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Greg Abbott nominates ex-oil executive to chair Utility Commission after fatal blackouts

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday named Peter Lake the new chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission, the public board that regulates the state's power grid operators and saw all three of its members resign in the wake of February's deadly winter storm.

Lake's nomination, which will require Texas Senate approval, came shortly after the Senate Nominations Committee on Monday voted unanimously in favor of accepting Will McAdams' nomination to serve on the PUC board. The full Senate still has to approve the nomination. Abbott appointed McAdams earlier this month and has not yet named his third choice for the commission.

Lake currently serves as chair of the Texas Water Development Board. He worked as the head of business development for Lake Ronel Oil Company and as special projects director for VantageCap Partners, a private investment firm.

"I am confident he will bring a fresh perspective and trustworthy leadership to the PUC," Abbott said in a statement. "Peter's expertise in the Texas energy industry and business management will make him an asset to the agency."

The embattled PUC, which oversees the nonprofit Electric Reliability Council of Texas, came under fire in the days following February's winter storm. State lawmakers, particularly those in the Texas Senate, have taken aim at the commission's decisions during the week of the storm which led to $16 billion in erroneous charges for power retailers, according to an independent market monitor. The PUC decided to keep wholesale energy prices at $9,000 per megawatt-hour — the highest allowed under state law — for 36 hours after forced power outages from the storm had ended.

In response to questions from Senate committee members about whether McAdams agreed with the PUC's actions, he declined to criticize the actions of previous PUC commissioners. But he acknowledged that he doesn't "see myself making that decision with the facts that I have now."

McAdams also voiced support for allowing energy companies that incurred significant costs during the freeze to offset some of the charges through special securitized bonds, a method endorsed by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills. And McAdams repeatedly acquiesced to the authority of state lawmakers, telling the committee that he believes "wholeheartedly in the primacy of the Legislature."

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, called McAdams' nomination "extremely important." McAdams previously served as an aide to a handful of lawmakers, including Schwertner.

"He has extensive and specific knowledge of business and commerce issues, and specifically the regulated industries," Schwertner said.

State Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, stressed McAdams' role in restoring trust in the utility regulator. The previous chair of the commission Arthur D'Andrea, submitted his resignation in March after Texas Monthly reported that he told out-of-state investors on a call he would work to throw "the weight of the commission" behind stopping calls to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the storm.

"I hope that you're looking at yourself as a change agent as you take the PUC on," Miles told McAdams. "I hope that you're not afraid to lead the change with the thought that our consumers are our main priorities."

Disclosure: Texas Monthly has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sues in effort to force Biden administration to deport more people convicted of crimes

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday sued the Biden administration over its new procedures for deporting undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and asked a federal judge to compel the Department of Homeland Security to take them into custody before they are released by local or state law enforcement.

At issue in the suit filed jointly with the state of Louisiana are detainer requests that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sends to state and local law enforcement agencies. The requests inform the agencies that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement intends to take custody of an undocumented person upon completion of their sentence. The detainer asks local law enforcement personnel to hold the person for up to 48 hours so they can be transferred to ICE's custody and begin the deportation process.

Law enforcement agencies are not required by the federal government to comply with a detainer, though a 2017 Texas law mandates state and local authorities to honor such requests. Advocates have questioned the constitutionality of detainers, which ask authorities to hold people after they've completed their sentences. ICE has also erroneously issued detainers for U.S. citizens.

President Joe Biden's acting homeland security secretary in January ordered a review of the agency's immigration enforcement policies and released interim guidance that prioritized the deportation of people who posed a threat to national security, border security and public safety.

A memo released by ICE in February further clarified that guidance. It states that immigration officials should prioritize the deportation of people who have engaged in terrorism, unlawfully entered the U.S. after Nov. 1 or were convicted of an aggravated felony.

The interim guidance "does not require or prohibit the arrest, detention or removal of any noncitizen," wrote Acting ICE Director Tae D. Johnson. But detainers for people who fall outside priority areas are subject to "advance review."

That's a shift from the Trump administration, when anyone in the country illegally was a priority target for deportation. ICE officials said the new guidance is necessary to allocate the agency's limited resources to the most important cases.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union urged the Biden administration to end the detainer requests altogether, saying they insert local authorities into immigration enforcement processes, eroding trust between the police and immigrant communities.

In the suit, Paxton alleged that the Biden administration is "refusing to take custody" of immigrants with criminal records and allowing them to "roam free." In February, the AP reported that ICE had dropped 26 detainer requests in Texas since the new directive took effect. Most people were convicted of drunk driving or drug charges, though ICE had reportedly misapplied the policy when it prepared to drop three requests for people who committed crimes that should've been prioritized. None of the three were ultimately released.

Paxton argues in the lawsuit that ICE has "rescinded dozens of detainer requests" that had been issued to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and is failing to issue new ones for some people subject to deportation. He contends that the Biden administration's guidance narrowly focuses on people convicted of aggravated felonies, such as murder, while neglecting people with drug offenses and those who committed crimes of "moral turpitude." And he alleges that the changes to immigration enforcement would come at an enormous cost to Texas due to the services the state provides to undocumented immigrants. That argument is rebutted by a 2006 study by then-Texas Comptroller Susan Combs found that undocumented immigrants have a net positive financial impact to the state.

Paxton asks the court to declare the federal government's guidance unlawful, prevent ICE from implementing the policy, and award Texas and Louisiana "costs of this action and reasonable attorney's fees."

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

The suit is the latest in a series of legal challenges Paxton has brought against the Biden administration since January. Paxton previously sued Biden over a 100-day deportation moratorium, alleging the moratorium is unconstitutional and violates an agreement between DSH and Texas. A federal judge in February effectively blocked the ban on deportations from taking effect.

