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Jill Ament

From Texas Standard.

After a long night in Congress – propelled by an hours-long objection from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky)– lawmakers passed a budget measure to avert another government shutdown. Texas Sen. John Cornyn called Paul’s blockade “irresponsible.”

Sean Theriault, a professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas, says that Thursday night was typical behavior from Rand Paul, particularly because he’s known as a deficit hawk.

From Texas Standard.

The Texas primaries are less than a month away, with many officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, up for reelection. Abbott announced on Tuesday what some are calling a big campaign push – it’s a “preventing, protecting, punishing” proposal aimed at rape kit testing backlogs, sexual misconduct in the State Capitol, and stronger penalties for human trafficking and prostitution.

From Texas Standard:

There’s a shakeup going on at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department after a Dallas Morning News investigation revealed widespread allegations of different types of abuse. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced this week he's replacing the chief of the independent office that investigates safety complaints by youth in the department's custody. The new person in the office, JD Robertson, is a retired Texas Ranger.

From Texas Standard.

Despite an economy that is reportedly continuing to grow, the state’s budget chief is looking ahead to the next legislative session and warning lawmakers that some bills with hefty price tags are set to come due – and that revenue will be tight.

From Texas Standard.

Unless Congress passes a continuing resolution, this week non-essential federal spending will dry up on Friday at midnight, and the U.S. government will shut down. Disagreements over DACA and other immigration priorities continue to divide the Congress, and the potential shutdown is being used as leverage. But how would a government shutdown affect Texas and Texans, and what essential services are exempted?

From Texas Standard.

Texans don’t care about primary elections – at least if history is any indication. Single-digit turnouts are not uncommon in non-presidential election years. But there’s reason to think conventional wisdom could be turned on its head this March.

An unlikely coalition of business groups and educators are coming together to get out the vote, and they appear to have rattled allies of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

From Texas Standard.

Twenty-three percent of the students in Fort Worth ISD are black. But according to a recent report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 62 percent of all girls suspended in the district last school year were African-American. Fort Worth ISD administrators are looking into why this is happening in their district.

From Texas Standard.

Conflict over Texas’ voter ID law was in the courts for most of last year, and 2018 will probably be no different. The state’s restrictive voter ID law, passed in 2011, has been found by courts to have been crafted with discriminatory intent. Now it’s up to a three-judge panel to decide, among other things, whether Texas’ new law, designed to fix problems with the old law, goes far enough. 

From Texas Standard.

North Korea and Russia dominated foreign policy headlines in 2017, and a Texas-based geopolitical intelligence firm is indicating international decision makers should continue to keep an eye on those countries in the new year.

That’s part of a handful of predictions that Austin-based Stratfor is making in its Forecast for Geopolitical Risks for 2018.

From Texas Standard.

Innocent until proven guilty is a core principle of the U.S. legal system. But what happens when you’re no longer considered guilty, but have not yet proven innocent? That’s just one factor in a complicated case in Houston.

From Texas Standard.

Israel has long been a focal point in international policy for Texas Republican lawmakers. Several current Texas officials have traveled to the country. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick even got baptized in the Jordan River.

But Peggy Fikac, Austin bureau chief for the San Antonio Express News, reports that some aspects of these trips have come with hefty price tags for the state’s taxpayers.

From Texas Standard.

Thousands of residents living near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in northwest Houston are still in cleanup mode after their homes were inundated. It was only after the rain stopped falling that many of those homeowners discovered they were living in zones intended to be flooded in order to save downtown Houston from disaster.

Weren’t developers required to tell buyers this information? If officials knew these areas were flood pools, why would they permit construction on these sites in the first place?

From Texas Standard.

Texas has been more urban than rural since the 1950s, and though the state’s wide open space has a lot to do with its mystique, rural Texas is often overlooked when it comes to resources.

In a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece for the Texas Observer, Christopher Collins writes about the seven most pressing issues facing rural Texas.

From Texas Standard:

The last time a Democrat won statewide office in Texas, grunge rock topped the music charts. The state has been solidly red ever since Republican George W. Bush took over from Democrat Ann Richards in the Governor's mansion. That was more than 20 years ago.

From Texas Standard.

For decades, if you pulled into any gas station in Mexico, the brand name on the pump would invariably be PEMEX, the name of the state-run oil monopoly. Now oil giant Exxon Mobil has announced it will open 50 gas stations in Mexico in 2018. Eight are opening this week. Most other major energy companies have begun operations in Mexico since the nation opened its energy economy to private companies.

From Texas Standard.

Something happened last night that hasn’t happened in 25 years: The state with "Heart of Dixie" stamped on its license plate elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. The question is whether Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama is an anomaly or a turning point. His opponent, Roy Moore, was a flawed and controversial candidate, but with a Democratic victory, and the weakness of President Donald Trump among some moderately conservative Republicans, it’s possible to envision Democrats making more gains, even in bright red Texas. 

