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Newsclips - May 24, 2019

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2019

Deal reached on property tax relief, school finance bills

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen announced Thursday that lawmakers had struck deals on bills to ratchet down property tax increases and boost public education spending — the twin priorities of the legislative session that ends Monday.

Abbott, Patrick and Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson, appearing at a news conference outside the Governor’s Mansion, were flanked by members of the conference committees assigned to negotiate the differences in the legislation. The moment was full of handshakes, as the leaders basked in what they described as victories of historical proportions and began the political effort of convincing Texans that their legislative work would pay dividends for property owners and classrooms across the state.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2019

How a sleepy Texas trust turned into Permian oil proxy war

The Texas Pacific Land Trust was formed in the late 19th century to hold and manage millions of acres left after a cross-country railroad went bust. A large amount of that land, it turned out, was in the heart of what we now know as the Permian Basin.

Those holdings in the fastest-growing oil and gas basin in the world has vaulted the value of the trust from $300 million in 2012 to nearly $7 billion today, ranking its shares among the best performing on Wall Street. They also have made Texas Pacific the focal point of what is arguably the fiercest shareholder battle in the energy sector. The trust, headquartered in Dallas, has an unusual structure dating back to the 1880s, with a board operated by just three trustees who serve lifetime appointments.

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Bloomberg - May 23, 2019

Buttigieg surges as some voters begin suffering ‘Beto overload’

Kim Sweat is the type of voter who might worry Beto O’Rourke’s campaign. Infatuated with O’Rourke since his 2018 Senate bid in Texas, Sweat hosted a watch party for his presidential campaign launch at her Davenport, Iowa, home in March.

She ordered an O’Rourke yard sign, and she went to two of his early events in Iowa. Then she started to hear more about Pete Buttigieg. After attending her third O’Rourke event on Monday, she concluded: “I’m not as smitten with him anymore.” Sweat’s burgeoning support of Buttigieg and her waning interest in O’Rourke is mirrored in national polls of the 2020 Democratic nomination race. Over the past two months, Buttigieg surged from a virtual unknown to the top tier of contenders as O’Rourke slipped down.

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Associated Press - May 24, 2019

Trump moves to escalate the investigation of intel agencies

President Donald Trump has directed the U.S. intelligence community to “quickly and fully cooperate” with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation of the origins of the multiyear probe of whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

The move Thursday marked an escalation in Trump’s efforts to “investigate the investigators,” as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump is delegating to Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the probe, which would ease his efforts to review the sensitive intelligence underpinnings of the investigation.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2019

Texas House sends governor a bill that punishes doctors who fail to treat infants born after abortions

The House on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that would penalize a physician who fails to treat an infant born alive after an abortion. House members agreed to Senate changes and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott the proposed "Born Alive" act, which would subject doctors to a six-figure fine and possible imprisonment.

The vote, 84-57, mostly followed party lines. All Republicans who voted supported House Bill 16. All but six Democrats — all of them from South Texas — voted "nay." Two Democrats were present but did not vote. The bill's author, GOP Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, has insisted more "teeth" are needed in current laws. Mistreatment of a baby surviving an abortion "has happened in this country," he said. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner of Grand Turner, though, suggested the "Born Alive" bill is little more than grandstanding.

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Dallas Morning News - May 24, 2019

Mitchell Schnurman: Pioneer slashes jobs at home and in the Permian, putting Wall Street ahead of people

“We believe in our people. They’re our greatest asset.” That sounds like something any top executive would say. Last fall, those words came from Tim Dove, CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, after the Irving oil and gas company was named a top local employer for the 10th consecutive year. Alas, Dove is no longer with Pioneer. So is that sentiment gone, too?

Last week, Pioneer laid off 230 employees, using police to escort people off the Irving property and promising to pack up their stuff and mail it to them. The layoffs came after 300 workers had earlier accepted buyout offers — and nearly 350 more positions were eliminated elsewhere. In total, Pioneer has reduced its headcount more than 25% this year, the company said. That’s a startling number, especially for a Fortune 500 company that appears to be rich and healthy — and often brags about employees being treated like family.

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Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2019

'She was murdered, just because.' Texas Senate honors Muhlaysia Booker, transgender woman killed in Dallas

The Texas Senate adjourned Thursday night in honor of Muhlaysia Booker, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in Dallas last weekend. "She was beaten, just because. She was murdered, just because," Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday evening. "When will we move past just because? Transgender rights are human rights."

In April, Booker, 22, was beaten by a group of men who yelled homophobic slurs while filming the incident. Police were still investigating, and had arrested a man who admitted to the beating, when Booker was found fatally shot Saturday morning on the street in Far East Dallas. Dallas police now say her killing bears similarities to two other attacks on transgender women in the last year. Booker was the fourth transgender person killed in the U.S. this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign; on Sunday, a fifth was shot to death in Philadelphia.

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Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2019

Sutherland Springs victims can take federal government to trial for mass shooting, Texas judge rules

A federal judge in Texas has said victims of the 2017 church massacre in Sutherland Springs can continue their lawsuit against the U.S. government for its role in the shooting.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez's Thursday ruling is a huge victory for the nine families in the case, which allows them to put federal authorities on trial for alleged negligence. Rodriguez dismissed the government's motion to throw out the case and said the families can begin the discovery process, which allows their lawyers to gather documents and seek interviews with which to make their case.

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Dallas Morning News - May 23, 2019

Dallas Rep. Victoria Neave's bill to tackle Texas’ rape kit backlog heads to Gov. Greg Abbott

A bill aimed at tackling the backlog of an estimated 15,000 untested rape kits in Texas is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for signing. House Bill 8 by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, would require an audit to determine the number, status and location of all the rape kits in the state. It would also create a timeline requirement for rape kits to prevent future backlogs.

The Lavinia Masters Act is named after a Dallas woman whose rape kit sat untested for more than 20 years after she was raped at knifepoint when she was 13. Masters has become a passionate advocate for survivors of sexual assault and strongly supported Neave’s legislation. Neave’s bill would also prevent law enforcement agencies from destroying rape kits related for uncharged or unsolved cases before the statute of limitations runs out or 40 years go by — the longer of the two.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2019

Judge dismisses Empower Texans media credentials lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday filed by the influential conservative group Empower Texans against a Republican member of the Texas House, claiming that he unfairly denied the group a media credential.

Empower Texans accused Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, chairman of the Committee on House Administration, of “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination” and the trampling of free speech and free press rights. Other plaintiffs include Brandon Waltens and Destin Sensky, correspondents for Texas Scorecard, described in the lawsuit as the news magazine of Empower Texans. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel tossed the suit without answering the question of whether Texas Scorecard was an independent news organization deserving of press credentials or an arm of a political group ineligible to receive media access to the House.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2019

Fix to Open Meetings Act approved, sent to governor

The Texas Senate on Thursday agreed to House changes made to legislation to restore a key provision of the Open Meetings Act that had been struck down by a state court.

Senate Bill 1640, which now goes to the governor, seeks to reinstate a provision that barred elected officials from breaking into small groups to discuss public business in private, avoiding a quorum that would trigger the Open Meetings Act. The Court of Criminal Appeals struck down the “walking quorum” provision in February, ruling that it was too vague and did not give elected officials proper warning about what actions violated the law.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2019

Texas president: Two-year contract extension shows ‘we’re committed to Tom Herman’

Texas President Gregory L. Fenves said coach Tom Herman’s two-year contract extension sends a message that the school is committed to him as the leader of UT football both now and going forward.

