that ZIP code as a way of expediting patient appointments. Of the 20 county ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates, none of which exceed 15 percent, 18 are mostly nonwhite. None are in the Arrow.

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National Stories

Associated Press - April 12, 2021

Nevada reports no new COVID deaths for second straight day

Health officials in Nevada reported no new deaths attributable to COVID-19 on Monday, for a second straight day, and said a two-week measure of the percentage of people tested and found to be infected remained steady at 5% statewide. The state Department of Health and Human Services tallied 319 new coronavirus cases for the day, with the total since the pandemic began more than 308,000. The number of Nevadans who have died from the virus remained at 5,332.

Officials said more than 617,000 people — or nearly 25% of state residents age 16 and older — have been fully vaccinated. Vaccination chief Karissa Loper said Nevada has not seen serious adverse reactions among people receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine like those that prompted officials in Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado to pause administering the single-dose vaccine. Nevada response chief Caleb Cage and medical researcher Dr. Mark Riddle of the UNR School of Medicine said all three vaccines being offered in Nevada are safe and effective. The 5% test positivity rate is the World Health Organization goal for relaxing coronavirus restrictions, and the state’s COVID-19 Task Force is moving this week to turn over pandemic mitigation control to local authorities beginning May 1.

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Associated Press - March 31, 2021

Alabama yoga bill stalls after conservative groups object

Alabama’s decades-old ban on yoga in public schools could stay in place a little longer following push-back from conservative groups. The Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday did not advance the bill after a public hearing in which representatives from two conservative groups objected, saying they were worried it could lead to the promotion of Hinduism or guided meditation practices. The Alabama lawmaker sponsoring the bill, a former college athlete, said the bill is about exercise and not religion. ”This whole notion that if you do yoga, you’ll become Hindu — I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and I go to church and I’m very much a Christian,” Democratic Rep. Jeremy Gray of Opelika. The legislation failed on a tie vote but the committee chairman said he would bring the bill back for another try when more members are present.

The Alabama Board of Education voted in 1993 to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. Gray’s bill says school systems could authorize yoga if they choose. Yoga done in school would be limited to poses and stretches, and all poses would have to have English names. The use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste” would be forbidden. The bill still received criticism in a public hearing. “Yoga is a very big part of the Hindu religion,” Becky Gerritson, director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, told the committee. Gerritson argued the bill is unneeded since students can do stretches now in school. “If this bill passes, then instructors will be able to come into classrooms as young as kindergarten and bring these children through guided imagery, which is a spiritual exercise, and it’s outside their parents’ view. And we just believe that this is not appropriate.” John Eidsmoe, the senior counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law, suggested schools could have yoga clubs instead or parents could sign forms stating they “understand the Hindu origins of this.” Rajan Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said yoga can utilized by people of all religions, and the overwhelming majority of yoga instructors and practitioners in the U.S. and Alabama are non-Hindus and remain non-Hindus.

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Washington Post - April 11, 2021

Mexico’s new migrant policy adds to Biden’s border woes

The message popped up on Pastor Juan Fierro’s phone one recent afternoon. U.S. border agents had expelled another group of Central American families to this Mexican city. Could someone take them in? Fierro, an evangelical minister, was startled by the request. During most of the pandemic, officials in Juárez had sent newly arrived migrants to a quarantine center for 14 days. Suddenly it was full. “There was no place to take care of these people,” Fierro said. So his staff at the Good Samaritan shelter hauled bunk beds into an empty room and penned it in with battered wooden benches. Within days, the rudimentary “quarantine” center held 23 women and children. President Biden hoped to put the brakes on a surge of U.S.-bound Central American families by relying on a Trump-era policy to return them to Mexico. But increasingly, this country is straining to cope with the influx. Mexico is now limiting the number of families it will allow back. That’s forced the U.S. government to accept most of them, as their numbers soar: About 53,000 members of family units were taken into custody in March, compared with 7,300 in January.

Mexico’s pushback has created a new obstacle as the Biden administration struggles to deal with what could be the biggest wave of migrants at the U.S. southern border in 20 years. Pressured by President Donald Trump, Mexico became a crucial buffer zone between Central America and the United States. Its authorities deported tens of thousands of U.S.-bound migrants and took back asylum seekers to await their U.S. court dates. As the coronavirus pandemic descended on both countries last year, the Trump administration adopted one of the most restrictive border policies ever, using a health measure called Title 42 to expel nearly all Central American migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico. The Biden administration continued to use that rule for families and solo adults, while exempting unaccompanied children. Now U.S. officials fear Mexico’s refusal to go along with the family expulsions will have a cascade effect. As more Central Americans succeed in entering the U.S. immigration system, their relatives and neighbors back home are deciding to make the journey. They’re people like Ingrid Posas, 33, who left Honduras in mid-February after seeing Facebook posts of friends who had made it into the United States.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

White House announces pact for more border troops in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala

The Biden administration has secured agreements with Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala to increase troops on their borders as the White House works to find ways to stem the flow of migration to the U.S. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the nations all made a “commitment” to increase border security, with each adding thousands of troops and law enforcement officers. “The objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey and make crossing the borders more difficult,” Psaki said. She said Mexico would keep 10,000 troops on its borders. Guatemala is adding 1,500 police and military personnel and setting up 12 checkpoints, and Honduras is committing 7,000 officers. The agreements were reached in the past “few weeks,” she said.

The agreements come as the Border Patrol encountered more migrants at the southern border in March than it had in two decades with the number of unaccompanied children and families seeking refuge in the U.S. continuing to grow. The precipitous rise in the number of encounters at the border — especially the treatment of children and families in migrant facilities — has emerged as the first major political quandary of President Joe Biden’s term. Republicans call it a “crisis” of Biden’s creation, blaming the uptick on his shift away from some of the Trump administration’s strictest immigration policies. The Biden administration has said it is working to rebuild a mess of an immigration system left by the Trump administration while they’re trying to address the root causes of migration from Central American nations plagued by violence, poverty and political corruption. “Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala have all agreed to do this,” Special Assistant to the President for Immigration for the Domestic Policy Council Tyler Moran said in a TV interview. “That not only is going to prevent the traffickers, and the smugglers, and cartels that take advantage of the kids on their way here, but also to protect those children.”

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Wall Street Journal - April 13, 2021

Google’s secret ‘Project Bernanke’ revealed in Texas antitrust case

Google for years operated a secret program that used data from past bids in the company’s digital advertising exchange to allegedly give its own ad-buying system an advantage over competitors, according to court documents filed in a Texas antitrust lawsuit. The program, known as “Project Bernanke,” wasn’t disclosed to publishers who sold ads through Google’s ad-buying systems. It generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the company annually, the documents show. In its lawsuit, Texas alleges that the project gave Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., an unfair competitive advantage over rivals. The documents filed this week were part of Google’s initial response to the Texas-led antitrust lawsuit, which was filed in December and accused the search company of running a digital-ad monopoly that harmed both ad-industry competitors and publishers. This week’s filing, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, wasn’t properly redacted when uploaded to the court’s public docket. A federal judge let Google refile it under seal.

Some of the unredacted contents of the document were earlier disclosed by MLex, an antitrust-focused news outlet. The document sheds further light on the state’s case against Google, along with the search company’s defense. Much of the lawsuit involves the interplay of Google’s roles as both the operator of a major ad exchange—which Google likens to the New York Stock Exchange in marketing documents—and a representative of buyers and sellers on the exchange. Google also acts as an ad buyer in its own right, selling ads on its own properties such as search and YouTube through these same systems. Texas alleges that Google used its access to data from publishers’ ad servers—where more than 90% of large publishers use Google to sell their digital ad space—to guide advertisers toward the price they would have to bid to secure an ad placement. Google’s use of bidding information, Texas alleges, amounted to insider trading in digital-ad markets.

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NPR - April 12, 2021

Democrats used to run from big government label; they're now embracing it

After years of avoiding words such as redistribution and labels such as socialist, the core of the Democratic Party is embracing big government. The coronavirus pandemic, a changing party makeup and a softening approach to debt and deficit have combined to give Democrats the space to embrace expensive policies and federal government expansion that would have been unheard of a few years ago. President Biden is leading the charge, and many Democrats, not just progressives, are eagerly jumping on board. In less than 100 days, Biden and congressional Democrats have passed the second-largest stimulus bill in U.S. history and launched an infrastructure plan that would spend trillions to remake the economy over the next decade. Polls show significant public support, even as Republicans in Congress have uniformly opposed the president's plans.

It's a dynamic Biden is facing without apology. "I haven't been able to unite the Congress," Biden told reporters at the White House. "But I've been able to unite the country, based on the polling data." Democrats are betting that the majority of voters, including many Republicans, actually want the federal government to step in and help heal the social and economic wounds caused by the pandemic. Republicans argue that voters may like checks and support today, but the policies Biden is advocating, particularly changes to oil and gas production and an expanded focus on climate change, are far too progressive for average Americans. Republicans called Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package a trojan horse for left-wing policies as they voted against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly referred to Biden's plans, particularly on infrastructure, as a liberal wish list. "Joe Biden may have won the nomination," McConnell told reporters in his home state of Kentucky. "But I think Bernie Sanders won the war over what the Democratic Party is these days."

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Axios - April 13, 2021

CDC director: Answer to Michigan COVID-19 surge is "to close things down"

Michigan can't vaccinate its way out of a COVID-19 spike, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing Monday, during which she called on the state "to close things down." Why it matters: Michigan's average daily case count has jumped about seven times from a low point in February, per the New York Times. It's a reality check for the nation, CNN writes.

What she's saying: "When you have an acute situation, an extraordinary number of cases like we have in Michigan, the answer is not necessarily to give vaccines — in fact, we know the vaccine will have a delayed response," she said. "The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer ... to flatten the curve, to decrease contact with one another, to test to the extent that we have available, to contact trace." Shutting things down is imperative, she said. "If we tried to vaccinate our way out of what is happening in Michigan, we would be disappointed that it took so long for the vaccine to work, to actually have the impact," she added. The big picture: Michigan public officials have called on the Biden administration to increase vaccine supply to the state. The White House said on Monday it is prepared to send additional therapeutic treatment to the state, per Reuters.

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Newsclips - April 12, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2021

With glitches and students opting out, how useful will STAAR be in identifying COVID-19 learning loss?

Education leaders are desperate to quantify how much the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered students’ learning, saying that’s a key step in figuring out how to catch kids up. They hope the STAAR test gives them an idea. But the student data stemming from this pandemic year will come with several caveats, namely because thousands of students won’t take the test either because they opted out or aren’t regularly attending school. And when Texas’ online testing system glitched out last week, it triggered yet another complication. Approximately 250,000 students were affected by Tuesday’s outage, caused when ETS, the state’s testing vendor, experienced problems with its database system.

“Above all years, this is the year for sure that we need to have the most accurate information possible,” said Shannon Trejo, DISD’s chief academic officer. Whether that’s possible remains to be seen. The technical problems will cause a lot of concerns about the usability of the results this year, testing experts say. Frank Ward, the Texas Education Agency’s spokesman, acknowledged that the disruptions were “undoubtedly frustrating for some students, parents and teachers.” But according to the agency’s Student Assessment Division, “for purposes of assessing individual student learning, evidence indicates that the results are still valid.” “While we don’t yet know how many students will take the test this year, we do know that the individual test results will help produce a meaningful snapshot and roadmap for millions of Texas students and their families as they continue to work diligently to overcome the learning disruptions of the past year,” Ward said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News.

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Washington Post - April 11, 2021

Texas Gov. Abbott says state is ‘very close’ to herd immunity. The data tells a different story.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said “simple math” is behind the recent decline of coronavirus cases in his state: Take the number of people who have been vaccinated and combine it with the number who have been infected. The result, he argued, is something “very close” to herd immunity — the point at which enough of the population is immune that the virus can no longer easily spread. “We remain very vigilant and guarded and proactive in our response, but there is simple math behind the reason why we continue to have success,” Abbott, a Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” The equation “means, very simply, it’s a whole lot more difficult for covid-19 to be spreading to other people in the state of Texas.” Experts have said that immunity from vaccinations and prior infections may have partly contributed to declining cases nationwide after the virus’s winter surge. But in Texas, the numbers Abbott cited don’t add up to herd immunity, according to estimates of that threshold.

Scientists don’t know the precise point at which herd immunity will begin, but in recent months they’ve said anywhere from 70 percent to more than 90 percent of the population would need to acquire protection. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, has predicted 80 percent to 85 percent. Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and director of its covid-19 modeling consortium, said that “a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding” has surrounded the herd immunity threshold, and that several factors could still influence it. “It depends on the efficacy and duration of immunity acquired through infection or vaccination, whether we have pockets of low immunity in our communities and whether there are emerging variants that can evade immunity,” Meyers said. Just 19 percent of Texas residents are fully vaccinated, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a lower share than all but six U.S. states. Health officials there have confirmed more than 2.4 million infections and counted an additional 400,000 “probable” virus cases. Almost 50,000 of those people have died, according to data gathered by The Washington Post.

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Wall Street Journal - April 11, 2021

CEOs plan new push on voting legislation

Dozens of chief executives and other senior leaders gathered on Zoom this weekend to plot what several said big businesses should do next about new voting laws under way in Texas and other states. Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express Co. , and Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., urged the leaders to collectively call for greater voting access, according to several people who attended. Messrs. Chenault and Frazier warned businesses against dropping the issue and asked CEOs to sign a statement opposing what they view as discriminatory legislation on voting, the people said. The new statement could come early this week, the people said, and would build on one that 72 Black executives signed last month in the wake of changes to Georgia’s voting laws. Mr. Chenault told executives on the call that several leaders had signaled they would sign on, including executives at PepsiCo Inc., PayPal Holdings Inc., T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and Hess Corp. , among others, according to the people.

PayPal confirmed it has signed the statement. PepsiCo, T. Rowe Price and Hess didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. As more companies and their leaders have spoken out on the issue in recent weeks, their stands have drawn the ire of Republican state and federal legislators who say companies are miscasting the matter and shouldn’t act as shadow lawmakers. Meanwhile, activists and others have said that the actions leaders are taking aren’t strong enough. Many CEOs now feel a duty, or pressure, to make their views explicitly known to employees and others, executive advisers said. Plenty of companies remain wary of wading into politically charged areas. One executive from a Fortune 100 consumer-products company said board members, employees and vendors are pressing leaders to speak out, but doing so could put a bull’s-eye on the company. “It’s really a no-win situation from a corporate standpoint,” the executive said. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who also owns the Atlanta United soccer team and PGA Tour Superstore, said on the call he believes a large share of fans of the National Football League, Major League Soccer and Professional Golfers’ Association want the groups to make their positions known on voting rights, people on the call said. Mr. Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot Inc., also said some fans are expecting the NFL to say more now compared with five years ago when NFL player Colin Kaepernick first spoke out on racial justice, the people said.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2021

Can George P. Bush beat Ken Paxton for Texas AG in the Donald Trump-loving GOP?

If George P. Bush challenges incumbent Ken Paxton in the GOP primary for Texas attorney general, it will reveal whether he’s the last of a fading political dynasty or the rising star capable of beating a Donald Trump-era incumbent who’s steeped in controversy. Last week Bush told conservative radio talk show host Mark Davis that he is considering challenging Paxton — the embattled attorney general — in the 2022 GOP primary. “There have been some serious allegations levied against the current attorney general,” Bush told Davis on his 660 AM (The Answer) radio show in Dallas. “Personally I think that the top law enforcement official in Texas needs to be above reproach.” Bush added that “character” and “integrity” matters in public service, giving a clue about the focus of his campaign.

After the interview, I asked Davis for an early take on a Paxton-Bush contest. “It would be a very interesting race, the Bush star quality versus the Paxton legacy,” Davis said. “How damaged is Paxton by all the controversies? Might be a little, might be a lot.” Democrats are taking aim at Paxton as well. Former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, a lawyer, is seeking the party’s nomination for attorney general. Running but not yet affiliated to a political party is civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt. Paxton appears weakened by scandal. The FBI is investigating claims that Paxton abused his power by trading political favors to a political donor. Numerous former top aides who were fired or resigned allege that Paxton took bribes in exchange for a home remodel and a job for his alleged “mistress.” A recent poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler shows some voters give Paxton the benefit of the doubt, which could help him in a campaign against Bush. When poll respondents were asked if Paxton has the integrity to be the state’s top lawyer, 32% agreed he does, 29% disagreed and 39% were unsure.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2021

Jason Villalba: Texas election legislation would prevent my Grandma Villalba from voting

(Jason Villalba is chairman of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and formerly represented Dallas in the Texas House.) With her twisted fingers shaking delicately as she grasped the pen, my 90-year-old grandmother signed her name to the ballot, voting for her grandson, Jason Villalba, to be the next mayor of Dallas. She can’t walk more than a few feet at a time these days, but from the comfort of my air-conditioned car two years ago, Grandma Villalba proudly voted for me. The cracked smile on her weathered visage filled my heart with a joy that I had never felt as an elected official. As a three-term member of the Texas House, I had won elections. However, never before had I experienced the honor of watching my own dear grandmother vote for me. My grandmother, like so many other elderly people in Texas, relies on absentee voting, drive-through voting, early voting and other alternative means to cast her ballot. Grandma would leap for joy if she could get in line to vote at a polling center on Election Day like other Texans. But because of her physical limitations, it’s just not possible any longer.

Texas Senate Bill 7 would eliminate some of the conveniences that allow people who struggle with traditional polling places to vote, such as drive-through voting, 24-hour polling places and official reminders for people to apply for absentee ballots. The bill makes a ham-handed attempt to solve a problem that hardly exists. Verifiable voter fraud in Texas is almost non-existent. In the last two election cycles, when millions of votes were cast, there were almost no claims, indictments, or violations of Texas election laws. Where credible violations of election laws were found, in no instance would such violations have affected the outcome of the election. Based on the filed cases, the data and the facts, election fraud is simply not a problem in Texas. The proponents of these new voting laws say they are intended to protect the integrity of our election systems. As a former Republican elected official, I can look you straight in the eye and tell you that that claim is nonsense. I expect the bills mostly appeal to a tiny fraction of Republican voters who vote in the Republican Party Primary.

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Houston Chronicle - March 31, 2021

Kimberly Shappley: Don't make me leave Texas to support my transgender child

(Kimberly Shappley is a registered nurse at KIND Clinic and the mother of a transgender girl, Kai.) Kai loves school. I mean, sure — on some days it’s hard to get her up and dressed for school, but I’m the mom of a 10-year-old. That comes with the territory. What really matters is that she’s excited to see her classmates and happy to be in class. As the mother of a transgender child, it is difficult to express what a blessing that is. Here in Austin, her teachers want the best for her, she has a great circle of friends, and our community supports her. That’s exactly what we hoped for when we moved here. In 2018 I moved my family from Pearland, and I don’t want to move my children again, but I’m worried that we might have to. Texas legislators are currently debating a slate of bills that would put the lives of transgender youth like my daughter at risk.HB 1399 and HB 68 would ban the medical care she needs, and would punish her doctors, nurses and family for supporting her health and wellbeing. HB 68 goes so far as to accuse families who support their transgender children of committing “child abuse,” subjecting to criminal penalties for supporting their children.

If these bills pass, I will have to uproot our family and leave for a state with comprehensive nondiscrimination laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination against students on the basis of gender identity. Kai would have to leave their friends behind. As a mother and a registered nurse, I urge our state legislators to reject these harmful bans on best practice medical care. I also call on Congress to support a federal law that would protect the 13 million LGBTQ Americans across virtually every area of daily life. It can be hard to understand what it’s like to have a transgender child, especially if you’ve never met someone who is transgender. My daughter was clear about her gender from a very young age, but it took me some time before I was able to accept the truth. She socially transitioned right before starting kindergarten. For Kai, social transition meant affirming her gender by using a new name and pronouns and letting her wear the clothes she felt comfortable wearing. By that time, I had learned that the best way to support her was to embrace her for who she is.

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2021

Dr. Adrian N. Billings and Dr. Janice Blanchard: Our health system is not equipped to vaccinate rural communities

(Dr. Adrian N. Billings is an associate professor and program director of the Alpine Rural Family Medicine Residency Program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center-Permian Basin, and chief medical officer of Preventive Care Health Services, Alpine, Marfa and Presidio. He is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity. Dr. Janice Blanchard is a professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University and program faculty with the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity.) President Joe Biden has boldly announced that 90% of Americans are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine this month. As new COVID variants continue to threaten the United States and increase our susceptibility to the coronavirus, achieving herd immunity through mass vaccination is paramount. Despite this need, many Americans still face major barriers to obtaining the vaccine, especially the 1 in 5 residents who live in rural parts of the country. The reality is that our health care system is not equipped to vaccinate rural communities. We need emergency measures to support vaccine distribution, but our response shouldn’t stop there. This pandemic should serve as a wake-up call: Rural health care can deliver during public health emergencies and otherwise if we invest in the people and infrastructure required. While the White House’s plan will increase availability, increasing the vaccine supply does not always translate to the ability to obtain it.

