BG Reads | News You Need to Know (December 7, 2018)

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EARLY VOTING ENDS TODAY FOR AUSTIN COUNCIL RUNOFF ELECTIONS IN DISTRICTS 1, 3, and 8

Find Voting Locations Here (Travis County)


[AUSTIN METRO]

Austin economy looks sunny, with affordability as the biggest cloud (Austin Monitor)

Austin business and policy leaders were shown a optimistic picture of the state and local economy Thursday at the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic forecast, with the smallest concern on the horizon partly a result of the city’s strong growth for more than a decade.

The fundamentals for the city remain strong. Austin is netting 82 new residents per day, or roughly double the statewide average and well beyond the national population growth rate.

The city’s five-year gross domestic product growth of 6.5 percent bested the state’s 6 percent number, itself almost double the national average. Annual job growth of around 4 percent puts the Austin metropolitan area ahead of larger cities Dallas and Houston…

Link to story


Transportation Dept. faulted in right-of-way audit (Austin Monitor)

When Austinites are asked for their top complaints about the city, one of the most frequent responses relates to traffic. The central city is particularly congested and contractors working in the right-of-way exacerbate the problem.

According to a report released by the Office of the City Auditor this week, efforts by Austin’s Transportation Department to enforce regulations related to work in the right-of-way are not sufficient to minimize risks to public safety and prevent traffic disruptions.

Members of the Council Audit and Finance Committee who attended Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Alison Alter and Leslie Pool, all expressed concern after hearing the audit’s findings…

Link to story


The CDC Will Conduct A First-Of-Its-Kind Study Of Scooter Injuries In Austin (KUT)

The city says it's working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study dockless scooter-related injuries and incidents in Austin – a first for the nation's public health institute.

Austin Public Health and the Austin Transportation Department is partnering with three CDC epidemiologists to look at the health risks of dockless scooters. The details of the study were presented to the city's Mobility Committee this afternoon.

The study will focus on 37 EMS calls and 68 scooter-related injuries reported over a 60-day period between Sept. 5 and Nov. 4 this year at Austin area hospitals. Data collected will, ideally, be used to educate riders – and the city itself – on the best safety practices in Austin and beyond…

Link to story

See also:

Full presentation from the Austin Transportation Department

BG Podcast - Episode 18: Talking Scooter Share with Jason JonMichael, Assistant Director, Smart Mobility, Austin Transportation


[TEXAS]

Analysis: It’s still a Republican Texas government, but it’s a new one (Texas Tribune)

The Texas House is in the middle of a reboot — a change in leadership and the general mix of things that only takes place about once a decade.

House Speaker Joe Straus is leaving. State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, has collected enough promises from members of the House to succeed Straus in January, when the actual vote takes place.

You can see people changing positions, rearranging their political stances for a fresh start.

After a narrow election victory, the noisiest conservative in the Texas House, Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, is telling his local journalists it’s time to for him to use more honey and less vinegar…

Link to story


Texas board rejects Confederate group’s proposed license plate featuring rebel soldier (Dallas Morning News)

Texas drivers won't be able to display a rebel soldier on a specialty license plate proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board voted 5-3 Thursday to reject the plate's design, which featured a soldier carrying a Texas regiment's special flag at the Civil War battle of Antietam in 1862.

Debate centered on how the design is similar to an existing plate that raises money for BikeTexas.org, not on whether it celebrates 19th-century Texans fighting to preserve slavery. At a brief hearing, three officers of the Southern historical group testified that their proposed plate would raise money for scholarships and placing flags on Confederates' graves. The department charges a $30 fee for a specialty plate. Of that, $22 goes to a selected cause. Robin Stallings, executive director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition Education Fund, or BikeTexas.org, objected. He said his group's "God Bless Texas" plate also displays on the left side a furled Texas flag. "The plates are very similar," he told the board. "It could cause a lot of confusion." From several car lengths behind, Stallings told a reporter, "it's the same -- just a spitting image of ours." BikeTexas' plate, sponsored by the Texas Education Agency, raises between $15,000 and $20,000 a year to help pay for bicycle safety courses for children, Stallings said. Sales could suffer, and the cycling-safety group wants no part of "the controversy" that could be stirred by the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate, he said. State law and DMV regulations permit the board to reject a specialty plate if the design might be offensive or too similar to an existing design and could compete with sales, said Jeremiah Kuntz, director of the agency's vehicle title and regulation division. John McCammon of Boerne, lieutenant commander of the Texas division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Thursday that he was disappointed but not deterred by the denial, which "wasn't because of anything controversial." "We'll probably resubmit using another Texas flag," he said. "There were several Texas flags used during the [Civil] War, and we can use one of those."..

