COVID Hospitalizations and Cases Remain Low
Hospitalization continue to decline. As of Monday, April 11th, there were 856 people hospitalized with COVID related illness. This continues to be the lowest rate since the beginning of the pandemic in April of 2020. New infections are also on the downward trend, with only 709 new cases reported by the state yesterday.
Immigrants Will Be Bused to DC
At a press conference in the Valley last week, Gov. Abbott announced – in response to the Biden Administration plan to lift the policy established during the pandemic of turning away any migrant seeking asylum – that the state of Texas would be busing any migrant that crosses the border to Washington, DC. Abbott says the federal government will be able to more immediately meet the needs of anyone allowed entry. After an initial declaration that state troopers would meet any migrant at the border and immediately place them on buses, Abbott quickly backed down from that assertion and said that the program would be completely voluntary, available to anyone that has been fully processed by the Homeland Security Department who chooses to go to our nation’s Capital.
Under the pandemic era policy called Title 42, federal authorities had the discretion to turn away any migrants at the border for health and safety reasons. The Biden administration has said they will eliminate Title 42, effective May 23rd, which will create a huge influx of migrants attempting to cross the border, possibly as many as 18,000 people a day. Reaction was swift to Abbott’s plan, including criticism from members of his own party. Many House members called the plan a stunt and a gimmick. However, the plan also drew immense praise from Republican voters, and Abbott has said despite the cost and criticism, the state will move forward with the plan. He said the state is readying 900 buses to be available to transport any migrant to DC wishing to do so as soon as Title 42 is lifted.
DPS to Perform Inspections at Border
Also in response to the lifting of Title 42, Gov. Abbott has announced that DPS troopers will start inspecting all commercial trucks crossing into the US from Mexico. Abbott says the rationale is to try and curb the flow of illegal drugs and human trafficking. These will be secondary inspections, since the US Customs and Border Patrol officers inspect all commercial vehicles entering the US. According to CBP and DPS, each inspection can take between 45 minutes and one hour. The McAllen Monitor is reporting a significant slow in the flow of vehicles entering the US. And, yesterday, Mexican truckers had blocked all lanes – in both directions – near the Pharr-Reynosa crossing. That crossing is the busiest along the Texas/Mexico border and handles the vast majority of all produce entering the US. Wait times at other crossings from El Paso to Brownsville are reported to be as long as three to four days. There are now worries that an already inconsistent and troubled supply chain could be delayed even more by this latest disruption. Members of the state Senate from the border region have already sent a letter to Gov. Abbott asking him to reconsider his directive, and several Valley area House members said yesterday they are also preparing a letter from the delegation to Abbott also asking for reconsideration due to the increased delays in movement of goods through the Valley.
12% of Mail In Ballots Rejected
A total of 24,636 mail in ballots – 12.38% — were rejected during the March 1st election. The new requirements under the state’s new voting law caused most of the ballots to be rejected. Under the new law passed in special session last fall, voters must provide either a partial social security number or a driver’s license number on both the mail ballot and the return envelope, and the number given must match what is on record with their local voter registrar. Some county officials reported a rejection rate as high as 40%, with Harris County reporting a rejection rate of nearly 20%. State data shows that a slightly higher number of Democratic ballots were rejected compared to Republican ballots. The Secretary of State’s office has vowed to ramp up voter education in preparation for the November elections.
Patrick Wants “Don’t Say Gay” Legislation in Texas
The Florida legislature recently passed a new law that prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through the third grade. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, this is the latest in an ongoing policy fight over what type of subject matters and learning materials are appropriate in public schools. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, in an email to supporters after the passage of the new Florida law, said he will make passage of a similar bill a high priority during the next legislative session. Patrick is also asking members of the Senate to make recommendations regarding library books in schools and academic tenure as part of an overall review of the public education system in our state in preparation for next year’s regular session. This continues the battle over curriculum in our public schools. During the series of special sessions last fall, the legislature passed a bill relative to critical race theory, prohibiting public schools from discussing any subject matter that promotes the theme of systemic racism in our country.
