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Newsclips - April 12, 2024

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San Antonio Express-News - April 12, 2024

GOP closes community outreach centers in South Texas, hoping border policy will sway Hispanic voters

Four years ago, Donald Trump stunned Democrats when he made significant inroads in South Texas, chipping away at the longtime Democratic stronghold and flipping Zapata County red for the first time. National Republicans saw an opportunity to court Hispanic voters in South Texas, opening a handful of community centers across the region, including in McAllen, San Antonio and Laredo. They hosted candidate meet-and-greets, voter registration drives, classes and parties. The 2022 election came and went, though, with few gains for Republicans. They picked up one McAllen-based congressional seat, in part because redistricting made the seat redder, but Republicans largely underperformed the lofty expectations they’d set for themselves.

Heading into the 2024 election, and with Trump again at the top of the ticket, Republicans are campaigning less aggressively in South Texas. Instead of going all-in on the region and focusing heavily on congressional races, the party is hoping that hot-button immigration and border issues will drive local residents to vote for the GOP. The RNC has closed many of the Hispanic community centers it opened ahead of the 2022 election. One of its venues in McAllen relocated to Edinburg to reflect updated congressional lines. Other centers do not seem to have been replaced, and the RNC declined to confirm exactly how many centers were open in Texas in 2022 and how many are active now. A spokesperson for the RNC said the organization’s budget can only last through a chair’s tenure, so the centers’ leases ended when former Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was ousted earlier this year. The organization decided to seek new locations for “some” of the sites. The New York Times reported last month that the RNC was also shuttering outreach centers in California, New York and North Carolina. Marco Frieri, the Hispanic media director for the Democratic National Committee, said Latinos are “one of the most powerful forces in our democracy,” but Republicans aren’t prioritizing them as such.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 12, 2024

President Joe Biden considers executive action to close US border with Mexico

President Joe Biden, under intense pressure since the earliest days of his administration to stem the record pace of unlawful immigration, said he is considering taking unilateral action to close the nation's border with Mexico if circumstances warrant such a move. "We're examining whether or not I have that power," Biden told Univision in an interview Tuesday at the White House. "There's no guarantee that I have that power all by myself without legislation. "Some have suggested I should just go ahead and try it, and if I get shut down by the court, I get shut down by the court. But we're trying to work that right now." The comments to journalist Enrique Acevedo come as the Democratic president is gearing up for a rematch with former President Donald Trump, who is vowing to reinstate his own hard-line immigration policies if voters return him to the White House after the Nov. 5 election.

Biden has blamed Trump for scuttling what had been touted as a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill to address the border crisis by adding 1,500 Customs and Border Protection agents and 4,300 asylum officers. Trump urged congressional Republicans to vote against the measure to deprive Biden of a legislative victory in an election year. When Biden and Trump in early March were holding competing events on the same day along the Texas-Mexico border, the president called out his predecessor for derailing the measure. "Both houses supported this legislation until someone came along and said, 'Don't do that, it will benefit the incumbent,'" Biden said in Brownsville as Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were in Eagle Pass, about 300 miles away. "That's a hell of a way to do business in America for such a serious problem." Trump returned fire in kind, saying of the border crisis: "This is a Joe Biden invasion," a term Texas Republicans have used to describe the surge in migrants and to provide cover for the state government implementing its own controversial border security measures. Democrats and rights groups have warned against painting asylum-seekers — many of whom are escaping violence and poverty in Venezuela, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Cuba, according to the city of El Paso — as invaders as it could trigger violence against them.

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New York Times - April 12, 2024

Trump to meet an embattled Johnson, putting their tortured ties on display

Speaker Mike Johnson may not have a functional majority in Congress, but his job is similar to the Republicans who preceded him in at least one respect: The duties include the difficult task of managing Donald J. Trump. Mr. Johnson on Friday will travel to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida estate, to join him for what the speaker has billed as a “major announcement on election integrity.” No further details have been forthcoming. The two men had been planning to get together for a political meeting, but Mr. Johnson’s team suggested a joint public appearance on a topic Mr. Trump cares deeply about, according to two people familiar with the planning.

It will afford Mr. Johnson the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Trump at a precarious moment in his speakership, as he works to corral a minuscule and deeply divided majority around a legislative agenda many of them oppose — all while facing the threat of an ouster from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Georgia Republican and ride-or-die Trump ally. Making matters even trickier, Mr. Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is helping to undermine that agenda. Even so, Republicans generally consider it good and politically helpful to be physically near Mr. Trump. “It’s about Trump embracing Johnson,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich said of Friday’s joint appearance. “This is Trump saying, ‘He is the speaker, I am his friend, we are together.’ That’s a pretty important thing for him. He just has to endure.” Mr. Trump does think of Mr. Johnson, who defended him in two impeachment trials and played a key role in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as something like a friend, people close to him said. He likes the Louisiana Republican, and likes his loyalty even more. (He especially appreciated that Mr. Johnson quickly endorsed him after becoming speaker, a move that his predecessor Kevin McCarthy always resisted). The two speak regularly, and Mr. Trump has even come around on some of the congressional endorsements Mr. Johnson has lobbied him on. Still, if this is what an embrace looks like, it’s not clear that it’s so much better than the alternative.

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Politico - April 12, 2024

Trump eyes Sid Miller for USDA chief

Former President Donald Trump is considering naming a former rodeo cowboy turned bomb-throwing Texas agriculture commissioner to lead the Agriculture Department if he wins the White House. Sid Miller, a MAGA loyalist, has warred with agriculture interests and threatened to “hunt” moderate “RINO” Republicans back home, including those who won reelection in 2024 or, as Miller put it, “ slipped the noose.” And he has been investigated, but not charged, for misusing state funds for travel to a rodeo. His former political consultant is also set to face trial this summer on theft and bribery charges in a scheme involving hemp licenses from Miller’s department. Nevertheless, Trump has indicated to some allies that Miller is a leading prospect for the top post at USDA, according to two people familiar with recent conversations Trump has had about his second term plans, who were granted anonymity to discuss the private talks.

For the Agriculture Department — and food and agriculture policy, writ large — Miller’s nomination would represent a seismic shift. As secretary, Miller would likely oversee attempts to claw back billions of dollars the Biden administration has dedicated to fighting climate change in agriculture, and to shrink the size of the country’s largest nutrition programs for low-income Americans. He could also play a key role in shaping the next farm bill — a $1.5 trillion legislative package that determines agriculture, nutrition and rural policy — should the current Congress end up punting it into 2025. And if Miller’s record in Texas is any indication, he’d struggle to find compromise with dissenters — from either party. Some former Trump officials dismiss the idea that Trump would ultimately put a lightning rod like Miller in charge of USDA, given how many critics he has in the GOP. As agriculture commissioner in Texas, he’s sparred with influential conservative-leaning agriculture groups after he hiked fees for department services. Miller has also openly clashed with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott over pandemic and border policies, and even publicly teased a future challenge to the third-term governor.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2024

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess named House Rules Committee chairman

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess can expect some busy days and late nights during his remaining months in Congress after being named chairman of the House Rules Committee on Thursday. The committee serves as a gatekeeper for most major legislation, setting the terms for amendments and debate on bills as they move toward a floor vote. Burgess, R-Pilot Point, highlighted the committee’s lack of constraints on speaking time that are typically imposed by other committees. Any House member is welcome to show up and speak on bills when they come up for discussion. “The Rules Committee is so important because it is literally every member’s opportunity to be heard,” Burgess told The Dallas Morning News.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., gave up the Rules gavel to become chair of the Appropriations Committee, taking the place of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, who said she was stepping down early to ensure a smooth transition as she prepares to leave Congress at the end of the year. Burgess’ chairmanship will serve as a capstone for a career spanning more than two decades. Burgess, 73, announced last year that he would not seek a 12th term. He said Thursday he plans to spend the rest of this year focusing on important issues such as record-high inflation and border security. Burgess recalled joining the Rules Committee 10 years ago at the urging of then-chairman U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Waco, who wanted more policy experts on the panel. Burgess is one of 19 physicians in Congress and has been a prominent Republican voice on health care since he was first elected in 2002.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 12, 2024

Lt. Gov. Patrick asks senators to study the cost of eliminating property taxes

Less than a year after Texas lawmakers agreed to $18 billion in property tax cuts, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick directed senators to study how much it would cost to eliminate them entirely. Patrick, who leads the Senate, ordered legislators on Thursday to study a host of policies ahead of the upcoming legislative session, including whether Delta 8 and Delta 9 hemp products should be banned in Texas and how the state should regulate artificial intelligence. But the property tax issue, which dominated much of last year’s regular legislative session and two special sessions, may be the highest-profile item on the agenda.

In a news release, Patrick said “continued property tax relief” would be a top conservative priority when the Legislature reconvenes in Austin next January. The Republican tasked senators with identifying the best policy combinations to continue cutting tax bills, and he also asked them to determine how much it would cost the state to eliminate school maintenance and operation property taxes; all school property taxes; and all property taxes. While compiling that report, Patrick asked senators to review how the state would raise money to cover the losses and whether that would negatively impact Texas’ ability to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies. “For example, determine the effect on other state programs if general revenue were used to fully replace school property taxes, particularly during economic downturns,” the lieutenant governor wrote. Gov. Greg Abbott last year asked the GOP-led Legislature to pass a massive property tax cut through “compression,” which cuts school property taxes by replacing that revenue with state money, with the eventual goal of scrapping property taxes completely. That’s been a major priority for some Texas Republicans over the years, and it’s been championed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an influential right-leaning think tank in Austin.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2024

Memorial Hermann doctor made 'inappropriate changes' to transplant patient records, hospital says

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center has found evidence that a doctor was manipulating records for liver transplant candidates, potentially preventing some patients from receiving life-saving organs, according to a statement from the health system. The hospital declined to identify the doctor. The New York Times reported he is Dr. J. Steve Bynon, a prominent surgeon who, in 2011, took over the hospital’s abdominal transplant program, which includes kidney and liver operations. Bynon could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. The hospital said the “inappropriate changes… effectively inactivated the candidates on the liver transplant waiting list. Subsequently, these patients did not/were not able to receive organ donation offers while inactive.”

The allegations are a blow to Memorial Hermann, one of the largest hospitals in the country and the oldest in the Texas Medical Center, and to hundreds of patients awaiting a transplant there. Despite its size, the hospital’s liver transplant center is one of the smallest in Texas, having performed 30 transplants last year, according to federal data. Memorial Hermann halted its kidney transplant program on Tuesday, four days after it inactivated its liver transplant program. Both stoppages were due to “a pattern of irregularities” with liver donor acceptance criteria, the hospital said at the time. A hospital investigation found problems with information entered into a database used to match donor organs with patients, officials said Thursday. The information included the patient’s age and weight. The hospital did not provide further details. Memorial Hermann has seen an increasing number of its liver transplant candidates die on the wait list or become too sick for a transplant in recent years, according to data from the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network. The data shows that four patients fell into that criteria in 2021, followed by 11 in 2022 and 14 in 2023. Five patients have died or become too sick to transplant so far this year, while the hospital has performed only three liver transplants.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2024

Why Houston Congressman Dan Crenshaw called Tucker Carlson 'full of s—'

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw is settling scores with an old nemesis, publicly blasting former Fox News host Tucker Carlson as a “click-chaser” and “cowardly, know-nothing elitist who is full of s—.” The Houston Republican on Wednesday joined a list of conservative commentators angry with Carlson for airing allegations on his still-influential interview program that Israel’s war against Hamas is hurting Christians in Gaza and Benjamin Netanyahu's supporters in Congress are ignoring it. “A consistent but almost never noted theme of American foreign policy is that it is always the Christians who suffer,” Carlson said on his Tucker Carlson Uncensored program, which runs on the social media site X. “When there's a war abroad that the United States is funding, it is Christians who tend to die disproportionately.”

Carlson went on to interview an Evangelical Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem who said politicians know little about what is happening on the ground and suggested Americans were helping support Israel's damage to Christian communities. The interview has been met with wide criticism from supporters of Israel who accuse Carlson of intentionally pitting Christians against Jews to create divisions in the United States. John Podhoretz, a conservative commentator and former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, called Carlson’s interview “Anti Semite filth.” Others on the right have accused Carlson of fanning anti-Israeli sentiment. Crenshaw, an ardent supporter of Israel in its war against Hamas, went on social media to blast Carlson for using “his platform to sow doubt and paranoia and false narratives.” “This nonsense about Christian mistreatment in Israel is just the latest example,” Crenshaw said. “Tucker will eventually fade into nothingness because his veneer of faux intellectualism is quickly falling apart and revealing who he truly is: a cowardly, know-nothing elitist who is full of s—.” Carlson has been a frequent critic of Crenshaw, especially over the congressman's support for Ukraine in its war against Russia. At one point, Carlson started calling Crenshaw “eye patch McCain,” a reference to the eye injury Crenshaw sustained as a Navy SEAL fighting in Afghanistan and former U.S. Sen. John McCain whom Carlson frequently accused of being too pro-war.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2024

Houston City Council approves Mayor Whitmire’s overhaul of Metro leadership

Mayor John Whitmire completed his overhaul of the Metro leadership Wednesday, winning City Council approval for a new slate of board members who he tasked with getting to work on what he calls nuts and bolts issues for all Houstonians. With little discussion, the council approved naming Christopher McMillan, Kathy Han and T. Leon Preston to the Metro board of directors. Council members also approved Whitmire’s reappointment of Teresa Morales, the sole holdover from board members named by former Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The appointees were later Wednesday sworn in as board members by Metro Chairwoman Elizabeth Brock. The new transit board will maintain a disability advocate on the board – McMillan. The board also will have its first Vietnamese member, Han, who as a municipal court judge, also adds a lawyer back to the board. Often the board is comprised of people with backgrounds in business, engineering and law. “This is a robust team that is fully committed to making Metro a safe, clean, accessible and viable option that people choose to use,” Brock said in a statement. The trio replace current city appointees Lex Frieden, Troi Taylor and Diann Lewter, and upon their confirmation to the board will be the fourth, fifth and sixth new members since mid-February. Whitmire appointed Brock as Metro chairwoman on Feb. 13, and she was sworn in Feb. 29, along with Harris County appointee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, who replaced Houston Controller Chris Hollins. Hollins resigned, as required, when he took office following his election.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2024

HPD: Dozens of DNA matches in sex assaults went unnoticed until review of suspended cases

Dozens of sexual assault kits that were tested by forensic scientists and provided evidence in Houston Police Department investigations were uncovered in the last two weeks of the department’s investigation into cases suspended using an internal code citing a lack of personnel. Police Chief Troy Finner on Thursday afternoon provided details about the department’s review of more than 4,017 sex assault cases that were among the more than 264,000 incident reports marked down by police under a code called “SL” — Suspended: Lack of personnel” — since 2016. Finner released a statement about the sexual assault case review on Monday, with a promise to provide more details. During Thursday’s statement, Finner didn’t blame the Houston Forensic Science Center for the lapses in investigation, but it remained unclear how tested kits that provided matches to potential suspects in a federal database managed to still be suspended.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2024

Could geothermal be the energy of the future? Texas oil companies think maybe so

Oil companies have been drilling holes in the ground for close to a century, burrowing through miles of rock to access an energy source deep underground. So with a new wave of geothermal startups looking to drill wells thousands of feet beneath the earth's surface, where temperatures run over 300 degrees Fahrenheit, oil companies would seem a natural partner. And attention on them has only ramped up after Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called on oil companies last month to use "all of the skills and infrastructure of traditional oil and gas drilling" to bring what has been a niche industry into the mainstream. And with first wave of next generation geothermal projects scheduled to come online over the next two years, oil executives are watching closely to see if it's worth risking the hundreds of billions of dollars the Department of Energy estimates is needed to get geothermal up to scale.

"I would say they're dipping their toe into geothermal," said Cindy Taff, a longtime oil executive at Shell who is now CEO of Houston-based Sage Geosystems, a geothermal startup that uses hydraulic fracturing technology to drill geothermal wells in South Texas. "We need to crack the code on making it commercially viable. Until then they're watching the technology evolve, and then they’ll decide which horse to put their money on." Geothermal has long been something of a golden ring for the energy sector, offering carbon-free electricity without the radioactive waste problem of nuclear plants or intermittency of wind and solar power. But conventional geothermal wells, which tap into extremely hot underground aquifers, were limited to a small number of locations around the globe such as Indonesia and California. That all began to change a few years ago when companies began to experiment with using hydraulic fracturing and other technologies, injecting water underground to be heated up and brought back to the surface, allowing geothermal power plants in places that never would have made sense in the past, including Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. After a series of successful pilot projects and lucrative subsidies made available by Congress through the Inflation Reduction Act, a small group of startups like Sage are launching their first commercial-scale projects.

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Houston Chronicle - April 12, 2024

Texas millionaires are on the rise. What’s behind that growing wealth?

As the April 15 Tax Day approaches, the number of Texans who earned more than a million dollars last year could hit a new high, data suggests. In 2021, about 12.6 million tax returns were filed in Texas, according to Internal Revenue Service data released in February. Of those, 72,880 reported an adjusted gross income of at least $1 million, according to a new analysis from the Houston Business Journal. That’s a 47% increase from the 49,420 Texans who made it into the million-plus club in 2020. Those earners therefore qualified as members of Texas’ “1%,” along with some 50,000 other filers, according to the IRS data. While 2021 is the most recent year for which IRS data is available, it is likely that the number of million-dollar earners in Texas has grown since then, a result of the ongoing recovery from the pandemic.

Some of the filers who reported million-plus incomes in 2021 are likely newly minted Texans. Since the century began, domestic migration has steadily contributed to Texas' overall population growth, with some newcomers fleeing high-tax states such as California and New York. However, California and New York also had an increase in the number of filers reporting at least $1 million in income in 2021 compared with 2020, according to the data. California ranked first in the nation in terms of million-dollar earners in 2021, with about 156,000 people reporting that level of income compared with 110,000 in 2020. Another factor in the growing number of Texas millionaires, the Houston Business Journal reports, was “the rapidly evolving pay picture at all levels” as workers made more as a result of an extremely tight post-pandemic labor market, which has only loosened slightly since then. A booming stock market has helped boost incomes too, for Texans with the means to invest. According to Forbes magazine’s 38th annual World Billionaires List, released last week, there are now 15 billionaires in Houston, up from 12 in 2023, and the collective wealth of the 12 who were on the list last year has increased from $71.1 billion in 2023 to $81.5 billion as of this month.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2024

DEI, tenure, antisemitism: Texas Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priorities for higher education

Texas’ DEI ban at colleges, professors’ tenure and antisemitism on campuses are among the issues Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants reviewed ahead of next year’s legislative session. Patrick released a 15-page document Thursday detailing the interim charges for the Texas Senate to explore in the coming months, which included critical examinations of faculty on college campuses as well as free speech. One charge is to monitor the state’s ban on diversity, equity and inclusion at public colleges and universities. He wants lawmakers to examine “the progress each institution has made in aligning university policies and procedures with the provisions of Senate Bill 17, ensuring Texas college campuses foster equal opportunity and reward individual merit and achievement.”

Out of seven higher education priorities, two focus on professors and instructors. Patrick wants senators to examine the role of faculty senates – a structure of governance in higher education where faculty members debate academic issues and voice opinions through internal votes and public statements with recommendations for the administration. Another is resurfacing his concerns about tenure, which he tried to abolish last year. The Lt. Gov. wants to focus on innovation and technology by investigating “opportunities and challenges of emerging technology on teaching and learning, focusing on artificial intelligence (AI), online education, and digital resources.” He also wants to monitor implementation of a new community college funding model to ensure that Texas is educating the next generations for the workforce. Such campuses can earn more in state funding based on student success, which includes the number of degrees and industry certificates a college awards and those who transfer on to a four-year university.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 12, 2024

Ted Cruz, Colin Allred each raise $9 million-plus over three months in US Senate race

Foreshadowing an expensive and spirited sprint to November, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Colin Allred have each raised more than $9 million in campaign contributions during the first three months of 2024. Cruz, seeking his third six-year term in Washington, said his campaign raised $9.7 million across three separate entities that are supporting his reelection. Allred, a three-term Dallas congressman who is giving up a safe seat to make his first statewide race, hauled in $9.5 million just from his Senate campaign.

Early fundraising numbers serve the twin purpose of demonstrating a candidate's ability to mount a credible campaign — especially in a large state like Texas, which has five major TV markets and about a dozen other midsize ones — and measuring support before a race shifts into high gear. The campaigns made their dollar-figure totals as well as other statistics for the first quarter of 2024 available ahead of the Federal Election Commission's finance reporting deadline later this month. The official filings will contain more detailed information. Allred and Cruz each issued news releases with top-line figures designed to show their campaigns' muscle. Cruz's camp boasted it has received contributions from people in each of Texas' 254 counties and all 50 states from Jan. 1 through March 31. Allred also highlighted his own broad geographical footprint, but with a caveat: contributions to the Democrat came from people in 247 counties, but his camp uses a yardstick that measures back to the launch of his candidacy almost a year ago, not just this year's first quarter. Allred did not say from how many states his contributions came. Allred said more than 285,000 people have sent his campaign money since he entered the race. Cruz listed his three-month count of campaign contributors at 179,000 and change.

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KXAN - April 12, 2024

Challengers sign ‘contract with Texas’ to push the legislature more conservative

Conservative candidates running to unseat Republicans in the Texas House joined with some of the most conservative representatives in signing the “Contract with Texas,” a commitment to procedural changes like eliminating Democratic committee chairs that they say will make the House more efficient in passing conservative priorities. “Texans are fundamentally annoyed, frustrated, disappointed with the obstruction, the dysfunction within the Texas House,” GOP nominee for House District 65 Mitch Little said. “Our desire in creating the Contract with Texas is to create a framework where a future speaker is going to have a chance to succeed in ways that are going to inspire Republican voters and empower people in the legislature to do the things that they send us down there to do.”

The contract calls for candidates for House Speaker to solicit support from only Republicans, to strip Democrats from committee chair positions, and give all Republican priorities a vote before considering any Democratic bills. The contract is signed by representatives Brian Harrison, J.M. Lozano, Nate Schatzline, Tony Tinderholy, and Steve Toth, as well as 18 other conservative candidates. “What we’re trying to do here with this contract is to put the voters back in charge, be responsive to the will of the voters that have elected Republicans,” State Rep. Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, said. “We are trying to reform the House. And my goal is to make it Republican once again.” Republican Speaker Dade Phelan has heralded the two sessions over which he has presided as the most conservative in Texas history. A strengthening wing of his party pushing to oust him disagrees, pointing to specific conservative legislation that failed to pass. Harrison and Little point to House Bill 20, a sweeping border security measure that would have created a state border patrol unit. They also point to measures to ban local governments from hiring lobbyists and ban some foreign citizens from buying property.

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Border Report - April 12, 2024

New Mexico on cartels’ radar as Texas cracks down on migration, GOP lawmakers say

Some Republican state senators from New Mexico have returned from the U.S.-Mexico border with demands for the governor to address the “escalating crisis,” saying that Texas’ crackdown on migration has forced it to their state. In a letter to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the 13 senators urged her to call for a special session to secure the southern border. Among the demands are committing state resources and funding to improve surveillance and deploying the National Guard.

“Several of us have visited the border and witnessed firsthand the impacts of this crisis on our local communities and state,” said the letter. “The unchecked flow of illegal immigration is compromising our national security and exposing our constituents to heightened criminal activity, including human trafficking, drug trafficking, violent crime, and damage to private property. This has caused considerable strains on local resources and frankly, the situation is becoming altogether unmanageable.” The entire New Mexico border with Mexico is part of the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which stretches from the New Mexico-Arizona state lines to the edge of Husdspedth County, Texas, and includes all of El Paso County, Texas. CBP data for the El Paso Sector shows 225,565 illegal crossings between ports of entry in Fiscal Year 2023, which ended on Sept. 30, 2023. Border agents in the El Paso Sector have encountered 119,905 migrants so far this fiscal year. The senators believe illegal crossings will eclipse those of last year without action by the state. “Given the recent crackdown by Texas on illegal crossings, the cartels are now seeking alternative routes, and New Mexico is on their radar,” the senators wrote. The senators provided data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that shows a spike in migrant encounters during every year that President Joe Biden has been in office. The data says migrant encounters rose from 125,628 in Fiscal Year 2021 to 170,846 in FY23 in New Mexico.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2024

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom’s pay package grows to $31.4 million in 2023

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom brought in a total of $31.4 million last year, according to a regulatory filing released Thursday. Isom’s pay package for 2023 was made up of three components: a $16.5 million direct salary, $11 million in a bonus that was reported in September and a $3.9 million annual bonus that was paid in 2023 but earned in 2022. Broken down further, Isom, 60, makes $1.3 million in a base salary, and $15.2 million in incentives and other compensation, totaling $16.5 million. Isom’s $11 million bump in September — a $2.75 million bonus and $8.25 million worth of restricted stock grants was aimed at incentivizing the CEO to keep the company performing during his tenure. He stepped into the job in March 2022.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2024

Rashee Rice, Kansas City Chiefs WR, surrenders after Dallas hit-and-run crash

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice turned himself into authorities and was booked into a DeSoto jail Thursday, more than a week after he was involved in a multivehicle collision in Dallas. Rice, a former Southern Methodist football player who grew up near Fort Worth, is facing eight charges related to a six-vehicle crash on U.S. Highway 75. He admitted to driving a Lamborghini Urus involved in the collision, officials said, which injured four people. A DeSoto city spokesman told The Dallas Morning News that Rice had bonded out. Dallas police said in a news release sent about 9 p.m. Rice turned himself into Glenn Heights police. Records show his bail was set at $40,000. Theodore “Teddy” Knox, a current SMU football player, is facing the same charges in connection to the March 30 crash, Dallas police say. He is believed to have been driving a Chevrolet Corvette seen speeding right before the collision. Knox, 21, has been suspended from the team, the university announced Thursday. He is not in custody, Dallas police said Thursday.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2024

Chuck Swindoll steps down as senior pastor of Frisco megachurch

Chuck Swindoll is stepping down as senior pastor of Frisco’s Stonebriar Community Church, a nondenominational congregation he helped found in 1998 and has led since. The church announced the news in a press release Tuesday that named Jonathan Murphy, a professor and department chair at Dallas Theological Seminary, as its next senior pastor. Murphy will start on May 1, 2024, and Swindoll will transition to a new role as founding pastor and continue preaching on Sundays. More than 3,000 people attend Sunday services at Stonebriar, the press release says, and around 16,000 watch online.

A native of Texas and former Marine, he graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1963. He served at churches in Dallas, Irving and Massachusetts before spending over 20 years as senior pastor of First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, Calif. In 1994, he became president of Dallas Theological Seminary, a position he held until 2001. He placed second to Billy Graham in a 2009 survey that asked Protestant pastors to name the living Christian preachers who had most influenced them. “I am so pleased to see Jonathan joining the team,” Swindoll said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no one else I would want to share this experience with and we are excited to see what God has in store for us and the congregation of our church.” Originally from Northern Ireland, Jonathan Murphy has been a regular guest preacher at Stonebriar over the last five years, the church’s press release said.

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Dallas Morning News - April 12, 2024

Activists protest as Biden administration OKs huge oil export terminal off Texas coast

In a move that environmentalists called a betrayal, the Biden administration has approved the construction of a deepwater oil export terminal off the Texas coast that would be the largest of its kind in the United States. The Sea Port Oil Terminal being developed off Freeport will be able to load two supertankers at once, with an export capacity of 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. The $1.8 billion project by Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners received a deepwater port license from the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration this week, the final step in a five-year federal review. Environmentalists denounced the license approval, saying it contradicted President Joe Biden’s climate agenda and would lead to “disastrous” planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to nearly 90 coal-fired power plants. The action could jeopardize Biden’s support from environmental allies and young voters already disenchanted by the Democratic administration’s approval last year of the massive Willow oil project in Alaska.

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City Stories

Dallas Observer - April 12, 2024

Wilmer's annexation grabs run afoul of the law, riles homeowners

Glenda Hefner calls where she lives “the black hole of Wilmer.” It doesn't look like a black hole on the city's planning map — more of a gray rectangle that captures her property and the one across the road from her. All around them is the city, mostly covered in warehouses: massive, flat structures, filled with tools, diapers, washing machines and other goods delivered from the nearby rail yard. From her 2-acre property, Hefner needs to drive only a short distance down North Goode Road before she runs into the industrial behemoths that have replaced the fields of her youth in Wilmer. At about a million square feet, the facilities have been affecting the water pressure from her neighbors’ wells. They appear all around Wilmer, even right near the center of the city. They have put Wilmer “on the map,” Mayor Sheila Petta says.

Once a city of 3,000 people, Wilmer was surrounded by farmland, fields of cotton and wheat, and scores of homes like Hefner’s just outside the city’s boundaries. Many of those property owners would like to keep it that way and not pay city taxes for services such as sewer and water they’re not receiving. Wilmer’s officials have other ideas, though, and they want those warehouses inside the city’s boundaries, so the city has gone on an aggressive annexation spree since 2008, roping in properties, often whether the owners like it or not. Trouble is, the Texas Legislature cares very much about whether property owners want to be annexed and effectively outlawed involuntary annexation in 2019. That fact and a handful of successful lawsuits over the years haven’t diminished Wilmer’s hunger, though. And the problem for homeowners in this rural, not affluent section of Dallas County is that fighting an unlawful annexation means going to court, which takes money. Hefner had fond memories of the roller rink in town and Cottonwood Creek where she and others played as children. Later, she would struggle to recall that fondness, in part because of certain city officials. They tried to force her property and others into the city, but they won't compel the diesel shop next door, which is inside city limits, to finish its parking lot.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 12, 2024

Proposed tax freeze for seniors roils Terrell Hills

Older homeowners in Terrell Hills could reap significant savings if voters approve a property tax freeze for seniors next month. But city officials are warning that the measure — which is on the city's May 4 ballot — would leave younger property owners with two bad options: Pay higher taxes or receive fewer municipal services. Or maybe a combination of the two. John Low, mayor of this exclusive suburban city of 5,000, wedged between Alamo Heights and San Antonio, said as much in a recent city newsletter. “While the adoption of a senior tax freeze is certainly a benefit for our older residents, it will not come without a cost to our other tax-paying residents and/or an increased pressure on our first responders and other city departments to deliver the services our citizens have come to expect,” Low said.

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National Stories

CNN - April 12, 2024

O.J. Simpson dies of cancer at age 76, his family says

O.J. Simpson, the former NFL star and broadcaster whose athletic achievements and fame were eclipsed by his 1995 trial in the brutal killings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman, has died of cancer, his family announced Thursday on X. He was 76. A post from the “Simpson Family” on Simpson’s verified X account Thursday morning said: “On April 10th, our father, Orenthal James Simpson, succumbed to his battle with cancer.” “He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren. During this time of transition, his family asks that you please respect their wishes for privacy and grace.”