The UT System Board of Regents approved Herman’s extension Thursday morning as part of the consent agenda items. All multi-year contracts at UT must be approved by the regents. Herman, 43, was under contract through 2021. His extension pushes Herman’s contract through the 2023 season. Herman is scheduled to receive $6.5 million for 2022 and $6.750 million for 2023.

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Houston Chronicle - May 24, 2019

Cheers y’all. Beer-to-go unanimously passes in Texas Senate.

Beer to go is on tap to finally become law in Texas. The state Senate unanimously passed the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Sunset Bill on Wednesday night, just hours before time ran out to ratify new legislation.

Brewers and legislators are confident the bill will skate through the governor’s office, meaning that beginning Sept. 1 Texans will be able to purchase growlers, crowlers and cans at their neighborhood breweries, to consume at home. “Our constituents elected us to be bold. And with that, I give you Beer To Go, baby,” Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R- Lakeway, announced enthusiastically, as she introduced the amendment to the Senate a few minutes before 9 p.m. Wednesday.

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Houston Chronicle - May 24, 2019

Chris Tomlinson: Wind still blows, sun still shines, but tax credits are fading away

The good news for the wind industry is that critics can no longer complain about the federal tax subsidies that have made its projects attractive. The bad news is that the wind industry will have to compete with solar power, which still has years of tax credits left.

Federal production tax credits generate about $23 for every megawatt of electricity produced in a project’s first decade of operation. In a competitive wholesale energy market like Texas, that means a wind generator can bid negative prices and still make money from the tax credits. Those subsidies, though, have done their job and kick-started a burgeoning technology. Wind energy generators have cut costs 69% in the last decade. In 2016, Congress voted to phase out the production tax credit for new projects by 2024.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2019

Texas, other states look to boost fees on EV’s to fund highway maintenance

Texas is considering whether to impose additional registration fees on electric and hybrid vehicles, following nearly half the states that already impose higher fees on battery powered vehicles to compensate for lost gasoline taxes used to maintain roads and highways.

The bills in Texas are unlikely to get through the legislative session, which ends Monday, but the issue is almost certain to resurface as Texas and other states wrestle with depleted highway funds as cars become more fuel efficient and federal gas taxes remain unchanged from their levels 26 years ago. With electric vehicles representing 2 percent of U.S. vehicle sales last year, lawmakers look to revamp the way the nation pays for its transportation network.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2019

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Here’s why Texas homeowners shouldn’t expect property tax cuts from school funding deal

State leaders patted each other on the back Thursday afternoon and declared historic progress in the never-ending war on Texas property taxes. But don’t strain your eyes looking for a tax cut on your next bill from the county.

The steps announced by Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — billions more in state funding for schools so local taxes can be reduced, rules to make it harder for local governments to increase revenue and big changes to how the state allocates money to school districts — should slow the skyrocketing levies that homeowners are seeing. But the reality is this: In a fast-growing state, with property values soaring and an aversion to certain types of taxes, real cuts are close to impossible.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2019

Still illegal: Texas law on CBD oil lands grandmother in jail after DFW airport search

At first it seemed like a random bag check at the customs checkpoint at DFW Airport, Lena Bartula said. Bartula, a 72-year-old woman who grew up in Fort Worth, was on her way to Portland, Oregon, from Mexico to visit her granddaughter.

“The agent kept digging as if he was sure he was going to find something,” Bartula said. He did and that something he found cost Bartula two nights in jail and a felony arrest. Test results at the airport revealed it was CBD oil, legal in some concentrations after the passage of the federal 2019 Farm Bill, still illegal in Texas in most cases, and legal in about half of U.S. states.

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San Antonio Current - May 23, 2019

Actor Woody Harrelson calls on Gov. Greg Abbott to take action against wild hog catching

Actor and Texas native Woody Harrelson has spoken out against Bandera's "Bacon Bash," a pig-centric festival that rose from the ashes of the "Wild Hog Explosion," which was cancelled in early March when treatment center Warriors Heart pulled out of running the event after public outcry from animal rights activists.

The Bash came together with surprising speed and included the widely criticized wild hog catching event, as well as ancillary events like hog calling, a bacon eating contest and a barbecue cook-off. For the wild hog catching competition, two teams of people attempt to catch a pig, then put the animal in a sack and cross the finish line in a race against the clock. Proponents of the practice claim that this mode of capture is no different than having to chase down a domesticated pig in order to provide medical treatment or other care, but ganging up on a panicked, feral animal in an enclosed space amidst the raucous cheering of an audience doesn't quite sound like an equivalent experience.

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Texas Tribune - May 23, 2019

Texas A&M won't renew President Michael Young's contract — but says there's no plan for him to leave

When Texas A&M University President Michael Young’s employment contract expires next April, he will not receive a renewal. Instead, he will join the system’s remaining campus heads in relying on annual appointment letters and system policy to govern the terms of his employment at the College Station-based campus.

Young, who was appointed A&M president in 2015, currently has a five-year agreement with the system that guarantees him $1 million in annual pay. The terms were expected to be renewed for an additional five years unless Young or System officials indicated otherwise before April 30, 2019. In an April 16 letter, A&M System Chancellor John Sharp explained that Young’s contract would not be renewed, and stressed it was “in no way a reflection” of his performance as president.

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2019

Tarrant County Public Health reports possible measles exposure at DFW Airport

Anyone traveling though Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on May 15 needs to be aware they could have been exposed to measles. Tarrant County Public Health (TCPH) said Thursday it has confirmed that a traveler who arrived at DFW Airport on May 15 and connected to another flight has tested positive for measles.

Possible exposures may have occurred at DFW airport on May 15 at the Terminal D customs area from 5:15 to 7:45 p.m., the Skylink train from 5:45 to 8 p.m., and Terminal A in the area of gate 8 from 6 p.m. to 10:50 p.m.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 24, 2019

City Council says yes to $1.2 billion convention center expansion

The Austin City Council unanimously signed on Thursday to a $1.2 billion plan to expand the convention center, granting sweeping, unexpected consensus to an idea that has been a political hot potato for years. The approved declaration directs staff members to move forward in assessing the financing tied to an expansion and came as part of a broad resolution that addressed several projects in southeastern downtown.

The move represented a policy swing for Council Member Kathie Tovo, who sponsored the resolution after previously expressing skepticism about Mayor Steve Adler’s push to expand the convention center. Tovo said Monday that a University of Texas architectural study completed this year showed her how the center could be rebuilt to allow better pedestrian access through its six-block footprint and to better interact with nearby Waller Creek. Seeing that, Tovo said, persuaded her to back the mayor’s idea.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2019

Scooter riders beware, city sets safety rules, fines

The Austin City Council on Thursday created public safety rules — and resulting fines for violating them – for the thousands of electric rental scooters whizzing through the city on a daily basis.

Each day, an average of more than 16,000 trips are taken on dockless devices such as scooters and e-bikes, according to city data. Scooters have received the most praise and scorn, becoming ubiquitous downtown and around the University of Texas campus. Those hoping for an all-out ban of the zippy two-wheelers will be disappointed with the rules approved by the council. The new regulations restrict some questionable behavior by riders (sorry, no more selfies while riding), but loosen rules in other areas.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2019

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: New Fort Worth police chief must fix alerts after failures in girl’s kidnapping

We asked newly appointed interim Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus what his immediate goals will be. Priority 1, he said: mending the rifts from the rocky departure of ousted Chief Joel Fitzgerald.

“This was a surprise,” Kraus told The Star-Telegram’s Editorial Board. “So obviously, there’s some hurting in the department among some groups and in the community as well. Joel did have a lot of support both within the department and in the community. Repairing those rifts is going to be one of the very first things we need to do.”

