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Newsclips - March 22, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

Where New Hampshire voters heckled Rick Perry, Beto O'Rourke gets warm welcome

El Paso Democrat Beto O'Rourke started Day 8 of his presidential campaign at one of those iconic New Hampshire venues that has seen would-be presidents come and go: Popovers on the Square.

It was a much warmer welcome than the one that greeted another Texan back in August 2011. Rick Perry, now Secretary of Energy, was Texas governor at the time and the man of the hour in the GOP presidential field -- focus of more buzz than attends O'Rourke at the moment, and the El Paso Democrat has a decent amount of buzz. Perry had launched his 2012 campaign five days earlier.

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New York Times - March 21, 2019

EU approves Brexit extension, but chaotic departure still looms

European Union leaders on Thursday agreed to extend the deadline for Britain’s looming exit from the bloc in order to give Prime Minister Theresa May and the British Parliament more time to get their act together. Thursday’s agreement effectively averted the possibility of a disorderly and possibly chaotic departure by Britain on March 29. Yet that still remains a possibility just a few weeks later.

After hours of difficult and sometimes passionate talks, the leaders decided that Britain’s exit date will be pushed back to May 22 if next week Mrs. May can persuade lawmakers in Parliament to accept her plan for leaving the bloc, which they have already rejected overwhelmingly, not once but twice. If she cannot persuade lawmakers to accept her plan, Mrs. May will get a shorter delay in exiting the European Union — until April 12. But Britain could stay in the bloc longer if it decides it needs more time for a more fundamental rethink of Brexit, as the process is known.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Sales tax expansion? A GOP legislator wants to start taxing a host of Texas goods and services now exempt

State Rep. Drew Springer wants to tax doughnuts. The Republican from Muenster is also pitching taxes on vet checkups, funeral services, automotive maintenance and repair, and personal coaching and more than a dozen other products and services that aren’t subject to the state sales tax.

Springer is calling for an end to a host of sales tax exemptions to allow the Legislature to cut property taxes for most Texans, not just slow property tax increases. Springer’s wide-ranging proposal would ratchet down a school district’s adopted maintenance and operations tax rate and ratchet up the homestead exemption from $25,000 of a property’s taxable value to as much as $149,000. He says the average Texas property tax bill would decrease by $1,400 a year.

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Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2019

Twins Julián and Joaquin Castro step onto national political stage — together, as always

Rosie Castro, mother of fast-track Texas Democrats Julián and Joaquin Castro, saw the bond between her identical twins as she listened to their baby chatter. “Before they could even talk, they carried on their own babbling conversations with each other,” she said.

In the run-up to the 2020 elections, those ties between Julian and Joaquin Castro are becoming more of a national spectacle than ever. As Julián seeks the Democratic nomination for president, brother Joaquin plays a lead role in the story he tells of growing up modestly in west San Antonio. Joaquin is Julián’s campaign chairman and they appear together around the country — a two-for-one deal as Julián seeks a higher tier in the jammed Democratic field.

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State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Despite critical report, Timmerman re-appointed as LCRA chair

Months after a state report criticized the Central Texas water and electricity utility they oversee, citing a lack of transparency, the chairman and a couple of other board members were reappointed Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

In November, Sunset Advisory Commission staff investigators said the LCRA — which oversees water operations of the Colorado River and doles out water from Lakes Travis and Buchanan for the use of more than a million Central Texans — lacks transparency in its actions and should hire more women and people of color. As the LCRA seeks new water supplies to satisfy the thirst of a booming region, the Sunset Advisory Commission staff report said the river authority’s “approach to public engagement is inconsistent and often reactive,” frequently leading to mistrust around the already sensitive issue of regional water sharing.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Texas lawmakers debate need for state incentives programs

The merits of taxpayer-funded business incentives –– described alternatively as either crucial tools for economic development or wasteful corporate giveaways –– took center stage Wednesday as a Texas House committee heard debate over key tax abatement programs used by local governments and school districts.

“I would much prefer that we didn’t need (tax) incentives, but we don’t live in an ivory tower,” Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, said during a hearing over House Bill 2438, which would reauthorize the two types of tax abatements through 2032. He was one of many supporters of the abatements –– known as Chapter 312 and Chapter 313 agreements, after the sections of the tax code in which they appear –– who turned out to voice support for the programs.

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Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

A day after Texas Senate passes college free speech bill, Trump signs his own

President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order aimed at protecting free speech on college campuses, the day after the Texas Senate passed a bill to prohibit public universities from rejecting controversial speakers.

His order will require that colleges and universities that receive federal grants prove they have standards protecting students' First Amendment rights. Sens. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Joan Huffman, R-Houston, attended the ceremony, according to the Texas Senate Republican Caucus. Huffman authored the aforementioned Senate Bill 18, which would bar Texas public colleges and universities from considering "any anticipated controversy ... in determining whether to approve a speaker to speak on campus."

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Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

'We're treating them like animals': Lawmakers debate bill to lower heat in Texas prisons

Torture. Intolerable. A death sentence. These are some of the words used to described the conditions inside state jails and prisons in the summer months, when the hot Texas sun can push temperatures past 130 degrees.

Lawmakers who heard the testimony Thursday — from guards, inmates' families and former prisoners — now have to decide whether to force the state to invest millions, and maybe more, to finally tackle the problem. "These people are not animals and we're treating them like animals," Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, told his peers on the House Committee on Corrections. "It's crazy. It's twisted. It's sad. And it's not who we are."

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Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Pastor group drops lawsuit against Austin’s LGBT hiring protections

A conservative Christian organization has dropped a federal lawsuit that sought to overturn an Austin anti-discrimination ordinance that offers employment protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Dave Welch, head of the Houston-based U.S. Pastor Council, said the decision was based on the advice of the group’s lawyer but might not be the last word on the matter.

The council’s lawsuit, filed in October, argued that Austin’s ordinance is unconstitutional and invalid because it does not include a religious exemption for 25 member churches in Austin that refuse to hire gay or transgender people as employees or clergy. Austin asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin to dismiss the lawsuit last month, arguing that the city ordinance does not apply to a church’s hiring of clergy and that no church expressed a problem with the city’s employment protections.

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Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

Deer Park fire investigations begin amid anxiety over emissions, pollution

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board on Wednesday announced it would investigate the three-day chemical blaze at the International Terminals Co., hours after emissions of carcinogenic benzene spiked near the Deer Park plant, prompting city officials to order residents to shelter in place for most of the morning.

The independent federal agency, which also investigated the 2017 Arkema plant fire in Crosby, does not fine companies or issue violations. Instead, it conducts what is known as "root cause" investigations to determine how an incident occurred and make recommendations to the company, government regulators and other stakeholders on how to prevent it from happening again.

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Houston Chronicle - March 22, 2019

Solar companies flock to a Texas tax break with questionable payback

Although barely 25 miles from one of the country’s fastest growing cities, much of the land hugging this Austin bedroom community remains empty blackland prairie. Soon, though, if all goes according to plan, a Canadian company will begin installing a vast array of solar panels across 1,000 acres just a few miles outside of town.

But only under one condition: that it receives a multi-million-dollar tax break from the local school district. Property taxes represent the biggest operating expense for solar projects. So without the giant reduction of its tax bill, Recurrent Energy warned, its executives would be forced “to look to maximize their investment by building in California.” In exchange for the tax break, the company has promised to create exactly one full-time job.

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Texas Standard - March 20, 2019

LGBTQ+ advocates say equality remains 'stubbornly out of reach' In Texas

Sixty-four percent of Texans support laws protecting gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Yet a new report from Equality Texas details the many obstacles that still remain for nearly 1 million LGBTQ+ individuals living in Texas.

What can policy do to change the future of equality in the state? As the 86th Texas Legislature deliberates, a number of bills that have been filed aim to protect LGBTQ+ Texans, including SB 1250 filed by San Antonio-based State Senator José Menéndez, which focuses on nondiscrimination in employment.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 21, 2019

Joseph Krier: Lone Star State exhibiting wind power leadership

They say everything is bigger in Texas: It’s a catchy mantra that manages to be both tongue-in-cheek and, at the same time, a decent encapsulation of the attitude that makes Texas unique. It’s also a wholly accurate description of Texas’ wind-power industry, which now ranks as — hands down — the most productive, economically impactful and biggest in the nation.

Texas consumes more energy than any other state. Meeting that demand with reliable, affordable power is essential to keeping our economy on a growth path. And while the Texas of the past may have been known for its oil and gas more than its renewable energy, in today’s Texas, wind is front and center in our efforts to keep the lights on, the air conditioner running, and business and industry booming.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - March 21, 2019

John Sharp: Texas A&M System calls on Texans to become teachers because many more will be needed

Kudos to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen for making teachers the top priority this legislative session. Teachers work hard every day to make a difference. They positively impact the future, and they deserve our support. Giving them all a raise is a good start.