Simpson’s prostate cancer diagnosis was made public about two months ago, Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter said in a statement. The Hall of Fame player had received chemotherapy treatment. While Simpson was a highly decorated athlete – winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy as a senior running back at the University of Southern California before playing for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and later the San Francisco 49ers – he became perhaps one of the most controversial figures of the late 20th century after he was charged with the murders of his former wife and her friend. A jury found him not guilty in a trial that saw America’s fascination with celebrity collide with its centuries-long struggle with race, as well as issues of class, policing and criminal justice. Those themes – and the judge’s decision to allow the trial to be televised – coalesced in what many called a “Trial of the Century” that held the country’s attention in a vise grip for nearly nine months before evolving into a cultural touchstone.

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CNN - April 12, 2024

Trump and Johnson build alliance on the falsehood of the stolen election

House Speaker Mike Johnson will stand Friday with Donald Trump at an appearance that will amplify the former president’s most damaging falsehood: that America’s democratic elections are catastrophically tainted by fraud. The country’s most powerful elected Republican, who is seeking to save his job under threat from Trump-aligned members of his own party in Congress, will travel to meet the true power in the GOP at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The visit comes as the the ex-president’s allies are eviscerating his authority and even threatening to topple him. It also takes place three days before Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, becomes the first former president to go on trial, with the beginning of jury selection in a New York case related to a hush money payment to an adult film star.

And there will be another twist Friday in the legal saga over Trump’s forthcoming trial in Florida over his hoarding of classified documents. Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon, whose no-rush management of pre-trial litigation means it’s increasingly unlikely the case will be adjudicated before November’s election, will hear an attempt by two of Trump’s co-accused to have the case dismissed. The announced topic of Johnson and Trump’s joint public statement on Friday is “election integrity” – the catch-all term for the stew of conspiracy theories and lies about the 2020 election that Trump is now using as the foundation of his 2024 bid for a new term. The price for Republicans seeking the ex-president’s support has long been a willingness to promote his fictional stolen election conceit. So Johnson’s visit to Trump’s residence may suggest he’s ready to make a similar down payment if the ex-president prevents his ouster as speaker. The two GOP leaders are expected to draw attention to what they say are state proposals and lawsuits that would allow non-citizens to vote, CNN’s Kristen Holmes and Fredreka Schouten reported Thursday. Some cities or jurisdictions do allow non-citizens to cast ballots in non-federal elections — for positions on school boards for example.

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The Hill - April 12, 2024

Senate Republicans furious over Trump derailing FISA bill

Senate Republicans vented their frustration after former President Trump helped derail a compromise House bill to extend Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authority, sending lawmakers scrambling to find a Plan B to keep the nation’s intelligence agencies from losing their ability to spy on adversaries and terrorists. Republican senators are warning that the nation’s spy program is about to go “dark” and that much of the intelligence that goes into President Biden’s daily briefing could be lost, putting the nation at risk for surprise attacks. “I’m very disappointed in President Trump’s assessment of FISA. It is an essential tool. It may need to be amended but it is absolutely essential as everyone in the intelligence community will tell you,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned that failure to pass the bill would cripple the nation’s intelligence gathering. “If we can’t spy on foreign terrorists and foreign spies overseas, we’re out of the intelligence business,” he said. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), another member of the Intelligence Committee, pointed out that much of the national security intelligence provided to Biden on a daily basis comes from information gathered under FISA’s Section 702. “So I think we need to reform it, not end it,” Cornyn said. Asked what it would mean for national security if Congress killed FISA’s warrantless surveillance authority under Section 702, Cornyn warned: “We’d go dark on a lot of threats. I’m hoping there can be a more extended conversation about what the reforms should look like.”

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CNN - April 12, 2024

RNC under Lara Trump spreads ‘massive fraud’ claims about 2020 election

The Republican National Committee last week sent out a scripted call to voters’ phones on behalf of new co-chair Lara Trump saying Democrats committed “massive fraud” in the 2020 election. It’s the latest example of how the RNC under the former president’s daughter-in-law is perpetuating lies about the 2020 election, even as prominent Republicans say the party needs to look forward to win in 2024. “We all know the problems. No photo IDs, unsecured ballot drop boxes, mass mailing of ballots, and voter rolls chock full of deceased people and non-citizens are just a few examples of the massive fraud that took place,” the RNC call said. “If Democrats have their way, your vote could be canceled out by someone who isn’t even an American citizen.”

The claim of “massive fraud” in the 2020 election marks a significant shift in messaging for the RNC because lies about the 2020 election had not been a consistent theme in its messaging since Donald Trump left office. But the call’s message is largely consistent with the views publicly espoused over the past four years by Lara Trump, who was elected as co-chair in early March as part of Donald Trump’s takeover of the GOP. Lara Trump has a long history of echoing his election fraud claims, according to a CNN KFile analysis of her past statements as a commentator and surrogate for the former president. “I’m sure you agree with co-chair Trump that we cannot allow the chaos and questions of the 2020 election to ever happen again,” said the call, which was obtained by CNN’s KFile from the anti-robocall application Nomorobo, which estimated 145,000 calls were sent with the message from April 1-7. It comes amid previous CNN reporting about the RNC asking employees who are reapplying for their jobs whether they believe the 2020 election was stolen in an apparent litmus test for hiring.

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Associated Press - April 12, 2024

Biden administration will require thousands more gun dealers to run background checks

Thousands more firearms dealers across the United States will have to run background checks on buyers at gun shows or other places outside brick-and-mortar stores, according to a Biden administration rule that will soon go into effect. The rule aims to close a loophole that has allowed tens of thousands of guns to be sold every year by unlicensed dealers who do not perform background checks to ensure the potential buyer is not legally prohibited from having a firearm. Gun rights groups are expected to fight it in court. It’s the administration’s latest effort to combat gun violence. But in a contentious election year, it’s also an effort to show voters — especially younger ones for whom gun violence deeply resonates — that the White House is trying to stop the deaths.

“This is going to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and felons,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “And my administration is going to continue to do everything we possibly can to save lives. Congress needs to finish the job and pass universal background checks legislation now.” The rule, which was finalized this week, makes clear that anyone who sells firearms predominantly to earn a profit must be federally licensed and conduct background checks, regardless of whether they are selling on the internet, at a gun show or at a brick-and-mortar store, Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters. Biden has made curtailing gun violence a major part of his administration and reelection campaign, creating the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden also has urged Congress to ban so-called assault weapons — something Democrats shied from even just a few years ago. The rule is likely to be challenged in court by gun rights activists who believe the Democratic president is unfairly targeting gun owners. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, has warned of a court challenge if the rule was finalized as written.

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Bloomberg Law - April 12, 2024

SEC’s narrower emissions rules shaped by powerful farm lobby

For all of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s lobbying prowess in Washington, the Securities and Exchange Commission wasn’t a place where it had much experience. It hadn’t needed it. The SEC, after all, didn’t have much to do with farming. That is, until it proposed rules in 2022 that would have required big public companies to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions of their suppliers—among them, family farmers. Lacking the agency contacts he had elsewhere, lobbyist Travis Cushman fell back on the argument the Farm Bureau has leaned on in Washington for so long: This was another case of bureaucrats saddling small farmers with unwarranted costs. Cushman also fell back on familiar faces in Congress. He won critical help from a fellow farmer in the Senate. But just as critically, the SEC’s chief Democratic nemesis in the Senate elected not to stand in the way of the agency killing that requirement as part of a broader package of climate reporting rules.

All that was enough for SEC Chair Gary Gensler, who’d sought more limited climate disclosure requirements to begin with. The final climate rules issued in March took out the so-called Scope 3 supply chain mandate in the draft that would drawn farmers into the reporting rules. “We were very, very concerned that it would be suddenly so burdensome that only the largest operations would really be able to survive,” Cushman said, citing the trend of small-farm consolidation over the last few decades. Scope 3, he—successfully—argued, would spell the demise of more farms. After releasing the rules without Scope 3, the SEC decided to pause the remaining ones in the face of 11 lawsuits challenging them. And Republicans, in charge of the House by a slim majority, also look to squash the rules via a Congressional Review Act resolution and to show the harm of the regulations in a hearing scheduled Wednesday. Farms run by families or individuals make up almost 85% of US farms, according to the US Department of Agriculture, and there are farms in each state. That made finding allies in Congress—especially those with clout—particularly easy.

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Newsclips - April 11, 2024

Lead Stories

KXAN - April 11, 2024

Report: 40% of top Texas election officials resign each presidential cycle

As election officials in Texas and nationwide face increased pressure and harassment, a new report shows a steady increase in the turnover rate of top administrators. A Tuesday report from the Bipartisan Policy Center shows nationwide, turnover grew from 28% in 2004 to 39% in 2022. The report looked at turnover rate data from the years 2000 to 2024 amongst election officials, which it defines as a “change in a jurisdiction’s chief election administrator since the November general election held four years prior.” In Texas, there was a spike in the number of election administrators quitting in the mid-2000s — the turnover rate in 2004 was 28% and rose to 44% in 2008. It dropped again to 30% in 2012 and rose to 40% in 2016 — a rate that has stayed relatively the same since.

“We did this intentionally to add some historical context to current conversations around turnover, which tend to frame it as a tsunami or an exodus of local election officials,” said Rachel Orey, co-author of the study. Researchers cited threats to election officials as some of the main contributing factors for the increasing turnover. Approximately 25% of local election officials reported abuse, harassment or threats, according to a 2022 Early Voting Information Center survey of local election officials. “It’s draining on their psychological and physical safety,” Orey said. Election officials in urban areas experience more threats, the report shows. Two-thirds of officials in jurisdictions with more than 250,000 residents reported being harassed, while just 20% of respondents from areas with a population under 25,000 said the same. Dana DeBeauvoir — who oversaw elections as Travis County Clerk for more than 30 years — said she has major concerns about these trends and the future of elections. DeBeauvoir retired in 2022.

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New York Times - April 11, 2024

Soft landing or no landing? Fed’s economic picture gets complicated.

America seemed headed for an economic fairy-tale ending in late 2023. The painfully rapid inflation that had kicked off in 2021 appeared to be cooling in earnest, and economic growth had begun to gradually moderate after a series of Federal Reserve interest rate increases. But 2024 has brought a spate of surprises: The economy is expanding rapidly, job gains are unexpectedly strong and progress on inflation shows signs of stalling. That could add up to a very different conclusion. Instead of the “soft landing” that many economists thought was underway — a situation in which inflation slows as growth gently calms without a painful recession — analysts are increasingly wary that America's economy is not landing at all.

Rather than settling down, the economy appears to be booming as prices continue to climb more quickly than usual. A “no landing” outcome might feel pretty good to the typical American household. Inflation is nowhere near as high as it was at its peak in 2022, wages are climbing and jobs are plentiful. But it would cause problems for the Federal Reserve, which has been determined to wrestle price increases back to their 2 percent target, a slow and steady pace that the Fed thinks is consistent with price stability. Policymakers raised interest rates sharply in 2022 and 2023, pushing them to a two-decade high in an attempt to weigh on growth and inflation. If inflation gets stuck at an elevated level for months on end, it could prod Fed officials to hold rates high for longer in an effort to cool the economy and ensure that prices come fully under control. “Persistent buoyancy in inflation numbers” probably “does give Fed officials pause that maybe the economy is running too hot right now for rate cuts,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide. “Right now, we’re not even seeing a ‘soft landing’ — we’re seeing a ‘no landing.’”

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CNN - April 11, 2024

Cities desperately need money to handle the migrant surge. Congress recently gave them less

If Catholic Charities of San Antonio doesn’t soon get more federal funding aimed at supporting asylum-seekers, it will have to close its Migrant Resource Center during the evening and overnight hours, which could leave busloads of newly arrived immigrants on the streets. The nonprofit received $55 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency program in the prior fiscal year, which it used to provide more than 220,000 people with temporary shelter, food and clothing, legal services, counseling and transportation to their final destination. But it only has $5.7 million left, so it is considering slashing the welcome center’s hours in coming weeks to preserve its ability to help migrants during the day for the rest of the year. Congress last month approved the fiscal year 2024 funding level for FEMA’s Shelter and Services Program in the federal funding package, nearly six months into the fiscal year.

Cities, counties and states around the nation have repeatedly asked the federal government for more money to handle the surge of migrants entering the US, and the Biden administration last year called on lawmakers to pump an additional $600 million into the program. The program has not been able to provide any additional financial support since late 2023. But instead, lawmakers cut the program’s funding to $650 million, down nearly 20% from the prior year. The House and Senate appropriations committees did not return requests for comment. Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Democrat who represents San Antonio, said that immigration is a federal responsibility. “Cities need more help – not less,” he said in a statement to CNN. “Funding from the Shelter and Services Program (SSP) has helped Catholic Charities and other groups in my city of San Antonio offer basic migrant services without straining local resources. Asylum-seekers are fleeing from some of the worst violence and oppression we can imagine, and nobody wants to see them sleeping on the streets.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2024

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott positions himself as Trump's biggest cheerleader. Is he vying for VP?

Gov. Greg Abbott keeps downplaying his interest in being Donald Trump’s running mate, but his actions over the last few weeks tell a different story. Just blocks from Trump Tower in New York City last week, Abbott sounded like an unofficial Trump surrogate in a series of live interviews and a speech. The Republican governor tailored his comments to echo Trump's own language on crime and immigration. He even doubled down on the former president's inflammatory comments about President Joe Biden perpetuating a "border blood bath." Abbott, 66, has no official role in Trump’s campaign. But his behavior likely shows why Trump has floated Abbott as a potential vice president in recent months, said Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University scholar who has written books on the selection of vice presidents in American history.

Trump's move helps boost the Texas governor’s national visibility. In return, Trump is getting Abbott and other possible running mates like U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and former GOP president candidate Vivek Ramaswamy promoting his campaign. “Trump is motivating these people to be out there doing this,” Goldstein said. While Abbott’s name percolated on some VP rumor lists, it took off in February when Trump told a national audience on Fox News that Abbott was absolutely on his short list of potential running mates. Trump praised Abbott’s work on the border and called him “a spectacular man.” But now it’s gone beyond that single moment. Trump frequently mentions Abbott at rallies on the campaign trail even in other states without the Texas governor in the crowd. In January he touted Abbott to a Nevada audience and last month spent time in Greensboro, North Carolina talking about how good of a job Abbott was doing in Texas.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2024

An NHL team in Houston? Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta says 'I'm working on it' and likes WNBA, too

For the second time in more than a month, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has stated his interest in bringing an NHL team to Houston. Fertitta, in an interview Wednesday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” was asked about his pursuit of a hockey team as well as a WNBA franchise for Toyota Center. “We would like to work to get an NHL team in Houston — I’m working on it,” Fertitta said. Fertitta was asked about the WNBA, which has not had a team in Houston since the Comets' run from 1997 to 2008, in relation to the surge of interest in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, whose championship game on ABC for the first time drew a bigger TV audience than the men’s final that aired on TBS.

“I would consider, definitely, I think it’s a great topic with women’s sports to talk about a WNBA team in Houston also,” Fertitta said. In late February, Fertitta told Bloomberg that he viewed an NHL team and the 41 home games it would bring as a way to boost the downtown economy, saying “We are talking to the NHL, but it’s got to be good for both of us.” When he bought the Rockets in October 2017, Fertitta said he “would put an NHL team here tomorrow” but had said little publicly about hockey in the interim since before this year. He said he was open to bringing in an expansion franchise or relocating an existing one. Based on reports Wednesday, an expansion franchise might have to be Fertitta’s route to getting a team. Daily Faceoff reported that the NHL and Arizona Coyotes have made “significant and and meaningful progress” on an agreement to sell the franchise to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, who would move the embattled team to Salt Lake City for the 2024-25 season. The price tag for the sale and relocation would be “north of $1.2 billion,” per the report.

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2024

Hidalgo calls Paxton lawsuit challenging Harris County's guaranteed income program ‘cruel’

Harris County leaders are defending their new guaranteed income program after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office sued to stop the initiative from going into effect, accusing the attorney general of targeting the Houston area while overlooking similar programs in San Antonio, Austin and El Paso. At a news conference on Wednesday, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the timing of the lawsuit "cruel" and "unscrupulous," alleging Paxton's office waited until recipients had been notified they had been selected for the program before filing the lawsuit. Harris County approved its pilot program last June, which aims to send $500 monthly payments for 18 months to around 1,900 low-income households.

Now, with recipients notified and the first payments scheduled for later this month, Paxton's office has asked a Harris County district court judge to stop the checks from going out and rule that the program is unconstitutional under state law. Commissioner Rodney Ellis said it was clear the state had become "too comfortable with using people as props," and some of the county’s poorest residents could pay the price. Though the $20.5 million Uplift Harris program is funded using a portion of the county's federal pandemic recovery dollars, Paxton's office is arguing the program violates a state law that prohibits the gift of public funds to any individual. Similar guaranteed income programs in other parts of Texas appear not to have drawn Paxton's scrutiny. San Antonio launched the state's first guaranteed income program in December 2020, Austin began its $1.1 million pilot program in September 2022 and, most recently, El Paso County approved its guaranteed income program in December. But Harris County's program caught Paxton's attention after State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, wrote to Paxton in January asking him to look into whether it is legal.

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Fox 26 - April 11, 2024

Outrage over judge's low bonds for violent offenders as repeat offender evades justice

Before his suspension last February, 228th District Judge Frank Aguilar granted some of the lowest bonds we've ever seen for kidnapping, sexual assault, witness tampering, and domestic violence charges. In February 2023, 21-year-old Frank Njoroge is sentenced to deferred probation after being convicted of assault with intent to impede breathing. Just two months on probation, Njoroge is charged with assault and violating a protective order. "Normally, if you're charged with offenses while you're on probation and you get a bond, the bond gets increased," said Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers. "His bonds kept getting lower."

Judge Frank Aguilar set bonds at just $100 for violent felonies like sexual assault, kidnapping, domestic violence, and witness tampering. Seven times, Aguilar set Njoroge's bond at just $100. "I don't know how in God's name you can not look at this and say, dude, you're a threat to public safety, you're a threat to these women," Kahan said. "That's crazy in itself for the things he's done, not just to my relative, but to other ladies. It's insane," said a relative of one of Njoroge's alleged victims. We are not identifying him to keep his relatives anonymous. In court documents, that woman was repeatedly terrorized and abused by Njoroge. "Choked her on a few occasions till she couldn't breathe. Bit her on quite a few occasions," the victim's relative said. "Bit her toenail off at one point."

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2024

Lawmaker’s interfaith iftar dinner draws North Texas political, religious leaders

State Rep. Salman Bhojani, D-Euless, and Nima Bhojani’s interfaith iftar dinner Sunday evening drew religious leaders from across North Texas and about 40 regional politicians, including U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas. “Our prayer is that we may remember our shared values and the common call to righteousness that runs through all of our faith traditions,” Allred said in a brief speech. “And for our democracy, because ultimately our democracy is the safeguard of our ability to practice our faith traditions.” Interfaith relations is a topic of importance to Bhojani, who in 2022 became one of the first two Muslims elected to the Texas House. As a freshman legislator, he introduced several bills to expand religious freedom. One bipartisan bill passed, and now school districts cannot schedule standardized testing on certain holidays sacred to Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians.

Iftars are the fast-breaking meals after sundown each night during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Bhojani’s son Aarish, who introduced his father at the event, said Bhojani plans to hold the event annually. In addition to Allred and Bhojani, members of eight religions spoke at the event in Irving about how their traditions view interfaith relations. The speakers were Christian Pastor Patrick Moses, who is the Democratic candidate for Tarrant County sheriff; Joel Schwitzer, regional director of the American Jewish Committee; Imam Moujahed Bakhach of Fort Worth; Hindu representative Bindu Patel; Harbhajan Singh Virdee of the Sikh faith; Zoroastrian representative Ava Damri; Buddhist Bhante Virmalakitti; and Maha Iskandar of the Bahá'í faith.

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2024

Who are Texas’ teachers? Some schools ‘hiring people off the street,’ state leader says

The rate of Texas teachers leaving the classroom is declining after hitting a historic high following the COVID pandemic. Education Commissioner Mike Morath presented fresh hiring data Wednesday, telling State Board of Education members that the state is “moving in a better direction.” Still, schools are struggling with educator recruitment and retention. The challenges mean districts are hiring more and more teachers who don’t hold a state certification. Morath said that, in recent years, it appears that some schools “gave up on teacher certification” and moved to “hiring people off the street.” While it is still higher than the pre-pandemic baseline, the rate of Texas teachers leaving the classroom is trending downward. The 2022-23 school year saw 13.4% teacher attrition. That figure dropped to 12.2% for 2023-24.

In the decade before COVID-19 hit, teacher attrition hovered around 10%. “Teachers are quitting the profession in slightly higher numbers than they did historically,” Morath said. Lack of respect and support, excessive workload and low pay are among the common reasons educators have given for why they think about leaving the classroom. Fewer new teachers take the traditional route to the classroom: Studying to be an educator while in college. Roughly 1 in 3 new teachers hired across Texas were uncertified, meaning the state has no way to know if they received rigorous training. The percentage of non-certified new hires grew to 34% — a historic high. Some uncertified educators are prepared to take on a classroom of their own, Morath said. In Dallas ISD, for example, uncertified educators get additional training and support during the school year. The district also pairs new hires with mentors to guide them. But Morath warned that many teachers without certification are not ready and quit prematurely. The trend has prompted concern among some teacher groups. “It’s unfair to the students, to the parents and to the educator themselves. They’re not fully prepared,” said Rena Honea, president of Alliance-AFT. “I don’t know of an attorney that’d be allowed to practice law without passing the bar exam.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2024

‘An overreaction’: Black lawmakers, advocates denounce UT schools’ layoffs due to DEI ban

Laying off staff in the wake of Texas’ DEI ban is an overreaction and discriminatory, some legislators and advocacy groups said during a news conference Wednesday. Some of Texas’ Black lawmakers joined two advocacy groups to speak out against recent layoffs that appear to be efforts to comply with Texas’ DEI ban, also known as Senate Bill 17. UT laid off about 60 employees last week, and University of Texas at Dallas officials announced Tuesday that about 20 staffers would be cut at that school. Many of these staffers had been in positions that supported diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. After the state’s ban went into effect Jan. 1, schools moved many such employees to different roles that supported students in various ways.

The Texas chapter of the American Association of University Professors shared on social media late Wednesday evening documentation they said shows that university officials certified that employees reassigned jobs were in compliance with the law. University officials could not be reached immediately Wednesday evening. “This was MAGA politics at its worst,” Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said of the DEI ban and its impact. As a result, Reynolds, who’s chairman of the Texas Legislature Black Caucus, said students are suffering because of partisan politics. “It’s the worst kind of leadership where you use Black, brown and LGBT communities as political pawns.” The cuts in Dallas and Austin came just weeks after Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the Texas legislator who authored the DEI ban, sent a letter to university leaders reinforcing expectations of the new state law and the oversight process. Creighton stressed in that letter that simply renaming offices and programs is unacceptable and emphasized that universities could lose millions in state funding if they fail to comply. He sent the letter weeks after secret recordings went public showing some Texas university staff suggesting they would continue DEI work under different names. On Wednesday, the lawmakers and advocacy groups — which included the Texas chapters of the NAACP and of the American Association of University Professors — said that legislators pushing for the ban and university leaders promised no layoffs due to SB 17. That was the case until Creighton’s letter triggered an “overreaction,” they said.

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2024

Biden admin approves deepwater oil export terminal off Texas Gulf Coast

The Biden administration approved the construction of a deepwater oil export terminal off the Texas Gulf Coast on Tuesday, following a long legal battle with environmental groups. To be built 30 miles offshore Freeport in more than 100 feet of water, the Sea Port Oil Terminal being developed by Houston-based Enterprise Product Partners is capable of loading two supertankers at once, with an export capacity of 2 million barrels of crude per day. The project, which would be the largest oil export terminal in the United States, had been awaiting a deepwater port license from the Department of Transportation, the final step in a four-year federal review. “The receipt of the license is the most significant milestone to date in the development and commercialization of SPOT,” AJ Teague, co-chief executive officer of Enterprise, said in a statement.

The decision followed a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week dismissing claims by environmental groups that federal agencies had failed to uphold federal environmental laws in their review of Enterprise’s export project. The Biden administration has also come under fire from Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who claimed “prolonged delays” in getting the Enterprise project and other offshore oil terminals approved was threatening the nation’s economy and energy security. “I’m thrilled that we’re helping bring more jobs to Texas and greater energy security to America and our allies,” Cruz said Tuesday. “That this victory was delayed by years of needless bureaucratic dithering shows why we need broader permitting reform in this country.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2024

These Texas DPS troopers say they faced racial discrimination at work. A judge agreed.

Special Agent Jari McPherson hoped he could make change within the Department of Public Safety in 2019 by calling out what he called a “racially hostile” environment at the Temple office where he worked. But after filing an internal complaint that went nowhere, he requested a transfer to the agency’s Austin office. His problems only continued to mount there, says McPherson, who is Black. Before he even arrived, his supervisor spoke poorly of him, citing the internal complaint, and seemed to treat white colleagues better. McPherson was later passed over for a different job that was given to a white employee with less experience, he says, and ultimately placed in a minority-only unit that was given “more difficult and onerous tasks, work, and assignments and given less days off” than other units containing only white employees.

McPherson, 42, is one of three former and current troopers who sued the agency in 2020, saying they were subjected to years of racial discrimination and that the agency failed to properly investigate their concerns. Their lawsuit recently cleared a major hurdle when a federal judge ruled it could go to trial this summer. The case is on hold while the state, which has denied the troopers’ allegations, appeals to the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his February opinion, U.S. District Judge David Ezra, an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan, wrote that McPherson and a co-plaintiff, Jerald Sams, who is also Black, had sufficiently proven that they were subjected to discrimination and retaliation while working at DPS. McPherson and Sams experienced “hostile” work environments due to their race,” Ezra wrote, and the state failed to take “prompt remedial action for every instance of harassment.” McPherson said he started seeing a therapist for the first time for the anxiety and depression this situation brought for him, and it caused problems at home as well.

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Houston Chronicle - April 11, 2024

John Whitmire's first 100 days in office: Here's what Houston's new mayor has done so far

As Mayor John Whitmire marks his 100th day in office, he is celebrating the delivery of a major campaign promise that could have far-reaching consequences for how he tackles the remainder of his term. Whitmire’s landmark settlement with the firefighters union gives him a signature win in his first three months, but it also compounds an already dire financial picture at City Hall that will come into stark focus during budget season this year. Since announcing the deal, the new mayor has pitched a property tax hike and a garbage collection fee to help finance it, while creating breathing room for the city’s budget. Both options would likely create political tests – either at the ballot box or around the City Council horseshoe.

Elected officials often use the 100-day mark to reflect on their successes, but they also look to see how those successes might impact the next steps they must take in office. In Whitmire’s case, his early priority – getting a firefighter deal – could have lasting effects, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “The public wants progress, and they expect to see it early,” said Rottinghaus. “We are conditioned to want to see movement quickly, especially when there was a pretty heavy landslide and the issues were fairly obvious that the mayor wanted to address.” Even before the firefighter deal, the city’s financial outlook was grim, with Controller Chris Hollins predicting a $160 million to $200 million deficit – similar to the deficits the city ran pre-pandemic. With debt repayments and interest on the firefighter deal factored in, that number could now be closer to $230 million to $280 million, Hollins said. Whitmire's administration hopes to replace 125,000 water meter readers by years’ end. The mayor said fixing broken meter readers will address the “root” cause of customers receiving exorbitant water bills. Whitmire has appointed seven new department directors at City Hall, turning over leadership for about a third of the city’s government. Whitmire’s administration has also expressed skepticism over “Vision Zero,” the aspirational target to end traffic fatalities by 2030 by prioritizing safety and accessibility for all motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 11, 2024

Texas cops: HS teacher recruits runaways into prostitution

A teacher was arrested on child sex trafficking and prostitution-related charges involving students, Texas authorities say. Kedria Grigsby, 42, faces three counts each of trafficking of children and compelling prostitution along with her son, 21-year-old Roger Magee, who was previously arrested, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. The compelling prostitution charge is defined as when a person knowingly “causes another by force, threat, coercion or fraud to commit prostitution.” The charge can also be applied when a person causes a child to commit prostitution. Grigsby is the cosmetology teacher at Klein Cain High School outside Houston and has been placed on administrative leave, a district spokesperson told KHOU and KPRC.

Authorities said Grigsby forced prostitution onto three reported runaways, ages 15, 16 and 17. The sheriff said Grigsby assisted her son in the alleged trafficking. “It appears Grigsby recruited troubled juveniles from local high schools by offering them a place to stay, which would be a hotel,” Gonzalez said. There have also been other teenagers who said “Grigsby was also attempting to recruit them while attending school,” according to the sheriff. Gonzalez announced the arrest of Grigsby on Monday, April 8, and said she was booked into the Harris County Jail. The school district said in its statement to KHOU and KPRC the allegations against Grigsby were “unsettling.” “As soon as we were notified of this information, the district took immediate action, apprehended, and immediately placed Ms. Grigsby on administrative leave,” the district said. “Klein ISD has NO intention of allowing this individual back to Klein Cain or any Klein ISD school, and we will report to all appropriate agencies at the conclusion of the investigation.”

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KUT - April 11, 2024

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson announces he will run again in November

Austin Mayor Kirk Watson will seek reelection in November, he announced Wednesday. Watson was elected in 2022 to serve a two-year term instead of a full four years. Austinites voted in 2021 to move mayoral elections to the same year as presidential elections in an effort to increase voter turnout. If reelected, Watson will serve a full four-year term. Watson previously served as mayor from 1997 to 2001, when he stepped down to run for state office. He served as a state senator for more than 13 years before returning to the job of mayor. Watson is the fourth candidate to announce his candidacy. He will face former City Council Member Kathie Tovo,East Austin community organizer Carmen Llanes Pulido and Doug Greco, the former director of Central Texas Interfaith.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2024

Bridget Grumet: Fate of historic schoolhouse — and future UT football facility — in state board's hands

Edwin Bautista knew it was a last-ditch effort, a long shot to save the 91-year-old historic building that the University of Texas wants to bulldoze so it can build a new football practice facility. Then, last week, a preliminary win. The state Antiquities Advisory Board recommended approval of Bautista’s request for protected landmark status for the old University Junior High building, a 1930s schoolhouse in the southeastern corner of the UT campus. The Spanish Revival building, notable for its role in desegregating Austin schools starting in the late 1950s, most recently housed the Steve Hicks School of Social Work (as well as the stunning stairwell mural by Rau´l Valdez that I wrote about last year). I should note: The advisory board’s 9-1 vote last Wednesday is just a recommendation. The matter now goes to the Texas Historical Commission, which is expected to consider the application in July.

