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State of Texas: White House backs Texas mayor’s fight for local control

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg joined President Biden during a White House announcement of extreme heat protections Thursday, stressing his advocacy for local regulations as his city sues the state of Texas over local control.

“Texas cities are in a battle with the state for local control,” the mayor told the president.

San Antonio joined Houston this week in suing the state over a new law that will preempt a wide range of local ordinances in favor of uniform standards in Texas law.

“We’re going to do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable workers, especially those outdoor workers, for basic things like being able to access water breaks,” Nirenberg said.

House Bill 2127 asserts the state’s dominance across sweeping areas of law including labor, employment, and environmental codes, preventing local governments from regulating those areas in ways that may conflict with state law. It does not prevent anyone from taking a water break, but could however nullify local ordinances that require certain water break standards.

That issue has been a rallying cry for local governments attempting to preserve their autonomy as Texas endures a brutal heat wave.

“Lawmakers have overstepped and abused their authority,” Nirenberg said Tuesday. “This bill has and will continue to create widespread confusion and uncertainty.”

Thursday morning, The White House announced a series of measures to protect outdoor workers.

“[We’re] taking steps to help people get through this tough time. And we’re also going to talk about steps we’re taking to help communities prepare, plan, and recover and make our nation more resilient in future heatwaves,” Biden said.

The President announced the U.S. Department of Labor will increase inspections in “high-risk industries” like construction and agriculture, and will issue the “first-ever Hazard Alert for heat.” The White House said this will “reaffirm that workers have heat-related protections under federal law.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also investing up to $7 million to improve weather forecasts. This will go towards a new Data Assimilation Consortium “focused on developing better weather-prediction capabilities.” NOAA Director Richard Spinrad told Nexstar this will allow national forecasters to predict extreme weather events sooner, and allow Americans to better prepare for them.

“We need to check up on each other and really realize that heat is the number one killer,” National Weather Service Director Ken Graham told Nexstar on Thursday. “As the summers continue to get this warm, we need to have ways to be able to mitigate that to keep people safe.”

University leader’s resignation highlights controversy at Texas A&M

Controversy continues to put a spotlight on concerns by faculty at Texas A&M University.

Earlier this month, the university’s president stepped down amid claims that political pressure derailed plans to hire a Black journalism professor. Then just this past week came news that a professor was temporarily suspended after she allegedly said something negative about Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick during a lecture on the opioid crisis.

The events are bringing new questions about academic freedom at A&M. Kate McGee, who reports on higher education for the Texas Tribune, spoke about her reporting on the issues during an interview on State of Texas. A transcript of that interview follows:

Josh Hinkle: Let’s start with the issue involving the Lieutenant Governor. Who was the professor who was suspended and what happened to lead up to the controversy there?

Kate McGee: So she (Joy Alonzo) was giving a guest lecture at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston about the opioid crisis, which is her area of expertise, when she made a comment about the Lieutenant Governor, which no one has been able to confirm verbatim for us what exactly, she said, but it was something about the policy decisions in the Lieutenant Governor’s office and the impact they can have on preventing opioid-related deaths. And we have confirmed that the daughter of Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham was in that class. And A&M confirmed that this complaint started with the Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, who called Dan Patrick, who then reached out to the Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp to alert him of this complaint that had been made about the comments. And then from there, it kind of went down the chain of command from the system to the university. And by the end of the day, the professor was put on administrative leave pending some kind of investigation by the university into what had happened.

Josh Hinkle: Earlier this month, A&M President Katherine Banks resigned amid some other controversy. What happened there?

