By Alex Samuels, Cassandra Pollock, Patrick Svitek
The 2021 session of the Texas Legislature will commence Tuesday under pervasive uncertainty.
Lawmakers have been waiting for months to see how it will be conducted safely as the coronavirus pandemic rages.
And after a pro-Donald Trump mob rushed into the U.S. Capitol last week, leaving five people dead and leading to dozens of arrests, some Texas lawmakers are on edge about the potential for unrest in Austin. The Texas Department of Public Safety is deploying additional resources and personnel to the state Capitol, and Gov. Greg Abbott promised Monday that DPS will "continue to remain on top of" safety at the building.
Meanwhile, three clear top priorities have emerged for the agenda: the budget, redistricting and the pandemic. But it remains to be seen how much space — or political appetite — there will be for more polarizing proposals, especially among Republicans coming off a successful November election.
Given all that, here are the five things to watch as the session kicks off:
State legislatures across the country are looking for ways to conduct their business in spite of restrictions on indoor gatherings because of the coronavirus.
Already, two Texas House Democrats — Michelle Beckley of Carrollton and Ana-Maria Ramos of Richardson — have said they will not attend the opening day of the legislative session, calling the gathering of 150 House members a "superspreader event."
For Tuesday, the Texas House and Senate have put in precautions for members and invited guests in each chamber; it's unclear if leadership will relax such measures if the vaccine becomes more readily available.
In a last-minute change, the Department of Public Safety announced Monday that anyone who wants to enter the Capitol will be required to take a coronavirus test.
Beyond opening day, State Rep. Dade Phelan has asked a group of lawmakers to make recommendations and solicit input from members on what changes should be made to the chamber's rules. The Senate, meanwhile, has been more tight-lipped on what precautions will be in place during the legislative session.
Since the Capitol closed in mid-March, both Democrats and Republicans from each chamber have raised questions about the accessibility of the legislative process. State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, asked the attorney general to weigh in on whether the Legislature has the power to close the Capitol and whether members could debate or vote on legislation from outside the chamber.
Some disability right's advocates, meanwhile, have raised concerns about the uncertain rules on testifying in committee hearings remotely and have expressed hesitancy about going to the Capitol in person.
Tackling the state's current two-year budget — and writing the next one — will be one of the largest items on the Legislature's plate, though lawmakers received better-than-expected news Monday when Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar unveiled the biennial revenue estimate.
On top of that, the Legislature will also need to redraw the state's political maps, which is often a polarizing and draining process for lawmakers.
Lawmakers will also have to respond to the ongoing pandemic and address other policy issues that have been focal points throughout the pandemic, such as public education funding and health care. In 2019, the Legislature overhauled the state's school finance system, infusing $6.5 billion more into public schools and roughly $5.1 billion to lower Texans' property tax bills. State leaders have already said the Legislature will remain committed to continuing to fund those massive investments, regardless of the tough economic forecast.
Beyond that, debates over police funding and reforms following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody, are expected to play a central role during the legislative session.
The Texas Legislative Black Caucus has already unveiled the George Floyd Act, a sweeping reform proposal that would, among other things, ban chokeholds across the state and address qualified immunity, which shields government officials from litigation. Meanwhile, Abbott has said he is considering a measure that would put the state in charge of policing a large area of Austin, including the Texas Capitol and the University of Texas at Austin — a move that came during a political fight against the capital city over its decision to trim its police budget.
After some Republicans argued that Abbott overstepped his authority over responding to the pandemic, proposals at the Legislature were filed to curb the emergency powers of a governor during a declared disaster. The more conservative faction of the GOP is also expected to again push a bill that would ban cities and local governments from using taxpayer dollars to lobby the state government after the measure failed during the 2019 session.
Lawmakers from both parties may also push election-related matters after fights over voter access and ballot integrity largely defined the lead up to the November presidential election.
And yearslong conversations over new revenue sources — such as legalizing casinos or marijuana — have also seemed to get a renewed focus, though it's unclear how seriously lawmakers will consider such options after Hegar's news Monday with a better-than-expected economic picture heading into session.
A new speaker
One of the House's first orders of business Tuesday will be to formally elect Phelan as speaker. Phelan, who has served in the lower chamber since 2015, announced he had the votes to win the gavel in the hours after Election Day, after Republicans maintained control of the House.
He's described among colleagues as a straight-shooter who's familiar with the legislative process and the policies at play, and who intends to lead the chamber by letting the members drive its business.
