State of Texas: State fights fines in lawsuit over foster care children

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A federal appeals court agreed to temporarily excuse Texas from paying $100,000 per day over failures in the state’s foster care system.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack found Texas in contempt of court for violating two of her previous orders in the longstanding lawsuit.

Attorneys representing Gov. Greg Abbott and leadership at the Health and Human Services Commission and the Department of Family and Protective Services then asked for a stay, arguing their clients “have worked tirelessly to safeguard the welfare of the children in their care” and to comply with the court’s orders. The 5th Circuit appeals court granted their request.

Jack has criticized the state’s handling of the system in various hearings over the years — particularly over the number of children without placement, known as CWOP: kids who were sleeping in hotels, rentals, and at one point, state office buildings.

Houston-based human rights advocate Dr. Candice Matthews provided KXAN with a first-hand account from a child who described living in one of the state’s unlicensed placements with broken walls and a lack of food.

“They don’t give us nothing. Rotten food, molded food in the fridge,” they said.

Matthews said she and other advocates visited two CWOP locations in Austin on Friday, April 5. She showed KXAN pictures of an empty refrigerator she said were taken that day, as well as a video interview with a child living at one of these locations.

“What really got us was when you actually put your eyes on it,” she said.

Matthews said she was contacted by at least 30 children who had spent time recently in CWOP locations.

In 2011, a federal lawsuit was filed against the state of Texas over the treatment of children in its care, and Judge Jack found the system unconstitutional — saying children regularly left the system more damaged than when they entered.

The description mirrors similar conditions in several rental facilities in Bell County that were pictured in a report filed last fall by the court-appointed monitors in the federal lawsuit.

“What the videos show are the living quarters of active youth and their CPS caseworkers. As the videos also selectively show, multiple caseworkers and DFPS employees are assigned to each CWOP location, with groceries, snacks, and meals provided by CPS. For example, in one of the videos, a caseworker is heard commenting on a pending HEB grocery delivery. All are checked for food and cleanliness by CPS staff,” said a spokesperson for the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in a statement.

Monday’s order marks the judge’s third contempt finding against the state and focuses on how HHSC investigates complaints of abuse and neglect.

The state, however, continues to point to its progress and the “extraordinary measures” taken to comply with the judge’s orders so far. In February, it asked the court for relief in the case, arguing it was 90% compliant with at least a dozen of the judge’s remedial orders.

DFPS told KXAN that as of Monday, April 8, there were 15 children without placement counted across the state, the lowest number since 2021.

The appeals court gave the attorneys representing the children in the case until Monday, April 22 to file a response. After that, the state’s attorneys have until Wednesday, April 24 to reply.

Finance reports show Allred outpacing Cruz in campaign cash

Dallas Congressman Colin Allred raised more than $9.5 million in this year’s first quarter, outraising U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the race for his seat.

This year, Cruz has raised $6.9 million in the first quarter, according to new filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

Allred is also surpassing the numbers Beto O’Rourke was bringing in at this stage of his campaign in 2018 when the El Paso Democrat ran the most competitive statewide campaign for his party in decades. During the first quarter of 2018, O’Rourke raised over $6.7 million in his race against Cruz but ultimately lost.

“He had the most money of anybody running for Senate that year. And he spent it down to near zero. And he still came up short,” said Brian Smith, a politics professor at St. Edward’s University.

During the entire cycle, O’Rourke raised more than $80 million, setting records for fundraising in a senate race. His fundraising skyrocketed months before the general election in 2018, raising more than $38.1 million in the third quarter — a record-breaking amount for a senate campaign.

O’Rourke spent almost all of that money, ending with $477,000 in the bank and a 3-point defeat by Cruz.

“You have to spend a ton of money simply because the great size of the state, traveling around the state is not free,” Smith said. “And the number of voters who vote is a lot, but the number of voters who don’t vote is an equal amount. Trying to motivate those people is going to cost a lot of money.”

In a statement, Cruz campaign spokesperson Nick Maddux said Texas’ junior senator is off to a “very strong start” in fundraising.

