COVID Cases Rise, but Hospitalizations Remain Low
New infections continue an overall downward trend, with only 754 new cases reported by the state yesterday. There was a small spike of cases last week, with several days in a row recording over 1,000 cases. However, hospitalizations continue to decline. As of Monday, April 25th, there were 752 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.
End to Title 42 Temporarily Blocked
The situation at the Texas/Mexico border continues to receive the lion’s share of attention here in Austin. Last week, the state of Texas joined 20 other mostly red states in a lawsuit against the Biden administration claiming the federal government had not followed proper procedure for ending Title 42, which allowed customs agents to turn away anyone seeking asylum due to public health reasons. Yesterday, a federal judge in Louisiana said he will issue a temporary restraining order blocking the May 23rd date that had been set to end Title 42. Details of the temporary restraining order are not yet available. Title 42 has been used nearly 2 million times since it was put into effect in March of 2020 when the pandemic began. Members of both the Republican and Democratic parties have been critical of the potential impacts that eliminating Title 42 will have on border traffic.
Appeals Court Stays Execution of Melissa Lucio
Just two days before her scheduled execution, Melissa Lucio – a mother of 14 from south Texas – was granted a stay by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The court has recommended the case be sent by to the original trial court, and cited numerous concerns with her prosecution. Lucio has spent 15 years on death row for the murder of her then two year old daughter. Questions over Lucio’s innocence have lingered since her conviction, and as the date of her execution has approached, the doubts have been amplified. More than 2/3rds of the members of the Texas Senate and over half of the Texas House members have gone on record to publicly support Lucio and made pleas to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to halt the execution. The case will now be sent back to the district court in Cameron County where she was originally tried and convicted.
Medicaid Extension Granted
After the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, states were required to expand their Medicaid programs to ensure they were receiving all necessary federal funds for the program that funds health insurance for the uninsured. In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that states could not be forced to expand Medicaid, which led to several states – including Texas – being granted waivers to expansion so they could continue to receive the necessary federal funds. The original waiver was set to expire in October, but was extended by President Trump in January of 2021 for 10 more years. The Biden administration then announced their intention to rescind the waiver, in an attempt to pressure Texas to expand their Medicaid program. The state of Texas sued to reinstate the waiver, and won a temporary victory in August of last year. Yesterday, the Biden administration announced it would no longer challenge the waiver, thus leaving it in place for at least another ten years. This sent a sigh of relief through the health care community, especially operators of hospitals and other health care facilities in the state, now knowing they will have additional resources to treat and care for the uninsured. Texas has the largest uninsured health care population in the nation.
Twitter and Disney to Texas??
With the announcement yesterday that Elon Musk had purchased Twitter for $44 billion, speculation began immediately that he would move their corporate headquarters to Austin. With Austin’s high tech community thriving, many experts think that he will give strong consideration to moving the company’s headquarters from San Francisco to Austin. Last year, Musk moved the operations and headquarters of Tesla to Austin and is currently building a $1.1 billion manufacturing facility in southeast Travis County. Musk has also moved the offices of the Boring Company, a tunneling and infrastructure company, from California to Pflugerville, just north of Austin.
After the state of Florida stripped Disney of its land and tax privileges, Fort Bend County Judge KP George sent a letter to the CEO of Disney saying his company would be more than welcome in his community, south and west of Houston. George contrasted his county with Florida, saying Fort Bend is “warm and welcoming, in contrast to the authoritarian, anti-business culture” of Florida. To be fair, moving the Disney complex would be difficult at best. The complex in Orlando houses 25 hotels, four theme parks, and two water parks in a 43 square mile area.
Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner of Arlington announced last week that he will not seek reelection as chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, which he has led for the past six years. Turner said it is time to turn over leadership to someone new. Turner was first elected to the House in 2008, and currently serves as the chairman of the House Committee on Business and Industry. He is unopposed for reelection, so he will continue to serve when the legislature convenes in 2023.
Early voting started yesterday for the May 7th elections. There are two constitutional amendments relating to property tax reductions for homeowners that will be considered by all voters in the state. In addition, several municipalities and local governments have elections for offices such as school board and city council. Voters will also choose mayors in several cities including Galveston, Victoria, Harlingen, Denton, Port Arthur, and Lubbock. There are also two special elections for voters in Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. Voters living in state House District 147 in Houston will choose their new representative to fill the unexpired term of state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who resigned earlier this year. Voters in the Valley will choose a new representative for Congressional District 34 to fill the unexpired term of US Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, who also recently resigned.
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke announced Monday that he has tested positive for COVID. The positive test came on Monday, one day after testing negative. O’Rourke says he is vaccinated and boosted, and tests regularly for COVID. His campaign said he is experiencing mild symptoms, and will follow recommended protocols before returning to the campaign trail.
With the runoff date of May 24th approaching, several candidates are making their way to Austin for fundraisers. In addition, numerous committee hearings are taking place, and many are scheduled in the coming weeks.
Several committees such as House 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