Beyond the budget and redistricting, Phelan said during an interview Monday with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith that public health issues that the pandemic has "put a highlighter" on what will be a focus this session, such as expanding telemedicine and telehealth and "improving rural health care options for Texans."
GOP family fights
Texas Republicans are beginning the session two months after a November election in which they beat expectations up and down the ballot, including holding on to their majority in the state House. Emboldened by the election results, will there be a renewed appetite among the most conservative in the party for hot-button issues, or will the Legislature continue on the middle-of-the-road policy path it stuck to for the 2019 session?
Early indications are that the Big Three — Abbott, Patrick and Phelan — are not spoiling for much intraparty conflict this session. That seems especially true with the trio of must-do issues already topping the legislative agenda: the budget, redistricting and responding to the pandemic.
Still, there is potential for some GOP family fights. Texas GOP Chairman Allen West plans to make an aggressive push for the party's eight legislative priorities, which include election integrity, the abolition of abortion and constitutional carry, or licenseless carry of firearms. Some of the priorities enjoy broad GOP support, others not as much.
Rallying support for the priorities Saturday outside the Capitol, West told Republicans he was preparing them for an "ideological battlefield" and that they needed to pressure lawmakers "so that you can become a powerful force and let people know in that building that they work for you, that you don't work for them."
West himself has been a critic of Abbott's coronavirus decisions, and the former Florida congressman is already being discussed as a possible challenger to the governor.
To that end, the 2022 primary season could also loom large over Republicans this session. Most statewide officials are up for reelection, including Abbott and Patrick, and their agendas could reflect how they would like to position themselves for March 2022.
One issue that could impact whether the GOP engages in such a fight is whether it holds onto its complete control of the Senate.
Right now, Senate rules require 19 members, or three-fifths of the body, to vote to bring legislation to the floor. With the reelection defeat of Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, there are only 18 Republicans in the chamber.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, however, has announced his intention to lower the threshold to align with the size of the GOP majority — a move that effectively strips Senate Democrats of the one tool they have to block legislation they unanimously oppose.
Patrick doesn't have unilateral control of the Senate threshold's fate. Such a change requires a simple majority — 16 senators — to go into effect. It's not immediately clear how many Republican senators are in favor of such a move, while some Democrats have already denounced Patrick's latest procedural proposal.
To be clear, this isn't the first time Patrick oversaw a decrease in the threshold. During his first session as lieutenant governor in 2015, the Senate dropped the threshold from two-thirds, or 21 members, to three-fifths, or 19 members. At that time, there were 20 Republican senators.
More on the legislative session:
Just weeks after music fest Austin City Limits, Austin will be host to another global event as the Circuit of the Americas hosts Formula 1's United States Grand Prix race for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
The weekend-long fest will have events stretching from Friday, Oct. 29 through Sunday, Oct. 31 for North America's premier Formula 1 race.
With three days of races, parades and more, it can be hard to know what to expect for an event that COTA chairman Bobby Epstein said would be "the biggest event on the planet this year."
Don't miss a beat:
But have no fear. Here's Austonia's complete guide to make sure your trip to the U.S. Grand Prix is out of this world:
What to bring
While some may have bought tickets just for the big race, others are planning for a three-day fest of constant outdoor activity. For the foreigners and out-of-towners, October weather in Austin may not be quite what you expect—many joke that a Texas "fall" is near-nonexistent. Check the weather often to see what's in store.
Our prediction is that shorts or flowy pants/skirts, a short-sleeve shirt and a light jacket may suffice. If it looks like rain is on the horizon, don't forget a poncho and/or small umbrella as there isn't much coverage from the elements once you're there.
Regardless of weather, it's a safe bet to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and some bug spray as well. Other not-so-typical items to pack in your bag—which should be smaller than 12x12x20 inches—include earplugs for the big race, binoculars and your phone camera to capture those Ferraris at full-speed.
Depending on your seats, don't forget a folding chair, and to pack a sealed plastic water bottle if you can—it's the only type of food or drink that's permitted on the property.
Keep all tents/canopies, coolers and large umbrellas at home. Check out more on what not to bring here.
Make sure you've got your tickets and you're all set!
trying to get from your parking spot to your seat 15 minutes before the race starts pic.twitter.com/2ly2DDcUVU— Circuit of The Americas (@COTA) February 8, 2021
COTA's notorious parking can be a doozy—F1 1 fan Kevin Andrew said he's spent two and a half hours in line for the venue's sprawling paved and grass lots.