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2019

Houston police moves to new NIBRS crime reporting system as part of nationwide shift

Houston police have switched to a new crime reporting system as part of a nationwide transition by law enforcement to one that experts say will provide more information about crime in individual communities.

Chief Art Acevedo said Thursday the department has begun using the National Incident Based Reporting System to record information about crimes across the city, a move that will provide far more details than were collected under the Unified Crime Reporting Program’s Summary Reporting System, which had been the standard for more than 80 years.

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National Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 24, 2019

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro vents about current HUD Secretary Ben Carson

Democratic presidential contender Julián Castro used an appearance on a late-night comedy program to “completely reject” how Ben Carson is leading the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since Castro left the same position.

Castro, who led the agency in President Obama’s last two and a half years in office, said Carson’s recent testimony before Congress was “like watching a slow-motion train wreck” and accused Carson of not being sympathetic to the very people HUD should be serving. “What I disagree with him on is that he seems to think that if you’re poor, there’s something wrong with you,” Castro said during an interview on Late Night With Seth Meyers on Wednesday.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2019

Baptist missionary group must reform sex abuse reporting practices

The Southern Baptist Convention’s missionary arm knew of sexual abuse allegations against one of its former top missionaries for over 10 years before his arrest — accusations that exploded last year and forced the organization to bring in a third party to investigate its handling of abuse.

Anne Marie Miller told the International Mission Board in 2007 that Mark Aderholt, then a missionary to Central Europe, had initiated sexual contact with her as a teenager. He resigned quietly from the IMB and went on to rise in the Southern Baptist ranks until Miller reported him to police and went public with her story in 2018. No one from the IMB contacted law enforcement during the course of its 2007 investigation.

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The Hill - May 23, 2019

Congress reaches deal on disaster aid

Congress has reached a deal on a "clean" disaster aid bill, after President Trump told lawmakers he would sign legislation even if money tied to the U.S.-Mexico border was dropped from the package.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said on Thursday afternoon that they had reached an agreement on the long-stalled legislation to respond to a recent spate of wildfires, hurricanes and storms. GOP Sens. James Lankford (Okla.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) also confirmed that it was their understanding Trump would sign a bill that included only disaster money.

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CBS News - May 22, 2019

Rep. Joaquin Castro says Trump administration "covered up" death of migrant girl

Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, accused the Trump administration of covering up the death of a 10-year-old migrant girl from El Salvador by failing to inform Congress and the American public.

CBS News learned Wednesday that the girl, whose death in September 2018 had not been previously reported, had died in a hospital after entering government care in San Antonio. "It's outrageous that another child has died in government custody and that the Trump administration didn't tell anybody," Castro told CBS News Wednesday night, referring to an exclusive report by CBS News that disclosed the girl's death.

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NPR - May 24, 2019

Licensed undocumented immigrants may lead to safer roads, Connecticut finds

Four years after implementing a policy to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, Connecticut has seen a reduction in hit-and-run crashes and a steep decline in the number of people found guilty of unlicensed driving.

More than 50,000 undocumented immigrants in the state have taken written exams, vision tests and road tests to obtain driver's licenses, funneling several million dollars into the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. Connecticut's experience could offer a road map for lawmakers in eight other states that are considering similar laws to widen access to driver's licenses.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Catherine Rampell: Hints troubling about what Trump’s tax returns hide

When you look at the short span of President Donald Trump’s political career, one question jumps out: How much of his craziest, most paranoid and norm-violating behavior is motivated by a desire to keep his financial arrangements secret?

It began with Trump’s bizarre refusal to release his tax returns, in defiance of both a nearly half-century practice and Trump’s own promise that he’d do so. Then there was his refusal to divest from his sprawling multinational empire, or even put it into a blind trust — either of which would have forced at least some information disclosure to a third party. There were also the interviews and tweetstorms calling journalists who report on his finances “enemies of the people,” and suggestions that federal officials who audit him are anti-Christian.

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Washington Post - May 23, 2019

‘He always brings them up’: Trump tries to steer border wall deal to North Dakota firm

President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials.

In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, according to the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions. The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials.

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Reuters - May 24, 2019

Trump campaign views healthcare as a 2020 campaign weapon

U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign believes he can turn Republicans’ biggest liability from last year’s congressional elections - the debate about the future of healthcare in America - into a winning issue for his reelection.

That would have appeared highly unlikely just months ago, when Democrats seized upon the issue of coverage for pre-existing medical conditions to capture control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since then, the 2020 Democratic presidential field has been locked in a debate about how far to go to transform the U.S. healthcare system. Some candidates have suggested abolishing private insurance in favor of a single government-run plan, sometimes referred to as “Medicare for All,” while others favor more modest reforms.

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BBC News - May 24, 2019

Theresa May to resign as prime minister

Theresa May has said she will quit as Conservative leader on 7 June, paving the way for a contest to decide a new prime minister. In an emotional statement, she said she had done her best to deliver Brexit and it was a matter of "deep regret" that she had been unable to do so.

Being prime minister had been the "honor of my life", she said. Mrs May said she would continue to serve as PM while a Conservative leadership contest takes place. It means she will still be prime minister when US President Donald Trump makes his state visit to the UK at the start of June. Mrs May announced she would step down as Tory leader on 7 June and had agreed with the chairman of Tory backbenchers that a leadership contest should begin the following week.

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Newsclips - May 23, 2019

Lead Stories

Deadline - May 22, 2019

Beto bombs at CNN Town Hall crowd collection

Beto O’Rourke’s Tuesday night town hall with CNN’s Dana Bash failed to attract the hoped-for crowd. The 10-11:15 PM broadcast attracted only an average of 714,000 viewers. That includes 194K in the news demo, aka viewers 25-54. In the same block of time, Fox News Channel clocked 2.260M viewers and MSNBC logged 2.196M.

O’Rourke’s numbers fell 29% shy of CNN’s 2019 average in the Tuesday night block of time, and 38% short in the news demo. Despite his suit and tie, livestreamed haircut, and his cogent answers to policy questions from Bash and the Drake University audience, O’Rourke’s stab at a White House race reboot missed the mark. For context: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper attracted a bigger crowd when he town-halled on CNN (745K) on a Wednesday back in March.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2019

Texas AG: No, felons like Austin candidate can’t run for office

Completing their sentences and having their voting rights restored does not make felons eligible to run for office, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion Wednesday, nearly six months after Austin allowed a felon to run for City Council.

Texas law says that people convicted of a felony can hold public office only if pardoned “or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities” — a phrase that is unclear and has not been tested in court. Last year, Lewis Conway Jr., a community organizer who killed a man in 1991, argued that completing his prison sentence and being able to vote should qualify. Not so, Paxton’s opinion says.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Texas craft breweries may finally get to sell beer to go, after Senate approves deal

Imagine the scene: You're sitting at a craft brewery in Texas enjoying a hoppy, frothy double IPA. You like it. It's refreshing. You want to buy a six-pack of the local brew to bring home. Only you can't, because Texas doesn't allow to-go beer sales from craft breweries. But maybe soon, you can.

The Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday night that, on its face, renews the role of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It streamlines licenses and permits required for businesses that sell alcohol and removes some fees. But the bill presented by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, was also a vehicle for a key amendment that has rankled beer industry leaders for years.

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Texas Observer - May 23, 2019

Trump megadonor and Houston mayoral candidate is a top sponsor for Democratic fundraiser with Hillary Clinton

There’s a long list of sponsors for the Harris County Democratic Party’s annual Johnson Rayburn Richards Luncheon, a marquee fundraiser that this year boasts Hillary Clinton as the speaker. The event this Friday features the typical benefactors of party functions, including elected officials, party donors, operatives and activists.