I certainly hope it will encourage more young Texans to consider becoming teachers — and help keep more experienced teachers in the classroom — because Texas faces a teacher shortage. Data from the Texas Education Agency shows Texas faces an increasingly tight supply of teachers. Since 2009, K through 12 student enrollment is up by 14 percent, while the number of teachers has risen by less than 9 percent. Meanwhile, Texas has seen a 14 percent drop in the number of initial teacher certifications in the past decade.

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KTRE - March 20, 2019

Bill requiring civics exam for high school graduation passes Texas House

A bill that will include a civics test in the graduation requirements for public high school students that passed in the Texas House Wednesday. The bill would require students to answer the same questions that are found on the civics test that people seeking to become naturalized citizens have to take.

The bill, which was co-authored by State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, has several other hurdles to clear before it becomes state law. If it gets out of a Texas Senate committee, it will then have to be passed by the state senate in the same form that it passed the Texas House. Then it will have to be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill would replace the existing U.S. history end-of-course exam with a civics test.

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Trib Talk - March 20, 2019

James Henson and Joshua Blank: Public expectations and the political realities of reducing property taxes

A February 2019 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that many Texans are ready to see their property taxes go down. However, a closer look at those attitudes suggests that legislators should be cautious about the public expectations that will greet whatever action they manage to take.

The poll confirms both dissatisfaction with current levels of taxation, which is no surprise, but also finds inflated expectations of the centerpiece of the property tax reduction conversation, as well as skepticism about its potential consequences for local services. The legislative strategy thus far is designed to limit local government entities’ ability to increase property tax revenue, year-over-year, without voter approval if that growth exceeds 2.5 percent — the currently discussed threshold which is already a major point of negotiation.

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Gainesville Daily Register - March 6, 2019

Grace Chimene: Texas should encourage the right to vote, combat intimidation

The League of Women Voters strives to embody its mission of empowering voters and defending democracy. Registering voters is core to our work as a nonpartisan organization, and some of the most rewarding voter registration events are naturalization ceremonies.

Recently, state officials announced that a number of individuals voted in elections without the requisite citizenship, knowing the data was not yet reviewed or vetted. There is not a problem of non-citizens registering and voting in Texas — there is a data problem. Even worse, government officials purposely took advantage of that known data problem to plant doubt about the integrity of the voting system.

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Icons of Infrastructure - March 22, 2019

Lone Star leap: Texas pushes for greater infrastructure resiliency

Infrastructure resiliency could get more attention in the state of Texas this year before the destruction from Hurricane Harvey fades from memory. With a history of hurricanes — and drought and tornadoes — Texas is looking to establish a strong framework of resilient infrastructure. The concern is paramount for a state with 367 miles of coastline.

State legislators will need to decide this year how to pay for about $2.5 billion in shortfalls due to Harvey expenses. The Texas Legislature, which is currently in session, only meets for 140 days every other year. Although school finance reform is currently taking center stage, a number of bills and resolutions that could improve local infrastructure could come up for consideration; including HB 1800, which would create a statewide resiliency fund. Justin Till, chief of staff for the bill’s author, Rep. Greg Bonnen said that Hurricane Harvey was the impetus for creating a resiliency fund.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

Measles case in Tarrant County is the 4th in Dallas-Fort Worth and the 14th in Texas

A case of the measles has been confirmed in Tarrant County, health officials said Thursday. The case involves a Tarrant County resident who traveled internationally to an area where there has been an increase in measles cases, according to Vinny Taneja, director of the county's public health department. Health officials said it is unrelated to other local measles cases.

It is the fourth case of measles confirmed in North Texas this year — there have been two in Collin County and one in Denton County — and the 14th in Texas. There were nine cases of measles in Texas in all of 2018. The last time measles was reported in Tarrant County was January 2015.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 22, 2019

Lawsuit alleges San Antonio deputies organized “fight club” with county jail inmates

Everyone knows the first rule of Fight Club: You don’t talk about Fight Club. But there’s a former Bexar County Jail inmate who’s breaking that rule — legally. The one-time inmate who is now serving time in state prison has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging that several detention officers at the Bexar County Jail organized brawls between inmates and bet on the outcome, leaving some inmates bloodied in the aftermath.

Rodolfo Carrazco alleges he was subjected to the underground blood sport while he served a stint at the jail in April 2017 and was beaten seriously enough that he had to be hospitalized with injuries that included a broken jaw. He also lost the gold “grille” in his teeth. Carrazco, also identified as Rodolfo Carrasco in court and police records, is serving a 14-year sentence in the Texas prison system for charges that include burglary of a habitation. He was transferred there in November 2017 after being sentenced in Bexar County, records show. While awaiting trial and sentencing, Carrazco was held at the Bexar County Jail.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

HISD considers changing meeting structure amid local, state criticism

Houston ISD’s monthly school board meeting clocked in 5 hours and 15 minutes Thursday. Moving forward, trustees want that to change.

A board proposal put forth Thursday called for shortening often-lengthy board meetings, focusing more on student outcomes and creating more meaningful — albeit potentially abridged — public engagement on meeting days. Trustees said the changes would improve board operations and perceptions about the much-maligned governing body, which has often been criticized due to public displays of acrimony and inattention to issues impacting students.

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Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

‘You don’t want to eliminate them completely’: Acevedo reveals new no-knock raid policy

Weeks after vowing to cut down drastically on the use of no-knock raids, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo on Thursday drilled down into some of the specifics of his new department policy, which requires more oversight and forbids narcotics officers from carrying out the high-risk busts.

Instead, effective last month, SWAT teams will execute all unannounced raids, but only after getting approval from top-ranking Houston police officials and a signature from a district court judge. “You don’t want to eliminate them completely,” Acevedo told a Houston City Council committee Thursday afternoon. “There are instances where the no-knock warrant tactic is probably the safest.”

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Longshoremen's union drops support for Turner, Buzbee asks others to follow suit

Houston trial attorney and mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee again called on all Houston unions Wednesday to disavow Mayor Sylvester Turner after a local district of the International Longshoremen's Association dropped its support for the mayor.

Buzbee, who made the same appeal after the Houston Federation of Teachers withdrew its support for Turner last month, said in a statement that Turner is "no friend" of union members, despite their widespread support for him when he was elected in 2015. The ILA's South Atlantic and Gulf Coast district President Alan A. Robb said in a separate statement that Turner's ongoing dispute with Houston firefighters over pay raises and a legal case related to collective bargaining played a role in the union's decision.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Turner right to move ahead with HFD layoffs

How many firefighters does Houston need, and how many can it afford? Those are the questions that ought to be top of mind as on-again, off-again negotiations between Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Firefighter Association continue over how quickly to implement firefighter pay raises averaging 29 percent that were approved by voters in November.

The mayor keeps warning, as he did before the Prop. B vote, that Houston has hundreds more firefighters than it can afford. As a result, he had urged firefighters to accept a phased-in plan for Prop. B salaries over five years if they wanted to avoid 400 pink slips. Union officials, unsurprisingly, are screaming bloody murder. They say the pay raises — which they urged as a way to create pay parity between firefighters and police — are overdue since voters spoke in November.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Petition seeks to rename Dripping Springs to ‘Pound Town’ after founding family

Does the name Dripping Springs do Austin’s sweet, neighboring Hill Country city justice? There is at least one “coalition of residents and business owners in the area” that doesn’t think so. As was announced in a press release Wednesday, some Dripping Springs residents would rather call home “Pound Town,” after one of the city’s earliest residents Dr. Joseph M. Pound.

According to the rename coalition’s GoFundMe page, which has raised $170 of its $1,854 goal, “Donations will be used to fund a fun campaign that may or may not result in a ballot initiative, and at the very least we’ll donate a good portion of the proceeds to Friends of the Pound House for upkeep and education at the historic homestead.” The page claims that Pound was the first doctor in Hays County.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

A year after Austin bomber stopped, city leaders honor victims, law enforcement

Austin police and city leaders gathered at City Hall on Thursday, a year to the day when authorities stopped a serial bomber who terrorized the community, to honor those affected by the attacks and the law enforcement agencies that helped bring him down.

The 19-day terror spree in the city came to an end last year on March 21 when the Austin bomber blew himself up along Interstate 35 in Round Rock as authorities closed in to arrest him. City leaders observed a moment of silence for those killed in the first two explosions, 17-year-old Draylen Mason and 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House, and those who survived two other blasts, including Esperanza “Hope” Herrera, who was critically injured hours after Mason was killed, and two men injured by a trip-wire bomb in Southwest Austin.