Rural communities and health care organizations have relied significantly upon the National Guard and private entities to assist with and augment COVID-19 testing efforts. Despite this emergency support, most rural health care organizations remain small and under-resourced. These same under-resourced entities now have the additional responsibility of vaccinating their communities against COVID-19 amid significant challenges. Many rural Americans live in so-called “pharmacy deserts” without access to pharmacies. Compound this barrier with the special temperature storage requirements for two of the three vaccines currently approved for emergency use authorization — Pfizer and Moderna — rural residents have fewer options to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Some rural-based pharmacies instead may rely on smaller shipments of the vaccines. These small shipments are not always reliable — as we discovered when a shipment of Moderna doses to the only clinic in Presidio included vaccines that were no longer at a viable temperature. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be stored at room temperature and requires only one dose, does at least eliminate this hurdle. However, significant barriers still exist. One such barrier is the limited availability of medical providers to distribute the vaccine in rural areas. Eighty percent of rural counties do not have adequate numbers of providers, according to reporting by Pew Research Center, and many have none at all.

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Our recommendation for Arlington mayor

Arlington politics has entered a new era. There was the time before term limits, when mayors tended to serve for decades. The city voted in 2018 to limit the length of time elected city officials may serve, and the current mayor, Jeff Williams, cannot run for reelection. This has unleashed enthusiasm for running for office among a number of smart, accomplished, committed residents. We recommend former city council member and mayor pro tem Michael Glaspie as an experienced Arlington civic leader with a focus on improving city services and building commercial businesses. In particular, Glaspie, 74, points to improvements in public safety, support for local business and recruitment of corporate relocations. As Arlington has built an entertainment district that is home to professional sports teams, amusement parks and national restaurant and hotel franchises, the city’s population has grown.

Arlington now has more density than the city of Dallas, but, as Glaspie and other candidates pointed out, city services haven’t kept up with that growth. As a result, Arlington home values haven’t risen in step with other suburbs, and its school ratings have declined. Glaspie, a former Arlington school board member, also pointed to education as a priority for Arlington. Glaspie is also a former executive with the charter school sponsored by his church, Mount Olive Baptist Church, but the school has since closed. Mayoral candidate Jim Ross, 60, has raised significantly more money than Glaspie or the other competitors, much of it from real estate investors and developers. He has collected a slew of impressive endorsements, including former mayors Williams and Richard Greene, as well as members of the city council. And when asked about the wisdom of the Rangers selling tickets for full capacity on opening day, he said he was heading to the game and supports the owners’ decision.

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2021

Dave Lieber: Need cash? Slap a magnet sign on your truck and say you’re a roofer. Forget the roof. This is Texas

What happens after a monster storm? Storm chasers show up from who knows where and charm desperate homeowners in need of a new roof out of that first insurance check. Then it’s goodbye forever. Texas is the only storm-prone state along the Gulf Coast that doesn’t make storm-chasing roofers touch a stitch of paperwork. This is embarrassing for Texas, and especially the governor and our Legislature, both of whom could easily fix this longstanding problem. Their inaction allows crimes to flourish. Unlike hair cutters and plumbers and tow truck companies, no roofers’ license is required. No certification is demanded. There’s not even a state-sponsored website that offers a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of known honest, reliable roofers. This type of theft happens every day of the year in Texas, and now there’s at least one guy saying enough is enough. State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, has introduced Senate Bill 1481, which calls for a registration system for roofing companies who do post-storm work. For a minimal fee, these storm chasers would get listed on a state website.

The senator says, “You hand somebody $10,000, and you’re not able to look up whether or not they’re registered in the state and have a contact number.” It’s notable that he mentions $10,000 because I spoke this week with Joe Dickens of Arlington, who gave his roofing company that amount. Then the roofers said goodbye forever. No roof for him. “He took the money and ran off, OK?” Dickens says of former House of Tomorrow roofing company owner Jorge Garcia. Dickens is still bitter about being a victim in a huge scheme involving more than 100 homeowners in Dallas, Arlington and Forth Worth. Victims lost a total of $500,000 in lost insurance claims. For both Dickens and for me this matter is highly personal. We both discovered that storm-chasing roofers often behave as if they are members of a crime syndicate. In fact, my roofing experience changed my life. The first roofer I hired after a hailstorm 15 years ago got confused and roofed the house behind me instead of mine. He tried to make my shocked neighbor pay anyway. The second roofer I hired fixed my roof, but then declared bankruptcy, leaving almost a hundred other customers roofless. He was convicted of theft and served prison time. After that experience, I studied what went wrong and what I could do to prevent it. This is why I created a consumer rights movement called Watchdog Nation that shows us how to protect ourselves. I was my own test case, and that’s how that experience changed my life.

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2021

Amy Ledbetter Parham: Texans suffered without lights or water for a few days, but for some, that’s just daily life

(Amy Ledbetter Parham is executive director of Habitat for Humanity Texas.) By hour 10 of sitting in the darkness, with no phone or internet and temperatures plunging to 3 degrees Fahrenheit, I knew a slow-motion disaster was underway. There was nothing to do but wait. At 3 a.m., I heard electric company lineworkers outside trying to restore power to my neighborhood. They were heroes. No power for 23 hours in record-low temperatures led to five days without running water and another four days without hot water. Like so many of my fellow Texans last month, routine things like drinking water, flushing toilets and cooking became something I had to plan for. It wasn’t pioneer-woman hard, but it was hard. I lost a week of productive work, just trying to survive. Now most people are back to normal, except for the nearly 100,000 Texans whose homes lack kitchens or basic plumbing every single day of the year, no matter if it is 3 degrees or 115. A staggering 1 in 3 Texans live in a substandard home like that. Or their house is overcrowded, or too expensive, leaving little money for other basic necessities.

Sure, it’s easy to say: Well, they shouldn’t live there if it is rundown or they can’t afford it. But that isn’t an option for many. In no part of Texas can someone who earns minimum wage afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment, so is it really realistic to say every minimum- or low-wage worker should move out of the state? Sure, we are seeing a housing boom in Texas right now. But those homes are not being built for lower wage earners and working professionals like teachers and police. That sector of the housing market is tightest because, frankly, there is little money to be made in building homes for this income bracket. Nine million Texans — neighbors who take care of our kids when they are young and our parents when they are old, who load our cars with groceries during pandemics, and who get the electricity back on in the middle of the night — deserve a decent place to live. When the problem is that big, it is a problem we must address together. Every societal ill improves when people have access to safe and stable homes, especially homeownership. Children of homeowners are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college than children of renters and they are less likely to get pregnant as teenagers. According to the National Association of Realtors, homeowners are less likely to be victims of crime than renters, too.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2021

‘How much fraud is OK?’: In voter fraud debate, Republicans have a trump card

Democratic state Sen. Royce West of Dallas was making a point. The number of prosecutions for voter fraud cases in the state of Texas is low. In its 15 years of existence, the Texas Attorney General’s Election Integrity Unit has prosecuted a few dozen cases in which offenders received jail time, but none of them involving widespread fraud. And though his colleague, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, was talking about another voter fraud indictment in his home county of Gregg, that was one case in one county in a state of 254 counties and 30 million people. But Hughes had a ready retort: “How much fraud is OK? How much fraud is OK?” he repeated. “I want to know.” Game, set and match. Hughes pushed forward with his bill, an omnibus piece of legislation he says will reduce voter fraud and opponents say will suppress the votes of marginalized communities.

The argument is a familiar one to followers of voting legislation over the last two decades, as Republicans in statehouses across the country have moved to stiffen voting regulations, arguing that such changes are necessary to combat voter fraud. And it’s an effective point. It puts the proposal’s opponents in the unenviable position of having to defend the low level of fraud cases that happen as a normal part of any large election system. Who wants to be pro-fraud? “The difficulty for Democrats is that it’s kind of hard to sell the argument that you won’t eliminate 100% of fraud but that even a small number of cases isn’t a big deal,” said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas who researched arguments over voter fraud bills. “For the public, even one case can legitimize the view that fraud is rampant and impacts the outcome.” “In their over 20 years of this being an issue… Democrats have never come up with an effective counterargument,” Miller said. That’s because Americans by and large do not trust the government’s handling of elections and perceive that there’s more voter fraud than actually exists, he said.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2021

Supporters of I-45 widening say pause puts promises of relief on hold, too

Jill Rafferty proudly acknowledges she bothers a lot of people. Better to rub them the wrong way, she reasons, than let a lack of attention wash her Independence Heights neighborhood away. Flood control efforts, mostly overseen by Harris County, have failed over the past dozen years to keep rain out of people’s homes in heavy storms. Houston workers hardly clean up nearby land the city owns, part of which is a park set on a former water treatment plant, and trash and debris clog the slim channels along 40½ Street, Rafferty said. What worries her, she said, is the very entities she has been pleading with are holding up potential relief by challenging a $7 billion rebuild of I-45 that, at least on paper, will give the area better drainage. The Texas Department of Transportation, she said, laid out a better case to control flooding than city and county officials have.

“Number one, they listened to me,” Rafferty said of TxDOT officials. “Number two, they had a plan to do something.” The increasing divide over the fate of the I-45 rebuild — notably the plan to add two managed lanes in the center of the freeway from downtown Houston north to Beltway 8 that requires seizing properties and displacing low-income residents — also is putting the brakes on improvements in some of those same communities. For all the concerns of what is wrong about the project, supporters say, there also is a lot to like, such as better drainage, potential for parkland in key spots and more predictable travel times to downtown for commuters. “I am concerned some of the citizens, some of the community and some of the people are not aware of the commitments we have made,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan of Houston, a member of four-person board that has the largest role in approving the project. Through four years of refining the project, TxDOT has made many changes to reduce the amount of property needed to spare loss of some locations, including American Statesman Park — aka Mount Rush Hour with its large presidential busts — and Woodland Park near I-45 and Quitman. Various bicycling amenities and improvements to major intersections, such as Little York and I-45, also are planned. So are some devastating community losses, critics and city and county elected officials say. More than 1,000 homes and 300 businesses will be displaced, particularly in low-income and minority communities. Opponents call the idea of widening a freeway antithetical to future travel needs.

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2021

'No one is ever here': Downtown Houston faces uncertain future with pandemic's end in sight

Diana Garcia spends most of her day alone in the gift shop she manages, one of the few stores with lights on in her corner of the tunnel underneath Louisiana Street. The three neighboring restaurants that once brought hundreds of people past Glamour’s Gifts — and many of them inside — remain dark, more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic emptied downtown office towers of workers. “No one is ever here,” Garcia said. Few areas of the local economy were hit as hard by the pandemic as downtown and few face as much uncertainty as the service sector — shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, hair salons — that depends on people coming to work in the city’s center. Even as the pandemic’s end appears in sight and companies begin to bring workers back to the office, it remains unclear how fast employees might return downtown and whether they will come back in the same numbers.

Already, some companies are planning to continue the remote working arrangements forced by coronavirus and embraced by both employers and employees. The financial services company JP Morgan Chase, which has some 2,300 employees in two buildings downtown, recently said it will keep some positions remote and reduce the number of people in its U.S. offices, reconfiguring them to reduce the space it uses by up to 40 percent. The chemical company LyondellBasell, which has about 2,300 employees in its downtown office, said it will consider flexible, remote alternatives to in-person work. The pipeline company Kinder Morgan, which has about 20 percent of its 2,100 working in its headquarters on Louisiana Street, said it has not determined when and how it will bring back other workers. A recent survey by Central Houston, an organization that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of downtown, found that 75 percent of downtown employers expect at least 10 percent of their workforce will transition to a mix of in-person and remote work. Only about 18 percent of employees are working from the office downtown, according to Central Houston’s survey. About half the companies said they expect to bring 50 percent of their workers back to the office by June and 70 percent said they expect to have half their workforce in the office by September.

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2021

How should Texas schools spend $18 billion in stimulus money? Education leaders have ideas.

As students filled classrooms Thursday morning at Best Elementary School, four second-graders gathered in a tucked-away corner of the Alief ISD campus, using plastic coins to learn how to count money. The specialized, small-group instruction is an important tool for catching up students struggling academically — a group whose numbers are growing amid the pandemic. Alief officials hope to tap some of the billions of dollars in federal stimulus money in the next few years to hire additional staff that would allow them to give students more one-on-one attention. “The need for this type of intervention has been magnified because of the academic losses we’re going to have here,” said Best Elementary Principal Renee Canales, who estimated about 30 percent of her students remain in online-only classes.

As state legislators haggle over how to spend roughly $18 billions in stimulus funds allocated to Texas schools, education and nonprofit leaders are starting to identify ways they want to spend the money with the end of the COVID-19 pandemic potentially in sight. Precise needs will vary by school district, but several top education officials have identified similar spending priorities in interviews and public statements. They include hiring new staff, extending the school day and year, adding tutoring services and addressing students’ psychological needs. Texas public school leaders still have no clue how much federal stimulus money they will get, when the funds will start flowing, or what strings will be attached to the cash. Nonetheless, the tight deadline for spending billions — either late 2023 or 2024 — combined with the expected onslaught of hiring and buying make early planning important, education administrators said. Federal lawmakers have passed three stimulus packages containing nearly $20 billion for Texas public and private schools, equal to roughly one-third of annual spending on all public school operating costs in the state. Districts serving higher percentages of lower-income students — such as Houston, Alief, Aldine and Pasadena ISDs — will receive a bigger chunk of the money.

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2021

Shelby Young Greengrass: Your call to duty as a COVID ICU nurse

Pick a spot on the floor and stare. As a COVID ICU nurse, you hold back your tears. You think, “Respect the family’s grief. You didn’t know them, so you don’t have the right to mourn them. Lord, provide your strength.” Pick a spot on the floor and stare. Swallow the pain. You just spent 12 hours trying to save them, or 36 hours, or two weeks, or two months. You’ve been fighting this since the beginning, since March 2020. You held their hand when they were admitted. Behind your N95 mask, underneath the shield, the gown and the gloves, you spoke to them trying to calm them and give them peace. You saw the menacing white spots on their chest X-ray. You gave them oxygen, then more oxygen, then more, then more until they were completely maxed out. You don’t put them on the ventilator just yet. You have seen countless others already die on the ventilator, so now we try to wait. The monitors start to alarm as their oxygen levels plummet.

You try to teach them what proning means; try to explain that lying on their stomachs will bring their oxygen level back up — for now. Proning only buys them time. You try to give hope to their family members while being realistic. You know the odds of them recovering at this stage. After a while, they can only breathe while on their stomach. While struggling for air, they ask you to stay in the room for a little bit because they are so lonely. You hold their hand and stroke their forehead. You try to send healing through your fingertips. They can no longer eat, and they can no longer speak without losing their breath. Eventually, they are not able to lift their heads. Only then do we intubate. Their body starts to fail, the pneumonia gets worse, the sepsis comes alive, their kidneys cease to function, and their blood pressure tanks. And you do what you were trained to do. You fight for them. You fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. After seven-plus years of working in the ICU, you know that sometimes the hard work pays off and sometimes it doesn’t, but that was before COVID-19. Now, your hard work hardly ever pays off. After starting continuous dialysis, starting multiple continuous vasopressors — which keep the blood pressure high enough to get blood to the brain — after placing tubes that penetrate the lungs for fluid to have an escape, they finally start to break down. Their skin starts to fall apart. They swell until they are unrecognizable. To keep them alive, you must keep them proned. While they are face down, their cheeks split open. They now have two large black ulcers all along both cheekbones. They don’t look human anymore. But they are.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 11, 2021

Gilbert Garcia: MOVE Texas selects Venezuela-born Dreamer as new leader

Claudia Yoli Ferla was 8 when she and her mom emigrated from Caracas, Venezuela, to El Paso. In Venezuela, Ferla’s mother practiced law. In El Paso, she worked as a waitress, cook, dishwasher and school crossing guard. Whatever was required to provide for her family. As an undocumented immigrant, Ferla grew up with the fear that at any moment she could be deported and have her dreams completely upended. So when then-President Barack Obama issued his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order in 2012, it wasn’t just a policy decision she supported. It was an action that altered the trajectory of her life.

When U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz instigated a 16-day government shutdown in 2013 in a bid to strip funding for Obama’s Affordable Care Act, it was similarly personal for Ferla. Prior to the enactment of the ACA, Ferla’s mom became very ill and, because she had no access to health insurance, she had to return to Venezuela. “We were separated for years,” Ferla told me Thursday. “And then she passed away.” For Ferla, 28, politics is no game. She doesn’t view elections as horse races, but as opportunities to achieve social justice. On Monday, Ferla will take over as executive director of MOVE Texas, the San Antonio-based grassroots organization devoted to engaging and mobilizing young people. Her belief in the power of the voting process, and her skill at connecting politics and policy, made her an ideal candidate to succeed H. Drew Galloway as MOVE’s leader. MOVE’s mission perfectly aligns with Ferla’s history of seeking out “the intersections of young people and social justice,” as she likes to put it.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 11, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Compromise Alamo plan honors past, present of sacred site

There was no compromise in the historic battle of the Alamo, but compromise is the hallmark of the new plan to reimagine the Alamo grounds, providing proper reverence, historical context and interpretation to the Cradle of Texas Liberty. This new plan may not be the sweeping vision of several years ago, but it also lacks ugly glass walls, keeps the plaza open for all — no handrails hidden in renderings! — and will move the site beyond the status quo of carnivallike businesses on hallowed ground. There is much to like in this plan and an invaluable lesson: Compromise can be a source of strength. Much credit to Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, who has stuck with the Alamo reimagining plan over the span of years and its many iterations, navigating tricky politics and heated emotions from stakeholders.

Meanwhile, District 3 City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, recently appointed as a tri-chair of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee and as one of the six members of the Alamo Management Committee, has brought a fresh and welcome perspective. And hats off to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who made the political changes necessary to revitalize this potentially $450 million project that so many had declared dead. The new plan deftly navigates a slew of sensitive issues surrounding any Alamo makeover. Yes, we were proponents of moving the Cenotaph a few hundred feet to the south. But this was a nonstarter for thousands of Texans and the Texas Historical Commission, which denied a permit last year. At that time District 1 City Councilman Roberto Treviño, who had been council’s lead on this project, said the decision “spells the end of the project,” but clearly such a view was far too narrow.

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KXAN - April 11, 2021

A rural town ran out of resources to help a homeless man. So, they brought him to Austin

On Tuesday, the head of Austin’s police union posted a video to social media showing a Giddings Police Department officer dropping someone off at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. “That’s just a disgrace,” Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday can be heard saying on the video. “These other counties need to be held accountable and take care of their own folks.”

Giddings is 55 miles east of Austin. The police chief there, Haril Walpole, confirmed to KXAN on Wednesday that, yes, one of his officers brought a man experiencing homelessness to Austin. But that was only after the man’s family turned him away and the town of just over 5,000 ran out of resources to help him. Walpole said that this was the department’s first transportation of an individual experiencing homelessness to Austin in his seven years as chief. “I hope that I’m a compassionate person and I feel for his needs. I think about what’s going through his head as he’s breaking into a garage at night so that he doesn’t have to sleep outside,” Walpole said. “I don’t like other agencies bringing their issues to us and I certainly don’t want to do that to them. Unfortunately, it just led to that.” Like many smaller communities, Giddings doesn’t have the volume of individuals experiencing homelessness to warrant the construction of a shelter and the city doesn’t have the money to build one, anyway.

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KXAN - April 11, 2021

Lawmaker pushes for bill to better track data on moms dying, barely surviving childbirth

Jamie Brown-Rosas had a healthy pregnancy and didn’t think she would have any complications delivering her baby girl. But she quickly realized something was wrong right before her delivery in June of 2018. She remembers being told that she couldn’t get an epidural because her blood platelets were severely low and she was at risk of bleeding out. “When they’re telling you all of this, you’re just, you don’t even know what to say. You have a baby you’re trying to deliver, and they’re giving you all this information and it’s the first time you’re hearing it. So, it’s very scary,” explained Brown-Rosas. The former Austin resident now lives outside of Houston and was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome during the birth of her daughter. It would be a complication that would reappear again during the delivery of her second child, a baby boy.

According to the March of Dimes, HELLP syndrome is a serious pregnancy complication that affects the blood and liver. HELLP stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and a low platelet count. “You think this is a completely natural occurrence to, to be pregnant and to have your baby in the hospital. And when it’s not, it’s very scary and it’s even scarier when you could possibly lose your life, lose your baby,” said the mom. The complication is one State Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston, said should be tracked by the state. She refiled a bill this session that would create the first statewide, online maternal mortality and morbidity data registry. The web portal would collect and store data from hospitals and other health care providers across the state on deaths during or within one year of delivery and near deaths.

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KXAN - April 11, 2021

Ohio insurance company refuses to defend ERCOT, pay damage claims from Texas winter storm lawsuits

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas could be left to pay for the legal defense and damages resulting from more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the state’s power grid manager following the February storm. The storm left more than 4.5 million Texans without power. The storm is blamed for the deaths of 125 people across the state, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The majority of the deaths resulted from hypothermia, the state says.

Within days of the storm, stories of Texans freezing to death began showing up across the state. One included Cristian Pindea, 11, from Conroe, whose parents said spent part of the day playing in the snow. The family said power was cut to their mobile home and temperatures inside dipped to ten degrees at one point. Pineda’s parents told reporters they found the boy dead in his bed the next morning. Lawmakers discussed Pineda’s death many times during Feb. 25 legislative hearings into the state’s power grid failure. The Cincinnati Insurance Company, headquartered in Ohio, filed a federal suit on Tuesday asking a court for a declaratory judgement, allowing the insurer to decline paying damages in bodily injury or property damage lawsuits where ERCOT is found to be liable.