“His quarter-one fundraising numbers reflect Texans’ urgency for victory as Democrats threaten to strip away our common-sense way of life,” Maddux said. “Senator Cruz will continue to pound the pavement day in and day out, meeting and talking to Texans in every corner of the state to Keep Texas, Texas, and ensure that we remain the nation’s bastion of liberty.”

Allred supporters acknowledge that O’Rourke helped create excitement for national Democrats about the prospect of finally winning a statewide office in Texas, but say Allred has secured confidence from donors.

Matt Angle — founder of the Lone Star Project, a PAC devoted to electing Texas Democrats — believes Allred has established himself as someone who can beat Cruz. Angle and his PAC have contributed to the Dallas Democrat’s campaign for senate.

“In Texas, the first hurdle you have to overcome is confidence with donors that you’ve got a chance to win,” he said.

Angle said part of his confidence in the campaign comes from Allred’s 2018 race when he successfully beat out a longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions.

“I think that Colin has reestablished that momentum I think that went away a little bit in 2022, when Beto underperformed,” Angle said. “And I think if Collin’s building on any fundraising success, it’s his own when he ran and won a Republican seat for Congress in 2018. So I think you’ve got to give Colin credit for doing this.”

Allred has raised nearly $30 million since his launched his campaign in May 2023. Those come from $27.9 million since launching his campaign last May, with the average donation totaling $34.75 coming from 285,000 unique contributions.

Cruz had over 179,000 individual contributions this past quarter, averaging $35.73 per donation. Across multiple fundraising operations, like his own PAC, he has over $15.1 million in cash on hand.

With few competitive senate races nationally this cycle, political analysts say states like Texas are obvious choices for national donors.

“Spending money in Texas is a wise investment because spending it elsewhere isn’t going to matter,” Smith said.

CHIPS Act brings billions for Samsung’s semiconductor plant in Taylor

Samsung will receive up to $6.4 billion in federal funding for its semiconductor manufacturing plant in Taylor, as part of Congress’ $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act meant to bolster American semiconductor manufacturing.

At the Samsung plant in Taylor Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the investment surrounded by leaders from the Korean company and a bipartisan pair of Texas congressmen.

“This investment will quite literally transform Central Texas,” Raimondo said. “It’s going to support a comprehensive, diverse, leading-edge manufacturing ecosystem here in Central Texas.”

Semiconductors, also known as chips, are materials essential to electronic devices. They power everything from computers to cars and military operations systems.

The Biden administration said Samsung and the U.S. Department of Commerce reached a preliminary agreement about the grant from the CHIPS Act, and that Samsung is expected to invest more than $40 billion in the region in the coming years. This investment is expected to generate 21,500 jobs.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin — who co-authored the CHIPS Act with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas — said this major investment in semiconductor production in the United States will be paramount in America’s ability to remain competitive globally.

“I can’t tell you what a big step forward this is, in terms of independence and the fact it’s made in America. It’s great for the economy and business,” McCaul told Nexstar. “I compare it to the Manhattan Project after World War II. What we’re doing today will make a difference in the great world competition that we have, particularly with China.”

Related: Wall Street Journal: Samsung to increase semiconductor investment in Taylor to $44B

In 2021, Samsung announced that it would be investing $17 billion to create a chipmaking plant in Taylor. The facility will be nearly 11 million square feet across almost 1,300 acres, a major footprint in the city of just 17,000 people — but it’s impact will reverberate worldwide.

Rep. McCaul and Sen. John Cornyn led the CHIPS Act through Congress after COVID threatened U.S. access to chips, identifying a need to to boost domestic manufacturing of the technology. McCaul said the industry is concentrated in Taiwan, which is under threat of invasion by China.

“If that ever occurred, they would either own or break this national security asset,” McCaul said. “We have to be more self-reliant on this critical national security asset.”

The CHIPS Act allocated more than $50 billion to build similar facilities nationwide.

New psychological report calls for more protections for kids on social media

The American Psychological Association (APA) is calling on social media platforms to create “special protections” to help offset the negative effects of social media usage for children and teenagers.