But one of those names is not like the others: Tony Buzbee, the uber-wealthy trial lawyer and controversial persona who is taking on Sylvester Turner, the Democratic mayor of Houston. Like most political fundraisers, the luncheon offers donors various titles depending on their level of generosity. At the top is “The Glass Ceiling Sponsor,” followed by “The Persistent Women.” Buzbee is in the third tier of sponsors, listed as a “White Pantsuit Sponsor” along with Houston’s three Democratic U.S. Representatives.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2019

Texas Guard commander wants F-35s in San Antonio

The Texas National Guard’s top commander is pushing to have the Air Force bring the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter to San Antonio to replace the guard’s aging F-16s.

Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris visited with members of the Texas congressional delegation in Washington in recent weeks to brief them on arguments that might convince the Air Force to make the swap, two Capitol Hill sources said. The Air Force is starting to look for a base to train the pilots of foreign governments buying its frontline fighter.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Texas Senate approves expansion of medical marijuana program

Patients with terminal cancer, autism and multiple sclerosis could get access to therapeutic cannabis under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Senate.

Now that both the Senate and the House have approved expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program, lawmakers must reconcile their proposals before sending a bill to adopt it as law to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been hesitant to loosen the program. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said the change is a good step forward, but doesn’t address “arbitrary dosing restrictions.”

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San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Yacht owners on brink of getting tax break, while Texas homeowners wait for theirs

Homeowners are not expecting much of a tax break from the Texas Legislature this year, but millionaire yacht owners are on the brink of getting a major one. The Texas Senate has approved legislation that would cap the amount of sales tax on boats as long as 115 feet at $18,750. For the buyer of a $3 million yacht, that tax break would be worth almost $228,000.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, doesn’t deny big yacht owners will benefit, but that is not the point. “People who buy big boats are buying them in other states,” Taylor said. He said boat sales have plunged in Texas, which has lost its share of the market because other states, such as Florida, are offering tax breaks for yacht sales. Taylor said his bill is more of a jobs bill because it could create up to 600 jobs in Texas. He said once boats are bought in Texas, the buyers will also buy fuel here, as well as equipment and repairs — all services that are going to other states right now.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Texas insurance giant tells judges brain-damaged baby and mom are stifling company's free speech

The state's largest Medicaid insurance company refused to pay for nursing that a foster baby with severe birth defects needed. As a result, state records show, the baby suffered a catastrophic brain injury that left him in a vegetative state, unable to ever speak for himself.

After the tragic case of D'ashon Morris was exposed in a Dallas Morning News investigation last year, Linda Badawo, his adoptive mother, sued that insurance company. Now, in an effort to kill that lawsuit, Superior HealthPlan's lawyers are arguing the Badawo family is essentially suing to bully the multi-billion-dollar company and "chill" its right to free speech.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

'No one has talked more and done less.' Texas tea party Rep. Jonathan Stickland becomes caucus of one

On a recent stormy night, inside the Capitol where he’d massacred countless ideas, some for good reason and others just to watch them die, the self-styled “bill killer” was finally hoping to pass one. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” the man from Bedford said, pumping a single fist into the air. A whoop rang up from the back of the House as thunder rattled the chamber’s windows. “Seven years.”

On the opposing dais gathered the other lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, united by a common trauma: Having seen the legislation they studied, drafted and nurtured for months stalled or scuttled by the bearded man across the floor. So they did their best to torture Jonathan Stickland, the tea party bombast from North Texas, who was explaining his ban on red-light cameras. They wanted him to know why, in nearly four terms, Stickland had been unable to even present one of his own bills on the House floor.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Dan Crenshaw pushes for more GOP veterans to run for Congress

Houston Rep. Dan Crenshaw and two other Republican lawmakers who served in the military announced a fresh push Wednesday to help fellow veterans run for Congress.

The War Veterans Fund political action committee backed a half-dozen GOP candidates last year. Crenshaw, Gallagher and Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida freshman who served in the Army for more than 20 years, held a news conference to promote their effort to recruit Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to run in 2020. Veterans often lack the resources to fund a campaign and may start without a large base of supporters, Waltz said.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

Appeals court sides with city in lawsuit over pension bond election

The Texas 1st Court of Appeals has struck down an appeal from a Houston businessman who contested the city’s 2017 pension bond referendum, appearing to end the legal challenge that began almost a year and a half ago.

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office had denied former housing director James Noteware’s allegation that the mayor misled voters into approving the $1 billion bond sale with a “materially misleading ballot description.” Noteware claimed that the election authorized the city to pay off the bonds by levying a tax that exceeds its voter-imposed revenue cap. A state district judge last year dismissed Noteware’s claim without ruling on his motion for summary judgment in the case.

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Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2019

Drug-price transparency bill likely headed to Gov. Abbott’s desk, stronger than many predicted

Texas is poised to unveil some of the country’s most aggressive drug-price transparency measures after a bill that consumer advocates had once considered powerless took on new life in the House and passed out of the Senate on Wednesday, with only small concessions made to the pharmaceutical industry.

Not only would the bipartisan legislation force drug companies to account for exorbitant price hikes going forward, but it would also apply retroactively, meaning companies that ratcheted up prices in 2017 and 2018 would have to explain why under the law. “This legislation serves as a much-needed consumer price check on a complicated industry that, frankly, could do with a lot more transparency," Republican Sen. Kelly Hancock, a sponsor, said in a statement.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2019

House, Senate move crime-related bills; lemonade stand bill set for conference committee

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to require those arrested for a long list of felonies to provide a DNA sample that can be uploaded to a central database and compared to evidence from other crimes. Under House Bill 1399, approved 25-6 by the Senate, the collected DNA evidence would have to be destroyed if the charges are dropped or a defendant is acquitted, pardoned or found innocent on appeal.

The Texas House voted 143-0 Wednesday to give final approval to legislation creating a new crime, indecent assault, that includes jail time for groping and unwanted sexual contact. Senate Bill 194 would make indecent assault a Class A misdemeanor — with a maximum one-year jail sentence and $4,000 fine — for groping the private areas of another person; rubbing genitals and other private areas against somebody else; removing or trying to remove clothing covering another person’s private parts; and causing someone to touch the blood, semen, vaginal fluid, saliva, urine or feces of another person.

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CBS News - May 22, 2019

Texas facility stops taking in migrants after teen's death

U.S. border agents have temporarily stopped taking people into the primary facility for processing migrants in South Texas, a day after a 16-year-old diagnosed with the flu at the facility died. In a statement to CBS News late Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said a large number of detainees in its processing center in McAllen, Texas, had high fevers and were displaying signs of a flu-related illness.

The agency said it was working to provide medical treatment to all of those who had fevers. To avoid the spread of the illness, the CBP said, intake operations were temporarily suspended at the facility and migrants who would have been brought there will be taken elsewhere until the situation is resolved. The processing center is a converted warehouse that holds hundreds of parents and children at a time in large, fenced-in pens.

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Texas Observer - May 21, 2019

Ready, set, file: Transparency bills passed by Legislature could open the door to once-public records

After a hard fight spanning four years and two legislatures, it looks like Texans’ right to know what their government is up to has been restored in important ways this session. The biggest victory came on Friday, when the so-called Boeing loophole — named for the aircraft manufacturer that sued to keep a lease agreement between the company and the government secret in 2015 — was closed by lawmakers.