Paxton has also sued over Biden's decision to cancel permits for the Keystone XL pipeline and over new restrictions placed on drilling on public lands.

Texas' Greg Abbott has been quietly courting Facebook while publicly shaming them -- here's why

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott blasted the actions of Facebook as "un-American [and] un-Texan," accusing it and other social media giants of spearheading a "dangerous movement to silence conservative voices."

"The First Amendment is under assault by these social media companies, and that will not be tolerated in Texas," Abbott said.

At the same time, his office was working quietly with the company with the hope that it will soon build a second data center in the state, according to documents provided to The Texas Tribune by the Tech Transparency Project, a technology research arm of the nonprofit watchdog group Campaign for Accountability.

That contrast in public and private messaging highlights the dissonance with which some Texas GOP leaders approach the tech industry. Abbott and other state officials have engaged in a coordinated line of attack against the companies, publicly lambasting them and pushing for laws to address what they perceive as liberal biases. At the same time, state leaders have privately courted them and publicly bragged about the thousands of jobs they have created here.

Broad details of the behind-the-scenes courting of Facebook are included in a letter from a lawyer representing the company.

Earlier this year, the Tech Transparency Project filed an open records request that sought communications between Abbott's office and employees of certain technology companies, including Facebook. Instead of releasing the records, Abbott's office asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to intervene on Facebook's behalf, according to a letter obtained through a records request from the attorney general's office.

The letter, by Justin Hoover, an attorney at the law firm Winstead PC who is representing Facebook, argued that the release of more than 100 pages of communications between the social media company and the governor's office would expose confidential information including:

  • The fact that Facebook is considering Texas as a site for its data center
  • The project codename for the data center
  • The name of the subsidiary that will purchase land for the data center
  • The names of Facebook employees working on the project
  • The nondisclosure agreement between Abbott's office and Facebook

Spokespeople for Abbott and Facebook did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The letter states that Texas is "one of several states being considered" by Facebook for the data center and that the company has been "engaged in preliminary discussions" with Abbott's Economic Development and Tourism office about "possible site locations and related economic incentives." Discussions with Texas officials began in August, the letter said, and it will likely be at least a year before the company selects a site.

Hoover wrote that withholding the information is "paramount to the ability of the State of Texas to remain in consideration" for the data center.

Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project, said in a statement that it's "entirely likely" that an agreement between Texas and Facebook would "end up being a raw deal for Texas taxpayers."

"A similar data center in Tennessee granted Facebook $19.5 million in tax incentives for a project that would only create 100 new jobs," Paul said. "If Facebook throws its weight around in Texas in the same way it did in Tennessee, it's no wonder that both the company and the governor's office are trying to keep their negotiations under wraps."

If a deal were inked, it would be Facebook's second data center in Texas. Construction on a $1.5 billion Fort Worth location began in 2015 and is expected to be completed in 2022. The facility employs about 150 people.

The city of Fort Worth at the time approved a lucrative incentive package for Facebook, which included a 20-year, $147 million tax-exemption deal on real and business personal property taxes, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. The company committed to creating at least 40 jobs with average annual salaries of $70,000.

Abbott attended the facility's groundbreaking in 2015, touting his efforts to bring Facebook to Texas and declaring that the facility would create an "even more robust and diverse economy."

"Make no mistake, this project does far more than just create jobs and add capital to the region," Abbott said. "It is a magnet that high-tech companies are welcome to the state."

Abbott has long boasted that the "Silicon Hills" of Texas are a low-tax, business friendly alternative to the expensive tech-mecca of Silicon Valley in California, while also bashing Austin as a bastion of liberalism for policies such as diverting police funds to other community services.

Texas has won over major corporations. Software giant Oracle announced in December that it was moving its headquarters from California to Austin. Other tech companies with offices in the Austin area include Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Dell and Intel. Even Elon Musk, the CEO of electric car company Tesla, recently announced a high-profile exit from the Golden State for Texas.

Meanwhile, Paxton is ensnared in litigation with a number of technology companies. In December, Paxton joined 47 attorneys general and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in filing an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook. The suit accused the organization of monopolizing the market for social networking services. Paxton is also leading a separate, multi-state lawsuit against Google, alleging the search giant conspired with Facebook to manipulate online advertisement sales.

And in January, after former President Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for inciting violence during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Paxton announced an investigation into Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Web Services and Apple. He is seeking information about the companies' content moderation policies and practices. Paxton also requested information related to Parler, a social networking site used by the far right. Google and Apple booted the app from their app stores, and Amazon Web Services said it would no longer provide web hosting services.

Paxton's office did not respond to requests for comment.

The revelation that Abbott is courting Facebook comes as the Texas Legislature is pushing a proposal to punish social media companies for "canceling conservative speech." State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is championing Senate Bill 12 — a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that would prohibit social media companies with at least 100 million monthly users from blocking, banning, demonetizing or discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas. The state Senate approved the proposal last week by an 18-13 vote, but it has not had a hearing in the Texas House.

The measure would apply to anyone who lives in, does business in or even has social media followers in Texas. It would also require the companies to disclose their content moderation policies, publish quarterly reports about the content they remove and create an appeals process for user content that has been taken down.

The Texas attorney general would be allowed to file suit against any company that violates a provision of the bill. If upheld in court, the attorney general could recoup "reasonable" attorneys fees and investigative costs.

Spokespeople for Hughes and Patrick did not respond to multiple emails seeking comment.

Abbott joined Hughes at a news conference last month in Tyler to throw his support behind the measure, and singled out Facebook by name.

"What Facebook and Twitter are doing: they are controlling the flow of information — and sometimes denying the flow of information," Abbott said at the time. "Texas is taking a stand against Big Tech political censorship. We're not going to allow it in the Lone Star State."

