New Year Clips/ICYMI
Dallas Morning News: Arlington city council denies gas drilling permit near daycare center
Arlington City Council reversed course Tuesday and denied a permit for three new gas wells near a daycare center, as neighbors and environmentalists argued that drilling would have dire consequences.
The 5-4 vote to deny the permit comes less than two months after the city council gave initial approval to the project.
It also comes just one week after the daycare center and Liveable Arlington sued the city, alleging that city leaders endangered children’s health and skirted the city’s own processes for approving gas wells.
The lawsuit also accused Arlington of racial discrimination, saying the city is far more likely to deny permits opposed by white, wealthier neighborhoods than those opposed by heavily Black and Latino neighborhoods.
Mother’s Heart Learning Center, which is 637 feet from the drilling site, is attended exclusively by children of color, according to the lawsuit. The daycare center’s playground is 613 feet from the drilling site.
Some scientific studies have linked proximity to drilling to increased health risks, including childhood asthma, childhood leukemia and birth defects. The exposures can come from the fumes of diesel trucks, generators or drilling rigs.
But several Arlington council members said in November they feared costly litigation if they voted to deny the permit. A 2015 Texas law prohibits cities from banning drilling and from implementing regulations considered unreasonable. The Texas Legislature passed the law, known as House Bill 40, after the city of Denton tried to ban fracking in 2014.
Texas Tribune: GOP expands effort for South Texas dominance to local races
Project Red Texas, spent the weeks before the December filing deadline to run in the March primary election traveling the region and recruiting candidates to run for county offices, offering to pay their filing fees. The group ended up helping get 125 candidates on the ballot across 25 counties, according to its leader, veteran party operative Wayne Hamilton. He said the group paid for “well over” half the filing fees.
“It’s a big deal, and a lot of it is that people are appreciative that someone is showing up to help,” said Hamilton, who managed Gov. Greg Abbott’s first gubernatorial campaign in 2014. “Somebody’s there, and they care enough to make an investment in their county. That’s what we’re doing.”
The focus on county-level recruitment is among several fronts where Texas Republicans are pushing to make South Texas, with a large population of Hispanic voters, more competitive for themselves. They are emboldened to get a stronger foothold there after President Joe Biden underperformed there. This past year, some of the biggest political fights have started at the local level, including debates over school books and COVID-19 mandates.
Project Red Texas is targeting county offices that are on the primary ballot — offices like county judge, county commissioner and justice of the peace. It cost $375 or $750 to file for county offices, but those fees are higher — $1,000 and $1,250, respectively — if the county has 200,000 or more people, which applies to South Texas counties like Webb, Hidalgo and Cameron.
Democrats say they are not worried.
“That Republicans are just now realizing people in South Texas matter after decades of being ignored by Republican politicians and their policies does not necessarily mean they have finally developed a conscience and are paying attention to what these communities need,” said Angelica Luna Kaufman, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party.
She added that the state Democratic party does not have a program like Project Red Texas’ “because of the wealth of strong candidates in South Texas” and that people there “know who we are because we have always been there.”
Project Red Texas is a super PAC that began in 2017 with $500,000 in initial funding from Michael Porter, the GOP megadonor from the Hill Country. The group was down to $56,000 as of June, but Hamilton said it has since raised money from donors including state Rep. Mayes Middleton of Wallisville, some of the state House Republicans who are not returning and Dallas developer Mehrdad Moayedi.
Hamilton said his group spent the period after the filing deadline following up with candidates and making sure there were no problems with their paperwork. As the new year begins, they are starting to help candidates put together campaign plans.
Candidates like Hernandez say the group has been critically helpful, even if they already have some political experience or were already thinking about running. Hernandez ran for City Council before, she said, but for a race like the one she is now running — countywide — “I would’ve been completely lost without their help and education.”
Texas Tribune: Gov. Greg Abbott calls on Biden administration to open more COVID-19 testing sites, send more monoclonal antibody treatments
As more people test positive for COVID-19 and hospitalizations climb amid a new wave of coronavirus cases fueled by the omicron variant, Gov. Greg Abbott asked the federal government Friday to open additional testing sites in some of the state’s most populous counties and send new shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments.