Kate McGee: Yes, so a few months ago, or last month, rather, the university announced that it hired Kathleen McElroy, to launch the new journalism program that it was reviving at Texas A&M. They did this whole signing ceremony for her to come from UT Austin to Texas A&M to lead this new program. But as we reported, McElroy told us in the event between that signing June 13, that signing ceremony into early July, the University started to kind of walk back its initial offer to give her a tenured position as a professor and to run this program and started offering different iterations of that agreement. First, she said it was a five-year contract. And then ultimately, they offered her a one-year contract to teach, which she ultimately said she could not take and felt like, you know, they were trying to say they did not want her there anymore. And that in that kind of back and forth, members of the university had alleged to her that there were outside forces unhappy with her work in diversity and her kind of background as a previous editor for The New York Times that had caused some heartburn with people in the A&M community and was ultimately why they started to kind of walk back this negotiation. The university has denied that. But then suddenly, last week, the president resigned and said that the negative media attention was going to force her to step back. There’s still a lot of unknowns of what had happened there that we’re waiting to try and report out. So that story is definitely not over.

Josh Hinkle: What’s the response been like on campus?

Kate McGee: The Faculty Senate at Texas A&M, has been extremely vocal about their concerns and disappointment with how things have played out. They’ve had multiple meetings with the then-university president Kathy Banks before she resigned and with the system Chancellor John Sharp about both of these issues. They announced earlier this week that they are going to be having additional conversations with the new interim or acting President Mark Welsh in August to try and get some more answers from him about what exactly happened with the situations, particularly the Alonzo case. And a lot of faculty, my colleague, Alejandro Serrano, spoke to a lot of faculty members about just the morale hit that this has taken at the university. There’s concerns about retention issues for faculty and recruitment. Who would want to come to a university where there is such blatant examples of political overreach and I think there’s just a lot of concern about what kind of reputation or damage damage that this has done to A&M’s reputation moving forward.

Buoy barrier brings battle over border issues

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday over the Texas’ floating barrier along the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, which the federal government says violates international and federal law.

In the lawsuit, the DOJ argues Texas’ construction of buoys in the river violates the Rivers and Harbor Act, as it obstructs the “navigable capacity” of U.S. waterways. The filing also notes Texas did not obtain a prior permit from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers as required by the act.

The Biden administration is asking the courts to stop Texas from putting any more barriers in the water and to remove the current 1,000-foot stretch of buoys at its own expense.

“Because Texas installed the Floating Barrier without seeking the Corps’ authorization, the Corps and other relevant federal agencies were deprived of the opportunity to evaluate risks the barrier poses to public safety and the environment, mitigate those risks as necessary through the permitting process, and otherwise evaluate whether the project is in the public interest,” the lawsuit said.

Earlier Monday morning, Abbott rebuked the Department of Justice’s threat to sue Texas over the buoy barriers he ordered into the river and welcomed a federal lawsuit, in a hostile letter to Biden.

“Texas will see you in court, Mr. President,” Abbott wrote Friday. “The fact is, if you would just enforce the immigration laws Congress already has on the books, America would not be suffering from your record-breaking level of illegal immigration.”

The bright-orange buoys are floating in the river just outside Eagle Pass, a border city that has seen about 270,000 encounters with migrants this year.

The DOJ warned Texas on Friday that the state does not have the authority to erect such a barrier in international waters or to enforce federal immigration laws.

“The State of Texas’ actions violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties,” the department wrote.

Abbott took issue with the DOJ’s legal justification earlier Monday.

“Your lawyers’ claim that Texas’s floating marine barriers violate Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act misses the mark,” he wrote. “That statute does not describe any action by the State of Texas.”

Abbott also cited Arizona v. United States, a 2012 Supreme Court case that delineated federal and state jurisdiction over immigration, to assert Texas’ “sovereign interest in protecting [her] borders.”

New data shows where Alzheimer’s is most prevalent in Texas

New research shows a more complete picture of how many people in each county in the United States have Alzheimer’s or dementia, allowing KXAN to analyze how it affects those living in Texas. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it marks the first time researchers have estimated the prevalence of the disease at the county level — rather than estimating statewide numbers.

Using cognitive data, along with population and demographic statistics, researchers were able to produce estimates for all 3,142 U.S. counties. They found the highest rates of prevalence in the east and southeastern parts of the country.

