5 things to watch for Thursday

5 things to watch for Thursday

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Texas' Patrick backs special session for 'bathroom bill'

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is clamoring for a special legislative session unless the Texas House approves legislation it was already expected to pass: a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" and property tax cuts.

Only Gov. Greg Abbott can order lawmakers back after the Legislature adjourns May 29, and he's said previously he's hesitant to do so. Legislators in small-government-loving Texas meet only every-other year.

But Patrick, who oversees the state Senate, said Wednesday "people don't care how many sessions it takes."

The Senate already passed property tax cuts and rules on transgender Texans' public restroom use. Both still have time to clear the House and have been backed by Abbott.

House Speaker Joe Straus responded by calling "regrettable" Patrick's "threat to force a special session unless he gets everything his way."

Texas Senate approves eliminating straight-ticket voting

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas Senate has preliminarily approved a bill eliminating straight-ticket voting statewide beginning in 2020.

The chamber voted 20-10 to advance the measure prohibiting voters from choosing a party's full slate of candidates with just a single ballot marking, over Democratic objections.

It still needs a final Senate vote, likely coming Thursday, while the House approved a similar measure earlier this month - after hours of heated debate.

For now, Texas is one of 10 states allowing straight-ticket voting. Twelve states have scrapped it since 1994, though.

Backers say doing so forces voters to do more research on down-ballot races. Opponents note that people can still vote for all candidates from one party, but that the process will get more onerous and time-consuming, possibly adding to lines at polling places.

LP&L to roll out smart meters

LUBBOCK, Texas - "The meters that Lubbock Power and Light has right now are really based on technology that was relevant about 30 years ago," LP&L spokesman Matt Rose said. 

The first step to updating the meters, is updating the 16 year old billing system, which comes with a price tag of about $38,000,000. 

"That began last budget cycle, that's already underway, we are bringing on board a billing system that has the capability of working with advanced meters," Rose said.

There are three reasons for the meters, first it will create a more efficient system maintenance and secondly it will greatly improved outage management. 

"Right now if a customer has an outage, they are required to call us and let us know that they are out of power," Rose said. "That's not a very efficient system and when you have a large outage affecting two to three thousand people, you can imagine the constraints that puts on the phone system and just the ability for folks to get in touch with us."

Lastly, you wont have to wait for your billing statement to see your usage.

"We have to give our customer the ability to see on a bi-monthly bases, bi-weekly bases, weekly bases, on a daily bases exactly what they are using in terms of their energy," Rose said.

"It gives power to LP&L customers, to have control over their usage," Rose said.

There are still a few more steps before you see them

"It normally takes about two to three years to fully roll out a product like this, because you have to put in all of the communication backbone throughout the city, there are a lot of things that have to happen before the meters can go live," Rose said. 

LP&L is currently waiting on budget approval and then must select a vendor in mid fall for the meters.

"You are still looking at a couple of years before this gets rolled out, so it would be around the 2020 time frame before we can turn these on," Rose said.

If you do not want to have the meters replaced at your home, due to health risk concerns or the possibility that your bills will rise due to the accuracy of the meters, Rose said options are available.

"We've said from the very beginning that if there are customers for whatever reason have an objection to this and do not want to have an advanced meter on their home that there will be an opt out option," Rose said.

Parts of Lubbock have had automated meters since the 1990's, through the South Plains Electric Cooperative.

South Plains Electric Cooperative communications manager Lynn Simmons said, "The biggest benefit to members is cost savings and we do feel the accuracy of the meters are better just because you almost have a two step process with reading it and then someone in the office taking a second look at it."

"LP&L customers shouldn't have to miss out on this technology, just because they are in Central Lubbock," Rose said.

Jury acquits Tulsa cop in shooting of unarmed black man

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A jury has acquitted a white Oklahoma police officer who says she fired out of fear last year when she killed an unarmed black man with his hands held above his head.

The family of Terence Crutcher burst into tears and expressed outrage after jurors found Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty Wednesday of first-degree manslaughter in the Sept. 16 shooting. About 100 demonstrators later gathered outside the courthouse and some briefly blocked a main street.

Shelby testified that she fired out of fear because she said Crutcher didn't obey her commands and appeared to reach inside his SUV. Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted. They noted Crutcher had his hands in the air, partly confirmed by video taken from a dashboard camera and helicopter.

Former FBI Director Mueller to lead Trump-Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) - Robert Mueller has been given sweeping power to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, an acknowledgment of growing public demands to place the politically charged inquiry into the hands of an outside investigator with bipartisan respect.

The former FBI director has a broad mandate that could encompass any questionable actions of President Donald Trump's associates and possibly even the circumstances of last week's abrupt firing of James Comey.

As special counsel, Mueller will direct an FBI counterintelligence investigation examining whether Russia coordinated with Trump campaign associates to influence the election in his behalf. He is entitled to a budget, can request new or additional staff and will have the same authority as high-ranking Justice Department lawyers, including the ability to prosecute any crimes he uncovers.

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