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National Stories

NPR - March 22, 2019

Moderate Democrats under pressure as party's left flank grabs attention

For Democrats, one of the keys to winning control of the House of Representatives last year was convincing voters in formerly Republican districts that there's more than one way to be a Democrat.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., was one of dozens of new members who ousted Republicans, in part on a pledge to buck party leaders and work across the aisle. Spanberger spent her first three months in office following through on that promise — she voted against Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House and split from Democrats on a number of procedural votes.

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New York Times - March 21, 2019

25 states at risk of flooding this spring, US forecast states

Vast areas of the United States are at risk of flooding this spring, even as Nebraska and other Midwestern states are already reeling from record-breaking late-winter floods, federal scientists said on Thursday.

Nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states will have an elevated risk of some flooding from now until May, and 25 states could experience “major or moderate flooding,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The major flooding this month in Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and elsewhere is “a preview of what we expect throughout the rest of the spring,” she said.

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Washington Post - March 22, 2019

A police unit went after Stormy Daniels for ‘moral’ crimes. Now due to misconduct, it has disbanded.

Beset by the fallout of a high-profile scandal involving adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and allegations that an officer traded sex for releasing women he had arrested, an Ohio police department has taken the unprecedented action of disbanding a unit that was once in charge of pursuing “moral crimes.”

On Tuesday, Columbus Police Department interim chief Tom Quinlan announced he was abolishing the department’s 10-officer vice unit, a group overseeing crimes involving gambling, prostitution and drugs, due to the negative attention it received in recent months.

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Associated Press - March 22, 2019

Trump policy of sending asylum seekers to Mexico faces judge

A U.S. judge in San Francisco will scrutinize the Trump administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico during a court hearing Friday to help him decide whether to block the practice.

Civil rights groups have asked Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco to put the asylum policy on hold while their lawsuit moves forward. Seeborg was not expected to rule immediately. The policy began in January at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, marking an unprecedented change to the U.S. asylum system. Families seeking asylum are typically released in the U.S. with notices to appear in immigration court.

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National Review - March 21, 2019

Jim Geraghty: Republicans, don’t underestimate Beto O’Rourke

He’s a Texan, the son of a man prominent in state politics and an all-around success in life. The Texan grew up with alternating affection for and intermittent tension with his well-known, accomplished father, with the heavy question of how he would ever emerge from his father’s shadow.

He eventually tried his hand at entrepreneurship, swearing he never wanted to be a politician like his father. But when an opportunity in Texas politics appeared, he took it, out-hustling a Democratic incumbent who had been far too confident about the voters’ mood on Election Day. Then, surprisingly early in his political career, he chose to run for president. Despite having only been in a major office for six years, the Texan’s party saw great potential in him, and responded with a wave of donations. They were hungry for a winner.

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CNN - March 21, 2019

Beto O'Rourke set to hire ex-Obama aide Jen O'Malley Dillon to run campaign

A week after launching his presidential bid, Beto O'Rourke is poised to hire veteran Democratic strategist Jen O'Malley Dillon to lead his campaign, officials familiar with the discussions told CNN, a move that puts a former top aide to President Barack Obama at the helm of the O'Rourke campaign.

O'Malley Dillon, a deputy campaign manager for Obama's re-election effort in 2012, met with O'Rourke earlier this month in Texas before he jumped into the race. Since then, the campaign raised more than $6 million on its first day and the former congressman from Texas embarked on a tour of a half-dozen states. O'Malley Dillon, who is seen as one of the party's sharpest data experts, had been planning to head a new data exchange operation for Democrats. The effort was designed to help the party overcome its deficit with Republicans on using voter data to identify supporters and drive turnout.

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Vanity Fair - March 20, 2019

'Everyone thinks they’re going to sell': Hellfire at Fox as Hannity mulls leaving and Lachlan goes full Donna Brazile on Trump

Donald Trump’s alliance with Fox News has been one of the few constants throughout his shambolic presidency. But in recent days, that bond has shown signs of fraying. On Sunday morning, Trump criticized Fox after it suspended Judge Jeanine Pirro for delivering an offensive monologue questioning Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s patriotism.

Trump’s attacks on Fox have widened the chasm between the network’s opinion hosts and the news division, which have been fighting a cold civil war since Roger Ailes was ousted in July 2016. Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and President Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs and Pirro. The outcome of that civil war will be decided by Fox Corporation chairman and C.E.O. Lachlan Murdoch.

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Newsclips - March 21, 2019

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - March 21, 2019

Gas-tax hike: a rare big idea with bipartisan backing

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce isn’t exactly a hotbed of pro-tax sentiment. So when the chamber advocates for a tax increase, it’s worth sitting up to take notice. That’s what’s happening now.

Chamber President Thomas Donohue told Congress this month that the chamber advocates raising the federal tax on a gallon of gas, which stands at 18.4 cents, by 25 cents over the next five years to produce funds desperately needed to fix the nation’s transportation network, and perhaps kick-start a broader effort to upgrade America’s infrastructure. The gas tax has been the same since 1993, Mr. Donohue noted.

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New York Times - March 1, 2019

Border Patrol facilities in Texas are overflowing, prompting mass releases in border cities

Border Patrol detention centers in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley have soared well past their capacity in recent days, prompting mass releases of migrants onto the streets as local leaders scramble to house and feed hundreds of new arrivals daily.

The primary migrant-services facility in the region, a former nursing home in McAllen now used by Catholic Charities as an immigrant respite center, is already reaching capacity, with nearly every inch of the low-slung red-brick building occupied. The air was thick with the smell of sweat Tuesday evening, with dozens of people waiting for assistance at the front of the building.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Fact check: No, the Texas Democratic Party did not give Beto O’Rourke $4.5 million

A tweet circulating from Democratic activist Xavier Perez in New York suggests that Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke was able to report such a high number because of a sizable contribution made to his campaign by the Texas Democratic Party. The tweet was shared widely and reposted many times on Facebook.

Perez, whose social media posts suggest he is backing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the Democratic nomination, said the alleged contribution from the Texas Democrats to O’Rourke was actually money O’Rourke had given to the party after his unsuccessful challenge last year to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. O’Rourke’s Senate campaign, called Beto for Texas, transferred more than $4.5 million to the Texas Democratic Party over the course of his campaign against Cruz, according to campaign finance filings.

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Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

John Cornyn, Joaquin Castro clash in preview of potential 2020 Senate contest

John Cornyn and Joaquin Castro clashed this week, giving Texas voters a preview of a potential 2020 match-up for Senate, a contest that could be one of the marquee match-ups in the country.

The sniping between the campaigns comes as Castro, a San Antonio congressman, is nearing an announcement about a potential challenge of Cornyn, the incumbent who is stockpiling cash and interacting with his base to prepare for Castro –– or any Democrat that may emerge as his rival. Earlier this week, Cornyn campaign manager John Jackson described Castro as a Democratic socialist who votes against the interests of Texans.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Families: Feds not planning charges against alleged Santa Fe High shooter

Families of people killed in the 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School were told in a private meeting with federal officials that it is unlikely federal charges will be filed against the alleged shooter, participants in the meeting said Wednesday.

During the meeting Tuesday in the FBI field office in Texas City, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick and FBI officials said they had enough evidence to charge the alleged shooter in connection with unexploded pipe bombs found at the school, the meeting participants said. But the officials reported that the Justice Department was unwilling to move forward on those charges for now.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Crude oil prices boosted by oil inventories' plunge

Commercial crude oil stockpiles plunged by nearly 10 million barrels last week, creating more bullish news for oil prices that have risen to their highest levels since November.

Crude inventories fell by 9.6 million barrels and gasoline stocks dipped by 4.6 million barrels. Overall petroleum stocks declined by 12.6 million barrels for the week, according to weekly data Wednesday from the U.S. Energy Department.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Deer Park company battling fire accused of intentionally polluting water during Harvey

The company responsible for this week’s black plume in Houston’s sky has been accused in a federal lawsuit of dumping hazardous waste in the water during Hurricane Harvey.

Intercontinental Terminal Co.’s former hazardous waste specialist in Deer Park sued the company in February, alleging it intentionally released more than a million gallons of hazardous waste into flood waters during Hurricane Harvey to save money. Releasing such waste would violate both state and federal law. In documents filed in the Southern District of Texas, ITC denied the allegations. ITC declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

114 years of waiting: Callers kept on hold by Texas state agencies

Texans calling state agencies in recent years waited on hold for a lifetime — literally. Callers were on hold for a total of one million hours — some 114 years — trying to get in touch with eight state agencies over a two-year period ending in August 2017, according to a new state audit.