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Newsweek - April 9, 2021

Two Texas Republicans set to appear at Dallas QAnon event as petition seeks cancellation

Two Texas republicans are set to appear at a three-day QAnon affiliated event, which also features some of the most prominent supporters of the conspiracy theory. Rep. Louie Gohmert and Texas GOP chairman Allen West are promoted as special guests for the For God & Country Patriot Roundup, scheduled to take place over the Memorial Day weekend at the Gilley's Dallas complex and the Omni Dallas Hotel. The conference is being organized by a QAnon group known as The Patriot Voice—a.k.a "QAnon John" (real name John Sabal) and his wife, Amy.

Keynote speakers include prominent QAnon figures such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had the hashtag #WWG1WGA—an abbreviation of the QAnon slogan "where we go one we go all—in his now suspended Twitter account. Flynn is also accused of taking a makeshift oath of office in his backyard that ended with "where we go one we go all" in July 4, 2020. Others who will be appearing at the three day event in May are "Kraken" lawsuit attorney Sidney Powell, who is heavily linked to the movement, and key QAnon advocates such as Jordan Sather, "IET" and "RedPill78," whose real name is Zak Paine. Despite major QAnon influencers attending and QAnon language and imagery being used in its promotion, the organizers of the event have denied that it amounts to what is essentially a QAnon convention. Elsewhere, a Change.org petition has been set up urging the City of Dallas to cancel the event organized by supporters of a movement the FBI lists as a domestic terrorist threat. "Please, use common sense and decency and do not allow this event to happen," the petition states. "There is a difference between free speech and perpetuating dangerous lies from the mouths of dangerous people."

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Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2021

Texas launched a COVID-19 program to help people pay electric bills. Then lobbyists went to work.

In late March last year, as the pandemic led to devastating layoffs across Texas, the state Public Utility Commission ordered electric utilities to suspend late fees and offer deferred payment plans to residential customers who lost their jobs and were in danger of disconnection. “As our state takes appropriately aggressive measures to stem the tide of a disease with outsize potential to spread and harm our citizens, we must include provisions to assist families at increased risk of losing power, water and sewer service,” DeAnn Walker, the utility commission chairwoman at the time, said. But no state money was dedicated to promoting the program to the general public; utility customers not on a special low-income list were responsible for requesting the relief. And behind the scenes, lobbyists for utilities and trade associations were meeting with state officials in an attempt to hollow out the program.

“We have been working with other stakeholders on ways to potentially limit the number of people applying for funding,” a memo to members of the Texas Oil and Gas Association,dated April 14, 2020, says. “A proposal was brought to us by other stakeholders that would transition a customer off this Emergency Relief Program once they begin receiving unemployment benefits. We do not yet have a feel for how politically attractive this option will be, but it appears to have decent support among customers, utilities and the (retail electric providers).” The memo directed members to send questions to Shana Joyce, director of government and regulatory affairs at the trade association — and a former adviser to an agency commissioner. Joyce and an association spokesperson declined interview requests. It's unclear how much sway the lobbyists actually had over the program; when the PUC commissioners announced in August they were winding down the program — amid the summer coronavirus surge and as millions of Texans were still out of work — then-Commissioner Shelly Botkin said she was “proud to have been a part of such an innovative approach to helping our fellow Texans in the toughest circumstances.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 10, 2021

Feds blame Sutherland Springs shooter for lying on firearm purchase forms

Lawyers defending the Air Force in the Sutherland Springs trial said Friday the gunman lied on federal forms by denying he was prohibited from buying firearms, including the assault-style rifle he used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church in November 2017. Families are suing the Air Force over its failure to report to the national firearms database Devin Kelley’s criminal background while he was in the service. If reported, his conviction and imprisonment for assaulting his wife and infant stepson would have prevented him from legally buying weapons. The government says the Air Force wasn’t culpable and Kelley himself was to blame for deceiving the national background check system. He bought several guns, including the Ruger AR-556 he used in the Nov. 5, 2017, mass shooting.

Paul Stern, the lead government lawyer, noted that Kelley had claimed on forms for guns he bought that he had never been convicted of a felony (even one where the punishment was a year or less) or any domestic violence misdemeanor. “Was Devin Kelley truthful in providing answers?” Stern asked Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for criminal justice information services. She helped develop the national FBI database used by licensed gun dealers to check the backgrounds of buyers. “No, he answered ‘No’ to all the questions that are relevant,” Del Greco testified. “So in other words, was Devin Kelley willing to lie and subject himself to a felony charge with a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment and (a fine of up to) $250,000 in order to obtain firearms?” “Yes, he was,” Del Greco answered.

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WFAA - April 11, 2021

Why Sen. Royce West voted to make the national anthem required at pro sports events

Last week, there was a surprising vote in the Texas Senate. Eleven Democrats joined Republicans to require that professional sports teams play the national anthem before each game. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wanted this after the Dallas Mavericks temporarily stopped playing the song in protest at the beginning of the season.

One of those who supported it was state Sen. Royce West. He represents downtown Dallas and much of the southern portion of the county. "Most of us were brought up singing the Star Spangled Banner," said West. He believes people should know and sing the song, and that it brings people together. West says the words of the song as aspirational for the country.

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City Stories

WFAA - April 11, 2021

This North Texas city projects a population jump from 30,000 to 160,000 in 10 years

The Collin County city of Celina is booming, both in terms of rooftops and residents. Residential building permits were up 50% last year and they’re pacing to jump even more this year as the city tries to surpass the much larger city of Frisco in single-family home growth. Celina’s population of about 30,000 has tripled in the past four years and is expected to hit about 160,000 people by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, Corson Cramer Development, a new Dallas-based residential land development firm, has purchased 220 acres for a new community named North Sky Celina west of Preston Road off Louisiana Drive. As planned, the community will have 783 residential homesites. The homes are expected to range in price from the low $200,000s to the $400,000s. Celina has created a 30-year plan for how they want the city to grow and a vision that allows developers to deliver high-quality communities more quickly than in other North Texas cities, City Manager Jason Laumer said. “We have a lot of people moving into the Metroplex from out of state,” Laumer said. “Someone told me the other day they were driving down Preston and saw an Arizona license plate and a California license plate an Illinois license plate.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 9, 2021

San Antonio law firm Langley & Banack sued after southwestern Texas ranch deal goes awry

Lawrence “Larry” Hancock, an heir to the founder of a fabric store chain, liked to invest in Texas ranches with the intent of selling them for a profit. Hancock’s acquisitions included a 40,000-acre ranch in the Laredo area, as well as 18,000 acres split between two ranches in Val Verde and Kinney counties in southwestern Texas in 2006. Hancock lived on the larger of the two ranches he bought in 2006 — the 12,572-acre Weston Ranch, where he hunted white-tail deer and other game and worked on the property.

Though a Mississippi native, Hancock appeared Texan. “Little bit of cowboy in him, I would say,” said Catherine Hancock McMahan, Hancock’s oldest daughter, 42. “He enjoyed hunting and riding around seeing what he could see. He loved the wildlife, the different plants and all that the land had to offer. He liked everything about it.” Hancock, 71, no longer roams the ranch. He has dementia and resides in an assisted-living facility in Tupelo, Miss. The Weston Ranch has been sold, disposed under duress to avoid a foreclosure by the company his father started and that held a note on the property. Fights over various Weston Ranch transactions erupted in Mississippi and San Antonio courts, including a couple that pitted McMahan — as her father’s court-appointed conservator, watching over his estate — against various parties, including the family company and Hancock’s three sisters.

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National Stories

Associated Press - April 11, 2021

Nevada GOP censures elections official who defended results

Nevada’s Republican Party voted to censure the secretary of state, accusing her of failing to fully investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. She says there was no widespread fraud and that her own party is attacking her for refusing to “put my thumb on the scale of democracy.” Barbara Cegavske, the only Republican statewide office holder in Nevada, said members of her party are disappointed with the election results and believe fraud occurred “despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief.” Cegavske, who has overseen elections in the state since 2014, has repeatedly defended the results as reliable and accurate despite attacks from President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

Nevada is among the states where former Trump sought to subvert results from the November 2020 election with lawsuits and conspiracy theories. President Joe Biden defeated Trump in the Western swing state by 2 percentage points, or nearly 34,000 votes. “Regrettably, members of my own political party have decided to censure me simply because they are disappointed with the outcome of the 2020 election. While I have been loyal to the Nevada Republican Party during my over two decades as an elected official, I have been unwavering in my commitment to oversee elections and administer Nevada’s election laws in a neutral, nonpartisan manner,” Cegavske said in a statement Sunday. “My job is to carry out the duties of my office as enacted by the Nevada Legislature, not carry water for the state GOP or put my thumb on the scale of democracy. Unfortunately, members of my own party continue to believe the 2020 general election was wrought with fraud — and that somehow I had a part in it — despite a complete lack of evidence to support that belief.” A GOP official who was unauthorized to speak publicly confirmed to The Associated Press that the measure passed on a 126-112 vote by the party’s governing members at a meeting in the state capital, Carson City.

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USA Today - April 11, 2021

Paul Stekler: Find a rope, get a tree: That's the sorry history of lynching, not the justice we need now

There’s a huge oak tree in the middle of a quiet rural intersection just a mile or so outside of downtown Columbus, Texas. Its branches reach over the roads on all sides. At its base, a state historical marker notes the centennial founding of Colorado County. There’s no indication that in November 1935, a year before the marker was placed there, two African American teenagers were taken to the tree by a mob and lynched. In a New York Times article, “Texas Prosecutor Condones Lynching,” the elected official says it was “an expression of the will of the people.” A faded photograph, a ghostly negative taken at night, shows two bodies suspended from what is still known as the Hanging Tree. Benny Mitchell was 16. Ernest Collins was 15.

At a recent congressional hearing in the wake of the killings of eight people, including six Asian American women in Atlanta, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas made news by invoking what he called Texas justice. After citing a wide range of other victims — such as victims of drug cartels and of rioting and looting in the streets — he said there are “old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.” In the classic old Westerns, hangings were part of frontier justice, much like the retribution against murderous bandits in Larry McMurtry’s novel “Lonesome Dove.” Today, though, you’d have to be not paying attention to be unaware of the rope as part of the persecution of Mexican Americans and African Americans in Texas. The website Lynching in Texas has documented hundreds of lynchings in the state, at least the ones they could find written about. Their numbers include actions taken by the Texas Rangers and other recognized law enforcement personnel, acting outside of any court-ordered punishments. The numbers also reflect the violence perpetrated against Mexican Americans in South Texas and along the border, particularly as that population had their land and property taken from them. It was not uncommon at public lynchings for vendors to circulate with refreshments and photographs of past hangings, sold as picture postcards.

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Los Angeles Times - April 12, 2021

As protesters on left and right target public servants at home, one city pushes back

For government officials from Los Angeles to Seattle and beyond, 2020 was the year that political protests literally came home to roost. Demonstrators repeatedly ditched traditional venues, such as government buildings and big commercial streets, to chant, fulminate and sit-in outside the front doors of officials including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and the county's director of public health, Barbara Ferrer. When Sacramento’s mayor and city manager got the same treatment in 2020, the city responded like many of its peers nationally: quietly letting the protesters have their way, in the hope of avoiding violent encounters with police.

That approach ended on the last Sunday of March in California’s capital, at a planned protest outside City Manager Howard Chan’s suburban home. It triggered a massive police response and denunciations from civic leaders, business organizations, a statewide federation of civic officials and even civil rights groups. “No more," said an open letter signed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, his eight fellow City Council members and about 60 other individuals and organizations. “A small group of people willing to embrace violence to advance their ill-defined agenda cannot be allowed to put our city leaders and their families at risk in their homes. Protest at City Hall, not outside someone’s bedroom.” The subsequent protest drew only about 30 people and petered out without any serious confrontation. None of the demonstrators, upset at the city manager's handling of police abuses and winter sheltering of homeless people, were arrested. Chan’s home went undamaged, in contrast to a February rampage in which police said demonstrators tore up Steinberg’s front yard, pelted his door with rocks, trashed a garden sculpture and stole a security camera. Over the last year, groups on the left and right have taken protests to officials' front steps, targeting not just thick-skinned career politicians but more obscure appointed bureaucrats. Last year, conservative antimask protesters showed up at the home of Dr. Nichole Quick, Orange County's chief health officer, displaying a banner depicting her as Adolf Hitler. The doctor resigned days later.

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ESPN - April 10, 2021

Cheryl Reeve, Napheesa Collier of Minnesota Lynx call on NCAA to take action for transgender athletes

Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve and forward Napheesa Collier have joined current and former NCAA athletes and LGBTQ advocates in calling on the NCAA to take action in response to legislative measures restricting access to athletics for transgender athletes that are being considered and enacted across the country. Fifty-six legislative measures have been filed in more than 30 states during the 2021 legislative session, according to Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi have signed their respective measures into law. The motivation for these bills, according to lawmakers, is said to be the protection of women's sports.

"What's really harming women's sports is an overall lack of investment, whether in resources for female athletes, opportunities to coach [or] lack of pay," Reeve said. "The notion that the motivation for transgender athletes is to gain scholarships or competitive advantage is a false narrative. Trans inclusion makes our sports, our teams and our communities stronger." "I consider transgender women my teammates, not a threat," Collier said. "The NCAA has to take action and withdraw all athletic competition from states considering harmful anti-transgender sports bills." The NCAA removed its championship events from North Carolina in 2016 after the passage of House Bill 2, a law that required all people to use bathrooms in accordance with their sex assigned at birth. In addition, the ACC relocated its football championship from Charlotte and the NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans.

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Politico - April 11, 2021

Ramsey Clark, attorney general under LBJ, dies at 93

Ramsey Clark, the attorney general in the Johnson administration who became an outspoken activist for unpopular causes and a harsh critic of U.S. policy, has died. He was 93. Clark, whose father, Tom Clark, was attorney general and U.S. Supreme Court justice, died on Friday at his Manhattan home, a family member, Sharon Welch, announced to media outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post. After serving in President Lyndon Johnson’s Cabinet in 1967 and ’68, Clark set up a private law practice in New York in which he championed civil rights, fought racism and the death penalty, and represented declared foes of the United States including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. He also defended former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

New York civil rights attorney Ron Kuby, who worked with Clark on numerous cases, called the death “very, very sad in a season of losses.” “The progressive legal community has lost its elder dean and statesman,” Kuby said. “Over many generations, Ramsey Clark was a principled voice, conscience and a fighter for civil and human rights.” In courtrooms around the country Clark defended antiwar activists. In the court of public opinion, he charged the United States with militarism and arrogance, starting with the Vietnam War and continuing with Grenada, Libya, Panama and the Gulf War. When Clark visited Iraq after Operation Desert Storm and returned to accuse the United States of war crimes, Newsweek dubbed him the Jane Fonda of the Gulf War. Clark said he only wanted the United States to live up to its ideals. “If you don’t insist on your government obeying the law, then what right do you have to demand it of others?” he said. The lanky, soft-spoken Texan went to Washington in 1961 as a New Frontiersman in President John F. Kennedy’s Justice Department.

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Newsclips - April 11, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 9, 2021

Texas lawmakers want state to find a way to halt evictions until backlogged rental relief is sent

The Texas legislature wants the state agency handling federal rent relief distribution to find a way to halt eviction proceedings while it works through a backlog of requested relief payments. The Texas House Committee on Urban Affairs delivered that message to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs at a hearing this week. It followed a scathing report that detailed how the agency had disbursed less than 1% of its $1.3 billion in the first 45 days of the program. The agency has contended that the state established its program faster than most others due to its understanding of the urgent need for relief. Bobby Wilkinson, the state agency’s executive director, told the committee that he expects the number of relief payments being sent to landlords and tenants to increase exponentially in the coming weeks.

“We have a huge pipeline building,” Wilkinson said. The agency declined to provide a timeline or goal for those disbursements, arguing that it needed at least the next couple of weeks to onboard the additional vendors that it brought onto the relief program. The consulting firm it originally hired with a $42.6 million contract has struggled to launch the online application system. The state agency also said it is negotiating with the contractor, Horne LLP, to potentially decrease the total amount it will pay under the contract, given a failure to deliver adequate software and other struggles with the program’s rollout. Lawmakers on the committee pointed out that eviction bans have been effectively lifted before the program could distribute any significant amount of aid. It asked the agency to work with Gov. Greg Abbott to halt evictions statewide until more aid can be sent. The agency agreed to look into it, but it isn’t known if Abbott would issue such an order or whether the Texas Supreme Court would reverse its decision to let the eviction ban expire last week. Texas Tenants Union director Sandy Rollins said lawmakers could pass a bill on an emergency basis to address the issue. Rollins called the state supreme court decision to let the eviction ban lapse “disgusting.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2021

Houston Republican withdraws bill to redraw Texas appellate court districts

A controversial proposal to cut the number of Texas appellate courts has been withdrawn by the author, Houston Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman, because she says there isn't enough time left in session to pass it. “Since the 87th Legislature concludes its business at the end of May, time does not allow for Senate Bill 11 to move further in the legislative process,” Huffman wrote in a letter obtained by Hearst Newspapers that was sent to fellow senators, including those on the Jurisprudence Committee, which she chairs and where the bill was heard last week. Her office did not respond to a request for further comment Friday.

Huffman had said the rework is necessary to help balance the workload among the courts. Under the current setup, which hasn’t been restructured in decades, the state frequently has to transfer cases from high-volume courts to lower-volume courts. Democrats had criticized the bill as an attempt at partisan gerrymandering, after a blue wave helped them win majorities on half of the state’s 14 appellate courts in 2018 and greatly increased diversity on the bench. The party, along with appellate court attorneys and judges, also worried that it would reduce the voting power of minorities. “It’s the right call,” said Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, in a statement Friday. “The public hearing made it quite clear that the whole undertaking was fraught in both politics and process, and that it lacked support from judges, lawyers, and litigants. With so much other work to do, we can’t allow ourselves to get bogged down in this.” Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, echoed Johnson’s sentiments and said he hopes that if the bill comes up again in future sessions, Huffman will be “open and transparent during the development phase of any new map and consult with all members of the Texas Senate, especially those who represent minority communities.”

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New York Times - April 10, 2021

Trump lashes his enemies anew as G.O.P. dances around his presence

The first spring donor retreat after a defeat for a political party is typically a moment of reflection and renewal as officials chart a new direction forward. But with former President Donald J. Trump determined to keep his grip on the Republican Party and the party’s base as adhered to him as ever, the coming together of the Republican National Committee’s top donors in South Florida this weekend is less a moment of reset and more a reminder of the continuing tensions and schisms roiling the G.O.P. The same former president who last month sent the R.N.C. a cease-and-desist letter demanding they stop using his likeness to raise money on Saturday evening served as the party’s fund-raising headliner. “A tremendous complication” was how Fred Zeidman, a veteran Republican fund-raiser in Texas, described Mr. Trump’s lingering presence on the political scene.

The delicate dance between Mr. Trump and the party — after losing the House, the Senate and the White House on his watch — was evident in some actual shuttle bus diplomacy on Saturday, as the party’s top donors attended a series of receptions and panels at the Four Seasons Resort before traveling to Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s private club, to hear Mr. Trump speak. The former president’s insistence on leading the party “affects every member,” Mr. Zeidman said, as lawmakers and would-be elected officials jockey for a Trump endorsement that was as powerful in a Republican primary as it could be problematic in a general election. As donors and G.O.P. leaders looked on Saturday night, Mr. Trump quickly cast aside his prepared remarks and returned to his false claims that the election was stolen from him. He referenced “Zuckerberg” and $500 million spent on a “lockbox” from which, he said, every vote was marked, according to remarks described by an attendee. “Biden. Saintly Joe Biden,” he said. Mr. Trump praised loyalists like Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff, while lashing his enemies — among them Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker; former President Barack Obama, whom he called “Barack Hussein Obama”; Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser; and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, whom he berated anew for not helping overturn Mr. Biden’s win in the state.

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Washington Post - April 9, 2021

How the forces inside the GOP that pushed out John Boehner led to Matt Gaetz

John A. Boehner never served a day in Congress with Rep. Matt Gaetz, nor does the former House speaker write a single word on the controversial young Florida Republican in his new memoir. But a decade ago, as he fulfilled his political dream of claiming the speaker’s gavel, Boehner quickly learned how his party was changing, evolving from an ideologically conservative outfit into an emotionally driven grievance caucus, now epitomized by Gaetz, 38. First Boehner (R-Ohio) tried to corral some conservatives who bucked his leadership, then he pleaded with executives at Fox News to keep these rabble rousers off the airwaves, because they had no real policy agenda beyond self promotion. “Controversy sells and outrage and rebellion are rewarded,” Boehner writes in “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” his new book recounting 25 years in the House. “In part, it’s because of people who come to Washington intent on promoting themselves instead of working together. They claim to be true believers and purists, like the right-wing Freedom Caucus or the left-wing Squad, but really they are just political terrorists.”