Abbott requested testing sites for Bexar, Cameron, Dallas, Harris, Hidalgo and Tarrant counties, which the governor said were selected because of their positivity rates and hospitalization levels.
As of Wednesday the state’s positivity rate — or the percentage of COVID-19 tests that return positive for the virus — was 26.5%, and hospitalizations had climbed to more than 5,500.
Dallas Morning News: Dallas County reports 11,879 new COVID-19 cases, 77 deaths during last week of 2021
Dallas County reported 77 more COVID-19 deaths and 11,879 new coronavirus cases in the past week, as the incredibly transmissible omicron variant has sent the number of new cases soaring across Texas.
The county’s case total was four times as high as the number of cases that were reported in the previous seven-day period, and officials say it underestimates the actual coronavirus situation in North Texas.
County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement that the county’s totals likely lag behind the true number of cases in the area because at-home COVID-19 tests are not included in the data.
“With home tests becoming more and more frequent, these numbers will be significantly lower than the true picture in our county,” he said.
Dallas Morning News: Texas abortion providers ask U.S. Supreme Court to send their SB 8 challenge back to lower court
Texas abortion providers are again asking the U.S. Supreme Court to make the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals send their challenge to Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortions after approximately six weeks in the state, to a federal district court for prompt action.
The Texas abortion providers were set to have their case heard by the 5th Circuit on Friday, but the challengers petitionedthe high court on Monday to bring their case back to the district level.
“We filed this request today because the case should be sent back to the district court immediately so that the case can proceed against the state officials whom the Supreme Court already said could be sued,” said Marc Hearron, the senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“Without relief from the courts, most Texans have been without abortion access for more than 4 months now. We are continuing to do everything we can to restore abortion access in Texas,” he said.
Since SB 8 wentinto effect on Sept. 1, abortions have been cut by 50% in the state, while many seeking abortions have goneto nearby states to obtain them.
Phoenix New Times: Arizona Republicans May Sweep Next Election with New Voting Maps Amid Legal Threats
Some suggest that gerrymandering, the drawing of districts to unfairly favor one political party, snuck into the process.
The Arizona Democratic Party claims the redistricting commission and specifically, the independent chairperson delivered the GOP “the gift of the most imbalanced gerrymandered congressional map that Arizona has seen in a generation.”
The next decade could yield a legislature with even more conservative lawmakers likely to propose a variety of new laws whether anti-immigrant, further restricting access to abortion, or banning topics in public schools. Democrats argue that Arizona’s GOP has been a “proving ground” for more alt-right politicians who align themselves with Donald Trump and his ilk.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project found that both maps favored Republicans to varying degrees, earning the congressional and legislative maps letter grades of C and B respectively. But the drafted congressional maps in late October had earned an A from the Ivy League research group meaning that the final maps were more partisan.
The new maps caught the attention of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama. Holder predicted that the Arizona maps will be challenged in court.
“The (commission) has disregarded a legacy of fairness & catered to Republicans at every turn — at the expense of Arizonans,” Holder said on Twitter. “The chair has a duty to ensure a fair process and not side with Republicans or push a partisan agenda. Anything less than maps that are fair will be challenged.”
“One of the concerns that we had going into this was that Governor (Doug) Ducey stacked the committee (with Republicans),” said Tomas Robles Jr., executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, a social justice organization active in election policy for progressive causes.
By contrast, commission members considered suggestions submitted under the name of a business group without attaching a partisan label.
The Southern Arizona Leadership Council map was created by the second vice chair of the Pima County Republican Party.
“Therein lies the hypocrisy of the members of that committee…we still lose voters (in those Latino Coalition maps). It’s highly concerning that they can call our maps partisan but the other maps are not,” Robles said. “Our goal has always been to mitigate any potential losses because we feel that the commission skews more to the right than we are comfortable seeing.”
Rebecca Rios and Reginald Bolding Jr., Arizona Senate and House Democratic leaders, echoed those concerns, noting that Latinos, in particular, were underrepresented in some voting blocs. But then overpacked in legislative District 24, which includes some of Glendale and Phoenix’s majority Latino Maryvale neighborhood.