The application process delays the building demolition that had been slated for June. And if the Texas Historical Commission decides to grant State Antiquities Landmark status to the old schoolhouse, UT wouldn’t be able to get a demolition permit without undergoing a rigorous state review — which would complicate, or possibly derail, its plans to build the new football practice facility on that coveted turf. Bautista said that’s the point: A building with this level of community importance, already listed in the National Register of Historic Places, shouldn’t be easy to tear down. “For the university to disregard (the University Junior High building’s history) is just so disappointing, because they are turning their back on our history, and that is something that I'm not willing to accept,” said Bautista, who earned his bachelor’s in urban studies and his master’s in community and regional planning at UT. “UT is all about changing the world and being leaders in sustainability,” Bautista added, arguing the aging schoolhouse should be restored, not razed. “Well, you know, here’s a chance for you to live up to what you say you’re about.” In response to the advisory board’s vote, UT spokesman Mike Rosen told me last week: “We respect the process. There are multiple steps, and we’ll let it play out.” One option: UT could formally oppose the nomination, triggering an administrative hearing process, Antiquities Advisory Board Chair Jim Bruseth said at last week’s meeting. “Things could get a lot more complex for the (Texas Historical) Commission down the road, and probably will, would be my guess,” Bruseth told his fellow board members.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2024

Austin schools face budget deficit next year. Here's how AISD plans to cut $30M in expenses

The Austin school district is looking to cut at least $30 million from its $976.2 million budget next year in anticipation of higher operating costs. The district expects to reach its goal mostly by slashing already vacant positions and reducing contract services, but officials have vowed to keep cuts contained to administrative positions — and away from classrooms — as much as possible. If the district can make $30 million in cuts, it will still face a $30 million deficit in the 2024-25 school year and would need to take on an even bigger shortfall if it wants to increase services, district Chief Financial Officer Eduardo Ramos said. The district spends the vast majority of its budget on employee pay, so officials hope they can significantly reduce the district's deficit by cutting administrative positions that haven't been filled. Officials are also looking to cut down on its contracts by either eliminating or reducing some of those services, Ramos said.

While some of those contracts involve people working directly in schools, the district hopes to reduce those services as little as possible, he said. Superintendent Matias Segura assured board members that the district will work to minimize any cuts that would directly affect students. "I would want to turn over every stone before I impacted classrooms," Segura said. Of the $956 million operating budget, 61%, or $581 million, is directly tied to campuses, he said. “Now we are having to make some difficult choices because we have not received additional funding on a per student basis, not only in Austin but throughout the state of Texas, since 2019,” Ramos said. The Austin school board took on a $52 million deficit for the ongoing 2023-24 school year budget, but it had managed to reduce that shortfall to about $31 million, according to the district.

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KXAN - April 11, 2024

Texas Eclipse Fest organizers address rumors and complaints

Organizers of the Texas Eclipse Festival in Burnet County drew criticism and praise from attendees during the event, and after its cancellation a day early Monday due to severe weather. “TEXAS ECLIPSE WAS HELL ON EARTH. DISCO DONNIE YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF,” said Reddit user “Final_Meat” in a post on the subreddit r/TexasEclipse. That subreddit, made to discuss the Texas Eclipse Festival, had around 3,600 members at the time of reporting. Other complaints touched on perceived shortcomings of the event’s map, a lack of medical staff, poor lighting, rough camping conditions, a lack of bottled water, high food prices, unclean portable toilets, large crowds, long walks and dust. Some of the issues, such as poor cell signal and long vehicle lines, may have been caused by concentrating thousands of people into a rural area.

In a Wednesday statement, festival organizers Disco Presents told KXAN that free water was available at 10 stations around the venue, but said it was “saddened to hear that some guests may have encountered challenges in locating water” or clean portable toilets. It also responded to complaints about camping sites and the venue layout. “We implemented adjustments to the site layout and infrastructure with the guidance of industry experts, addressing the unique challenges of using this location as a first-time festival site,” said organizers. “The varying elevation and surface types prompted necessary real-time adaptations to our camping plans and logistics.” Rumors also claim that there were multiple deaths, which organizers and Burnet County Sheriff’s Office Captain Mike Sorenson said were untrue.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - April 11, 2024

Did you get another purple notice from the city of Austin? Here's what it means.

The city of Austin is once again looking to make changes to its land development code, which dictates what can be built where and how big it can be. A hot-button issue in Austin, the proposed changes have sparked disagreement over their potential effectiveness and impact on housing affordability. The city recently sent a second round of purple notices to residents informing them of several proposed changes the council is set to vote on in May. The process of discussing and voting on the changes will be similar to that for Phase 1 of the Home Options for Middle-Income Empowerment, or HOME, initiative that the City Council approved in December. It will start with a joint meeting between the council and the Planning Commission at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Here's a look at the proposed land development code changes. For context, HOME Phase 1, which was approved in December, changed the city's code to allow for up to three units on many lots. This proposal was met with both strong support and opposition from community members and activists — some saying it would create more housing options while others were concerned about displacement of existing residents, specifically on the city's Eastern Crescent. Phase 2 of HOME seeks to reduce the minimum lot size required for construction of a single residential unit to 2,000 square feet from 5,750. The change would not require current or future homeowners to sell or subdivide their properties, according to the city's Planning Department. An ETOD overlay is intended to promote density along high-traffic transit corridors. The proposal being considered would affect certain properties within roughly a half mile of Phase 1 of Project Connect, the planned light rail line, and its priority extensions, according to the city's Planning Department. Some of these areas include sections of North Lamar Boulevard and South Congress Avenue.

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Dallas Morning News - April 11, 2024

Dallas strip clubs’ lawsuit seeking exemption from curfew should be dismissed, city says

Dallas is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by three strip clubs that want to be exempt from shutting down at 2 a.m. if they stop featuring sex work. In a motion brief filed Friday, city attorneys argued the lawsuit filed in January by the owners of XTC Cabaret, Silver City and Tiger Cabaret “is an obvious attempt to avoid the impact” of a city ordinance requiring all strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses to close between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Lawyers for the city contended the ordinance applies to sexually oriented businesses regardless of what services they happen to be providing at any given time, and the strip clubs haven’t sufficiently proven the rule is a constitutional violation. The lawyers representing the three strip clubs didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

“The ordinance does not state that (a sexually oriented business) must cease only sexually-oriented activities between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m., but states clearly that an SOB must close for business each day during those hours,” said the city’s brief, filed by City Attorney Tammy Palomino and two assistant city attorneys in her office. The hours restriction is “motivated by the city’s substantial governmental interest in addressing crime at SOB locations, not the expressive conduct itself,” the motion said. The three strip clubs have said in court filings they believe they were illegally threatened with sanctions by police when they decided to stay open past 2 a.m. They stopped featuring erotic dances and were mainly offering food and nonalcoholic drinks to customers who chose to stick around. The businesses also alleged the city was violating their constitutional and civil rights. A federal judge in February denied the strip clubs’ request to temporarily block the city from enforcing the ordinance.

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National Stories

New York Times - April 11, 2024

‘Save Democracy’ Democrats look to win primaries on anti-Trump sentiment

Harry Dunn, a former Capitol Police officer whose pitched battles with former President Donald J. Trump’s supporters on and after Jan. 6, 2021, vaulted him to political stardom, was greeted Tuesday evening in Annapolis, Md., like a celebrity. But there was also an undercurrent of skepticism among attendees at the Beacon Waterfront Restaurant, where he appeared at a campaign event to bolster his candidacy for the U.S. House. “We have a person here with a proven legislative record,” Jessica Sunshine, an Annapolis Democrat, told Mr. Dunn, referring to State Senator Sarah Elfreth, his main opponent in next month’s Democratic primary. But, she added, “You have heart.” But Mr. Dunn, an imposing former offensive lineman who stands 6-foot-7-inches and 325 pounds, didn’t shy away from the reason he is running: to save what he sees as democracy on the edge. “This moment, right now? It calls for a fighter,” he said.

He is not the only one making that case to Democrats. Over the next three months, primaries in three Mid-Atlantic House districts — from the exurbs of Washington, D.C., to Harrisburg, Pa. — will test the strength of Jan. 6 memories and whether the battle cry of “save democracy” will be enough even for Democratic voters who have many other concerns. For many voters, partisan celebrity is virtually the only factor in their support for candidates like Mr. Dunn, who played a starring role in the Jan. 6 hearings, and Yevgeny Vindman, who goes by Eugene and along with his identical twin brother, Alexander, played a key role in highlighting Mr. Trump’s effort to strong-arm Ukraine into digging up dirt on Joseph R. Biden Jr. Margaret Pepin, 71, could hardly believe it when Mr. Vindman rang her video doorbell on Tuesday afternoon in Occoquan, Va., and his unmistakable face, made famous during Mr. Trump’s first impeachment, popped on her security screen. “I looked at my Ring. I said, ‘Is it really him?’” she said, acknowledging that she might have confused him for his better-known twin brother. “I am thrilled.”

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NBC News - April 11, 2024

College aid officials warn FAFSA mess will delay many grant and loan offers until May

Leaders of the college financial aid system assailed the Education Department over this year’s FAFSA debacle, warning that ongoing delays are extending institutions’ timelines for offering packages that many students’ decisions hinge on. “If there was a financial aid director or even a college president that delayed financial aid on their campus for up to six months, the professional price that would be paid for that would be pretty steep,” Justin Draeger, head of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The hearing by the GOP-led House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development came one day after Education Department officials disclosed that at least 30% of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms submitted so far this year could contain errors resulting from widespread application glitches or other issues.

Those forms are set to be reprocessed in coming weeks, and many will start being sent to schools by May 1, the agency said. The federal government can typically turn around FAFSA information within days, but the lags this year have extended for months. Colleges and universities are already well behind schedule due to the botched overhaul of the application process — one that was meant to be easier and in many cases more generous, but has instead landed millions of households and campus officials in bureaucratic limbo. “It’s not a trivial task to roll this out, but this rollout has been disastrous and, frankly, inexcusable,” Rep. Brandon Williams, R-N.Y., said Wednesday. The hearing signaled growing bipartisan frustrations over the FAFSA chaos, much of it focusing on the Education Department, which Draeger said faced a “crisis of credibility.” Agency leaders didn’t testify at Wednesday’s hearing, but a spokesperson said Tuesday that officials have identified and fixed errors in the online application system “affecting the accurate processing of large numbers of FAFSA forms.”

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NBC News - April 11, 2024

Consumer prices moved higher in March. Auto insurance costs were a major reason.

Wednesday's inflation report showed consumer price growth continues to drift higher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported price growth accelerated to 3.5% in March, from 3.2% in February. Few categories had as big a jump year on year than auto insurance, which soared 22% from March 2023, the most significant year-on-year jump in that category since 1976. And over the last few years, average auto insurance rates have surged 43%. As of April, the national average cost of car insurance is $2,314 per year for full coverage and $644 per year for the bare minimum, according to Bankrate. That works out to about $193 a month for full coverage and $54 for minimum coverage.

A host of factors determine how much insurance companies charge drivers, but the cost of nearly all of them seem to be increasing. One major factor is simply the rising cost of modern vehicles themselves. Today, a new vehicle costs about $10,000 more than it did before the pandemic. Blame supply-chain issues that drove up the cost of vehicle parts, increased labor costs and customer demand, which has naturally pushed prices upward. The increasing sophistication of the technology in today’s vehicles also contributes to rising costs, said Robert Passmore, department vice president of personal lines at American Property Casualty Insurance Association. Cameras and sensors, which are used for various driver-assistance technologies, like emergency braking, automated parking and blind-spot monitoring, require parts that are more expensive to replace. They're also subject to higher labor costs, Passmore said. More complex and expensive repairs are also taking longer, and that shows up as higher vehicle costs, Passmore said. And worker shortages have resulted in higher pay for technicians.

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New York Times - April 11, 2024

Biden aims to project united front against China at White House summit

President Biden intends to use a first-ever joint meeting with the leaders of Japan and the Philippines on Thursday to send a blunt diplomatic message to an increasingly aggressive China: Beijing’s harassment of Philippine ships in the South China Sea is a violation of international law and must stop. In recent months, Chinese coast guard ships have been ramming Philippine vessels, blasting them with water cannons and aiming lasers at their crews in what the United States condemns as “coercive and unlawful tactics” in one of the most crucial waterways in the world. So far, the Chinese provocations, asserting disputed claims to the international waters, have fallen short of the kinds of attacks that would trigger the military defense pact that the United States and the Philippines signed in 1951. But Biden administration officials said the meeting of the three leaders on Thursday is intended to demonstrate to China even stronger military and diplomatic unity among the leaders of the three allies.

One U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting in advance, called the issue of security in the South China Sea a “pillar” of the discussions between Mr. Biden, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines. “The U.S., Japan, and the Philippines are three closely aligned maritime democracies with increasingly convergent strategic objectives and interests,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said on Tuesday. “Just this past week, our three countries and Australia held joint naval drills in the South China Sea.” Officials said there would be similar drills in the months ahead as the nations continue to assert the freedom of travel through international waters that China claims as its own. They called Thursday’s meeting at the White House a demonstration of support from Mr. Biden and Mr. Kishida for the Philippines in its clashes with China. China has asserted greater control over the South China Sea over the years, trying to expand its military footprint in the region.

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Wall Street Journal - April 11, 2024

The billionaire behind Trump’s $175 million bond is no stranger to risky deals

Billionaire businessman Don Hankey made headlines in early April when his company, Knight Specialty Insurance, provided the $175 million bond that Donald Trump posted in his New York civil fraud case. “I wouldn’t say I’m a big Trump fan,” Hankey told The Wall Street Journal this week. “I’ve voted for him in the past. And I think he’s business friendly. And that’s what I’m looking for.” It isn’t the first time Hankey has financially backed a troubled real-estate developer. In Los Angeles, where he is based, Hankey’s companies have bankrolled some of the area’s most ambitious—and sometimes eccentric—mansion developers. Sometimes, they did so just as those developers began to fall into financial jeopardy. Perhaps most notably, Hankey provided more than $100 million in financing for The One, a scandal-plagued Bel-Air megamansion once slated to ask as much as $500 million. The 105,000-square-foot estate was eventually sold at auction for a comparably paltry $126 million in 2022 after its developer, the bombastic and volatile spec-home builder Nile Niami, defaulted on loan payments.

In L.A. real-estate circles, Hankey is perhaps best known for backing Niami, whose decadelong odyssey to build The One, complete with its own nightclub and five swimming pools, captivated the real-estate industry amid delays, cost overruns and defaults. When Hankey issued the initial loan of $82.5 million, The One was about 80% complete. The financing was slated to help Niami pay back other creditors and apply the finishing touches. Bhakta said that Hankey made the loan because the company was confident that the U.S. single-family home market would continue to deliver $100 million-plus deals, as the economy created more and more billionaires. At the time, he said, Niami was considered a pioneer in the spec-home market. He had three or four unsold mansions on his books. Hankey figured that once Niami sold those, the developer would have a favorable cash position. Ultimately, The One unraveled along with Niami’s personal life. Following a 2017 divorce from his longtime partner Yvonne Niami, the developer began to get a reputation in the real-estate industry as a party boy with erratic ideas. “Sometimes, you look at someone’s track record, but that doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to what their future is going to look like,” Bhakta said. “In this case, his [wife] turned out to be the more rational person in that relationship and she kept him grounded. When he didn’t have that grounding, he kind of went crazy and unfortunately things unraveled there.” Rayni Williams, a luxury real-estate agent who worked with Niami on the deal, said Hankey gave Niami more chances than many lenders might have. “I think he was rooting for him to succeed,” she said.

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CNN - April 11, 2024

Conservatives deal another blow to Speaker Johnson, defeating FISA rule after Trump push

House conservatives revolted against GOP leadership and defeated a key vote on the floor Wednesday, the latest blow to Speaker Mike Johnson that comes after former President Donald Trump called on Republicans to kill a controversial surveillance law. Trump had urged House Republicans to reject a reauthorization of the law, known as FISA, ahead of the key procedural vote on Wednesday, adding to headaches for GOP leaders who have struggled to build support for the legislation, but were still attempting to forge ahead and advance the bill. “KILL FISA,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social. This marks the fourth time in Johnson’s tenure that the House has defeated a rule vote, a major embarrassment for leadership.

The tally was 193 to 228, with 19 Republicans bucking House GOP leadership and voting with Democrats to sink the procedural vote and take down a rule to govern debate on the reauthorization bill as well as several other bills. House Republicans have been fiercely divided over how to handle the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization, putting pressure on Johnson to find a path forward amid competing factions within his conference. With the threat of a vote on his ouster looming, the Louisiana Republican’s every move is under even more intense scrutiny, and the speaker has once again found himself odds with his right flank over the surveillance law. Johnson signaled he still believes they can find a path forward on FISA this week despite deep divisions and little progress after two lengthy conference meetings devoted to the topic Wednesday. “We still have time on the clock this week,” he told reporters. “We are going to try and find a way to unlock the rule and I think it’s possible.” “We will be talking to members about it tonight, trying to figure that out,” he added.

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Newsclips - April 10, 2024

Lead Stories

NBC News - April 10, 2024

Arizona Supreme Court rules a near-total abortion ban from 1864 is enforceable

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a 160-year-old near-total abortion ban still on the books in the state is enforceable, a bombshell decision that adds the state to the growing lists of places where abortion care is effectively banned. The ruling allows an 1864 law in Arizona to stand that made abortion a felony punishable by two to five years in prison for anyone who performs one or helps a woman obtain one. The law — which was codified in 1901, and again in 1913 — outlaws abortion from the moment of conception but includes an exception to save the woman’s life. That Civil War-era law — enacted a half-century before Arizona even gained statehood — was never repealed and an appellate court ruled last year that it could remain on the books as long as it was “harmonized” with a 2022 law, leading to substantial confusion in Arizona regarding exactly when during a pregnancy abortion was outlawed.

The decision — which could shutter abortion clinics in the state — effectively undoes a lower court’s ruling that stated that a more recent 15-week ban from March 2022 superseded the 1864 law. The Arizona Supreme Court said it would put its decision on hold for 14 days, writing that it would send the case back to a lower court so that court could consider “additional constitutional challenges” that haven’t yet been cleared up. Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, said moments after the ruling that she would not enforce the law. “Let me be completely clear, as long as I am Attorney General, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state,” Mayes said in a statement, adding that the decision was “unconscionable” and “an affront to freedom.” Democrats all the way up to President Joe Biden also blasted the ruling. “Millions of Arizonans will soon live under an even more extreme and dangerous abortion ban, which fails to protect women even when their health is at risk or in tragic cases of rape or incest,” Biden said in a statement. He called the ban “cruel” and “a result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women’s freedom” and vowed to “continue to fight to protect reproductive rights.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2024

AG Ken Paxton sues Harris County challenging $500 monthly guaranteed income program

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Harris County over Uplift Harris, its new guaranteed income pilot program, calling the effort to administer $500 monthly payments to low-income residents the “Harris Handout.” Though participants have been selected and notified already, Paxton is aiming to stop what he argues is an “illegally implemented” program. He is asking a Harris County district court judge to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the program from being implemented and to declare that Uplift Harris is unconstitutional under state law.

Around 1,900 participants selected to receive the payments were notified last month, with the first checks expected to be sent out as early as April 24. The Uplift Harris program, which is federally funded using the county’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars, is designed to distribute the payments for 18 months. But now, 10 months after the program was announced, Paxton’s office is challenging the initiative following an inquiry from Republican state Sen. Paul Bettencourt. “There is no such thing as free money — especially in Texas,” Paxton’s office argued in the petition filed Tuesday, characterizing Uplift Harris as a “socialist experiment by (Harris County Judge) Lina Hidalgo.” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee took issue with Paxton’s interpretation of the program in a statement Tuesday. “When corporations are given taxpayer dollars Republican leaders in Austin call it 'economic development.' When governments use federal dollars to actually help people, Republican leaders in Austin call it socialism,” Menefee said in a statement.

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The Hill - April 10, 2024

Democrats bash GOP proposal linking natural gas exports to Ukraine aid

House Democrats are hammering a Republican proposal linking Ukraine aid to an increase in natural gas exports, accusing GOP leaders of pushing poison-pill policies that will only further delay much needed help for a democratic ally under siege. Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) launched the controversial debate late last month, telling Fox News that he’s eying a plan to allow new permits for liquified natural gas (LNG) exports — a reversal of President Biden’s recent freeze on those licenses — as part of legislation providing new military assistance to Kyiv. Johnson has been vague about the specifics for a foreign-aid package, and it’s unclear if the proposed natural gas provision will be part of any final legislation emerging from his office. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters Tuesday the provision is still on the table. But Democrats aren’t waiting silently while the GOP’s favored energy policies gain momentum.

Instead, they’re bashing Johnson’s LNG proposal as a conservative pipe-dream that would never win over the Democratic support Johnson will need to get Ukraine aid to Biden’s desk. “I think it’s a non-starter,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “I can’t speak for every Democrat, but I know a lot of my colleagues would be mortified by that, and would be upset with any Democratic leader that negotiated for it.” Johnson is walking a tightrope in his attempt to move another round of Ukraine aid through the lower chamber as Kyiv’s forces run low on munitions and Russian troops make advances. The new funding is supported by the old-guard conservatives in Johnson’s GOP conference — who favor a strong interventionist policy overseas — but is opposed by a newer crop of isolationists, led by former President Trump, who want to use more of Washington’s resources to address problems at home. In an effort to prevent a revolt from the Trump faction, Johnson has rejected a Senate-passed foreign-aid package, which provided $60 billion to Ukraine, and is vowing to move a more conservative version through the House. As part of that effort, he’s floating the LNG provision, which would reverse a Biden policy reviled by Republicans who want to expand domestic fossil fuel production, not curb it.

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NBC News - April 10, 2024

Biden is building a behemoth of a campaign. Trump at this point seems to be playing catch-up.

President Joe Biden has been scooping up record-making donations and plowing the money into an expanding campaign operation in battleground states that appears to surpass what Donald Trump has built thus far. Flush with $71 million cash at the end of February — more than twice that of Trump's campaign — Biden parlayed his fundraising advantage into a hiring spree that now boasts 300 paid staffers across nine states and 100 offices in parts of the country that will decide the 2024 election, according to details provided by the campaign. Trump’s advisers would not disclose staffing levels, but his ground game still seems to be at a nascent stage. His campaign hired state directors in Pennsylvania and Michigan last week, people familiar with the recruitment process said.

Combined, the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have fewer than five staff members in each of the battleground states, said two Republicans familiar with the committee and the Trump campaign’s organizational structures in 2020 and 2024. At this point in 2020, the Trump Victory organization already had state directors, regional directors and field organizers on the ground in battleground states, testing field operations and activating volunteers, the two people said. “This is like comparing a Maserati to a Honda — 2020 had staff and the bodies in place to turn out the vote,” one said. “This current iteration is starting from ground zero, and we’re seven months out from the election. It makes no sense and puts them at a huge disadvantage to Biden, who is staffing up in droves.” The start of the general election campaign illustrates how Trump and Biden are waging different bets on the path to victory in November. Beset by low approval ratings, Biden's view is that a muscular campaign operation will impress upon voters that he's championed popular policies and will propel them to completion if re-elected, his advisers said. The question is whether brick-and-mortar offices and phone banks will be enough to overcome nagging doubts about his age and fitness.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 10, 2024

Sen. Ted Cruz says Coast Guard used illegal agreements to silence sexual assault victims

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused the U.S. Coast Guard of illegally prohibiting sexual assault victims from sharing information with Congress about their assaults and investigations. “Directing victims to agree not to discuss what happened to them is particularly reprehensible,” Cruz wrote in a letter Monday to Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard. Cruz said illegal nondisclosure agreements were uncovered through his investigation as the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard. Cruz has previously pushed for changes to how the military handles sexual assault. Part of the impetus for that push was the murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was found slain after being reported missing from Fort Hood, now known as Fort Cavazos, in 2020.

In his letter, Cruz said that, in 2014, the Coast Guard started a six-year investigation called “Operation Fouled Anchor” into allegations the Coast Guard Academy mishandled dozens of sexual assault reports from 1988 to 2006. The resulting report concluded that the academy “did not adequately investigate allegations as serious criminal matters and hold perpetrators appropriately accountable.” Cruz said it took another two and a half years for the Coast Guard to disclose Operation Fouled Anchor to Congress, however, and only after news media inquiries. Cruz cites “internal documents” to say the Coast Guard was worried about releasing the report to Congress or the public because it would “risk the initiation of comprehensive Congressional investigations, hearings, and media interest” and reveal that the “rates of sexual assault reporting have not appreciably changed.” Cruz gave credit to the Coast Guard for investigating its past handling of sexual assaults but said his review revealed ways in which the service hampered congressional oversight. Those include having at least some involved in Operation Fouled Anchor sign a nondisclosure agreement or orally agree to an NDA, forbidding them from speaking about the investigations. That included “victims, subjects, and witnesses,” Cruz said in the letter.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 10, 2024

North Texas businesses demanding state child care reform

Child care providers, early educators and families navigating Texas’ child care system have been treading water for years. Now, private businesses are preparing to sound the alarm to legislators and plead for the rescue of a notable victim that’s bearing the weight of the issue: the state economy. Restaurants, hotels, insurance companies and financial institutions are among more than 50 entities banding together alongside early childhood experts to advocate for child care policy reform during the upcoming 2025 legislative session. The various industries behind the Employers for Childcare Task Force say they are all enduring similar issues around employee turnover and understaffing that are directly tied to the lack of accessible, affordable and quality child care in the state. Simply put, parents can’t go to work if they are unable to find or afford care for their child, and Texas is estimated to be losing out on about $9.4 billion annually because of it, according to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The options for child care outside of volunteering family members, such as child care homes and centers, are costly at an average of $611 per month statewide. Additionally, the operating hours of these facilities typically align with a traditional 9-5 work day, which is not conducive for those who work as servers, nurses or hospitality workers. Creating more opportunities for child care during nontraditional hours is among the focuses of the task force formed by the Texas Restaurant Association, Early Matters Texas, Texas Association of Business and Texas 2036, a nonprofit focused on finding nonpartisan policy solutions through data and research. Kelsey Erickson Streufert, chief public affairs officer at the Texas Restaurant Association, said the task force is looking at other policies similar states have implemented, analyzing Texas’ current programs intended to assist families and providers to see how they can be improved, and simplifying red tape so providers can open or expand their services more efficiently. She stressed there is no one-size-fits-all, silver bullet solution, which needs to be kept in mind when looking at long-term investments.

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Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2024

Mike Miles says HISD may backtrack on plan to add English-only track at two popular immersion schools

Houston ISD's appointed Superintendent Mike Miles said Monday that he will ask the district's Board of Managers to walk back plans to add English-only pre-kindergarten tracks at the Helms and Wharton dual-language schools at the board's monthly meeting on Thursday. The district had previously planned to open English-only tracks at the popular Spanish immersion schools as part of its efforts to expand pre-kindergarten offerings across the city, saying the move was necessary to accommodate families zoned to those campuses. The agenda for Thursday's board meeting, however, now includes items to designate Helms and Wharton as "Separate and Unique Schools," which would allow them to skirt those requirements by moving to an application-only model for all students.

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Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2024

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee responds to backlash after saying moon is mostly made up of gases

Things took an astronomical turn for the worse on X, formerly Twitter, when critics began teasing Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee about her remarks at an event Tuesday. Lee took to twitter to defend herself saying she misspoke when she referred to the moon as being made "mostly of gases." "Obviously, I misspoke and meant to say the sun, but as usual, Republicans are focused on stupid things instead of stuff that really matters," Lee wrote on X. "What can I say though, foolish thinkers lust for stupidity."

In a video on X that's been viewed nearly 600,000 times, Lee said "sometimes, you've heard the word full moon. Sometimes, you need to take the opportunity to just come out and see a full moon — it's that complete rounded circle which is made up mostly of gases." She went on to say "that's why the question is why or how could we as humans live on the moon — the gas is such that we could do that." After discussing the moon, Lee dived into another part of the solar system — the sun. "The sun is a mighty powerful heat, but it's almost impossible to go near the sun," she said. "The moon is more manageable and you will see in a couple years that NASA is going back to the moon."

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San Antonio Express-News - April 10, 2024

John Sharp says San Antonio’s fast-growing campus is on track to be system’s second-largest

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp predicts the fast-growing A&M campus on San Antonio’s South Side will move up several places in the next decade to become the second-largest of the system’s 11 universities. “This place is a rocket ship,” Sharp, 73, and in his final years as the system’s longtime chancellor, said during a visit to the campus this week. Texas A&M-San Antonio, with some 7,600 students, is about seventh in enrollment among the 11 universities in the A&M system, which has well over 150,000 students. The flagship university in College Station has about 77,500, followed by 16,230 reported by Tarleton State University in Stephenville in the fall. “I believe that 10 years from now, this will be the second biggest university in the system, with the potential, probably when I’m dead … to be the size of College Station. Because of where it is, and because so many people love San Antonio,” Sharp said.

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Dallas Morning News - April 10, 2024

UT Dallas lays off 20 staffers, closes office to comply with DEI ban

The University of Texas at Dallas laid off about 20 employees and is closing a campus support office to comply with the state’s DEI ban, university president Richard Benson said in an email to the community Tuesday. Benson said that, effective April 30, the university’s Office of Campus Resources and Support and about two dozen workers will be eliminated. This move from UTD comes about a week after the University of Texas at Austin laid off around 60 employees in the wake of SB 17, which prohibits public colleges and universities from having DEI offices and holding diversity, equity and inclusion activities and programs.

“We have continued to evaluate our SB 17 response and how to realign many of the programs impacted by the legislation,” Benson wrote in his message to the school community. “A limited number of functions will be moved to other administrative units to ensure continuity of services to our students, faculty and staff.” Benson noted the Accessibility Resource Center will continue to provide disability and accessibility services to students under the Office of Academic Affairs while the same services for employees will move to human resources. Employees affected by the elimination of these positions were notified. Student workers will retain their jobs through the end of the semester. Last year, during an August panel with local college presidents, Benson told The Dallas Morning News that no one would lose a job at UTD because of the DEI ban. However, “they might be in a different job.” He added, “If you knew what we did, rather than what we call it, I think you’d admire it, and you’d admire the people who [do] it.”

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Associated Press - April 10, 2024

Beyoncé becomes first Black woman to hit No. 1 on Billboard country albums chart

Beyoncé has made history once again. Her latest album, the epic Act ll: Cowboy Carter, hit No. 1 on the Billboard country albums chart, making her the first Black woman to top the chart since its 1964 inception. The album also topped the all-genres Billboard 200, marking the Houston-born artist’s eighth No. 1 album. According to Luminate, the industry data and analytics company, Cowboy Carter totaled 407,000 equivalent album units, a combination of pure album sales and on-demand streams, earned in the U.S. in its first week.