He failed, miserably, to tame those forces and by the fall of 2015, they helped push him into retirement. Now, after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency, self-promotion is the name of the game inside the Republican Party, particularly Boehner’s old House GOP conference. Before a reported criminal investigation into possible sex crimes threatened his career, Gaetz devoted himself to an entirely media-driven approach. Whether in a committee room or on the House floor, he focused on using the conservative media echo chamber to go viral. “The way that you’re able to elevate your profile in Washington is to drive conflict, because conflict is interesting. And I think that the really powerful people in this town are the ones that can go on television and make an argument, and that’s power that leadership can never take away from you,” he told the producers of “The Swamp,” an HBO-sponsored documentary released last year. First elected in 2016, along with Trump, Gaetz had come from a politically connected family in Florida aligned with former governor Jeb Bush. Even after Gaetz switched his endorsement to Trump, House GOP leaders initially saw him as an establishment type. They awarded him with seats on the Judiciary and Armed Services committees, a rare feat for a freshman. He quickly made clear his interest was on media appearances and winning attention from Trump, who devoured cable news.

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State Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 11, 2021

Sen. Cornyn says police are asked to do too much after meeting with North Texas chiefs

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn met with North Texas’ three newest police chiefs on Friday in Dallas and he told them he wants to secure federal grants that will allow law enforcement to do less. The senator spoke with Fort Worth Chief Neil Noakes, Dallas Chief Eddie Garcia and Arlington’s Al Jones. None of the police chiefs responded to a request for comment. Too many times police are asked to be mental health crisis managers or social workers, Cornyn said. Through grants, police departments can get better, specialized training and hire social workers and mental health experts.

“They need to keep the bad guys at bay and protect the community,” Cornyn said of what an officer’s responsibility should be. A lot of times, police aren’t dealing with hardened criminals. Those with mental health issues should be properly diagnosed and sent to the correct facilities, he said. Cornyn also said he is against taking funds from police and putting it into social services. He believes that’s what federal grants are for. “I do think social services are useful, but I wouldn’t punish the police,” he said. Cornyn also asked for each chief to give him recommendations in the future regarding qualified immunity. On Thursday, New Mexico became the third state to ban qualified immunity and gave people the right to sue government entities, including police, if they allege that their civil rights were violated. The senator said qualified immunity is going to be a big topic and doesn’t want to take a stance before getting recommendations from the police chiefs. In Fort Worth, last summer’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis spurred protests for weeks. Protest groups called for the defunding of the city’s Crime Control Prevention District and moving those funds to more social services.

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Texas Monthly - April 11, 2021

Chris Hooks: Californians could ruin Texas—but not the way you might think

Some 16,000 years ago, one theory holds, Homo sapiens crossed the Bering Strait and swiftly migrated down the West Coast of North America. Eventually, descendants of those early humans found their way to Texas, encountering camels, ancient bison, and giant armadillos. “Californians!” the critters probably grumbled. “There goes the neighborhood.” The latest flash point in the seemingly never-ending conflict between Texas natives and new arrivals comes courtesy of another coterie of Californians, most notable among them superstar podcaster Joe Rogan and eccentric billionaire Elon Musk. Rogan relocated last August, saying he felt Los Angeles had become overcrowded, though he might also have been induced to move by Texas’s lack of a state income tax. (He had recently inked a $100 million deal with Spotify.) Musk, who in January briefly seized the title of richest man on the planet, had threatened to move Tesla out of the Bay Area in the early months of the pandemic, following a dispute with county officials over his refusal to keep its Fremont factory closed as a COVID-19 precaution.

Just a few months after announcing that Austin had won the bidding for a new Tesla facility, he revealed in December that he had moved to Texas to be closer to it and his other prominent enterprise, SpaceX, in Boca Chica. Around the time of Musk’s splashy declaration, tech giant Oracle unveiled plans to relocate its headquarters from Redwood City, California, to a new campus in Austin, and IT hardware and services company Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced a move from San Jose, California, to Houston. Then, in January, financial services multinational corporation Charles Schwab designated its Denton County facility as its headquarters, a shift from its former San Francisco location. Folks from all across the country have been moving to Texas, of course. But the Californian trend seems to be accelerating, as does local anxiety about it. The nearly 700,000 Californians who have relocated here since 2010 loom large in the Texan imagination because they come from the only state richer and more populous than Texas, and the only one next to whom the Lone Star State can play the underdog. And many of the Californian transplants who grab headlines do so because they are loud—almost as loud as the powerful Texans boasting of their arrival. Prominent Silicon Valley departees describe their “exodus” in urgent, ideological terms. Joe Lonsdale, the cofounder of the surveillance behemoth Palantir, who recently moved with his smaller venture firm to Austin, declared that like-minded others must “make a stand together for a free society” after years of suffering in closed-minded, groupthinking California.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 9, 2021

Darrin Q. Rankin, Steven Johnson and Jacob Fraire: Texas can close digital divide in higher education

(Darrin Q. Rankin is chancellor of WGU Texas; Steven Johnson is president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas; and Jacob Fraire is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Community Colleges.) The Texas Legislature is considering legislation that may become one of the most important policy changes for higher education in the state: Senate Bill 5. This bill, along with its companion, House Bill 5, would establish a statewide broadband office and require a statewide plan for high-speed internet access. It would have far-reaching implications for both online and classroom learning. While SB 5 is a crucial first step, we must continue working together to ensure Texans, including students in higher education, have broadband access regardless of where they live or their income level.

COVID-19 hampered state efforts to help Texans enroll in and complete higher education. In our second biannual statewide higher education poll, we found that roughly 1 in 10 students reported an interruption to their higher education training or certificate due to the pandemic. Distance learning forced 1 in 3 Texans to purchase new equipment to continue going to work or school, with 87 percent of those who purchased technology for school not reimbursed. Worse, 43 percent reported these purchases were a financial hardship. Texas is still facing a troubling digital divide in higher education — one in which those who have access to technology can obtain an advanced degree. In contrast, those disadvantaged by socioeconomic status or location are locked out. Yet, it’s not just gaining access to a computer, tablet or phone that creates obstacles for students; it’s also access to high-speed internet. Lack of reliable internet service to access online courses or education is cited by 23 percent of Texans as an obstacle to completing a college degree.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 8, 2021

Allison N. Winnike: A booster for Texas vaccine registry

(Allison N. Winnike is president and CEO of the Immunization Partnership, a statewide nonprofit organization.) Imagine you need to get somewhere quickly and safely. You call your ride-hailing company — and it sends Fred Flintstone in his family car. Not what you had in mind and not what you paid for. The Texas Immunization Registry, ImmTrac2, is not quite a Stone Age vehicle for sharing our vital immunization records, but in its present form, it certainly is not what Texans have in mind or what we paid for. The Texas Department of State Health Services, or DSHS, consolidates and stores individuals’ vaccine records from health care providers, pharmacies, public health clinics, Medicaid claims administrators and the Vital Statistics Unit of DSHS.

Texas launched ImmTrac2 in 2017 to replace the legacy system, enhance functionality and improve the exchange of electronic health record data. Texas, however, is one of four states requiring “opt-in.” This means parents and adults must fill out and submit a consent form when they get their first vaccination, but sometimes they must repeat the process the next time because their provider cannot access their information in the registry. Data in, but not always data out. Cumbersome, yes. Inefficient, yes. A waste of provider time and taxpayer dollars, absolutely, especially as we try to vaccinate Texans against COVID-19. As of Wednesday, almost 17 percent of Texans were fully vaccinated, but the daily entry of that data stretches the abilities of people and technology to keep up to keep us safe. And here’s why: Ideally, your provider would submit your opt-in consent and vaccination information at the same time. However, Texas created electronic consent codes that conflict with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national functional standards. The result: Health care providers cannot directly input this medical information into ImmTrac2.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 9, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Told you so; now cancel STAAR test

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Gov. Greg Abbott should have canceled the STAAR test this year, and the failure Tuesday to get the test going for online testers underscores that point. Teachers venting about this on social media have said this is karma, but it’s deeper. The STAAR fails students, teachers and taxpayers. Calling the statewide glitches “completely unacceptable,” Texas Education Agency officials told school districts to suspend the first day of STAAR testing when thousands of students showed up in person — including many who have been learning remotely because of COVID-19.

The issues — from slow response times to students unable to log in — affected online testers. Writing tests for fourth and seventh graders were disrupted, as were English I tests for high school students, according to the TEA. Online testing resumed Wednesday, and testing is scheduled to continue until May 14. But why? STAAR results won’t count toward A-F district accountability measures this year and testing isn’t required for most remote students. However, STAAR is required for high school juniors and seniors, who must pass five STAAR subject tests by the time they graduate. We aren’t the only ones who have called for canceling the STAAR, having written about this before. Superintendents, lawmakers, parents, education experts and students have been pleading with the state to back off STAAR testing. It’s difficult to understand the state’s commitment to the STAAR. It’s been around since the 2011-12 school year, but ask most lawmakers, superintendents, school board members, principals or teachers and they will say the STAAR is what they hear the most complaints about.

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Dallas Morning News - April 9, 2021

Eva Guzman: Legal aid can help begin the process of healing for sexual assault survivors

(Eva Guzman is a Texas Supreme Court justice and serves as the Texas Supreme Court’s liaison to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.) The aftermath of sexual assault is painful and complicated to navigate. One-third of men and women in Texas, an estimated 6.3 million Texans, have experienced some form of sexual assault, according to research by the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin. The experience comes with complex emotional, psychological and sociological repercussions. Often exacerbating those adverse effects are physical injuries, legal issues and economic impacts that can be a constant reminder of a survivor’s trauma. Often, external pressures make it hard for a victim to come forward and report abuse. Only 9% of sexual assault survivors report their experience to law enforcement, and of the abusers who are reported, only 3% are ever held legally accountable for their crimes.

Many factors play into the under?reporting of sexual assault crimes. Survivors of sexual assault may fear retaliation for reporting a perpetrator or may believe reporting the crime will be futile. In remaining silent, many survivors tell themselves no one will care enough to help them, and to cope with the trauma, they convince themselves the assault was tolerable. Further perpetuating the problem, some survivors may not know where to turn or how to report their assault. As a community, we must do more to support the survivors of this heinous and destructive crime, which affects people of all ages, genders and socio?economic strata. To ensure victims of sexual assault know they have somewhere to get help in the aftermath of their abuse, we must work to break down the barriers that prevent them from reporting their perpetrators. April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation is sharing information about the availability of free legal help and other resources to help sexual assault survivors get back on steady ground through the Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault network. LASSA is a statewide, collaborative effort to ensure survivors have access to critical civil legal services from anywhere in Texas.

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Dallas Morning News - April 10, 2021

Prominent donors to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson are doling out thousands to challengers in 3 City Council races

Seven prominent Dallas business and professional leaders who previously donated to Mayor Eric Johnson are contributing to the campaign coffers of three candidates seeking to unseat City Council incumbents next month, records show The seven, including car dealership magnate Carl Sewell, have all given to three eastern district challengers during the first quarter of this year, according to campaign finance records released last week. They’ve all donated the individual contribution maximum of $1,000 each to Yolanda Faye Williams, Donald Parish Jr. and John Botefuhr, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of the donations.

In the May 1 election, Williams is challenging Jaime Resendez to represent District 5, which covers Pleasant Grove. Parish seeks to push out Adam Bazaldua in South Dallas’ District 7. And Botefuhr is up against Paula Blackmon to represent the White Rock Lake area in District 9, where the mayor lives. All three incumbents voted in opposition to the mayor last fall when they approved reducing police overtime funding in the city’s latest budget. Bazaldua, Blackmon, Resendez and Johnson were elected in 2019. Johnson hasn’t publicly endorsed anyone for the 14 City Council seats, though on social media he has tended to favor posts from the three challengers. Johnson declined to comment when contacted by The Dallas Morning News. The trio of challengers told The News they didn’t know one another. They have different ties to the mayor. All three said they were not aware of any external coordinated effort to get them elected.

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Dallas Morning News - April 10, 2021

Dallas Morning News Editorial: A girl lost her life in a gas explosion. Atmos’ $1.6M punishment is grossly inadequate

In a report issued last month, state regulators explained the failures that led to a natural-gas explosion that killed 12-year-old Linda “Michellita” Rogers in her northwest Dallas home in 2018. The blast also injured her parents, brother and grandmother, who have undergone physical therapy and mental health counseling. The Railroad Commission of Texas found that natural gas supplier Atmos Energy failed to detect gas leaks in the days and months leading up to Michellita’s death, drawing conclusions similar to those of federal investigators. Atmos had sent crews to Michellita’s neighborhood in response to two other house fires on the same block before the fatal explosion. A young girl lost her life, a home was destroyed, and a family is bereaved. The harm is staggering, but not the official punishment that Atmos faces for its alleged safety violations: a total of $1.6 million in civil penalties.

That is tantamount to pennies for a company that reported $601 million in profits last fiscal year. Records show that the Railroad Commission cited Atmos for four violations: failure to conduct continuous surveillance of the Dallas gas distribution system, lack of adequate training and procedures to identify leaks, failure to consider the possibility of gas migration after the fires at two houses that were connected to the same distribution main, and failure to ensure that personnel classifying leaks were properly trained for those investigations. Atmos crews used leak-detection equipment in wet or windy conditions for which it was not designed, according to the state report. Per state law, each safety violation carries a penalty of up to $200,000 per day, capped at $2 million for “any related series of violations.” The Railroad Commission of Texas said Atmos was out of compliance two days for each of the four items for which it was cited, hence the $400,000 fine per item that added up to $1.6 million.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 10, 2021

Bud Kennedy: Remember the Alamo. But forget secession. Texas can’t leave the U.S., and won’t

The Texas secession scam is back, so hang onto your vote and your wallet. In the first place, Texas can’t secede. We tried that. Second, if Texas ever somehow seceded, the bubbas going bug-eyed wild over it are definitely not the folks we’d put in charge.

Tea Party-style groups in Parker and Wise counties have openly hosted secessionists in recent weeks, taking advantage of a divided Republican Party to peddle rebellion along with $500 “lifetime memberships.” Whether you buy that package or just a $25 “Texit” T-shirt, I can guarantee that Texas is not going to be independent within your lifetime. Mainly, it’s against the law. The Articles of Confederation describe a “perpetual” union. The Constitution made it “more perfect.” (Folks get mixed up. The joint resolution combining the U.S. with Texas says we can divide into up to five states, but not leave.) Even some of the most ornery secessionists concede that Texas’ only hope is to pester the rest of the country until they cut us loose. Some of our elected officials seem to be working on that. Plus, our own constitution can’t be changed without a two-thirds vote in Austin from both the Texas House and Senate. And two-thirds of our lawmakers don’t want to leave. So all the flag-waving rallies, chest-pounding and bravado can just fizzle to a stop.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 11, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: This Arlington mayor candidate is best choice to lead city on crime, economic issues

Whatever you think of Arlington’s years-long battle over term limits, one result has been to give voters a variety of choices to replace Mayor Jeff Williams. In such a large field, lawyer and business owner Jim Ross stands out as the closest thing to a unity candidate. Ross, 60, has drawn support from police groups, former officeholders and business leaders. He’s best positioned to continue the leadership and salesmanship of Williams, who cannot run again and who backs Ross as his successor. The next mayor and council will face a host of difficult issues. With at least three new members arriving in this election cycle, building rapport and trust could be a challenge. Ross is the best choice on both fronts. Though he’s a first-time candidate, he has a history of service on important issues, including Arlington’s economic recovery from COVID-19. His varied experience as a police officer, attorney and restaurateur will give him a head start on some of Arlington’s most pressing needs.

The city must follow up on the recommendations of its Unity Council, including changes to policing to both reduce crime and improve community relations and trust in the department. Ross opposes a citizen review board, which will surely be a matter of debate for the council. He noted in our interview that if such a panel is necessary, its appointees should be people who understand police policies and training. Arlington has a range of development issues to tackle, and historic inequities are a significant factor in those, too. Tourism will always be a major economic driver for the city, but throughout Arlington, aging retail centers cry out for redevelopment plans, especially as businesses struggle coming out of the pandemic. Ross’ ability to build consensus and sell the city as a business opportunity will be vital. While Ross has earned our nod, Arlington voters have several worthy choices in the large field. Michael Glaspie, 74, is a former City Council member and Arlington schools trustee who exudes a quiet, confident leadership style. A minister, he’s campaigning to extend progress throughout the city, noting that the pandemic exposed inequality in housing, health care and the economy. Marvin Sutton, who is leaving council District 3 for the mayoral run, has a good perspective on reducing crime. Sutton, a 58-year-old retired air traffic controller, wants to engage more neighborhood watch groups and address domestic violence, while also focusing on long-term issues such as youth programs and workforce development.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2021

Texas launched a COVID-19 program to help people pay electric bills. Then lobbyists went to work.

In late March last year, as the pandemic led to devastating layoffs across Texas, the state Public Utility Commission ordered electric utilities to suspend late fees and offer deferred payment plans to residential customers who lost their jobs and were in danger of disconnection. “As our state takes appropriately aggressive measures to stem the tide of a disease with outsize potential to spread and harm our citizens, we must include provisions to assist families at increased risk of losing power, water and sewer service,” DeAnn Walker, the utility commission chairwoman at the time, said. But no state money was dedicated to promoting the program to the general public; utility customers not on a special low-income list were responsible for requesting the relief. And behind the scenes, lobbyists for utilities and trade associations were meeting with state officials in an attempt to hollow out the program.

“We have been working with other stakeholders on ways to potentially limit the number of people applying for funding,” a memo to members of the Texas Oil and Gas Association,dated April 14, 2020, says. “A proposal was brought to us by other stakeholders that would transition a customer off this Emergency Relief Program once they begin receiving unemployment benefits. We do not yet have a feel for how politically attractive this option will be, but it appears to have decent support among customers, utilities and the (retail electric providers).” It's unclear how much sway the lobbyists actually had over the program; when the PUC commissioners announced in August they were winding down the program — amid the summer coronavirus surge and as millions of Texans were still out of work — then-Commissioner Shelly Botkin said she was “proud to have been a part of such an innovative approach to helping our fellow Texans in the toughest circumstances.” "When developing the program, the PUC stayed focused on aspects of our core mission — protecting customers and fostering competition — while helping our fellow Texans who needed it most," agency spokesman Andrew Barlow told the American-Statesman on Friday.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 10, 2021

Suit alleging Austin Energy charged illegal electric rates can continue, Texas Supreme Court rules

Ruling against the city of Austin, the Texas Supreme Court said Friday that Data Foundry, a large retail electric customer, can continue its lawsuit accusing Austin Energy of charging illegal and unreasonable rates. The court rejected the city's arguments that Data Foundry, an internet service provider that operates data centers in Austin, lacked standing to file suit in search of lower rates. In a 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court said a trial judge erred when she tossed out Data Foundry's lawsuit in 2017 because the company did not allege a specific injury. On the contrary, the state's highest civil court said, the company has standing to sue based on its claim that Austin Energy is charging excessive fees.

"Data Foundry thus alleges an injury that is particularized to it — Data Foundry suffers financial harm because it must pay Austin Energy a particular sum of money that exceeds what Data Foundry contends it should have to pay," Justice Rebeca Huddle wrote for the court. The Supreme Court, however, did not rule on a central question in the case — whether the 1975 Public Utility Regulatory Act bars retail customers like Data Foundry from turning to the courts to challenge power rates charged by Austin Energy and other city-owned utilities. Austin argued that the Legislature did not create an appeals process for city residents — something lawmakers could easily have done because they gave nonresidents a path to protest rates before the Public Utility Commission. The Supreme Court, however, said the issue was not properly before the appeals courts. "Our decision does not preclude the City from raising this argument in the trial court on remand," Huddle wrote.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 9, 2021

Abbott activates Texas resources ahead of possible storms, brush fire danger this weekend

Gov. Greg Abbott placed several emergency response units and resources on standby Friday as dangerous weather conditions are expected across Texas over the weekend. The National Weather Service forecast calls for severe storms with heavy winds and large hail in the eastern third of the state and extreme fire conditions in the western and southwestern parts of Texas.

"With both severe storm conditions and extreme fire danger expected in the state this weekend, I urge Texans to monitor their local weather reports and take proper measures to protect themselves and their property," Abbott said in a statement. The Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Public Utility Commission of Texas are monitoring for power outages and coordinating with local utility providers in the highest threat area. Texas A&M Forest Service is providing resources in response to the extreme fire danger that is forecast for West and Southwest Texas. They will provide a Fire Mutual Aid System strike team, fire engines and a water tender, as well as an air attack platform, small engine air tankers, dozers and a motor grader. "The State of Texas has been working closely with local officials to prepare for these dangerous conditions, and are prepared to respond to any emergencies that may arise," Abbott said.

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Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2021

Erica Grieder: As Biden urges gun safety, Texas Republicans may approve permitless carry

Another week, another mass shooting in America. On Thursday, the news came from Bryan, Texas; a gunman killed one person and wounded five others at a cabinet manufacturing plant, then wounded a state trooper while fleeing the scene. It would be naive to expect such a tragedy to lead to some kind of sea change. But it should give Texas voters a moment’s pause, at least, especially with state lawmakers on track to expand gun rights this session. This might well be the year that permitless carry comes to Texas, for one thing. Another measure, which has the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, would make Texas a “Second Amendment Sanctuary State,” meaning that state agencies would effectively be directed to ignore any new federal rules and legislation that may come down the pike. And, sad to say, the fate of these measures may have as much to do with national politics as with what’s best for, or preferred by, the people of this state .

