BG Reads | News You Need to Know (October 4, 2018)



CodeNEXT failure, scooters and developers lead to new look at downtown plan (Austin Monitor)

The Downtown Austin Plan, conceived in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis and approved in 2011 as Austin’s commercial real estate market was kicking back into high gear, is going to get a hard look under the hood.

Last month, the city’s Downtown Commission voted 6-3 to recommend City Council direct the city manager to assess the DAP and possibly amend it to ensure it is best suited to the downtown of 2018. That decision, which saw commissioners Megan Meisenbach, Wardaleen Belvin and August Harris vote against, followed a report from city staff on the plan’s implementation and discussion about growing interest from developers to increase density near the historic residential portions of northwest downtown that had negotiated exclusions from density bonus considerations.

The status update also found that 81 percent of the plan’s recommendations are not yet underway or are incomplete, in part because many pieces of the plan were linked to the now-scrapped CodeNEXT plan to rewrite the city’s land use code…

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Teams promoting safe scooting headed to downtown Austin (Austin American-Statesman)

The program is among the city’s first efforts to reach out to scooter riders downtown about safety.

Austin transportation spokeswoman Jen Samp said the city will likely send the teams out to meet with scooter riders on a recurring basis.

“As a new mode of transportation is introduced into the system, it is important for the public to understand the rules of the road, safe maneuvers and parking,” city officials said in a news release Wednesday…

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Austin's decision to call out companies that work on Trump border wall could backfire, staffers warn (Austin Business Journal)

The city of Austin is already having trouble finding contractors in today's booming construction market.

City staff members are worried it could become even harder because of an Austin City Council decision earlier this year to avoid doing business with companies tied to President Donald Trump's proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

That's according to a Sept. 28 city memo on how Austin would carry out such a policy, which was designed to identify companies trying to help build or design the hallmark of the president's immigration policy.

Austin City Council in February passed a resolution directing city staff to study the effects of a border wall on Austin, economic and otherwise. With that came an edict to "develop a policy requiring every entity that seeks to do business with the City to disclose, for itself and any parent company or subsidiary, any bid submitted, or contract awarded, related to the design, construction, or financing of the proposed border wall."…

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UT-Austin hires former federal prosecutor to investigate sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Charles Schwertner (Texas Tribune)

Lawyers for state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican alleged to have sent lewd messages to a graduate student, said Wednesday that the University of Texas at Austin has hired former federal prosecutor Johnny Sutton to help investigate the accusation.

A UT-Austin spokesperson declined to comment, saying officials do not acknowledge or discuss ongoing investigations in order to protect the integrity of the process.

In September, three unnamed UT-Austin officials told the Austin American-Statesman that the school had opened an investigation into the senator, whose district includes College Station and Huntsville, after he was accused of sending a graduate student a sexually explicit photo and text. Schwertner has repeatedly denied the allegations through a spokesperson and through his lawyers…

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Texas wants schools to pay for ACT and SAT exams. Local districts say that’s unreasonable. (Texas Tribune)

A battle is brewing between the Texas Education Agency and school districts over who should shoulder the costs of federally mandated ACT and SAT exams for certain high school students.

At the center of the funding battle is a group of 109,000 students who completed high-level state math and reading tests before entering high school. Federal education law now requires those students to take another assessment while they are in high school to measure their achievement.

In a proposed change to its administrative rules, the TEA said it would use the ACT and SAT — two standardized tests administered for college admissions — to test those students in high school, and that school districts and charter schools should pay for them…

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Disclosures offer window into personal finances of Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke in Senate race (Texas Tribune)

The two men running for U.S. Senate are into big money - they have millions and they borrow millions.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, each make $174,000 as members of Congress. But an examination of the most recent personal financial disclosure forms each filed to the U.S. Congress showed that both men have assets and liabilities that far exceed those of the average Texan.

O’Rourke and his wife listed assets that could range from $3.5 million to a little over $16 million, most of it coming from rental and commercial real estate, a stake in the candidate’s software and technology company and his wife’s trust fund. Their liabilities — mostly from their real estate holdings — total between $1.3 million and $5.7 million…

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Don Huffines gave $150K to dark money group weeks before it attacked twin's opponent Angela Paxton (Dallas Morning News)

Sen. Don Huffines made a six-figure donation to a shadowy nonprofit weeks before it trashed fellow Republican and Senate hopeful Angela Paxton.

Huffines, R-Dallas, gave the American Liberty Network $150,000 in January, the only donation from a politician it received all year, according to ethics filings. Soon after, the group’s Texas chapter sent mailers and made robocalls attacking Paxton and her husband, Attorney General Ken Paxton. At the time, Angela Paxton was locked in a brutal Republican primary race for the Senate District 8 seat with Huffines’ twin brother, Phillip. Despite these attacks and the $8.4 million Huffines raised, Angela Paxton won the party’s nomination with 54.4 percent of the vote. Phillip Huffines has insisted his campaign was not involved in the attacks and Huffines' consultant Matt Langston declined to comment this week. But ethics experts say the American Liberty Network, a 501c(4) “dark money” group, could have violated state campaign finance rules by not disclosing its involvement in the race…

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See also: BG Podcast - Episode 17: Talking Dark Money with BG Advisor Andy Cates, J.D.


Hundreds of migrant kids haven't been reunited with their parents. What's taking so long? (Texas Tribune)

It took four months of detention, a $13,000 bond, pressure from a U.S. congressman’s office and a network of attorneys to finally reunite Angela with her 16-year-old daughter on Friday. The Central American mother and child were separated at the border in May under the Trump administration's since-overturned “zero tolerance” policy.

Yet they're among the lucky ones.

Some 350 children separated from their migrant parents this summer still have yet to be reunified, despite a court-ordered July 26 deadline to do it and endless hours of pro-bono legal aid. About half of those kids are on track for reunification…

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The Bingham Group, LLC is an Austin-based full service lobbying firm representing and advising clients on municipal, legislative, and regulatory matters throughout Texas.


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