The carve-out has been used by private companies and the government itself thousands of times to hide how taxpayer money has been spent on everything from school food service contracts to power plant deals and a concert by a certain Latin pop sensation. Last week, the Texas House joined state senators in passing Senate Bill 943, by Austin Democrat Kirk Watson, culminating in a major tune-up of the sputtering Texas Public Information Act.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

Texas Senate action boosts plan to memorialize Fort Bend County remains

The Texas Senate has brought Fort Bend County a step closer to owning and operating a cemetery on the site where 95 African-American remains believed to be those of prison laborers were discovered last year.

HB 4179, which would enable the county to operate the cemetery, was approved unanimously by senators Tuesday after earlier passage by the House. The measure now requires only Gov. Greg Abbott's signature to become law. The Texas Health and Safety Code limits ownership of cemeteries to counties with a population of 8,200 or fewer. Rep. Rick Miller,R-Sugar Land, originally filed a bill to make such ownership possible in Fort Bend County, where the population is more than 780,000.

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Rio Grande Guardian - May 22, 2019

Hidalgo County asked to pump half a million dollars into colonia street lights program

ARISE, a community group that assists low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley, is asking Hidalgo County commissioners to pump $500,000 into a colonia streets lighting program. Around three dozen members and supporters of the organization attended a commissioners court meeting on Tuesday to unveil a new video about street lighting in colonias.

Guerra said La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), another community group that assists colonia residents, and the media company NETA deserved thanks for helping produce the video. Asked where the greatest need is, Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM: “We have colonias all over Hidalgo County but we know the need is really great in Precinct 1 and Precinct 4.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2019

Small-town allure spurs suburban growth in Central Texas, census data shows

New Braunfels ranked second in growth last year among U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 or more, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday. New Braunfels’ population grew at a rate of 7.2% from July 2017 to July 2018, the figures show.

Among the top 15 cities with the highest growth rate, about half were in Texas, including two Austin-area suburbs in Williamson County. Georgetown came in at No. 7, with an annual growth rate of 5.2%, and Round Rock was No. 15 and grew by 4.3%. Other smaller Central Texas cities grew even faster, though they did not make the list because their populations don’t exceed 50,000 people. Dripping Springs grew by 20.59%, Leander by 12.5% percent and Kyle by 8.1%, all increases similar to those seen in previous years and continuing a boom along the Interstate 35 corridor.

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D Magazine - May 21, 2019

Dallas County’s Republican Party selects a new chair to succeed the Late Missy Shorey

The Dallas County Republican Party has a new chair. Again. After three ballots, former state Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie was elected last night by the party’s executive committee. He faced Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger, former Vice Chairman Karen Watson, and former Dallas County Republican Assembly Chairwoman Dr. Ivette Lozano.

Anderson is the fifth county party chair since 2016, a period of time that has seen support waver for GOP candidates in and around Dallas. He succeeds Missy Shorey, who died a month ago. Shorey, the first woman to lead the county’s party, succeeded Phillip Huffines, the brother of former state Sen. Don Huffines and failed state senate candidate himself. Huffines succeeded Mark Montgomery, who defeated Wade Emmert in the primary. Both Huffines and Montgomery resigned. During these times, the party was a mess. Shorey was recruited to bring stability—and a young, fresh face—to the party.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Toyota could invest $392 million in San Antonio plant

Toyota is considering its South Side truck plant for a $392 million investment in production-line technology over the next three years, according to city officials. But the Japanese automaker isn’t just eyeing San Antonio — it’s weighing all of its North American plants for the investment, which is driving San Antonio officials to sweeten the pot with an incentive package valued at $10.3 million.

Rene Dominguez, director of the city’s Economic Development Department, outlined the potential investment and the proposed incentives in a memo to City Council members posted late Wednesday on the city’s web site. The investment, he added, would likely result in expansions at Toyota suppliers that serve the San Antonio plant, which produce the Tundra and Tacoma pickups. However, it’s not clear whether the capital infusion would create new jobs inside the Toyota operation.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Two heavy hitters agree to support San Antonio Mayor Nirenberg in hotly contested runoff

Mayor Ron Nirenberg landed critical last-minute reinforcements in his contentious runoff with challenger Greg Brockhouse, as two groups skilled in mobilizing San Antonio volunteers committed to getting out the vote for the incumbent.

But the endorsements from the Texas Organizing Project and the Texas Democratic Party come relatively late in the campaign. TOP’s was arrived at after extended internal debate that underscored the difficulty Nirenberg has had generating enthusiasm for his reelection bid, even among natural allies. Local observers said it’s the first time they can recall a state party organization getting involved in a San Antonio mayoral race. Party officials said it’s part of a relatively new effort to become involved in local races that offer clear ideological choices.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2019

Texas House approves bill to create special Muny district

Legislation to establish a special district in Austin with the goal of preserving Lions Municipal Golf Course — for golfing, parkland or a combination of the two — won final approval by the Texas House on Wednesday by a vote of 104-38.

The Senate is expected to go along with an amendment added by the House and forward the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott, who, in turn, is expected to sign it. Senate Bill 2553 would create the Save Historic Muny District, consisting of the 141-acre course along Lake Austin Boulevard as well as Tarrytown, Old Enfield, Pemberton Heights and other West Austin neighborhoods.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2019

Fort Worth’s booming growth refuses to slow down as city becomes 13th largest in U.S.

The boom shows no sign of ending. Fort Worth is now the 13th-largest city in the United States, behind Jacksonville, Florida, and ahead of Columbus, Ohio, as well as San Francisco, according to the latest Census Bureau population estimates released Thursday.

Last year, Fort Worth ranked 15th but the city added 19,552 people between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, to reach a population of 895,000. It was the third-largest gain behind Phoenix and San Antonio. Just last month, the Census Bureau said the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area added more than 1 million since 2010, the most in the country.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

Houston council staffer who claimed salary while at military law training is suspended

Houston’s highest-paid city council staffer was suspended this week after a Houston Chronicle investigation found he reported working standard work days or sick days to continue collecting his $119,600 salary while he was out of the state for four months in a military law training program.

Daniel Albert, chief of staff to District F Councilman Steve Le, was suspended effective Monday — the same day that Albert met with investigators from the city’s Office of Inspector General, the council member said Wednesday Le said he directed that Albert be suspended without pay, but added that the city legal department is examining whether that would be proper before the OIG probe is finished. Le said that investigation, which he initiated several weeks ago, could wrap up next week.

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National Stories

Washington Post - May 23, 2019

Proposed HUD rule would strip transgender protections at homeless shelters

The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday proposed a new rule that would weaken Obama-era protections for homeless transgender people, allowing federally funded shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men.

The proposed rule comes one day after HUD Secretary Ben Carson assured members of Congress that the agency had no plans to eliminate the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which banned federal housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. When questioned by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., on HUD's treatment of transgender people, Carson said his responsibility is to "make sure everybody is treated fairly. "

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Washington Post - May 22, 2019

Putin out-prepared Trump in key meeting, Rex Tillerson told House panel

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Russian President Vladimir Putin out-prepared President Trump during a key meeting in Germany, putting the U.S. leader at a disadvantage during their first series of tête-à-têtes.

The U.S. side anticipated a shorter meeting for exchanging courtesies, but it ballooned into a globe-spanning two-hour-plus session involving deliberations on a variety of geopolitical issues, said committee aides, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Tillerson’s seven-hour closed meeting with the committee.

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Associated Press - May 21, 2019

North Carolina woman sues Project Veritas, founder for libel

A disabled North Carolina woman is suing the right-wing group Project Veritas and its founder James O’Keefe over how her assault outside a 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally was portrayed in a video.