Disclosure: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Apple, Dell, Facebook and Google have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Texas Senate gives initial approval to bill to stop social media companies from banning Texans for political views

The Texas Senate on Tuesday gave initial approval to a measure that would prohibit social media companies with at least 100 million monthly users from blocking, banning, demonetizing or discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.

Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, was approved on second reading by a vote of 18-13. The measure, which would apply to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others, would also require the companies to disclose their content moderation policies, publish regular reports about the content they remove and create an appeals process for user content that has been taken down.

The Texas attorney general would be allowed to file suit against any company that violates a provision of the bill. If upheld in court, the attorney general could recoup "reasonable" attorney's fees and investigative costs.

Experts have raised doubts about the legality of the measure. Hughes acknowledged that, if signed into law, SB 12 would almost certainly be challenged in court. He repeatedly referred to social media platforms as common carriers, though they have never been classified as such by law or in the court system. Common carriers, such as phone companies and cable providers, are private or public companies that transport goods or people and are barred by government regulators from discriminating against customers.

"Even though they're private actors, because they are common carriers, because they chose to enter this business and offer their services, then they are bound by certain rules," Hughes said.

Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to requests for comment. In remarks before Congress last week, company executives denied removing content or blocking users based on their viewpoints.

The bill will require one more vote from the Senate, an action that is usually just a formality after it is passed on second reading. Then it will head to the House, where two identical bills have been filed but so far have not moved forward in the State Affairs Committee.

During Tuesday's debate on the bill, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, pointed out that while Facebook and Twitter would be included under the measure, websites such as Parler and Gab, which are popular among conservatives, would be left out because they have fewer than 100 million monthly users. He proposed an amendment that would have lowered the threshold to 25 million monthly users, but it was voted down by a vote of 21-10.

Hughes stressed that the measure seeks to protect all viewpoints. But at a press conference earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his support for the measure and chided social media companies for leading a "dangerous movement" to "silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs."

The rhetoric about silencing conservatives ramped up following the 2020 election, when platforms including Facebook and Twitter removed former President Donald Trump's account for inciting violence during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Prior to that, the platforms attached warnings to posts by Trump and other conservatives who were, without evidence, sowing doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

Republican politicians have long targeted technology giants — accusing them of an anti-conservative bias and for silencing free speech, even though the actions to ban members were often in response to credible evidence that communications were inciting violence. A February report by researchers at New York University found that "there are no credible studies showing that Twitter removes tweets for ideological reasons."

In a congressional hearing last October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers that "Democrats often say that we don't remove enough content, and Republicans often say we remove too much."

"The fact that both sides criticize us doesn't mean that we're getting this right, but it does mean there are real disagreements about where the limits of online speech should be," he said.

Twitter in January purged more than 70,000 accounts linked to the dangerous conspiracy theorist group QAnon for the movement's connection to the U.S. Capitol attack.

Hughes in 2019 filed a similar measure that won Senate approval, but it ultimately died in committee in the Texas House.

At least 111 people died in Texas during winter storm, most from hypothermia

At least 111 Texans died as a result of last month's winter storm, according to updated numbers released Thursday by the state Department of State Health Services.

The newly revised number is nearly twice what the department had estimated last week, and will likely continue to grow. Some of Texas' larger counties, such as Tarrant County, have yet to report any storm-related deaths.

The majority of people died from hypothermia, but health officials also attributed deaths to motor vehicle wrecks, "carbon monoxide poisoning, medical equipment failure, exacerbation of chronic illness, lack of home oxygen, falls and fire."

Among those who lost their lives in the frigid weather was an 11-year-old boy in the Houston area who died in his home as temperatures dropped into the single digits. In San Antonio, a man froze to death outside his house after he likely fell on his way to a dialysis appointment. And in Abilene, a man reportedly froze to death in his reclining chair.

Harris County reported 31 storm-related deaths, the largest share in the state. Travis County followed with nine deaths.

Health officials will continue to update their preliminary findings weekly.

According to DSHS, the data is compiled from forms that certify deaths are related to a disaster, notification from death certifiers and analyses of death certificates from state epidemiologists.

February's winter storm blanketed large swaths of Texas in snow and ice and left millions without power or clean water for days in below-freezing temperatures.

The issues laid bare by the freeze have taken center stage at the Texas Legislature. A Texas Senate committee on Thursday advanced a wide-ranging bill that would, among other things, mandate that power and natural gas companies upgrade their facilities to withstand severe weather. It would also create a statewide emergency alert system for future large-scale power outages.

Meanwhile, executives at billionaire Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Energy have been lobbying Texas lawmakers to support an $8 billion plan to build 10 new natural gas power plants that would provide energy during peak consumption hours when demand is highest. The company wants lawmakers to create a revenue stream to Berkshire through an additional charge on Texans' power bills.

Texas' last Public Utility Commission member resigns at Gov. Greg Abbott's request

Public Utility Commission Chair Arthur D'Andrea, the only remaining member of the three-seat board that regulates Texas utilities, is resigning from his post, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday night.

Abbott said in a statement that he asked for and accepted D'Andrea's resignation and plans to name "a replacement in the coming days who will have the responsibility of charting a new and fresh course for the agency." D'Andrea's resignation will be effective immediately upon the appointment of a successor, according to a copy of D'Andrea's resignation letter that was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

He is the latest in a long line of officials who have left the PUC or the Electric Reliability Council of Texas since last month's deadly winter storm plunged large swaths of Texas into subfreezing temperatures and overwhelmed the state's electricity infrastructure, causing massive power outages. At least 57 people died in Texas as a result of the storm — most of them from hypothermia — according to preliminary data the state health department released Monday.

The reason for D'Andrea's resignation was not immediately clear late Tuesday. It came hours after Texas Monthly reported that he told out-of-state investors on a call he would work to throw "the weight of the commission" behind stopping calls to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the storm. The cost of electricity last month has emerged as a hot-button issue in this year's legislative session after an independent market monitor estimated that the electric grid operator overbilled power companies around the time of the storm.

