Texas

News, policy discussions, and major events happening in or related to Texas, told from an Austin perspective

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From Texas Standard:

The longtime president of the University of Texas at El Paso, Diana Natalicio, is stepping down after more than 30 years on the job. But some are concerned about the UT System Board of Regents' choice as the sole finalist to replace Natalicio as UTEP president, Heather Wilson.

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From Texas Standard:

In 2016, a groundskeeper from California named Edwin Hardeman filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, an agribusiness company that's since been acquired by Bayer. Hardeman had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and he claimed that using the popular weed killer called Roundup for the past two decades partly led to him contracting cancer. Earlier this week, a jury agreed with his claim.

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.

Andi Lichterfelde/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

The U.S. population is aging, and many older adults have, or will have, some form of dementia. Right now, the health care workforce is not prepared to meet their needs, says sociologist Christopher Johnson. But Johnson is particularly poised to help fix the problem, as professor at the country's first master's of science program in dementia and aging studies, at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Photo by Jarekt https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/wiki/User:Jarekt

From Texas Standard:

Tuesday, after five years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in a challenge to rules allowing the federal government to detain immigrants with criminal convictions, even if they entered the U.S. lawfully, and even after they have served their time. The decision prevents such an immigrant from appealing a detention decision, and could allow indefinite detention.

Dozens Of Rattlesnakes Removed From Under Texas Home

Mar 20, 2019
Forty-five rattlesnakes were pulled from under a home near Albany, Texas last week.
Big Country Snake Removal / Facebook

A Texas homeowner who reported seeing "a few" snakes under his home actually had dozens of rattlesnakes living beneath his house.

A plume of smoke above Intercontinental Terminal Company's Deer Park, Texas facility on Tuesday.
Florian Martin / Houston Public Media

A fire that broke out at a petrochemical storage facility over the weekend in the industrial Houston suburb of Deer Park has been extinguished, the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday morning.

Tony Hisgett/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Lemonade stands aren't legal in Texas, but House lawmakers gave a preliminary OK today to a bill that would undo that legislative oversight that's dragged on for 85 legislative sessions.

Ryan Poppe/Texas Public Radio

From Texas Standard:

Cannabidiol products – better known as CBD – are fairly new to Texas. They usually come in the form of oils, drinks or snacks containing the non-psychoactive chemical compound found in cannabis, THC. CBD products usually contain just a minuscule amount of THC, and can't get you high, but when ingested, some say they alleviate inflammation and anxiety. But in Texas, where products containing THC are mostly illegal, where does that leave CBD? The city attorney of Edinburg recently asked just that in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Molly Smith, a reporter for the McAllen Monitor, says the city attorney wants Paxton to issue a formal legal opinion because he says there's a legal "grey area" in Texas. Smith says most people, including CBD vendors, assume it's legal because their products contain such a minute amount of THC – less than what's legal under the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which allows people with certain severe health conditions to use products with less than 0.5 percent THC. Plus, she says federal law also makes it easy to assume that CBD is legal.

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From Texas Standard:

Pew Research Center recently published a report showing how a majority of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. live in one of 20 metropolitan areas. But there was another statistic within the report that was important in its own right: The number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has gone down over the last decade. As of 2016, Pew estimates there were about 10.7 million, compared to about 12.2 million in 2007.

Mark Hugo Lopez is director of global migration and demography at Pew Research, and says there's been a large decline in unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, in particular. At the same time, there's been an increase of unauthorized immigrants from other countries, whom Lopez says have most likely overstayed their visas.

President Trump last week vetoed a congressional measure aimed at blocking his national emergency declaration. The next battle over that emergency declaration will likely be in the courts.

Meanwhile, planning for extending the border wall is already happening in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Yang campaign

From Texas Standard:

More than a dozen Democrats are running for president, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang is one of them. He's the first Asian-American Democrat to run for president, and highlights of his platform include giving every American $1,000 a month, and solving the "fake news" problem.

Martin do Nascimento/KUT

From Texas Standard:

As the 2019 legislative session continues, Texas Standard is talking with members about some of the bills they’ve filed, and what they hope their legislation will accomplish.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, filed HB 311, which would exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax.

Photo Courtesy "J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius" film.

From Texas Standard:

It started as a joke. But when a couple of guys from Fort Worth started distributing literature for their new, fake religious group in the late 1970s, they were surprised when it caught on. Before long, there were factions of the group in New York, San Francisco, Arkansas and many other places.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Texas is lacking in low-income housing, according to a new study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The availability of affordable rental housing for extremely low-income renters in Texas – those making below the federal poverty level or 30 percent of an area's median income – was 29 homes available for every 100 renters. The national rate is 37 homes.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Shapter

From Texas Standard:

Leslie Cochran was a man who experienced homelessness and often walked the streets of Austin in a thong and a feather boa. He became an unofficial symbol of the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan before his death in 2012.