Jurors in Asheville were sequestered before testimony Tuesday in the federal libel trial expected to last all week. Shirley Teter, 71, of Asheville, sued O’Keefe, Project Veritas and its tax-exempt social welfare affiliate Project Veritas Action for what her lawyers described as targeting an innocent, private person for “ridicule, contempt, or disgrace.” Project Veritas has used disguises and hidden cameras to uncover supposed liberal bias and corruption.

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Associated Press - May 22, 2019

Trump’s campaign centered on fighting Democrats, not policy

President Donald Trump dropped the pretense of working with congressional Democrats on Wednesday and sent a clear message that his re-election campaign will be centered on condemning overzealous investigations rather than advancing a robust domestic policy agenda.

Both sides may have feigned surprise at Trump’s angry outburst, in which he said he won’t work with Democrats until they drop their probes of his administration. But they were on a collision course long before Wednesday’s confrontation in the Cabinet Room. Trump has been betting the future of his presidency on trying to goad Democrats into impeaching him, and the three-minute meeting marked a new low in the slow-moving drama over executive powers, congressional oversight and the critical needs of the nation.

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New York Times - May 22, 2019

Trump walks out on Pelosi and Schumer after 3 minutes

President Donald Trump abruptly blew up a scheduled meeting with Democratic congressional leaders Wednesday, lashing out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi for accusing him of a cover-up and declaring that he could not work with them until they stopped investigating him.

He then marched out into the Rose Garden, where reporters had been gathered, and delivered a statement bristling with anger as he demanded that Democrats “get these phony investigations over with.” He said they could not legislate and investigate at the same time. “We’re going to go down one track at a time,” he said.

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Governing - May 22, 2019

Public housing agencies oppose HUD's plan to evict immigrant families

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a rule this month in the Federal Register that would disqualify families from living in public housing or receiving Section 8 housing vouchers if they have an undocumented person living with them. It's now subject to a 60-day comment period, ending in mid-July.

Undocumented immigrants are already barred from directly receiving housing subsidies but not from living in public housing. The Trump administration's rule would disqualify an entire family from public housing unless every person living with them can prove their lawful immigration status.

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Stateline - May 22, 2019

Can cutting off opioids too quickly harm patients? Feds say yes.

To stem the opioid epidemic, U.S. doctors cut prescriptions of medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet by at least a quarter over the last five years. But the reduction in prescriptions came at a cost to some pain patients.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration last month warned prescribers that abruptly cutting off high-dose patients or tapering their doses too rapidly could cause withdrawal and even suicide. The new recommendations likely will prompt states to consider adjusting their opioid prescribing laws, said Karmen Hanson, a public health expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Newsclips - May 22, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Mental health bill killed by North Texas lawmaker resurrected in 11th-hour legislative maneuver

A major bipartisan mental health bill that looked dead earlier Tuesday has been revived and passed after a heated late night tête-à-tête. On Tuesday evening, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, brought down the bill using a legislative procedural tactic. But just before midnight, his Republican colleagues in the Texas House resurrected the legislation by tacking it onto another bill. That bill passed 130-11. Stickland would not comment after the vote.

The mental health legislation, which was originally filed as Senate Bill 10, would set aside $100 million to create a consortium of universities and medical professionals to better connect Texas schoolchildren with mental health services, expand telemedicine for students and encourage research in this arena. It was written in response to the shooting at Santa Fe High School, where a student killed eight teenagers and two teachers one year ago this past weekend.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Texas GOP leaders join Democrats in call for a different sort of border wall

With President Donald Trump and Congress at an impasse on border security, the Texas Legislature is taking matters into its own hands, speeding legislation that could build 12 miles of retaining walls along the Rio Grande in Laredo, construct 90 miles of new roads that would help border patrol, and address choking weeds that are blamed for hindering law enforcement.

While Democrats supporting the bill insist it’s not President Donald Trump’s wall, Republicans are calling the 20-foot-high ‘non-scalable’ retention wall a step toward improved border security that the federal government has failed on. The legislation cleared the Texas House on a bipartisan vote this month, and the Texas Senate pushed it through a committee on Tuesday morning. It is almost certain to pass the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott is supporting it.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2019

Study: Texas coastal barrier would prevent major economic losses

Housing sales would drop, gasoline prices would increase and Texas would lose hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output if a major storm struck an unprotected coastline, according to a new study.

The joint study by Texas A&M University at Galveston and the Texas General Land Office assesses the storm surge impacts on the three counties along Galveston Bay — Galveston, Harris, and Chambers — and explores how flooding from a severe storm would impact different sectors of the local and national economies.

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Houston Public Media - May 21, 2019

‘We do not have coverage here:’ Texans take on federal broadband maps

If the total number of people in the U.S. lacking broadband internet access was a state — at around 25 million — it would be roughly the population of Texas.

But many argue the maps showing who has access and who doesn’t are wrong. And it could impact who gets money and grants to increase access. Some Texas communities are creating their own maps to correct the record. The Federal Communications Commission’s fixed broadband maps say 24 million people lack access around the country, but a report out last month from Microsoft showed more than 162 million people don’t use high-speed internet.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Senate passes ballot-access bill opposed by Democrats

Divided along party lines, the Texas Senate gave final approval late Monday to a bill that would change the rules on third-party access to the ballot in ways, Democrats argue, that would hurt their party and help Republicans. House Bill 2504, which is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott, would lower the threshold for placing Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ballot.

Currently, if a third-party candidate gets 5% of the vote in a statewide race in the previous general election, its candidates qualify for ballot placement in statewide races. HB 2504 would lower the threshold to 2% of votes in any of the previous five general elections, a 10-year window. The change would allow the Green Party to meet the standard, while the Libertarian Party meets the current standard.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

One year after Santa Fe shooting, Texas lawmakers poised to approve sweeping changes

A year after 10 people were gunned down at Santa Fe High School, the Texas House on Tuesday gave preliminary approval 128-14 to a sweeping school safety bill that would increase state funding to better secure schools.

Senate Bill 11 also would require school districts to better identify students who are at risk of hurting themselves and others and would require more emergency response training for school employees. The bill “improves school safety at each campus in the State of Texas. This legislation is inspired by the students, the faculty and the staff at Santa Fe High School, and I’d like to thank them,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who presented the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Bumble-backed online sexual harassment bill heads to governor’s desk

The Texas Senate approved a bill Monday that would criminalize the sending of unsolicited nude or sexual photos, sending the measure backed by Austin-based Bumble to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Executives of Bumble, the popular female-focused dating app, approached Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, about filing House Bill 2789. The measure makes it a Class C misdemeanor — punishable by a fine up to $500 — to send a lewd photo without the consent of the recipient. “This is a big step in the right direction,” Meyer said in a written statement. “We must ensure that our laws keep up with the times, which means fighting against sexual harassment in the digital world.”

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Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Ken Herman: Texas House kills, revives late effort to curtail arrests for low-level crimes

It evolved into a late-session issue that won’t go away, one in which there’s general agreement that there’s a problem but there had been paralyzing differences in the Texas House on a solution, until about 75 minutes prior to a midnight deadline to deal with it. And what’s at stake is freedom for thousands of Texans each year.

I told you in last Sunday’s column about the odd — even by Texas Legislature standards — history of legislation concerning the reality that Texans can be arrested and jailed for offenses for which they can’t be jailed if convicted. They’re Class C misdemeanors, the lowest form of criminal charge, and they include traffic offenses. Quick rewind: On May 8, the Texas House voted 126-20 for final approval of a bill limiting when cops can arrest somebody on a Class C misdemeanor charge. But, amid some confusion, a motion to reconsider was approved, and the bill went down 55-88.