The worst waits were at the driver license division, which has already come under fire from lawmakers for long lines at offices across the state. Callers waited on hold an average of 15-and-a-half minutes. One in five hung up before ever talking with a customer service representative, the report said.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

House backs bill requiring cities, counties to disclose special event costs

Governments would no longer be able to keep secret the amount of taxpayer funds spent on concerts, parades and other entertainment events if a bill advancing in the Texas House is passed into law. House Bill 81, sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, would require that information to be available to the public.

The bill, which cleared a key vote in the House on Wednesday, was prompted by the city of McAllen’s refusal to release records about how much it paid pop singer Enrique Iglesias for performing at a holiday concert. News reports later showed the city lost more than half a million dollars on the event.

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Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Scrap the Electoral College? Protect late-term abortion? Beto O'Rourke faces new litmus test issues

Less than a week into his presidential campaign, Beto O'Rourke has been forced to stake or defend positions on issues that went untouched or unnoticed in last year's Texas Senate campaign.

On Wednesday, for the third straight day, he faced questions about late-term abortion, which has become something of a litmus test in the 2020 primary race as candidates position themselves as the most ardent defenders of abortion rights. He's called for adding a half-dozen U.S. Supreme Court seats, drawing fire from the president. And he's echoed Sen. Elizabeth Warren in arguing for direct national elections, wiping away the Electoral College system in place for centuries.

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Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

Chris Wallace: North Texas business leaders support legislative plan to boost school spending, cut property taxes

Gov. Greg Abbott identified back in January property tax reform and school finance reform as emergency items, thankfully. Members of the North Texas Commission hope to see legislators solve these problems by boosting the state's contribution for public education and pay for full-day prekindergarten while addressing rising property taxes. Our members support House Bill 3 to address these concerns.

The primary drivers of property tax increases are school property taxes. Many Texans are unaware that under the Robin Hood school funding formula, as local property values rise, the state's share of funding declines and the burden on local taxpayers increases. The state has actually spent more money on education each year, but state portion of the amount spent to educate the students in Texas has dropped from 47 percent in 2011 to 36 percent in 2019.

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Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Colleges couldn't bar controversial speakers under bill passed by Texas Senate

The Texas Senate has passed a bill to prohibit schools from rejecting controversial speakers. Senate Bill 18 by Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would bar public colleges and universities from considering "any anticipated controversy ... in determining whether to approve a speaker to speak on campus." It would also require these schools to adopt policies "detailing students' rights and responsibilities regarding expressive activities."

Schools would have to allow anyone "to engage in expressive activities" in "common outdoor areas" unless the conduct is unlawful or "materially or substantially" disruptive and could not penalize student organizations for their political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoints "or of any expressive activities of the organization." Students, faculty and staff would be allowed to meet or distribute written material without permission from the university if the bill becomes law. The bill passed unanimously by a 31-0 vote. It now heads to the Texas House for more debate.

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Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Beto O'Rourke's $6.1 million came from 128,000 donors, averaging $48 each

Beto O'Rourke announced Wednesday that more than 128,000 donors contributed to his record-breaking first-day campaign haul of $6.1 million, an average of $48 per donation. The former three-term El Paso congressman jumped into the presidential race last Thursday, and detractors had alleged that high-dollar donors rather than a grassroots outpouring may have padded his tally.

Sen. Bernie Sanders brought in $5.9 million during his first 24 hours last month from 223,047 donors, an average of $27. Official fundraising tallies for them and their rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination have not been filed. But these one-day tallies provide bragging rights and, in O'Rourke's case, put to rest doubts about whether he could harness the nationwide support he received for his Senate bid in Texas.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Senate passes bills on Harvey recovery, disaster preparation

With three consecutive unanimous votes Wednesday, the Texas Senate approved a package of bills designed to help the recovery from Hurricane Harvey and improve the state response to future flooding. The bills, approved on 31-0 votes, next go to the House.

SB 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, would direct the Texas Department of Emergency Management to create a response guide to help cities and counties manage future disasters. SB 7 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would tap the rainy day fund to help match federal money for Harvey rebuilding efforts. The bill also would establish the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund for statewide floodplain management and to coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on flood-mitigation projects, Creighton said.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 20, 2019

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione's bill to strengthen open records law gets day in sun

In the 2017 legislative session, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione proposed a bill to restore the strength of the Texas Public Information Act, which guarantees citizens access to government records, after a pair of 2015 court rulings that transparency advocates say gutted the law.

On Wednesday, the State Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, heard testimony on House Bill 2189, which aims to close loopholes created by the two Texas Supreme Court decisions that allowed state agencies and local governments to keep secret basic details about their dealings with contractors and quasi-public corporations that receive taxpayer money.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Fort Hood could see $42.6 million in cuts for border wall

Fort Hood would stand to lose $42.6 million in funding for construction projects, among $265.1 million in military spending earmarked for Texas that the Trump administration is making available for border wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Defense Department has released a 20-page list of military construction projects that President Donald Trump could slash to pay for expanding the fencing and barriers already in place or under construction along the border. The Pentagon document listed hundreds of projects envisioned around the U.S. and world worth about $12.9 billion. Not all will be subject to cuts, the Defense Department wrote, making it difficult to determine exactly which would be vulnerable.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 20, 2019

Texas school finance plan would refashion funding for low-income students

A Texas House panel this week advanced a school finance proposal that includes the biggest overhaul in 30 years of the way the state distributes money for most of its students, based on a system the San Antonio Independent School District uses to differentiate between levels of poverty.

Leaders of Bexar County’s largest school districts have expressed support for the bill, which includes property tax reforms and would add $9 billion to state public education funding in the next two years, $2.7 billion of it to replace existing property taxes.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 20, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: No clear contenders for Joaquin Castro’s congressional seat

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, through his associates, signaled last week that he is “all but certain” to give up his House seat next year to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. With a Castro announcement looming, you would expect a stampede of Democratic hopefuls racing for the pole position in next year’s District 20 primary.

The latest news of a likely opening in District 20 has been met with a muted response from San Antonio Democrats. Part of it has to do with elected officials waiting for Castro to officially declare his intentions. Part of it has to do with the fact that the timing is a little funky for the people we would ordinarily see as the most likely contenders.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 16, 2019

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: West Texas higher ed plans impact all Texans

We all have a vested interest in the expansion of higher education programs in the Lone Star State even when it is taking place in remote regions many of us don’t frequent. After all, we live in one state and we’re all Texans.

But as Texas Tech System Chancellor Tedd Mitchell views it, his university system’s plan for a new veterinary school, dental school and expansion of other programs should be of great importance to those of us who don’t reside in West Texas. He is working hard to spread that message. He is quick to point out that although 87 percent of the almost 29 million people in Texas live east of Interstate 35, the other 13 percent, in West Texas, supply the bulk of the state’s meat, cotton and fuel.

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KUT - March 19, 2019

Rio Grande Valley landowners plan to fight border wall expansion

President Trump last week vetoed a congressional measure aimed at blocking his national emergency declaration. The next battle over that emergency declaration will likely be in the courts. Meanwhile, planning for extending the border wall is already happening in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

More than 570 landowners in two counties, Hidalgo and Starr, have received right-of-entry letters from the government asking to survey their land for possible border wall construction. Eloisa Tamez lives in El Calaboz, a small town outside of Brownsville, Texas. In 2007, she received a phone call that she describes as life-changing.

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WFAA - March 15, 2019

Lawmakers propose legislation for new power to suspend bad caretakers

Two Dallas area lawmakers have proposed legislation that would give state regulators new authority to suspend caretakers found to have abused, neglect or exploited their intellectually disabled clients.

The bills filed by State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, came as a result of a WFAA investigation that revealed state regulators lacked the authority to suspend a caretaker found to have abused, neglected or exploited their intellectually disabled client while they appeal that finding. The WFAA investigation highlighted the case of Paul Taylor, a severely autistic man who was stabbed more than 85 times while living in a state-funded host home this past July.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 18, 2019

DART chief urges Congress to pass infrastructure bill, citing coming work on Cotton Belt and D2 lines

Dallas Area Rapid Transit president Gary Thomas on Monday urged Congress to deliver a far-reaching infrastructure bill, joining other public transit leaders in stressing the importance of funding billions of dollars in improvements.

