BG Reads | News You Need to Know (January 25, 2019)



County pushes for progress amid state’s political battles (Austin Monitor)

Travis County has already filed bills for a third of its dozen legislative priorities for the 86th Texas Legislature since the session began Jan. 8.

One of these priorities is to ensure that sobering centers are authorized to assume responsibility for publicly intoxicated individuals. The city of Austin has been diverting people out of jail and into its sobering center since August 2018, despite state law having no provisions for the practice. Rep. Celia Israel filed House Bill 830 on Jan. 16, which clarifies the right of police officers to divert intoxicated individuals to a sobering center.

Nonetheless, the county is intimately caught up in the state’s political drama surrounding education finance and revenue increase caps. In a briefing Tuesday morning, Deece Eckstein, Travis County’s intergovernmental relations officer, told the Commissioners Court he’s “cautiously pessimistic” about the ongoing efforts to solve these multifaceted issues…

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Despite higher valuation, Montopolis School property appears headed to court (Austin Monitor)

The city’s purchase offer via eminent domain for the Montopolis Negro School property appears to be headed to court.

On Tuesday a three-member Special Commissioners Hearing agreed on a value of $464,000 for the schoolhouse portion of the Southeast Austin property purchased in 2015 by developer Austin Stowell, who had planned to build a mix of residential and commercial buildings there. Those plans sparked protests from neighbors over the expected demolition of the one-room schoolhouse, which was created for the area’s black students and used for roughly 30 years, ending in the 1960s. In the years since, a series of purchase offers and legal actions have unfolded between Stowell and the city, which controlled the property prior to the 2015 sale.

Those actions included an approval last summer for the legal department to begin eminent domain actions to purchase the schoolhouse from Stowell, with the purchase price at that time calculated at $362,000. Tuesday’s hearing was set to hear the results of a new appraisal of the property, after which Stowell told Spectrum News he would challenge the new valuation in district court in a move to increase the purchase price…

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Study: Austin well-positioned to handle next wave of automation (Austin American-Statesman)

For some people, automation can be a scary term -- one associated with doomsday scenarios of robots taking jobs, or even taking over the world.

But while automation is affecting industries across the United States, new research suggests that its impact might be less than once feared, especially for lower-risk cities such as Austin, which experts say have developed job markets less prone to replacement by machines.

A study released Thursday by Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, found that roughly a quarter of U.S. jobs will have high exposure to automation in coming decades, a percentage that researchers called “sobering” but which they also said showed that the vast majority of U.S. residents won’t be highly impacted.

For Austin, the outlook is mostly positive because of the city’s increasing reliance on high-skilled jobs, many which are in the tech sector, said Mark Muro, a co-author of the report…

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For good or bad, petition elections a growing trend in Texas (Austin American-Statesman)

The filing of a petition ostensibly created to undo a stadium deal between the city of Austin and the ownership of Austin’s new Major League Soccer franchise has added fuel to the fire for many who think recent efforts have shown that it is too easy to add petitions to a ballot.

The latest petition has been heralded as direct democracy by a loose collective of activists, many of whom live near the stadium site in North Austin. But the campaign for it was backed by more than $125,000 from Bobby Epstein, the man who likely stands to lose the most if a MLS club comes to Austin. Epstein is the head of Austin Bold FC, a fledgling United Soccer League franchise that would be largely overshadowed by its major league counterpart once Austin FC begins play in 2021.

To Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Epstein’s role regarding the stadium petition reinforces Adler’s belief that petition efforts, such as the 2016 one tied to city-mandated background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers, are too easily pushed across the finish line.

“The bar to get something on the ballot is too low,” Adler said in a phone interview last week. “So it doesn’t take that extraordinary item; it is just something that you can just hire a company, and in five weeks they can get all the signatures they need.”…

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Raymund Paredes, Texas' higher education commissioner, will step down Aug. 31 (Texas Tribune)

After 15 years on the job, Texas' commissioner for higher education, Raymund Paredes, announced Thursday that he will leave his post effective Aug. 31.

He made the announcement at the start of a quarterly meeting of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, an agency he heads that oversees the state’s strategic plan for higher education, administers financial aid programs, and acts as a repository of colleges’ and universities’ data.

“I'm resigning, I'm stepping down, I'm not retiring, I hope to remain active in higher education” in the state, Paredes said. His departure at the end of August will allow him to “make it through the session and do some of the follow-up work that we always have to do.

"I think it's time for new blood, I think it's time for new perspectives and I've enjoyed this position enormously," Paredes said…

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Texas will give veterans who are federal employees a break during the government shutdown (Dallas Morning News)

Texas is giving veterans who work for the federal government a break. Land Commissioner George P. Bush said the Veterans Land Board unanimously voted this week to allow veteran federal employees who haven't been paid because of the shutdown to temporarily stop making payments on home and land loans with the board.

He said many veterans work for the federal government after returning from military service, and the loss of income from the shutdown threatens the financial stability of Texas' veterans. Eligible veterans may apply to their loan companies to take a break from loan payments for up to six months or 30 days after the government shutdown ends — whichever happens first, the board said…

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Shutdown showdown: Senate votes down two bills to end shutdown after Trump agrees to postpone State of the Union (Washington Post)

The Senate rejected competing Republican and Democratic plans Thursday to end the partial government shutdown, now in its 34th day. The Republican bill included funding for President Trump’s border wall while the Democratic plan did not.

Both measures failed to win the 60 votes needed to move forward. But some lawmakers and analysts have expressed hope that the exercise could lead to more serious talks about a compromise. The votes follow a dramatic day in which Trump agreed to postpone his State of the Union address after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) disinvited him from making the speech next week in the House chamber…

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Episode 31: TX Lege Talk with James Hines, SVP of Government Affairs, Texas Association of Business

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Today's podcast was originally recorded on January 8, 2019, the first day of the 86th Texas Legislative Session.

The show features a discussion with returning guest James Hines, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & In-House Counsel, Texas Association of Business (TAB). James and Bingham Group CEO A.J. Bingham talked TAB’s legislative priorities around economic development and public education, to name a few.

The TAB is Texas's largest business association, representing over 2, 800 businesses, from major corporations to small start-ups. Combined those businesses employ over 2.5 million Texans and drive the economic engine of the state. The association influences policy development and drives legislative decisions in Texas and Washington, D.C. advocating for members’ bottom line.

Note: We recorded in TAB’s new headquarters where minor construction was going on (pardon the light background noise).

Link to Episode 31

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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