Case Counts/Testing in Texas – Tuesday, August 30th (1:45PM data)
Confirmed Cases – 2,999,659 (8,410 new cases)
Hospitalizations – 13,768 (7,937 available beds, 362 available ICU beds)
Fatalities – 55,404 (33 new deaths)
Vaccine Data – Wednesday, August 31st (1:00PM data)
Doses Shipped by state – 22,902,390
People vaccinated – 16,453,394
People fully vaccinated – 13,717,681
Total doses administered – 29,015,408
Inside the Numbers
Positivity rate as of Monday, August 29th was 14.78%. One month ago, there were 10,900 new cases reported, one week ago there were 18,800 new cases reported, compared to the 8,410 reported yesterday. The 13,768 COVID patients in hospitals now is 422 more patients compared to one week ago, and COVID patients make up 21.5% of total hospital beds in the state.
Over the last week, an average of 82,464 doses have been administered each day in the state. As of Tuesday, August 30th, 47.2% of Texans have been fully vaccinated.
Issues Passed in Special Session
Today, the House and Senate will approve the conference committee report on SB 1, the omnibus voting bill. This has been the center point piece of legislation for discussion and debate, starting during the regular session, and continuing throughout both special sessions. Although Democrats are still adamantly opposed, they can claim small victories on some issues within the legislation, such as the new process that allows for a correction – or cure – process for mail in voting ballots. Many other provisions of the bill, such as a ban on 24 hour early voting, new ID requirements for voting by mail, and increased penalties for providing assistance to disabled voters still cause great concern for Democrats, who have labeled the bill as suppressive and unnecessary. Republicans however claim the bill is necessary to stop instances of fraud, saying the bill simply makes fraud and cheating harder to do.
Speaking of elections, with the redistricting process set to begin as early as next week, the legislature has taken steps to delay next year’s primary elections in case the redistricting process is delayed. SB 13 sets up several contingencies and schedules to account for the possibility that the new districts for members are not finalized and in place in time for the current filing periods. The reason is that due to the pandemic, census data was substantially delayed and the legislature is getting a much later than usual start to the map drawing. Under the bill, the primaries can take place in March – as currently scheduled – only if the maps are completed by Nov. 15th. If the maps are completed sometime between Nov 16th and December 28th, then the primaries will be held April 5th. Finally, if the maps are not finalized until sometime between Dec 29th and February 7th, the primary will be on May 24th. The Redistricting committees in each chamber have scheduled meetings for public input starting after the Labor Day weekend, and it is expected that they will convene in another special session to begin the actual drawing of the maps no later than Sept 15th.
Another major piece of legislation is SB 15, which restores funding for students participating in virtual learning. Schools are funded largely based on their average daily attendance (ADA), and during the pandemic when most schools were closed, funding continued for all students learning virtually. However, there was no mechanism in place to continue the funding for virtual students for this current school year. Therefore, school districts would lose funding for every student participating virtually. SB 15 expands the ADA student count to include students participating virtually. Since some students struggled in the virtual arena last year, the bill stipulates that only students that have passed the STAAR (annual skills assessment) exam and maintain a C average, will be allowed to participate. The bill allows schools to set up their own parameters for virtual learning, and maintains the funding mechanism through the 2022-23 school year.
Unresolved Issues in Special Session
Two major issues that are of particular priority to the Lt. Governor are still unresolved. The first is a bill to require transgender students to play sports in school on teams according to their gender at birth. The other deals with the way current events and systemic racism is – or isn’t – taught in public schools. As a brief recap, Gov. Abbott vetoed the budget for the legislature as punishment for the Democrats breaking quorum at the end of the regular session to stop the passage of the elections bill. Now, with the elections bill assured approval, apparently the Lt. Governor has threatened to delay or kill the legislation introduced this session that will reinstate funding the legislative branch unless the two above mentioned bills are passed by the House. In an interesting twist, the House Public Education committee met last night, and the Chairman of the committee, Rep. Harold Dutton, a Democrat from Houston, refused to allow a vote on those two pieces of legislation. The committee has scheduled a meeting for later this evening, and the House has the legislative funding measure on its floor calendar tomorrow.
Abbott Admits He Can’t Enforce Mask Mandate Ban
Gov. Abbott has been involved in constant court battles over local mask mandates since the beginning of the most recent COVID surge several weeks ago. After issuing a statewide ban on mask mandates, several cities, counties and school districts have deified his executive order and issued local mask mandates. The rulings on the validity of Abbott’s ban have been various and inconsistent, depending on the court and its location. In at least five recent court filings by Attorney General Ken Paxton, on behalf of Abbott, the claim is that the state cannot enforce the statewide ban. Their argument is that it is up to local law enforcement officials and prosecutors to enforce the statewide ban. This has furthered the mass of confusion of which mandates are valid and which can be ignored. Stay tuned, as it will get more confusing, with no consistent policy to follow.
New Laws Go Into Effect Tomorrow
The constitutional carry law goes into effect Wednesday, which allows anyone 21 or over to carry handguns in public without a license. The weapons can be carried openly or concealed. Twenty other states have adopted some relative form of permitless carry. Law enforcement and gun violence prevention groups have publicly opposed the new law, saying it will lead to an increase in gun related injuries and deaths. However, data from other states is so far inconclusive in that regard, with some studies showing a slight uptick in gun related crimes, and other showing permitless carry had no impact. This new law requires the state to track five years of data on gun related crimes after the bill takes effect.
Several other high profile laws – all victories for the conservative wing of the Republican party – will also take effect tomorrow. These include restriction on abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be determined, changes to the way public school students are instructed about current events and systemic racism, requiring professional sports teams to play the national anthem, punishing cities that cut police budgets, and creating a criminal offense for homeless camping in public spaces.
The House convened at noon today, adopted the conference committee report on SB 1, and is scheduled to consider the legislative appropriations restoration tomorrow. The Senate convened at 1:30 PM today, and is expected to adopt the SB 1 conference committee report.