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Major GOP Donor Paul Singer versus Democrat Donor Warren Buffett on Texas Energy

by Artemio “Temo” Muniz

There is an interesting battle going on between Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy and Ted Cruz and Donald Trump donor Paul Singer over the purchase of Oncor Electric Delivery Company, a Texas electric transmission that matters to 3 million Texans. As a recent article in the “Capitol Inside” describes some of the behind the scenes of the attempt by Buffett’s group to purchase Oncor. Ever since 2012 or so, when the national Republicans and conservative figures began blasting Buffett for his lobbying of the complete stoppage of the construction of the Keystone pipeline, I have been fascinated in how very important issues that affect our energy supply seem to fade in the background while our party engages in loud, bombastic policy battles. BNSF, owned in majority by Buffett, benefited because it was railing in oil, and the Keystone Pipeline would be bad for its business bottom-line. As conservative blogosphere chatter grew in its intensity against Buffet, it was in Tampa Bay at the 2012 RNC Convention that BNSF was plastered everywhere a major corporate sponsor, and the chatter about BNSF benefiting while the Keystone Pipeline was on hold disappeared.

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Sanctuary Cities: Hispanic National Bar Association Pulls Conference Out of Texas

“The Hispanic National Bar Association announced today that it is pulling its 2020 Corporate Counsel Conference from El Paso, Texas in response to the Texas state government’s passage of Senate Bill 4 (“SB4”). Dubbed an “anti-sanctuary” law, SB4 forces local law enforcement to act as de facto immigration enforcement officers and gives them the power to detain and question an individual about their citizenship status solely based on whether the officer thinks that the person “looks” undocumented.

In the view of the HNBA, this legislation “potentially subjects all who live in–or pass through–Texas to racial profiling, discrimination, and unlawful due process violations simply because of their apparent Latino or immigrant heritage, regardless of actual citizenship status,” stated HNBA National President Pedro J. Torres-Díaz. “The HNBA did not arrive at this decision lightly. We have a significant membership base in Texas, many of whom expressed concerns about the constitutionality of SB4 and the widespread, detrimental impact this legislation will have on Latino communities in Texas. We stand in solidarity with the cities, communities, and organizations that have voiced their opposition to this draconian law, including the City of El Paso, and stand ready to further assist them in any way to ensure that SB4 is repealed. Ultimately, however, we believe that the greatest impact that the HNBA can have, is to demonstrate our opposition to this law with our actions, not simply our words.”

Federal judge tosses Paxton’s preemptive SB4 lawsuit

By Andrea Zelinski

AUSTIN — A U.S. District judge dismissed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s preemptive lawsuit against the city of Austin Wednesday, saying it would not engage in “hypothetical legal questions” to declare Texas’ anti-“sanctuary city” law constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, of the Western District of Texas in Austin, said in a ruling filed Wednesday every government faces the threat that someone could challenge the constitutional validity of a law.

To allow those governments to preemptively ask the courts to weigh in “would be to ‘open a Pandora’s box and invite every local government to seek a court’s judicial blessing’ on a law prior to it taking effect,” he said in his ruling, which he signed Tuesday.

State lawmakers passed Senate Bill 4 in the regular legislative session that would punish sheriffs and police chiefs with jail time if they refuse to cooperate with federal detainer requests to hold documents believed to be undocumented. The law also allows law enforcement to question an individual’s legal status at routine stops.

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Texas House approves one crackdown on mail-in ballot fraud, but pushes repeal of another

Two months ago, Texas lawmakers quietly did something rare in this statehouse: They sent Gov. Greg Abbott a bill designed to make voting easier for thousands of Texans. Abbott praised that effort and ultimately signed the legislation that, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, both Democrats and Republicans supported.

Scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1, the law would overhaul balloting at nursing homes — an attempt to simultaneously remove opportunities to commit ballot fraud while expanding ballot access to nursing home residents.

But on Wednesday, the Texas House voted to repeal the new law, which some Republicans dubbed a well-intentioned mistake.

“It was an oversight that people missed,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who led the repeal effort.

Goldman’s maneuver came as the House took up a separate bill targeting mail-in voter fraud, one of 20 items on Abbott’s special session call. That proposal, Senate Bill 5, would widen the definition of mail-in voter fraud and increase penalties for those who commit it.

On Wednesday, Goldman tacked on an amendment to repeal the nursing home law. House lawmakers approved the amendment in an 89-48 vote, before tentatively approving SB 5 by a 90-37 margin. That capped more than three hours of debate featuring emotional pushback from Democrats and some Republicans who supported the nursing home law during the regular session.

Rep. Tom Oliverson, a Cypress Republican who had championed the nursing home law, said he was confused about what triggered the push to destroy it, but he suspected that bipartisan buy-in may have played a role.

“It’s a sad commentary on politics in Texas,” he said in an interview. “People get nervous when they see the other side in favor of something, because they assume it gives them an advantage in elections.”

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Voter fraud crackdown a step closer with House committee vote

The Texas Legislature moved a step closer Monday in toughening the state’s penalties for those who hijack votes from unsuspecting Texans by using mail-in ballots.

The House Elections Committee on Monday voted 4-2 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 5, legislation aimed at making it harder for vote harvesters to operate and to increase penalties for interfering with mail-in votes.

Vote harvesters appropriate mail-in ballots or hijack the ballots to direct a vote for a particular candidate.

The bill was authored by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) and would require a signature verification process for early ballots, notification of rejected ones within a month after an election, and a process for correcting errors.