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced a first round of executive actions on gun safety, as many Democrats have been calling on him to do since his inauguration in January. “Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” Biden said, adding that “no amendment is absolute.” The latter phrase gave some conservatives the vapors, but Biden was merely restating a point made by legions of legal scholars from all corners of the ideological spectrum. His orders, too, are far less sweeping than they might have been. Biden ordered the Justice Department to issue a couple of new rules, including one to study the proliferation of “ghost guns” — those assembled from a kit, at home, and accordingly lacking a serial number. He also ordered DOJ to come up with a template “red flag” law for use by states that might be interested in passing such legislation. Such laws allow family members or police to seek a court order to prevent a person in crisis from accessing firearms for a period of time. All things considered, it would be disingenuous to pretend that Biden is indulging in executive overreach. And yet. In a tweet, Gov. Greg Abbott denounced Biden’s announcement as “a new liberal power grab to take away our guns.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2021

Peter Hotez: We'll be 'pretty damn close' to normal by summer

During the coronavirus crisis, vaccine researcher Peter Hotez has become one of the country’s most trusted explainers of science — and so beloved in Houston that Antone’s recently named a po’boy after him. At the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, he and his team have developed a COVID-19 vaccine set to be manufactured in India. He’s also dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Could you give us an overview of the situation now with COVID-19, the variants and the vaccines? In the U.S., we’re seeing a mixed picture. In some parts of the country, we’re seeing what some are calling “the fourth wave.” It’s hitting the upper Midwest pretty hard. Michigan is the worst-affected state. Also up in the northeast — New York, New Jersey, New England — those numbers are starting to go up. We might be beginning to see that in Florida now. There’s been about a 20% increase in cases over the last 14 days.

Most of that is due to one of the variants of concern, the B.1.1.7 variant that first arose in the United Kingdom. We all predicted this was going to happen; we just didn’t know how extensive it’s going to be. The good news is we’re also vaccinating the American people. I think we’ll be vaccinated fully or close to it by the summer. So we know there’s an end to this fourth peak. It’s just a matter of how big the amplitude is — whether the peak is a small hill or whether it’s a mountain. With the B.1.1.7 variant, we’ve heard alarming news lately about children. Could you talk about that? The B.1.1.7 variant first arose in southeast England in September. By December it dominated the British Isles. It’s a bad actor. It’s more transmissible than anything we’ve seen before, with higher hospitalization rates and higher mortality rates. To make things worse, we’re starting to see now, in the upper Midwest, a number of young adults getting very sick. The COVID-19 narrative has always been that it affects older individuals. That was never entirely true, especially among African American and Hispanic populations. But we’re seeing now a lot of young adults get sick. That gives me pause for concern — as does its transmissibility among young people.

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Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2021

Rep. Dan Crenshaw undergoes emergency eye surgery, will be 'off the grid'

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw announced Saturday that he will be "off the grid" for several weeks following emergency eye surgery. Crenshaw, a Republican representing Texas's 2nd District, had surgery on Friday morning at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center for a detaching retina, according to a statement. "The surgery went well, but I will be effectively blind for about a month," Crenshaw said in the statement. "This is why you're not going to hear from me for a while. I likely will not be conducting interviews and likely will not be posting on social media, except to give updates on my health and recovery." Crenshaw said he noticed dark, blurry spots in his vision and went Thursday to an ophthalmologist.

The former U.S. Navy SEAL sustained injuries in a 2012 blast in Afghanistan that left him with "half a good eye," his statement said. It was always possible that the effects of the damage to his retina would resurface, Crenshaw said, "and it appears that is exactly what has happened." Crenshaw's congressional offices in Houston and Washington, D.C., will continue to operate, he said. The congressman is recovering in Houston with his wife. "I have gotten through worse before, and I will get through this," he said, asking for prayers for a full recovery.

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KUT - April 9, 2021

A series of anti-abortion bills is quickly moving through the Texas Legislature

Bills aimed at restricting access to abortions in Texas are moving quickly through the state Legislature. The Texas Senate already approved a slew of anti-abortion measures late last month. This week, the House heard a series of bills that would make it harder to get the procedure. The bills in the House committee were left pending, but could be approved at any time. Dyana Limon-Mercado, executive director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, said there were almost 50 bills filed this year that would limit abortion rights in Texas — part of a long history of lawmakers trying to make it harder for women to get the procedure. “For the last decade, the Legislature has been pretty ruthless in terms of their attacks on abortion access,” she said.

Among legislation House members heard this week was a so-called “trigger ban," one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities. House Bill 1280 would outlaw abortions immediately and without exception if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the legal precedent for abortion rights. It would also create steep criminal penalties for any doctor who performs the procedure. A Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 9, already passed in that chamber. The sponsor of the House version, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said his bill would remove the need for a special session if a ruling came down from the country’s highest court. “If the Supreme Court says that abortions are illegal,” he said, “then abortions are illegal.” During a contentious hearing Wednesday in the House Public Health committee, Capriglione said he stood by the bill's language, which does not provide exceptions, even to save the mother's life. “Abortion is not health care” he said. “Abortion is not a service. Abortion, quite frankly, is murder."

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KUT - April 9, 2021

Texas State will return to in-person learning 'in full force' this fall, University President says

Texas State University will return to in-person learning for the fall semester "in full force," University President Denise Trauth said. In an email to students sent out this week, Trauth said the university's fall semester will be like what it was pre-pandemic, with a "full slate" of in-person classes on both the San Marcos and Round Rock campuses. The news means a large influx of students and staff will be back in San Marcos, where new coronavirus cases recently have been on the decline. Last year, Texas State had an enrollment of nearly 40,000 students, as well as nearly 1,400 full-time faculty and more than 2,000 full-time staff.

"This fall, in-person classes and activities will be back in full force on our Texas State University Campuses, giving our students the college life experience for which we are known," Trauth wrote. "This return to a more vibrant campus life is possible thanks to your dedication to keeping our university community healthy and safe, which will continue to be our priority moving forward." The university is increasing classroom capacity from 50% to 100%. The expectation is that "everyone is going to be in attendance, in person," Vice President for Academic Affairs Gene Bourgeois said. In a statement, the university said it expects to continue offering weekly coronavirus vaccine clinics at the San Marcos campus, and that plans are in the works for a second clinic at the Round Rock campus, as well as a partnership with Hays County. Students, faculty and staff will have a chance to learn more about the upcoming fall semester at a virtual town hall April 20.

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Austin Chronicle - April 9, 2021

Westside residents turn to Lege to escape from Austin

Homeowners living in some of the city's priciest lakeside properties are banking on anti-Austin sentiments at the Capitol to let them ditch the city's tax roll. Lake Austin shoreline homeowners, recently un-exempted from city taxes, want to remove themselves from the city by petition (Senate Bill 659 and House Bill 1653); the West Rim neighborhood is taking a second run at the same petition process (HB 2776); and the Lost Creek neighborhood wants the Texas Legislature to remove it from the city straight away, with no petition or Council vote (SB 1499 and HB 3827). With so much anti-Austin sentiment out there, it's hard to believe a major employer like Tesla or Apple would ever choose to move to town, a point made by Mayor Steve Adler during a Tuesday Council work session. People choose to move to Austin because Austin is unique, he said.

"If they don't come to Austin, it's not like they go to Houston or to Dallas. They go somewhere out of state. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Ft. Worth, Corpus Christi, El Paso – all wonderful cities, but all are very different, and in that difference there is real strength." Lost Creek residents who want to be disannexed – and this is a subdivision that spent $400,000 and a decade losing its annexation fight against the city – argued that fire and police services have decreased since annexation. Residents say they rarely see police officers patrolling their 1,200-home neighborhood, and they fear the potential for homeless encampments near schools. "I'm here today because I feel like the city of Austin is ultimately stealing from us. They have no problem taking our taxes. But they have a problem protecting us," Brittany McFarland testified during a House committee hearing on April 6. "I've lived in the neighborhood for five years, and I have not once seen an [Austin Police Department] officer."

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CNN - April 9, 2021

Texas GOP chairman Allen West falsely says Texas could secede from the US: 'We could go back to being our own Republic'

Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West falsely suggested that Texas could secede from the United States and become an independent country, a CNN KFile review of his comments in recent months shows. In radio interviews after the 2020 presidential election, West suggested Texas could vote to again become a republic, as it was before joining the United States in 1845. "This is something that was written into the Texas Constitution," the former congressman said in one late December radio broadcast. "Or it was promised to Texas when we became part of the United States of America-- that if we voted and decided, we could go back to being our own republic."

Experts, however, say that Texas cannot legally secede and leave the United States to become its own republic. The annexation resolution West is referring to stipulates that Texas could, in the future, choose to divide itself into five new states, not divide itself from the US and declare independence. West mistook the congressional annexation resolution that made Texas a state for the Texas constitution. Texas does have a history of secession. In 1861, Texas voted in favor of secession and later left the Union to join the Confederate States of America, setting the stage for the American Civil War. After the Confederacy lost the war, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas had remained a state, despite joining the Confederate States of America in an act of rebellion for four years, and that any acts ratified by the Confederate-era state legislature were "absolutely null." Texas eventually rejoined the Union in 1870. In the December broadcast, West added that he supported a bill that would soon be introduced in the Texas state house in January, which would create a nonbinding referendum election on whether Texans should secede.

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Cronkite News - April 3, 2021

Organization helps Latina mothers and daughters succeed

In a charter school gymnasium on the city's north side, dozens of families fill the bleachers as four pairs of Latina mothers and daughters talk about emotions too often considered taboo in their culture. Building strength. Having courage. Forming bonds, as parent and child, to overcome any hardships that may come their way. Elizabeth Rodriguez and her daughter, Lizbeth Okumura, sit side by side before the crowd. For more than eight years, the two have been part of an organization that aims to help Latinas succeed by strengthening the relationship between mother and daughter. Lizbeth is 20 now and set to graduate from Texas A&M University in 2022. Rodriguez, 46, is about to earn her associate's degree. The group, Con Mi Madre, motivated both of them to achieve their goals. "It is very normal to feel afraid" as their children grow up and face all sorts of challenges, Rodriguez tells those in the audience. Her incisive advice: "With close communication, maintain a relationship with her." Rodriguez and Lizbeth are just two success stories of a program meant to help Latinas flourish in school but also in life by working to build self-esteem and resilience among a group of young women that's long faced unique mental health challenges.

"The work that we're doing goes at the root of an issue," says Johanna Moya Fbregas, executive director of Con Mi Madre, which means "with my mother." "It helps prevent a lot of the problems that many teenagers face — like not feeling worthy or feeling isolated, suicide — all those things that if you have a very strong foundation, you are less likely to deal with. "Or, even when you deal with them, you'll have the tools to navigate those problems." Con Mi Madre takes a distinctive approach to addressing a plight facing young people across the nation, Latinas in particular. Studies show that more youth — girls especially — report experiencing depression. Even more troubling: After remaining stable for years, the country's youth suicide rate increased 56% from 2007 to 2017, according to federal statistics. For decades, reports have found that Hispanic teenage girls attempt suicide at a higher rate than white and black teenage girls. Such statistics have sounded an alarm among mental health advocates and prompted projects specifically for Latinas, including Life Is Precious in New York City, which provides education, art therapy and other services to improve mental health, and We Are Not Invisible, a report spotlighting challenges Latinas in Philadelphia face in school, and strategies to bolster well-being.

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NBC News - April 9, 2021

Texas GOP recruiting 'army' to fight voter fraud in largely minority areas of Houston

Texas Republicans are working to recruit a “army” of 10,000 poll workers and watchers to fight voter fraud in Houston, leaked video of a Harris County Republican Party presentation reveals. “We’re trying to build an army here — 10,000 people in Harris County,” a man who identifies himself as an official with the county Republican Party said in the video, released by advocacy group Common Cause Texas. The official said he is seeking volunteers from the suburbs where he lives “that will have the confidence and courage to come down here in these areas,” he said, pointing to Houston’s diverse urban center on a map of voting precincts. “This is where the problems occur,” he said. “If we don’t do that, this fraud down here is really going to continue.”

Common Cause Texas said the presentation, which is dated March 10, was circulated online by the Harris County Republican Party. “The impetus for releasing right now is there are some bills in the legislature that seek to empower poll watchers in some really scary ways, and also at the same time, take away the power of the presiding judge at the poll site from being able to remove a disruptive poll watcher,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. The group blurred out the Republican official's name from his presentation for his privacy. Harris County GOP Chair Cindy Siegel confirmed in a statement to NBC News that the program aims to recruit "an army of volunteers" throughout the county as a way "to engage voters for the whole ballot, top to bottom, and ensure every legal vote is counted.” Siegel also called Common Cause "a radical leftist group that is blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video in a shameful effort to bully and intimidate Republicans." Former President Donald Trump's repeated falsehoods that the election was stolen from him has inspired an avalanche of election-related bills nationwide, and Republicans in Texas have advanced several measures aimed at fighting voter fraud. Several of the bills appear to focus on how Harris County ran their elections last year, banning the overnight and drive-thru early voting options offered there.

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Galveston County Daily News - April 7, 2021

Bill Hammond: Texas Legislature needs to change course on prescription drug proposals

Amid dire economic conditions brought on by the pandemic and exacerbated by the recent weather conditions, Texas legislators are eyeing policies on prescription drug prices that could jeopardize Texas employers’ ability to provide vital accompanying health care and prescription drug coverage. Health insurance costs for prescription drugs are now higher than for any other expense, including patient hospital costs and doctors’ payments. The cost of health insurance is ranked as the single biggest problem and priority for Texas small-business owners in a recent National Federation of Independent Business survey of members. Despite these ongoing economic hardships, drug makers continue to raise their prices. In January alone, drug makers increased prices for over 800 drugs by an average of 4.6 percent, almost twice the predicted inflation rate for the entire year of 2021. The average cost of insulin, for example, grew by 750 percent from 2002-2019.

Texas policymakers should be applauded for recognizing there’s a prescription drug affordability problem for too many people; however, government mandates aren’t the answer. Unfortunately, in this legislative session, dozens of prescription drug regulatory, contract or benefit mandate bills have been proposed that would dramatically increase health care costs. For example, a policy change that legislators are considering referred to as “Non-medical Switching” or “Frozen Formulary” would significantly increase prescription drug costs by eliminating the free market forces that help drive down the cost of drugs. These bills mandate that a health plan cover brand name drugs at the same level for years, even when better and less expensive alternatives become available. That provides drug manufacturers with the ability to charge any price with no incentive to make drugs more affordable. Texas employers currently have — and need — the flexibility to cover new drugs, often less expensive generics or lower-priced brands, once available.

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Texas Observer and Grist - April 5, 2021

‘No teeth and no funding’: How regulators failed to police the oil industry

The fracking boom in the Permian Basin—which straddles West Texas and southeastern New Mexico—largely coincided with Republican control of much of New Mexico’s state government. Many of those elected to office in the early years of the shale rush promptly began dismantling barriers to extracting the most oil and gas at the cheapest price: Soon after winning the governorship in 2010, Republican Susana Martinez shuffled key employees in the environment department into positions where they had little expertise. During her eight-year tenure, the state legislature slashed the budget for the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division (OCD), which oversees the oil and gas industry, by 25 percent. By 2018, half of all inspection and compliance positions were vacant. “Their budget was gutted,” said Stephanie Garcia Richard, a Democrat and the current land commissioner in charge of overseeing drilling on state lands. “They were casting about every which way [for money]. They were a regulatory body that had no teeth and had no funding.”

Martinez’s Democratic successor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, has since made attempts to restore regulatory funding. Nevertheless, at present the two OCD districts overseeing a large portion of the Permian Basin have just seven inspectors to cover more than 50,000 square miles—an area larger than the size of Pennsylvania. Oil and gas well inspections ensure that operators are playing by the rules: checking that wells aren’t leaking underground, that there haven’t been spills, and that operators have appropriate signage around well sites. But a review of more than three decades of state records by Grist and the Texas Observer shows just how rare such inspections have become. Since 1988, OCD has inspected each oil and gas well about every two years on average. And inspections are becoming even more infrequent: While the agency averaged about 52,000 inspections each year during the Martinez administration, only about 30,000 were done in 2019 and 41,000 in 2020. Across the border in Texas, there are 405,000 more oil and gas wells, but enforcement—which is conducted by the misleadingly named Railroad Commission—is similarly sparse. An analysis of the commission’s enforcement data by Grist and the Texas Observer found that the agency conducts about 140,000 inspections a year and issues about 32,000 violations.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2021

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: No on Props F and G on Austin's May 1 ballot

At first blush the idea sounds appealing: Voters should be able to select the most powerful person at City Hall. But so many complications lurk beneath the surface of Proposition F, the measure on the May 1 ballot that would switch Austin to a strong mayor form of government. The proposal would consolidate a tremendous amount of power — oversight of a $4.2 billion budget and nearly 15,000 employees, plus veto power over the City Council — in the hands of a single person. That person would answer to voters but would also be beholden to campaign donors and short-term election-cycle thinking in ways that Austin’s appointed city manager is not. Just as worrisome, a strong mayor would undermine the political clout that communities of color and other minority voices have gained in the 10-1 council system.

No system of government is perfect. But the current council-manager approach, with the elected mayor and 10 district-based City Council members hiring a professional city manager to run City Hall, strikes the better balance. We urge voters to reject the strong mayor proposal under Prop F. Prop F is one of five ballot initiatives from Austinites for Progressive Reform, a community coalition seeking to improve election participation and accountability at City Hall. The group’s intentions are sincere and laudable. In offering Prop F, the group points to a problem that rankles many residents. “We have seen since 10-1 a number of votes by the council — unanimous votes — that have not been implemented by the executive, or have been implemented slowly, or have been otherwise thwarted in their implementation,” Andrew Allison, the chair of Austinites for Progressive Reform, told us. The stark failure to alleviate homelessness, the delayed efforts to address economic inequality and gentrification in East Austin, and the stalled police response to the council directive to end low-level marijuana arrests all come to mind.

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National Stories

CNN - April 11, 2021

New voter restrictions are based on a lie told to appease Trump voters

Poll of the week: A new Reuters/Ipsos poll finds that 55% of Republicans falsely believe Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election was the result of illegal voting or rigging. Additionally, 60% of Republicans incorrectly agree that the election was stolen from Republican Donald Trump. These polls are the latest to indicate that Republicans mistakenly think that the 2020 election wasn't legitimate, when it clearly was.

What's the point: Republicans have been pushing legislation at the state level to make voting at least somewhat more difficult than it was for the 2020 election. This has come in the wake of polls showing many Republicans doubt the election result. It is unclear what effect this legislation will ultimately have on future election outcomes. What is perfectly clear, however, is that Republicans' lack of faith in our current election infrastructure is a direct result of Trump's historic efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 results. After Trump left the White House in January, Monmouth University asked Americans whether they thought the 2020 election was conducted fairly and confidently. Overall, most (66%) were confident it was. But the lion's share of Republicans (65%) disagreed and said they were not confident at all the election was conducted fairly and accurately, which is consistent with the Ipsos polling spoken about above. This 65% is truly an anomaly in recent times.

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CNN - April 10, 2021

Sixth victim dies days after mass shooting in South Carolina, coroner says

The sixth victim of a shooting in Rock Hill, South Carolina, earlier this week has died, the York County coroner announced Saturday. Robert Shook, an air conditioning technician, initially survived the attack that left a beloved doctor, his wife, their two grandchildren and another air conditioning technician dead on Wednesday, but he died late Saturday afternoon, York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said in a news release sent to CNN.

York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said Phillip Adams, 32, shot the air conditioning technicians outside the home of Dr. Robert Lesslie and then went inside, killing Lesslie, his wife, Barbara Lesslie, and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9. Air conditioning technician James Lewis, of Gastonia, North Carolina, was found dead outside. Shook was still alive and was taken to Atrium Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he underwent multiple surgeries but died of his wounds late Saturday afternoon. "We are all heart broken. Please keep his family in your prayers tonight and in the coming days as we all face this together," Shook's employer, GSM Services, said in a statement Saturday. The company also employed Lewis. Adams, a former NFL player, was found dead hours later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the bedroom of a home about a quarter mile away that he shared with his parents. Tolson said it was unclear why Adams took two guns to the Lesslie property in Rock Hill, a city of 74,000 residents just across the border from Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Washington Post - April 7, 2021

Paul Waldman: The Republican Party’s loathsome new war on trans kids

Sometimes Republican culture-war posturing is just silly, like when they pretend to be terribly outraged about some new faux-controversy involving Dr. Seuss or Mr. Potato Head. But at other times it becomes something truly loathsome, leaving real victims in its wake. That’s the case with the right’s latest crusade, against transgender young people. On Tuesday, the Arkansas legislature overrode Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill that would outlaw gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender minors, including not just surgery but even hormone treatments. So if you’re a transgender kid in Arkansas getting such treatments now, they have to stop or your doctor could get thrown in jail. And Arkansas is just the beginning.

Before you decide Hutchinson is a hero of compassion and equality, keep in mind that he’s an active participant in the GOP’s anti-trans crusade; he just thought this bill went a little far. He recently signed a bill meant to keep transgender girls from playing school sports, though there has literally not been a single known case of a trans girl in Arkansas joining a school sports team. But the specter was apparently so terrifying that Hutchinson and Republicans had to pass legislation to say to any such girl, “Don’t even think about it.” And yes, Arkansas may rank 47th out of 50 states in child poverty, but this is what the Republican legislature is spending its time on, since tens of thousands of children living in deprivation and hunger are apparently far less of a problem to them than the fact that some trans kid, with the cooperation of their parents and their doctor, might be getting the treatment so many trans people describe as lifesaving. In 27 states so far, Republican legislators have filed bills to restrict the rights of trans kids, either to play sports or to get medical treatment or both. Many are similar to the Arkansas bill. But some go even further. A bill filed in North Carolina would require that any government agent — including teachers or any other public school officials — “immediately notify, in writing, each of the minor’s parents, guardians, or custodians” if a minor exhibited “gender nonconformity.” Is that boy’s hair getting a little too long? How are that girl’s jeans cut? If that bill became law, the school would have to write a letter home warning that the child is not displaying the proper gender conformity. This is a party that says it believes in “freedom.”

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The Hill - April 10, 2021

Pence pleaded with military officials to 'clear the Capitol' on Jan. 6: AP

A previously undisclosed document from the Pentagon reportedly sheds light on the timeline of responses from federal government leaders on the day of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, including a call from then-Vice President Mike Pence to clear the building hours before order was actually restored. The document, prepared for internal use by the Pentagon and obtained by The Associated Press, provides insight into the level of chaos and panic among a handful of senior White House aides, leaders of Congress and the vice president, who were all tasked with managing responses to the mob attack amid former President Trump’s inaction.

According to the AP, the timeline shows that shortly after 4 p.m., two hours after rioters broke into the Capitol and as they continued to roam the building, Pence made a phone call from a secure room to then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. The document states that Pence told Miller the Capitol was not secure and demanded a deadline from military leaders on when they would be able to restore order. Information obtained by the AP indicated that Trump in a Jan. 3 Cabinet meeting approved the activation of the Washington, D.C., National Guard and told Miller to take any necessary action at the Stop the Steal rally events. However, the Guard’s role was restricted to traffic sections and checkpoints around D.C., with the Trump administration and Pentagon officials hesitant to display a heavy military presence following criticism over responses to civil unrest in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd.

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Wall Street Journal - April 8, 2021

Kimberley A. Strassel: The best tonic for restoring the GOP: Overreaching Democrats

The media has reveled this year in the frequent, gleeful penning of obituaries for the Republican Party. The GOP is described as broken, fractured, befuddled about its identity, dying or already dead, not to mention up an unprintable creek, after corporate donors cut money following the Jan. 6 riot. Or maybe not. The obits are hard to square with a surprising new number from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s political team: $27.1 million. That’s the amount they tell me Mr. McCarthy single-handedly raked in during the first quarter of 2021. It’s the most money any Republican representative has ever raised in a quarter. It’s even more notable given it was accomplished mostly in two months: January was rough for Republicans. And it was done almost entirely without big-business support.

Only about $450,000, or less than 2%, came from corporate political-action committees. How big is a $27.1 million quarter? Mr. McCarthy raised about $100 million over the entire previous two-year cycle, or an average of $12.5 million a quarter. The National Republican Congressional Committee announced on Thursday that it raked in $33.7 million in the first quarter (about $5 million of which came from Mr. McCarthy). It pulled in $19.1 million in March alone—an odd-year fundraising record. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee, under Florida Sen. Rick Scott, had one of its healthiest Februarys in years, bringing in $6.4 million—despite a precipitous drop in corporate PAC donations. (It has yet to report quarterly numbers.) The numbers are even more striking because they shouldn’t be. Republican voters remain demoralized over losing the presidency, and some are furious that more GOP lawmakers didn’t dispute the results. The party has yet to figure out how it will manage Donald Trump, and the potential for damaging clashes with the former president—over recruitment, primaries and issues—remains high. The Democrat-media complex is working hard to brand the party as racist, insurrectionist and toxic for suburban or minority voters to support. And Democrats crushed Republicans in fundraising last year. So what gives? Here’s what the obits are missing: Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Nothing unifies the Republican Party more than the threat of an all-Democrat, progressives-gone-wild Washington.

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Washington Post - April 10, 2021

For immigrants, IDs prove to be a barrier to a dose of protection

The line started outside, on a street usually teeming with people waiting to enter college bars, and snaked up the stairs of an old firehouse to the Brazilian Worker Center, where shots of the coronavirus vaccine were being administered on this cold New England spring morning. Finally, it was Maria Sousa’s turn. She had been waiting for more than an hour with her husband and daughter when a center volunteer greeted them in Portuguese and guided them to the registration desk, where they presented their identification — Brazilian passports. Getting vaccinated here was the only option they considered. Immigrants have been turned away from pharmacies and other places after being asked for driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers or health insurance cards — specific documentation not mandated by states or the federal government but often requested at vaccination sites across the country, including right down the road from here.

Often the request comes in English, a language many of the vaccine-seekers don’t fully understand. Some state agencies and businesses that provide vaccinations have acknowledged the problem and vowed that it will stop. Sousa’s family wasn’t willing to take the risk. Here, there was someone to intervene if requests for more information arose — and they did. When the woman behind the desk entered Sousa’s name, a picture popped up on her screen. Since the 43-year-old was wearing a mask, the woman asked for an address to determine whether it was the same person. When the address didn’t match what was in the system, she pressed for more information. Watching as a volunteer tried to help Sousa, the center’s executive director stepped in. The registrars were to accept whatever ID was presented, using the center’s address if necessary. The life-or-death race to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the coronavirus spawns more viral mutations, like the one that emerged in Brazil, started slowly but has accelerated as many of those crossing the finish line possess the wherewithal and inclination to navigate a mazelike system. As the nation nears the point where supply soon outpaces demand, the unvaccinated will increasingly be people who are reluctant or who are rebuffed by barriers blocking their way.

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The Appeal - April 2, 2021

How policymakers (and courts) sabotaged eviction moratoria

When Tmeka Thorpe received a notice of eviction, she pleaded with her landlord: “Can you just work something out? It’s in the middle of a pandemic.” She tried to pay the rent, but the recalcitrant landlord refused to accept it and the judge, skeptical of the protections she claimed under the federal moratorium, ordered the eviction, ruling that she had stayed beyond the lease term. Thorpe and her children were just one of the 71,000 families and individuals who received an eviction filing in North Carolina during the pandemic, where judges have denied only three percent of cases despite both the federal and state moratoria on evictions. Across the country, people are falling through the gaps left by eviction moratoria intended to protect them. The pandemic driven economic recession has resulted in widespread job and wage loss that has placed tens of millions of families and individuals at risk of eviction. While Congress has appropriated over $45 billion in housing supports, rental assistance has yet to reach the most vulnerable renters, and the lack of funds, combined with fickle interpretations of moratoria, have put one in five renter households with children at risk of displacement.

Across the country, eviction moratoria have been among the most widely used and well publicized interventions to protect renters during the pandemic. But as Thorpe’s experience shows, they are hardly sufficient to prevent widespread harm. Instead, the patchwork of local, state, and federal moratoria have proven porous, needlessly complicated, poorly understood, and rarely enforced. While they should remain part of the solution, the moratoria will only be effective if they are strengthened to protect all renters throughout the crisis and used alongside supportive measures like rental assistance and the right to counsel At the outset of the pandemic, state and local policymakers immediately identified the importance of housing stability to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Governors, legislators, and courts across 43 states, five U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia adopted varied and temporary eviction moratoria—some lasting as few as seven days and others extending for more than a year. In mid-March 2020, courthouses across the nation closed and heard only emergency cases. Since evictions were categorized as “non-essential,” eviction proceedings were postponed, creating de facto moratoria. For their part, governors and legislators, exercising emergency authorities, suspended forcible entry and detainer (eviction) statutes or limited the ability of landlords and sheriffs to pursue or enforce eviction orders. By mid-May 2020, governors in 31 states issued statewide freezes on at least one stage of the eviction process, including the landlord’s initiation of the lawsuit, the court hearing or order of eviction, or the sheriff’s execution of the order. But these interventions were heterogeneous, patchwork in nature, and largely short-lived, falling far short of model protections and receiving low-scores in my and the Eviction Lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard.

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Newsclips - April 9, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2021

Dade Phelan: This set of bills will stabilize Texas’ health care safety net

Last legislative session, Texas made significant strides to our health care system, including eliminating surprise billing, increasing women’s health funding, and securing landmark waivers from the federal government to stabilize our health care safety net. My House colleagues and I are committed to building upon those successes this session by introducing Healthy Families, Healthy Texas, a bipartisan legislative package to ensure health care in the Lone Star State is accessible and affordable for all 29 million Texans. Healthy Families, Healthy Texas aims to improve the health of Texas mothers, create greater access to affordable health care coverage, and develop alternatives to the federal health insurance exchange. This is a bipartisan effort to better coordinate the continuum of care for Texans across the state. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Texans have relied on technology more than ever, using telemedicine and telehealth to access medical care.

House Bill 4 by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, would codify the state’s ability to reimburse medical providers for these innovative services in order to incentivize more doctors to provide them, and in turn, provide greater and convenient access to care for Texas patients. Texas cannot realize the promise of telemedicine without robust, reliable, high-speed internet access. House Bill 5 by Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, would create the State Broadband Development Office to award grants and low-interest loans for the express purpose of expanding access to broadband service in rural and underserved communities. The proliferation of broadband would ensure that Texans benefit from the immediate availability of telehealth care options. House Bill 290 authored by Rep. Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, aims to reduce the hassle factor in maintaining a child’s eligibility for programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The bill advocates streamlining the state’s income check process, creating more access for those who need it most. House Bill 797 from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, would allow home care and hospice agencies to administer certain vaccines to medically fragile and elderly Texans in the comfort and safety of their homes.

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Forbes - April 8, 2021

Texas could lose billions if voter restrictions become law, study finds

The Texas economy could take a massive hit if the state enacts new voting restrictions—potentially costing the state's economy tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs—according to a study from the Texas-based economic research firm the Perryman Group, as the Texas legislature Thursday moved one step closer to making the proposals. The potential loss of conventions, major sporting events and tourism could cost the state $16.7 billion in annual gross product by 2025, and nearly 150,000 jobs, according to the study. Internal factors, like decreased business activity and lower wages in the state, could lead to the loss of $14.7 billion in household purchasing power by 2025, according to the Perryman Group.

Retail trade would take the biggest hit, according to the study, losing more than 50,000 jobs from drops in tourism and economic development alone. The Texas legislature is considering two omnibus bills to enact new voting restrictions, which include proposals making it harder to vote by mail, encating new rules on where polling places can be located in the most populous counties and outlawing drive-through voting—a popular option for the 2020 presidential election. One of the bills—House Bill 6—passed the Texas House Committee on Elections Committee by a 5-4 party-line vote Thursday, and will now be considered by the full Texas House. "If you strip away all of the emotion and all of the politics and say 'this is just what happens in the economy,' that is what we're analyzing," Dr. Ray Perryman said in an interview with Forbes. Perryman said his firm’s modeling relies on 40 years worth of data and academic research, which has consistently shown voting laws that are restrictive or have "the appearance of discrimination" lead to negative economic impacts.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2021

'Texans deserve better.' George P. Bush considers primary challenge to AG Ken Paxton

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said Thursday he is weighing a run against Attorney General Ken Paxton in a Republican primary next year. “I’m seriously considering a run for attorney general,” Bush told a Dallas radio program. “More to come on that.” Bush, finishing his second term as Land Commissioner, was aggressive in criticizing Paxton, who last fall had members of his staff accuse him of abuse of office, accepting bribes and other potential criminal offenses. And for five years, Paxton has been under indictment for felony securities fraud. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. Bush said the allegations against Paxton are serious.

“Personally, I think that the top law enforcement official in Texas needs to be above reproach,” said Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and grandson of the late-President George H.W. Bush. Later he added: “I think Texans deserve better.” Bush made his comments in an interview on The Mark Davis Show on 660 AM The Answer. Paxton’s campaign released a statement to the media after the interview. “Attorney General Paxton is focused on keeping the Texas border secure, holding the Biden Administration accountable, and taking on Big Tech,” Paxton campaign spokesperson Ian Prior said in a statement to the Texas Tribune. “It is unfortunate, but not surprising, to see a potential opponent more interested with the narrative being set by the liberal media than on the real and important issues facing Texas families and small businesses.” In 2018, Paxton went unchallenged in the Republican primary and defeated Democrat Justin Nelson in the general election by just 3.6 percentage points.

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Washington Post - April 9, 2021

Asa Hutchinson: Why I vetoed my party’s bill restricting health care for transgender youth

(Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is the governor of Arkansas.) For over 40 years, I have been fighting to build the Republican Party by advancing the principles of limited government and individual liberty. Thanks to that focus, the GOP has become the majority party in Arkansas. Now, I am being attacked by some of my Republican colleagues for not being pure enough on social issues and for vetoing a bill that limited access to health care for transgender youth. Make no mistake: I am pro-life. I believe there are some issues where the stakes are so high that government must play a role in private life. I have fought my share of battles in defending the role of faith in our society. At the same time, while governor, I have lowered taxes, balanced the budget and defended the Second Amendment. Yet the reaction of some of my conservative friends now makes me wish they would remember President Ronald Reagan’s admonition that if someone agrees with you 80 percent of the time then they are your friend and ally — not the enemy.

I vetoed this bill because it creates new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters concerning our youths. It is undisputed that the number of minors who struggle with gender incongruity or gender dysphoria is extremely small. But they, too, deserve the guiding hand of their parents and the counseling of medical specialists in making the best decisions for their individual needs. H.B. 1570 puts the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health-care experts. While in some instances the state must act to protect life, the state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue. This would be — and is — a vast government overreach. Leadership is acting not just on your convictions but also on your compassion. Parents are doing their best to guide the young person God entrusted to them. As they seek medical help, it is important to understand the trauma, emotional challenge and love involved in making difficult decisions. The leading Arkansas medical associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical experts across the country all oppose this law. Their concern is that denying best practice medical care to transgender youth can lead to significant harm to the young person — from suicidal tendencies and social isolation to increased drug use. Given these risks, we have to ask whether the state action helps or unjustifiably interferes.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 8, 2021

Gina Hinojosa: A national climate plan needs a Texas component

With spring’s emergence, memories of winter’s Polar Vortex begin to recede and lose their sting. Unfortunately, we know that these weather disasters will continue to occur with increased frequency and magnitude due to climate change. Texas needs a plan to address climate change and we have one — the Texas Climate Plan. About two years ago, I decided to use my office to examine what Texans could do to impact climate change — it turns out, we can do a whole lot. Texas is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country and a major emitter of methane. Carbon dioxide and methane are the primary greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. If Texas were a country, we would rank 7th in the world for our carbon dioxide emissions. Major sources of these greenhouse gases are the vehicles we drive, and the oil and gas industry.

After examining the data, we concluded that any national plan to combat climate change must have a substantial Texas component. I collaborated with several House Democrats to develop the Texas Climate Plan as a roadmap to reduce emissions. The plan consists of four parts, beginning with: “Texas Jobs for a Changing Economy.” The clean energy economy is here, and we have a huge opportunity to benefit from this growth sector. Since 2017, clean energy added jobs two times faster than national employment and 60% faster than fossil fuels in Texas. Our state is already a leader in electric and hybrid vehicle manufacturing with Tesla, Peterbilt Motors Co., Navistar, Toshiba Heavy Industries, Ayro, Volcon and Hyliion all located here. Major auto companies continue to announce an end to manufacturing gas-powered cars as they transition to electric vehicles. Clean energy job growth in Texas already outpaces fossil fuels, and provides higher paying wages - about 25% more than the median wage statewide. The “future” economy is already here and ripe for prosperity. Part two of the plan is “Preserving Texas Resources and Industry Accountability.” Texas possesses a wealth of natural resources that have served as a source of economic strength for our state, but these resources must be preserved through responsible stewardship. For example, much of the methane that comes from the oil and gas industry comes from wasteful, routine venting and flaring of natural gas. In 2018 alone, Permian Basin oil and gas producers flared off enough to meet the entire state’s residential demand. Even the UT System can minimize venting and flaring on university lands to reduce the ecological footprint of oil production on public lands and maximize profits by directing this wasted gas to the market instead. Part three of the plan provides for “Transparency to Empower Texans.” Our staff worked countless hours to unearth the data needed to build the Texas Climate Plan. Details on Texas’ environmental status should be readily available. Texans need transparent information to effectively engage policymakers and provide public oversight.

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Washington Post - April 9, 2021

Lina Hidalgo: We need everyone if we’re going to beat the attack on voting in Texas

I will never forget hearing last fall about a Texas Medical Center nurse, a front-line health-care hero, who cried tears of joy when she found out that, because of 24-hour voting, the polls in Harris County would still be open after she left her late shift. I still remember the reports from our elections staff about the excitement of people from both parties during their first drive-through voting experience. Now, both of those voting options that we instituted in Harris County, which includes Houston, for the 2020 election have been targeted by the Texas state legislature as part of a larger Republican effort to suppress the vote in many states across the nation. Access to the ballot box is the ultimate vehicle for self-determination and for social and economic justice. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his 1957 “Give Us the Ballot” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C., “The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”

Yet nearly 64 years after that speech, especially in the South, attacks on voting rights are back in vogue. The players and the justifications have changed, but the intent behind vote suppression — and the effects on the vulnerable — remains largely the same. Past generations used “revenue collection” to justify poll taxes. They used the need for an “educated electorate” to justify literacy tests. Today, as recently witnessed both here in Texas and in the Georgia legislature, those seeking to keep voters from the ballot box use the Big Lie of widespread “voting fraud” to justify their anti-democratic measures. The results then and now are obstacles to voting. More than 360 restrictive election bills have been introduced in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. A good number of these attacks on voting rights have been filed by Republican state legislators right here in Texas, and many of them are aimed squarely at Harris County. In 2020, Harris County became a national model for how to run safe, secure and convenient elections. We tripled early voting locations, extended voting hours to 10 p.m. on three early-voting days and had a day of 24-hour voting. We implemented drive-through voting. The result: Record voter turnout, as 68 percent of registered voters went to the polls — the greatest participation Harris County had seen since 1992.

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2021

Numbers of migrants now crossing the border rises but most are still expelled

Six out of 10 migrants who arrived at the U.S. border were almost immediately expelled in March under an emergency order still in place from the presidency of Donald Trump. That represents a decline from an average of 8 out of 10 for previous months this year. The emergency order, known as Title 42, was put in place a year ago as the coronavirus pandemic was officially declared, but its effectiveness is now being questioned. In March, nearly 30 percent of those who came across the border were repeat crossers, meaning the number of new arrivals at the border is lower than the numbers might seem to indicate. For March, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said there were 172,000 border crossers. About 53,000 were migrant families and a third of those families were sent back south across the border through what’s called an expulsion under Title 42.

A record number of migrants were unaccompanied minors crossing the border without a parent or a legal guardian. That number nearly reached 19,000, a high mark for such solo journeys. The year 2000 remains the peak year for overall border apprehensions when 1.6 million immigrants were taken into custody. In March 2000, nearly 220,000 were apprehended. The Rio Grande Valley is the busiest area for border crossings, in part because it’s the most direct route from Central America. But also in play is the fact that the Mexican government in its eastern border state has been refusing to take back migrant families with young children. That means they get passage into Texas and are assisted by U.S. shelters, including a large operation in McAllen run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “The desire of people to come is not shaped by policy,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. “But when and where and who comes is sometimes shaped by policy.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2021

Texas Senate OKs sweeping protections against COVID-19 lawsuits for businesses, health care providers

With strong bipartisan support, a sweeping bill that would bar lawsuits over COVID-19 deaths and injuries – if Texas businesses, health care providers and institutions made good faith efforts to follow governments’ pandemic protocols – flew out of the Senate on Thursday. The proposed liability shield would be retroactive to the start of the coronavirus crisis and lift once it ends, meaning the protections could last for months or even years. Senate Bill 6, approved 29-1, now goes to the House. It “allows Texas to continue reopening safely and will bolster the global economy-leading [state] economy by giving businesses the assurance that they will not be forced to spend their hard-earned resources fighting frivolous lawsuits,” said bill author Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills.

While some opponents have said such immunity is unnecessary because a flood of lawsuits has yet to materialize, Hancock said failure to provide it could impede the Texas economy’s rebound from the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott made the topic an emergency topic this session. The legislation enjoys strong backing from GOP leaders such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dade Phelan of Beaumont. Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said he originally intended to oppose the measure. “I’ve switched my vote,” he said, citing assurances from Hancock that the bill only would protect businesses that followed proper guidelines, not bad actors. Said Gutierrez, “If the local Wendy’s or the local taqueria ..., if they are short on cooks and they know that the line cook that they have has COVID, they would not get protection?” Hancock replied, “Senator Gutierrez, we have no desire to protect those people that are not following health and safety guidelines. … This bill protects the people that deserve to be protected and absolutely does not protect those individuals who do not deserve this protection.” By 29-1, the Senate tabled a proposal by Edgewood GOP Sen. Bob Hall to allow lawsuits only if, as he put it, “you intentionally intended to infect someone.” That would have scrapped the bill’s requirement that to receive immunity, a business or institution must have tried to comply with governmental COVID-19 protocols. Hancock noted that different layers of government sometimes issued different guidance.

