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March 24, 2017: All Newsclips | Early Morning Clips

All - March 24, 2017

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

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

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

McAllen Monitor - March 22, 2017

Cuts to build border wall could increase offshore drug flow

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

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

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

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

Corpus Christi Caller Times - March 23, 2017

Senate Democrats pressured to block Abbott appointee

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

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2017

HISD administrator resigns after special education troubles uncovered

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

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2017

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

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

National Stories

Washington Examiner - March 23, 2017

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

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

All - March 23, 2017

Lead Stories

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Texas Senate gives initial OK to ban on abortion insurance

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

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

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

The Hill - March 23, 2017

Healthcare fight pits Trump against Club for Growth

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

Time - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Straus agrees with Patrick on their different audiences

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

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Texas Republican holdouts imperil GOP health care bill

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Senate approves bill opposed to boycott of Israel

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

Phillips: Abbott’s Texas stomps Austin, local governments

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texans in Congress anticipate controversial health care vote

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texas Senate passes restrictions on abortion insurance

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

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

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

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - March 21, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Texas tries to join fight against BLM methane regulations

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

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

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

WFAA - March 22, 2017

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

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

The Eagle - March 17, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

State lawmakers take aim at campus sexual assault

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

Texas Republicans divided as health care overhaul hangs in the balance

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

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Senate Education Committee passes school choice bill

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

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

FBI Director James Comey to speak at UT

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

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

Texas Braces For Medicaid Cuts Under GOP Health Plan

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

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 23, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

Senate panel approves private school voucher bill

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

D Magazine - March 21, 2017

What Will Happen to North Texas’ Dreamers?

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

Texas Observer - March 22, 2017

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

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

County Stories

San Antonio Express News - March 22, 2017

Kevin Wolff pleads ‘no contest’ to DWI charge

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

Texas Tribune - March 23, 2017

Harris County loses residents to other areas; Texas suburbs growing

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

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Houston beats its own tourism goal ahead of schedule

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 22, 2017

Conservatives could torpedo Republican health care overhaul

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

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

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

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

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

Washington Post - March 22, 2017

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

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

Washington Post - March 22, 2017

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

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

The Hill - March 23, 2017

Poll: Voters split on Trump's job performance

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

Associated Press - March 23, 2017

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

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

New York Times - March 23, 2017

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

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

New York Times - March 22, 2017

Democrats Fail to Move Gorsuch Off Script and Beyond Generalities

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

New York Times - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Public Radio - March 22, 2017

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

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

Bloomberg - March 22, 2017

Lake: Comey Is Now the Most Powerful Person in Washington

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

The Hill - March 22, 2017

GOP chairman: Surveillance was collected about Trump transition team

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

The Hill - March 22, 2017

GOP faces risky decision on ObamaCare vote

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

New York Times - March 22, 2017

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

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

Washington Examiner - March 21, 2017

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

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

CNN - March 23, 2017

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

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

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

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

Rolling Stone - March 21, 2017

How Politicians Force Doctors to Lie to Women

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

New York Times - March 22, 2017

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

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

Associated Press - March 23, 2017

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

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

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Dallas Morning News - March 23, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 23, 2017

Israel police arrest suspect in threats on US Jewish targets

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

Politico - March 23, 2017

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

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

Politico - March 23, 2017

Nunes apologizes after going directly to White House with monitoring claims

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

Politico - March 23, 2017

GOP Takes Up Russia-Aligned Attack On Soros

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

All - March 22, 2017

Lead Stories

Wall St. Journal - March 21, 2017

WSJ: A President’s Credibility

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

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

KGTV - March 21, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Senate lawmakers discuss bills to slow college tuition increases

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

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

More property tax restrictions on the move in the Legislature

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

Washington Post - March 22, 2017

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

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

Xconomy - March 21, 2017

Why Austin Tech Entrepreneur Joseph Kopser Might Run For Congress

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

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

State freezes bid to privatize foster care in northwest Texas

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Texas Senate votes to limit city and county property tax increases

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Bill aims to expand coverage of new breast cancer screening technology

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Shirk: Proposed state legislation limit freedom of expression

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Texas educators weigh in on proposed changes to school grades

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

McComb: Legislators must fix failed promise of step therapy

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Bill requiring classroom instruction on police interaction advances

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

School leaders welcome proposed changes to A-F system

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

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 21, 2017

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

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

Texas Tribune - March 20, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 20, 2017

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

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

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram - March 22, 2017

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

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

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

Texas Senate committee hears pros and cons of school choice measure

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

Texas Observer - March 21, 2017

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

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

Houston Press - March 20, 2017

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

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

Forbes - March 20, 2017

DeVore: The Texas Model Bolsters Migration To Texas Cities

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

Huffington Post - March 21, 2017

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

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

Victoria Advocate - March 21, 2017

Quintero: Taxpayers locked-out of pension plans

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

KAUZ - March 21, 2017

House Bill aims to change wine labeling in Texas

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

New York Times - March 21, 2017

A Hotel Boom Comes to Texas

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

Dallas Observer - March 21, 2017

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

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

KUHF - March 21, 2017

What Would It Take To Summon A Convention of States?

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

McAllen Monitor - March 21, 2017

McAllen Monitor: Statewide texting ban is bit closer

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

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 22, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Authorities investigating sexual assault charge at Waller County Jail

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

City Stories

Texas Tribune - March 22, 2017

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

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

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

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

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

Concerns over STAAR testing arise as HISD discusses goals

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

Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2017

Houston's immigrant-rights hotline receives hundreds of calls

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Dallas may offer IDs for all residents, including unauthorized immigrants

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

ICE denies targeting Austin, but says more enforcement needed

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

Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2017

Downtown Austin hotel moving forward — without Trump affiliation

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

National Stories

Washington Post - March 21, 2017

Trump to meet at White House with Congressional Black Caucus leaders

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Quinones: Trump is the opportunity Mexico has been waiting for

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Leubsdorf: Trump undermines campaign promises by supporting GOP policies

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

New York Times - March 21, 2017

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

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

New York Times - March 20, 2017

Swartz: ‘W.’ and the Art of Redemption

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

Washington Post - March 21, 2017

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

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

New York Times - March 21, 2017

How Americans Think About Climate Change, in Six Maps

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

The Hill - March 21, 2017

Health groups blast away at ObamaCare repeal bill

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

The Hill - March 21, 2017

For Democrats, no clear leader

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

The Hill - March 21, 2017

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

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

Newsweek - March 21, 2017

Perker: Gerrymandering keeps gun lobby pawns in office

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

Huffington Post - March 21, 2017

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

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

San Antonio Express News - March 21, 2017

Republicans face crunch time on Obamacare repeal

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

Texas Public Radio - March 21, 2017

Trump Budget Blueprint Backs Privatizing Air Traffic Control

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

Time - March 16, 2017

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

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

New York Times - March 21, 2017

How a Trump Turnabout on Gay Rights Hurts Republicans

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

USA Today - March 20, 2017

George Soros-aligned group weighs funding anti-Trump activists

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

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2017

Trump signs NASA bill, hands Ted Cruz the pen

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

Associated Press - March 21, 2017

Uber vows to change direction, become more humane company

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

This article appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Associated Press - March 22, 2017

New Trump hotels face political fights, ethics questions

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

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle

Indianapolis Star - March 21, 2017

How voucher dollars kept coming as a private school collapsed

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

The Hill - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Dallas Morning News - March 22, 2017

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

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

Poll: Approval wanes for GOP health bill

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

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

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

Politico - March 22, 2017

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

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