Speaking at news conference hosted by the American Public Transportation Association, Thomas said it was "imperative" to "supply the needs of the American people." He offered up a few upcoming DART projects to make his case: the Cotton Belt commuter rail line; platform extensions on the Red and Blue lines; rail replacement in downtown Dallas; and "D2," the long-awaited second rail alignment through the city center.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 21, 2019

Bexar County reports 1st case of measles since 2007

Bexar County on Wednesday reported the first case of measles since 2007. This case is associated with a case of measles reported earlier this month in Guadalupe County, said officials with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

State health officials on Tuesday said there have been 12 confirmed cases of measles in Texas so far this year, more than the state saw in all of 2018. The Bexar County report may bring the total to 13. In recent years, Texas saw the most measles cases in 2013, when 27 people contracted the disease.

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Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

2 Bell County jailers arrested on charges they beat up shackled inmate in his cell

Two corrections officers were arrested this week after being accused of beating an inmate in his Bell County Jail cell and violating his civil rights. Kevin Miller, 34, and Terrance Gardner, 28, turned themselves in Monday after an investigation by the Texas Rangers, the Temple Daily Telegram reports.

The investigation began after 23-year-old inmate Jvareus Aquer Pratt told his mother, Jeanette Cooper, that he had been beaten and kicked by several Bell County jailers while he was shackled and handcuffed. Pratt has been in Bell County Jail since late February on charges of assault of a family member and injury to a child, with bail set at $125,000.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

John Nova Lomax: Lina Hidalgo and the politics of the Deer Park plume of doom

Two days ago, heading east out of Houston, my constant companion was the giant Black Plume of Doom coming from that inferno in Deer Park. I am thankful I was not trying desperately to evacuate Houston. Yes, the Doom Plume is scary. And it makes us all feel powerless.

Now, I’m at a Days Inn in Opelousas, La., and I’m reading a fair amount of stuff like this: “I’m commenting after watching her on the news looking like a deer in the headlights. She had no answers and threw in a few ‘like’ and ‘um’ words. She appeared totally uninformed and unprepared. I’m wishing we had the experience and the proven leadership that Judge Emmett was known for (nothing to do with politics).”

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Houston Chronicle - March 21, 2019

With Deer Park chemical blaze out, county moves to investigation

After fire crews extinguished the chemical blaze at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. in Deer Park early Wednesday, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office prepared to send investigators to the smoldering site as state and local officials pledged to closely monitor pollution from the accident.

At the site of the three-day blaze Wednesday afternoon, firefighters put out a flare-up that briefly hurled a fireball into the air. Crews will remain on the scene to ensure the fire does not re-ignite, the company said. The massive conflagration burned for more than 60 hours at the petroleum storage facility on the Houston Ship Channel before firefighters using flame retardant foam were able to put it out.

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Hillary Clinton makes endorsement in Dallas mayoral race

Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is wading into Dallas politics. On Wednesday, the campaign for Dallas lawyer Regina Montoya announced she has the endorsement of Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former U.S. Secretary of State and first lady.

While she is one of the biggest political names in the country, Clinton’s endorsement in the Dallas race isn’t much of a surprise. Montoya worked on Bill Clinton’s White House staff as his assistant for intergovernmental affairs in the early 1990s.

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National Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

Supreme Court won't hear suit against Dallas-based Topgolf that called it a monopoly

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an antitrust case brought against Dallas-based Topgolf in which lower courts decided the company did not kill its competition by purchasing tech company ProTracer.

In the case, Sureshot Golf Ventures Inc. claimed that Topgolf's purchase of broadcast technology company ProTracer in May 2016 unfairly blocked competition from other companies in the golf entertainment industry. ProTracer, a Swedish company, is known for developing the leading software for tracking a golf ball's trajectory. It's widely used now in sports broadcasting.

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Dallas Morning News - March 21, 2019

AT&T peels off layer of political spending secrecy — thanks to pushy investors and the Michael Cohen fiasco

AT&T is bowing to activist shareholders calling for more transparency about the company's political spending, agreeing to disclose millions of dollars in previously untraceable contributions after last year's embarrassment over payments to President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen.

For the first time, AT&T is divulging some contributions to outside groups that keep their donors secret, providing a fuller, if still incomplete, picture of the Dallas-based telecom giant's vast spending on state and federal politics. A new report released by the company details payments totaling about $4.2 million to industry groups and think tanks that was used for lobbying during a portion of last year.

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Dallas Morning News - March 20, 2019

China's embattled Huawei insists it only wants a fair fight, not fear and politics

Chinese tech company Huawei can meet U.S. standards for cybersecurity, but it wants fair rules rather than a ban based on fear and politics, says Andy Purdy, chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA.

Huawei, which has its U.S. headquarters in Plano, makes equipment that spans the world of technology, from antennas and network equipment to mobile phones, laptops and smart watches. It sold more smartphones than Apple last year. Yet until recently, its name drew blank stares from many Americans.

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Associated Press - March 20, 2019

Liberal or centrist? Beto O'Rourke drives in both lanes

In a primary that has so far been defined by progressive energy, Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman with a scant political resume is trying to avoid definition. He left a distinctly moderate record behind in Congress and, in the early days of his presidential campaign, has vowed to work with Republicans and woo voters who backed Donald Trump in 2016.

The architects of his campaign insist he's not interested in adhering to a particular ideological lane, and O'Rourke himself shuns party labels. But trying to have it both ways could leave Democratic voters with the impression that O'Rourke is a candidate with a split political personality. Backers say O'Rourke can and should toggle between liberal and moderate positions depending on the topic.

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Associated Press - March 20, 2019

'Whack job': Trump escalates feud with Conway's husband

Kellyanne Conway's spouse is a "husband from hell!" President Donald Trump declared Wednesday, escalating his awkward public fight with the husband of one of his closest advisers. A "whack job," he added later.

Trump's feud with George Conway played out with ever more heated rhetoric on social media. Conway, an attorney who has questioned Trump's mental health, fired back after Trump's latest tweet, saying the president seems "determined to prove my point." The caustic exchanges also drew a response from Kellyanne Conway, the longtime Republican pollster who served as Trump's third campaign manager before joining the administration as a counselor to the president.

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Other Words - March 14, 2019

Jim Hightower: Silicon Valley's next target is America's farmers

Angus is a robot, toiling away on an indoor hydroponic farm that’s soilless as well as soulless. Programmed by a multimillion-dollar Silicon Valley start-up named Iron Ox, Angus’ homestead is an 8,000-square-foot concrete warehouse in a San Francisco suburb.

Started by a Google engineer, Iron Ox hopes to install duplicates of its faux farm in metro areas across the country. “If we can feed people using robots,” he says, “what could be more impactful than that?” How about this: Reconnecting our food system to nature, a democratic economy, and humans? The roboticists brag that local warehouses can provide fresher lettuce than the mega farms ship from thousands of miles away.

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Governing - March 20, 2019

After GAO abortion report, states dispute findings and defend violations

Last month, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 14 states and the District of Columbia were in violation of federal Medicaid law as it pertains to abortion coverage. While some of those states dispute the GAO's report, others are defending their practices, and a couple are working to comply with the law.

Federal money is generally prohibited from funding abortion services because of the 1976 Hyde Amendment. But in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, Medicaid –– the nation's health insurance for the poor –– is supposed to cover any abortion services, including abortion pills. According to the GAO, 14 states have denied coverage in these cases for the abortion pill, which is used until 10 weeks of pregnancy. One state –– South Dakota –– has been out of compliance with that law for more than 20 years, the GAO said.

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CNN - March 20, 2019

Assault rifles to be banned in New Zealand in aftermath of massacre, Prime Minister announces

All military-style semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles and high-capacity magazines will be banned in New Zealand following the mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques that killed 50 people, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday.

The announcement came after the country's cabinet agreed to overhaul the law and ban military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles 72 hours after the Christchurch attacks. An estimated 1.2 million guns are in circulation in the country, according to New Zealand Police -- one for every three people. Ardern said the buyback scheme could cost between $100 million to $200 million.

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USA Today - March 21, 2019

How did President Donald Trump's feud with John McCain begin?

President Donald Trump's feud with the late Sen. John McCain dates way back, to long before the real estate magnate launched a campaign for president.

Trump, who occasionally re-airs his grievances with the late Arizona Republican, launched a new line of attack during an address in Ohio Wednesday, suggesting the McCain family never thanked him for "the kind of funeral that he wanted." Trump's role in the services were limited to allowing McCain's body to fly on planes used as Air Force Two. How did this feud develop?