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Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

What are the most stressed out cities in Texas? Twitter knows.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Climate change. Politics. Who did or did not die in “Game of Thrones.” We’re stressed, y’all. And researchers say that our tweets are showing it. An algorithmic tool called TensiStrength analyzed more than 5 million “real-time tweets” over a two-week period in every U.S. state and the 100 most populated cities, according to Babylon Health, a digital health-care provider

The tool analyzes terms related to stress, frustration, anxiety, anger and negativity and ranks them on two scales: no stress or very highly stress and no relaxation or highly relaxed. The results do not bode well for Texas, which shows that more than 10 percent of the reviewed cities’ population published “stressed-out” tweets in that two week-period. Texas ranks as the 12th most stressed-out state in the U.S. at 10.88 percent of tweets reviewed were measured as “stressed,” according to the study.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2019

Erica Grieder: Chick-fil-A was not ‘saved’ by the Texas Legislature

Like many Texans, I approve of Chick-fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich, and eat one occasionally. However, the Spicy Chicken Wrap from Wendy’s is a better option for me when I’m seeking a quick lunch involving some form of fried chicken on the way into the office. It’s smaller and has 70 fewer calories than the Original Chicken Sandwich and is, as the name suggests, optimized for travel.

That’s why I was eating a Spicy Chicken Wrap from Wendy’s on Tuesday, when the Texas House passed Senate Bill 1978, better known as the #SaveChickFilA bill. Although I was disappointed by the measure’s passage, my considerations about the matter aren’t ideological. I realize we live in a hyper-political era. Still, a chicken sandwich doesn’t need to be a political football — and the people who are determined to make it one, in this case, have comported themselves in a way that I consider unduly cynical.

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Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2019

Texas honky tonks turn to state Legislature for help

The Texas dance halls and honky tonks that launched legends like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Lyle Lovett are turning to the state government to help them keep the pipeline of music stars flowing from the Lone Star State.

Independent music venues have organized and are asking the state Legislature to pass a bill that would give back to the venues a portion of alcohol sales taxes that they pay. The money would go into a $10 million “music incubator” fund to help honky tonks pay for booking live music, promotions and venue upkeep. Venues and music festivals could apply for up to $100,000 worth of alcohol and sales tax rebates.

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Texas' Constitution makes a state income tax nearly impossible. Now voters could make it even harder

A Collin County House lawmaker's plan to more deeply discourage anyone trying to drum up support for an individual income tax in Texas is headed to the November ballot.

Plano GOP Rep. Jeff Leach's House Joint Resolution 38 would give voters a choice to make an income tax -- already strongly frowned upon, because for 26 years, the state Constitution has said that requires a vote of the people –– even more problematic. If voters agree with Leach on Nov. 5, future proponents of a personal income tax would face an even steeper climb: They'd have to win support from two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature and a vote of the people to repeal his 2019 change.

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Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Texas poised to crack down on wasted college credits, offering better support to transfer students

On Monday, the House approved legislation aimed at reducing time and money spent on wasted credits. The bill, written by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for final approval. Once these students get to a four-year university, many are finding more focused support efforts aimed at helping them succeed.

But only about 30 percent of students who start at a public two-year college end up with a certificate or degree within six years, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Transferring college credits between schools shouldn't be so hard, said West, who has spent six years working on his legislation to smooth such transitions.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Newly released Sandra Bland video prompts Texas House committee hearing

A Texas House committee will hold a hearing Friday on the newly released cellphone video of the arrest of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a Waller County jail cell after a traffic stop escalated.

The 39-second recording, published earlier this month by Dallas television station WFAA in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network, sparked new interest in the high-profile case that had helped spur the Black Lives Matter movement. The video showed for the first time Bland’s perspective of the confrontation when a white state trooper pointed a stun gun at her and ordered her out of her vehicle.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: EMILY’s List throws its support behind Jones’s congressional bid

EMILY’s List, the powerful political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women who seek elective office, will announce Wednesday that it is endorsing Gina Ortiz Jones in U.S. District 23.

The group’s decision to throw its weight behind Jones’s congressional campaign isn’t exactly a surprise. The organization backed the former Air Force intelligence officer during her 2018 campaign in District 23, a political odyssey that ended last November with a heartbreaking 926-vote loss to Republican incumbent Will Hurd. The timing of the endorsement, however, is noteworthy. During Jones’s first congressional run, EMILY’s List waited until late November 2017 to formally back her, only three-and-a-half months before a primary in which she faced four other Democratic hopefuls.

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KUT - May 21, 2019

State lawmakers approve legislation shielding most Texans from surprise medical bills

A surprise medical bill may be a thing of the past for many Texans. In a unanimous vote, the Texas House approved a Senate bill banning health care providers from sending steep medical bills to insured Texans in emergencies.

Senate Bill 1264 passed the Texas House on a 146-0 vote. If signed into law, it would remove patients from the middle of disputes between a health insurance company and a hospital or other medical provider. This doesn't apply to Texans with federally regulated plans, which account for roughly 40 percent of the state's health insurance market.

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KUT - May 22, 2019

One in four Texas women of childbearing age don’t have health insurance.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured women between the ages of 18 to 44, according to a new study from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. The study found that, nationwide, 12.3 % of women of childbearing age don't have health insurance. The rate in Texas, however, is more than double the national average – at 25.5 %.

Joan Alker, the center’s executive director, said, overall, the study found rates in states that have not expanded Medicaid were roughly double the rate of uninsured women, compared to those that have expanded Medicaid. Texas is among a minority of states that has decided not to expand its Medicaid program to more low-income adults through the Affordable Care Act. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, to date, 37 states – including DC – have expanded their programs. Alker said Texas’ refusal to expand health coverage is among a variety of reasons the state’s rate is the highest in the nation.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2019

Miss Black Texas sues city, former police chief over 2017 arrest that made national news

A woman whose arrest made national news in 2017 in Hunt County filed a lawsuit against the city of Commerce and its former police chief, who she says violated her civil rights. In May 2017, Carmen Ponder, who is also Miss Black Texas 2016, said former Commerce Police Chief Kerry Crews arrested her without reason on charges that were later dismissed.

She and her attorney, Lee Merritt, filed the suit in Northern District of Texas-Dallas federal court Monday. Crews, who resigned the month after Ponder’s arrest and became the assistant to the city manager shortly after, was not able to be reached for comment. He became the county’s Justice of Peace at Precinct 2 in January. City Manager Darrek Ferrell and the city’s attorney, Jay Garrett, said they could not comment on the suit and the mayor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Houston Public Media - May 22, 2019

Survey reveals Texans’ opinions on how to fund public schools, as legislative session nears close

A majority of Texans approve of spending more on education and want property taxes limited, though support varies between demographic breakdowns, according to a survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared both school finance and property tax overhaul emergency items for Texas lawmakers this session, which is scheduled to wrap up next week. Researchers surveyed registered Texas voters at the end of March 2019, finding broad support for increased spending on schools including pay raises for teachers and librarians, as well as expanded funding for early childhood education programs and school districts with higher percentages of low-income students.

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County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Bexar DA opts not to brief commissioners on removal of constable

With more than a dozen of her uniformed deputies standing behind her, Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela delivered a defiant speech Tuesday to county commissioners who had expected District Attorney Joe Gonzales to brief them on how to remove her from office.

Gonzales instead opted not to offer the briefing because his office already is defending the county and Vela in a civil lawsuit, and doing so could be seen as a conflict of interest. “We still represent her on the civil side, and because of that relationship, we think the best process is to wait,” Gonzales said Tuesday. “That doesn’t necessarily stop the process (of removal), especially if a private citizen decides to file a petition.”

