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Operation Texas Kill Switch: Effort to get illegal devices off streets

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Operation Texas Kill Switch: Effort to get illegal devices off streets


The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, announced a new effort on Monday to get illegal “machine gun conversion devices”, also known as “switches” off Texas streets.

“I’m announcing the launch of Operation Texas Kill Switch,” said U.S. Attorney Jaime Esparza.

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“They possess the capability of turning semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic machine guns,” said Robert Topper, ATF Special Agent in charge of the Houston Field Division.

The goals of Operation Kill Switch are to encourage state and local police to look out for switches, and to urge the public to report switches to police.

“As the problem continues to escalate, we are determined to do more,” said Esparza.

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The feds say they’ve seen a sharp increase in switches across Texas. Nine-hundred and ninety-one were seized in our state between 2017 and 2023, and 490 of those were seized last year alone. They’re often bought online, and can even be 3D-printed.

“These devices have a particular appeal to young people who are exposed to them through social media posts and advertisements,” said Topper.

Switches, made of either metal or plastic, slide into the back of a gun, and allow the shooter to fire dozens of rounds.

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“You just pull the trigger once, and you unload that clip,” said Esparza.

“These weapons are notoriously difficult to control,” said Topper. “That brings a much greater risk to innocent bystanders whenever they’re used.”

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Switches have been used in multiple deadly shootings, including the murder of a Houston police officer, and a deadly mass shooting at a Sweet 16 party in Alabama last year. Often, the guns themselves are stolen.

Crime Stoppers are offering up to $5,000 for information regarding switches or their production. That reward runs through August 31.

“We are very fearful of what will happen if we don’t start addressing this problem,” said Esparza.

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Switches are banned under federal law in almost all cases. If you’re caught with one, you could face up to 10 years in prison.



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Austin, TX

Elon Musk wins back his huge Tesla payday in overwhelming shareholder vote

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Elon Musk wins back his huge Tesla payday in overwhelming shareholder vote


DETROIT — Tesla shareholders voted Thursday to restore CEO Elon Musk’s record $44.9 billion pay package that was thrown out by a Delaware judge earlier this year.


What You Need To Know

  • The package is likely to remain tied up in the Delaware Chancery Court for months as Tesla appeals the rejection
  • The company sought the votes after a Delaware judge threw out the pay package in January
  • Tesla last valued the package at $44.9 billion in an April regulatory filing
  • The favorable vote doesn’t mean CEO Musk will get the all-stock compensation anytime soon

Vote totals weren’t immediately announced at Tesla’s annual stockholders’ meeting, but the company said they voted for Musk’s compensation plan, which initially was approved by the board and stockholders six years ago.

The favorable vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Musk will get the all-stock compensation anytime soon. The package is likely to remain tied up in the Delaware Chancery Court and Supreme Court for months as Tesla tries to overturn the rejection by a Delaware judge.

Tesla last valued the package at $44.9 billion in an April regulatory filing. It was once as much as $56 billion but has declined in value in tandem with Tesla’s stock, which has dropped about 40% in the last 12 months.

Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled in January in a shareholder’s lawsuit that Musk essentially controlled the Tesla board when it ratified the package in 2018, and that it failed to fully inform shareholders who approved it the same year.

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Tesla has said it would appeal, but asked shareholders to reapprove the package at Thursday’s annual meeting.

A separate issue to move the company’s legal home to Texas to avoid the courts in Delaware, where Tesla is registered as a corporation.

“Its incredible,” a jubilant Musk told the crowd gathered at Tesla’s headquarters and large factory in Austin, Texas. “I think we’re not just opening a new chapter for Tesla, we’re starting a new book.”

Legal experts say the issue of Musk’s pay will still be decided in Delaware, largely because Musk’s lawyers have assured McCormick that they won’t try to move the case to Texas.

But they differ on whether the new approval of the pay package will make it easier for Tesla to get it approved.

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Charles Elson, a retired professor and founder of the corporate governance center at the University of Delaware, said he doesn’t think the vote will influence McCormick, who issued a decision based on the law.

McCormick’s ruling essentially made the 2018 compensation package a gift to Musk, Elson said, and that would need unanimous shareholder approval, an impossible threshold. The vote, he said, is interesting from a public perception standpoint, but “in my view it does not affect the ruling.”

John Lawrence, a Dallas-based lawyer with Baker Botts who defends corporations against shareholder lawsuits, agreed that the vote doesn’t end the legal dispute and automatically give Musk the stock options. But he says it gives Tesla a strong argument to get the ruling overturned.

He expects Musk and Tesla to argue that shareholders were fully informed before the latest votes, so McCormick should reverse her decision. But the plaintiff in the lawsuit will argue that the vote has no impact and isn’t legally binding, Lawrence said.

The vote, he said, was done under Delaware law and should be considered by the judge.

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“This shareholder vote is a strong signal that you now have an absolutely well informed body of shareholders,” he said. “The judge in Delaware still could decide that this doesn’t change a thing about her prior ruling and doesn’t require her to make any different ruling going forward. But I think it definitely gives Tesla and Musk strong ammunition to try to get her to revisit this.”

