COVID Hospitalizations and Cases Remain Low
Hospitalization continue to decline. As of Monday, April 18th, there were 796 people hospitalized with COVID related illness. This continues to be the lowest rate since the beginning of the pandemic in April of 2020, and is nearly 100 fewer than a week ago. New infections are also on the downward trend, with only 725 new cases reported by the state yesterday.
Also, a federal judge in Florida has effectively ended the mask mandate on airplanes and other modes of mass transportation. The judge declared the CDC overstepped in imposing the mandate, and the Biden administration has declared the mandate “is not in effect at this time.” Most major airlines immediately issued new directives for passengers, saying masks are now optional on planes.
Responding to Pressure, Abbott Rolls Back Border Inspections
Last week’s order by Gov. Abbott to have all commercial trucks entering the US from Mexico caused days long waits in some instances for trucks carrying produce and other goods intended for consumers in Texas and the rest of the country. Because of this, several business friendly trade associations and elected members of Abbott’s own party levied harsh criticism towards the Governor for playing politics, since the massive delays caused an already stressed supply chain to become even more delayed, and caused distribution sites to sit empty while waiting on the delayed goods. The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas estimates that more than $240 million worth of produce was lost last week due to the wait times for state inspections. Furthermore, local economists predict that the supply chain may not recover for weeks, causing even higher prices for produce and goods.
On Friday, Gov. Abbott reversed course and announced agreements with the four Mexican border states to end the state inspection of commercial vehicles at international bridges. The deals basically reinstate the security measures put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections a week ago. The main goal of the initiative when ordered last week – according to Gov. Abbott – was to stop illegal drugs and human trafficking operations. However, at a news conference on Friday, the DPS admitted that during the week of inspections, they had found no illegal drugs or migrants in commercial trucks. The DPS inspections were only allowed to occur after the inspections by US Customs and Border Protection.
Migrant Buses Arrive in DC
Another part of Gov. Abbott’s strategy to deal with the ongoing immigration crisis is to voluntarily bus migrants to Washington, DC. The first bus carrying migrants from the Texas/Mexico border arrived in DC last Wednesday, carrying 23 people. The 1,500 mile trip started near Del Rio before arriving at Union Station in Washington. In total, four buses have traveled to DC from Texas, with the last one arriving on Saturday with 10 people on board. In total so far, 78 people have taken advantage of the bus trip from Texas to Washington. All travel expenses are paid for by the state of Texas.
With an estimated 1.6 million migrants having crossed the border into the US over the last 15 months, the numbers being shipped from Texas may not be tipping the scales. But, Abbott claims that all these type measures are necessary to combat the Biden administration’s mishandling of border crisis. Furthermore, the mostly symbolic initiative will in all likelihood allow Abbott to gain political favor among his Republican base, showing that he will continue to fight the federal government policies regarding the massive influx of migration at the border.
A record 221,303 migrants entered the US last month, which is an all-time record for one month. With the lifting of pandemic era Title 42 next month, that number is expected to double.
Oil and Gas Jobs Continue to Rise
The month of March saw another increase in oil and gas related jobs in the state of Texas. According to the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners, there are now 184,700 industry related jobs in the state. This is a 13% jump from one year ago when 163,000 people were working in the industry. Domestic production is expected to continue to increase for at least the next several months. West Texas Intermediate Crude, the US benchmark for trading, was at $109 a barrel at the end of the day yesterday.
More Bipartisan Support for Melissa Lucio
The mother of 11 surviving children is scheduled to be executed next week for the murder of her 2 year old daughter in 2007. The case of Melissa Lucio has drawn national attention, and closer to home, a bipartisan group of over 100 state lawmakers have called on the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend to Gov. Abbott that he either commute her sentence or grant a reprieve. Five of the jurors that convicted Lucio have also weighed in, asking the parole board to stop the execution. In letters to the parole board, legislators have cited doubts about her guilt, differing treatment by authorities between her and her husband (the husband received a 4 year sentence), and the impact the execution will have on her surviving family members. Lucio did confess to the crime, but says her confession was coerced. She also claims that she herself was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. The Innocence Project has cited studies claiming that “coerced confessions are a leading cause of wrongful convictions among women accused of killing their children”. Lucio’s attorneys have filed a petition with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stay her scheduled execution, set for April 27th. Her attorneys have already filed a similar petition with the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Neither ruling is expected until shortly before the execution date.
City of Austin Begins Guaranteed Income Program
The city of Austin is considering a pilot program to give certain residents a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month. The program is intended to assist vulnerable members of the community who are facing hardships such as unemployment and evictions. There are 85 families that have been approved for the pilot program. However, the city has refused to disclose the full details on who and how qualifications are determined. The initiative is part of the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force that has the goal of directing public funds formerly intended for police and public safety to alternative programs that, according to Mayor Steve Adler, “prevent the need for policing”. The city has already appropriated the $1 million necessary to fund the program. The final approval for the program will be considered during the city council meeting this Thursday. Similar programs are underway in cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. The original program was begun in 2019 in Stockton, California.
Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo, who is in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for reelection, is not a target of a federal investigation that saw the FBI raid his home and office back in February. Attorneys for Cuellar announced over the weekend that the Justice Department informed them that the Congressman is not the specific of the investigation. The raid of his home and office were part of an ongoing investigation relating to other people and their relationships with the government of Azerbaijan. Cuellar has represented the Laredo area in Congress since 2005, and will face Laredo attorney Jessica Cisneros in the May 24thrunoff. Cuellar went into the runoff with the most votes after the primary, which had a total of three candidates.
US Senator Ted Cruz continues to make endorsements in Republican runoffs for state House races. Last week he endorsed Ellen Troxclair in a runoff for an Austin area seat; Patrick McGuiness for a seat in Williamson County, north or Austin; Eric Bowling in a runoff for a seat in Colin County; and Carrie Isaac in a runoff for a House seat based in Hays County, south of Austin. In each race, Gov. Abbott has endorse the other candidate in the runoff.
In the June 14th special election to replace Valley Congressman Filemon Vela – who resigned earlier this month – two Democrats and two Republicans have filed for the seat. Included in the list of candidates is Mayra Flores, the Republican nominee for the seat in the November election, which is a newly drawn district more favorable to Republicans. Vela had already indicated he would not seek reelection in 2022, but he resigned before the end of his current term.
Former President Trump will visit Austin on May 14th. This is part of his “American Freedom Tour”, and it will be a full day event held at the Austin Convention Center. Along with Trump, speakers will include his son, Donald, Jr, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and rocker Ted Nugent. Further details are forthcoming, but the announcement said that several other elected officials and public figures will be featured at the event.
With the primary election date behind us, and interim charges being released, more hearings are expected in the coming weeks.
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