On Monday, the Texas Senate suspended its own rules to quickly pass a bill to force the PUC to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the winter storm. D'Andrea has publicly resisted such calls.

The PUC regulates the state's electric, telecommunication and water and sewer utilities. D'Andrea was promoted to chair by Abbott less than two weeks ago to replace the chair at the time, DeAnn Walker, who resigned at the beginning of the month over fallout related to the winter storm. The other commissioner, Shelly Botkin, resigned a week after Walker.

According to a recording of the call obtained by Texas Monthly, D'Andrea at one point said he expected to remain the sole member of the commission for now, adding he did not think Abbott would want to appoint new commissioners during the legislative session since the Senate would have to confirm appointees.

"I went from being on a very hot seat to having one of the safest jobs in Texas," D'Andrea said during the call. "I think it's just going to be me for a while."

A spokesperson for the commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer by trade, D'Andrea previously served as assistant general counsel to Abbott.

Until last month, the PUC operated largely outside of the limelight. Though the agency held regular public meetings, they were usually sparsely attended and often featured arcane policy discussions that could last for six to eight hours.

D'Andrea has fielded criticism over the repricing debate at the Legislature — and was grilled by Lt. Gov Dan Patrick himself during a Senate hearing Thursday, a highly unusual move by the head of the Texas Senate.

The next day, a spokesperson for Abbott said the governor "absolutely" still remained confident in D'Andrea's ability to chair the commission. Hours later Friday, Patrick called on Abbott to "intercede" and replace D'Andrea.

"Texans deserve to have trust and confidence in the Public Utility Commission, and this action is one of many steps that will be taken to achieve that goal," Abbott said Tuesday night.

Several bills have been filed in the aftermath of the power outages, yet there's no clear understanding of who's at fault and no consensus on what should be done. And beyond Austin, congressional subcommittees have launched their own investigations into February's events and into the state's electric grid operator.

At the height of the power crisis, nearly 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses were without power. That's because nearly half of the total power generation capacity for the main state electricity grid was offline as weather conditions caused failures in every type of power source: natural gas, coal, wind and nuclear.

The PUC is one of the state's smaller agencies, with about 170 full-time employees. By contrast, the Texas Railroad Commission — the state's oil and natural gas regulator — employs about five times as many people.

Under normal circumstances, the utility regulator is helmed by a three-person board, each of whom is appointed by the governor and subject to approval by the Texas Senate. Commissioners have small teams of advisers and are bound by a strict set of laws laid out in the Public Utility Regulatory Act, or PURA. So much as a stray hallway conversation is a violation of open meeting requirements.

During a PUC meeting last week, as the last remaining commissioner, D'Andrea heard more than 20 minutes of public testimony, soared through the agenda and even voted on a couple of items. It lasted fewer than 45 minutes.

This is not the first time the PUC served with one commissioner. In 2001, Max Yzaguirre served on the commission alone after Pat Wood's term expired and Judy Walsh resigned. PURA, the agency's governing law, states that "a vacancy or disqualification does not prevent the remaining commissioner or commissioners from exercising the powers of the commission."

The PUC is scheduled to meet again Thursday.

Clarification, March 17, 2021: The original headline of this story implied that Arthur D'Andrea's resignation was effective immediately, based off of Gov. Greg Abbott's statement. After the initial version of this story was published, The Texas Tribune obtained a copy of D'Andrea's resignation letter, which said his departure would not be effective until Abbott appointed a replacement.

Gov. Greg Abbott backs bill to stop social media companies from banning Texans for political views

Decrying "a dangerous movement" to "silence conservative ideas [and] religious beliefs," Gov. Greg Abbott touted a bill Friday that aims to crack down on the perceived censorship of conservative voices by social media companies.

"They are controlling the flow of information — and sometimes denying the flow of information," the Republican governor said at a press conference in Tyler. "And they are being in the position where they're choosing which viewpoints are going to be allowed to be presented. Texas is taking a stand against big tech political censorship. We're not going to allow it in the Lone Star State."

Abbott was joined by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is sponsoring the measure and who chairs the powerful Senate State Affairs Committee. Hughes said the bill would give Texans the right to restore their accounts when they're "mistreated."

"We have a handful of billionaires in San Francisco that run these tech companies," Hughes said. "It doesn't make them the gatekeeper of free speech. But that's what they want to be."

Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.

It would apply to anyone who lives in, does business in or has social media followers in Texas. Under the proposal, a person who feels they've been wrongly barred from a platform can file a claim in court. The Texas attorney general can also bring a claim on a person's behalf. If a social media company fails to comply, the bill stipulates that the court can impose "daily penalties sufficient to secure immediate compliance."

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has identified the bill as one of his 31 priorities for this legislative session. Hughes filed a similar bill in 2019 that won Senate approval, but died in committee in the state House.

Facebook, Twitter and Google, which owns YouTube , did not respond to requests for comment.

TechNet, an industry association, said removing content restrictions could open the way for children to be exposed to "harmful content of ill-intended users online."

"This bill not only recklessly encourages companies to leave objectionable content in the public eye, but also creates a culture that supports frivolous lawsuits against American companies," said Servando Esparza, the group's executive director of Texas and the Southwest, in a statement.

Hughes said that his legislation would only apply to political and religious speech.

"We're not talking about lewd, lascivious obscenity or anything like that," Hughes said.

The rhetoric about silencing conservatives ramped up following the 2020 election, when platforms including Facebook and Twitter removed former President Donald Trump's account for inciting violence during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection.

Republican politicians have long targeted technology giants — accusing them of an anti-conservative bias and for silencing free speech, even though the actions to ban members were often in response to credible evidence that communications were inciting violence.

Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement, "If they were truly concerned about posts inciting violence, then accounts for people like Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Nicolas Maduro would've been banned years ago."

In January, Twitter banned an account that some in Iran believed to be linked to Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Associated Press reported, though his official account is still active. Nicolas Maduro in 2017 slammed Twitter as an "expression of fascism" after the platform suspended a handful of accounts linked to the Venezuelan president. And in January 2020, Twitter suspended more than a dozen accounts linked to Maduro and Venezuela's armed forces, according to Bloomberg.

Experts point out that the First Amendment — which protects free speech — only prohibits government censorship. That leaves private companies to choose their own protocols.

"From a First Amendment perspective, social media companies are private actors and aren't subject to the First Amendment," Scot Powe, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Texas Tribune in January. "So it's a matter of constitutional law. They can be as biased as they want in any direction they choose."

Twitter in January purged more than 70,000 accounts linked to the dangerous conspiracy theorist group QAnon for the movement's connection to the U.S. Capitol attack. Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist who often espouses violent and sometimes racist views, has been kicked off Facebook, Twitter and Spotify, among others. And Twitter in February permanently booted MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a fierce Trump ally who continually spread false claims about election fraud.

Closer to home, state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, had his Twitter account temporarily suspended in September 2019 when he tweeted "My AR is ready for you" at then-Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke.

Cain's tweet was in response to O'Rourke's calls for a mandatory gun buyback program.

"Texans who feel they have been unfairly targeted by these companies should be able to use our judicial system," Cain said in a statement Friday. "No one is above the law. These companies should not benefit by receiving any tax dollars through government contracts."

Twitter in September 2020 took aim at Democrat candidate Elizabeth Hernandez, who was challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady for his U.S. House seat. The platform forced her to remove a tweet that violated its rules against voter suppression because it encouraged people to tell Trump supporters to vote on the wrong day.

Technology companies are also facing scrutiny from Congress — from both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans in recent weeks have set their sights on reforming or repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The provision shields technology companies from liability for content users post on their platforms.

In a congressional hearing last October, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told lawmakers that "Democrats often say that we don't remove enough content, and Republicans often say we remove too much."

"The fact that both sides criticize us doesn't mean that we're getting this right, but it does mean there are real disagreements about where the limits of online speech should be," he said.

Abbott on Friday argued that the provision does not protect companies against lawsuits that could be brought under SB 12. Instead, he said it "wires around" Section 230.

"We are making sure that these companies will be forced to comply with Sen. Hughes' bill to ensure the Texans' conservative speech will not be canceled," Abbott said.

Abbott's office filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court that argued that states have the right to protect free speech, Hughes said.

Both President Joe Biden and his predecessor have expressed support for overhauling Section 230. Trump called for its complete repeal, as have a number of lawmakers within his party.

Three Democratic U.S. senators, meanwhile, have filed a bill that would overhaul the provision. Under the SAFE TECH Act, users could sue social media companies for content on their platforms that is threatening, harassing, discriminatory or otherwise abusive.

The state bill comes as Texas politicians, including Abbott, have tried to entice technology companies to relocate to the state from the pricey tech-hub Silicon Valley in California. Elon Musk, the CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors, recently announced he was relocating to the state. Software company Oracle in December said it was moving its headquarters from California to Austin.

SB 12 is scheduled for its first hearing before the State Affairs Committee on Monday.

Disclosure: Facebook and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Gov. Greg Abbott allows only limited COVID-19 restrictions for Texas' worst hot spots -- local leaders say it's not enough

By mid-November, hospitals in Lubbock were stretched thin as cases of COVID-19 spread quickly and widely throughout the West Texas community. A large number of new cases had erupted among young people who continued to flock to bars and restaurants in the college town.

"There are several steps that can be taken now that, as an enforceable mandate, would slow the avalanche descending on our local hospitals," area doctors, nurses and other health care workers wrote in a petition to Gov. Greg Abbott, in which they pleaded for harsher restrictions.

That same day, at a press conference on Texas Tech University's campus in Lubbock, Abbott declared that "statewide, there will not be another shutdown."

Abbott blamed local officials for failing to enforce existing restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate he put in place in July, and occupancy reductions for businesses and mandated bar closures that are triggered when the proportion of a region's COVID-19 patients exceeds 15% of hospital capacity for seven days.

"Just getting more tools won't mean anything," he said. "They need to be enforcing the protocols in place right now."

But three months after Abbott announced the 15% rule, a Texas Tribune analysis of state data shows that in regions with the worst outbreaks, including El Paso, Amarillo and Lubbock, the restrictions have done little to ease an overburdened health care system.

A number of local leaders — almost all Democrats — say that even with rigorous enforcement, the protocols have done little to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is continuing to surge across the state. More than 10,000 people in Texas were hospitalized with the virus as of Monday for the first time since July, and there were fewer than 800 available intensive care beds, a near record low.

Though the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in Texas last week marked a historic milestone in the battle against the virus, it will be months before vaccine doses are widely available.

And many local elected officials say they're handicapped by an executive order that blocks them from using more restrictive measures than those in place statewide.

"It's an unfortunate reality because the virus doesn't respond to politics," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. "It only responds to following the best medical advice from the medical experts."

Jenkins, like other local officials including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, said he wants more latitude to set his own guidelines, such as closing indoor dining and limiting in-person gatherings. Without aggressive action, he said, the virus will continue to spread.

"I'm confident that those [state] restrictions alone will not bring the virus under control," Jenkins said.

Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze disagreed. "The proven course of action is to enforce the existing protocols," she said in a written statement. "That strategy was effective in slowing the spread over the summer and containing COVID-19, while allowing businesses to safely operate. The protocols work, but only if they are enforced."