“Throughout the mapping process, the chairwoman has repeatedly sided with Republican commissioners as maps were discussed,” according to a joint letter from the Democrats.
The independent chair, while denying favoritism, voted alongside Republicans each time except twice.
Lawsuits are likely to challenge these maps both insiders and outsiders say.
“Process is not as important as results. A commission is just a process, fair maps is a result,” said Marc E. Elias, attorney at Elias Law Group and founder of Democracy Docket which focuses on election law. “The Arizona redistricting process did not succeed if its goal was to enact fair maps. I would anticipate that you will see litigation against those Arizona maps in the coming days and weeks.”
Arizona Mirror: Secretary of State’s online signature-gathering system breaks after redistricting
E-Qual is a system that allows voters to sign nominating petitions for congressional and legislative candidates online. Candidates still have the option of collecting signatures on paper petitions, but can collect 100% of the signatures they need online. Voters can also use E-Qual to give the $5 contributions that candidates need to qualify for public campaign funding from Arizona’s Clean Elections system.
The system automatically rejects signatures from voters who aren’t qualified to sign a candidate’s petition, such as those who live outside a candidate’s district or who are registered with the wrong party.
Normally, that’s a safeguard that helps candidates ensure that their signatures are valid. But it’s creating a problem with the new districts that the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission recently approved — but that aren’t technically in place yet.
E-Qual hasn’t yet been updated with the new districts and is only programmed with data from the old ones, which were used from 2012-2020. Because most of the new district numbers are different from the old ones, candidates who have already filed to run for office using their new districts are unable to collect signatures online from the voters who live there.
Lawmakers last year passed a “safe harbor” law allowing legislative and congressional candidates in the 2022 election cycle to collect signatures in either their old districts or their new ones. The law, which the legislature passes every 10 years when the AIRC redraws the state’s political boundaries, allows candidates to collect signatures before they know what their new districts will look like.
Because of that law, candidates can collect signatures online in their old districts. And they can collect signatures on paper petitions from either district. But if they’ve filed to run in their new districts, E-Qual will only accept signatures from the old district with that number.
The new districts won’t technically be official until the AIRC transmits them to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, and that can’t happen until it implements technical changes proposed by the counties. For example, if a district boundary splits an apartment complex in half, it needs to be moved.
Six counties have provided recommendations, ranging from two to two dozen proposed changes, the commission’s mapping team reported during the AIRC’s meeting on Tuesday. They’ll reach out to the other counties and examine the maps themselves to see what other revisions might be needed. The commission expects to approve those changes at its next meeting on Jan. 18, at which point it can transmit the maps to the secretary of state.
Once that happens, there are additional steps to the process. Lorick said the maps would then be sent to the counties so they can update their precincts and their voter information. After the counties complete that work, they’ll send their changes to the statewide voter registration database and the Secretary of State’s Office, which will update E-Qual to include data for the new districts.
For some counties, that won’t happen for a while. Counties that have elections in March won’t send that information to Hobbs until the election is over. That includes Maricopa County, home to nearly 62% of Arizona’s population, which won’t send the new data to Hobbs until after Tempe’s municipal election on March 8.
Arizona Mirror: GOP lawmaker wants Brnovich to investigate collusion to block ivermectin as a COVID treatment
Skull Valley Republican Rep. Judy Burges wants Attorney General Mark Brnovich to weigh in on whether doctors and pharmacists can prescribe unproven COVID-19 treatments like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine without being punished by state regulators.
And she wants the Republican AG to launch an investigation into what she says is a wide-ranging conspiracy by the the federal government, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, state public health officials and regulators to block access to so-called therapeutic treatments for COVID-19.
In a request for an attorney general’s opinion filed last month, Burges claimed that governmental agencies, pharmaceutical companies, “medical & health organizations” and others have worked to “suppress” treatments other than the “experimental, gene therapy-based mRNA vaccines.”
Arizona Mirror: Two proposals target trans youth in sports, medicine
Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, proposed Senate Bill 1045 to prohibit medical procedures that affirm the gender identity of children and teens who are transgender. The law would ban medical staff from doing gender affirming surgeries on transgender minors and prescribing testosterone to transgender men or estrogen to transgender women who are under 18. Health professionals would be guilty of a Class 4 felony, with a prison sentence one to three years.