As a Black woman reclaiming country music, Beyoncé stands in opposition to stereotypical associations of the genre with whiteness. Conversation surrounding Beyoncé's country music explorations began when she arrived at the 2024 Grammy Awards in full cowboy regalia — making a statement without saying a word. Then, during the Super Bowl, she dropped two hybrid country songs: “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” eventually leading to the release of Cowboy Carter. Catch up on the day's news you need to know. In February, “Texas Hold ‘Em” reached No. 1 on the country airplay chart, making her the first Black woman to top that chart as well.

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Dallas Morning News - April 10, 2024

Groups file complaint against Sen. Ted Cruz, super PAC over podcast ad money

Two advocacy groups on Tuesday called on the Federal Election Commission to investigate and potentially sanction U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for more than $630,000 in advertising revenue that has flowed from his podcast to a super PAC backing his reelection. “There is reason to believe Cruz has violated federal campaign finance laws that prohibit federal candidates and officeholders from soliciting or directing ‘soft money’ — including money from corporations, which are categorically prohibited from contributing to candidates — in connection with his 2024 reelection efforts,” according to the FEC complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center and End Citizens United. Both groups focus on campaign finance rules. Their complaint said the podcast, Verdict with Ted Cruz, is funded, marketed and distributed by iHeartMedia.

It highlights five payments, dating back to March 2023, from iHeart Media Management Services Inc., a subsidiary of iHeartMedia, to the pro-Cruz Truth and Courage PAC. Rachel Nelson, spokesperson for iHeart subsidiary Premiere Networks, previously has said the payments to Truth and Courage are associated with Verdict ad revenue, but referred additional questions to the super PAC. Truth and Courage does not provide contact information on its website, which promotes Cruz and attacks his opponent in the November election, U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas. Inquiries sent to an email address included with the PAC’s campaign finance filings have gone unanswered. The Cruz campaign has previously characterized attention to the podcast’s financial arrangements as “lazy attacks” by news outlets and Democrats trying to shut down the podcast in an election year. Cruz and iHeart have said the senator volunteers to host the podcast three times a week and is not compensated. Neither Cruz nor iHeart have explained why the company is sending the podcast’s advertising money to Truth and Courage.

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Inside Higher Ed - April 10, 2024

Diversity office name changes spark concern from both sides

Not long after Texas passed SB 17, a law prohibiting diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public colleges and universities, many institutions chose to rename their former DEI offices, using words like “belonging,” “community engagement” and “student development” in the new titles. But last month, an anti-DEI legislator warned that cosmetic adjustments were not enough. Republican state senator Brandon Creighton, the lead sponsor of SB 17, wrote letters to Texas’s public university systems reminding them that compliance with the law goes beyond renaming offices. “While I am encouraged with the progress I have seen from many institutions of higher education in implementing SB 17, I am deeply concerned with the possibility that many institutions may choose to merely rename their offices or employee titles,” he wrote. ”This letter should serve as notice that this practice is unacceptable.”

Last week the University of Texas at Austin announced it was closing its Division of Campus and Community Engagement—formerly its DEI division—and laying off 60 employees, according to the Austin American-Statesman. UT Austin president Jay Hartzell said the change would cut down on programs that were duplicated amid the restructuring to comply with SB 17. But many in the UT Austin community and beyond chastised the institution for appearing to cow to anti-DEI politics beyond what was mandated by state law. An editorial in the Austin American-Statesman slammed the state—“driven by Republican fervor to hunt down and crush what they’ve deemed ‘woke’ tendencies in education”—for “gnawing deeply into the reputation of its magnificent higher education system.” Austin wasn’t the only UT campus to flip-flop. Last December the University of Texas at San Antonio announced it would close its DEI office and open an Office of Campus and Community Belonging instead. But on Jan. 2—the day after SB 17 went into effect—PresidentTaylor Eighmy backtracked, announcing that the new office would not open after all. DEI programs and practices have now been outlawed in some form or another in 10 states, with critics arguing that they demean and sideline white, cisgender, heterosexual students for characteristics they have no control over. Proponents of DEI, meanwhile, believe that such programs are essential for supporting students who have been historically marginalized, discriminated against or excluded from higher education.

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Chron - April 10, 2024

Dan Patrick pushes Texas pastors to run for political office

As millions of Texans prepared to stare at the sky Monday to glimpse the total solar eclipse, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joined his pastor Ed Young in a prayer circle at Houston's Second Baptist Church, where they embraced conservative kingmakers and called for pastors and believers to run for office. "If we don't win in 2024, we lose this nation," Patrick said ahead of the November elections, while standing on a small stage at the church's massive Woodway campus. "Today, it is a battle of darkness and light. There are people who pray to God, believe in God, raise their families in God's work and there are people over here who don't believe in God and want to kick God out. They hate God. That's the battle we're in." Patrick, a longtime member of the SBC-affiliated megachurch and one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas, attended the pastor's private luncheon organized by the American Renewal Project (ARP), a group founded by anti-gay Dallas political operative David Lane.

The ARP has spent recent years enlisting North Carolina's GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to recruit and train clergy and congregants to win seats on local school boards, city councils, county commissions and on the state legislature. The project's Houston meeting represented the first of 20 gatherings across Texas. "We need America to get out of the chaos and come back to peace," said Patrick, who called North Carolina's Robinson a friend. "Whether its pastors or just believers, they need to stand up and either run for office, support people running for office…" and register citizens to vote in elections. Patrick drew applause for praising anti-abortion state and federal laws and for verbalizing anti-immigration rhetoric about the "millions" of people including "criminals, sex offenders, and child abusers" crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He also claimed the Biden administration refused to do anything to stop the border "chaos" because migrants mean future democratic voters. "I'd rather be kicked out of office for my positions than kicked out of Heaven for my positions," Patrick said. "Vote me into office and vote me into Heaven." The speech a little more than a month after Pastor Young delivered a ranting sermon during which he referred to migrants coming into Texas as "undesirables," "garbage" and "raff" and suggesting that the United States is already "lost through foolishness." Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, Young referred to the democratic party as "some kind of religion that is basically godless" and called for his congregants to vote out local officials.

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Border Report - April 10, 2024

Groups: CBP undercounting migrant deaths on the border

A regional humanitarian nonprofit says the federal government is undercounting migrant deaths and continues to engage in practices such as chases of suspected smugglers that result in third-party fatalities. Research published in March by the Arizona-based No More Deaths shows two to four times as many migrants died in West Texas and Southern New Mexico in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020 than reported by the government. The deaths resulted from dehydration or hypothermia (depending on the season), falls from mountains or the border wall, drownings, being struck by motor vehicles and being injured during law-enforcement chases. The group attributes the undercount – which it documents case-by-case in a public database with more than 400 deaths – to insufficient follow-up with hospitals, local police and medical examiners after border agents or officers come upon injured parties or skeletal remains.

“I’ve seen in the data they only take 4% of deaths that occur in a hospital,” said Bryce Peterson, an independent researcher for No More Deaths. “I’ve seen reports of a death that was not reported by the (U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s) Office of Professional Responsibility even though Border Patrol was aware of it.” Research from No More Deaths has 438 migrants dying in the El Paso Sector from 2012-2023, compared to 312 reported by the federal government. The group says its data comes from CBP, medical examiner’s offices in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties and the New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner Investigator. The group says it wants to show the disparity to bring about more transparency and accountability from government agencies. In a statement to Border Report, CBP said it follows Congressional reporting requirements. And while the disparity is substantial between 2016 and 2022, CBP documented more migrant deaths in 2022 than No More Deaths did (149 vs. 139). “While CBP works had to track this information as fully and accurately as possible, these data are not all-encompassing. These numbers may differ from other organizations that track similar data,” CBP told Border Report.

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Texas Tribune - April 10, 2024

25 years after fatal bonfire, Texas A&M considers bringing student tradition back

Building the Aggie bonfire was once among the most prized student traditions at Texas A&M University. That changed when the 60-foot stack of logs fell and killed 12 people in 1999, becoming one of the most painful chapters in the university’s history. Now, 25 years after the tragedy, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents is considering bringing the tradition back ahead of the school’s first football match against the University of Texas at Austin in years. Texas A&M President Mark Welsh formed a committee in November to explore how to commemorate the renewed football rivalry with UT-Austin, as the Longhorns join the Southeastern Conference this year. In a January letter obtained by The Texas Tribune, regent and rivalry committee member John Bellinger wrote to families of the 1999 bonfire victims asking for input on the possibility of resuming the bonfire with oversight from the university’s administration.

“The members of the committee and I are extremely sensitive to your loss. I do not want to reopen the many wounds that you have but it is important to me to have your opinion,” Bellinger wrote in the letter, asking to meet with the families. Sources close to the discussions told the Tribune that Bellinger has proposed that a construction company come in to build the bonfire. Resuming bonfires, they said, appeared to be in the interest of older alumni who had previously been involved in the tradition, rather than current students. Bellinger did not respond to a request for comment Monday. The first bonfire in 1909 was little more than a pile of wood and trash. It, in time, grew in size and complexity, even hitting a world record in 1969. A 1947 campus handbook read: “Bonfire symbolizes two things: a burning desire to beat the team from the University of Texas, and the undying flame of love that every loyal Aggie carries in his heart for the school.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 10, 2024

After a long windup, Council Member Manny Peláez says he's running for mayor

City Council Member Manny Peláez, who publicly mused about running for mayor last summer and has been noisily positioning himself ever since for a citywide campaign in 2025, made it official in a video announcement early Tuesday. “As your mayor, I will never shy away from difficult conversations about the challenges we face,” Peláez said in the three-minute, 18-second video on YouTube that features a montage of historic and cultural landmarks across San Antonio and includes the tagline “Safer. Stronger. Smarter.” While offering no specific policies, Peláez promised “fearless and innovative solutions for crime, the increasing cost of living, homelessness, unreasonably high taxes and a job market that excludes too many San Antonians.”

Peláez, 50, is the second City Council member to launch a campaign to replace Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who can’t seek reelection next year because of San Antonio’s term limits. District 9 Council Member John Courage announced his candidacy in January. Both Peláez, an employment law attorney and onetime chairman of the Brooks Development Authority, and Courage easily won reelection in their North Side districts last year and are serving their fourth and final two-year terms on council. District 6 Council Member Melissa Cabello Havrda is expected to enter the race for mayor at some point, and District 4 Council Member Adriana Rocha Garcia is considering it. Before Tuesday’s announcement, Peláez’s campaign sent invitations for a VIP reception Wednesday at Casa Hernán Mexican Cantina, a chef Johnny Hernandez restaurant in Southtown. The top suggested donation is $1,000, which is the most an individual or political action committee can give to a mayoral candidate. For City Council candidates, the max is $500.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 10, 2024

Humble ISD trustees to release Title IX report on superintendent's husband

Humble ISD trustees voted Tuesday to accept the retirement of the superintendent's husband, Troy Kite, and to release the findings of a lengthy Title IX investigation that, alongside multiple related Title IX cases, cost the district more than $500,000 to mediate. Kite, Humble ISD’s executive director of UIL and fine arts, is married to Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen. A Title IX complaint was first filed by assistant athletic director Jana Williams against Kite nearly a year ago. Kite made two complaints in response: his own Title IX complaint and a general grievance. Discussion of these complaints has been held in closed session by the Board of Trustees over the course of months.

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National Stories

Religion News Service - April 10, 2024

Catholic bishops silent as Ascension hospital system shrinks maternity care

Christina Marea, a nurse midwife, wasn’t surprised when she saw the report from National Nurses United warning that Ascension, one of the largest Catholic health care providers in the U.S., was accelerating a trend of slashing labor and delivery units from its offerings. In 2017, Ascension closed the labor and delivery unit at Providence Hospital in Washington, where Marea worked. Marea said that Ascension gave 60 days’ notice of the closure without coordinating with nearby facilities to make sure they could handle increased patient volume or creating a transfer plan for patients, simply handing them a list of hospitals. Marea, now an assistant professor in midwifery at Georgetown University’s School of Nursing, said that Ascension had underinvested in Providence for years before the closure.

She remembers nurses begging Ascension for more than two baby warmers for the 12-bed unit. “We would have nurses running down the hallway, sterilizing them while they ran to get from one delivery to the next,” she said. Providence served Black and poor patients and had the only labor and delivery unit with 24/7 access to a Spanish-speaking provider, according to Marea. But when Ascension closed the unit, two years before it closed the hospital entirely, Marea said, “it was devastating.” While labor and delivery units are disappearing at hospitals nationally, some health care experts have pointed out that Ascension has the resources to buck that trend. Both industry analysts and the nonprofit’s obstetric nurses are questioning whether Ascension is upholding Catholic values and those of the U.S. Catholic bishops who called for more robust maternity care before the 2022 Dobbs ruling ended the right to an abortion. The labor and delivery closures do not “represent a culture of life that the Catholic Church and the Catholic health facilities are promoting,” said Marea. “Historically, the Catholic hospitals have had a better reputation, mostly because of their mission,” said Jean Ross, a co-president of National Nurses United, a union that recently began representing Ascension nurses in Baltimore; Austin, Texas; and Wichita, Kansas.

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Bloomberg - April 10, 2024

The real battle for data privacy begins when you die

In 2012 a 15-year-old girl died in Berlin after being hit by a subway train. Her bereaved parents asked Facebook to turn over her private messages in hopes of understanding whether her death was a suicide or an accident. Facebook refused. Her death had already been reported to the social media site, which then converted her profile to a “memorialized account.” According to the company’s policy at the time, no one could access memorialized accounts, even with a password. After years of lawsuits and appeals, Germany’s highest court in 2018 ordered Facebook to turn over the profile. The Afterlife of Data (April 11, University of Chicago Press), a slim book by Carl Öhman, an assistant professor of political science at Uppsala University in Sweden, takes on the central question of whether Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., as well as companies such as Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc., should have the power to decide what happens to our data after our deaths.

Modern-day societies have many rituals and customs for handling the dead’s physical remains but no established practices to deal with digital ones. Öhman argues that “the data we leave behind upon death can be regarded as nothing less than an informational corpse.” Can we allow such a responsibility to fall, by default, to the Big Tech companies? Öhman tells us this is one of the most pressing questions of our era, because anyone with internet access generates massive quantities of data, much of which will continue to exist after the originator’s death. The book builds off a study that Öhman and his co-author, David Watson, published in 2019 estimating that Facebook would have the profiles of almost 5 billion dead users by the end of the century. (That number assumes the site will keep growing at current rates, a very big if.) Öhman says large tech companies’ possession of deceased user data is a collective problem, because they would own “a truly global archive of human behavior,” constituting the historical artifacts of generations of users. In these companies’ servers, they would have the data patterns of entire populations of people and the documentation of contemporary events and movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and Arab Spring. There’s also no financial incentive for these companies to act as a responsible estate manager. They may look for ways to monetize profiles of the deceased, sell their data, or simply get rid of it for reasons as arbitrary as saving server space. Facebook’s “memorialized” accounts, which turn the profile into a tribute page where friends can visit and post, are designed to be static. In 2015 the company added a feature that allows a user to arrange for a “legacy contact” to manage the page after the account holder’s death. But the contact can’t log in or read messages; they are able to curate tribute posts or request that accounts be removed. Öhman finds this solution inadequate, posing a rather obvious question: What happens when the legacy contact dies?

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The Hill - April 10, 2024

Ken Buck knocks ‘Moscow Marjorie’ Taylor Greene

Former Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) took shots at Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Monday, attacking his former GOP colleague as “Moscow Marjorie.” The jab comes after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Greene a “very serious legislator” following her threat to force a vote to oust Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) over Ukraine aid. Buck disagreed with McCarthy’s assessment. “My experience with Marjorie is, people have talked to her about not filing articles of impeachment on President Biden before he was sworn into office, on not filing articles of impeachment that were groundless made on other individuals in the Biden administration,” he told Erin Burnett in a CNN interview Monday. “And she was never moved by that. She was always focused on her social media account,” Buck continued. “And Moscow Marjorie is focused now on this Ukraine issue and getting her talking points from the Kremlin and making sure that she is popular and she is getting a lot of coverage.”

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New York Times - April 10, 2024

Banks made big climate promises. A new study doubts they work.

Two and half years ago, bankers and investors attended the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, an annual event normally dominated by activists and policymakers. It was considered a milestone as the financial sector agreed to put its might into tackling climate change. Hundreds of banks, insurers and asset managers vowed to plow $130 trillion in capital into reducing carbon emissions and financing the energy transition as they introduced the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. But a recent study, published by the European Central Bank, disputed the effectiveness of those promises.

“Our results cast doubt on the efficacy of voluntary climate commitments for reducing financed emissions, whether through divestment or engagement,” wrote economists from the central bank, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia Business School who analyzed lending by European banks that had signed on to the Net-Zero Banking Alliance, the banking group of the Glasgow initiative. The researchers found that since 2018 the banks had reduced lending 20 percent to sectors they had targeted in their climate goals, such as oil and gas and transport. That seems like progress, but the researchers argued it was not sufficient because the decline was the same for banks that had not made the same commitment. “It’s not OK for the net-zero bank to act exactly like the non-net-zero bank, because we need that to scale up financing,” said Parinitha Sastry, an assistant professor of finance at Columbia Business School and one of the paper’s authors. “We want there to be a behavioral change.”

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Associated Press - April 10, 2024

Coveted by both major parties, Latino voters are also targets for election misinformation

As ranchera music filled the Phoenix recording studio at Radio Campesina, a station personality spoke in Spanish into the microphone. “Friends of Campesina, in these elections, truth and unity are more important than ever,” said morning show host Tony Arias. “Don’t let yourself be trapped by disinformation.” The audio was recorded as a promo for Radio Campesina’s new campaign aiming to empower Latino voters ahead of the 2024 elections. That effort includes discussing election-related misinformation narratives and fact-checking conspiracy theories on air. “We are at the front lines of fighting misinformation in our communities,” said María Barquín, program director of Chavez Radio Group, the nonprofit that runs Radio Campesina, a network of Spanish-language stations in Arizona, California and Nevada. “There’s a lot at stake in 2024 for our communities. And so we need to amp up these efforts now more than ever.”

Latinos have grown at the second-fastest rate, behind Asian Americans, of any major racial and ethnic group in the U.S. since the last presidential election, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, and are projected to account for 14.7%, or 36.2 million, of all eligible voters in November, a new high. They are a growing share of the electorate in several presidential and congressional battleground states, including Arizona, California and Nevada, and are being heavily courted by Republicans and Democrats. Democratic President Joe Biden has credited Latino voters as a key reason he defeated Republican Donald Trump in 2020 and is urging them to help him do it again in November. Given the high stakes of a presidential election year, experts expect a surge of misinformation, especially through audio and video, targeting Spanish-speaking voters. “Latinos have immense voting power and can make a decisive difference in elections, yet they are an under-messaged, under-prioritized audience,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO Educational Fund, a national nonprofit encouraging Latino civic participation. “Our vote has an impact. These bad actors know this, and one way to influence the Latino vote is to misinform.” In addition to radio, much of the news and information Latinos consume is audio-based through podcasts or on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube. Content moderation efforts in Spanish are limited on these platforms, which are seeing a rising number of right-wing influencers peddling election falsehoods and QAnon conspiracy theories.

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Stateline - April 10, 2024

Republicans scrutinize voting rolls and ramp up for mass challenges ahead of election

When Scott Hoen ran to be Carson City, Nevada’s chief election official two years ago, he campaigned on “election integrity,” promising to make sure voter registration lists were accurate. In the chaotic aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, he believed that too many of his fellow Republicans were convinced that there was widespread voter fraud. By keeping voter rolls current, Hoen thought he could restore voter trust in his county’s election system. He won. And every day since he took office, he and his staff have tried to keep that focus, using data from all levels of government to remove voters who have moved or died from the active voter list.

Hoen was surprised, then, to be named in a lawsuit the Republican National Committee and the Nevada Republican Party filed last month against him, four other Nevada county clerks and the secretary of state. The lawsuit alleges that five localities had “inordinately high” voter registration rates, and that the state is violating federal law by not having what are known as “clean” voter rolls. Hoen said the lawsuit is “unfortunate” and “a distraction” in a pivotal election year. The state responded by saying the data Republicans used in the lawsuit are “highly flawed” and that the RNC’s analysis was like “comparing apples to orangutans.” Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers asserted without evidence that more than 1,500 dead Nevadans voted in 2020 and that an additional 42,000 in the state voted twice. The Nevada lawsuit is just one example of the tactics Republicans and conservative activists are using ahead of November’s presidential election, as they seek to purge voter rolls of allegedly ineligible voters. The efforts have election experts worried about voter access. The RNC filed a similar lawsuit against Michigan last month. Conservative groups have recently filed lawsuits in many other states, seeking access to state voter registration lists and claiming they might be bloated.

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The Hill - April 10, 2024

Lake, Gallego say they oppose Arizona abortion decision

Both Arizona Senate candidates came out against the state Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday that upholds one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. The court’s decision put into place an 1864 law barring abortion access in all cases except to save the life of the mother. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and GOP candidate Kari Lake each said the ruling should be overturned. Lake, who has in the past called the 1864 law “great” and showed support for strict abortion bans, said the state’s Legislature should instead decide on abortion rights legislation. The court decision and subsequent reactions landed just a day after former President Trump said the issue of abortion should be left to states.

“I understand the fear and anxiety of pregnancy, and the joy of motherhood. I wholeheartedly agree with President Trump — this is a very personal issue that should be determined by each individual state and her people,” she said in a statement. “I oppose today’s ruling, and I am calling on [Democratic Gov.] Katie Hobbs and the State Legislature to come up with an immediate common sense solution that Arizonans can support.” Gallego, meanwhile, doubled down on his stance in favor of abortion rights. “Today’s ruling is devastating for Arizona women and their families,” he said. “This is not what Arizonans want.” “This decision rips away the right for women to make their own healthcare decisions with their doctors,” he continued. “I promise you that we will fight this together. And with your help, we will win.” Gallego also shared Lake’s previous comments on the 1864 bill hours after the ruling, using them as an attack on her record. “I won’t let Kari Lake distort the record,” he wrote on the social platform X. “She called this law a ‘great law’ — even though it will ban nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape or incest.”

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Newsclips - April 9, 2024

Lead Stories

Associated Press - April 9, 2024

Trump's abortion statement angers conservatives and gives the Biden campaign a new target

Donald Trump still says he’s proud that the Supreme Court justices he nominated overturned Roe v. Wade. Yet he again on Monday avoided tough questions about abortion, including whether he would support a national abortion ban should he return to the White House. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee tried to put to rest an issue widely seen as a general election liability. Instead, his video statement exposed the tough road ahead and inflamed leaders on both sides of the issue. Religious conservatives said they were deeply disappointed. Progressives said he was lying. And there’s every indication that abortion will define the 2024 election no matter what Trump does or says — in large part because Republicans in Congress and in statehouses across the country continue to fight for new restrictions.

For Trump, fights over abortion, like any other major issue, have always been about winning. And so it should not be a surprise that on Monday he avoided endorsing a ban. Trump has long tried to steer clear from supporting national restrictions that could be a political disaster for Republicans struggling to win back key groups — especially suburban women — who turned their backs on the GOP in recent years. Trump remains eager to take credit for the reversal of Roe v. Wade. He did so again in Monday’s video posted to his social media site. But even at the state level, abortion bans enacted after Roe was overturned have been deeply unpopular. So, Trump simply tried to punt abortion back to the states. “The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both. And whatever they decide must be the law of the land,” Trump said of abortion rights. “Now, it’s up to the states to do the right thing.” The outrage from Democrats was expected. The fierce infighting among Trump’s GOP was not. “We are deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has declined to endorse his former running mate this year, put it this way: “President Trump’s retreat on the Right to Life is a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2024

Eclipse-watchers weren't disappointed despite Texas cloud cover

Eclipse chasers awoke Monday to gloomy weather forecasts, but many still took up posts along the path of totality hoping the clouds would part for the celestial show. Some parts of Texas were lucky, and observers got clear views of the sun’s corona – its outermost atmosphere – as it shone like a halo around the moon. Others caught glimpses between the cloud coverage, and some couldn’t see the sun at all but noticed the darkness brought on by its sudden absence. Passengers who boarded planes hoping for a better view also faced challenges. The 30 people aboard a JSX flight from Dallas sunk to the plane floor, contorted their bodies and craned their necks to view the sun-moon interaction out the windows.

“It was pretty awesome,” said 15-year-old Susan Rivera, a student who won a spot on the flight that departed Dallas Love Field. “I saw the entire thing. I had to twist my neck and body a little bit to see it.” The total solar eclipse completely blocked the sun for 12.8 million Texans living from Eagle Pass to Texarkana. Visitors came from other parts of the country and the world while scientists captured video, launched helium balloons and studied animal behaviors. And then many people surrendered themselves to traffic after the spectacle, with State Highway 71 between Austin and Bastrop among the areas backed up. Houston wasn’t in the path of totality, but many stepped outside Monday afternoon in hopes of glimpsing the partial eclipse. At its peak, the moon blocked 94 percent of the sun. "I see it! I see it!' students shouted repeatedly on the basketball court outside of Anderson Elementary School in southwest Houston. "It looks like an orange pepper!" observed one fourth-grader.

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CNBC - April 9, 2024

Appeals court judge denies Trump's bid to delay next week's hush money trial

A state appeals court judge Monday denied Donald Trump's bid for an emergency delay of his impending criminal trial in New York. Justice Lizbeth González of the state Appellate Division issued the ruling after attorneys for the former president argued the trial needed to be halted because "an impartial jury cannot be selected right now based on prejudicial pretrial publicity." González rejected the request in a one-line ruling late Monday afternoon with no explanation.

Trump's attorneys had filed the eleventh-hour motion in an attempt to delay a trial that centers on charges that Trump falsified business records related to hush money payments. The long-shot legal maneuver came exactly one week before the first criminal trial of a former president is scheduled to start. González's ruling affects only Trump's request for a delay, not his underlying change-of-venue motion. Trump's attorneys are also fighting the partial gag order that Judge Juan Merchan handed down against him last month, which the appeals court is expected to hear Tuesday. Trump attorney Emil Bove argued at the hearing on the venue challenge Monday afternoon that the gag order is unconstitutional and that jury selection can't proceed in a fair manner because of all the publicity surrounding the case. Steven Wu of the district attorney's office countered that the publicity isn't confined to Manhattan, arguing it's worldwide, in part because of Trump's frequent commentary about the case. He suggested Trump was "trying to have it both ways" by complaining about the publicity while stoking it.

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2024

Houston lawmakers call for state hearing to address alleged violations of state law in HISD

Several Houston-area Democratic legislators are calling for a formal hearing to address “potential violations of state law” in Houston ISD in the aftermath of the Texas Education Agency stripping elected leaders from the school district. The lawmakers asked in a letter sent Friday that the House Committee on Public Education host a hearing to address reports of “unqualified, non-degree holding teachers” working in classrooms and a lack of accommodations for students with disabilities. They also requested independent research proving the benefits of state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles’ New Education System. The request comes after the state takeover of HISD in March 2023 and the Texas Education Agency’s appointment of the Superintendent and nine members of the Board of Managers. Due to the takeover, the nine lawmakers who signed the letter said it is “imperative that the state assume full responsibility for HISD students and hold the board of managers accountable”

“As their duly elected State Representatives, we must hold a hearing to learn more about these concerning reports and efforts to subvert state laws and requirements,” the letter states. Reps. Christina Morales, Ann Johnson, Jarvis Johnson, Penny Morales Shaw, Mary Ann Perez, Jon Rosentahl, Shawn Thierry, Hubert Vo and Gene Wu all signed the letter, which was addressed to Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan and the House education committee. Phelan and TEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. “Teacher reports and parent concerns are uncovering troubling developments at our schools,” Morales wrote in a statement. “The community can no longer vote on who represents us on the school board, so we as the state representatives must hold the appointed board accountable.” In a response to the letter, HISD said it was going to stay focused on “the critical work of serving students and families,” and it had already seen positive impacts for kids after implementing reforms. “HISD has invited dozens of elected and community leaders into our schools to see the work happening first-hand,” the district wrote. “We are pleased to share our progress with any other leaders who want to better understand what’s happening in the schools.”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2024

Review of sex crime incident reports suspended by HPD yields links to other cases, Finner says

Of the suspended sex crime incident reports submitted by the Houston Police Department to the Houston Forensic Science Center, nearly 100 came back with links to other cases, Chief Troy Finner said Monday evening. The update comes as the department continues to work through a review of 264,000 cases that have been dismissed under a code called “SL” – Suspended: Lack of personnel” – since 2016. The revelation from the department has rocked both the department and the city in recent weeks. The news has also prompted Mayor John Whitmire to create a five-member review committee to look into how the department handled the cases. In HPD’s initial review, 4,017 of those suspended incident reports had been identified as adult sex crimes, Finner wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2024

Houston private school nearing $180M goal for historic expansion

Only two things stand between the Kinkaid School and its future: 450,000 Old Texas bricks in color Rosio Buff and $42 million more in funding. The private school nestled on 34.5 acres in Piney Point Village is in the midst of a historic $180 million fundraising campaign, the largest of any private school in this region of the United States, according to the school's Director of Advancement, Tom Moore. “Essentially, this is our final master plan for Kinkaid campus. Literally every division and every department of the school is going to be impacted by this project,” said Head of School Jonathan Eades, with construction on the new upper school well underway outside his office window. The "All In" campaign is being called a legacy project for the school, which was founded in 1904 by Margaret Kinkaid. It should carry the school up to 100 years into the future, leadership has said. Their last campaign, which totaled $47 million, finished in 2003.

The four-year campaign that began in October 2022 is already three-quarters to its goal. Kinkaid joined an elite group of less than three dozen independent schools in the National Association of Independent Schools who have ever raised at least $100 million in a single fundraising campaign. Moore said he and the volunteer committee are confident that they will reach the $180 million goal by fall 2026, meeting almost every day with families and potential donors (whom he stipulated must already have some connection to Kinkaid, as is protocol for private school fundraisers). Kinkaid already has a considerable endowment of $130 million, allowing nearly $4.5 million to be budgeted for financial aid this fiscal year, including support for tuition, computers, books, meals, uniforms and school supplies. Applications are need-blind at the school, meaning deserving students are admitted regardless of if their families can afford full tuition, which will increase 5% to $35,340 for 2024-25. About 10% of Kinkaid's 1,469 students receive financial aid.

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Houston Landing - April 9, 2024

HISD’s special education department is improving — but it’s still lagging on a key metric

For years, Rita Martinez would cry after meetings with the special education staff at Berry Elementary School about her son, Joel, who has dyslexia and autism. Employees at the campus on Houston ISD’s north side would say they were stretched too thin and could not provide all the services and accommodations laid out in Joel’s education plan, Martinez said. As a result, Joel would sometimes miss out on the speech and occupational therapies he needed. But this year, Martinez’s experience has completely flipped with Berry Elementary joining new HISD Superintendent Mike Miles’ “New Education System,” or NES. Meetings are less contentious, staff provide her with more updates on Joel’s progress and revamped lessons give him time for extra help from teachers.

“This year has been one of our best years,” Martinez said. Under the new model, “the teacher teaches, (the students) do the questions and, if they don’t understand it, they stay behind with the teacher … so it gives the kids a lot of the one-on-one that’s needed.” With the first year of Miles’ tenure nearing its end, HISD has made significant progress in restructuring its approach to special education, though it’s still struggling to translate those changes into better instruction for students with disabilities, a Houston Landing review has found. The findings are based on payroll records, reports from state-appointed special education monitors and interviews with several HISD parents, advocates and staff. The review showed mixed results. On one hand, HISD staff held far more required meetings with families on time, allowing students to qualify for services earlier in the year. On the other, nearly half of special education students still made no measurable progress on their learning goals.

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Houston Landing - April 9, 2024

Order preventing Arcola city officials from interfering in council members' duties canceled

An order by a Fort Bend County Judge to stop Arcola city officials from interfering with the duties of three council members became null and void following a stay issued by the Fourteenth Court of Appeals Monday morning. With a City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, city officials may not count the vote of council member Ebony Sanco, her lawyer said after the hearing. Sanco is at the heart of a heated controversy in Arcola in which the mayor and city officials are trying to remove her from her position. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals did not specify a reason for granting the stay. This is ahead of a scheduled Arcola City Council meeting in which council members will consider the future employment of city attorney Grady Randle, city administrator Annette Guajardo Goldberg and the annexation of 83 acres that has been a point of contention with the city for months.

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Houston Chronicle - April 9, 2024

Darryl Wilson resigns after just 2 months on Housing Authority

Following Mayor John Whitmire’s overhaul of Houston Housing Authority’s board, Darryl Wilson, one of the newly appointed commissioners, resigned after less than two months because he does not have time to serve on the board, according to the mayor’s office. In a highly unusual move, Whitmire in February kept only two of the agency’s commissioners and appointed five new people to fill the seven-member board. At the time, the mayor said he was concerned about “financial mismanagement” at the agency. Former board chair LaRence Snowden said the accusation was unfounded, adding Whitmire appears to have misconceptions about how the housing authority operates.

Wilson, one of the five new members, has since resigned from his position, according to a Friday memo from Whitmire. Wilson had some “unforeseen scheduling issues and time constraints” that would prevent him from serving on the authority’s board at this time, said Mary Benton, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office. “Mayor Whitmire looks forward to Mr. Wilson serving in other areas when the time is right for him,” Benton said. A retired senior executive at General Electric, Wilson currently leads The Wilson Collective, a consulting and investment firm that offers services to technology and industrial startups, according to his LinkedIn profile. He could not immediately be reached for comment. Eric Carter, founding principal of The Carter Law Firm, has been named as Wilson’s replacement, per Whitmire’s memo. Carter has been practicing law for over four decades and most recently focused on health care legal matters. Carter did not respond to requests for comment, but Benton said he had accepted the offer.

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Border Report - April 9, 2024

Allred calls migrant surge a ‘crisis,’ urges Senate to pass border security bill

Colin Allred says “crisis” is an acceptable term to describe the migrant surge at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Democratic congressman from Dallas, who is challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for his seat in November, was in Laredo, Texas, on Friday, to meet with border officials and nonprofits that assist asylum-seekers. After touring the Rio Grande, he said he was “frustrated” by current immigration policies and he wants to see real change by Congress to stop the flow of migrants illegally crossing from Mexico. “The term ‘crisis’ is applicable when you have a record number of crossings, which we did in December,” Allred said in response to a question from Border Report. Allred said he’s calling it as he sees it.

“Let’s not make it a partisan term. Let’s just say that we have to respond to it,” he said. “My family is from the (Rio Grande) Valley and I recognize the burden it places on border communities when we don’t have the policies in place to deal with this. I’m incredibly frustrated right now.” Allred toured a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility with U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose hometown is Laredo and whose district extends to the Rio Grande Valley. Both Allred and Cuellar are members of the new Democrats for Border Security Task Force, which formed earlier this year to try to change the narrative about the border and border communities. Allred says he grew up spending summers in Brownsville, Texas, across from Matamoros, Mexico. His grandfather was a U.S. Customs officer and he says he has fond memories of running and playing in the streets and neighborhood near his grandmother’s house. He urged Senate leaders to bring to a vote the Senate Border Security Bill — the same bill that President Joe Biden pushed when he visited Brownsville on Feb. 29.

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McClatchy - April 9, 2024

Texas Eclipse Festival canceled hours before celestial event

The Texas Eclipse Festival, a music and arts festival celebrating the 2024 total solar eclipse, was canceled just hours before the rare celestial event. The festival in Burnet announced its cancellation around 10 a.m. CT on Monday, April 8. Festival goers were planning on viewing the total solar eclipse at 1:30 p.m. Monday. But because of the forecast of severe weather, which includes high winds and tornado activity, the festival ended early. “Your safety is our top priority. With the support and coordination of Burnet County officials, local safety agencies, and the National Weather Service, we’ve agreed to end the festival today in a calm orderly manner,” the festival said on its website and on social media. “Leave early for safety and to beat traffic. Guests may stay for the eclipse provided they pack and are prepared to depart after totality.”

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Dallas Morning News - April 9, 2024

U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne asks New York police to relocate to North Texas

U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving, bought a full-page ad in Tuesday’s New York Post urging New York police officers to seek employment in North Texas. The ad featured the headline: “Ladies and Gentlemen of Law Enforcement It’s Time to Escape New York and Move To Texas!” Underneath it was a list of 15 North Texas law enforcement agencies where New York officers can apply. “Your lives don’t have to be endangered by violent career criminals who are never locked away,” the ad states. “You don’t have to be beaten on the streets by gangs of illegal immigrant criminals. And you don’t have to be endlessly insulted by budget cuts by Defund the Police politicians.” “It’s time for you to leave these loathsome and destructive fools behind,” the ad continues. “Escape from New York.”

Van Duyne’s ad comes after New York police officer Jonathan Diller was killed last month when he approached two men in a car parked at a bus stop. The Post and other media outlets have reported the men had extensive criminal histories. Amid a nationwide debate over criminal justice and police reforms, Republican officials in Texas have opposed efforts to soften cash bail policies or scale back prosecution of some nonviolent offenses. “Like so many others around the country, we were heartbroken over the senseless and utterly tragic loss of your brother in blue,” the ad states. Van Duyne, who hosts one of the largest job fairs in North Texas, said New York’s loss would benefit North Texas. She said that her August job fair typically attracts law enforcement agencies looking for officers. “Every year, we have numerous law enforcement agencies looking for good officers and if I can marry up even one good officer to come to North Texas — it will be worth it for our community and for that officer,” Van Duyne told The Dallas Morning News. Van Duyne said the ad was purchased with campaign funds, adding it “will be well worth the cost” if New York law enforcement officers moved to Texas. Van Duyne, who is up for reelection in November against Democrat Sam Eppler, did not disclose the cost of the ad.

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San Antonio Express-News - April 9, 2024

‘They are going to kill somebody’: Whistleblowers raise safety concerns at Elon Musk’s Boring Co.

Before The Boring Co.’s machines made the journey to Nevada to work on the Vegas Loop, employees of Elon Musk’s tunneling company were aware of the life-threatening risks. They’d seen it all while building test tunnels in Texas: new hires operating massive machinery without training or proper certifications, long hours underground without bathroom or meal breaks and tunnels sometimes awash in chemical-laden muck that burned their skin or with dust so thick they could see only a few feet in front of their faces. “I fully believe they are going to kill somebody,” Texas-based technician Myles Ortiz said in a complaint to federal labor officials.

Others complained of chemicals bursting through the tunneling machines’ hoses onto their skin, clothing and into steel-toed boots and causing skin irritation, sores and burns. Towering cement block structures that hold mud from the tunnel collapsed — more than once. Despite multiple employees’ complaints about such conditions, there’s no record that Austin-based agents of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ever visited the test site near Bastrop to investigate. Eventually, Ortiz received a letter saying Boring Co. officials told the agency it had investigated his complaints and OSHA believed no hazards were present. “I felt like they just didn’t care,” he said. “It was deflating.” Ortiz wasn’t just worried about his own safety. His experience at the tunnels — including operating a piece of equipment that malfunctioned and went out of control, sending concrete pieces of tunnel wall tumbling not far from a coworker — made him question whether anyone was safe on the job. As a former Army tank commander, he said, it was engrained in him to get everyone home at the end of the day. But he went home that day last June horrified about how close he’d come to crushing someone. While stationed at the company’s test site about 30 miles outside Austin, employees said they quickly learned the company’s culture emphasized speed over safety. One remembered Boring Co. President Steve Davis telling them, “If it was up to me, you guys would just sleep here.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 9, 2024

Walmart faces backlash online for selling Uvalde shirt

Merchandise reportedly being sold by Walmart has ignited anger and frustration in a Texas community still reeling from tragedy. The T-shirt in question asks in large type, “Where the heck is Uvalde, Texas?” Brett Cross, the father of a victim of the May 24, 2022, shooting at Robb Elementary school, responded to the shirt with a post on X, the social media app formerly known as Twitter. “Oh you know, that town by San Antonio where 19 kids and two teachers were killed,” he wrote. Cross, whose 10-year-old son Uziyah Garcia was killed in the shooting, said he spotted the shirt at a Walmart in Uvalde. The post attracted hundreds of responses, largely from users calling on the corporation to immediately pull the shirt out of its stores. “Why would someone make this shirt? Walmart joins the retailers with no morals,” one person wrote.

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Fort Worth Report - April 9, 2024

Texas A&M University School of Law rises in US News & World Report rankings

Texas A&M University School of Law is moving on up. And, no, the school’s new building being constructed in downtown Fort Worth hasn’t announced plans for a taller construction. Rather, in the latest rankings released by the U.S. News & World Report, Texas A&M Law now ranks 26th in the nation as one of the country’s best law schools. Moving up three spots from last year’s list, Texas A&M Law School Dean Bobby Ahdieh said, the school’s goal is to continue to make jumps in the rankings year after year. “Are we appropriately focused on the ingredients of building a great law school?” Ahdieh said. “Our hope is that rankings will capture that effectively. And, I think we are.” Since the Fort Worth law school joined the Texas A&M system in 2013, the school has risen from the depths of the unranked to becoming one of the top 30 law schools in the country, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

“When I worked to acquire this law school a decade ago, even I did not dream it would move up in the rankings this fast,” Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said in a press release sent to the Fort Worth Report. Texas A&M Law also ranks as the second best law school in Texas. The University of Texas at Austin School of Law ranks 16th. Texas A&M Law has risen 57 spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings during the past five years. “Each year, we are seeing further progress, further increases in the direction of the quality of institution that we’re building,” Ahdieh said. “The fact that there’s underlying substance behind it is really awesome.” Texas A&M School of Law boasts the highest graduate employment rate and the highest GPA of incoming students in the country, Ahdieh said. Students at Texas A&M Law also pass the bar exam at a higher percentage than at any other school in the state. “It’s capturing something about the quality of our students, the quality of our faculty, the quality of our programs, the quality of our staff and the results they produce,” Ahdieh said. “That’s valuable.” Texas A&M Law’s dispute resolution program, which emphasizes negotiation, mediation and arbitration skills, ranked fifth nationally. The university’s program for intellectual property ranked ninth and its legal analysis research and writing program ranked 11th.

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National Stories

Washington Post - April 9, 2024

Why this eclipse could really prove Einstein was correct

Thirty minutes before totality, a large cloud dared to park in front of the sun. The sunlight split against the puffs to create a beautiful rainbow, but it was a nuisance for the more than 70 onlookers. Granted they wanted the sun to be covered up, but by the moon, not a cloud. “Got to get that cloud out of there. Move, cloud,” said Toby Dittrich, a physics professor at Portland Community College. For him, the eclipse isn’t about the pictures of an occluded sun — although that’s enough for millions of other eclipse viewers gathering under its path from Mazatlán, Mexico, to Canada. Instead, he chose the outskirts of this small Mexican town because it was at the center of the eclipse shadow, providing 4 minutes and 30 seconds of totality, enough to understand our universe like never before.

Dittrich, fellow physicists and student researchers were planning to run one of the most famous astronomical experiments in history — one that proved Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. It showed how our massive sun bends starlight around it, showing that space-time must be curved instead of flat as Isaac Newton had predicted. Since it was performed with rudimentary instruments in 1919, though, scientists have run only a limited number of loose follow-on tests. Dittrich wanted to do better — and had the equipment for it. But in addition to the pesky cloud, there was another problem. Six minutes before the eclipse, the students at telescope station No. 4 called for help. Its alignment was off, perhaps because of a faulty mount. “I’m trying to save the station!” said their professor, Daniel Borrero Echeverry, shooing away the gathering crowd. With a minute before totality, Borrero Echeverry was still frantically working at the telescope station. And the cloud was still there. Planning to retire in seven weeks, Dittrich had been chasing this eclipse data for eight years. “No one really believes that [Einstein’s theory] isn’t true because of theoretical calculations,” he said. “But no one has actually satisfactorily proven it.” Now, he was nervous he wouldn’t either.

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Wall Street Journal - April 9, 2024

‘Social order could collapse’ in AI era, two top Japan companies say

Japan’s largest telecommunications company and the country’s biggest newspaper called for speedy legislation to restrain generative artificial intelligence, saying democracy and social order could collapse if AI is left unchecked. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, or NTT, and Yomiuri Shimbun Group Holdings made the proposal in an AI manifesto to be released Monday. Combined with a law passed in March by the European Parliament restricting some uses of AI, the manifesto points to rising concern among American allies about the AI programs U.S.-based companies have been at the forefront of developing. The Japanese companies’ manifesto, while pointing to the potential benefits of generative AI in improving productivity, took a generally skeptical view of the technology. Without giving specifics, it said AI tools have already begun to damage human dignity because the tools are sometimes designed to seize users’ attention without regard to morals or accuracy.

Unless AI is restrained, “in the worst-case scenario, democracy and social order could collapse, resulting in wars,” the manifesto said. It said Japan should take measures immediately in response, including laws to protect elections and national security from abuse of generative AI. A global push is under way to regulate AI, with the European Union at the forefront. The EU’s new law calls on makers of the most powerful AI models to put them through safety evaluations and notify regulators of serious incidents. It also is set to ban the use of emotion-recognition AI in schools and workplaces. The Biden administration is also stepping up oversight, invoking emergency federal powers last October to compel major AI companies to notify the government when developing systems that pose a serious risk to national security. The U.S., U.K. and Japan have each set up government-led AI safety institutes to help develop AI guidelines. Still, governments of democratic nations are struggling to figure out how to regulate AI-powered speech, such as social-media activity, given constitutional and other protections for free speech.

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Associated Press - April 9, 2024

The US is seeing a stadium construction boom. Who’s paying for it?

Like a loss in the playoffs, voter rejection of a stadium tax plan will force the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs to reevaluate their approach. The April 2 defeat of a three-eighths cent sales tax to fund a new downtown Royals ballpark and renovate the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium was almost assuredly not the end of the matter. Other teams and cities have faced similar setbacks, and that hasn’t slowed a wave of stadium construction underway across the U.S. “The next page in the playbook, if they lose this referendum, would be to threaten to move,” said Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at West Virginia University, who researches sports stadiums. But that doesn’t mean relocation is imminent, or even likely. Moving to a new stadium within the same region or another state is just one of several options. Teams could tweak their plans and ask voters again. They could build or renovate stadiums without public funds. Or they could avoid a referendum by seeking approval for public subsidies directly from a legislative body such as a city council, county commission, or state legislature.

“Usually, team owners just find a new way to get money, and they’ll go the legislative route,” said Geoffrey Propheter, an associate public finance professor at the University of Colorado Denver. “Rarely do team owners just straight up leave.” From 1990 through 2023, voters cast ballots on 57 stadium and arena proposals across the country, approving 35 and rejecting 22, according to data compiled by Propheter. In December, Oklahoma City voters overwhelmingly approved a 1% sales tax for six years to help fund a new downtown arena for the NBA’s Thunder that is expected to cost at least $900 million. But last May, voters in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe rejected a proposal for a $2.3 billion entertainment district that would have included a new arena for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. The defeat marked the latest setback for the hockey team, which underwent a 2009 bankruptcy and is currently playing in a 5,000-seat arena shared with Arizona State University. The Coyotes haven’t given up on the Phoenix area yet. The team is looking into bidding on a 95-acre tract in north Phoenix. Public subsidies for stadiums and arenas often get approved by elected officials without going on the ballot. Last year, the Nashville City Council approved $760 million in local bonds to go along with $500 million in state bonds – all to help finance a new $2.1 billion football stadium for the Tennessee Titans. There was no public referendum.

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Inside Higher Ed - April 9, 2024

Biden touts latest debt relief plan

Before President Biden stepped up to the podium at Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin, his message was clearly forecasted on a number of screens around the stage: “Canceling Student Debt.” “I will never stop to deliver student debt relief to hardworking Americans, and it’s only in the interest of America that we do it,” Biden said. Monday’s announcement offered few new details about the administration’s plan to provide debt relief, which has been in the works since last summer. Under the plan, borrowers who fall into one or more of five categories would see either partial or full cancellation. The groups include people who owe more than they initially borrowed as a result of accrued interest and those who have been repaying loans for more than 20 years.

Fixing the country’s student debt crisis is part of his broader economic agenda, Biden said, noting that the ballooning debt is a drag on local economies. In addition to the debt-relief plan, Biden also highlighted efforts to expand career and technical education, make community college free and invest in American manufacturing. While Biden spoke in Wisconsin, Vice President Harris touted the plan in Philadelphia and Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff was dispatched to Arizona. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona participated in a roundtable discussion with student loan borrowers in New York City. The promotional tour is the latest signal that the Biden administration sees debt relief as key to mobilizing young voters and winning a second term in the White House. In a recent survey, nearly 70 percent of Generation Z respondents said the government should take some action to cancel student loans. Still, like so many issues, debt relief has become polarizing. Biden’s previous effort to provide broad-based student loan forgiveness infuriated Republican lawmakers, who said his administration was exceeding its constitutional authority.

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The Hill - April 9, 2024

Greene drama builds for embattled Johnson

Drama is building in the House as lawmakers return to work on Tuesday waiting to see if Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) will follow through on her threat to force a vote to unseat Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.). Greene unveiled a motion to vacate, the same procedural tool used in October to end former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) reign, just before the House went on a two-week recess. It’s unclear whether Greene, who has a flair for political theater, is ready to force a vote or wants to use the threat for leverage. She’s likely under pressure herself from some lawmakers to not force a vote given the chaos it would cause in the House months before an election.

Johnson and Greene exchanged text messages over the two-week recess, and the pair was supposed to speak Friday, but that plan fell through, according to a source familiar. The new Speaker is under pressure from members of his own conference and GOP senators to move another round of Ukraine aid through his rebellious conference. He’s made clear that his first priority will be to consider more military assistance to Kyiv’s beleaguered forces, along with new funding for Israel, Taiwan and efforts to bolster security at the U.S.-Mexico border. But the Ukraine portion of that package risks a direct confrontation with Greene, who has all but dared the Speaker to put such a measure on the floor, warning it would lead to his ouster. It all sets up a crucial work period for the embattled Johnson, who has only been the Speaker for nearly six months. How he manages the debate could determine not only Ukraine’s fate, but his own.

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Wall Street Journal - April 9, 2024

Book-ban campaigns hit 4,240 titles last year: Here are the top 10 targets

A Nobel Prize-winner’s debut novel and works about race and gender were among the books most targeted by ban campaigns last year. “Gender Queer,” an autobiographical graphic novel written by nonbinary author Maia Kobabe, was the most challenged library book in 2023, according to a report released Monday by the American Library Association. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson came in second, and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson was third. There were 4,240 different titles targeted for bans in schools and libraries last year, a 65% increase from the previous year, said the American Library Association. That’s the highest level documented by the group.

By comparison, the number of book titles challenged annually from 2000 to 2020 was fairly stable and never exceeded 400 targets in a given year. Conservative groups and parents have in recent years led a movement to exert more control over books in public libraries and school libraries. Many of the books that draw challenges are written by LGBTQ authors and people of color. “Shining a light on the harmful workings of these pressure groups is one of the actions we must take to protect our right to read,” said Emily Drabinski, the library group’s president. Some book challenges were denied and didn’t result in a removal from library shelves, the American Library Association said. The group doesn’t track that data. Book-ban efforts have spread across the U.S. A few states stood out for the number of books being targeted. In Florida, 2,672 titles were challenged in 2023. In Texas, that figure was 1,470.

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Newsclips - April 8, 2024

Lead Stories

Washington Post - April 8, 2024

Trump says he'll announce his position on abortion Monday, a key moment in the presidential race

Former President Donald Trump says he will finally announce Monday when he believes abortions should be banned, after months of refusing to stake a position on an issue that could decide the outcome of November’s presidential election. The presumptive Republican nominee wrote on his social media site Sunday night that he plans to issue a statement on “abortion and abortion rights.” He told reporters last week he would make a statement soon after being asked about Florida’s six-week abortion ban going into effect. Trump for more than a year now has declined to say when in a pregnancy he would try to draw the line, even as Republican-led states have ushered in a wave of new restrictions following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

His announcement will be closely watched both by Democrats who believe the fight over abortion rights helps them at the polls and Republicans who failed to push Trump to endorse a national abortion ban during the GOP primary. “Great love and compassion must be shown when even thinking about the subject of LIFE,” Trump wrote on his social media site, “but at the same time we must use common sense in realizing that we have an obligation to the salvation of our Nation, which is currently in serious DECLINE, TO WIN ELECTIONS, without which we will have nothing other than failure, death, and destruction.” Trump had long argued that the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe gave those who oppose abortion rights “tremendous power to negotiate.” He said he wanted to use that leverage to strike a deal that he hoped would “make both sides happy” and bring the country “together” — even though the issue is one of the most contentious in American politics, with opponents viewing abortion as murder and proponents seeing it as a fundamental women’s right. At the same time, Trump seemed reluctant to embrace a federal ban. “Everybody agrees — you’ve heard this for years — all the legal scholars on both sides agree: It’s a state issue. It shouldn’t be a federal issue, it’s a state issue,” he said.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2024

The total solar eclipse happens today. Here’s everything to know, including when to expect darkness.

A total solar eclipse will cut across North America today, with the moon completely blocking the sun for some 12.8 million Texans. The weather forecast is not ideal, as meteorologists call for clouds across much of the state, but the day still promises a rare celestial experience for those along the path of totality. Other cities, including Houston, will be treated to a partial solar eclipse. Here is what to know as you make final preparations for the eclipse:

North America’s path of totality, where the moon completely blocks the sun, will start at Mexico’s Pacific coast around 1:07 p.m. CDT. It will cross into the U.S. near Eagle Pass at 1:27 p.m., moving northeast across Texas. Cities along the path of totality include Uvalde, northwest San Antonio, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Austin, Round Rock, Georgetown, Waco, Fort Worth, Dallas, Paris and Texarkana. Texas is followed by many other states — Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — before the eclipse continues on to Canada. People along this path with clear skies will be able to see the sun’s corona, its outermost atmosphere, as they’re plunged into a dawn or dusk-like darkness.

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Reuters - April 8, 2024

Yellen says US will not accept Chinese imports decimating new industries

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned China on Monday that Washington will not accept new industries being decimated by Chinese imports as she wrapped up four days of meetings to press her case for Beijing to rein in excess industrial capacity. Yellen told a media conference that U.S. President Joe Biden would not allow a repeat of the "China shock" of the early 2000s, when a flood of Chinese imports destroyed about 2 million American manufacturing jobs. She did not, however, threaten new tariffs or other trade actions should Beijing continue its massive state support for electric vehicles, batteries, solar panels and other green energy goods.

Yellen used her second trip to China in nine months to complain that China's overinvestment has built factory capacity far exceeding domestic demand, while fast-growing exports of these products threaten firms in the U.S. and other countries. She said a newly created exchange forum to discuss the excess capacity issue would need time to reach solutions. Yellen drew parallels to the pain felt in the U.S. steel sector in the past. "We've seen this story before," she told reporters. "Over a decade ago, massive PRC government support led to below-cost Chinese steel that flooded the global market and decimated industries across the world and in the United States." Yellen added: "I've made it clear that President Biden and I will not accept that reality again." When the global market is flooded with artificially cheap Chinese products, she said, "the viability of American and other foreign firms is put into question."

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2024

Former Dallas mayor believes a No Labels candidate will emerge, just not this year

Like many Americans, former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings bristled at the prospect of a 2024 rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, so he joined the upstart No Labels’ search for a viable third-party candidate. That effort fell short when No Labels leaders announced Thursday they had failed to find a strong presidential candidate, leaving no additional option for many Americans who are underwhelmed by the choice between Biden and Trump. A January Reuters poll found 67% of voters didn’t want a Biden-Trump rematch. “We offered it to less than a handful of people,” Rawlings said of the search for a nominee. “Sadly, the courage wasn’t there by some candidates, because this was going to be hard.”

“The passion around this is unlike anything I’ve seen in my life,” Rawlings said. “These are mild-mannered working folks, and they were just going crazy about this movement.” No Labels’ failure illustrates the grip that Democrats and Republicans have on the American political system. A third-party candidate has never won the American presidency, though some have run strong enough to affect an election. Though No Labels was founded in 2010, organizers considered the 2024 election cycle the best chance for a third-party candidate to break through. Polls show dissatisfaction by many Americans with Biden and Trump. Many of those Americans – like Rawlings – are centrists. Rawlings said No Labels planned a unity ticket with a Republican as the presidential candidate and a Democrat as the running mate. Democrats applauded the lack of a No Labels candidate. Many of them worried that the movement would take votes from Biden and aid Trump’s chances to win the White House. “Any political observer, no matter how astute, knew that that was nothing more than a project to siphon off votes from Joe Biden and to help Donald Trump,” said Lisa Turner, a Democratic strategist and state director of the Lone Star Project. “I don’t think anybody was willing to go along to help Donald Trump become president again, so I wasn’t shocked by it.”

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State Stories

Associated Press - April 8, 2024

Southwest Airlines jet loses engine cover en route to Texas, forcing emergency landing

A Southwest Airlines jet returned to Denver Sunday morning after the engine cover fell off and struck the wing flap during takeoff, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The Boeing 737 landed safely, and the passengers headed to Houston were being put onto another aircraft, Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience of their delay, but place our highest priority on ultimate Safety for our Customers and Employees. Our Maintenance teams are reviewing the aircraft,” the statement reads.

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2024

Fact check: No evidence of widespread voter registration by noncitizens in Texas

Former President Donald Trump, Elon Musk and Republican influencers all amplified a false statement on social media that suggests 2 million noncitizens have registered to vote without photo ID in three swing states this year. An Instagram post included screenshots of X posts from DC_Draino and End Wokeness, two popular social media accounts that we have previously fact checked. The post’s slide contains a screenshot from End Wokeness that was reshared by Elon Musk on X with the text “extremely concerning.” Musk has repeatedly shared voting and immigration misinformation on the platform he owns. The End Wokeness post said, “The number of voters registering without a photo ID is SKYROCKETING in 3 key swing states: Arizona, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Since the start of 2024: TX: 1,250,710 PA: 580,513 AZ: 220,731.”

We saw similar statements on X, TikTok and Facebook. On Truth Social, Trump asked who are the millions of voters registering without photo ID. The figures in the social posts represent the number of times states have verified voters’ Social Security numbers. This process is done with the Help America Vote Verification, a system established in 2004 where states can verify a voter’s identification with the Social Security Administration. State or local election officials in the three states — including Republicans — said that the figures do not accurately reflect the number of voters who registered without photo ID. All of the election officials said they take steps to ensure that only eligible citizens cast ballots and had no evidence of widespread voter registration by noncitizens. We told the End Wokeness social media user that voting officials from the three states said the data was misrepresented in the social post. The author of the account responded by saying “it is deeply concerning that ANYONE is registering to vote without a photo ID” and criticized mail-in voting. Texas and Arizona require a photo ID to vote, but Pennsylvania does not.

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Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2024

Miguel Solis and Todd Williams: Stephanie Elizalde’s tenure at Dallas ISD marked by quality, consistency and rigor

(Miguel Solis is Chief of Staff for the Commit Partnership and a former Dallas ISD teacher and school board president. Todd Williams is founder and CEO of the Commit Partnership.) Earlier this year, the renewal of Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde’s contract occurred with little fanfare. In one sense, that’s to be expected, even hoped for. Why should a routine contract extension and well-earned pay adjustment for the leader of Dallas’ most impactful engine of economic mobility make headline news? On the other hand, it’s worth noting just how increasingly atypical it’s become to achieve the leadership stability and alignment between its elected board and chief executive that Dallas ISD has maintained over the past decade, two critical factors that have enabled it to become one of the most innovative urban districts in the nation. Across our state, school district leaders are dealing with enormous headwinds in the form of declining enrollment, stagnant state funding and political pressure from trustees, parents and taxpayers. Too often, top-level administrators opt to bow out, taking their decades of expertise with them. In contrast, Dallas ISD, from its superintendent down to the campus level, has been able to face these challenges head on due to the stability and alignment created.

Take, as one example, teacher retention. It’s no secret that recruiting and retaining top talent is a major statewide issue from which Dallas is not immune. But previous district leadership sought to stem the tide of attrition by offering its most effective educators substantial pay raises through its Teacher Excellence Initiative. Elizalde has maintained and built upon this program, and now the district’s rate of teacher turnover is lower than county and state averages, despite serving a population with higher rates of economic disadvantage. Postsecondary enrollment is another area in which our state and country’s public education systems have struggled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dallas ISD has elected to invest more and hold itself accountable to how many of its students go on to enroll and complete a degree or industry certificate, a higher level of rigor than what is currently rewarded under the state’s A-F accountability system. Thanks in part to this student-centered approach, accelerated by its innovative slate of early college, P-Tech and career institutes that Elizalde has continued to grow and refine, Dallas ISD is increasing the rate of its graduating students considered “college, career and military ready” at a time when those rates are decreasing across the state. Finally, we’d be remiss not to mention what has become Elizalde’s signature policy: the systemic implementation of high-quality instructional materials. A study conducted by the Texas Education Agency last year demonstrated that less than 20% of elementary reading assignments in the state actually met grade-level standards, revealing a substantial root cause of the persistently low rates of achievement on state reading assessments.

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Texas Observer - April 8, 2024

Some Texas prisoners allowed only four hours of sleep a night, lawsuit says

At 10:30 p.m., it’s time to “rack up.” The men at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville retire to their cells and get into bed, hallway lights streaming in through cell windows. Through the walls, they can hear the occasional heavy door or gate shut, while their neighbors—despite the required quiet hours—often chat or call out from their beds, some falling asleep to radios. At 1 a.m., the men are roused for a head count, and required to verbally identify themselves to guards. Those who fall back to sleep are woken again around 2 a.m. for breakfast. The unit’s schedule—packed with programming, check-ins, and appointments on a 24-hour basis—leaves only three and a half hours for sleep, only two and a half uninterrupted, according to court documents in a long-running lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). And now the conservative U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with prisoner Michael Garrett in his ongoing lawsuit that alleges TDCJ’s schedule leaves too little time for sleep.

“[N]ighttime prison conditions—namely the hallway lighting, heavy doors slamming, and prisoners yelling—further imperil inmates’ sleep prospects during this three-and-a-half-hour window,” the Fifth Circuit wrote in an opinion issued late last month. Garrett, who has served about 30 years in TDCJ, alleges in a lawsuit he first filed 11 years ago that the schedule violates his Eighth Amendment right, which bars the state from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. The scheduled sleep deprivation, he argues, poses a serious risk to all incarcerated peoples’ health in Texas. Candice A. Alfano, director of the University of Houston’s Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston, who served as an expert witness in an earlier stage of the case, told the Texas Observer she agrees with Garrett’s argument. “Prolonged sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture by the [United Nations] because it essentially attacks and breaks down a person’s most basic biological functions and processes,” Alfano said. “For someone with one or more underlying health condition, these effects are likely to be more rapid.” Garrett—who according to court documents suffers from migraines, high blood pressure, and vertigo, among other health issues—began his legal battle in 2013 when he was housed at the McConnell Unit in south Texas. After he had exhausted the prison’s internal grievance process, he sued the department in an attempt to force them to allot six hours of scheduled sleep time each night. His case went first to the Southern District of Texas in Corpus Christi. Initially Magistrate Judge B. Janice Ellington said in 2013 that Garrett had “no constitutional right to a predetermined number of hours of uninterrupted sleep” and that he would have to prove he suffered harm from sleep deprivation.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2024

Total solar eclipse will reduce solar production but not expected to impact Texas grid reliability

Though next week’s total solar eclipse is expected to dramatically reduce solar power production, the event is not expected to impact the stability of the Texas power grid. Electricity supply and demand forecasts from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator for most of the state, show ample cushion throughout the day of the eclipse, Monday, even with a noticeable drop in the available supply of power around early afternoon. There could be only 7.6% of usual solar output available during the eclipse, ERCOT Chief Operating Officer Woody Rickerson said during a recent meeting of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, the state's utility regulator. ERCOT doesn't expect any grid reliability problems during the eclipse, Rickerson said, and ERCOT doesn't expect to issue any requests for Texans to conserve electricity, as it did numerous times last summer.

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El Paso Matters - April 8, 2024

Driving less, curtailing urban sprawl key to addressing climate change in Borderland

Nearly a year and a half after El Paso voters granted the city $5 million to craft a plan to counter climate change, city leaders said they are poised to seek $500 million from the federal government to make the plan a reality. Most of the major cities in Texas – Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston – have adopted long-term climate plans that lay out broad strategies to do things like reduce greenhouse gas pollution, address urban heat and conserve water. Nicole Alderete-Ferrini is the city of El Paso’s climate chief and heads the Office of Climate and Sustainability. She’s tasked with putting together El Paso’s Climate Action Plan, which will seek to lower emissions from transportation and electricity generation, ensure buildings are energy efficient and expand open green space, among other things.

Her office in January hired consulting firm AECOM for $1.2 million to help with the technical work, including measuring air pollution, although the contract wasn’t awarded without some controversy. In early March, Ferrini’s team submitted a 73-page preliminary plan – a requirement by the Environmental Protection Agency to be eligible for a federal grant up to $500 million. That sum is part of a multi-billion dollar pot of federal money available through the Inflation Reduction Act to help U.S. metro areas fight climate change. To be more competitive, El Paso is crafting a region-wide plan and working with Hudspeth County and 10 nearby municipalities, including Anthony, San Elizario and Socorro, across nearly 5,600 square miles – although Hudspeth accounts for about 4,500 square miles of that. Now that the city submitted the preliminary plan, word on whether the EPA will award El Paso hundreds of millions of dollars for climate-related work should come later this fall.

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Texas Public Radio - April 8, 2024

New organization aims to promote 'honest' Texas history

The stated goals of the Alliance for Texas History, a new historical association, are to focus on a 21st century approach for historical analysis, dialogue, and perspective of Texas history. The new organization is holding its first conference later this month. Greg Cantrell, interim president of the new group, said "when it comes to scholarly research, we believe it needs to be supported by factual sources, documented with footnotes that can be examined by others and open to discussion and dialogue. And this shouldn't be controversial, in theory. It's the way the profession of history works."

"Well, let me begin by saying we do not see ourselves as a competitor or an alternative to the venerable TSHA, of which I am a former president. However, we are making plans to launch our own journal, which will include peer reviewed articles and book reviews. We've only been public for a month this week. So we are a work in progress, so we don't have a timeline for the appearance of the first issue of our journal, but I certainly hope that it will be within the coming year. I hope that within the next two or three months, we may be in a position to announce the new journal and to begin accepting submissions," he said.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2024

Michael Frerichs: Exxon shouldn't be able to silence its shareholders

(Michael Frerichs is state treasurer of Illinois.) Recent attempts to silence shareholders must serve as a wake-up call not only to investors, but to each of us with a stake in American prosperity. Exxon Mobil’s unprecedented lawsuit against two shareholders, and latest political efforts to silence others, stand to undermine shareholder voting rights and pose a serious threat to American prosperity and competitiveness. These actors seek to tie America’s $50 trillion equity market to a vision of the world that is narrow, outdated and fundamentally limited in imagination and scope. Whether you lead an activist hedge fund, work for the world’s largest asset manager or look after local teachers’ pensions, these efforts deserve your fullest attention and opposition. For too long we have allowed a coordinated silencing campaign to set the agenda. Instead of forcing America’s free market — a cornerstone of its wealth and democracy — to remain hitched to the 20th century, now is the time to vigorously defend shareholder democracy and move companies into the 21st century.

On Jan. 21, Exxon Mobil filed a lawsuit against sustainable investment groups Arjuna Capital and Follow This to block an emissions disclosure proposal they filed from going to a shareholder vote, circumventing the regular process of petitioning the Securities and Exchange Commission. Despite the shareholder groups dropping the proposal, Exxon has chosen to move forward with the lawsuit. The oil giant argues that the proposal is an attempt to “micromanage” the company, and that it’s in breach of rules prohibiting repeat motions that fail to win a minimum number of votes. If their lawsuit prevails, it could significantly undercut the right to file shareholder proposals and vote on them, which is a keystone of capitalism in America. In addition, Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., has introduced legislation doubling down on the attacks against shareholders, responsible investing and the energy transition. The bill, called the Rejecting Extremist Shareholder Proposals that Inhibit and Thwart Enterprise (RESPITE) for Businesses Act, would give public companies the power to exclude shareholder proposals that “interfere with their ordinary business operations.” Technological change and innovation have made America into a rich superpower, based on market mechanisms that foster accountability and change. The SEC, shareholders and open public discourse all play a critical role in creating an ecosystem of free and fair competition.

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Houston Chronicle - April 8, 2024

Joy Sewing: HISD's Mike Miles touted a 'growth wall' as a mark of progress. It could also shame students.

In a YouTube video last week, Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles talks with a middle school principal about a “growth wall,” a chart that lists students’ names with their academic gains. Although there are no scores, the chart appears to show how students measure up. “There are a lot of double-digit gains,” Miles said. “This is really encouraging for kids. It’s great for the kids to be appreciated like this.” I’ve read enough books by Brené Brown to know shame when I see it. For students with low academic performance, learning differences or even test anxiety, this sounds like a setup to be shamed. Brown, a best-selling author and University of Houston research professor who spent the past two decades studying shame and empathy, has said that shame can make a child feel inadequate and unlovable. It’s not what you want in a classroom.

“Data walls,” like the one Miles touted, have emerged as popular teaching tools across the nation. The other issue with them is that they actually may violate federal law. According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, student education records are protected information. That means that parents, or students ages 18 and older, must provide consent before a school can release information about an individual’s education record. “Linking students’ names with where they are in a growth chart or a particular area of growth would be problematic under FERPA,” said LeRoy Rooker, who is one of the country’s leading authorities on FERPA and served as the director of the Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office for more than two decades. Data walls were introduced in the late 1990s by University of Chicago education researcher David Kerbow, who used visual displays to chart students’ progress in reading. He called them “assessment walls.” They were designed as a planning tool for faculty only, and Kerbow never meant for them to be shared publicly.

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Texas Monthly - April 8, 2024

Eagle Pass won’t let the border debate eclipse its eclipse plans

Of all the places to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse, Eagle Pass is, astronomically and meteorologically speaking, the best in the country. Located close to the center line of the path of totality, it will fall into shadow for 4 minutes and 23 seconds—about 4 seconds shy of the longest duration anywhere in the United States. The border town’s weather historically has been clear in April, and it’s the first place in the country to experience the eclipse. Preparing to seize its upcoming moment in the sun—or, rather, out of it—the city of 28,000 in 2022 started planning a major music festival to celebrate the event. Locals listed spare rooms on vacation rental sites, built campgrounds, and printed T-shirts to sell. “I remember one of my coworkers said, ‘This is like our Super Bowl,’?” said Aide Castaño, the marketing and tourism director for Eagle Pass. Then unauthorized migration spiked later that year and in 2023, turning the town into the public face of a state-versus-federal battle over border enforcement and jurisdiction.

Public access to Shelby Park, where city leaders had planned to host the music festival, had been reduced since the launch of Operation Lone Star, Governor Greg Abbott’s border enforcement initiative, but in January, state authorities working under the direction of the governor took full control of the park. Tension rose between Abbott and the Biden administration, as debates over which jurisdiction had authority over the area played out in court. Eagle Pass became the unwitting backdrop for national media photo ops by elected officials and candidates from across the country. As the flow of migrants—and news crews—to Eagle Pass ebbed this spring, the town refocused on preparing for an influx of visitors and ensuring locals could enjoy what for most will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Zenaida Moreno Rodriguez, who runs the Main Street program in the city’s economic development department, cut to the chase: “We definitely weren’t going to let anything deter us or stop us from giving our community a great time.” After state authorities shut the feds and locals out of Shelby Park in January, city officials realized they’d have to cancel or relocate 57 South, the music festival named for the highway connecting Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras. Ticket sales slowed as organizers debated what to do. Then the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas agreed to host 57 South near its Lucky Eagle Casino on the reservation, twenty minutes south of town.

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KVUE - April 8, 2024

Austin American-Statesman journalists continue strike over pay

In the midst of the 47th annual Statesman Cap-10k race, journalists for the Austin American-Statesman stood on the sidelines to send a message about their fight for better pay. Workers held up signs that read, "You run better than our bargaining sessions," "Run for fair wages," and "Save the Statesman." The signs center around a battle between the Austin newspaper and its owners, Gannett. Nicole Villalpando is chair for the Austin News Guild -- the union for the Statesman -- and explained that recently, the hope of reaching a contract failed, and added to a long-standing roadblock the newspaper has been struggling with for years. "We were offered raises that were only $0.50 an hour raise one time, and 17% of our newsroom has not had a raise since 2017," said Villalpando.

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Politico - April 8, 2024

Abbott defends sending migrants to New York

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended a program he began nearly two years ago to shuttle migrants out of Texas to cities across the country Sunday, accusing President Joe Biden of using asylum-seekers as “political pawns,” amid criticism that he has done just that. In New York, one of several cities Abbott has targeted, the influx of migrants has become unsustainable for city services. The city’s mayor, Eric Adams, has accused Abbott of playing politics with people’s lives.

But “the person who’s actually using illegal immigrants as political pawns is Joe Biden,” Abbott said Sunday during an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” claiming that Biden’s border policies are to blame for the program Abbott developed in 2022. Biden has pushed for immigration reform since he arrived in the White House, but congressional Republicans have refused to support legislation, particularly in recent months as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has publicly urged members of his party not to deliver the important policy win for Biden months out from the presidential election. Abbott also took a swing at Adams on Sunday, saying the mayor “is just aiding and abetting” the migrant crisis in the city “by having a sanctuary city status.”

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City Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 8, 2024

November city elections, which would boost turnout, not in Dallas’ future

Dallas elections won’t shift from May to November, a move that experts say would have increased participation in mayoral and council contests that have tiny turnout, leaving many residents disconnected from the political process. Dallas elections will continue to occur on the first Saturday in May, when many residents are distracted by the trappings of spring and weekend activities. Americans are conditioned to vote the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Even so, a majority of the city’s Charter Review Commission rejected proposals to move Dallas elections to November and failed to produce any plans that could improve voter turnout.

“People in power don’t want to change how they get there,” said former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who wrote a letter to the commission urging an amendment proposal to develop November elections. “They like to stay in power. That’s just human nature. They don’t want more people voting.” One of the members against moving Dallas elections was Adam McGough, a former City Council member who used to be Rawlings’ chief of staff. “Going to November is not going to solve the problems,” McGough said at a February meeting of the commission. “There’s apathy. That is the issue.” Charter Commission member David de la Fuente developed the proposal to move the elections from May to November in odd numbered years. He knew he had an uphill fight. “It’s really hard to convince the beneficiary of a broken system to do something to fix the broken system,” he told The Dallas Morning News.

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KERA - April 8, 2024

After eligibility challenges against two Mansfield ISD candidates, both will appear on ballot

Both candidates running for Place 2 on the Mansfield ISD school board will appear on the May 4 ballot, even after challenges from residents who claim the two are ineligible. UT Arlington professor Jandel Crutchfield and Tarrant County College professor Angel Hidalgo are running to replace incumbent Desiree Thomas, who initially filed to seek another term but later withdrew from the race. Last Mansfield ISD confirmed the board was reviewing "several complaints" about Hidalgo's eligibility after records showed he was not a registered voter in Tarrant County when he filed to run. Parent Ebony Turner told school board members at a March meeting that Dr. Hidalgo “should’ve never been placed on the ballot as a candidate. Since he was allowed to be a candidate, he should now be declared ineligible.” Not long after, other Mansfield residents questioned Crutchfield’s eligibility. Records show she claimed homestead exemptions in two other states — not Texas.

This week Mansfield ISD told KERA that after a review of Crutchfield’s eligibility, “she bas been determined to be in compliance with eligibility requirements.” In a statement, Mansfield ISD board president Courtney Lackey Wilson said after consulting with legal counsel and elected officials, findings for Hidalgo’s eligibility remain “inconclusive.” But because the deadline to remove a candidate from the ballot was Feb. 23, both candidate’s names will be on the May 4 general election ballot. Neither candidate responded to KERA’s requests for comment about questions regarding their eligibility. Another Mansfield ISD school board race will be on next month’s ballot: Incumbent Michelle Newsom faces challenger Matthew Herzberg for the Place 1 seat.

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National Stories

CNN - April 8, 2024

Will the total solar eclipse disrupt your cell service?

As darkness envelops millions of people during Monday’s total solar eclipse, spectators will hold their cellphones skyward to capture the moment. But could the surge in cell usage cause networks to go dark? Across city centers and rural towns, network providers and public officials say they are preparing for significant increases in traffic on cellular and Wi-Fi networks, as floods of eclipse tourists put pressure on the major providers that keep networks online. The path of totality — where it’s possible to see the moon completely block the sun’s face — will draw thousands of tourists to states from Texas to Maine. Travelers will rely on the network infrastructure in those areas as they use social media, livestreams and video calls to commemorate their experience.

The eclipse itself has no effect on wireless networks. But the influx of tourists to cities and towns creates an environment similar to a football game or a concert in a crowded stadium — the larger the crowd, the more difficult it can be to find a cell connection. “Any location that’s in the center of the path of totality is going to see a significant increase in cellphone usage, particularly during the period and shortly after totality,” said Caty Pilachowski, a professor of astronomy at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, in an interview with CNN. Bloomington, which last saw a total eclipse in 1869, will be in the path of totality on Monday and may host hundreds of thousands of visitors. “An eclipse is very often seen as a shared activity,” Pilachowski said, noting that people will be taking pictures and videos and sharing those images with others. AT&T anticipates an increase in network traffic as people “pick up their devices to capture and share content” during totality, according to a spokesperson for the company.

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Associated Press - April 8, 2024

Israel is pulling some troops from southern Gaza. Now the plan is to clear Hamas from Rafah

Israel’s military announced Sunday it had withdrawn its forces from the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, wrapping up a key phase in its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group and bringing its troop presence in the territory to one of the lowest levels since the six-month war began. But defense officials said troops were merely regrouping as the army prepares to move into Hamas’ last stronghold, Rafah. “The war in Gaza continues, and we are far from stopping,” said the military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi. Local broadcaster Channel 13 TV reported that Israel was preparing to begin evacuating Rafah within one week and the process could take several months. Still, the withdrawal was a milestone as Israel and Hamas marked six months of fighting. Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under army policy, said a “significant force” remained in Gaza to continue targeted operations including in Khan Younis, hometown of the Hamas leader, Yehya Sinwar.

AP video in Khan Younis showed some people returning to a landscape marked by shattered multistory buildings and climbing over debris. Cars were overturned and charred. Southern Gaza’s main hospital, Nasser, was in shambles. “It’s all just rubble,” a dejected Ahmad Abu al-Rish said. “Animals can’t live here, so how is a human supposed to?” Israel for weeks has vowed a ground offensive in nearby Rafah. But the city shelters some 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population. The prospect of an offensive has raised global alarm, including from Israel’s top ally, the U.S., which has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians. Allowing people to return to nearby Khan Younis could relieve some pressure on Rafah. White House national security spokesman John Kirby repeated on Sunday the U.S. opposition to a Rafah offensive and told ABC the U.S. believes that the partial Israeli withdrawal “is really just about rest and refit for these troops that have been on the ground for four months and not necessarily, that we can tell, indicative of some coming new operation for these troops.” Israel’s military quietly drew down troops in devastated northern Gaza earlier in the war. But it has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids in areas where it says Hamas has resurfaced, including Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, leaving what the head of the World Health Organization called “an empty shell.”

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Wall Street Journal - April 8, 2024

Big Tech has a big cash problem

The largest tech companies in the world are also the richest. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and the parent companies of Google and Facebook now collectively sit on a little more than $570 billion in cash, short-term and long-term investments. That is more than double the collective pile of the next five richest nonfinancial companies on the S&P 500 index, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. This is mostly attributable to business models that sell widely used products and services without the sky-high fixed costs common to other industries. Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet each produced more than $100 billion in cash from operations last year. Oil giant Exxon Mobil’s operating cash flow was a little past $55 billion for the same period.

That is an awful lot of capital to have to put to work. And doing so effectively has become an even bigger challenge over the past couple of years, as regulators in the U.S. and around the world have zeroed in on Big Tech, with the determination to keep it from getting bigger. Amazon, Adobe and Intel have had to spike acquisition attempts over the past year because of resistance from global regulators. And the deals that do get through are taking longer and require costly lobbying efforts. Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard took nearly two full years to close. Its next largest deal—the 2016 acquisition of LinkedIn—took a little under six months. Still, piles of unused cash might be burning a hole in some pockets. Google is reportedly considering a bid for HubSpot, a provider of cloud-based software used for email marketing and other advertising-related functions. The price of such a deal would likely come to more than $40 billion—a 30% premium to HubSpot’s market value from before Reuters reported Google’s interest in the company on Thursday. That would be more than three times the size of the company’s largest deal to date—the $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility in 2012. Such a move seems foolhardy, particularly because it could be seen as Google further buttressing a $238-billion-a-year advertising empire that the U.S. government already feels is too dominant. But Google also has the most dry powder—even compared with the other superflush tech companies—with nearly $98 billion in cash net of debt on its books as of its latest quarter. That is double the net cash of archrival Meta Platforms and well above Apple’s net cash balance of $64.5 billion.

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Washington Post - April 8, 2024

Russian trolls target U.S. support for Ukraine, Kremlin documents show

When President Biden proposed an additional $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine in August, Moscow spin doctors working for the Kremlin were ready to try to undermine public support for the bill, internal Kremlin documents show. In an ongoing campaign that seeks to influence congressional and other political debates to stoke anti-Ukraine sentiment, Kremlin-linked political strategists and trolls have written thousands of fabricated news articles, social media posts and comments that promote American isolationism, stir fear over the United States’ border security and attempt to amplify U.S. economic and racial tensions, according to a trove of internal Kremlin documents obtained by a European intelligence service and reviewed by The Washington Post. One of the political strategists, for instance, instructed a troll farm employee working for his firm to write a comment of “no more than 200 characters in the name of a resident of a suburb of a major city.”

The strategist suggested that this fictitious American “doesn’t support the military aid that the U.S. is giving Ukraine and considers that the money should be spent defending America’s borders and not Ukraine’s. He sees that Biden’s policies are leading the U.S. toward collapse.” The documents — numbering more than 100 and dating between May 2022 and August 2023 — were provided to The Post to expose Kremlin propaganda operations aimed at undermining support for Ukraine in the United States, as well as their scale and methods. The files are part of a series of leaks that have allowed a rare glimpse into Moscow’s parallel efforts to weaken support for Ukraine in France and Germany, as well as destabilize Ukraine itself. Russia has been ramping up its propaganda operations as part of a second front that current and former senior Western officials said has become almost as important for Moscow as the military campaign in Ukraine — especially as congressional approval for further aid has become critical for Kyiv’s ability to continue defending itself. “It is Russia’s top priority to stop the weapons, so they are throwing things at the wall to see what sticks,” said one Republican staffer on Capitol Hill. “We are seeing a broad-based campaign that has multiple lines of effort, some of which work better than others. The Russians don’t care. They are just trying to seed the environment.” The staffer and other Western officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive assessments.

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Politico - April 8, 2024

The lawmakers who will decide Mike Johnson’s fate

House lawmakers are bracing for yet another vote on ousting a speaker — one that could look far different from the one they took just six months ago. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) has signaled she’s barreling ahead with her plan to force a vote on terminating Mike Johnson’s speakership, though the timing is uncertain. So far, no GOP colleagues have publicly backed her. It’s a big shift from October, when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) quickly found some allies as he pushed to oust then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The other shift: Democrats are seriously entertaining help for Johnson after lending no aid to McCarthy. That possibility would come with a cost, though. Many Democrats have said they’ll only consider voting to keep Johnson if he takes up new Ukraine aid. Johnson has a narrower margin than McCarthy did, and there’s no guarantee he’ll make a deal across the aisle. As of April 19, he can only afford to lose two Republicans if no Democrats step in. Even if most conservatives aren’t committed to voting against him, many are upset that Johnson passed a $1.2 trillion government funding deal with mostly Democratic votes.

Whether his speakership survives depends on several blocs and members, including Greene herself. Here’s who to watch: The firebrand Georgia Republican hasn’t yet said when she’ll actually force a vote on removing Johnson. She’s signaled she did it to punish Johnson for the massive spending bill he put on the House floor in late March, which passed with mostly Democratic votes. While Greene has said she will bring it up for a vote, until she introduces it on the floor she could just keep the threat on the table as a negotiating tactic. Once she takes that step, however, Johnson has to bring it up for a vote within 48 hours. She might elect to wait a couple weeks, since Johnson’s already slim GOP margin is about to shrink to a single vote. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) leaves the House on April 19. Of the eight Republicans who voted to boot McCarthy in October, none are explicitly on board with the effort to oust Johnson. Some have outright said no, others aren’t committing either way. Not into it: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who led the motion to oust McCarthy last year, said he’s “just not ready to support a motion to vacate” for Johnson. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said he “isn’t there yet” on getting rid of Johnson. Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said at a campaign stop that he’s not on board with removing Johnson at this point. “We’re trying to influence him to do the right thing,” he said. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said she would vote no on a so-called motion to vacate. Interested, but not a solid yes … yet: Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) says he’s “increasingly disappointed in his performance as speaker.” But Biggs has serious doubts about the plausibility of removing Johnson: “I don’t think it’s going to happen, regardless of whether we want it to.” Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) told CNN he is “open to that conversation.” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) was a big Johnson booster until the speaker withdrew his endorsement of Rosendale for Senate, who later dropped his bid altogether. After the spending deal passed, Rosendale framed it as a “Johnson-Schumer-Biden swamp” funding bill. He also lamented broken promises from leadership about giving members 72 hours to review legislation.

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CNN - April 8, 2024

Hogan shakes up Maryland Senate race as Democrats wrestle over their nominee

Former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan passed on a bid for a Maryland Senate seat last cycle, insisting he had no ambitions to serve in higher office. And even up until early this year, Hogan was still signaling he wasn’t interested. But after years of entreaties from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans – and even a direct sales pitch from former President George W. Bush – Hogan finally relented in February, jumping into the Senate race at the very last minute and widening the GOP’s path to the majority this fall. “I still don’t have any burning desire to be a senator. I wasn’t looking for a title. I don’t need a job. But I’m just so frustrated with how broken our political system is,” Hogan said in an interview with CNN during a campaign stop at a food market in Baltimore last week. “George Bush was a pretty good salesperson trying to convince me that the party and the country needed me, and I would have had an important voice that I can make a difference.”

Former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan passed on a bid for a Maryland Senate seat last cycle, insisting he had no ambitions to serve in higher office. And even up until early this year, Hogan was still signaling he wasn’t interested. But after years of entreaties from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans – and even a direct sales pitch from former President George W. Bush – Hogan finally relented in February, jumping into the Senate race at the very last minute and widening the GOP’s path to the majority this fall. “I still don’t have any burning desire to be a senator. I wasn’t looking for a title. I don’t need a job. But I’m just so frustrated with how broken our political system is,” Hogan said in an interview with CNN during a campaign stop at a food market in Baltimore last week. “George Bush was a pretty good salesperson trying to convince me that the party and the country needed me, and I would have had an important voice that I can make a difference.”

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Washington Post - April 8, 2024

Here’s what not to do to safely watch the total solar eclipse

We want you to have an excellent eclipse. This requires planning, research, some equipment. A total solar eclipse isn’t the kind of thing where you can just wing it. The best practices for observing a solar eclipse are really not that complicated, but these events are so rare for most people that it is easy to forget the basics — even after reading the wealth of highly instructive stories we have already published. In this latest effort, we will be more direct in telling you what not to do Monday. You have to wear eclipse glasses at all times when any part of the sun is visible. But there is an exception: Do not wear eclipse glasses during the brief period of “totality,” when the sun’s face is completely blocked by the moon, leaving only the glowing solar corona. Although the entire Lower 48 will see at least a partial eclipse, most areas will not experience a total eclipse, not even briefly. Everyone outside the path of totality will need to wear eclipse glasses at all times.

During totality, though, you can safely remove your eclipse glasses. If you don’t, you will wonder what the fuss is all about. But totality lasts just a few minutes, so the glasses don’t stay off long. The maximum duration of totality in the United States will be 4 minutes and 27 seconds at the Texas-Mexico border. You need to be prepared to put the eclipse glasses back on as soon as the sun starts to show itself again. Children may need close supervision. This is a terrible idea, so don’t even try. Eclipse glasses are designed to screen out 99.99 percent of the light, about a thousand times the blockage of standard sunglasses, said Lisa Ostrin, a vision researcher and optometrist at the University of Houston’s College of Optometry. Some welder’s filters can be employed during an eclipse, but they need to be at the right setting, according to the American Astronomical Society. There are all kinds of nifty options for observing the effects of the eclipse without looking directly at it. NASA, for example, has suggestions for building a homemade pinhole projector that will allow indirect viewing of the eclipsed sun. It is not safe to look at the partially eclipsed sun through a camera without a specially designed solar filter. The same goes for binoculars or a telescope. Doing so “will instantly cause severe eye injury,” NASA warns.

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Newsclips - April 7, 2024

Lead Stories

Bloomberg - April 7, 2024

Biden raises $90 million, widens fundraising lead over Trump

President Joe Biden raised more than $90 million for his reelection campaign and the Democratic Party in March, topping Republican nominee Donald Trump’s haul and widening his financial advantage. The president and his party ended March with $192 million cash on hand, the most ever amassed for a Democrat at this point in the calendar, according to a statement by Biden’s campaign. That’s more than double the $93.1 million that Trump and the Republican Party said they had at the end of last month. Biden had his biggest total from small-dollar donors to date, breaking records set in each of the previous four months. The campaign doubled the size of its mailing list and saw twice as much interaction from those receiving its emails and text messages. Donors with deep pockets also chipped in, including the $26 million the campaign raised at an event last month in New York City featuring Biden and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Biden has raised more than $422 million since launching his reelection bid last April. As an incumbent with only nominal opposition in the primaries, he’s been able to stockpile money for the general election. Meanwhile, Trump battled through an expensive primary season, fending off challengers including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. In March, 704,000 donors made 864,000 contributions, with Biden’s biggest daily total the $10 million raised after his State of the Union speech. A contest to attend the fundraiser in New York City brought in $9.5 million from grassroots contributors. “The money we are raising is historic, and it’s going to the critical work of building a winning operation,” campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement, pointing to the campaign’s offices around the country, growing staff in battleground states and its paid media program. Biden is hoping to capitalize on Trump’s legal challenges, which include four criminal indictments that have eaten into some of his war chest. In a fundraising message Saturday, Biden’s campaign touted his small-donor haul — a hallmark of Trump’s fundraising in the past — and said his opponent was in Florida “collecting checks from a couple of billionaires who are looking for a tax cut.”

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Associated Press - April 7, 2024

Election vendor hits Texas counties with unexpected surcharge for software

A California-based election services company is charging several large Texas counties tens of thousands of dollars in additional fees, sending election officials scrambling to pay the surcharges to preserve a crucial system that manages their voter registration. The state’s primary runoff elections are May 28, with municipal elections set for May 4. Multiple Texas counties contract with VOTEC to provide software to maintain their voter registration system, but the company is now asking those jurisdictions to pay more. The San Diego firm did not return requests for comment from The Associated Press on Thursday.

The nonprofit news outlet Votebeat reported that VOTEC sent a message to the counties last month saying the “one-time” surcharge was because some counties were behind in payments and that additional problems with the company’s payroll and health insurance provider were causing financial pressure. Get the latest politics news from North Texas and beyond. Daniel Ramos, executive director of the Office of Management and Budget in Harris County, which includes Houston and is the state’s most populous, said the county received new charges totaling $120,000. Ramos said the county would pay it soon because it relies heavily on the software. Collin County, which includes Dallas’ suburbs, said it was charged $42,341. In a statement, the Texas secretary of state’s office said it was talking with the affected counties and advising them on what to do.

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Dallas Morning News - April 7, 2024

Texas official thinks state needs its own firefighting planes

Texas’ top emergency manager told a panel of lawmakers that the state should establish its own firefighting aircraft division after a series of wildfires, including the largest in state history, scorched the Panhandle region this year. But the local landowners tasked with helping the Texas Legislature investigate the fires that were responsible for at least two deaths and burned through more than 1 million acres raised doubt during a Tuesday meeting in Pampa over the state’s ability to handle such catastrophes. “We don’t control our own destiny, and I want to control our destiny,” Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, told a crowd of more than 100 people at the MK Brown Heritage Room.

Pampa, a town of about 16,000 in Gray County about an hour northeast of Amarillo, is closer to Oklahoma than the Texas Capitol. Lawmakers decided to hold the hearings there to make it easier for victims of the fire to attend. “This is not a Panhandle problem. This will have statewide effects,” Republican Rep. Ken King, the committee’s chair, told the mixed crowd of suits and cowboy hats. “We must do what we can to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” Fellow rancher seeks help for those hit by Texas Panhandle fires Lee Wells is coordinating donations of feed, hay and other supplies to ranchers and farmers devastated by historic wildfires in the Texas Panhandle. (Shafkat07) The panel is expected to discuss what contributed to the wildfires, the allocation of response resources and the effectiveness of wildfire disaster preparedness. It will also examine the coordination between local, state, and federal government agencies regarding prevention, disaster preparedness and response and plans to publish its report by May 1.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - April 7, 2024

Hillsboro one of best spots for April 8 total solar eclipse

For 4 minutes and 23 seconds, at exactly 38 minutes past 1 p.m. on Monday, April 8, this sleepy Texas town straddling Interstate-35 an hour south of Fort Worth will be captivated by a rare celestial phenomenon the likes of which will not be seen again in North America for a generation. This will be Hillsboro’s shining moment in the shadow of a total solar eclipse, and it hopes to lure up to 60,000 eager skygazers to town. Perhaps for the first time in the city’s over 140-year history, Hillsboro will share the spotlight in a global event. “Hillsboro has just kind of stayed sleepy, I think we’re gonna wake up,” said Luanne Henry, manager at the flower shop Sage Blooms. “This is gonna wake us up.” Hillsboro has spent the last year-and-a-half laying plans as willing hosts for the total solar eclipse, even going as far as rebranding itself as “Eclipseboro.”

Hillsboro City Manager Megan Henderson admits that Hillsboro “proudly stole” its nickname from Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which rebranded itself as “Eclipseville” for the 2017 total solar eclipse. Hopkinsville was just one of the many cities who benefited from being in the path of totality during the eclipse. It profited from the more than 116,000 visitors who stayed and spent their money in town to the tune of $28.5 million. Although Hillsboro is not expected to draw nearly as many visitors as Hopkinsville, The Great American Eclipse, a website that sizes up the draw of the eclipse to towns on the path of totality, estimates that 15,000 to 60,000 people will travel to Hillsboro for the event. Big enough for the Texas Department of Transportation to consider warning motorists to expect traffic jams on the Interstates and state highways crisscrossing the town as the skies darken and eyes shift to catch a glimpse of the rare phenomenon. A state spokesperson told the Star-Telegram that crews will plaster signs along roadways to help direct traffic. The reason millions are expected to travel south — and many will travel to Texas down the spine of the path of totality — is for the prospect of the best weather to watch the eclipse.

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Houston Chronicle - April 7, 2024

Why Houston metro’s population spiked in recent years, outpacing trends in NYC, L.A. and Chicago

Americans are leaving massive metropolitan areas — places like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and their surrounding suburbs — in droves, and they have been doing so for a while. But new census data tells a different story in the Houston metropolitan area, a sprawling 10-county area of more than 7.5 million people. Between July 2022 and July 2023, the Houston metro area gained nearly 140,000 people. That’s one new resident every four minutes or so, according to estimates by the Greater Houston Partnership, the city’s business association. That numerical increase was more than any other metro area in the country except for Dallas, which gained more than 150,000 people over the same period. Meanwhile, the country’s three largest metros — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — all lost people. Across the board, metro growth was clustered in the South and Southwest.

The overall population spike in the Houston metro area is clear, but what exactly is causing the growth and where it is happening is more nuanced. To understand the change, you have to look at individual changes in what demographers have identified as the three components of population change: domestic migration, which includes people moving into an area from other areas of the country; international migration, which includes people moving into an area from outside of the country; and natural change, which is the total number of births minus the total number of deaths in an area. First up, domestic migration. The Houston metro area saw nearly 40,000 people move in from other parts of the country between 2022 and 2023. What’s clear from the new census data is they’re largely not moving into Harris County or Houston. In fact, Harris County lost nearly 23,000 people to other areas of the country between 2022 and 2023: what is known as negative domestic migration. Instead, Americans from other parts of the country are largely moving into Harris County’s neighbor to the north, Montgomery County, and its neighbor to the southwest, Fort Bend County.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - April 7, 2024

The Legislature let Texas public schools hire chaplains. So far, only one has.

Just one chaplain has been hired at a Texas public school under a controversial state law passed by the Legislature last year, according to statewide staffing data released by the Texas Education Agency. Newman International Academy, a public charter school in Arlington, brought on the chaplain at the beginning of this school year at an annual salary of $49,759. Some school districts declined to employ chaplains and instead simply let them volunteer their services. TEA does not track how many chaplains are volunteering in schools across the state.

The new law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, allows public schools to use state funds to hire religious chaplains. The policy originally was pitched by GOP lawmakers as a way to fill vacant mental health counselor positions, and some argued that more Christianity in public schools could reduce the risk of school shootings. In response to the Uvalde school massacre, the Republican-led Legislature separately increased the amount of school safety funding for districts, and those dollars can be used for the new chaplain program. Each of the roughly 1,200 school districts in the state was required to take a vote last fall on whether to allow chaplains on their campuses, which triggered political pressure from the right and left. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network warned the law was unconstitutional and would subsidize Christian evangelism with public dollars. The law does not require that chaplains have any certification, training or licensing, and does not limit the kind of responsibilities they can take on at school.

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Houston Chronicle - April 7, 2024

Kristina Samuel: State takeover is hurting my students

(Kristina Samuel teaches chemistry and IPC (integrated physics and chemistry) at Sharpstown High School.) (Editor’s note: According to an HISD spokesperson, 100% of Sharpstown High School’s special education positions have now been filled. HISD also says that its NES curriculum officially encourages “strategic translation” for English Language Learners.) Since I started teaching seven months ago at Sharpstown High School, more than 30 teachers and staff have left. The vast majority resigned or were fired by Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles and his administration. HISD is marketing their New Education System (NES) reforms as necessary, student-centered, and working toward what they call “Destination 2035.” I don’t believe that change is necessarily a bad thing. But the changes that have come as a result of the takeover are harming our schools and schoolchildren. I was hired as a first-year high school chemistry teacher at Sharpstown, having just graduated from Texas A&M’s Biology Honors program. My parents were born in other countries, so I felt called to teach at Sharpstown, a welcoming school with a large immigrant student population.

It’s estimated that Sharpstown students speak 60 different languages, and over half are classified as emergent bilingual/English learners. Many are refugees from war-torn nations. In a school where over 80% of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch, some are raising their brothers and sisters without adult support. I felt a strong connection to them. When I interviewed for the job in summer, I knew about the Texas Education Agency’s takeover of HISD, but the interviewers told me that Sharpstown High School would be largely unaffected. It was not on the list of several dozen NES schools, and had not opted in to the reforms. I was excited to join a teaching community with a built-in structure for collaboration, and with diversity of thought among an incredibly passionate teaching staff. I was excited to learn about teaching from veteran educators. But a month before school began, the principal who hired and interviewed me was “reassigned,” along with several other principals in the district. By the first day of school, four out of the five people who interviewed me no longer worked at the school.

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Dallas Morning News - April 7, 2024

Texas Rangers old and new lift team to another Silver Boot win over Houston Astros

Welcome back to Globe Life Field, Houston Astros. These are both the Texas Rangers that you’re familiar with and the Texas Rangers that you’re unfamiliar with. The old news: Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Adolis Garcia and Jonah Heim did damage to drive in four runs and score two more. The new news: A revamped, reliable bullpen carried the Rangers for over five innings while Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford — two rookies who combined for 23 major league games last regular season, all from the former — combined for five hits, three doubles, two runs scored and another driven in.

Mesh the first and second and the Rangers get a second-straight win vs. their in-state rivals on home turf. Texas beat the Astros 7-2 on Saturday at Globe Life Field — one night after they snapped Houston’s eight-game win streak in Arlington — and played some of the classic hits with some new jams. “Very similar team,” Bochy said, comparing this year’s Rangers to last year’s. “But, I think, stronger on the bullpen side, and these young guys, they’re only going to get better, too.” First, the bullpen. Starter Jon Gray lasted just 3 and 2/3 innings and — in large part due to a Seager fielding error that let two runs score — left the Rangers a 2-1 deficit after four innings. But the six-headed beast of Brock Burke, Jose Urena, Kirby Yates, David Robertson, Josh Sborz and Jose Leclerc combined to pitch 5 and 1/3 scoreless innings the rest of the way.

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Wire Services - April 7, 2024

NASA engineer in Texas ‘believed to be serial rapist’

A NASA engineer has been charged in connection with six sexual assaults, Texas officials say. Now they are looking for more possible survivors. In a news conference Wednesday, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said 37-year-old Eric Sim is “believed to be a serial rapist,” and is encouraging other possible survivors to come forward.

“The nature of these offenses is so personal and so predatory that we felt it was important we tell the public,” Ogg said. “Take a look — a long hard look — at Mr. Sim and let us know if .... you’ve been victimized by him,” she added. Sim of Houston, was arrested in February at the Johnson Space Center and charged in two assault cases from 2021, according to KHOU. Since his arrest, four more women have come forward accusing Sim, a NASA employee of nine years, of sexual assaults that occurred between 2019 and 2022, according to officials and court records.

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CNN - April 7, 2024

Texas judge's wife accused of murdering nephew during family dispute

The wife of a Texas judge is accused of shooting and killing her nephew during a fight. Harris County Precinct Five place two Justice of the Peace Judge Bob Wolfe seen here smiling with his wife. He's typically responsible for upholding the law inside this courtroom. But today he was absent as deputies confirm his wife is charged with murder. ABC 13 cameras there as his wife, 48-year-old Mei Wolfe, was photographed by deputies and later arrested, accused of murdering her nephew-in-law.

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Austin American-Statesman - April 7, 2024

Austin newspaper staffers go on strike amidst major news event

Journalists from the Austin American-Statesman are on strike protesting unfair labor practices and bad-faith bargaining after three years of stalled negotiations with Gannett. The daily newspaper's employees picketed on Friday afternoon on the South Congress Bridge in Downtown Austin for the first day of the four-day strike, with signs advocating for better workplace policies, livable wages, and a fair contract. In collaboration with their union representation, the Austin NewsGuild, journalists said they plan to return to work on April 9 after the historic solar eclipse, one of the biggest news events in Texas in recent years. The unfair labor practice strike on Friday marks the latest protest by Statesman workers since they voted to unionize in 2021. For the past three years, one of the employee's main provisions has been fighting for leadership to raise the wage floor from $48,000 to $60,000 annually.

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CBS Austin - April 7, 2024

Post by state rep shows discrepancies between AISD special ed budget & costs

Austin ISD spent tens of millions of dollars more than it was budgeted for special education in the last school year. That is according to a graph posted by Representative Gina Hinojosa this week -- showing discrepancies of millions of dollars in big city school districts -- between what was spent on special education and what was budgeted. In Austin ISD, that number was more than $75 million for the 2022-2023 school year. It was the same school year the district ended up with a backlog of requests for evaluation for special education services -- part of the reason the district ended up under observation by two TEA monitors.

“They weren’t given enough, and their demands exceeded what they were given. The state’s not been funding public education, let alone special education,” said Ken Zarifis, the president of the teacher’s union, Education Austin. One of the TEA monitors announced that the district had completed the requests during the AISD Board of Trustees meeting on February 8. “I’m so happy to report the backlog of evaluations has been cleared,” Lesa Shocklee told the board. Here is some history: in 2016, the Houston Chronicle ran an investigative series about an arbitrary 8.5-percent cap the Texas Education Agency placed the number of students schools could provide special education.

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KVUE - April 7, 2024

Pre-K teacher sues for more than $1M after suffering injuries in Texas bus crash

A pre-K teacher injured in a school bus crash in Bastrop County is now suing the owner of a concrete pumper truck company, along with the driver. The crash happened in March when concrete pumper truck driver Jerry Hernandez veered into a school bus filled with Hays CISD pre-K students who were returning from a field trip at the Bastrop Zoo. The incident killed 5-year-old Ulises Rodriguez Montoya and 33-year-old Ryan Wallace, the latter of whom was driving a vehicle behind the school bus, and injured multiple others.

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Texarkana Gazette - April 7, 2024

Local Texas schools begin creating digital campus maps to promote student safety

Local Texas schools are in the process of creating digital campus maps, as directed by House Bill 3. The Texas Legislature passed the bill in May 2023 in response to the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

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WFAA - April 7, 2024

Opening date set for National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington

The National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington is expected to open in time for National Medal of Honor Day next year, March 25. The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation announced Arlington would be the site for the museum in 2019 and broke ground on the site in 2022. The 100,000-square-foot museum will have 31,000 square feet dedicated to exhibition galleries focused on the history of the Medal of Honor and members of the U.S. armed forces who received it. It’s also expected to feature an education center, conference and event space, and an outdoor amphitheater. Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, the museum will sit on five acres adjacent to other attractions, including Six Flags Over Texas, AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Field, Choctaw Stadium, and more.

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Fort Worth Report - April 7, 2024

Dallas-Fort Worth continues to rule commercial real estate market

Dallas-Fort Worth continues to rule real estate investments in 2024. That’s the latest news from the U.S. Investor Intentions Survey from CBRE Research. Dallas-Fort Worth has been at the top of investors’ lists for three consecutive years. The area is followed by Miami, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, respectively, as the most preferred investment markets. In the survey, the biggest impediments to commercial real estate investment activity for the year were interest rates that have stayed higher for longer, tight credit conditions and differing buyer and seller expectations, investors said.

Despite those concerns, investor sentiment has significantly improved, according to the survey. Over 60% of respondents expect to purchase more real estate in 2024 than in 2023, compared with only 16% in 2023 versus 2022. The survey results showed investors favored multifamily real estate, particularly Class A properties, followed by industrial and logistics. Grocery-anchored centers are most favored by retail investors, which fits right in with the upcoming H-E-B openings in the area. Nearly 60% of office investors prefer prime/trophy office properties, which ties into the new office properties being built in the Cultural District and along West Seventh Street.

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City Stories

KVUE - April 7, 2024

Austin mayor declares April 5 'Chili's at 45th and Lamar Day'

The restaurant, the meme, the legend: Chili's at 45th and Lamar now has its own day in Austin. Mayor Kirk Watson has proclaimed April 5 "Chili's at 45th and Lamar Day," in honor of the restaurant located at the corner of 45th Street and North Lamar Boulevard that has become a running gag for Austin residents. The restaurant became part of Austin's internet lore through Reddit, though the origins of the gag are unclear. Eight years ago, a Reddit user announced on the "r/Austin" subreddit that they may have found the meme's humble beginnings, on a post made in November of 2014. But we may never be sure if that's truly where the joke began. Regardless of how it started, the "Chili's at 45th and Lamar" is now officially part of Austin's history. It seems Watson chose April 5 for the declaration because of the date's 4/5 abbreviation.

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Houston Landing - April 7, 2024

Houston fights $5 rate hike that would subsidize CenterPoint customers across state

Houston City Council is poised to reject a request from CenterPoint to raise natural gas bills by $5 per month as part of a statewide consolidation that would lower rates elsewhere. City advisors say the company’s request would subsidize ratepayers in Beaumont without benefitting the residential customers in Houston who would see the biggest rate hikes. It also would give commercial customers a rate cut while increasing the cost for residential customers, they said. City Council does not have the final say, however. If council members vote down CenterPoint’s request, the company will take its case to the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates gas utilities in the state.

The company’s request threatens to add another monthly burden to Houston residents who already have seen recent water and electric bill hikes. The dispute could be coming to a close, however. On Thursday, CenterPoint filed a notice with the state that it is nearing a settlement with Houston and other cities on undisclosed terms. With 1.9 million customers, CenterPoint is one of the state’s largest natural gas providers. For decades, the utility has divided its gas operations into four regions. One division contains Beaumont and much of East Texas, another covers cities close to the coast, such as Pearland and Sugar Land, a third covers South Texas cities, including Laredo and Victoria, while the fourth and most densely populated covers Houston and nearby areas.

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Houston Landing - April 7, 2024

Rocky superintendent exit, $133M bond shortfall define spirited Fort Bend ISD board races

In the last few months, Fort Bend ISD school board meetings have felt like reality TV episodes to Karina Anderson. Anderson, whose son recently graduated from Elkins High School, has watched trustees bicker over the former superintendent’s contentious exit, the current superintendent’s rapid selection and a bond that’s running more than $100 million over budget. The displays of conflict have left Anderson concerned that Fort Bend leaders are ignoring important issues, like retaining teachers and increasing special education resources. She hopes the upcoming Fort Bend school board elections will bring change to the nearly 80,000-student district.

“There has been a lot of distraction,” said Anderson, a former Fort Bend teacher. “It’s been comical, to say the least.” For frustrated Fort Bend voters like Anderson, the upcoming May school board elections will, in many ways, serve as a referendum on the community’s feelings about the recent period of turbulence in the district. Two seats on the seven-member board are on the ballot, with early voting starting on April 22 and Election Day set for May 4. The winning candidates will come onto a board grappling with strained trustee relationships and mixed community opinion about the district’s direction. The divisions were laid bare in December 2023, when the district’s school board publicly battled over former superintendent Christie Whitbeck’s unexpected exit. Trustees offered conflicting accounts about what led to her sudden retirement.

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National Stories

Washington Post - April 7, 2024

‘Increasingly chaotic’: Why House Republicans are heading for the exits

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise thought he had a good argument for Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.). The Wisconsin Republican had announced he was going to leave Congress, one of 21 Republicans who have said they are headed for the exits this year. But three Republicans who had previously announced their intention to leave had reconsidered and were now going to stay. Scalise (R-La.) wanted to emphasize that momentum to Gallagher, hoping the young rising star might reconsider. “I said, ‘You know, it’s not too late for you.’ We joked about that,” Scalise recalled in an interview. “I’m not going to give up working on him.” The sell hasn’t worked yet. Gallagher, 40, is set to retire earlier than previously expected, leaving the House in two weeks with just a one-vote majority.

The tumultuous year in a slim-majority hasn’t necessarily pushed departing Republicans to seek higher office or pursue other opportunities away from Capitol Hill. But it reaffirmed to most that they made the right call to leave, acknowledging the House has become more partisan and thus, it’s more difficult to pass impactful legislation than when many were first elected. The decision to step back is yet another sign of the broader drop in morale within the GOP conference. Many Republican lawmakers have largely accepted that their inability to govern is a predicament of their own making. They acknowledge that overcoming their legislative impasse relies on not just keeping control of the House in November, but growing their ranks significantly to neutralize the handful of hard-liners who wield influence by taking advantage of the narrow margins. But many also continue to say privately what few have acknowledged publicly: Republicans believe they are likely to lose the majority. And members are also worried that some lawmakers who have already decided to leave will consider resigning early, threatening Republicans’ current majority. Former congressman Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who resigned after condemning how unserious his party has become, has hinted that several additional colleagues are mulling leaving before the new year.

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New York Times - April 7, 2024

Insurers reap hidden fees by slashing payments. You may get the bill.

Weeks after undergoing heart surgery, Gail Lawson found herself back in an operating room. Her incision wasn’t healing, and an infection was spreading. At a hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., Dr. Sidney Rabinowitz performed a complex, hourslong procedure to repair tissue and close the wound. While recuperating, Ms. Lawson phoned the doctor’s office in a panic. He returned the call himself and squeezed her in for an appointment the next day. “He was just so good with me, so patient, so kind,” she said. But the doctor was not in her insurance plan’s network of providers, leaving his bill open to negotiation by her insurer. Once back on her feet, Ms. Lawson received a letter from the insurer, UnitedHealthcare, advising that Dr. Rabinowitz would be paid $5,449.27 — a small fraction of what he had billed the insurance company. That left Ms. Lawson with a bill of more than $100,000.

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘But this is why I had insurance,’” said Ms. Lawson, who is fighting UnitedHealthcare over the balance. “They take out, what, $300 or $400 a month? Well, why aren’t you people paying these bills?” The answer is a little-known data analytics firm called MultiPlan. It works with UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, Aetna and other big insurers to decide how much so-called out-of-network medical providers should be paid. It promises to help contain medical costs using fair and independent analysis. But a New York Times investigation, based on interviews and confidential documents, shows that MultiPlan and the insurance companies have a large and mostly hidden financial incentive to cut those reimbursements as much as possible, even if it means saddling patients with large bills. The formula for MultiPlan and the insurance companies is simple: The smaller the reimbursement, the larger their fee. Here’s how it works: The most common way Americans get health coverage is through employers that “self-fund,” meaning they pay for their workers’ medical care with their own money. The employers contract with insurance companies to administer the plans and process claims. Most medical visits are with providers in a plan’s network, with rates set in advance.

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Wall Street Journal - April 7, 2024

‘Now they’re voting red’: A Pennsylvania fracking boom weighs on Biden’s re-election chances

John Sabo and Josh Thieler grew up in Pittsburgh-area communities that were hit hard as 200,000 steel and manufacturing jobs disappeared from the region, upending their parents’ generation and leaving main streets pocked with empty storefronts. Sabo, the son and grandson of mill workers, says his father rarely found steady work after losing his job in a U.S. Steel mill, leaving Sabo to “know what government cheese tastes like.” Thieler spent part of his childhood in a trailer park in a small city that shed nearly half its population as families hunted elsewhere for work. Today, both men have good jobs in thriving industries. But their paths to a better life have landed them in different sectors of the region’s new economy and changed their political identities, turning one into a staunch Republican and the other into a progressive Democrat.

Pittsburgh is at the center of a class inversion between the two parties that is redefining American politics. Democrats have traded their former blue-collar base for professional-class, metropolitan workers, while Republicans have become overwhelmingly dependent on working-class voters concentrated in far-flung suburbs, small towns and rural areas. In Pennsylvania, the largest 2024 battleground state, President Biden’s victory four years ago depended in large part on big gains among voters such as Thieler, a software company manager and former Republican who is now part of the city’s heavily Democratic professional class. But those gains have been overtaken by opposition from voters like Sabo, who works in the natural-gas industry, a sector that has given a boost to blue-collar workers in rural counties. These energy-economy voters see Biden as hostile to fracking, which taps natural gas trapped in sedimentary rock deep underground. The sector has drawn billions of dollars in new investment in Pennsylvania, much of it in the state’s southwest corner. Biden has been particularly hurt by his decision to cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which local companies say cut into demand for their services; and his order this year to pause new permits to export liquefied natural gas, which could deprive drillers of new markets.

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Fox 29 - April 7, 2024

8.4M Tide, Gain and other laundry pods recalled over unsafe packaging

Millions of bags of laundry pods are being recalled because the packages aren't child resistant and could pose a serious risk, a federal safety regulatory agency warned Friday. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warning covers 8.4 million Proctor and Gamble Tide Pods, Gain Flings, Ace Pods and Ariel Pods liquid laundry detergent packets packaged in flexible film bags that were distributed in the United States. The recalled products have been sold at major retailers nationwide, including Big Lots, CVS, Family Dollar, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart and online at Amazon.com since September 2023.

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Reuters - April 7, 2024

Biden's Israel shift: not enough for Democrats, too much for Republicans

President Joe Biden's demand this week that Israel improve humanitarian conditions in Gaza and support a ceasefire drew sharp attacks both from frustrated political allies who said the U.S. president did not go far enough and opponents who said he went too far. On Thursday in a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden threatened to condition U.S. support for Israel's offensive in Gaza on its taking concrete steps to protect aid workers and civilians. It was the first time that Biden, a Democrat and a staunch supporter of Israel, has sought to leverage U.S. aid as a way to influence Israeli military behavior. The president has come under enormous pressure from his party's left wing to do more to address the humanitarian catastrophe for Palestinian civilians from Israeli attacks.

"There should not be a total blank check. We should not have a pattern where the Netanyahu government ignores the president of the United States and we just send more 2,000-pound bombs," Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, told Reuters. Van Hollen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Biden also should be more "publicly vocal" about U.S. expectations for the campaign in Gaza and take a new approach at the U.N. Security Council rather than blocking resolutions critical of Israel. Other left-leaning politicians had similar complaints. "One day the president is 'angry' at Netanyahu, the next day he is 'very angry,' the next day he is 'very very angry.' So what? At the same time there is support for more military aid (to Israel) in a supplemental bill," Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said on the Pod Save America podcast on Thursday. "You cannot continue to talk about your worries about [a] humanitarian situation in Gaza and then give Netanyahu another $10 billion, or more bombs. You cannot do that. That is hypocritical,” he said.

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The Hill - April 7, 2024

Democratic tensions over Israel threaten to boil over at Chicago convention

The debate within the Democratic Party over Israel could come to a head this summer at its convention as it faces a significant intraparty divide on how to approach the ongoing conflict. Members of the party critical of U.S. support for Israel amid its war with Hamas have rallied around a movement to buck President Biden in the Democratic primaries and vote “uncommitted” as a protest vote against him. The movement has seen moderate success and attained some delegates to be sent to the convention, which will be held in Chicago in August. Some Democrats are concerned that the divisions on display will just grow worse ahead of the quadrennial process of approving the party’s official platform this summer.

“I do think at the convention, for sure, I would be really surprised if there weren’t significant protests on this issue, and unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a lot that Biden can do between now and then to change that,” said Heather Gautney, a member of the 2020 Democratic platform drafting committee. Each party drafts its platform every four years ahead of their nominating conventions after an extensive process to set its policies on all the key issues facing the country. In 2020, then-candidate Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) agreed to form a series of task forces to bridge the divide between two factions of the Democratic Party following a serious primary battle between the two of them. From the task forces that developed policy positions on the most critical issues, the Democratic National Convention created a drafting committee composed of some Biden and some Sanders supporters to draft the exact language of the platform. The committee was mostly comprised of Biden supporters, but Sanders supporters did make up a decent-sized minority.

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Newsclips - April 5, 2024

Lead Stories

CNBC - April 5, 2024

Job gains expected again in March. Here are all the things to look for in Friday’s report

The March nonfarm payrolls count likely will indicate hiring continuing at a solid pace, though some weakening foundations of the labor market could take greater focus when the Labor Department releases its key report Friday morning. Job growth is expected to come in at 200,000 for the period, according to the Dow Jones consensus forecast. If that’s correct, it will mark a slowdown from February’s initially reported 275,000 but is still a strong pace by historical terms. Yet a funny thing has been happening with the jobs reports recently: Initially strong numbers have tended to be lowered in subsequent estimates, raising questions about whether the jobs situation is as positive as it looks. That will be just one of several key areas in focus when the report is released at 8:30 a.m. ET.

February’s release raised eyebrows with a gain that trounced the Wall Street outlook for 198,000 new jobs. Also gaining notice, though, were revisions to the prior two months that reduced December’s count by 43,000 to 290,000 and January’s by a whopping 124,000 to 229,000. For all of 2023, revisions took 520,000 off the initial estimates — there are three readings in total — countering a historical trend in which the final numbers are generally higher than the first readings. The trend “makes me wonder about the credibility of the first number,” said Dan North, senior economist at Allianz Trade Americas. “So I’ll be looking for the revisions from the prior month to see if they’re going to be knocked down, and most likely they will be. That’s why if you get a big number, take it with a grain of salt.” There is some anticipation on Wall Street of an upside surprise: Goldman Sachs raised its initial forecast to 240,000, an increase of 25,000, following strong private payroll data from ADP showing a gain of 184,000 on the month, and other indicators. Along with numbers, composition is important, namely where the growth is coming from and whether there are any cracks in the employment armor. The job market’s resilience has confounded many economists who spent the past two years searching for a jobs-led recession that never happened.

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Texas Monthly - April 5, 2024

How TPPF ducked its property taxes

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank with ties to the state’s most powerful politicians and political donors, has long lobbied legislators to abolish property taxes. So far, this effort has failed. But TPPF has succeeded in another ambitious goal: ducking its own property taxes. For the past decade, Texas Monthly has learned, the think tank hasn’t paid a single dollar in taxes on its lavish, limestone-fronted, six-story headquarters, just two blocks from the Capitol in downtown Austin. The building’s appraised value is $18 million. How did TPPF manage this feat? Under state law, exemption from property taxes is reserved only for some nonprofit organizations, including orphan-aid groups and animal shelters. A well-funded think tank that promotes the interests of the oil-and-gas industry and undermines support for public schools, among other causes, would not seem to qualify. Indeed, TPPF was twice denied an exemption. But it persisted by appealing to the comptroller’s office, the statewide tax agency.

In 2015, just one month after he was sworn in as comptroller, Glenn Hegar, a Republican former legislator from Katy, granted the foundation the exemption it had been seeking. So far TPPF has avoided paying about $3 million in taxes on its headquarters. Roughly half of those dollars would have gone to the public schools that the foundation actively works to discredit. In 2023 the comptroller and local tax appraisers renewed the exemption for another five years. The foundation’s aggressive and questionable use of this tax break has never previously been reported. Nor has its qualification for a separate, federally subsidized construction loan meant for disadvantaged businesses in distressed areas. The tax advantages cast light on how the group may have used its political connections to secure relief that critics say it shouldn’t have received. Instead TPPF went back to the comptroller’s office a year later, this time with a novel argument. Now the think tank claimed that it was a “scientific research organization,” one of the 26 types of charitable establishments that can qualify for a property-tax waiver. In an unsigned four-page document titled “The Scientific Nature of Political Science and Economics: Organization Activities Narrative,” the foundation quoted Albert Einstein, the Texas Declaration of Independence, and an “Introduction to Economics” textbook to bolster its argument that it “conducts scholarly scientific research” and exists “exclusively for scientific educational purposes.” As examples of its bona fides, TPPF pointed to six “scholarly publications” it had issued. Five of the six were written by registered lobbyists, three of whom were former elected officials. None of the six papers was peer-reviewed, as is common with scientific papers. One, written by a former California state representative, purported to show that Texas enjoys the “most economic freedom” while California and New York suffer under “soft tyranny,” based on a measurement tool the author developed.

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Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2024

Dallas schools leader touts wins, calls out Texas lawmakers for not boosting funding

Dallas schools are heading in the right direction despite inaction from Texas lawmakers, Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said during her annual State of the District address. The superintendent touted DISD’s accomplishments, including outperforming several other North Texas districts in third grade reading and math. She also called out the GOP-led Legislature for failing to adequately fund public schools during the last legislative session — much of lawmakers’ debate was focused on the idea of sending state dollars to private schools. “I will never stop advocating for you at the state and federal level,” Elizalde told a ballroom full of teachers and administrators Thursday night. “And I will never use a lack of funding as a reason why we won’t prepare every single student for the life they deserve.”

