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Newsclips - April 12, 2024

Lead Stories

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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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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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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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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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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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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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

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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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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