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Washington Post - March 21, 2019

Charles Kushner: Here’s the truth about my family and our business

Over the past two years, the news media have told a story about my family and our business with little regard for nuance, logic or even facts. A familiar story line suggested that Kushner Companies was on the brink of collapse, about to be brought down by an over-leveraged building. Though I am a private person and prefer to keep the details of my family’s business as private as possible, I want to set the record straight.

n 2007, the Kushner Companies bought 666 Fifth Ave. in New York City for a then-record $1.8 billion. The thesis of the purchase: The parts of the 1.5?million-square-foot building were worth more than the whole, and splitting it into retail and office components would create value of more than $2.5 billion. But then came the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Amid the global recession that followed, the New York real estate market soured. The projected office rents for 666 Fifth Ave. were cut in half.

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New York Times - March 21, 2019

How companies learned to stop fearing Trump’s Twitter wrath

Two years ago, some of America’s largest corporations were tearing up their business plans to accommodate President Trump, fearful that he could send their shareholders and customers fleeing with a tweet. Now they have a new strategy: Ignore him.

When Mr. Trump was running for president, he promised to personally stop American companies from shutting down factories and moving plants abroad, warning that he would punish them with public backlash and higher taxes. Many companies scrambled to respond to his Twitter attacks, announcing jobs and investments in the United States — several of which never materialized. But despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to compel companies to build and hire, they appear to be increasingly prioritizing their balance sheets over political backlash.

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Reuters - March 20, 2019

Fed sees no rate hikes in 2019, sets end to asset runoff

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday brought its three-year drive to tighten monetary policy to an abrupt end, abandoning projections for any interest rate hikes this year amid signs of an economic slowdown, and saying it would halt the steady decline of its balance sheet in September.

The measures, announced following the end of a two-day policy meeting, mean the Fed’s gradual and sometimes fitful efforts to return monetary policy to a more normal footing will stop well short of what was foreseen in late 2015 when the central bank first moved rates from the near-zero level adopted in response to the 2007-2009 financial crisis and recession.

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Newsclips - March 20, 2019

Lead Stories

New York Times - March 14, 2019

Why Texas is nearing battleground status (it’s not just about Beto)

The dream of a “Blue Texas” has captured the imagination of Democrats for nearly a decade, and Beto O’Rourke has come closer than anyone to making a statewide victory a reality. His strengths as a candidate in his narrow loss in a 2018 Senate race against Ted Cruz — by 2.6 percentage points — led his supporters to push him to run for president, and he obliged them Thursday morning.

But his performance may have demonstrated something else: Texas is on the doorstep of emerging as a battleground state, and any number of Democrats might stand a chance to compete there in 2020 for the presidency or the Senate. His relatively close loss is promising for the party because he did not take full advantage of the longer-term trends that might put it over the top sooner than later. His strength came almost exclusively from white voters, not from the growing Hispanic population in the state.

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Associated Press - March 20, 2019

Shifting hopes as Republicans and Democrats await Mueller

It's a witch hunt, a vendetta, the worst presidential harassment in history. That's what President Donald Trump has shouted for two years about the special counsel's Russia probe. Now, barring an eleventh-hour surprise, Trump and his allies are starting to see it as something potentially very different: a political opportunity.

With Robert Mueller's findings expected any day, the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he insisted all along: no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign. And Trump and his advisers are considering how to weaponize those possible findings for the 2020 race, according to current and former White House officials and presidential confidants who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

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Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Timetable for Deer Park chemical blaze indefinite as fire grows

The stubborn blaze at the International Terminals Co. in Deer Park grew in size as it churned through chemical storage tanks for a third day on Tuesday as city, county and state leaders sought to assure anxious residents the fire posed no immediate health risk.

The officials pledged to commit all available local resources to assist in firefighting and protect residents from pollution, though they were unable to estimate when the fire may be put out and conceded that extinguishing the blaze is the responsibility of ITC. Fire crews working for ITC said they finally were able to fight the fire offensively after a two-day stalemate, with the help of foam retardant and additional personnel. The company shut off pipelines and equipment near the blaze to reduce the risk of explosion.

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Washington Post - March 20, 2019

Is Trump changing his tune on Fox News?

Fox News, normally the object of presidential praise on Twitter, was subjected to an unusual tweet-lashing over the weekend when the president went after three of its anchors. He called out Leland Vittert and Arthel Neville, lesser-known faces on Fox News’s weekend programming, and Shepard Smith, a more-prominent journalist who has previously fact-checked President Trump on air.

The president also seemed to want to play network programmer on Sunday, urging Fox News to stand by hosts Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson, both of whom are under fire for controversial comments. Fox has supported Carlson but suspended Pirro for suggesting that Rep. Ilhan Omar’s hijab was, by definition, anti-American. All told, Trump’s barrage suggested that daylight exists between certain sectors of Fox News and Trump, who has showered Fox personalities with interviews and benefited from favorable commentary from its opinion hosts.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Native American inmates win right to long hair in Texas prison

Three Native American inmates bested the Texas prison system in a lawsuit over religious liberties, winning the right to let their hair grow long despite arguments from state attorneys that it would pose a security risk and make it easier for inmates to escape from an understaffed facility.

The trio of long-time prisoners at the McConnell Unit sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in federal court, arguing that their Native American spiritual beliefs regard hair as an extension of the soul, something to be cut only when in mourning. The prison system’s rules requiring men to keep short hair or face disciplinary consequences, the inmates and their attorneys argued, were an unfair violation of religious freedom.

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Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Get-out-the-vote groups urge Texas to allow Election-Day registration

Despite holding the most expensive and closely-watched U.S. Senate election in the nation last year, Texas still ranked among the ten worst states for voter turnout in 2018, according to a new report on voting trends.

About 46 percent of eligible Texas voters cast a ballot in the November election, up from 29 percent four years earlier, according to “America Goes to the Polls 2018,” a report from Nonprofit VOTE and the US Elections Project. While the number of voters jumped, the turnout places Texas 41st in the country for voter turnout — up from 50th in the 2014 election.

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Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

San Antonio GOP Rep. Will Hurd’s profile rises in Democrat-controlled House

With Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd lost his platform to delve into sexy topics like artificial intelligence and promote tech legislation, like his new bill aimed at securing the government’s Smart TVs and connected devices from hackers.

Hurd’s new reality became clear when Democrats abolished the House Oversight IT panel he chaired, his perch for scolding bureaucrats for sloppy computer practices and wasteful spending on outmoded equipment. But while many Republicans have faded from view since the Democratic takeover of the House, Hurd’s profile has expanded, fueled by his criticism of the Trump administration and recent defections from the GOP on guns and border policy.

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Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Lack of affordable housing hurting health of Texas children

A majority of poor children in Texas live in families where more than half of the household income goes to housing, straining budgets and creating a ripple effect that ultimately damages their health, a new national study found.

This often unseen poverty has far-reaching and interconnected consequences as families become unable to buy nutritious food, seek medical care, fill prescriptions or secure reliable transportation. It also can determine where and how often children go to school, which can jeopardize future achievement, researchers and public health experts said.

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Houston Chronicle - March 20, 2019

Elena Craft: Deer Park fire reignites crisis of confidence in TCEQ

Not again. That was my first thought Sunday after a large fire at a petrochemical storage facility sent a thick plume of black smoke over Houston. It started less than 24 hours after a blaze at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery.

Sadly, this March madness is a never-ending story here. The Houston Chronicle in 2016 reported that the region has a chemical fire or explosion every six weeks on average. I am sure someone will dismiss this as the unavoidable byproduct of being the nation’s petrochemical capital. That is simply not true. Chemical fires and explosions are largely preventable. So why do they continue to happen?

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San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Bills would exert more state control over the Alamo

The fight over moving the Cenotaph to another spot on Alamo Plaza has moved to the Legislature, where lawmakers will consider measures that could block the relocation. Three of nine legislative measures related to the Alamo, all filed by Republicans, focus on the 1930s Cenotaph, a monument to the 189 known defenders who died in the storied battle of March 6, 1836.

Other Alamo-related measures deal with oversight, expense reporting or historical interpretation at the Alamo. Matching joint resolutions propose a constitutional amendment, to be voted on statewide Nov. 5, that would give the Legislature authority to approve the content of Alamo exhibits.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Deer Park plant fire may have been sparked by overheated storage tank, worker says

A worker who said he was at the Intercontinental Terminals Co. when the fire first erupted Sunday morning first noticed smoke rising from a chemical storage tank. He left the terminal within a half-hour and by then, "It was roaring up."

