COVID Cases Fall, Hospitalizations Steady
New infections continue to hover around their recent daily average of just under 10,000 per day, with 6,536 cases reported by the state yesterday. This is down from the 8,700 reported one week ago. Hospitalizations are remaining steady, but falling slightly as well. The state is reporting 3,314 people hospitalized with COVID illness. That down slightly from the 3,490 reported one week ago.
The Biden administration announced this week that they will formally discontinue the “Remain in Mexico” program, begun during the Trump administration that required any migrants seeking asylum in the US to remain in Mexico while awaiting a decision on their case. The US Supreme Court ruled earlier this summer that the Biden administration did have the power to stop the program. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Trump administration sent approximately 70,000 asylum seekers to Mexico to await their fate. Most of the petitioners were from either Nicaragua or Venezuela. Previously, asylum seekers were allowed to stay and work in the US while their cases were being considered. Immigration advocates claim that the Trump era program placed those seeking asylum in undue danger by sending them to wait in border towns or in makeshift tent cities along the Rio Grande. Opponents of ending the program claim that this will encourage even more migration to the US as border crossings are already at all-time highs.
New York City mayor Eric Adams continues to express frustration with Texas for busing migrants to the city. Adams and other city officials have said their main complaint is that Texas is not informing their city officials of when the buses are arriving and how many occupants are on board. Furthermore, they are having trouble providing basic services for the migrants arriving in the city. The New York Department of Social Services has declared an emergency in an attempt to have the state and federal government provide more assistance with resources for the migrants. Gov. Abbott has extended an invitation to Mayor Adams to tour the Texas/Mexico border to see first-hand how the influx of migrants has affected our border towns. So far, Adams has not responded to the invitation.
Home Prices Falling
New data released by realtor groups suggest the residential real estate market is cooling. Specific to the Austin area, pending home sales are down, but home prices are up nearly 21% compared to May of 2021. Inventory is increasing, as new listings were up 19% over the last year, but pending sales are down 4%. This comes as interest rates surpassed the 5% mark for the first time in 10 years. In Houston, home sales last month had their biggest drop since the pandemic lockdowns, as home sales fell 17% in July of this year compared to July of 2021. As in Austin, even though the market is slowing, the median price for homes in the Houston area also continues to rise, up 10% in July compared to one year ago. Nationally, according to Redfin, mortgage applications are down 24% in June and pending home sales are down 13% compared to one year ago.
Cell Phone Bill Rate Hike
The Public Utility Commission recently approved a rate hike to take effect on August 1st that increases a surcharge for the Universal Service Fund on your bill from 3.3% to 24%. For most consumers, this will add $2 to your monthly cell phone bill. The Universal Service Fund was established to help rural areas of the state provide basic telecommunications services. A suit against the state by providers of rural telephone services alleged that the state was not making adequate payments to the fund. The courts agreed, and have ordered the PUC to restore $200 million to the fund. The telephone and internet providers in the affected rural areas will now work with the PUC to distribute the funds fairly.
Juvenile Justice/Forster Care Systems in Crisis
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department is under federal investigation for alleged patterns of abuse and is near collapse. That is part of the testimony heard this week before a House committee. The state has five youth prisons, all of which are no longer accepting newly sentenced minors that are being held in county detention centers. More than 150 children are now awaiting transfer to state facilities, and the counties are having to bear the costs of housing the state’s prisoners. Due to staffing shortages, inmates are forced to stay in their cells for 23 hours a day. Due to lack of mental health services, nearly half of the youths are on suicide watch. A group of 33 lawmakers – mostly House Democrats – have called on Gov. Abbott to call a special session to address the growing crisis. In their plea, the lawmakers are asking for increased funding for more staff, increased funding for mental health and anti-violence education, and increased funding for alternatives to incarceration. Texas currently has over 600 youths in state facilities. Most are sent for violent offenses involving some sort of physical assault on their victims. Gov. Abbott has not responded to the request for a special session.
The Texas Foster Care system has been in litigation for 11 years and is currently under federal oversight due to continued staffing shortages, lack of oversight of children in care, and kids running away from their foster homes. State approved facilities have also been involved in human trafficking of children placed in their care. Staff workers at the Department of Family and Protective Services are overburdened, therefore not always able to find a suitable foster home for children. Children are often forced to stay in state offices, or in unlicensed facilities due to lack of ability to place the children. Federal regulators and court monitors have given the state 90 days to come up with a plan to try and resolve some or all of the issues facing the system. Without an acceptable solution – or at least a pathway to a solution – the possibility exists that the federal government will take over the state’s foster care system.
Uvalde School Shooting
A judge has denied the request of state Senator Roland Gutierrez of the DPS to turn over all of their records related to the shooting investigation. Gutierrez, the Democrat from San Antonio who represents Uvalde, had sued the DPS in hopes of obtaining all of their records. In the ruling, the state district judge in Austin ruled the DPS does not have to turn over their records because Gutierrez had not properly filed his open records request, so the agency did not have to respond to it. The state and the local district attorney have continually argued that the records not be released for fear of compromising the ongoing investigation into the incident. Several news agencies, including all major news networks, have also sued to have the records released. That case is ongoing, and Gutierrez says he will resubmit his open records request and appeal the ruling.
At the request of the school district, the DPS will provide an extra 30 officers to campuses throughout the Uvalde school district for the upcoming year. This is part of the enhancement in security measures announced for all campuses for the upcoming school year. The district will also provide updated camera systems, more screening at entry points, and additional door locks and sensors to all schools in the district.
The school district has also announced that students choosing to do so will be able to enroll in a new virtual option for the upcoming year. Many families had asked the district for this option, citing both a lack of confidence in the district to implement new safety measures and the continued trauma being experienced by many of the children and parents. The board also announced that the first day of school had been pushed back to September 6th.
The Abbott campaign announced on Tuesday that he has agreed to one debate with rival Beto O’Rourke. The debate will take place on Friday, September 30th in the Rio Grande Valley. O’Rourke in turn said he would debate Abbott in the Valley, but has not formally agreed to the September 30thdate. O’Rourke has countered with a proposal for three town hall style debates on weeknights when the debate does not have to compete with high school football. The issue seems to be closed for Abbott, who said he will be at the University of Texas – Rio Grande in Edinburg for the debate, and that would be the only debate in which he would participate.
House Speaker Dade Phelan announced a television buy of $360,000 for two south Texas House races. Rep. John Lujan from San Antonio – who won a special election last fall, and Janie Lopez – running in a newly created seat in the Valley – will be the beneficiaries of the ad buys. Both are Republicans, and Phelan said he is making the buys to help expand the gains being made by Republicans in Hispanic communities.
Former Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has filed for bankruptcy. Not many details are available, but Dewhurst made the filing earlier this week in Houston. Dewhurst, a Republican, served as Lt. Governor for three terms, first elected in 2002. He ran unsuccessfully for US Senate in 2012 losing to current Senator Ted Cruz. Dan Patrick, the state’s incumbent Lt. Governor, defeated Dewhurst for reelection in 2014. Dewhurst has not run for office since being defeated in 2014. This is not the first difficulty he has faced since leaving office. In 2021, he was arrested in Dallas for allegations of domestic violence.
Later in the month, The House Public Health Committee will meet to discuss the impact of fentanyl related deaths. The Senate Health and Human Services committee will meet later this month to discuss the impact the pandemic continues to have on health care workforce in our state.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov