COVID Cases Fall, Hospitalizations Steady
New infections continue a slow and steady decline with 2,903 cases reported by the state today. This is down from the 4,500 reported one week ago. Hospitalizations are remaining steady, but falling slightly as well. The state is reporting 2,619 people hospitalized with COVID illness. That down slightly from the 2,879 reported one week ago.
Paxton Opinion Allows Public Review of Ballots
Last week, an opinion by AG Ken Paxton was made public that will allow anyone – any member of the general public – to access election ballots after the election. State and federal law currently prohibits county election administrators from releasing ballots until 22 months after any election. The opinion, issued on August 17th, seeks to overturn nearly 40 years of law on the books that has the intention of keeping ballots confidential and has the potential of exposing elections officials to criminal penalties. What is even more confusing is that Paxton issued an opinion just five days before that advised counties not to release information on ballots until the 22 month time period had expired.
Elections officials are now rightfully claiming that they have information from the state’s top lawyer that gives conflicting direction, and has the potential to throw this year’s election into chaos. Tarrant County has sued, asking a state district judge to sort through the confusion and make a ruling that the elections administrators are able to follow. Harris County officials have also said they will also go to court to defend the 22-month waiting period.
Comptroller Accuses Harris County of Violating Police Defunding Law
During the last regular session in 2021, the legislature passed a law that mandated any county with a population of 1 million or more seek voter approval before reducing the budget of any law enforcement agency. Last week, state Comptroller Glenn Hegar alleged Harris County leaders have reduced funding for the offices of constable for the upcoming fiscal year by not allowing the constables’ office to use unspent departmental funds that should automatically rollover from one fiscal year to the next. Hegar claims this will result in a loss of more than $3 million from last year and $12 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Harris County officials pushed back, saying they are actually increasing the budget for law enforcement by $100 million next year to $1.4 billion, which comprises 75% of the county’s overall budget. Furthermore, Harris County officials said that if they follow the findings alleged by Hegar, then the overall law enforcement budget for the county will be reduced by $100 million, since they will have to revert to last year’s budget numbers. The commissioners court said publicly last week that they will attempt to meet personally with Hegar to try and resolve the issue.
Uvalde School News
The Uvalde school board agreed last week to fire school district police chief Pete Arredondo. The decision came after Arredondo had sent a letter to the school board from his legal counsel saying the vote to fire him was unconstitutional. In the letter, he also asked to be reinstated and sought back pay for the time he was placed on leave. Arredondo did not personally attend the meeting, and has been widely blamed for the delayed response during the shooting. Residents of Uvalde have consistently called for his termination.
Families of the victims rallied at the state Capitol on Saturday. The estimated crowd of nearly 300 people demanded that Gov. Abbott call a special session to address gun safety. The main issue the families want addressed is to raise the minimum age to purchase an automatic rifle from 18 to 21.
Roe v Wade
The state’s “trigger law” went into effect last Thursday, which prohibits all abortions in Texas with very narrow exceptions. Thursday was the 30th day after the US Supreme Court issued their opinion that overturned Roe v Wade and allowed states to set their own abortion related laws. The new law, passed last regular session with the effective date 30 days after the formal ruling from the Supreme Court was filed, criminalizes performing an abortion with the penalty of up to life in prison.
In another ruling for the pro-life movement, a federal judge in Lubbock ruled last week that hospitals are not required to perform abortions in emergency situations. After the overturning of Roe v Wade, the Biden administration, through a rule making process within the US Department of Health and Human Services, sent guidance to hospitals saying that they were still allowed to perform abortions in extreme, emergency related situations, regardless of any restrictions in state law. AG Ken Paxton sued to stop the application of the new rules, and has won the initial court battle. No word on whether or not the Biden administration plans to appeal the ruling.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke has been hospitalized due to a bacterial infection, and has postponed all campaign events for the upcoming days. O’Rourke put out a statement saying he was feeling ill on Friday, and went to Methodist Hospital in San Antonio where he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection and admitted to the hospital. O’Rourke says he received IV antibiotics, and would be resting at home until the doctors recommend he can resume a regular schedule.
Republican incumbent Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has launched a 131-stop statewide bus tour as polls show a tight race with Democrat Mike Collier. Patrick started the tour in San Antonio last week. He has not released a schedule of all events, only saying he will tour all of the state’s major regions.
For the second consecutive election cycle, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled against the Republican Party of Texas and their efforts to remove Libertarian candidates from the November ballot. The party had filed a petition with the court in early August to have nearly two dozen Libertarian candidates removed for election state and federal offices because they either had not paid a filing fee or not submitted signatures in lieu of a filing fee. The Court ruled that the party made the claim too late for the conduct of the election to be changed. In simple terms, the party filed their petition too late to have the names removed from the ballots.
Later in the month, The House Public Health Committee will meet to discuss the impact of fentanyl related deaths and the House Public Education Committee will meet to discuss the teacher shortage faced by most school districts. The Senate has no committee meetings scheduled at this time.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov