AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A state lawmaker calls it a state of emergency: renters going without air conditioning in this brutal heat, sometimes for several days.

Thelma Reyes recently went days without air conditioning. It was so bad, even her macaw, Precious, was feeling it.

“She was panting a lot. Her mouth was open,” Reyes said. “It’s not good. We’re dying of heat in here.”

Reyes contacted management at her apartment, Mueller Flats in east Austin.

“They sent out a maintenance man and he was busy out in the apartment complex fixing seven other air conditioners,” Reyes recalled.

The problem persisted for five days and Reyes documented the discomfort. She has pictures and videos of her thermostat showing how hot it got in her apartment.

Thermostat in Reyes' home (Courtesy Thelma Reyes)
Thermostat in Reyes’ home (Courtesy Thelma Reyes)

“It was above 90,” she said.

KXAN Investigates contacted Mueller Flats several times by calling, emailing and visiting the management office and are still waiting on a response.

Mueller Flats is already on the Austin Code Department’s repeat offender list, which happens when a property doesn’t correct violations within an allotted time or has multiple violations or citations.

Reyes reported her experience to the city and kept calling management.

“I called every day — ‘so now what? What are we going to do? How’s it going? Who’s going to come?'” she said.

Reyes is not an isolated case. The Austin Tenants Council said it gets, on average, five calls a day from local renters complaining of no AC. This month it received around 60 complaints so far.

Finally with the help of her daughter, Reyes contacted her state representative, Sheryl Cole (D-Austin). Cole’s office reached out to the apartment complex. Reyes’ air is working again.

While Cole said she’s glad to help, “They shouldn’t have to do that. They should not have to contact me to get something done.”

KXAN Investigator Mike Rush asked the state representative, “What is the solution? What can be done on the state level to fix this?”

KXAN Investigator Mike Rush and Texas State Rep. Sheryl Cole (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
KXAN Investigator Mike Rush and Texas State Rep. Sheryl Cole (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

“Well, we’d have to file a bill,” Cole said. “We don’t have penalties for failure to abide by the property code provisions. There are Texas Property Code laws that show this is a violation of that but there are no penalties.”

Rep. Cole said she plans to file legislation calling for penalties at the start of the next legislative session which begins in January 2023. It’s all with the aim of protecting those like Reyes and so many other renters.

“I want something done,” Reyes said. “I mean people can’t be like that. They have to have a heart.”

‘Texas will be the real big beneficiary’: Rep. McCaul touts benefits of semiconductor bill

A bill designed to encourage more semiconductor companies to build chip plants in the United States passed the U.S. House on Thursday, and now awaits President Biden’s signature.

The $280 billion measure includes federal grants and tax breaks for companies that construct their chip facilities in the U.S. The legislation also directs Congress to significantly increase spending on high-tech research programs that lawmakers say will help the country stay economically competitive in the decades ahead.

Texas Congressman Michael McCaul authored the original bill back in 2020. He said that the legislation is essential for American consumers, businesses and national security.

“The problem is also in our most advanced national security weapons systems. We can’t build those because we don’t have the chips,” McCaul said. “That’s pretty scary when the United States of America has a shortage of weapon systems because of chips.”

The bill provides more than $52 billion in grants and other incentives for the semiconductor industry as well as a 25% tax credit for those companies that invest in chip plants in the U.S.

McCaul believes that Texas will see benefits from those incentives.

“This will result in trillions of dollars of investment in manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and Texas will be the real big beneficiary of the bill itself,” McCaul said. He pointed to expansion plans from companies like Samsung, Micron, Intel, and Texas Instruments within the state.

Critics of the bill have called this a case of taxpayers funding projects that tech firms have already committed to move forward. Criticism came from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sent a statement after voting no, writing “when the federal government simply gives billions of taxpayer dollars directly to massive corporations, it invites cronyism and corruption.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) similarly called the bill a “blank check for the highly profitable microchip industry.” Both senators used the term “corporate welfare” to describe the bill.

“It’s an odd argument made both on the far right and far left,” said McCaul about the corporate welfare claims. He pointed to previous tax incentives that have helped lead to technological advancements and jobs. McCaul believes the incentives are essential for the U.S. to compete.

“What makes it different in today’s world is that you have China investing a trillion dollars in an digital economy, Europe…offering these incentives, and Asia. If we want to be truly competitive, we’ve got to be on that playing field.”

