BG Reads | News You Need to Know (April 22, 2019)



With a possible update to Texas Open Meetings Act, former councilmembers recall scandal (Austin Chronicle)

Sometime soon this session, the Legis­lat­ure will send to Gov. Greg Abbott an update to the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) to reinstate provisions, struck down by the state's highest criminal court, governing "walking quorums" – serial private meetings of public officials that allow them to make decisions that should by law be done in public.

This would be of mere academic interest to Austinites, except that it was specifically this provision – one that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in February dubbed unconstitutional – that entangled seven City Council members in apparent violations back in 2010-12. None of those members remain on Council or directly involved in city government (only one currently holds elected office), but the scandal left its mark on City Hall – adding fuel to already fiery policy debates and influencing subsequent elections and the cascade of changes that, over this decade, has brought us to the 10-1 system of today… (LINK TO STORY)

‘Freedom City’ policies yield drop in misdemeanor arrests, Austin police say (Austin American-Statesman)

Austin police have drastically reduced the number of people arrested on misdemeanor charges that were eligible for a citation, according to figures for early 2019 from the department given to the American-Statesman.

In the first three months of the year, there was a 57% decline over 2018 arrest numbers. These so-called discretionary arrests, for which social justice groups say a racial disparity exists, comes after police leaders were asked to take a different approach to nonviolent offenders accused of crimes punishable by little or no jail time, including traffic violations like driving with an invalid license. The final numbers could vary, as officials work on presenting final statistics to the City Council in May, but they offer a glimpse of the effect of “Freedom City” policies adopted by the council in June… (LINK TO STORY)

Tourism Commission asks Council to pursue hotel tax collection on STRs (Austin Monitor)

The Tourism Commission wants City Council to revisit and possibly make changes to its ordinance covering short-term rentals, with the goal of increasing the amount of Hotel Occupancy Tax coming into city coffers.

The commission voted unanimously at this month’s meeting to ask Council to revisit its 2016 ordinance covering local STRs, specifically the mechanisms it provides for collecting taxes from properties advertised on platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway. The resolution also asks staffers to conduct an analysis to determine how much uncaptured money is at play compared to what’s collected by the state, thanks to agreements that protect user information on listing platforms in exchange for turning over tax payments.

At issue is the city’s desire to have online platforms provide information on individual properties listed on the sites, which would help the city enforce its permitting and other regulations for the burgeoning industry… (LINK TO STORY)


‘Kumbaya,’ for real? Gov. Greg Abbott is hands-on with Texas lawmakers this year as he presses for big wins (Dallas Morning News)

Two years ago, Gov. Greg Abbott was so desperate to play down the rancor and infighting at the top of Texas state government, he tweeted a pic of himself and Comptroller Glenn Hegar holding a cutout of children’s book character Flat Stanley. “It’s Kumbaya time. Flat Stanley unites us all,” Abbott wrote.

This year, by contrast, Abbott doesn’t have to tweet in hopes of party unity. With some exceptions, which so far seem manageable, the unity is real. The GOP's new solidarity, admittedly, may be driven by fears of further gains by Democrats in the still-unfolding and highly uncertain presidential election of 2020. The state’s “Big 3” Republican leaders are cooing compliments at one another. They appear to have the same agenda: schools and taxes… (LINK TO STORY)

Why cable companies and Texas cities are duking it out at the Capitol (Texas Tribune)

There’s yet another front in the war between your city and state government, and it’s cable TV.

It’s not on TV. It’s about TV — specifically, about where cable companies hang or bury their lines, and whether they should keep paying rent to cities for that space.

In many ways, it’s an ordinary fight. The companies are trying to get rid of a multi-million-dollar charge that started back in the days when they had to win permission from city governments to provide their services, and when cable and phone services weren’t bundled together… (LINK TO STORY)

Bernie Sanders to hold rally in Houston (Houston Chronicle)

Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders will hold a rally in downtown Houston on April 24. The U.S. Senator from Vermont was already scheduled to be part of a forum at Texas Southern University with seven other presidential candidates earlier in the day.

It will be Sanders first campaign event in Texas since he launched his 2020 presidential campaign. The free rally will be a 5 p.m. at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney Street, Houston. Starting at 1 p.m. on that same day, Sanders will be among the candidates who will be speaking at a 3-hour presidential forum organized by She The People, a national network focused on issues that are most important to women of color. That sold out event is being held on the TSU campus… (LINK TO STORY)


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports bill to raise minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 (New York Times)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he will introduce national legislation to raise the minimum age for people buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. Some anti-tobacco advocates worry that the plan could actually harm children by heading off other regulation efforts.

The proposal from McConnell, who hails from a top tobacco-producing state, came Thursday at a conference with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a Louisville-based organization. He has received more than $160,000 in contributions from Altria, a major cigarette manufacturer.

McConnell said he was spurred by an "unprecedented spike" in the number of teenagers who were vaping, or smoking e-cigarettes… (LINK TO STORY)

Meet The People In Trump's Orbit Who The Mueller Report Says Ignored His Orders (KUT)

Attorney General William Barr said there would be no obstruction of justice charges against the president stemming from the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, which was released in redacted form on Thursday.

But the threshold for charging the president might have been breached, had staffers not resisted his directives to engage in actions that would have impeded the investigation.

The more-than-400-page report names 10 onetime close aides or other government officials who refused to carry out requests Trump made that may have violated the law.

"The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," Mueller wrote on Page 158 of the report… (LINK TO STORY)


BG Podcast Episode 42: A Startup Conversation with Easy Expunctions CEO Yousef Kassim

On today’s episode we speak with Easy Expunctions CEO and Founder Yousef Kassim.

Easy Expunctions is a San Antonio-based legal technology start up providing background check and expunction/nondisclosure services.

Their legal records search algorithms allow clients to know what (if any) charges they have against them, and what can be expunged. 

Additionally, they provide the necessary legal forms and filing instructions directly to the client. The overall process provides a significant savings to the client (in the thousands) as well as empowering people who may not have experience with the court system.

In April 2018 they won Austin-based Capital Factory's $100,000 Startup Challenge.  As part of the package, the firm received space at Capital Factory (located in downtown Austin)...

Check out Episode 42 here!

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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