Ethics Scandal for Harris County Judge
Lina Hidalgo, elected Harris County Judge in 2018 in an upset victory over the Republican incumbent, has become embroiled in an ethics scandal. Hidalgo, only 31 years of age, is seen as a rising star in Democratic circles, with the ability to possibly run for a statewide office in the coming years. The scandal involves the awarding of a contract intended to increase public outreach to targeted communities in Harris County with the goal of increasing vaccination rates in the county. After a review process – with a committee that included three of her top staffers – the committee awarded the contract to a barely known company called Elevate Strategies, owned and operated by a political ally of Judge Hidalgo. The contract was awarded in February of 2021 for $11 million. But, after heavy public pressure and no meaningful results, Hidalgo canceled the contract in September of last year. Yesterday, a Harris County grand jury indicted the three Hidalgo staffers on the selection committee for tampering with public records and misuse of official information. Hidalgo has yet to comment on the indictments. Hidalgo recently won the Democratic primary for reelection with 75% of the vote. She will face the winner of the Republican runoff between oil and gas attorney Alexandra del Moral Mealer and Vidal Martinez, a formal federal prosecutor and former member of the Port of Houston Authority.
Hispanic Policy Foundation Poll
The Hispanic Policy Foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation dedicated to analyzing social and economic issues affecting the Hispanic community. The group recently released a poll, conducted in the last week of March, that surveyed 1,435 registered Texas voters. The poll found Abbott leading O’Rourke by a margin of 50% to 42% in the race for Texas Governor. In the Republican primary runoff for Attorney General, incumbent Ken Paxton leads George P. Bush by a margin of 65% to 23%. Paxton also leads either Democratic opponent by a 7 point margin in a hypothetical November matchup. On the question of a generic Congressional ballot, Republicans lead Democrats by a 49% to 42% margin. The entire poll can be found here: https://www.txhpf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/txhpf-report-2022runoffgeneralelection.pdf
State Senator Beverly Powell (D, Fort Worth), has officially suspended her campaign for reelection. Powell is in her first term in the Senate, elected in 2018 to represent Senate District 10, contained wholly within the boundaries of Tarrant County. During the redistricting process, SD 10 was redrawn to favor the election of a Republican by expanding to several rural counties near Fort Worth. After a series of failed legal battles, the newly configured SD 10 will remain in place for the 2022 elections. Powell announced last week that since the district is unwinnable for a Democrat, she would not ask her supporters to commit time and resources to a losing cause.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan continued with his list of endorsements this week when he endorsed Frederick Frazier over Paul Chabot in the Republican runoff for House District 61, which has become a very nasty and heated runoff in Collin County. Phelan also endorsed Laura Hill in the Republican runoff for House District 93 in Fort Worth.
US Senator Ted Cruz has weighed in on two state House Republican runoffs, endorsing challengers in both races. He has endorsed Mike Olcott over first term incumbent Glenn Rogers of Mineral Wells. Cruz also endorsed Huntsville businessman Ben Bius over 10-year incumbent Kyle Kacal of College Station.
With the primary election date behind us, and interim charges being released, more hearings are expected in the coming weeks.
The House Interim Committee on Criminal Justice Reform meets today. Among other subjects, the committee will review the case of death row inmate Melissa Lucio, who was convicted of killing her 2 year old daughter in 2007. A group of 90 lawmakers – Democrats and Republicans – have called on the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend halting the execution as doubts of her guilt have been reported.
The House Ways and Means Committee will hold its first interim hearing on April 21st to consider issues relating to the distribution and sale of e-cigarettes, property tax relief, and sales tax sourcing.
Other House committees such as State Affairs, Transportation, Economic Development, Environmental Regulation, as well as the Senate Committee on Border Security, and Senate Finance Committee have all posted hearings.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov