Jill Ament

Texas Standard Producer
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From Texas Standard:

Many Texas political watchers would agree that the 2019 legislative session was surprisingly tame. Legislation about divisive social issues – especially about bathroom access for transgender people, which dominated the session in 2017 – seemed to be a thing of the past. But recently, a custody case in Texas involving a 7-year-old child whose mother identifies the child as transgender has divided some along political lines.

The Bastrop County Complext Fire in 2011
Mose Buchele / KUT

From Texas Standard:

Randy Jamieson lives in the River Place development in Northwest Austin – what developers call a “master-planned” community. About 4,000 people live there, and the city of Austin recently annexed it. With its location near Lake Travis, real estate agents pitch the area as desirable for homebuyers looking for “Hill Country” and “Lakeside” views. But Jamieson feels nervous about living there.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Most discussions about the high cost of college focus on tuition and fees. But in some places, including the University of Texas at Austin, housing can be an even bigger cost. 

Photo courtesy of Albert Prieto-Márquez, Miquel Crusafont Catalonian Institute of Paleontology

From Texas Standard:

A dinosaur fossil has stumped scientists ever since they found it in Big Bend National Park in the early 1980s. Now, 30 years later, paleontologists report that new data helped them determine that the fossil actually belongs to a whole new dinosaur species.

The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University

From Texas Standard

Wimberley Independent School District in Central Texas is moving forward with the construction of a new environmentally friendly school. The project focuses on the conservation of water.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday, most of Texas is completely drought-free. That's a stark change from where the state was this time last year, let alone the extreme drought conditions of years past. But even as drought pressure has abated, water remains both a valuable and scarce resource in Texas, making it significant that this Hill Country elementary school is being constructed as the most water-efficient in the state.

Nick Dornak is the director of Watershed Services at Texas State University's Meadows Center. He says the school will be the first “one water” school in the state, incorporating water and wastewater treatment directly into the building.

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT

From Texas Standard:

On Tuesday, a new Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy went into effect, banning any religious adviser from being in the execution chamber with an inmate. The decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court, last week, postponed the execution of Patrick Murphy, a member of the Texas Seven group.

The court said his execution had to wait until Texas decided on its policy about the presence of spiritual advisers during executions. The state had originally denied Murphy’s request to have a Buddhist priest, which Murphy appealed because Texas had allowed advisers from other faiths to be in the execution chamber. In his opinion, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that Texas needed to find a way to accommodate all faiths so as not to discriminate, or allow no advisers at all. TDCJ decided on the latter.

Rap325/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

From Texas Standard:

Though he hasn't made an official announcement, Texas Monthly recently reported that Joaquin Castro could soon announce plans to challenge John Cornyn for his Senate seat in 2020. If Castro runs, his own seat in Congress will be open. He represents a district that's been solidly Democratic for years, and now some are speculating about who would run to replace him. 

Gilbert Garcia, metro columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, has been pondering the musical-chairs game of sorts that a Castro Senate bid could set in motion.

Garcia says San Antonio comprises five congressional districts, and that the 20th is the one Democrats covet most.

Martin do Nascimento/KUT

From Texas Standard:

College has become a prerequisite for most high-paying jobs in the U.S., but college itself is out of reach for millions, and that number is growing. And the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says that in the past 10 years, student loan debt has grown by more than 100 percent. People ages 19 to 29 hold more than $1 trillion in student debt, and that's just the Millennial generation. With a wide-open Democratic primary field, it's almost certain that college affordability will be an issue during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Adam Harris writes in The Atlantic that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates have focused their attention on how to make college affordable in the future,  proposing free college tuition or policies that would allow students to leave school without debt.

Harris says that prior to the 2016 election, momentum had been building nationally for some sort of free college program. But once Donald Trump was elected president, that momentum shifted to the states.

Jill Ament/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

As Texas lawmakers begin tackling one of this session's top legislative priorities – school finance reform – a state Senate measure proposes giving public-school teachers a raise. How much money is on the table and what difference would it make for teachers living paycheck to paycheck? It depends on whom you ask and where you live.