If you're of the impatient sort, it may be smart to look for some early-bird treatment even before gates open at 7 a.m. Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday and 6:25 a.m. Sunday. Show up well before your first desired event starts, especially on Sunday.
For those looking to beat the crowd and keep some change, shuttles will pick up from five locations around the city for $15 a day. An additional Park-N-Ride lot, Lot Q, will also allow guests to drop their cars off and take the shuttle to COTA. Click here for shuttle information.
Additional transportation amenities include a drop-off spot for limos, taxis and rideshare apps. Bicyclists will have access to showers in the GEICO Premium RV Lot.
Food, music and more
COTA will become a "World Fair"-esque fest full of local eats, live music and out-of-the-ordinary activities as part of the U.S. Grand Prix. (Circuit of the Americas)
Once you've entered those gates, the actual event will be a lot to take in. Anywhere from 300-350K people are expected to attend the big race, and fans are more excited than ever after nearly two years with no F1 in North America.
But just as fun as the big race—at least for more casual viewers—are the many attractions leading up to it.
Some highlights include performances from Twenty One Pilots and Billy Joel on Friday and Saturday, respectively, two races for the all-women's racing championship W Series and junior championship FIA Formula 4, NASCAR demos and a driver's parade on Sunday just before the race.
This is also a chance for Austin to entertain guests from far and wide—like a "World's Fair," as Andrews put it—and COTA will ensure that Austin remains on the map.
The "Live Music Capital of the World" will earn its rep with over 20 concerts across multiple stages on Saturday and Sunday. Highlights include Kool and the Gang and 15 Austin ensembles including The Ghost Wolves, Mobley and three-time Best of Austin winner DJ Chorizo Funk.
That Austin flair is well-represented in cuisine as well—expect over 30 dining options including local favorites Bao'd Up, Easy Tiger, Amy's Ice Cream and Tiny Pies scattered across the grounds. Check out the Taste of Texas section for local eats, the Biergarten for Bavarian beer, food and polka dancing, Lone Star Land for Austin's classic Chicken Shit Bingo and line dancing, and La Cantina for some Tex-Mex and a Selena tribute.
Still not satisfied? COTA's Onederland claims to host the best F1 General Admission lawn in the world and is packed with more than just amusement park rides. Expect the annual SPAMARAMA (yes, a Spam-themed festival,) axe throwing, the Major League Eating Championship and plenty of performers on stilts. Don't forget to ink a COTA-themed tattoo with an on-site tattoo artist as well.
Formula 1—a breakdown
New to Formula 1? You're not alone—the sport has exploded in popularity in North America after gaining recognition from Netflix series "Drive To Survive." With a new track set to open in Miami, that growth will only continue.
Here's what you need to know to get caught up:
Formula 1 vehicles are arguably the fastest road-racing cars in the world. The open-wheeled single-seaters can reach top speeds around 215 miles per hour and all adhere to a "formula" set by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.
Formula 1 is the top formula racing league in the world and consists of 20 drivers across 10 teams who compete in venues across North and South America, Central Asia and its native continent, Europe. F1 has existed in some form for over 70 years and features races on closed city streets as well as purpose-built racetracks like COTA.
The league is massively popular in Europe but has seen intermittent success in North America. The U.S. Grand Prix was first held in 1908 and flip-flopped across 10 different locales for 49 appearances over the next century, last spending seven years in Indianapolis from 2000-2007 before making a home in Austin in 2012.
This U.S. Grand Prix will be its 50th race and will be the 17th race of the season.
The Big Race—Hamilton v. Verstappen
Defending champion Lewis Hamilton is in for some stiff competition from a young Max Verstappen as they fight for the F1 Championship. (Mercedes-AFG Petronas F1 Team/Twitter) (Red Bull Racing/Twitter)
The league's 20 drivers have crisscrossed across the map through the season, adapting to locales across four continents with vastly different terrains. But one factor has remained constant—standouts Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have rarely left the leaderboard.
Just six points differentiate the two-star drivers with over a dozen races in—a margin low enough that the true winner may not be evident until the very end. With 262.5 points, Dutchman Verstappen holds the slight lead over Great Britain's Hamilton and both have over 1.5X the points of the next runner-up, Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton and Bottas make up Team Mercedes, the No.1 team in the league, while Verstappen and fifth-place Sergio Perez constitute second-place team Red Bull Racing Honda.