SB1045 would also prohibit a teacher, nurse, counselor or any other school staff from withholding information about a transgender student’s gender identity from the child’s parent.
Senate Bill 1046 would restrict transgender children from participating in sports at public and private schools, community colleges and universities. Just like a failed Republican-led bill did in 2020, Roger’s SB1046 would divide all interscholastic and intramural sports teams into male, female and co-ed teams “based on biological sex.” Under that definition, the measure prohibits transgender girls from participating in girl’s sports. It would also mandate a medical review of a student’s anatomy, hormone levels and genetics if the student’s biological sex is disputed while seeking to participate in sports programs at public and private schools, community colleges and state universities.
There are already rules in Arizona schools to evaluate requests from transgender youth who want to participate in their preferred team.
“All students should have the opportunity to participate in Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) activities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the sex listed on a student’s eligibility for participation in interscholastic athletics or in a gender that does not match the sex at birth,” an AIApolicy states.
Rogers’ SB1046 is part of a national trend of bills targeting transgender athletes under the notion that female sports are under threat. Research shows transgender students are at higher risk of depression and suicide.
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia voting law wasn’t enough for Republican legislators
In the aftermath of Georgia’s 2021 election changes, a fresh batch of Republican-backed bills could go even further in the upcoming legislative session.
The election-year proposals would eliminate all remaining ballot drop boxes, discard the state’s recently purchased voting touchscreen machines, give the GBI authority to investigate voting fraud and create a constitutional amendment to prevent any future possibility that noncitizens could be allowed to vote.
The tide of voting bills arrives as GOP legislators push beyond last year’s election overhaul following incumbent Republican Donald Trump’s narrow loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race. The sweeping law limited absentee voting drop boxes to early voting sites, required additional ID for absentee voting, allowed state takeovers of county elections and made many other changes.
- Proposed Georgia election bills:
- Authorize the GBI to investigate election-related allegations without a request from a local government.
- Eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes.
- Replace touchscreen voting computers, called ballot-marking devices, with hand-marked paper ballots. Touchscreens would remain available for those who prefer to use them.
- Ban voting by noncitizens, which is already prohibited by state law.
Atlanta Journal Constitution: Social issues to dominate Georgia’s election-year legislative session
the fact that there will be competitive Republican primaries for governor and lieutenant governor that will force the Legislature’s majority party to choose sides and Georgians could see a session of grandstanding, posturing and very little work getting done.
Election years often bring an uptick in the number of bills that play to the political base of the GOP majority, such as expanding access to guns and limiting abortion. This year could be a typical election-year session, only on steroids.
Legislation expected to advance this year would ease access to guns in Georgia. Republican lawmakers for years have pushed for some form of “constitutional carry” — where gun owners aren’t required to purchase a license to carry a weapon.
Some lawmakers say the restrictive abortion law Georgia passed in 2019 should continue to make its way through the judicial process. A federal appeals court judge in September said that he would hold off deciding the fate of Georgia’s anti-abortion law — which would have banned abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant — until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a ruling on a similar lawsuit out of Mississippi. The Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
But some lawmakers want to pursue legislation that mirrors a Texas law that allows private citizens to sue anyone involved in facilitating abortions.
“That’s probably the most intense issue that we handle as a General Assembly,” Ralston said. “I remember when we (debated) it in 2019, it was extremely intense and people have strong feelings about it. And so I don’t know why we would want to go through that without the guidance of the Supreme Court decision on the Mississippi case.”
Republican legislators have also announced plans to tackle other hot-button issues that have gained attention nationally — banning of books and other materials that they consider obscene from school libraries and barring the teaching of “critical race theory,” a law-school level concept based on the idea that racism is a social construct that is embedded in all aspects of our lives, including in legal systems and policies.
The theory, often called CRT, became the central issue of Virginia’s close gubernatorial race last year, driving out voters and pushing Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin over the top. The coursework isn’t taught in Georgia k-12 schools but critics assert its tenets are.
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