The man, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions, said speculation among his colleagues is that parts of the tank may have overheated. The tanks overheat from time to time, he said, but normally have a safety mechanism that can shut them off. For whatever reason, that safety mechanism may not have been enough to prevent the fire, he said. "Everyone thinks a tank overheated," he said.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

Senators seek creation of new crime after assault victim testimony

After hearing anguished testimony from people who had no viable legal options after being groped or sexually touched against their will, a Texas Senate committee voted Tuesday to support the creation of a new crime — indecent assault — that includes jail time for offenders. Current Texas law makes groping and similar acts a fine-only offense, similar to many traffic tickets, with a maximum penalty of $500.

The low-level punishment makes offenders difficult to prosecute, gives police little incentive to investigate and does not carry the possibility of jail time, even for repeat offenders, said Katherine Strandberg, a policy analyst for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. Senate Bill 194 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would make indecent assault a Class A misdemeanor with the possibility of up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

Texas lawmakers push for child care safety improvements

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers on Tuesday announced a coordinated effort to pass a package of bills aimed at improving child care safety and oversight.

Many of the bills were inspired by “Unwatched,” a yearlong, 12-part investigative series the American-Statesman published in December that revealed that 88 children had died as a result of abuse or neglect at day care facilities over the previous decade, that another 450 were sexually abused and that the state’s efforts to crack down on unsafe day cares are often inadequate, allowing some facilities with more than 100 violations to remain open.

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Austin American-Statesman - March 19, 2019

Ken Herman: Rep. Greg Bonnen proposes bill filing shake-up

It would be, for some fans of less government, a Texas Capitol dream come true. No more House bills. No more Senate bills. Never, ever again. Gone. Kaput. His-to-ry. Oh, there’d still be good and bad ideas reduced to proposed legislation. But the it’s-always-been-that-way process of calling it a House bill or a Senate bill, which is the way every Texas law first saw the legislative light of day, would become extinct.

Instead of House bills and Senate bills, as in HB 1 and SB 1, there would be only Texas bills, as in TB 1, regardless of in which of the two chambers they originated. For answers, we must turn to a neurosurgeon. This is Dr. Greg Bonnen’s big idea. He’s also Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood. And he’s the Rep. Bonnen (not to be confused with Speaker Dennis Bonnen, his brother) who this week filed House Resolution 901. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?” was his first response when I asked him about it.

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Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Texas House abandons plan to give teachers merit-based raises

A Texas House committee delivered a blow Tuesday to proponents of giving teachers raises based on merit. The author of the leading House bill to overhaul public school education across Texas struck a controversial plan to create a $140 million program that offered raises to only top-rated teachers.

Instead, that money will be funneled toward schools with the highest percentages of low-income students to give teachers incentives to work at the toughest campuses. Districts would be able to lure top teachers to the poorest schools with more money, under a program modeled after Dallas ISD's pilot. The merit pay language was stripped right before the House Public Education committee unanimously voted to send the bill to the full House for consideration.

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Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

In Beto O'Rourke's shadow, Julián Castro brings long-shot presidential campaign to Dallas

Julián Castro is fighting to stay relevant in a presidential race that includes a large field of candidates and Texas' most popular Democrat.

On Tuesday, Texas' "other" Democratic Party candidate for president visited Dallas for a fundraiser and what was described as an opportunity for local party faithful to hear about his campaign. The event, at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin in Deep Ellum, had been advertised by the Dallas County Democratic Party and is sponsored by the Stanton law firm. It's the former San Antonio mayor and former Housing Secretary's second visit to Dallas since January, when he launched his presidential campaign.

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San Antonio Current - March 19, 2019

Bills in the Texas Legislature would make it easier for businesses to sue people exercising free-speech rights

A pair of bills in the Texas Legislature would make it easier for businesses and deep-pocketed individuals to sue whistleblowers for exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and to harass them into silence.

Both House Bill 2730 and Senate Bill 2162 seek to gut the Texas Citizens Participation Act, a law protecting residents' right to engage in public debate and express their opinions. Free-speech proponents argue that the act — like similar measures on the book in nearly 30 U.S. states — protects ordinary people against frivolous lawsuits filed to punish them for exercising their First Amendment rights.

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Star-Telegram - March 19, 2019

Rep. Matt Krause wants kids to be able to run lemonade stands — legally. Here’s what he did.

Chalk one up for Texas kids. On Tuesday, the Texas House took a key step toward finally making it legal for young Texans to run their own lemonade stands.

“Today is Lemonade Freedom Day,” said state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who authored the lemonade stand bill. “It’s to ensure anyone under the age of 18 is free from any kind of fine, fee or regulation when they want to start those first businesses. The House gave early approval to Krause’s bill, which lets younger Texans legally run stands selling lemonade or any nonalcoholic beverage.

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KPEL - March 20, 2019

Gov. Abbott travels to Louisiana, slams state's governor

Texas Governor Greg Abbott slammed Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for his handling of the state’s economy, going as far to say that Edwards has made his job easier when it comes to attracting jobs to the Longhorn state.

Abbott says Texas’ economy is growing, because of a business friendly environment, and wished the same for Louisiana, but "a roadblock to achieving that vision has been a governor who is raising taxes and cutting bullishness incentives.” The comments were made Monday in Baton Rouge at the Republican Governor’s Association round table that included GOP candidates for Governor, businessman Eddie Rispone and Congressman Ralph Abraham.

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CBS 6 - March 19, 2019

Bail reform bills are gaining ground in Texas. But some worry reforms are wrong approach

Lawmakers are hopeful with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s support, two new bills looking to change the way bail bonds are determined in the Lone Star State will pass.

Texas lawmakers are narrowing down ways to reform bail. Efforts that have been in the works for years are now starting to take shape. Gov. Greg Abbott’s support has given lawmakers some momentum. This could be game changer for these bills, which is leaving some in the bail industry on edge.

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MyHighPlains.com - March 19, 2019

Amarillo Matters to kickoff grassroot effort for Texas Tech Vet School

Amarillo Matters announced today a significant grassroots effort aimed at building support for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo.

“There is so much support for this project and we felt it was important to give all of the supporters a voice, a way for them to say we support this project and our state needs it,” Amarillo Matters President Jason Herrick said. The effort will include a robust digital and social media campaign with opportunities to stay engaged and share support for the Texas Tech veterinary school. Amarillo Matters is also working to assemble a broad coalition – as big as Texas and beyond – of supporters, communities, and organizations who believe in the vision of Texas Tech’s veterinary school.

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KUT - March 20, 2019

Voters who make mistakes could wind up in jail under Sem. Bryan Hughes' sweeping voting bill, advocates say

A wide-ranging voting bill in the Texas Senate “would sharply escalate an ongoing campaign of voter suppression” in the state, voting rights advocates say.

In a letter sent today to the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, advocates said Senate Bill 9 would make “voting substantially harder for thousands of Texans … by spreading fear that people may be thrown in jail for honest mistakes while trying to vote.” SB 9 is one of 30 "priority bills" Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick flagged for the 2019 legislative session.

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Wichita Falls Times-Record - March 20, 2019

Rep. Mac Thornberry: Military cuts 'will hurt the military,' affect Texas bases

During a luncheon meeting with a county Republican group, Rep. Mac Thornberry said he's seen the list of possible military cuts the president will use to fund the emergency declaration at the border.

Texas bases appear throughout the list, said the Republican congressman from Amarillo, whose district includes North Texas. The cuts would be substantial. "It's a long list, about $13 billion worth of construction. Now we don't know exactly which ones, but these are the list, the pool, that they will draw from." he said.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Dallas County saw nation's highest increase for chlamydia and gonorrhea rates last year, study shows

Dallas County saw the highest percentage increase in the nation for cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea between 2016 and 2017, according to a Health Testing Centers analysis of the 2017 STD Surveillance Report by the Centers for Disease Control.

Along with the rest of the U.S., Dallas County has seen syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia infection rates go up in recent years. But last year, more than 2,500 prospective patients were turned away from the Dallas County STD clinic because of a lack of available appointments. Before he started his job as the county’s health director a few weeks ago, Dr. Philip Huang called Dallas County’s STD clinic appointment line as an experiment to see how long a person might have to wait to set up an appointment.

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Associated Press - March 19, 2019

Harris County Judge says air quality OK as wind carries smoke away from petrochemical plant fire

Authorities say a plume of pitch-black smoke from a fire at a Houston-area petrochemicals terminal is traveling thousands of feet into the atmosphere and lessening concerns about air quality in the region.

Harris County's top administrator, Judge Lina Hidalgo, said at a news conference Tuesday that the plume is moving at least 4,000 feet into the air and staying high enough so that the air quality is not cause for alarm. Officials say the fire that began Sunday at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, southeast of Houston, remains intense enough to create its own micro weather system, causing shifting winds in the area.