If the ruling stands, then Musk likely will appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court, Lawrence said.

After the votes were announced, Musk began telling shareholders about new developments in the company’s “Full Self-Driving” system. He has staked the company’s future on development of autonomous vehicles, robots and artificial intelligence.

“Full Self-Driving” keeps improving with new versions, and there’s no question it will exceed the safety of human drivers, Musk said without giving a time frame.

“This is actually going to work. This is going to happen. Mark my words, this is just a matter of time,” he said.

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Despite its name, “Full Self-Driving” can’t drive itself, and the company says human drivers must be ready to intervene at all times. Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” hardware went on sale late in 2015, and Musk has used the name ever since as the company gathered data to teach its computers how to drive.

In 2019, Musk promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis by 2020, and he said in early 2022 that the cars would be autonomous that year. In April, Musk said the system should be ready in 2023.

Since 2021, Tesla has been beta-testing “Full Self-Driving” using volunteer owners. U.S. safety regulators last year made Tesla recall the software after finding that the system misbehaved around intersections and could violate traffic laws.



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Austin, TX

Judge upholds Austin ordinance decriminalizing pot

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Judge upholds Austin ordinance decriminalizing pot


AUSTIN, Texas (The Texas Tribune) – A Travis County judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Austin over its 2022 voter-approved ordinance decriminalizing marijuana possession.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed the suit in January, alleging Austin was violating state law and promoting “the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities.” He filed similar suits against San Marcos, Killeen, Denton and Elgin, which also decriminalized pot.

Austin voters approved a proposition in May 2022 to allow the possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana. Police already weren’t arresting people for low-level possession, in part because it was difficult to differentiate marijuana from hemp, which was legalized in 2019.

A similar effort to decriminalize pot is now underway in Dallas. The moves have been led by Ground Game Texas, a nonprofit that promotes voter engagement.

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Amy Kamp, a spokesperson for Ground Game Texas, said the ruling sets an important precedent for judges in the other cases.

“This is an exciting and important victory for marijuana reform policy in Austin,” Kamp said. “We are grateful the city argued the case so well and grateful the judge saw this lawsuit doesn’t have merit.”

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

Copyright 2024, The Texas Tribune. All rights reserved.



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Austin, TX

Rents in the Austin area have been falling for a year

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Rents in the Austin area have been falling for a year


To draw the picture of Austin rent prices over the past several years is to trace a dizzying mountain — up, up, up. And then a slope. A small slope, but a slope. Down. Not up.

For the past year, the average price of rent in the Austin area has been falling. Rent prices have decreased by about 6% year over year. The average monthly rent is now $1,528 for an apartment any size, down $100 a month from last year.

According to data from Zillow, this is the longest sustained drop in rent prices in the past decade.

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“It’s bad for landlords and it’s great for tenants,” said Jake Wegmann, a real estate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “We should be happy about this.”

The cause? A surge in apartment building and a drop in the number of people moving to the area.

“During the pandemic we saw all of this demand and developers said, ‘We need to build,’” said Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, a company that tracks home construction data.

Tens of thousands of people moved to Austin in the early years of the pandemic. Many could work from home, while others could afford to leave shared living situations and look for their own apartments. In response, rent prices rose at an incredible pace. To developers this indicated a need: more homes. In 2022, developers started building about 40,000 new apartments, more than they had in any subsequent year.

While the population surge that defined Austin in 2020 and 2021 has since slowed, tens of thousands of new apartments are still opening. That’s because of the nature of construction; typically, several years pass between breaking ground on a new building and opening apartments to renters.

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What typically happens when developers start building a significant number of new rental homes is that prices drop, Wegmann said, but often only among the most expensive apartments. But there are so many new apartments in Austin that prices are falling across a spectrum of buildings, from apartment complexes with gyms and pools to buildings built half a century ago and beset with much-needed repairs.

The average rent price for these older apartments is down 9% over the past year, according to data from the firm MRI Software.

“This is like adding chairs to the music chairs game,” Wegmann said. “You end up with more and more empty chairs, which give people looking for apartments more choices. Their landlords have to cut rents to fill apartment buildings.”

But both Wegmann and Wolf cautioned that falling rent prices does not equate to more affordable rent. In the year leading up to falling rents in Austin, prices surged by nearly 20%.

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A study from the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies found that in 2022, nearly half of all renters living in Austin and the surrounding counties spent more than a third of their income on rent, a metric many experts agree is unaffordable. Rent prices in Austin began falling a year later.

As for whether rents could continue to drop, Wolf said yes.

“This one feels like to me one of the easier crystal balls to answer,” she said. A large number of new apartments are still under construction, and when they open to renters that means more supply of housing. “As we look at the next year, [falling rents are] almost a guarantee.”

But as rents drop, so does the income for developers and the incentive to build. Wegmann said builders are already halting some projects, a trend likely to continue.

“We’re gonna certainly see a retrenchment,” he said. “We’re going to see way fewer projects starting over the next couple of years … That’s capitalism!”

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