BG Reads | News You Need to Know (March 12, 2019)



Council rules unlikely to change despite opinion (Austin Monitor)

Despite a ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismantling a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act that prevents local government officials from meeting in small groups in what is known as a “walking quorum,” it seems unlikely that Austin City Council will change its behavior.

The ruling came as a result of the indictment of Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal. In 2015, Doyal met with another member of the county commissioners court and a political consultant concerning the structuring of a county road bond. Doyal, his fellow commissioner and the consultant were all indicted for violating the open meetings act.

When the case went to trial, the judge dismissed the charges, finding that the law was unconstitutionally vague. The state appealed and an appellate court reinstated the charges. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court that the law was too vague and had many possible interpretations.

In the meantime, Doyal was defeated in his bid for re-election. He told the Houston Chroniclethat his opponent implied he was a criminal because he had violated the prohibition against the walking quorum.

Under current Austin City Council policy, members can meet with a sub-quorum of members to discuss agenda items, but they are not allowed to meet with or discuss an issue with more than four other members, according to Council Member Leslie Pool.

Pool said that Council had not yet received a memo on the issue from the Law Department nor discussed it among themselves. However, she said she expects Council members to “continue what we’ve been doing.”

Mayor Steve Adler agreed with that assessment. “I don’t think anything will change at the City Council. I think that making sure that city business is conducted in a really open and transparent way is something that happens not just because of the law, but because of the values of the leadership of the city,” he said Monday…

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Juan Sanchez stepping down as CEO of Southwest Key Programs (Austin Monitor)

Juan Sanchez, who stirred controversy in recent months as CEO of the nation's largest nonprofit dedicated to sheltering migrant children, is stepping down, Southwest Key Programs said Monday.

“Recent events have convinced me that Southwest Key would benefit from a fresh perspective and new leadership,” Sanchez said in a written statement. “Widespread misunderstanding of our business and unfair criticism of our people has become a distraction our employees do not deserve. It’s time for new beginnings."

The South Texas native started Southwest Key in 1987 with five employees, and over the next three decades he built a nonprofit with almost 8,000 employees in seven U.S. states. In the last five years, the influx of migrant children across the U.S.-Mexico border became a boon for the company, which has pulled in over $1.5 billion in federal contracts in the last decade. But the boost in fortunes also brought additional media scrutiny, particularly last year…

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Tons of homes, new commercial center planned near Samsung in North Austin (Austin Business Journal)

Reger Holdings LLC plans to transform 425 acres on East Parmer Lane in North Austin into a commercial and residential development with up to 2,200 apartments and 450 single-family homes.

Located across Parmer Lane from the Samsung Austin Semiconductor plant and sandwiched between I-35 and State Highway 130, the New York developers behind the project are pitching it as ideal for shops, restaurants, housing and other amenities for nearby residents and workers.

According to initial development plans, East Village will include 2,200 apartments, 450 single-family houses, 150 acres of parks, more than five miles of hiking and biking trails and a 1.5-acre “village green” designed for family gatherings and community events.

Also proposed for the massive project are office buildings, three hotels, a grocery store, a theater and an amphitheater. Reger Holdings expects the multifamily units to be divided among seven apartment communities and two senior living communities…

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A fight over paid sick leave is turning into a fight over LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances (Texas Tribune)

What started as seemingly simple state legislation hailed as good for Texas businesses is drawing skepticism from legal experts and outrage from advocates worried it would strike employment protections and benefits for LGBTQ workers.

As originally filed, Senate Bill 15 by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would have prohibited cities from requiring that private companies offer paid sick leave and other benefits to their employees. It also created a statewide mandate preventing individual cities and counties from adopting local ordinances related to employment leave and paid days off for holidays. But it made clear that the bill wouldn't override local regulations that prohibit employers from discriminating against their workers.

Yet, when Creighton presented SB 15 to the Senate State Affairs Committee, he introduced a reworked version — a last-minute move, some lawmakers said, that shocked many in the Capitol…

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See also related to paid sick leave:

BG Podcast - Episode 20: Local Control/Paid Sick with San Antonio State Rep. Diego Bernal

BG Podcast - Episode 11: Meet James Hines, SVP of Advocacy and In-House Counsel, Texas Association of Business

BG Podcast - Episode 10: Policy Discussion Rob Henneke on Paid Sick Leave and Local Control

Without Protest, Campus Free Speech Bill Passes Out Of Senate Committee (KUT)

A bill that would create more uniform policies on speech at Texas colleges and universities passed unanimously out of a Senate committee Monday.

Lawmakers in statehouses across the country have filed similar bills as conservative groups complain of having events canceled or having a harder time getting permission to demonstrate or schedule speakers.

In the last couple years, a few high-profile speakers have been blocked from holding events on university campuses – from neo-Nazis trying to speak at Texas A&M to a conservative provocateur at the University of California.

Senate Bill 18 would require campuses to create a new free speech policy defining everything from where students are allowed to express their views publically to rules on how speakers are selected and authorized to come to campus…

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Texas again mistakenly flags voters for citizenship reviews (Texas Tribune)

The list of missteps in the Texas secretary of state’s review of the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens grew again Monday, when the office inadvertently added additional people to its already flawed list of voters flagged for citizenship checks.

Blaming a vendor for the mix-up, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office confirmed new names were sent to certain counties for possible investigation because of a technical error. The mistake occurred while state election officials were analyzing new data from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

As with the state’s initial review of previous years' data, the secretary of state obtained a list of individuals who had visited DPS offices during January and February and indicated they were not U.S. citizens. The goal was to match those names with individuals on the state’s voter rolls and eventually send that list of names to counties for possible investigations…

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Beto O'Rourke plans Iowa trip as 2020 announcement nears (Texas Tribune)

Beto O'Rourke, on the verge of a presidential campaign, is heading to Iowa.

The former El Paso congressman is set to visit the crucial early voting state this weekend to campaign for Eric Giddens, the Democratic candidate in a special election for an Iowa Senate seat. O'Rourke will visit Waterloo on Saturday to kick off an "afternoon of canvassing, GOTV, and grassroots organizing" for Giddens, according to O'Rourke's team.

On Monday evening, Giddens tweeted a video from O'Rourke aimed at University of Northern Iowa students, reminding them that Wednesday is the last day to vote early on campus in the special election…

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Democratic Candidates Target Tech Giants, Who Are Major Party Donors (KUT)

Over the weekend in Austin, Texas, South by Southwest became a major presidential forum. More than half a dozen candidates showed up to the annual music, arts and technology convention. Democrats competed with each other to be the tough-on-tech candidate, a development in line with the party's move to the left but at odds with its reliance on tech donors.

Hundreds of fans cheered as Sen. Elizabeth Warren hopped on stage. She had just rallied in Queens, N.Y., where Amazon pulled its plan to build a new headquarters in the face of protest. Now, at a conference full of tech workers, she came with the same message: Break up the tech giants; they're killing competition.

"We want to keep that marketplace competitive, not let a giant who has an incredible information advantage and a manipulative advantage be able to snuff you out," she said at the political event sponsored by SXSW and The Texas Tribune…

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Episode 37: Patrick Howard, Austin Planning Commissioner (District 1)

(Run time - 9:53)

On today’s episode we speak with returning guest Patrick Howard, recently appointed to Austin’s Planning Commission by Council Membership Natasha Harper Madison (District 1). Outside of the commission Patrick serves Executive Director and CEO of the Housing Authority of Travis County…

Link to Episode 37

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