BG Reads + BG Podcast | News You Need to Know (January 30, 2019)



Episode 32: State Representative Sheryl Cole (D-Austin)

(RUN TIME - 11.53)

On today’s episode we speak with Representative Sheryl Cole (D-Austin). Elected in November 2018, she is one of several incoming freshman members representing Central Texas.

While new to the Texas Legislature, Representative Cole is a veteran politician, having served on the Austin City Council from 2006 to 2015. She served as Council Mayor Pro Tem of Austin from 2011 to 2015. She was the city’s first African American woman elected to City Council.

An accountant and attorney by training, Representative Cole got her start in public life stepping up in her local PTA, and organizing community support for our schools as one of the Tri-Chair’s to the AISD Bond Committee in 2004.

She was recently assigned to the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, as well as respectively the Committees on County Affairs and Redistricting.

Link to Episode 32


42 Percent Of Households In Austin Are Struggling To Pay Their Bills, Report Says (KUT)

A new report says a third of households in Travis County struggle to make ends meet; in Austin, that number was higher, at 42 percent.

Travis County's cost of living was significantly higher than the statewide average, according to the analysis by United Way. The snapshot found it costs nearly $66,000 to raise a family of four in Travis County, compared to the statewide average of $53,000 a year.

The study's author, Stephanie Hoopes, says the study found an overall disparity in costs of living and wages across the state – despite low unemployment numbers in Texas…

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City council members divided on whether land use rewrite can be passed in 2019 (Community Impact)

For the last five years, the city has been trying rewrite its land-development code—the rules around what can be built in the city and where. The comprehensive update of the 35-year-old land-use rules was recommended in Imagine Austin—the city’s 30-year comprehensive plan—to allow more housing types throughout Austin as one way of managing rapid population growth, which has heightened land demand and exponentially increased real estate prices. Such pressure is acutely felt in Central Austin neighborhoods where, due to the outdated land code, single-family homes dominate the landscape as the only legal housing type.

Beliefs in proper land use have drawn sharp political lines in Austin between two schools of thought. In one corner are those who believe single-family neighborhoods exclude much of the population and opening up the code will slow rapidly rising real estate prices and lead to more economic diversity.   In the other corner are those who want to preserve Austin’s legacy single-family neighborhoods and believe housing density should be placed elsewhere…

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Capital Metro cuts back on downtown station plan (Austin Monitor)

A nationwide shortage of skilled labor and a tariff-induced spike in the cost of steel have raised estimated construction costs for Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s downtown rail station. Instead of looking for extra project funding, the agency has decided to simplify the station’s design to remain within the project budget.

Capital Metro’s downtown station project manager, Marcus Guerrero, presented the updated design during the agency’s board of directors meeting Monday afternoon.

While the station’s previous design had featured three separate tracks stretching along East Fourth Street between Red River and Neches streets, the updated design eliminates most of the third track on the north side of the station, except for a section alongside the northern platform. In addition, the new plan reduces the number of shade canopies from seven to five and temporarily removes two of the planned ticketing kiosks which could be added to the plan if more funding is secured. Some landscaping and decorative concrete surrounding the station have also been stripped from the plan…

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Despite beer and lobby ties, Speaker Dennis Bonnen sees no need for recusals or new disclosures (Texas Tribune)

When Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen was looking to raise money for his bank a decade ago, he turned to familiar faces for some of the investment capital: lobbyists who get paid to influence people like him.

More recently, when a restaurant in Tyler was concerned about the slow processing of its liquor permit, members of Bonnen’s beer distributing family sought assistance on its behalf — and soon the Angleton lawmaker’s office asked state regulators what was taking so long.

Now that the bank CEO has risen to one of the highest offices in state government — speaker of the Texas House — his financial ties to lobbyists and the permit "status check" he provided at the request of his wife’s family highlight two potentially fraught areas for the new GOP leader, particularly during a legislative session in which alcohol laws could undergo major revision.

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Democrat wins special election to replace Pickett, 2 Democrats headed to runoff to replace Alvarado (Texas Tribune)

Two special elections for the Texas House concluded Tuesday night, one ending in a clear-cut victory and the other in a runoff.

In El Paso, Democrat Art Fierro won the special election to replace former state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who stepped down earlier this month due to health issues. And in Houston, Democrats Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega advanced to a runoff for the seat previously held by ex-state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who won a promotion to the state Senate last month…

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Fight brewing at Texas Capitol over whether to freeze permitting for new charter schools (Austin Business Journal)

The ongoing proliferation of charter schools comes with a steep price to public schools and taxpayers. That’s according to the Texas American Federation of Teachers, which has called on state lawmakers to pass a moratorium on approving new charter schools until reforms are enacted.

The Texas AFT said enrollment in charter schools in the state has doubled over the last seven years and its leaders said that has cost the state billions of dollars, while creating an uneven playing field for public schools.

“We’ve seen unbridled expansion of charter schools — particularly the networks or chains — which are taking millions of dollars out of our true public schools while they multiply by the dozens each year in our major cities,” AFT President Louis Malfaro said. “The result is a segregated system of schools with one side — the charters — allowed to discriminate against high-needs kids."

The Texas AFT has a list of reforms it wants legislative leaders to consider, including better informing local school districts when new charter campuses are planned in their areas…

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Democrats tap Georgia’s Stacey Abrams to deliver the response to Trump’s State of the Union address (Washington Post)

Democrats have tapped Georgia’s Stacey Abrams to deliver the response to President Trump’s State of the Union address, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced Tuesday.

Abrams narrowly lost the state’s race for governor in November after a lengthy dispute over blocked votes. She will address the nation in a prime-time speech shortly after Trump finishes his address to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday night. In a statement announcing the decision, Schumer (D-NY) praised the Georgia Democrat as “a present and future leader in this country.”…

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Mueller Investigation 'Close To Being Completed,' Acting Attorney General Says (KUT)

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is "close to being completed," Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Monday.

Whitaker said he has been fully briefed about Mueller's work and that he is looking forward to reviewing a final report.

"I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible," he said.

The acting attorney general's comments were a rare official indication of any kind from within the Justice Department about Mueller's work.

The special counsel's investigation is often the subject of theorizing and analysis by outsiders but seldom characterized in any detail by people connected with it formally, even as broadly as Whitaker did on Monday…

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Apple Disables Group FaceTime After Security Flaw Let Callers Secretly Eavesdrop (KUT)

A glitch in Apple's FaceTime app let users hear the other person — and in some cases, see video — even if the recipient never accepted the call. The bug was widely reported late Monday, and confirmed by several technology reporters. Until it can offer a permanent fix, Apple says it has simply disabled group FaceTime calls altogether.

It's an unusual misstep for a company that prides itself on its strong privacy safeguards. And it comes in an environment of heightened scrutiny over privacy protections, as a new Congress considers whether to impose stronger regulations on technology companies like Facebook that are often accused of violating users' privacy…

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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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