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Dallas Morning News - April 7, 2021

200,000 students impacted by online STAAR glitch, a Texas lawmaker says

On the same day thousands of Texas students experienced technical difficulties taking their STAAR exams online, a lawmaker suggested the state’s push to administer all of the exams virtually could take longer than expected. About 200,000 Texas students were impacted by STAAR exam outages on Tuesday, Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood, told the House Public Education Committee. Students in districts across the state were kicked out of their exams and unable to log back in, resulting in some schools halting the tests for the day. Officials at the Texas Education Agency have yet to respond to questions from The Dallas Morning News on how many students were impacted or the potential cause of the outages.

The state is in the middle of a push to administer all STAAR tests virtually. The Legislature started the process in 2019. Legislation required that the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education draft a plan to get all kids testing online no later than the 2022-23 school year. A bill by Huberty, who serves on the Public Education Committee, would create a grant program to help school districts transition to such online testing. But the Houston-area legislator acknowledged that the problems experienced by students this week underscored the need for more time. “It is clear to me that we have some work to do as we go forward, and I want to give TEA the time to do that,” he said, noting that the agency felt “terribly” about the issues. Huberty did not specify how long he believed it would take to get all students testing online. Meanwhile, no statewide issues were reported as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness tests continued on Wednesday.

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2021

Democrats urge Texas’ Republican leaders to quickly distribute federal COVID relief funds

Some Democrats and the leader of a public school advocacy group expressed misgivings Thursday about GOP state leaders’ intent to go slow in parceling out about $35 billion of accumulated federal coronavirus relief money. At a House Appropriations hearing on a bill by Committee Chairman Greg Bonnen to punt the decisions to a newly created board of lawmakers, several Democrats said they’re worried most members of the Legislature would be cut out of deliberations. Christy Rome, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, urged lawmakers to spend some of the $18 billion in federal funds headed for education before the session ends on May 31, to help school districts ramp up summer programs to help students. “These are federal funds available for education now,” she said.

Her group represents property-rich districts that in the current budget cycle have had to fork over $1.3 billion more in property tax receipts than projected for “Robin Hood” transfers to property-poor districts. Rome said 40 states already have issued guidance on how school systems can tap some of funds from Congress’ Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed in late December, to help their public schools. Earlier this week, grocery magnate Charles Butt and former Speaker Joe Straus, both of San Antonio, sought to ratchet up pressure on GOP state leaders to let the federal education dollars flow rapidly to districts. Bonnen, R-Friendswood, said lawmakers last session “demonstrated our commitment” to public education. Legislators are acutely aware of the “COVID slide” in student learning because of the pandemic, he said. However, state leaders do “not have the necessary information to be able to appropriate all of these federal dollars,” he said, referring to waiver requests Texas has submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2021

Sen. Cornyn and Dallas Rep. Johnson team up on bipartisan bill to weatherize Texas energy grid

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, and Dallas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat, are teaming up on a bipartisan bill that would help Texas weatherize its energy grid to protect it against future extreme weather events. The Texans joined forces after the February winter storm that devastated the state and killed nearly 200 people. They announced the Power On Act, which would set up a grant program in the Department of Energy to help states weatherize their grids, at a news conference outside a Dallas electrical substation Thursday.

“There’s no red team, and no blue team, there’s only team Texas,” Cornyn said. “And when things happen like this 120-year weather event we’re here to talk about, we look for answers and how to fix the problems and things that need to be done. And I’ve been in Washington long enough to know that nothing gets done on a partisan basis.” Their legislation would authorize $500 million in seed money to be made available to power providers, suppliers and distributors, Cornyn said. It will be used to complement efforts in the Texas Legislature to make sure a situation like the devastating February storm never happens again. The funding will not support new construction, Cornyn said. Instead, it would be used to fortify existing electric infrastructure. “It’s expensive, but one of the things the federal government can do through this Department of Energy is to come up with the best practices and make recommendations and then provide targeted grants to help the states weatherize their infrastructure,” Cornyn said.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2021

Free speech advocates sue Texas AG Ken Paxton for blocking critics on Twitter

Two free speech advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of nine people who have been blocked from his Twitter account after criticizing him on the site. The 34-page suit, filed in federal court in Austin by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, seeks for the court to declare this practice of Paxton’s a violation of the First Amendment. It also seeks a court order that he unblock anyone he rejected because of their opinions. “Multiple courts have recognized that government officials who use their social media accounts for official purposes violate the First Amendment if they block people from those accounts on the basis of viewpoint,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute. “People shouldn’t be excluded from these important democratic forums simply because an official doesn’t like what they have to say.”

The attorney general’s office and Paxton’s campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Hearst Newspapers on March 9 requested a list of all the accounts that @KenPaxtonTX had blocked. The office responded within 24 hours that the Office of the Attorney General “does not manage General Paxton’s personal or campaign social media accounts.” It added that no one is blocked on the office’s Twitter account, @TXAG, or its Facebook page. The lawsuit makes the case that Paxton “regularly uses the @KenPaxtonTX account to make official announcements or provide information that is not communicated through the @TXAG account” and cites several examples.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2021

Remember ERCOT's confusing winter storm tweets? They were reviewed by regulators, word for word.

Ahead of what turned out to be one of the worst winter storms in the state’s history, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas was charged with providing the public consistent updates on power outages, tips for consumers and other important “crisis communications.” But as Texas froze and ERCOT called for rolling power outages to manage the titanic demand for power, the agency’s main vehicle for providing the public with information was a series of Twitter posts sometimes indecipherable to most residents. Temperatures in Austin and San Antonio were plunging into single digits early Feb. 15, for example, when an automated ERCOT tweet went out at 1:12 a.m. saying it “has declared an EEA 2. Consumers are urged to reduce electricity use. Rotating outages may be needed to protect the system.” Thirteen minutes later, ERCOT cryptically declared an “EEA 3” — the acronym stands for “Energy Emergency Alert” — and warned that rotating outages were underway.

Some tweets also referred to “load shedding” — an industry term for the forced outages that left many Texans scratching their heads. New documents released this week show that the jargon-heavy verbiage was a central feature of ERCOT’s improved crisis communications plan, one that was disseminated to the agency’s overseers at the Public Utility Commission about a month in advance of the storm. Even the non-automated tweets were often difficult to understand. “Weather, more generation outages last night bring load shed to 18,500 MW,” read another tweet from about 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 16. “For today … generators to return, renewable output to increase = increased customer restoration.” That meant ERCOT had cut off enough electricity to power 3.7 million homes in order to keep the grid from crashing. The selection of Twitter — which is used by an estimated 22 percent of the adult population of the U.S. — was another questionable call that drew criticism.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2021

Harris County suffered far more blackout deaths, power outages than the rest of Texas, data shows

Harris County residents were far more likely to have lost electricity and water during February’s winter storm and blackout crisis than residents of other Texas counties, a survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs found. The findings may help explain why Harris County residents account for a third of the almost 200 deaths so far attributed to the storm, while only accounting for 16 percent of the state’s population. Most froze to death in their homes or while exposed to the elements, succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning or died when medical devices failed without electricity. “During the week of the winter storm, Harris County residents were significantly more likely than other Texans to lose electrical power, lose internet service, lose access to drinkable water, be without running water, lose cell phone service, have food spoil, suffer economic damages, and experience difficulty finding a plumber,” the survey authors wrote.

Ninety-one percent of Harris County survey respondents said they lost power during the blackouts, compared to 64 percent of respondents from the other 212 counties on the state’s main power grid. Asked if they had lost water, 65 percent of Harris County residents said yes, compared to 44 percent of those in other counties. Thirty-eight percent of local respondents said they suffered burst pipes. On average, Harris County respondents were without electricity for 49 total hours and 39 consecutive hours, confirming that the outages were not rotating as the grid operator, ERCOT, had hoped. CenterPoint Energy, the Houston area’s electricity distributor, said during the crisis it could not rotate blackouts because the drop in available power to distribute was so severe. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 72 percent of Harris County respondents said they somewhat or strongly disagreed that the power outages were distributed in an equitable manner. Renée Cross, one of the principal authors of the study, said Texas is accustomed to many disasters, but a winter storm affecting all regions of the state is rare.

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2021

Texas preparing to delay 2022 primary elections

The 2022 primary elections in Texas could be pushed back to April or May under a bill moving through the state Legislature. Because of delays in U.S. Census Bureau data needed to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, the Texas Senate passed a bill on Thursday that could push the state’s primary to April 5, or if the delays persist, to May 24. State Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican, said at this point Texas might not have the needed census data until deep into the summer. If they get the maps drawn up and passed into law fast enough, the March 1 primary would go on as planned. But if the maps aren’t put into law until after Nov. 22, the primary would shift to April 5. If the maps are not done until after Jan. 3, the primary would shift to May 24.

The Texas Legislature was scheduled to redraw all of the state’s congressional and legislative districts during their regular session this spring. But delays in census data have made it certain the Legislature would at least need a special session to redraw the maps. Texas currently has 36 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and could be getting three more because of the state’s population growth over the past 10 years. States are required to redraw lines every decade to ensure equal populations in each district. The U.S. Census Bureau announced in February that it would deliver redistricting data to all states by Sept. 30. Officials pointed to COVID-19-related delays as a key reason for the disruption. Texas has been here before. In 2012, a legal battle around redistricting forced Texas to move its March primary to late May. It was that primary in which Ted Cruz, who had never held elected office, finished in the top two in the primary for the U.S. Senate and won the seat in a runoff election. Neither of the two U.S. senators from Texas are up for re-election in 2022, but most of the statewide elected officeholders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, are up. Huffman said she’s trying to put the Legislature in the best position possible in light of the census data delays. “The bill will serve as a signal that the Legislature fully intends to complete the redistricting task once the census data is received,” she said. The bill passed the Senate on Thursday and now heads to the Texas House for consideration. If they agree to the bill, it would go to Abbott for final approval.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 4, 2021

Jennifer Erschabek: Why Texas should pass second chance legislation

As executive director of the Texas Inmate Families Association, I know all too well about excessive prison sentences and the impact they have on families and our communities. Our criminal legal system locks people up and throws away the key. Because of harsh and antiquated laws, people — like the Texas man who was sentenced to prison for 70 years for stealing a sandwich — are sent away for decades. Despite mounting evidence that longer sentences do not contribute to public safety -- and are, instead, counterproductive to it -- thousands of Texans are serving extensive sentences for mistakes they grew and changed from long ago. It is time we give those individuals a shot at a second chance. Lawmakers must pass House Bill 3392, which would provide just that to incarcerated individuals who pose no safety risk to their communities.

Research shows that people age out of criminal behaviors, which explains why aging populations in our criminal justice system have the lowest recidivism rates among all incarcerated demographics. Still, there are currently 17,000 people incarcerated in Texas who are 50 years-old or older, many of whom pose no risk to public safety but lack any meaningful way to show they no longer warrant their extreme sentences. HB 3392 would create a mechanism for a court to take a second look at the lengthy sentences of aging and elderly individuals. This legislation would allow district attorneys to petition the court to review the sentences of incarcerated individuals 50-years-old and older who have served over 15 years in prison or those 35 and older who have served at least 20 years of their sentence. All eligible individuals must also demonstrate that they do not pose a risk to public safety. After reviewing the circumstances of the petition — including an individual’s prison record, their age at the time of the offense, and their participation in prison rehabilitation programs — a judge will decide whether continued incarceration remains in the public interest.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 8, 2021

Court rejects Paxton challenge to Austin business curfew, but mask mandate appeal awaits

In a ruling that was divided along party lines, a state appeals court on Thursday dismissed Attorney General Ken Paxton's challenge to Austin and Travis County pandemic-related orders that placed a curfew on businesses during the New Year's weekend. The orders, which barred food and beverage service after 10:30 p.m. amid a surge in local COVID-19 cases, were in place for only one night before the Texas Supreme Court blocked enforcement, leaving nothing to settle because the issue was moot, the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling. The court's lone Republican, Justice Melissa Goodwin, disagreed, arguing that the issue remains live because Austin and Travis County officials continue to "vigorously defend their authority to adopt and enforce the local orders and do not concede that (they) were invalid or unlawful."

The ruling, which can be appealed, thwarted for now Paxton's hope for a decision affirming Gov. Greg Abbott's power to issue emergency orders that block local officials from adopting stricter requirements in the name of pandemic safety. Paxton, however, still has a separate appeal pending before the 3rd Court that seeks to block another Austin and Travis County pandemic safety order — this one requiring face coverings in area businesses. A Democratic state district judge in Austin declined to block the mask order two weeks ago, rejecting Paxton's argument that it is illegal and invalid because Abbott's latest executive order specifically prohibited local officials from enacting mask mandates. Abbott's pandemic-related orders trump local requirements under powers granted by the Texas Disaster Act, Paxton argued on behalf of the state's Republican leaders.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 8, 2021

Bill blocking governor from shutting houses of worship during disasters gets early OK in Texas House

The Texas House on Thursday granted preliminary approval 117-29 of a measure that would prohibit the governor from closing houses of worship, even during disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott classified houses of worship as essential when he issued a stay-at-home order soon after the coronavirus arrived in Texas, which allowed churches and other religious sites to stay open if they chose to do so. The Senate approved an identical bill in March. Republican senators said they want to prevent the possibility of a future governor closing churches during a disaster; leaders in other states attempted to shutter houses of worship during the pandemic. The measure was one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's priorities for the session.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton last year recommended that houses of worship find virtual alternatives for services, but they did not offer any capacity limits for in-person church services. Still, many churches shifted to virtual or outdoor services. Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, proposed narrowing the bill by defining a "house of worship," using the definition in the state's tax code. Turner argued the bill defines houses of worship as "the entire planet, essentially" and could possibly qualify concert venues that play worship music, schools that host religious services, religious bookstores and more. "If you support this idea of religious liberty, you shouldn't allow just anybody to call themselves a church or you shouldn't inadvertently extend this to a wide range of other facilities," Turner told lawmakers. But Republicans argued that church members should be able to branch out from their churches and start their own religious groups, which often occur within homes. Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said most churches do not start in "predominantly known houses of worship." "These are communities that help countless people," Toth said. "Government can't do everything and shouldn't do everything. The church needs to be more responsible for helping those that would help themselves."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 9, 2021

23 people are running for this Texas US House seat. A third don’t live in the district

A third of the candidates vying for a U.S. House seat representing North Texas do not live in the district, according to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram review of campaign filings and public records. The race to fill the seat previously held by the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican, has drawn 23 candidates, a list that includes 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, a Libertarian and an independent. Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives are not required to live in the district they’re seeking to represent. They must be at least 25 a U.S. citizen and live in the state in which they’re running.

Congressional District 6 spans southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. Early voting starts April 19 for the May 1 special election, which was called after Wright died in February. Candidates who do not appear to live in the district based on public records include four Democrats (Matt Hinterlong, Shawn Lassiter, Jana Lynne Sanchez and Brian Stephenson), three Republicans (Mike Egan, Michael Wood and Jenny Garcia Sharon) and one Libertarian (Phil Gray). Hinterlong owns a house in Navarro county, he said during a recent candidate forum, but lives in Dallas where he plans to keep residing so his children can attend school there. Hinterlong went to grade school and high school in Arlington. Lassiter, who has worked as a public school teacher and administrator in Fort Worth, said she lives a little bit outside of District 6 but has lived in Fort Worth for nearly a decade and has worked across the district. “I have always served District 6,” she said during the forum. “It’s been where I spent most of my time.”

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VICE - April 8, 2021

QAnon conference in Dallas will feature Gohmert, GOP Chair West and QAnon “celebrities.”

Just months after dozens of QAnon followers took part in the Capitol insurrection, two major GOP figures are attending a huge QAnon conference in Dallas. The “For God & Country Patriots Roundup” event, set for Memorial Day weekend, will feature a who’s who of QAnon celebrities, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell. Also speaking at the event will be sitting Texas congressman Louie Gohmert and Texas GOP chair Allen West. But despite having a speaker lineup stacked with QAnon influencers, the event’s website doesn’t have a single mention of QAnon—and the organizer, John Sabal, claims the event isn’t a QAnon conference. That claim might hold more weight if the event logo didn't feature a QAnon slogan, or if Sabal weren’t known online as “QAnon John.”

The event is taking place at two venues in Dallas, Gilley’s entertainment complex and the Omni Hotel, which is owned by the city of Dallas. Neither venue responded to VICE News’ requests for comment, but it appears that officials in City Hall have no problem welcoming QAnon followers to their city. “The City of Dallas is a welcoming city, bringing together people of many varied interests and ideas,” Catherine Cuellar, the director of communications for the city of Dallas, told VICE News in an emailed statement. “As always, we will do our best to ensure Dallas residents and guests attending this event are safe while in our city.” QAnon has been mostly an online phenomenon since it emerged on the fringe message board 4chan in late 2017, but during the Capitol riots on January 6, the movement—which has been labeled a potential domestic terror threat by the FBI—showed its more violent side. At least 34 of those arrested for taking part in the breach of the Capitol are QAnon supporters, according to a recent study by researchers at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

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KBTX - April 8, 2021

Suspect identified in Bryan mass shooting

Bryan police have identified the suspect in custody for the mass shooting that took place at Kent Moore Cabinets in Bryan. The suspect was identified as Larry Bollin, 27, of Grimes County. Police confirm one person was killed and five others were shot Thursday afternoon at Kent Moore Cabinets in Bryan. A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper was also shot in Grimes County in connection to the Bryan business shooting. Police and DPS officials say Bollin was taken into custody in Bedias, but could not rule out whether another suspect was involved. At a 6 p.m. press conference, Bryan Police Chief Eric Buske said they do not have a motive for the suspect in the shooting.

The DPS trooper who was shot in Grimes County while pursuing the suspect was taken by medical helicopter to St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan. The trooper was in surgery according to Buske. At the last update, the trooper was in serious but stable condition. Buske said police were called to the cabinet manufacturer at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. Officers arrived on the scene at 2:36 p.m., at which point the suspect had left the business. One person died at the scene and four were transported to St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan in critical condition, according to Buske. The police chief said that one additional person is in non-critical condition. A seventh person was transported for an asthma attack. St. Joseph Health says one patient is in stable condition at St. Joseph Health- College Station and four are at a St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital in Bryan. Two patients at the Bryan hospital are currently in critical condition and two are currently stable. Buske said the suspect is an employee of Kent Moore Cabinets and used a handgun in the shooting. Witnesses have described to KBTX that the shootings appeared targeted. Police said no motive was apparent at this time. The business did not go on lockdown once police arrived on the scene because the suspect had fled the area, according to Buske. Employees at the scene were interviewed and have since been released. Buske did not rule out the possibility of additional suspects and said police are working on a phone line where the families of Kent Moore employees can get updates. Most employees have been allowed to leave the facility.

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Fox News - April 7, 2021

Texas Sen. John Cornyn demands federal probe into San Antonio child migrant abuse allegations

Texas Sen. John Cornyn on Wednesday demanded a federal investigation into allegations of child abuse at a migrant facility in San Antonio. "Unaccompanied children that arrive at our border have already endured dangerous conditions at home and a treacherous journey to get here," Cornyn, a Republican, said in a statement after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the allegations during a news conference. Abbott had demanded the Biden administration close the San Antonio facility after he said he received tips about child sex abuse and insufficient food at the Freeman Coliseum facility. He has already called on the state’s Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers to launch their own investigation.

"The fact that any child would experience abuse in the care of the U.S. government is despicable," Cornyn said. "The HHS Inspector General must fully investigate these allegations and the treatment of children at this facility." Cornyn has personally visited four migrant facilities housing unaccompanied minors in recent days and said he plans to visit a fifth this week. The abuse allegations were limited to the San Antonio facility – an event center that has been temporarily converted to house unaccompanied minors amid a worsening border crisis. Critics have blamed President Biden for the crisis – noting his decision to end Trump-era border policies and his proposal to create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned last month that the border could see more migrants than at any time in the last 20 years. But Biden later downplayed those concerns and said it is normal to see a surge in migrants between January and March.

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KXAN - April 8, 2021

Texas hurricane strike more likely than normal this year

The most widely-respected seasonal hurricane forecast of the year was released today by Dr. Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University, calling for another busier than normal Atlantic season with above-average tropical storm and hurricane activity. While predicting where storms will form and make landfall is difficult months in advance, CSU forecasters are expecting a higher than normal chance of a storm impacting Texas. They diagnose Texas with a 75% chance of being impacted by a tropical storm this year (winds of 39-73 mph) compared to a typical season’s 58% chance. They also calculate a 49% of a hurricane hitting Texas (winds 74+ mph) compared to an average chance of 35%, and a 21% chance of a major hurricane (winds 111+ mph) impacting the state, compared to a 14% chance in a normal hurricane season.