Link to story


Texas saw the nation's sixth-highest voter turnout increase, but still lagged behind most other states (Texas Tribune)

Four years after Texas ranked near the bottom in voter turnout in the country, the state saw a double-digit percentage point increase in that figure for the 2018 midterms.

But that wasn’t good enough to get Texas out of the bottom half of states, as it still lagged behind the national average and trailed all but 10 states this year, according to the United States Election Project, which tracks the turnout rate of eligible voters nationwide.

Voter turnout in the 2018 Texas midterm election increased by 18 percentage points compared with the previous midterm, the country's sixth-highest increase. Nationwide, turnout increased by 13 percentage points from 2014 to 2018…

Link to story


[NATION]

McConnell tells White House little chance of Senate vote on criminal justice bill (Washington Post)

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has told allies there is little chance that the Senate will consider a bipartisan criminal justice bill in the waning days of year, even as his own Republicans say there is more than enough support for the legislation favored by President Trump.

He doesn’t like the bill,” Republican donor Doug Deason, a key White House ally, said of the measure. Referring to the former Alabama senator and ex-attorney general, Deason added: “He's a Jeff Sessions-style, lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key kind of guy.” White House officials say McConnell doesn’t want to have a vote unless the overwhelming majority of Republicans will vote for it — although Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-IA, said this week that 28 or 30 GOP senators support the bill. There are 51 Senate Republicans, and nearly all of the 49 Senate Democrats — if not all — are expected to back it. McConnell said at a Wall Street Journal event this week that more than half of his conference either oppose the bill or are undecided. “It’s extremely divisive inside the Senate Republican conference,” McConnell, who deplores fights that split his ranks, said Monday evening. Lawmakers have to take up a farm bill extension and legislation to fund parts of the government before the end of the year, and McConnell would also like to confirm as many judges as possible before then, his allies say. When asked about McConnell’s private remarks, a spokesman said the legislation was still being drafted and he could not predict the outcome on an unfinished bill. In turn, McConnell’s reluctance has frustrated White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and others in the administration who believe the votes are there but that McConnell is dragging his feet. In recent days, Kushner has ramped up his private push among senators — visiting Republican lunches, strategizing with the bill’s key authors and even sending out a thick packet of material promoting the criminal justice bill to Senate Republican offices. The book includes letters from advocacy groups backing the bill, media coverage of it and a summary of the legislation…

Link to story


Former U.S. Attorney General Barr may return to job (Reuters)

Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who served under former President George H.W. Bush, is the leading candidate for the job as a permanent replacement for Jeff Sessions, a source familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

The Washington Post reported earlier on Thursday that President Donald Trump could choose his nominee for attorney general in coming days, and that Trump had told advisers he plans to nominate Barr. Sessions departed from the role last month, and Trump named Matthew Whitaker as the government’s top lawyer on an interim basis. With the current session of Congress set to soon end, anyone Trump nominates may have to wait until well into 2019 for confirmation. Barr has worked in the private sector since serving as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, retiring from Verizon Communications in 2008…

Link to story


[PODCAST]

BG Podcast - Episode 25: Austin Police Department's New Labor Agreement feat. Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with with return guest, Chas Moore, President and Founder, Austin Justice Coalition (AJC).

He and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham discuss the Austin Council’s November approval of a labor contract for the Austin Police Department.

Negotiations over the contract took nearly a year, involving not only the city and Austin Police Association, but community stakeholders like AJC.

Why Austinities should care?

The new contract provides greater level of transparency and public accountability.
Link to BG Podcast Episode 25

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