She highlighted a recent ranking that showed some DISD campuses leading the state for academic performance and growth. She boasted that hundreds of DISD seniors graduate with associate’s degrees. And at the district’s Career Institutes, students experience hands-on training for high-wage, high-demand jobs. Elizalde said state lawmakers passed under-funded mandates during their recent session, including the requirement that every school hire an armed guard and implement other expensive security upgrades. “Did the Texas Legislature fully fund all the new safety requirements that they so intelligently wrote into law? No,” Elizalde said. “Did we make our schools safer than ever anyway? Yes.” She went on to ask: “Did the Texas legislature use a nearly $33 billion budget surplus to give teachers a pay raise after inflation effectively gave them a pay cut? No.” Bills that would’ve done so were caught up in a political brawl over education savings accounts. Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders were set on passing the voucherlike program that would funnel state dollars to private school tuition. Education savings account proponents say they are necessary to give parents a way out of what they describe as failing public schools.

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Associated Press - April 5, 2024

No Labels will skip third-party campaign for president in 2024 election

The No Labels group said Thursday it will not field a presidential candidate in November after strategists for the bipartisan organization failed to attract a high-profile centrist willing to seize on the widespread dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and Donald Trump. “No Labels has always said we would only offer our ballot line to a ticket if we could identify candidates with a credible path to winning the White House,” Nancy Jacobson, the group’s CEO, said in a statement sent out to allies. “No such candidates emerged, so the responsible course of action is for us to stand down.”

The unexpected announcement further cements the general election matchup between the two unpopular major party candidates, Biden and Trump, leaving anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as the only prominent outsider still seeking the presidency. Kennedy said this week that he had collected enough signatures to qualify for the fall ballot in in five states. No Labels’ decision, which comes just days after the death of founding chairman Joe Lieberman, caps months of discussions during which the group raised tens of millions of dollars from a donor list it has kept secret. It was cheered by relieved Democrats who have long feared that a No Labels’ ticket would fracture Biden’s coalition and help Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. “Millions of Americans are relieved that No Labels finally decided to do the right thing to keep Donald Trump out of the White House,” said MoveOn executive director Rahna Epting, a No Labels’ critic. “Now, it’s time for Robert Kennedy Jr. to see the writing on the wall that no third party has a path forward to winning the presidency. We must come together to defeat the biggest threat to our democracy and country: Donald Trump.” Kennedy’s campaign had no immediate response, although he announced earlier in the week that he had qualified for the general election in five states, including swing states Nevada and North Carolina. No Labels said it had qualified for the ballot in 21 states, but ultimately, the centrist group could not persuade a top-tier moderate from either party to embrace its movement.

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2024

Grand jury indicts Denton ISD principals Texas AG Ken Paxton accused of electioneering

Two Denton ISD elementary school principals were indicted on misdemeanor charges by a grand jury Tuesday for allegedly conducting an electioneering scheme through their school emails, according to court records. Alexander Elementary Principal Lindsay Lujan and Borman Elementary Principal Jesus Lujan, her husband, each was charged with unlawful use of internal mail system for political advertising. The indictments say the two used or authorized the use of an internal mail system to distribute political advertising. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Denton ISD in February, accusing the district of using public tax money to stump for specific candidates in an election. The suit alleged Lindsay Lujan, also the director of special programs for the district, sent an all-staff message from her school email address to staff at Alexander Elementary. In the email, Paxton alleged, she encouraged school staff to vote for candidates who support public schools and who are against vouchers.

The lawsuit also accused her husband, Jesus Lujan, of sending an all-staff email from his school address to staff at Borman Elementary in which he encouraged staff to vote in the Republican primary “for candidates who support public education and school funding.” “Since TX tends to always elect a Republican, we want to inform the party through our primary votes which issues we care about the most and how we feel about them,” Jesus Lujan wrote in the email attached in the lawsuit. “Thus, vote for candidates who support public education and school funding in the Republican primaries, no matter what your party affiliation is, Republican or Democrat.” On March 1, Paxton secured an injunction against the district that said employees of Denton ISD “shall not use any funds or resources of Denton Independent School District, including e-mail, or other means to engage in electioneering in violation of the Texas Election Code.” In a series of legal filings, Paxton has alleged several school districts have broken state election laws, which prohibit the use of state or local funds or other resources to campaign in favor or against any candidates, measures or political party. Besides Denton, other districts accused in North Texas include Frisco, Castleberry, Denison and Aledo.

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Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2024

Outgoing Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax will start Austin job May 6

Outgoing Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax will leave office nearly a month before his scheduled June 3 departure from Dallas, starting his job as Austin’s city manager May 6, according to his employment agreement. Broadnax will make $470,017.60 annually, far exceeding the $388,190 earned by his predecessor, Spencer Cronk, and more than his salary in Dallas. Broadnax will also receive $5,000 a month for six months to offset the cost of temporary housing, as well as $1,620 as a cellphone allowance and an additional $225 for cellphone equipment. Austin has been without a permanent city manager since February 2023, when the City Council fired Cronk after the city’s troubled response to an ice storm that left over 100,000 homes and businesses without power. Jesús Garza, a former Austin city manager, was serving in the interim role. In the midst of approving Broadnax’s contract Thursday, Austin Mayor Kirk Watson referred to Broadnax’s appointment as “the most important decision” the council could make.

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Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2024

Ad money from Sen. Ted Cruz podcast flows to super PAC focused on his reelection

A super PAC focused on getting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz reelected has received hundreds of thousands of dollars tied to advertising revenue from Cruz’s “Verdict” podcast, an unusual campaign finance arrangement that raises legal questions. Public scrutiny of the payments could prompt advertisers to follow BP America Inc.’s lead and redirect their business to avoid indirectly supporting the Texas Republican’s effort to win a third six-year term. Contacted by The Dallas Morning News, BP America, based in Cruz’s hometown of Houston, said it was unaware that ad revenue from the podcast was flowing to a pro-Cruz organization.

“We purchase advertising on iHeart based on the potential audience and do not specify by podcasts,” BP America spokesperson Ross Parman said. “We were never informed that media spend was going directly to a super PAC and have instructed iHeart to remove our messages from any podcasts that direct advertising revenue to campaigns, PACs or political parties.” Since March 2023, the pro-Cruz Truth and Courage PAC has received a series of increasingly larger payments from iHeartMedia Management Services Inc. that total more than $630,000. Rachel Nelson, spokesperson for iHeart subsidiary Premiere Networks, said in a statement that Cruz volunteers his time to host the podcast and isn’t compensated for it. Nelson said Premiere sells advertising time for “Verdict,” as it does for other podcasts, and the money being directed to the Truth and Courage PAC is “associated with those advertising sales.” Nelson referred additional questions to the PAC, which does not provide contact information on its website. A committee campaign finance filing includes an email address, but inquiries sent to it were not answered. The PAC has supported various Republican candidates in the past, including former Dallas Cowboys running back Herschel Walker in his failed 2022 bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia.

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Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2024

Mayor welcomes Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to New York with offer to sleep at migrant shelter

Mayor Eric Adams offered a sarcastic helping hand to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during his New York City stay, saying Thursday that the Republican could sleep in a migrant shelter “so he can see what he has created.” Abbott, who has helped feed the migrant crisis in the city through a policy of bussing hundreds from Texas since 2022, was expected to be in New York to deliver the keynote address at Thursday night’s 2024 Gala for the state Republican Party. His sojourn to the Big Apple is widely viewed as a window into the GOP’s strategic thinking as the presidential contest and national congressional races heat up. Asked about the governor’s visit, Adams suggested Abbott lodge in one of the many Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, or HERRCs, that the city has set up to accommodate the more than 180,000 migrants who’ve flooded in during Adams’ term in City Hall.

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San Antonio Current - April 5, 2024

Texas prisons among the nation's deadliest, study finds

With 8,050 inmate deaths recorded in Texas prisons from 2001 through 2019, the Lone Star State has among the nation's highest mortality rates among its incarcerated population, according to a new study. Texas experienced the seventh-highest prison mortality rate in the U.S. during that time frame, according to the study, conducted by the Connecticut Trial Firm, which specializes in personal-injury law. Researchers found that 26.4 people died in Texas while incarcerated per 100,000 state residents, Louisiana took the No. 1 spot with 42.7 dead inmates per 100,000 residents, while North Dakota had the lowest rate of inmate deaths per capita with only 2.7 per 100,000. Researchers used data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics to compile the study. “Monitoring prison mortality rates is crucial for upholding human rights standards,” Connecticut Trial Firm attorney Ryan Keen said in a statement.

“Examining patterns and causes of prison deaths enables authorities to implement preventative measures. Whether it involves addressing mental health issues, improving sanitation or enhancing safety protocols, understanding the root causes or mortality allows for targeted interventions to mitigate risks and save lives.” Attributed to 2,039 deaths, cancer was the leading cause of death in Texas prisons during the study period. Heart disease came in at a close second with 2,015 deaths. However, the study didn't include the number of heat-related deaths tallied in Texas prisons. Last year alone, during one of the hottest summers on record, at least 41 inmates died in Lone Star State lockups due to heat-related illness, according to the Texas Tribune. Only 30% of all Texas state prisons have air conditioning, according to the Associated Press. During last summer's heat wave, Democratic politicians, civil-rights advocates and families of the incarcerated urged the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to end "inhumane" treatment of inmates during sweltering summer months.

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Fox 4 - April 5, 2024

Texas Panhandle wildfires hearing wrapping up after third day of testimony

The Texas House committee investigating the deadly panhandle wildfires is wrapping up three days of testimony in Pampa. Some of the back-and-forth between committee members and witnesses got heated at times. Todd Hunter is one of three state representatives who make up the Panhandle Wildfires Investigative panel. Representatives Dustin Burrows and Ken King, who chairs the grid oversight committee, round out the trio. All three are Republicans.

The Texas A&M Forest Service told the committee its investigation into the fire concluded that a fallen decayed utility pole caused the Smokehouse Creek Fire. Committee members then grilled the Public Utility Commission representative about the decision not to bury power lines. "The underground lines are hardened. Your outage times are going to be longer because you have to dig," explained Mike Hoke, director of the office of public engagement for the Public Utility Commission. "I think everyone in the room knows it's money, but if safety is really the goal, then let’s look at are there ways to get there?" Rep. Hunter said. Xcel Energy previously said it appeared that its equipment was involved in starting the Smokehouse Creek Fire, but denied it was negligent in maintaining power lines.

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Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2024

Houston's new water bill plan will help customers facing steep charges, Whitmire says

Mayor John Whitmire revealed the details of his long-awaited water bill improvement plan Thursday, with the goal of providing relief to thousands of Houston customers who have received exorbitant bills in recent years. Under the plan, customers who have been receiving city water for more than a year would be charged a monthly rate based on an average of up to 36 months of their billing data — minus freezes and droughts — until their water meter reader is working correctly, Whitmire said Thursday. Those who have been using city water for less than a year will be charged an average rate of 3,000 gallons a month, the average for a single-family home in Houston, the mayor said. A customer charged under that rate would see a bill of $43.81 a month, according to the city’s water bill estimator.

Customers will receive a notification alerting them to their set usage, and the new rate should be reflected in their May 1 bill. “It won't be perfect,” Whitmire said. “But we believe it’s a solid plan that will address fair and accurate billing.” Whitmire’s plan also comes with improvements to customer service. Customers’ water bills will have a phone number they can call if the cost deviates from the new rate. There will also be an expansion of in-person customer service appointments to assist with billing issues. “If this plan is not a huge improvement and gets water billing off the news, then there's gonna be a lot of people looking for work,” Whitmire said. “That's how dead serious I am.”

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Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2024

Memorial Hermann stops liver transplants over 'irregularities' with donor acceptance criteria

Memorial Hermann in the Texas Medical Center has stopped performing liver transplants after learning about "irregularities" with donor acceptance criteria, the hospital said Thursday in a statement. Donor acceptance criteria include factors like age and weight of deceased donors whose livers are available for transplant. The irregularities were limited to the liver transplant program, which transplanted 30 livers last year, according to Organ Procurement Transplantation Network. As of April 3, there were 38 liver transplant candidates on the wait list at the hospital, according to OPTN data. All other transplant programs at the hospital are active, the hospital said in the statement. The hospital began an investigation and voluntarily deactivated the program after being made aware of the issues, the statement said. A spokesperson for the hospital declined to provide further information.

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Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2024

These Houston crime victims want justice. They say HPD gave up.

Anne Mosk walked through her sprawling two-story house in West Houston in December 2022, and her stomach lurched. Why was a case of Coke sitting by her kitchen refrigerator? That’s not where she’d left it. Why was a giant box moved from its spot in the parlor? That’s definitely not where she’d left it. Three days earlier, the 82-year-old grandmother lugged a big, heavy box in front of a nearby room filled with valuables, hoping the makeshift barricade would keep out the dozen-plus strangers fixing the pipes in her house. She’d even piled cases of Coke and tea on top to make the box harder to move. Filled with dread, Mosk scanned the room.

It had been ransacked. The Lenox China. The Depression-era pink glass. The antique butter dishes. So many personal treasures she’d spent a lifetime collecting, worth at least $7,000-$8,000, were now gone. Mosk burst into tears. After a year of trying to work with the company, she filed a complaint with the Houston Police Department in late 2023, sure that they would help her soon. They did not. “I just get angry because they don’t have enough people to do the job, so that gives the criminals the upper hand, and they can steal, steal, steal and nobody comes after them,” Mosk said. Until recently, she had wondered what happened to her complaint. Then she heard about the 264,000 cases. In February, HPD announced that since 2016, it had closed 264,000 reported crimes using the code “suspended — lack of personnel.” Since then, Houstonians are raising questions about what the police choose to investigate, how they communicate with crime victims, and whether HPD can be trusted to protect them.

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Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2024

Trump and wealthy Texas Republicans want to oust House Speaker Phelan. David Covey is their man

When David Covey decided to run against House Speaker Dade Phelan last summer, he called his friend and colleague, Waller County GOP Chair David Luther, who told him it was a terrible idea. Covey and Luther had worked together on the Texas GOP’s executive committee, and Luther was honest. Running against Phelan — a five-term representative and prominent businessman in his Beaumont-area House district — was a bad political move, he remembers telling him, even though he believed Covey could make a good representative. But Covey, a 34-year-old oil and gas consultant and former policy adviser to a far-right state senator, saw the race as a way back to statewide politics, Luther said. Phelan was vulnerable in a way he had never been before, facing fierce criticism from fellow Republicans for his chamber’s impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, and this could be the only real chance to unseat him in an otherwise deep-red district.

“It’s the perfect time for him to make this move," Luther said. "He had the support of the company that he worked for. … He has a young family. I don’t fault him for taking this leap.” Covey sent shockwaves across the state when he bested Phelan in the three-candidate March primary, forcing the speaker into a runoff election set for May 28 and positioning Phelan to become the first House speaker to lose his seat in more than 50 years. The high-dollar, much-watched and often nasty contest is widely viewed as a referendum on Phelan, who has faced attacks from his party’s right flank for more than a year. The race has garnered national attention, and even former President Donald Trump has weighed in. While Covey’s supporters have sometimes mentioned his experience as the Orange County GOP chairman or fire commissioner, his main appeal is simple: He’s not Phelan. Covey has lived in Texas his entire life, he said, and for the last 28 years has been in Orange, the easternmost city in the state that borders Louisiana. At work, he advises oil refineries on fluid distribution; at home, he showcases his family life in YouTube videos, offering affordable date night tips and parenting advice with his wife, Esther. He said his conservative beliefs stem from his Christian faith and “the ideals on which our nation was founded — freedom, liberty and personal responsibility.” Growing up in a family of 10, Covey said he and his siblings tagged along with his parents to local conventions. Now, politics is a bit of a family affair: One of Covey’s seven siblings, Jonathan Covey, works as the director of policy for Texas Values, an influential right-wing nonprofit that lobbies the Legislature to “preserve and advance a culture of family values in the state of Texas.”

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San Antonio Express-News - April 5, 2024

Luke Metzger: Texas state parks need electric vehicle charging stations

(Luke Metzger is executive director of Environment Texas, a nonprofit advocate for clean air and water, parks and wildlife, and a livable climate.) Last Thanksgiving, my family went camping at Lost Maples and Garner state parks — with an electric car. It was our first camping trip with an electric vehicle, and we were a bit worried about having enough charge to make it there and back. Leaving from Austin, we stopped to use a charging station at a San Antonio Walmart to top off the battery. Once at the parks, we were able to charge our Chevy Bolt electric utility vehicle at our campsite, but it was a slow charge, gaining about 4 miles of range every hour of charging. We didn’t have much electricity to spare making it back to San Antonio.

So, camping with an EV in Texas is possible, but it sure could be easier. It’s time for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, or TPWD, to ensure electric vehicles can be adequately charged at state parks. More than 266,000 EVs already are registered in Texas, and ERCOT expects that number to climb to 1 million by 2028. Many EV drivers are state parks enthusiasts, but with inadequate charging infrastructure, many forgo trips to state parks lest they are left stranded. Fortunately, Texas is getting $408 million from the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to build out a charging network. Fast-charging stations will be installed every 50 miles along our interstates under the Texas Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan. Eventually, in Phase 2 of the plan, the Texas Department of Transportation will install at least one fast charging station in every county in the state. For many rural counties, where better to place those charging stations than in a state park that lures in tourists? Additionally, Texas should make use of Tesla’s program that donates charging stations. Just as TPWD once accommodated the rise of recreational vehicles by adding electricity and water hookups, and dump stations, we should do the same with electric vehicles. Gov. Greg Abbott should work with TPWD and TxDOT to take advantage of available public and private funding to install charging stations at every state park.

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KUT - April 5, 2024

Prison time for Paxton 'absolutely never' likely, state prosecutor says

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton never would have been sent to prison if his fraud case had gone to trial, the prosecutors now say. In the week since Paxton, a Republican, cut a deal to have his charges dropped and upcoming trial canceled, the two special prosecutors have traded barbs over how each handled the case. They’ve questioned each other’s choices, motives and even whether they’ve always been truthful with each other. From indictment to deal, the case lasted nine years. The prosecutors entered the case as partners, longtime colleagues, even friends, and leave it as adversaries. The one thing they do agree on: Neither thinks Paxton was going to end up behind bars.

During a Friday interview on WFAA, lead prosecutor Brian Wice was asked if prison was ever a likelihood if the case had gone to trial. “The answer to your question is two words: absolutely never,” Wice said. “I never envisioned any scenario, any universe in which, by which, through which, that a judge or jury put Ken Paxton in prison based on either the third-degree felony failing to register as an investment adviser rep, or, for that matter, the first-degree felony securities fraud cases,” he added. In an interview with The Texas Newsroom, Wice’s former co-counsel agreed. “That's probably the one true thing that Brian [Wice] said,” said Kent Schaffer, who resigned from the prosecution in February after he and Wice split over how to handle the case. Sure, Paxton was facing multiple felony charges. He was accused of defrauding investors in a North Texas tech company, and for failing to register with state securities regulators. But the prosecutors pointed out his alleged crimes did not involve violence. Yes, Paxton has been accused of corruption, repeatedly, and he still remains under active FBI investigation.

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City Stories

D Magazine - April 5, 2024

Trouble brewing with finances at Fair Park, audit launched

Fair Park’s finances are being audited after its nonprofit manager “notified the city of financial concerns” related to a sub-contract with the operator. The nonprofit Fair Park First is the boss of the Oak View Group, which runs the daily park operations. In a statement, Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen said the organization learned “a little more than a week ago” that the Oak View Group “may have inaccurately, and we hope inadvertently, allocated and utilized restricted funds raised by Fair Park First for daily park operations.” “If the inaccurate and unauthorized reallocation of funds occurred, it is a significant matter and shakes our confidence and trust,” the statement reads. “If we discover any restricted funds donated to Fair Park First were utilized incorrectly, we will do everything in our power, in partnership with the City of Dallas, to ensure those funds are returned and redirected as envisioned by the donors.”

Luallen said Fair Park First engaged Malnory, McNeal and Company, PC to conduct the forensic audit in “close coordination” with the city of Dallas. Philanthropic donations are generally intended for capital improvements across its 277 acres—especially building the much-anticipated community park in place of surface parking lots—and not operational expenditures. “We have formally given notice to Oak View Group of our intention to investigate this matter fully, hopefully in partnership with them, so we may provide robust assurance to our donors investing in Fair Park’s future that restricted funds were allocated appropriately,” Luallen said. The City Council was briefed in closed session yesterday to seek “legal advice of the city attorney regarding the city’s management contract with Fair Park First.” The Dallas Park and Recreation Board is hearing the same thing behind closed doors today.

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Fort Worth Report - April 5, 2024

International film crew stirs Keller ISD debate over separation of religion, education

Tensions between parents and Keller ISD leadership remain nearly two months after a film crew visited Central High School for a show called “God, Jesus, Trump!” The day’s filming led to a sequence of events that affected the school community and ultimately resulted in two resignations and an ongoing district investigation. Religious and constitutional law experts described the series of events as reflecting the complexities of the First Amendment. The crew, hired by Netherlands-based broadcasting network Evangelische Omroep — or EO for short — visited the high school campus to film an interview with trustee Sandi Walker, who later resigned.

EO is a media company that creates programming about faith and current events. With the presidential election ahead, EO plans to release a fourth season of “God, Jesus, Trump!” The state of Texas will be featured in the final episode, called “War on Woke.” Elizabeth Mitias thought she’d seen it all after 16 years as a teacher. That changed Feb. 9 when the Keller ISD engineering teacher crossed paths with a school board member and the EO film crew in a Central High School hallway. Crew members wore visitors stickers on their shirts, and one man was shouldering a large camera. “I kind of recognized the board member that was with them. Couldn’t really place her until later,” Mitias said. “They were trying to go into one of the special ed rooms that I passed. Being waved off from that one, they just went down the hallway.” Keller ISD Superintendent Tracy Johnson wrote in an email to parents that the film crew was interviewing Walker and was later joined by trustee Michah Young. While there, the film crew toured the school and talked to students and employees.

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Dallas Morning News - April 5, 2024

Dallas faces ‘major challenge’ in reducing traffic deaths, official tells City Council and urges legislative push

Dallas faces a “major challenge” in improving traffic safety as the city seeks to eliminate collision-related deaths and cut severe injuries in half by 2030, the city’s transportation director told the Dallas City Council on Wednesday. The city of Dallas is making progress on its Vision Zero plan to address traffic deaths, according to Dallas transportation director Gus Khankarli. But the city could face an uphill climb to meet the 2030 deadline, and council members have expressed frustration about the pace. At Wednesday’s council briefing, Dallas Police Department Chief Eddie Garcia said the inability to enforce speeding laws boiled down to staffing resources. The department has 29 traffic enforcement officers who oversee the length and breadth of traffic issues in Dallas, he said.

Garcia said having speed radar cameras on red lights would help fill staffing gaps. “We certainly are not going to be in a position anytime soon to be able to staff every intersection in the city,” Garcia said. There needs to be a “legislative push” to get the department up to speed with technology that can address driving behavior, he said. Dallas is one of more than 45 cities, including Austin, Houston and San Antonio, to participate in the Vision Zero pledge initiative. But those cities have seen little progress toward eliminating fatalities despite investing years in the program. “Other cities are also struggling with this process,” Khankarli said. “It’s a major challenge as cities try to implement the Vision Zero concept.” Council members have previously expressed frustration with what they have seen as a slow rollout of the plan, which officials first committed to in 2019. On Wednesday, council members wanted to figure out what the city could do to combat reckless driving. Should the city run a campaign? Should there be more education around traffic fatality statistics? What should the shock value of the messaging be? “If you are not evoking some kind of emotion and usually more distress than happy emotion, then you’re not going to cut through,” council member Gay Donnell Willis said.

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National Stories

Stateline - April 5, 2024

After a long slog, climate change lawsuits will finally put Big Oil on trial

After years of legal appeals and delays, some oil companies are set to stand trial in lawsuits brought by state and local governments over the damages caused by climate change. Meanwhile, dozens more governments large and small have brought new claims against the fossil fuel industry as those initial cases, filed up to a half-dozen years ago, inch closer to the courtroom. “It’s all building toward more cases in more places using more legal theories to hold these companies accountable,” said Richard Wiles, president of the Center for Climate Integrity, a nonprofit that offers legal and communication support to communities suing oil companies. Wiles’ group has tracked 32 cases filed by state attorneys general, cities, counties and tribal nations against companies including Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell.

The lawsuits cite extensive news reporting — including investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News — showing oil companies’ own research projected the dangers of climate change decades ago, even as the industry tried to undermine scientific consensus about the crisis. Those practices, the claims argue, violate a variety of laws including consumer protection, public nuisance, failure to warn, fraud and racketeering. Some of the lawsuits seek to force oil companies to help pay for the damages caused by climate change. Others aim to impose penalties for the use of deceptive business practices. Some want to compel the companies to fund a corrective education campaign about the climate threats they once downplayed. Given the massive price tag of climate disasters and governments’ adaptation costs, experts say the lawsuits could put the oil industry on the hook for many billions of dollars. The real test for the plaintiffs is whether they can compete and fight tooth and nail for years. It’s a war of attrition. That’s what Exxon’s counting on.

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Houston Chronicle - April 5, 2024

Energy Department adjusts new transformer standard amid supply fears

The Department of Energy has scaled back new efficiency requirements on power transformers, amid criticism it could exacerbate an ongoing shortage of the equipment and delay expansion and repairs of U.S. electricity grids. Final standards released by the Biden administration Thursday are expected to save $14 billion in energy costs over 30 years, a third of the energy savings that would have been achieved under the administration's proposal in 2022, according to the the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, a nonprofit climate group. "These standards significantly reduce energy waste, but they leave much bigger savings on the table," said Andrew deLaski, executive director of the group. The change comes amid a global shortage in transformers, which convert high-voltage electricity from transmission lines to low-voltage power suitable for homes and businesses.

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Wall Street Journal - April 5, 2024

California businesses take on Gavin Newsom over tax hikes

A coalition of California companies is going to war with Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Democratic allies over taxes it says have grown out of control in the Golden State. The businesses have gathered enough signatures to put a measure on November’s ballot that would require two-thirds of voters to approve most local tax increases and roll back some recently enacted ones. If passed, it would be one of the most significant changes to the way California funds its government since 1978’s Proposition 13, a voter-approved law that severely limited property tax increases. Backers say it is necessary to stop continued tax hikes that are making it too expensive to operate in California and pushing companies to leave the state. Real estate businesses in Southern California are among the biggest funders, according to state campaign finance records, partly in response to a surcharge on luxury home sales that Los Angeles voters passed in 2022.

Newsom, local officials and labor unions say the proposal would decimate funding for basic services such as trash collection and firefighting and would make budgeting decisions near-impossible. The companies spent some $16 million to gather signatures to put their proposal before voters and are gearing up for a fight political analysts say could draw tens of millions of dollars in advertising by both sides. “The business community is fed up, they want to start stepping up to make a positive change. And they recognize that if they don’t do it, nobody will,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, an advocacy group representing some of the state’s biggest businesses and leading the “yes” campaign. Mike Roth, a spokesman for the “no” campaign, said his side “will not only have the financial resources but the boots on the ground needed for a robust campaign to educate voters about this deceptive and dangerous measure.”

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CNN - April 5, 2024

Trump suffers setbacks in efforts to shut down two of the criminal cases against him

Former President Donald Trump was dealt two major setbacks Thursday in his efforts to derail the criminal cases against him, with judges in the Georgia election interference case and in the federal classified documents case both rejecting bids by the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee to have those cases thrown out. The judges in both cases have yet to decide other requests put forward by Trump seeking the dismissal of the Georgia and federal prosecutions, which were brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and special counsel Jack Smith, respectively. But for now, the prospect of the cases eventually going before juries remains alive, and a trial in a third criminal prosecution against Trump – the 2016 campaign hush money case brought in New York – is on track to start this month.

The New York case aside, the likelihood that the other prosecutions against Trump – which also include a federal election subversion case brought in Washington, DC, by the special counsel – will go to trial before the November election is very much still in the air. Delay has been a key part of the former president’s strategy, and he has had considerable success in prolonging the pretrial litigation in the prosecutions against him. The DC case, which at one point was moving the most quickly among all the Trump criminal cases, is now on hold while the Supreme Court considers whether Trump’s status as a former president grants him immunity from those criminal charges. Those arguments are scheduled for this month. Trump has made similar presidential immunity arguments in the Georgia case and in the classified documents case. He has pleaded not guilty in all four criminal cases. In the classified documents case, which is proceeding in south Florida, US District Judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday declined Trump’s request that she dismiss the case based on his arguments that he had the authority to take classified or sensitive documents with him after he left the White House.

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Washington Post - April 5, 2024

Israel to open Gaza aid routes after Biden’s demands in call with Netanyahu

Israel said it would open more aid routes into Gaza, including the Erez border crossing, hours after a call in which President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States would reassess its policy on the war if Israel does not take immediate steps to address the humanitarian situation and the safety of aid workers. The call, three days after Israeli strikes killed seven World Central Kitchen workers, marked the first time the president has indicated a willingness to reconsider what has so far been ironclad support of Israel’s military campaign.

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Wall Street Journal - April 5, 2024

Israeli probe finds strike on World Central Kitchen workers violated the military’s rules

The Israeli drone team that killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen after mistaking them for Hamas militants lacked the evidence to order the strikes and twice violated the military’s operating rules, an Israeli military investigation found. The team earlier this week struck each of the aid group’s three vehicles in succession after spotting something slung over the shoulder of one passenger, possibly a bag, which it assumed to be a weapon, the military said. That wasn’t enough to justify the strike on that passenger’s vehicle or the other two vehicles in the convoy, the military said in an overnight briefing on its findings that included snippets of drone video of events leading up to the attack.

The Israeli military doesn’t publicize its rules of engagement, which officials say shift depending on the situation, making it difficult to determine what standard was in place when Monday’s strike occurred. The military also didn’t share video showing the item slung over the shoulder or any of the audio from the events. World Central Kitchen has said the people who were killed weren’t armed. The fatal strikes followed a mistaken chain of assumptions that could have been prevented had the military properly passed along the details of the humanitarian convoy to the commanders who ultimately ordered the strikes. World Central Kitchen had shared those details with the proper military authorities, but they were lost somewhere in the chain of communication, the investigation found. The military said it dismissed two officers and reprimanded three. The killings—the latest of nearly 200 aid workers who have lost their lives during the six-month-old war—sparked a global outcry and damaged Israel’s relationship with the U.S., its main ally. President Biden spoke Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said future U.S. support would depend upon progress in protecting civilians and aid workers.

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