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Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000

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  • More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all. 
  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
  • Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
  • Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet. 

Millions Without Water

As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.

Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday. 

Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.

The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event. 

Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.

Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K

All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.

That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week. 

While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.

One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.

“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs. 

In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” 

He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”

That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.

Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”

“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said. 

While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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Derek Chauvin Qualifies for Longer Sentence Over George Floyd’s Murder, Judge Rules

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  • A judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin ruled Wednesday that there were enough aggravating factors in the former officer’s murder of George Floyd that could qualify him for a longer prison sentence.
  • While Chauvin was found guilty on all three charges he faced, Minnesota state law only allows him to receive prison time for the most serious charge of second-degree homicide, which has a max sentence of 40 years but a recommended sentence of 12.5 years for people with no criminal history.
  • The judge ultimately agreed that Chauvin qualifies for longer sentencing because prosecutors had proven that he abused his power as a police officer, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
  • Chauvin is currently scheduled to be sentenced on June 25.

Judge Cahill Rules on Aggravating Factors

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, has ruled that there were aggravating factors in the former Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd, thus qualifying him for a longer sentence.

While the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges he was facing, Minnesota law says that he will only face sentencing for the most serious charge, which in this case is second-degree murder.

That charge carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, but state sentencing guidelines recommend 12 and a half years for someone with no criminal history. Prosecutors asked Judge Cahill for what’s called an “upward sentencing departure,” arguing that there were five factors that should open Chauvin up to a maximum sentence.

In a ruling made public Wednesday, Cahill wrote that prosecutors had proved beyond a reasonable doubt four of those five factors.

In his decision, Cahill agreed with the prosecutor’s claim that Chauvin had “abused his position of trust and authority” as a police officer and that he “knew from his training and experience” that the neck restraint he used Floyd in “danger of positional asphyxia.” 

Cahill also supported the argument that the former officer had been “particularly cruel” to Floyd, who he wrote “was begging for his life and obviously terrified by the knowledge he was likely to die,” adding that Chauvin “remained indifferent to Mr. Floyd’s pleas.”

The third and fourth aggravating factors that the judge sided with prosecutors on were that Chauvin had committed the crime as part of a group of three or more people and that he perpetrated that crime in front of children.

Notably, Cahill did reject the fifth aggravating factor brought by prosecutors, who argued Floyd was “particularly vulnerable” because he was handcuffed and held facedown on the street. The judge said that prosecutors did not prove that argument, writing that Floyd had been able to resist arrest before he was put on the ground.

Additional Charges

The ruling comes just a few days after Chauvin and the three other officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges by a grand jury.

Chauvin was also indicted on a second, separate federal charge related to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in September 2017, during which he allegedly held the boy by the neck and hit him with a flashlight repeatedly.

According to reports, if he is convicted, he would likely serve the federal sentence at the same time as his state one. However, the federal charges may impact the pending August trial of the three other officers, who have been charged with aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter.

Separately, last week, Chauvin’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging misconduct by the judge, prosecutors, and jurors, signaling additional continued litigation.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

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Teens Attack and Rob 80-Year-Old Asian Man in Northern California

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  • Viral surveillance footage shows an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area being assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police say are teenagers.
  • Police believe the suspects are as young as 16, and at one point, one can be heard in the video giggling from the getaway car as the victim cries for help. 
  • The news comes after the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data showing that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March.

Suspect Laughs at Victim During Attack

Surveillance video going viral on social media captured an 80-year-old Asian man in the San Francisco Bay area getting assaulted and robbed on Saturday by suspects who police believe are teenagers.

The full video is extremely distressing. It shows the man getting knocked to the ground, trying to fight off his attackers as he cries for help. To make matters worse, at one point, high-pitched giggles can be heard coming from another teen in the background. That person appears to be inside a getaway car nearby.

The victim was robbed of a watch and sustained minor injuries. Police have also said that a vehicle similar to the one used in this case was spotted at a strong-armed robbery in a nearby San Leandro area less than two hours later, where another victim was robbed of her purse.

Police believe the suspects are as young as 16.

Surge of Crimes Against Asians in U.S.

This is just the latest violent attack against an Asian person making headlines since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, reports emerged regarding two Asian women who were attacked with a hammer in Times Square by someone demanding they remove their masks. Two other Asian women were recently stabbed while waiting for the bus in downtown San Francisco.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate released data Thursday saying that reports of anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S. jumped by almost 74% year-over-year in March — with Chinese people as victims in 44% of these acts.

Vancouver Sees Massive Influx of Anti-Asian Hate

While anti-Asian hate crimes have surged in the U.S., the situation may be worse in Canada, specifically in Vancouver. Around 42% of people in Vancouver are of Asian descent and at least 25% speak Chinese — making it the most heavily Asian city in North America.

Still, it witnessed a 717% year-over-year surge in anti-Asian hate crimes in 2020, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Bloomberg even dubbed it the Anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, saying more anti-Asian hate crimes were reported in the city of 700,000 people last year than in the 10 largest U.S. cities combined.

That’s part of why people all across the city are participating in more organized action to speak out against anti-Asian hate. For instance, several rallies took place in Vancouver Monday to mark the National Day of Action Against Anti-Asian Racism.

See what others are saying: (ABC 7) (Bloomberg) (Forbes)

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