Restrictions show little effect

Texas' 254 counties are divided among 22 regional bodies known as trauma service areas. Once one of them exceeds the 15% benchmark for seven consecutive days, according to an October executive order, area bars must close in counties where officials had allowed them to reopen, restaurants must scale back capacity from 75% to 50% and hospitals must halt non-emergency surgical procedures.

Abbott had ordered businesses to close during the first wave of infections in the spring. The shutdown eased overloaded hospitals and new cases of COVID-19 plummeted. But Abbott quickly lifted the order amid fierce blowback from Republicans who felt he had overstepped his authority. Cases spiked again in the summer, then plateaued.

Abbott announced the 15% threshold as part of a September order that allowed restaurants to open at 75% capacity, and he explained that it would be triggered if COVID-19 patients made up 15% of "all hospitalized patients'' in a region. But in October he changed the metric to 15% of "total hospital capacity" — or total beds. The change effectively moved the goalposts, requiring more COVID-19 patients to trigger the restrictions in a given area.

The October order also allowed bars, which had been closed statewide since late June, to reopen in counties where officials opted in. Counties that did so included two that would later become COVID-19 hot spots: Randall, home to part of Amarillo, and Lubbock.

Dr. Brian Weis, chief medical officer at Northwest Texas Healthcare System, told Amarillo city officials in October that many Texas hospitals have additional beds to respond to COVID-19 surges, but often lack the personnel to staff them.

"By using that number, that overestimates our capacity to handle COVID-19 patients," he said.

Tiffany Radcliff, professor and associate dean for research at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said that even a trauma service area that's below the governor's 15% threshold "could still be struggling with new admissions for COVID-19 if there are not enough available ICU beds or trained staff to care for patients who need intensive care resources."

As of Tuesday, 10 TSAs containing more than 100 counties had crossed the 15% threshold, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.The additional restrictions have done little to free up hospital capacity in all but one of them, data shows.

For example, in Trauma Service Area T, which includes the border town of Laredo, the proportion of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has steadily grown since it first crossed the 15% threshold on Nov. 14. On Monday, the region reported 14 available intensive care beds, and more than a third of available hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. That number has exceeded 24% for more than a month.

In Trauma Service Area A, home to a number of Panhandle communities including Amarillo, Abbott's restrictions took effect on Oct. 24. In the two months since, the percentage of COVID-19 patients has largely remained above 30%, though it fell to 25% on Monday. At one point, COVID-19 patients occupied two out of every five beds. Just nine intensive care beds were available on Monday for the 25-county region.

The COVID-19 situation improved in at least one region where the enhanced restrictions took effect: the one that contains the neighboring cities of Odessa and Midland. After crossing the threshold on Nov. 17, the area remained above the 15% threshold for a couple of weeks, but has since consistently remained below the benchmark — meaning businesses can again scale up capacity.

A balancing act

The trauma service area that includes the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the most populous in the state currently subject to the enhanced restrictions. Since the region crossed the 15% threshold on Nov. 25, cases of COVID-19 have continued to grow, stoking fear among health officials that North Texas' medical infrastructure will be pushed to its limits headed into another potentially catastrophic holiday season.

The Dallas County health department reported 33 available intensive care beds on Sunday for the county's 2.6 million residents. And Tarrant County on Sunday reported a record 1,078 people in area hospitals with COVID-19.

Dallas County did not allow bars to reopen in October, while neighboring Tarrant County did.

Jenkins, the Dallas County judge, said the enforcement of Abbott's order is a balancing act between county and city officials and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which regulates the state's bars. In practice, county health officials often work in tandem with local governments to educate businesses about occupancy and mask regulations, while city code compliance officers regulate businesses within each of the county's myriad cities.

City of Dallas officers have found nearly 23,000 infractions since early April and issued more than 6,100 notices of violation. A city spokesperson said businesses with reported violations have been very cooperative. In all, inspectors have issued just 37 citations.

Jenkins said most Dallas County businesses are likewise adhering to Abbott's restrictions. Those that "are not acting in good faith," Jenkins said, are mostly bars and nightclubs.

A state loophole allowed these businesses to reopen under the promise that they convert themselves into restaurants. But many county officials, including Jenkins, said bars are openly flouting guidelines and the TABC is not enforcing the rules.

Chris Porter, a TABC spokesperson, said agents have conducted more than 26,000 inspections statewide since June 26 and found about 700 instances of noncompliance. About 200 of those led to a 30-day liquor license suspension, he said.

"TABC has been conducting inspections across the state and our agents are monitoring compliance to ensure bars and restaurants are following the governor's COVID-19 executive orders," Porter said in a statement. "What we've found is that the majority of businesses — more than 97% — are committed to operating safely and have taken thorough steps to ensure the health of their customers and employees."

TABC dispatched about 20 additional agents to both the El Paso and Lubbock regions, Porter said, to assist local officials with enforcement.

But even the added personnel isn't enough to monitor county bars that are operating under the state loophole or are not complying with mandated closures, said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaneigo, who did not allow bars to reopen in October. The region has remained above the 15% threshold since Oct. 12, and the additional restrictions have done little to ease the burden on a health care system that has been pushed to the brink for months.

In late October, citing a need for more aggressive action, Samaneigo ordered all nonessential businesses to close for 14 days. Local business owners and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued, arguing that Samaneigo was acting outside his authority.

By the time a state appeals court struck down the shutdown order on Nov. 13, it had been in effect for 14 days. New cases and hospitalizations have since fallen from their November peaks, though 490 people were hospitalized and the county reported more than 35,700 active infections on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Eze, Abbott's spokesperson, pointed to El Paso as evidence that the governor's restrictions are effective at curbing the spread of the virus. But Samaniego credits the progress to his stay-at-home order.