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San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Alamo Colleges trustees raise hourly minimum wage to $15

The Alamo Colleges District board of trustees Tuesday night approved a living wage of $15 per hour for full-time workers and large raises for the lowest-paid part-time and work study employees, an act to further the district’s agenda of upward socioeconomic mobility in San Antonio — and help students who juggle paid jobs.

The $15 hourly wage represents a 30 percent increase over the current minimum in the district of five community colleges. The minimum hourly wage for part-time and temporary employees — including work-study and other student workers — went up to $12.50. That’s a 39 percent raise for work-study employees and a 25 percent increase for other part-time and temporary workers. All the raises take effect Sept. 1. New full-time employees will be hired at a minimum hourly rate of $14.70, so existing employees can keep the benefit of seniority.

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City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - March 19, 2019

Protestors rally around immigrants hiding in Austin churches

In two Austin churches of different faiths, Alirio Gamez, Hilda Ramirez and her 12-year-old son, Ivan, are hiding from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

The Central American immigrants were supposed to show up at the San Antonio ICE field office for an appointment that was likely to be their last before deportation. But two tall Austin ministers came in their stead: Rigby, and Chris Jimmerson of the First Unitarian Universalist Church. And along with them, some 100 advocates protesting their possible deportation.

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San Antonio Current - March 19, 2019

Trump's emergency declaration puts up to $77 million in San Antonio military spending on chopping block

There's now a price tag for how much local military spending is in jeopardy thanks to President Trump's emergency declaration. A new list supplied by the Defense Department lists the military construction projects whose funds could be slashed to help fund the president's wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Add those up, and it looks like $76.7 million in projects at Joint Base San Antonio are now potentially on the chopping block. Another $188 million in construction is in jeopardy at bases in other parts of the state. At JBSA, the potentially mothballed projects include: An Air Force basic military training classrooms and dining facility, an air traffic control tower for Kelly Field, a new dining facility at Camp Bullis, a Department of Defense-wide energy aerospace operations facility and a vehicle maintenance shop at Camp Bullis.

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Houston Chronicle - March 19, 2019

Buzbee to give another $4 million to mayoral campaign

Houston trial attorney and mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee announced Tuesday he will contribute another $4 million to his campaign, bringing his personal investment to $6 million as he seeks to unseat Mayor Sylvester Turner in November.

Buzbee previously had donated $2 million of his own money to the campaign, and has pledged that he will entirely self-fund his mayoral bid to avoid the appearance that he is beholden to campaign donors, calling it "an investment in the city I love so much."

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Dallas Morning News - March 19, 2019

Intellectually disabled man who murdered Dallas cop shouldn't be executed, DA says

Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot announced Tuesday he no longer believes that a man sentenced to death for murdering a Dallas police officer in November 2005 should be executed for his crime. Juan Lizcano should instead spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, Creuzot said.

The change in position follows a Supreme Court ruling in February that stopped Texas from executing another intellectually disabled murderer, saying the state's judgment of such disabilities relies on inaccurate stereotypes. The DA's office had opposed a reduced sentence for Lizcano before Creuzot took office Jan. 1. Lizcano does not have a scheduled execution date.

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KUT - March 18, 2019

Nearly 434,000 scooter rides were taken during SXSW 2019

Dockless scooters were the headliner in their first year at SXSW. City data show the scooters outpaced rentable dockless bikes over the festival, accounting for nearly 434,000 rides over the 10 days of SXSW – 12.3 percent of the 3.5 million scooter rides since the scooters descended upon Austin last April.

Still, nearly 32,000 riders hopped on dockless bikes, accounting for nearly a quarter (23 percent) of the rides since the city began tracking ridership in April last year. It's important to keep in mind that city data don't measure rides under a 10th of a mile. It's also important to keep in mind that the city is still evaluating how exactly it plans on regulating the usage of dockless scooters. While bikes have set rules for the road, scooters don't.

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National Stories

The Hill - March 19, 2019

Trump health chief backs needle exchanges in anti-HIV strategy

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Tuesday backed needle exchange programs as a way to reduce new HIV infections among people who inject illicit drugs.

Syringe services programs provide clean needles to people to inject drugs, in an effort to stop the spread of infections like HIV and Hepatitis C. Studies have shown that needle exchanges can prevent the spread of HIV. Such sites often provide substance abuse treatment, HIV and hepatitis testing and other services.

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The Hill - March 20, 2019

Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks

Senate Republicans are set to hit the gas on confirming hundreds of President Trump’s nominees by muscling through a rules change that would dramatically cut down on the amount of time required to confirm district court and executive nominations.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the change, hasn’t tipped his hand on when the proposal will come to the Senate floor. But members of his leadership team say it will be taken up after lawmakers return to Washington next week. “I think we have 51 Republicans who would rather do it with 60 [votes], most of us,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of leadership who helped spearhead the proposal along with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

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Washington Post - March 20, 2019

Candidates reach for the ticket to Democratic debates: 65,000 donors

The latest turn in the Democratic presidential race looks a bit like an infomercial for a food dehydrator or Ginsu knives. Former congressman John Delaney stands in front of a whiteboard in an online video, pitching voters on a new way to double their money. “It’s really simple, and it’s actually a pretty good deal,” the Maryland Democrat says. “ .?.?. You give one, I give two to a charity of your choice.”

You heard that right, folks. A candidate for president wants your donation so badly that he is willing to pay twice as much out of pocket. The reason has little to do with traditional campaign fundraising and a lot to do with the new criteria the Democratic Party has laid out for qualifying for the first debates — either earn at least 1 percent support in a series of public polls of Democratic voters or attract 65,000 individual donors.

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New York Times - March 20, 2019

Wall Street is betting the Fed’s rate-raising days are done for now

Just three months ago, investors were in a panic over the idea that the Federal Reserve might push borrowing costs too high and tip the United States economy into a recession. Now, Wall Street is toying with the idea that the central bank could actually be cutting interest rates by the end of the year.

Those forecasts are evident in the market for interest rate futures, where the odds of another interest rate increase in 2019 have fallen to zero, from about 30 percent in December, while the chance of a decrease in rates has risen to more than one in five. One reason for the changing forecasts? The Fed’s own signal to be more patient as it evaluates whether or not to keep raising interest rates. Since the central bank’s chairman, Jerome H. Powell, first spoke about this newfound patience, stocks have soared more than 15 percent.

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NPR - March 20, 2019

Gorsuch provides decisive 5th vote in case interpreting treaty with Indian tribe

Every year, the Supreme Court hears around 150 cases, and while there will usually be a few blockbuster opinions, the majority garner little media attention. But these more obscure decisions can often illustrate something interesting, even unexpected, about one of the justices. And so it was on Tuesday with Justice Neil Gorsuch and a relatively obscure and underplayed Indian treaty case.

On this conservative court, Gorsuch has been one of the most conservative voices. But in cases involving Indian treaties and rights, he is most often counted among those sympathetic to Indian claims. On Tuesday, Gorsuch split from his conservative colleagues, siding with the court's more liberal members in a case involving the Yakama Tribe and its right under an 1855 treaty to travel the public roads without being taxed on the goods brought to the reservation.

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Associated Press - March 20, 2019

Trump keeps a sharp focus on Ohio for the 2020 campaign

President Donald Trump is returning to the state that foretold his 2016 victory and serves as the linchpin of his re-election effort. Trump’s visit to Ohio on Wednesday marks his first trip to the state since last year’s midterm election campaign , when the state was a rare bright spot for Republicans in the upper Midwest.

But with Trump’s path to another four years in the White House relying on a victory in the state, his nascent campaign is mindful of warning signs that Ohio can hardly be taken for granted in 2020. Perhaps no state has better illustrated the re-aligning effects of Trump’s candidacy and presidency than Ohio, where traditionally Democratic-leaning working-class voters have swung heavily toward the GOP, and moderate Republicans in populous suburban counties have shifted away from Trump. It’s for that reason, administration officials said, that Trump keeps returning to Ohio — this week’s visit mark’s his 10th to the state since taking office.

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Wall Street Journal - March 20, 2019

Biden tells supporters he plans a 2020 bid

Former Vice President Joe Biden told at least a half-dozen supporters Tuesday he intends to run for president and asked for their help in lining up contributions from major donors so he can quickly raise several million dollars, a person familiar with the matter said.

Mr. Biden has expressed concern to these people that he wouldn’t be able to raise millions of dollars in online donations immediately the way some other Democratic candidates have, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, this person said. Mr. O’Rourke raised $6.1 million in the 24 hours after he launched his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, while Mr. Sanders collected $5.9 million in the same period.

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