The evenly matched team, evenly-matched cars and neck-and-neck standings have brought forth a fan-fueled rivalry that F1 hasn't seen for quite some time.
This U.S. Grand Prix, much like the rest of the season, will be a testament of old vs. new. A 36-year-old Hamilton has taken home seven F1 championships, including a four-year dominance in the sport from 2017-2020, and has won on U.S. turf at COTA five times. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Verstappen was once the youngest F1 driver and youngest Grand Prix race winner ever and has since finished third for two consecutive years.
The heated rivalry has culminated in three dangerous crashes throughout the season, including one at the Italian Grand Prix Sept. 13. Grand Prix Drivers' Association chairman Alex Wurz said it is "very likely" that they will again.
That next crash site may or may not be at COTA, but the U.S. Grand Prix will still see the two titans clash once more as the season nears its end. Expect either or both to end at the top of the leaderboard, and make sure to bring up either name to a committed fan if you're looking for some sideline banter.
Other racers to look out for include Bottas as a likely third-place contender and some mid-race fun from Perez and fourth-place rival Lando Norris.
For a full weekend schedule click here. Happy COTA days!
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With two weeks of rest, a dream team lineup and nearly 20 scoring attempts in the match, Austin FC could have come away with a three-match home win streak against Minnesota United on Saturday.
Instead, missed opportunities and an equally boisterous opponent forced Austin to leave Q2 with a 1-0 loss to Minnesota.
Austin FC brought what appeared to be their strongest lineup to date to the pitch after their two-week break, including breakout stars Sebastian Driussi and Moussa Djitte. But even with dozens of shots between the two teams, the home team couldn't find their footing in the back-and-forth match.
After landing a brace in the team's 2-1 win against Real Salt Lake, Austin's Cecilio Dominguez struck first in the match with a shot on goal in the eighth minute of play. The scoring attempt opened the floodgates—in just three minutes, teammates Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi would follow suit with their own looks at goal.
Just seconds later, Minnesota bounced back with a shot that forced Austin keeper Brad Stuver to jump for his first save, but a bad sendoff from the Verde and Black left Stuver unable to block another as the Loons' Franco Fragapone scored from close range in the 16th minute.
Despite a wide array of scoring attempts—from Djitte's blocked high-fliers to Tomas Pochettino's many near misses—Minnesota would stay on top for the remainder of the match.
A few flops from Minnesota, including a poorly-acted fall from the Loons' Emmanuel Arriaga (which was unrewarded and resulted in an Arriaga yellow card) and a controversial foul given to Moussa Djitte as he nearly made a solo drive to goal added to Austin's woes.
The Verde and Black's final attempt came as Austin center back Julio Cascante placed a close-range header in the final seconds of regulation, but the home team was unable to capitalize on their many attempts.
Both teams shared over 30 shots in the match, with Austin making eight shots on target. Austin FC held over 65% possession and received 12 fouls to Minnesota's nine.
It could soon be impossible for Austin FC to reach the playoffs, but Verde fans still have two chances to catch their team at home. Austin's first season will wrap up with five final matches, including a 4 p.m. Sunday game against the Houston Dynamo on October 24 and an 8 p.m. Wednesday match against Sporting KC on Nov. 4.
Here's a live blog of the match:
80' Austin makes first subs
With just over 10 minutes left in regulation ,Austin FC made some late-game subs, swapping Diego Fagundez for Austinite McKinze Gaines and Sebastian Driussi for forward Jon Gallagher. Both have a history of clutch performances for the team: Gaines scored just 10 minutes in to his first match of the game back in September, while Gallagher was Austin's first scorer at Q2 Stadium.
It's looking more like a draw at best for Austin as the time continues to tick down on the match.
61' Djitte loses chance after controversial call
In the 61st minute of a less-cohesive half for Austin, Moussa Djitte found himself alone near the goal with a good chance at making the home team's first goal. But referees had another ideas, making another controversial call on the Senegalese striker.Refs stopped Djitte's menacing drive after Minnesota's Michael Boxall appeared to flop in a run-in with the striker, curbing Djitte's attempt to boos from the crowd. It's Djitte's second foul of the night and the team's ninth foul in the match. Both clubs host a yellow card, with center back Julio Cascante holding the home team's sole warning call. Minnesota's Emmanuel Reynoso holds the away team's yellow after an obvious flop that left him rolling on the ground for minutes, waiting on a call.
Blown whistles for both sides have slowed the match's tempo and left both clubs reeling as Austin looks for its first goal.