From Texas Standard.

The deadline for Texas candidates to file to run in the 2018 primaries was Monday. And if you’ve been trying to keep up with the latest rash of Congressional retirements and scandals, plus what’s turned out to be a pretty crowded field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates, you may be wondering how to sort through all of the noise.

The Austin American-Statesman’s Political Editor Bob Gee highlights five Texas races that are worth a closer look.

From Texas Standard.

The U.S. House has passed a bill allowing gun owners with licenses to carry firearms to carry those firearms weapons across state lines. It’s a bill the National Rifle Association has dubbed a “legislative priority.”

Following the deadly mass shootings in Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas, legislators in Washington are also looking for a consensus on improving the national background check system for gun purchases, as well as banning a device known as “bump stocks.”

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus stunned colleagues and political observers alike when he announced that he would not seek re-election to his place in the Texas House of Representatives a few weeks ago. The news also meant that Straus would not be returning to his position as Speaker. In light of his upcoming departure, Texas House Republicans are seeking to have a greater influence over the choice of his replacement.

Texas Tribune Political Reporter Patrick Svitek says that on Friday, the House Republican Caucus agreed to make changes to their process for selecting a speaker candidate.

From Texas Standard:

In an attempt to manage the growing congestion on Texas highways, and corresponding rates of frustration for drivers, the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, has been implementing what could be called  a market-driven approach to driving. Rather than spend more state dollars on highway-building, Texas has turned to the private sector, which has built toll roads where the cost to drivers fluctuates with traffic demand.

From Texas Standard:

President Donald Trump's insistence that the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, is a bad deal sparked talks aimed at renegotiation among the U.S., Mexico and Canada. And until now, groups representing farmers and ranchers in Trump-supporting states have been willing to wait and see where those negotiations go. But Politico reports the agriculture lobby is now going on offense, sending a sharply-worded message that the trade pact must be saved.

From Texas Standard:

A lone gunman killed 26 people and injured dozens more during a Sunday service at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A few miles down the road in the small town of Stockdale, pastors are looking for ways to comfort their congregations: parishioners who are not only grieving for their neighbors, but who may also be concerned that their “sanctuary” is not immune to these horrific events.

From Texas Standard.

A new proposal from Republican lawmakers would cut some tax rates and overhaul portions of the U.S. tax code. House Republicans rolled out the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in Washington on Thursday.

Among the most controversial aspects of the GOP tax plan is that it lowers the mortgage interest deduction for homeowners. Current homeowners wouldn’t be affected, but new borrowers would only be able to deduct the first $500,000 – that’s down from the current limit, which is $1 million.

John Diamond, director of Rice University’s Center for Public Finance says that the mortgage deduction change could lower Texas home values by 1-2 percent.

From Texas Standard:

Two Houston-area high school students protesting the Pledge of Allegiance say their constitutional rights have been violated by their school districts – and they’re taking their protest to court.

From Texas Standard.

The story of an undocumented 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy detained by Border Patrol agents after she underwent gallbladder surgery in Corpus Cristi this week has sparked outrage among immigration rights activists – and, frankly, way beyond.

A front page piece by the editorial board of the McAllen Monitor reads “Detainment of disabled child by Border Patrol should ‘shock us’ all.” Here’s the story.

The body of a 3-year-old girl found in a culvert in a Dallas suburb over the weekend has been identified. Sherin Mathews had been missing since Oct. 7. The girl’s father – now in police custody – originally said she had gone missing after he left her in an alley outside his home early one morning, as punishment for not drinking her milk.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election. The conservative Republican made an emotional speech on the Senate floor, condemning the “coarseness of our leadership” and warning his colleagues in Congress that the Republican Party was “complicit.” Flake has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, though he did not mention the president by name.

Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston and author of the book Inside Texas Politics, says Flake joins fellow Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and 17 House Republicans, including one-fourth of the Republican women in the chamber, who have announced their retirements ahead of the 2018 election cycle.

From Texas Standard:

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus recently formed a new committee to study the problem of opioid addiction in Texas. The Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse is tasked with developing concrete principles and action items for lawmakers.

From Texas Standard:

Texas’ reputation as a law-and-order state often overshadows the fact that the state leads the nation in some aspects of criminal justice reform. But that reform carries a rather high price tag – one that might be greater than what many lawmakers initially imagined.

From Texas Standard:

While the Trump administration says the "war on coal" is over, market forces are having their say when it comes to the fossil fuel, closing plants in several Texas communities.

Texas' largest generator of coal-powered energy, Luminant, says it is ceasing operations at two plants in the state. The company says Texas' competitive energy market and cheap natural gas  make these older coal-fired plants unprofitable. Another Texas coal operator has already announced plans to close two facilities.

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