"I think we proved that we did help the spread because, whether I was allowed to, I actually did the 14 days," Samaneigo said. "I really believe that the numbers aren't going as high as other places because of our curfew and our shutdown."

"There's no teeth"

The few tools left for local officials, who are barred from imposing measures more restrictive than those in place at the state level, can be difficult to enforce, Samaneigo said.

A statewide mask mandate remains in effect, but authorities can issue fines for disobeying the mandate only on the second documented offense. Fines for violating reduced capacity restrictions or closure requirements are capped at $1,000 and scofflaws cannot be jailed.

In most cases, local officials said they focus on educating wrongdoers instead of punishing them.

"Our practice is to work with businesses," said Dillon Meek, the mayor of Waco, where advanced restrictions first took effect on Nov. 29, after McLennan County Judge Scott Felton had allowed bars to reopen in October. "We issue a warning first, before we issue a citation. It's generally a productive means."

Since the start of the pandemic in late March, Meek said the city's enforcement team has issued 316 warnings and 30 citations.

In Lubbock, lines of often maskless people still flow from the city's bars and restaurants, said Dr. Ron Cook, the city's health authority. Restrictions under Abbott's order have been in place since Oct. 25. Meanwhile, the city reported 245 people hospitalized with the virus on Sunday, down from a peak of 360 in late November but still enough to concern local health officials.

"Masking is required — the problem is it isn't an enforceable mandate," Cook said. "There's no teeth behind the mandate."

In a state as large and diverse as Texas, Cook said local governments need the power to respond to mounting cases as they see fit. Cook and other health experts warned, despite the start of the vaccine rollout, COVID-19 remains a dire threat and large holiday gatherings could prove devastating.

"We're still pedaling and treading water and doing everything we can to take care of our patients," Cook said.

Chris Essig contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Gov. Greg Abbott allows only limited COVID-19 restrictions for Texas' worst hot spots

By mid-November, hospitals in Lubbock were stretched thin as cases of COVID-19 spread quickly and widely throughout the West Texas community. A large number of new cases had erupted among young people who continued to flock to bars and restaurants in the college town.

"There are several steps that can be taken now that, as an enforceable mandate, would slow the avalanche descending on our local hospitals," area doctors, nurses and other health care workers wrote in a petition to Gov. Greg Abbott, in which they pleaded for harsher restrictions.

That same day, at a press conference on Texas Tech University's campus in Lubbock, Abbott declared that "statewide, there will not be another shutdown."

Abbott blamed local officials for failing to enforce existing restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate he put in place in July, and occupancy reductions for businesses and mandated bar closures that are triggered when the proportion of a region's COVID-19 patients exceeds 15% of hospital capacity for seven days.

"Just getting more tools won't mean anything," he said. "They need to be enforcing the protocols in place right now."

But three months after Abbott announced the 15% rule, a Texas Tribune analysis of state data shows that in regions with the worst outbreaks, including El Paso, Amarillo and Lubbock, the restrictions have done little to ease an overburdened health care system.

A number of local leaders — almost all Democrats — say that even with rigorous enforcement, the protocols have done little to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is continuing to surge across the state. More than 10,000 people in Texas were hospitalized with the virus as of Monday for the first time since July, and there were fewer than 800 available intensive care beds, a near record low.

Though the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine in Texas last week marked a historic milestone in the battle against the virus, it will be months before vaccine doses are widely available.

And many local elected officials say they're handicapped by an executive order that blocks them from using more restrictive measures than those in place statewide.

"It's an unfortunate reality because the virus doesn't respond to politics," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said. "It only responds to following the best medical advice from the medical experts."

Jenkins, like other local officials including Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, said he wants more latitude to set his own guidelines, such as closing indoor dining and limiting in-person gatherings. Without aggressive action, he said, the virus will continue to spread.

"I'm confident that those [state] restrictions alone will not bring the virus under control," Jenkins said.

Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze disagreed. "The proven course of action is to enforce the existing protocols," she said in a written statement. "That strategy was effective in slowing the spread over the summer and containing COVID-19, while allowing businesses to safely operate. The protocols work, but only if they are enforced."

Restrictions show little effect

Texas' 254 counties are divided among 22 regional bodies known as trauma service areas. Once one of them exceeds the 15% benchmark for seven consecutive days, according to an October executive order, area bars must close in counties where officials had allowed them to reopen, restaurants must scale back capacity from 75% to 50% and hospitals must halt non-emergency surgical procedures.

Abbott had ordered businesses to close during the first wave of infections in the spring. The shutdown eased overloaded hospitals and new cases of COVID-19 plummeted. But Abbott quickly lifted the order amid fierce blowback from Republicans who felt he had overstepped his authority. Cases spiked again in the summer, then plateaued.

Abbott announced the 15% threshold as part of a September order that allowed restaurants to open at 75% capacity, and he explained that it would be triggered if COVID-19 patients made up 15% of "all hospitalized patients'' in a region. But in October he changed the metric to 15% of "total hospital capacity" — or total beds. The change effectively moved the goalposts, requiring more COVID-19 patients to trigger the restrictions in a given area.

The October order also allowed bars, which had been closed statewide since late June, to reopen in counties where officials opted in. Counties that did so included two that would later become COVID-19 hot spots: Randall, home to part of Amarillo, and Lubbock.

Dr. Brian Weis, chief medical officer at Northwest Texas Healthcare System, told Amarillo city officials in October that many Texas hospitals have additional beds to respond to COVID-19 surges, but often lack the personnel to staff them.

"By using that number, that overestimates our capacity to handle COVID-19 patients," he said.

Tiffany Radcliff, professor and associate dean for research at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said that even a trauma service area that's below the governor's 15% threshold "could still be struggling with new admissions for COVID-19 if there are not enough available ICU beds or trained staff to care for patients who need intensive care resources."

