BG Reads | News You Need to Know (December 3, 2018)

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EARLY VOTING HAS BEGUN FOR AUSTIN COUNCIL RUNOFF ELECTIONS IN DISTRICTS 1, 3, and 8

Find Voting Locations Here (Travis County)


[AUSTIN METRO]

D1 forum looks at city’s role in affordability, health care, displacement (Austin Monitor)

The runoff election to fill the seat of District 1 Council Member Ora Houston may well hinge on the approaches candidates Natasha Harper-Madison and Mariana Salazar take to persistent East Austin issues such as housing affordability, health care access and how the city can help longtime residents remain in the fast-growing area.

At last week’s candidate forum presented by Austin’s League of Women Voters and the city’s Ethics Review Commission, the two shared similar concerns and occasionally similar approaches to these and other issues, favoring the city playing an increased role in improving quality of life in the district…

Link to story


City Council wants review of costs tied to policing short-term rentals (Austin American-Statesman)

Austin city officials are calling for a new look at what it costs to enforce the city’s short-term rental restrictions, a move prompted in part by an American-Statesman series about the scope of such illegal rentals in the city.

A resolution the Austin City Council passed Thursday asks city staffers to determine the amount of time and resources used to address short-term rentals — especially properties that are recurring code offenders.

Knowing how much the city spends on enforcement will allow it to adjust its licensing fees and, potentially, fines for code violations.

The resolution said the city lists 2,142 active permits for short-term rentals in Austin, but Statesman reporting found more than 8,000 such properties in Austin listed for rent in August. Statesman searches returned more than 8,000 Austin listings that month on Airbnb alone. Inside Airbnb, a website that scrapes data from Airbnb listings, showed more than 11,300 Austin listings on the site.

Fees to license a short-term rental property now range from $300 to $519, and citations for renting illegally or other violations range from $300 to $1,000…

Link to story


Austin teachers fear less planning time, increased class sizes (Austin Monitor)

About two dozen teachers showed up to the Nov. 26 meeting of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees to voice their concerns about a proposal floated by the district that would reduce the teacher-to-student ratio in middle schools and high schools.

The current district staffing guideline for secondary schools is 29 students to one teacher. A proposal submitted by the district last month would have increased it to 31 to 1. The guideline does not dictate the number of students in a classroom, but rather the total number of staff in a school.

The administration had pulled the proposal off the agenda the week before, but Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, the union that represents teachers and other AISD staff, said he expects the policy to eventually re-emerge.

He and other teachers also worry that the district plans to reduce the amount of daily planning time in which teachers don’t have to be in the classroom. Currently teachers can only be assigned to the classroom six out of the eight periods in the day…

Link to story


[TEXAS]

Analysis: A tight-fisted Texas Legislature with expensive ambitions (Texas Tribune)

The Texas Legislature’s strong allergy to tax increases might be abating — just as long as you don’t call them tax increases.

They’re not saying so out loud — no point in riling up a price-sensitive electorate before the holidays, before the upcoming legislative session — or before lawmakers are ready to make their sales pitch.

But the talk of school finance as a top legislative priority guarantees a conversation about taxes. While there are many great policy reasons to mess with that persistent and gnarly issue, the political motivation here is simple: Texas property owners have made it clear to their representatives that they want lower property taxes…

Link to story


AG Ken Paxton Sues San Antonio, Saying The City Is Violating Texas' Anti-"Sanctuary Cities" Law (KUT)

Texas is suing the city of San Antonio for an alleged violation of the state’s new anti-“sanctuary cities” law, in what appears to be the first legal challenge under the controversial statute.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Travis County District Court, centers on a December 2017 incident when San Antonio police discovered a trailer carrying 12 individuals from Guatemala who were suspected of being undocumented. The city’s police department charged the driver, but released the migrants without involving federal immigration authorities, as the new law requires, according to the state’s lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that San Antonio Police Chief William McManus “personally called an immigration attorney from an advocacy organization” and released the individuals without running background checks…

Link to story


Vowing to focus on the working class, López Obrador sworn in as new president in Mexico as Texas wonders its role with administration (San Antonio Express-News)

Andres Manuel López Obrador became Mexico's president Saturday promising to bring sweeping change to its politics and economy in favor of the country’s impoverished population.

Mexico’s first left-leaning president in nearly four decades, López Obrador, 65, takes power with a firm control of the national congress and a solid hold on legislatures in many of the 32 states. That potentially makes him the most powerful Mexican president since democracy took root here 18 years ago. Popularly known by his nickname, AMLO, López Obrador vows that his six-year term will bring about a profound “fourth transformation” of Mexico in its two centuries as an independent nation. Unlike the previous three watersheds, he says, this one will be accomplished peacefully. “It might seem pretentious or exaggerated, but today doesn’t begin just a new administration, but rather a new political regime,” López Obrador told Congress in an 80-minute speech in which he declared the political and economic policies that have defined the past 35 years a “disaster, a calamity for the public life of the country.” “We will govern for everyone, but we will give preference to the dispossessed,” he said. “For the good of everyone, the poor come first.”…

Link to story


Fewer than 600 patients get medical cannabis under restrictive Texas law (San Antonio Express-News)

It’s been about a year since the first legally grown marijuana plants were harvested in Texas for their medicinal oils. But since then, fewer than 600 patients have seen any benefit out of the estimated 150,000 who suffer uncontrollable epileptic seizures that the medicine is meant to help.

Roughly 45 doctors, mostly concentrated in urban areas, have signed up to prescribe the cannabidiol. Just three companies in Central Texas have been licensed to distribute the drug. One doesn’t seem to have opened its doors, and another reports losing money with such a small client base. “The way to assure the Compassionate Use Program has a future is by expanding access to more patients,” said Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation in the Austin area. “The worst thing that can happen is nothing gets done, because then we set the program back.” Texas’ therapeutic marijuana program is among the strictest in the nation, giving only patients with intractable epilepsy access to cannabidiol that’s low in THC, the element that gives pot users a high. Recent legislative efforts to expand the program failed. But some state lawmakers are trying again in 2019 with proposals to roll back restrictions on THC and give more patients access, including those with cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious medical conditions. “This is not a liberal or conservative issue, this is a medical issue,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who has filed a bill to expand the program…

Link to story


[NATION]

Despite big House losses, Republicans show no signs of changing course (New York Times)

With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats.

Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout. President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy. And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back. The quandary, some Republicans acknowledge, is that the party’s leaders are constrained from fully grappling with the damage Mr. Trump inflicted with those voters, because he remains popular with the party’s core supporters and with the conservatives who will dominate the caucus even more in the next Congress…

Link to story


Trump administration to try again to fulfill infrastructure pledge (Wall Street Journal)

The Trump administration is preparing to make another attempt at honoring one of the biggest unfulfilled promises of the president’s election campaign: a $1 trillion upgrade of the nation’s road, rail and energy infrastructure.

That program failed to materialize during President Trump’s first year in office, as the administration pursued a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which failed, and a major tax cut, which he signed into law in December 2017. In 2018, a package that would have compelled cities and states to come up with at least 80% of the funding for infrastructure improvements was dead on arrival in Congress. Even Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans voted instead to increase spending in existing grant programs that send federal money to local governments for infrastructure as part of a budget deal, which the president signed. This time around, people familiar with the White House’s plans say, the administration’s effort is likely to include a lot more federal cash—which makes it more likely to pass muster with the new Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. “There has to be real money, real investment,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR,, a veteran lawmaker who is in line to take over as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the next Congress…

Link to story


[PODCAST]

BG Podcast Episode 24: Tech Talk - 5G and the City

Today's BG Podcast features a conversation with Bob Digneo, Assistant Vice President - External and Regulatory Affairs, AT&T, on the 5G wireless standard and its potential impact on cities and consumers.

What is 5G?

5G, which stands for "fifth generation," is an upcoming standard for mobile telecommunications service that promises to be significantly faster than today's 4G technology.

Austin connection.

AT&T recently opened what it calls a 5G testing lab in North Austin. The lab, one of several AT&T has throughout the country, is a testing ground for 5G signal transmitters and how they handle certain conditions

Why you should care?

It will allow users to browse the internet, upload or download videos, and use data-intensive apps or features such as virtual reality much more quickly and smoothly than is possible now.

What it means for cities?

"Almost any function that a city performs has the potential of being enhanced and being smarter and better, and more efficient with a better more robust wireless network.” - Bob Digneo

Link to BG Podcast Episode 24

Reference links

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