Punishment for committing mail-in voter fraud in some cases could reach $4,000 in fines and up to a year in jail.

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Senate committee bulks up tree bill to better fit Abbott’s vision

By Elizabeth Findell – American-Statesman Staff

A Texas Senate committee on Tuesday moved forward with a bulked-up version of a bill restricting local tree removal fees, with the sponsor trying to craft “a workable tree bill” that will appeal to Gov. Greg Abbott.

The new version of House Bill 7, which the Business and Commerce Committee approved in a 5-3 vote, is “largely based on” its original intent of allowing property owners to plant trees instead of paying removal fees, said sponsor Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

But it adds that localities may not prohibit the removal of trees less than 24 inches in diameter, sets a maximum removal fee of $400 and stipulates that a city can’t regulate trees that are outside its city limits but within its extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Those changes are an attempt to bridge the gap between a bill Abbott vetoed this year and bills the governor requested that are stalled in committees.

“It is my hope that these changes will satisfy some of the stakeholders — the governor — and, working with people who oppose it, we’ll try to find that fine line,” Kolkhorst said. “I’m trying to get a workable tree bill here.”

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Businesswomen say they don’t need bathroom bill’s ‘protection’

John C Moritz

AUSTIN – About two dozen women representing business and economic development efforts across the state on Tuesday rejected the argument they and their daughters need protection from transgender people using public restrooms and locker rooms.

“I am the mother of two beautiful children (and) a CEO, and I am opposed to bathroom bills,” Casandra Matej, who heads Visit San Antonio, said at a rally outside the Texas Capitol. “These bills have nothing to do with protecting my daughter or myself. There are already laws that keep us safe.”

The rally, organized by the Texas Association of Business, was aimed at countering assertions by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst that the bathroom bill is more about protection and privacy than it is about targeting transgender people.

The legislation, Senate Bill 3, remains stalled in the Texas House after clearing the Senate largely along party lines shortly after the special legislative session began last month. It is similar to the measure that died without being considered in the House during the regular legislative session that ended in May.

Its prospects for the special session do not appear much better. House Speaker Joe Straus has been one of the bill’s most persistent critics, and the measure has not been given a hearing in committee as the special session enters its final week.

The business group has been at the center of the opposition to the legislation. In recent weeks, the group has brought law enforcement leaders to the Capitol to speak against the measure and has purchased air time on Texas radio stations urging listeners to call lawmakers about any misgivings they have about the measure.

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Are Texas lawmakers’ business ties with public entities a conflict of interest?

Since 2016, public entities have had to reveal the businesses they have large contracts with. These “1295 disclosures” reveal numerous legislators among the contractors — and some of those lawmakers have sponsored or voted on bills that help those same public entities.

BY NEIL THOMAS

Like most higher education institutions, Houston Community College officials had a lot they wanted state legislators to do for them in Austin earlier this year. The school found a champion in a veteran Democratic senator from Dallas.

Sen. Royce West, who sits on both the higher education and finance committees, came through big for HCC and other community colleges, shepherding dual-credit legislation — which an HCC administrator called a “high-priority opportunity” — through a committee, the floor of the Texas Senate and onto the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Weeks before West helped House Bill 1638, which strengthened connections between community colleges and four-year universities, pass the Senate, HCC gave his law firm, West & Associates, a place in its legal services pool — a list of pre-approved attorneys HCC chooses from when it has legal needs.

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Poker clubs operating in Texas despite state’s stance against gambling

Game operator in Houston says he lives within the letter of state law

Poker players have a message for the Texas Legislature: Let the people play.

Houston poker player Michael Eakman is one of several Texas entrepreneurs who believe they have found a way to conduct legal gambling on poker at restricted private clubs.

A Houston native, Eakman, 51, has loved the game of poker since a young age and hosted poker tournaments across the country. Three months ago, Eakman brought the controversial game to his home town by opening Mint Poker in Southeast Houston.

The establishment is a private, membership-based, poker club where people can gamble real money in friendly poker games and competitive tournaments.

Eakman said his club escapes being governed by Texas gambling laws because he does not take a share of any gambled money, also known as raking the pot. Instead, the club charges membership fees for players seeking to play in the club.

“In our conversations with the city attorney here in our jurisdiction, we made everyone aware of what we were doing before we even signed the lease,” Eakman said. “I certainly don’t want to challenge anyone to bring a court case, but I think at the end of the day we’re handling this by being proactive instead of reactive is the way to do this … There are no regulations and guidelines other than the narrow scope of a very vague law.”

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Abbott-Patrick special session: Straus in charge

Dave McNeely

Gov. Greg Abbott may be wishing he had laid out fewer than 20 subjects for the 30-day special legislative session he called.

And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may wonder if rapidly passing bills through the Senate may have inadvertently handed House Speaker Joe Straus the keys to the legislative car.

Patrick, after all, made the special session necessary.

By playing keepaway with must-pass sunset safety-net legislation at the end of the regular legislative session, Patrick forced the special session, to continue the doctor-licensing board and four other agencies.

He wanted another shot at bullying Straus and the House into passing his anti-transgender bathroom bill, plus a bill to make it tougher for local governments to raise property taxes.

The House dutifully passed the sunset safety-net legislation — but its own, not the bills the Senate had sent over. Take that, Patrick.

Straus also more or less shamed Abbott into opening the call to school finance revision, rather than just a teacher bonus.

Meanwhile, Democratic Houston auditor Mike Collier is challenging Patrick’s 2018 re-election as bad for Texas businesses and for Texans in general.

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