At the half: Austin still can't finish
45' still left to play. pic.twitter.com/39J1XnvvOc— Austin FC (@AustinFC) October 17, 2021
With minutes-long shooting sprees and more shots on goal than Minnesota, Austin could easily have the lead in the match. But each crowd-raising attempt has still been slightly skewed as the home team ends the half with nothing on the board.
In just 45 minutes, both Austin and Minnesota have reached the double-digits in scoring attempts, but Minnesota's ability to infiltrate Austin's penalty box has given them the leg up in the match. The Loons have sometimes found themselves nearly alone alarmingly close to goal, and they've capitalized on their chances with a 16thb minute goal by Franco Fragapane.
Austin FC, however, has not. The club has seen close calls from Dominguez and Driussi, headers from Djitte and near-misses from Tomas Pochettino, but missed opportunities and a few strokes of bad luck have left them scoreless. The team will need to shake their age-old scoring issues if they hope to get back into tonight's game.
16' Minnesota nabs 1-0 lead
Austin may have struck first, but Minnesota won the first points on the board as Franco Fragapane got one past keeper Brad Stuver from a close range in the 16th minute to make it 1-0. The Loons tested Stuver just as Austin did Miller, making two anxiety-inducing shots before Fragapane struck gold.
This goalie-vs.-goalie match has already seen three shots on goal from each team and a relatively quiet midfield as each team dukes it out in the box.
11' Austin tests Minnesota first
Austin FC has taken no time to threaten goal. In a three-minute span, the home team has racked up three shots, two of which are on goal, as the ball bounces between Austin attackers but can't quite find the net.
Dominguez strikes first as he looks to find his third goal in three matches in the eights minute, but Minnesota's Tyler Miller fights back with a clutch save. Djitte then tests Miller just seconds later, while Driussi takes a final shot from farther back that just misses the top left corner.
Austin's Fagundez and Pochettino were the playmakers of the three-minute shooting spree, but the club still came out scoreless. Minnesota soon rebounded with a shot of their own that was blocked by keeper Brad Stuver.
This may be Austin FC's most popular lineup— even the crankiest fans are commending the strong starting XI on Twitter. Tonight's starters are the same as in their win against Salt Lake.
New standouts Moussa Djitte and Sebastian Driussi are in alongside double-scorer Cecilio Dominguez up front, while fan favorite Diego Fagundez, Captain Alex Ring and Designated Player Tomas Pochettino take the midfield.
With Matt Besler still out on concussion protocol, Zan Kolmanic, Jhohan Romana and Julio Cascante take the back along with Hector Jimenez, who is in for right back Nick Lima. As (almost) always, Brad Stuver holds it down in goal.
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An Austin-based program manager for Apple Maps and one of two leaders for the #AppleToo activist movement said she has been fired after a suspension.
According to the New York Times, Janneke Parrish said she was put on suspension for several days while the company investigated her activities before she was fired by a human resources employee via phone call on Thursday.
Parrish was under investigation for allegedly leaking a recording of an Apple staff meeting to the media, which she said she didn't do.
The report said the company told Parrish, who is 30, that she was being fired for having deleted files off her company-issued phone and computer before handing them in for examination. Parrish said the files she deleted contained her personal and financial information.
Among the files she deleted were the Robinhood app, which she said was to keep Apple from seeing "how much money I lost investing in GameStop," the Pokemon Go app and screenshots of programming bugs she was fixing.
Parrish said she believes Apple was retaliating against her efforts in organizing #AppleToo, a group of employees working to expose the company's "culture of secrecy" that has been "faced disproportionately by our Black, Indigenous, and other colleagues from minoritized racial, gender and historically marginalized groups of people."
Parrish had been publishing weekly accounts of workplace problems that had been shared anonymously with her from other employees, though she did not verify employment on all of them. The accounts she received were in the hundreds, so Parrish said she was hopeful her termination would lead to some justice within the company.
Employees at tech giants have been more outspoken than usual in recent months—with former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaking out against her former employer—and Parrish said the company's desire to keep under wraps has eroded trust by discouraging employees to come forward with issues like harassment or wage disparity.
Apple spokesman Josh Rosenstock commented on the matter: "We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters."
Additionally, the email detailing her termination, which was obtained by the New York Times, said Apple had determined that Parrish "engaged in conduct in violation of Apple policies including, but not limited to, interfering with an investigation by deleting files on your company provided equipment after being specifically instructed not to do so."
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