As of Tuesday, 10 TSAs containing more than 100 counties had crossed the 15% threshold, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The additional restrictions have done little to free up hospital capacity in all but one of them, data shows.

For example, in Trauma Service Area T, which includes the border town of Laredo, the proportion of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has steadily grown since it first crossed the 15% threshold on Nov. 14. On Monday, the region reported 14 available intensive care beds, and more than a third of available hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. That number has exceeded 24% for more than a month.

In Trauma Service Area A, home to a number of Panhandle communities including Amarillo, Abbott's restrictions took effect on Oct. 24. In the two months since, the percentage of COVID-19 patients has largely remained above 30%, though it fell to 25% on Monday. At one point, COVID-19 patients occupied two out of every five beds. Just nine intensive care beds were available on Monday for the 25-county region.

The COVID-19 situation improved in at least one region where the enhanced restrictions took effect: the one that contains the neighboring cities of Odessa and Midland. After crossing the threshold on Nov. 17, the area remained above the 15% threshold for a couple of weeks, but has since consistently remained below the benchmark — meaning businesses can again scale up capacity.

A balancing act

The trauma service area that includes the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the most populous in the state currently subject to the enhanced restrictions. Since the region crossed the 15% threshold on Nov. 25, cases of COVID-19 have continued to grow, stoking fear among health officials that North Texas' medical infrastructure will be pushed to its limits headed into another potentially catastrophic holiday season.

The Dallas County health department reported 33 available intensive care beds on Sunday for the county's 2.6 million residents. And Tarrant County on Sunday reported a record 1,078 people in area hospitals with COVID-19.

Dallas County did not allow bars to reopen in October, while neighboring Tarrant County did.

Jenkins, the Dallas County judge, said the enforcement of Abbott's order is a balancing act between county and city officials and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which regulates the state's bars. In practice, county health officials often work in tandem with local governments to educate businesses about occupancy and mask regulations, while city code compliance officers regulate businesses within each of the county's myriad cities.

City of Dallas officers have found nearly 23,000 infractions since early April and issued more than 6,100 notices of violation. A city spokesperson said businesses with reported violations have been very cooperative. In all, inspectors have issued just 37 citations.

Jenkins said most Dallas County businesses are likewise adhering to Abbott's restrictions. Those that "are not acting in good faith," Jenkins said, are mostly bars and nightclubs.

A state loophole allowed these businesses to reopen under the promise that they convert themselves into restaurants. But many county officials, including Jenkins, said bars are openly flouting guidelines and the TABC is not enforcing the rules.

Chris Porter, a TABC spokesperson, said agents have conducted more than 26,000 inspections statewide since June 26 and found about 700 instances of noncompliance. About 200 of those led to a 30-day liquor license suspension, he said.

"TABC has been conducting inspections across the state and our agents are monitoring compliance to ensure bars and restaurants are following the governor's COVID-19 executive orders," Porter said in a statement. "What we've found is that the majority of businesses — more than 97% — are committed to operating safely and have taken thorough steps to ensure the health of their customers and employees."

TABC dispatched about 20 additional agents to both the El Paso and Lubbock regions, Porter said, to assist local officials with enforcement.

But even the added personnel isn't enough to monitor county bars that are operating under the state loophole or are not complying with mandated closures, said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaneigo, who did not allow bars to reopen in October. The region has remained above the 15% threshold since Oct. 12, and the additional restrictions have done little to ease the burden on a health care system that has been pushed to the brink for months.

In late October, citing a need for more aggressive action, Samaneigo ordered all nonessential businesses to close for 14 days. Local business owners and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued, arguing that Samaneigo was acting outside his authority.

By the time a state appeals court struck down the shutdown order on Nov. 13, it had been in effect for 14 days. New cases and hospitalizations have since fallen from their November peaks, though 490 people were hospitalized and the county reported more than 35,700 active infections on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Eze, Abbott's spokesperson, pointed to El Paso as evidence that the governor's restrictions are effective at curbing the spread of the virus. But Samaniego credits the progress to his stay-at-home order.

"I think we proved that we did help the spread because, whether I was allowed to, I actually did the 14 days," Samaneigo said. "I really believe that the numbers aren't going as high as other places because of our curfew and our shutdown."

"There's no teeth"

The few tools left for local officials, who are barred from imposing measures more restrictive than those in place at the state level, can be difficult to enforce, Samaneigo said.

A statewide mask mandate remains in effect, but authorities can issue fines for disobeying the mandate only on the second documented offense. Fines for violating reduced capacity restrictions or closure requirements are capped at $1,000 and scofflaws cannot be jailed.

In most cases, local officials said they focus on educating wrongdoers instead of punishing them.

"Our practice is to work with businesses," said Dillon Meek, the mayor of Waco, where advanced restrictions first took effect on Nov. 29, after McLennan County Judge Scott Felton had allowed bars to reopen in October. "We issue a warning first, before we issue a citation. It's generally a productive means."

Since the start of the pandemic in late March, Meek said the city's enforcement team has issued 316 warnings and 30 citations.

In Lubbock, lines of often maskless people still flow from the city's bars and restaurants, said Dr. Ron Cook, the city's health authority. Restrictions under Abbott's order have been in place since Oct. 25. Meanwhile, the city reported 245 people hospitalized with the virus on Sunday, down from a peak of 360 in late November but still enough to concern local health officials.

"Masking is required — the problem is it isn't an enforceable mandate," Cook said. "There's no teeth behind the mandate."

In a state as large and diverse as Texas, Cook said local governments need the power to respond to mounting cases as they see fit. Cook and other health experts warned, despite the start of the vaccine rollout, COVID-19 remains a dire threat and large holiday gatherings could prove devastating.

"We're still pedaling and treading water and doing everything we can to take care of our patients," Cook said.

Chris Essig contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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