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 21, 2019

City of Fort Worth destroyed evidence in whistleblower case, employee alleges in memo

The city of Fort Worth destroyed information being sought by an attorney handling a fired IT manager’s whistleblower lawsuit, a city employee alleges in an affidavit. The allegation was made in a memo sent to city officials Monday by Rabiah Memon, a senior IT programmer analyst with the city since May 2015.

That memo and an affidavit by the city employee is the subject of a motion filed Tuesday in Dallas County by Stephen Kennedy, the attorney for William Birchett, seeking a temporary restraining order against the city to prevent it from destroying evidence. Birchett filed suit against the city of Fort Worth last week, alleging that he was fired in February in retaliation for reporting to officials that the city’s cybersecurity had been severely compromised and that, among other things, the city had lied about its compliance with FBI crime database regulations.

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Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Austin’s scooters could come under same rules as taxis

The Austin City Council on Thursday could create an unprecedented level of regulation governing electric rental scooters, putting the budding and controversial industry under the same rules applied to taxis.

Austin would be the first city in the U.S. to employ such a model, giving it broad authority over dockless scooter companies, such as Bird and Lime, that would provide avenues for kicking them out of the city. But even as city transportation staffers floated the idea Tuesday, when council members discussed an array of possible ordinances designed to update the city’s regulation of scooters, cracks started to show in the support for a franchise model that some industry insiders oppose.

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San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Domestic violence questions at San Antonio mayoral forum prompt shouting matches

The first mayoral forum since San Antonio’s May elections grew heated Tuesday when moderators asked challenger Greg Brockhouse about domestic violence accusations against him, prompting outbursts and shouting matches between those in attendance at Travis Park Church downtown.

While the candidates were never on stage together, the contentious nature of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Brockhouse’s runoff race was on display. The men appeared separately at the event, fielding questions from Rivard Report journalist Iris Dimmick and Pastor Gavin Rogers. The quarrels began about 30 minutes into the forum, when Rogers asked Brockhouse about reports from 2006 and 2009 in which women married to him called police and accused him of assault.

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National Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Beto O'Rourke tries to jumpstart sputtering campaign on CNN town hall, pushing impeachment

After shunning national TV exposure for the first 70 days of his presidential effort and watching his poll numbers sink to near oblivion, El Paso's Beto O'Rourke grabbed the chance to reintroduce himself Tuesday night on a live CNN town hall.

He voiced impatience for impeachment, denounced the president's trade policies, and vowed to protect abortion rights and end the vilification of immigrants -- winning repeated applause from the audience at Drake University in Des Moines. Impeachment came up early, when Drake education professor Cris Wildermuth asked him for his stance. "We should begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Not something that I take lightly," he said, waiting for applause to die down. Avoiding impeachment out of fear of political backlash, he added, would promote the idea that a president is "above the law."

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Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Ted Cruz spars with actor Jim Carrey after 'sick' cartoon of Alabama's anti-abortion governor

A simmering feud between actor Jim Carrey and Sen. Ted Cruz has hit full boil, with Cruz chastising the actor for a sketch depicting Alabama's anti-abortion governor as a doomed fetus and Carrey hitting back by calling him "greasy" and "shameless." The two have sparred via social media before, though the latest eruption is far more venomous.

He called the star of The Truman Show, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and Dumb and Dumber a "self-described socialist," and poked him for getting the vampire part backwards because "vampires are dead, and everyone knows the dead vote Democrat." The latest dust up began on Saturday, when Carrey posted a vivid, hand drawn cartoon on Twitter that showed a tube sucking the brain out of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey's head.

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New York Times - May 21, 2019

Democratic calls for impeachment inquiry grow as leaders instead vow to toughen tactics

A bloc of liberal Democrats began pressing Tuesday for an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, underscoring party divisions and the growing difficulties that Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces as she tries to chart a more methodical course.

Trump’s latest defiance of congressional oversight demands precipitated the break among Democrats. Former White House counsel Don McGahn, who had been called to testify Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee about the president’s attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation, skipped the scheduled hearing after Trump ordered him to ignore lawmakers’ subpoena.

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Bloomberg - May 21, 2019

Oil dips as trade standoff muddies outlook for economic growth

Oil closed lower amid warnings that the U.S.-China trade dispute may take an increasing toll on the economy. U.S. oil futures fluctuated between gains and losses on Tuesday, ending the session down 0.2%.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said the trade standoff is adding a downside risk to the central bank's forecasts, while the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development downgraded its projection for global growth. International benchmark Brent crude, meanwhile, finished the day 0.3% higher, as fighting in Saudi Arabia and Libya and a pipeline outage in Nigeria brought more reminders of the fragile state of supplies.

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Wall Street Journal - May 22, 2019

Trading a trade war: ‘Markets don’t appear ready for that’

How do you trade a trade war? A previously abstract question is becoming more pressing for investors as U.S.-China trade relations fray. “What we’ve learned the last few weeks is this is a genuine negotiation and both sides appear willing to escalate this,” said Michael Metcalfe, head of global macro strategy at State Street Global Markets. “It’s a credible threat and markets don’t appear ready for that.”

Some investors are shunning stocks with significant exposure to China, including in materials, technology and industrials. Among major tech stocks, Apple Inc. is down 7% in May, on pace for its worst month this year, while Google parent Alphabet Inc. has lost 3.7%. International investors sold shares listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen through a trading link in Hong Kong at a record pace in the 20 trading days through May 17. Through this trading link, foreigners had rarely sold mainland stocks on a net basis before.

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NPR - May 22, 2019

Liz Cheney's choice: House Or Senate?

Rep. Liz Cheney does not mince words, but when it comes to her own political ambitions, the Wyoming Republican has nothing to say right now. "I don't have any announcements to make about that," a tight-lipped Cheney told reporters at a recent press conference dominated by questions about her political future.

The question Cheney is weighing is whether or not to run for the Senate, prompted by GOP Sen. Mike Enzi's decision to retire in 2020. Cheney's ambition for the seat is well-known. She unsuccessfully tried to primary Enzi in 2014, in a short-lived bid marked by acrimony that divided the GOP — and her own family. But she stuck around, and her fortunes quickly rebounded. In 2016, she won Wyoming's only House seat.

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Washington Post - May 21, 2019

No, maternal mortality did not spike in Texas after funding cuts to abortion clinics

“Anti-abortion bills increase maternal mortality and infant mortality. Texas is the best case. The reported rate of maternal deaths in Texas doubled when the state closed their abortion clinics and cut funding for Planned Parenthood. The fact is that if Texas was a country it would have the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country in the world." — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), in remarks at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on maternal mortality, May 16, 2019

Many times, the corrections receive far less attention than the original headline. Here’s a good example. In arguing that laws that limit abortion rights increase maternal and infant mortality, Rep. Beyer cited some alarming data about Texas and asked a witness about the connection between the two. The witness, Lisa Hollier, the immediate past president and interim chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, sidestepped the question.

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CNN - May 22, 2019

Schiff cancels 'enforcement' meeting after Justice Department offers to share Mueller documents

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is scrapping a Wednesday morning meeting intended to take an "enforcement action" against the Justice Department after it agreed to begin providing the committee with counterintelligence documents from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The decision to postpone the business meeting –– where Schiff was threatened to take an unspecified action against Attorney General William Barr for not complying with the committee's subpoena for Mueller's counterintelligence materials –– is a rare sign of the Trump administration and a House panel successfully negotiating around a Democratic subpoena for documents.

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