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT, and Flickr/House GOP (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Two Texas lawmakers are at the forefront of a renewed battle over President Donald Trump's tax returns.

Lynda Gonzalez/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

Ever since two important cases struck down gun restrictions in Washington, D.C. and Chicago – rulings that essentially protected gun ownership in the home – a question has remained as to whether it's legal to carry guns in public. But now, the Supreme Court is planning to review a case dealing with that very question; it's known by the shorthand "New York State Rifle."

Adam Winkler is a professor at UCLA School of Law who specializes in American constitutional law and the Supreme Court. Winkler says the case challenges a New York City ordinance that limits where people with permitted guns can bring them into public; they can bring them to specified gun ranges, for example.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Monday, about 34,000 teachers will walk off the job in Los Angeles – a move described as "historic." It echoes what happened almost a year ago when a West Virginia teacher walkout triggered similar strikes elsewhere in the US. Teachers all over the country are lobbying for higher pay.

Here in Texas, 10 percent of all first-year teachers leave their jobs before their second year. Better pay may be key to keeping more of them in the classroom, and last week, top state lawmakers pledged that 2019 will be the "Year of the Teacher" in the Texas Legislature, promising to boost salaries. But there's still many details yet to be decided.

Eddie Gaspar/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Texas Standard has been inviting new members of the Texas delegation on Capitol Hill for on-air meet-and-greet sessions. Recent news has made these conversations especially timely: earlier this week we spoke about the shutdown and the situation at the border with a newly minted Democratic representative, Colin Allred. Now it's Lance Gooden's turn; he's the Republican freshman elected in November to take the place of Jeb Hensarling representing District 5, which covers parts of Dallas and East Texas.

Gooden says he supports President Donald Trump's idea to declare a national emergency in order to secure funding for the border wall. He says Trump would need to do that "especially if he wants to get what he wants because I don't think he's gonna get it in Congress."

Julia Reihs/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Our attention turns once again to the Texas side of the Rio Grande where President Donald Trump has doubled down on his plan build a wall along the border with Mexico. Over the weekend, Trump said he may declare a national emergency to secure the funding for the wall after White House officials and top legislative aids failed to reach a compromise about it, and also failed to end the partial government shutdown.

While politicians hash out immigration policy in Washington, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling deals with the day-to-day impact of immigration in the Rio Grande Valley – one of Texas' busiest border-crossing regions. Darling says he sees several hundred asylum seekers per day come to respite centers in the area. And while media have focused on the Central American migrant caravans moving through Mexico, he says they've missed what's actually happening at the border.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

From Texas Standard:

Top lawmakers are gathering at the White House again Friday to try to find a way to end the partial government shutdown. This comes one day after Democrats, who now have a majority in the House of Representatives, passed a package to reopen parts of the government until September, and passed a measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. The effort also allowed more time for negotiations on border security.

While the measures likely won't pass in the Republican-led Senate, seven Republicans in the House sided with Democrats to pass the bills; Texas Rep. Will Hurd was one of them. His 23rd Congressional District stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, encompassing much of the state's border with Mexico.

Hurd says he voted with Democrats because he feels it's important to keep agencies like the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, open.

Michael Duke/Jewish Herald-Voice

From Texas Standard:

The largest Conservative Jewish synagogue in the U.S. is not on the East Coast – it's in Houston. Congregation Beth Yeshurun is made up of 2,300 families and was founded in 1891. Now, Rice University aims to shine a light on it and the rest of South Texas's Jewish community and history through its new Houston Jewish History Archive.

Director Josh Furman acknowledges that Houston is not the first place that comes to mind when people think of Judaism in the United States. But he wants to change that. 

Bob Jagendorf/Flickr

From Texas Standard:

It's something you don't hear often in the news: President Donald Trump is endorsing a measure that has the support of Democrats and Republicans in Congress. This rare occasion for bipartisanship represents what some consider the biggest overhaul to the nation's criminal justice system in recent memory.