McCaul added that it will take incentives to boost semiconductor production in the United States.

“Without these incentives, they will go offshore, because they have a duty to their shareholders,” McCaul said. “That’s why this bill is so important to pass.”

California doctor plans to offer abortions-at-sea in Gulf of Mexico

A California OB-GYN doctor is hoping to expand reproductive health care services to southern states with limited or no abortion access by offering a floating clinic on federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Texans and residents of other southern states touching the Gulf might soon be able to access abortion and other reproductive health care services by the sea. Four states bordering the Gulf — Texas, Louisiana Mississippi and Alabama — have either totally banned or will ban all abortions in their states. The fifth state bordering the Gulf, Florida, currently bans abortions after 15 weeks.

That’s why Dr. Meg Autry is floating the idea of a clinic-on-the-sea, which would offer first-trimester surgical abortions, contraception and other services. Autry is an OB-GYN professor at the University of California-San Francisco and a longtime advocate of reproductive health care rights.

“I’ve always been thinking of how can we come up with innovative and creative ways that will help provide patients access whose access is being taken away from them,” she said.

Autry is from the South, and said she got the idea from casino boats on the Mississippi River where gambling was allowed on the water but not on land.

“The people that are hurt most hurt by this decision…are poor people, people of color, marginalized populations. And this idea is specifically to help those in a different way than the other ideas that are out there,” she said.

The proposed ship is called PRROWESS, which stands for Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes. Autry said she’ll need $20 million to acquire, retrofit and operate the PRROWESS for its first two years. Even if she gets the funding, some legal experts question if this is doable.

Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, explained the reason why casino boats and cruise ships are able to offer gambling on the water and how it could apply to this proposal.

“If there’s a floating clinic at sea, in international waters, the state of Texas or Mississippi or Louisiana would not be able to prevent or regulate abortions performed there,” Blackman said. “Let’s assume that these clinics get all the federal licensing they need. They’re still not out of the woods yet. Texas has in effect, the fetal heartbeat law, SB 8.”

State law under Senate Bill 8 makes it a civil offense to facilitate or provide an abortion, by allowing private citizens to sue a provider or anyone who aids and abets in an abortion after about six weeks. Texas will soon have an outright ban under its trigger law — set to take effect on Aug. 25 — with narrow exceptions for when the life of the mother is at risk. Abortion opponents have said the two laws will work in concert together.

“If someone drives a woman from Galveston out to the Gulf somewhere — they started in Texas, they went somewhere else — that person may be liable for facilitating an abortion,” Blackman said. “I suspect this operation will be very elaborate and lots people were working together in tandem. So I think you could sue everyone, as part of a conspiracy to provide abortions outside of Texas.”

Autry said she has spent years consulting with maritime and reproductive lawyers to make sure her idea was possible in anticipation of Roe v. Wade getting overturned.

“The vessel would always stay in federal waters…there are no laws that are criminalizing patients. And so the only the worry then is someone else helping patients. And so we were looking extensively at that,” she said of SB 8.

Autry said they are in the beginning phase of fundraising for the vessel and anticipating legal and security issues as the project moves forward.

Uvalde killer ‘broke down,’ ‘didn’t want to live anymore,’ family told police

The gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde “didn’t want to live anymore,” a family member revealed, saying he “broke down” in the days leading up to the mass killing, according to police body camera footage.

“His mind, last week, he broke down and didn’t want to live anymore,” a woman, who identifies herself as a family member of the 18-year-old gunman, is heard telling police at 1:50 p.m. on May 24 — exactly one hour after the gunman was shot and killed.

The killing put an end to 74 minutes of law enforcement inaction, which a Texas House committee investigating the shooting blamed on “systemic failures and egregiously poor decision making.

“He said he was crying to the outside and didn’t want to live anymore,” said the relative, whose face is blurred in the video, to police at the home where the gunman lived with — and shot — his grandmother.

In one conversation captured by an Uvalde police officer’s body camera video, the woman said she “knew” her relative was responsible as soon as she learned what happened.

“I was on the south side, and I heard shots go off,” she told police in tears. “And then when they told me it was on Diaz Street [where he lived], and it was a rifle, I knew it was my [family member], because he asked my son [unintelligible].”

In another conversation, she asked if the grandmother was alive and appeared to not know the shooter was dead.

“I just want to know where he’s at,” she said. “Nobody wants to tell me where he’s at.”

Officers tell her that they are “holding the scene” and that nobody is allowed inside the home — at the time a crime scene — when she asks to go inside.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said tearfully.

The Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary shooting detailed how he “expressed suicidal ideation” during the week between his 18th birthday on May 16 and the May 24 mass shooting. Before his birthday, he had asked family members to buy guns through illegal straw purchases but they refused.

“[T]he attacker expressed suicidal ideation to a cousin, who talked to him and did not believe he was an imminent suicide risk,” the report found.

After he turned 18, in the days before the shooting, his grandparents and other family members became aware he had bought guns. At the same time he told family members about his suicidal thoughts, he legally bought two AR-15 style rifles, 60 magazines and over 2000 rounds of ammunition.

When his grandparents, and other family members, found out about the weapons they “demanded that the guns be removed” from the home, the report said.

None of this or other red flags were reported to law enforcement or the state’s suspicious activity reporting system known as iWatchTexas. In the wake of the killing, Gov. Greg Abbott has called for the program, which tracks threats, to be expanded.

Uvalde law enforcement had “no information” prior to the shooting “that should have identified this attacker as a threat to any school campus,” the report found.

Out of 180 mass shooters profiled since 1966: 72 intended to die but were not previously suicidal; 58 were suicidal before the shooting; 50 were not suicidal, according to the non-profit and nonpartisan research center The Violence Project, which is funded by the Department of Justice.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 9-8-8.

Poll shows Collier moving closer to Patrick in race for Lt. Governor

New polling shows one of Texas’ most prominent politicians has a single-digit lead with less than four months until the November midterm elections.

The rematch between incumbent Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Democratic challenger Mike Collier is tightening. A new University of Houston Poll shows Collier five points behind Patrick among likely Texas voters — the same margin he lost by in 2018. Nine percent of likely voters are still undecided. 

The lieutenant governor is one of the most important jobs in the Texas legislature. As future president of the Senate, the winner of this race will have a large influence over the policy debated and passed in coming legislative sessions and will be responsible for outlining the state budget. 

This is Collier’s second time running for lieutenant governor. This time around, he feels more confident in his ability to win and is encouraged by the poll numbers.

“I lost by four points. But that was on election day. We were gaining on Dan Patrick all the way to Election Day. Now we’re starting four months down with four months to go,” said Collier in an interview with Nexstar.

On Monday, he launched his first television ad, targeting Texans’ power grid frustrations and criticizing Patrick for not doing enough to prevent blackouts. 

“People are furious about the power grid. I’m furious about the power grid, and Dan Patrick hasn’t done anything about it,” he said. “Texans need to know this and they should be furious.”

Collier, a small business owner, has already raised nearly $3 million, doubling his 2018 total. 

“He’s been campaigning effectively, nonstop since 2017. That has the tendency to move the needle,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. 

Rottinghaus said that Patrick is a one of the strongest incumbents in recent Texas history. Patrick’s campaign reported $27 million cash on hand, compared with Collier’s $534,000, according to the Houston Chronicle. This monetary difference is what the professor says is likely one of Collier’s biggest challenges.  

“Dan Patrick came on to the political scene like a house on fire in the mid-2000s. He’s been active in Republican circles, he’s led the Republican Party to a much more conservative version of itself,” he said. “If it weren’t for the fact that there’s such a tremendous money difference right now, I would say that this is really the race to watch.”

Patrick’s campaign did not respond to Nexstar’s request for comment or an interview. However, a spokesperson for RNC Texas sent a statement about the race via email.

“Thanks to strong Republican leaders like Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Texas is leading the nation in job growth, entrepreneurship, and innovation,” Macarena Martinez said. “Time and time again, Texans have shown Democrats that the Lone Star State is a conservative stronghold and will resoundingly re-elect Lieutenant Governor Patrick and reject leftist pawn Mike Collier in November.” 

Collier believes Texans are ready for a change. 

“If I’m elected Lieutenant Governor — the president of the Senate — with the power to set the agenda for the legislature, it’s because the majority of Texans have chosen me because of what I stand for: fixing the grid, public [education], honesty around property taxes, school safety and the rest,” Collier said.