Tracy Frazier directs a new film about Cochran's life, Becoming Leslie, which is premiering at South by Southwest.

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

At 4:30 a.m. El Paso time Thursday, Beto O'Rourke confirmed, in a video with his wife at his side, that he's tossing his hat into the ring, so to speak, and running for president. O'Rourke is one of 15 Democrats who've announced their candidacy so far. 

Richard Pineda is an associate professor in the Department of Communication and director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. Pineda says though O'Rourke will be up against another Texan in the primaries, Julián Castro, O'Rourke is "head and shoulders above" him because of the support he generated during his 2018 Senate race.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

After being rebuked by Gov. Greg Abbott for the state’s botched review of the voter rolls, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety took “full responsibility” Tuesday for providing data to the secretary of state’s office that included thousands of individuals whose citizenship should never have been in question.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

In a tweet Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the situation in Venezuela is "deteriorating," and announced plans to remove all diplomatic staff from the country, amid a six-day nationwide power outage, ongoing violence and food shortages. The U.S. also recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's president, though Nicolás Maduro still occupies the presidential palace. But it's unclear what the consequences will be with U.S. diplomats out of Caracas.

Secretary Pompeo, who's in Houston Tuesday for the CERAWeek energy conference, told Texas Standard he's ordering diplomats to leave for their safety. As a diplomat himself, he also says much of his focus is on finding ways to enhance America's security at home, including promoting U.S. oil and gas production. He says so-called energy independence gives the U.S. greater security and more leverage to negotiate with other countries.

Despite growing energy independence, the U.S. has relied for years on Venezuelan oil exports. But Pompeo says right now, the U.S. mainly wants to ensure the well-being of the Venezeulan people.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The embattled CEO of Austin-based Southwest Key Programs, the nation's largest provider of shelters for migrant children, is stepping down.

Juan Figueroa for Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

A global controversy erupted after a Chinese scientist claimed to have used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to manipulate genes in the embryos of twin girls to try to boost their resistance to HIV. The idea of gene editing goes back to at least the 1960s, and it’s the topic of the new documentary “Human Nature,” which will premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin this month.

The Sad State Of Military Housing

Mar 8, 2019
Todd Morris/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

More active-duty members of the military live and work in Texas than in any other state besides California. Many live in military housing, which have largely been run by private contractors since the 1990s. A series of explosive reports by Reuters last year found hazards from mold to vermin infestations and lead paint. Yet contractors continued to get rich as military families suffered. Now, Pentagon officials are promising change, including a possible tenant bill of rights for military personnel.

Eslate voting machine
Nathan Bernier/KUT

From Texas Standard:

You probably remember the frustrations during the 2016 and 2018 elections: the long lines at the polls, the questions about whether our votes were being property recorded and whether voting machines were being hacked or not. A new study offers little comfort to those hoping 2020 will be better. It finds that voting technology across the U.S. is outdated and falling apart.

Jill Ament/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

Last month, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal reported that though wildfire season typically begins in March, West Texas is seeing wildfires even earlier in the year. As a result, lots of communities have a plan of action for wildfires. But how many Texas communities perform a dry run before an emergency actually happens? So far, only one, the Comanche Trail neighborhood near Lake Travis, has done such a drill.

Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

From Texas Standard:

Though some parts of Texas hit their coldest temperatures of the season this week, overall, this winter has been fairly mild south of Oklahoma -- and wet. That's led to a pretty productive wildflower season. Folks in the Big Bend area say they've seen the largest bluebonnet bloom in decades. And many parts of the state are seeing that bloom slightly early.

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From Texas Standard:

As we reported several months ago, Texas has a policy that makes it illegal for state government entities to contract with companies that boycott Israel. A speech pathologist in Pflugerville ran afoul of the law because she refused to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Now, short-term rental company Airbnb has run into a similar conflict with the state's law.

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From Texas Standard:

The term "socialism" seems to be an early front-runner for the top buzzword of the 2020 election season. Democrats and Republicans have been using the word a lot lately, but what does it really mean?

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, President Donald Trump told the crowd, "Democrat lawmakers are now embracing socialism. They want to replace individual rights with total government domination."

But Jennifer Mercieca, associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University specializing in political rhetoric, says the way Trump characterizes socialism is different than its technical definition.

Pexels

From Texas Standard:

In the United States, over 10 million children live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It's the lowest child poverty rate in decades, but researchers and public policy experts are determined to bring down that number even further.

In a recently published report called "A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty" from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, its co-authors suggest policy changes that they claim could cut child poverty in half in just 10 years.

Cynthia Osborne contributed to the report. She's associate dean and director of the Center for Health and Social Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Osborne says the irony of child poverty is that it's expensive.

Joy Diaz/Texas Standard

From Texas Standard:

Courtney Meeks was 32 years old when she died in February.

Her name may be familiar. Texas Standard’s Joy Diaz followed Meeks' story several years ago when she was a pregnant mom living with addiction and without a home in Austin.

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.

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