In Texas, the southern and western parts of the state saw higher rates of prevalence. Presidio, a border county with a population of just over 6,000 and Marfa as its county seat topped the list at 18.4% prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The researchers found a 10.7% prevalence in Travis County, 10.5% in Bastrop County, 10.2% in Williamson County and 10% in Hays County.

Andrea Taurins, executive director of the Capital of Texas chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the new data will help organizations and public health officials better target resources to the communities and people who need them most.

“It just helps us in understanding where the funding needs to go, where the programmings really need to be throughout Central Texas, and where we will focus most of our energy, which is where most of the people that are living with Alzheimer’s are,” she explained.

Robertson County, east of Temple, and Caldwell County, home to Lockhart and Luling, had the highest rates of prevalence in Central Texas – at 12.2% and 12.1%, respectively.

“What it makes me think of is: do people know we’re here?” asked Angela Floyd, who runs the only Alzheimer’s support group in Caldwell County. “Do people know that there’s somewhere they can go and they can talk to someone else that is dealing with what they deal with on a daily basis, and can provide them resources and support?”

Floyd took over the group when she began working at Golden Age Home, a non-profit assisted living facility in Lockhart. She also has personal experience: her paternal grandfather, maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather were diagnosed with the disease, and her mother currently suffers from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“I think sometimes we feel like we have to do it all on our own,” she said, of loved ones and caregivers.  

Floyd brings in different speakers to talk to the group about legal hurdles, Medicare questions and other complicated topics that people “have to learn to navigate” when a loved one is diagnosed.

“There’s just a plethora of things that are behind the scenes that aren’t associated with the disease, but how to handle the disease,” said Linda Mercer, a member of the group. “Sometimes it’s hard to find what you’re really looking for.”

Mercer said she hopes the data will bring more resources to caregivers in need, as well as patients. For example, she cited a “Respite Room” at Golden Age Home, a place where people can drop off their loved one for care while they “regroup and recharge,” Floyd explained.

Mercer said the room gave her a few minutes to herself, with the peace of mind that her mother was cared for and safe.  

“We feel so isolated and so lost and helpless a lot of the times, that we just need to have…you know, we need to have a little focus on us,” she said.

For Floyd, the new data — particularly, the higher rate in Caldwell County — represents a new challenge for the group.

“Looking at the fact there’s 800 people in the county, and our group runs eight to 10 people, that lets me know that I’ve got to do more than what I’m doing to make people aware that there is a resource and a place for them to come, to get help and support,” Floyd said.

Dr. Kumar B. Rajan, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College, and colleagues released these findings last week at an international conference on Alzheimer’s in the Netherlands. They reached their results by utilizing cognitive data from the Chicago Health and Aging Project and population estimates from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The researchers noted that higher rates of prevalence in certain areas could be explained by age or demographic trends in those areas. For example, a county might have a higher population of people over the age of 85 years old or a higher percentage of Black and Hispanic residents.

According to previous research reported by the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, African Americans are about two times more likely than white Americans to have Alzheimer’s and other dementias, while Hispanics are about one and one-half times more likely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites certain chronic health conditions and other risk factors for the higher prevalence, such as diabetes, hearing loss, hyper-tension, diet, sleep quality, or alcohol and tobacco use.

10 Warning Signs  of Alzheimer's disease, including confusion with time or place and changes in mood or personality. (Alzheimer's Association graphic)
10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s disease, including confusion with time or place and changes in mood or personality. (Alzheimer’s Association graphic)

Taurins said the data will help them better tailor materials to reach affected populations.

“We provide information in various languages, depending on what languages they’re most comfortable,” she said. “Then, we’ll work with community groups, churches or other community organizations in providing outreach or providing events specific to different populations in an effort to just raise more awareness and help different populations, one, understand their increased risk but also understand what they can do to lower their risk overall or even be aware of what to look for in themselves or in their loved ones.”

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