Saturday News: Pork for Texas?


LAST MINUTE ADDITION TO BILL IS TAILORED TO TEXAS IT COMPANY: The state Department of Public Safety actively opposed a $1.8 million allocation for a new prison management software program that it says was designed to “select one specific vendor.” The provision was tacked onto an unrelated purchasing and contracting bill, House Bill 902, and passed through the legislature at 2 a.m. in the final hours of June’s session. But Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, who worked with Steinburg on the bill, said the language “doesn’t pick a vendor, this says ‘you guys get a consultant and you make the decision.’” The goal of the vendor requirements is to ensure it’s “somebody who’s got a track record,” he added. The prison system is also voicing other concerns about the project, including deadlines that require the new software to be up and running by Oct. 15. Bull called the deadlines “unrealistic and impossible to meet.”

CHARLOTTE'S TREE CANOPY IS THINNING DUE TO DEVELOPMENT: A study by the University of Vermont says Charlotte lost 8% of its tree canopy between 2012 and 2018, The Charlotte Observer reported Friday. The study was done in collaboration with the nonprofit group TreesCharlotte. According to the study, North Carolina's largest city still had 45% of tree canopy in 2018, but it is threatened. The city gained about 2,200 acres of canopy through replantings, but the study also found Charlotte lost nearly 10,000 acres, much of it in large tracts of forest cleared for development. A study by the school commissioned by the city in 2014 characterized Charlotte’s tree canopy at 47% and holding steady despite surging development. The findings make Charlotte's goal of 50% tree canopy by 2050 more difficult to reach, city officials have acknowledged last year will be hard to meet. While the loss of trees is immediate, it takes years for newly planted saplings to grow enough to add to the canopy. Researchers said a more effective strategy would be to preserve trees.

NC BOE ISSUES ORDER TO ENSURE SUFFICIENT EARLY VOTING LOCATIONS, RALPH HISE WHINES: North Carolina Republicans say the change to statewide voting rules is just a partisan ploy to help Democrats, but state officials say it’s necessary to help protect voters against coronavirus. The order came as Democrats have been criticizing the long lines people have had to wait in to vote — especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic — that made national news earlier this summer in Georgia and Wisconsin. “If we do not take these measures, we risk much longer lines at voting sites and greater possibility of the spread of the coronavirus,” state elections director Karen Brinson Bell said in announcing the changes Friday. “These are not acceptable risks in this important election year when we expect turnout to be high.” The order says that every county in North Carolina must have at least one polling place for every 20,000 residents. That’s probably not going to lead to much change in smaller rural areas — which tend to lean conservative — but could force the creation of many additional polling places in urban, more liberal-leaning areas, said Republican Sen. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine.

CIVIL RIGHTS HERO JOHN LEWIS IS TAKEN FROM US BY CANCER: John R. Lewis, a civil rights leader who preached nonviolence while enduring beatings and jailings during seminal front-line confrontations of the 1960s and later spent more than three decades in Congress defending the crucial gains he had helped achieve for people of color, has died. He was 80. His death was announced in statements from his family and from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Advisers to senior Democratic leaders confirmed that he died July 17, but other details were not immediately available. Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer on Dec. 29 and said he planned to continue working amid treatment. “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” he said in a statement. “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.” Mr. Lewis’s final years in the House were marked by personal conflict with President Trump. Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Mr. Lewis said, rendered Trump’s victory “illegitimate.” He boycotted Trump’s inauguration. Later, during the House’s formal debate on whether to proceed with the impeachment process, Mr. Lewis had evinced no doubts: “For some, this vote might be hard,” he said on the House floor in December 2019. “But we have a mandate and a mission to be on the right side of history.”

FEDERAL AGENTS ARE DISAPPEARING PROTESTERS IN PORTLAND: Federal agents dressed in camouflage and tactical gear have taken to the streets of Portland, unleashing tear gas, bloodying protesters and pulling some people into unmarked vans in what Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon has called “a blatant abuse of power.” The extraordinary use of federal force in recent days, billed as an attempt to tamp down persistent unrest and protect government property, has infuriated local leaders who say the agents have stoked tensions. “This is an attack on our democracy,” Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland said. Late Friday night, Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, said her office had opened a criminal investigation into how one protester was injured near a federal courthouse. She also filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court accusing the federal agents of engaging in unlawful tactics and seeking a restraining order. In a statement issued on Friday, Customs and Border Protection described one case captured on video, saying agents who made an arrest had information that indicated a suspect had assaulted federal authorities or damaged property and that they moved him to a safer location for questioning. The statement, which did not name any suspects, said that the agents identified themselves but that their names were not displayed because of “recent doxxing incidents against law enforcement personnel.” The agents in Portland are part of “rapid deployment teams” put together by the Department of Homeland Security after Mr. Trump directed federal agencies to deploy additional personnel to protect statues, monuments and federal property during the continuing unrest.