Shaila Dewaun is national criminal justice editor for The New York Times. She says the bill would help people leaving prison with reentry into the outside world, including providing money for education and treatment programs.

flickr.com/texasmilitaryforces; U.S. Army photo by Maj. Randall Stillinger.

President Donald Trump is now planning to send between 800 and 1,000 active-duty U.S. troops to the southern border to counter a caravan of migrants from Central America. The migrants are now making their way through Mexico. The president has called the approaching caravan a national emergency.

To get a perspective from the border, Texas Standard Host David Brown spoke with John Ferguson, the mayor of Presidio, in far west Texas, and Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council.

Derek K. Miller/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

In February, 12-year-old Linda Rogers died when her home in Northwest Dallas exploded as she was getting ready for school. A preliminary report cited a crack in a natural gas line.

An investigation by the Dallas Morning News finds that, since 2006, more than two dozen homes across  North and Central Texas have been destroyed or damaged because of natural gas leaking from Atmos Energy's aging system. Nine people have died. At least 22 others have been injured.

Jill Ament/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated that the Rebuild Texas Fund reported the amount of recovery money Nueces County, where Port Aransas is located, has received. The reporting agency is called the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas.

City leaders say Hurricane Harvey damaged 100 percent of Port Aransas' businesses and 85 percent of the beach community's homes.

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Political pundits, pollsters and activists have been saying for a while that the 2018 midterm elections are likely to result in some upheaval in the ranks of incumbent officeholders. Already, in special elections in other states, Democrats have run strong in reliably Republican areas, and here at home, one senator, and several members of Congress face enthusiastic opposition. But statewide officeholders – Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller – face somewhat easier paths to reelection. Still, Democrats are campaigning aggressively.

Ken Lund/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

In early January 2017, a fire allegedly started by Mark Vincent Perez burned a mosque in Victoria to the ground. Since then, the community has remained quiet about the motivations for this act of arson. As the case goes to trial, details are finally coming out, one witness at a time.

Photo via Office of the Texas Attorney General

From Texas Standard.

Texas is facing lawsuits over some of its abortion laws, including House Bill 2, which restricts access to abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires abortion clinics to maintain the same medical facilities as hospitals. The state is also being sued over the Fetal Burial Law, which requires clinics to bury remains from abortions and miscarriages.

Alejandro Castro/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

Still celebrating its advance in the World Cup this week, Mexico is headed into another emotional weekend as the much anticipated presidential election gets underway.

C. Holmes/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

From Texas Standard.

In a backlash against the president’s immigration policies, agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, are now echoing calls from some Democratic Socialists and other progressives that ICE should be dissolved. The Texas Observer first reported this story, picked up today by The New York Times.

Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

From Texas Standard.

Immigrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border could potentially be housed at military bases – including a few in Texas – according to a recent report. Questions are swirling about how exactly this will play out.

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

From Texas Standard.

In recent days we’ve been seeing a wave of protests at detention centers in South Texas over the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy at the border, which has led to the separation of families. There are now signs that something’s changing. Case in point: the detention camp in Tornillo, outside El Paso.

@ZachTWesterman/Twitter

From Texas Standard.

Residents living in the Rio Grande Valley have experienced several days of heavy rains this week, which have overwhelmed cities like McAllen and Weslaco.

Martin do Nascimento/KUT

From Texas Standard.

South Texas is ground zero for a fight to end DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Trump administration has tried to end it, but twice, courts have ruled that the administration can’t do that. Now DACA opponents are trying a different legal maneuver – Texas and six other states have sued the federal government. The Trump Justice Department’s not putting up a fight, which could mean the end of DACA.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

From Texas Standard.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 on Monday that it was OK for Ohio to remove people from voter registration rolls if those voters skip a few elections and then fail to respond to a notice from election officials. Ohio claimed this was necessary for the proper upkeep of voter registration lists and to prevent voter fraud.

Republicans have been pushing for such restrictions without much actual evidence of fraud, while Democrats have often seen such moves as attempts to suppress voting. What does the ruling mean for Texas?

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