The seasonal forecast calls for a high 69% chance of a major category 3+ hurricane impacting the United States coastline compared to a typical season’s 52% chance. The odds of a major hurricane impacting the Gulf Coast anywhere from Brownsville, Texas to the Florida Panhandle are 44% — higher than the average chance of 30%. Predicting hurricane activity leans most heavily on ocean temperatures and the El Niño/La Niña cycle. At this time, weak La Niña conditions are still in place with cooler than normal ocean waters in the Equatorial Pacific. This is important because the close tie of the ocean and the atmosphere mean that cooler waters there lead to less storm-killing wind shear over the Atlantic, and a more conducive environment for storms to develop. Long-range La Niña forecast models now seem to be predicting a “double-dip” La Nina that KXAN first predicted in our March, 2021 special report. This would mean that the pattern which is weakening now could reintensify later this year, fostering Atlantic hurricane development.

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The Trace - April 8, 2021

Texas is considering a violence prevention effort outside of law enforcement—without challenging gun rights head on

When Rodney McIntosh saw the pistol, his instincts kicked in. He grabbed the armed man’s hand, shoved it down, and pushed him back into his car. It wasn’t McIntosh’s first time in a conflict on the verge of becoming a shooting. It’s his job. “You can’t do this in broad daylight,” McIntosh recalled telling the young man. If he’d pulled the trigger that day, prison wouldn’t be the only concern. “Someone is going to come shoot you, too,” McIntosh told him. A community activist, pastor, and mentor, McIntosh, 44, leads a small team battling violence in east and south Fort Worth, using his experiences as a former gang member to mentor young men and mediate conflicts before they devolve into gun violence. The fledgling organization, called VIP Fort Worth, is one of a number of programs that could benefit from a new bill that would help grow and support community-based violence prevention and intervention programs in Texas. House Bill 1580 would establish a statewide office focused on community violence intervention and prevention.

The proposal is novel because the office would be housed in the state’s public health department, not a law enforcement agency — for example, California, a pioneer in state funding for violence prevention, administers its grants through its state Department of Corrections. While the placement of an office might sound like a technical issue, supporters say this approach matters because it would incentivize more holistic strategies, developed with the communities most affected, that don’t use incarceration as a catch-all solution. A shift to community-based prevention reflects the needs of the moment, as Texas tries to quell surging violence without placing that responsibility solely on law enforcement. The statewide office would be the first of its kind in the South, and among the first in the country. This is Texas’ first legislative session since back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa in August 2019, twin tragedies that pressured officials to act. Since then, reformers have tempered their hopes for change: In 2020, Republicans performed better in Texas’ elections than expected, emboldening the state party. The bill is one of at least 20 related to violence prevention and gun reform, and also comes after some of Texas’ biggest cities saw homicides spike by as much as 60 percent. Though the Legislature is juggling proposed responses to several crises, advocates say this bill has better prospects than other gun control bills. They say that’s because the violence prevention bill doesn’t constrain gun rights. The bill’s supporters are drawing inspiration from VIP Fort Worth and similar community-led initiatives. In VIP’s case, mediating conflicts before they turn violent is a large part of the job, but the team does more than immediately respond to crises. It also includes long-term stabilization support for young men believed to be involved in the cycle of violence.

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Dallas Observer - April 8, 2021

As doctors decry gun violence, Texas Republicans push lax restrictions

For years, Dr. Sue Bornstein tried to persuade policymakers and politicians to tackle one particular epidemic: gun violence. But politicians didn’t seem to take the threat seriously, and body bags continued to fill. Now, as Texas Republicans barrel forward with a series of gun-related bills in the Legislature, many doctors and gun reform advocacy groups fear the bloodshed will get worse. Bornstein, a Texas-based internal medicine doctor, knows what she and other reform advocates are up against. In 2018, she coauthored an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine that enraged perhaps the most notorious gun rights group in the industry: the National Rifle Association.

The group took to Twitter and placed doctors in its crosshairs. “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane,” the NRA tweeted on Nov. 7, 2018. “Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.” Doctors around the country shot back, firing off a series of tweets aimed at the NRA. Some posted images of blood-splattered operating rooms. Day in and day out, doctors treat gunshot victims, and the hashtag they used delivered a pointed message to the NRA: #ThisIsOurLane. The NRA had chosen an inopportune moment to lash out at doctors worried about gun violence. Bornstein’s Annals of Internal Medicine article ran between two deadly mass shootings. In the month leading up to the tweet, the country had experienced more than two dozen mass shootings, including a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 worshippers dead. A few hours after the NRA blasted the “self-important doctors,” a gunman opened fire in a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. By the time the attack was over, 13 people were dead, including the shooter. “For them, it was very unfortunate because they sort of interjected their comments between two horrific mass shootings,” said Bornstein, who also chairs the American College of Physicians’ Health and Public Policy Committee. “So, it sparked a movement like I’ve never seen before.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 8, 2021

Bexar County officials 'blindsided' by Abbott's call to shutter migrant facility

Before Gov. Greg Abbott arrived unexpectedly at the Freeman Coliseum Exposition Hall on Wednesday and called on the federal government to shut down the temporary facility housing migrant children there, Bexar County officials were unaware of any complaints about the operation. “We had no advance warning that he was even going to be in town, had no idea that there were any allegations (of child abuse and neglect) that he offered up at the press conference,” County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said. “I think everybody was completely blindsided by his press conference, number one, and the fact that he offered up these allegations without even walking through the building and talking to anybody on the ground.” The GOP governor’s assertions also took Trish DeBerry — the sole Republican on Commissioners Court — by surprise.

“These are serious allegations, and if they are true they need to be investigated,” DeBerry said. “However, it was shocking to hear because we were caught very unaware.” At the news conference, Abbott said two state agencies had received separate complaints that some children had been sexually assaulted, that the federally run facility was understaffed, that some children were not getting meals throughout the day and that children testing positive for the coronavirus were not separated from the other kids. One of those agencies, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services, received three separate complaints on Wednesday — the same day as the governor’s news conference — alleging abuse and neglect at the coliseum. Unaccompanied minors have surged across the border in recent weeks, prompting Abbott to accuse the Biden administration of creating unsafe conditions for thousands of children entering the system. Democrats have countered that Biden inherited a system that was compromised by the previous administration.

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Washington Post - April 8, 2021

Video shows Texas GOP official seeking ‘army’ of volunteers to monitor polls in mostly Black and Hispanic Houston precincts

In a leaked video of a recent presentation, a man who identifies himself as a GOP official in Harris County, Tex., says the party needs 10,000 Republicans for an “election integrity brigade” in Houston. Then he pulls up a map of the area’s voting precincts and points to Houston’s dense, racially diverse urban core, saying the party specifically needed volunteers with “the confidence and courage to come down here,” adding, “this is where the fraud is occurring.” The official cites widespread vote fraud, which has not been documented in Texas, as driving the need for an “army” of poll watchers to monitor voters at every precinct in the county. Now the government accountability group Common Cause Texas — which published the footage Thursday — is raising the alarm that such an effort could instead serve to intimidate and suppress voters in metro Houston.

“It’s very clear that we’re talking about recruiting people from the predominantly Anglo parts of town to go to Black and Brown neighborhoods,” Anthony Gutierrez, the group’s executive director, told The Washington Post. “This is a role that’s supposed to do nothing but stand at a poll site and observe,” he added. So “why is he suggesting someone needs to be ‘courageous’?” Gutierrez asked. In a statement to The Post, the Harris County Republican Party said Common Cause was “blatantly mischaracterizing a grassroots election worker recruitment video.” The party chair, Cindy Siegel, accused the group of trying “to bully and intimidate Republicans.” “The goal is to activate an army of volunteers for every precinct in Harris County,” Siegel said. “And to engage voters for the whole ballot, top to bottom, and ensure every legal vote is counted.”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 8, 2021

Round Rock City Council votes to end local coronavirus mask mandate, rule expires April 22

The Round Rock City Council on Thursday voted to officially end the citywide face covering requirement to fall more in line with Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order last month ending the statewide mask order. The council had voted to extend the city's emergency ordinance requiring face coverings through April 29 in businesses and other locations as part of the effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. However, the ordinance will now expire at midnight on April 22. The ordinance, which first passed unanimously during an emergency meeting on June 29, required those 10 and older to wear face coverings in public places when social distancing is not possible. It also required businesses to display a notice of the requirement.

"No one is going to be 100% happy, but this will allow businesses and our citizens more time to get vaccinated, for our businesses to prepare ... and let individual choices be made," said Mayor Craig Morgan. The requirements to wear face coverings did not apply to several situations, including when exercising or engaging in physical activity, while eating or drinking, and when outside with a group consisting of only members of a single household. City spokesman Will Hampton said that once the ordinance expires, businesses will no longer be required to display a notice of the requirement. Those who spoke in favor of rescinding the mandate expressed that in recent months, new reports of coronavirus cases have been on a steady decline across the state. "The data that we have learned in the last year has changed," said Council Member Matt Baker. "We didn't know what we were dealing with a year ago and we've learned a lot how to better prepare and social distance. Going back to the numbers for me has always been what I've been looking at — infections are down, hospitalizations are down and I think it's time to end the mask ordinance."

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 8, 2021

A Tarrant Water District incumbent wants to rush hiring of manager before election

The longest serving Tarrant Regional Water District board director wants to push through the selection of a new general manager, the top executive of the agency, before voters have a chance to see potentially new leadership on the board. General manager Jim Oliver is retiring after 35 years leading the Tarrant Regional Water District. His departure and the election for three at-large seats on the board offers the greatest chance for fresh perspectives for the agency, which supplies roughly 120 billion gallons of raw water to more than 2 million people and oversees the $1.17 billion Panther Island project. The board in March selected Austin-based Lehman Associates to conduct a search for a new general manager. A list of job candidates has not been made public.

Jack Stevens, president of the board and the longest serving director at 17 years, told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board that his intention is to hire a new general manager before board members are sworn in after the May 1 election. That view was in contrast to other candidates, including incumbent director James Hill, who said the decision should not be rushed. Hill, Stevens and Leah King are campaigning for another four year term. Voters will choose three at-large members for the Tarrant Regional Water District Board of Directors from a list of seven candidates, which also includes Mary Kelleher, Jeremy Raines, Charles “C.B.” Team and Glenda Murray Thompson. Board members Jim Lane and Marty Leonard are not up for election. Stevens argued during an editorial board interview of candidates that the current board “knows what needs to be done and knows the personalities involved.” Asked if he thought it would be a good idea to hire a new general manager and stick that person with a potential new board of directors, Stevens said it was unlikely the board would change much.

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Gizmodo - April 8, 2021

Dallas Police used face recognition software without authorization, installed on personal phones

Dallas police officers used unauthorized facial recognition software to conduct between 500 and 1,000 searches in attempts to identify people based on photographs. A Dallas Police spokesperson says the searches were never authorized by the department, and that in some cases, officers had installed facial recognition software on their personal phones. The spokesperson, Senior Cpl. Melinda Gutierrez, said the department first learned of the matter after being contacted by investigative reporters at BuzzFeed News. Use of the face recognition app, known as Clearview AI, was not approved, she said, “for use by any member of the department.” Department leaders have since ordered the software deleted from all city-issued devices.

Officers are not entirely banned from possessing the software, however. No order has been given to delete copies of the app installed on personal phones. “They were only instructed not to use the app as a part of their job functions,” Gutierrez said. Clearview AI did not respond Wednesday when asked if it had revoked access for officers whose departments say their use is unauthorized. The Dallas Police Department says it has never entered into a contract with Clearview AI. Yet officers were still able to download the app by visiting the company’s website. According to BuzzFeed, officers who signed up for a free trial at the time were not required to prove they were authorized to use the software. What’s more, emails obtained by the outlet show Clearview AI’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That, has not been opposed to helping officers register for his software with non-work related email. During an internal review, Dallas officers told superiors they had learned about Clearview through word of mouth from other officers. BuzzFeed News first revealed Clearview AI was being used in Dallas on Tuesday following a yearlong investigation into the company. The Dallas Police Department is only one of 34 agencies to acknowledge employees had used the software without approval.

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National Stories

Los Angeles Times - April 8, 2021

Mark Z. Barabak: The California exodus is a myth. But that doesn’t stop the haters

Early in the 1990s, Time magazine published a lurid cover — the sun setting into a blood-red sea — fronting a special edition devoted to the decline and fall of the great Golden State. “California,” the sorrowful headline read. “The endangered dream.” Alas, it was sadly suggested, far too many people wished to live here. “The problem comes down to California’s rapid population growth, doesn’t it?” then-Gov. Pete Wilson was asked in an interview. “Is there anything you can do to slow the population inflow?” Today, it is gleefully asserted, too many people are fleeing. Gloating dispatches report an exodus of millionaires, billionaires and hard-pressed members of the state’s middle and working classes — their U-Hauls piled high like Dust Bowl refugees — supposedly depopulating California, hollowing out its COVID-stricken economy and leaving this once-promised land to sink tragically into the Pacific.

Never mind the reality. There is no exodus. The nonpartisan California Policy Lab found that most people who moved in 2020 remained within the state, many trading city life for more suburban or rural areas. The well-to-do weren’t jetting off to spread their lucre elsewhere, parching Sacramento’s coffers. In fact, they were more likely to stay put than those of lesser means. There was an uptick in movement from the state. In the final quarter of 2020, 139,000 more people departed California than arrived, a droplet of humanity — 0.35% — in a sea of 40 million residents. Though growth has been slowing in recent years, owing in good part to decreased birthrates and less immigration, the state’s population has, since 1900, moved inexorably upward. The willingness to assume the worst, to write California’s obituary and tromp on its golden poppy-laden grave, is not new. (The latest gloomy accounts, it should be said, have included some in the Los Angeles Times.)

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Washington Post - April 8, 2021

Union appears headed to defeat in Amazon vote in Alabama

The union trying to organize workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., sounded a pessimistic note Thursday as a partial tally showed votes against the union with an early and widening lead. With about half the 3,215 ballots counted, no votes hit 1,100 while yes votes totaled 463. The count was scheduled to resume on Friday. “Our system is broken,” Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement Thursday night that seemed to anticipate defeat. “Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign” — a reference to the National Labor Relations Board, which is overseeing the vote. One area on which the union probably will focus: Emails among U.S. Postal Service employees in January and February show that Amazon pressed the agency to install a mailbox outside the warehouse, a move the union contends is a violation of labor laws.

The union is fighting to represent 5,805 workers at the facility in one of the most high-profile labor battles in years. The union has complained about the mailbox, which the Postal Service installed just before the start of mail-in balloting for the union election in early February. It has argued that the mailbox could lead workers to think Amazon has some role in collecting and counting ballots, which could influence their votes. The emails, obtained by the union through Freedom of Information Act requests, could extend that battle if the union loses the vote, providing fodder for unfair labor practices charges that provide grounds to overturn the results. The emails show that Amazon pressed the Postal Service to install a mailbox urgently just as the seven-week mail-in balloting began.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 7, 2021

Lockheed Martin delivers its first F-35 stealth fighter aircraft to NATO ally Denmark

American military officials and other dignitaries on Wednesday delivered the first F-35 stealth fighter jet to the nation of Denmark, a move that signals a new chapter in the long history between the NATO allies. With horns from the Prince of Denmark Air Force Band providing a musical backdrop, the F-35A Lightning II was presented to the Royal Danish Air Force during the ceremony at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth, where the aircraft was built. In all, Denmark is expected to receive 27 of the cutting-edge aircraft in the coming years. “With the new F-35 fighter jets we will increase our ability to protect Denmark, our region,” Trine Bramsen, Danish Minister of Defense, said in a statement just before the ceremony began. “And wherever necessary as we have done before — side by side with the U.S. and other allies — the F-35s will be at the absolute center for the Danish Defense in the coming decades.”

Denmark has a long history with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, having flown the F-16 aircraft for years. And, the northern European country is playing a role in the development of the F-35 program. Two Danish companies, Terma A/S and Multicut A/S, are manufacturing some of the parts used in the aircraft, including composites, horizontal tail edges, pylons, radar components and software. The F-35A version is designed for conventional runways, and is the most common version of the aircraft sold to U.S. allies. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics also makes an F-35B, which can take off and land like a helicopter and is favored by the Marines as well as the United Kingdom and Italy, and the F-35C, which is built for aircraft carrier runways and is operated by the U.S. Navy. The first F-35 delivered to Denmark will be flown to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Danish pilots and mechanics will begin their training. “The F-35 will ensure Denmark’s sovereignty and air dominance, enhance its multi-domain and network-based coalition operations, and play a pivotal role in keeping the Arctic a secure and stable region,” said Greg Ulmer, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

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CNN - April 9, 2021

Dam safety advocates feel forgotten in Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan

When President Joe Biden last week introduced a sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure plan, the details read like a Christmas wish list for people hoping to see more federal spending on roads, bridges, airports, schools and other deteriorating public resources. But while the long list of projects in what Biden called a “once-in-a-generation investment in America” seems exhaustive, some advocates, including those concerned about the threat posed by aging dams, are concerned that their priorities are getting short shrift. “I read it like three times and I’m like, ‘Am I missing something here?’” said Lori Spragens, executive director of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, who noted that the urgent need to repair crumbling dams that threaten lives and property across the country gets only a passing mention in the nearly 12,000-word fact sheet the administration released.

“We have 90,000 dams in America, and so many of those dams are aging and in need of upgrades,” Spragens said, adding that $20 billion is needed just to repair dams in high-population areas where a failure could be catastrophic. “If you’re going to spend $2 trillion on a plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure, we think it’s very important that some of this infrastructure funding go to a serious public safety issue that affects every state in America.” The White House declined to comment, but an administration official noted that Biden’s plan calls for spending $17 billion on ports and waterways, which would include locks and dams. But the fact that dams are barely mentioned in the proposal has advocates gearing up to fight for their cause. They’re among many interest groups angling for a larger share of the potentially massive spending plan, ramping up the political challenge for Biden as he tries to convince skeptical members of Congress to support the plan despite its price tag and its call for corporate tax hikes. Everything is still being negotiated, said Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who has been a strong voice for dam safety since the catastrophic failure of two Michigan dams last year forced the evacuation of 10,000 people, damaged or destroyed 2,500 properties, submerged the city of Midland under 9 feet of water and drained two lakes, turning them into soggy empty pits.

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Associated Press - April 9, 2021

'New strategy': Politicians in crisis refuse calls to resign

The mere whiff of a scandal once unraveled political careers with stunning speed. Not anymore. Suddenly embroiled in a federal sex trafficking investigation, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has denied the allegations, rebuffed suggestions that he resign and sent fundraising appeals that portray him as a victim of a “smear campaign.” He's expected to make a high-profile appearance Friday at former President Donald Trump's Doral golf club in Miami. The congressman joins a growing list of politicians from both parties — almost exclusively men — who are defying the traditional response to controversy. Rather than humbly step back from public life, they barrel ahead, insisting they did nothing wrong and betting that voters will forget alleged misdeeds once the news cycle eventually shifts.

“Clearly this is a new strategy people are employing in crisis response,” said Brent Colburn, a Democratic strategist and veteran of President Barack Obama’s administration. “It is a new chapter in the playbook.” Gaetz’s political future remains in question and could fully disintegrate, depending on how the federal probe unfolds. But after spending the past several years as one of Trump’s fiercest public defenders, Gaetz’s game plan strongly mirrors the former president’s approach. After a video emerged in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign of him boasting of grabbing women by the genitals, Trump apologized “if anyone was offended” and dismissed the episode as "locker room talk." He refused calls by some in his own party to leave the presidential ticket and won the election just weeks later. As president, Trump would respond to one burgeoning scandal after another by constantly moving ahead, making it harder for the public to linger on one issue for too long, even if that meant stirring up fresh controversy on another topic. The pressure on Gaetz is mounting. A hearing Thursday revealed that one of his political allies, Joel Greenberg, is working toward a plea deal with federal investigators, which could add to Gaetz’s legal jeopardy.

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CNN - April 8, 2021

Something unusual is happening in Derek Chauvin's trial

Some of the most damaging testimony against the police officer on trial over the death of George Floyd is coming from fellow cops. The second week of evidence against Derek Chauvin, who is charged with murdering Floyd, has moved on from wrenching eyewitness accounts of the Minnesota man's death, which sparked a worldwide racial reckoning. Prosecutors are now narrowing in on Chauvin's conduct in subduing Floyd, making a case that he acted outside reasonable police procedure. The defense will argue that a combination of Floyd's health conditions that Chauvin could not have known about means there is reasonable doubt about whether he ultimately caused Floyd's death. But a succession of police officers have said Chauvin's actions were unnecessary, as prosecutors try to convince the jury that he acted with malice.

Lt. Richard Zimmerman, who leads the Minneapolis Police Department's homicide unit, said Chauvin's use of force while Floyd was already pinned down and handcuffed was "totally unnecessary." Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified that officers are not trained to kneel on the necks of suspects. Sgt. Jody Stiger, an LAPD use of force expert, said Chauvin had employed "excessive" force. Another police officer, Nicole Mackenzie, said officers are required to provide medical help and to call emergency services for suspects who appear in distress. Prosecutors have of course selected witnesses who bolster their case. But most of the officers who testified came across as sympathetic, subtly embroidering the wider arguments about police brutality in America. It's impossible for an outsider to know what's really going on: Is one officer being thrown overboard to shield the Minneapolis Police Department from wider claims of endemic brutality and misconduct? Or are witnesses revealing a rogue colleague whose actions left an unfair impression of the force and the police more generally? In either case, it is highly unusual to see a parade of US police officers testify so uniformly against one of their own. More often, they close ranks.

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