A new study from the APA found people under the age of 25 have more vulnerabilities that social media companies may take advantage of. This includes responses to social feedback, relationship skills, malicious actors and the need for sleep.

“Platforms built for adults are not inherently suitable for youth,” the study says. “Social media use, functionality, and permissions/consenting should be tailored to youths’ developmental capabilities.”

State Rep. Shelby Slawson, R-Stephenville — who authored and passed the SCOPE Act during the last legislative session — said parents cannot bear all of the responsibility when it comes to oversight of social media for kids.

“Our children’s attention span is a commodity for these platforms. And they, unfortunately, have a financial incentive to maximize that attention span,” she said. “I think we’ve seen clearly that if government doesn’t try to intervene on the behalf of our children, the industry isn’t inclined to do anything outside of what serves a profit motive.”

The SCOPE Act, which stands for “Securing Children Online through Parental Empowerment Act” goes into effect in September. It aims to protect minors from potentially harmful content on social media platforms. It gives parents and guardians more tools for shielding their kids from “addictive algorithms” and prevents social media companies from collecting private information about minors.

“We have a population of citizens who are not mature enough — intellectually, emotionally, developmentally — to handle some of some of the effects that social media has created,” Slawson said.

According to APA, children and teenagers lack a strong ability to control impulses, which often leads to “infinitive scroll,” and distraction.

“The lack of time limits on social media use similarly is challenging for youth, particularly during the school day or at times when they should be doing homework,” the report says.

Difficulty to put screens away can lead to a lack of sleep, which researchers say has greater developmental consequences. It cited using social media too late at night as “the predominant reason” teens get less than the recommended amount of sleep.

The report calls on lawmakers and social media companies to change platform features and policies. `

Brooke Shannon, an Austin mother of three, decided not to allow her kids to have smartphones until at least eighth grade. She and her husband only just allowed their oldest to get social media, and they use parental controls to only allow 30 minutes of usage on one app each day.

“A lot of parents will say, ‘Well, aren’t you worried about your kids being left out?'” she said. “And it’s so ironic to me because when we say yes to social media, we’re giving them a device that showing them in a million ways how they’re being left out.”

It’s why Shannon founded “Wait Until 8th,” an organization that encourages other parents to take a pledge to do the same.

“Somewhere between third and sixth grade, the peer pressure is on and people start caving. And that was why so many kids had phones,” she said. “But what if we came together and said, ‘we’re not going to do this together.’ Would that make a difference? And that was how the pledge started.”

Shannon said there are a variety of ways parents can make sure their children stay safe online. Their website offers this six-step “game plan” for parents:

  1. Disable your child’s ability to download and delete apps from the app store in the settings of your child’s phone. Learn how to disable app downloading and deleting here.

  2. research the app before allowing your child on the field.

  3. Adhere to the age recommendation provided in the app review.

  4. Talk to your child about the app’s potential challenges and risks. Discuss how your team will keep the app in check.

  5. Start with one app at a time. New players to social media especially need to demonstrate maturity before downloading additional platforms. Granting access to Snapchat and Instagram at the same time will be too much for you and your player.

  6. Monitor how your child is using the app. Don’t hesitate to suspend the app if your child is struggling with it. Enlist Bark if you need help monitoring texts, email, YouTube, and 24+ social media platforms for signs of potential issues.

She also encourages parents to get “dummy” smartphones if they want easy ways to communicate with their kids but without all of the capabilities of calling and texting anyone, as well as downloading social media apps.

“You don’t need to get them a fancy iPhone for them to be able to call you when they’re done with soccer,” she said.

Shannon applauds legislative efforts like Slawson’s but believes more reforms need to be passed. The Republican representative said she is eager to see what the House speaker outlines for interim charges while Texas lawmakers are not in session but said she is interested in expanding on protections for children online.

In his list of interim charges for the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he wants senators to monitor the implementation of Slawson’s legislation, as well as continue looking into “unfair trade practices” by certain digital services and devices, and consider the “use and transfer of electronic devices” to students in Texas public schools.

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